September 25, 2005

Jodie's Plan -- To Bring It!

Cinecultist is still in Seattle, drinking lots of coffee and pondering why "rockabilly" is still a viable fashion option for those in the Northwest but in our absence we bring you the following guest review. We sent our friend Lisa to an advance screening of Jodie Foster's new action-thriller Flightplan last Wednesday and following is her dispatch from the trenches of poor screenwriting and crazy-town, Mommy-ified Jodie.

When the CC offered me free tickets to Jodie Foster’s new flick, Flightplan, I was all over it like a monkey on a banana-flavored burrito. Never mind that I hate tense, psychologically scary movies. Never mind that after I saw Signs I made my friend check my car for aliens, or that after I saw Seven I made another friend check my apartment for Kevin Spacey. “Bring on the free Foster,” I told CC. And she brung it.

But after I saw Flightplan, I didn’t need to have a friend check for anything, and this weirdly disappointed me. I went to the movie expecting to have the bejeebers scared out of me, and yet I left the theater with all my bejeebers securely in place.

Flightplan starts out on a promising note. We see Jodie’s character, an American engineer, sitting in a German subway station looking quite forlorn. And as the trains whoosh by with surprising intensity, you feel you’re in for a good film – if the subway cars can be this disturbing, you think to yourself, wait ’till we get the airplane. That’ll be slammin’.

It isn’t.

Jodie boards the ridiculously enormous airplane – which she helped design – with her daughter, who looks like an eerie robot clone version of that girl from One Fine Day. Jodie already knows she’s not in for a good flight, since she and her daughter are flying to America with the body of her recently-dead husband in a casket below deck, and that’s some heavy stuff. Even a jovial Peter Sarsgaard sitting just a few rows back can’t cheer her up. So she falls asleep. But when she wakes up . . .

Her daughter is missing! And no one can find her! Or her belongings! Or her boarding pass! And actually, wait a second, there’s no record of her ever being on the plane! And, hold up now, the morgue says she’s dead!!!!!!!

This is when Jodie launches into her patented Panic Room butt-kicking Mom routine. It doesn’t matter if the world thinks she’s crazy, dammit, she’s going to find her freakin’ kid. And when the crew tries to call off the search, Jodie goes berserk – turning off the lights, making the oxygen masks come down, even turning off the No Smoking signs. No, I made that last part up. But there are some tense airplane moments.

Unfortunately, this is where the movie starts to take a downward turn. The whole dilemma behind the daughter’s existence and Jodie’s sanity is intriguing, but it can’t support the whole movie. Soon enough the film launches into action-flick mode, and the cheesy dialogue about vaporizing nine-year-olds isn’t far behind. And when that starts happening, nothing can save the flick – not even Jodie Foster’s butt-kicking, or Peter Sarsgaard’s droopy eyelids, or the head stewardess’s Nova Scotia-sized lips. Because not only does the movie get cheesy, it stops making any sort of sense. You know you’re in trouble when after the film, everyone around you is still trying to figure things out. “Now, why did he . . . ?” they’re asking each other on the escalator. “And wouldn’t it have been easier to just . . . ?” All my roommate and I had to say to each other was “Huh?” It’s not that the movie was terrible, but for something that started out with such a fun premise, it definitely disappointed.

Maybe when I got home, I should have had her check under my bed for sucky screenwriters. Now that’s scary.

Posted by karen at 8:04 PM |

September 23, 2005

Back To The Emerald City

After a long week, Cinecultist is looking forward to a few much needed days off. Especially since those days will be spent in our former home, Seattle. It's going to be three days of really good coffee coffee, eating, sleeping and hanging with the Seattle Maggie. Apparently, SM already purchased us tickets for a screening at the Northwest Film Forum of Raiders of the Lost Ark: An Adaptation, a DIY remake of the Spielberg classic that was hugely popular the last time it played in town. Sounds intriguing, no?

So enjoy your weekend and we'll be back on Tuesday cinecultists, bearing pictures and surely all hopped up on high quality caffeine.

