The House


Trouble Every Day

Trouble Every Day aches with spiritual dread. Using the iconography of vampire films to illustrate religious fervor, co-writer/director Claire Denis also shows reverence to the medium of film, particularly to the purity of silent movies. There's almost no dialogue, and what little there is feels like it takes place within the half-heard context of a dream. An early scene on an airplane features Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo) en route to Paris for his honeymoon, his comfort and security literally in midair. He politely excuses himself to the bathroom, stares blankly into the void, and remembers or envisions a murderess, or maybe a dying girl, covered in blood. There's no sense of shock to the image, but there's an unsettling fascination with the textures of wet skin and dried blood. The context isn't so much violence as repressed indulgence. Josh Hartnett may have gone 40 Days and 40 Nights without twenty-something sex or self-gratification, but Gallo's angst-ridden version of Lent is the perilous and hellish adult version.

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TAGS: alex descas, béatrice dalle, beau travail, buffalo 66, claire denis, Florence Loiret-Caille, i can't sleep, the brown bunny, trouble every day, vampyr, vincent gallo


Catching the Big Fish

David Lynch's voice has a diminutive, nasal inflection. You can hear the Pacific Northwest's gentility and echoes of a woodland youth. In his new book, Catching The Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, this calm is felt in each short, declarative sentence that makes up each short, welcoming chapter.

The book is slim. The 177 pages offer more blank, white spaces than text. Lynch doesn't really explicate his ideas: he distills them into succinct statements. But he's hardly condescending. Rather, the whole book is an invitation. When you open Lynch's book, he, in turn, opens his front door and invites you inside for a cup of coffee. And, perhaps, a twenty-minute meditation session.

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TAGS: catching the big fish: meditation, consciousness, and creativity, david lynch, eraserhead, inland empire


The Weeping Meadow

Although I'd hoped to write a comprehensive new essay about Theo Angelopoulos's epic The Weeping Meadow as my entry in the month-long Contemplative Cinema Blog-a-thon—sponsored by critic Harry Tuttle of Screenville—various professional obligations, coupled with a nasty week-long bout of strep throat, made it impossible. As an under-the-wire stopgap, here's an expanded, illustrated version of a column that originally appeared in New York Press in 2005. Angelopoulos's film about displaced peasants coping with natural and manmade disaster was one of my Top 10 movies that year, ranked right after The New World, a film with which it would fit nicely on a double-bill. I think it fits Harry's loosely-defined criteria for a contemplative film. Its ideas are not just conveyed mainly through picture and sound, they're specifically elucidated through very, very long takes, often from "a great and detached distance" (the original headline of the review). The resultant sense of quasi-omniscient "real time" sweep is a director's analogy for history's cool scrutiny.

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TAGS: contemplative cinema blog-a-thon, the weeping meadow, theo angelopoulos


2007 Grammy Awards: Winner Predictions

RECORD OF THE YEAR
"Be Without You," Mary J. Blige
"You're Beautiful," James Blunt
"Not Ready To Make Nice," Dixie Chicks
"Crazy," Gnarls Barkley (Will Win)
"Put Your Records On," Corinne Bailey Rae

Sal Cinquemani: Is there a general consensus in the industry that Mary J. Blige is owed something?
Jonathan Keefe: As though performing on the American Idol finale with that kid People profiled for getting dental veneers (Elliott, lest any of the "Yaminions" send me hate-mail) isn't its own reward.
Eric Henderson: It plays out like so many other music stories: she starts getting props just for hanging around long enough for her music to be vapid and middlebrow.
Sal: "Crazy" is getting lots of AC attention, which means it's reached critical mass-acceptance in the heartland. It's crossed over in a big way.
Eric: Yeah, with the Closet Freak himself singing falsetto and Danger Mouse producing, "Crazy" is simultaneously as cutting edge and as Downy soft as you want it to be. Demographically speaking, it's practically schizo in its appeal. Dixie Chicks are the only potential spoilers, if momentum snowballs their way.
Jonathan: "Crazy" does what "Hey Ya!," "Crazy In Love," and "Work It" before it couldn't, becoming the first crossover pop single that owes a substantial debt to hip-hop to win Record of the Year. Had anything Timbaland produced been nominated, there would've been another one of the vote-splits that have allowed "Clocks," "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams," and that comatose Ray Charles/Norah Jones duet to win the last three years. This time, it's the limp AC tracks—which fully covers both Blige and Dixie Chicks, conveniently enough—that split the votes, to the benefit of what happens to be the best "record" of the lot.
Eric: Did they nominate this instantly forgettable Corinne Bailey Rae tune because it validates the category's title, when it would make more sense today to switch it to "Single of the Year" or "Track of the Year"?

