2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

Members' Marquees

Critical Contacts

Lobby Reading

The Video Store

Reel Resources

The Blog Bijou

-Admit One
-Artistic Delusions
-Belligerent Bunny's Bad Movie Shrine
-Beware of Blog
-The Brain Drain
Biancolo Notes
-The Big Ticket
-Bitter Cinema
-Black & White World
-Bull Durham's Hot Corner
-Brewed Fresh Daily
-Camille's Film Journal
-The Chutry Experiment
-Cineblog (II)
-Cine Club
-Cinegraphic.Net: The Avante-Garde Film and Video Blog
-Cinema 24
-Cinema News
-Il Cinema Secondo (Italian)
-Cineaste (Russian)
-Cinema Toast
-Concentrated Nonsense
-Confessions of an Indie Filmmaker
-Cult Movies I Dare You to Watch
-Cutting to the Chase
-Cynthia Rockwell's Waiting Room
-The Daily Despair
-The Daily Digest
-Day for Night
-Delta Sierra Arts
-Dinky's Docket
-Distorting the Medium
-Donald Melanson On Movies
-Electric Movies
-Fade In: Blog
-Feeling Listless
-Filmfilter (German)
-Filmtagebuch (German)
-Film Talk
-Five Easy Pieces
-Frank Booth
-A Girl and A Gun
-Glazed Donuts
-GreenCine Daily
-Harlequin Knights
-He Loved Him Some Movies
-The Hobo Reviews
-Hot Buttered Death
-Iggy's Movie Review Weblog
-Iguano Film Blog
-In Development
-Japanese Films' Journal
-Joe Sixpack's Film Blog
-Joe's Weblog & Film Project News
-Junk for Code
-Kumari's Movie Blog
-Lights Out Films
-Like Anna Karina's Sweater (Filmbrain)
-Listen Missy
-Magnolia Girl
-Marley's Ghost
-Media Yenta
-Michael I. Trent
-Moov Goog
-Motime Like the Present
-Movie Boy
-Movie Criticism For the Retarded
-A Movie Diary
-The Movie Generation
-The Movie Marketing Blog
-Movie Retard
-The Movie Review
-Moving Pictures
-Nando's Blog
-Netflix Fan
-Or Kill Me
-Out of Ambit
-Out of Focus
-Paolo - Cinema's Radio Weblog (Italian)
-Pigs and Battleships
-Plot Kicks In
-Pop Culture Junkies
-The Projector
-Qwipster's Movie Reviews
-Reel Reviews (Podcast)
-Reviews, Reviews, Reviews
-The Screening Room
-Screen Watcher
-Short and Sweet
-The Silver Screen
-Stinky Cinema
-Sunset Blvd
-Tagline: A Movie Weblog
Talking Pictures
Tea for One
-Tom Vick's Asian Cinema Blog
-Trailer Park
-Truly Bad Films
Waste of Tape
-Wayne's Movie Blog
Whippin Picadilly
Wittgenstein's Bunnies
-Yay! Movies!
McBain Recommends
-Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
-Kill Bill vol 2
Shroom Recommends
-Top 20 List
-Head On
Joker Recommends
-Top 20 List
-House of Flying Daggers
-The Aviator
-Bad Education
Yun-Fat Recommends
-Eight Diagram Pole Fighter
-Los Muertos
-Tropical Malady
Allyn Recommends
-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
-Songs from the Second Floor
Phyrephox Recommends
-Top 20 List
-Design for Living (Lubitsch, 1933)
-War of the Worlds
-Howl's Moving Castle
Melisb Recommends
-Top 20 List
-The Return
-Spirited Away
-Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...And Spring
Wardpet Recommends
-Finding Nemo
-Man on the Train
-28 Days Later
Lorne Recommends
-21 Grams
-Cold Mountain
-Lost in Translation
Merlot Recommends
-Top 20 List
-The Man on the Train
-Safe Conduct
-The Statement
Whitney Recommends
-Femme Fatale
-Gangs of New York
-Grand Illusion
Sydhe Recommends
-In America
-Looney Tunes: Back In Action
-Whale Rider
Copywright Recommends
Top 20 List
-Flowers of Shanghai
-Road to Perdition
Stennie Recommends
Top 20 List
-A Matter of Life and Death
Rodney Recommends
Top 20 List
-The Pianist
-Talk to Her
Jeff Recommends
-Dial M for Murder
-The Game
-Star Wars Saga
Lady Wakasa Recommends
-Dracula: Page from a Virgin's Diary
-Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler
-The Last Laugh
Steve Recommends
-Top 20 List
-Princess Raccoon
-Princess Raccoon
-Princess Raccoon
Jenny Recommends
-Mean Girls
-Super Size Me
-The Warriors
Jason Recommends
Top 20 List
-Old Boy
-Million Dollar Baby
-Head On
Lons Recommends
-Before Sunset
-The Incredibles

