September 30, 2003

No Life Without Me

There's a few films that really get the Cinecultist waterworks going. Though we're sensitive, CC's not really a movie-weeper — Terms of Endearment and The End of the Affair are two that caused us to awkwardly rub out eyes as we headed for the door. Now we need to add to that list, My Life Without Me, the new movie by Spanish director Isabel Coixet produced by Pedro Almodovar's production company and starring Sarah Polley. Polley plays Ann, a 23 year old woman with two young children and a young husband who lives in a trailer behind her mother's house and works nights cleaning a local university. When she discovers she has advanced ovarian cancer, she makes a list of all the things she always meant to do and sets about doing them.

Coixet appears to be aware of the history of women's weepies, the melodramas about chicks for chicks, referencing them in her narrative structure and dialogue. Deborah Harry, who plays Ann's jaded mother and Jose's first pick for more than worthy Academy Award nominee, watches the classic melodrama Mildred Pierce with Joan Crawford (whom she intriguingly blocks on the tv screen with her body) and tells the story of a downtrodden mother sacrificing herself to her impressionable young granddaughters. Ann reacts strongly, telling her mother not to repeat these stories to Patty and Penny, and the movie appears also to be reacting against the norms of typical melodrama. Where the movie, with its decidedly depressing subject matter, could be bleak instead has a lightness and irreverance that's entirely engaging. It's also a movie that's really of its cultural moment, intriguingly referencing pop like Milli Vanilli (Maria de Medeiros' hairdresser wants to give whiter than white Ann Rob n' Fab dreads) and Nirvana (really the sort of music that makes young women cry and the impetus for Ann meeting her husband Don). But these references aren't just trivia, they're the texture that allows the film to resonate.

Just like the patrons who dance through their supermarket shopping, My Life Without Me made Cinecultist waltz out of the theater high on the possibility of small character-driven international cinema.

Posted by karen at 8:02 AM |

September 29, 2003

The Board is Set. The Pieces are Moving

new1.jpgPCC was so excited to not only find the trailer for the final Lord of the Rings installment, Return of the King, but to also be spared the agony of having to see Secondhand Lions, the recent New Line release that had the brand-new trailer attached. This is what the internet was made for: avoiding a voice-cracking Haley Joel in favor of an amazing two minutes of hobbits, elves and men duking it out in the ultimate battle of good versus evil. Only 78 days left...

Posted by jordan at 5:28 PM |

Bye Bye Elia

They're dropping like flies. It seems like those who follow the entertainment industry and its insiders need to be constantly in mourning. The newest loss is Elia Kazan, the Oscar winning writer director who figured so prominently in the McCarthy hearings of the '50s, who died yesterday at age 94.

We'd imagine that Turner Classic Movies will stage a tribute in the next day or so, as they just screened On The Waterfront last night as part of their series The Essentials. Cinecultist watched A Streetcar Named Desire recently and was quite blown away with the performances therein. Marlon Brando and that ripped t-shirt. Zowie. The Vivien Leigh in this movie is no Scarlet O'Hara, she's all kind of crackers. You can't take your eyes away. Kazan certainly knew what to do with his actors. Further coverage on

Posted by karen at 7:58 AM |

September 28, 2003

You Made Us Laugh

Singing_Rain.jpgPCC would like a pay a quick, but by no means unfeeling, tribute to Donald O'Connor who died yesterday at the age of 78. As Cosmo Brown, Gene Kelly's sidekick extraordinare in Singin' in the Rain, Mr. O'Connor was a joy to behold as he spun, flipped and sang himself around various movie sets. His amazing gift of physical comedy will be remembered every time PCC watches Singin' in the Rain.

Posted by jordan at 5:11 PM |

We Told You So

Okay, Cinecultist knows that Lost in Translation is getting a bit too much play in the blogosphere. We're expecting the backlash to begin any day now. But for the record, CC thought it was a lovely little picture that had to have some very serious biographical resonance for Ms. Coppola. She admits as much in the following paragraph from her Nostaligia piece in this month's Vogue, which we've excerpted because Vogue doesn't reproduce all of its content online (though is the IMDB equivalent for fashion info).

"I spent my 20s trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I tried everything and was frusterated because I couldn't really find the one thing I wanted to focus on. I went to art school and studied painting, and then got more into photography and doing a little clothing line and designing some more costumes — just trying different things until I made my first short film and really enjoyed it. Making movies combines so many different areas that I like, and it's always really challenging. I enjoy the visual aspect, working with the cinematographer and the costume designer. I get involved in all those details."

OMG, we love Sofia. We even own a t-shirt from that clothing line she designed, Milk Fed, which when we wear it gets all kind of comments. lostsoundtrack.jpgAlso, CC suggests picking up the soundtrack, online or at your local record store, it's lovely. We just bought it the other day and it's a good compliment to the movie viewing experience. And as a bonus, on the end of the Jesus and Mary Chain track "Just Like Honey," you can hear Bill Murray kaoroking "More Than This," a highlight of the film. Now then, we're done with talking about Lost. Consider discussion of it passé

Posted by karen at 3:50 PM |

September 27, 2003

Shana Tova

In honor of Rosh Hashanah the Jewish New Year, Cinecultist thought we'd mention the extensive contribution of Jews to the movie industry. Though we missed the exhibition at the Jewish Museum that closed a week or so ago, Entertaining American: Jews, Movies and Broadcasting curated by the Village Voice critic J. Hoberman and Jeffrey Shandler, we've flipped through the accompanying catalogue which is a trove of information. A few little factoids:

The Jazz Singer, the first synched sound film which followed an immigrant Jewish performer, Al Jolsen, wherein he sings in blackface, had its world premiere — a day before Yom Kippur — at the Warners' Theatre in New York, running there for twenty-three weeks.

The originator of the Vamp character, an "implacable seductress," Theda Bara was born Theodesia Goodman and after she retired in 1926, she described herself in a newspaper interview as "just a nice Jewish girl."

In the 1990s, Jewish characters crowded the television airwaves, with the most famous being the NBC hit, Seinfeld. "Although of the four main characters only Jerry Seinfeld was identified as a Jew, all the characters have been understood — at least by many Jewish viewers — as crypto-Jews deliberately, playfully, and transparently disguised."

