August 31, 2006

Italian Cinema Smackdown


Cinecultist has been getting a real kick out of this bickerfest going on between the established Venice Film Festival and the young upstart Rome Film Festival. When Rome first announced that they'd be starting a fest this year, Venice made a big show of supporting their efforts and not competing. But those feelings of Italian brotherly cooperation have broken down since Rome announced the other day that Fur will be their opening movie. Don't you be taking Nicole Kidman from the Lido, or out the claws will come!

Also, there's kerfuffle about how close the dates are to each other (Venice opened yesterday, Rome in October) and whether funding will be government supported or private. "If I find out that Rome is getting state funding for its festival, I'll go for my gun," Venice's mayor Massimo Cacciari, a center-left philosopher, said in a recent interview. Ha. It's all going to get ugly over there, we can just tell.

CC's particularly interested in this whole thing because we recently bought our plane ticket to be under the Tuscan sun in mid October. Now we're thinking we might head down to Roma for a day or two to catch some cinema. Or maybe this will be our trip when we finally visit Cinecitta, we've wanted to do that for years.

Posted by karen at 11:38 AM |

August 29, 2006

This Program Brought To You By A Marty Movie

matt-damon-departed.jpgCinecultist's interest, though guarded, continues unabated for Martin Scorsese's new movie The Departed—especially since we read about this interesting advertising twist they're using from Variety. The film will be the solo sponsor on the pilot for a new CBS program, Smith starring Ray Liotta.

The pilot's running time would ordinarily need to be stretched into a 90 minute schedule block but with Warner Bros., The Departed distributors, paying for the sole 4 minute block of ad time, the show can run in a 60 time slot. According to Variety, "At the start of the Smith premiere, an announcer will let auds know that the episode is being sponsored with limited commercials by The Departed. It's likely Warner will then split its four minutes of ad time into a pair of two-minute pods, each offering an extended look at the pic." Both parties involved get an oddly sweet deal, Smith can run nearly uninterrupted and The Departed gets a buzz boost with the commercial's exclusivity and unusualness.

There aren't any other major connections between the projects (other than both stories center around career criminals and Smith was produced by Warner's TV division) but if Ray's show turns out to be cool, it could only mean better associative word of mouth for The Departed. Good work CBS, Marty Scorsese and Warner Bros., you're a crafty bunch of old dogs with your synergy, your product placement and your one hand washes the other. Oh wait, that's another underbelly that doesn't really involve TV advertising.

Posted by karen at 5:42 PM |

August 28, 2006

Many Tasks, None of Them Easy


Cinecultist should probably just go ahead and name today officially Factotum day, since we have a couple of linky links to point out regarding the Charles Bukowski movie. CC interview the flick's director, Bent Hamer while he was in town a few weeks ago for the movie's premiere and our chat is now available on

Also, we reviewed the movie for the Movie Binge crew yesterday, in addition to Material Girls. This may not be a huge surprise to our many bright readers, but of the two subjects, Factotum is the superior movie. It may be glum in its naturalistic portrayals of life on the edge as only Bukowski can tell it, but it didn't make CC want to do bodily harm to ourselves while it was playing. Oh no, only the new Hilary Duff movie could do that. It was so bad we stopped watching and started contemplaing what way would be best make to gouge out our eyes with a blunt object. Maybe a spoon.

Posted by karen at 10:24 PM |

Spike Rocks the Doc


Over the weekend, Cinecultist watched all four hours of Spike Lee's documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts which we'd DiVo'ed from HBO the weekend prior. This is some powerful stuff, ol' Spike's put together and we had to watch it only one chunk per day or else the despair and heartache might have been too overwhelming.

One of Cinecultist's favorite part time hobbies is ripping on Lee's self-important windbag shtick and often finds his movies to be patronizing at best and sledgehammers at worst. However, When The Levees Broke avoids that heavy handed sermonizing on race and really let's the people tell their stories. With real people, Lee has a deftness and empathy that's remarkable. He's obviously moved deeply by their incredible plight and is able to communicate that to his audience.

In an interview on HBO's site he says,

"...Many of them expressed their outrage too. And one interesting thing is that these European journalists were saying the images they were seeing looked like they were from a third world country, not the almighty United States of America. So hopefully, this documentary will bring this fiasco, this travesty, back to the attention of the American people. And maybe the public can get some politicians' ass in the government to move quicker, and be more efficient in helping our fellow American citizens in the Gulf region."

One of ways Lee most powerfully brings home the destruction of New Orleans is through some amazing still photography. It's not easily identifiable during the doc who took these photographs of dejected children, families struggling to stay together and houses broken into matchstick sized debris but they kick you in the gut. Unfortunately, the HBO website doesn't list or showcase them either but these images are reason enough to watch the flick. They really stick with you. Like the European journalists told Spike, they make the US look like a Third World country and this destruction seem to be of biblical proportions.

