Friday, October 30, 2009
It's been awhile, i blame midterm papers and special occasions, basically in that order. That and a slow news week. When the best things I've seen in the pop culture sphere in days are both Star Wars themed, you've gotta wonder. Anyway, the Today show apparently had their Halloween episode today. During a decorating segment, two rabble rousing Ewoks caused a scene. Rumor has it, they were a little intoxicated when they decided to steal the show out from under its hosts. Moonwalking, fist fighting, humping Al Roker's leg. It's all there. Skip to the 2-minute mark and check it out. Then go out and buy yourself the best parody of Obama art I've seen, which i must post here though i'm so sick of that poster and its thousand other incarnations. Admiral Ackbar, ladies and gentlemen, wins the game and gets my vote.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
One: all of the best family films appeal to all ages. I'm sure if The Wizard of Oz was made today it would be released to an uproar of overprotective parents crying foul as Dorothy wandered through a world ruled by a figurehead, terrorized by shrew of a woman with a band of incomplete projections of neighbors and relatives. Two: give your kids some credit. They're likely familiar with concepts like divorce and loneliness, and guess what? Most of them actually quite like large furry monsters. Crazy, right? Don't project your own uncertainties and views of the events in the film onto your children. They don't see what you see in the film, and they're capable of processing something other than fart jokes. Three: i'm pretty sure if you don't understand this film you've completely lost touch with what it was actually like to be a kid. This is not. I repeat, NOT, hipster posturing. Where the Wild Things Are is an honest, sad, and beautiful film that does a remarkable job adapting what a young boy took from Maurice Sendak's brief picture book for the big screen. It feels, at every turn, like a labor of love.
Director Spike Jonze has been attached to this project in some capacity since before 2005, and thank god for it. Jonze understood the delicate nature of the project, and the reverence the book is held in for the children who grew up with it. What could have, in the hands of Dreamworks animation studios or a Michael Bay megalomaniac, become a disaster of CGI antics and overwhelming schtick is instead a love note not merely to Sendak and the Wild Things, but to childhood. He takes the plight of 9-year old Max (Max Records) seriously, never trivializing the weight and repercussions of the situation in the boy's mind. We are shown the events leading up to Max's flight of fantasy, and I was moved by how relatable they felt, how many times I'd been that person or seen that happen to someone else. Every snowball fight, every accidental nose bleed came rushing back. For me, it was like Proust's madeleine, and it hit me. Hard. Yet, my personal reaction has little to do with the merit of the film itself. The movie doesn't just manage to make Max a three-dimensional character, Jonze also, as I'm sure you're well aware by now, takes the Wild Things themselves quite seriously. As possibly imaginary projections of Max's psyche, they bicker and fight, alternating between highs and lows and bursts of energy. They're hulking beasts with children's souls, unaware of the pain that they're capable of inflicting, but preternaturally aware of the injustices done to them. Carol (James Gandolfini) is prone to destructive fits of melancholic rage. He wants to keep the Things together, and doesn't know how to allow KW (Lauren Ambrose) to make room in her life for more. Judith (Catherine O'Hara), believes that everyone is out to get her, she can't deal with coming in second. Alexander (Paul Dano), suffers from a lack of self-worth. He believes that no one ever pays attention to him, and acts out accordingly. This is a new kind of storybook monster: one who isn't scary because of the size of their teeth, but who instead is worrisome simply because its ego is so fragile.
Monsters like this are difficult. They're difficult because they're real, we see them as ourselves where we would rather see fantasy. Yet, the way they've been brought to life is astounding, their physical and emotional presence something to be reckoned with. Records and the 9-foot tall Henson Company produced puppets interact in a way that's flowing and natural. Everything about the progression of events seems unforced. Records, too, is something of a revelation. He never comes across as cheeky or cloying. He's an innocent, reacting accordingly to situations as they occur. If the boy isn't actually having the time of his life on Jonze's set, he's probably deserving of an Academy Award. Here, at last, is a movie that portrays children as they are. Not as ignorant, harmless, cutesy pieces of furniture to be used for comic relief, but as small people slowly learning the ins-and-outs of being human. Nobody can be happy all of the time, and some things can't be changed with a simple proclamation. Life isn't always a wild rumpus, and while many of life's problems go away with everyone harmoniously sleeping in a big pile, they'll just return come morning. The film's emotional core is one of heartache and frustration, ultimately optimistic, but in a way slightly more resigned than it was going in.
