Archive for March, 2009

Is it a sin to love?

Posted in Uncategorized on March 24, 2009 by ilostitatthemovies
Last night Carl Dreyer’s Day Of Wrath showed at the Cinematheque. It was the second movie I’d gone into this year thinking it was actually going to be really good. The first was The Wrestler, so this was the first where I wasn’t disappointed. Shit, the performances, shot composition and cinematography in this are practically tears-to-the-eye beautiful. I realised that even more than I’m a stan for gangster movies, I’m a stan for old, black and white, European art films. Show me anything monochrome and subtitled and I will pretty much crap my pants in aesthetic delight. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this. The movie was incredibly moving (don’t think I’ve ever felt as bad for a character in a movie as I did for Herlof’s Marthe before the witchfinders), and morally complex in a subtle, engaging way (as opposed to the shitty moralisms that hammer at you in my worst film of the year so far, The Reader). I’m very disappointed that I’m going to miss next week’s showing of Dreyer’s Ordet (because I will be in Melbourne – so if you’re reading this down there, maybe you can dig up an awesome movie we can go see instead?)
 
Halfway through the movie, I remembered I’d left my phone on. I was debating – should I get it out and turn it off, or just hope it doesn’t ring? I decided to get it out as discreetly as I could, covering the screen with my hand, and switch it off. I thought I had done a pretty good job. Then, after the movie, I was returning a text message, and this guy walked by me and said, “You’re very interested in that phone. It seems you like the phone more than the movie.” Man, I was so mad! I mean, you can say a lot of shit about me, but disparaging my cinephilia is more than I can take. I thought about beating him up, but figured I’d be banned from the Cinematheque, which would suck. So I decided to embark on a campaign of verbal harrassment and intimidation until he stopped coming.
 
When I got home, I explained this to my housemate. “What are you going to say to him?” she asked.
 
“I was thinking I’d start with, ‘Hey you fat piece of shit, why don’t you get the fuck out of my seat?'”
 
“Cool,” she replied sceptically.
 
Anyway, this morning in the shower I was thinking about it, and really, I had to admit – even though he didn’t have to be such a dick about it, I was the one at fault. I would hate it if someone in front of me at the movies pulled out their phone, and it’s a fair call to give them shit about it. So I am reluctantly shelving my plan to drive him from Sydney’s best repertoire cinema, although I may be unable to resist the urge to grease him off if I see him.

As we proceed to give you what you need…

Posted in Uncategorized on March 19, 2009 by ilostitatthemovies

I’ve been pretty down the last few days. The knee injury that came up just before Christmas, but seemed to have subsided, has flared up again. I decided to skip wrestling training until I can talk to a physio, then spent a whole afternoon ringing round, trying to find a reasonably priced one. That turned out to be a waste of an afternoon. Meanwhile, I’m cutting all lower body exercises out of my visits to the gym, which makes for a whole lot of boredom and sameness. So annoying. It’s not like I can be, “Oh yeah, I’m hardcore, I blew out my knee.” I didn’t blow it out. The problem is that I have weak pelvis stability on my left hand side, and that is putting too much strain on my knee. Essentially the least hardcore-sounding problem you could possibly have.

Anyway, the point of this story was that the workout I was supposed to do tonight was deeply uninspiring, and I was real close to ditching it, but I could see where that spiral would lead. So I bargained with myself that right after the gym, I could go see Notorious, the Biggie biopic which is easily my most anticipated movie of the year so far. This at least motivated me enough to do a gnarly set of high-rep incline push-ups, and a bunch of other shit not worth mentioning. Then I went to Broadway.

Before the movie, they showed this ad for Pepsi where a guy is chatting up a girl on a beach, then sees a dude getting attacked by a giant octopus, runs to save him, and then the swooning girl agrees to the date. Of course, it turns out the victim and the guy in the octopus suit are both his friends. It made me wonder what the worst ad I see before a movie this year will be, and then I remembered that excruciating one where the unionist from Secret Life Of Us is some kind of stressed out executive, and a mystical Aboriginal toddler transports her to an invigorating Northern Territory holiday. If I see a worse ad than that, I actually will tear an eyeball out. Hopefully belonging to whoever made the ad, but if it has to be mine, so be it

Anyway, between this and Watchmen last week, the theme for this month is shaping up to be “could have been better, but could have been a lot worse, too”. I totally consider Biggie the GOAT, and I would have loved a Biggie movie ten times shittier than this. As it is, it has a lot to recommend it, but also panders to its audience in an irritating way, indulges Biggie’s self-mythologising way too much, and takes itself seriously at inopportune moments. Ready To Die is the greatest rap record of all time* not only because you have an all-time great rapper at his hungriest working over some all-time classic production, but because of the range of moods – gangster stuff, sure, but there’s a ton of humour, sex, and it’s emo as all hell. This movie plays up the gangsterism in boring and unrealistic ways (if you ever saw a movie with a conflicted guy who has to sell drugs because he’s poor, you can happily skip the first half hour), the humour is definitely there, and it does surprisingly well with the sexy. But it cuts the emotion out – except for pisspoor philosophising and the maudlin cult of rapper death – and that’s where it really goes wrong.

