Monday, February 27, 2006

Thanks buds

I'd like to thank those who wrote in regarding my last post about getting a gym membership. In retrospect, I just pushed myself too hard that first day (I'll lay off doing the front crawl stroke for a while) and now that I've gotten a better handle on my limits I can work on gently nudging them rather than obliterating them. I've been back since every day save yesterday, when the gym's abbreviated hours coincided with my movie-road-trip (see below). Sadly, the pool is closed through this weekend for heating system repairs, so I have to compensate in other ways. I did half an hour on the treadmill today, followed by twenty minutes on some skiing device and another twenty on the bike. And I was going pretty fast on all three, so I think I did pretty well. I've decided I like using the treadmill at the gym more than walking on the track, not least because nobody gets in the way on the treadmill. I'm happy with my routine of going during the daytime- it's not nearly as busy, and there are fewer preening, strutting gym jocks and more elderly folks, which helps my own body image. Also, I've come to the conclusion that locker room modesty exists in inverse proportion to age- the younger folks are more likely to change discreetly, while it seems every old guy feels the need to hang out with his wang out.

And now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's move on to the real business at hand...

CACHÉ (2005, Michael Haneke, seen in theatre)- in some ways this is Haneke's most mainstream effort (the relatively large number of shot-countershot dialogue setups took me by surprise), but the master has hardly gone soft. For one thing, this mofo is really insinuating- I recently read a comment that nearly every still you could take from CACHÉ is mundane-looking, but it's exactly these boring-looking images that make it tense, as they situate the action within a recognizable real-world space. Haneke, among other things, is a master of shot duration, and every shot in this film is held precisely as long as it needs to be to attain full effect, and no longer. Consider the film's opening shot- a daytime view of an upper-middle-class Parisian home, seen from down the street. The opening credits roll, and the shot continues. Then the credits disappear, but the shot remains onscreen. Nothing happens, and the audience gets to thinking- something is afoot. Finally, we hear Georges and Anne Laurent (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche, both excellent) in voiceover, talking about what we're watching, which turns out to be an anonymous video of their home that was left on their doorstep. Only then does Haneke cut away. They receive a number of other videos within the course of the film, and Haneke is canny in his use of digital video to shoot the entire movie, not simply the footage that is sent to Georges and Anne (this is the closest I've ever seen video emulate film, which makes me think the death of celluloid may be nigh after all). I also liked the way that, once we see a setting in one of the videos, Haneke will show it later from this angle. So whodunit? Click here and see... (Warning: SPOILERS) Rating: ***1/2.

Also, I recently watched Rohmer's TRIPLE AGENT on UK DVD, but it really didn't register. Well-made, with the typical Rohmer touch, but perhaps it was a tad too low-key to register when watching at 2 AM. I'll catch it again in the future, I'm sure. Rating: **1/2.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Not quite stabbing yourself in the eye, but it's still self-inflicted...

So my birthday was last weekend. Per my request, my parents paid the registration fee for me at the local gym, and today was my first time there. I still have to pay the monthly fees, but since that averages a dollar per day it's not too bad. Now, I'm pretty out of shape, so I was really overdue to start working out regularly. And honestly, a gym is a better idea than just going downstairs and walking on the treadmill for a while and riding a bike when it's nice out. I guess that in a way I'm motivated by money, in the respect that I'm more likely to do something when I'm paying for it. Add to this that if I have to make time to go to the gym, I'll do it, instead of being able to say "oh, I'll just do the treadmill thing later" and putting it off indefinitely.

Anyway, I knew it'd be, um, interesting, since I am somewhat overweight and could stand to lose some pounds. I'm also dieting, so I think a combination of healthy eating and exercise would do me good. But while I had no illusions that my first day at the gym would be a cakewalk, I didn't think it'd be this bad. I jogged a little over a mile and rode the stationary bike for a few miles, but while this got me a tad winded it didn't get rough for me until I went swimming. After half a dozen lengths of the pool, I was done. I shuffled back to the locker room and crouched by the terlet for at least five minutes, expecting to throw up (I hadn't even eaten recently either). Eventually, I was able to get back to my feet, take a shower and change, but my body still feels like a strand of cooked pasta.

