from the archives: 2002 skinback film journal

The following paragraphs compile a short-lived film section on of one of the many blogs I’ve maintained over the years. Except for the coverage of the Chicago Underground Film Festival, these words probably only hold interest for me. Warning: I cut and pasted the text from the Internet Archive so all the links herein go there. I doubt I’ll bother to fix them.

27.12.2002 18:04

Wow, it’s been awhile since I wrote about movies. Seems like I’ve seen a lot of mediocre ones or else more or less enjoyable ones which were not really supposed to make me think anyway: such as, Nemesis, Harry Potter and The Two Towers.

I always look forward to the new TNG even though I’d really prefer to be getting my fix on a weekly basis. Nemesis turned out to be fun enough (although it dragged in spots) and it actually looked like cinema. Harry Potter was a decent romp although I can’t remember much about it other than the actually frightening Whomping Willow.

And ah, The Two Towers. But before that, let me just mention that I watched Raoul Walsh’s Thief of Bagdad yesterday and in many spots it charmed the pants off me, so to speak (I loved the Cloak of Invisibility’s little blurry tornado and the blasts of fire in the Devouring Caves). In general I found its special effects every bit as “believable” as Hollywood’s newest SGI spectacular; but, more importantly, compared to the “look at me! look at me!” bombast of some parts of Peter Jackson’s sword & sorcery interpretation of Tolkien, it seemed a good deal more human and true to its source.
Really, I have nothing but a great big yawn for the amazingly hyped Battle at Helm’s Deep and if I see one more helicopter shot twirling around pretty New Zealand peaks I think I will throw up. I’m done being stunned by scenery; let me be stunned by some other grand gestures. Certainly nothing here beats Douglas Fairbanks’ ride around Bagdad conjuring a gleaming, undulating white army from the ground; nor, for that matter, does anything here beat the Mines of Moria sequence (minus the Cave Troll, that is) in Fellowship.

This second installment of LOTR has convinced me that Jackson really doesn’t have a handle on his characters or their place in Middle Earth’s cosmology and that cluelessness is playing itself out in the liberties he takes with the story. How else to explain Aragorn’s wimpy defeat at the hands of orcs riding wargs, his subsequent stumbling into Helm’s Deep alone (what purpose did this invention serve anyway?) and then his super-heroic inexplicable recovery as he rallies an inept and mercurial Theoden and, with Gimli, takes on a battalion of the apparently not-so-deadly Uruk-hai? The ridiculous ups and downs of the plot (Aragorn’s dead; he’s back but he can’t go on; he’s recovered; he saved us! Theoden’s recovered; he’s nuts again;) robs the proceedings of any dramatic tension anyway. Ultimately, fantasy is driven by its characters and cosmology and probably not in that order; Jackson’s LOTR is driven by its special effects, its sets and scenery and its silly plot turns (Theoden rides out with, what, about 12 horses and mows everyone down, on an apparent suicide run?). Jackson has no grip at all on (maybe no respect for?) the Elvish characters; so instead, he camps it up. How else to explain Elrond’s vascillations and nonsensical utterances and the tripped out Galadriel. I’m not too keen on the little tease we get of Arwen apparently obeying her father’s demand that she escape to the West. What is Jackson making her now, horny teen daughter sneaking out to fuck her boyfriend? Please.

But honestly, the silliest thing in The Two Towers (Oh besides the whole Ent subplot, which, based on how poorly scripted it was, could have been dropped completely. For that matter, drop Merry and Pippin too since we have never received a believable justification for their presence on this quest anyway.) is Frodo Baggins, Ring-bearer, who stands on the ruins of Osgiliath (a place Tolkien’s Frodo never went), in full view of a Servant of the Enemy, a flying Nazgul, and practically offers the Ring to it and what happens? Does it grab Frodo and fly off? Scream and inform Sauron of the exact location of this hobbit and the Ring he’s been searching for so diligently, so that all the armies of Mordor will storm Osgiliath and take him. Nope. The poor little thing is scared off by a single arrow and flies off. And I guess Frodo comes to his senses. Whatever.

