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Archive for July, 2010

Self-professed film aficionados lead difficult lives. We spend hours dissecting films; even the really bad ones are dissected for no particular reason than for the writers to brand themselves as morose intellectuals with good taste in art, who are interesting to talk to and incredible to fuck with next to scented candles (I can’t prove it or anything but I hear that once we’ve trashed enough films, the government release nanorobots into our organs to make lovemaking more euphoric). Of course we needn’t feel bad. It isn’t our fault that films don’t understand just how incredibly complex and generally incredible our psyche is. We just need to keep pissing into the wind and find cleverer ways to make light of the blood, sweat and tears shed by people who think they understand films just because they make them.

We look down on IMDB users. We hate Catherina Zeta Jones. Every weekend we download independent films with the lowest possible budgets and then pretend to support the directors.

You want more proof that bloggers who trash films are wankers? Here’s another pretending to know a good film from a bad one.

The Last Broadcast: Finally, a low-budget horror film that I won’t try stuffing down your throats. Directors Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler have tried really hard to creep us out and as noble as their intentions were, the execution turned out sloppier than unprotected cuddling between former lovers. Botched dramatic improvisation even kills the tension the film’s first five minutes somehow manages to build. Maybe these ‘actors’ weren’t technically supposed to act in Last Broadcast considering its style of narration, but they come across as anxious pastiches of a high school art-house film crew. Stefan’s The Ghosts of Edendale and Lance’s Head Trauma still sound worth checking out because you never can be fully sure about these indie fellows.

Batman Begins: I can’t argue that it was Hollywood’s most faithful interpretation of Bob Kane’s vision, but to associate so much credibility to it is just silly. Tim Burton‘s caricaturization during the early Nineties was laughable at best while Joel Schumacher made Nicholas Cage sit through snuff porn in his next film just to reclaim his credibility with film-goers. Sure, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins was miles ahead in terms of authenticity and general aesthetics, but honestly, how difficult did you think that was? The film passed our litmus test even before it was released. From the moment we heard that the guy from Machinist was being groomed by the guy who directed Memento to replace George Clooney as our most favourite superhero in the whole wide world, I think we collectively gasped in joy without second guessing. Truth be told, Bale’s only passable as Batman and sometimes downright ridiculous as Bruce Wayne. He channels American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman without realizing that only one of them is actually a sociopath; the other only fakes it to lead a normal life. I blame it all on Lee Strasberg. Method acting, my ass.

Michael Caine’s portrayal of Alfred isn’t any better, it’s a far cry from the swank stoicism that the character was once legendary for. Seriously, which godforsaken issue has ever had him cracking bland homoerotic jokes while master Wayne battles for his life? As for Katie Holmes, she’s either Catherine Zeta Jones in disguise or the known universe is far crueler than I have thought it to be. Even Liam Neeson is an abomination; Raz Al Ghul‘s supposed to be a badass existential eco-terrorist, not the bastard fruit that fell from the loins of David Blaine, Morpheus and Al Gore.

What is all the hype about Nolan anyway? Memento was about twenty minutes too long. Insomnia had one the least likable Al Pacino performances. The Prestige was sheepishly mesmerizing at best and a Joker-less The Dark Knight would have been both propagandistic and boring. Maybe people just can’t love him enough for his debut. Now that was a good movie.

88 Minutes:As far as I’m concerned, Al Pacino has only looked comfortable playing dorky victims of dire circumstances. In films like Scarecrow or Dog Day Afternoon, he was completely believable as the average guy who has had his life turned upside down, inside out; all twitchy and restless, he had us hanging on to his character’s quirks, righteously mongering our sympathy in the process. Taylor Hackford’s The Devil’s Advocate was perhaps the first unavoidable indication that Al Pacino could really suck too. I mean, you don’t exactly have to ooze charisma when your character has such a fabled history of ironic sophistication as Satan did and yet Pacino managed to make it offensively theatrical, often dueling with Keanu Reeves to see who could make the most inappropriate sex faces during dramatic scenes.

In Jon Avnet’s 88 Minutes, he gives his character so many different dimensions that GPS-enabled rhombuses could have lost their way in there. Maybe Dr Jack Gramm had multiple personality disorder in the original script and somebody forgot to inform him about its last-minute exclusion or Pacino was desperately trying a million different things to bring back his credibility as a performer, either way it had too much of negative impact on the film for me to even bring up Alicia Witt’s blindingly horrific acting. I’m telling you, minions, watch William Friedkin’s Cruising and then Godfather I, II or III. He just isn’t the same actor. If you can’t see the difference, then we just don’t see eye-to-eye on films. Also, you are a stupid idiot of a nonsense fool and you will punished for your insolence. Hmpf.

