Thursday, April 30, 2009

In an Almodóvar World

Oh Antonio Banderas... So pretty, so much love to give, such a borderline personality. Not that I'd mind if he tied me up, held my family at gunpoint and forced me to love him. Should take about 3.5 seconds of convincing.

Simply put: Antonio is crazy/hot.

Antonio's (oft-seen) stalker side seems brought out most by people in the entertainment field: a queer film director in Law of Desire (mi favorito), a young model in Matador, and a porn star in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! An amateur film blogger seems like the next logical step really.

Over at Film Experience I've done a post playing Six Degrees of Pedro Almodóvar! So many lovely little links between his films, one of which is attempted rapist/accomplished murderer Antonio Banderas somehow still being the ideal man. Viva Pedro!

Here's one degree of Pedro Almodóvar: Pedro as a cashier in Law of Desire. I wish Pedro worked at my local hardware store! And I wish Antonio frequented my local hardware store! Bar none, best local hardware store ever.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sickened by a Mother's Love

Send your rage elsewhere... This is just a gracious reminder to you and your brood that Mother's Day is May 10th!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"I have to think these things up. You know..."

Maybe I'm too staunch a character to allow such alive and lovably eccentric ladies to be placed into the biopic mold. "There's nothing worse, I'm telling you."

The new Grey Gardens -- which aims to bring backstory to the high-society squalor of Big and Little Edie Beale -- feels partially inspired and partially stale. Not much different really from a piece of dry bread left to the raccoons in the Beales' attic. The attempts to fill in the gaps of Albert and David Maysles' seminal documentary are where the film finds its emotions forced and grey clouds hovering over such beautiful blossoms.

Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange both fare best in the documentary-era scenes, which seem to blend the devotion and disarray of these women most clearly. Barrymore gives one of the most complete performances of her career, and only feels like Drew Barrymore as old-age Drew Barrymore in a fraction of the scenes. She doesn't master Edie's mannerisms and dialect, but she comes impressively close enough and it's fun to watch her find the spirit of this toe-tappin' recluse. Jessica Lange too finds Big Edith best when she's confined to "present day," but one could argue she was aiming to do less imitation and more method acting. Do you think she really sat around singing in cat piss and ice cream cartons to prepare for this? Anything less would be below my own staunch standards. S-T-A-U-N-C-H.

The Beales' shared dreams and tattered remains do eventually translate, but only after too many orchestrating scenes of Edie trying to escape and those ever-painful "biopic moments" that seek to define a history rather than deliver it. It's no different than a film like Van Sant's recent Milk, which turns a radically emotional and personal documentary into a more calculating take on its characters - to the benefit of some perspective and to the loss of so much personality. Both are fine films by any standard, but too bound by structure to pull at my heart-strings. My issues with this revamp/retrospective seem to rest primarily (and maybe unfairly) with the problematic nature of its form, and less to do with its pleasurable performances, rich art direction, and any "in-joke" echoes of these infinitely fascinating women. It's definitely not a revolutionary costume, but it'll do.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cult Oddities: The Funhouse (1981)

Anyone who's actually ridden a funhouse ride knows the scariest part is that they charge admission. They're often shoddy, senseless and short, with central attractions more bewildering than based in thrills and chills.

Thankfully Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse exceeds (and celebrates) those subpar origins. It's classic monster movie material meets 80's slasher sleaze, with a few touches of the elegant dread Hooper showcased in his untouchable genre debut, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He's still wise enough to keep that subtle gallows humor intact, and never does this film lose those mindful winks to the audience. Hooper knowingly references the likes of Halloween and Psycho within the first few minutes. His film also references and acts as the inbred thematic cousin to "creation is cruel" classic, Frankenstein.

One of Hooper's best holdover strengths is pushing his characters into a surreal, strategic web, and making their escape as nightmarish as possible. The hormone-fueled couples' idea to stay overnight in a funhouse doesn't seem particularly fun, but it's not outside the realm of the teenage boredom that led them to a funhouse in the first place. See the sights, smoke some dope, and slip something to your significant other. (To be young again...) At least all that partially explains how they get lost in a place with a full-length track directly to the exit.

