12 July 2008


The only issue of XXL Magazine I own features Lil Wayne (he lured me with his script eyelid tattoos, “Fear” and “God”). It came out in the endless buildup to Tha Carter III and the screamer font headline reads, “I’M NOT HOT. I’M GREAT.” I find this the very best aspiration for an artist to have, so I bought the magazine and read the piece. While not as captivating as his Fader profile (more about the frequency of fellatio in that one), the XXL interview showed Young Mr. Carter as a man devotedly out to prove his “best”ness (reminiscent of post-U.S. Open Tiger Woods admitting he thinks he’s better than Jack Nicklaus, and that if he didn’t think that there’d be no reason to play). And all the online leaks led me to believe this was it for Wayne: the Carter III as canonization.

A lot of pressure then, buying the CD with the expectation that it would be Weezy’s Illmatic, his Ready to Die, his Blueprint. And sadness because it just isn’t. Tha Carter III is his best album but that doesn’t get to the greatness we were talking about beforehand. In truth I was disappointed in the album before I even took off the wrapper. “I Feel Like Dying” is not on the tracklist, which is a shame, because it would be the best song on the album. More knowledgeable fans could point to many other leaked tracks that were worthy of inclusion over songs like “La La,” which, from concept to lyrics to beat to guest rapper, is fucking terrible (Busta Rhymes: you must be banished from hip-hop).

Opener “3 Peat” is reasonable—go ahead and rape my grandmother and child, Weezy, and let’s get to this track with Jay-Z. “Mr. Carter” is at least an improvement over “Hello Brooklyn” but that is not high praise. Here, Lil Wayne rushes through vocal inflections, sounding like a puppy dog and an old timer within ten seconds, while H.O.V.A. gives a standard verse reaffirming his own canonization with Tupac and Biggie.

After you skip over track 3, it’s “Got Money,” a legitimate banger. There are no hands on the steering wheel of the WTT sled when Wayne says, “clap your hands if you got a bankroll.” His voice is variable as it is on “Mr. Carter,” but more precisely reined, making it rain, making it snow and making it flurry. It’s the flurry voice in the breakdown that really cements “Got Money” as a classic, Mr. Make It Rain moaning, “bring an umbrella-ella-ella-ella-aye-aye——.” This seems the self-referential song for our moment, the auto-corrected voices of Lil Wayne and T-Pain in tandem singing about the last moments of love and economic freedom before the imminent environmental apocalypse. Or something like that.

One of the oddest elements of Tha Carter III is the inclusion of straight up pretty songs: “Comfortable” (with Babyface!) and “Tie My Hands” (with Robin Thicke). In the former, Wayne is listening to Beyoncé? The horror! At least in the latter track he claims to be more important to New Orleans than the Saints or the Hornets. That’s the man I know, still “flier than a mothafucken pelican.”

“Shoot Me Down” is (like Lil Wayne) almost great. The martial beat marks a departure and there is the genuine menace in his growl, “Stop sweating me coward.” But just when it seems like the track will bust out in the howls I want Wayne asks “where’s the fuck is my guitar?” What?!? He needs to reach for Portishead’s “Machine Gun” drum machine if anything. Hot fizzle.

First single “Lollipop” is still not terribly interesting, but better heard explicit—the radio version of the second verse (“shawty say the ***** she with aint ****”) always makes me feel like I’m bumping over potholes. Wayne’s horse snickers and the filthy last verse also helps the enjoyability factor. But really the “lick me like a lollipop” simile is beneath Wayne and I’m unable to get past that. “Playing with Fire,” on the other hand, is fascinating. Finally we have Weezy comparing himself not to other rappers but to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.! Here is the moment of insanity, the zealotry that Tha Carter III has teased us with all along. “Assassinate me bitch” is the conflicted bumper sticker wish that Lil Wayne (as “The Best”) seemingly has to spout, his voice high and close to breaking.

“You Ain’t Got Nuthin” is notable because it features the only two guest appearances worth hearing on the entire album. Fabolous and Juelz Santana bring similarly strong flows, delightfully focused on aquatic metaphor. Fab: “I pop up like Xzibit / but given I’m at your crib / not to put no fucken fish tanks in your Civic / fuck getting your ride pimped / you’ll get hog-tied, whipped / I’ll have you locked in your trunk / curled up like fried shrimp.”
(It was also good to hear the names of EVERY Wayans brother again—“putting that Major Payne in”). To Juelz: “my flow is just slaughter / my wrists look like frozen Pohland Spring Water” ... “I stick toothpicks in your hors d’oeurves / [listen] I’m a shark, y’all just koi fish [what else] octopus [what else] oysters.” Wayne’s verse is undoubtedly the weakest on the song, but he is playing for higher stakes. Free associations between Dramamine, Popeye and Bruno. His command of homonyms, his play in mispronunciations, his voice ground into the speakers at its smoke-laced worst. This album is so close. I already need the next batch of magazine-spit rhymes.

How long till Tha Carter IV?