All four parts will re-air tomorrow night at 8 pm on HBO to mark the 1 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Please try to make it mandatory viewing, this movie is important stuff.

Posted by karen at 4:22 PM |

August 27, 2006

The Keener, A Thinking Person's Indie Cinema Heroine

Cinecultist hearts Catherine Keener. When we got the chance to speak to her on duty at the Day Job, she couldn't have been cooler or more down to earth. We can completely understand why random young men want her to take their virginity, as she mentions in her interview in this week's New York Times magazine.

"That movie [The 40-Year-Old Virgin] has given me a new audience. The other night a group of guys who left their trash in the alley near my house got really excited when they saw me. They screamed, “Will you take my virginity?” That’s my new audience: a bunch of punks."

Dude, she also loves Marnie. Aka our answer to the $64,000 question "What's your favorite Hitchcock movie?"

Posted by karen at 9:31 PM |

August 25, 2006

How To Make The Cinecultist Feel Like A Total Slacker

Talk with avant garde curator, critic, video diarist Jonas Mekas for Gothamist. We just hope when we're 84, we'll still be that much in the present and looking to the future. He's a complete inspiration.

Mekas's most recent work, A Letter From Greenpoint will screen tonight at 7:30 pm at the Museum of the Moving Image, along with an early short Williamsburg, Brooklyn. If you like your art films personal, thoughtful and a touch irreverent, Mekas is your guy.

Posted by karen at 5:39 PM |

August 24, 2006

All About The Blogs

Seriously, Cinecultist is blog crazy. There are times where we begin to wonder if a thought we thunk didn't appear on the Internet somewhere, would it actually exist? By that self-absorbed token, we mention that we contributed to The Reeler's line up of pinch hitters while Stu's on vacation this week. CC's actually really enjoyed reading everyone else's posts and have added a bunch of newbies to our personal blog roll from it. It's some pretty good company we're in there. Check them out.

Also, a little mutual shout out action to Sleep Is Where I'm A Viking, the blog residence of the Tall Boston Law Student who at one time was the Cinecultist's 7th Grade Boyfriend, and was recently in NYC for a visit. While he doesn't really blog about being tall or living in Boston, it's still a quite good read.

Posted by karen at 3:32 PM |

August 23, 2006

In The News: Cruisin' For A Bruisin' & Netflixology

Paramount tells Tom Cruise to take his things and go. Or is that Tom was already thinking about breaking up with the studio for ages? Here's what Cinecultist knows: TC needs to finally acknowledge that his behavior is Not Normal. Up until now it seems that he's been exhibiting what most of us think are errant actions, yet playing them off as "part of his religion," "because he's in love," or whatnot. Now the cat is out of the bag. Big name businessmen are telling the New York freakin' Times that Tom's acting crazy town and it affects their million dollar business relationship, regardless of whether this is the actual reason for the split. That's a seismic shift in attitude towards the ultimate A Lister.

Netflix told Blockbuster to stop being such a copycat. Now Blockbuster has said Netflix just wants to have all the marbles for themselves, and that's totally not fair. The judge hearing these claims from both corporations are allowing the two suits to be tried together, which is pretty interesting. It really will be Netflix versus Blockbuster in a (sorta metaphorical) cage death match for DVD by mail supremacy. Goes to show that this movie rental business is really big bucks in the making. Cinecultist is still reserving judgement to see who will get out of the cage alive, but we're mostly rooting for da 'Flix. They're our boy.

Posted by karen at 4:50 PM |

August 22, 2006

Ocean's Fourteen: Yay or Nay?

thirteenposter.pngThank goodness Steve Soderbergh has come to his senses. The director told an audience at the Edinburgh Film Festival the other day that he has no plans to do an Ocean's Fourteen. Some might argue that the installment Twelve was taking it too far in terms of sequels, and to be now in production on Ocean's Thirteen is hardly a case of restraint against the demands of box office success. But Soderbergh explained, "George wanted to go out strong" and that they "wanted the series to return to its comedic roots this time."

Fine, if it's what George wanted. The Cloon surely knows what's best.

Posted by karen at 10:53 AM |

August 21, 2006

The Next Rocky Installment: This One's For The Boomers

The closing film tonight in Bryant Park's annual summer film festival is Rocky, a totally classic sports movie if there ever was one. This got Cinecultist to thinking about what the new Rocky installment would be about and fortunately, we stumbled on the above video clip of the trailer.

