Saturday, May 31, 2008

Charlotte would shit herself. Literally.

Or, Bile and the City, Part 2: Bupkis and the City

Some minor SPOILERS, but nothing more than is given away by the trailer...

Many reviewers have tried encapsulating the Sex and the City phenomenon by describing it as "frivolous, frothy and fun." I never really saw it that way... mainly because I watched the show. Sure, these women took pleasures in pleasure and indulged in the odd pair of shoes rather than paying their rent. The women I knew also suffered miscarriages, tangled with self-destructive affairs, fought cancer... "Frivolous, frothy and fun" barely sum up the show, even if it was a comedy series at its core. They do, however, do a bit to tackle the movie spinoff. It's fun in entirely unintended ways, frothy to the point of indigestion, and as frivolous as the men on the sidelines.

Three years have passed and nothing has changed but a few new book deals, a Mandarin baby, and a move to LA. This mundane setup is partially to blame. Did we really need another season about Carrie trying to break through to Big? We're to assume the theme is about what happens after finding that great love (see: painfully on-the-nose Cinderella parallels), but that message gets easily lost around episode three of the long mini-marathon.

Mr. Big (or John, since we're now on first name basis) can't go through with Carrie's "happily ever after" ending that he himself suggested. The flower throwing, shrieking and melodrama has begun, but it ain't exactly like old times. There's definitely a charm to seeing these ladies together again. The actresses can't be faulted, but the characters can. I felt tinges of guilt when I wanted to (and did) openly laugh at Carrie, a character I'd come to love, in the pits of her most shattering moments. There's even more sinister guilt when Charlotte becomes the source of reason. Something is terribly, terribly wrong.

Sarah Jessica Parker asking Michael Patrick King for a re-write and an editor. He refuses.

Charlotte's "surprise" pregnancy feels shamefully tacked on, as is the time wasting addition of assistant Louise from St. Louis, an over-earnest woman who wears her heart on her sleeve... make that her keyring. But Samantha gets the worst of it. Was this punishment for Kim Cattrall holding out for more cash? Not only is Samantha's sex life nearly void, she now struggles with an eating binge (intervention! she gained at least a half a pound!), buys a horny pooch (why again?), obsesses over a hot neighbor (admirably to get a penis in here somewhere), and goes through a breakup I'm still trying to figure out. I value any movie being greenlit with an ensemble of women over 40, and one that theoretically begins where most romantic comedies end. Nevertheless, the bittersweet soul-searching seems to have gone bitter.

It's all about labels and love, so they say. I label this movie a disappointment and yet I kind of loved it in its complete disregard for substance or anything of value. They sure did wear a lot of nice clothes, didn't they?

A few of my favorite bits:

  • Carrie: "Will I ever laugh again?" (Cue maudlin over-scoring...) More proof of Sarah Jessica Parker's immense talents to be able to deliver that line without actually laughing.
  • Carrie: (at her geographical punniest) "I've got to do something to pull me out of my Mexi-coma." / "I began thinking of her as Saint Louise from St. Louis." / "Back in Lost Angeles..." / "Charlotte Poughkeepsied in her pants."
  • Remember that episode of the show where Charlotte got the runs? I'm glad they saw fit to make that a character trait.
  • Michael Patrick King cast Valerie Cherish's hubby as the asshole at the reception dinner. Imagine if he'd have written in Valerie as Carrie's new assistant! I'm officially on board for that sequel.
  • That title sequence? One of the strangest things I've ever seen tacked onto the beginning of a movie. Completely gaudy and just unnecessary. On second thought, it sets up the movie pretty well.

The large ad plastered in the newspaper uses this quote: "If you are a woman there is nothing in the world that will keep you from this movie," says Josh Tyrangiel of TIME. Certainly if a man can speak for all women, I can be offended for them.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Bile and the City

I hope Sex and the City makes ten times the box office of Indiana Jones. I hope it crushes Moviefone and the multiplexes like a 50-foot Carrie Bradshaw trampling Manhattan in her Manolos. Don't get me wrong, the movie can't possibly be that good, it's just that the media onslaught has brought out a dark side of American pop culture. Darker than usual I mean.