The guy who plays Biggie is just fantastic. The script doesn’t give him a ton to work with, but he has an incredibly expressive face and a ton of natural charisma. There are a couple of scenes where he doesn’t have any dialogue, and they give you an idea how phenomenal he could have been with a better written role. Also, and this is really the last thing I expected to say about this movie, the cinematography is A+. The movie starts out grainy, and gets glossier as Big’s career progresses. It could easily come across as a cheesie stunt, but the quality is dazzling. Great 16mm-style stuff, beautiful. It also boasts what is surely the line of the year in, “What kind of grown man calls himself Puffy?”, which reminds me, the guy who plays Puff is also great. I almost screamed out loud in the cinema when he started doing the classic Puffy dance, I fucking love that shit.And the concert scenes are excellent – I got chills from them doing Warning, although I was confused by the apparent assertion that Big won over a hostile west-coast crowd by playing the Tupac-baiting Who Shot Ya?

Also all the Tupac scenes bite, come on, the dude wasn’t a revolutionary philosopher, he was a mug who believed his own bullshit way too much and got himself killed. If he hadn’t been murdered when he was, he would have surely ended up in the Prodigy at Summerjam role, someone digging up a photo from his teenage ballet class. You know Tupac was so street that the one time he tried to sell drugs, he ended up having to return them to his supplier? I like a couple of his songs, but basically, fuck Tupac, and more importantly, fuck Tupac fans. Yeah, I am almost pathologically brand-loyal to the East Coast.

Shit, now I have to go youtube a bunch of old Bad Boy videos. Too bad for you all I don’t remember how to embed those here.

* – I don’t actually think this is true (Illmatic forever), but it’s easily top five.

Did the costumes make it good?

Posted in Uncategorized on March 10, 2009 by ilostitatthemovies

Watchmen – pretty fun superhero movie.

That’s disgusting. You should be ashamed.

Posted in Uncategorized on March 9, 2009 by ilostitatthemovies

I went to see The Reader because it was the next movie showing when I got to the cinema, and it was Sunday, and I had to see something or I’d derail my resolution. This isn’t something I expected to say so soon after watching He’s Just Not That Into You, but this is by far the worst movie I’ve seen this year. Just terrible; really, really bad. It’s boring, stupid and insipid, and the acting is dire. Did Kate Winslet really get an Oscar for this, or did I make that up? I didn’t realise so many horny teenage boys voted for Academy Awards.

The story is about this dorky kid who has an affair with an older woman in 50s Germany. Many years later, he finds out she’d been a concentration camp guard before they met, and he is all conflicted. At this point, when she’s on trial for war crimes, Kate’s performance is pretty hilariously twitchy. Anyway, then there’s some shit about the redemptive power of literature or something? I don’t know, I left about five minutes before the end because I really needed to go to the bathroom, and I was sure I knew the ending. If anyone has seen it, can you confirm – she ends up killing herself by piling up some books and then stepping off them to hang herself. Right? That’s how subtle the symbolism is in this wretched waste of celluloid.

I didn’t know anything about this, and for the first hour, which just consists of them having sex, I was just kind of waiting for it to have a plot. There were some intimations it might develop a story, and I didn’t want to leave, despite how tedious it was, before I found out what the movie was actually about. Just really boring softcore. I kept thinking, “Are there really people so undersexed they’d be entertained by this?” Jesus, rent a fucking porn movie and stop dressing it up in shitty moral dilemmas about the Holocaust. So anyway, yeah, it eventually had a plot. A shitty one, but at least a plot. The second half was somewhat less boring, but not really less painful.

Just for the sake of saying something good about this, the actor who plays the teenage boy is such a dork you can easily imagine him growing up to be Ralph Fiennes. Actually, during his scenes, which include a generous amount of full frontal nudity, I kept wondering how you cast a part like that. Memo to casting agents, we need a dorky, proto-Ralph Fiennes type with a decent schlong. Then the casting agents are calling their dorky young guys, “Hey, kid, I gotta ask you something, how many inches you got? Well, do you think you can play well hung?” The crushing disappointment when the producer calls back to say, “Look, your screen test was good, very good really, but we’re just going with the kid with 9 inches.”

