April 28, 2005

Sex and the Cinema

Should Cinecultist be concerned that we've seen almost all the films mentioned in Stephen Holden's Critic's Notebook article in the New York Times about hardcore simulated sex in films? This includes Lukas Moodysson's A Hole In My Heart which CC caught a few weeks ago at the Film Society with The Man, LM in attendance. With his witty "well, what do you think the movie means?" retorts, Cinecultist was won over for life but we'd like to warn any potential viewers to steel themselves for the extreme labial surgery and de Sadean feeding scenes. They're not for the squemish. And yet, their unflinching quality makes for a kind of cathertic cinema experience. That's the odd thing about film which pushes boundaries, we almost feel like better people for having gone to those far reaches with the filmmaker.

Posted by karen at 8:21 AM |

April 27, 2005

Don't Forget Your Towel!

Guess who got our hot little hands on a pass to an advance screening of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Seattle Maggie will give you three guesses. We humbly thank The Stranger for the honor even though we had to jump through a few hoops, including completing a Hitchhiker-themed maze and forfeiting two stamps. “We did the maze!” we proclaimed proudly to our neighbors, while standing in the astonishingly long line that wrapped twice around Pacific Place mall. “What maze? My buddy gave me like five of them,” was a typical response. The audience was something of a puzzle, made up of mature Douglas Adams fans, disdainful comic book shop owners, twenty-something hipsters, and a surprisingly large crew of Mos Def admirers.

As for the movie - let’s just get this out of the way. Yes, the film takes liberty with the book. And no, it doesn’t suck. While the general storyline of Arthur Dent’s introduction into the world of interstellar travel and ensuing high jinks remains mostly intact, it has been molded a bit to form a free-standing film. The romantic plot is also played up a good deal more than the book, which may be troubling to hardcore fans. Seattle Maggie admits that it has been more than a few years since we read the book, but we felt as though the movie captured the overall spirit of Douglas Adams’ classic with just the right amount of quirky British humor, sci-fi adventure and ironic elbow jabs at Life, The Universe and Everything. We know we have a tendency to err on the side of saying only nice things about movies, but seriously - this movie was pretty darn awesome.

Director Garth Jennings does an admirable job of creatively providing a visual aspect for some of the more theoretical aspects of the script, especially in scenes concerning the fallout of the Improbability Drive. Somehow, the movie manages to make it work, and even pushes the envelope further than we would have expected. While your head tells you, “There is no way they are going to pull off the interior monologue of a sperm whale”, lo and behold a giant sea mammal appears floating in space on the screen in front of you. We were also pleasantly surprised to find that the movie seemed well managed as far as its special effects. The heavy hand of computer animation was present but not overwhelming; there were enough actors in alien costumes and fun whirring machines to keep us happy. As amateur enthusiasts of animation, we were tickled by the short stop-motion section in which a sock puppet Arthur Dent upchucks colored yarn into a basin, and especially impressed with screen version of the Guide itself. Featuring the soothing voice of Stephen Fry, the Guide was updated for the movie with hilarious bits of IKEA-colored silhouette animation, just the thing to induce a calming state of “Don’t Panic”.

As Arthur Dent, Martin Freeman continues to be our favorite schlubby everyman (only a true British lad can utter the phrase “lovely” without sounding like an interior decorator), while Zooey Deschanel provides a nice mixture of spunkiness and sexy intelligence as Trillian. Mos Def gamely tackles professional hitchhiker Ford Prefect, although we felt that his character seemed a little underused and a bit more of a dandy than we remembered. Alan Rickman’s droning voice as Marvin the Paranoid Android hit the punch line of more than a few jokes with droll finesse. And can we just say, if Johnny Depp can wrassle up a Best Actor Oscar for freakin' Pirates of the Caribbean, we vote hands down that Sam Rockwell gets this year’s dark horse nod for Zaphod Beeblebrox. From the burnished shine of his giant belt buckle to his snakeskin-boot swagger, Rockwell’s intergalactic party-boy president (freakishly similar to another all-too-real cowboy president) is brilliant in its brashness. “I’m the President of the Galaxy, I don’t have time to read,” he slurs winningly, pitched somewhere between a boast and a wheedle. He’s egotistical, unmannerly, vain and oh so very annoying, but somehow you can’t help be sucked in by his toothy charm. With each progressively fabulous new outfit, Rockwell’s Zaphod grows on you - along with the urge slap him upside one of his pretty blond heads.