There are just too many bitter heterosexual men pretending their girlfriends forced it upon them, even though we know they tuned in for the nudity like we all did. Also too many women making sweeping observations about the desecration of their gender having to culminate with the release of a TV spinoff. Imagine all large suburban families in split-level homes getting this pissed over misrepresentation when The Brady Bunch took to the big screen... So what is it about this fabulous TV foursome that is so threatening?

When the show started I couldn't imagine anyone taking issue with a well written show about women finding love, and yes, sometimes finding orgasm. Now it's viewed as the show about four over-the-hill slutty gay men trying to destroy monogamy with their materialism. Backlash or blacklist? Are these four sexy singles really communists? When a backlash is this specified, we're tapping into something ripe and repugnant within our culture.

I raise my cosmopolitan to you cinema gods. Let the skies rain Fendi bags and contraceptives all box-office weekend!

Italy's Next Top Model

Adelina Poeiro models the latest in rain gear from the high fashion streets of Venice!

Smile with your eyes, Adelina!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I hate you! I hate us both!

I was attempting a banner change. This was rejected, but it would make a nice business card. I relate to this image as a struggling screenwriter.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Paul Rudd of My Very Own

Paul Rudd creates the most adorably charming faux-assholes in the world. (As an actor, not a hobby.) He's been the smarmy goofball sidekick in countless films, and it seems like he might really be that awesome in person. You know you want to hang with him, laugh with him, and if you're anything like me, have your way with him in every imaginable dirty scenario. That includes cleaning up after him of course...

The real news? You can now get your very own, very personal, Paul Rudd screensaver! I wish I had something relevant to say, but all that comes out is drool.

(Additionally, this video posts to my blog in the most ugly, obtrusive, over-sized manner, but I'm allowing it for Paul... Beautiful, beautiful Paul...)

Save Tony Lung

It was just the other day that I noticed this subtle cinematic touch: In the Mood for Love shows Tony Leung's character Chow gazing out through his office window, lost in his feelings for Su Li-zhen. While in 2046 we see Chow now looking in through that very same office window, distanced but still lost in those feelings that linger like smoke. I love finding those kinds of heart wrenching nuances on second viewings, and they're plentiful in these films.

My theory is that Tony Leung was placed into films by the big tobacco industry. He just makes it look so good! Then again, Wong Kar-Wai could make coughing up a lung look absolutely exquisite.

What is it about smoky atmosphere that conjures up such sensuous longing? Well Wong Kar-Wai gets it. Cigarettes are like a perfect union between his solitary souls, or fallen angels. What some would consider a bad habit becomes a revealing character trait in his hands; tracing the repetition, the delayed exhale, and the slow burn of inescapable emotions.

Note: I do not advocate smoking unless accompanied by a great cinematographer.

Friday, May 23, 2008

I couldn't help but wonder... are women just better at losing their minds?

(Did Carrie Bradshaw just write that headline?)

What's with films about insanity and identity dissolution being almost entirely female-centric? I'm talking about those classic, mind-melding films where we see people (usually women) start to break from reality or lose their grip entirely. What's with female madness funneled through male directors funneled through male bloggers?

These wonderfully warped women are nothing if not complex. They're layered women's roles, as in you can't distinguish where one half of their personality begins or ends, or if they might have doppelgangers. They are innocence corrupted. They're also sexpots with one hell of a dark side!

Yet have no fear ladies. Even though all of these films are directed by men, all the male characters are surprisingly unfulfilled, manipulative sex-fiends, or potential rapist/murderers. It's pretty consistent. That and they're at least partially responsible for the female madness. While the women progress from happy to crazy to scary, the men progress from sweet to horny to evil. So maybe it's an even gender keel after all. Maybe it's even a progressive perspective for a male filmmaker; that even when questionably painting women as victims, one also paint the male as culpable? Who really knows, and all we have to rely on to answer that are the wayward perspectives of the lost or utterly insane...