I guess the lesson here is to know my limits. Lesson learned. I'll be going back tomorrow, but I may just forego the pool for the time being.

Also, I'll be making an addition to My Top 100 List this afternoon, so keep an eye for it.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

!!!!! (vague spoilers)

INNOCENCE (2004, Lucile Hadzihalilovic, seen in theatre)- Three words: Ho. Ly. Shit. I haven't been wrapped up this much in the spell cast by a film since, well, since THE NEW WORLD. The setting here is a mysterious, secluded school for girls ages 6 to 12, and the film follows several of them over the course of one year. The girls are divided into "houses", with one girl for each year (years are denoted by differently colored hair ribbons), and the film begins with the youngest, Iris, who arrives in a coffin and finds herself having to cope with the new surroundings and the strict rules that govern it (no contact with the outside world, etc), going to classes (science and ballet are the only curriculum taught) and flowering under the mentorship of seventh-year group leader Bianca. After we learn the rules and routines of the school, we then follow fifth-year student Alice, who yearns for the outside world and prepares for a dance recital that could be her ticket out. Finally, we finish the year with Bianca. I could see this narrative playing out in seven short subjects, one for each year, but I think Hadzihalilovic is wise to distill them into one year, so that we can connect the dots in our mind. It's rare these days to see a film so unabashedly symbolic, and the film's thoughts on girlhood are fascinating. The ages taught by the school aren't an accident- while the story that inspired the film made the girls older, Hadzihalilovic is wise to focus on prepubescent years, with the final year (I'll tread lightly) is the girls' first realization that men are watching them and that they have an effect on the opposite sex. But while it's compelling on these terms, I actually prefer it as a strange fairy-tale creation. While it clearly takes place in the modern world (there are electric lights hanging in the forest, for example), the school's traditions make it feel unstuck in time, "somewhere to the left of the twentieth century," as BABE: PIG IN THE CITY put it. And what to make of the coffins? The film has been attacked by some critics for being pervy material for the raincoat crowd, but the film hardly gawks at the girls. I believe that what these critics find uncomfortable is how closely Hadzihalilovic follows the girls, and how firmly we become ensconced on their world (we never leave the school grounds until the very end). I myself became a little uneasy because I felt like an intruder into this closed society, and this is the point- the theatre scenes near the end underline this. But, made-up controversy aside, INNOCENCE is a beautiful film, chock full of miraculous moments- I loved, for example, the resentment second-year student felt toward newcomer Iris due (presumably) to the loss of her old mentor, something I expect was a yearly occurrence. And near the end of the film, when ballet instructor Marion Cotillard lit up a cigarette and said, "don't worry, you'll soon forget us," it was impossible for me not to think about how much of my own childhood has been forgotten.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

In Lili's petite shoes

IN HER SHOES (2005, Curtis Hanson, seen on DVD)- very nearly a great movie, instead of being a noteworthy example of its genre (the chick-flick dramedy), and it's the most genre-friendly stuff that drags down the rest- the caricatured stepmom character, the tart-mouthed best friend (not Brooke Smith's fault- she plays the character well, it's just not written in a very inspired way). But I almost feel like I'm nit-picking, when there's so much good here. Of paramount importance was that Diaz and Collette were instantly convincing as sisters, and their relationship is a palpable one (doesn't hurt that Collette's in top form, and Diaz has never been better). Keeping them separated for most of the story is a bold idea that pays off because when we see one sister we feel the absence of the other. I also liked that Mark Feuerstein's character never felt like a fantasy figure, but rather a quirky individual with passions (eating out, the 76ers) but a lack of understanding (and admittedly, context) for Collette's complex relationship with Diaz. And thankfully, MacLaine reins it in here, making her grandmother character life-size instead of outsize, thereby grounding her scenes in an elderly woman's reality. And of course Hanson remains unparalleled at location shooting, although I'm not sure we needed Collette running a bunch of dogs up the stairs of Philly's art museum. Rating: ***.

