Friday, March 28, 2008


Not really sure where I fall on this one, the second film from Noah Baumbach of “THE SQUID AND THE WHALE” fame. I was really enjoying it at the time – it has that unhinged-female-character-study aspect to it that’s been the pillar of so many of my favorite films, from “Persona” to “Repulsion” to “A Woman Under The Influence”, and the acting is exceptional. Say what you will about Nicole Kidman, I think she’s a hell of an actress. Sometimes you’ll find folks denigrating particular actors of actresses because of their (good) looks, sort of the opposite of diamond-in-the-rough syndrome, and probably why Kidman or, say, Matt Damon don’t win as many critical plaudits from the more edgy film critics. Anyway, she’s great in this, but the film runs aground a bit in the believability department, something I had to be convinced of by my better half after the viewing.
Yeah, I suppose the dialogue was a little over the top, and I guess Kidman’s teenage son would be a little more of a mess than he actually was if his mother and his aunt were truly the messes they were portrayed to be. I actually liked how Baumbach didn’t make the teenage characters into younger versions of their screwed-up moms, and had them as sort of the only anchors these poor women (Jennifer Jason-Leigh and Kidman) had. The film plays out much like a 1970s Bergman film would, with much more talking & action than Bergman’s pained silences. The frailty of humankind and the continued juvenility of many adults is on constant display here, and ever character save for the kids has a lot of growing up to do. Of course all self-medicate with alcohol and pills, the way so many adults in struggle with themselves must. I don’t know, “MARGOT AT THE WEDDING” wasn’t exactly an uplifting 90 minutes in front of the DVD player, and probably not as good as “THE SQUID AND THE WHALE”, but I think it held its own despite a bit of overreach.

What did you think?

Celluloid Hut Rating: B

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


This 2007 documentary from director Jessica Yu follows an unusual yet enthralling path: the stories of 4 men whose lives in their teens and early 30s played out like a ancient Greek tragedy, and who, in the course of being interviewed by Yu, have their stories slotted accordingly: “catharsis”, “redemption” etc. None of the 4 men have anything to do with each other. One was a German left-wing terrorist in the 70s who hid from the government during the Baader-Meinhof days; another is a gay man who lived a large chunk of his life as an “ex-gay” evangelist; a third is China expert Mark Bowden, who became over-obsessed with martial arts as a teen; and the fourth (and best) story concerns a bank robber/bad-ass who learned redemption after years of suffering for his own father’s sins. Here’s what EW’s Lisa Schwartzbaum (a great underrated film critic) had to say about it:
A former German terrorist once in cahoots with Carlos the Jackal, a gay Christian evangelical who, during his avowedly ''ex-gay'' period, preaches that Jesus has cured his ''homosexual problem,'' a bank robber, and a martial-arts devotee don't walk into a bar in Protagonist. They do, however, form the four male pillars of Jessica Yu's intricate, novel, and altogether fascinating art-piece documentary. The filmmaker incorporates ancient components of drama — including the universal appeal of puppetry — to explore the shaping of character in the crucible of fanaticism. And she relates her subjects' odysseys to principles of Greek tragedy, pausing to explain such concepts as ''provocation'' and ''catharsis.'' (Those puppets? They form a Greek chorus.)

If all this sounds awfully classroom-bound, it isn't — far from it. Each man's story as he tells it is riveting, truly stranger than fiction, and awesome, too, in the way of unfathomable humans. And Yu (who made In the Realms of the Unreal, about ''outsider'' artist Henry Darger) fits her inventive artistic choices to a rigorous, well-thought-out thesis about the tragedy of the extremist — and what makes a man a man.

Truly, this is a very male-oriented film, all the more remarkable having been made by a woman. I personally liked the intertwining of Greek Tragedy themes and the quick pacing of the documentary, though honestly, just when each story got riveting, Yu cuts to those puppets again – almost every 7-8 minutes. That got to be more than a little annoying. That said, “PROTAGONIST” is an inventive and thrilling take on the nature of male personal growth, and I recommend it highly, agreeing with Schwartzbaum’s take of B+.

