Dirty Sexy Rich: The Canyons (2013)

The Canyons
Release: 2013 (unsurprisingly TBD)

I’ve watched this approximately 37 times since Thursday. Ain’t no shame in my game.

In my mind, two scenarios are possible:

1. An exceedingly talented editor and music supervisor made this trailer, and spun gold from pure garbage;
OR
2. This film is the Second Coming of a particular movement (existential materialist youth cinema?) and is such a high piece of art it may not be appreciated in its own time.

Is it too much to say I vote for 2? It’s because I see the indelible, soul-burning mark of Bret Easton Ellis on this movie, just from this short peek. The script is deliberately clunky. Everything looks uncomfortable. Uncanny, disgusting bodies and faces are photographed beautifully. It’s what Bret’s been dreaming of since 1983, and it appears our culture’s ready for it once more. Maybe it’s the way my generation embraces irony. Aw man, I missed you, Bret! It’s been too long since Less Than Zero and you finally got your groove back, you stupid materialist pig genius.

I recently read that an insider at South by Southwest claimed The Canyons was rejected this year because it had “a certain ugliness, a deadness to it.” PHENOMENAL! We need more of that these days. I’m not talking about the twee negative space that you encounter in indie films for thinking folk. I’m talking about glamorous, expansive, exquisitely painful, thudding, immediate emptiness.

I’m talking about Lindsay Lohan’s melting face and weakening skill for dialogue. I’m talking about her disintegrating young-old body. It’s horrifying and addictive and I want two whole hours of it.

lindsay

Paul Schrader (the director) said something mostly true about our fallen supernova:

Marilyn Monroe and Lohan exist in the space between actors and celebrities, people whose professional and personal performances are more or less indistinguishable. To be successful, a performer controls the balance between the professional and personal, that is, he or she makes it seem like the professional is personal. It is the lack of this control that gives performers like Monroe and Lohan their unique attraction. We sense that the actress is not performing, that we are watching life itself. We call them “troubled,” “tormented,” “train wrecks”—but we can’t turn away. We can’t stop watching. They get under our skin in a way that controlled performers can’t.

Am I insane? I might be. Sometimes I get carried away in matters of LiLo. What did you think of the trailer? Would you see it? Or does it look awful? Or does it look awful and you’ll definitely see it?

P.S. If you haven’t yet read the NY Times article about the behind-the-scenes making of this film, get thee hence. It is a thing of sublime hilarity.

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Oldboy Remake Trailer Debuts; World Weeps

Oldboy (2013)
Red band trailer

Frustration. At least I’m not alone. No one thinks this remake was necessary. Josh Brolin is miscast (HELLO, CHRISTIAN BALE IS ALIVE AND AVAILABLE. AT LEAST DO US THAT DIGNITY). The villain’s phone voice is laughably gentle and British. The historical events shown on the T.V. are aggressively non-international, because this is THE ROOTIN-TOOTIN AMERICAN VERSION, you see? Samuel L. Jackson’s floating somewhere in the plot. This is ridiculous and horrible.

I love Elisabeth Olsen and I am, as always, delighted to see Chris Moltisanti alive and well on a screen, but this is a travesty. Should never have happened. We all know it will never hold a candle to the original, and now its pathetic legacy gets to sidle up next to one of the greatest films ever made, in America or on Earth.

If you have not seen the original Oldboy, lovingly rendered and brilliantly acted by Koreans who actually care about things, please address that gaping hole in your soul tout suite.

For shame, Spike Lee. I trusted you to Do The Right Thing.

Coming* Soon: Lovelace!

*See what I did there? PUNOGRAPHIC!

Lovelace
Release: August 2013

Things I love: the 1970s. Character actors. Backdoor feminism. Biopics. Seminal moments in porn history. LOL. Seminal.

Who else is glad that Lindsay Lohan was dumped from the title role? I must’ve read Linda Lovelace’s Wikipedia entry like a thousand times, and I took this college class on censorship where we all watched Deep Throat and pretended it was for book-larnin’ purposes. I have been so obsessed with this film since I found out it was going to be an actual thing. And it’s really happening! Without Lindsay Lohan! Did you hear that, Boogie Nights? Your legacy shall never die!