Finally, here is something that really bugs me in movies: the characters who are supposedly German (as in this example, can be any nationality) all just speak English with a German accent. This is one of the all-time dumb movie conventions, I really wish they would just speak English and stop half-arsing it.

Later on, I went to a screening of Persepolis at my local anarchist book shop. This is a really great cartoon, adapting the two volumes of Marjane Satrapi’s comic book memoir of the same name, about growing up in Iran around the time of the revolution and the Iran/Iraq war. You should see it, because I am going to sound like a big dork if I just go on about how great it is. Very sad, very funny, laden with well-crafted ironies, and beautifully drawn.

We came here in planes, you came here in chains.

Posted in Uncategorized on March 2, 2009 by ilostitatthemovies

I guess I was one of the lucky few who got to see The Combination at Greater Union before they banned it (supposedly, Lebanese kids were picking fights outside screenings; certainly there was no evidence of this at the session I saw, but who knows.) It’ll suck if they have to go to, like, Dendy Newtown to beat people up, although I suppose they’ll encounter less resistance. I could personally go for hanging around outside indie cinemas, beating up self-satisfied patrons. I dunno, the reviews are bitter today, it’s half cause my friends were picking on my taste last night and half cause I fucked up my back so I’m just lying in bed, bored shitless (don’t worry, it’s not serious; I’m just taking it easy).

This is very good for an Australian film, which sounds like faint praise, and I guess it is. It’s a very good movie with major problems that stop me unequivocally loving it, but I still liked it a lot; I think it’s clever, it’s very sad, and in particular, the cinematography is beautiful, phenomenal. The story is brilliantly structured, and makes excellent use of parallels and juxtapositions to organise its little victories and heartbreaks as it heads towards its major tragedy (not giving anything away; if you don’t know there’s a tragedy coming five minutes into this, you’ve never seen a movie before). When the tragedy did come, I heard the loudest straight-out sob I’ve ever heard in a cinema, and it certainly had my own personal waterworks flowing. (On the other hand, I am a big sensitive dork and cry at practically everything.)

But yeah, there are problems. Although the parallels between the brothers’ stories are well handled, the overall story is fairly cliched (older brother, fresh out of jail, doesn’t want younger brother making his mistakes), and at least to me, the older brother’s story is just much less interesting. I always love gangster movies, and the parts about the kids getting mixed up in low-level organised crime are, at least to me, just much more interesting than the mature, reformed older brother falling in love with a white girl parts. The love story also takes a big hit in the middle with a poorly thought out plot development that I don’t want to give away, but for me, never quite recovers. A lot of the minor characters are really thin, and while there’s certainly some charm to a movie where its the token Anglo characters who are poorly written stereotypes, they still bog the movie down.

I don’t want to go on too much about the negatives, because I did enjoy this a lot, but they are frustrating because you can almost see the actually great movie under here, trying to get out. I would still definitely recommend it, and don’t expect to see a better local movie this year.

Would I be Al Pacino in this scenario?

Posted in Uncategorized on March 2, 2009 by ilostitatthemovies

In the spirit of getting up to date – no, you don’t want to see this film. He’s Just Not That Into You, I mean. Not even as funny as I expected. I’ve never seen a film where I identified so little with the characters; nobody seems to have any ambition at all except to get married. Do you care if Ben Affleck will marry Jennifer Aniston in the end? I didn’t think so.

Do you ever just groove on your own body?

Posted in Uncategorized on March 2, 2009 by ilostitatthemovies

OK, I really have to get this up to date – I’m three movies behind. Practically a month. From now on I’ll try to write everything up within a week of seeing it, which doesn’t seem hard, but boy, time does fly. I mean, I had no idea how hard it would be just to go to the movies every week. It seems like the easiest thing, so achievable, but then suddenly it’s Sunday again and you realise if you don’t get to the cinema in like fifteen minutes you’re going to blow the whole deal.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago the Cinematheque showed Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls over two weeks, chopped in half. The Cinematheque’s only programmed at the Chauvel (the cinema that hosts it) for a two hour, two and a half hour block, so they couldn’t screen the whole thing. Man, if you want to get a bunch of movie nerds riled up… I can see the argument both ways. I think it’s historically and artistically important enough that it deserves to be screened, even if you have to cut it up. On the other hand, duration – the physical experience of time passing as you watch the movie – is so intrinsic to Warhol’s cinema that cutting it in two really fucks with it. You’re really watching something different, watching Chelsea Girls in two halves, in a way you’re not even with comparably long or longer narrative films – I don’t see any reason not to show, say, Ran or Once Upon A Time In America in two parts.

