November 27, 2003

Beginning To Feel A Lot Like...

It's official. After consuming the turkey today, we will now officially be in the Season -- the Holiday Movie Season. If you're as excited as Cinecultist about the final installment of hobbits, the ring and that all seeing eye, you may like to know that tickets for The Return of the King are now on sale over at Fandango.

There will also be screenings of the extended versions, previously only available on DVD, of both of the first two installments, December 5 - 11 for Fellowship and December 12 - 15 of Two Towers. Those tickets are available as well over at Plus, when you buy them now, you get a special limited edition poster suitable for framing and hanging up in the bedroom at your mother's house.

Happy Thanksgiving cinecultists! Gobble gobble!

Posted by karen at 11:51 AM |

November 26, 2003

I've Seen This Before

Being a Cinecultist is about seeing the same movie more than once. Even if we didn't really like it much the first time, it can be tempting for CC to see a particular movie again partially just because it's there on tv and partially to see if we still really did hate it as much as we thought we did the first time. We conducted said experiment last night. The Good News? Roger Avary's Rules of Attraction looks much better on the small screen. The pretension fits in more with the smaller scale. The Bad News? It's still pretty damn pretentious twattle at that, all masquerading as a teensploitation flick. And there's no way to get around it, James Van Der Beek has an enormous forehead. Huge.

Cinecultist can offer this confident assessment of the Van Der Forehead because we saw it in person the first time we saw this movie, at it's New York premiere in Chelsea last year. In all fairness, CC didn't know it was going to be the premiere until spotting the limos and red carpet out front. We just thought we were catching an advance screening with our friend Jose, hence the marinara-stained cotton dress we had on. When watching Rules on tv, you can enjoy the good bits like Victor's whirlwind debauched tour through Europe or when minor character Richard "Dick" tells his drunk mother Swoosie Kurtz that school "sucks coooooock." The rest of the ponderous angstifying (they're so jaded from all that meaningless sex and drugs, *snore*) can be spent doing the dishes or picking lint out of the rug. Ex-cellent.

"Dude, I'm the Dude." In other re-viewings, the Cohen Brothers' Big Lebowski (a favorite movie of some we know, a reviled blight on cinema to others) is playing as a midnight screening at the Sunshine Theater on Houston for the next four nights. Cinecultist recommends many many White Russians before and after the film, it makes so much more sense that way. [via flavorpill]

Posted by karen at 7:58 AM |

November 25, 2003

Are You Mad At Me, Chuck?

In our continuing search for art house movies not screened at the dreaded Angelika (no subway rumbling during our movies, thankyouverymuch), Cinecultist and our friend Lisa met at the Paris theater on 58th and 5th Avenue on Sunday for Shattered Glass. Across the street from what Cinecultist thinks of as Manhattan's Magical Palace (aka the Plaza, dah-ling), the Paris is a plush theater, if sparse by way of customers on a Sunday night.

A drama about the real life journalism kerfuffle surrounding editor Stephen Glass's dismissal from the Washington D.C. rag the New Republic, the film both gives the viewer an intriguing insight into Glass's troubled psyche at the same time keeping us guessing about his true nature. Much of this ambiguity comes from Hayden Christianson's stellar performance as Glass. He's so damn likable at the start of the film -- all wide-eyed and seemingly ethical as he lectures a classroom of adoring high school students. But as the film wears on, his incessant ass-kissing and fearful pleas that no one be mad at him begin to grate considerably.

Besides Christianson, the picture is filled with top notch acting particularly from Peter Saarsgard as Steve's editor Chuck Lane, who has a thrilling scene where they try to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak. Chloe Sevigny does her brittle ice queen thing which we always like and Melanie Lynsky, our favorite underappreciated indie actress who lives in the nabe (spotted at the Astor Place Starbucks!), represents. Shattered Glass is one of those fall movies that makes you think, should get some sort of awards and will be promptly ignored. Go see it now, and be ahead of the Academy curve just like CC.

Posted by karen at 7:59 AM |

November 24, 2003

Excitement in the Eee Vee

In East Village movie news, the American leg of the Alfie production has hit the mean streets of Cinecultist's neighborhood to shoot exteriors. A remake of the Michael Caine movie set to be released in 2004 and starring Jude Law had been filming in England, but just recently moved to New York and having painted a building green on East 7th Street to make it stand in as Alfie's house, will be around for the next few weeks. CC first caught sight of the brouhaha on First Avenue Saturday morning around 7:45 am as she headed off for some overtime work for The Man.

The blocks from Ninth Street down to about 3rd Street were packed with RV's and trailer trucks filled with equipment, as well as a fire engine (filled with firefighters) idling on Fifth Street. Later in the evening around 6:30 pm as CC headed out for the evening, we saw a quite sizeable crowd milling around East Seventh watching a cherry picker shining spot lights on the street for night shooting. Unfortunately, no Jude or fellow co-stars Nia Long, Omar Epps or Susan Sarandon sightings, we didn't catch anything more thrilling than lots of cranky PAs and teamsters standing around earning obscene amounts of money (ya gotta love those unionized teamsters!). But those trailers did look very plush, and we wondered if Jude sent one of the peons out for a brownie at the Sticky Fingers Bakery since the dressing room was probably one of those right across the sidewalk from it. Hopefully, a taste of the Eee Vee culture was enjoyed by our former Mr. Sadie Frost.