Point taken, Rollergirl.

Point taken, Rollergirl.

Amanda Seyfried surprised me in this trailer. She obviously has the chops to play Linda’s wholesome and vulnerable side, but Linda also had a very hard edge. She was impetuous and entitled, and if you read a little bit about her life, you’ll see how quickly her status as porn’s “It Girl” turned on her. Seyfried has a charming brashness here that should temper her doe eyes really well.

It looks like the film is taking a sympathetic view of her whole queen-of-porn and fall-from-grace saga. This I understand for sales purposes, but to be honest, I’d rather see an anti-heroine gradually unmaking herself a la The Wrestler. If this is going to be some victim-pitying bullshit, I’ll be sad. Side note, poor Peter Saarsgard, whose beautiful dead eyes have condemned him to a life of playing domestic abusers.

sarsgaard

Saarsgard-eyes aside, the cast seems completely stellar (welcome back, Hank Azaria!) and I have high hopes. I just simply love movies about porn and the mechanics of monetized sex. I hope at least some small part of this film celebrates the ebullient inventiveness of 1970s erotica, not just the icky parts. There’s drugs but there’s also fun and sideburns!

Who else out there is excited for Lovelace? Any other female actresses you would have thought to cast as Linda?

Throwing 50 Shades

Lately I’ve been thinking that I really should read Fifty Shades of Grey. WAIT. DON’T GO. It’s not because I have any great love for syrupy sexist fanfiction (because I don’t [I do]). It’s just that I really don’t want to miss the boat. The film’s cast is going to be announced at this year’s Comic-Con, and hysteria is going to ensue, and when that movie comes out I need to be part of the zeitgeist. Zeitgeist FOMO is worse than any other FOMO. When 50 Shades shade is being thrown on my newsfeed, I need to be able to holla like a schola, or else what am I worth on the internet, really?

But it’s hard because I know it’s shit and I’m going to get angry about genders. I like to get my id tickled, don’t get me wrong, but I prefer it when the tickling says something powerful about sex and relationships, something that leaves me with a “take charge” glow rather than the terrible guilt that comes with complacency. What I mean is, it’s alright if a female character feels weakness, or submits to a male. That’s what I and many of my peers were raised to believe is normal. I don’t mind if those roles (however insane and unfair) are acknowledged and performed. But it’s not alright if that subordination is connected neatly and squarely with desire. Like, it’s sexy because it’s an extreme form of the status quo. Fanfic Girl loves to be tortured and dominated and silenced because it’s the only way to please Christian Grey, who is sewwwww manly and complex. So lazy, so boldly condescending. I mean, did you read it? Am I wrong? I don’t know if I’m pissed because it’s offensive to my vagina, or pissed because my vagina is so fucking bored.

I watched Secretary a few days ago. In many ways, it’s everything 50 Shades could have been, should have been, and by virtue of its popularity, will never be. It centers on a very complicated relationship between a lawyer (James Spader) and his secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who eventually create an S&M dynamic that teaches them both more about human connection than any of their “normal” relationships. Coincidentally, Spader’s character is also named “Mr. Grey.” But he’s not just a thinly drawn fantasy; he’s a person of many contradictions, struggling to just be a man. And Gyllenhaal just wants to be a girl. Neither of them can get it quite right, and the film kinda implies that none of us can, because “normal” is dull and counter-intuitive.

This here is a dominant/submissive situation that is pointedly feminist; both characters find power in their own non-gendered weirdness. Spader is anguished in his own skin, ashamed by the fact that he craves control and inflicting pain. He actually seems to blame his penis for his propensity for sexual dominance, and as a result, he withdraws into himself and plays the soft-spoken gentleman. He doesn’t know how to love and be sexual at the same time, because the line is too tricky to walk and the rejection hurts so bad. When his lovers see what turns him on, they not only dump him, they imply that he’s sick and irreparable.