For more J. Ho writing on Jews in the movie industry, check out his earlier book on Yiddish film, Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Worlds. Though it's still early in the season, the lyrics to Adam Sandler's Hannukkah song detail many more famous performing Jews. Visit the Barbra Streisand Museum in San Francisco, though now closed they still have a website for the Funny Girl's fans.

Posted by karen at 2:31 PM |

September 26, 2003

What Is Culture Anyway?

J. Hoberman poses this question at the end of his review of The School of Rock, Richard Linklater's new movie about Jack Black as a school teacher teaching 5th graders how to appreciate rock n' roll. But why does it all have to be high or low? Why should writers be refering to Linklater's past as an art/independent director who now is offering us a mainstream picture? Is all of this so easily defineable into binary categories? Cinecultist likes to see these cultural impulses all mixed up. CC also likes to see Black making his "devil rocking out" face. It's cute.

Posted by karen at 8:03 AM |

September 25, 2003

Three Names, No Waiting

sws.jpgCinecultist kinda loves it when actors have three pronounced names, it's so weirdly formal and strangely uptight. Robert Sean Leonard. Sarah Michelle Gellar. Jennifer Love Hewitt. Freddie Prinze, Junior. Mark-Paul Gosselaar. Tiffani-Amber Thiessen. Mary Kate Olsen. But our favorite triumvirate-named actor has to be Seann William Scott. So goofy. Sorta hunky. And everything humiliating he does in the name of slapstick in his movies, from making out with Ashton Kutcher to drinking spunk-laced beer, is more than just a little bit homosexual. He's the type of actor who seems like a Keanu (all surface) but the more you watch him, the more he appears to have unmined depths. (And we only sort of mean that to be an anal play pun.) Although, bear in mind that even with our deep and abiding love of SWS, we have no plans to see his newest movie, which according to's photo gallery was originally titled "Helldorado." Now that's a good title. 'Cause see we have this thing about not respecting actors with only one name....

The "official" Seann William Scott fan listing. A review of his new movie with the Rock, The Rundown by Michael Agger on Slate. He's also set to appear in remake of the French film, Gregoire Moulin Vs. Humanity, a romantic comedy wherein he'll steal a girl's wallet to introduce himself to her "heroically" according to Now that's a movie CC would be excited to see SWS in.

Posted by karen at 7:58 AM |

Cremaster All Over Again

Petroleum jelly, astro-turf, gender bending manimals, amputees, Ursula Andress in a ruff and the Isle of Man — all evocative imagery from Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle of scultpure-films. If you missed all the hoopla surrounding the exhibition at the Guggenheim earlier this year or you never got around to watching any part of the series during its run at Film Forum, Anthology Film Archive begins screening all five this weekend (Thurs.-Wed.). They will run the films both in chronological order of creation (4, 1, 5, 2, 3) as well as numerical order which could put Barney's bizarro world into clarifying relief. Or not, as Cinecultist's convinced that what makes these works intriguing is their incomprehensibility. [via Flavorpill]

Posted by karen at 7:50 AM |

September 24, 2003

Immortals Underfoot

underworld.jpgOne of the toughest jobs for the critic is commenting on the middling picture, a movie you can't rave about and you can't rip it a new one either. Underworld is one of these types of movies, a slick fantasy project part-Matrix and part-Vampire Slayer. Cinecultist supposes what would have thrilled us more is if there had been even an iota of self-referential verve found in either of those other projects. This made us start thinking such existential questions as, "Can we really appreciate genre flicks any more? Is there a place for sentiment that's entirely earnest?" But then we kicked ourselves and said, to our friend MD so you don't think CC talks to herself as she walks out of movies, "hey, it's just a freaking Hollywood flick meant to have at least two more sequels!" Here's what we know: Kate Beckinsale looks great. We should all wear that much leather all the time, if we've got the thighs to handle it. The vampires and werewolves are properly scary. The blood flows enough so that even the jaded Cinecultist whinced and turned away. But sadly, it just doesn't feel like enough to love this movie.

Posted by karen at 8:05 AM |

September 22, 2003

Laughed Until We Cried

Perhaps the highlight of last week's Gothamist/601am Happy Hour for Cinecultist was meeting the new Mr. Gawker, aka Choire Sicha. (As an aside, it helps to be friends with the handsome homosexual bloggers. They're cute AND they introduce you to the best people.) Besides the obvious mystery solved (first name pronounced "Corey"), we found him to be very friendly and filled with the bon mot you'd expect from a man who does indeed sometimes dress like "a giant gay Easter egg." CC only wishes we'd at least mentioned the name of our blog when we met him. Guess we'll have to obsessively do the equivalent of online notice-me, click thru from our site to his. We mention all of this to point our readers to his perfectly wonderful essay on The Morning News about the New Yorker festival, a ridiculous fall rite of NYC literariness that Cinecultist wishes we too had an article to write that forced us to attend. Guess we'll just have to wait for the New York Film Festival for that.

Gothamist's pictures from the event, CC's in there somewhere, Josh and Chris took to the photobooth while CC held the drinks, and we met sweet Meghan Stier who's a fashion blogger and liked our purse.

Posted by karen at 9:49 PM |

Lost in Marriage?

SCSJ.jpgPerhaps PCC is falling down on the job of keeping up with the latest (pertinent) celebrity gossip. Perhaps she was the only one surprised at the little one-liner IMDB snuck in today's news, telling us that Lost in Translation's Sofia Coppola is estranged from director husband Spike Jonze. The point of the blurb was actually to speculate as to whether or not the ditzy actress character in Lost was based on Cameron Diaz, but PCC was much more interested in the implied break-up. Lost viewing compatriot K8 astutely wondered if perhaps the Scarlett Johansson/Giovani Ribisi relationship in Coppola's film was a thinly veiled reference to the director's own marriage to the Adaptation helmer. Hmmmm...

Posted by jordan at 12:02 AM |

September 21, 2003

Journalism We Can Use

Despite Cinecultist's embrace of all things Internet and gadgetry related, we do like getting the physical newspaper on our humble East Village doorstep on the weekend. We especially like it when there's something in there we actually want to read. Hence, we bring you the following links -- sacrificing newsprint fingers and potential paper cuts to bring you a few jems of recent journalism.

