Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Positive Thoughts with Penélope Cruz

So Penélope's not playing a prostitute, a historical figure, a Holocaust survivor or a victim of mental illness... I still think her Oscar odds are pretty good. As my latest "Signatures" post suggests, things should all work out if she just stays positive.

Then again... if she couldn't nab an Oscar for playing a pregnant HIV-positive nun who helps drug addicted transvestite prostitutes... All bets are off.

But I'm leaving the positive thoughts to Penélope.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Retro Posters in Heat!

Sisters really are doing it for themselves.

Well if Kathy and Dale, Natalie and Irv,
Thelma and Mike, and Liz and Mitch are doing it...

"...They are the lurking,
unseen evil you dare not face alone!"

They're also the new ad campaign for Planned Parenthood.

-- The most orgasmic news yet: Bosnuk's awesome Wrong Side of the Art is back and better than ever! Go ahead, pleasure yourself.

Friday, January 23, 2009

If You Weren't So Charming, I'd Kill Myself

Trix are for kids. Animated films are for emotionally dead adults.

Don't get me wrong, there are important lessons here for any child as well: don't let your animals play with firearms, make sure your little sister eats something, and always phone the folks before a nuclear holocaust. But these animated films have something that Dora the Explorer will never have: soul-crushing honesty. Best to wait 'til your kids are eleven.

These films may finally kill that part of yourself that still believes in things like hope and human triumph, but they are masterfully done for all that dismal aftermath. Let us be thankful for such elegant and emotional art films as we let our cars run in the garage.

WARNING: Some spoilers and irreparable psychological trauma.

The Plague Dogs
(1982 - Martin Rosen)

Hope: The will to survive even the harshest conditions is made painfully (!) clear in this tale of two canines and their escape from an animal testing facility into an equally cruel outside world. A friendship is formed between Snitter and Rowf that helps them sustain hope in finding some glimmer of happiness at the sparkling edge of the earth.

Hopelessness: The film's unflinching horrors happen right from the start! Animal's are drowned and placed in incinerators, people are run over, eaten and shot in the face. Oh the humanity! If there is such a thing...

Key moment of despair: Snitter's endearing, desperate hunt for a human master leads him directly into the arms of a strolling hunter -- and accidentally tripping the trigger on his shotgun. Snitter's dreams end in a shocking, devastating, blood-soaked instant.

We the viewers get dealt a similar blow.

When the Wind Blows
(1986 - Jimmy T. Murakami)

It's like those old couples that know each other so well that even their bickering transcends the bitterness and baggage to become something soulful and inspiring. An adorable English couple, Jim and Hilda Bloggs, talk about the impending bombing with as much regard for scorched earth as their untended garden. We're comforted by their timeless bond and ability to ponder tea time... even when their water supply has been permanently shut off.

Hopelessness: Despite their best intentions and upbeat demeanor, the radioactive fallout inevitably has its afterburn. Jim and Hilda slowly fade into oblivion, overcome by weakness and disease. That's what you get for trusting your government.

Key moment of despair: James comments on Hilda's red lips and she's quick to respond, "Lipstick? What do you mean, James? I haven't worn lipstick for years." Not so much a new shade as the aftereffects of nuclear radiation. Feel that endless shudder.

Grave of the Fireflies
(1988 - Isao Takahata)

Hope: At least Seita and the ever-so-adorable Setsuko still have each other. Even after being orphaned in the war and left to survive off of dried toads, this loving brother-sister duo is an inspiration in their never-fledgling devotion and will to survive. World War II has left Japan in a dire situation, but they still manage to raise each others spirits and would readily go to the ends of the earth for one another. It's completely heartwarming... And yet...

Hopelessness: Food is scarce and no one's willing to offer a stray grain of rice. No one is spared the effects of war, not even an innocent child.

Key moment of despair: "Rice balls. I made them for you..." Left behind by Seita in yet another search for sustenance, a delusional, malnourished Setsuko makes a meal for the two out of dirt gathered from the floor. Horrifying, heartbreaking, and somehow still adorable. Consider your spirits eternally crushed.

If Dora ever decides to explore war-torn Japan, someone remind her to pack a sack lunch.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

2008 Cheers and Tears

The year end lists bring out the best and worst in us, and usually say quite a bit about the critic at hand. I'd argue that I'm not nearly as emo as my five favorites would imply -- as in I'm not listening to Death Cab for Cutie as I cry and write in my poetry journal. I will say this year made good with the small, ambient indie film though, and who am I to resist such heady and depressing ambiguity.