And Gyllenhaal is another ball of contradictions and neuroses. She’s painfully shy, sensitive, wishes for only simple pleasures and comforting routine. She cuts herself because the pain is an outlet, one of the only things that make her feel alive and engaged with the earth. She needs praise. She needs to feel safe. When she and Spader begin to build a trust, each of them sees that their strange needs (both emotional and sexual) can finally be met. And the fact that such happiness and synchronicity can exist OUTSIDE the realm of the normal scares the shit out of both of them. They take a long time to fall into their routine, not because it feels wrong, but because it feels too right.

Most people have seen the famous scene where Spader loses himself in the utter joy of spankery as Gyllenhaal sweetly shouts, “I’m your SECRETARY!” I do love when they finally reach an understanding; it’s nice to see the devotion and strength she cultivates even with a ball-gag in her mouth. And Spader gets so cute as his defenses fall. But this scene is one of the best, I think; it’s one of their first meetings and says volumes about how such a relationship can begin.

Check Spader out around the 1-minute mark. I love the way he observes that Gyllenhaal is “closed tight. A wall.” He starts out the conversation weary and cold because he’s used to keeping his bizarre brand of masculinity a secret. He’s tired of restraining himself, and this girl seems like an innocent rube who’s going to quit in her first week. But Gyllenhaal has secrets. Secrets of her own. She’s hesitant but curious. She hates herself almost as much as he hates himself. Who the fuck is this girl, and can I save her? That’s what Spader is thinking. And maybe he’s never felt that kind of spontaneous affection before for a normal girl. She’s a woman with sexual needs so specific and aberrant that maybe she could be the one.

Both of their performances are masterful. Gyllenhaal plays the perfect mixture of shy and straightforward, and her sexual evolution in this movie is a delight to watch. Spader is so alluring, so awkward and so wounded. This scene is great because you can watch his breath catch as he realizes how helpless this girl makes him feel. That push-and-pull of power and weakness between them makes for one of the most insightful heterosexual romances you’ll ever ever watch unfold.

So I’m going to read 50 Shades, but just know I’m going to hate every minute of it. Having experienced a story like Secretary, how can I dumb myself down again and go back to feeling such manufactured normalized pleasure? I dunno, you tell me. Did you get through 50 Shades? Does it have merits that I’ve missed in my scathing pre-judgment? Is it even possible to reach feminist conclusions in a work of fiction that fetishizes female submissiveness? Comments please.

Chaplin, Now and Then

Chaplin

Me and the old ball and chain were talking about Chaplin (1992) recently, and nearly watched it before we realized it was five hours long. I’ve seen it anyway, and it’s kind of terrible. RDJ is very committed and affecting as always, but the script is seriously unreal in its mediocrity. As always, I think Ebert says it best:

The screenplay, by three writers, is a whirl of name-dropping and arch dialogue, in which famous Hollywood names alternate with Charlie’s latest conquests. The plot structure is so ancient it creaks…There must have been more. (He) must have been more complex and more interesting than this movie shows him. If the screenwriters in their research couldn’t find more intriguing insights into his life and art, they should have made them up; the movie would have been no more false than it is now.

I guess when I first read the review a few years ago, I was detached from Eebs’ frustration because I didn’t really connect with Chaplin. I don’t usually make it my business to watch films made before 1960 because I don’t understand the style, the language, the references. I’m a creature of habit and I like my formulas.

But I did decide to watch City Lights (1931) because I went on a little Youtube binge and found Charlie to have wayyy more charisma than I’d noticed back in my media studies classes. I’m 70 years late on the zeitgeist, but he is incredible! Behind his every decision, even slapstick physicality, there’s deliberate genius. His elocution and passion in The Great Dictator (1940) is awe-inspiring, but the Chaplin magic indeed shines much brighter, pre-talkies. He knew the real power of a silent film, which has unfortunately been lost to distracted and shallow future generations — like me.

Please watch this gorgeously photographed last scene of City Lights. Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill have such delicate chemistry, which thrives most in the long pauses between word cards.

The very last shot also zings me right in the heart bone. He’s got so much behind his face. Only in these old silent films does the camera linger long to show you an inner life. Amazing.