LA PETITE LILI (2003, Claude Miller, seen on DVD)- this well-acted but forgettable drama is my first exposure to Miller's work, and what I've seen here doesn't really inspire me to watch the rest right away. I liked that he doesn't blindly celebrate Julien's artistic temperament- he prattles on about purity and not compromising, but he's young and kind of priggish, so this has just more to do with his romanticization of the artistic process than it does with any real life experience. Meanwhile, others around him are much more pragmatic- famed filmmaker Brice (Bernard Giraudeau) listens to Julien's rantings with a mixture of nostalgia and bemusement, and Lili herself (Ludivine Sagnier) is starstruck in Brice's presence, ambitiously hoping to parlay it into a career for herself. However, the film's final third is less interesting- Julien reuniting family and friends to make an semiautobiographical film isn't the stuff of great drama. Still, some good performances (Giraudeau especially) and naked Ludivine doesn't hurt either. Rating: **.

4 things meme

Jason tagged me under penalty of, erm... well, he did say "OR ELSE!" And me being a big wuss, that's threat enough for me. Anyhoo...

4 jobs I've had:
1. Grease merchant at McD's (high school)
2. Cancer merchant for Philip Morris (one summer during college- I was responsible for setting up displays at gas stations and the like)
3. Projectionist at various AMC theatres in Columbus (since graduation)
4. Manager at AMC West Market Plaza 7 in Akron (since September '05)

4 movies I can watch over and over:
1. BELLE DE JOUR (my favorite)
2. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (perfect audiovisual wallpaper, plus I make sure to see it anytime it's playing locally on the big screen)
3. ANNE HALL (almost certainly the movie I've seen the most- near-weekly viewings during high school kinda skew its tally though)
4. M. HULOT'S HOLIDAY (laid-back and relaxing like no other film I've seen)

4 places I've lived:
1. Akron, OH (birth through eighth grade)
2. Jackson Township, OH (outside of Canton, high school)
3. Columbus, OH (college through July 2005)
4. Suffield, OH (July 2005 to present)

4 television shows I love (decidedly comedy-heavy):
1. FREAKS AND GEEKS (my favorite)
2. MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS (great for sampling, and of course endlessly quotable)
3. THE OFFICE [UK version] (hilarious, sometimes uncomfortably so)
4. GOOD EATS (the only current show I watch religiously; Alton Brown is lots of fun, and is the only Food Channel personality who doesn't try too hard)

4 places I've vacationed:
1. France (spring break, junior year of high school)
2. Germany (part of OSU Men's Glee Club tour, junior year of college)
3. New York City (several times, most recently for NYFF 2005)
4. Florida (several times, most recently in January 2005)

4 of my favorite dishes (two of which I don't eat now that I'm dieting):
1. Big bowl o' Cheerios (can't start the day off right without it)
2. The White Pizza from Leonardo's in Akron, with tomatoes, bacon and ham (the ultimate comfort food from my youth, and the only pizza I've tasted yet that's as good cold as it is hot)
3. Fish'n'Chips from the Old Bag o'Nails, Columbus (another comfort food, this one more recent)
4. Cherry pie (preferably homemade with fresh cherries, but even when it's canned filling I eat it up)

4 places I'd rather be:
1. At the movies (come on, like you didn't see this coming)
2. In the Loire Valley region of France in late spring or early summer, sitting under a tree, drinking a good bottle of wine and writing (think Rohmer's CONTE D'AUTOMNE)
3. In a cavernous old library, not reading books or writing, but walking through the maze-like stacks of books or sorting through the microfiche of decades-old newspapers (another weird thing I enjoy all too infrequently)
4. In bed with Eva Green (sorry, couldn't resist)