The Funhouse does falter and lag on occassion, but it boasts a few sequences that are terrifically effective and suspenseful in their own right. One sequence in particular is a mesmerizing mood setter that stylistically sets the trap - an impressive pullaway from our foursome entering the funhouse to reveal the whole of the carnival fairway shutting down. Lights flicker and fade away as the crowds dissipate and the mechanized laughter stops - isolating our core group with a terror we've yet to encounter. Likewise there's a very special sequence in the air-ducts that cements all the film's thematic hopelessness as our lead's screams for nearby loved ones are lost to the whir of an endless and cruel cycle.

Our final girl, Amy (Elizabeth Berridge), is a bit like Halloween's Laurie Strode but with tit shots. Both are the quiet, competent girls who toke up before their night of terror and are traumatized early on by their bitchy friend's prodding over never having given up the goods. Unlike John Carpenter's classic, which may have only unintentionally made a comment on the "sex = death" scenario, screenwriter Larry Block has all teenage transgressions lead directly to the diabolical. Amy's first mention of virginity actually cues the entrance of the film's prophetic doom and gloomer -- a classic horror cliché. This time it's one of the many homeless people wandering the fairway, dirty and aimless, but she's certainly a woman touting her own cruel cautionary tale, "God is watching you. He sees everything." There really is no escape.

(God sees everything, but apparently can't smell everything.)

If anything The Funhouse charts a rite of passage for Amy's character; a childish ride that quickly descends into the harsh unknown. She ends the film frazzled, bruised and broken, without a clue where to head next. Amy's innocence is lost, and aimless and dirty she becomes indiscernible from the homeless wanderers amongst the carnival crowds.

Creation is truly cruel. You don't need two heads to see that.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lip Service to Laura Dern

Laura Dern's face is one of the most beautiful, uniquely expressive in the business. Does anyone - can anyone - do a crying scene quite like her? I mean besides Gumby or Mr. Bill. Perhaps Wallace if he ever lost Gromit...

The only explanation really is that Laura Dern is molded of clay. When things in her films inevitably take a downward turn, so does Laura'a mouth -- like a lipstick rubber band ready to snap. Laura Dern's always been an actress capable of turning my frown upside down. Now if only she could do the same for herself and not lose an eye.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"I'll Take the Stairs..."

As part of (let's be honest) an infrequent new series, I plan to look at some of cinema's best scenes: The Classics, if you will. And if you won't, it's gonna be like a long, sober winter here at Club Silencio.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Valley of the Retro Posters!

As always, check into Bosnuk's Wrong Side of the Art for these and more stunning retro posters. Without the smutty side commentary, of course.

(China Sisters & The Other Side of Julie)
Waiter, there's an adult film star in my drink.

Helmet Berger lives in a world with too many women!
And too little fabric.

Evelyn gives good head.

In space no one can hear you scream... for pants.

Trauma von Trier

How immaculate a concept: A couple known only as "He" and "She" are whisked away to their isolated cabin known as "Eden" in order to struggle through their dismantling marriage. Will they find heaven in each other's company?

Did I mention this is a Lars von Trier movie? And it stars Willem Dafoe? And its title is Antichrist? Yes it's only a matter of time before all hell breaks loose, possibly of the literal kind, but I'd wager von Trier has a few devilish tricks up his sleeve.

Lars von Trier's Antichrist - Official Trailer from Zentropa on Vimeo.

As teaser trailers go it's a stunner. I'd sell my soul to see it -- if the release date weren't already set for late May (in Denmark mind you). Heaps of atmosphere, dread, and ambiguous posturing on religion, marriage and other sorts of psychological madness.

It's interesting then that von Trier considers himself a converted Catholic and has still managed to make films as confounding and conflicted as Breaking the Waves -- which would rattle anyone's cage, bible-thumper to blasphemer. Von Trier's pulling of the strings is so damn effective and so viciously orchestrated. Just like a religious experience, there's martyrdom, human frailty and baffling leaps of faith. Oddly enough I never fault in my belief that von Trier will deliver films to put me through the emotional wringer.