Paperman (2013)


Paperman
Disney animated short
2013

Very sweet, gorgeous new animated short from Disney. Nominated for an Oscar this year because it is pure magic. Make no mistake, this ain’t Pixar. Although the drawing was aided by computer rendering, 2D animation still lives and thrives! That’s the Disney way. I really like this style, especially the black & white, since it makes you pay attention to the subtle shifts in tone. Art in every frame.

The Dream Divine: Les Miserables

Once in awhile, good actors and good filmmakers decide to indulge the id and make a musical. And those trailers come out and I basically hang them in front of my face like a Milk-Bone biscuit on a string and sit in front of the computer hungrily re-watching for hours. Months. Until I purchase a ticket with or without a friend, and get me my $61 million-dollars-worth of emotion.

Sacre-effing-bleu, Les Miserables is good. It was so good I mais ouis-oui’ed in my pants a little bit and I cried a lotta bit. It was dark and raw and expansive, running rich with blood and grime. It was also tender, caressing the complex human corners exposed by the stage musical while bravely stepping a bit further into historical reality.

At its heart, Les Mis is a deconstruction and a celebration of human virtue. There are many frameworks through which the concept is virtue is brilliantly refracted: military revolution, sexuality, the Church, love and time, political law, local law, moral law. It’s crazy how many layers there are to work through in the original script, and I think it’s crazy AND amazing that Tom Hooper directed a film version that not only develops them all, but preserves the sacred experience of watching humans struggle with them live, in real time.

The actors recorded their vocals while filming their scenes. I think this was a beautiful and refreshing choice, because as a musicals whore, I’ve grown too accustomed to life auto-tuned. In a sense, many of my favorite movie-musicals (Cabaret, West Side Story) are distant cousins of their source material, because the vocals are pre-strained, pre-sanitized, “taken care of,” if you will, in order to ensure that the holistic experience of viewing is without distractions. You get to watch the stage show up close, at its most pristine. But here the live vocals achieve a sublime truth. Here the cheese stands alone, brave and devastatingly effective. I’m talking about Les Mis.  Les Mis is the cheese.

Back to virtue (oh my god, these blog posts GET AWAY FROM ME, ALWAYS. Focus, self). The two lynchpins here are the characters Jean Valjean, ex-convict on the unflinching path to redemption, and Fantine, a poor young maid forced into prostitution and trampled in spite of her goodness (she pretty much lives like Mary Magdelene and dies like Jesus). Life is very unfair to them both, but they walk the high road and meet by chance, changing both their destinies. Many other subplots support the story, but Les Mis depends most on these two roles, strongly played.

I remember when Anne Hathaway hopped up onstage to splash some sparkle on Hugh Jackman’s 2009 opening number at the Oscars. That right there was her audition. She was nothing more than cute, but she lent crucial public support to Jackman’s career-long campaign to revive the song-and-dance-man. I think this moment started some Hollywood juices flowing.

I’ve always been an Anne fan, and felt charitable towards her adorable efforts in serious roles. But she always seemed to lack a depth, a damage. I honestly did not see her performance as Fantine coming. FOR IT IS A REVELATION.

hathaway_main2-620x349

She is vulnerable, young, wracked by terror in many scenes documenting her downfall into the Paris underworld. But most important, Anne’s Fantine is PRESENT. She does not simply play ruined innocence; she plays anger, heart-rending in its futility. She is a pathetic woman, but was not always, and makes the ghost of her dignity known. Her iconic performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” brings up emotional tones I never saw before in the song;. It is filmed completely in close-up, no flashbacks to the events alluded to; I expect it would be particularly tempting to show us the young man who abandoned her in pregnancy, since Fantine reaches new heights of despair during those passages. I really cannot describe what it’s like to watch her, suffering both as a character and an actor, her emaciated body and shorn head shaking, while she performs the absolute dickens out of this song.

Her delicate portrayal holds this movie together. She serves as a beacon to Jean Valjean and even the characters who never knew her. Fantine’s presence lingers, long after her arc is over. Anne really tears herself apart for the sake of the music, and the result is nothing less than haunting.