Part of what makes Sofia Coppola's new movie Lost in Translation so delightful is the way that the non-Japanese speaking audience also feels adrift in translation issues as Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson try to navigate Tokyo. An article in today's Times offers a crib sheet for the hilarious scene where Murray tries to communicate with his director with a translator who's less than effective.

jake.jpgExcuse CC while we wipe up the drool, the Times magazine publishes some delectable pictures of Jake Gyllenhaal in various outfits from Marc Jacobs and Polo for their Men's Fashion of the Times issue. Ehem, our hard copy is otherwise engaged, so we direct you to the link. Isn't he so fetching and devil-may-care leaning against that 2003 BMW Z4? Note to Jakey, we like the beard. Keep the beard after finishing Proof.

And the final link is not really movie related but a wonderful article nonetheless, as a reporter in the Bay Area plays Radiohead songs for a classroom of 5th graders. Then the kids drew pictures inspired by Thom Yorke's music. [link via The Modern Age] Fascinating and creative journalism.

Posted by karen at 12:35 PM |

September 20, 2003

Any Other Opinions?

Christina Ricci and Jason Biggs in Woody Allen's Anything ElseCinecultist is torn. We heart Woody Allen. But we do agree that the Woodman's prodigious product is often more miss than hit. Yet, Small Time Crooks was much funnier than we'd expected it to be. And we do think that Sean Penn and Samantha Morton really did deserve all of the accolades they received for their performances in Sweet and Lowdown. Prior to the release this weekend of Anything Else, Woody's newest feature, Cinecultist was certain it was going to be just terrible. Train-wreck. A teenie bopper cast Manhattan? Doesn't sound good. Apparently, most of the people in this discussion thread on Gothamist also agree. But then we read yesterday, A.O. Scott in the New York Times raving about it. "Its relaxed, casual air gives the humor room to breathe, and a gratifyingly high proportion of the piled-up one-liners actually raise a laugh." But our favorite Bay Area critic, Mick LaSalle from the San Francisco Chronicle hated it. "It has taken Allen over 30 years, but he has finally made a movie that's almost unwatchable."

Argh. With all of this back and forth, CC supposes that despite our best judgement, we'll just have to see the movie ourself. Will report back with any pertinent opinions.

Posted by karen at 11:35 AM |

September 19, 2003

Frankenheimer Fest At Film Forum

This weekend kicks off a John Frankenheimer 14 film festival at Film Forum with screenings of one of his most famous films, The Manchurian Candidate. A staple of the '60s, creating lasting impressions of Cold War paranoia and intrigue, Frankenheimer's films can be weird and thrilling simultaneously. Even more incentive to catch Manchurian on the big screen, is to better compare it with Jonathan Demme's remake currently being shot with Liev Schreiber, Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep stepping into the ruthless mother role immortalized by Angela Landsbury.

Posted by karen at 7:26 AM |

September 18, 2003

Cinecultist Heart Happy Hour

Just a brief mention that Cinecultist is looking forward to attending tonight the second installment of the Gothamist/601am Happy Hour, this time held at Remote Lounge. Being a bit on the stalker-y side, we're dying to know who's a part of the "blognoscenti" (perhaps the best made-up word we've heard in a long time) according to and Anyhow, if you're going to be there be sure to seek us out and say hi. Even if you're not blognoscenti, 'cause CC's cool like that.

Posted by karen at 11:50 AM |

Looking At Assayas: Old and New Works

assayas.jpgIt is a big weekend this weekend in New York for French director Olivier Assayas. A retrospective of his work at MoMA begins (running from Thursday through Sunday) and his newest film, Demonlover finally gets a wider theatrical release (after a few selected screenings at Walter Reade last year). Cinecultist brings you a reprint of her musings on the film, which we've seen twice but still don't entirely understand, to be published shortly in Reverse Shot's Assayas symposium issue. For further Assayas thoughts, check out an extended article by Dennis Lim in this week's Village Voice, a review by J. Hoberman and Cinecultist's analysis of Maggie Cheung's star persona in one of his earlier films, Irma Vep. Assayas introduces MoMA's nine-film exhibition with a screening of Les Destinées today, Sept. 18.

“Does this turn you on?” On the surface this titillating question, posed by corporate spy Connie Nielsen to a rival, in Olivier Assayas’s most recent film Demonlover, refers to the illicit website coveted by the ruthless characters, but it could also be posited by Assayas himself to his audience. Does the thought of attending European art film, with its complex plots, flashing subtitles, images of anonymous urban life, and beautiful people performing bizarre sexual fetishes on each other get you hot? Demonlover delivers all of these reliable Euro-indie art-house movie conventions certain to arouse a specific audience subset, yet the movie is not wholly the sum total of its parts. In Demonlover, this very appealing surface veneer masks the more complex, and often unsettling core.

Intriguingly, a number of the actors in this French film, like Nielsen and Chloë Sevigny, do not speak French as their first language, yet the script calls upon them to be convincing savvy international businesswomen. The fluidity of language in this urban setting creates another masking layer in the film’s narrative.

As a thriller plot point, it makes sense that an assassin and spy could adopt any pertinent language, whether it be English, French, or Japanese, at a moment’s notice. Yet Assayas’s comfort in directing dialogue not in his first language draws attention to his choice to set the primary action in France. Somehow, the scenes where Sevigny barks out her annoyance at her ice queen boss in French has more gravitas, more mystique and more tension than when she lapses into her crudely natural East Coast American accent. Assayas understands this crucial difference (angry blonde in heels speaking French = erotic) and in utilizing it, plays with our expectations for sexy art film. American or Danish or Japanese actors speaking in French only intensifies the European art film-ness of Demonlover and language in this film, like visual queues/porn clichés, becomes another signifier of arousal.

However the most unsettling question posed by demonlover is not whether these scenarios turn us on, but rather if in being aroused we’re then implicated in a responsibility for their perpetuation. If you find torture porn exploitative, then does consuming it, even in a relatively innocent sexy art film narrative setting, make you a slightly culpable for its continued creation? The final images needle the viewer for at least the beginning of an answer.

