All films from U.S.A. unless otherwise specified.

(- seen on video; [v] video piece; [s] short, under 30 minutes; [m] medium length, 30-69 min; * grade changed upon repeat viewing)


[NOTE: This section does not include stuff viddied at the Syracuse Festival. For that action, stomp here, my droogs.]




A Hole in My Heart (Lukas Moodysson, Sweden)

[MILD SPOILERS] Will there be a more widely reviled film released this year? And what's the nature of the disgust? Certainly, A Hole in My Heart is a jarring, often gruesome cinematic experience, and as with Irreversible (panned by many of the same critics), this film's many enemies are happy to avoid any serious engagement with it, dismissing its transgressions as cheap shock tactics. But I think the true crime of Lukas Moodysson, the one serious transgression that cannot be brooked by the art-cinema establishment, is that he has almost completely cured himself of humanism. Those who appreciated the warmth and nonjudgmentality of Together and Show Me Love (a film whose biting title, Fucking Åmal, was declawed for American consumption) cannot accept that Moodysson is pissed off. Anger, it seems, is no longer considered a productive or valid place from which to make art. No, the Artist, allegedly, has the responsibility to love everyone, to see all flawed characters as victims of an oppressive social structure, to employ the bracketing of the film frame to set beauty apart from the muddle of ugliness around us, to imagine utopia and offer an inspirational roadmap for how to get there. Don't get me wrong -- these are all vital functions that art can serve, and many of my favorite films operate within these parameters. (The Dardennes' film The Son is one of the finest recent examples of this type of approach.) But is this the only way to make cinema, anything else being relegated to the kiddie table?


A Hole in My Heart is not a cheap exploitative ploy. It is not a tantrum. It has a social theory, an analysis, and even a modicum of sympathy for its three main characters (Thorsten Flinck's Rickard, an amateur porn director and his two "stars"). But Moodysson and the film are clearly on the side of Eric (Björn Almroth), Rickard's shy son and the reluctant observer of the repugnant goings-on in his own home. What is ultimately so horrifying about A Hole in My Heart is that it plays with our presumed spectatorial desire -- that is, our lust for sex and violence on film -- and forces us to face up to the underbelly that "real" porn (and most "real" cinema) keeps scrupulously off-frame. We see, and identify with, Eric's traumatized psychic state. (His father tries to get him involved in the porn production, in between clueless father-son bonding overtures; he fears Geko, the male porn performer and dad's best friend; and Eric tries to relate to and protect Tess, the blonde porno-diva wannabe, positioned as a substitute sister and mother for the boy but failing miserably in both roles.) But if Moodysson kept our involvement at this character-based level, we'd be stuck in generic liberal miserablism, much like we were in his last film Lilya 4-Ever. The anger is there, and its heart is in the right place, but it's too easy for the audience to tsk-tsk with superiority while watching young Lilya sold into sexual slavery. (Part of this is the east / west divide; Lilya is a victim of lawless, oligarchic post-Soviet Russia.) In A Hole, Moodysson takes the bold step of transferring the violence and revulsion right onto the surface of the film, the texture of the soundtrack. There's nowhere to hide, from either our prurient desires or the human cost Moodysson locates therein. Sanna Bråding's Tess is young and hot. Her beautiful pussy is admired by Geko and Rickard. Then, Moodysson shows us close-ups of the labial reconstruction surgery Tess underwent to refashion herself to the measure of conventional desire. The sounds of hard-core fucking are interrupted by bowel-shaking electronic screeching, registering a denial of pleasure every bit as physical as the arousal such scenes are designed to elicit. A consensual act of pornographic sex suddenly swerves into sexual violence, then eases off tentatively, with the classic frat-boy maneuver -- "Come on, we're kidding! What's wrong, can't you take a joke?"


