Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bathroom Break #20

from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Babel

Bathroom Break #19

from Brett Leonard's The Dead Pit

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bathroom Break #18

from Warren Beatty's Bulworth

Bathroom Break #17

from Bela Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A working class hero ain't nothin' but a sandwich

My wife and I can't usually agree on where to eat lunch or which one of us is going to be in a good mood for the week, but we almost always agree on books, movies, and music. We disagree a lot, and we're okay with that, but when we disagree about a book or a movie or a band, somehow my feelings are hurt and I get upset, then slink away like a wounded puppy. If we disagreed more often about the merits of artistic works, I would probably be less of an easily offended baby, but I still don't quite understand why I take it so personally. One part of it may be that I don't wash dishes to music, or go to movies for escape, or read books at the beach. I really care about this stuff, and I feel like it helps me live and understand life a little better and feel better about my own mortality and empathize with other people more and not feel so provincial even though I've never left the continent or even been to much of the Northeast and get through bad times better and be a little happier once in a while and blah blah blah and yank yank yank. (I also like Maniac Cop, so I don't know. Whatever the fuck, life is contradictory, cheeseburgers, etc.) We disagreed about Affliction tonight. Her problems with it make perfect sense, but I'm irrational about this stuff. This movie has a lot of personal significance for me. The voice-over is revoltingly bad, and should have been cut from the film, but Paul Schrader is a writer, first and foremost, and he was a little too in love with Russell Banks' prose. It's good writing, but it doesn't belong in a movie. The actors and images tell the story well enough, the words aren't necessary. Different mediums. Don't put mustard on the cupcakes. A couple of egregious mistakes elsewhere. Many things wrong with the movie. Why does Affliction have significance for me? It gets small-town life just right. Small towns aren't about backwoods hickery or naive optimism or good-hearted bootstrappery or quaintness or pies on windowsills. They're just places with people who know each other, and these people are either content or despairing. It's set in New Hampshire, but three of the five leads are from Nebraska (Nick Nolte, Mary Beth Hurt, James Coburn), one from Texas (Sissy Spacek), one from Wisconsin (Willem Dafoe). It gets alcoholism right. Both of my grandfathers were alcoholics, as well as many other members of my family, and my mother said when she watched this movie she had to stop it several times because James Coburn reminded her too much of her dad. When I saw it the first time, as much as I love Coburn, I thought he was a little over the top. It shocked me when my mother told me her reaction. When I watch it now, it scares me a lot. That good-natured fat guy falling asleep watching John Wayne movies on the couch used to be this monster? There's not enough snow in the movies. It's so photogenic. Class is a conscious but not overbearing issue in the movie. American movies and TV shows are afraid of class. Everyone is upper middle class. I have an irrational yet somewhat justified hatred of the upper middle class. It was fostered by my parents, who otherwise have nothing in common. There are a couple of moments in the film so good they make me flinch. Both with body language. One is when things are going badly, and Sissy Spacek's eyes give about 18 pages of information in three seconds. The other is when Nick Nolte's physically imposing character takes two steps back when his father, played by Coburn, enters the room. Those two steps tell the story of every bad drunk's kids better than anything. No voice-over necessary. I gotta pee.