Fittingly, this time the fight is for the dignity of all aging baby boomers, who through the fountain of eternal youth known as the computer, makes Rock think the old dog still has some bite in him. What a totally fitting underdog story for our times. With apologies to the Cinecultist's parents, the boomers still think it's all about them, don't they? Can't you just sense the cultural studies term papers waiting in the wings on this one?

For more info (and the still stirring theme song coming out of your computer's speakers) visit the official site.

Posted by karen at 3:17 PM |

Don't Bring Your Serated Knife to The IFC Center

Cinecultist doesn't often say this about a report on a late night in the West Village but OMFG. A sound mixer from Queens was hanging out in front of the IFC Center on Sixth Avenue over the weekend when a group of attractive young women passed by. A comment about one girl's hair led to insults thrown, slapping, spitting and finally a group melee between the man and the group of women resulted in him getting stabbed! With a serrated knife! In the West flippin' Village! Guess it's time for erstwhile movie types to rethink their late night plans to "hangs out in front of the I.F.C. to chat with film people, to watch life in the Village." [NYT via Gawker]

Posted by karen at 1:09 PM |

News Flash: Snakes Can't Fly

The numbers are in this morning and it looks less than promising for the "bloggers enthusiasm molds studio policy" trendlette. While Snakes on a Plane was the number one movie for the weekend, it did not hit the $20 million mark for distributors New Line as they hoped. The flick cost only $30 mil to make, which is quite slight for a summer action/horror film, but so far the numbers for the past three days only added up to $15.3 million and that's including the $1.4 from Thursday late night.

Here's what Cinecultist has said all along about the idea that public opinion can change the outcome of big studio filmmaking: Awesome, but it'll only be a success if that final movie is actually good. We're living in an age of audience participation with comment sections, text message voting and amateur blogging run rampant. More power to the people, we say. But really all of this feedback only works if the product is worth seeing. A segment of the movie going public will plunk down $11 bucks for camp fun and screaming at the screen, but not everyone. If the word of mouth after Thursday or even Friday was that Snakes on a Plane is fun AND a good movie, we'd be seeing something different in the numbers. Which leads Cinecultist back to the Captain Obvious point that New Line refused to screen this movie to critics before release. They knew it still wasn't good, despite adding after the first wrap more violence and more cursing. Critical opinion, and the notion of absolute merit, still holds true.

The moral of the story (one which the studios still won't get from this experience but oh well): Make good movies. All the rest shall follow.

But of course in the face of bad movies, bring plastic snakes to throw at the screen and hiss every time Samuel L. Jackson appears. [P.S. Cinecultist was out of town this weekend and missed this movie. For a fun review plus a video clip of cheering audiences check out Matty's review on The Movie Binge.]

Posted by karen at 10:19 AM |

August 18, 2006

Teenage Stupidity Fells Another Kid Star

Drew Barrymore. Gary Coleman. Danny Bonaduce. Now, Haley Joel Osment has entered their hallowed company.

[Insert some lame joke about seeing drunk drivers or paying it forward with that joint. Poor Haley.]

Posted by karen at 12:06 PM |

August 17, 2006

More Product Placement And It's Your Fault

We're about to get even more advertised to, so get ready cinecultists. According to this article in Reuters today, by 2010 advertising embedded in tv shows and movies will have tripled. The culprit for this spike in subversive product placement? The rise in commercial skipping technology like DVRs, downloadable shows on your iPod and internet video like YouTube.

Recently Cinecultist was chatting with our friend Ryan who works in advertising. One of his clients is PowerAde and while watching Talladega Nights he was literally having conniptions calculating how much his client earned (with no cost to them, by the way) during Will Ferrell's PowerAde sponsored dinner time grace.

While this scene, and in fact most of the movie, was a hilarious send up of the pervasiveness of sponsorship in certain entertainment, it's a pretty scary thought to imagine it increasing so drastically. In a few short years, the cast of The O.C. won't just be quietly drinking Diet Coke in a diner scene, but they'll be working for the company as an after school part time job while driving cars emblazoned with their logo. The potential for icky consumerism in the movies and on TV is infinite. Drat. And Cinecultist does so love the fast forward feature on our DVR, we knew it would come back to haunt us eventually.

Posted by karen at 5:54 PM |

August 15, 2006

Are They All Out Of A Job?

Apparently, this is the story this slow summer—film criticism is dead. According to the Los Angeles Times today, the death knell has sounded and the internet is the one pulling on the cord. Of course, it's important in a ground-breaking article like this to reference longingly Big Mama PK:

What we're seeing is not so much the death of criticism as the death of the culture of criticism, the culture in which a critic such as Pauline Kael — despite writing for a small circulation magazine like the New Yorker — could have a huge trickledown influence, not just with the chattering class, but with filmmakers and executives who hung on her every word, either in agony or ecstasy, depending on the verdict.