07 June 2008

Not a Victory March

Sherman's March is not all about William Tecumseh Sherman (better to focus on the after the colon part of the title: "A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love In the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons"). It is a fantastic tramp through southern belles instead, taking a few metaphorical shots of Civil War battlegrounds on the way. Perhaps the unmatchable early peak is filmmaker Ross McElwee's new friend Pam doing her cellulite exercises. But later we have the equally memorably Charlene, telling director Ross to push right through the bush (pubic or leafy) to get into the romantic heart of matters. And she is right, at least sometimes, about people bluffing each other until they are actually together for long enough to approximate love. So many great pairs of sunglasses in between. 1985 was a great time for the big glasses, so much hidden meaning it seems in all the strange brown and pink curves of the frames. Of all the people he meets probably the one I would have fallen for the fastest was the linguist out there in the wild with the ants and mosquitoes and ticks and cone-headed bloodsuckers. She could really speak with ease and wisdom about why it is that linguistics and sex work so well together as she ran her laundry through a hand crank.

What I’ve felt more and more that this film is a bizarre but obvious match for WTT All Time Favorite Contempt in terms of core theme. McElwee strikes me as a Michel Piccoli (Paul Javal) figure—just as the latter reduces Homer’s Iliad to a banal (but somewhat plausible) tale of marital unrest to reflect his own feelings of betrayal and loss, the latter takes the Civil War story mostly out of his film and recasts Sherman’s March to the Sea as an allegory of his personal battles with absent lovers. This happens in the way that all our lives now must become epics, that our pain is as important as Achilles’, as Sherman’s. I’ll admit that visually Sherman’s March and Contempt don’t exactly match—handheld 80’s documentary grain is different from Coutard 60’s Cinemascope lushness. Standing outside a Holiday Inn for eight hours with a Burt Reynolds look-alike is different from Bardot sunbathing nude atop Casa Malaparte with a book covering her ass.

There are, I’d like to mention though, prominent water nymphs in both films.

Thinking on the pair I feel the similar wire of postmodern anguish acutely—I wake with the same questions, wanting to make the same art, asking why, why not this love?

(If I’ve already taken it to Godard, why not just step on to Fitzgerald? Writing (when he can) Tender Is the Night, wandering the trees behind La Paix, putting every effort yet again towards a love he knows to be impossible, the green light never quite gone. And so he finishes, after ten years, his “confession of faith,” his most beautiful record of devastation.)

I’ll end on the most unbearable scene of attempted reconciliation in Sherman's March: with his lawyer ex-girlfriend, McElwee for the first (and, for me, only) time pushes us into a purely discomforting area, asking repeatedly why she is with her boyfriend and not him. She pulls back from McElwee across the table, her eyes stutter all over the horizon, she asks for the camera to be turned off (perhaps too scared to admit that she is uncontrollably aroused by her boyfriend’s impressive array of life-sized cast models of zoo animals). The person with whom I watched Sherman’s March said, exasperated, “She doesn’t love you, she doesn’t love you,” while I thought that doesn’t mean he can ever stop asking. I can't get enough of what McElwee does here—he puts a camera on his shoulder and asks the world to love and need him as he loves and needs all these people, places and stretches.

31 May 2008

I Didn't Know You, Harmony Korine

Mister Lonely is, I suppose, a Harmony Korine film about professional impersonators, but I've been thinking about it for a week as brilliant shot after brilliant shot and hard time finding a brilliant shot to end on. Just a partial list: the hypnotic opening scene with Diego Luna/MJ trailing a kite likeness behind the tiny motorbike. That could have gone on forever and I would have stayed in my seat, starving. The iconic MJ and Marilyn Monroe walk through the park, shot with so much affection it burst into the theatre. The sequence of Marilyn in creek, slo-mo-ing her blown skirt moment. And none of those can even compare to the mind-blowing Buckwheat astride the miniature pony shot. The strangest fairy tale magic I’ve ever seen. I need to see again, to memorize more of his monologue/conflation of chicken, chicken breasts and women. Wow.

Some other brilliant scenes, like Abe Lincoln (I liked the impersonators picked for this film a lot: Lincoln, the Pope and the Queen over Elvis and Spiderman) spinning the red white and blue basketball in the strobe light, are somehow extraneous to the line of the film. But how can you really blame Harmony Korine, who came up with the best “I can’t believe they did not just kiss” scene in a while. Marilyn strolls into Michael’s room at the impersonator commune in sheepish Scottish country, rocking fabulous blue and yellow rollers and a bowl of strawberries (all the primaries nicely represented). The camera alternates between longing stares and slow bites of berry, Michael getting so close to her lips. And she turns out the door, loyal somehow to the brilliantly-acted asshole husband, Charlie Chaplin.

Much to my surprise, Korine brought Wong Kar-Wai to mind with the decadence, the bizarre lushness of the Highlands. This film has nowhere near the rhythm and timing of, say, 2046, but just pulling out individual sequences the comparison is there. Mister Lonely is surprisingly without memorable music (no “Billie Jean,” no “Man in the Mirror”) and so loses another chance to be inescapable. Post-2046 I hear Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” and see slow-motion ‘60’s Hong Kong (and that song kind of had a strong theme to it beforehand). But maybe I can just admit that I really wanted Korine sucker me with some Sam Cooke song.

