Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Unpopular pop fans, your prayers have been answered:
fairfax avenue: a jon brion resource.

Now go and revel in its goodness.

'Tis the season.

Who knew that writing about psychotic mutant hillbillies would be such a problem? I've been meaning to write about Alexandre Aja's remake of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes for months now. With Halloween upon us, I figure it's now or never.

I'm a little embarrassed over how much I love the film. It's such an unapologetically ugly film, full of extreme violence and an unrelenting pace. But that's why I've always loved the classic horror movies of the '70s and the early '80s: they're ruthless in execution (unintentional pun, I swear) and full of anxiety. I don't have a lot of love for the recent spate of horror films because most of them are so poorly paced and ineptly made. (Hello, Eli Roth.)

The Hills Have Eyes is all momentum and sick fluidity: it's smartly shot, judiciously cut, and competently acted. Sure, there's little to the plot (all-American family gets stuck in the desert, hillbilly mutants descend, chaos and carnage ensues) and the characters are all stock (former police detective Dad, loving Mom, two hot daughters, bumbling son-in-law). Honestly, that's what I want in a horror movie. I want a compendium of phobias rubbed in my face; I want it to be outlandish and unbelievable; above all, I want it to be scary. Hills is all of those things and a little more. Like those 70s/80s classics, it's all jittery about current events. This is where that I have problems whole-heartedly endorsing the film. (Deep breath) You see, I'd argue that Aja intends this film to be a pro-Iraq War/anti-insurgency rallying cry.

Consider the frame of the story: a Midwestern family makes a fatal error when they take seriously bad advice from a man they thought they could trust. They wind up stranded in the desert and quickly realize they've made a huge mistake. As night falls, the hillbilly mutant killers descend and really, really mess things up. (Arson, rape, torture, dog-killing, you name it.) It's kill or be killed now. Up until this point, the nebbish--i.e., liberal Jewish--son-in-law was a pacifist who refused to hold a gun. When he realizes exactly what's at stake (namely the safety of his wife and child), he picks up that gun... and an ax... and flammable liquids and learns to love warfare. He realizes that, yes, he's been lied to and should never have been in this situation, but by God, the threat is real and he's got to get some blood on his hands.

And exhale.

Before you think I'm insane and an asshole film nerd making shit up, Aja's flirtation with conservative politics emerged in his debut film, 2004's High Tension. That movie I can't abide by. Technically savvy: yes. But also illogical and plain dumb. Without really spoiling the film's much-touted shock twist, I'll just say that I'm not alone in thinking the entire film amounts to a crazed rant about how the gays are destroying the traditional family.

This is the point in the post where I suddenly ask myself: Wait, why do I like this movie again? Then I say: Oh yeah, because its primary objective (to make me really uncomfortable and scare the bejesus out of me) is more than met. The fact that the politics are repellent and naive is secondary to me. (I like that George Romero wrangles with Vietnam and consumerism in his Zombie movies, but that's not what makes them great; first and foremost they're effing creepy.) I don't need to be constantly coddled, I'm OK with debate. And I'm not going to lie: I'm amused that a 28 year-old Frenchmen seems to have the same world-view as Bill O'Reilly and he used Hollywood money to craft a hardcore exploitation film to express it. Then I realize that if O'Reilly ever saw the film, he'd probably consider it a sign of the apocalypse and try to have it banned. It's the gift that just keeps on giving.

Happy Halloween.

And on November 4th 7th, please vote against lying gas station attendants who tell you that the quickest way to California is on an unpaved road that goes through the desert. They're assholes and they need to go.

Monday, October 30, 2006

It's Monday. I know you could use a little love.

There's something theraputic about compiling a list/manifesto of lurve via e-mail. That's what I found myself doing the past couple of days with Nayiri, friend and co-editrix of Horny Gandhi. Ostensibly this is a list of things we mutually love; for the most part it really is. I will confess that I had to google a couple of her selections, and I really can't say that I love (or am even familiar with) some of her selections that deal with makeup, purses, and fashion-designers. But I trust her, she has impeccable taste. Anyway.

Here's our love parade.