Equally brilliant is Hugh Jackman as Valjean. Full disclosure: I already think (or KNOW) that he is flawless, so none of it came as a surprise – the superior acting, note-perfect physical choices, subtly tailored sub-personas arising in Valjean’s various relationships. I was really taken aback by the opening scenes of the film, in which he struggles at his lowest point. He’s homeless, an outcast of society, wracked by grief and vengeance, and hates himself. Not a leading man, not handsome, not even human. The fact that Hugh wrings out every drop of nuance while delivering some of the strongest vocals of his career is both expected and unexpected. Tears are pouring out of his bloodshot eyes, his weather-beaten face is collapsing in on itself like a pile of firewood…he sings, fails, swallows, then soars. He is literally so IN IT, so good,  it defies logic.

hugh jackman les miserables oscars entertainment news

As for the rest of the cast, the triumphs far outweighed the missteps. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Eddie Redmayne, who goes FAR beyond  what the role of Marius requires to create a true representation of youthful righteousness. I always found him a little boring, but Eddie couches him successfully in the great crucible of his life. He’s an endearing chap forced to prove his mettle in a war he’s ill-prepared for, all the while dealing with the white-hot pain-joy of first love, and the meaning of loyalty. Eddie manages to play a broken soul without losing his boyish innocence. I had no idea he was such a talented singer, or had such ready access to dark emotions. It seems his first significant film experience (one of my most hated biopics) did not truly illustrate his onscreen authenticity. I apologize, Eddie Redmayne, because you really killed it this time.

Also excellent were Helena Bonham Carter and Sascha Baron Cohen as the ostentatious, vicious, dirty Thenardiers. As the comic relief,  they played off each other as a solid unit, providing much needed diversions to the heavy central plot as necessary. They tore open swaths of light and color at the right moments, building just the right amount of a love-to-hate factor. True professionals both.

But oh, sweet gripery: Russell Crowe was a terrible choice for the antagonist, Inspector Javert. I just believe this, in my heart of hearts. He is not open enough in his choices to keep pace with the rest of the cast and the gritty honesty of the film. He played only the obvious contradiction in Javert – duty vs. ethics – which is so boring when you let it sit there on the surface. He was just so wrong. And his vocal performance was so atrocious it strained credulity and did a disservice to the story.

He is Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia. Yeah, I went there and I really have to stay there.

The two young ingenues, Cosette and Eponine, are played with passable beauty and no shortage of crocodile tears by the forgettable Amanda Seyfried and Samantha Barks, respectably. They are both committed enough to stoke the deep embers of the film’s heart when it’s their job, but neither girl goes deep enough to make the role relatable or truly affecting beyond its purpose as a trope. This is especially disappointing in the case of Barks, who squanders the aching classic “On My Own.” Her emotional flatness would not have been a huge issue in musical theater, since her singing is so powerful, but onscreen she is dead weight. I was suuuupa pissed when Lea Michele was not cast in the role, because I knew this part required a real wounded doe, inspiring almost as much epic sympathy as Fantine. Lea knows how to throw feminine pain like a javelin. Barks just couldn’t flesh out her Eponine, and so contributed to the back-seating of her story and all the others set after the inciting incidents between Fantine and Valjean.

Be that as it may, because of the sheer power contained in those two main forces, the film was still deeply affecting as a whole. Maybe even close to perfect. Everything worked; I even got used to and grew fascinated by the intrusive camera, peering anxiously into every face, unwavering and letting us see people search for meaning from second to second. You could get drunk on the visual style, alternating between palettes of deep grays and explosive reds. And the length just ain’t no thang. It is a huge tale, grappling with good and evil and God and love, and the three hours it needed didn’t even seem like enough.

So yeah, this recommendation comes from me to you, with four stars and two thumbs up and one evening lost to typing this clunky maelstrom of critical rapture. Bring tissues and your heart at its most alive. At the very least, experience the love and care it took to bring you, the viewer and the human, a musical of truth and quality. Appreciate the courage it took to make this picture, a story that falters and flies, crushes, then revives.

The moment has arrived. C’est magnifique. The musical is back.