Moodysson has mostly moved away from the humanism of his previous films, partly because, it seems, he's recognized that this safe, benign mode of protest lets its audience off the hook. Even in the best conditions, it addresses its audience as good, concerned liberals who are there to nod in assent or cringe in distanced empathy. But Moodysson is operating on a different cultural playing field, one where humanist values no longer obtain. Outside the arthouse, porn has attained a new level of respectability, reality TV encourages average people to submit to self-surveillance and conformity to stereotype, and the common thread in all of this is the absolute reduction of human existence to the level of commodity. This is the opposite of humanism, and Moodysson chooses to dive into the wreck in the hopes of taking us out the other side. Yes, A Hole in My Heart is a moralistic film. Moodysson's hellish parody of The Real World is at times painfully on target (confessional boxes, cliched personal pain as an excuse for bad behavior), but his generality and limited context (only once do we see life outside the apartment and its Sartrean pornotopia) threatens to condemn pornography wholesale. The film's categorical anti-porn stance is one I'm not sure I share, at least without careful qualification. Without a more nuanced examination of the sociology of sex work, the film could be misread as either a Dworkin / MacKinnon politics of prudery, or just a cri de coeur against bad taste. But then, to ask A Hole in My Heart to carefully finesse its position is to fall into the humanist trap all over again. The value and the power of this film is its untempered rage. As scarred and repugnant as the inhabitants of this apartment may be, Moodysson successfully transfers to us a visceral desire to see them escape. Likewise, we want the film itself to end, with its grinding and shrieking, its meat shots and pimply asses. A Hole in My Heart takes two dialectical opposites, art cinema and pornography, and uses the pleasures of each to negate the pleasures of the other. The result is an endgame. We want both illusory systems -- humanism and commodified sex -- to get out of our eyes and ears, to just fucking stop. [Two final notes that I could not integrate into the overall fabric of the review, but that nonetheless seem worth noting. 1) One does not need to agree with Moodysson's positions regarding pornography or reality TV to appreciate this film, and in some ways it could help in one's appreciation if you don't. 2) Despite the distastefulness of much of the film, it does indeed offer substantial pleasures to the viewer, albeit unconventional, abrasive pleasures comparable to those proffered by an Einsturzende Neubauten record or a painting by Francis Bacon.]




-Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea)

I guess I can see Steve Erickson's point about this one. It does manage to use genre conventions (reckless vs. by-the-book cop; red herring suspects; plant-and-payoff strategies) to get at something a bit deeper -- how the individual is always mired in social and institutional imperatives not of his own choosing. (In this case, Bong's depiction of detective work under the oppressive military dictatorship has the odd effect of asking us to root for the unsystematic, kneejerk right-wing bullies, over their calculating right-wing overlords.) But the film's weird lurches into humor (the bathhouse scene, for example) are clunky at best, and what some viewers are clearly perceiving as solid classical construction just felt like narrative contrivance to me. (The climactic scene with the mentally challenged witness struck me as particularly predictable.) Certainly a solid police procedural, and well worth anyone's time, but nothing all that revolutionary.


Pretty Persuasion (Marcos Siega)

[MINOR SPOILERS] Okay, full disclosure: the writer, Skander Halim, is a friend of mine. But even though his particular brand of humo(u)r was immediately recognizable to me (and I'd seen his short film Family Dinner, which was the calling card for Persuasion), some of the funniest moments turned out to be James Woods' ad-libbed non sequiturs. Truthfully, all the humo(u)r is of a piece, a caustic willingness to eviscerate any last remaining pieties about the innocence of American girlhood. Evan Rachel Wood turns in a small miracle of a performance as Kimberly, a rich girl who's more than precocious; she's got the fully formed subjectivity, sexual appetite, and ironic detachment of a grown woman. The piercing subtext of this character and her fate is that as a smart, mature young woman in the cruel, petty culture of American high school, she cannot survive intact. A bit like -- seriously, don't laugh -- the character of Sarah Jane in Sirk's Imitation of Life, Kimberly's clear-eyed picture of the way things work is a knowledge she can't fully capitalize upon. Instead, it effectively drives her insane. I know this sounds like pretty heady stuff for a "teen comedy," and Pretty Persuasion is aiming for balls-out genre subversion of the sort a film like Election only began to approach. The downside is that the film's ambition outstrips its ability, and the dark turns it finally takes feel less organic, more argumentative, than they probably should. Nevertheless, this film's got guts, and its first two-thirds are, for the most part, unrelentingly funny. Marcos Siega, moving over from TV and music videos, acquits himself quite well in his first feature outing. There's a flat, unfussy treatment of space and mise-en-scène throughout the film, along with fluid camerawork that slowly and subtly announces to the viewer that we're watching something teen-oriented but with higher aspirations. (Although the feeling is completely different, only Ghost World comes to mind as a fitting analogy.) Siega and Halim do not hit their every mark, and there are a few clunkers even in the comedy section (despite Adi Schnall's solid performance, the character of Randa is not hewn with the requisite care), but more often than not, Pretty Persuasion is tight, tough, and willing to smack you around a little bit. Admit you like it.