Powered by Blogger Pro™

links open windows

(c)2002 Design by Blogscapes.com

The Blog:
Saturday, May 01, 2004
Mixed Feelings About Dogville....

Lest you think that I only went to some teenpic this weekend, I also went to Lars Von Trier's newest audiovisual experiment, Dogville. Normally, I would post something this short under Joker's earlier review, but it is so far down the page, I decided to open a new thread. I can certainly see the appeal of the film (as opposed to Todd McCarthy, I think that sometimes a big "fuck you" to America is in order), and I thought Joker's enumeration of the "Grace as Immigrant" and "Grace as Christ" themes sharpened my appreciation for the film. Still, I have mixed feelings about Dogville. Over the course of the film's three hours, I was all over the map, from one extreme to another, when it came to my reactions towards what was transpiring on screen. I think this has a lot to do with Von Trier's desire to be a button-pushing provocateur. At times I scoffed as the over the top outrageousness and ridiculousness of what was going on, fully supporting Yun-fat’s assertion that Von Trier was lapsing into self-parody (whether intentional or not), while at other times the cruelty, exploitation, and debasement inflicted upon Grace (Nicole Kidman turns in a rather good performance, and I especially liked her transformation at the end) was like a sucker punch to the gut. And then, sometimes I was just restless and bored, though the film was consistently watchable. By the end of the film, I was just angry, especially at the weasely Tom Jr., and I wanted to exterminate the population of Dogville myself. Is that so wrong?


Mean Girls

Despite the film's rather generic title and marketing campaign, I was attracted to this film based on the various good reviews (including the short blurb in Joker's Screening Log) it had recently received, with much of the praise being directed towards Tina Fey's script, an adaptation of the nonfiction parenting guide Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. Also, to be fair to my own motivations, it certainly did not hurt that Tina Fey, riding a wave of geek chic popularity among my friends, got herself cast in a plumb supporting role as a seen-it-all math teacher. So that is how I found myself and a friend at a screening of the film last night (a screening seemingly attended by half the middle-school/high school aged population of Madison; it was quite funny to see the apparent beef between Alison Lohman and Hillary Duff translate into some members of the audience, who, I shit you not, actually cat-called and made derisive hooting noises during a trailer for a new Hillary Duff movie).

Despite its pat conclusion and shopworn, sometimes clumsily deployed message, Mean Girls, is an example of an increasingly rare breed, a good Hollywood movie; even rarer still, it's an example of a teenpic with brains, falling somewhere in the spectrum between the caustic, almost apocalyptic, black comedy of Heathers and the smarter films of the 80s John Hughes oeuvre (if you want to get even rarer still, it's an example of a movie produced by Lorne Michaels that is actually good). I have to give much of the credit to Tina Fey's script, which is actually dependent on smart, funny dialogue (it's refreshing that the film is largely free of gross-out gags) and actual characterization, as opposed to stock types and shallow caricature (not that caricature and exaggeration are absent from the script, but pretty much everyone is given their due, so you get the sense that the characters actually exist beyond caricature, from the dreamy hunk with hints of hidden depths, to the South Asian mathgeek who's also a self-described "Bad-Ass MC"). Exhibit A would be the treatment of the adult characters, usually a glaring weakness in any teenpic; with the exception of Amy Poehler's character (a pathetic embodiment of how not to be a parent), all of the adults are treated, well as adults (in particular I liked Fey and Tim Meadows, who plays the laconic principal afflicted with carpal tunnel syndrome; loved it when he deadpans "I didn't leave the Southside for this," as he surveys the chaos overtaking the halls of his Evanston high school). They may have their flaws, but they are not your typical clueless idiots; surprise, surprise, they actually have valid, intelligent opinions which they actually express. And the kids, they actually listen, and, gasp, are often better off for it. Also, you got to give the screenplay points for not using the ever stupid cliché of making Lohan's character an ugly duckling, you know, by wearing glasses and stuff.