Critics everywhere can't help but pan The Cat in the Hat -- in rhyme! A must read (outloud if your place of viewing permits), Marc Savlov's brilliant review in the Austin Chronicle.
[via Defective Yeti & GreenCine Daily]

Your favorite movie star or upcoming blockbuster as a tradeable commodity? The Sunday New York Times business section reports on an online trading game which predicts the marketability of Hollywood product and its potential impact on box office forecasting.

Posted by karen at 7:46 AM |

November 21, 2003

Gawking At The Rich

Goodness, the fabulously wealthy really are such strange and fascinating beasts. Sex tapes and court settlements and all that. If like and Megastyles you've been watching the MTV reality show Rich Girls like the trainwreck it is, completely unable to look away (oh Ally, dear sweet dumbass Ally), may we point you to the documentary Born Rich currently airing on HBO made by Jaime Johnson the Johnson & Johnson heir.

First off, let's establish that Jaime Johnson is no Errol Morris or Fred Wisemann. But what he lacks in properly grave voice-over abilities, he makes up in, well not to put a fine point on it, money. The docu looks great, it's well shot and nicely edited which Cinecultist suspects has to do with the caliber of technicians Master Johnson was able to hire for the project. But not to fault him for that, it seems like a good use of the budget to us. The movie also offers an intriguing insight into the inner life of the rich because Johnson's own status as a major American heir allows him a different kind of emotional access with his subjects. As the old Wisemann adage says, "Point a camera long enough at people, and they will spill their guts." (Okay, CC just made that up, but it sounds like something Wisemann might say and it's true in this case.)

Highlights of the film: getting to see how S.I. Newhouse IV was beat to a pulp by his prep school classmates and how Ivanka Trump (like Cinecultist) had Beverly Hills 90210 trading cards mounted on the wall of her childhood bedroom. Except that CC's bedroom window looked out on our Nor Cal backyard and Ivanka's looked out on Central Park from 32 floors up. Only a slight difference, right? Fascinating stuff.

Posted by karen at 8:02 AM |

November 20, 2003

The Weight of Your Soul

21grams.JPGAnother big release this weekend (besides the Cat That Will Not Be Named) that's been getting some very positive buzz is Mexican director Alejandro GonzŠlez IŮŠrritu's 21 Grams with Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts. J. Hoberman in the Village Voice has given the movie as resounding a rave as he gives, comparing the elliptical plot to Alain Renais's Last Year at Marienbad rather than Irreversible or Memento. This is exciting news for Cinecultist because though we've heard wonderful things about IŮŠrritu's first feature Amores Perros (which we haven't seen), and 21 Grams did gangbusters in the acting awards at the Venice Film Festival, the nonlinear editing and some of the images from the production stills did seem sort of ponderous. The above image Entertainment Weekly captioned as "Do I look sad enough in this light?"

But to compare the movie to a classic of this magnitude, Marienbad is one of the Big 20 in the Cannon, implies that the movie is not bad-pretentious it's good-pretentious. Cinecultist likes good-pretentious. We did get a master's in cinema studies after all. Isn't it goofy how a little turn of a phrase in a review can sway our expectations and change our plans for the weekend's viewings?

Posted by karen at 8:00 AM |

November 19, 2003

Rep Rep Repertory

Too. Much. Hollywood. Product. Elves, suicidal literary chicks, philosophy spouting super humans and now this weekend disaster prone cats. Must have balance in our viewing. Must attend some repertory movie screenings before Cinecultist's brain implodes from slick pre-packaged over stimulation.

Your fanboy heart called out for more after watching Kill Bill? Might we recommend some communing with one of the sources, as the Leonard Nimoy Thalia/Symphony Space screens Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog, Drunken Angle, Yojimbo and Sanjuro. And they have double features, 2 movies for $10 bucks. It don't get much more fanboy than that, kids.

For more auteur action, the American Musuem of the Moving Image in Queens is doing a series on Francis Ford Coppola. This weekend, you can remind yourself to leave the gun, take the cannoli with the Godfather on Friday and Saturday evenings.

For national cinemas you didn't know you needed to know about, the MoMA Gramercy Theater provides for your needs. Cinema from developing nations is more than just Abbas Kiarostami, as is evident in the Global Lens series and German film did progress after Fassbinder as the curators of Das Neue Kino would like you to know.

One last suggestion for cinecultists: you can't really call yourself a cinecultist if you're not intimately familiar with Federico Fellini. You've lived La Dolce Vita and you've walked down La Strada but perhaps Amarcord didn't satisfy you in terms of Fellini's reminiscing on his fertile childhood? Then I Vitelloni is for you. Our girl Pauline Kael called it the directorís ďfirst fully confident piece of directionĒ, and according to Film Forum "its style and story of aimless youth inspired, among others, George Lucasís American Graffiti and Scorseseís Mean Streets."