13 Lakes (James Benning)

After spending much of his career treating minimalism as a launching pad from which he veered further and further away, Benning comes back to it in 13 Lakes, not with a vengeance exactly, but with a deepened sense of minimalism's possibilities. The title baldly announces precisely what the film delivers, and each shot adopts a perfect modularity; the film's order achieves certain effects, but any order might achieve other effects of equal power. Each of the thirteen lakes is depicted with an identically constructed shot: ten minutes, with the horizon line cutting the frame in half. The top half is sky (and occasionally a landscape feature), the bottom half water. Anyone familiar with Benning's work (the "California Trilogy," for example) knows to expect that within an overall structure that, in conventional filmic terms, registers as sameness, Benning will provide subtle differences, ones that take on magnified power within the reductive context Benning provides. And while this is true in 13 Lakes -- shot twelve, for example, of Crater Lake, induces gasps with its right-frame rock formation perfectly mirrored in the water's surface --, this is not as true as it has been in previous Benning films. That is to say, the differences are almost solely ones of light quality and the degree of choppiness on the lakes' surfaces (which sometimes evokes the texture of swirling emulsion). Benning has compared 13 Lakes to "found paintings" and "an installation you watch in one sitting," and these ideas are apposite. The radically pared-down visual means offer something muted and meditative, the forms of a Brice Marden or an Ellsworth Kelly suite with the earthy palette of Richard Tuttle. Unlike so many other film minimalists, whose work has evolved into a maximal, all-over activation of the picture plane, Benning uses natural beauty to orchestrate a spare, delicate film experience that at first barely registers as "there." But it is there, in the little details. As I look over my notes, I recall the jetskis on the Salton Sea (shot #3), the changes in density of the blue water line as the sun moves across Lake Winnebago (shot #5), the thickness of the gray field of rain along Alaska's Lake Iliamna, slicing into the frame with diagonal hashmarks (shot #10), and so on. Everything Benning shows us has its own unique character and sense of place. But the final impression of 13 Lakes is one of variety within sameness, of a calm and pensive look at natural features that require no explanation.


2046 (Wong Kar-Wai, Hong Kong)

Thanks for the lead-in, Theo. But despite the fact that this is indeed my current film of the year, and the fact that it'd probably take a late-breaking Tarr masterpiece to dislodge it from my #1 spot, do I really have that much more to say about it? I'm not sure, partly because virtually everything that makes 2046 so overpoweringly beautiful bypasses the cerebral cortex, or rather, barely hits it at all. This film dances on your retina. After the screening, I joked with Mike that this is a Brakhage film with Gong Li in it, and that I'd be an ungrateful jerk to ask for much more than that. So, where to begin?