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Many of you might remember Michael Jeter as the senile prisoner in The Green Mile who adopted a mouse called Mr Jingles. The fact is he had earned himself a living for nearly two decades playing wimpy, damaged characters. Bug-eyed, psychologically sprained and perennially anxious, he often acted like he channelled Woody Allen as much he did Clint Howard; a diminutive fellow sporting a comfortably un-Malayalee-like brush-tache who could act circles around the puddles of machismo that A-listers left around him. He could also evoke as much sympathy as an orphaned Lhasa Apso would from fans who “like” the ‘Blue Cross’ fanpage on Facebook.

In Terry Gilliam’s Fisher King, he turned in a brilliant essay as an homeless, HIV-infected and barking mad cabaret singer. In one of the film’s highlights, Jeter launches into a rendition of an Ethel Merman classic so passionately unstable that rumour had it that Robin Williams’ chest hair fell out, one by one, in sheer envy. Gilliam brought him back for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in which he was Professor L. Ron Bumquist – a speaker at the Las Vegas police convention on drugs, which Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) attends (on drugs). He gives a fiery anti-drug sermon, looking askance and volatile simultaneously; so much so that we can’t be entirely sure if Depp weaseling his way out of the convention was part of the script or merely instinctive for someone under the influence.

Skip Woods’ Thursday had him playing a psychiatrist engrossed in a sweaty conversation with Dallas (Paulina Porizkova), the psychotic seductress. In a particularly memorable scene, she leans over to him, asking if he has ever seen a porn film to which, he instinctively gulps several years of repressed sexuality, squirms a bit and replies, “Yes, I’ve heard stories”. The awkwardness he oozed was tremendously funny and when spliced with Paulina’s bloodcurdling charisma it worked better than Indian techies would have for the US of A.

Now, Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile would have been acceptable if it were 30 minutes shorter and had less of Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan and their plasticized zombie-like presence. Thankfully, Michael Jeter as Del Delacroix, a death row inmate, along with Doug Hutchison playing the sadistic prison guard, saved this film from absolute torment. A few of his scenes with Mr Jingles were saccharine enough to make girl scouts weep a ballet of tears, but he gave the character more depth than it deserved. In the first few scenes, his eyes were filled with derangement and abandon as he leered through the prison bars. Once the stupid mouse appeared, they glowed a quiet admittance of fate. Even his hyper-kinetic wailing (when Hutchison stomped the hell out of it) was inappropriately great. Bless his mongrel heart for having stayed true to his craft despite all the lounging he did with waxworks and glory hounds in and around mainstream cinema.

Michael Jeter’s swansong as an actor (after which he did voice overs for two animated films) was his finest too; a meaty role in Russo brothers’ ensemble comedy –  Welcome to Collinwood. He played Toto, the antsy carjacker who joins a inept crew of thieving buffons. His scenes with William Macy, Isaiah Washington and Luis Guzma were some of the funniest stuff that tickled American cinema in 2002. Even when the the script relied on burlesque homo-eroticism for cheap giggles, Jeter found a way to draw genuine laughs. In one such scene, a visibly disgusted Leon (Isaiah) insists that Toto “put his pants back on” to which a morbidly crestfallen Toto whimpers, “I can’t, I’ll catch pneumonia”.

Now, some IMDB user has used an exclamation mark at the end of his sentence on the film’s quotes page, which might make you go, “hey, isn’t that a Rob Schneider punchline?”. Cleanse your minds, minions, because Michael Jeter never delivered punchlines. He never shared an on-screen kiss with anyone attractive either. Matter of fact, everything he said and did, as preposterous as it might have sounded to the casual cinema-goer, lacked the “punch” that pompous old men with Citizen Kane’s dialogues tattooed on their foreheads spent years trying to imbibe in film students.

People might say he played the same character for two decades or whatever, but they would whistle and pretend to be distracted if someone else made the same argument about Samuel Jackson or Clint Eastwood, so let’s ignore these people mmkay?

In fact let’s lure these people with cheap porno magazines into an abandoned godown and force them to sit through five Al Pacino performances (Dick Tracy, S1m0ne, 88 Minutes, Righteous Kill, Scent Of A Woman).

We’ll just sit back and relish cinema’s underdogs, actors who simply can’t be replaced by textbooks and templates, actors like Michael Jeter.