4 books I could read over and over (twentieth-century-heavy):
1. THE LONG GOODBYE, Raymond Chandler (Chandler was a master, and this is his finest work)
2. UNCLE FRED IN THE SPRINGTIME, P.G. Wodehouse (hilarious)
3. CASINO ROYALE, Ian Fleming (deserves mention as one of the great pulpish novels)
4. IF CHINS COULD KILL, Bruce Campbell (also hilarious, and surprisingly informative about seat-of-the-pants filmmaking and the movie industry seen through the eyes of a non-A-lister)

4 albums I couldn't live without:
1. FOREVER CHANGES, Love (what else can be said)
2. BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME, Bob Dylan (my favorite Dylan, edging out BLOOD ON THE TRACKS)
3. GIANT STEPS, John Coltrane (my favorite jazz album; Miles was more innovative and influential, but I listen to this one way more)
4. MOONDANCE, Van Morrison (a recent addition, but a worthy one, I think- darn close to perfect)

4 things I'd like to do before I die:
1. Make a feature film (like you couldn't have guessed)
2. Teach a high school course in film studies (so as to mold/warp young minds with my oddball tastes)
3. Be in an all-consuming, at times frustrating, but nonetheless emotionally- and creatively-stimulating long term relationship (have I had relationships? Yes. Have they lasted very long? No. Have they been interesting enough to write about? Meh.)
4. Live overseas (see "4 places I'd rather be", #2)

4 people I'm tagging:
1. Donna
2. Tosh
3. Jay
4. Mark

Friday, February 10, 2006

Sometimes I hate being right...

- I'm not what you might call a football fan. Back when I was living in Columbus, I'd volunteer to work during Buckeye games figuring, hey, easy money. So when it came time for my boss to schedule managers for Super Bowl Sunday, I told him I'd work during the game. "After all," says I, "it's not like anybody will come, right?" (see title of post). I figured that the theatre wouldn't be busy- I wisely scheduled a skeleton crew for this shift- but the fact is that for the 7:00 round we had around twenty customers and absolutely NOBODY came after 8 PM. Our last movie was scheduled to start at 10:15. On the off chance someone actually showed up, I threaded and started the final set of movies beginning at 9:45, sent the entire staff save one home, and then waited. And waited. Finally, a little after 10 I called my boss at home and got permission from him to close up early. Then I stopped all the movies, spliced them back into one piece, closed the business day, and went home nice and early (a little before midnight compared to my usual 12:45). Moral of the story: you can't compete with the Super Bowl, especially not in football-mad Northeast Ohio, so why even bother trying?

- Rules of the road inquiry: when is it considered acceptable to turn on one's brights? If you're driving behind someone, you're supposed to turn them off. If someone's coming toward you, you turn them off. When it's foggy out, you're not supposed to use them (since they're only good for lighting up the fog). So what's the point of having them at all? Meanwhile, I've come up with a feature that's actually practical- a device that prohibits the car from driving over a certain speed (say, 15 mph) unless the driver's seat belt is buckled. I'm not a fan of the seat belt laws, not because I don't think it's a good idea to wear seat belts, but because it makes more sense to me as a public health issue than a legal one. So by combining an effective ad campaign (bring back "Blood on the Pavement"!) with safety measures such as this one, the legal angle would become redundant, which it sort of already is anyway, since a cop can't pull you over just because you're not wearing your seat belt. It's only enforceable as a rider ticket on top of some other violation.

- SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM: TAKE ONE (1968, William Greaves, seen in theatre) - sweeeeeeeeeeet. What this guy (scroll down) said, pretty much. What's most impressive to me is how cleverly the circles-within-circles construction is executed here, while never seeming pleased with itself. Offhand ingenuity is so much more charming than the smarmy, self-impressed variant. Rating: ***1/2.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Seeking advice, etc.

