The House


Doctor Who

Doctor Who must be the only show that can dish up slaughtering Santas and killer Christmas trees in such a manner that you don't instinctively reach for the remote, but instead surrender to its kitschy convictions: It tacks a silent "f" onto "universe". (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)

Despite being the 10th Doctor story and the debut of the Season Two production block, "The Christmas Invasion" feels like a coda for Season One. It begins with a "tracking shot" from outer space that zooms down onto the Powell estate and into Jackie's flat identical to the first shot of the first episode, "Rose." It picks up mere moments after "The Parting of the Ways," with new Doctor David Tennant stumbling out of the TARDIS still wearing his predecessor Christopher Eccleston's clothing. Jackie and Mickey both still live lives of tedium, with Rose always at the front of their thoughts. It features the return of Harriet Jones (Penelope Wilton) from "Aliens of London." And costar Billie Piper still has long hair and dresses like a teenager.

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TAGS: Billie Piper, Christopher Eccleston, doctor who, murray gold, Penelope Wilton, the christmas invasion


Feast Last weekend marked a dubious footnote in movie history. After nearly a year's worth of delays, Feast, a.k.a. "The Project Greenlight movie," was finally released in theaters. Not that you heard about it. The movie was barely advertised, with much of the heavy lifting done by niche media and the internet; it was booked onto a handful of screens, predominantly in small art-house theaters in major cities. If hadn't been charting its release myself, odds are the film would have come and gone without my realizing it.

In an industry climate where $60 million productions are left for dead by their distributors after a disappointing Friday opening, there's nothing surprising about an inexpensive movie with questionable financial upside like Feast getting less than first-class treatment. But this is no ordinary act of disrespect. Feast was't just dumped, it was buried—given a two week release, playing just two days of the week (Friday and Saturday) for one show per day (the latest one theater owners would allow).

Granted, each year hundreds of features—a great many better than Feast—are never even projected in front of a paying audience. Films that five years ago might have gotten snatched up for theatrical distribution after a decent debut at Sundance or Toronto limp along unnoticed before collapsing onto a shelf at Blockbuster. This article won't address whether the treatment of Feast by its distributor was fair, but whether Feast—or for that matter, any film produced under the microscope of television cameras—has a chance at any sort of success, critical or financial.

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TAGS: balthazar getty, ben affleck, bob weinstein, chris moore, efram potelle, feast, harvey weinstein, Judah Friedlander, kevin williamson, Krista Allen, kyle rankin, matt damon, Navi Rawat, Pete Jones, project greenlight, stolen summer, the battle of shaker heights, thomas l. calloway, wes craven


Ron Perlman

In the new issue of Shock Cinema, House contributor Jeremiah Kipp interviews unconventional leading man Ron Perlman. Topics include Perlman's collaborations with Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro (City of Lost Children), Guillermo del Toro (Cronos, Hellboy) and Larry Fessenden (Wendigo); his experience playing a romantic lead under heavy makeup in CBS' Beauty and the Beast; his decision to go on the lam to avoid $5000 in parking tickets, and his strange interlude working with Marlon Brando on The Island of Dr. Moreau:

You ever watch The Honeymooners? You ever see Ralph Kramden when he gets into a situation where he's a little over his head. 'Hummana-hummana-hummana-hummana!' And every moment I was in Brando's presence it was like that. I know there's a lot of people like me who have an unhealthy fascination with Brando, and I say unhealthy because it's completely over the top, it dwarfs all rationality. The fact that I was just going to be in his presence meant so much to me. What he was able to achieve as an actor during those certain parts of his career where he decided to apply himself—which was only three performances, really, as far as I'm concerned—he accomplished things that no one else will ever be able to touch, unquestionably. To me, he's a God. What do you do when you get near a God? You just watch them. I spent so much time observing Marlon on that movie that I kept missing my own lines. I would hear him say (Brando imitation), "It's your line." And I said, "I wonder who he's talking to." Then he'd say, "Hey you, the blind guy, it's your line." I went, "Oh shit, it's me!"...

