Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dinner with Dolly Read

Woodstock 2008

I've seen approximately 23 of Woody Allen's films, showing only the faintest disinterest in two of them (those being Small Time Crooks and his most recent outing, Cassandra's Dream). I've only witnessed about half of his output, and while I'm led to believe there are a few more disappointments awaiting me, I have to say the man's work is remarkably consistent, almost shockingly so. Considering just how prolific he is, Woody Allen's never really made anything less than "above average" caliber, and considering the artistic risks he so often takes, it's a wonder he isn't even more revered as a filmmaker. Notice in trailers and artwork for his latest, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, that his name barely merits a mention or any kind of prominent display. It's absurd treatment for one of the seminal voices in American cinema.

In honor of his impending new release, and in hopes of giving him his due respect, here is my list of the Top 5 Woody Allen Films. I recommend a marathon. Your very own Woodstock 2008. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll forget Small Time Crooks altogether.

1) Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

"How the hell do I know why there were Nazis? I don't know how the can opener works!"

While some prefer Allen's comedies and some prefer his dramas, Hannah and Her Sisters serves as an absolute mastery and marriage of the two. The interweaving story of three sisters and their crossed love lives is perfect fodder for Allen's tackling of social and sexual mores. The large ensemble of characters are given remarkably dense arcs and still the film never halts the laughter. The narrative is remarkably flawless as he weaves through his favored themes of adultery and philosophical pondering, all with a refreshing mix of both the cynical and hopeful. Special mention must be given to an even more likable than usual Dianne Wiest and Woody Allen himself at his neurotic best.

2) Interiors (1978)
"You'll live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to."

Initially perceived as one of Allen's failures, it has since been reassessed by his fans as the masterful drama it is. Allen takes obvious influence from Ingmar Bergman and uses Gordon Willis' cinematography to stunning effect. It's perhaps the heaviest of Allen's films and also one of his best constructed. The story follows a distraught family stifled by their controlling, mentally-ill mother, who's completely unable to accept her surroundings and the recent separation from her husband. We get the chance to see Diane Keaton in an atypically dark role here and yet the showcase is the sublime Geraldine Page as the mother. Bergman would be especially proud of the bits where Page learns of her impending divorce during a visit to the cathedral. The emotions barely register on her face and then she all but shatters before our eyes. She swipes away the nearby candles and flees to the safety of her confined interiors. And I'll never forget the way she so casually tapes up her windows and turns on the gas. It's one of Allen's most beautiful, bleak and affecting works.

3) Another Woman (1988)

"For here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life."

Like Interiors, Allen again acknowledges his influences. With Another Woman there's a bit of Bergman (especially due to Bergman cinematographer Sven Nykvist) and a bit of Brecht as we descend into the mind of one of Allen's most repressed characters. We're used to seeing Gena Rowlands play women on the edge in John Cassevete's films, but here she's playing someone who appears to have it all together. The drama begins when Marion Post rents an apartment to better focus on her writing, but she's quickly distracted upon overhearing a woman's voice drifting through the air ducts. The mysterious woman (played by Mia Farrow) is speaking to her analyst about living a life she hardly knows. Marion is typically the type to shrug off this kind of introspection and fruitless discussions of the past, but the woman's painful longings strike an unexpected chord. They set the course for a life-changing journey in which Marion struggles with the choices of her past and where her life is headed. The themes are extremely resonant, and while the story might seem dark and depressing on the surface, it ultimately becomes one Allen's most rich and rewarding works, with Rowlands a consummate wonder as always.

4) Husbands and Wives (1992)

"It's the Second Law of Thermodynamics: sooner or later everything turns to shit. That's my phrasing, not the Encyclopedia Britannica."

