Saturday, October 20, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sylvia Kristel 1952-2012

I'm so saddened this morning to read that Sylvia Kristel died in her sleep last night. She was really suffering from cancer, it looks like. I have nothing but warm feelings for her and for a lot of what I saw of her growing up. Thanks for everything, dear one.

Halloween: Principal Skeleton

TV Report: A Quick Complaint

Okay, seriously, Fox... when you advertise "two full hours" of The X-Factor, that means two full hours that start at 7 and go until 9. That does not mean wait around and dump half a Ben & Kate repeat (?) and talk for 41 minutes to determine whether or not today's baseball game is really really super truly rained out or not, then half of the new X-Factor episode, then 10 minutes of a Mindy Project episode because the rain's over and we can pick up our game now, sorry, X-Factor will air in full next Tuesday. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: this is the 21st century, you have broadcast commitments, either you're a network or a sports channel, fucking which one is it?

This is why I don't take you seriously as a network, Fox, and this is why I don't typically get caught up in your crappy programming. It's not worth chasing down. The X-Factor is not appointment viewing, and it is certainly not rescheduled appointment viewing. Get over yourself.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Halloween: Seriously, Where Were These Cute Muppet Costumes When I Was an Adorable Toddler?

Am I the Only One Who Keeps Thinking This?

Only one?
Okay.
Moving on.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

2 DAYS IN PARIS (2007)
Interesting, sometimes-funny, sometimes-frustrating film about a couple who don't realize they're in the last phase of their relationship. Julie Delpy (who also wrote and directs) stars as a French woman making a stop in Paris at the end of what was apparently a failed attempt at a romantic holiday with her American boyfriend (Adam Goldberg). In Paris, Goldberg seems to feel especially displaced, confronted with the reality of who his girlfriend really is; a lot of this comes from the way we as men seem to prefer to imagine that the women we love have sprung up from nowhere. Now he's forced to deal with her family, who he does not understand or like, and her ex-boyfriends, who seem to lie around every corner and who also seem to have no intention of giving her up. We do assume they're ours for the rest of their lives no matter what, don't we? Delpy and Goldberg become so obsessed with their differences that they lose the place where they're the same. It's a very interesting, original, quirky film from someone I'd love to see write and direct more. ***1/2

2 DAYS IN NEW YORK (2012)
Here's more. Julie Delpy returns us to the world of her character Marion, now living in New York and married to a radio host played by Chris Rock (nicely subdued and sympathetic; I love the way Delpy casts very, very American men to highlight the cultural differences). Her family is coming to visit, and Rock has the same problems dealing with them as Goldberg did in the previous film. Marion has now become an artist and, in a bold conceptual move, sold her soul. She thinks this doesn't bother her, but as her past catches up to her present and her two worlds crash into each other, she realizes that just maybe it does. I like Delpy a lot; I've always liked her as an actress, but as a writer and director she takes a lot of interesting chances in a way that's... I want to say lighthearted rather than conceptual. She deals with serious topics in a way that's unpretentious. I like that a lot. ***1/2

INTO THE ABYSS (2011)
Werner Herzog directed this documentary about two young men in prison, one of them on Death Row, both in prison because they killed someone so they could drive a friend's red Camaro. This being Herzog, it's a very emotional journey without an easy answer. Herzog is firmly against the death penalty, and rather than arguing against it, he simply shows you how people react and intellectualize the situation they find themselves in. Herzog never tells you how to think; he only creates emotions. ***1/2

TO ROME WITH LOVE (2012)
Woody Allen's latest features several storylines that he uses to make interesting, sometimes absurd points about the nature of change and getting older. It doesn't all work, but I like what does, particularly a story where Allen plays an opera producer who finds a brilliant tenor who can only sing in the shower. I also liked a slight story where Roberto Benigni plays a low level businessman who suddenly becomes famous for literally no reason and just as suddenly stops being famous. Other stories have an interesting resonance--the story with Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page is obvious and fails to land, but fascinatingly uses a device that tears apart the pretensions and phoniness of, if you think about it, the Annie Hall faux-intellectual type. I think it's interesting, too, how Allen laces the stories throughout, despite the impossibility of every story occurring at the same time; a story about two newlyweds who accidentally become separated could only take place over a few hours, while the opera story would take place over weeks or even months. I've said it before, I'll say it again: Allen is the only American director who seems inclined to use or even understand absurdism and magic realism, and I'll always like that about him. Even his failures are usually interesting. Not always, but usually. But I think this film is more interesting than Midnight in Paris, which was obvious and unsatisfying. ***

BROTHER'S KEEPER (1992)
The second documentary I ended up seeing this week about a murder case... This was a powerful film about a rural farmer, Delbert Ward, accused of murdering his brother. Much of the film becomes a conflict between the locals, who defend Ward and his two living brothers as simple country folk, and the media, who treat the Wards as backwater hicks. I always appreciate the Direct Cinema style of documentary filmmaking, because I think being shown the events and sifting it in your mind is much more honest than constructing a narrative. ***1/2

POSSESSION (1981)
Intense, bizarre, extremely visceral, very weird film about a married couple (Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani) whose marriage is in the process of dissolving. That's really what it's about. But there's also a Lovecraftian tentacle horror. It's that kind of movie. It's interesting how the film uses this creeping eldritch horror, whose role in the story only fills in very gradually, as a metaphor for the way the couple's relationship breaks down and becomes more and more of a nightmare. There's no anchor in reality, except the emotions of the people involved, which are heightened to an uncomfortable level. You don't really intellectualize this film, you experience it. But what an experience. I've seen nothing like it. ****