04.09.2002 18:04 The Chicago Underground Film Festival (continuing…)

The CUFF jury awarded Best Feature to Jon Moritsugu’s Scumrock and I can see why: it’s an affectionate and likeable pastiche. Its humor is low-key and its charmingly lo-fi aesthetic out-dogmas Dogme. Still, despite the fact that in interviews Moritsugu takes pains to talk himself ahead of his peers in terms of underground fashionability, everything about Scumrock (the slightly-off comic timing, the use of indie actor James Duvall and punk iconito Church, the grainy, washed-out video footage, the punk and noise-rock soundtrack, the filmmakers’ in-jokes) seemed designed to flatter the tastes of the underground audience; but, there’s nothing new here in terms of theme or technique or subject matter. In fact, it was so vague that I can’t really tell you specifically what it was about; but, I can tell you I wasn’t the least bit surprised. And maybe that’s the most damning comment of all. On the same bill, Zakery Weis’ short Untitled was, as fest director Bryan Wendorf described it, a perfect compliment for Scumrock. Why? It was every bit as self-referential and self-congratulatory.

I didn’t see any of the other films/videos that won awards but I thought I’d run down a few of the ones I did see. I found James Fotopoulos’ Christabel to be quite beautiful and, despite the sameness of the images and absence of a narrative, not a bit boring. Some quibbles: The soundtrack was kinda’ obvious by ambient standards; the reading of the Coleridge poem was jarringly amateurish and as such, didn’t compliment the evocative imagery successfully; and, the end-titles that appeared at the end of each section (in both video and 16mm) interrupted the hypnotic flow unnecessarily, I thought. Still rewarding.

I liked the title of Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth! so much that I bought a ticket without really knowing what it was about. To pique my interest further, controversy erupted in the line waiting for the movie to begin: someone was passing out single-sheets that read, in part: “This movie SUCKS!” and referred to its director as “Bob ‘Asshole’ Taicher” and gave a URL explaining why it sucks. Nice beginning, huh?

After reading only a little of the history off the web site I can say that whatever movie these guys come up with it would have to be more honest than the blatant exploitation of Taicher’s movie. I can’t speak to whether he’s a “liar, a cheat, and a thief” but he’s a pretty accomplished equivocator. Asked about how he came about getting permission to use the tapes and make a film out of them (by the guy who passed out the sheets), Taicher passed the question to one of the film’s leads who sugggested the questioner talk to him afterwards since it was “pretty boring.” Asked about the background history of Ray and Pete the director said he “didn’t know much.” Not surprisingly the film therefore consists almost exclusively of the “conversations” the two had, overheard and taped by their neighbors, devoid of any other context or personal history. When the actor (who also played the same character in the stage play based on the tapes) claimed that he “really loved those guys,” I kinda got the feeling I was being sold a bag of goods. It’s clear we’re really only supposed to laugh at these “characters”, (and from a fairly obvious and lofty class viewpoint at that), whose overheard conversations are presented here as if they somehow constituted the lives of two real men. Was it funny? Sometimes, you betcha. But it also made me feel like a bit of a creep. I don’t think the filmmakers, however, had that problem. For what it’s worth, the actors were all very good at what they were doing.
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27.08.2002 01:52

The Chicago Underground Film Festival (continuing…)

I should have noted below that Shawn Durr’s newest short Die! Faggot Die! redeemed the otherwise tortuous two hours inflicted by Take Away. Starring Philly, CUFF’s own Donna Jagela, and Verow as the Faggot Rommmate, it’s a typically lurid and fun Durr fantasy: dykes kill a faggot (I won’t spoil it by telling how they do it) in order to get off. Weeeeee! It would have been nice to watch it again.


26.08.2002 00:21The Chicago Underground Film Festival
The opening night film,

MC5: a True Testimonial was sold out so the first film I saw at the Fest was Standing by Yourself, a documentary video by Josh Koury; it’s also, so far, by far, the best thing I’ve seen. For me, it was a bracing antidote to Larry Clark’s Bully (which I rented recently to make sure I didn’t miss anything the first time and, oh yeah, so I could watch Brad Renfro dance in his underwear). By comparison, Clark’s Calvin Klein-ization of teenage nihilism looks slickly sentimental and, of course, exploitative. Koury’s video, on the other hand, is unflinchingly real: raw, auto-critical, uncondescending, brashly committed to its format and to its subjects. I really need to see it again before I go into any detail because I’ve really never seen anything like it. All I know there’s a real artful, brave intelligence going on in this video and you should see it.

