Thursday, September 28, 2006

Boy is my face red

I think I may have written this sentence last night: "I'm not going to tell you how highly I value this movie, mostly because anything I recommend seems to underwhelm almost everybody else (not because I'm some kind of supercool movie hipster, mostly because I value plot and dollar bills so much less than most, much to my continually frustrating dismay)."
Jeez. I sound like a twat. Teen angst never disappears for long. It hides out, but it never goes away completely. I am actually surprised at how many of my friends pay attention to my recommendations, and I know lots of people who don't care about dollar bills and less (but still a lot) who don't care much about plot, either. Some of my friends even read my childish rants. Voluntarily! I am a lucky guy in some ways.

Four more things I like about The Science of Sleep: 1) Gondry works from his own script this time and there's so much enthusiasm evident onscreen when the director is also the writer. 2) Alain Chabat is so goddamn funny. I'm glad this movie introduced him to me. 3) I like the mixture of languages (English, Spanish, and French) and the unfixed, casual way the dialogue ping-pongs between them, complementing the film's unpretentious commingling of dreams and reality. It's not one of those movies where you're asking, "Is this a dream? Is this really happening?" unless you're Richard Roeper, who was stuck in "Eternal Sunshine" mode and stupidly tried to impose that film's structure on this one. It's really a film about how our real and fantasy lives constantly butt heads. 4) I love the tonal shifts in dialogue in Bernal and Gainsbourg's scenes together. These scenes are so honest about how romantic couples can move from playful camaraderie to brutalizations of each other to tenderness (or any random permutation of this sequence) in just a few minutes of conversation. Most movies have such black and white misunderstandings of living. This one doesn't.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Some people dream of popcorn and comfortable recliners

I was irritated to discover Richard Roeper and guest host Fred Willard (an actor I like a lot) giving two thumbs down to Michel Gondry's newest and best film, "The Science of Sleep," on Ebert and Roeper's show last weekend. I'm not going to tell you how highly I value this movie, mostly because anything I recommend seems to underwhelm almost everybody else (not because I'm some kind of supercool movie hipster, mostly because I value plot and dollar bills so much less than most, much to my continually frustrating dismay). Fuck it, I'll tell you. It's my favorite thing I've seen in theaters all year. What bothers me about this double thumbs-down is that this particular television show is practically the only mainstream outlet for discussion of non-Hollywood film. Even if a film doesn't "work," and these TV and newspaper guys are obsessed with whether a movie "works" or "doesn't work," shouldn't a film with ambition, honesty, and originality get a recommendation regardless of its success as a cohesive narrative entertainment (never mind that this film is cohesive, entertaining, and a narrative, if you have the patience of a twelve-year-old, most Americans do not). Most Hollywood bullshit crapfests "work," narratively speaking, and are, almost without exception, worthless. A lot of interesting, ambitious, original, and beautiful films don't "work," narratively speaking, but are worth your time if you think movies can be more than what they are. It's a beautiful, largely untapped medium, film, and it deserves better than a couple of guys warning thousands of Americans away from something because they're too fucking lazy to step out of their comfort zones for a couple of hours. "The Science of Sleep" is funny, sad, honest, playful, and just right about the way dreamers struggle at work, the trouble shy people have at kindling romance, and the way couples hurt each other. It has a visual reason to exist, thank god! So many critics go on and on about how important a good "story" is to a movie's success. You just want to slap them and say, "It's a visual medium, you fucknuts! Who gives a fuck about your motherfucking stories? What about visual poetry, you douchebags? What abouut the confluence of sound and image? What about body language and facial expressions? Read your Hardy Boys books and fuck off!" Also, Fred Willard really offended me and gave a backhanded compliment to Charlotte Gainsbourg when he said that "she stops just short of pretty." You have been in Hollywood too long, Mr. Willard, if you don't realize how amazingly pretty Gainsbourg is.
For god's sake, my favorite actor of the week, Timothy Carey, looked like a raccoon who wanted to hug you and light fireworks inside your mother's house. Does that "work" as a narrative for you? Does he "stop short of pretty"?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Favorite Actor Monday