So I didn't love The Dark Knight (meh) , I didn't cry over spilt Milk (I much preferred the documentary), and I didn't even see Slumdog Millionaire (I'm more of a Press Your Luck fan myself.). I never really caught on this year's bandwagons, but I'm happy to see the bandwagons were far less stuffed and plentiful in 2008.

Anyhow, here are my five personal favorites of 2008. If you don't agree, you can go cry about it. I know I will.

Coming soon to a Pottery Barn near you... Threeways!

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Love is tourism in this sensuously bitter comedy from Woody Allen. It reverberates with lust and possibility and echoes back in disappointment. The sunlit serenity manages to somehow mask the deep cynicism of these characters and gives the film a very romantic spirit. But just like a summer romance, the passion fades with some distance. Allen stays true to his fascinations with an effortlessly light energy and surpasses most of his comedies within the last decade. He finds the best in his beautiful ensemble, particularly a dazzling Penélope Cruz, and makes the heart grow fonder while we immediately lust for the next great Woody Allen film.

If only they'd named it Optimism Park, none of this would have ever happened.

Paranoid Park

Gus Van Sant's enveloping aura says so much about the affected side of disaffected youth. We as the viewer are the world on their shoulders. Van Sant, alongside cinematographer Christopher Doyle, finds the world of adolescence in a state of perpetual static dreaming at war with the harsh reality of adulthood. A young skateboarder's guilt over a sudden life-altering incident (and one of the year's most scarring cinematic moments) streams into an ethereal, grim and affecting moodpiece, with all the weight of a human tragedy amongst the airiness of a vague childhood memory.

"Over there! I think I just saw Sally Field falling from a plane..."

Mister Lonely

An expressive, feeling, and humane look at identity through the eccentric eyes of Harmony Korine. In this world anyone can be a star and miracles can and do happen -- other times the magic fails and it's best just to be a face in the crowd. The dreamy atmospherics and poetic pondering are tinged with a wonderfully offbeat sense of humor, and somehow Michael Jackson painting eggs, Marilyn Monroe getting a sunburn, and Werner Herzog's miraculous flying nuns all seem utterly transcendent and profound. There is a beauty to individuality and this film is one-of-a-kind.

The most dire game of fetch ever played.

Wendy and Lucy

Deceptively simple and unexpectedly haunting, Wendy's story is remarkably open, as is Michelle Williams beautifully subtle and distanced performance. The loss of one's only companion, the hard road to starting a new life, or any life; director Kelly Reichardt makes minuscule moments ring of truth and deeper implications of the world at large. At its most base level of a girl in search of her lost dog, there's a heart-wrenching pain at this film's center and yet it's captured without force in an environment that's immediately recognizable. Wendy and Lucy lives and breathes like a stranger you meet in passing: you know just enough to get a strong feeling about it.

Even lap dances eventually take their toll.

The Wrestler

Character overcomes cliche in this tenderly realized tale of a pro-wrestler readying for the good fight. Mickey Rourke's inhabited turn as "Randy the Ram" is an affecting look at a man bruised and beaten by his choices, and Rourke finds the real ache in those wounds. Darren Aronofsky expertly orchestrates the passionate heights of a hero's journey and the despairing lows of an average man's weakness. He also manages to take his usual brilliance for visual trickery into a more subdued, but no less spectacular, playing field. The more standard threads of the narrative are easily beaten out by some wonderful nuance, Aronofsky's low-key precision and the enduring performances, including yet another vivid and lovely supporting turn by Marisa Tomei as a stripper on a similar stage. For every punch thrown there's some equally fancy footwork and so much more going on off-stage.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Amish Complex with Naomi Watts

"Wake up, pretty girl! The joke's on you. The joke is on you!

Don't look at me. I just want to be left alone. I'm sick of this. I'm sick of you all looking at me...

Look at me, please, please, please! Everybody! Everybody look at me now. I am so pretty. I am so pretty. Look at me. Everybody just wants to be me. I'm pretty!"

Check out my latest "Signatures" post in which I take a gander at Naomi Watts exquisite guide to grieving. Turns out grief's like the Amish -- you just have to accept it.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

Under the Sea with Asia Argento

Now I get why Ariel's undersea pals put so much pressure on her to go to second with Prince Eric. There's something in the water.