Unless your bladder insists, don’t be so quick to exit once the credits start rolling. Not only will you be enlightened as to exactly who holds the coveted title of “Head of Hair and Fur” (hee - yes, we are twelve), but patient filmgoers will also be rewarded with one last parting lesson in audio wormholes from the Guide. As we sat there, unable to stop our face from beaming idiotically, two older gents to our right began a lively discussion about the translation of book to film and various similarities to the work of Terry Gilliam. “Well,” one man pronounced, with an air of finality, “I quite liked it.” We couldn’t agree more.

Posted by seattle maggie at 6:28 AM |

April 25, 2005

Can You Make Pizza Out of Matzo?

matzos.jpeCinecultist's favorite part of Passover is the bitching. "I can't eat bread or rice or pasta or various other things with leaven for eight whole days," we whine. "Feel sorry for us, our people were afflicted." and "mwah, all we really want to eat is a measly piece of pizza." Doesn't that sound fun? Okay, maybe not for the people around us who are listening to yet another discussion of salad for lunch but there's something rejuvenating about getting back to our kvetching roots.

However, on the way home last night from Passover seder in Queens with the Lifshitzs' (thanks for the brisket and Gus's gorky!), we started thinking about all of the classic Passover cinema. Well, actually we couldn't think of any Pesach movies. Does Ten Commandments count? We've never actually seen it but we think there are plagues in there. Although if that's the deciding criteria, we might also call Magnolia a Passover movie, what with the falling frogs and all. Sadly, the self-imposed food restrictions keep making Cinecultist think of Mystic Pizza, the anti-Pesach flick.

All of this mental grappling for Jewish themed movies reminded CC of a Sunday School favorite, The Frisco Kid. For some reason, when our synagogue pedagogues ran out of material on Tu BiShvat and the founding of Israel, they'd turn to the Gene Wilder oeuvre for time-filler. This flick features Wilder as the worst rabbinical student ever, sent West by the council of Rabbis to Gold Rush era San Francisco, where he's supposed to meet his betrothed and his congregation. However, various Wild West hijinks ensue when he meets a hunky, young Harrison Ford who's robbing Wilder's cross country train (if we remember the plot correctly). Anyhow, Ford is a bad guy who later becomes good once he gets to know Wilder, and we recall being highly amused by a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid-ish scene where the two jump off a cliff into a rushing river together. Ford yells "oh shit!" as he goes over, while Wilder screams out "oy vey!" Also, we think we recall a scene wherein Wilder tries to catch a chicken by promising, "I doesn't want to hurt you, I just want to make you kosher." Jewish comic gold, people.

With this in mind, Cinecultist has decided that we're going to mark every Passover with a screening of The Frisco Kid. So just picture us every spring, curled up on the couch covered in matzo cracker crumbs, swigging Dr. Brown's kosher cream soda and guffawing loudly at nebbish little Gene.

Posted by karen at 8:36 AM |

April 24, 2005

For A Movie So Crass, And Awkwardly Cast, Even I Could Be The Star

natalie_portman_garden_state_interview_top.jpgLast night, the Shins began a three night residency at Webster Hall and Cinecultist was there (along with Janelle, Youngna, Jake and a whole mess of other folks) to welcome the Albequerque quartet to town. CC's dug the Shins for almost 5 years now, since our Seattle salad days, and this was the third time we've seen them in concert. They always put on a good show but for some reason, when telling people like our hip music editor co-worker Sarah that we had a ticket, it required some defensive tactics.

"We liked them before Zach Braff," CC told her with not just a little bit of petulance in the vocal tone. But somehow that wasn't enough to convince her of their sustained coolness. The Shins have sold out apparently, what with their Gap commercial lyrics and having earnest little Natalie Portman tell Zach listening to them would change his life in Garden State. James Mercer and co, you may be touring to remind your fans that you still exist while you record the follow up to Chutes Too Narrow, but actually, you're already over. You're passe. Too many mainstream-y types rock out to your '60s pastiche and melancholy shabbiness, and so the fickle ones with their fingers on the pulse have moved on.

This issue of in, or over, or over-exposed or whatever you want to call it seems to be following Cinecultist all over town these days. It's a full time job to try to stay ahead of the curve but for some reason, we always feel a touch out of touch even though our full time job actually is to stay ahead. That's not how it looks to many of our friends and family though; on our To Do List is to make a list for our younger sister of CDs to buy and even Janelle, who we think of as one of our "music friends," mentioned to someone over a post-Shins drink that she trusts our musical taste. But then again, on Friday over a glasses of $2 red wine in a Williamsburg art space we tried to be a part of conversation about a metal show that Björk and Matthew Barney attended. According to our afficianado friend Hisham, they looked like horses galloping as they head banged with knee length hair. It was beautiful -- like a sunset, he said. However, when we asked if this band's music was at all "melodic" or just purely "technical," it was obvious from his face that CC's just too square for words.