Which leads me to wonder what's in store for our latest female lead, Charlotte Gainsbourg? Will she be stoned by children and then sacrifice herself to a sinister seaman? Will she be executed with musical accompaniment? Will her friends smash her spirits and her Hummel figurines? Or will she just give birth to a screaming, half-formed Udo Kier?

Only the devil knows, and he's probably busy promoting his new film at Cannes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mia Meta Man

"I just met a wonderful new man. He's fictional but you can't have everything."

(Does this mean I have to sit through Prince of Persia fifteen times?)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cult Oddities: Troll 2 (1990)

Troll 2 exists in the realm of such lovably haphazard brilliance as Ed Wood and Nomi Malone. Its watershed story of the Nilbog family-exchange program is so uniquely, consistently terrible, and yet in ways that transcend many legitimate or competently made comedies. Is it so watchable because it's so unwatchable? Whatever the reasons, viewing it through bad movie goggles changes everything.

It's technically a sequel to a semi-respectable horror/fantasy entry, John Carl Buechler's Troll, taken under the funding of an Italian production company and director Claudio Fragasso -- who likely took the pseudonym Drago Floyd in the genuine horror that he was responsible for such dreck. Never mind that these are actually goblins and not trolls -- assuming the difference comes from living under a bridge or having a bejeweled mid-section and monstrous colored hair. And forget that there is absolutely zero correlation between the two films. If there had been an ounce of craft or ingenuity, we wouldn't be talking about Troll 2 to this day. Cast and crew insist they had honest intentions, and that the Italian-speaking production may have led to some of the film's more awkward moments and painfully literal line readings.

Say what you will, but Gandhi certainly never gave a speech like this one! Granted, his son probably didn't urinate on the dinner table...

"Do you see this writing? Do you know what it means? Hospitality. And you can't piss on hospitality! I won't allow it! ... I'm tightening my belt by one loop so I don't feel hunger pains, and your sister and mother will have to do likewise. Okay, Joshua, you want to get rough with me? You want to show me that you don't like the choice of this house for our vacation by going on a hunger strike? Well I'll accept the challenge. But just remember when I was your age I really did suffer from hunger. We'll see who gets through this. But just remember I've got more practice than you. I'll see you tomorrow."

The shameful pleasures come fast and furious. It's hard to believe that even a language barrier could be responsible for so many bad choices, but whatever's to blame, it's also to thank. The mysterious supernatural rules pertaining to peeved dead grandparents, the anti-vegetarian, pro-bologna agenda... Troll 2 is senseless beyond comprehension, to the point of its monumental success. With a cast below par even for regional theatre, a soundtrack composed by a child's Casio keyboard, and costume design by K-Mart. The spirit of horror is all too real.

Claudio Fragasso has promised fans an eventual Troll 2.5, but I can only hope he's learned zero skills in filmmaking since this film's embarrassing release. Then again, watching his own film should be enough to guide him in what not to do. The only real problem with this sequel talk is that you can't merely set out to make a film without any redeeming value, or else you end up with a film that's simply terrible, minus the uniquely joyful qualities of something that's unwittingly complete crap.

But because you can't piss on hospitality, I give you a neighborly peek at the upcoming Troll 2 documentary, The Best Worst Movie. Directed by its very own humiliated child star, Michael "Joshua" Stephenson, it looks at the title as the little shitpile that could; a cult classic feeding legions of fans tired of cinema that's well-conceived. It premiered at the Austin, Texas SXSW film festival, and it's a title I really can't wait to see over some hot popcorn and food laced with green chlorophyll icing. What has become of the film's expertly amateur ensemble? And will Claudio Fragasso freely admit to writing the script after attending a steakhouse with his vegan friends? Or was it during a vicious, vicious bender?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Club Silencio is Spring Cleaning!

"I'm not mad at you, I'm mad at the dirt!"

"Sit on the floor. We're gonna clean this floor, you and me together. Go. Go! Scrub hard. Scrub!"

"This floor is not clean! Look at it! It's not clean. Nothing is clean! This whole place is a mess!"