The House


The French Connection

William Friedkin's The French Connection, about ruthless cops chasing ruthless drug smugglers, is a sensationally effective and vastly overrated movie, and I doubt I'll ever want or need to see it again.

Even on first viewing—as a movie-crazed teenager in 1986, courtesy of VHS—its slot in the pantheon of great '70s movies struck me as unearned. I dug its unglamorous violence, grubby locations, energetic camerawork and superb lead performances (by Gene Hackman as volatile NYPD detective Popeye Doyle, Roy Scheider as his level-headed partner, Frederic de Pasquale as the chief smuggler and Tony Lo Bianco as his Brooklyn contact). But the film—now playing in a new 35mm print August 31-Sept. 6 at Film Forum—struck me as very calculating, not in a Hitchcock/Spielberg way (i.e., perfectionist, hermetic, mechanical) but in the manner of a street hood who stages a distraction so his partner can snatch a purse. The average Adam Sandler comedy has more integrity than Friedkin's Oscar winner, which lovingly protracted scenes of police brutality for left-wingers, pre-Miranda-ruling nostalgia and tangible law enforcement results for right-wingers, and an ending that makes hash of both positions—not to complicate viewers' reactions, but to provide rhetorical cover to the filmmakers no matter who gripes. How could such a pandering film be described as uncompromising?

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TAGS: dirty harry, Don Siegel, dustin hoffman, Ernest Tidyman, Frederic de Pasquale, gene hackman, roy scheider, sam peckinpah, straw dogs, Susan George, the french connection, william friedkin


Mad Men

Mad Men continues to bring the funny with an episode that furthers the exploration of Roger Sterling's personality that began last week in addition to showing us a previously unseen side of Don Draper. His possessive, macho reaction to Roger's drunken pass at Betty is consistent with the Don of previous episodes, but his revenge prank reveals a more playful sense of humor than the tendency toward dry, dark wit with which we've become familiar.

But while Roger is used as a source of comedy more than once (the scene where Don provides him with driving tips from the doorway is one of the series' funniest), there are just as many scenes—if not more—that present him as a fairly pathetic figure. His unsuccessful attempt to schedule a last-minute tryst with Joan shows him longing for his youth ("I could put on my whites and we can pretend it's V-J Day"), but even then his youth probably wasn't all that—his naval heroism in the Pacific, revealed this week, falls short of his father's WWI exploits, and he apparently went through childhood with the demeaning nickname "Peanut" (a nickname Bert Cooper still uses on occasion). No wonder, then, that he takes comfort in the privileges that come with having one's name on the building.

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TAGS: mad men, recap, red in the face


Miracle

Of the many addictions that rule my life, none has more controlling power than my chemical devotion to underdog sports movies.

You give me a plucky loser trying to overcome the odds at any athletic endeavor, and I'm there. Doesn't matter if the movie is unfathomably stupid. If I stumble across The Air Up There (Kevin Bacon teaching basketball to Africans) or The Replacements (a movie that tries to make scab players sympathetic), I can't change the channel until it's over. Doesn't matter if I don't know or care about the sport in question. I have repeatedly Netflix'ed a four-hour Bollywood musical about cricket (Lagaan) and spent money to rent a comedy about curling (Men with Brooms). Curling.

My unfortunate condition dates back to the late '70s, when my father purchased our first VCR, a bulky monstrosity that didn't even have a wireless remote (it attached to the unit with a cord that was so short you were guaranteed to lose your eyesight using it long-term). We only had a couple of cable channels (HBO didn't program 24/7 back then) and the over-the-air stations were too full of news and soap operas and other shows that catered to grown-ups, so the idea of being able to record shows I liked and watching them over and over and over again was the bestest thing ever.

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TAGS: 5 for the day, diggstown, lagaan, major league, miracle, slap shot


Balls of Fury

Balls of Fury looks like another sports-spoof throwaway, but it does have a piercing reason for being. American men love Eastern cultures in direct proportion to their staggering ignorance of same. They salivate over Asian women and cuisine; alternate between awe and mockery of the continent's ancient practices (religions, martial arts); snicker at their relatively petite, slender men (the same ones whose kung fu/jujitsu/karate they applaud); envy the wisdom, richness, efficiency, and industriousness of their societies. And so American fans kowtow and condescend in the same awkward motion. Charlie Chan. Kill Bill. Wax on, wax off. Balls of Fury is all about this phenomenon. It's a Chinese odyssey for people—men, especially—who call all Asians Chinese.

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TAGS: Aisha Tyler, balls of fury, Brett DelBuono, christopher walken, Dan Fogler, George Lopez, james hong, maggi q, Patton Oswalt, Robert Ben Garant, Terry Crews, Thomas Lennon, Tiny Lister


Owen Wilson

The three words that spring to mind when I think of Owen Wilson are "generosity of spirit"—a phrase that's being returned in kind by strangers as Wilson recovers from what has been described as a suicide attempt.

Wilson and I are the same age, 38. We're both from Dallas, and although we didn't cross paths until our mid-20s, we glancingly share enough geographical flashpoints that I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner. Wilson and his friend and filmmaking partner, Wes Anderson, shot part of a black-and-white short film prototype for their first feature, Bottle Rocket, in Greenway Parks, a five minute walk from my house. We both frequented the Inwood Theater, the clubs in Deep Ellum, and the Cosmic Cup, a coffee shop and arts hangout owned by Indian-born actor, magician and juggler Kumar Pallana, who had small roles in Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums.