Posted by karen at 12:36 PM |

September 21, 2005

A Bevy of Birthdays

Pol_Plots_Bday_mid.jpeThings are a touch crazed for the Cinecultist this week. Our grandparents are in town visiting from California. We're closing the issue at the Day Job. And a whole bunch of our friends are turning a year older, today in particular. So many happy happy returns to the lovely Jen, Aaron and Briana (who doesn't have a blog to link to but is still really cool) today. In honor of, and as a birthday gift to everyone, we've posted a link to the hilarious 10 minute short, Pol Pot's Birthday by Talmage Cooley [free registration required] which we first saw last year at the RESfest.

While none of our birthday friends are crazed, murdering despots, we still wish we could give them all golden retriever puppies to show how much we care. (This statement makes much more sense after you've seen the video, so please click over straight away.)

Posted by karen at 11:16 AM |

September 20, 2005

Everything Is Not Illuminated

liev schreiber directs

Being a film adaptation junkie is hard on the heart. You fall in love so fast, so hard and then all too often you end up downtrodden and sobbing into your pillow. It's all about the disappointment. Perhaps this sounds too melodramatic for a little innocent movie viewing but Cinecultist has been feeling very emotional since reading and then watching Everything Is Illuminated. We loved the book. We loathed the movie. The tears are falling fast and furious onto the keyboard even as we type.

Perhaps we had unfairly high expectations because of the director, first time behind the camera but long time actor Liev Schreiber. Seeing him on stage earlier this year in Glengarry Glen Ross and everything we've read about him, he seems like such a bright fellow. Plus, he's got this adorable dog that we saw him using to charm the staff of Shakespeare and Co on Broadway a few years ago, so we know he's sensitive as well. Surely, this combination would result in a movie that's truthful and thoughtful about Jonathan Safran Foer's novel?

Unfortunately, this wasn't the case. CC doesn't usually have a problem with the jettison of some of the novel's plot points for the sake of a clean movie narrative. But in Everything Is Illuminated, Schreiber cuts out the entire history and back story of the hero, Jonathan and his family. There's no "why" here and as a result we have no reason to be invested in his search through the Ukraine for his grandfather's shtetl Trachimbrod. Somehow the idea that Jonathan is a collector should be charming but the way that Elijah Wood plays it, all OCD and tidy he merely comes across as creepy and insensitive. Eugene Hutz, the singer from the band Gogol Bordello who plays Jonathan's translator Alex, fares slightly better in terms of making us care for his character but still his depiction lacks depth.

Plus, without giving it entirely away, the grandfather's secret we discover is so 180 from what it is in the novel that it almost makes the rest of the plot incomprehensible. Did Liev think we couldn't handle the harsher realization Foer delivers in his book? Or did some unseen studio exec or producer think it had to be dumbed down for the screen? Le sigh. When will they understand that dumbing down is never, ever the answer? It only makes for a much bigger problem.

Posted by karen at 9:11 AM |

September 19, 2005

Pretty Fly For A White Guy

Many thanks to our Toronto Correspondent William for filling us in last week on the buzz films at the Canadian film festival that's often the first stop to Oscar. To catch up on his coverage, read one, two and three installments. Festivals can be a wonderful way to pack a lot in to a few days but they can also be exhausting. The Cinecultist should know as New York hosted both the CMJ music festival and the RES fest for digital video this past weekend. We may need all week to be totally recouped.

On Saturday night, Matty and CC attended an intriguing retrospective o' Beck videos as a part of RES's excellent four days of programming at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. This group of videos reminded CC what we've known since we saw him perform in '96 in our college gym, Beck is the full package. His music is always intriguing and thought-provoking but it's also catchy as hell. Plus, his quest for innovation extends into the visual as well. He's worked with a number of well known video directors like Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Mark Romanek and Stéphane Sednaoui as well up in coming ones and has even directed himself a few times. In his work, Beck plays with his own image (he's in an Indian headdress, he's a '60s popster, he's a disembodied cartoon head) and yet he's also funny and a showman. An entertainer with a brain, how delightful.