Anyway, the attrition rate for these screenings was incredible – the smaller of the Chauvel’s theatres was literally full for the first part, and while the second part was also crowded, a lot of that was just different people. I can’t imagine watching the first half and not wanting to come back, because this movie is really awesome and fun, but then last night over beers me and some friends established that I just have ratshit taste in films, so what do I know? I would rather watch four hours of experimental wackness than some tasteful Oscar bait indie flick. You all should go watch David and Margaret and quit reading this, that’s for sure.

Chelsea Girls runs for about two and a half hours, with two screens projected side by side. I’ve seen it once before, and that time the projectionist fiddled with the soundtrack, sliding back and forth from one screen to the other at arbitrary intervals. At the Cinematheque showing, the soundtrack stayed with one side until it finished, then you’d get the tail end of the sound for the other reel. Each scene consists of an uninterrupted 40-minute (I think?) take, mostly black and white, joined theoretically by their taking place in the Chelsea Hotel. Because the projectionist has to load one reel, start showing it, then load the second projector and start it, and repeat this process every time one finishes, the movie’s never shown in exactly the same way twice. With the soundtrack drawing your attention to one whole reel at a time, as at the Cinematheque, it’s more like watching a movie (albeit a weird one) while your attention is, occasionally, briefly drawn to the image passing by beside it. I think that, although projectionists can show the reels in any order they like, there’s a de facto official ‘Warhol’ order that most screenings follow, and I think this screening didn’t follow it. (The scenes Wayne Koestenbaum describes as final in his Warhol book opened the first of the screenings here.) If Brett, the Cinematheque programmer, decided on the order he showed, he did a great job – it gave the proceedings something weirdly akin to a narrative flow, which is no small task with a film like this. Obviously, whether it’s desirable is open to debate. I’m not strenuously opnionated one way or the other.

Virtually every scene in this movie consists of someone being humiliated, generally by someone else, but sometimes merely by the circumstances of the film’s production. More or less everyone in the film is on drugs – mostly speed, but Eric Emerson’s scene (in which he slowly undresses and rambles through a painfully self-reflective psychedelic monologue) is a notable exception on acid. Some of the best times of my life have been just hanging out with people on drugs – I mean, not going out or doing anything, spending time in an altered state, with friends on speed or pills, or coming down; I just really love the torqued kind of wit and verve and whacked out sensuality (and yes, cruelty) people have on drugs. This movie really captures that, and honours it – if you learn nothing else, you learn there aren’t many things in life funnier than a really sharp-tongued speed queen.

But like I said, the dominant trope here is humiliation. The film is incredibly, although not conventionally, sadomasochistic. In two of the reels, Warhol’s legendary Pope, Ondine, offers to here the confession of a young woman. Neither woman has any idea what she’s letting herself in for. His hectoring is hilarious, but brutal – culminating in an incredible, uncomfortably funny moment when he hauls off and hits Rona Page, hard. As abrupt as this is, he doesn’t get anywhere near as cruel as the majestic Mary Woronov, who holds court over three beleaguered ingenues over two reels. She ties one of them up under the table, and forces another – who, in a tantrum, throws and shatters a glass ashtray – to pick up the debris with her bare feet. She refuses to let Velvet, who’s desperately awaiting a call about a possible modelling job, answer the phone. Woronov is the most hilarious, terrifying bully in film history. In another scene, a handsome young man in his underwear is tormented by an older gay guy – who seems to have hired him for sex – and Ingrid Superstar, as the ‘neighbour’, who unabashedly tries to seduce him. Seduce is probably the wrong word – it looks for all the world like she’s trying to embarrass him by giving him an erection while he’s stuck on camera in just his underwear. He, meanwhile, seems to not want her to think he’s gay, and in this project is extensively thwarted by the older man, who exposes his butt and refers to it repeatedly as his property. As may be obvious, I find all this tremendously erotic.

Being a huge Warhol stan, I fucking love this movie, but I think it’s genuinely great, and if you ever get a chance to see it, you really should. It’s easily one of the ten best movies I’ve ever seen, and might be the most flat-out entertaining movie on that list. It’s also thought provoking. Not like some shitty indie flick where you go have coffee and you’re all like, “Man, gay people really had it hard, didn’t they?” or, “It’s so sad, he just wanted to wrestle,” or whatever. It provokes actual, substantial, complex thoughts – about the passage of time (both in terms of ageing and the immediate experience of duration), the nature of relationships between individuals, cruelty, humour and drugs. It changes your perception of these things. And plus, you’ll laugh your arse off.