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TAGS: jeremiah kipp, ron perlman, shock cinema


Belle Toujours

It's easy to call Manoel de Oliveira's Belle Toujours—a derelict appendage to Luis Buñuel's Belle de jour—an homage, but look beyond the desiccated parallels to its cause célèbre predecessor (e.g.: Bulle Ogier standing in for Catherine Deneuve as a not-so-obscure object of desire; an out-of-nowhere appearance by a rooster—seemingly matted into frame—strutting along a luxurious hotel hallway) and there's little of substance beyond a slightly pleasurable twinge of recognition. We can all shudder with delight as Henri Husson (Michel Piccoli) plays retroactive mindgames with Séverine Serizy (Ogier), teasing her during a candlelight dinner with answers to questions that will inevitably fold back on themselves. But it's all a childish diversion: during a beautifully composed chiaroscuro long-take, Henri pokes and prods Séverine about the contents of the prior film's famed buzzing box, yet the dialogue doesn't play with anything approaching Buñuel's level of cruelty, his profoundly (under)cutting view of the world (this is the man, remember, who not only showed Christ coming out of the 120 Days of Sodom, but then turning right around and going back in).

Buñuel tears the gates of perception asunder; de Oliveira, at least in Belle Toujours, keeps us decidedly earthbound. This might be part of the point: to show, essentially, how the characters' unhinged fantasy lives have been tempered by age, with all the resultant hemming and hawing about lost youth that, placed within a slightly different framework, might well be entitled Trip to Bountiful. But this thesis presumes, however unintentionally, that Buñuel differentiates between waking and dreaming states, which is the very "bourgeois" concept (one of many) that he works to break down in Belle de jour and one that de Oliveira (whom Ed Gonzalez, in his Slant Magazine review, correctly fingers as an "aesthete") resurrects for his "sequel."

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TAGS: belle toujours, bulle ogier, ed gonzalez, Julia Buisel, Leonor Baldaque, manoel de oliveira, michel piccoli, new york film festival, ricardo trêpa, slant magazine


Review: Jafar Panahi's Offside

Offside

No offense to Marie Antoinette and Hong Sang-soo's Woman on the Beach, but the highlight so far of The 44th New York Film Festival has been Jafar Panahi's Offside, another cyclically crafted jewel in the spectacular crown of Iran's national cinema—a sterling example of grace resonating from grueling cultural pressure. Much has been written about this film as a lightweight version of Panahi's The Circle, but it appears to share more DNA with Crimson Gold, another masterwork about seemingly irrevocable forces locking people into suffocating social strata. Separating Offside from The Circle and Crimson Gold is, yes, its humor, but don't let anyone downplay its complex disquisition on sexual and identity politics and vibrant illumination of the crippling frustration of social exclusion that provokes the film's women to revolution when they dress up as men in order to sneak into the soccer stadium where their country's team competes for a chance to go to the World Cup. The resilience of these women to be included in the nationalist reverie their men would deny them is something that is alternately heartbreaking and fierce. How sad that they are kept behind barricades for much of the film (some might call this group of women an axis of evil), mere feet away from a entryway that would allow them a glimpse of the vast green field of grass where the country's team competes for a chance to validate its own worth to the world. Panahi puts us in the shoes of his heroines, denying us a vision of that green for much of the film—that is, until an officer runs into the stadium to chase after one of his captives. When the field explodes on the screen, the sense of freedom its colors impart washes over us and seeps into our hearts and minds with the euphoria of a paradise found. Panahi and his actors, through incisive wit and drama, not only illuminate the absurdity of how women are denied every day pleasures in Iran but the ease with which communication melts the barriers that separate the country's men and women. This has always been the humanist Panahi's stock-in-trade: tragedy spectacularly laced with hope.

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TAGS: crimson gold, jafar panahi, offside, the circle


FernGully: The Last Rainforest

Mike D'Angelo's turned it into an art form. Several colleagues claim never to do it. I prefer to stick it out, but often find my professional moral code bending irrevocably in the wake of the truly, truly godawful. Todd Solondz's intentionally crude Palindromes drove me off after its Freaks-inspired dinner scene. Oliver Stone's The Doors so pummeled me with its sensory bombast that I ran screaming for cover. The insipid animated musical FernGully: The Last Rainforest lost my goodwill after Robin Williams's Dolby-thudding rap interlude. Not to come off all high-and-mighty, for I suspect that these examples reveal more about my personal hangups and foibles than I normally care to let on. The question (with resultant self-analysis) is therefore begged: What movies have driven you to legs-in-motion revolt?