It's probably my favorite genre. Just remember this simple formula: Happy. Crazy. Scary.

Warning: SPOILERS!!

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Directed by David Lynch

The woman: Laura
Traits: Innocent schoolgirl turned incest non-survivor turned coked-out Canadian prostitute.

The men: Leland Palmer, Various Townsfolk
Traits: Some fathers rape and murder their own daughters. (Visit Austria.) Men without daughters simply buy sex with high school girls and tie them up in their remote woodland cabins.

Inland Empire
Directed by David Lynch

The woman: Nikki/Susan
Traits: Starry-eyed actress turned scorned lover turned finger-snapping, white-trash prostitute.

The men: Devon/Billy, Piotrek
Traits: Suave, flirtatious co-stars turn into sadistic liars in front of their wives. Concerned husbands turn into abusive, jealous carnies.

Directed by Roman Polanski

The woman: Carole
Traits: Soft-spoken manicurist turned chaste recluse turned razor-toting rape victim.

The men: Michael, Landlord
Traits: Charming date prospects turn into pushy, unavoidable stalkers, or worse yet, walls that won't stop groping. Reasonable businessmen turn into rapists over late rent.

Directed by Robert Altman

The woman: Cathryn
Traits: Children's author turned triple sexual assault victim turned murderous wife with road rage.

The men: Hugh, Rene, Marcel
Traits: Dull, hobbyist husbands and persistent exes (even the dead ones) turn into philandering louts and walking libidos who force simultaneous shape-shifting sex on their lovers.

Now, in honor of these fascinating women on the edge, an excerpt of Wilson Phillips' "Hold On":

I know that there is pain
But you hold on for one more day and
Break free from the chains
Yeah I know that there is pain
But you hold on for one more day and you
Break free, break from the chains

Some day somebody's gonna make you want to
Turn around and say goodbye
Until then baby are you going to let them
Hold you down and make you cry
Don't you know?
Don't you know things can change
Things'll go your way
If you hold on for one more day yeah
If you hold on

Obscure Beauty: Dario Argento

"Bad luck isn't brought by broken mirrors,
but by broken minds.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fulci Lives!

I'm not a total devotee to Lucio Fulci, nor am I one of the many Fulci apologists. Still, I offer my apologies... Even his lesser films are watchable for all the wrong reasons, which is its own kind of compliment. As we all know, watchable shitty is a lot different than typical shitty-- you know, the kind you're likely to see take box office gold this summer. Fulci's responsible for some great/awful 80's horror meets Flashdance (Murder Rock), numerous little boys dubbed by middle-aged women (House by the Cemetery, The Sweet House of Horrors), death by snails, and the most menacing Top Gun poster ever (Aenigma)! Also the man did pull out all the stops on occasion and make genuine movie magic. His giallo films are my preference, but even his flicks like The Beyond, as much as they thrive on splatter and shlock, can invoke nightmarish atmosphere that is truly on par with the greats of Italian horror.

My personal favorite of his tacky and extensive oeuvre is Lizard in a Woman's Skin. Carol, a seemingly repressed high society type, begins to have dreams about seducing, then stabbing, her free-spirited hippy neighbor. Dreams that (gasp) come true! Everyone fantasizes about having a sexy neighbor make love to us on a red velvet bed with a wind machine, right? Not only does Lizard sleaze things up with its psychosexual lesbian murder, it takes a pretty cool spin on the often formulaic Italian murder mystery. The film becomes like a warped dream, using works of art and shock imagery to invoke the possible madness within its protagonist... before the last 10 minutes of course, when it ties everything up in a confusing, talky and bland bow.