But what I found most interesting about the film was the plotline, which I'm assuming Fey created herself, since I can’t figure out how a parenting guide would have such a throughline. Scott Tobias, in his Mean Girls review in The Onion, makes reference to Martin Sheen's pursuit of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, but I think a more apt cinematic comparison would be movies such as Donnie Brasco or the television show Wiseguy, where a character goes undercover with the intentions to bring down some group (in those movies, the Mafia, in Mean Girls it is the uberclique that rules the high school known as "The Plastics"), only to find that the deeper they go undercover the more they actually become their target. In a relatively short order, Lohan's character masters the baroque rules and backbiting tactics of "The Girl World" with Machiavellian aplomb, and wakes up one day to find herself having displaced her hated rival Regina to become the "Queen Bee of the Plastics." And at that point, she isn't playing the role anymore, she has become the role (quite literally, as she begins to actually echo statements that her predecessor Regina uttered).

What is ironic is that the tactics that the conspiring outsiders (personified by the artsy goth chick Janis) use to exact their supposedly "noble" revenge on Regina and The Plastics are the exact same that would be used to claw their way to the top of the high school female social hierarchy. This irony points to the film's central message (which is unfortunately hammered home in the film again and again in the last 20 minutes), and that of Wiseman's book (from what I have read about it online), the way that the high school social order sets girl against girl. As much as people would hate to admit it, the rules of "The Girl World" are all too pervasive and their negative consequences epidemic, from the bottom to the very top of the pecking order (it's akin to one of the central themes of the earlier seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, see the S3 episode "Earshot," for example). To borrow another theme from the "undercover cop" genre, the undercover agent usually finds that the supposedly glamorous targets are actually quite sad and pathetic creatures; Mean Girls is no different, as the quest for power and position is almost ulcer-inducing. There is nothing sadder in the film than Lacy Chabert's character, Gretchen, and while you laugh at her stupidity, you can't help but sympathize with her awful position.

Given the recent pervasiveness of the teenpic genre, it's refreshing when an exemplary film comes around which doesn't treat its audience like a bunch of horny idiots with no attention span (not that I could tell whether the film's message had any discernible impact on the target audience). Mean Girls is a flawed gem, but a gem nonetheless. More Hollywood films could benefit from this film's combination of a smart script with actual ideas, good characterization, appealing cast, and competent direction (since I haven't mentioned him yet, the film was helmed by The House of Yes and Freaky Friday director Mark Waters). It would be a start.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Short Reviews of Films Nobody Else Wanted to Touch

The Punisher: God, I'm glad Artisan is gone. If you want an example of how that studio went from "Blair Witch" darlings to buyout target in a mere four years, have at it. Thomas Jane, America's answer to Christopher Lambert, stars as the title character, whose family is killed by a ticked-off crime lord. He himself survives being stabbed, beaten, shot and blown up, with the only debilitations being an unquenchable thirst for vengeance (and Wild Turkey 101) and an inability to form new facial expressions. Clearly, we're not in any sort of reality here, but the subsequent film we're given has the hero stretching human pain thresholds to such ridiculous limits (especially in the fight with the Russian) that we're left to wonder if he shouldn't be named The Punished instead. (Apparently, this superhero's big power is the ability to take beatings that would leave Homer Simpson whimpering.) Jane's entire performance consists of attempting to look grim, though the result looks more like he's holding in a massive bowel movement. On the opposite spectrum, there's John Travolta's tiresome scenery-chewing as the villain -- isn't it about time Travolta retired this shtick? He doesn't even have an entertainingly atrocious hairstyle in this film. Will Patton's about the only good thing this film has, and it's a testament to the filmmaker's tonal ineptitude that Patton's best work comes during the film's low point (a torture session involving pliers and piercings). In fact, the film as a whole is fairly sadistic and ugly while at the same time withholding from the audience the simple pleasures offered by a revenge narrative until the last possible opportunity (for a guy named The Punisher, Jane sure doesn't do much hands-on punishing); I think all that needs to be said about this comes from my comic-book-nut friend Rob, who, when I asked him if this was at least better than the Dolph Lundgren film, responded with an "I'm not sure...".