Then, the director juxtaposition in this next graf made CC a little ill:

But today we're in an era in which shared enthusiasm matters more than analysis, stylistic cool trumps emotional substance. The world has changed. The vanguard filmmakers of the '60s — the era that spawned our last great generation of critics — were Godard, Kubrick and Antonioni, filmmakers under the spell of the intellectual fervor sparked by existentialism and Marxism. The filmmakers with a youth-culture following today, be it Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, are largely ideology free, masters of detachment and stylistic homage. Like their audience, they prefer irony to Big Ideas.

Maybe the real problem is that the mainstream critics have been in their cushy places for ages. They don't have the incentive to be inventive. In Cinecultist's mind, there's still important work to be done by criticism on the web or in print, it really makes little difference. The skill of any critic lies in identifying how cinema continues to represent our shared experience and what that means about our culture right now. This article goes on to say that places like the LA Times should be championing their critics and bringing them into the 21st century with up to the minute responses on the pop culture bombardment. But real commentary seems to need time to percolate. It may be at it's best when it's slow moving, but Cinecultist refuses to believe that the film critic is kaput.

Posted by karen at 6:09 PM |

Will Ferrell's Best CoStar Yet


Reading this post's headline, one might think Cinecultist is referring to John C. Reilly, Will Ferrell's cast mate from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Or maybe the ever brilliant, and increasingly Peter Sellers-esque, Sacha Baron Cohen. Sorry, no it's a more minor cast member that we totally dug. Cinecultist hearts the cougar because she's named Karen! Isn't that the silliest coincidence? The cougar represents Ricky Bobby's fear of the road and it is personified by a man-eating big cat with our name. During CC's screening of the movie, we thought maybe we were just projecting, but confirmation from friends who saw it later and various fanboy message pages agree.

It seems though that the promotional people for Talladega had a bit of a crystal ball, anticipating that fans of the film would want to project themselves into the movie just like Cinecultist. With that in mind, they put a weird little feature on the official website which allows you to create a poster of yourself and Will Ferrell all decked out in the race car driver gear. After the jump, the version featuring our mug.


Not too realistic, right? Guess we'll just stick to writing about movies rather than imagining that we're in them.

Posted by karen at 1:16 PM |

August 14, 2006 Movies

Recently, Matty and Cinecultist had been having this conversation about whether or not certain recent films using MySpace as their official website is annoying or cool. On one hand, something like John Tucker Must Die or Step Up is going to find it's best audience on MySpace because that's where the kids hang out these days. On the other hand, doesn't it seem a bit lazy not to spend the big studio bucks on some decent web presence?

Cinecultist got to thinking that surely there must be some cool little indie pictures using MySpace for some grassroots marketing, just like the indie and not so indie rock bands are. We started trolling through the film subtab in search of such folks.

Analog Days is a feature film made in a suburb outside of Los Angeles about young people coping with those "in between days," after childhood but before real adulthood. They recently premiered their movie at the Los Angeles Film Festival and based on the trailer posted to their page, it looks sort of Slacker meets Clerks. This seems to be most of the filmmakers' first major project from the film's composer, Derek Fudesco, who is in the band Pretty Girls Make Graves, to director/writer Mike Ott, who previously made music videos.

• Perhaps pictures from Last Night's Party and Cobrasnake aren't voyeuristic enough for you. You long to see more drunk models, more rich yuppies, more downtown assholes mugging for the video camera. If so, you're in luck because Tribeca-based photographer Shawn Regruto captures them all in his New York scenester podcast, Point and Shoot. You can download the full episodes on iTunes for free and Regruto promises the full feature length film will be out this summer. Oh and FYI, this is racy stuff, iTunes tags it as explicit.

We also should note that a bunch of film fests, like the Austin Film Festival, the Illinois International Film Festival and the Hollywood Film Festival have MySpace pages, as do indie film publications like Filmmaker Magazine and indieWire. Jeez, this MySpace thing really is getting ubiquitous. Pretty soon the line for art house movie will no longer be the pick up spot* it once was, we won't even need to leave the house to commune with other indie film geeks.

As always, Cinecultist loves hearing from indie filmmakers. If you're on MySpace and want to shoot us a message, request an add or send us your film, please do. You'll find us here at

*Full disclosure: CC has never been picked up nor picked up on anyone in line for a movie, subtitles or not. We just always thought it sounded like a totally brilliant idea.

Posted by karen at 10:18 PM |

August 11, 2006

Terry Gilliam: Genius or Deluded?

You're Terry Gilliam. You're a former Monty Python-ite and have directed movies like Brazil, that are entertainment and art. But lately you've thought some good ideas included a $90 million dollar creepy fairy tale with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger and a Man of La Mancha adaptation that died on the vine with a star who was too aged to ride a horse. Frankly, Cinecultist is worried about you, Terry, especially now that we've heard about your new project.