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TAGS: ferngully: the last rainforest, freaks, mike d'angelo, oliver stone, palindromes, the doors, todd solondz


Little Children

The unrestrained (and rather excellent) trailer for Todd Field's Little Children would have us believe that the Whore of Babylon (possibly Kate Winslet) is coming for us on NJ Transit, with Pandora's Box in hand. Expertly groomed for Oscar, this laughable concoction barely passes for satire—it is, nothing more nothing less, than the most pretentious film ever made about the problems festering in our suburban neighborhoods. Field literally and depressingly dehumanizes our world, shooting his actors in such a way that they come to resemble objects in a glass menagerie—animals (or fauna) trapped behind the bars, glass, and cages of a zoo (here, the white-picket fences of American suburbia), with the film's droll narration interpreting their feelings so we don't have to. This isn't art, it's reductivism, and the film is such that Winslet, a frustrated wife with a masters degree in English literature, will enter a room—furrowing her brow and thinking about porking Patrick Wilson's "The Prom King"—with the narrator annotating, "Sarah entered the room, furrowing her brow and thinking about what it would be like to pork Brad." Mixed into this condescending hogwash of Sarah and Brad's unhappy lives and their attempts to stay loyal to their equally fucked-up spouses is the drama of a child molester, Ronald (Jackie Earle Haley), who returns to town after a two-year jail sentence; his every step is monitored by the insane Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich), a former police officer with skeletons in his own closet. The point of this hollow provocation, as voiced by a gossipy mom Sara lectures about Madame Bovary (one of two Great Books mentioned by the story as a means of conveying the film's Not So Great Themes), is that evil comes in different shapes and sizes, and that showing your pee-pee to someone you know can be as bad as showing it to someone you don't. So, Sara and Brad are as retarded as Ronald (they are—wait for it—all little children), but more exciting will be trying to figure out who's going to fucking "get it" on the Great American Beauty Scream Machine that takes off during the final minutes. Someone needs to promise me that they'll edit a mash-up of this movie and scenes of Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons screaming, "Will someone please think of the children!" Maybe then the dead seriousness of this shitstorm will become apparent to everyone.

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TAGS: jackie earle haley, kate winslet, little children, patrick wilson, todd field


The 

Wire

"What happens when you ain't around to translate?" Bunny Colvin (Robert Wisdom) asks Deacon during this week's episode of The Wire after they meet with a pompous university professor who is considering Bunny as a research partner for a clinical study of repeat violent offenders. Bunny's claim not to speak the language of the social scientist belies his 30 years as a Baltimore policeman, during which he negotiated with groups of drug dealers and manned the podium at COMSTAT meetings while the upper brass hounded him over crime figures. Deacon (Melvin Williams, the real-life Avon Barksdale of the eighties) shrugs off the call for an interpreter. "Don't play ignorant on me, Bunny. You can back and forth with any of these guys."

Bunny needs the work, having lost, in succession, the full pension due a retired police major, his golden parachute running security for Johns Hopkins (both casualties of his experiment, "Hamsterdam," to legalize drugs in his district, which yielded both a 14% drop in violent crime and a massive political shitstorm), and his security job at a downtown hotel (the result of his failing to give special treatment to a "friend of the hotel" who beats up a hooker). The academic is Dr. David Parenti (Dan DeLuca), who seeks a liaison to the corner, his own training being insufficient for navigating, as he calls it, " the urban environment." Go alone, Bunny agrees, "and they sell your tenured ass for parts." Parenti's project aims to study rehabilitation options for criminals ages 18 to 21, that is until Parenti interviews an actual 18-year old in custody and encounters a level of menace that sends him scurrying from the room. "Look," he bargains, "I'm ready to acknowledge that, um, 18 to 21 might be too seasoned." Hoping to sidestep the cycle where the subjects only spark the outside world's attention after they enter the justice system, Bunny steers Parenti's project to Edward J. Tilghman Middle School, where they might find subjects more receptive to a little social engineering.