Trailer: Not Fade Away

Not Fade Away
2012

I did not watch this trailer when it became available because I had just watched the Stones documentaries Gimme Shelter and Crossfire Hurricane in rapid succession, and was totally over 60s rock mythology. This was a mistake, because GUESS WHAT. David Chase is directing James Gandolfini again. After almost three full re-watches of The Sopranos, I am now genetically predisposed to love the shit out of this film.

Also featured is Jack Huston (Richard Harrow from Boardwalk Empire), and I think it will be a helpful and enriching experience to see him with both halves of his face intact.

Enter the Void (2009)

Last night I started watching Gaspar Noe’s very ambitious, very lengthy, very WTF masterpiece, Enter the Void. My media shaman had described this film to me a couple of times, but I wasn’t really that jazzed about giving up a whole night to what was clearly an ART FILM. This is not because I am wont to automatically reject the precious cultural totems of the desperately pretentious…well, that’s a lie, I’m totally wont. But movies are different. Movies are one of those things that allow you to feel alone and unique and maybe godlike during the consuming experience. Like a great painting, a filmic work of art is created by two people – the artist and the viewer, who is also an artist. Noe puts visuals and sound and text and bodies through a lens, onto my screen, and I slurp them through my lens, and I assign meaning. Enter the Void is particularly cool because Noe has such a nuanced understanding of this process. It’s brilliant so far; it’s 1000 volts of brand new beautiful vision.

This is a really silly post, because I’ve literally only seen the first half an hour. I mean, I know how the rest of the film proceeds because I compulsively raked my eyes over every inch of the Wiki article this morning. I’ll probably watch the rest when I’ve got a boring rainy evening on my hands.

But for now I feel I must share with you this scene, which works on those two levels I mentioned. It’s a very subjective vision, a cacophony of colors and fractals so specific that I don’t doubt Noe’s previous experience with all kinds of kooky psychedelics. But on the other hand, if you allow your eyes to receive rather than consciously perceive…this will lead you down to a very quiet mind-basement. And it’s a scary and beautiful thing. Be entranced:

Tolstoy Lite

Anna Karenina
directed by Joe Wright
Release date: 11/9/12

Has everyone taken in the succulent splendor of this trailer for the latest Anna Karenina update? When I saw it float by in the ether of my Facebook feed, I pounced because Keira Knightley in period garb is like fucking crack to me. I will watch anything where she is required to wear a bonnet, petticoat, jewels, metallic armored nipple-straps, whatever. For some reason, this girl’s got a gift for timeless waifery. She can slice clean through any era with her emaciated tendons and dark bottomless eyes like Pensieves.

Though I love Mz. Skellington, historical epics are not usually my bag. To be honest, I don’t read a lot of “good” literature or know actual facts about monarchies and political histories aside from what I numbly absorb from 5 AM Wikipedia adventures. I wish I could expound on Tolstoy’s novel and relate it to this juicy glittery thing. But honestly, all I know of the story is this trailer, and they suckered me. I’m gonna see it.

First of all, the look of this film is so beautiful. I could have done without the actual editing of the trailer (I could die happy without seeing another schizophrenic series of ballroom dancing shots), but the color palette and lighting seems to set this production apart from its peers. I like how inky and ethereal and golden everything looks – it reminds me of a BBC miniseries, but drawn in lustier strokes.

I also love the casting. Actually, I hate the casting, but that’s only because it reveals the painful passage of time. Jude Law as the older balding husband?! What has this world COME to? But I’ve always thought he was a lovely actor, with a wounded cockiness and sensitivity that seems always to be the purview of popular prettyboys. It will be interesting to see what he does with a more muted role like this. And Aaron Taylor-Johnson is wonderful as well – he’s often miscast, but he’s a consistent performer and I could see him handling turbulent emotion beneath classical Russian stoicism. Can’t abandon this paragraph without mentioning Keira, either – everyone needs to shut up, because although she has a creepy mantis body and has no range as an actress, she plays one thing well. And that’s gorgeous borderline-psychotic damsel. She gonna kill this.

Who wants to button up their bodice, take some Stoli shots, and see this with me? Then we can lay about afterwards in an aristocratic malaise and all pretend we totally read the novel.