The current version of 2046 (which Mike insures me is far different than the more elliptical Cannes edit) does in fact operate as a sequel to In the Mood for Love. Tony Leung is back as the same character, once lovelorn and demure, now a preening playboy. Maggie Cheung's character appears briefly here and there as a fleeting but still-present memory. But this is not a sequel in any conventional sense, and I think it's more appropriate to consider it both a remix of and an expansion on the previous film. In fact, 2046 is a virtual summary of Wong's thematic concerns and formal conceits: doomed love, swoony romanticism, the tyranny of time, memory and regret; 1960s Hong Kong interiors, teal and avocado Formica and Lucite paint, yellow wall lamps pushing against darkness with feeble golden haloes, the strategic bisecting of the frame, the truncation of the human form, and the play of flatness and depth, this latter usually the governing function that organizes all of the above ingredients. Although 2046 introduces the element of time travel and light sci-fi into Wong's overall schema, this only serves at long last to fully literalize his preoccupation with temporality. (In the same way, one of the subplots, about a beautiful robot whose impending mechanical failure manifests as slowed-down reaction time, provides Wong for the first time with a concrete narrative analogy for one of his favorite visual motifs, slow-motion step-printing.) 2046 is, in every possible sense, a summation of everything Wong has been doing for the past twenty years.


And yet, it's something more. There is no question (at least for me) that 2046 lacks the emotional punch of ITMFL, if we restrict emotional impact to the province of narrative alone. Narratively, Wong has brought all his subtexts to the surface, and in so doing has flattened them. And yet, this very flatness, the treatment of storytelling as a kind of armature of convenience, allows 2046's true impact to come through. This is, without doubt, Wong's most formally accomplished film, and the very act of muting the narrative drive allows the film, and its viewer, to hover in the present, with sumptuous greens and golds, the plasticity of light. Using rack focus, linear composition, and the greatest resources in his arsenal, Christopher Doyle and William Chang, Wong turns virtually every frame, every edit, into a play of surfaces and textures. Most of the film is a set of variations on one master trope: half the widescreen frame is dominated by an out-of-focus, foregrounded color field, while the other side expands inward, into either narrative space or the physiognomy of his actors. Typically, his editing follows a logic dictated by these formal terms, the interplay of color and light, rather than any conventional narrative grammar. (In fact, when Wong feels the need to make transitions in the stories clearer, his falling back into mere shot / reverse-shots hits the eye with a sad thud. This film, a near-perfect object, falters only when character and story assert themselves over the sculptural values at work.) In a way, Wong has so perfected his ideational apparatus that he can set it off on autopilot, and dig into the pure potentials of the medium. And ironically, this focus on the purely present image, its physicality and its transience, takes us right back to his philosophical concerns, only on a higher, more immediate plane. I'm not sure, but I think Wong may be the first filmmaker to have fully absorbed the lessons of both Brakhage and Sternberg.


[SECOND VIEWING: Well, what can I say. The first time, it seems, I had it almost completely wrong. It's not that 2046 isn't a beautiful, sensual experience (it is), but that somehow my first viewing was so discombobulated, almost willfully off-key, that I now recognize neither myself nor the film itself in it. It seems that I was fixating on the surface of things, bending 2046 into a non-narrative experience of perpetual presence. Furthermore, my focus on plastic values to the exclusion of Wong's very deliberate narrative elaboration doesn't even feel correct. It's as though I was describing another film, one that does in fact introduce certain visual motifs (such as the division of the widescreen frame) but like Mr. Chow himself, never fully commits. To borrow from the Russian Formalists, there really is no aesthetic dominant in 2046, apart from the play of light along well-selected mise-en-scène, the usual Chang / Doyle one-two punch. What was really shocking to me, and admittedly disappointing, is how linear 2046 really is, not unlike an omnibus film although with small musical reprises, such as the two late reappearances of Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi). But it's really just one scenario after another, with the Leung / Zhang pairing serving as the dramatic backbone of the film. There is no incessant remixing or temporal crisscrossing. There is no abandonment of conventional editing or exposition. What there is, in fact, is the adoption of serial non-monogamy -- coupling after coupling with some reconjured through memory but for the most part presented in their entirety -- as the framework for a character study of sorts. Chow never changes, but our time spent with him allows us to observe minor shifts in his chilly emotional seismology. 2046 has commonalities with recent examinations of stranded masculinity, such as Broken Flowers and The Brown Bunny, but Wong sets his film just before an emotional breakthrough that never happens. This is certainly compelling, since it provides the inverse of ITMFL's romanticism, another mode of halting time. But I was wrong to observe a halting of narrative. In fact, 2046 represents the most straightforward explication of Wong's concerns. Whereas before, this seemed to me like a virtue -- that instead of weaving a tale, he was blowing an exquisite, abstract work in glass -- now, with a clearer view of its formal structure and its blocky, rather deliberate story construction, 2046 strikes me as a solid entry into the Wong Kar-Wai filmography, but far, far shy of a masterpiece. Meanwhile, I'm troubled as to how I could've been so off the mark. Did I just desperately want 2046 to be something other than what it is? I can't even take comfort in having come back from 2046, because honestly I'd prefer to still be luxuriating in the film that wasn't there.]