The doubters, however, will find a foothold in the fact that the film is paced a little slowly. It's less children's movie than meditation on children, and while it's exquisite throughout, for those not content to take in the scenery, it might not be quite the wild terrain expected. Otherwise, Where the Wild Things Are has all the makings of a classic. It's a breathtaking, timeless work of art that is a tribute to the talents of all of its creators, from Sendak to Jonze to the smallest of actors. While it's sure to cause derision, let the haters hate. The people who fall in love with this film will cherish it and keep it alive for generations to come.
5 out of 5
For more of Wilde.Dash's Reviews, visit Love & Squalor.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Studs. All of 'em. Like, duh.Also, were you aware that Thursday marked UNICEF's second annual Global Handwashing Day? Japanese dancer Kaiji Moriyama choreographed a little folk dance to help you remember how to scrub. It's so easy to learn, soon, you're gonna be doint it at the H1N1 Prom (soap sud hat not required).
Thursday, October 15, 2009
At its most basic, Antichrist is the tale of a couple experiencing some marital difficulties. Yes, this is the biggest understatement of the century for a film that plunges its viewers rapidly through all nine circles of hell, but believe me when I tell you the core of the plot is remarkably simple. A married couple loses their son, She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) experiences intensely traumatic grief, He (Willem Dafoe) attempts to help her through it via cognitive behavioral therapy (which Von Trier himself, a victim of intense phobias, is no stranger to). In his attempts to treat her, they travel to Eden, their cabin in an isolated woods. Needless to say, his plan backfires. To the extreme. There are no subplots, no extra characters, no distractions. The viewer is fully immersed in the intense despair and emotional darkness of the situation. It weighs heavy, slowly building in tension to an explosive second half. This isn't a movie you can (or should) walk into blindly. It's also not a film most people should ever consider even watching. Seriously. If you aren't sure about it, don't watch it. Don't even start watching it.
To say Antichrist is the most effective horror movie I've ever seen is a truth, but a misleading one. The horror in this film is one governed by chaos and despair. It's a film with the potential to psychologically damage its viewer. The gore is too abundant for the average art house Von Trier fanatic, the artier elements, and severe emotional component, make it inaccessible to the average gore-hound. There's nothing fun about this film. It's emotional pornography. Graphic on all counts. Antichrist puts you through a wringer of shock and pathos. By the time [spoiler alert] Gainsbourg's deranged character screws a grindstone to Dafoe's leg and performs an epically disturbing bit of of his and her's on-screen genital mutilation, jacking off a prosthetic that spits blood and semen, you should be terrified. Not because it's especially frightening (though it's certainly more than a little cringe worthy), but because the film has established itself as existing in a world entirely without limits.
Strangely, in spite of the innumerable horrors, Antichrist is an incredibly beautiful film. Quite literally stunning. In many ways it's a spectacular achievement. The acting, unrehearsed, is electric. Charlotte Gainsbourg's portrayal of grief and madness spans far beyond basic histrionics. Her anxiety is palpable. She shakes, contorts, and fully puts herself at the mercy of the film. If she's ignored by the Academy this year in favor of that Hilary Swank bio-pic, it'll be a travesty. Additionally, Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography is lush and dazzling, capturing the disquiet of nature and the eerie calm of the waking dream sequences. Slow motion hasn't been used to capture such remarkable results since Neo manipulated the matrix. Acting and visuals aside, there's something amid the madness and mythology that resonates as true.