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TAGS: dixie chicks, grammy awards, justin timberlake, mary j. blige, not ready to make nice, taking the long way


BSG

When Battlestar Galactica began its run, if you had held a poll to see which character fans most expected to be portrayed as a Christ figure, James Callis's Gaius Baltar probably would have ranked near the bottom of the list. But in "Taking a Break From All Your Worries," Baltar—who, with his beard and mustache growth while in Cylon captivity, has been looking superficially Christlike—died and was resurrected by a trio of Number Sixes (Tricia Helfer) posed like Raphael's cherubs. Granted, this happened in a hallucination; the real Baltar died and was resurrected in a far more mundane way (via CPR, it would seem), waking up with his arms outstretched as though he had been crucified. From there, Baltar was strapped to a table and sent into a second hallucination in which death always hovered nearby (not unlike the Harrowing of Hell, but with water substituted for fire), then forced to submit to a series of God-like voices and betrayed by a close confidante (or at least that's how Baltar saw it).

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TAGS: Alessandro Juliani, battlestar galactica, edward james olmos, james calls, Jamie Bamber, katee sackhoff, Michael Hogan, recap, taking a break from all your worries, tricia helfer


Moby DickLead illustration by Peet Gelderblom. These films are not in production, except in my imagination.

1. Moby Dick. Written and directed by Terrence Malick. Starring Mel Gibson as Ahab, Ben Foster as Ishmael, Rudy Youngblood as Starbuck and Ian Holm as Father Mapple. Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. Edited by Anne V. Coates. Score by Eliot Goldenthal.

The reclusive director follows up his long-awaited Fountain of Youth project with the ultimate nautical adventure, and does not disappoint. Herman Melville's supposedly unfilmable novel—which stymied John Huston, among other would-be adapters—gets the cosmic, ruminative treatment in this three-hour CinemaScope epic, which alternates quicksilver, free-associative montages with the most surprisingly conventional and exciting action scenes Malick has ever directed. As Ahab—arguably the role he was born to play—Mel Gibson gives a surprisingly restrained performance, resisting the natural inclination to play the character as Long John Silver on crack. Gibson instead directs his intensity inward, a decision that lends Ahab a lordly detachment and icy, inscrutable anger reminiscent of mid-period Laurence Olivier; the performance is aided immeasurably by Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography, which often hides Ahab's eyes in Rembrandt pools of torchlit blackness or, in daylight scenes, in the sliver of shadow cast by the brim of his cap. Throughout there are curious but distinctly Malickian changes—including the casting of Apocalypto star Rudy Youngblood as a Starbuck who's actually a combination of the characters of Starbuck and Queequeg, with Maori tattoos and a habit of meditating on deck at the same time every day, even during storms.

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TAGS: 5 for the day, brad bird, clive owen, george clooney, joe dante, mel gibson, moby dick, spike lee, stephen sondheim, steven soderbergh


Rome

HBO's Rome is good TV. It's not particularly deep, but it's fun to watch, and it's got great production values, cinematic direction and some fine performances. It's diminished, however, simply by virtue of the network it's on. If it appeared on a different channel, any channel, it would surely be considered one of its best shows. But on HBO, it has to compete with Deadwood, The Wire, The Sopranos and even young upstart Big Love. In comparison, Rome seems almost sophomoric—a high gloss soap opera.

HBO's great series almost always take a worn-out genre and blow it up, following the template of The Sopranos, which hit familiar mob story plot points but did so more slowly and meticulously than other televised attempts at same. From there, HBO tackled Westerns and cop dramas and family soaps. Rome initially promised to be a nasty takeoff on swords-and-sandals epics, a chance to examine the lurid reality of Roman society around the time of Julius Caesar's reign, but the series has settled into a less ambitious groove; it seems content merely to exemplify its genre rather than reinvent it. Cecil B. DeMille movies made Bible stories more palatable by mixing in liberal doses of sex and violence; Rome just ups the ante a bit and shows them full-on. There's a vague and somewhat obligatory-seeming attempt to define the sex and violence as outgrowths of the era's politics (Polly Walker's Atia is constantly sleeping with men who will give her the greatest political boost), but for the most part, these elements serve the same function as in DeMille's films: Look at how much sex there was in ancient Rome! And how much violence!