We love:
1. Crispy, flaky, hot croissants. Preferably in Paris.
2. Paris.
3. Corrugated metal.
4. The Arrangement of Things by Ross Bleckner.
5. Eighties songs like "A New England" by Billy Bragg and "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" by Mission Of Burma.
6. Lost. (Yes, that includes Season Two and the new episodes. Shut it, haters.)
7. Dogs.
8. Coffee from The Diesel Cafe, Somerville, MA.
9. Good font usage.
10. Kristen Bell.
11. Archaic-sounding synonyms for slut, i.e. slattern, hussy, painted woman, floozy, tart, etc.
12. The Christian Bale oeuvre.
13. The word oeuvre.
14. Sigerson Morrison.
15. Zombies and the undead in general.
16. The Criterion Collection.
17. The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey.
18. Trivial Pursuit. (But only when played in teams and it gets mad contentious.)
19. Lunch.
20. Snark.
21. Chocolate mousse.
22. Harald.
23. Ann Patchett.
24. Cheese.
25. Danger Mouse, particularly his accent, his eyepatch and his little yellow car.
26. Danger Mouse, the producer.
27. Rum drinks.
28. Dead Baby Jokes.
29. Steven Soderbergh's work ethic.
30. "Laura Palmer's Theme."
31. The theme song and second version of the opening credits of "Homicide: Life on the Street."
32. Dirty martinis with extra olives.
33. Hong Kong.
34. HTML color charts.
35. The Behnaz Sarafpour, Doo.Ri, Lela Rose, Peter Som and Vera Wang collections for Spring 2007.
36. Everyday Italian with Giada De Laurentiis.
37. Mead Composition Notebooks.
38. Book covers/jackets designed by Chip Kidd.
39. New Order.
40. Xenu.
41. Vincent Cassel and Monica Belluci.
42. Shu Uemura makeup & paraphernalia.
43. Birds, particularly penguins, parrots, flamingos and sparrows.
44. Pedro Almodóvar.
45. Traveling, be it domestic, international, or intergalactic.
46. Garlic.
47. Wikipedia.
48. Largo.
49. Mark Romanek's music videos.
50. Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch in St. Louis
51. Butik.
52. Small Space, Big Style.
53. Regensburg.
54. Yelp.
55. Evan Rachel Wood.
56. Postcards.
57. Sleeping with the window(s) open.
58. The word "parapluie."
59. Cucumbers.
60. Lemony Snicket
61. Lake houses, and waterfront property.
62. Around the World in 80 Homes.
63. GQ.
64. Alexis Bittar jewelry.
65. Century Gothic.
66. Mary Louise Parker.
67. Taschen books.
68. Chamberlins.
69. David Bowie's Berlin period.
70. The celebrity guest appearances on Scooby Doo.
71. Good posture.
72. Proper use of punctuation.
73. Citrus fruits and fragrances.
74. David Ebershoff.
75. Harry and the Potters.
76. Carmel-by-the-Sea.
77. Sad Christmas songs.
78. Chick bassists.
79. Turner Classic Movies.
80. Saul Bass title sequences.
81. The Muse bag by Yves Saint Laurent in burnished gold calfhair.
82. Untying my boss's shoelaces when he's not looking.
83. The dancing styles of the Peanuts cast.
84. Elektra: Assassin, particularly Bill Sienkiewicz's artwork.
85. The Audrey Hepburn/Hubert de Givenchy collaboration.
86. Huy Fong chili paste/sauce.
87. "Waterloo Sunset" by The Kinks.
88. Sally O'Malley. (She likes to kick, stretch, and kick, she's fifty! Fifty years-old.)
89. Macacas For Webb.
90. Articulate contrarians.
91. The light at exactly 8.12 in the morning, EST.
92. "No One Will Ever Love You" by the Magnetic Fields.
93. The smell of tomatoes on the vine.
94. Lavender - the plant, the color, the fragrance.
95. Winston Krikorian.
96. Calvin & Hobbes.
97. Blueberry pancakes.
98. Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall.
99. Wong Kar-wai.
100. Lists.

No, I would not like to court.

(From Married To The Sea, sent to me by Joshua.)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Eyes, windows, soul, etc.

Yes, Marie Antoinette again.
As noted, I had major issues with it. Funny thing is, I can't get the damn thing out of my head, which, I guess, is a compliment. I mean, if you're going to make a mediocre movie, why not make it catchy like a pop song?

The thing that's sticking with me isn't so much a character or a scene, but a look. Literally a look. During the course of the film, Coppola repeatedly breaks the rules of Film School 101 and has Kirsten Dunst look directly into the camera. I'd need to re-watch the film to get a precise count, butI'd guess it happens three or four times.

The first occurrence is during the opening shot. Kiki is lounging on a couch, amid a collection of pastries, being attended to by a maid; as the Gang of Four's "Natural's Not It" climaxes, she turns her head and seductively looks directly into the camera. The camera/we hold her gaze for a moment and then scene cuts to black. It's simultaneously sexy/funny, a "come hither" and a "fuck you," and it's an undeniably great moment. (Alas, it's one of the few.)