Antichrist is a startling cinematic representation of the deepest depths of despair. It's nihilistic, brutal, and filled with the heaviest of tragedies. Of Von Trier's films, this is perhaps his strongest statement, certainly the most effecting. Where Dogville and Dancer in the Dark feel less like films than textbooks on film theory, Antichrist is a solid work, and in many ways a perversely entertaining piece of cinema. It keeps the tension up and the viewer thoroughly hypnotized. Early claims that this was the director's on-screen mental breakdown are valid, though if this is the product of insanity he should consider reaching the event horizon more often. At the Chicago International Film Fest screening I attended, Dafoe spoke of his knowledge of Lars Von Trier's struggles with depression and the director's rather wry outlook on the film. The way Dafoe sees it, any issues of the director's rumored misogyny are to be disregarded. Where the female issues presented in the film leave room for discussion, Gainsbourg's maniacal grief seems an expression aligned with the director's own psychology, not a debilitating fear of female empowerment.
An exercise in cruelty and profound despair, its been days since I've viewed the film and I can't seem to shake it. Every scene is burned into my memory. Its left its mark. I'm both in awe and thoroughly shaken. I can't recommend Antichrist to you. You have to make that decision on your own. As suggested, there's nothing pleasant to be found here, even the folkloric animals leave a bad taste in one's mouth, and for those dealing with psychological issues of their own, avoidance may be, no, is the best policy. What I can say is that the film is jarring, an impressive reminder of the power and capability of art and the reach of cinema. I've a new found respect for Von Trier's creative vision and his fearless execution of a story set so deep dangerous terrain. When the credits rolled I applauded like my life depended on it.
4.5 out of 5.
Read all of Wilde.Dash's reviews at Love & Squalor.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
The film follows Mels (Anton Shagin), a university student whose life is a series of communist activities. His idea of an eventful evening is assisting in raiding hipster parties, catching dissidents while repressed leader Katya (Evgeniya Khirivskaya) cuts at their fancy duds with a pair of scissors. Then he meets the lovely Polina (Oksana Akinshina), a pretty young thing who outsmarts him and introduces him to the charms of freewheeling and fetishized Americana. Soon, Mels is 'Mel', he's learning the saxophone, partying on 'Broadway' with 'Polly', 'Fred', 'Bob' and the gang, taking dance lessons and shaking off bystanders who claim he's a traitor.
Hipsters is at heart a feel good movie that triumphs individualism. In this respect, it's a crowd pleaser and sure to strike a cord with American audiences. It's vibrant, endearing, consistently upbeat, and beautifully filmed all while casting a critical glance at Russia's relatively recent political past. Todorovskiy is making a profound statement in casting these misfits as heroes. In fact, following the movie's presentation at the Chicago International Film Festival he suggested that within Russia the population is still holding itself back. The people don't want to be free, they suffer from a certain amount of self-oppression. In effect, the Stilyagi still have much to teach Russia about dancing to its own rhythm. It's a rather beautiful thought, and seemed to resonate with an audience primarily of excited Russian ex-pats, including a 75-year old woman who congratulated Todorovskiy on an accurate presentation of her own girlhood.
Yet, I'm not so sure the film will resonate with a general English-speaking audience. Its spirit is infectious, this much is true. And there's no doubt it's cinematographically sparkling and the musical numbers are fun to watch...but I couldn't shake the feeling that something was getting lost in translation. The plot is a little uneven, failing to give certain characters a fair amount of characterization while hinting at the back story of others. Several plot lines don't feel effectively wrapped up by the films conclusion. Without revealing any spoilers, there's a hopeful song sequence at the end that's tainted by a handful of unfortunate events and the revealing of unexpected information. Plus, admittedly, there's always something about reading subtitled forced rhymes while listening to a song that can't quite reconcile itself in my mind. Yet...Hipsters is fun. Jumpy, yes, but fun. It's likable. And sometimes likability outweighs a little bit of logic. It feels like the most saccharine elements of Cry-Baby met the underdog gravitas of Slumdog Millionaire and had a little Soviet lovechild. Here's hoping that one day, you'll get to see more than the un-subtitled snippets on Youtube. By the way: here's my favorite song from the flick:
3.5 out of 5.