Sounds like a full weekend of quality film viewing, no?

Posted by karen at 7:56 AM |

November 18, 2003

Nice Jewish Girl Enjoys Xmas Movie

Growing up a nice Jewish girl in the San Francisco Bay area, Cinecultist treaded lightly through the Christmas season. We had to be aware of inadvertently partaking in the holiday -- like sprinkling the all green and all red sprinkles on the menorah shaped Hannukkah cookies. And we certainly didn't gather as a family around certain classic holiday movies like It's A Wonderful Life, White Christmas or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Although CC has seen all of these pictures since then, as we have plenty of nice goy friends. So, it was with a certain amount good old fashioned Jewish guilt that Cinecultist watched and really enjoyed Jon Favreau's Elf starring Will Ferrell.

Here's what Will Ferrell understands, perhaps better than any other comedian: you gotta sell it. There's not a trace of self consciousness in this man, as he saunters down the street in full elf regalia. Yellow tights and a cut away velvet green jacket do not slow him down and you have to respect that, even as you laugh at it. To that end, you can't help but get swept up in his energy, as Ferrell wants so much to make you believe he believes he's an elf, that it completely endears him. For this performance alone, the movie is worth a viewing. However, Elf also has other things going for it such as an awareness of the cannon of Christmas movies, particularly the influence of claymation. As well as strong supporting performances by Ed Asner, Mary Steenburgen, Zoe Deschanel and James Caan (who we've recently become sold on based on his solid performances on Las Vegas. Yeah, that's right, CC watches Las Vegas. And the O.C., they are our soapy tv guilty pleasures this season.)

The only thing we might caution though is try to attend the movie late in the evening. Children really do ruin the children's movie viewing experience, as CC was continually elbowed by this curly headed rugrat all through the 7:15pm showing. It made CC want to get all very bah humbug on her and her parents.

Posted by karen at 7:54 AM |

November 17, 2003

Celebration in the Mean Streets


PCC is taking a break from her regularly scheduled programming (i.e. massive amounts of school work and very little time to post) to wish one of her most favorite directors, Martin Scorsese, a happy 61st birthday. In case you too want to take a break from your busy life and bask in the genius of Mr. Marty, here are five of his films you must see.

1. Taxi Driver- The first of the many acclaimed Scorsese-De Niro collaborations, this is a story of New York, taxis, scum and violence. Be sure to check out the eerie music from Bernard "Psycho" Hermann.

2. Italianamerican- How many famous directors can you think of that have made documentaries about their parents? This is sweet and engaging look at Italian-American life in New York City.

3. Raging Bull - It doesn't matter if you don't like boxing- this Academy Award-winning film is about a man trapped in his own private hell that just happens to be shaped like a fighting ring.

4. The Last Waltz- A concert films to end all concert films, Scorsese's portrait of The Band's final show creates an ensemble of some of the finest singers and songwriters from the 1960s, including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Van Morrison, as well as a performance by legendary blues singer-guitarist Muddy Waters.

5. Goodfellas- Scorsese's quasi-documentary on the rise and fall of a Mobster features knock-out performances by Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Lorraine Bracco.

Posted by jordan at 5:47 PM |

More Purposes for the DVD

When DVD first came out as a format, it was difficult to find all of the content you wanted. But now, this is no longer the problem as nearly everything to grace the big screen no matter how popular is now getting a special super duper sweet edition. Things like the Indiana Jones trilogy box set (out a week or so ago) have sold like gangbusters, though Cinecultist would argue not because of particular extra footage on the discs but because people just love those movies and want them as a part of their home collection.

One of the most wonderful side products of the marketability of DVD release is the second life certain television programs have seen. That's how CC first saw Sex and the City on a rented DVD and we also know loads of people converted to the cult of the Sopranos by its availability for rent or purchase. Less Emmy-lauded product also can garner broader audiences this way too, as programs like Freaks and Geeks (to be released sometime next year after a grass-roots Internet campaign) hit the cancelation fan but still can be seen by their devote followers. Cinecultist has been on a kick to purchase all of the discs in the Muppet Show series and this weekend acquired the episodes with Mark Hamill, Paul Simon and Raquel Welch. CC needed some Wocka Wocka, if you know what we mean. Might we also recommend for the discerning viewer who does not yet call themselves a BBC American, the Office and Coupling which have Season 1 and Season 1 and 2 out currently. They're baudy, witty programs that are best consumed before they get ruined by NBC. If you aren't in love with Gareth or understand the full ramifications of the giggle loop, CC suggests you run don't walk to your nearest DVD proprietor. That is all.