(Jeter died from an epileptic seizure in 2003 and isn’t nearly as fondly remembered as he should be)

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The Lodger: Director David Ondaatje‘s debut is loosely adapted from Hitchcock’s 1927 silent film about a ‘Jack The Ripper’ copycat killer. Ondaatje gives The Lodger a routinely modern twist by throws plenty of false climaxes, both run-of-the-mill and unexpected, at us. The visual elements are also far grittier than these types of films normally lend themselves to, thanks to nifty cinematography from David Armstrong. Actress Hope Davis (with whom I’m having a cinematic affair) as the hapless patron of the lodge and Alfred Molina as the obsessive detective deliver on so many levels that we can ignore Simon Baker‘s ineffectual brooding as the title character. Two other things that didn’t quite work for me – Philip Baker Hall darting in and out as the generic Captain Smith, grimacing perhaps a tad too unnaturally, and the predictable ending. Everything else deserves a thumbs-up in this suitably atmospheric Hitchcockian thriller.

Pig Hunt: I have the softest corner in my mind for low-budget horror films that scream bloody murder. It is adorable how they make us curl into a foetal position, letting our mind escape from recurring group hugs that define our lives, careers and breaks in sobriety. It is also heart-warming that there are film-lovers out there scraping together money and questionable talent to scare the shit out of other people. Like many other gory backwoods thrillers turn out to be, James Isaac’s Pig Hunt could be an extended metaphor for the socio-political hierarchies that govern every aspect of our world; so if you’re into that sort of thing, you may find sly references to misogyny, established religion and if you’re drunk, oedipal complexes too. Mutilated emus, a machete-wielding maniac, nymphomaniacal pot cultivators, and a monstrous wild boar that makes Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback look like Babe lost and hogtied in the city? The show goes on. And how.

Greenberg: These comedians have become infatuated with playing caricatures of their publicized persona – Adam Sandler in Funny People, Patton Oswalt in Big Fan, and that creepy guy, to an ostensibly lesser extent, in Pauly Shore Is Dead. Even crappy action stars have embraced it (spoiler: this intro is a waste of time) and gone on to make fun of themselves (JCVD and My Name Is Bruce). I assume Ben Stiller was going for something similar in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, but I could be wrong. Actually, Roger Greenberg isn’t very different from characters that we’ve come to associate Stiller with. Domesticated, empathetic, dorky and infatuated with delusions of grandeur – traits that don’t mesh very well with the character’s existential despair in this film. Sort of like Chris Cornell’s Scream album that toyed with hip-hop. I can appreciate the deviance from normalcy but uh uh no thanks…it’s just too weird. Thankfully, the film’s zanier and more admirable bouts of melancholia lie in Rhys Ifans‘ droopiness and Greta Gerwig‘s gut-wrenching facial expressions, both of which, are spectacular as is the soundtrack provided by James Murphy (front man, LCD Soundsystem). Now go watch Oswalt set the bar incredibly high in Big Fan.

The Losers: Sylvain White is the genius behind I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer. We definitely know what he did the summer of 2010. He made an abortion of an action flick.

American Splendor: Harvey Pekar died last week, so let’s spend a minute in obligatory silence as I pray to the distraught geeks in the sky for his soul to keep. In case you don’t already know, he was a iconic comic book writer and legendary cultural nihilist. His autobiographical comic series detailed the tortuously funny bits of his life as a file clerk at a Veteran’s Administration hospital in Cleveland. In Berman and Pulcini’s biopic, Paul Giamatti is very believable as Pekar. It is evident that someone has done proper research. One of the details I really enjoyed was the way Giamatti lets his eyebrows do most of the talking as did Pekar in so many of his interviews, especially on Dave Letterman. In addition, a special mention to the cameos from his real-life friends and their splendidly spaced-out, interstellar stares; with friends like these who needs copies of Hitch Hiker’s Guide. All said and done, a notch below the utterly cool crankiness of Terry Zwigoff’s documentary on Robert Crumb, but a tremendous water pistol salute to the man nevertheless.

Splintered: Vincenzo Natali‘s extended love letter to Spielberg’s epically bad film about cute aliens is no longer the odds-on favourite to win my ‘wasted storyline potential’ trophy for 2010. Director Simeon Halligan could have gone about a million other ways with Splintered‘s storyline and still had me thoroughly engaged. While the first 15 minutes promises vicious creatures of the night, creative dismemberment and a wee Welsh lassie’s descent into hyper-realistic madness, the rest of the film has some of the flimsiest excuses for bloodshed. He mucks things up further by paying zero attention to group psychology during moments of crisis. At times, I wasn’t sure if the guys were being stalked and attacked by unseen evil or frantically seduced by their pregnant cousins; a strange mix of disgust, euphoria and fear. Some of dialogues are so absurd that we might soon have a ‘Godzilla vs Splintered’s Script’ straight-to-DVD classic on our hands. Holly Weston‘s passive hysteria in the last frame as she walks towards a close-up angle is a thing of beauty, but everything is such a chore to endure.