We caught another real showboat later on Saturday, though not on stage. Anton Newcombe, the singer from the Brian Jonestown Massacre and one of the stars of the docu Dig! was standing right in front of the door when we got to Pianos later for the Spinto Band show. And when we say right in front, we mean smack dab. Blocking the entrance. A fire hazard, if you will. It was also flustering because despite the music venue, it was so out of context. And of course, being Anton and quickly noting our confusion at his location in front of the door, he started miming like he was the doorman, directing us to go in one at a time. Anton's like that weird guy in high school whose attention seeking antics make you roll your eyes but inwardly, secretly you sort of admire him.

Oh and speaking of seeing famous people out of context, we should also mention that last Thursday after work, our artsy co-workers Melinda and Jonathan took us along to the opening for Amanda de Cadenet's photography show at Stanley Wise gallery in SoHo. Weaving our way around the space, we didn't expect to spot Keanu Reeves standing over in a back corner looking morose, scruffy and dressed all in black. Smile Keanu! You have major Matrix money! You're in Manhattan, it's the end of the humidity season, life is good.

Dude, some people have no sense of perspective.

Posted by karen at 8:54 AM |

September 17, 2005

Don't look now

As the Toronto Film Festival begins to wind down -- it ends today, Sat -- CC Toronto Correspondent has walked out on a film for the first time in the entire festival. The guilty flick? HOSTEL by Eli Roth. That it was tagged as a work-in-progress was the least of its problems. The cliches were offensive, the characters absolutely unlikeable and it was completely devoid of any humor. CC walked out before the one-hour mark -- and before the gross-out torture scenes began. The film left a very bitter aftertaste that proved to be quite toxic. It almost spoiled the day for CC if not for the very wonderful and delightful WALLACE AND GROMIT=CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT. It was a jolly good ride, and it heartens CC to know that there are still many filmmakers serious about their craft and giving the audience a good time. Who really needs more junk in this world?

That is all from CC from Toronto this year. See you again in 2006!

Posted by william at 11:31 AM |

September 16, 2005

A Man With Many Nicknames


Some know him as Ziggy Stardust. Others call him the Thin White Duke. Though as Cinecultist watched David Bowie take the Central Park Summerstage last night with the Arcade Fire as a part of CMJ, we couldn't help but think of him as that guy who freaked us out in Labyrinth. ('Member Labyrinth? Young Jennifer Connelly? '80s New Wave Bowie? Muppets? Awesomeness? Yeah, sure you do.) But maybe that's because it was really tough to see the stage. We think perhaps everyone got taller somehow during the encore. Anyhow, despite the need to hop up and down to get a glimpse of his white suit, it was pretty damn exciting. For a little more of a visual recounting, check Lawrence's photos via Flickr.

Posted by karen at 9:06 AM |

September 15, 2005

Margaret spills and thrills

CC Toronto Correspondent has found one guilty pleasure at the Toronto Film Festival -- the riotous BAM BAM AND CELESTE starring Margaret Cho! CC has to admit to some degree of trepidation before going into the theatre. As some friends and fellow festival-goers wisely observed, the comedy could be a hit-or-miss affair, ie, it could turn out to be one painful dud. But, much to general relief -- and after some extensive jaw exercise -- CC is pleased to report that BAM BAM AND CELESTE is one outrageous ride of fun. Margaret Cho is Celeste, an overweight, goth punk fag hag who, together with her gay best friend Bam Bam (Bruce Daniels), are stuck in a small town in Illinois. They have been bullied and treated as freaks since high school. Salvation finally comes in the form of a reality show, Trading Faces, an inane makeover show. They make their way to New York, searching for their destiny. Fans of Margaret Cho will find familiar terrain in the film: She has worked materials from her stand-up comedy into the whole narrative (but seriously, who's watching it for a coherent story?). Her fag-hag status, racial discrimination, homophobia, even her beloved Korean mum (played by Cho as well) -- all receive a seriously uproarious workout. Of course, by the end of the film, the audience is supposed to embrace the uplifting message of accepting who you are and chasing your dream. But with a ride this much fun, who would not want to hop on it?

