The House


I Served the King of England

There are two things that I especially cannot stand in movies: one of them consists of having men and women establish their sexual friskiness by leaping fully-clothed into a fountain; the other involves smashing every kitchen plate within reach to express bottled-up inner rage. I Served the King of England, Czech filmmaker Jiří Menzel's return to the cinema after fifteen years of directing theatre, drags both of my pet peeves to the forefront, and then some.

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TAGS: I Served the King of England, jiří menzel , life is beautiful, roberto benigni, the lives of others


Palin Around

Palin Around

Mere hours after the Democratic Party officially nominated the first black man to a major political party in United States history, John McCain announced that his vice presidential pick will be Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. She's an intelligent, articulate, pro-gun, pro-life, pro-oil drilling, climate-change-denying conservative; more importantly, she's a former beauty queen. McCain has been fiendishly eyeing Hillary Clinton's leftovers for months, hoping to lure the New York senator's disgruntled female followers into the fold, and Palin—what with her having breasts and a vagina—is his last-ditch attempt to seal the deal. The implication that those lingering Clinton supporters only care about how close their gender gets to the Oval Office (and with McCain celebrating his 72nd birthday yesterday, Palin will be just a heartbeat away) is not only naïve, but insulting to those very women. Surely they care more about the issues than settling a score with Barack Obama. Surely they realize that the 44-year-old Palin, a one-term governor of a state whose population exceeds only three others in the union, is not a suitable proxy for Clinton.

To be fair, there's still a lot to learn about Palin (oddly, McCain's decision has inadvertently managed to make Obama seem like a veteran politico—or at the very least, a household name), but her relative inexperience on domestic issues and wholesale inexperience on foreign affairs makes her an unusual pick for a candidate who has routinely criticized his opponent on those same points. Joe Biden shored up Obama's ticket with a wealth of international experience, knowledge and know-how, but in addition to scoring votes, Biden would also be a valuable asset to an Obama presidency should they win the election in November. Palin, it seems, would not. The only way McCain's selection could have been more cynical, more transparent a vie for votes, is if he had chosen Condoleezza Rice as a running mate, but at least she has the experience, if not the judgment or competency. As it stands, McCain's pick completely undercuts the senator's claim that he's the candidate who puts "country first." These are all things, it's interesting to note, that Republicans, including King Reagan, took issue with when Democratic nominee Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his vice presidential pick in 1984.

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TAGS: 2008 election, barack obama, john mccain, sarah palin


Cruising

Both on a conceptual level and in practice, Cruising buys into and advances some of the most dangerous myths about homosexuality and the homosexual lifestyle—and you don't need Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet to tell you that. Before today, I only knew William Friedkin's film, an adaptation of New York Times editor Gerald Walker's 1970 novel of the same name, as That Film We Don't Speak Of, and my first exposure to its skuzzy, admittedly transfixing audio-visual atmosphere was through the two featurettes (from the upcoming Warner Home Video DVD release) we were told we should preview prior to press screenings for the film here in New York City. Walking out at the end of yesterday's screening, still suffering from a rather nasty cold, I felt as if I had been fisted—without the Crisco!

J. Hoberman, in his review of The French Connection in this week's Village Voice, notes that Friedkin "once had documentary aspirations," and throughout one of the two featurettes ("Exorcising Cruising") on the upcoming DVD release of Cruising the director states that the film was not meant to be emblematic of the gay community and that he went into underground leather bars and simply captured what he saw. Except Friedkin doesn't resist editorializing, saying how the music in the movie is "very edgy and dark"—unlike the music that was actually playing in gay bars at the time. Though he claims to have observed the leather scene "without comment" (which is to say, without passing judgment), he misrepresents it by essentially replacing Donna Summer with The Germs on the soundtrack, recasting truth in a more menacing light.

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TAGS: al pacino, cruising, gerald walker, night at the roxbury, oscar wilde, the celluloid closet, the french connection, the new york times, the village voice, vito russo, william friedkin


Neon Genesis Evangelion

I was fortunate enough, recently, to view Rebuild of Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone, the first in a series of four films by director Hideaki Anno and GAINAX Company, Ltd. that remake the acclaimed anime program Neon Genesis Evangelion. The new film is a fascinating entity, and I'm not yet sure that I have the critical faculties necessary to fully articulate my impressions: this new Evangelion varies between being a shot-by-shot remake in the Gus Van Sant Psycho vein (adjusted to widescreen), a Star Wars-like Special Edition with updated effects, and a full-on rework of the original series' plot fundamentals that, with each additional entry, promises to differ more and more from the original source.