-Last Life in the Universe (Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Thailand)

An interesting one; although the grand narrative arc was rather predictable, the journey was filled with odd, lovely little moments. I come away from this (Pen-ek's third film, the first I've seen) impressed by the obvious directorial talent but still finding it a bit too young of a film. Lots of it works. But some minor touches, like the Ichi the Killer poster in the library, or the precise organization of Kenji's apartment, are not as clever as Pen-ek would have us believe. Still, this guy has promise. Also, nice change of pace for Tadanobu Asano.


Millions (Danny Boyle, U.K.)

[MINOR SPOILERS] A pretty decent kids' flick, but I'd hoped for a bit more. It starts out like it's going to turn Boyle's directorial pizzazz loose to amble into Tim Burton territory, or at least Amelie for Lads. But it quickly settles into an ever-so-Spielbergian tale of boyhood innocence, spiritual imagination, and above all learning to let Mom go. Certainly there are plenty worse things, and it maintains a baseline level of inventiveness, but never really transcends. Muddled Subtext Department #1: the young protagonist's whimsical Catholicism is never disentangled from pure juvenile fantasy, even at the end. Does Millions respect the boy's faith, or does it consider religious belief to be something for those lower down on the Piaget development scale? The film won't commit either way. Muddled Subtext Department #2: the way Millions keeps harping on the currency changeover from pounds sterling to the Euro, it keeps threatening to imply something, like an embrasure of a Christian pan-Europe over the isolationists and Euro-skeptics, or some fundamental economic question of any sort. But it never does. Note to Boyle: in future, set up your MacGuffin and just let it go.


Primo Amore (Matteo Garrone, Italy)

[MINOR SPOILERS] At the risk of drawing the ire of certain holistic types with my shameless dip into buffet-style criticism, Garrone's latest was a certain 4 in its first half, but unexpectedly rallied in the second half, ending somewhere in the solid-7 zone. (And now, analysis!) I wasn't entirely sold on Garrone's last film, The Embalmer, at least as far as its love-triangle psychodrama was concerned. If you're exploring thwarted lust, bundling it all up in an allegory and depositing it on the back of a gay dwarf taxidermist-cum-gangster seems a little, um, overdetermined. And yet, against the odds, Garrone mostly made it work, since his repressed emotional pitch and narrow compositions (turning otherwise benign roadsides, hotel rooms, and apartments into pinched objects of a nasty universal leer) recalled Fassbinder in Fox / 13 Moons mode. It was a pretty good start. In Primo Amore, we have the masochism tango of Sonia (Michela Cescon, in a breakout performance) and her cruel opposite number, the laconic Vittorio (Vitaliano Trevisan). Again with the overloaded occupations: Vittorio is a goldsmith, fashioning malleable metal into precious things; Sonia works at a fair-trade store. A Pygmalion for the global-capital era? The gold standard exacts its sadistic revenge on crunchy-granola resistance to its reign? You see how quickly all this spins out of hand, and Garrone doesn't help matters by giving us, in the first half, less than zero character development or motivation. The two meet in a café, presumably after some online chatting. Vittorio breaks the ice with the immortal opening line, "I thought you'd be . . . thinner," and somehow he subtly bullies Sonia into not turning on her heels and reboarding her train. Sonia comes across as shy but possessed of some dignity, while Vittorio, toiling away in the goldsmithing shop (it was his dad's!), is a complete nonentity. Where's the appeal? Why is this relationship even happening? Then, once Garrone has gotten us to accept this shaky premise by simply pounding incessantly away at it, he delivers a brutal and rather complex short film about control and obsession. Vittorio becomes Sonia's living, breathing eating disorder, dominating her every bite, forcing her into diets and then eventually starvation. Sonia's psychological state becomes more and more precarious, and this gives Garrone the opportunity to break up his bland Italian naturalism with some disorienting visual and auditory stunts. The ending, while morally questionable, was certainly satisfying in terms of narrative closure and feminist righteousness. Make no mistake: it's still little more than an above-average film, and as an exploration of anorexia as fascism, Primo Amore cannot hold a candle to Todd Haynes' Superstar. But, two films in, I still think Garrone is one to watch.