It seemed the intrepid director could not quite find an ending to Lonely and gave us several. I could have cut things after the performance of the impersonator troupe. The horrible interruption of their wan singing walk home would have made a startling, true finish. Or I should have cut after the talking nesting doll sequence. Instead we get Michael wandering football-mad Paris as not-Michael (a “no one” according to his absurd impersonator “agent”). There is a voiceover I can’t remember and a loss of the power wielded throughout the film.

And what about the flying nuns??? We have Werner Herzog at full Loch Ness froth as a completely unbelievable and magnetic priest pushing nuns into the back of a prop plane from which the sky dive in sky blue habits. It’s lovely. I have no clue what it might mean, accept the connection of free-falling into death.

If nothing else, Mister Lonely makes me keen for the next Korine film. Having only seen, and been alarmed by, Gummo in my younger and more vulnerable years, it’s amazing that now have him at the top of my informal “directors to watch” list.

21 May 2008

Iron Shotgun Man Stories

As a good American, I’ve tried to start off this summer with action. And I was told that Iron Man was the way to go. And it is worth the $8.50 to hear Jeff Bridges bellow, in full surround sound: "TONY STARK WAS ABLE TO BUILD THIS IN A CAVE!!!!!!!!! WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS!!!!!!!" Bridges brings it strong like a good Santa Barbarian should. His Obadiah Stane looks gooooood suctioning up his cocktail and cigar in his striped magenta PJs. I love that before seeing the movie someone said his experience had been ruined because someone told him Obadiah was secretly the villain. Come on!! How many non-villains have ever had the shaved head and full beard look?? How many!?!?

On to secondary concerns: Iron Man is alright overall. Robert Downey Jr. was pretty funny but not some kind of revelation. He is, I must say, a little toadish in shape but this is probably an indication that he is off the smack. Which is good for him and for the future of this franchise (not to say that I can name a single Iron Man villain, or imagine that I will care). Gwyneth Paltrow is a total loss as Pepper Potts—she is trying to actually be a good actor in an action film but this only comes across as unneeded anxiety. I blame bowling-ball-shaped Jon Favreau. It could not have possibly cost more to have Megan Fox (a better reason for seeing any film), who can’t really act but can look intently at spots in the distance. Terrence Howard does nothing either. But that one dude who always plays a terrorist is pretty good. He seems like a terrorist.

Okay, it may be a stretch to call Shotgun Stories a summer action film—the violence is too believable. It’s brought to you by the letters DGG (David Gordon Green all over this). The structure is so borrowed from George Washington and All the Real Girls that this feels like homage. Even if the film is not action the main players at least have epic action movie names: Son, Kid and Boy Hayes. They are pitted against a separate set of brothers from a different mother (the cause of their anger might be that the other set of brothers have a) real first names and b) fancy pick up trucks). The father, whose death and funeral start the dust-kicking here, was a Mr. Prospector-level stud apparently.

The film is controlled by the magnetic Michael Shannon, who, no matter how many people tell me I’m way off-base, reminds me of early Christopher Walken. A big dude with honor and real menace in The Deer Hunter. And at least the menace in King of New York. Not so much the Fatboy Slim/Wedding Crashers/“I make my money just by talking this way” Walken. The great opening Shotgun shot is of Son standing in his bedroom with his back to us, revealing a spray of red boils down his back—already he is established as a protector. (He proceeds to wake his brother Kid from a tent outside the house and the younger brother pulls on a t-shirt tattered down the back, a sort of negative match to his Son’s back).

But in watching Shotgun Stories I really enjoyed all the Iron Man parallels. We start with the idea of wounds—Tony Stark wears FOX's glowing hockey puck in his chest as a memento of his time in the “Fun-Vee” and Son Hayes’s back is covered in boils resulting from a shotgun aimed at his family. We also have the mad genius tinkering of RDJ, his voice activated toys able to discern sarcasm even, paired with Boy Hayes’s magical conversion van. The tape deck in the van doesn’t work because Boy blew a circuit trying to run a portable air conditioner through the cigarette lighter. But, in one Moment of Zen, Boy is able to convert engine power into a blender, resulting in an Arkansas margarita and the restoration of 80’s radio. The exclusive locations are also fun to compare. Tony Stark's pleasure palace juts out concretely from the Malibu coast, stuffed with exotic rides. Shotgun's Arkansas landscape, where each character lives and works in angry heat, looks like this:

Nichols certainly commands all the dark spaces of his Stories. If he keeps it up, maybe he will be ready to helm Doctor Stange IV in 2019.

11 May 2008

Happy Together

On Love Songs: Sad songs. Same songs. Hilariously-translated from the French songs. I saw the preview for this film and it became an immediate must see. Honoré. Paris. Youth. Threesome. Even a Mastroianni. And the preview is a great summary of the first 20 minutes, which will make you think of Godard, A Woman is a Woman, etc. Fabulous last name only opening titles, shots of the streets, smoky vocals (“look at me”), caterwauling into a fashionable apartment, hip choices for bedtime reading. And then it all goes away.