Mentioned mostly in parallels to Woody Allen's real life marital strife, Husbands and Wives is a key film in his career for some unexpected reasons. Perhaps only a person going through such personal turmoil could write such incisive words and find such brutal honesty in these characters' relationships. The innovative mock documentary style lends itself well to the probing dissection of marriage, as one couple's divorce causes a ripple effect amongst their friends. There's a heavy dose of Allen's humor but with a biting edge this time, delivered by an ensemble at the top of their game. Special mentions must go to Judy Davis as the embittered ex, Sally, who's responsible for one of the most awkward and hilarious bad dates in movie history, and Juliette Lewis as a smart college student who tempts and teaches Allen's frustrated husband.

5) The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

"I want what happened in the movie last week to happen this week. Otherwise what's life all about anyway?"

It's a film that all film lovers should see, and I can't imagine they'll come away untouched by its sweet sentiments. It's so easy to connect to this whimsical tale of a woman longing to escape her drab Depression-era life and her distant, brutish husband. Her escape comes by venturing into the movies, made physically possible when a beloved character literally steps off the screen just to meet her. It's the makings for a heartwarming romance and a brilliant meta exercise, in which the dilemma of that scenario happening in the real world is used to great comic effect. Allen finds a rare and deft balance, giving it real depth and still managing to make it feel light and breezy. It also contains one of Allen's most wonderfully poignant and melancholy endings, which brings the viewer back to reality and puts an end to their own cinematic escape.

For perspective, and just for kicks, here's my next five favorites... making this actually a Top Ten List... but who's really counting?... Besides me... obviously...

6) Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

"You gotta go back to your shrink. You know how General Motors will recall defective cars? Well, you gotta go in for a tune-up."

7) (tie) Annie Hall (1977)
AND Manhattan (1979)

"My analyst warned me, but you were so beautiful I got another analyst."

8) Stardust Memories (1980)

"To you, I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the loyal opposition."

9) Match Point (2005)

"It would be fitting if I were apprehended... and punished. At least there would be some small sign of justice - some small measure of hope for the possibility of meaning. "

10) Zelig (1983)

"The Ku Klux Klan, who saw Zelig as a Jew, that could turn himself into a Negro and an Indian, saw him as a triple threat."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pretty... Pretty... Pretty Good

Some pairings were just meant to be...

If my salivation for Woody Allen's latest venture Vicky Cristina Barcelona wasn't enough, news has already arrived detailing his next project AND it's already in production. Woody's apparently shifting the tone and will be teaming with none other than Larry David! (Mind you that's not exactly news as the film is already in production.) The film is tentatively titled Whatever Works and is, as Woody describes it, a "blackish comedy."

I think that's brilliant "news," what with the next season of Curb Your Enthusiasm so up in the air. This offers up so many neuroses they'll have to get psychoanalysts to rip the ticket stubs! I can't wait. Additionally, current muse Scarlett Johansson is temporarily dropped for Evan Rachel Wood -- the younger model.

...And some pairings were not. Is this Mighty Aphrodite 2?

A few more details on the film here. And more Woody Allen anticipation to come!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Where Some Men Fear to Tread

Induced by sickness and a masochistic urge, I find myself searching through the absolute dregs of daytime television. It's that magical time of day where you learn a little something about the world and maybe, just maybe... a little something about yourself.

Lesson #1
(courtesy of
ABC Family... and Levi's presumably)

Friendships CAN last forever, if only because of enchanted denim.

I was (mostly) guiltless about tuning into an episode of Gilmore Girls when I was treated to a few inspirational tidbits during the commercial break. It was seemingly just one of those sweet stories about four girlfriends fortunate enough to keep their bonds strong beyond the walls of high school... What's their secret? "The pants have the magic of keeping us together!"

What are they so happy about? Pants!

You thought college and the sheer cruelty of time was standing in the way of you and your pals, when really it was just a lack of magical pants. With the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and its soon to be sequel (made possible by binding contractual clauses with America Ferrera and Alexis Bledel), we learn that jeans transcend painful memories and great distances, but not terse teen melodrama.