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I’d wax eloquent about the joys of brevity, but it is as much an art form as a goat’s tonsil tethered to the business end of a woodwind instrument. I have merely realized that it takes a week or two for me to forget why I loved or loathed certain films. Hence, the frantic and discourteously blunt dialogue on various films, good, bad and those starring Abhishek Bachchan.

Thursday: Skip Woods is best known for writing brain-dead masala flicks (Swordfish, GI Joe). Before his inglorious pilgrimage towards questionable stardom, he wrote Thursday – a brutish white-knuckled urban thriller. Thomas Jane and Aaron Eckhart are glorious as main characters, Casey and Nick; one a drug dealer and general practitioner of chaos and the other well versed in both, but unwilling to participate. The cameos are so good that if it were up to me I would piss and moan in the parking lot until someone made full-length feature films with the Rasta assassin (Glenn Plummer), the skittish adoption agency executive (Michael Jeter) and the corrupt copper (Mickey Rourke) as lead protagonists.

Good Intentions: I enjoy small-town comedies about blackmailing, dysfunctional families and oddball sheriffs as much as the next blogger drunk on his/her own pathos of fashionable city life. Unfortunately, Jim Issa’s Good Intentions is so mediocre that if you squint one of your eyes you can actually see a silhouette of Tom Hanks in every second frame. The film has one good joke that it beats the crap out of until all the horses drop dead quicker than Luke Perry should actually retire from acting.

Hard Eight: Paul Thomas Anderson always gives us something different to play with every single time. How a single brain can conceive both Boogie Nights and Magnolia I’ll never understand. His debut Hard Eight a.k.a Sydney stars two of my favourite actors – John Reilly, Philip Baker Hall – has Samuel Jackson in his second best role ever and Philip Seymour Hoffman doing what he actually does best, play an ostensibly unlikable tub of lard. They share incredible chemistry too, feeding off each other’s intensity like real performers should. If only Hope Davis, Juliette Lewis or Chloe Sevigny were cast as Reilly’s love interest instead of Gwyneth Palthrow, I would have had a tough time explaining why salt-crusted tears sometimes leave a happy trail on my cheeks.

Raavan/ Raavanan: People treat Mani Ratnam’s films like chunks of yak cheese. They stick a piece in inside their cheeks and chew on it for hours, desperately looking for nuances to hate and love. I’d feel better comparing his films to the now defunct Cadbury’s Dollops chain of ice cream stores; never spent nights wondering how scrumptious their ice creams were; never really playfully tore the dead skin of my palm, thinking about all the wonderful new flavours that could be…sure, I enjoyed a scoop or a cone every now, but that’s because I generally liked ice cream. It didn’t really matter if it were Arun, Kwality or Dollops. The Tamizh version of Ravanan would have been worth a second watch if it weren’t for the lame cinematography/music that sounds/looks ripped off from some unfashionable first-person shooter Playstation game, and Aishwarya Rai. The Hindi version had Abhishek Bachchan…so uhmmm no thanks.

Next Stop Wonderland: Yes, this is a romantic comedy from Miramax Films, but no, it doesn’t suck at all. It’s probably one of most likable romantic films ever made. Director Brad Anderson is man of proven genius (Transsiberian, The Machinist, Session 9, Happy Accidents), but the spotlight from Next Stop Wonderland righteously gleams on the lead couple – Hope Davis and Alan Gelfant and ever so slightly on Seymour Hoffman, who is hilarious as a disgruntled hippie. The couple’s love story is in fact reminiscent of that film in which Amala and Mohan play star-crossed lovers who never get to see each other, with all the melodrama stifled and replaced instead with melancholy. The ending is just perfect even with nobody really dying or carrying the burden of such.



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If you're online…

You might as well read these. Unless you’re saving cancer, in which case, stay in touch…I’ll need you in a couple of years.