The moments before she collapses and dies Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) leans in concert with the man at the piano, the music the same as what she’s been singing to Ismael (Louis Garrel) and the short leg of the triangle Alice (Clotilde Hesme) all along. With Ismael’s arms around her, we feel with Julie the way any music can be yours when you are in your neighborhood, in love.

As soon as she disappears from the film in an odd collection of black and white still frames, Love Songs becomes a dirge. The main sport is giggling at the lyrics about tongues licking clean muddy feet with sweet venom saliva. Or something. I did also have an ancillary attraction to the male characters’ nice woolen goods—it appears I have the same taste as the Bretons when it comes to sweaters.

And, bless her pedigreed heart, Chiara Mastroianni does little as Julie’s lamenting sister. She sings poutily for a while in Bastille Park, a little like Scarlett Johansson-Van Wilder doing Tom Waits. She is not even as good at looking sad as Marcello is in a film like A Special Day.

I found myself asking, “Why couldn’t Love Songs have been a sequel to Ma Mere? In the latter film Louis Garrel was still more of a brooder than a bather and his interest in group sex was already well-defined. His Pierre in that film starred with the indomitable Isabelle Huppert. The milieu of Love Songs was 10th arrondissement and group sex, whereas the milieu of Ma Mere was the Canary Islands and group sex with your mother. As Malle’s Lacombe Lucien showed us, the French excel at films that revolve around the question, “Will he or won’t he be a motherfucker?”

In the same way sex object Sagnier departs early in Love Songs, Huppert decamps with her terrifying friend Rea after Act One of Ma Mere. Huppert provides the incandescent vitality that Love Songs lacks. She starts off the film with the question “Did I keep you waiting?” This is directed at her older, cable-sweatered husband whose pants are pulled down. Apparently he was waiting. With the immediate and continuing on screen power she holds over both her husband and Pierre she is able to dominate the film from off screen as the puppetmaster the others characters aspire, fearfully, to be.

She leaves for her son Hansi (Emma de Caunes). de Caunes, inflammable (or, if you prefer, flammable), peach and plum colored, is the one who "still believes in love" but wears her boots to bed and is handy with a whip. In her interview on the DVD extras (looking all the more stunning and natural in short brown hair) she repeatedly uses the phrase, “not gratuitous,” which is a good indication of why Ma Mere is not to be missed. Hansi (you can hear the bread crumbs home in her name) asks Pierre, “Did I keep you waiting?” (a Huppert doppelganger). She continues, “Do you think I am a whore paid by your mother?” And they kiss, Pierre answering silently, I think you are my mother.

The entirety of Ma Mere forwards an older, more disturbed worldview than the one in Love Songs. So Honoré seems another who has regressed for lack of aggression.

(He also loses points for the over the top ending soundtrack choice—though Honoré claims The Turtles’ “Happy Together” is in no way an ironic comment on a son masturbating over his mother’s corpse. That is a Bruno Dumont-level fib.)

03 May 2008

A La Mode

First thing: much to my relief, My Blueberry Nights is not a bad movie—more like comfort food from Wong Kar Wai. I knew I would be fine in the first five minutes, caught in the fast-paced shots through glass (not just the restaurant windows, but through the cake case as well). Also the digital film helped me immediately distance this project from In the Mood for Love, 2046, etc. It seems WKW was telling us digital is America today (and, as my admiration for Miami Vice shows, I think he is right).

The negative buzz for My Blueberry Nights did give me pause. I read repeated criticisms of the “trite dialogue.” And I would mostly agree with that claim as it pertains to Blueberry while retorting that WKW dialogue is always bordering on trite. It’s just usually spoken more exotically, in Cantonese or Mandarin. What Zhang Ziyi says in 2046 does not really matter to me—I am more fascinated by the shapes her mouth makes as she says it. In a Believer column Klosterman objected because it wasn’t a good road movie. But it wasn’t a road movie at all, any more than As Good as It Gets is a road movie because it has one crucial sequence in a car. Thanks for playing Chuck.

It’s fun to watch the extremely beautiful Jude Law (Jeremy) try to harness his natural screen personality into something more like Tony Leung’s (clearly this role is the Leung part in WKW’s best known films). Law gets the charm down, naturally, but can’t always hide is overriding exuberance. He’s likable even though he admits to watching security tapes of Elizabeth (Norah Jones) over and over until they lose fidelity, which is, you know, really creepy. But he has a darling white smile and we feel that he deserves his last kiss—after all it started with the honest impulse to get the ice cream off the lips of a damsel in distress.

Said damsel Elizabeth looks like the Hong Kong icons we’ve seen before in slow left to right pans, first in the improbable hat check area of the Memphis bar (mirroring Faye Wong) and then sidesaddle before a slot machine in slum casino (very Gong Li). (I suppose WKW might congratulate Nevada as the last bastion of barside smoking in America.) Throughout, Elizabeth (sometimes Betty, Liz, Beth, etc.) looks quite nice in your average primary-colored waitress uniform and has a very nice way of saying “thank you” to the various addicts and losers she draws in to her circle of trust.