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TAGS: alexandra pelosi, dresden files, friends of god, rome, the naked trucker and t-bones show, the nfl network


The Departed

Best Picture: "Babel," "The Departed," "Letters From Iwo Jima," "Little Miss Sunshine," "The Queen."

Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, "Blood Diamond"; Ryan Gosling, "Half Nelson"; Peter O'Toole, "Venus"; Will Smith, "The Pursuit of Happyness"; Forest Whitaker, "The Last King of Scotland."

Actress: Penélope Cruz, "Volver"; Judi Dench, "Notes on a Scandal"; Helen Mirren, "The Queen"; Meryl Streep, "The Devil Wears Prada"; Kate Winslet, "Little Children."

Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin, "Little Miss Sunshine"; Jackie Earle Haley, "Little Children"; Djimon Hounsou, "Blood Diamond"; Eddie Murphy, "Dreamgirls"; Mark Wahlberg, "The Departed."

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TAGS: academy awards, alan arkin, apocalypto, babel, children of men, click, curse of the golden flower, jesus camp, leonardo dicaprio, letters from iwo jima, little miss sunshine, martin scorsese, pan's labyrinth, penélope cruz, the departed, the devil wears prada, the queen, united 93


Perfume

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is a that rarity of rarities: a genuinely deviant work of art. It's the kind of film that could move Prince, Oliver Stone, Courtney Love, Tom Ford, Jenna Jameson, Roman Polanski and Charles Manson to tears, and send them home elated and wrung out, with the same thought rattling in their heads: "At long last, someone told my story!"

To clarify, when I say "deviant," I mean in the dictionary sense: "Departing from usual or accepted standards." Perfume doesn't acknowledge, much less replicate, the moral conventions and bourgeois attitudes that drive most big-budget movies (including the supposedly outre ones). Perfume views its main character, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw)—a poor, orphaned pariah with an uncanny sense of smell who becomes both an expert parfumeur and a serial killer—with scientific fascination. It's the same attitude with which Jean-Baptiste contemplates his own talents and desires, an attitude conveyed in an early scene that finds Jean-Baptiste—then an anonymous, emaciated tanner—walking through an open-air market, identifying and deconstructing every smell that floats by. Each scent is identified by a macro closeup that flickers onscreen for an instant or two, like the snapshot prophecies that pop like Chinese firecrackers throughout Twyker's 1998 classic Run Lola Run. Jean-Baptiste doesn't classify any particular scent as "good" or "bad"; he's a budding aesthete, unleashed in a gallery of smells. "Everyday language proved inadequate for all the olfactory experiences accumulating within himself," notes John Hurt's sprightly narrator as Jean-Baptiste drifts through the marketplace, savoring everything from ripe produce to dead rats. The film's attitude toward its hero is indistinguishable from Jean-Baptiste's attitude toward the world: a scent is a scent.

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TAGS: Andrew Birkin, ben whishaw, Bernd Eichinger, perfume: the story of a murderer, tom tykwer


Miss Potter

Miss Potter is the story of a woman (Beatrix Potter as played by Renée Zellweger) who stuck to her guns and forged a career at a time when such actions—carried out well past marrying age—raised eyebrows and ruffled feathers. That the film maintains a tone of sickly whimsy throughout tells you all you need to know about the seriousness of the enterprise, and reveals the condescension even genteel pictures bring to what used to be called "women's issues."

Even the movie's inflation of Potter's work shows you that it doesn't think it's much to begin with—that her achievements must be jacked up in order to be taken seriously. Potter's books did not have epic scope. Her stock in trade was a gentle whimsy that was friendly and comforting, an ideal combination for parents reading to their children that, coupled with Potter's own richly detailed watercolours, has served generations of kids just fine. But clearly these were not grand enough achievements for director Chris Noonan (Babe) and writer Richard Maltby Jr. They have to ascribe earth-shattering visionary status to her work—anything else would be beneath their lofty standards. And so Potter is turned from a children's author into what the filmmakers see as a visionary, which, in their maladroit hands, translates into a delusional psychotic. This Potter doesn't just paint her pictures and tell her stories, she also talks to the finished products as if they were there, and occasionally sees them in genteel acid flashbacks while gazing out the window.

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TAGS: Chris Noonan, ewan mcgregor, miss potter, renée zellweger, Richard Maltby Jr.







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