CC went to catch Matthew Barney's DRAWING RESTRAINT 9, which also happens to star his partner and muse Bjork. Bjork wrote the soundtrack for the film. CC had to leave after one hour -- not because it was bad -- but to rush to another screening. If you liked the CREMASTER series, then you would enjoy Barney's latest.

The film CC had to rush to was the Chinese musical, THE WILD, WILD ROSE. It was made in 1960 by Cathay Studio and starred the legendary singer-actress Grace Chang. The film was picked by Tsai Ming-liang as part of the festival's Dialogues: Talking with Pictures series. Tsai was also on hand to introduce the film. As was typical of the films from that period, THE WILD, WILD ROSE was melodramatic, overwrought and unintentionally funny at times. Some of the songs in the film went on to become classics in Asia. This was probably one of the films that inspired Tsai to make his "musicals."

Posted by william at 4:05 PM |

September 14, 2005

CC goes to Toronto

CC Toronto Correspondent apologizes for a really tardy update on the ongoing Toronto Film Festival. CC has been here since 9/11, and has been busy playing catch-up. It's daunting to try to catch all 335 films showing at the festival, not least impossible. But this is definitely a film-loving city. Just look at all the people who turn out for the screenings, which can start as early at 9am! CC also wants to stress how impressively the whole festival is run, and how ultra-friendly the festival staff is. No matter how harried or hassled the staff may be, they ALWAYS respond with a smile. CC is even wont to believe that they truly care for the well-being of the festival-goers. CC has the mandate to catch Asian films here, but managed to slip in a few other films as well. These are CC's favorites so far:

-- EVERLASTING REGRET (dir Stanley Kwan). The latest from the director of ROUGE and CENTRESTAGE. It's adapted from a best-selling Chinese novel of the same name, and stars Cantopop megastar Sammi Cheng and Tony Leung Kar-fai. It seems that every time Kwan goes back in time -- in particular old Shanghai -- he comes up with a gem. EVERLASTING REGRET is absolutely beautiful and exquisite. It covers 40 years in the life of a woman as she weathers one lover after and another, and as Shanghai goes through momentous changes. Though many may say otherwise, CC thinks Sammi's idiosyncratic performance seems to gel well with the style of the film. CC was entranced by the film from the first reel to the last.

-- THREE TIMES (dir Hou Hsiao-hsien). Another masterful work from HHH. The film is broken up into three parts, each set in a different era. The film seems to have some self-referential points to previous films in HHH's oeuvre, and is held together by the gorgeous pair of Shu Qi and Zhang Zhen. It's coming to the New York Film Festival. Not to be missed.

-- SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE (dir Park Chan-wook). The highly-anticipated last part in Park's vengeance trilogy. Anyone expecting a KILL BILL kind of film will be disappointed -- and surprised. As slickly made as his previous films but considerably less gory and violent, LADY VENGEANCE made for a very satisfying conclusion. Coming to NY too.

-- WALK THE LINE (dir James Mangold). CC walked into the screening by mistake (was supposed to catch Iranian film IRON ISLAND), but it was by no means time wasted. Watch for a strong Oscar push for this film, especially for Joachim Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. They delivered strong performances, and they did all their own vocals! CC was absolutely floored by their singing.

Another round of films today!

Posted by william at 2:21 AM |

September 9, 2005

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name, Until December


"I wish I knew how to quit you!" -- Jake Gyllenhaal's best line in the new Brokeback Mountain trailer on Yahoo!

"You don't go up there to fish." -- says Michelle Williams's character to her lyin' husband, Heath Ledger.

Awesome? Not enough? Jake and Heath drooling? Discuss in the comments. By the way, it's 91 days until December 9 if you wanted to set up a count down system.

UPDATE: Brokeback won the Golden Lion at this year's Venice Film Festival. Congrats to our Jakie G., Heath, Ang and the rest of the cast and crew!

Posted by karen at 3:24 PM | | Comments (1)

When Directors Go Out On The Town

Last night, Cinecultist went to the launch party for the next four volumes of the popular Director's Label dvds. It's a chance to see the collected music and experimental video work of Anton Corbijn, Jonathan Glazer, Mark Romanek and Stéphane Sednaoui all at once. CC'd hoped when we got the invite for some sort of gift bag/swag action at the event, particularly with the discs themselves nestled inside but instead we settled happily for open bar and the four volumes displayed on the wall in mute mode.