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)
Stylish, well-shot thriller about a team of psychics and a physicist investigating a haunted house. I liked a lot of it, but it gets too silly by the end. Watching Roddy McDowall shout out childish insults at a poltergeist and then the revelation for the entire motivation of the haunting... It's ridiculous. **1/2

LIKENESS (2012)
A short film by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieta about body issues. It's hard to watch, honestly. I can't even describe it. ***

ON THE ROAD (2012)
Walter Salles is able to distill the essence of the characters from Jack Kerouac's work of typing so that, against all expectations, it's not just a movie about a bunch of narcissistic sociopaths feeding off of each other. On the Road is a work that I've never been able to like and which no one has ever really been able to explain to me the appeal of; this film makes it something human and realistic, seeing the egos of a lot of the characters for what they are without diminishing the people behind the egos. It doesn't judge or praise the characters for being self-described free spirits; but instead shows us people interacting. It also gets the beat cadence and approach right, unlike a lot of people I've known in my life. I liked this movie a lot. Excellent cast, particularly Garrett Hedlund (whom I've never liked before at all), Tom Sturridge, Viggo Mortenson, and Kristen Stewart. She's quite erotic in this movie; I'm going to have to revoke my previous titling of her as the Screen's Least Convincing Heterosexual. (Probably because in this movie she focuses on the character's lust and not any delusions of romance, which is what makes those Twilight movies so trying.) I know people don't like her, but I think there's a genuine talent in her that needs more movies like this to come out; it's her best performance since her overlooked, underrated turn in Welcome to the Rileys. Beautiful cinematography; one of the best films I've seen this year. ****

BAND OF OUTSIDERS (1964)
Apparently this is Godard's most accessible film. I don't always like Godard, but I've never found his films inaccessible. I found this one easy to like, very confident in its execution, but that doesn't diminish just how good it is. It's excellent. It's a simple story of two men who are both in love with Anna Karina and who are using her to gain access to a house they want to rob. It's not a complex film; in fact, I appreciate how lean and focused it is. But Godard, of course, plays with the medium and the narrative form. All of which would be for shit if it wasn't as good as it was. ****

STORY OF WOMEN (1988)
Isabelle Huppert is an interesting actress. I never find her mannered; there are times when she never seems to reveal anything but simply inhabits the character. I shouldn't say "simply"; that's something a lot of actors are unable to do. Here, Huppert stars as Marie Latour, a woman who survived and even thrived in Nazi-occupied France by giving abortions and renting rooms to prostitutes, and who was the last woman ever executed by guillotine in French history. Director Claude Chabrol chose his star well, because his film is similarly observant and natural without forcing a reaction. It's a morality play, but it doesn't take a moral stance, and I find that fascinating and refreshing. ***1/2

BILLY BUDD (1962)
Peter Ustinov directed and stars in this excellent film based on the Melville story about an ignorant sailor caught in the difficult conceptual middle between justice and law. Terence Stamp stars in his film debut as Budd, a seaman on a merchant crew who is impressed into service on a British military ship in 1797. Budd is likable and warm in a way that immediately rankles the sadistic Master-at-Arms, John Claggart, a difficult role played rivetingly by Robert Ryan (an excellent actor that I find my generation is mostly unfamiliar with, which is a shame; he seems to have been forgotten and I don't think he deserves it). Claggart trusts no one and seems disgusted by humanity in general. Ustinov, in one of his best performances, plays the captain of the ship, who likes Billy and detests Claggart, but who must remain above conflict and act as his duty requires. The performances, the composition of the film, the story and its screenplay are all excellent, but what then elevates this film is the gravity it lends to the necessary confrontation between ethics and morality, and how it affects not only Billy's fate, but the fate of everyone involved in the decision. The last 30 minutes or so of the movie I found impossible to look away from, and will find impossible to forget. ****

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Halloween: My Top 25 Muppet Monsters

25. Gorgon Heap
I wish they'd kept doing that panel discussion from the first season of The Muppet Show. I think Gorgon Heap and Brewster both deserved more of a chance to make it.

24. Boppity
AKA the Blue Frackle.

23. Aristotle
The blind monster from Sesame Street. I don't know why he wasn't on for very long.

22. The Snerfs
 I just find myself hypnotized by the way they move.

21. The Fazoobs
I just think they look so neat, especially that guy in the front. He's sure satisfied about something.

20. Baby Monster
Awwwww.

19. The Mutations
They were so big and so fascinatingly dreamlike to me as a kid.

18. Timmy Monster
Look at dat face!

17. Gloat
AKA the Green Frackle.

16. Elmo
Yeah, okay. You've finally won me over, Elmo. I don't hate you anymore. Mainly because Kevin Clash is just so great.

15. The Two-Headed Monster
AKA Frank and Stein.

14. Beautiful Day Monster
Nice seeing him in The Muppets. That made me insanely happy. Someone remembers.

13. Telly Monster
Such a fussy monster. I guess that's why I always related to him.

12. Luncheon Counter Monster
He's just so cool.

11. Boo Monster
Does anyone even remember Little Muppet Monsters? Please?

10. Frazzle
Frazzle needs more play. I work with nonverbal kids who might be cheered seeing a nonverbal monster.

9. Sweetums
Of course.

8. Doglion
This exact moment is one of my favorite sight gags in The Muppet Movie.

7. Big Mean Carl
I hope they let Bill Barretta play a little more in the next movie.

6. Herry Monster
Is he still around on Sesame Street? I really have no idea.

5. Thog
I LOVE Thog!

4. Behemoth
So nice to see him in The Muppets, too!

3. Grover
This entry also happens to be cute.

2. Uncle Deadly
Now THAT'S a maniacal laugh!

1. Cookie Monster
As though it would be anyone else. Cookie embodies the anarchic spirit of the Muppets.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Halloween: Peanuts, 1962