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TAGS: end of evangelion, gundam, macross, nadia: the secret of blue water, neon genesis evangelion, rebuild of evangelion


Day of WrathLike the esteemed film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, I discovered Day of Wrath in my teens. One of the local PBS stations was showing Carl Theodor Dreyer's film about 17th century Danish witch trials (adapted from Anne Pedersdotter by Norwegian playwright Han Wiers Jenssen) late at night. I stumbled across the film already in progress as elderly Herlofs Marte (Anna Svierkier) was being stripped and tortured in order to force a confession: Was she or was she not in league with Satan? Could she name other servants of evil? An hour or so later, I was still riveted to my seat, watching another, younger woman accused of witchcraft stare out at nothing as she contemplated the tortures awaiting her and the image dissolved to a blunt final condemnation written on a scroll. I was all messed up. What kind of inhuman order could put a harmless old woman and a vivacious young one on such a senseless conveyor belt to doom? Shortly thereafter I saw Schindler's List, and these two very different films about persecution fused in my mind.

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TAGS: anna svierkier, carl theodor dreyer, day of wrath, han wiers jenssen, lisbeth movin, preben lerdorff rye, sigrid neiiendam, thorkild roose


The Great Uniter

The Great Uniter

Yesterday afternoon, California congresswoman and fervent Hillary Clinton supporter Loretta Sanchez attempted—and failed, exceptionally—to explain to MSNBC's mini-Olbermann Dan Abrams why she hasn't endorsed Barack Obama for president. Abrams guffawed with apt incredulity at the implications of extortion and self-involvement behind Sanchez's suggestion that Camp Obama hasn't done enough to encourage his supporters to pay down Clinton's debts and that she would endorse him if only he would give her a jingle. The woman's whiny, petty explanation seemed, at least to me, to be representative (pun intended) of many Clinton supporters' ongoing complaints about the unfair treatment the former First Lady endured during the primary season and their threats of defection to Team McCain. Continued calls for "Hillary in 2012" while the '08 election is still more than two months away have inspired an unexpected reaction in me: She lost. Get over it.

All of this lingering resentment among Clinton's legion of followers (and make no mistake—that's what they are) makes one question if the candidate herself has done enough to try to unite her party behind her former rival. Having her name put into nomination at the Democratic National Convention this week, and her claim that her supporters require a "catharsis" at the Denver event haven't helped matters. Clinton gave a generous concession speech back in June, and her first joint appearance with Obama went off without a hitch, but it was her headline address at the convention last night that will change the way historians reflect on her groundbreaking campaign to become the first woman president of the United States, and it might just have been one of her finest moments as a politician.

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TAGS: 2008 election, barack obama, democratic party, hillary clinton, john mccain, sarah palin


Hillary Clinton

MONDAY, AUGUST 25, 2008: DISPATCH # 1

As I dig into these notes, I feel it's important to say I'm an outsider, politically; there are probably many people who, if awakened at 5 AM and splashed with ice cold water, could talk me under the table about politics, roll over, and go back to sleep. However, I've been interested in politics this year, in a way that I haven't been in some time. Part of it has obviously been the clash between the two leading Democratic candidates—one African American, one female, both complex, both viable. But beyond that, think about the timing. After 8 years of an administration about whom no amount of negative adjectives would be sufficient, whose previous lambasting has been so elaborate and so comprehensive that adding to it would be sheer redundancy, we find that the two leading Democratic candidates for President are a woman and an African-American man. Good work, Americans—where the heck have you been? The dialogue becomes, rather than who's the lesser of two or three mediocrities, as it was in 2000 and 2004, something else. Who do you trust? Who's more interesting to you? Who seems like they could win, not just in our imagination but in reality? Which is an interesting switch, to me at least—and will doubtless affect future elections.