The dialogue issues are kept to a minimum thanks to the lack of lengthy speeches in the film. One exception is for Rachel Weisz’s Suelynn (echoes of Su Lizhen?), who goes on for several minutes too long about David Strathairn’s bad cop courtship. I wish her monologue took less time because what follows it, a blurred (then focused) pan that lingers across the rain-slick street, shows the emotion more precisely than her words.

WKW films are about gestures—gestures of one person towards another but more importantly the gestures (caresses really) of the camera towards the actors. Think of the long shot of Faye Wong’s android in 2046, walking unsteadily away in her red-lit platform heels. Think of the camera keeping close company with Maggie Leung in the noodle shop rain of In the Mood for Love. And the shots of New York trains are pure Chungking Express, the film this one most closely resembles. Some other geographies are not as well understood. How long did it take him to find romantic shots of central Nevada—I’ve never wanted a drive over more than the one I took down that “loneliest road in America.” (Yes, it succeeds in making you want, desperately, to reach Las Vegas.) But he found the best Nevada haircut for Natalie Portman—I can attest to at least that bit of poker room accuracy.

The Blueberry music is a tough one. While not as pitch perfect as Chungking’s Cranberries, In the Mood for Love’s “Quizas Quizas Quizas” or 2046’s “Christmas Song,” Cat Power’s “The Greatest” did make me smile each time it arrived. Though, thankfully, it did not come with Jeremy’s ex Chan Marshall (named “Katya” which is a little bit giggly and a little bit scary—Twentynine Palms scars are deep!).

The standout scene is certainly Jeremy at the bar calling every diner in Memphis looking for Elizabeth, finally reaching her, giving her the full speech about how he misses her and admitting that he knows this is not the right Elizabeth but he wanted to say it anyway. Classic WKW, a moment of pure joy for me, a reminder of why I write.

26 April 2008

Going to Turtle Bay to See If Receptionists Really Wear that Outfit

To be sure, at the start of Forgetting Sarah Marshall we do become fairly well-acquainted with Jason Segel’s perfectly likable penis. The director, an Apatow disciple whose name seems inconsequential, shows us the cock (that Jonah Hill eloquently and passionately requested in a deleted scene from Knocked Up) so that men in the audience feel a little bit uncomfortable. We need, apparently, to taste this bit of medicine so we are more comfortable in our unabashed ogling of provocatively (un)dressed women for the ensuing hour and a half.

Does filming in Hawaii automatically make all actresses 20% hotter?

That might seem an exaggeration but looking at this film and Blue Crush I find that Mila Kunis and Kate Bosworth aren’t just hot, they are pulse-raising hot. I’d like to carry this parallel further but I’m pretty sure Blame It on Rio actually took place in Brasil. I mean, if Kunis actually wore that reception outfit to work at Turtle Bay she’d never have a free moment. There would always be a queue through the door. The blouse was simple and totally insane, a crisp white plunge into earth tones down to her bellybutton. I would have passed out on the fucken tile (after I ran through my entire retinue of questions: what time is checkout? Are the minibar peanut M&Ms complimentary? Where is the luau? What time is checkout?).

So, this is another schlubby guy makes good film. And these are not real situations. The entire premise probably perpetuates the idiotic hopes of men everywhere. It is a romantic comedy in 2008. God bless Woody Allen for starting us down this road and God bless Apatow for giving this niche to me. At least Jason had to write and produce a play to get Mila to go for him in Forgetting. Seth Rogen only had to get a job and put up ugly wallpaper in Knocked Up.

I greatly enjoyed the Blue Crush mirrorings. Some whiff of empowerment for single women...until a nice guy comes along. And there's nothing like an obese, surprisingly aquatic black man to lighten even the heaviest moments. More importantly: is that angry, tatted-up Hawaiian surfer guy available hourly? Could I hire to him to take a dive if I need to act hard? It looks like it would be an accomplishment to kick his ass.

22 April 2008

Lola, Lola

Demy’s Lola is dedicated to Max Ophuls. On life he says: “It’s always beautiful in the movies,” and I (obviously!) agree. Especially in the movies with deep-voiced American midshipmen speaking in French accents.

The men in Lola: tall, handsome, seafaring, trumpet-purchasing, learning a second language, strumming idly onstringed instruments, leaving and about to leave.

The women in Lola: lithe, beautiful, world-weary, dancing, falling in love at Carnival, learning a second language, hair-tossing, explosively-dimpled, solemn on the topic of love.

The men and the women in Lola: convinced first love is the only real love.

The opening is a Fellini dream: an unknown man rolling through town in white convertible and suit. His figure continues to move through the film like a ghost (The Past always has to be a wraith I suppose).

Anouk Aimee is Lola (the song she repeatedly has to practice, and that we never see performed, is helpfully titled, "It's Me, Lola"), working as a dancer at cabaret translated as “The El Dorado,” but the place-name is spelled out in script: L’eldorado. So much more charming that way. (We can only hope that our Lola is a better dancer than Lola Montes in the Ophuls film.)

Aimee's love interest, Roland, is so serious he has his own charm as well. Here’s what I’d like to say to a woman someday: “I got fired, went to a movie, and met you.” A full day.