Tideland features a 10-year-old prepping her father's daily heroin dose, her fervent religiosity and her fantasies about having a baby with an older simpleton she's seducing. He told Reuters, "I just felt we are constricting the way we look at the world and the way we think, particularly about children. I knew full well when we were making it there would be a lot of adults who would really squirm and be very uncomfortable, but that's because of what goes on in their heads, not because of what children are about."

Yeah that's it, Terry. It's the other adults who are messed in the heads.

Tideland is scheduled for an October US release.

Posted by karen at 12:26 PM |

Slow Moving Dread, Lots of Fog


For a really long time Cinecultist has been a vocal opponent of horror films. We don't see them. We refuse. We're a huge 'fraidy cat. However, in the last few years our stronger credo of "see whatever is put in front of us" has exposed CC to more horror, and we think we've developed a tougher skin. We probably won't seek out Texas Chainsaw Massacre say, a movie recently our friend Eric told us about seeing for the first time, but when an editor asks CC to review a movie like Calvaire (The Ordeal), we'll start saying okay more quickly.

Calvaire is a Belgian movie made in 2004 by Fabrice du Welz and is finally getting a limited theatrical release here in the States, before it comes out on DVD in the fall. It stars Laurent Lucas as Marc Stevens, a cabaret-style singer who travels around the countryside performing for small groups. At the start of the film, we see how incredibly attractive Marc can be to his audiences, inspiring stalker-like devotion from two female fans, one quite old who smooches him in the dressing room and another much younger who gives him nudie pictures of herself. Like in Hitchcock's Psycho, these opening scenes which establish our protagonist's sexual appeal will later prove to be his serious liability.

On a country road to the next gig, Marc's van breaks down in the fog (classic horror movie mistake) and he enlists the help of a nice seeming young man searching for his doggie (also a mistake) to lead him to a nearby inn (don't do it, Marc!). At the Bartel Inn, the proprietor Bartel offers him a dank room and promises Marc the next day they'll easily fix his van. However at day break, this creepy, remote locale gets creepier and creepier as Bartel becomes less and less helpful. Also those town folk, all seriously scruffy dudes with a deep fascination for their livestock, don't seem to be too normal either. And then things start to get REALLY bad for Marc.

Perhaps what we liked most about this movie is that nothing pops out to goose you. To Cinecultist, that's cheap horror. Besides, we don't like leaping out of our seats, and trust us when we say, Cinecultist can really leap. Rather, Du Welz keeps his dread slow moving, lumbering and the more bizarre the better. Many times we peered closer to the screen muttering, "Wha? Did he really just do that? That's messed!" Jackie Berroyer, the grandfatherly looking actor who plays Bartel, gives a seriously disturbed performance; it's quite fucked up and menacing. But this movie doesn't try to offer any psychological explanations at the end, ala Hitch. It just leaves you with the lingering weird feeling that all isn't right, and it's not going to get any better. A pretty horrific conclusion actually, if you ask us.

Production still of Jackie Berroyer as Bartel in Calvaire (The Ordeal). The movie plays starting this weekend at the Cinema Village.

Posted by karen at 9:18 AM |

August 10, 2006

(Not So) Slammin'!


The dance school musical is a much maligned genre. With cheese-tastic plot lines, fancy footwork and a little teen smooching, they can be some of the most purely entertaining movies. When Cinecultist was a young girl we lived on them, despite our own less than stellar abilities on the dance floor. Fame, Flashdance, The Red Shoes, and we'd argue Save the Last Dance and Center Stage, all deserve a rental if you've not seen them recently.

Sadly, the newest addition to the pack Step Up, isn't worth canonization. CC caught an advance screening with our dance movie connoisseur friend Lisa and we both agreed it was less than slammin', in the poetic words of STLD. The dancing isn't as memorable as you'd expect from Anne Fletcher, the choreographer of Bring It On, and CC wasn't swept up in the implausible spectacle the way you'd hope. Maybe if Fletcher had been a bit more blatantly po-mo the movie would've been better.

In an interview in this week's Time Out New York, she plays dumb to any kind of dance movie references in her film.

TONY: Could you talk about the references to dance movies in Step Up? AF: What do you mean, honey? I’m sorry.

TONY: It’s just that I saw moments from Flashdance, Dirty Dancing, Fame…
AF: It’s interesting because that was never in my thinking, ever. I can’t respond! [Laughs] I never, on any level, tried to do any sort of tribute or hat tip to any of those movies. I’m dead serious: I’m not that clever.