On the other hand courage, originality and self-awareness are just some of the things missing from several of the other movies I’ve seen. Alfred Leslie’s The Cedar Bar (I’ll let you read Jonathan Rosenbaum’s description.) I found to be self-serving in that dense and oblique way that only artists talking about themselves can be. I laughed at some of the juxtapositions offered by the found footage but ultimately the suggestiveness of the appropriated images was dragged down by the dull narrativity of the staged reading/musical going on behind it. If it’s an enlightening look at a particular period in New York art life I can only say: Guess you hadta be there.

Even less rewarding was Todd Verow‘s excruciating Take Away. Once and Future Queen was one of my favorite films from CUFF two years ago so I was looking forward to Verow’s newest, also starring the inimitable Philly. Unfortunately for this movie, it seems Verow works best as a creator among many; Queen was Philly’s show, for the most part; but the milieu and characters of New York City as well as Philly’s “pick-up band” Eager Meat contributed mightily as well. What Queen lacked in ideas it more than made up for with its vitality and humor; Verow tries to prop up Take Away‘s complete lack of ideas (mostly Philly just wanders around Berlin mewling banalities about “nothingness” and visiting public toilets) with the by-now-obligatory badges of “bad taste”. A signature sequence featuring Philly somewhat timidly licking and stroking a public urinal is supposed to be shocking, I guess: it struck me as just bad burlesque, unmotivated and, well, pathetic. Overall, a BIG snore. Honey, I don’t think John done it this a-way.

22.07.2002 1:29
John Sayle’s Sunshine State got a nasty shaft from Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek for being “politically-correct.” Aside from my insistence that no one with a critical brain should ever use that most slippery of modern epithets (I mean, just how useful is a word used regularly, and yet with no apparent consensus as to its meaning other than a reactionary catch-all dismissal, by Camille Paglia and Pat Califia, radical gay film critic Robin Wood and conservative film critic Jeffrey Lyons, Hardball’s Chris Matthews and Pat Buchanan, Larry Kramer and Andrew Sullivan, etc. etc.) I think Zacharek’s characterization is both unfair and inaccurate. Despite the “message movie” set-up (developers trying to bamboozle Florida locals out of their land), Sayles doesn’t paint any of his characters with a tar brush, not even the ones with whom he probably disagrees. One of the central characters (Jack Meadows played with goofy aplomb by Timothy Hutton), ostensibly one of the “bad guys”, forms an affectionate, sympathetic sexual relationship with Edie Falco’s Marly Temple, ostensibly one of the “good guys.” There are no moral histrionics or passionate recriminations to be heard in their gentle often funny exchanges; there’s plenty of oblique self-discovery though, which seems to take both characters by surprise. Jack’s perspective on things actually leads Marly to do the clichéd “wrong” thing for what Zacharek describes as the “correct” message (Marly wants to sell her family’s motel to the developers) but the “right” thing for her own innner life. Granted there are the obligatory big business baddies (but hey I don’t think anyone wants to see sympathetic investor types right now) but there’s also a dozen or so fleshed out characters dealing with internal and external ethical and personal compromises; not to mention the considerable pleasure provided by the warm and natural performances of a terrific cast, particularly Falco, Hutton, Angela Bassett, Ralph Waite and Mary Alice. Like most Sayle’s movies, it’s not so expertly paced but it’s rewarding just the same.
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10.07.2002 1:29
Saw The Bourne Identity and Spielberg’s Minority Report fairly close to each other but aside from the superficial generic similarities the two movies couldn’t be more disparate: Spielberg’s adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novella looks like a work of an art and has some reasonable approximations of both social critique and real characters although the plot is predictable; TBI doesn’t try to do anything more than, credibly I guess, for what’s it’s worth, turn Matt Damon into an action hero (Run Lola Run‘s Franka Potente is completely wasted.) The much-vaunted chase scene is barely distinguishable from that Toyota commercial. Maybe those critics who ballyhooed about it should go back and actually watchFrench Connection before they start making comparisons to the version in their clearly dim memories. MR, on the other hand, has a good-naturedly anachronistic, high-flying and armrest-gripping jet-pack chase scene comparable to nothing I can think of at the moment. I should note also that I’m no Spielberg or Tom Cruise fan yet an admirer of Damon. Go figure.
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21.06.2002 2:51 AM
For those gentle loyal readers who are wondering… No, these are not the only movies I see; they’re the ones about which I feel I have something interesting to write. Unfortunately, they are somewhat easy to write about. There are a ton of movies (usually my favorite ones) that I just haven’t been able to process yet – they’re either too powerful or complex or affect me profoundly. This is an unfortunate block for a writer who loves movies as much as I do; but, I’m working on it.