Posted by karen at 9:20 AM |

September 17, 2003

Everyone's A Critic

At least, those film fans who have access to the internet would like to call themselves such. This month's Cineaste features an editorial on the state of "Film Criticism in Cyberspace," along with a list of links to other sites for criticism of note. They mention a few sites which started out as webzines but have risen in esteem by the film criticism community, such as Senses of Cinema out of Australia that covers Asian cinemas particularly well and Otrocampo, an Argentinean 'zine which provides comprehensive coverage of Latin American cinema and reprints of seminal articles by critics such as Truffaut, Godard, Pasolini, and Serge Daney. All of that is good news for those of us toiling away on the fringes here, not interested in getting PhD.s in cinema studies but wishing to engage in more complex criticism. And Cineaste's editors are generous to their non-establishment brethern noting in conclusion that, "it seems clear that the Internet will probably not supersede or replace conventional film journals but will continue to supplement, critique and sometimes prod those of us committed to a more old-fashioned mode of publication."

Note to Cineaste though, on their newly redesigned site (they ask for feedback via e-mail in the ed.): we like a flashy front page as much as the next web surfer, but please put more content on your site. More than two articles per issue would be great, thanks. This stingyness on the part of print publications is the bane of all bloggers who like to direct attention to well-done print articles.

Other websites mentioned that are worth a look: Rouge, Mobius Home Video Forum, Frameworks, A Film By and Film-Philosophy.

Posted by karen at 3:31 PM |

September 16, 2003

Twitchy Nic

matchstick.jpgAudiences love to laugh at/with the twitchy — those characters whose neurotic foibles border on the manic but still seem containable, understandable and ultimately human. The character Tony Shaloub plays on his USA detective show, Monk, Adrian Monk is a perfect example of this. He's not "dangerous" in his disfunction, just on the other side of unusual which makes him interesting and dramatic to watch. Nicholas Cage's character in Matchstick Men, the new Ridley Scott movie released last weekend, Roy is also from the same mold with his obsessive compulsiveness and agoraphobia. Except, because Matchstick is a Hollywood film, the movie implies that Roy's compulsions spring from a moral dilemma, his guilt over being a con man and having ruined his marriage. Cage makes Roy essentially a good guy, and without giving away too much of the twisting plot, finds him redeemed in the end. This is not to say that Cage, Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohman don't all give very likable performances but isn't this a pretty simplistic way to look at plot and characterization? Cinecultist doesn't know about you but we don't go to grifter movies to be moved by uplifting characters. A needling point in an otherwise enjoyable bit of cinematic fluff.

Posted by karen at 9:25 AM |

September 15, 2003

Here At J-Lo Evil Chip Central

JerseyGirl.jpgWe figure we'd be remiss without commenting on the BREAK-UP OF THE CENTURY of the new Liz&Richard, Bennifer, we know we know already old news for those not living under a rock. (Remind Cinecultist when we're in a bold face name couple to not allow for combining of our names? Its just too tacky for anything.) We direct you to the coverage over on because as per usual on the celeb ridiculous front, Uncle Grambo keeps it real. And he's right, this only makes us even more excited for the upcoming release of Jersey Girl. The press junket alone promises to be break-up awkwardness par excellance.

Cinecultist's review of their previously released bomb, Gigli.

Posted by karen at 6:27 PM |

Once Upon A Time

Cinecultist knows we promised an end to the mindless violence and the sexual objectification — that we watched on the big screen, anyway — but as Reuters points out, Once Upon A Time in Mexico is a transitional movie. Transitional, really. Moving from the explosion filled actioners of summer into the more serious Oscar-worthy season. (*ahem, insert not-really-buying-our-own-hype cough here) This argument hinges on the assertion that Robert Rodriguez is an auteur, a director constructing his artistic expression despite his sometimes bordering on schlocky subject matter.

Rodriguez certainly tries to convey this one-man-controls-all image on the credits of his new movie as he's billed as shooting, chopping, scoring, writing and directing. [Worth a read if you're interested in Rodriguez as an auteur arising from nothing, his book Rebel Without a Crew about the making of El Mariachi.] While CC enjoyed the experience of analyzing the movie while watching it, noticing shots and sequences reworked from his previous two films El Mariachi and Desperado, we didn't think it was a good movie. The story gets a little overly plot-y and overwhelmed by the number of secondary characters scheming murder and political upheaval around the heart o' gold revenging Mariachi towards the end of the picture. And CC was disappointed by Salma Hayek's lack of agency in the plot, as the object over which "El" wants revenge, her billing might as well be starring Salma Hayek's midriff. But hey, if you want to call such things art (to get your significant others into the theater with you), Cinecultist ain't going to put up a fight. Also in Once Upon A Time's favor, no cameo by Quentin — that has to be worth something.

Posted by karen at 8:01 AM |

September 13, 2003

Wet Hot Midnight

wethotposter.jpgThe very best midnight movies are silly good fun and completely camp-tastic. When Cinecultist caught Wet Hot American Summer on its initial theatrical release two summers ago, it seemed like the kind of film best appreciated with a crowd, musical guests and prizes. Fortunately for fans of this The State-produced flick who appreciate seeing it in a theater with a gaggle of like-minded friends, the producers have brought it back for a run of midnight screenings at the AMC Empire 25 (234 W. 42nd St. between Broadway and Eighth Ave., $10) this weekend. Members of the cast will be there, including Janeane Garofalo, and at the last weekend of sold out screenings after Labor Day, viewers dressed up as characters ala Rocky Horror. Break out those terry cloth short shorts and head down there tonight.

Posted by karen at 12:51 PM |

September 12, 2003

The Man in Black Won't be Back

Yes, PCC realizes that is a film-related blog. We're not dumb, you know. That said, she still felt compelled to post a small tribute to Johnny Cash, who passed away today at the age of 71. Even though the Man in Black doesn't have an illustrious acting career, his music has appeared in numerous films (Frailty, Dead Man Walking and A Gunfight to name a few of the better known ones). So, we stop for a moment to salute the man who has recorded with, and covered, everyone from Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan to U2 and NIN. Farewell, Mr. Cash.

Posted by jordan at 9:29 PM |

Who's A Hipster Movie Blogger?

