The House


Film Review: Transporter 3

The Transporter 3

When XXX came out in 2002, a popular theme for entertainment journalism trend pieces was to note that—with the rapidly approaching end of the Schwarzenneger, Stallone and Seagal era—there was a gaping hole where a new generation of action star should be. Vin Diesel was supposed to take up the mantle, but, his career having subsequently gone too far in some direction or other, Jason Statham made for a plausible second contender. Cf. a far-seeing Manohla Dargis reviewing 2002's The Transporter: "the actor certainly seems equipped to develop into a mid-weight alternative to Vin Diesel."

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TAGS: Cory Yuen, jason statham, the transporter 3


5 for the Day: Mia Farrow

Mia Farrow

It's been close to twenty years since Mia Farrow did battle with her one-time boyfriend/boss Woody Allen, in actual law courts and in the even nastier courts of public opinion. She wrote an autobiography in 1997, What Falls Away, in which she described her life up to the point Allen started an affair with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi, which resulted in accusations on both sides that were so ugly that we've all made a kind of pact of forgetfulness so that we can go on seeing Allen's movies. Farrow has continued to work as an actress, but in fairly obscure films. She turned up this year in Michel Gondry's loopy Be Kind Rewind; at 63, she looked almost exactly the same as she had in Rosemary's Baby (1968), and it was a reminder that she has spent her whole life pursuing a dream of childhood, both in her compulsive adoption of children, many of whom have special needs, and her determination to keep herself childishly pure in looks and attitude. "She lived all alone in her own world," said Bette Davis, observing a teenaged Farrow on the set of John Paul Jones (1959), which was directed by her father, John Farrow.

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TAGS: 5 for the day, alice, husbands and wives, mia farrow, rosemary's baby, secret ceremony, the purple rose of cairo


Slumdog Millionaire

Happy Thanksgiving!

Between personal coffee drinking and attending Apple Store seminars where I was reminded to even be so lucky to be interviewing for a retail job, I forgot to finish the write-up for this podcast! We recorded this the day before Episode 9, a Sunday. And little did we realize, after nearly a year recording at Grassroots (and my having been there for the last few years), that they had live jazz on Sunday nights!

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TAGS: podcast, slumdog millionaire, soul men, w.


The Broken West

I know I keep coming up with constant excuses for this column's (to put it politely) somewhat irregular publishing schedule, but this one I need to make. Briefly: The Onion A.V. Club is in the thick of its year-end process, which meant I just couldn't pass up the chance to make a year-end top 10. I just couldn't; it's an addiction. So maybe my A.V. Club list and my list here will be markedly different; perhaps not (it's been a weak year and I don't imagine many more surprises cropping up). In any case, I've been cramming like a guilty high-school student on 2008 releases; notes below represent things I was thinking about intensely a month/month-and-a-half ago. Please accept the mental distance; soon enough I'll be catching up on everything that ostensibly matters musically about 2008.

Here's the thing about The Broken West: they're one of the most derivative bands working today. They have no ideas of their own. They never met a Big Star track they didn't like, except for maybe "Holocaust." Am I being clear enough in explaining why I like them? Their 2007 debut I Can't Go On, I'll Go On was a huge guilty pleasure for me, ridiculous titular Beckett allusion and all. Back then, I shamefacedly wrote out my qualifications with more conviction than I felt, and they're all still true: "sneering lead singers who assert themselves like American Gallagher brothers ... no breathing room except for ballads ... don't have a whole lot on their mind besides, you know, girls and place-holder lyrics ... consciously anti-intellectual...They're not clever, but they're satisfying." This was an oblique (OK, trying to avoid chastisement for my taste) way of saying that I listened to their album way too many times, and I'm not real sure why. There's a lot of filler there: looking on the track-listing a little over a year later, I can't remember what half of it sounds like, and re-visiting tracks like "You Can Build An Island" or "Brass Ring" isn't really helping.

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TAGS: dear science, grand archives, h.n.i.c. part 2, now or heaven, Prodigy, the broken west, tv on the radio


Changeling

Coming Up In This Column: Changeling, I've Loved You So Long, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, ER, 30 Rock, Some Quick Sweeps Updates, and Trailers, but first:

Fan Mail: I can appreciate theoldboy's disappointment that I did not deal with the opening monologue in Crash. I often have a similar reaction after I send off a column to Keith and suddenly think, hey, why I didn't I mention that.

I think Max Winter's take on Sidney in Rachel Getting Married is a very interesting one, and I know there are a lot of people who feel as theoldboy does that the energy of the actors and the music make that film more entertaining than a lot of what is around. So far it has not been all that great a year for films and we have to take our pleasures where we can find them.

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TAGS: 30 rock, changeling, er, i've loved you so long, understanding screenwriting, zack and miri make a porno


Milk

Slain politician Harvey Milk was a gay pioneer and by all accounts a real mensch and role model, and his story was told in full for the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. Now Gus Van Sant is trolling for awards with Milk, a paint-by numbers biopic of the tireless activist that wastes the efforts of some fine actors, most notably Sean Penn, who strives to play Milk as a three-dimensional person with idiosyncrasies and failings even as the "let's get from A to B" script by Dustin Lance Black boxes him into textbook sainthood. Penn manages to get some energy going in his public speeches, especially when he's riling up a crowd in the Castro, the gay area of San Francisco where Milk served as unofficial Mayor and then elected official, and he has nice moments of physical schtick that involve subtle, queeny eye flares and dainty hand gestures. Penn even reaches for Brando-esque tragedy in the last scenes, but the straightforward corniness of the script foils all his actorly nuances.

