Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No New Jerks

Kill Your Idols is a bizarre documentary. The first half is dedicated to the famed No Wave period of downtown New York rock and roll, a scene and sound that flourished in the late 70s/early 80s. Highly influenced by the anarchic edges of the glam rock movement and the stripped down attitude of groups like Suicide, the bands associated with No Wave practiced a form of highly individualized and at times minimalist art bordering on performance art. None of the musical ensembles of this era lasted very long nor achieved any sort of national fame but for a certain segment of the musical populace their legacy is enormous. Watching bands like DNA, Mars and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks skronking it out in dingy clubs and deconstructing music was fascinating and leaves no question as to why commercial success was not in their future.

Nor was it anything these bands were hoping for. They were all creating "Art" and not simply angling for multi-record deals or opening slots on the upcoming John Cougar tour. So why did the second half of this documentary so awkwardly try to compare and contrast the No Wave era of anti-commercial exploration with the early 2000s Brooklyn boom of dancepunk bands like Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Gogol Bordello? They have nothing to do with each other. The only possible link is Sonic Youth who bridge the gap between the two but don't fall squarely in either camp.

Yeah, it was a bit weird. What was the point of this movie? What inspired the filmmaker to compare bands that aimed to dismantle musical forms and barely made waves outside of their cloistered huddle in the 19070s to groups playing highly accessible modern disco in the new millennium garnering reams of press before they even put out proper albums?

Maybe he had some sort of grudge against these bands getting attention for nothing while the real artists who toiled in obscurity have disappeared in the dusty tomes of music history. Lydia Lunch, who is as self righteous and annoying as you'd imagine, certainly was happy to jump on these modern bands for not pushing the boundaries of music far enough. She, who was in a band featuring guitar, bass and drums during the No Wave period, goes on and on about how she's so bored with guitars, bass and drums and actually asks "where are the bands with tubas" with a straight face. I just had no idea what the point of this film was and as interesting as the clips and interviews were, I still give it a 2.

I was impressed by how fun Glenn Branca seemed and was relieved to see how open-minded Thurston and Lee were with regards to the young upstarts. Certainly, the 20 year old Karen O, still reeling from the whirlwind of attention she was swept up in, was not as thoughtful and coherent as the interviewees from the No Wave period, but then again she wasn't able to benefit from 20+ years of experience and reflection. On a scale of Arto Lindsay to the two meatheads from A.R.E. Weapons, I give this confused and confusing documentary an Aaron Hemphill.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

None More Black

Ee-gah! The Road is easily one of the grimmest, roughest moviegoing experiences I have ever had. I can only assume the same can be said for Mothra, who joined me a the local theatre for this gutwrenching tale of fatherly love in a post apocalyptic hellscape. Having read the stunning novel, I at least knew what I was getting into but it still didn't dull the impact of this dark, dark tale.

Horrific. Hopeless. Nauseating. Many negative words could be used to describe this film but you could just as easily call it masterful, inspiring and incredible. I was captivated from the first shot and left with my mind fully blown. It is certainly a tough slog but worth every second. As grim as it is, the small flicker of hope that burns throughout does survive to the end and saves it from simply being a repeated punch to the face like American History X or Requiem for a Dream. I give it a 10.

It's an absolutely amazing story and the movie does justice to Cormac McCarthy's poetic words. The film captures the very palpable sense of real evil in a world where the few surviving humans desperately struggle to simply exist and no one is able to be trusted. The bond between the father and son at the core of the tale and the undying love carrying them through is almost unbearable at times but provides a handle to hold onto in the grey storm raging all around them.

What I didn't get was how the book is so revered and a Pulitzer prize winner yet the movie seemed to disappear without a trace. Where were the movie critics singing its praises? Why wasn't it as lauded as the novel? Almost every movie suffers in comparison to the book but this film did such a terrific job transferring the emotions and power onto the screen that I'm surprised it wasn't a bigger hit, monetarily or critically.