Posted by karen at 7:56 AM |

November 14, 2003

Russell To Take Box Office By Storm

Cinecultist finds fascinating the way that the advertising campaign for Master and Commander has changed over the past few months leading up the release this weekend. As we reported earlier, glossy posters appeared in the Sunday New York Times and we also saw them being handed out on the street in front of the Union Square movie theater. At this point, the movie's p.r. seemed to be about Peter Weir as auteur director making an art film Oscar-contender with everyone's favorite cranky Aussie Russell Crowe. But now in the last few days, CC's heard the movie called both "Gladiator on the sea" and "A Movie for the Ages." There have even been comparisons to Pirates of the Caribbean -- because what moviegoers really look for in a film is whether there's a boat in it or not. Currently, it's all about the action element in the advertisements.

But we shouldn't expect an opening weekend of monstrous grosses like the Matrix saw last weekend no matter what the adverts do. As Variety points out in their e-mail newsletter today, all of these action/historical dramas that Master compares with (Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down et al.) all built over time. To be honest, Cinecultist is having a tough time getting excited for this movie. It has the longest title (and subsequent URL) of all time, and it sort of sounds like some S&M game. It's a shallow reason not to be into it, but there you are. Cinecultist indulges our shallowness when it comes to buying into the buzz.

Posted by karen at 8:03 AM |

November 13, 2003

New Movie Linky Links

A few comments on some movie related buzz on this great wide Internet:

Cinecultist is really enjoying reading GreenCine Daily lately, (and not just because of the traffic they've been sending our way). A blog based in San Francisco and affiliated with an online DVD rental service specializing in art house and international movies, GC Editor David Hudson and GC Associate Editor Craig Phillips do a top notch job recapping the criticism hitting the newstands as well as providing links to noteworthy movie news. Extremely educational and smart writing about movies to boot.

Does this happen to you? When Cinecultist goes to the movie house for a picture, we often have this moment just before the feature starts, where the barrage of previews have caused us to forgot what we came there to see. Very disorienting. Jay Pinkerton is also obsessed with the trailers and he runs reviews of them on his weekly site The Trailer Trash. Those three or four minutes of p.r. spin, careful editing and voiceover really are a fascinating little slice of the movie industry and it's great to see some commentary on them.

Speaking of 2 and a half minutes of infamy: As Uncle Grambo pointed out yesterday on, nearly every site on the web has offered some sort of commentary on the Paris Hilton clip. CC finally headed over to Lindsayism for the linky link last night and we couldn't help but watch the video with a cinema studies eye. Intriguingly enough, whoever made this tape understands some basics of effective editing -- alternating hand held close up with static long shot and inserting fade cuts to cover over repetition. As for Ms. Hilton's performance, she does have a good connection with her audience as she looks straight into the camera unabashedly without being too hammy. Isn't it interesting too, how much the conventions of the genre influence even amateur production? Our filmmaker knows what is expected in terms of content and delivers this in his three shot drama faithfully. CC agrees with Gawker, our esteem for Paris has only increased after seeing this. For more cinema studies perspectives on porn (honest, this is an aspect of the discipline! CC didn't make it up), check out our former professor Chris Straayer's Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies as one of the major works.

Posted by karen at 8:01 AM |

November 12, 2003

Gwynie's New Lit Chick Flick

sylvia.jpgWhen the Cinecultist's mother comes to town for a visit attending a chick flick is always a safe bet for cultural activity. After we've exhausted Fifth Avenue near the Park, a Broadway musical and the Met of course. Lucky for CC, neither of us had caught Sylvia yet -- a dramatic biographical women's film about a major figure in literature, aka a lit chick flick. [Not to be confused with chick lit flicks like Bridget Jones's Diary 2.] We cabbed it up to the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, as an alternative to the Angelika Monday night but CC has to put in as an aside, it's really not much of a better art house theater option. 1) The theater is subterranean which always weirds CC out and 2) the cliental/staff look like they might be a rare strain of West side mole people. Not a healthy glow, let alone a tan, in the bunch. Also, 3) our Toblerone paid for by Mom was stale. But, on to the movie.

Sylvia follows Gwyneth "I'm Ready for Oscar 2" Paltrow playing the troubled poetess Sylvia Plath, who when she meets her future poet husband Ted Hughes at a Cambridge party, she bites his cheek. Their marriage is all downhill from there. As other folks have said, the movie is production designed within an inch of its life. Nary a fifties style headband or bit of North England foliage is out of place throughout. However, in a lit chick flick this is a quality we're looking for, as the prettiness on screen can act as a lightening agent for the dour emotions on screen. All of those angry stares at the potentially philandering husband and the long frusterated sighs at the blank typewriter can begin to grate on a person after a while. We did enjoy the quality of the film stock though, the grainyness of the color in the image makes some of the early sequences feel like old home movies which was quite evocative. Also, the scene where Sylvia recites the Wife of Bath for the cows as she floats in a boat down the river tickled our former English major sensibility.