Posted by karen at 11:25 AM |

August 9, 2006

Sopranos Off Season Gig

Though we've never tried it ourselves, Cinecultist imagines trying to be a working actor in New York is a tough ass job. Maybe as hard as being a working film critic. That's why our heart went out to anyone vying for this job we saw posted on Craig's List.

Seeking extremely outgoing, personable male actor for tour guide on Sopranos bus tour. Prefer actor that has appeared at least as an extra on The Sopranos. Approximately two tours/month (mainly weekend afternoon shifts). Must be familiar with the show and passionate about it. Email resume in body of email and headshot attached (resumes that are attached will not be accepted).

We hope some very deserving fellow who owns a bunch of bad track suits gets this gig from his brief brush with James Gandolfini et al. It seems like the least you should get after surely having been brutally offed on cable television.

Posted by karen at 3:31 PM |

Hilary Remixes Some Madge

hilary_duff1.jpgBefore she became such a train wreck-orama, Britney Spears understood that associating her stardom with the original blonde bombshell, Madonna was good for her image. Now, the tween sensation Hilary Duff seems to be hoping for the same boost with her new movie, Material Girls which comes out Aug. 18. We don't know too much yet about Duff's project with her sister, Haylie, besides the floofy plot (celebutante sisters loose all their money but have to rise above it to win back their family's cosmetics company). Until we sought it out today, CC hadn't even seen the trailer. Obviously we're not regular readers of Hilary's blog.

But, we do find it interesting that Madge's production company, Maverick, is one of the producers on the film and that Hilary has recorded a cover of the '80s classic, "Material Girl," for the soundtrack. Between the rocker boyfriend, the djing at Misshapes and now this association with the star who made reinventing herself an art form, the Duff Duff seems to be trying to be more than just the Disneyfied pop tart of her youth. Cinecultist for one is staying tuned for further intriguing Duff-related developments.

Posted by karen at 3:08 PM |

August 8, 2006

Down With Quirk


Last Saturday, Cinecultist perused the lists of films playing at our local theaters in search of an afternoon movie. However, we'd already seen about 85 percent of the releases. This is the good and bad thing about seeing movies for work -- many times we get to see them for free, but then what the heck are we to do for leisure? (Besides try to eat at all 101 New York mag cheap eats?) Fortunately, we'd not gotten around to catching Wordplay, the crossword puzzle documentary, so after a pleasant walk across town, we found ourselves at the IFC Center.

Wordplay is one of those difficult movies to write about because it's so sort of middling. It's perfectly entertaining while it's playing, and it's not really doing anything horribly awful or particularly groundbreaking. This seems to be a surprisingly prevalent trend amongst documentaries these days. They follow a familiar story arc, usually involving a competition and a rag tag bunch of quirky real life characters. But while these folks are cute and mildly engaging, they're not captured in a substantive way. Unlike a fictional character in a narrative film, it's not really possible to argue that they're not believable, because they're already actual human beings. Instead they remain a sum of their quirky attributes, cobbled together with a few anecdotes or odd pronouncements to the camera. We don't see anything on screen that we haven't seen a version of, in some form or another, a zillion times before.

With some help from our friends Adriane and John, two very fine documentary filmmakers that Cinecultist happened to have dinner with later on Saturday, we decided the problem is Quirk. Quirk becomes an easy short-hand for moviemakers which provides likable characters. However, these figures have no substance, their odd characteristics become a convenient checklist. One crossword puzzler is interviewed in front of an oil portrait of an ancestor. Another one lives near Columbia University and juggles batons. Yet another hangs out with his frat buddies between bouts of competitive crosswording. Blah, blah, blah. Rather than constructing unusual stories which happen to have odd characters in them who could potentially be unsympathetic, these movies seem to start from the checklist and grow from there.

That may sound overly harsh on a flick that we did enjoy well enough while we were watching it, but it's not something we'd honestly feel we should recommend. Especially when we know it could be so much more than merely quirky.

Posted by karen at 4:25 PM |

August 7, 2006

Talk Amongst Yourselves

Linkage today regarding the new frontiers of criticism:

At the Wikipedia conference this weekend, the site said going forward it's going to be about quality not quantity, from the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit according to site founder Jimmy Wales. Also, irony abounds among the Wikifolks:

At times the conference itself seemed to be dealing with the same issues. One member of the foundation’s board, Florence Nibart-Devouard, stormed out of a news conference because she had not been told about the announcement being made. And on Thursday afternoon, signs concerning registration had the opening time crossed out, replaced by the word “later.”
“It’s a funny thing,” Mr. Wales said. “I had no idea that anyone was putting up signs. Someone somewhere said there should be signs, and someone did it. It’s effective.”
“But,” he added, “it’s chaotic.”
[via NYT]

Jeff Jarvis writes in the Guardian today about the impact of web criticism on the full time gigs of culture critics. Apparently, we're nipping at the heels of the establishment. To make up for this key change, critics should modify their purpose.