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TAGS: amy ryan, anwan glover, boris mcgiver, Chad L. Coleman, clarke peters, Dan DeLuca, Gbenga Akinnagbe, home rooms, Idris Elba, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jaime Hector, JD Williams, Jim True-Frost, john doman, maestro harrell, melvin williams, Michael K. Williams, recap, Robert Wisdom, the wire, Tristan Wilds, Wendell Pierce


The Last King of Scotland

Members of some critics group (The National Board of Review? Broadcast Film Critics Association?), including Gold Derby's Tom O'Neil, have clearly been listening to the hype from Toronto, because they traipsed into a screening where Kevin Macdonald's The Last King of Scotland was playing like zombies following a trail of breadcrumbs to a hungry old witch's house. In this case, the house was a racist one, and inside it lived a big, sweaty, angry black man named Idi Amin, Uganda's fascist president from 1971 to 1979, played by Forest Whitaker with one eye (and half of another one) set on Oscar gold. A man at the screening passed a piece of paper (a scorecard, perhaps?) to his cohorts, but I couldn't get close enough to anyone (I was, after all, hunched down close to the floor for much of the screening) to see what was written on them. Here's a guess: "The Last King of Scotland makes me think of (a) The Constant Gardener, (b) Misery, (c) Amos 'N' Andy, or (d) All of the above." This godawful film is a vile transparency—approximating through its fictional lead character (a white doctor who spins a globe, closes his eyes, and plops his finger on Uganda—yaaaaaaaaaaay!) what it might be like for, well, members of The National Board of Review to be air dropped into the middle of Africa. It's in Uganda that Nicholas (James McAvoy) befriends Idi Amin and becomes his personal physician, which mostly consists of helping (no joke) the dictator release a whirlwind of gas from his lower intestines. Poor Whitaker has nothing to work with here, asked only to wobble into frame intermittingly and scare the shit out of everyone. Alas, the focus of the film, as in The Constant Gardener, is the liberal quilt and romantic troubles of its white characters: In this case, Nicholas learns that his best bud is none too nice but nonetheless decides to sleep with one of the dictator's wives. In case you don't get the point that Nicholas is martyring himself for Uganda, there's a horrible little scene in the film where Idi Amin's cronies stick hooks through the young man's chest and hang him from the ceiling! And for the NBR crowd, the film ends with cute archival footage of the real Idi Amin that serves no function other than to help Oscar hounds determine if Whitaker's approximation of the dictator's physical essence was spot on. The stench of the film is overwhelming, signaling the start of the Oscar season.

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TAGS: forest whitaker, james mcavoy, kevin macdonald, the last king of scotland


The 

Wire

I

"When you walk through the garden
you gotta watch your back.
Well I beg your pardon
walk the straight and narrow track
."

—Tom Waits, "Way Down in the Hole"

The Wire returned Sunday, September 10th after two years in limbo, a stretch equal to the last Sopranos hiatus. Yet while The Sopranos' production gap was seen as an affront to the show's fan base, The Wire languished in relative silence. Its largely non-white cast, tangled narrative, and bleak assessment of public institutions pretty much guaranteed a minuscule audience so it was unsurprising that HBO chairman Chris Albrecht shelved the drama after three seasons and then told TV columnists, "I have received a telegram from every viewer of The Wire—all 250 of them."

After lobbying by fans and pitches by Simon, Albrecht reconsidered and gave the show another year (and the love continues: the show was recently picked up for a fifth and final season). Having viewed Season Four in its entirety, it seems to me that two years away from Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) and the gang may have actually been beneficial, giving the writers the necessary time to think about The Wire's vision of America and how each season progressively enlarges the scope of that vision.

Over time, the show has evolved from cops versus gang-bangers into a look at the similarities between organizations on both sides of the law, and how their struggle affects individual citizens and failing public institutions. Each main plot and subplot affirms that every part of society is somehow connected to every other part—that we're all part of the same (to use a phrase that often crops up in discussions of Deadwood) "human organism."

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TAGS: aidan gillen, Al Brown, Andre Royo, Bill Raymond, Chad L. Coleman, Chris Bauer, Dominic West, felicia pearson, geraldine peroni, Glynn Turman, homicide: life on the street, Idris Elba, Jaime Hector, James Ransone, Larry Gilliard Jr., melvin williams, Pablo Schreiber, robert altman, robert f. colesberry, Robert Wisdom, the wire, Wendell Pierce, Wood Harris







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