Many characters are doubles: Seaman Frankie is Lola’s stand-in for first love Michel, another blond sailor fond of taking 14 year old girls to the bumper cars. Lola herself is doubled by Cecile (Lola’s real name), a girl on the brink of her 14th birthday who so resembles a time warp Lola that our shy protagonist Roland is taken by her immediately. Shots, sequences, musical phrases and more are repeated in Lola's grand seaside cycles.

Lola is a gorgeous glut of natural light (Raoul Coutard cementing again his G.O.A.T. status). On the second morning when the white truck rolls by Roland and Lola in the café it reflects so much light through the window that the whole shot goes almost blind white, just as the music swells—a violin piece Roland might have played once.

The film's pinnacle is Young Cecile on the spinning carnival ride with (the slightly pedophilic but mostly likable) Frankie, smiling so freely my heart skipped a beat. The film itself actually breaks into slow motion as they leap out onto the boardwalk. This moment is transcendent because it is both a present tense sequence and a flashback to the young Lola and Michel, their own Carnival love at first sight. “Good day, Frankie,” says the youngster as they part by the sea.

Everyone and everything is lovely down to Roland’s older lady friend at the bar, who paints seascapes from her table. She may also be a poet, telling us at dawn that “the sky has run into the sea—it looks like a melted candle.” Once upon a time, she danced too.

16 April 2008

Twentynine Palms

My initial one line review for this film:

"There are wannabe Vincent Gallo movies now?"

This of course in reference to the Brown Bunny-level scorched physical and psychic earth of Twentynine Palms (two films that once you start you have to watch until their sick payoffs). But the truth is I have continued to think about M. Dumont's opus over the last few days (at one point reflexively recoiled when I heard a man say the name "Katya"). Mostly I have pondered the question: could Dumont actually be more full of himself than Gallo?

I know this seems impossible. But there is a moment in the Twentynine Palms commentary where Dumont "questions" his own decision to include the shot below in the film because it is "too artistic." Because you never want any art to sneak into your movies.

This is not to say that Gallo isn't trying to be more ridiculous. Personally I have high hopes for his new film about undertakers, which features Sylvester Stallone's son, Sage Moonblood Stallone, playing "The Guru."

10 April 2008


The best reason to walk into a Virgin Megastore is the off chance you will see Charlotte Gainsbourg browsing. After going through her recent filmography I’ve become totally entranced by Charlotte’s unusual sexiness.

Give me the first 45 minutes of Lemming over just about anything. Or, to be more precise, give me Charlotte Gainsbourg making dinner in a button-down shirt and jeans then serving it to a batshit insane Charlotte Rampling. I liked the film all the way up to the ridiculous lemming suicide metaphor.

Charlotte you’ll know from Science of Sleep. Amazing how she is so irresistible even next to the gorgeous Emma da Caunes, who, in Ma Mére, I believe actually lights the screen on fire.

Yet Charlotte blows the physically sexier one away with rhymes and un-made-up eyes. So nice with Gael, Golden the Pony Boy, running parallel to each other in backwards water dreams. So great and somehow rare when she smiles that you feel you’ve earned it just sitting in the audience.

In Happily Ever After, this Charlotte to add to the schema of the perfect woman: two men sit outside near recently used dinner table, the wife of the first walks out and says she knows what sexist things they are talking about and retreats indoors with plates, the wife of the second walks out and asks the men why they are on their fat asses and stalks back with some glasses. Charlotte, the wife of a third man, off screen, walks out and asks the men if they would like some more cake and then if she can have a cigarette—they both jump and light her up and trail behind saying “some guys have all the luck.”

You want her very much. Good to have a food fight with Charlotte every so often to break the tension and let her have her “Creep” trips at Virgin with Johnny Depp.

Perhaps in My Wife Is an Actress M Attal is trying a bit too hard to be Woody Allen. He does at least have Charlotte to play off the androgynous Keaton shirt and pants ensembles. A few moments might have been more unforgivable were they not French: playing “London Calling” when the characters went to London, putting in one bar sequence that was a Bacardi commercial (down to the red lighting) and allowing the sister character to smoke profusely throughout her pregnancy. As the 7th grade science class poster of a filthy middle-aged woman breathing out of a hole in her neck told me: Smoking Is Sexy. For Charlotte though smoking is great, definitively sexy. And if the Making Of docs are any indication, Charlotte smokes more off camera than on.

You can add Ludivine Sagnier to the list of gorgeous women Charlotte outpoints onscreen, though Ludivine was still a few years shy of her Swimming Pool stun gun body. The climactic line of the film totally killed me. In the context of his wife cheating on him with Terrance Stamp (this is somehow fairly plausible), Yvan is asking Charlotte over and over if she slept with him. She looks him in the eye (presumably, as this is all long shot) and says “No.” He says, “you’re a great actress.” Now this seems to me the most fucked up thing you could possibly say in the situation. I would slap him and leave forever. But she kisses and makes up. Because she’s Charlotte I guess.

The key realization came watching the extras for Science of Sleep—Charlotte is offscreen and purrs out out something droll: she sounds exactly like Grace Kelly.