Upon leaving the decrepit theater, CC's Mom commented that the movie made her think "Sylvia snap out of it and quit moping around after this man!" She felt there was too much emphasis put on Sylvia's inability to get over herself. While CC felt the movie very effectively showed how motherhood and being a wife trapped Sylvia and separated her from her artistic ambitions. It all seemed delightfully post-feminist to CC. But that's what happens when you have two movie watchers at the same film -- you get two very different opinions.

Posted by karen at 7:59 AM |

November 11, 2003

Technical Difficulties

Sorry kids for the time lag on the entries, CC hasn't forgot about you or become superlazy or something, we've just been having some technical difficulties here at Cinecultist Central in the East Village of Manhattan. Although thanks to the good people at Dreamhost support, we think we have it sorted. We return you now to your regularly scheduled New York centric movie obsessing. Thank you.

Posted by karen at 11:02 PM |

November 10, 2003

When Geekery Abounds

After a screening of the final installment of the Matrix movies, Matrix Revolutions at the IMAX theater (where the screen is "bigger than God") at Lincoln Center, Cinecultist sat down with our friend Matt to discuss the movies. A first time contributor to the site, Matt's cinema studies credentials are minimum (he owns only 2 DVDs!) but with his anime/kung fu genre expertise, and that job of his in computer programming all make him an excellent representative of the Wachowski's target audience. We talked about geekdom, Hong Kong cinema influences and how Monica Bellucci in that white latex dress could convert even the avowed hetero Cinecultist to a fanboy's fantasy lifestyle.

Karen: So, I really enjoyed that website link to Pointlesswa's Matrix Resolutions recaps
you sent me, that was some
hard core geekery. Is it sad that I liked it so much?
Matt: I don't know, Karen. Maybe you learned something about your self?
Karen: What would that be Matt? That I'm a not so secret geek? That all my friends are geeks? That I'm living the geek life? What does this say about the Matrix and my relationship to this series? That I'm predisposed to love it?
Matt: If it walks like duck, and talks a like a duck, and goes to lots of movies about ducks -- you see where I'm going with this.
Karen: Although to be fair, I'm not the only one. Variety reports that it did $204.1 million worldwide in 5 days, some new record. I must not alone in my intense but disavowed geekdom. Those Wachowski brothers will now be able to afford to become women and then men again and then something else entirely. Cats perhaps.

Have you read anything about the simultaneous release across time zones thing? I think that was a brilliant p.r. move on their part.
Matt: That's serious anti-piracy.
Karen: I heard some dialogue about the piracy issue, but actually I think it's something more than that - a worldwide blitz to make the premiere not New York or Los Angeles centric.
Matt: Makes sense. My guess is it will happen more and more for big movies, to go worldwide more or less at once. (To screen the movie at the same hour in all time zones is kinda dorky, though.)
Karen: It seems like the smart choice and uber-dork. Have you heard anything about that video game or the Animatrix? There was an unbelievable pre pre pre hype between each of the installments of the series.
Matt: I played the game, part of it. I watched the Animatrix. The Animatrix bits are worth while. There are 9, I think, by six or seven different studios/directors. I believe they're all Japanese animation studios and the styles vary widely, which is interesting.
Karen: It fills in the back story, right?
Matt: Two or three of the shorts do. The others sort of extrapolate from the matrix universe. Not necessarily in consistent ways. Which is fine. The backstory involves how humans and machines had their original falling out with each other. "Blacking out the sky", etc. but not so much. in Revolutions, the sky is scorched, and the machines rule the surface
of the earth. Assuming the "real" world is really real.
Karen: that sounds sort of interesting. God, I can't believe I just said that. I am so far gone, aren't I? Is there more stuff with some of the periphery characters? Like Jada Pinkett Smith?
Matt: She is the heroine of the video game. You choose whether to control her, or her sidekick Ghost, through the missions.
Karen: Is there more Monica Belluci? Do we get to, for instance, have her kick people's asses in that white latex dress? In which case, I might consider investing in this computer game thing.
Matt: If only. Maybe in the porn parody of the movies.
Karen: Man O, man. You know that I don't bandy about this distinction but I think I might have to say that Monica could convert me. To the dark side. She's amazing.
Matt: I'm all for girls gettin' with girls. Being male, and such.
Karen: I know. I've heard. Anyhow. So best parts, then worst parts? Of the movie, not lesbianism.
Matt: Best parts: the club scene was OK... err...scratch that. The damn French guy talked too much and the gunfight in the "coat room" was just a reprise of the lobby gunfight from the first movie except with circus freaks, so that was dumb. Were there any good fights?
Karen: Best part for me (besides the brief Monica appearance): The final showdown in the rain, especially the slow motion sequence in the warehouse. The black outline of the obvious stunt doubles looked pretty great.
Matt: I liked that sequence -- but when they were flying around and stuff, that was dumb.
Karen: But just as dumb as the scene in Reloaded where they're fighting and then Keanu just flies off, for no reason other than because he can. But as I was saying after the movie, there's something sort of unsatisfactory in the way they're so evenly matched, Agent Smith and Neo. It could've gone either way.
Matt: Well, that fight was a draw, so he escaped. Of course, he didn't have to fight in the first place. I think the idea was that were opposites, thus equal, thus neither can really win.
Karen: Not to say that flying as a motif isn't common in Hong Kong magical martial arts films. Everyone flies in those but there it seems "reasonable" for some reason. I'm thinking of Heroic Trio, or Green Snake, a film directed by Tsui Hark (Once Upon a Time in China) that I've seen that's about magical characters who are spirits and kick ass. Both Maggie Cheung movies.
Matt: You just out-geeked me, go you! Dork!
Karen: Both worth seeing. Or even in Dragon Inn, an oldie but goodie, the characters fly in that, up into the rafters of the inn as they're kicking ass with swords. Worst parts of Revolutions: the ham-fisted dialogue. Dear me, it was dreadful. So would you recommend Revolutions to your geek friends who didn't attend this weekend?
Matt: I'll tell them it's not that bad.
Karen: That's what I'll say too. Better than Reloaded, not as good as the Matrix. The sad downward cycle for all trilogies in my opinion.
Matt: Maybe not better than Reloaded, I'd say.
Karen: Note to all filmmakers of franchises: Stop at the first one! We'll all be happier for it.
Matt: Right-o. Speaking of stopping, want to set odds on another sequel?
Karen: Oh, Absolutely. Some sort of sequel, for sure. Making money breeds wanting to make more money. It's the American way.
Matt: Money talks. And when they do, I'll likely be there opening weekend. Doing the geeky duty. Dork duty.
Karen: Good for you, represent. It's like what I told my Dad when the last Star Wars came out. I know it's going to be bad, but I can't not go. You have to go. Something compels you. Now if we could just identify that drive, figure out a way to sell it and go to Hollywood, we could be millionaires many times over.
Matt: It is your Destiny.