There was also much amusing people watching to be had. We saw poor Chris Rock cannibalized by a flock of party photographers from various publications, James Iha chatting with Melissa Auf der Maur, Peter Dinklage resting on a cushion, Patrick McMullan trailed by a camera crew plus many, many models/musicians/artists. We assume they were models or musicians or artists because they were either freakishly tall, unnaturally gorgeous or wearing hairstyles that you couldn't imagine seeing in a midtown brokerage office. JP and the Cinecultist also intended to propose a weird, admiration-based three-way marriage to director Michel Gondry. While he did pass us a few times in the crowd, we didn't quite get around to suggesting spending the rest of our lives in surreal yet whimsical wedded bliss.

So after we consumed our quota of free booze and eye candy, CC headed home, eschewing cab, subway or rickshaw for a walk the whole way from Chelsea's 21st Street and the West Side Highway to our Eee Vee. That's surely enough exercise for at least the next week, right?

Posted by karen at 9:13 AM |

September 8, 2005

Separated At Birth?

left: Alec Ounsworth, lead singer from the NYC band o' the moment, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (photo courtesy of Jen). right: actor Justin Kirk, from Angels in America (photo from the SAG awards last year).

Even when we're deep in Williamsburg, surrounded by sweaty hipsters, drinking unpronounceable Polish beer, Cinecultist has movies on the brain. Or rather, actors anyhow. Last night at the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah/The National show at Warsaw, CC couldn't help but be struck by how familiar the lead singer, Alec Ounsworth looked. Sure, loads of people talk about the way his voice sounds like Talking Heads or how the band sounds like vintage James but Cinecultist couldn't help but notice a separated-at-birth connection between Ounsworth and actor Justin Kirk, who was in the miniseries Angels in America. Though we should point out that Kirk seems to smile more and generally sweats less during his performances.

If you're heading out to the sold out Bowery show later this week, or seeing them later on their fall tour, squint, turn your head a little to the left, visualize the short-lived WB program Jack & Jill and see if you also don't notice.

Apropos-of-nothing observation #2 last night: Warsaw smells not so faintly of kielbasa.

Finally, if you're feeling bored, listless, disaffected and downright downtown Manhattan-y or just anxious to know what the just-so kids are up to these days, be sure to cruise by the newly redesigned Paper mag website. It's pretty and informative!

Posted by karen at 8:55 AM |

September 6, 2005

When Even A Rom Zom Com Doesn't Help

Cinecultist has been in a bit of funk lately, even with the leisurely long Labor Day weekend barely behind us. We feel a little like Chicken Little, though instead of calling out the "sky is falling" to our neighbors, we've been huddled for the last week over our laptop reading the New York Times hurricane Katrina coverage obsessively. It's glum work, we don't have to tell you.

Shaun plays zombieOn Friday night we had the rom zom com, Shaun of the Dead in from Netflix and we thought surely the defying of genre conventions and droll British wit would perk us up. Except, like the time we rented Moonlight and Valentino with our friend whose Dad had just died and we realized too late it was a comedy with Jon Bon Jovi noless about death, a movie about the zombie apocalypse seemed a bit too close to home. Looting, shot gun use, vainly trying to save one's Mum can all be very cute if it's not happening but a few states south of your little apartment.

Granted, this is a darn clever movie with good acting and a bright premise. Ordinarily we would've enjoyed it very much and found it's joking tone and good-natured but reverent ribbing on the zombie movie conventions quite diverting. Instead, a ranting call from our Mom put the movie on extended pause and once we got off the phone, we spent a good 20 minutes glued to the television Nightly News. Sigh. The zombies looked much less threatening than what was happening in New Orleans.

Dude, even Thomas Crowne, er Pierce Brosnan is coming out to say the whole kit and caboodle has been poorly handled. At this point in time, even escapist movies can't help us keep our fingers over our eyes. We need to do, and then after that we can go back to the regular daily business of art-making.

Posted by karen at 11:25 PM |