Michael Stuhlbarg, a relative newcomer with a series of small television appearances, puts in a starmaking performance as Larry Gopnick, a physics professor operating in mathematical proofs while his life is playing out like a test of Murphy's Law. His wife is leaving him for a serious man, his live-in brother is teetering on the edge of insanity, his son is smoking pot in the Hebrew school bathroom, his daughter wants a nose job, his student is trying to bribe him, I won't tell you the rest. It's 1967, the world is in turmoil, Grace Slick provides the backing vocals to an escalating series of calamities. Gopnick is a modern day Job, being tested and put through the wringer, forced to seek counsel and solace in a trio of nonsense spewing rabbis. For anyone with casual Judaism in their background, or with enough Jewish acquaintances, it's fully loaded with a familiar sardonic tone. A certain instilled fear of the powers that be and the reticent self-loathing created by a suburban life surrounded by gentiles.Yet, it avoids the traps of stereotyping and instead gracefully uses that which is familiar as the ground work for a story rich in characterization and heavy with sly humor. Stuhlbarg is phenomenal, playing his character with enough warmth to keep us caring. He's never a sad sack or a loser, but always a little optimistic, a little cheeky, plugging away at his life and career even as life continues to spin into rapid decline. Stuhlbarg's not the only strong suit, either. Each actor is an exemplar of pitch perfect casting. Sari Lennick, as Larry's wife Judith, is appropriately menacing. The look on her face is one of permanent icy contempt. Fred Melamed, too, is a scene-grabber. As Judith's lover Sy Ableman, he's a pompous man with a silver tongue, who inserts himself seamlessly into the Gopnick family with a bear hug and the condescending delivery of a bottle of wine. Even the kids are remarkably deadpan, carrying out their small rivalry without veering towards any sign of overacting.
I'm in the camp that enjoyed No Country For Old Men, but I will not hesitate to claim that A Serious Man is the Coen's best film in over a decade. 1998's The Big Lebowski was the last slam dunk of theirs in my book, and A Serious Man is every bit as humorous and effective. Really. This is a serious return to form marked by a cast of brilliant unknowns, a meandering approach to the metaphysical and philosophical conundrums of modern living, and (as usual) some solid cinematography. While it doesn't scream box office success, I suspect it will most certainly be taking up one of the ten spaces on the list of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture.
5 out of 5.
Read all of Wilde.Dash's reviews at Love & Squalor.
Friday, October 9, 2009
In other off topic and random news: President Obama received a Nobel Peace Prize. That's funny, I always thought something greater than discussion and promises was sort of required in order to be awarded one of those. Now that I know otherwise, i fully intend to win one by 2015.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
So I was surfing ONTD this morning, looking for something slightly more interesting than your standard "my god, Lindsay Lohan looks like Sharon Stone at age 80" post, and stumbled upon something that I found too ridiculous not to re-post. Stop, wait, let me specify: too ridiculous, too hilarious, and yet also equally disturbing. Like, while i'm laughing i'm scrunching up my nose in distaste. Male Disney characters as beefcake pin-ups. I know its been done a million times to the princesses, so it's perfectly fair game. I also recall knowing many a girl at age 7 who thought The Little Mermaid's Prince Eric was an ideal man. Yet, I still feel like ick. Because I like to share that feeling with others: I obviously must present these images to you as well. As far as I can tell, the drawings are old news that can be tracked back to the deviantART page for someone called davidkawena, who has clearly stumbled upon a niche market for Disney fetishists. Yes, that first one is supposed to be John Smith from Pocahontas. I've also re-posted a seriously buffed out David from Lilo and Stitch, so you too can exclaim "nonsense, he doesn't have a nipple ring!", or you can just see them all here. Yes, i can't really control my immature laughter right now.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Zombieland achieves that which is perhaps most difficult in cinema: a successful blending of comedy, action, gore and brains that stays perpetually upbeat and doesn't become a victim of its own absurdity. This is perhaps first and foremost thanks to its atypical cast of characters, and the actors chosen to portray them. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is our leading man and narrator, a scrawny college kid whose life prior to the spread of a zombie plague had consisted mostly of video games and isolation. He lives his life according to a series of rules for survival, traveling light with a single suitcase and a gun at his side. Along the way he teams up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) a rough and tumble zombie killing enthusiast hoping for little more than the last Twinkie on Earth (believe it or not, they have an expiration date). Add to it a pair of smart-mouthed sister grifters Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone & Abigail Breslin) and you've got a movie that could have easily been a formulaic teeny-bopper story. One adult, two semi-adults, and a kid on the run from monsters. Yet, even if it didn't have gratuitous amounts of blood, Zombieland would still manage to evade the traps set up for it. The characters are survivors, not because they're unbelievably stoic or off-the-wall caricatures, but because they're clever people with realistic dilemmas. Sure there are some obvious visual gags and familiar tropes, but these aren't 2-dimensional action heroes who get off on one liners and crude puns. These are small heroes seeking a way to get by, throughout the trials and tribulations of a zombie infestation, incalculable loss, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Director Ruben Fleischer executes his first major film with exuberance and ease. There's nary a moment in its 81-minute run where Zombieland feels forced, labored, or at all dull. In fact, it's safe to say that it's as charming as it is awesome. It's a mad cap fun house, a roller coaster, the whole damn amusement park. Simply put: it's fun, not in a way that felt like empty entertainment, but in a way that's almost comforting. There's something about this particular brand of schlocky horror merged with the pleasant natures of the characters that makes me smile just thinking about it. Maybe it's a certain brand of nostalgia, maybe it's the cheery suspension of disbelief, maybe it's the brilliantly positioned Bill Murray cameo, but there's something about Zombieland and its unlikely heroes that I can unabashedly own up not to liking, but to loving.
Is it a guilty pleasure? Possibly. Though I think it's legitimately better than that. This is artfully crafted, truly solid entertainment that's paced perfectly. The zombies appear when necessarily, external plot devices are brought in for humorous effect, the opening credits are a slow-motion blood ballet, and Jesse Eisenberg's neurotic presence brings a much needed wit and wisdom to the genre. Frankly, while the weapons may appear too readily available, there's a few quick coincidences, and Stone & Breslin's characters could use just a tad more screen time, the faults of the film are minimal. It may not be a great work of art, but it's sure as hell worth dropping cash on at the theater.
See all of Wilde.Dash's reviews at Love & Squalor.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Not only have i made the 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense my film pick this week, but i've decided that the video of David Byrne interviewing David Byrne needs to be posted. Why? Because it's awesome. There is no other reason. A robotic Byrne in the famous Big Suit being interviewed by a slew of alter ego David Byrnes. It's great. I'll tell you later.
Ellen Page is the star and standout as small-town teen Bliss Cavendar, high school student and BBQ waitress extraordinaire, whose extracurricular are limited to her mother's (Marcia Gay Harden) misplaced devotion to beauty pageants. Bliss, directionless and bored, finds an accidental outlet in the Austin roller derby scene. She's in awe of the women she sees kicking ass on 8-wheels, who we can assume appear to her (after years with blue hairs and Texas football) like tangible rock stars. After a brief yet encouraging conversation with a Hurl Scout team member, Bliss decides to bite the bullet and try out. Soon, she's the Scout's newest member: Babe Ruthless. From there the plot plays out essentially as expected, through a push pull of responsibilities and new found passion, with extra doses of fishnets and shoving. Like I said, the story isn't necessarily something brand new. It's operating within a handful of established tropes. Yet, the delivery is something special.
Whip It is a film totally free of the plastic pressures of so many other coming of age stories aimed at girls. There's no sense here of Bliss needing to compromise herself or bend to school cliques, boyfriends, or traditional standard of beauty. In fact, Barrymore has successfully managed to shirk most instances of cattiness altogether, creating a real sense of community (even in competition) between the rollicking derby girls. There is something to be said about the deft execution of a feminist film that manages to be remarkably charming while remaining thoroughly true to itself. I'd even argue that this is the antidote to a generation of girls currently under the thrall of Twilight's backwards thinking. But...that's a story for another time.