So anyway here’s a short list of movies I’ve seen recently that I love but so far haven’t been able to write about:

  • What Time Is It There? Ming-liang Tsai’s hilarious and mysterious rumination on grief and sublimation. Every shot is practically perfect and nearly silent (except for a short unnecessary scene where the mother speaks). After a long period of seeing nothing that inspired me this movie, screened and awarded at the last Chicago International Film Fest, reminded me of why I go to movies. And made me go buy 400 Blows on DVD.
  • Y Tu Mamá También Absolutely justifies all the hype. WARNING: Don’t read past this if you haven’t seen the movie. Spoiler imminent. This movie finally puts the nail in the coffin of the 70’s buddy movie – making explicit what was subtextual. You’ll only be shocked at the “shocking” moment everyone talks about if you believe our culture’s (and I do mean American, and also in this case, Mexican) ideas about rigid sexual identities. Or if you’ve never felt the passionate kisses of supposed “straight” boys at the end of a long night of Tequila and intimate conversation. Hey, I ain’t namin’ names here but talk to me after the movie…

    Regardless, this movie is also smart as hell, sharply and subtly political, full of lively, honest, comic performances plus shot and edited in a charmingly lo-fi manner. Lovely and, despite the fundamental confusion of its characters, inspiring

20.06.2002 1:44 AM
The Man Who Cried (DVD): It’s too bad Cristina Ricci’s British accent is so shaky in this uneven Sally Potter period piece because otherwise the subtle physical nuances of her performance verge on the magnificent. Potter probably cast her more for her physical type than her actorly abilities anyway; still, Ricci’s a remarkable and unusual beauty with a uniquely classic presence; this movie shows that more clearly than the talky/campy Sleepy Hollow. She’s not quite there: she’s still got a youthful gawkiness that works in Pecker but works against her here.

Two of the reasons she often shines however is the contrast against one, an effective, if a tad too facile, turn by chameleon Cate Blanchett, playing her flatmate and two, the dark landscapes Potter poses her petitely voluptuous frame against or moves it across: pumping solidly on her bike through the Parisian night following her soon-to-be lover as he rides his white horse home, framed by stage shadows as she endures Dante the opera singer’s come-on laced with racial slurs, the anxious walk through hospital corridors at the movie’s conclusion. These scenes almost have that iconic glow imbued by cloaked Meryl Streep rushing across the dike in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Potter clearly hopes so.
Johnny Depp puts a little more passion into his role as the love interest, particularly his breakdown the night before she leaves, holding Ricci’s character asleep in his arms. John Turturo is miscast but not all that bad as a Fascist Italian opera singer who prays to Mary to “let the Germans win,” mostly for the sake of his career but also to preserve his sense of class privilege. A nice moment really but also directed a bit too cannily.


Like most of Potter’s work I felt a little cheated throughout most of it: not least by the tiny yet ever-present ironic distance she seems incapable of shedding when turning her eye toward love. Depth of feeling is not really a goal here – I barely noticed when Blanchett’s character exited the narrative. The final scene does provide a decent and underplayed payoff, however, despite its meager setup.
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19.06.2002 11:28 PM
Moulin Rouge (DVD): Finally caught up with this one after hearing raving superlatives from most of my friends. And okay, I can see the attraction. It’s a dazzling (or annoying, depending on your tolerance for MTV-style quickcuts) first 20 minutes, the leads are all wonderful (Nicole Kidman, Ewan MacGregor, Jim Broadbent), there are a lot of nice turns in secondary parts as well (John Leguizamo’s painfully dubbed Toulouse was trés grating however) the costumes are, well, allow me to wax faggy, fabulous! and the production design is beautiful. On the other hand, the soundtrack sucked! I mean really! “Updating” and “recontextualizing” mostly medicore 70’s and 80’s power ballads and dance wanks doesn’t say innovative to me; it says LAZY! I love “Roxanne” (the Police version anyway; plus wasn’t her name Satine?) and Broadbent was insanely tarty in “Like a Virgin” but what this movie really needed was some original music. Hello? And utilizing a line from an Elton John warhorse as a leitmotif doesn’t strike me as creative; it strikes me as hollow. Did I mention lazy? I think good ol’ Baz has seen Almost Famous one two many times. I mean, so have I but I didn’t run out and decide to combine Shakespeare with Styx or something. Oh wait. Actually I did do that. Only using the Four Tops and the Supremes in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Only I was 18 IN FRESHMEN ENGLISH LIT!! Did I just yell or something? Sorry.
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06.05.2002 11:28 PM
The Lord of the Rings: Okay probably no one really cares what I think (but honestly I don’t think Hollywood cares what anyone thinks) but I’ve talked about this movie enough with Tolkien geeks (the latest conversation in a cute hostel in Dresden, Germany) that my feelings about it are clear enough to write about. First of all I’ve only seen it twice and that’s about all I can take for awhile. Secondly I found the Harry Potter movie to be more fun, if as awkwardly constructed, the second time around. Seeing LOTR TFOTR the second time revealed nothing new but I was a bit more resigned to the extended special effects sequences because well, that’s the bait and switch game mainstream filmmakers play on their audiences these days: It looks like plot/character development but it’s really just proof to the suits that the bank of blue Sun boxes saved so much money! Really! I guess we can only be thankful that it wasn’t directed by George Lucas in which case the cast of very talented actors would have really been wasted.