Timothy Carey was more interested in life than a career. He cared about you, but he didn't give a damn what you thought of him. He was often broke, and John Cassavetes occasionally paid his dental bills. He turned down a role in "The Godfather" and was fired from "Reservoir Dogs" by co-star and producer Harvey Keitel because Carey claimed to have never heard of Keitel (the part was then given to Lawrence Tierney). He made Elia Kazan so angry that his voice was dubbed over by another actor in "East of Eden" (his performance was great anyway). While auditioning for a part in "The Godfather, Part II," he fired a gun loaded with blanks at Francis Ford Coppola. He faked his own kidnapping. When Cassavetes went to his house for the first time, he made him wear an attack dog suit, then sicced Rottweilers on him while shouting "It's not you they hate, it's the suit." He was in "One-Eyed Jacks," the only movie Marlon Brando directed. I haven't seen it yet, but I bought the DVD for one dollar at Walgreen's, and I can't wait. He directed a movie called "The World's Greatest Sinner." (Bootleg VHS copies can be found on the Internet, but I'm holding out for an official DVD release. I can't hold out too long, though.) It is about an insurance salesman who becomes a rock star/fundamentalist preacher/cult messiah. A then-unknown Frank Zappa composed the score. He attempted to direct other features, but they remained unfinished at the time of his death. One was called "Tweet's Ladies of Pasadena" and is about a man who rollerskates everywhere, is married to a 300-pound female wrestler, is the only male member of a ladies' knitting club, and whose life ambition is to clothe every animal in the world. Another, "The Insect Trainer," is based on Carey's belief that the fart should be as socially acceptable as the cough or the sneeze. The plot concerns a cockroach-befriending dishwasher who accidentally kills a woman with a fart. It was eventually performed as a play with his son in the lead. Carey once wanted to make a film that, when exhibited, would feed directly from the projector into a shredder. It could only be shown one time. He died in 1994, after a series of strokes. He was in "D.C. Cab."

Recommended Timothy Carey performances:
East of Eden (Elia Kazan, 1955)
The Killing (Stanley Kubrick, 1956)
Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)
Head (Bob Rafelson, 1968)
Minnie and Moskowitz (John Cassavetes, 1971)
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1976)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Favorite Actor Monday

Movie stars get too much attention, and are often the least interesting thing about a movie. I'm a much bigger fan of character actors, or, to use lame-o Oscar-speak, "supporting actors." (This makes them sound like they are nothing more than jock straps for Tom Cruise.) Grace Zabriskie is one of my favorites. She made her character on "Twin Peaks," who does almost nothing but cry or drift into catatonia, infinitely interesting. Her performance as Susan's mother on "Seinfeld" is wickedly funny. Even though she hasn't been in anything I've wanted to see for about twelve years or so, I think she's great. (Fortunately, she's in David Lynch's new movie, "Inland Empire," along with Harry Dean Stanton, Laura Dern, and Jeremy Irons. I'm excited about that.)

Recommended Grace Zabriskie performances:
Drugstore Cowboy (Gus Van Sant, 1989)
Wild at Heart (David Lynch, 1990)
Twin Peaks (David Lynch, etc., 1990-91)
My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)
Seinfeld (various, 1992-98)

I also recommend, with caution, An Officer and a Gentleman (Taylor Hackford, 1982) and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (Gus Van Sant, 1993). The former is successful junk and the latter is an honorable mess, but she's good in both. She's not very good in The Big Easy (Jim McBride, 1987) but neither is anyone else.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Favorite Actor Monday

Warren Oates is possibly my favorite actor. He could play anything. He gave all his characters, even the creeps and buffoons, dignity. All his performances were subtle, even his broad ones. I can see traces of him in current actors I admire, including Jeff Bridges, Billy Bob Thornton, John C. Reilly, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. He died way too young, of a heart attack a few months before his 54th birthday. Like his good friend and fellow Favorite Actor Monday alum Harry Dean Stanton, he was born and raised in Kentucky. One of his last films was "Stripes." I'm not including it in my recommendations because I haven't seen it since I was a kid and can't remember how substantial Oates' role was, but I thought I should at least mention it. Bill Murray and Oates sharing screen space might really be worth seeing.

Recommended Warren Oates performances:
Ride the High Country (Sam Peckinpah, 1962)
The Shooting (Monte Hellman, 1967)
In the Heat of the Night (Norman Jewison, 1967)
The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman, 1971)
The Hired Hand (Peter Fonda, 1971)
Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Sam Peckinpah, 1974)
Cockfighter (Monte Hellman, 1974)
92 in the Shade (Thomas McGuane, 1975)
China 9, Liberty 37 (Monte Hellman, 1978)
1941 (Steven Spielberg, 1979)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Unintentionally disturbing Czech movie posters

From the top, Bob Fosse's "Cabaret," Dennis Hopper's "Easy Rider," Luis Bunuel's "Belle de jour," and Steven Spielberg's "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial."

Monday, September 04, 2006

Favorite Actor Monday: Labor Day Edition

I have a big crush on 1970s Sissy Spacek. She had the amazing ability to look strange, average, and beautiful simultaneously. If there's a certain wildness that's missing from her features now, she is still a great actress. She has enormous range and a completely unpretentious way of inhabiting her characters. She deserves as much, if not more, of the accolades showered on Meryl Streep.

Recommended Sissy Spacek performances:
Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)
Carrie (Brian de Palma, 1976)
3 Women (Robert Altman, 1977)
Coal Miner's Daughter (Michael Apted, 1980)
Affliction (Paul Schrader, 1997)
The Straight Story (David Lynch, 1999)
In the Bedroom (Todd Field, 2001)

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