Posted by karen at 11:07 AM |

November 7, 2003

Screenings for the In Crowd

When those early cinť clubs debuted in Paris about a hundred years ago, crowds of the fashionable would gather in cafes to watch series of 8 minute films. It was all very social, you see -- the drinking, the chatting and then the cinema. "Have we really come so far from there?" is what Cinecultist wonders while reading the following article in the New York Observer by Jake Brooks about the elite screenings publicists like Peggy Siegal organize to generate buzz among the A-listers for their pictures to fill the screener DVD void. Mostly though, these screenings seem like the usual who's who parties, more about checking out who's in the (fancy/trendy) room than actually watching the movie.

For instance, in this quote author Gay Talese who attended a screening of the Human Stain with his wife, seems more excited about the drinks and the Sir Anthony Hopkins sighting in the audience than the Philip Roth adaptation on the screen (which CC guesses is sorta understandable considering the reviews we've read of HS):

"The conversationówith people who are sitting in front of you, or behind you, or in the aisles on the straight-back chair because they were too lateóis pleasant," Mr. Talese recalled. "So even if the film isnít a show worth seeing, the show itself, the atmosphere, the ambiance, made it worthwhile. Then you wind up as I did, with a Bombay gin martini, straight up with a twist, looking through the reflections of the simmering, shimmering, stupefying martini, and seeing the dazzling Mr. Anthony Hopkins," who showed up for the dinner at Arabelle.

All Cinecultist has to say about this business-as-usual in the moviemaking industry is -- where's our damn invite Peggy? CC's all buzz.
[Thanks Fiona So Much Modern Time for the linky link!]

Posted by karen at 8:01 AM |

November 6, 2003

Looks Elf-ing Hilarious

Ordinarily any X-mas hype pre-Thanksgiving gets Cinecultist's panties in a twist. Keep it in the month of December, people! But we have to say, CC is psyched to see Will Ferrell's new Christmas comedy Elf. Maybe it's passing the giant billboard of Ferrell's adorable mug peering out at us from Astor Place nearly every day or all those trailers on tv where he yells "Santa! Santa! I know him!" that appeals. Or perhaps it's just the giant green elf suit that's won our heart. Anyhow, the critical buzz is good thus far, so CC'll try to catch the Jon Favreau written/directed film ASAP. "Will" report back with pertinent comments.

The amount of Gothamist posts (How does that Jen Chung do it?) over the last few months regarding Elf almost makes blogging about the movie irrelevant. Almost.

Posted by karen at 8:05 AM |

November 5, 2003

Is That An Elephant In Your Pocket?

Cinecultist teemed up again with Doug of to review the newest picture by GVS Elephant. We sat down over IM to discuss the film's suspense, Van Sant's cinematic influences and the use of non-actors in this "docudrama."

[Josh Cultivated Stupidity also enjoyed the movie, but for slightly more "superficial" reasons.]

The killings at Columbine High School in 1999 were the centerpiece of Michael Mooreís blunt-edged attack on gun culture in BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, but Gus Van Santís ELEPHANT is a far more Spartan effort. And with us to discuss this pachyderm of a movie, making her sophomore appearance, is Karen Wilson, editrix of Welcome back, gally gal.