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TAGS: bottle rocket, meet the parents, owen wilson, rushmore, the minus man, the royal tenenbaums


2007 MTV Video Music Awards: Winner Predictions

MTV decimated whatever tiny shred of integrity its annual Video Music Awards show still had when this year's list of nominations were announced. It's not so much the nominees—the usual suspects are present and accounted for (The White Stripes, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Kanye West) and, as always, mediocre videos are being over-praised ("What Goes Around…Comes Around") while other, less popular achievements in the music video medium go unrecognized—but it's the categories that have prompted many to pronounce the video channel's yearly burlesque show completely irrelevant. As if last summer's viewer-decided winners weren't horrendous enough, this year's clusterfuck replaces standard categories like Best Group Video with the more general Best Group (which, in effect, continues to strip MTV of its ties to actual music videos) and trades genre categories for such asinine honors as Most Earth-Shattering Collaboration and Quadruple Threat of the Year. If there's an upside to these radically stripped nominations-gone-wild, it's that the discontinuation of their one-time-only Ringtone of the Year award means that Fort Minor's singular legacy will now remain officially without peer.

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TAGS: amy winehouse, beyoncé, gnarls barkley, justin timberlake, nelly furtado, rihanna


Big Love

Big Love's second season finale tries to do so many things at once that it periodically flies off the rails, only to find itself righted again by a single powerful scene or moment.

The episode is perhaps the best evidence yet that the show can always rely on its phenomenal cast to grab hold of it and wrench it down to earth when it seems likely to go floating off into the stratosphere. The episode isn't an awful one, by any means, but it commits one of the cardinal sins of the season finale: It turns into the "And then this happened! And this happened! And this happened!" like a child breathlessly recounting a series of events instead of an actual dramatic recreation of those events. A lot of season finales, trying to tie up everything that happened in the season preceding, fall into this trap, and it's hard to skate past all of those plot points and make them feel like they have some resonance to them (the Battlestar Galactica season three finale, of all things, is just about the best recent example of how to make the overstuffed finale work).

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TAGS: amanda seyfried, big love, bill paxton, Branka Katic, chloë sevigny, Douglas Smith, ginnifer goodwin, Harry Dean Stanton, jeanne tripplehorn, joel mckinnon miller, Matt Ross, oh pioneers, recap


Doctor Who

"Human Nature" has a myriad of fascinating aspects marking it, but one of the most noteworthy is that it's the first televised Doctor Who story based on a book. Paul Cornell's Human Nature was published in 1995 as part of Virgin's New Adventures series, and it quickly became the standard by which all other Who novels would be measured. The book featured the Seventh Doctor altering his DNA so as to better understand the suffering of his companion Bernice, who in the previous novel had lost someone dear to her. The TV adaptation, also written by Cornell ("Father's Day") shakes the premise up a bit and finds the Doctor and Martha on the run from a vicious group of aliens, but the lyrical song remains the same.

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TAGS: doctor who, human nature, paul cornell, recap


White Nights

"The cinema substitutes for our gaze a world more in harmony with our desires." —credited to André Bazin in Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt

Bazin may or may not have actually said or written those words, but the above quote certainly explains a great deal about the universal appeal of the movies. Most of us would probably agree that, at its best, cinema can function not just as mere escapism, but also as a way of satisfying a desire to see characters or an entire world depicted on a big screen that reflects one's own yearnings. (Why, for instance, do some moviegoers sometimes find themselves half-admiring movie killers like Jef Costello, the lonely contract killer with the sharply honed senses in Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai (1967); or Jules and Vincent, the two talkative hit men in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994)? Often there's just something damn cool about them that makes you want to be like them.)

Even within that particular definition of cinema at its height, however, there is a certain category of cinema that I would like to propose—what I would call (somewhat reductively) the "cinema of the personal daydream."

What makes up a "personal daydream movie," you might ask? It is the type of movie that inspires—whether during the movie, days afterward, or both—a mood in the viewer of wanting to linger in the film's particular world for hours on end, in the same way one might desire to linger in a dream at night before having to wake up to eye-crust-ridden early-morning reality. It's the kind of movie whose mood might suddenly materialize in your mind as you sit during your lunch break at work (or, in my case, in a college classroom waiting for a lecture to start). One filmmaker's daydream, in other words, becomes your daydream. And perhaps your reaction to a filmmaker's vision reflects deep pools of yearning that the movie touches upon, whether consciously or subconsciously.

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TAGS: 5 for the day, fallen angels, last life in the universe, miami vice, self control, white nights


Mad Men

"Babylon" is probably Mad Men's most entertaining episode to date, but it's also the most frustrating installment in the series so far. On the one hand, it's loaded with absolutely priceless lines of dialogue and does a lot to further our understanding of several characters and relationships. On the other, it takes too many of its jokes a little too far, resulting in the largest amount of annoyingly obvious period jokes since the pilot.

The episode begins with an intriguing coda to last week's episode: Don Draper slips on the stairs and hits his head, resulting in a brief flashback to the day his brother Adam was born in the 1920s. At first glance, it seems to recall the numerous flashbacks to Tony Soprano's childhood that The Sopranos offered over the years, but there's a key difference—the flashbacks in "Down Neck" and other episodes were often shown from a relatively objective POV rather than being filtered through Tony's memory. Here, however, Don Draper and his younger self seem to make eye contact through time. It's a hallucination, obviously, but it's also a very effective way to convey the uneasiness of his relationship with the past and the degree to which the events of "5G" continue to haunt him, his apparent ultra-stoicism last week .

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TAGS: babylon, joel murray, mad men, recap, Talia Balsam







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