Seventh Art dissects Raavan with surgical precision

Priloza has changed her blog template, but thankfully, she’s still bonkers

White people like world cup soccer too

Is there a better place to find obscure music? Paul Irish and Julija are the best

Flux Blog recommends weird shapes and sizes

Ear Fuzz pays tribute to Billy Stewart

Indie Wire reviews Winter’s Bone

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5. Queens of the Stone Age – Mosquito Song

The Queens of the Stone Age can make spectacular rock music when they put their minds to it. Most of the time, they take the easy route by sticking meaty hooks over a few desert grooves, giving us tracks like No One Knows and Make It Witchu that sound too convenient, with their stuttering rhythms and pansy percussion lacking the proper venom that their brand of rock and roll truly deserves. Some of their other tracks, (Hanging Tree, Burn The Witch, In The Fade) make me want to believe that the Palm Beach rock scene didn’t die a horrid death when the almighty Kyuss disbanded. Mosquito Song is a tranquil moment for Josh Homme and the boys; a mellow acoustic trip that couldn’t have gotten lovelier if Mark Lanegan had joined him for the final chorus. Thankfully, the searing violins did.

4. Natalie Imbruglia & Sneaker Pimps – Cold Air (Download)

The music industry hated everything about Natalie Imbruglia except her Torn video and pre-emo emo haircut so that we, the quasi badass nerds and fantasy music critics with our beady eyes, could enjoy her music without feeling brainwashed by MTV. Naaaah they probably didn’t like her because she was too far away from what they perceived as the future template of mainstream pop music – Lady ‘mother loving’ Gaga. Not that the poor thing was either a very good singer or a talented songwriter. In fact I wish Cold Air, a B-side remix from her White Lilies Island album, was originally written by someone else, let’s say, Isobel Campbell or Shara Worden. I can’t though. So here goes, a scrumptious pop tart from someone the collective consciousness previously rejected as a flash-in-the-pan. Surely that gives her some sort of reverse pop psychology credibility. Yay for Sneaker Pimps too.

3. Pantera & Kerry King – Goddamn Electric

Heavy metal is like that stepdad who beats the living daylights out of little Johnny. Yet Johnny keeps coming back for more; not because he likes it, but rather out of the flimsy hope that someday his stepdad just might show him some love. See, Johnny is a lot like us, haggard metal fans. Tired of the abuse handed down to us; and just not enough love going around. I say, enough with the shrieking drama kings and queens clad in black designer wear, posing as the prima donnas of popular heavy metal. Whenever I listen to Bad Brains, Pantera or Zakk Wylde, I can understand why little Johnny still gets excited whenever the drunken oaf puts the belt away and makes him a paper airplane to play with. “Goddamit man, you’re not the best daddy that little Johnny could hope for, but screw it, paper planes are awesome and so was this moment…for little Johnny”. So Pantera jams with Slayer’s guitarist and pays a fearsome ode to Black Sabbath and whiskey? How could this not be inspiring? Solos like this are meant to be used as a case against civil decency.

2. Saul Williams – Twice Upon A Time (Download)

Saul Stacey Williams is to alternative hip hop what Lou Reed once was to punk music. We can’t always see the connection, but we can only be sure that they somehow revolutionized it. Saul’s not just an incredible rhyme slayer; he’s an open mic beat poet, a very competent writer and a decent enough actor. That’s already 3,456 things that Ice Cube is not. Over the years his albums have sonically pushed all sides of spectrum and much like his enviably retro afro have grown more captivating. So much so that his 2007 album NiggyTardust was sometimes unlistenable from a pop perspective, but was intensely captivating in its own right, as dense collages of sound that challenge listeners to break down barriers. Twice Upon A Time is an amazing track that can be found on Disc 3 of Xen Cuts – a Ninja Tune compilation. This track is so poorly misrepresented on the Web that this blog shows up when you Google it. It starts off with a chilly broken blues lament that leads to Saul Williams coercing poetry and hip hop to writhe in imperfect harmony, the kind that sounds really good. “As if a heartbeat wasn’t enough…” Also read the Scholar wax lyrical about this track, as always.

  1. John Martyn – Glory Box

These lists that bloggers make are so absurd. Top 25 this, top 3 that.  Someone should make a top 100 list of things to do that are more worthwhile than sitting in front of the laptop, hoping that strange (and possibly lonelier) people think we’re cool because we assume that great and obscure music is drawn to us.  Aren’t we just precious? Let’s all approach Gollum and just bend over. More importantly, let’s just pretend that I’m above such judgment and move along. Singer-songwriter John Martyn sounds like the child that Frank Sinatra and Tom Waits could have never had.  Give him a Vogon poem and he’ll make that sound mesmerizing. Arundhati Roy’s articles too. His 1998 album – The Church With One Bell – has one of the most jaw-dropping covers ever made. His raspy tone segues with the seductively lounge-y instrumentation to turn Portishead’s Glory Box into a gorgeous jazz number that you can kick back and smell the nicotine stains to. Get the entire album, minions…there are promises of Billie Holiday and Dead Can Dance too. (PS: Yes I’m aware that the list says 1999-2009).

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