I was prepared for Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 when I saw the trailer running before the similarly themed The Strangers earlier this year. There is, however, no preparing for lines like this: "These are not just any jeans... they make things happen!"

Lesson #2
(courtesy of
The Lifetime Movie Network)

Love thy neighbor despite their personality and interests.

Remember the smart one on Baywatch, played by Alexandra Paul? And by smart I mean flat chested.


I caught the tail end of the must-see Lifetime thriller Love Thy Neighbor, in which Alexandra Paul suspects her neighbors might be as likely to lend her a cup of sugar as they are to steal her clothes and belittle her design sense. The solution to her problem is filled with that witty social satire you know and expect from the Lifetime Network. After fending off the psycho suburbanite mom, she pulls out all the heroic stops by saying "Your daughter can't play soccer and she's not even a good cook!" The psycho mom flies off the handle and over the stair rail to her gruesome death. If that hadn't stopped her, Alexandra had plans to graffiti the "Honor Student" bumper sticker on her van.

If there's one thing I admire about the Lifetime Network it's their valued efforts to rescue early nineties TV celebrities from extinction. That and their ability to turn harrowing true stories into embarrassing recaps for those that survived them.

Lesson #3
(courtesy of any soap opera

The housebound don't have standards.

I used to watch Passions in its early days. Any show with the poor taste to exploit Princess Diana's death immediately after AND have shameful CD tie-ins is good enough for me. (I simultaneously gained and lost all respect for the Scissor Sisters in their supernatural cameo here. A guaranteed must see!) Nevertheless, things actually happened on that show. Nothing you'd dare tell your friends about, but still, things happened. Nowadays you're waiting months for an arch nemesis to do someone in, and years for the "will they, won't they" lovers to finally get the hint -- even though you know they'll never show the goods once they do.

I know you're thinking about skipping work now too...

Many gay viewers have been following the Luke and Noah storyline on As the World Turns in the hopes of pioneering a realistic gay relationship in daytime television, proclaiming it to be the first of its kind. Well so what? Passions had the first progressive relationship between an elderly witch and her animate doll, so let's get perspective here. What people fail to acknowledge is that the storylines will never be good and the sex scenes will always happen behind closed doors. Is it worth the devotion? The best we have to hope for are shirtless scenes and acting so numbing you're prepped for surgery. These stay at home parents, independently wealthy stoners, and bed-ridden depressives that constitute the daytime ratings just aren't giving themselves or the concept of "taste" enough credit. Do yourself a favor and remember the good old days with Passions' Timmy and Tabitha... Standards, people. Standards.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Batman, Bateman and a Bad Attitude

In the same time that The Dark Knight became Citizen Kane, I actually went to see the movie, much to my own surprise.

I own up to this: I don't care about superheroes. None of them really. Unless you count Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the series, obviously), the genre is completely off my radar. I love a rich mythology, veiled subtexts and hunky male leads though, so nothing seems missing on the surface. Still, with consistency, I forget these movies the moment I've left the theatre. Worse yet, as is completely unlike me, I nod off within the first hour. In my distaste for eating popcorn at the movies, do the popcorn movies pass me by?

Well to minimize the genre and this superior sequel is completely unfair. The Dark Knight has plenty of arc, a beefy Christian Bale (in too many layers), one of my favorite young actresses Maggie Gyllenhaal (with too few scenes), and even darker than usual undertones (with too little blood and gore, let's be honest). As for the plot? I may have forgotten it... Nevertheless, I know I've watched a superior superhero movie. More importantly, I stayed awake.

The Dark Knight
doesn't buck character for explosions, it doesn't overuse CGI, and it strips bare most of the bombastic excess for a dense plot. That's not to say it does all this flawlessly, but it stays true to being a spectacle film while allowing that to be the cause of some stellar casting choices and well timed twists.