Seriously though I’m sounding a lot more bitter about this movie than I am. It’s flawlessly cast, the production is beautifully conceived, designed and shot. Ian MacKellan is Gandalf in a way I didn’t think possible: by turns mercurial, saturnine; mysterious, simple; grouchy, kindly; frail, powerful; sorrowful, blithe. As MacKellan plays him it’s a character that breathes with life: approachable and unknowable at once. And it’s a real joy to hear Tolkien’s words verbatim on the Bridge of Kazad-dum read in a wholly unique way by Sir Ian. But most of this movie’s characters feel alive even when they’re not particularly true to the book, such as Merry and Pippin.

But ultimately it’s not the special effects and fight scenes that spoil the experience for me: it’s the shift of emphasis from myth-making to war-making. In that process concealed motivations, personal histories, tragic birthrights, personal dooms, tribal destinies (the real sad heart of what makes Tolkien’s world so beguiling) get, not just simplified and dumbed down, but obvious and literal: Elrond is a catty bitch, the Peoples of Middle Earth are squabbling bigots, Galadriel is a tripped-out freakazoid, Saruman is a ninja wizard, Gimli a sentimental rube, Merry and Pippin simpletons around for comic relief, etc. etc. As Roger Ebert also suggested about this movie, Peter Jackson turned Western literature’s richest proto-fantasy into a sword and sorcery epic, its subtleties Bowderlized, its mythic conflicts reduced and externalized. No matter how grand the vistas we’re treated to throughout the movie’s sumptuous three hours the lasting views are the ones we see all too infrequently – the ones peeking into its characters’ hearts: Gandalf foreshadowing the part Gollum has to play in the unfolding events and also Frodo’s rather narrow view on the matter, Samwise afraid to ask Rosie to dance (about two seconds of screen time), Boromir’s death-rattling change of heart about the Ring, Frodo’s decision to take the hard road to Mordor alone. There’s barely time to savor these moments before a giant troll or an orc muscleboy (what was that about anyway?) or renegade wizard tramples all over them. TFOTR is not a bad movie; but it’s not a great one either.
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10.12.2001 11:28 PM
Traffic (DVD): Seems like it’s Oscar week for me. Despite a decent supporting cast (including Amy Irving, Jacob Vargas and Erika Christensen in a subtle performance as the Drug Czar’s heroin addict daughter) I was bored silly most of the time. Too bored even to respond as vehemently as I could have to the film’s basic conceptualization of the “drug problem” as being mainly one of race and/or nationality (consider how “Mexico” is represented in the mise en scene and then contrast it with how it’s portrayed in All the Pretty Horses) and where everyone, except the police and the government, of course (Senators Barbara Boxer and Orrin G. Hatch play themselves), is either severely morally compromised or complete scum. The ostensible main point of the movie, that the war on drugs has too many unacceptable casualties, is delivered with smarm (like Soderbergh’s Oscar acceptance speech) rather than compassion and the entire 140+ minutes gurgles and hand-wrings fitfully over its plot machinations with little drama and even fewer original ideas.
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10.12.2001 1:56 AM
All the Pretty Horses (DVD): Of course we all know how little the Oscars have to do with great movies (does anyone really believe that a flacid, hollow, BORING AND CHEESY genre exercise like Gladiator was the best movie the U.S. had to offer last year? Does anyone actually watch Kramer vs. Kramer anymore?) but it would be nice if ocassionally the Hollywood establishment would recognize films which actually work within a classic Hollywood tradition. The Love Letter comes to mind, a thoroughly sincere, modest, charming, quirky and unconventional love story; and since catching up with Billy Bob Thornton’s adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel on DVD, I’m all the more convinced that the Oscars are full of shit.