The notes I've made below are spontaneous and sporadic—I tried to respond to events and comments that pushed buttons for me. If I sound a little dour, it's because I am a little dour. This is an important year for Democrats, and my standards for performance at this convention are high.

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TAGS: barack obama, chris matthews, hillary clinton, keith olbermann, nancy pelosi, rahm emmanuel, ted kennedy


From HellComing Up In This Column: Transsiberian; The House Bunny; Tropic Thunder; Silent to Sound; Transformers; In Plain Sight; Mad Men, but first:

Mailbag: Well, I certainly seem to have ticked off the graphic novel crowd, haven't I? As "futurefree" and "JJ" noted, I was careful to doubly qualify my comments, and I did that because I was aware there have been some fairly good films made from graphic novels. One that some readers mentioned was From Hell, and one that I am surprised nobody mentioned was A History of Violence, which was terrific until it went a little funny in the head in the last third.

My point, that several readers such as "futurefree" and "Ed Howard" picked up on, is that the form does not necessarily lend itself to complex characters. It is not just a question of panels, but that the images are static, so you do not get the nuances you do in actors' performances in films.

I have been meaning to admit since US#1 my dirty little secret, which is that I am not a fanboy. As a kid in the '40s and early '50s I read comic books, but as I hit adolescence I gave them up, with of course the obvious exception of Mad Magazine; some things are sacred. I never got back into comics or later graphic novels, and the older I get, the less interest in mythical kingdoms I have. I can certainly understand people, particularly in the last seven years, who much prefer to live in mythical kingdoms rather than the real world. But I just find the jumps in logic one has to make a little much. At the risk of driving off all my readers, I have to admit that I have seen only the first Lord of the Rings movie and not the other two. I have not seen any of the Harry Potter films, and only the first Matrix, which struck me as one of the stupidest movies of all time. I avoided Batman Begins (I am a little too old for yet another version of the origin story) and The Dark Knight (even though a friend whose judgement I trust said I had to see it because it was "as if Kubrick had directed The French Connection"). I do try to see one comic book/graphic novel movie a year and this year it was Iron Man. I kept wanting to see a) the outtakes of Downey Jr. and his stunt man trying to move in that outfit, and b) that cast (Downey Jr., Bridges, and Paltrow) in a real movie.

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TAGS: in plain sight, the house bunny, transformers, transsiberian, tropic thunder


Traitor

When I look at a film, as an individual viewer with my own distinct DNA, biochemical profile, ocular deficiencies, brain damage, life experiences, needs, wants, peeves, and perversions, I don't necessarily see what you see. But there is something called a "communal experience." I remember looking over at a row of 40 or more people staring up at the Valkyrie helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now. Every face wore the same expression. I remember the gasps and applause that erupted in the packed house at Symphony Space when a deranged kidnapper fell to Takashi Shimura's sword in slo-mo in The Seven Samurai. I remember the cloud of compassionate despair that suffocated me and others when young Igor struggled to look after dead Amadou's wife and baby in La Promesse. We were in this together. And I can recall, just the other day, a room full of men going "Woooo shit!" when Sergio Leone panned up a monumental tangle of leather chaps and duster jacket to the roguish, angelic face of Woody Strode at the beginning of Once Upon a Time in The West.

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TAGS: don cheadle, guy pearce, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, neal mcdonough, traitor


Traitor

Traitor, an international espionage thriller written and directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (better known as the guy who wrote the global warming thriller The Day After Tomorrow), pits Guy Pearce's southern Baptist FBI man Roy Clayton against Don Cheadle's devout Muslim, maybe renegade, former U.S. soldier Samir Horn in a cat and mouse game across several continents and 17 cities. The movie is loaded with misguided Muslims and Americans alike, all of them just trying to do the right thing and slaughtering innocents in the process, so it comes as no surprise that several of the crew (including DP J. Michael Muro) and Cheadle himself were involved in the faux-deep car wreck that was Crash. For the Traitor script is as jam-packed with simpleminded and heavy-handed exposition-posing-as-profound-thought as it is with suicide bombings and hand-to-hand combat action—all of it so painful to listen to and observe that I wanted to blow myself up during the first half. And I don't even like virgins.

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TAGS: don cheadle, guy pearce, j. michael muro, jeff daniels, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, neal mcdonough, traitor







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