Would I have critics? Yes, but their roles would change. They still should give their views and set art in context. But rather than issuing pronouncements and bon mots, unchallenged, from the screening room, I'd want them to spark the discussion about entertainment: find the good voices, pinpoint the arguments, even referee debates among artists and critics. A great critic should be a magnet for fascinating discussion.

Posted by karen at 4:37 PM |

August 4, 2006

On the Puffy Bandwagon


Cinecultist is all about The Puffy Chair these days, a small indie film made by the Duplass brothers on a shoestring budget, which is finally coming to New York for a run at the Angelicka starting this weekend. CC had a great chat with director Jay Duplass which is up on Gothamist now. For space considerations, we had to edit our interview down to the most pithy parts of Jay's responses and so didn't include this part where we discussed the great cluster of movie theaters in downtown New York. We were delighted learn though that Jay, like CC, is partial to the Cinema Village East from his salad days living here in the Eee Vee.

The one thing I’m the most excited about with the Puffy Chair which doesn’t really mean that much is that when you open at the Angelicka, you most surely get a move over to the Cinema Village East, which isn’t a premier theater by any means. Everyone always asks me, What does it mean to have your movie showing up at movie theaters? How surreal is that? It doesn’t feel surreal at all, because three hours before every screening we’re running around the neighborhood. We’re putting flyers up and we’re making sure that the colors look right and that it’s not going to get screwed up. So it feels very hands on, it doesn’t feel like Warner Brothers picked up our movie and bombed it out to every theater in the country. But with the Cinema Village East, I think it’s going to mean a lot when it comes to my little neighborhood theater. That’s the one thing I’m looking forward to the most.

Now that's what you call keepin' it real.

Production still from The Puffy Chair starring Mark Duplass, co-written by Mark and Jay Duplass. In this scene, Josh holds up his boombox to his girlfriend, Emily's apartment playing "Transatlanticism" by Death Cab for Cutie. As people who know our taste can attest, that was obviously the moment when Cinecultist knew we were deeply in love with this movie.

Posted by karen at 5:01 PM |

August 3, 2006

There's Bad, Then There's Worse

wildbunch.jpgYesterday evening, Cinecultist braved the sauna otherwise known as the New York subway system during this heat wave, to head out to Brooklyn for a screening of The Wild Bunch at BAM. BAM Cinématek has recently kicked off a Sam Peckinpah retrospective and while CC remembers discussing the elaborate final shoot 'em scene of The Wild Bunch in grad school, we hadn't seen the rest of this canonical Western. A steamy August night seemed like as good enough time as any to remedy that.

Sometimes when you watch something that you've heard is "good" or "art," the experience is transformative and it's instantly clear why its lauded. Watching Buster Keaton movies for the first time can be like that. (CC has Keaton on the brain because Film Forum is doing a Mondays series of his movies in August and September. Go see some if you can.) But other times, what was obviously the innovation at the time seems dated to our modern eyes, probably because its been ripped off so many times it's now cliché. Casablanca springs to mind as a classic example of that type of old movie.

The Wild Bunch fell into the later category for CC and our viewing pal, JP. What must have seemed so shocking at the time, like the indiscriminate violence during the shoot outs and the moral blackness of all of the characters, feels very tired now. Also, stylistic flourishes like the tough guy swaggering dialogue or the creepy, extended laughter amongst the bunch after they've narrowly escaped a bloody death, was just off-putting and bizarre. Equally weirdo was the movie's depiction of women from huge bosomed whores take a wine vat bath to a former love who's now with the evil general being shot point blank by her lover. Talk about women as objects, this movie really optimizes that ickiness.

While this wasn't a movie Cinecultist would be happy to see in the theaters today, as a cultural artifact, it's oddities make it sort of interesting. It's how we feel about Westerns in general. Mostly they're boring because CC doesn't get them on a visceral, personal level. As a genre, they don't say anything to us about our experience. Yet, the fact that they're so alien makes them intriguing as case studies. They don't entertain but they make us think. What did The Wild Bunch say about the Vietnam era? Why does that seem to be so different than now, even though our country is again in a quagmire of a foreign dispute? Was blood that looked like just tons of red paint really scary in 1969? Was this movie the beginning of our current trend of quick cutting action films?

All of these questions are still swirling around hours after seeing this movie that we could easily say we didn't like. So, in conclusion it was a movie going experience we liked, even if the movie itself wasn't our cup of tea.

BTW, if this whetted your Peckinpah fascination, here's a nice career overview on Senses of Cinema.