Look kids! To toot our own horn, Cinecultist is one of the best movie blogs on the web according to's WorldFilm section. Our illustrious fellow best ofs include among others, MilkPlus, Kottke's Regarding: Adaptation blog and Such flattering company and a nice pat on the back from cyberspace.

Posted by karen at 6:58 PM |

Translating Travel

lost.jpgToday Sofia Coppola's new film, Lost In Translation opens in limited release. Cinecultist reprints her following review set to appear in the Sept/Oct issue of Reverse Shot, a symposium issue devoted to French director and critic Olivier Assayas available soon online and in select locations around New York. To put less of a fine point on it all: CC lurved this movie, run don't walk to go see it.

Part of what makes travel so alluring—the bewildering newness of a foreign city—also makes it an alienating by-products of our modern ability to jet about the world at a moment’s notice. The experience of being an American abroad is territory well-tread in literature and cinema, but Sofia Coppola’s sophomore film, Lost In Translation brings a new sense of wonder and delight to the familiar ground.

In her first feature, an adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel The Virgin Suicides, Coppola appeared to be dipping into her own girlhood for inspiration, capturing a gold-tinged nostalgia for Seventies suburbia and the hopeful sweetness in budding female sensuality. Yet Coppola made Seventies Michigan much more than we possibly could have remembered, a thinly veiled Breck girl commercial with a purely post-millennium hipster Air soundtrack. The details were just too perfect—Kirsten Dunst’s highlights too honey-kissed, Josh Hartnett’s muscles too cut—but that’s what makes it a movie and not a memory.

In Lost In Translation, Coppola again treads on the cinematic representation of memory, capturing an unlikely friendship in Tokyo more intimately than snapshots or home video ever could. Bob Harris, an aging movie star (played by Bill Murray), has come to Japan for a lucrative licensing, appearing in whiskey ads. In the hotel lounge, he meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), who’s passing time abroad while her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) is out shooting rock stars and vapid starlets. Both characters are in crisis—Bob’s facing midlife while Charlotte’s can’t decide how to truly begin hers. In Tokyo’s surreal urban landscape, where English-Japanese communication seems to be filtered, then delivered in an off-kilter and bizarre version, the foreign-ness of their daily existence throws Bob and Charlotte’s angst into relief.

A wondefully melancholy, post-Rushmore Bill Murray does an excellent fish-out- of-water routine—a little mockery and a lot of tenderness. In particular the sequences where Murray tries to comprehend all the broken English come across as good-natured and funny—a lesser actor could have resorted to malicious condescension for easy laughs. A call girl offered to Bob from the Santory Whiskey executives implores Bob to “lip her stockings,” and an intense photographer, trying to elicit the proper sense of cool from a tuxedoed Bob, tells him to embody Roger Moore as James Bond, while Bob remarks that everyone knows Sean Connery is the ultimate 007. With these exchanges, Murray strikes a delicate chord between detached amusement and resigned ennui. I have never thought of Murray as a leading man per se—no Harrison Ford “hunkiness” here—but playing a movie star just past his prime fits him like a gracefully worn-out suit.

Johansson’s Charlotte makes for an unlikely, poignant counterpoint to all of this messing about by Murray. She spends a lot of time staring wistfully out the window of her high-rise hotel room wearing delicate little sweaters and childlike pink panties. Coppola again proves herself to be a director able to coax thoughtful performances out of young girls just treading into womanhood, having very publicly been this drifting young woman herself. As the daughter of one of our vanguard American directors, it’s impossible to watch her movies without thinking of her father Francis (especially when his production company, Zoetrope, figures prominently in the opening credits) and imagining the pressure young Sofia must have felt as she worked on her clothing line, Milk Fed, or began studying fine art at the California Institute of the Arts before becoming a filmmaker in her own right. Therefore, the speech Charlotte gives Bob about how she rejected being a photographer—because every girl goes through a period thinking she can take pictures but probably shouldn’t—feels immediate and genuine. Johansson has mellowed from a precocious child actor (The Horse Whisperer) and a petulant teen (Ghost World) to a graceful adult. The Anna Paquins and Haley Joel Osments of the industry should hope to fare so well.

But Lost In Translation is more than the sum of its performances, by the two leads as well as the delightful supporting cast and extras. Cinematographer Lance Acord captures with equal beauty the bustling humanity in the metropolis and the serenity of a Kyoto temple. In two separate sequences, the camera lingers on Johansson staring out the window of a moving car, taking in the landscape as the lush score written by Kevin Shields and Air, (the same collaborators from Virgin Suicides) envelops the soundtrack. There is something so picturesque and alluring about driving and listening to good music, that these moments made me want to rise from my chair and enter the frame like a wistful Mia Farrow in The Purple Rose of Cairo.

Posted by karen at 7:54 AM |

September 11, 2003

Three Cheers for Robert

1-4.jpgThere are few times that PCC wouldn't lead a round of applause for Mr. Robert Redford, but after reading IMDB today, she feels an extra cheer is in order. Redford is known for encouraging independent filmmakers and artists in general, especially through his annual Sundance Film Festival (yes, we know, it's become a commercial stampede of late but we can't (or won't) blame that all on the Sundance Kid). Redford is now urging President Bush not to cut any more money from the arts. Yes, those of us who have any brain at all realize that cutting the arts from schools is a bad, bad thing. But it can't hurt to have the message come from one such as our friend Robert, right?

Posted by jordan at 10:55 AM |

A Little Monsterous

partyshoes.jpg'80s New York and its downtown party culture carries a certain mystic, especially for those of us who love Gotham but weren't there to experience its gritty creativity. Micheal Alig, the infamous club promoter, is one of the central figures of that scene and the new movie, Party Monster, starring former child uber star Macauley Culkin, Seth Green and Chloe Sevigney, attempts to both paint his larger than life and cut him down to size. Last Saturday CC, CCC and the lovely Chris caught a screening in Chelsea and while we know that toddler in the theater shouldn't have been watching this movie, for the rest of you we're still unsure. CC and CCC sat down over IM to discuss the performances, the costumes and why movies with gay characters really should have more same-sex encounters of a sexual nature. Like more than none.