Films that need to get made:

-One with Charlotte and Scarlett-Charlotte onscreen at once for the ultimate test of my affection.

-A Sofia Coppola biopic directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Charlotte Gainsbourg.

02 April 2008

Green Gone

I know I usually prefer hand clapping here but I have to ask. Is it now inarguable that David Gordon Green’s films have gotten progressively worse? George Washington>All the Real Girls>UndertowSnow Angels. I think this is (mathematically!) correct and what a shame. I, of course, like All the Real Girls the most since it is the most explicit LOVE and ROMANCE but probably the depth of characterization, place and Superman costumes in George Washington makes it the superior film.

I think the turning point has to be the moment a few shots into Undertow when the protagonist puts his foot through a nail. Everything since has been ordered around this oppressive, Gothic violence. And Snow Angels is relentlessly unpleasant, from sledgehammers to shotguns. There was one funny non sequitor I can't even remember.

Not surprisingly though, I wanted to love Snow Angels, defend it against its critics (as I just did with Funny Games). But I can't—I actually give this film less credit than most. Sure I can deride the people who still like to claim this is a period piece but it is just a DGG film—like Band of Horses songs they combine anachronism and modernity to free-range between the 70’s and the present.

I suppose Snow Angels still has beautiful codas of place detail, though it is strange to be in Nova Scotia instead of North Carolina. But Kate Beckinsale never felt quite right, her highlights slightly too well-done. DGG's recurring trombone is a welcome addition (and none of his previous trombonists have given head with a band hat on). The film is inescapably dominated by Sam Rockwell's caricature of drunken Evangelicalism though. I kept waiting for some nuance to the clearly anti-Christian Glenn but nothing interesting happens. He becomes less disturbing and more monotonous as the film goes on. Some people praised his work here as a "departure," a performance with "a new depth." Am I missing something? If we take the filet of Rockwell (Assassination of Jesse James... and Confessions of Dangerous Mind) when has he been anything besides deranged?

Olivia Thirlby does her best Zooey Deschanel but never as elusive as I’d like. I thought she might be the blow through town type but no—her two pairs of butterfly-wide eyeglasses seem permanent.

The Snow Angels shot that gave me the biggest, but temporary, thrill was a medium shot of a white and pink chalk drawing of a bride walking down the aisle. For a moment we can’t be sure where the blackboard is. But it turns out to be in the bar Glenn has chosen for self-destruction and his dance is nothing but ominous, unsettling. Compare that to the bar scene in All the Real Girls, where a more endearingly drunk Paul Schneider launches into his out-of-left-field stunner, “Have you ever seen an animal make a mistake?” Similarly, Nicky Katt’s Snow Angel serial cheater has depressing faux-prison tats whereas Paul Schneider’s cheesy tattoo in Real Girls provides impetus for an impromptu hot tub lesson on “Keltic lore.” I needed him to appear just once: walking into a room and saying, “It smells like pork tacos in here!” Give me a hug:

The bottom line might be I’m bitter Paul Schneider is not acting in Snow Angels—seeing his name in acknowledgment credits gave me a terrible pang.

But sober tones I have to say that I worry more and more about another of my favorite directors. After Marie Antoinette, Darjeeling Ltd., and Snow Angels, I don’t know how much more faltering I can stand.

27 March 2008

Funny Games (US)

After three viewings of the film I’ve decided one thing for certain: I will never play “Name that Tune” with Opera—clearly it is just tempting fate. Ann (Naomi Watts) and George (Tim Roth) play the game and even their son Georgie (Devon Gearhart) seems to enjoy it. In the ten years between the Austrian and American versions of Funny Games it seems Range Rover interiors have become even more deluxe. So the handsome threesome arrive at their summer place with (the good) Gigli playing in the background.

Much has been made of the central figure in the American version being much better looking and much more scantily-clad than the actor in the Austrian version. Here I must strenuously object. Arno Frisch is definitely hotter than Dreamers moon-face/Tommy Gnossis Michael Pitt, whose “Paul” wears long sleeves for the length of the film.

Another key difference is Haneke’s choice to kill off a golden retriever instead of a German shepherd in the U.S. edition—I assume this is just so the most iconic respective national canine can bite it in each version. Naomi Watts does have a little more tan booty and a little more mucus than I remember from Susanne Lothar too.

But in the end we are dealing with the same terrible conflict: two torturers killing off your family one by one over the course of a night. While Peter and Paul (the non-Dawson’s Creek alum is played by the jellyrolled Brady Corbett) maintain a constant and empty “The Killers”-style banter, the family tries to survive. It is fascinating to watch Ann and George try to communicate silently some plan of action. I believe they largely fail at this. While most discussion of the film has focused on the brutal second and third acts I go back to the first and see a couple relationship that has its problems. As Peter’s request for eggs begins its slow boil, we see Ann getting first testy, then angry, with him before there is any real cause—she is extremely egg-protective. And George, when told confront the men, freely admits that Ann might be overreacting (as she has in the past, we presume). So in the crucial moments where George might have imposed his will on the two interlopers, he is temporarily held back by politeness, the need to make up for his wife’s probable overreaction. As Peter and Paul (or Beavis and Butthead) say repeatedly in the film, it was all Ann’s fault for being bitchy about the eggs.