I'm surprised too. The direction was great and the acting was fantastic, especially the super badass Viggo Mortensen. I just don't get it. Maybe it's because it's the ultimate anti-date movie. It's hard to hold hands when your cringing and watching the screen through your fingers.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Little Boys Will Be Little Boys

Sports fanatics can be both the most inclusive and exclusive people in the world. Usually at the same time. "You like the Vikings too? Come in, brother." "Oh, you're a Packers fan? Why don't you go to hell you pus-filled corpse!" Big Fan shows how easy it is to live in a black and white paradise where decisions aren't based on reason or logic but simply on the colored face paint you choose. I can certainly see the appeal of denying the humanity of an entire section of a sports stadium with a well thought out chant but it's never been something I've been able to give myself over to. Patton Oswalt does a lovely job in this film of showing the disturbing end results such mindless sports fanaticism can lead to.

Yeah, but it's a bit too dependent on the dumb jock mentality cliche and the film's broad portrait of a never-ran who supplements his self worth with the highs and lows of his favorite team denies it the chance to be a truly effective movie. Big Fan is a bit too broad and too mean spirited to achieve the beautiful sadness and bruised humanity found in The Wrestler. This film seems to lump all sports fans into the overzealous doofus crowd and I wasn't buying it. As a sports fan myself (Go Red Sox!), I felt personally attacked by the movie so I couldn't love it. Even so, this film was incredibly funny at times and the acting was terrific, especially the always wonderfully creepy Kevin Corrigan, so I give it a 6.

Just because the movie highlights a few of the worst examples of insane sports goofballs doesn't mean that all sports fans are social rejects wallowing in homophobic, sexist, school boy banter with other like minded cretins. I would say it actually makes the opposite point, that there is a distinct appeal to the us vs. them mentality and one of the joys of watching sports is that you are able to create and despise enemies without the actual threat of warfare or attack. Big Fan points out that opposing fanatics are not actually opposites but are in fact exactly the same only with slightly skewed points of view. I don't think the intention of the movie was to hurt the feelings of people who love watching sports or to denigrate baseball freaks like you. I'm surprised you were so hurt by the film. I expected you to have thicker skin.

I knew you would say that, you candy-assed Yankees fan.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Limits of the Viewer's Patience

Jim Jarmusch never met an actionless scene he didn't like and his latest film, The Limits of Control is chock full of them. His movies are typically slow with lots of dead air and this is no exception. It's rare that I see a movie and have no clue what it was about but this time I was left completely stumped without even a guess as to the overall theme. Like Vincent Gallo's infamous film The Brown Bunny, this movie is comprised of long shots of a man on a silent, solo journey with brief interactions here and there peppering the otherwise dialogue free desert. Unlike that film, the ending of Control does not explain everything that came before it. In fact, it somehow makes the whole endeavor even more confounding.

I was confused when it started, perplexed as it continued and after a brief bout of sleepiness, I ended up bewildered and a bit angry. It certainly was beautiful to look at but what the hell was going on? It was 2 hours but felt like 23 so I give it a 3. Now will someone please explain it to me?

It was Jim Jarmusch's version of a David Lynch film. It had all the Lynchian hallmarks - internal dream logic, cryptic dialogue, repetitive imagery and a constant, creeping feeling of dread. Easily Jim Jarmusch's most difficult movie, I still found plenty to like in it. Gorgeous imagery, odd touches of humor, an amazing soundtrack heavily featuring Boris and an awesome and all too brief performance by Tilda Swinton. What was it all about? Was it a comment on the nature of reality? An exploration of the randomness of the universe? A Hitchcockian thriller with none of the thrills? Anyone?


Monday, January 11, 2010


Obsessives are great subjects for movies. They provide a single minded focus that cuts through all the nonsense and helps to provide a powerful driving force to the storyline. Today the wheel and I briefly discuss three films exploring the worlds of the compulsive, the obsessive and the slightly touched. First up, Fantastic Mr. Fox, an amazing film that's silly and exciting enough for both kids and adults. A Wes Anderson film in every aspect, full of insane detail and subtle brilliance, I was surprised by how much I liked it. It's at once faithful to the story and a wonderful jumping off point to a personal and totally original take on a beloved story. Mr. Fox is as obsessive as they come, pushing forward in the face of danger and going against all reason to satisfy the itch that can't be scratched. It's hilarious and touching and a kick to watch.