Walking Tall: A paper-thin button-pusher with a terrible script and indifferent direction made semi-watchable by the efforts of The Rock and Johnny Knoxville. Let me stop and say here that I think The Rock has one heck of a future ahead of him as an action hero; not only is he physically adept, but he also possesses the kind of effortless likeability that makes him easy to root for and he does have some sly comic timing (check out the opening scene of "The Rundown" or his repartee with Knoxville here). In other words, despite his giant stature, he just seems more recognizably human than the ghosts of action-heroes past (especially his Teutonic forerunner Ah-nold, whose struggles with the bad guys were rarely as tense as his struggle with the English language). He's got his foot in the door, so the next step is to avoid assembly-line projects like this, which looks and sounds and even smells like fifty different films you'll see every month on Cinemax. Entertaining, in a primitive and crude sort of way, but still...

The Girl Next Door: It's like a teenaged "Something Wild" except, you know, not funny at all. Spurred on by a handful of surprisingly generous reviews, I dutifully paid my $8.50 and settled into my seat. So first thing we get is a montage set to "Under Pressure". OK, good way to start a film... I really like that song and the usage seemed appropriate. A couple minutes later, there's another song, then another, then another... Seriously, the volume gets cranked up on a new pop song every six minutes. The most difficult job on this film must have been music clearance. Not that I have anything against using music to support scenes, but fuck. I don't watch MTV at home, so why should I pay to see it in a theater? As for the film proper, it's alarmingly lame with a sub-sitcom idea of wit and a plot that drags on past the point where it should have been reasonably euthanized. Elisha Cuthbert is indeed visually pleasing, but she's not much of an actress and she doesn't have the demeanor to play a porn star (not even a girl-next-door type). Timothy Olyphant, in the Ray Liotta role, provides an occasional spark of life, but even he eventually succumbs to the titanic wave of suck that engulfs this film (quite literally, in the scene where he tries to threaten Emile Hirsch into giving him a blowjob). This movie is so crummy that it wouldn't even finish first on a list entitled "Porn-Themed Films Titled 'The Girl Next Door'". This is our last dance, indeed.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

The Twilight Samurai

The Twilight Samurai is a gentle and unassuming work from long-time Tora-san director Yoji Yamada. With muted color tones, blunted lighting, and low-key drama Yamada brings to a period samurai picture the air of wise revisionism. It is a delight and a relief to find such a grounded work in highly saturated cinema. Though its reflection on pre-Meiji Japanese feudalism is not rare the clarity of the plot and Yamada’s unfussy direction lends a relaxed freshness to the film.

The title refers to ‘Twilight’ Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada), a low-rung samurai retainer practically bankrupted by his wife’s recent funeral and just barely making ends meet supporting his senile mother and two young daughters. Seibei is nicknamed because of the mystique of his modest and retiring demeanor, emblemized by his habit of going straight home from work at sundown instead of going drinking with his co-workers. Coupled with the decline in personal hygiene due to financial burdens and his wife’s absence, Seibei is unfortunately looked down upon not just because of his meager position but also because of the careless way he carries himself. The solution to his family’s problems seems simple enough-take in a new wife-but Seibei’s low stipend and his humble consideration of a potential bride’s feelings rule out the possibility. An air of breezy melancholy pervades the film, especially when Seibei’s childhood friend Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa) divorces her husband and reappears in his life, doing laundry and cleaning up the house, playing with his daughters, and otherwise lightening the atmosphere of accepted glumness in the Iguchi household.

The film’s criticism for the feudalistic era comes from the innate goodness in Seibei’s character and his impossibility of finding a place in society. He takes more pleasure in tending to his growing daughters and farming the land than performing duties as true retainer. After working in the castle by day Seibei is financially forced to take on the common but disreputable practice of moonlighting as a meager artisan by candlelight. Despite his formidable fighting skills, Seibei’s class-less ambition places him at the borderline between the warrior elite and the humble and content peasant; an undesirable place that foreshadows the Meiji Restoration but shortchanges the good men like Seibei who had to endure the position before the revolution.

To highlight this understated work Yamada uses deliberately low-key lighting and a highly natural set design of darker hues that continue Twilight Samurai's themes of underplaying the period drama. The title itself has a double meaning, also acting like the titles of one of Yasujiro Ozu’s later works that in their simplicity celebrate a time of year at the same time mourning seasonal change. The same can be said for Yamada’s work. With its unperturbed long takes and light somber touch the film is saddened by Seibei’s situation as much as it celebrates his strength of character. From his character comes a common drama, but it is the common ones that say the most about their times and Yamada’s unusually placid touch on the samurai film makes a common story well worth watching.