Thanks, I always appreciate being called upon to lapse into feminist ranting when provoked by particularly offensive movies. Although I canít say that being a chick really helps or hinders when it comes to parsing this picture. Rather, I think itís about remembering what itís like to be an angst-filled teenager.

Thanks to my recent high school reunion, I had the singular pleasure of re-living that exact feeling ó only with bald spots and slenderizing undergarments. Despite appearances, most of the vivid personalities havenít changed. And they bear strong resemblances to the handful of students we meet in the filmís first reel.

I really loved that first 40 minutes or so; the photography is so beautiful, I can see why audiences at Cannes, Telluride, and Toronto went nuts for the film. The pacing and the imagery walk the gorgeous fine line between severely mannered and completely naturalistic. The shots are like museum-quality photography come to life ó which, theoretically, is what movies should be but so rarely are.

Despite this lovely and simplistic quality, the suspense is just awful. Weíre getting to know these ordinary high schoolers ó the hunky lifeguard the girls drool over, the even-tempered shutterbug, the achingly self-conscious girl who wonít wear short pants in gym ó and we also know whatís about to happen. The apprehension makes you want to rip the armrests off your seat.

I hope thatís not a dig at the way I jumped about a mile every time something happened toward the end of the movie. But the suspense is effective, and I wanted to cover my eyes and scrunch down in my seat. ELEPHANT has this strange quality; you know the inevitable ending, but you donít know quite how it will go down. It takes a scary topic ó how a supposedly safe place like a school can be so unsafe ó and makes it downright horrific.

Another skillful turn involves Van Santís taking of temporal liberties, as the film backtracks on itself and shows the dayís events as a fugue from several points of view. The effect is good for another shot of adrenaline, because one brief and innocuous conversation signals whatís about to come. But to whom will it happen?

Yes, itís a bit of shades of PULP FICTION. The whole movie kept me thinking how effectively GVS borrowed from different directors. The refusal to develop character beyond evocative stereotypes was so Richard Linklater in SLACKER or DAZED AND CONFUSED, while the use of first-person camera is so Brian de Palma and the steadicam all Stanley Kubrick.

And beyond that impressively apt bit of name-dropping (I saw lots of parallels to Kubrickís THE SHINING), we see that Gus has taken a specifically vaporous tack since FINDING FORRESTER fell flat on its fanny. With GERRY and ELEPHANT, heís given us two atmospherically stark films about long walks toward doom, and the critics are back on the bandwagon.

Van Sant goes back and forth between these ďartyĒ projects and Hollywood feel-good entertainment pretty consistently. GERRY and ELEPHANT are back to back, but Iíd certainly expect GVSís next movie to have a huge bankable star and a clear mentor figure to warm the cockles of our hearts. I find it annoying that critics can champion his arty stuff but lash out against the entertainment, as though they were disappointed he was trying to make money with his movies. Not that I didnít find FORRESTER totally vapid too, dog!

Hey, no oneís begrudging the commercial efforts of indie auteurs ó especially when they succeed, like Doug Limanís THE BOURNE IDENTITY and Linklaterís SCHOOL OF ROCK. And though GOOD WILL HUNTING has been maligned by revisionists, I think it retains a lot of charm. FORRESTER might be his least successful film because it looks too mainstream, so unlike a Van Sant movie.

Another thing I found fascinating (but ultimately a bit faulty) about ELEPHANT was his use of amateur actors. Van Sant seems to want to capture a completely naturalistic impression of these teenagers, to communicate a sense of ďrealnessĒ about this milieu. Yet, you can see the kids trying so hard to hit their marks and not look into the camera. In the beginning, their awkwardness as performers endears us to them, but as the drama escalates, the lack of familiarity with how to deliver an acting performance detracts from the movie a bit. As a result, I found certain lackluster reactions unbelievable.

Indeed, that last act is as a bloodless as it is bloody (the squibmaster must have put in scads of OT). I think I can fathom Van Santís motivations for ending ELEPHANT the way he does. We had no answers then, and we have no answers now. So, heís saying that itís a terrible thing when screwed-up social outcasts murder their classmates at close range and with no shred of remorse? If youíve nothing else to say, why make this thing?

Would it be cynical of me to say ďso he could shoot the two boys kissing in a shower?Ē GVS obviously finds young people fascinating ó whether you call it a fetish or not ó and heís spent quite a bit of time cataloguing their beautiful deviancy. Maybe what heís saying is that for our societyís health we need to capture this elephant of teenage violence on camera, and then perhaps, if we name it, we can begin to understand it. Or is that too tidy and aphoristic a response?

Depends on your view of this statement: ELEPHANT may refer to the creature in the room that no one talks about, but it might also be a veiled urging that we never forget about what happened. Despite its achievement, ELEPHANT is gripping but ultimately unsatisfying docudrama, because Gus so quickly blows the tension heís worked so hard to build.