Karen: so then. Are you a party monster now? Are you a club kid?
Josh: I hope not. Or else I may become a clubbed kid. Heh heh. Clubbed kid.
Karen: I could kind of see you in those big shoes and the flashy make up.
Josh: that was actually my favorite part of the movie (other than Macaulay’s butt). Though some things, like the troll outfit, were too ugly. If you're going to dress fabulously, dress fabulously.

Karen: but it was amazing to see Seth Green trying to talk, in a normal voice, with that bright green proboscis.
Josh: yes, and oh so clever to have him be himself while in costume. The mask can only come off when the person is costumed, eh? OMG.
Karen: what was that great line? "If you've got a hump, just throw some glitter on it and go dancing."
Josh: maybe this movie is a giant allegory for the Internet.
Karen: perhaps. It’d be cool if we could actually think that it could approach being deep enough to be a metaphor. But I fear, it's too salacious and dumb a movie for that.
Josh: at some point, I thought they showed us an actual picture of James St. James or Michael Alig, which I thought was great.
Karen: I just can't really buy that the movie was really so profound as all this hypothesizing.
Josh: I’m fairly sure it wasn't. Happy accident?
Karen: maybe.
Josh: that's why I sort of didn't hate it as much as I really should have.
Karen: yes. I can see that.
Josh: Macaulay’s acting was so so so fake and theatrical, that I thought it almost worked for the movie, since it was all fake and theatrical and the such.
Karen: was it better that way though? Not being more full of its own importance than the subject matter would be?
Josh: and if that's just Mac acting, then it fits his character better, too. Since Seth Green as James St. James did a better job.
Karen: it’s that whole question of intent, which can be tough to pin down. Yes, I liked Seth Green out of the two leads better as well.
Josh: I wonder if the documentary the directors made was better.
Karen: what's this?
Josh: I hope it wasn't as formulaic as this movie was.
Party Monster, the documentary. Directed by the same guys about the same subject and better, apparently.
Karen: I’d like to see that now, just for comparison's sake.
Josh: you'd think that would make the film better, as well. But, alas and alack, these wee lasses lack the talent needed.
Karen: perhaps they should have edited it all together, ala American Splendor with fiction and fact intermingling into something else entirely.
Josh: yes. As it were, shooting it on DV didn't help.
Karen: seriously. I’m really beginning to hate DV.
Josh: "ooh, let's shoot it on video to give it a grittier look!"
Karen: or cause they're cheap.
Josh: "oh, yes, then the realness of this highly stylized situation will create quite the funny effect"
Karen: yeah. But again, more thought put into the intent than the filmmakers did?
Josh: I’m going to say yes. Let’s just assume that this whole movie was some sort of crazy accident.
Karen: let's.
Josh: the largest accident of all time. Jesus! Apparently they didn't even give all the right facts.
Karen: really? Like what?
Josh:this New York Times article says that a part of Angel's body washed up on shore, causing the accomplice to confess.
And they left out Michael’s obsession with horror films, which would explain the horror show parties he put on.
Karen: yes, it would. All the fake gore and whatnot.
Josh: indeed. You know, the movie could have at least given us more sex.
Karen: what'd you think of the depiction of homosexuality, or lack there of?
Josh: what homosexuality, Karen?
Karen: it is the other interesting topic of the movie. You know. What your people are into.
Josh: yes.
Karen: the mos. Momomomomomo.
Josh: my people, the Christians. What’s a gay's mother called? Momma. Ha. Ha. Anyway, yes, more hot gay sex. I mean, the completely left out sex of any kind.
Karen: or at least kissing, for fuck sake. All those people should have been having crazy amount of sex with one another.
Josh: I figure they were just too high to get it up
Karen: they can show the snorting of the drugs every two seconds, but not the groping at least. Drugs and violence they can show.
Josh: yes. We want real porn. Not pornography of drugs. Holy crap though, Marilyn Manson was one writing mess of awesomeness.
Karen: as I mentioned, I didn't recognize him/remember you’d mentioned he had a role until the credits, but he was great. A total train wreck.
Josh: A train wreck of awesomeness?
Karen: exactly.
Josh: how much more should we continue? All this talk is making my mouth taste like bad movie.
Karen: any final thoughts? Worth our time? I was intrigued. I feel satiated now. I think that's enough. Party Monster wasn't good exactly, but a curiosity.
Josh: yeah. I don't think I hated it. But I don't think I’ll remember it years later. Let’s just say that Seth Green might deserve some props.
Karen: he should be in more stuff. He’s good people. Go redheads!
Josh: yes, Godspeed to the redheads.

Posted by karen at 8:03 AM |

September 10, 2003

Down 'N Dirty Docus

"Reality" on the silver screen has been a big ol' trend this summer -- from Capturing the Friedmans, Spellbound, Cinemania, Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns and even American Splendor sorta kinda. If all of these movies have you itching for even more documentary goodness or if you're making one yourself, might we suggest checking out the Docu-Club's In the Works series. Taking a page from the Cine-clubs of the '20s and '30s with their informal gatherings of film lovers for an evening of screening and discussion, Docu-Club offers an environment for documentarians to screen their works in progress and receive feedback from a supportive audience. And then like many gatherings of movie folks, everyone whips out their cards and networks. Sounds like good fun to Cinecultist.

Yearly membership to Docu-Club is $40, though you can attend a screening for $5. The In-the-Works series takes place at Makor, 35 W. 67th and the next monthly screening will be held October 7. [via MUG]

Posted by karen at 10:19 PM |

September 9, 2003

What We All Lose Someday

21grams_poster.jpgPCC hopes she isn't the only one who get excited about trailers. Since she hears no complaints (or maybe she's just not listening...), here's the new trailer for Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu's new film, 21 Grams. Enjoy!

Posted by jordan at 11:20 PM |

Riefenstahl Into The Great Beyond

Like those family members whom you have to invite to Thanksgiving even though you'd never choose to have drinks with them on a Friday night, there are certain figures in filmmaking that one must give props to, despite their sketchy personal life or politics. Leni Riefenstahl, director of Triumph of the Will, the docu about Nazi Germany at the height of its influence who died today at the age of 101, is one such figure.