Bathroom Break #16

from Paul Schrader's Affliction

Bathroom Break #15

from William Lustig's Maniac Cop

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bathroom Break #14

from Simon Hunter's Dead of Night

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Good Director/Bad Movie

Welcome to Film-Watching Robot's new regular feature, Good Director/Bad Movie. This semi-weekly (depending on my free time) new feature will focus on a shitty movie made by a director I like. I can't think of a more appropriate film to kick off this series than Gus Van Sant's Finding Forrester. Van Sant has always been a polarizing director, for critics and audiences alike, but, for the most part, I greatly admire almost every movie he's made. Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, To Die For, even the goofy, awkward, yet unfairly maligned and severely underrated Tom Robbins adaptation Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. I liked them all, and mostly loved them. Still do. Something happened in the late nineties and early two-thousands, though. Van Sant, thankfully temporarily (though it was a long temporary), lost his way. It started when he was offered, and accepted, Good Will Hunting. His most financially successful and crowd-pleasing film, Good Will Hunting is basically a remake of Rocky, but with math. Written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and produced by (yuck) Kevin Smith, it still has Van Sant's visually distinctive eye, a weird Harmony Korine cameo, and is reasonably entertaining, much more entertaining than a film with Affleck and Robin Williams has any right to be, but Van Sant, for the first time, was not personally connected to his material. It was a job of work, and its success has more to do with how much mainstream U.S. audiences never tire of the Rocky story, even after the 1500th fucking time, than with Van Sant's artistry. Ostensibly an "independent" film, if you consider Miramax independent-I sure as fuck don't, Good Will Hunting was a whole lot of empty audience wish fulfillment and Oscar-bait. But what do I know? People love that movie. When my college film professor expressed his disappointment with it, half the class actually booed him. (He deserved some boos, just not for that particular opinion.) I was disappointed, too. But it got worse. Next came the unfortunately timed (considering its bookends) shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock's Psycho. Like Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, it was hated by audiences and critics alike, and this time for understandable reasons. I actually admire it, for its dumbass audacity and unembarrassed "desecration" of a classic, but I don't understand the few changes Van Sant made (the masturbation scene, the added nudity, the pseudo-avant garde images of clouds and goats edited into the murder scenes), Vince Vaughn is a piss-poor Anthony Perkins, and why bother shooting in color if you're going so far as to recreate the original shot-for-shot. Filming it in color seemed an obvious concession to Hollywood producers and the lazy, lazy multiplex audience. I still have no idea what to make of the film, which wouldn't be such a problem if it had been preceded and followed by good films, but, at the time, it seemed like more proof of Van Sant's decline. After Psycho, Van Sant made the worst thing he's ever done. Basically another remake of Rocky via Good Will Hunting via Scent of a Woman, Finding Forrester is about a promising young high school student who, through a series of generic Hollywood contrivances, befriends a reclusive Salingeresque author who inspires him to live his dreams. Not content with Matt Damon's twentysomething working-class math genius, Finding Forrester ups the ante with Rob Brown's inner-city whiz kid. Not only is he a sixteen-year-old basketball star, but he's also a gifted writer who has somehow memorized every major novel, short story, and poem ever written. He is Michael Jordan, Richard Wright, Will Hunting, and Rocky Balboa in one uncharismatic package. Shazam! The Salinger figure, Forrester, is played by Sean Connery, who is of course hostile to young Rob Brown until his cynical, cold heart is slowly melted. Both men reveal truths to each other, and Connery learns to live again, exemplified by his thick Scottish brogue clamping down on the phrase, "You're the man now, dogg!" Unfortunately, "Hoo-ah!" was already used by Al Pacino several years previously and was unavailable to screenwriter Mike Rich (who also wrote the Cuba Gooding Jr.-plays-retarded-man inspirational tale Radio). Did I mention F. Murray Abraham plays an evil private school English teacher? Is Connery's Forrester going to leave his apartment for the first time in years to vouch for Rob Brown after Abraham accuses him of plagiarism? Will Apollo Creed rise from the dead? Will Robin Williams eat a bologna sandwich? Will I save money on my car insurance? Will Busta Rhymes' film career ever stop skyrocketing?
Van Sant has reticently admitted having zero interest in the film, and merely wanted to see what it was like directing a blockbuster, and it looks like it. Before the plot kicks in, the film has a definite visual flair and sense of place, but once Brown and Connery meet, Van Sant's style disappears and we could be watching Failure to Launch. Flat, uninteresting, boring, stupid, and conventional, Finding Forrester seemed like the nail in Van Sant's coffin. Surprisingly, he was one of the few directors lost in the mediocre Hollywood jungle who was able to find his way back out. His last three films, Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days, are every bit as good as his early work. Finding Forrester, though. Holy shit.

You're the man now, dogg!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Bathroom Break #13

from Olivier Assayas' Irma Vep

Bathroom Break #12

from Yasujiro Ozu's I Was Born, But...

Bathroom Break #11

from Billy Wilder's Witness for the Prosecution

Friday, September 07, 2007

Bathroom Break #10

from Jan Svankmajer's Conspirators of Pleasure

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Bathroom Break #9

from George A. Romero's Day of the Dead

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