Somehow, in our mind, it all goes back to movie soundtracks. Like, if a group is hot enough that some movie soundtrack composer (say on the Wicker Park project or the Good Company, or the A Lot Like Love, or even The OC) decides a band is hip enough to include that means it's actually the death knell for their hipness. Acknowledgement commercially is the end of a band's outsider viability. Cinecultist may be bopping along to the Iron and Wine, Keane, Death Cab or Shins track in our plush movie seat but any idiot at the record store with a thing for Josh Hartnett or Topher Grace can purchase the soundtrack CD for their collection, thus discovering our indie band. For those of us living in the iPod generation, where a soundtrack to our lives can be playing via little white headphones 24/7, music becomes even more personal and intimate. That band is our band. But when the mainstream media, via commercials or movies or the NYT, gets a hold of it, that beloved track looses its luster.

To be a fan, or a cultist of some kind whether it's cinema or art or music, is to be a bit navel gazing. A little onaistic. It's pleasure but it's also torture.

Posted by karen at 5:12 PM |

April 21, 2005

Tribeca Film Festival: There In Spirit

The Tribeca Film Festival started this week, an event every year Cinecultist always intends to attend more seriously than we actually end up doing. It's really quite guilt inducing to be honest, especially when we have good friends intimately involved in the programming.

Earlier this week, CC received a nice e-mail invite from Ari of Cinemantics suggesting we come down to a party last night at Sugar in Tribeca for some Shorts filmmakers who are in the fest. "Party, good deal," we thought to ourselves. Go out, be social, feel a part of the New York movie making scene which we always enjoy, a solid post-work Wednesday night CC thinks. Except, CC realizes once we walk into the mildly happening bar at a quarter past 10, that we have no idea what any of these shorts filmmakers look like. There's no "Hello, I'm An Indie Director" name tags on anyone, no velvet rope section for those carrying mini-DV cams. Drat! So with the disheartening concept of drinking a $10 cocktail by ourselves on a Wednesday night looming too large, we headed home. Totally pathetic, but what would you have done in our shoes? [So that's our way of saying, sorry Ari but we totally didn't flake! We were there, sorta. Rain check!]

Good news from Aaron though regarding screenings, he says "Nothing is "sold out" at the Tribeca Film Festival until the film starts. You can always get in a "Door Sales" line, and if you're reasonably near the front, there's a better than not chance you'll get in." CC promises to take this to heart, if you do. See you in the film line! (Or maybe not actually, because of this pesky online anonymity thing...)

BTW, more news on the TFF ground from Eugene Hernandez of indieWire over at their festival-dedicated blog. In the comments, leave suggestions on films at the fest you want to see or bitching about trying to meet fellow film geeks from the world wide web.

Posted by karen at 9:13 AM | | Comments (2)

April 20, 2005

Crazy Town; Population, Everyone

File Under: Arrrghh -- The best part of this Associated Press article about a DVD piracy bust in Shanghai of two Americans is the pay differntial for being a criminal mastermind ($159,000) versus a tech lackey ($1,450).

kimjongilKim Jong Il Hearts National Velvet -- “He just loves movies,” [South Korean director kidnapped by the dictator] Shin [Sang Ok] went on. “He likes all kinds of movies. But his favorites are adventure movies, like Indiana Jones.” He has a fondness for Elizabeth Taylor, too.
[via the New Yorker's Talk of the Town]

Posted by karen at 3:17 PM |

April 19, 2005

Gears, Tears & Peckinpah Cheers

steamboy.jpgMany apologies – the fact of the matter is, we were meaning to pen an impressively comprehensive review of Steamboy, incorporating our many years of anime enjoyment into an eloquent passage that would thrill and illuminate all. Unfortunately, we could not build up the requisite, uh, compressed vaporous metaphor to get started, so we realized what it all (hah!) boiled down to was this: Seattle Maggie loves gears. The more gears, switches, levers, and elaborate machinery there are, the more we love it. Case in point would be the example of the similarly boyish Hellboy which, while admittedly not a great movie, will forever be fondly remembered because of its proliferation of cool clanking, whirring machines. Steamboy has more gears than anyone could want, from the giant flying citadel to an inside-out motored unicycle to a wild-flying steamball, and we just ate it up with a spoon; however, we could have done without some of the heavy technological posturing ("Science will SAVE mankind!" "No, Science will DESTROY mankind!" "SAVE!" "DESTROY!" “Your MAMA!” “Don’t EVEN go there!”) as well as the fluffy side story involving the snobbish young heiress Scarlett O'Hara.