The gloved ones, who say they suffer from eczema (among other things), also point to George’s initial slap as another “reason” for all the funny games. Haneke makes a clear choice to present the violent acts of Ann and George onscreen: we his slap and her shotgun blast. We don’t see George (or Lucky the golden retriever) get hit by the golf club, nor do we see George or Georgie get shot (during the latter I was concerned that the sandwich Peter was making did not use any of the lovely romaine lettuce Ann washes early in the film). My two favorite film critics, A.O. Scott and Anthony Lane, both had knickers a-twist about this Funny Games, largely because they felt Haneke was somehow rubbing the audience’s collective nose in our voyeuristic love of violence. I think this ignores what is a well-acted, surprisingly nuanced film. After the initial leg-whacking, we see in each shot of Ann, George and Georgie a pure malevolence, the perfectly legitimate desire to kill Peter and Paul for what they’re doing. I’ve seen one version or another of Funny Games repeatedly and I still am moved by the pain and anger of the family. It is not just a dry exercise. As The Wire has taught us, even a rigged game is still worth watching.

This is not to say there aren’t certain moments when Haneke isn’t grinning at us, laughing his Santa Claus laugh (his DVD interviews are all must-watches). When Ann is forced to play the hot-cold game in search of (un)Lucky, Peter turns to directly address the camera but, crucially, still knows where Ann is, telling her “colder” even when his back is to her. He is established as omnipotent. Similarly, as he chases after the escaped Georgie, he lopes up ghost-like on the lawn, certain as Death in white shorts and Chuck Taylors around his trim ankles. He is, perhaps, even God himself as he forces Ann to say the short prayer (“with feeling!”) “I pray to God with all my might / that I may live all through the night.” She her fervent, sobbing, uncontrolled recitation is the most powerful thing I’ve seen from her since the career-making audition scene in Mulholland Dr. So, even if Haneke is grinning, he captains a series of great performances.

What I also find beautifully accurate about this film is the physical toll the events take on Ann and George. Each time his broken leg is touched, I see and hear the pain George is in. Even more so with Ann I feel how tired her legs get over the course of the night. The effort of standing and hopping while bound hand and foot is immense. So it makes sense when we see her later in the street, hardly able to stand any longer, her legs like jelly, picking the wrong rescue vehicle. When she arrives back at the house, bound again, we see he scrapes on her knuckles where she has fought. Even on the sailboat in the lake the morning she will die (the prayer come cruelly true), she tries to cut her bonds with a knife left on the boat. Paul calls her performance “Olympian,” then tosses her off the side.

He says, for all of us voyeurs, “fiction is just as real as reality.”

24 March 2008

In the Morning

The other morning (of the poem!) I went back into my FSG-on-the-cheap copy of James Schuyler’s Collected Poems. It's not nearly as attractive as this cover:

Three years ago I got the book and read Freely Espousing to little effect. But a Weird Deer told me to read “The Morning of the Poem” some morning and I, a fan of lounging in bed, decided to try Schuyler again. You can tell that Collected Poems is a New York School book because it features an ugly watercolor portrait of a New York School writer on the cover. This one is James Schuyler, reading, quite possibly on a morning!

I like that the poem starts off with Schuyler questioning the date (“July 8 or July 9, surely the eighth, certainly / 1976 that I know”). I like this because it presents a nice uncertainty to matters immediately but also because it helps characterize a poem pulls backward and forward across many mornings. Between descriptions of the morning out the window and various beverages consumed indoors, Schuyler has flashbacks like this one: “Green eyes in the / Medicine-chest mirror. You said, ‘I’m sorry: / everything just got too / Fucked up. Thank you for the book.’ That’s / what I get. Was it worth it? / On the whole, I think it was.”

These lines really speak to the tone throughout the poem: clear-eyed humorous and a gently wistful. The man’s eyes in the mirror seem to me incredibly bright as he gives the brush off any writer would fear, a variation on “goodbye but thanks for the good reading material.” Schuyler is never overwrought though—he decides the relationship was worthwhile on the whole.

Though it is a fifty-page piece, “The Morning of the Poem” feels like a simple, pleasant exercise. I think of it as a poet deciding to capture each thought, story and image that floats through one’s brain on a (particularly lucid) morning. This way we get descriptions of winter (“the kids are gloved and / Bundled up and it’s snowball-fighting time”) as well as descriptions of the July day that’s actually unfolding outside (“violet laced with orange and / White fritters: kimono colors”). It’s satisfying, the My Life-style fullness to the whole enterprise. And near the end, as Schuyler discusses Fairfield Porter painting on an island, there is some confusion over whether a rowboat or a canoe bobs in water of that landscape. The poet admits, parenthetically, “I can’t remember everything.” But still, a whole hell of a lot.

this is not
your poem, your poem I may
Never write, too much, though it is there and
needs only to be written down
And one day will and if it isn’t it doesn’t matter