-Save the Green Planet! (Jang Jun-hwan, South Korea)

How can I begin to describe a film whose sole claim to "originality" is the order in which it arranges the myriad other films it rips off? I suppose if one were feeling generous, you might think of it as a live-action, all-new-footage feature-length equivalent to a Bruce Conner film, or even as a sample-laden hip-hop film, a sci-fi splatter-comedy for the turntablist set. But no, that's absolutely wrong. Conner transforms his appropriated footage through careful juxtaposition and internal commentary. Likewise, artists like Jay-Z and DJ Shadow transform their source material through dense layering and careful attention to texture. That's why these works are magnificent on their own terms, and engaging with them is never just a game of Spot-the-Reference. Green Planet! is little more than a game show in this regard; I found no way to access it other than silently ticking off its stylistic and thematic grabs. Save the Green Planet bites X-Files, The Silence of the Lambs, Brazil, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tribulation 99 (bonus points to Chuck Stephens for spotting that one), The Usual Suspects, Peppermint Candy (for its emotional-pinnacle montage, "deepening" the film at the 80-minute mark), David Blair's forgotten videowork Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (as per Colin Geddes' TIFF catalogue blurb), Plan 9 From Outer Space, and eventually those Warner Brothers cartoons with Martin the Martian. (I still haven't seen last year's The Forgotten, but from what I know of the plot, that film may have actually bitten Green Planet! back. The fun never ends.) Trust me, if you really feel the need to test your trainspotting acumen, three rounds of Scene It! will substitute nicely, while allowing you to log some face time with the family.




Eros (Wong Kar-Wai, Hong Kong / Steven Soderbergh, U.S. / Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy)

Here comes a little hypocrisy. Above, I'm, in a way, praising Wong Kar-Wai for operating on (thematic) autopilot, all the better to appreciate his supple cinematics. (In fact, looking over that review, I worry that spitting and sputtering of that sort means I've developed Tonguette's Syndrome. Not so, trust me.) But in The Hand (Job) , Wong's contribution to the hopeless, misbegotten Eros omnibus, he's bringing a watered-down, danker version of his signature moves to bear on a bland, obvious story more suited to Ladies' Own Erotica. This is the sort of mush-minded Wong-lite that any number of young Asian hacks could serve up without breaking a sweat. Gong Li's performance is adequate; Chang Chen's slightly better. (But Senator, you're no Tony Leung.) Soderbergh's Equilibrium is, I suppose, the best of the bunch, but that's saying little. It wins out only by aiming so low. Robert Downey, Jr. does his thing, Alan Arkin does his, and Soderbergh has sense enough to mostly stay out of the way. Never as funny as it wants to be, its 50s trappings negligible and meaningless (you can imagine the props arriving in a large crate stamped "cinema du look"), it's a pleasant diversion, and in this company, that makes it a freakin' lifejacket. Antonioni's The Dangerous Thread of Things, pretty much savaged anywhere film reviews are sold, is indeed a sad, flaccid windsock of a film, a shallow contribution to a hypothetical Diario dalla Scarpa Rosso Golden Auteurs edition. (Weirdly enough, Schwarzbaum of all people seems to have gone for it.) It's frustrating to watch late Antonioni, not just because the man is pissing on his legacy, but because the films induce a kind of helplessness in the viewer, a critical paralysis that comes from the realization that to fully articulate Thread's numerous failures would be pointlessly cruel.