After the fluid masterpieces from Pixar, the stilted, herky jerky animation in this one made me wince. There's a place for nostalgia but there is no need to go old school when it comes to animation techniques. Why bother with stop motion silliness when you can have eye popping digital grandeur? Also, the dry humour was out of place and combined with the amateurish subpar Rankin-Bass puppets, I couldn't warm up to this one. I give it a 4.
When it comes to feats of derring-do, I much preferred Le Trou, an amazing prison escape movie in a world littered with them. The film follows a cell full of prisoners as they plan, plot and execute a painstakingly brilliant jailbreak. I give it a 7 for its slow burn suspense and all around Frenchiness.

I really enjoyed this one too. Who knew how much fun it could be to watch guys dig and dig and dig. Le Trou spares no expense in showing you the full detail of chiseling through concrete. If you like long, single shots of digging this movie is for you as there are several scenes where the camera fixes on guys digging and doesn't cut away. Just when you think they couldn't possibly show anymore digging they go and blow your mind with more digging. It's pretty insane. Aside from all that digging it is an awesome movie about trust, justice and ingenuity. And of course, digging.

Lastly, I want to recommend Z Channel - A Magnificent Obsession to anyone reading this. It's a documentary about the early days of cable movie channels and an L.A. based station called Z Channel run by a mad man named Jerry Harvey who briefly escaped his crippling depression by obsessing over movies. At first it seems like an overly reverent film filled with talking heads going on and on about how amazing Z Channel was. After a few minutes I felt I had made the wrong choice and shut it off. Bored one day, I decided to pick up where I had left off, 10 minutes in, to see if it got any better. Not seconds after starting it back up the narrator says "And that's when Jerry killed his wife and then turned the gun on himself." Now, I'm not a huge fan of suicide but I must say that my interest was piqued.

Unfortunately, it stalled again right there by tracing the history of the channel by interspersing hyperbolic hosannas from the likes of Jim Jarmusch and Robert Altman with the most boring movie clips ever dug out of the vaults. Italian movies, French movies, Romanian movies, all making no sense and far too arty for their own good. And say what you want about Quentin Tarantino's films but in conversation he is the most annoying man on the face of the planet. His whole manic way of talking with flailing arms and cool daddy-o hipster speak grates instantly and obscures anything he has to say. Shave your soul patch and shut up. I give the movie a 1 and if I could, I'd give Mr. Tarantino a punch in the face.

I have to disagree completely. This documentary celebrates the incredible and endless variety of movies in the world and the overwhelming wealth and breadth of cinema. For anyone touched by even the mildest bout of art obsession or fans of the hard to find and obscure, this movie will make you want to cancel your plans for a year and just sit watching films, basking in the glory and sitting slack jawed in awe at the beauty of it all. This is a movie that champions not those who create but those who share the creations of others and as someone who loves the mixtape and the best of list, I tip my hat to Jerry Harvey and his ilk for sharing their obsessions with the world.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It's Hard To Find a Friend

It's tough enough to duke it out in middle school when you're simply dealing with the typical adolescent bullshit, I can't imagine the added difficulties Vampirism must bring about. The main boy in Let the Right One In is sensitive, poorly coiffed and ghostly pale so you know he's got it rough but he soon meets a girl who lives in his building who is having a rougher go of it. Not only is she home schooled but she also needs to have constant intakes of fresh blood to help stave off pimples and the dreaded odor of rotting flesh.

It kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? Some complain about the horrible options for lunch at public schools while others wring their hands about the lack of funding for the chess team but when you see the trouble a 12 year old has in procuring new sources of the thick, red stuff, it kind of blows all those pedestrian dilemmas away. Too bad it wasn't more entertaining.

It was plenty entertaining. This movie got a lot right - the horrors of bullying, the silent awkwardness of post pubescence, the beauty of winter - but what I loved most about it was its adherence to some of the older traditions of vampire lore. At times, you'll think you're watching The Lost Boys with all the "invite me in" requests and freaky vampires climbing up walls and dropping on unsuspecting victims from high places. This is certainly a more meditative approach to the vampire story than Blade but I disagree completely that it was not entertaining.