By all rights, especially in comparison to the rest of the movies nominated, ATPH should have garnered nominations for Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Lucas Black (fast becoming the journyeman actor of his generation) or Henry Thomas. Matt Damon isn’t bad either.

So why was it ignored? Judging by what was nominated (and generally gets nominated) I can only conclude it was because: 1) The plot had nothing to do with drugs and/or drug dealers; 2) No one showed their tits; 3) There wasn’t a central patriarch we were supposed to both identify with and loathe; 4) It wasn’t produced by a cadre of homosocial fratboys (and their drooling mentors) with delusions of relevance; and finally, because Thornton treated his characters (of which the Mexican and American Southwest landscape was perhaps the most revered) with great affection and generally infused the entire film with sincerity and craft.

Watch this movie; not even Penélope Cruz could ruin it.
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9.19.2001 1:28 AM
L. I. E.: Despite my best intentions this somewhat pervy indie was the only movie I saw during my two week sojourn in NYC. If you haven’t heard about it already the plot centers around young Long Island teen Howie (underplayed rather nicely by newcomer Paul Franklin Dano) and his relationships with the men in his life: his absent, single-parent father, his manipulative hustler best friend Gary and Big John Harrigan, an older man into younger guys. Critics, including some gay ones, are falling all over themselves proclaiming how “brave” this film is but I think what they’re actually responding to is their own uneasy acceptance of the subject matter; that is, their admiration for this movie is mostly self-congratulatory. And and of course, heavily tempered with the relief that no actual sex or even a kiss takes place at all. How brave.

To my mind, the only brave things in this movie are its performances. There’s a noble even-handedness in Brian Cox’s Big John that is not borne out in the plot – eventually his pedophilic character is shot and killed (of course!) by his lover, jilted at being replaced by Howie. Dano’s Howie is full of the troubled ambivalence typical of a teenager in his situation. And Billy Kay’s Gary is allowed to be more sexy than fucked up.

I’d like to credit director Michael Cuesta and screenwriter Stephen Rider but there are so many other missteps that it’s difficult to do so. There’s forced and inappropriate humor (including a thankfully brief but painful decent into chase farce, involving, dubiously, the FBI), heavy-handed symbolism (the film’s title is the worst of it), belabored cross-cutting and enough unmotivated behavior forced on Howie that you wonder if the filmmakers had any idea at all whom they wanted him to be.

To make a brave movie about intergenerational relationships (which admittedly may not be what the filmmakers were after) you’d have to first let go of some clichés (boy allows the sexual advances of older man because his father isn’t around) and avoid the homophobic conventions derived from Hollywood (the murder of the defiant homosexual). More importantly, however, the characters would have to develop their own motivations and move through the movie under their own power. I didn’t for a moment believe that any of the main characters (except perhaps, in a small way, Gary; who, not surprisingly exits the proceedings rather early and who represents the only unproblematic sexual object choice for Howie) were anything but proofs in a simple-minded theoreum about pedophilia. It’s amazing to me that straight critics were able to, with one little shake of blue-jeaned hips, invest Howie with all the precociousness of a Lolita but with none of the self-awareness. I’m just glad that the actors managed to imbue the proceedings with some dignity.

For a frank and considerably less squeamish take on this subject read Wallace Hamilton’s Kevin. For all its limitations as an idealized apologia it trusts the desires of both characters, particularly the teenage boy’s, to speak for themselves.
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8.21.2001 11:40 PM
Chicago Underground Film Festival: After being berated for my CUFF non-attendance by Shawn Durr at his rather debauched, never-ending party the night before, I showed up to see his video short Chopstick Bloody Chopstick. It’s an elegantly edited, smartly written, hilariously scripted and acted, multiple-split screened collaboration with Canadian videomaker Wayne Yung (not Wayne Wang, as the CUFF program listing problematically misstates…sheesh). The other videos I enjoyed were Ass, by Chicagoan Usama Alshaibi, a refreshingly erotic and striking anal masturbation video and Les Leveque’s Red Green Blue Gone with the Wind, a strobing (seemed to be a mini-theme of the evening) deconstruction of Gone with the Wind consisting of selected rapid frame dissolves of the red, blue, green channels of the VHS video including the final, implicitly-ignored copyright warning. You’d have to see it to understand. Quite clever and somehow haunting. Anyway I regret not being able to see more movies but I’m especially poor at the moment (Thanks Shawn for getting me in and for the drink tickets!) I always look forward to CUFF and it really bums me out to have missed out on so much. *sigh* Next year.
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8.15.2001 9:50 PM
Quick rundown of the movies I’ve seen recently in no particular order:

The Fast and the Furious: Another one I saw simply because it was playing at City North 14, which is near me, and because it was $5.00 Tuesdays, and yeah, because of Vin Diesel. Somehow the prominence of cars was lost on me in the previews. And anyone who knows me knows I hate cars. ‘Cept maybe for Stingrays. Anyway this movie wasn’t too boring and Diesel has a certain amount of screen presence, not the typical dumb jock attitude or cocky thug pose either. He’s shirtless for only about 5 seconds but there is a quasi-romantic relationship between him and the other male lead (another example of The Return of the Gay Subtext initiated by The Talented Mr. Ripley? I hope not). Whatever. Next.

Crazy/Beautiful: Slightly underrated by the critical establishment this low-key character study/love story starring Kirsten Dunst and the exceptionally handsome Jay Hernandez impressed me with its stolid refusal to flesh out the familiar set-up (at least as old as Romeo and Juliet) with tragic turning points or moralizing. Dunst is dead-on convincing as Nicole, the frequently wasted, unfocused but creative high school photographer who falls for the committed, hard-working, Latino football player Carlos played by Jay Hernandez. As further evidence of the seriousness of this film and its refusal to sensationalize Nicole’s drug dependence we never actually see Nicole imbibing or using; rather, Dunst’s performance implies it and it becomes just another aspect of a fuller character. The same goes for Hernandez’s Carlos: neither his athleticism nor his ethnicity completely define him. The social and familial milieus of both characters are also convincingly realized. Nicole’s interaction with her best friend (in a small but nice turn by Taryn Manning) felt especially genuine to me as did Carlos’ neighborhood and his relationship with his mother.

The film doesn’t completely work however. It’s marred repeatedly by glossy montages, replete with a generic indie rock or hip hop soundtrack, which glibly attempt a shortcut to relationship development. The biggest problem however, was the sketchy motivation of Carlos; I didn’t really believe the depth of his attachment to Nicole, ostensibly borne out by his coming to “rescue” her near the film’s subdued climax. If I’m supposed to believe he’s as in love with her as she is with him then I’m unconvinced. If I’m supposed to believe his attitude toward Nicole is mostly arch and opportunistic then I need a little more evidence. It’s to the film’s credit that the motivations of both characters are in question but I think the pressure to balance the character study and the love story proved too much for the filmmakers and perhaps commercial concerns put the emphasis on the latter.

All in all though there’s enough richness here to satisfy and Dunst continues to improve and grow as a character actor.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Saw this in the cheesily impressive environs of Evanston’s Cinearts 6 (there’s a very high domed ceiling with fake goldleaf and they serve Guinness on tap in the lobby bar!). Very little to complain about here; but also very little to discuss. Heavy on the music and the gender-fucking patter but rather light on drama or narrative, this mostly exuberant rock musical entertains pretty much from start to finish, even though it plays too often as disparate rock videos held together by a common character and not much else. Still, a stunningly impressionistic sequence involving nude sunbathing on the rubble of the Berlin Wall and a trail of gummi bears evokes its surreal perversity with ballsy grace. Walking out of the theater I couldn’t stop singing
“Put on some makeup…” plus the title track is a pretty good angry punk song.

Bully: This mildly arty teensploitation flick didn’t leave much of an impression with me other than when I wasn’t bored I found the self-consciousness of the performances (except for a brave and revealing one from Brad Renfro who plays Marty Puccio, the kid getting bullied), the unmotivated camera tricks, and the condescension of the script and direction pretty damn annoying. I didn’t get much of a sense of place either: It felt more like California than Florida to me and where the hell was that “gay bar” anyway? I don’t think this movie is any less prurient than Kids and, except for the short time it takes to murder one of the male leads, it carries a lot less narrative weight as well. Even Another Day in Paradise, director Larry Clark’s laughable attempt to remake Bonnie & Clyde, was more fun to watch.