I guess I can't deride the film's over-hyped success either, as long as it's so far beyond the tripe that so often get this kind of box office reception. It's worthy of respect, but I'm not going to lie. I'm still hoping the next film in the franchise is the Batman & Robin kind of awful. There's a certain shitty novelty that I can appreciate there, plus I know mockery keeps me awake. Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Christian Bale have foregone the puns and rubber nipple shots for a level of legitimacy I'm not sure I can get behind. Why so serious? If Morgan Freeman can't bear to say "let's kick some ice!"... fuck him.

Additional comments:
  • I get a feeling the mockery is universal when it comes to Bale's "Batman Voice." It's not quite a John Wayne impersonation... So what's going on there?
  • A great turn from Heath Ledger, of course. He gave every scene a certain sizzle that hasn't been in this series since Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman purred and pounced. She's still my favorite Batman villain, and that makes me think that in the next installment we need another female villain, or possibly the intro of the gay sidekick. Let's get this sexual tension thing going!
  • I loved when Bruce Wayne walks into that party scene with three girls on his arm. He's a player, and I bet he's had a few Patrick Bateman-inspired "don't just stare at it, eat it" scenarios. Bateman is basically Batman, but instead of rescuing a stray cat, he'd try feeding it to an ATM. Ahh, Patrick Bateman... Saving the city from yuppies and the homeless, one day at a time.

Seriously. Any excuse.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Now it's dark...

(Or Lynch 2: Electric Boogaloo)

It's lucky for us that David Lynch was probably electrocuted as a child. I'm convinced that electricity is the key to nearly every one of his films.

It's not just that rumbling on the soundtrack. It's that at some point a character is always immersed in some blinding, all consuming light and you know things aren't going to be alright. It almost seems like every supernatural element can be connected to this, as if they bring along with them an overpowering electrical current.

The transformation of Henry's baby into an oversized monster in Eraserhead, or frustrated saxophonist Fred morphing into suburban mechanic Pete in Lost Highway; with them comes a burst of electrical charge. In Inland Empire, Nikki slips into her character and finds her identity progressively fracturing alongside a blinding strobe of light, not to mention the mysterious Phantom's taunting red lightbulb. In Twin Peaks you can anticipate Bob's arrival, and those of other Black Lodge inhabitants, by a surge of static and ominous electrical hum, while evil Frank Booth's death causes an outage in Blue Velvet. The sinister appearance of the old couple, the magician and The Cowboy, spark wayward power surges in Mulholland Drive, while crazy Cousin Dell makes contact with aliens and a powerful electric force in Wild at Heart. Hell, even good old Alvin of The Straight Story experiences his life-changing revelation during an electrical storm.

Perhaps it's just the universal connection; a source between light and dark, where these characters often seem to dwell. It acts, as typical of Lynch, as a mundane subversion in which everyday surroundings become enigmatic and possibly even terrifying. Positive and negative charges thrown together as we watch for the sparks.

It also makes for a great drinking game.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008

Life's little discoveries...

I'm not above slapping beefcake shots on this website. I'm SO far below that actually, I just have to find ways to justify it. Thinly veiled is fine by me, and so...

One of my recent/far-too-late discoveries has been the Judd Apatow made TV series Undeclared. I'd been a late-in-coming fan of Freaks and Geeks, but I'd never heard the same acclaim for this equally hilarious and unjustly canceled series. It's relatively true to my college experience, only my roommate did NOT look or sound like Charlie Hunnam. He did however spit tobacco and mistreat women. Either way, great comedy and an entirely likable cast. Boy does the FOX Network know how to defaecate all over its best stuff!

Well part of the series' charm, aside from the writing, the directing and all that nonsense, is definitely Charlie Hunnam as the scandalously hot and smarmy brit, Lloyd. Of course I'd already nursed a fleeting crush on Hunnam as schoolboy Nathan on Channel Four's Queer as Folk, but as with that series' short run, it's obvious no television series could contain this seriously sexy bloke.