Riefenstahl created a masterpiece about a monster with her lush black and white images of perfect Nazi marching formations. In many ways, her fascination with patterns can't help but bring to mind similar obsessions by photographer/directors like Stanley Kubrick with his beautiful atom bombs at the end of Dr. Strangelove or Busby Berkeley and his camera diving through the legs of thirty identical smiling girls all in a row. Such beautiful pictures and such complicated subject matter. Is it possible to respect Riefenstahl as an artist, even in the face of her implicated association with the Hitler and his fascist agenda? Cinecultist thinks so, but also thinks its terribly uncertain ground, one that should be left open for extended debate and discussion. Until then, Au Weidersein Frau Riefenstahl.

Posted by karen at 6:21 PM |

September 8, 2003

See Jane's Trailer...Really!

As promised, here is the new link for the trailer to Jane Campion's new film, In the Cut, starring Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo. Hopefully the trailer will stay put long enough for all to see it. Campion's film is being released October 22nd in New York, LA and Toronto, with a wider release scheduled for October 31st.

Posted by jordan at 9:32 PM |

Cultivated Stupidity Lives!

Run for cover, alert the media, hide your sons and daughters -- Cinecultist's own media mongering correspondent Josh Huffman now has his own web presence devoted to music, movies and as he eloquently puts it, "ho titty hotness," called Cultivated Stupidity. Head over to say hi because Josh needs lots of attention and perhaps send him a little hate mail or a few mash notes, either will be surely appreciated.

[Ed. note -- good job Joshie, we knew you could do it! And kudos to Chris for the loverly design.]

Posted by karen at 7:25 PM |

Real Man Colin Farrell

As summer wears down, Cinecultist headed out to the cineplex this weekend to get in one more testosterone-laden explosion fest before our Art Cinema season begins. Let's first preface our assessment of S.W.A.T. -- the action film with Irish bad boy Colin Farrell, Sam L. Jackson, LL Cool J and Michelle Rodriguez which has been in theaters for few weeks -- with the statement that we used to be immune to Farrell's appeal. When The Recruit came out last year, his movie with Al Pacino, CC swore up and down that we wouldn't go to see it, because it looked hackney and predictable. And yet, the weekend of its release, CC found herself at the theater catching a matinee where we did find it totally hackney and predictable. But we were forced to reluctantly admit that Farrell does have a certain charm.

S.W.A.T. has a larger, more well-rounded ensemble cast than The Recruit, but strangely, in this film Colin really stands out from the rest of the solid cast as an actor with noticable charisma. He's a man's man here. He runs down the beach so hard, he vomits. He gets so involved in a fistfight with the bad guy that he punctuates his arrest by spitting blood. And oh, those tattooes on those rippling muscles. Zowie. This is not ordinarily CC's concept of ideal masculinity, in fact, we usually mock these muscle bound steroid heads so fetishized by action films as out moded. But weirdly enough, Cinecultist can write this sentence after seeing SWAT -- We get where Britney was coming from (by famously, smooching self-avowed sexist pig Farrell. But Fred Durst, not that we'll never understand). A movie worth catching on video or HBO for that reason alone.

Note to Movie Executives -- Cinecultist needs more Josh Charles in her life. Man, he's great.

So, to sum up a summer of watching an astonishing number of movies with over 2 hours of explosions, gadgets and male bonding, CC's still as surprised as anyone that we actually like these films. The formulas and the plot signposts blare out from the screen like air horns but somehow that's okay, comforting even and certainly can be good fun. S.W.A.T's not a bad movie. Neither was Bad Boys II. Or 2 Fast 2 Furious, although it was awfully noisy. And Pirates of the Caribbean was loads of fun. We still hated LXG, but CC supposes that's what makes us Cinecultist and not Ain't It Cool News.

Posted by karen at 8:02 AM |

September 7, 2003

Golden Lions in Venice


The Venice Film Festival, the longest-running film festival in the world, handed out its 60th annual prestigious Golden Lion Awards Saturday evening. The top prize of the night went to first-time Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev's Vozvrashchenie (The Return). The film tells a father's story as he tries to reconnect with his sons after 10 years apart. The story is especially tragic since one of the young actors recently drowned in a Russian lake where some of the film was shot. The runner up was The Kite from Lebanese director Randa Chahal Sabbag. The best director award went to Japanese director Takeshi Kitano for his film Zatoichi, the story of a blind swordsman in 19th century Japan. Sean Penn also picked up the best actor prize for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 21 Grams, costarring Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro, which is scheduled to close this year's New York Film Festival.

Posted by jordan at 3:41 PM |

Out of the Bell Jar and into the Fire?

Gwyneth Paltrow has emerged from hiberbation and can now grace your computer screen in the newly released trailer for her upcoming drama Sylvia, a biopic of the American poet Sylvia Plath. Costarring Tomb Raider's Daniel Craig as Ted Hughes, Plath's husband and English poet laureate in his own right, the film is due for release in mid-October. Convenient for another Gwynnie Oscar bid, perhaps? PCC is waiting to pass judgement on Paltrow's latest venture until after viewing the film. That's saying a lot, considering the actress' last starring vehicle was the abysmal View From the Top. Details, details. But we shall hold our tongues and wait until next month to decide if Sylvia is merely another bump on the way down the Oscar-winning has-been hellhole, or a step upwards towards a second date with that little golden man.

Posted by jordan at 1:40 AM | | Comments (2)

September 6, 2003

Snap Crackle Sin

SE-4.jpg Sometimes those first ideas really are the best. Take, for instance, the decision to change the title of the new Brian Helgeland/Heath Ledger film (no, not A Knight's Tale: The Sequel) from The Sin Eater to The Order. Though PCC knows in her heart of hearts that regardless of moniker, Helgeland's film would still be the problematic mess it is. That said, PCC admits she was strangely intrigued by the story, unschooled as she is in all things religious and especially all things Catholic. The Order follows Alex Bernier (Heath Ledger), a young priest of the arcane Carolingian order who travels to Rome to investigate the mysterious death of his mentor. Along the way, we meet the talented Benno Fürmann (from Tom Tykwer's The Princess and the Warrior) as the titular Sin Eater and Heath's costar's from A Knight's Tale, Shannyn Sossamon and Mark Addy. Oh, and there's some illicit priest sex, a few demons and a whole lot of sin thrown in for good measure.