- So I've had some trouble lately with a guy who keeps calling about his job application. While I normally might think it a welcome change that anyone actually WANTS to work at my theatre, the truth is that this guy has been calling roughly every other day for the past couple of weeks, and I'm getting really sick of it. If a prospective employee calls once to follow up, it's fine- he's interested in the job, nothing wrong with that. If someone calls twice, no sweat- he's just following up. If he calls more than half a dozen times, then it's crossed the line from tenacity to outright badgering. So here's my question- how do I make him go away? How do I say, "because you won't leave us the hell alone you've made every single manager here sick of you and there's no way in hell we'll ever hire you now" in a way that lets him down easy while still conveying the point? He's a high school kid, and doesn't seem terribly bright (to wit: in the "county" space on his application he wrote "USA"), so I don't think he means to be annoying, but if I never speak to him again I will be happier for it. So? Thoughts?

- Random observation: why do radio station use deejays' faces in their advertising? Makes no sense to me. This is radio, guys- what does it matter what they look like? Do you think people actually pass billboards advertising their programs and say, "wow, that guy looks pretty cool- I should listen to him." I doubt it, since the two have absolutely nothing in common. I know, they're supposed to be "personalities," but it still seems pretty stupid to me.

- I'm looking for a second job to supplement my income. I still plan on working my five shifts a week at the theatre, but another twenty hours of work on top of that could only help my financially.

- Spelling follies: a local bar advertising karaoke night spelled it "kaerokee". It's been that way for months now. Has nobody mentioned it to them, or would that be construed as intellectual elitism?

- Captain Obvious, Rock'n'Roll Critic: "Bringing It All Back Home" might be on my as-yet-undetermined Desert Island Album List. Much as I love all Dylan's classics, I think this one might be the best in a listen-through sense (as opposed to a skip-around-to-the-classic-tracks sense). It's impossible to listen to "Subterranean Homesick Blues" without picturing Dylan holding cue cards, and other greats such as "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" still work their magic. I desperately want to use "Gates of Eden" in a movie, and I think I found a project of mine where it fits. Finally, "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" may very well be the funniest song ever written. Even Bob himself found it hilarious (I love that they kept his laughing on the album), and who am I to say it isn't?

- A second viewing of THE NEW WORLD confirmed its transcendental fawsomeness in my mind. When I write my addendum to my top 100, expect it to be present.

- OR [MY TREASURE] (2004, Keren Yedaya, seen on DVD)- I mostly tuned out of this when I noticed that it was in the by-now-clichéd static-camera master-shot style that has become so prevalent in world cinema today. Sure, the film makes some valid points about the limited roles for women in Israeli society, but Yedaya's style (anti-style?) felt uninspired to me- planting a camera and saying "action" isn't always the right way to go in my opinion, and if you do choose to go that way, do something interesting instead of simply having the actors walk in and out of the frame (almost as much of a cliché as the static camera itself). Also becomes a bit of a wallow after a while- mother Ruthie (2002 Coveted Opal Award winner Ronit Elkabetz, Late Marriage) is sick and frankly looks like crap but she still wears miniskirts and walks the streets, and Or (Dana Ivgy) ends up quitting school and becoming a prostitute like her mom. By the time the film ended on Or's "won't you please help" pleading look directly into the camera, I was ready to shrug this movie off, which I don't think was Yedaya's intention. Rating: *1/2.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Untitled 1

TELL THEM WHO YOU ARE (2004, Mark S. Wexler, seen on DVD)- sort of works as a companion piece with 2003's MY ARCHITECT, as both docs combine examinations of inimitable artists with first-person perspectives on the artists by their sons. The major difference is that while Kahn senior was dead and MY ARCHITECT was mostly his son investigating his dad's past, Haskell Wexler is still very much alive, and being a seasoned and highly outspoken filmmaker, he wants to have some say in how the film is made. Or is it all an act? More than one of the talking-heads rounded up by Mark Wexler state how difficult it can be for someone who is acting all the time to let down his guard, and one gets the impression that Haskell could just as easily be putting on a show for his son (this is borne out by his taking Mark to a meeting with a group of Cuban ambassadors, which Mark wants no part of considering it could jeopardize his new project working with President Bush). My biggest objection to the film isn't Haskell's ongoing attempts to wrangle control of the film from his son (which are pretty interesting) but rather that the final product feels sort of formless. Just when Mark seems to be probing deeper into his dad's life, he'll digress again and talk to others about his work as a cinematographer. Sometimes all the pieces come together (as when he examines his and his father's relationship with Conrad L. and Conrad W. Hall), but just as often Mark backs off from a point just when it's beginning to show promise (Haskell's lefty politics are never quite integrated into the film except as contrast to Mark's conservatism). Perhaps it's a case of being too close to the subject? And how will this play to, say, the two Walk of Fame tourists who don't know who Haskell Wexler is? Rating: **.