I think to call ELEPHANT a docudrama pigeonholes it and ignores its greatest strengths as art cinema ó the lyrical photography, breathtaking composition, and meditative pacing. Itís about a sensational, topical subject and yet itís not about that at all. Or at least, itís about the way Gus Van Sant views that cultural moment through his particular artistic lens. Iím giving this $9.50, and Iím frankly surprised at my resounding recommendation. I suppose I liked it more upon reflection than I did when I initially walked out of the theater.

I admire Van Santís restraint, as he deftly reduces the events to its most mundane elements and subtracts the subsequent media frenzy. But if his goal was to hold a mirror to society, heís done so in a most literal sense. Innocents died in Columbine? I knew that already.

I donít know how it could be a mirror, because its such a blatantly composed piece of art. ELEPHANT is mannered but natural at the same time, and everything we see is very obviously constructed for a camera.

Hmm. Sounds like a political campaign.

Posted by karen at 8:04 AM |

November 4, 2003

Confidential To...

Audience Members at screenings of the director's cut of Alien. Kids: This is not your living room. You should not offer your running commentary on Ripley, Mother or that thing bursting from John Hurt's stomach that is so cool. Our cinecultists in the field inform us you've been total chatty cathys. So from us to you: Shut the fuck up. That is all.

Posted by karen at 10:20 AM |

All You Need Is Love

loveactually.jpgThe siren call of the romantic comedy -- an odious melody that draws Cinecultist into its rocky shoals every freakin' time -- sang our name again on Saturday compelling CC to catch an advance screening of Richard Curtis's directorial debut Love Actually. The English screenwriter (Four Weddings, Notting Hill) who created the "many friends driving quickly to a romantic event in a Mini = comedy" convention and made us fall for the foppish side of Hugh Grant, has added the director slash to his title with this new ensemble piece about love at Christmas time in Britain. CC really did want to hate it, thus breaking our long standing unadulterated fascination with the genre. But instead, Love Actually made CC want to run from the theater, shouting "love is in the air!" and snog the first unsuspecting male speciman we saw on the street. Seeing as the screening let out next door to Nevada Smith's (a raucous Irish sports pub on Third Avenue), it's probably best that we restrained ourselves.

First off, props must be given for amassing such a phenominal cast -- practically every good English actor who's not in the Harry Potter series or working on LOTR, plus a few top notch Americans as well are in this thing. CC loves anything with our man Colin Firth in it, as well as Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman (cast of Sense and Sensibility anyone?) and not to mention Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Keira (Mrs. Knightley and Laura Linney who aren't much to sneeze at either. We fully expected this much talent to be wasted by a fractured plot, but the episodic structure works well and there wasn't one thread we wished stayed further on the periphery, all the little plots are interesting.

Curtis's comedy centers around taking the awkward moments that occur when we make ourselves vulnerable and heightening them to ridiculousness. This structure also works well for the multiple thread story lines, as the movie moves gracefully from one gag to another. There are some moments that try a bit too hard to warm those cockles in our heart, especially the footage shot in Heathrow's welcome room. Also Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister who stands up for Britain against the bully US Prez (Billy Bob Thorton! CC would so go to Canada if Billly Bob were the leader of the Free World), is a bit too shades of the West Wing for the second fiddle Brits. But in the end, Love Actually's sweetness is too winning to resist. And no one jumps into a Mini and races off to declare their love, so maybe we say the rom com has moved on from this conventional cheese? Maybe?

Posted by karen at 7:57 AM |

November 3, 2003

Geek Cinema

If you spend enough time sitting on the couch flipping through the movie channels, you might think the Geeks have inherited the earth. And you probably would be right. They certainly have the economic power to keep their vanity projects churning through the cultural zeitgeist. Cinecultist caught quite the triumverate of Geek cinema on tv this past weekend and here's what we've learned:

angelina.jpg1. A 28.8 bit modem and a dial-up connection is enough juice needed to hack into the FBI's database of names and manipulate people's crime records and such. Thanks to a viewing of Hackers (screened on Spike TV "the Channel for Men"), CC also can say Angelina Jolie could've been Liv Tyler's long lost elfin sister, with that pixie do and the strange red eye shadow in the film she looks like an extra from Lord of the Rings.

jeremyirons.jpg2. Dragons signal some sort of connection to all life on earth. Also good actors can go bad, and with glee. CC watched with amazement and horror as Oscar winner (!) Jeremy Irons gnawed every inch of faux medieval tapestry in Dungeons and Dragons. Can you believe Thora Birch did Ghost World and this picture back to back in the same year?

yoda.jpg3. In Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Yoda really does kick Count Dooku ass with that light saber. Okay CC knew this one already, having spent good money to see that CGI-packed travesty in the theaters but a year later, it's still a rocking scene. Is this a good sign for the next installment set for release in 2005 or just a sign of CC's complete dissolution of taste?

It's just as we feared. With a steady dose of cinematic propaganda, the geeks have made CC one of them. Now we suppose we'll just have to embrace our inner geek as the days count down to Wednesday's big release of Matrix Revolutions aka the Geek Grail.

Posted by karen at 7:52 AM |