Even with a main character who literally munches on sin, The Order was severely flawed. PCC feels a bit sorry for Helgeland, who apparently devoted much time and effort into researching his latest film. Perhaps in all the excitement over shooting in Rome (PCC doesn't deny this would be a wonderfully intoxicating experience for any filmmaker), Mr. Helgeland forgot to include a story. The final product is a confusing hodge-podge of scenes and references to past events that intrigue us at first but eventually irritate us as we realize that no further information is forthcoming. Ledger and Sossamon's characters obviously share some sort past, but all we know about those lost years are strange mutterings about exorcisms and suicide attempts. The script is so wooden that there is no chance for the chemistry and sense of comaraderie that seemed so natual in A Knight's Tale to develop.

In another director's care, the story of a man (demon? antichrist? God?) who has the power to forgive those who have committed unforgivable sins would be fodder for an excellent film. Unfortunately, in Helgeland's clumsy grip, an intriguing concept becomes a jumble of swirling black capes, crosses and candlelit Roman attics, peppered with actors whose only sin was signing on to this doomed film.

Posted by jordan at 11:47 PM |

September 4, 2003

Multi-Region Madness

In The Village Voice this week, the Mr. Roboto column covers an important issue for collectors of DVDs, particularly those that are produced outside of the US, how to get around the region codes. A point not mentioned in the article is that you can purchase DVD players without region coding, at stores like Kim's Video here in New York and set them up yourself. Kim's is also a wonderful place to buy foreign DVDs, as is Chinatown and Ebay. CC's former roommate Lauren did this with little fuss (there's a program to download from the web, burn onto a CD and then load onto your region-free player) so that we could watch a copy of Amelie before it was released here. For those cinecultists in search of obscure titles from far flung places, this might be a worthy investment.

Posted by karen at 8:10 AM |

September 3, 2003

Four Classic Fassbinders

fassbinder.jpg We hate to be the sort of cinecultist to deliver absolute pronouncements about Taste and The Canon, and with our recommendations of certain actors you may not believe us anyhow, but really, if you haven't seen any movies by Rainer Werner Fassbinder you must. Fortunately for those who missed the excellent retrospective at Film Forum this last year, the Sundance Channel is doing a mini-fest this month every Wednesday night at 9pm. Tonight's Veronika Voss, followed by The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, CC's fav Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and concludes with The Marriage of Maria Braun. Amazingly prolific and responsible for rejuvenating world-wide regard for German cinema, Fassbinder's work is so lovely, creepy and not a little bit sad that the films' emotional resonance can make them surprisingly accessible, even if you don't consider yourself a cineaste familiar with his host of references (Douglas Sirk and classic Hollywood cinema being major ones). Fassbinder loved movies and that's blatantly evident when one sits down with these wonderful films.

Posted by karen at 9:28 PM |

Best Laid Plans

Not that we haven't been caught in the rain before (last night, in fact on the way home from the Bowery Ballroom), but Cinecultist is sorta bummed that the weather promises to continue in its drizzling fashion because we'd love to sneak in another outdoor movie before summer flees for good.

Maybe later in the week, we'll be able to head out to the grandaddy of outdoor space in New York, Central Park. This year the park turns 150 and to celebrate there's been all sorts of events, including the Central Park Film Festival held this week (Sept 3-7) featuring a slew of New York-y movies like Annie Hall and Ghostbusters. Imagine if Woody had tried to use self-depricating jokes to catch the State Puff marshmellow man, now that would've been a classic.

Posted by karen at 8:56 PM |

September 2, 2003

The Next Nora Ephron Crack...

Cinecultist deflects away from her person and in the general direction of one Aaron Bailey, Mr. 601am. And to think that some people complain about our taste! See, normal people like Ephron rom coms too.

Posted by karen at 6:41 PM |

2-Lane Wha?

Another foray into the wonderful world of 70mm film last night as Walter Reade Theater wraps up its series of Widescreen Films, with Two-Lane Blacktop, perhaps the oddest little movie Cinecultist has seen in a long time. Starring James Taylor and "the cute one" from the Beach Boys, Dennis Wilson, Two-Lane is the ultimate surreal road movie as Taylor, billed as The Driver, crosses country in his souped up hot rod racing people and generally being a nomad.

Taylor's not much of an actor, he's seen fire and rain but has some difficulty calling a fellow racer a "motherfucker," but he does have this intriguing intensity that started to get to Cinecultist by the end. Although, is it just CC or do people in existential movies not speak nearly enough? There's a lot of staring, some random kissing and no real chatter. We live for chatter, so CC doesn't really get this. Warren Oates, who plays their pathological liar racing nemisis in a GTO, has huge teeth. Distractingly huge teeth. CC doesn't recommend this movie but we do thank Jose for dragging us to it, it really makes our life so ordinary but in a good way, filled with chatter we can understand.

Posted by karen at 8:01 AM |

Motherbaugh's Musical Muse

Cinecultist has to sort of hate people who can express themselves in more than one medium, but that rule must be suspended for Mark Mothersbaugh, the amazing composer of Wes Anderson's movie soundtracks (more mood inhancers really than pop mix soundtrack) who also creates fine art (shown recently in the East Village's Fuse Gallery). Aaron Zimmerman interviews him in two parts [I, II] in this month's New York Arts Magazine wherein he tells a hilarious story about doing angel dust with Andy Warhol and Michael Jackson at Studio 54 as well as some of his impressions of working with Anderson.

Posted by karen at 7:50 AM |

September 1, 2003

Things Learned From Summer Season

Let us hope that those responsible for the barrage of sequels this summer was reading the Times business section today.They report what Cinecultist has been saying all summer -- just 'cause the first one made some cash, don't mean it's a good idea to make a follow up. Also, big names stars don't necessarily equal big grosses. The guarantee for a large return on a movie studio's investment, wait for it kids, make a good movie. "I think what a lot of people learned is that if you make a good movie, people will come," said Rick Sands, the chief operating officer of Miramax Films. "It's funny when you say that, but it's hard to do."

Eureka! The answer to all of our problems, better movies!

Posted by karen at 11:52 PM |