Director Katsuhiro Ôtomo, the creative mind behind the classic mind-melt anime Akira, stretches the art of animation to its limit and, as turn-of-the-century London was blanketed by a frozen explosion of tiny ice crystals, we wanted to stand up and applaud. Steamboy is playing until Thursday at the Varsity, dubbed in English with an all star cast that includes Anna Paquin and Alfred Molina, and all late shows will be shown in Japanese with English subtitles. Our Inner Geek would only allow us to see the latter, but we hear that the dubbing is actually halfway decent. Now, if only someone will explain what that random montage during the credits was all about.

Let us jump to a shout-out to reader Liz, who sent us our first Seattle Maggie fan email (we are seriously all a-flutter!). Knowing our shameless penchant for tear-jerkers, she was kind enough to let us know about Hard Goodbyes: My Father, playing for a week at the Grand Illusion beginning April 22nd. This little import from Greece tells the story of a pact between a young boy and his father to see the first man walk on the moon, and promises some creative flights of fancy and whimsical storytelling. Warning, tough guys: be sure to stash a couple extra tissues for some surreptitious eye-dabbing. You can always blame it on your allergies - while we are fond of the ol' Grand Illusion, we are guessing that it probably still smells a little like cats.

And lastly, during a preview for Major Dundee: The Extended Version, Seattle Maggie could not help but notice as the guy sitting next to us began to twitch visibly. The inevitable thought raced through our mind as we scrunched away in the opposite direction: "Why? Why did we sit next to the crazy guy at the movies?” As the preview came to a thunderous close of galloping posses and rifle blasts, our neighbor's frenzied jiggling also seemed to reach an orgasmic peak. With unrestrained joy and excitement, he rapturously hollered out, "I LOVE PECKINPAH!" then quietly collapsed into an exhausted state of post-Dundee bliss. What is it about the directorial stylings of Sam Peckinpah that could inspire a verbal explosion of such heady delight? As we are not huge fans of the Western, we can only wonder...and perhaps check it out at the Varsity, starting April 22nd.

Posted by seattle maggie at 3:22 AM |

April 8, 2005

Asian Cinema Sites

Our Japanophile kick continues unabated. Here's a few things floating about in the noggin (all thought with too many exclamation points for our own good):

* How much Midnight Eye rocks. What a compendium of knowledge! Reviews, interviews and articles all on Japanese cinema. Even Donald Richie, the original Japanophile loves them. We've been reading their book on New Japanese Film and it's not only such a great resource but it's also a good read. Online film crit getting props for being hard-core stuff -- that's always good news for CC.

* By the way, next on the bedside table is Donald Richie's Journals. Because really, when you're worshipping at the alter of Donald, why stop? Here's the Midnight Eye review of his most recent book. We just hope the frankness with which Donald deals with his personal life doesn't verge too much into Robin Wood TMI territory.

* Subway Cinema puts on an awesome festival of Asian Films every summer, but did you know they also have a blog? Make like Cinecultist and sign up for their weekly mailing list so that you know you're not missing any Asian film happenings in the New York area.

* How fun is the word otakus to say? Otakus, otakus, otakus! Way too much fun. The Japan Society is doing a series of films about "geek culture" (ie. otakus), Otakus Cinema Slam! in conjunction with their "Little Boy" exhibition currated by Takashi Murakami. The first film is this coming weekend, Wild life Jump Into The Dark. Perfect reason to head to the Japan Society for the exhibit as well.

* By the way, if you want to see 2046 at the Tribeca Film Festival [it's around the corner! starts April 19!], tickets are only available at the door for the April 28 at 6:15 pm and April 30 at 8:15 pm screenings. Can we say camping out beforehand? Fun game in the meantime, checking out various foreign language websites devoted to the film which have lovely flash features yet give no real insight into the movie. In Japanese! In French! In British! In American...Coming Soon!

Posted by karen at 6:44 PM |

April 7, 2005

Springtime = Filming In Our Nabe Time

photo_047.jpgLast week it was the odd sight of a crowd outside the dive-y Irish pub on 2nd Ave Dempsey's. This morning it was the enormous Craft Services truck, complete with table loaded with sugary cereals which gave Cinecultist the rubber neck reflex. That's right kids, spring time in New York means film crews invading our neighborhood.