THE MATADOR (2005, Richard Shepherd, seen in theatre)- much more engaging than its synopsis might indicate. The highlight of the film is the dynamic between Brosnan (never looser or funnier) and reliably shlubby Kinnear- playing a hitman and a salesman, respectively- and Shepherd's jazzy direction wisely never gets in the way of it (kudos, also, to Hope Davis, who never allows Bean to become a standard-issue concerned wife). I also enjoyed the chronology of the film, which saves until the climax a key scene which is revealed to be the linchpin of their friendship. In the end, each of these men is called upon to preserve the self-image of the other in a time of crisis (more I shall not say). Could have been one of the year's best with a punchier ending, but nonetheless a pleasure throughout. Also, does anybody know the punchline to Brosnan's midget joke? Rating: ***.

NO DIRECTION HOME: BOB DYLAN (2005, Martin Scorsese, seen on DVD)- Dylan is one of the key cultural figures of the late 20th century, largely because of his career between 1960 and 1966, which is the focus of this film. This doc is largely a found-footage and talking-heads affair, but the footage (including work by Jonas Mekas, Murray Lerner, and of course D.A. Pennebaker) and the heads (such Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Yarrow, and Dylan himself) are impeccably chosen, which allows the film to rise above most of its kind. Years from now, when a kid asks you what Bob Dylan was about, this will be the film to show them. Rating: ***.

GOOD MORNING, NIGHT (2003, Marco Bellocchio, seen on DVD)- my first exposure to Bellocchio, a true-crime story of the kidnapping and killing of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro by a group of left-wing activists of the Red Brigade, is compulsively watchable and often fascinating. Much of the action takes place in the apartment where Moro is held, and the central character and audience surrogate is Chiara (Maya Sansa), the only woman in the apartment, who keeps up a front for the group by working a day job. She seems to stand outside the rest of the group (for example, she doesn't take place in the kidnapping), and her moral ambiguity is the film's also. While there are moments of suspense (the elevator scene, which was used for the Italian trailer, is a highlight), the film isn't a thriller, and indeed the true-crime nature of the story makes the final ten minutes of the film feel inevitable, and robs the ending of some of its potential power. Still, I'm curious to see more of Bellocchio's films. Rating: ***.

SEX IS COMEDY (2002, Catherine Breillat, seen on DVD)- films about filmmaking aren't really my thing- they tend to reek of navel-gazing wankery, for the most part, and the last thing Breillat needs is yet another excuse for navel-gazing. This film is a fictionalized re-creation of her experiences making FAT GIRL, or at least a couple of scenes in FAT GIRL, since the titular overweight female is nowhere to be seen here. Instead, most of Breillat's story here deals with her relationship with the preening male lead, who jokes around with the crew but can't turn on that charm when the camera is on him. Anne Parillaud is clearly enjoying herself as the Breillat surrogate, but the film lacks a compelling reason for being, unless Breillat's thoughts on love, sex, penises, nude scenes, and the like do it for you. Might have had some interest had Breillat focused on the shooting of one scene in particular, but since it shows her shooting several different scenes there's no real depth about any of them. There is some to-do about the actor (Gregoire Colin) wearing a prosthetic member for the film's sex scene, which I suppose is where the comedy of the title comes into play, but the film doesn't really do anything with that either. Note: perhaps if Breillat wants to really stretch, she could try writing a screenplay that doesn't contain the word "detest," which she tends to REALLY overuse. Rating: *1/2.