Overall, the film resists the traps of drippy chick flicks and saccharine mother-daughter tales the way a derby girl dodges an unruly elbow. It's smart with a good dose of attitude and realism. Ellen Page successfully manages to become someone other than smart-mouthed Juno, and is adorably awkward and hesitant in her rebellion. The rest of the cast has been filled in perfectly as well. It's nice to see Kristen Wiig toned down, Alia Shawkat outside of "Arrested Development", Zoe Bell (Death Proof) smiling through her stunts, and Juliette Lewis, well, back. While Whip It may not be perfect it's an entertaining and satisfying film that makes for an impressive enough debut feature for director Drew Barrymore. It should be noted, also, that Barrymore knows her way around a soundtrack.
4 out of 5.
See all of Wilde.Dash's reviews at Love & Squalor.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Friday, October 2, 2009
Let's review the list, alright? Actually, just so we can effectively gauge how big of a leap this sequel soundtrack is, let's post the tracks for Twilight first.
"Supermassive Black Hole" (Muse) – 3:31
"Decode" (Paramore) – 4:21
"Full Moon" (The Black Ghosts) – 3:50
"Leave Out All the Rest" (Linkin Park) – 3:19
"Spotlight" (Twilight Mix) (Mute Math) – 3:20
"Go All the Way (Into the Twilight)" (Perry Farrell) – 3:27
"Tremble for My Beloved" (Collective Soul) – 3:53
"I Caught Myself" (Paramore) – 3:55
"Eyes on Fire" (Blue Foundation) – 5:01
"Never Think" (Robert Pattinson) – 4:30
"Flightless Bird, American Mouth" (Iron & Wine) – 4:02
"Bella's Lullaby" (Carter Burwell) – 2:20
1. DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE – MEET ME ON THE EQUINOX
2. BAND OF SKULLS – FRIENDS
3. THOM YORKE – HEARING DAMAGE
4. LYKKE LI – POSSIBILITY
5. THE KILLERS – A WHITE DEMON LOVE SONG
6. ANYA MARINA – SATELLITE HEART
7. MUSE – I BELONG TO YOU (NEW MOON REMIX)
8. BON IVER & ST. VINCENT – ROSYLN
9. BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB – DONE ALL WRONG
10. HURRICANE BELLS – MONSTERS
11. SEA WOLF – THE VIOLET HOUR
12. OK GO – SHOOTING THE MOON
13. GRIZZLY BEAR WITH VICTORIA LEGRAND – SLOW LIFE
14. EDITORS – NO SOUND BUT THE WIND
15. ALEXANDRE DESPLAT – NEW MOON (THE MEADOW)
16. Lupe Fiasco – Solar Midnite
Tune in next time when i rant about one of the following: New Moon's heinous poster art, the superiority of many a teenybopper fad over Twilight, Stephanie Meyer's subconscious vendetta against feminism.
The terrible things, if we're to take Letterman's on-air confession at face value, are limited mostly to affairs with women under his employ. Skeevy, yes, but if between consensual adults, probably not "terrible". The CNN-analysis pointed out that Letterman has long had a roguish persona, and held out on marrying long-time partner Regina Lasko until this past March. While his supposedly committed status might cause him to lose some viewers in middle America, he's not exactly a moral-spewing politician who can be charged as a hypocrite and run out of town. Should we be waiting for the other shoe to drop? Probably. But right now i'd put money on Halderman being a little aggrieved after a bad break-up. According to the New York Daily News, Halderman, a producer for shows like 48 Hours recently broke up with live-in girlfriend (and Letterman staffer) Stephanie Birkitt. Birkitt has been reported as being involved previously with Letterman prior to the birth of his son in 2003. Coincidence? I'm going to guess not. Lesson in how not to earn $2 mil the easy way? Learned.