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TAGS: dustin lance black, gus van sant, james franco, milk, sean penn


Milk

Milk, Gus Van Sant's labor of love biopic about civil rights leader Harvey Milk (the first openly gay man elected to higher office in the United States and later gunned down, along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, three decades ago this month), is mainstream filmmaking at its finest and a perfect wedding of subject matter to director. For Milk, like Van Sant, was a former "radical" who learned to work within—even to embrace—the system, stealthily turning it to his advantage. What Milk is to extremist activists like Larry Kramer, Van Sant is to fellow filmmaker Todd Haynes—no longer a director of experimental art in the moving picture medium, but a maverick of the mini majors.

Even comparing Van Sant to Haynes is like weighing apples against oranges: Van Sant is as much of a sly showman as his subject, who grasped the power of rallying crowds with catchy lines ("My name is Harvey Milk, and I want to recruit you," a play on Anita Bryant's scare tactic of gays "recruiting our children") and staged events (stepping on dog poop to promote a pooper-scooper law)—an insider working covertly within the system. Indeed, Van Sant understands the power of schmaltz above nuance. Whatever you need to do to make your message accessible and heard loud and clear—evidenced in the director's casting of straight marquee names (like Sean Penn as Milk, in an Oscar-worthy performance) in the lead roles at the expense of actual gay actors—is worth the creative price.

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TAGS: dustin lance black, gus van sant, james franco, milk, sean penn


David Lynch

[Publication Note: This article is being cross-published with Parallax View.]

[Editor's Note: The House Next Door is proud to reissue a series of articles developed at 24LiesASecond, a now-defunct platform for provocative criticism with an underdog bite. The essay below was first published on 11/16/2006, under the editorial guidance of James M. Moran (editor-in-chief) and Peet Gelderblom (founding editor).]

"The spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness. The spice is vital to space travel. The Spacing Guild and its Navigators, whom the spice has mutated over four thousand years, use the orange spice gas, which gives them the ability to fold space; that is, to travel to any part of the known universe without moving."
—Princess Irulan, in David Lynch's Dune

That's what David Lynch's Dune does: It gets us from place to place and from beginning to end without ever seeming to move—at least in the way that a more conventional science-fiction action thriller is expected to move. The unkindest viewers and critics have called it boring.

Even the film's action sequences sit in the memory more as tableaux than as moving images. "My movies are film-paintings," Lynch said, in a 1984 interview during post-production on Dune. What strikes us even as we watch the film, and comes back most in our recalling of it, is the composition more than the dynamic—posture more than gesture:

• Paul with his hand in the box, his imagination conspiring with the mental powers of the Bene Gesserit to objectify a pain that exists only in the suggestible mind
• Paul's mentors, Gurney Halleck, Thufir Hawat, and Wellington Yueh, introduced to us as a human triptych
• Feyd Rautha in his futuristic g-string, posing as if for a beefcake photo
• Alia, in a transport of ecstasy, holding aloft her crysknife as the Fremen overrun the imperial forces, a nightmarish composition by Lynch out of Bosch, all darkness, and a fully-formed witch who should be no more than a little girl, lit by fires and explosions, wrapped in Bene Gesserit robe and headpiece, with an expression on her face of triumph in slaughter that no little girl ever wore

This emphasis on the static over the kinetic is not so remarkable in an artist who, after all, began his career in—and remains committed to—the compositional rigors of painting, collage, and sculpture. But to see how it relates to folding space, we must further illuminate this concept of traveling without moving.

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TAGS: david lynch, Dune, eraserhead, frank herbert, lost highway, mulholland drive, the elephant man, the straight story, twin peaks, wild at heart


Farber/Hawks

Manny Farber[Editor's Note: Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday and Scarface play this weekend as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's tribute to Manny Farber. Click here (and on the film titles in the article) for more details.]

The auteurist debate is no longer a matter of dispute; the question critics should be asking is not if a director "writes" the film in cinematic terms, but how. Does he create a film in a way that can be told only through cinema, with many conflicting truths happening simultaneously? Or does he film a script, making a linear collection of words into something visible, connecting the dots with a standardized grammar of cinema that was developed in previous films? In the latter situation, one message is illustrated. However interesting this message may be, this is a waste of cinema. (Print conveys one voice in a linear order much less expensively.)

Manny Farber explained the elevated species of this second scenario more explicitly, under the banner of "masterpiece art" or "white elephant art."

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TAGS: film society of lincoln center, his girl friday, howard hawks, kent jones, manny farber, negative space, scarface, todd mccarthy


Film Review: Special

Special

[Special opens today at Manhattan's Sunshine Cinema. Click here for more information. It is also playing on Time/Warner & Comcast Video-on-Demand. Check local listings.]

Special is good enough in various particulars that its token theatrical release—nearly three years after its Sundance Film Festival debut—is more than slightly bittersweet. Co-writers/co-directors Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore rest their depressive character study on the able shoulders of actor Michael Rapaport, who pushes the film forward even as its jittery, hand-held aesthetic frequently marks time.

As Les Franken, an introverted meterman convinced, after ingesting an experimental depression medication, that he has superpowers, Rapaport grounds Special's numerous flights of fancy within a painfully physical realm. Haberman and Passmore take a page from the cartoonist Bill Watterson, who noted of the tiger protagonist in his great Calvin & Hobbes, "The nature of [the character's] reality doesn't interest me, and each story goes out of its way to avoid resolving the issue. ... I show two versions of reality, and each makes complete sense to the participant who sees it." So when Les demonstrates his "ability" to run through walls, we see him do just that. But we also see some telling aftereffects (a bloody nose; a rapidly expanding bruise) or alternate character perspectives (say those of pot-smoking, comic book store-running brothers Joey (Josh Peck) and Everett (Robert Baker)) that throw the veracity of Les' beliefs into harsh relief.

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TAGS: Hal Haberman, Jeremy Passmore, josh peck, michael rapaport, Robert Baker, special







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