Posted by karen at 6:13 PM |

August 2, 2006

New Nora Ephron Essays Feel Like Old(er) Friends

badaboutneck.jpgCinecultist is decidedly outside of Nora Ephron's targeted demographic for her essays, but we love her anyhow. Her new collection, I Feel Bad About My Neck and other thoughts on being a woman details in the title essay her anxieties about pushing past 60 and other selections in the volume discuss parenting, her Upper West Side apartment and interning in JFK's White House press office. This is not the usual domain of the late '20s, Eee Vee-dwelling, singleton Cinecultist but Ephron knows how to make her maddeningly specific experience seem universal.

Just to make sure we are on the same page as to why CC would even be interested in this writing, Ephron is the main mama of the romantic comedy. When Harry Met Sally... is the Ur text of the '90s rom com, in our humble opinion. We initially got into Ephron's writing though through her novel Heartburn, a very thinly veiled autobiographical story about Ephron's second marriage. It features some hilarious New York neurotic girl plot points punctuated by recipes, including a peach pie which bakes up really well. The movie version stars Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson and while it's not as good as the book, it's worth a rental.

Reading that book was a very special experience for CC, not unlike the feeling Ephron describes in the essay "On Rapture," which is in her new collection. "I've just surfaced from spending several days in a state of rapture—with a book. I loved this book. I loved every second of it. I was transported into its world. I was reminded of all sorts of things in my own life. i was in anguish over the fate of its characters. I felt alive, and engaged, and positively brilliant, bursting with ideas, brimming with memories of other books I've loved."

There really is something to this idea that good writing (or good movies) can make you feel creatively alive and engaged. They make you want to sit down with pen and paper and scrawl out all of your deepest thoughts. A writer like Ephron (or Dorothy Parker or Jane Austen or Edith Wharton), makes writing seem like a natural extension of thought. The words on the page seem like the dialogue running through her brain and in the best moments their to-the-pointness is electrifying. This is a style that CC strives for and thus a new opportunity to read her efforts, even if they are outside of our own immediate experiences, is a treat.

For more thoughts of Ephron's new book, read Janet Maslin's review in the New York Times last weekend.

Posted by karen at 10:35 AM |

August 1, 2006

The Box Office Clout of DVDs

Some movies don't have Pirates of the Caribbean or Miami Vice boffo box office in the theaters, but they can still end up being winners for producers via the magic of DVD. Certain movies, whether they're cult favorites or small stories better suited to a personal-sized screen, actually become even more popular years after their release and can lead to further franchise advancement. Reading this article in Variety about the phenomenon, Cinecultist found it interesting (though not surprising) the movies they sited as examples of the trend. Here's a brief breakdown, bullet-style:

Lord of War ($44 mil. in DVD sales, over 1 mil. Netflix rentals alone)
The Notebook ($81 mil. theatrical box office, $160 mil. DVD sales)
Napoleon Dynamite ($45 mil. theatrical box office, tripled in DVD sales, now releasing a new special edition version)
The Pacifier ($112 mil theatrical box office, $116 mil. DVD sales)
The Transporter, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, Austin Powers all lead to sequels from DVD sales. Also considering sequels to Van Wilder and Waiting from DVD popularity.
• Actors who do particularly well on DVD: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and Wesley Snipes
• And of course, Donnie Darko ("Every month thousands of them have sold," says Adams Media Research VP Jan Saxton. "It's stayed hot forever, and that's unusual.")

Posted by karen at 1:39 PM |

Jackie Chan, Your Friendly Neighborhood Drunk

Jackie_Chan.jpgPoking around our usual celebrity gossip and news sites this morning, Cinecultist stumbled upon this news bit that Hong Kong action's funniest (ie. Jackie Chan) and most dour (ie. Jet Li) actors are in talks to do a project together. There's no script yet, but they expect to begin shooting in Shanghai in March or April. Quickly consulting IMDb's handy pairing function, CC realized the two haven't ever acted together in a big budget flick, which we found surprising. The Asian cinema industry is so prolific and those two are such megastars over there, it's a surprise that they've not teamed up before.

Scrolling further down the article for more news from this press conference Chan conducted, we discovered this odd quote from the Drunken Master. Apparently Mel Gibson isn't the only A Lister who gets drunk and does inappropriate things. A few months ago at a Hong Kong pop concert, a blotto Chan appeared on stage, insulted the band and then threw "coarse" insults at the audience. When asked to comment on this Stars Gone Wild incident, Chan said, "Everyone in the world has made mistakes, but it's just that we're celebrities. TV station managers, magazine editors, who doesn't drink, who doesn't get drunk?"

Indeed, Jackie. Indeed.

Posted by karen at 10:02 AM |