Obviously, Sofia isn't the first to break this protocol. The final shot of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia has my favorite use of direct contact. After three hours of misery and heartbreak, the clouds are lifting; Claudia (Melora Walters) sits on a bed, listening to a lecture from Jim (John C. Reilly). Anderson pushes Reilly's speech way low in the mix; instead we're entirely focused on Walters' reaction and the song playing on the soundtrack, Aimee Mann's "Save Me." As the song reaches a crescendo, Walters raises her eyes, looks directly into the camera, and smiles. It's the first time in the film's entire running time that this major character actually smiles. (And if you've seen the film, you know that she's been through a lot and it really means something.) The camera holds on that smile for a beat before cutting to the credits. In a film full of great moments, Melora's eye contact/smile is a capper.

And now I'm blanking. I'm sure there are other truly great instances of actors looking directly at us, but nothing's jumping at me. Your picks?

Monday, October 23, 2006

When GOOD collides with EVIL.

A confession: I love nasty, below-the-belt political ads. And because some of my readers don't live in the California area, I fear that they will live their lives having never experienced the brilliance that is this anti-Jerry Brown ad.

My favorite parts: the sub-Fincher mise-en-scene and the Manson comparison. Enjoy. (Oh and if you have any particularly excellent forms of political hate speech from the YouTubes, I'd love some links in the comment section.)

Needless to say, Jerry Brown's got my vote.

Friday, October 20, 2006

A self-fulfilling prophecy.

When I walked out of an advance screening of Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou two years ago, I remember thinking "So this is what all his detractors saw in his earlier films." Precocious and two-dimensional, Anderson made the (perfecto) art direction and (flawless) soundtrack do all the heavy-lifting and couldn't be bothered with little things like, you know, a well-formed script or compelling characters. That said, Zissou isn't without its moments--even though it's done nothing to really merit it, I still get choked up when I see that Jaguar Shark/"In twelve years, he'll be eleven and a half"/Sigur Ros scene--it's just a huge let down.

Leaving Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette earlier this evening, I felt the same way. While The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation were impeccably-stylized and heartfelt shards of melancholy filmmaking, Marie Antoinette is... well, just what Coppola's critics have always maintained: a series of fashionable and pretty sequences, set to an excellent soundtrack, without an ounce of characterization or depth.

As many critics have noted, the first hour--documenting how a naive Austrian princess became the dauphine of France--is fine; Coppola's pop-lyricism meshes nicely with Chateau Versailles. The much-touted use of contempty music works surprisingly well and everything looks gorgeous. But as the film progresses, it's as if Sofia's lost any sense of rhythm or pace and can't be bothered to further develope her lead character. She starts frantically adding political elements, rushing through biographical bits, all in a last minute sprint to the end. Considering how many languid sequences of Marie exploring the grounds of Versailles we've sat through, it's odd to see the birth and death of a child take up a minute of screen time.

It's not that I'm demanding historical fidelity or a more political film--hardly. I think it's a smart move for Coppola to isolate us with Marie in this opulent cocoon, away from reality. I just wish that when reality, in the form of pissed off and starving masses, descended upon the chateau it had more of a punch. And if you're going to make a film entirely from Marie's POV, you've got to give you actress more than what's been given to poor Kirsten Dunst. There's no doubt that Kiki certainly looks the part, and as long as she's frolicking in a field at dawn, Aphex Twin on the soundtrack, all is well. But nearly every time she opens her mouth, the dialogue fails her. (It doesn't help that Ms. Dunst seems to literally chirp most of her lines; but for fear of giving fodder to the haters, I'm'a stop there.)

There are positives:
  • I will never tire of Coppola shooting golden sunlight through trees or pretty blonde women collapsing into tall grass.
  • Marianne Faithful as Marie's Mommy. That cigarette-cured voice... fuck yeah.
  • Somehow, some way, Sofia has managed to get Kevin Shields out from under his rock (again). True, his contributions are limited to two Bow Wow Wow remixes, but still. It's Kevin effing Shields, people.
  • Even though they're given next to nothing to do, it's fun to watch Molly Shannon kvetch with Shirley Henderson in insane period costumes.
  • When Marie/Kiki has her big meltdown, Coppola places the camera about four inches away from her face. It's an unexpected and ballsy move.
  • Did I mention the soundtrack?
  • Asia Argento = Best. Asia Argento with a pet monkey = better.
  • "I'm saying good-bye." Nice.

Leaving the screening, Tim nailed it when he said, "There's just no there there." Indeed. Le sigh.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

He went there.