Pearl Harbor: What’s there to say really? Embarrassing dialogue, hokey and not really very believable love story (sad because it’s so much easier to like Josh Hartnett than it is Ben Afleck; at least it is for me) dubious political obfuscations, impressive and scary special effects that call to mind Rebel Forces vs. The Empire as much as Americans vs. Japanese. Hell, even the love triangle resembles Skywalker/Leia/Solo. It’s depressing (but not all that surprising) to think that modern filmmakers now look at war, or at least war movies, through the lens of a late 70’s mediocre adolescent space opera rather than through, say, The Big Red One or even The Bridge Over the River Kwai. Not the most edifying way to spend three hours.
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8.5.2001 2:52 AM
I’ll catch up on the five or six films I saw during Chicago’s short heat wave but I wanted to write some quick comments on Ghost World while it’s still relatively fresh in my mind.

Bobby was late to Pipers Alley and the show was almost sold out so we ended up having to sit in the second row: necks ratcheted back, backs slumped. Consequently, my memories of the movie are a bit distorted; the frames skewed as with a fisheye lens. Not that that would be a unusual occurence for the projection “specialists” at Pipers; the preview for Pi was projected at the wrong aspect ratio. Apparently they couldn’t find or couldn’t thread the anamorphic lens. I kid you not. Guess that’s what you get when you pay your projectionists minimum wage and lock out your union workers.

Anyway even slightly skewed I was impressed with the look of the movie: rich browns, purple-blacks, reds, with splashes of pastel brights. Recalling the interior of vintage shops but never quite giving over to simple retro, each frame is constructed, much like Steve Buscemi’s character Seymour, out of the ephemera of the past but also, more to the point of the mise en scene, from the memories and impressions and cultural meanings that cling to collected objects, arranged history.
If there’s one thing this movie does really well it’s in depicting the pathos induced by our culture’s ease at discarding, not just things and genres and modes of producing art, but also any person who might find value in what gets lost in the rush to consume the next big thing.

Thora Birch‘s Enid, whose full-figured buxomness could have sprung directly from a Robert Crumb comic, embodies this pathos perfectly and she’s rife with the contradictions of recognizing what’s happening to the culture around her and practicing the misanthropy that shields her from all the implications of that recognition. She has a keen intelligence but it’s focused on nothing in particular; her much less perceptive best friend is a lot less self-aware (and a lot less sad) but she’s also moving forward with her life, moving out, getting an apartment, getting a job: the banalities of well-adustment. Enid’s journals seem to be her only real vocation. She fills them perpetually with painfully drawn caricatures and sketches (provided by Robert Crumb’s daughter Sophie) jagged with sympathy and sarcasm simultaneously.

Like director Terry Zwigoff’s previous film, the documentary Crumb, Ghost World shows tremendous sensitivity to the social situations of American artists and weirdos and Zwigoff shows he’s almost as adept in conveying that mileiu as he was in letting it unfold for itself.
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7.23.2001 8:55 PM
It was so hot today (103° heat index!) I made up my mind to sit it out in Logan Theatre. Did some research on the movies showing there; read the reviews on Moviefone.com. Concluded that Evolution was the least offensive; the other two in the running were Pearl Harbor (jingoistic, irredeemably heterosexual despite Josh Hartnett in boxer shorts) and The Mummy Returns (does anyone really need to see this movie?). I’d already seen the pretty but pedestrianly plotted Atlantis. All I can say now is never trust e-online.

Directed by Ivan Reitman this computer-generated, pre-literate comedy would have made me groan every five minutes or so but the air-conditioning was so soothing I just relaxed and let the inanity ride. And boy was there a ton of it. David Duchovny’s wooden, monotonal delivery was, unfortunately for the timing of the jokes, perfect for the flat-footed one-liners and anal penetration jokes (and what a weird and repulsive visual for the film’s “climax;” Samantha is right: there is something going on with straight men and their asses.) Anyway, Julianne Moore is, inexplicably, in this movie too along with that dopey-but-cute Seann William Scott (also in the underrated Road Trip which features a good male anal penetration bit) and a somewhat funny Orlando Jones.

*sigh*

I shoulda stayed home in a bathtub full of ice.

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