Last year we contemplated stealing ketchup from the Alfie set, but with Chris Columbus's Rent taking over our Eee Vee, CC thinks we might be entitled to at least some pocketed snacks from the loosely guarded cart. Actually, we're not entirely sure it is Rent taking over our streets but this almost certainly hackneyed production feels worthy of our bile, so we'll just assume it is. As you can barely see in our grainy camera phone pic above, we tried to check out the stars' trailers on our way home but the cryptic hand written signs outside the metal doors made it tough to be conclusive. A lackey of some sort came out just as we passed and CC attempted to subtly peer in but sadly, no Taye Diggs or Rosario Dawson sighting.

But really, when it's still 55 degrees or so out as we stroll home from work, bopping along to Bloc Party on the iPod, a little missed Taye sighting isn't enough to dampen our spirits. [But confidential confirmation of the name of the film in our nabe from our sources at the Mayor's office wouldn't hurt either.]

Update! The shooting must have been from this episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent we watched last night. While it gladdens Cinecultist that Vincent "Creepy" D'Onofrio was stalking about our 'hood, it does say something doesn't it about Dempsey's that it was the fictional site of a meeting for a murderer with gruesome chemicals and her victim?

Posted by karen at 10:06 PM |

April 5, 2005

CGI Spurting Blood and Cutsie Manga

Murakamii.jpeCinecultist is turning into a bit of a Japanaphile lately. We've been cramming our Netflix queue with various horror and action flicks we've never seen and have been devouring articles and prints related to artists like Takashi Murakami, who's contributing to the Japan Society's exhibit "Little Boy" which is opening very soon (this Friday to be exact).

Battle_Royale.jpgA film we've been meaning to see for ages and finally did over the weekend, the first in our personal mini-series "Japanese Films CC's Been Meaning To See," was Battle Royale. We think perhaps CC may be using this phrase so much that we'll wear it out over the next few weeks but here it is: "This movie is really fucked up and totally awesome." It's not so much conventional horror, with monsters or supernatural mayhem, but rather people thrust into a horrific situation. We're in post-apocalyptic Japan where violence in schools is ranging so out of control that the government has passed the BR Act. This law allows for a lottery to choose a ninth grade class which participates in a Survivor/Lord of the Flies To The Death game. Armed with an array of weapons, from guns and hatchets to fans and soup pan lids, only the last teen standing is allowed to go home.

With all of the witty ultra-violence, it's easy to see why Quentin Tarantino loves this movie and cast Chiaki Kuriyama (who plays one of the particularly brutal girl contestants) as the assassin Go Go in Kill Bill.The combination of satirical humor, spattering blood, expansive classical music on the score and the teen emotions so familiar from any show on the WB is very Tarantino-esque. Or perhaps it's just very Japanese or very Kinji Fukasaku-esque as he's been making movies since the '60s.

If you want to get into these questions of artistic imperialism or the Western market capitalizing on a new-found fascination with a foreign national cinema, it can get quite hairy. What looks so new to our eyes is perhaps something they've always been doing or has intrinsic roots in the culture. But white movie-goer guilt aside, Battle Royale is surely worth a viewing for the sheer fun the film seems to be having with moviemaking. It's as though Stanley Kubrick or Joss Whedon were Japanese and perhaps spent way too much time playing shoot 'em up video games. An incongruous but unique mash-up to be sure.

As coincidence would have it, Battle Royale is the Dekk Restaurant Superfilm movie night this week so you could head down there at 7:30 pm tonight. Also, in terms of the exhibits at the Japan Society, their film on Friday at 6:30 pm, Otakus in Love about two manga artists who meet cute sounds like it could be quite fun.

Posted by karen at 8:51 AM |

April 1, 2005

Early Sturges Screenplays At Film Forum

"In between the release of Sullivan's Travels and The Palm Beach Story, Preston Sturges compiled 11 rules for the box office. Like some of Sturges's dialogue, the faster the list is read, the funnier it is:"

1. A pretty girl is better than an ugly one.
2. A leg is better than an arm.
3. A bedroom is better than a living room.
4. An arrival is better than a departure.
5. A birth is better than a death.
6. A chase is better than a chat.
7. A dog is better than a landscape.
8. A kitten is better than a dog.
9. A baby is better than a kitten.
10. A kiss is better than a baby.
11. A pratfall is better than anything.

[Via Mahnola Dargis's article in the Times today about the Preston Sturges series running at the Film Forum starting this weekend. ]

Posted by karen at 6:38 PM |