You know me, I love Wesley Snipes. But even without his masculine presence, this movie lurched forward too slowly for me. Plus, all the genuinely agonizing emotions explored in the film kind of killed all the badassery going on. I give it a 5. It was bloody and gory and terrifying but also talky and moody and distant.

For me it struck just the right chord of pure enjoyment with deeper underlying themes. The actors were fantastic, the cinematography beautiful and the ending absolutely perfect. Check out this Swedish masterpiece soon before the English remake comes out later this year. Apparently, they plan to adhere close to the original but as Wikipedia puts it, some changes will be made to make it "accessible to a wider audience." Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills star in Let the Right One In, coming soon to a multiplex near you.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Great or Grating?

The mysteries of Netflix continued last week as I prepared for night after long night of double features to work through all the instant viewing options that were set to disappear on January 1st. But then, on the third night when I had 6 movies left to watch, I discovered 4 of them had their expiration dates disappear as quickly as they had appeared and suddenly my plate was much less full and my week ended up being much less stressful.

Speaking of stress, here are two movies that plucked my nerves and made me grit my teeth in frustration. Both were half interesting and half infuriating. First up is Julie & Julia. I'm not surprised that the Meryl Streep half towered over the Amy Adams half but I was shocked by how much I fell in love with Julia Child and the overwhelming desire for violence that Julie Notalent inspired in me. Julia Child was a bizarre lady and a serious bad-ass who deserves all the praise and respect she earned over the course of her fascinating life and the segments of the movie focused on her were fun. The sections following Julie made me hate the present and long for the past. Nostalgia for "the good old days" and sighing over how the modern age is so lame compared to past are exercises that usually make me gag since, as much of a Luddite as I am in some ways, I love the modern world. Julie typified every cliche about self-obsessed bloggers, selfish twenty-somethings and navel gazing memoirists. In short, she made me ill as did her open-mouth chewing, boring as all get out husband and horrid circle of friends and acquaintances. Julia Child however, with her manly hands and bizarre voice, made me swoon.

Absolutely horrifying. It gets a 2. An example of the worst kind of fame piggybacking, sucking the soul from someone with talent and hoping for a whiff of the ability and grace they displayed. I loathe Julie and I hear that her recent memoir is all about how she felt empty inside after her nonsense book based on a blog came out, cheated on her husband and then wrote about that. I was so happy when Julia Child rebuffed her late in the film although the victory was short lived as it only made her pout when instead it should have made her re-evaluate her sham of a life. Gag me with a wire whisk.

The less said about Paper Heart the better. It wasn't really a disappointment since I didn't have high hopes for it but it was a long, tough slog of a viewing experience. I stopped watching Seinfeld reruns because I couldn't stand fully grown adults still dealing with their problems like neurotic little babies. Well, it's no fun watching younger people obsess over nonsense either. Charlyne Yi, the "star" of this film has given up on love and it's no wonder since even the most timid conversation makes her bury her head in her shirt like a turtle.

I felt sorry for her and actually warmed up to her by the end. It was obviously a bit of an act, highlighted by the glaringly fictional "true love" segments of the movie where she and Michael Cera start their awkward relationship. Her shyness was a put on and set the scene for this odd scripted documentary and once I got past the initial disorientation, I enjoyed her exploration of what love means to the man on the street and how a clumsy, jaded soul can somehow end up stepping into a big pile of it. I also loved the animated story sections of this film, especially the one with the motorcycles and 'splosions. I give it a 6.
Bleh. How can you be so venomous towards Julie & Julia and so forgiving towards this slop? The interviews were passable but even those were nearly ruined by her giggly, space cadet personality. Micheal Cera plays himself well but his likability is adversely affected by his proximity to her. The fictionalized scenes are painful to watch and I loathed the guy playing the director with every cell in my body. If her weirdness was a put on, it was as horrible an act as her stand up comedy. If it was in any way real, may the lord have pity on her soul.