And yet... this week's "little discovery" had to come in such a cruel way. Apparently Charlie wants to be taken seriously as an actor. Akin to something like Jude Law in Road to Perdition, he thinks the actor de-glam will bring him respectability. Well it does, but at what cost to me?

Watching Children of Men for the maybe third or fourth time, I was struck by a familiar name in the credits. Surely there must be another Charlie Hunnam, or at the very least his shirtless promenade scene had been cut. The reveal... and hold your breath...

He plays "Icky Dreadlocks Babysnatcher Bad Guy," officially. It's no surprise I missed him really. Good on him for getting involved with such a great film and an unexpected role. Bad on him for not relying on his looks in spite of that.

Oh, right... beefcake justification. Watch Undeclared. It's funny, smart, and it even contains cameos from the likes of Amy Poehler as the dorm RA:
"Things have gotten a little out of control, but we're going to have a good time tonight. I want to let everybody know that the Muslim Awareness Pizza Party has been changed from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. We've got pizza there. We don't have any judgment, we just have pizza there... We just have pizza there..."
Next time Charlie, don't surprise me in dreadlocks. Just smiles and an open shirt... Just smiles and an open shirt...

--Previous "Life's little discoveries..." here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Return of Retro Posters!


"Abby doesn't need a man anymore..."

...But I think that's because she is one.


Perhaps the only John Wayne movie I'd seek out.
If only to find out if he's high in that picture,
or about to jig.


"Stay up or stay dumb..."

You don't need Dickens for quotes to live by.


Catchy title.
Created by someone who had clearly
traveled "... Beyond Booze!"

--Previous "Retro Posters!" here and here...

Lars and the Real Plea

I have a sincere request.

After powering through the entire series of Riget (The Kingdom) in two very late nights -- the brilliant, genre-bending and perversely consuming miniseries from mastermind Lars von Trier -- I'm now having a Twin Peaks experience. Just like that stunning series, The Kingdom ends with countless cliffhangers, lives hanging in the balance, and a burgeoning evil set to shatter the lives of the Kingdom Hospital staff and my fragile (prone to addiction) mind. In countless interviews it's been made clear that Lars von Trier did intend to make Series Three but was forced to halt production when at least five of the regular cast members had since died! That includes the irreplaceable spiritualist Mrs. Drusse (Kirsten Rolffes), manipulative Swedish neurosurgeon Dr. Helmer (Ernst-Hugo Jaregard), and even one of the dishwashing Greek Chorus members (Morten Rotne Leffers). My heart was just about to crumble with this news, but then I had to accept I'd come to the series all but a decade too late.

My query is this: where can I find the script for this third and final part, and who do I have to kill? Has anyone been as tempted to badger Lars von Trier at his personal home and violently pester his staff? I know Part Three has been written, I know secrets will be revealed, and I know I need closure that I'm probably never going to get. Any willing Danish fans that also own torches and pitchforks?

Alas my solace will have to come in what is now my favorite Udo Kier performance ever: Little Brother. I now have an urge to show that infamous birthing scene to every expectant mother I know.

Additionally, in my exhaustive (five minute) search I came across an article of interest to fans of Lars von Trier which discusses his films and their "pornographic" elements. Of most note is this deleted image from his sublime masterpiece Breaking the Waves...

What exactly was Jan up to before he met Bess? We certainly never saw this scene in the final cut, or apparently the many other vicious sexual encounters Bess was set to have in the film's original script. Curious stuff... and this explicit, violent sex will have to fill my Kingdom void for the moment.

--Check that article out (from Bright Lights Film Journal) here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Random Bests...

Best: Spastic Sex
and it's a TIE!!

from The Idiots:

"Spazzer Gang Bang Day Begins!"
"Leap Frog Traffic Jam"

AND from Showgirls:

"Jessie Spano Can't Kick Caffeine Addiction"
"Special Agent Dale Cooper Saves Epileptic Woman From Drowning"

I've really upped the smut in this place recently, but notice the complete lack of pleasurable nudity. That's class.