What's remarkable though, given the questionable and sometimes inept work in Fulci's later films, is his mastery of space and locations and their relevance to the mental state of Carol. The winding staircases, bats in the belfry, and locales both ornate and confining, all seem to hint at this woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In all of its lesbian hysteria, arthouse horror and psychedelic dread, it's one of the seminal gialli of its era.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Just put your cigarette out on Juno..."

or, Recent Viewings and the Studio Standstill

It seems every movie I'm curious to see of late is being held up from release. By the time I actually see it, there's usually a clear reason why. Two pretty recent examples: An American Crime and Southland Tales. Both films are plagued by plots that I assume are deemed unappealing to the mainstream; packaged in confusion, lengthy runtimes, or a general feel bad vibe. That or we can blame it on two of Sean William Scott in the same movie. It begs the question, what's at all worse about these films than any on the summer movie slate? And why do studios insist on limiting their film's possibilities?

Maybe I've answered my own questions. Just see An American Crime.

Catherine Keener's so good, she makes abusing other people's children seem thoughtful and compelling. She can scream "prostitute" with such nuance. And Ellen Page turns on the sweet innocence so that you forget Juno's sass mouth and forgive her for introducing "honest to blog" into people's vocabulary. This grim true story is about a mentally ill mother, Gertrude Baniszewski (Keener), who babysits and batters a young girl (Page), all the while inviting friends and family to join in. Happy late Mother's Day, Ms. Baniszewski!

This is fascinating, nasty stuff on a true crime level, yet it's stuffed into obvious narrative convention. Voice overs, court testimonies, ghostly flashbacks... it's all a bit stiff in its presentation. It's not heavy arthouse drama by any means, though it would have benefited from that kind of angle. Let's face it though, the masses don't want to see the breakthrough starlet that just warmed their hearts get branded and beaten into submission. The masses don't, but apparently I do. I'm disturbed, and Catherine Keener can kick any child for my hard earned cash.

I still don't understand why a studio couldn't sell it as a well-acted horror film, or base its publicity on the fresh young Oscar nominee in the lead? Perhaps I might become a marketing executive so I can get more people to see depressing films under false pretenses...

And then there's a film like Southland Tales, which I think could have easily gotten a bigger rollout. Not because it deserves it, but because it seems destined to have found an audience if marketed properly. It's overlong, it got bad buzz at Cannes, but that doesn't halt a hit as we all know. Hold out for the summer and advertise ad nauseam. The Rock somehow still has fans, so does Justin Timberlake, and Richard Kelley's debut Donnie Darko has an almost baffling cult following to build on. Alas, Southland Tales will have to follow suit with home video success. If only it were one-eighth as good a film as Donnie Darko... Maybe it's my Gyllenhaal withdrawal talking.

The words "ambitious" and "mess" got tossed around a lot in its weekend-long release, and oh how right they were. Southland Tales is like Terry Gilliam's Brazil, if it were tacky and populated by the cast of SNL. It understandably got the green light because of its bankable cast, but it's bogglingly excessive, distancing and distracted. Hip, current satire put through an MTV blender and sprinkled with bad LSD. Still, that even ups my surprise as to why this didn't get more studio backing. It's as visually propelled as something like Speed Racer and ripe for nerdy forum discussions. Plus, for those that actually do enjoy it, there's plenty to feast on for a second viewing. Does that mean the geek fanboy crowds have resigned themselves to online downloads and video-on-demand? I guess that was the case for this Buffy freak, so I shouldn't pass the blame. Southland Tales has its share of honest laughs, visual panache and innovative ideas, but calling it a success seems like picking those bits out of a massive scrap heap.

My proof of its merits will come in a collective of words and wisdom from Sarah Michelle Gellar as porn entrepreneur Krysta Now. She's reason enough to give this whopping blunder a watch. Had the studios put these gems in their trailer, they might have had a hit on their hands.

"Can I tell you a secret? I'm fucking a very large and important man."

"Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted."

"We're a bisexual nation living in denial. All because of a bunch of nerds. A bunch of nerds who got off a boat in the fifteenth century and decided that sex was something to be ashamed of. All the Pilgrims did was ruin the American Indian orgy of freedom."

"Violence is a big problem in our society today and I will not support it. That is the primary reason why I won't do anal."

Obscure Beauty: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

"Everything begins and ends
at exactly the right time and place."