As my admiration for Armond White surely attests, I love me verbose contrarians. It will come as no surprise to you, then, that Ian Parker's recent New Yorker profile of Christopher Hitchens was like Christmas morning for me. How can you deny a man who talks about the transformative power of Proust in one sentence and then drops this:
Hitchens claims to be unperturbed by his critics. "You'd think I'd driven over their pets and abducted their daughters," Hitchens said. "I'd like to know what brings them on." A pause. "So I could do it more." He added, "People say, 'What's it like to be a minority of one, or a kick-bag for the internet?' It washes off me like jizz off a porn star's face."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

So anyway.

Right, so where was I? Oh yeah... A list of random things I want to get out of the way. Huzzah for lists.
  • Two years ago I read Tom Perrota's Little Children. It didn't make a huge impact, but it was a pleasant enough read. Odd, as novels about sex predators and the havoc they create aren't normally "pleasant," but whatevs. It was well-written and smart enough and I enjoyed it. When I heard that Todd Fields was following up Granola Death Wish In the Bedroom by collaborating with Perrota on a film version of Little Children, I was intrigued. And when the eerie/ominous/beautiful trailer dropped, I was actually excited for the project.


    Look: I get it, the film's gorgeous. Antonio Calvache is a fine cinematographer. And yes, Kate Winslet is one of the best actresses working. Noted. But I have a really hard time sitting through two-plus hours of reactionary, puritanical claptrap masquerading as "progressive" satire. Sorry. Do we really need another film that tells us that the 'burbs are a hotbed of hypocrisy? Really? Oh I forgot, there's also a really weak bit of Iraq-allegory and a whole lot of anti-sex posturing. To recap: the suburbs are filled with hateful, ignorant people; fear controls us and that's stupid; porn is bad. Thanks, Todd, but no thanks.

    Of course, while Little Children is being ridiculously lavished with praise, John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus is being largely ignored. It's far from a perfect film, but it's legitimately progressive and patriotic and that's... well, refreshing.

  • Best passage from a book I couldn't manage to finish:
    "You will not apply for membership, but the tribe of the elderly will claim you. Your present will not keep pace with the world's. This slippage will stretch your skin, sag your skeleton, erode your hair and memory, make your skin turn opaque so your twitching organs and blue-cheese veins will be semivisible. You will venture out only in daylight, avoiding weekends and school holidays. Language, too, will leave you behind, betraying your tribal affiliations wherever you speak. On escalators, on trunk roads, in supermarket aisles, the living will overtake you, incessantly. Elegant women will not see you. Soon detectives will not see you. Salespeople will not see you, unless they sell stair lifts or fraudulent insurance policies. Only babies, cats, and drug addicts will acknowledge your existence. So do not fritter away your days. Sooner than you fear, you will stand before a mirror in a care home, look at your body, and think, E.T., locked in a ruddy cupboard for a ruddy fortnight."
    --David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas.

  • Worst passage from a book that I did manage to finish:
    "I was able to enter the room and stroll about and, magically, I did not get in the way of the Gestapo officer and the Chinaman who were having their way with Nicole [Kidman]. She wore a very revealing brassiere, a size or two too small, I calculated--how else was her bosom such a promontory? And her matching white panties were meshed with a garter belt that held up her long stockings. She gasped and sighed at every intrusion and indecency from her odd Abbot and Costello. You know the sort of thing."
    --David Thomson, Nicole Kidman.

  • Regarding David Thomson's Nicole Kidman:
    (1) Dude, "chinaman" is not the preferred nomenclature.
    (2) The book isn't as bad as the passage above. It's actually a really entertaining riff on Kidman's body of work.

  • When I was 12, this was, like, maybe the sickest shit ever:

    No, I'm not joking.

  • Trust me on this, bump Weeds: Season One to the top of your Netflix queue. Thank you.

  • Oh, one more: buy AIR's Late Night Tales pronto. I know, I know, just what you need, another chillout comp. I ask you this: how many chillout comps do you have that successfully segues a Cure song into a Black Sabbath song into a Nino Rota track? Yeah, that's what I thought. Buy it.

  • Monkey portraits!

  • And because it's been two months, an Armondism just for you:
    "The difference between Infamous and last year’s Capote is the difference between feeling and sophistication. Hoffman and his writer, director team Dan Futterman and Bennett Miller took pride in loathing Capote (a subtle, culturally accepted homophobia). They built their bad-art, Oscar-nominated reputations on Capote’s dead body while sneering that Capote had built his literary reputation on the deaths of Smith, Hickok and the Clutter family. It was an arrogant indie attempt at seeming superior to an artist of an earlier era. (There are Hitler biopics more compassionate than Capote.) This contempt gave itself away in the film’s pseudo-sophisticated literary exposé. But condemnation of Capote’s careerism actually reflected Hoffman’s own gloating egotism, his look-at-me stunt performance."