Gunner Palace (Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker)

Virtually insight-free. And I fear that this is by design; the filmmakers value their access to the 2/3 Field Artillery far too much to challenge their perspective on things, and yet this political "restraint" results in a snide tone oozing through the cracks. So, American teenagers from the "heartland" are sent halfway across the world to occupy an Arab country and they act like frat-boy assholes. What a newsflash! But there is no deeper context provided, no sense of how our military culture, combined with the very real threat these young people must contend with, collude to produce party-on! contempt for the Iraqis and their cultural traditions. Also, what's with the blatant yet unexplored racial subtext the directors produce here? Skinny white boys act like buffoons, while young black men speak The Truth. (When they freestyle, Tucker and Epperlein kindly provide them with a spare but well-produced backing track, so they don't sound silly.) If these young people of color are more enlightened about their place in the global order of things, their statements indicate that enlightenment is incremental at best, but to watch Gunner Palace you'd think they were dropping some serious anti-colonial knowledge.


Sin City (Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez)

Over the past few years, I've gotten more interested in, and committed to, lots of B-movies and pulp films that I'd ignored earlier in my autodidactic cinema education: Asian extreme, gritty Westerns, schlocky horror, French "artsploitation," and so on. My tastes have evolved quite a bit, and so I'd forgotten just how much of a prig I really am. Thanks for the reminder, Sin City, you idiotic adolescent piece of shit.





-Take My Eyes (Icíar Bollaín, Spain)

Here's a selection of twelve random thoughts that came to mind before, during, and after watching Take My Eyes. 1) Bollaín is apparently a well-known Spanish actress turned director, with a fairly extensive filmography back home. Why have I never heard of her? 2) This is a perfectly awful Lifetime en Español pelicula, a grinding, predictable woman-in-peril story about spousal abuse. 3) Why am I continuing to watch this movie? It's terrible, and I'm at home with at least a few other things I could do (feed my cats, watch "Jeopardy!," eat some cheese, etc.). 4) Good lord, this is even worse than El Bola [Spain's award-winning 2000 cinematic pamphlet on child abuse]. 5) [Around forty minute mark] This has to get better, right? 6) [Ten minutes before the end] To hell with this pornographic piece of shit. I mean, what is the point of depicting an instance of such absolute human debasement on film, in such conventionalized terms? There's nothing politically progressive or empowering about it. All it does is turn it into spectacle. This film fails as art and yet it could never, ever help anybody, so why must it exist? 7) This picture swept the Goya Awards in 2004. Um, sort of the way formulaic garbage like Ordinary People and A Beautiful Mind sweeps the Oscars here. 8) Why in god's name is New Yorker Films distributing this? Sure, they took a bath on Distant and Moolaadé, but it's not like this middlebrow crapburger is going to net them any cash. Two weeks at the Lincoln Plaza, and then down the commode it rightfully goes. 9) I guess I should expect a film this shitty from a nation weaned on paella, a nasty seafood stew where they actually leave the shells on, so you have to stick your fingers in it to make it edible. 10) Ken Rudolph loved it. 11) Note to self: next time you discover an international filmmaker who is acclaimed at home, but who you've never heard of, despite your intensive festival-going, there's a reason. 12) Nicheflix: the gift and the curse.




Melinda and Melinda (Woody Allen) (0:30)

Wow, those were some really sweet apartments. Otherwise, jesus. The stiff, undeliverable dialogue sounded only remotely natural coming from Radha Mitchell; everyone else may as well have been doing line readings from some dire college play. I think I'm completely, totally done with W.A. [ADDENDUM, 5/12/05: Oh well, never say never . . .]