Celluloid Hut Rating: B+

Monday, March 17, 2008


I don’t think I’m going to go see Michael Haneke’s new film, a scene-for-scene American recut of his 1997 French film "FUNNY GAMES". After an article about its remaking in the NY TIMES MAGAZINE last year, I was excited to see it – particularly because I enjoyed squirming my way through two of Haneke’s other recent films, “The Piano Teacher” and “Cache”. Then the poster you see here came out, and it’s one of the best movie posters I’ve ever seen. Something about the ravishing Naomi Watts' beautiful face streaked by tears makes for a truly disturbing – yet compelling - image. Then the reviews came out. The words “torture porn” started getting thrown around. And the more I looked into the plot, the more pissed off I got about what I was expecting to see. Brutal (if off-camera) violence, enacted in a slow, torture-heavy manner, against a family of innocents. A “highbrow ‘Hostel’”, they started calling it. I wish I could believe otherwise, but there’s nothing highbrow about the systematic butchery of innocents in gruesome detail, no matter how much of a statement the director is trying to make about our “complicity” while we watch it. How about not watching it? That’s my radical solution to not being complicit.

Anyone out there seen this film, or the original?

Monday, March 10, 2008


1. GIMME SHELTER – The standard-bearer for now and forever; a fantastic, trippy film in its own right, to say nothing of the circumstances under which it was made.
2. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION – A life-changing film for me, along with #3 – not only did it introduce me into the world of crazed, uber-energized LA punk rock that I love to this day, it was a well-told overview of some of the stranger and sensational corners of that scene and that era.
3. URGH: A MUSIC WAR – All it was was a series of clips from a bunch of early 80s new wave & post-punk bands, and yet it’s a beautiful string of performances by great bands like THE CRAMPS, AU PAIRS, X, PERE UBU and other heroes.
4. DIG!See my review here.
6. BOB DYLAN – DON’T LOOK BACK – I’m not a huge Dylan fan, but I almost became one after watching the snarky, snotty young Bob go electric and piss off his fans.
7. NICO ICON – Well-done look at the enigmatic Nico, the muse of Warhol, Fellini and the Velvet Underground – and then a drugged-out, influential musical ice princess in her own right. Great stuff.
8. WE JAM ECONOSee my review here.
9. THE MC5: A TRUE TESTIMONIALSee my review here.
10. THEREMIN: AN ELECTRONIC ODYSSEY – An entire film about a musical instrument, one that I found totally riveting and quite funny in parts.

Surely I’ve forgotten one of your favorites, no? Let me know in the comments section!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


‘Twas a strange Academy Awards for me and the missus this time, as we’d actually seen 4 of the 5 nominated Best Pictures in the theaters, with only “Michael Clayton” going unwatched (as it likely will during DVD season as well). Normally I might have seen one of the nominated films, given as they often are to extravaganzas like “Chicago”, “Titanic” and the like.
“ATONEMENT”, which ended up not winning the hallowed statuette this year, was one of the films where when I’d ask folks about it, they’d always say, “I read the book”. Friggin’ EVERYONE read that book. Not me. I knew there was some WWII stuff going on, as well as some mistake of some kind, for which there would be some atonement. That’s all I knew – oh that, and the fact that a lot of these book-readers said the film wasn’t “all that”. That’s what I had to work with, people.

, the film, was actually a pretty good yarn. The acting was excellent across the board – especially all 3 women who played Briony (one of whom, Vanessa Redgrave, only shows up in the last 5-10 minutes of the film, and is still fantastic). As you book readers well know, the story concerns a pre-teen named Briony Talis who witnesses adult sexuality between a man she knows well, and that she herself lusts for, and her own sister. In her confusion and heartbreak, she decides to make up a story about the man that has devastating, lifelong consequences for all parties concerned. Taking place at the dawn of World War II, which intrudes upon these upper-class countryside Brits in a big way, “Atonement” then shifts forward to how each character survived the war and its aftermath. All was great up to that point, but I felt the scene on the beach, with the defeated British army evacuating at Dunkirk, fell really flat for me. The chaos was at once both totally believable, and yet way overdone & hokey. I liked it much better when the twentysomething Briony (played wonderfully by Romola Garai)visited the wounded soldiers in the makeshift hospital, and later visited her sister and Robbie to try and make amends. Those scenes were outstanding, and quite moving as well, as these things go. I know others saw them as kinda sappy, but what can I say, I’m kind of a sap.

The film is a textbook sort of film for “good filmmaking” on a grand scale, and I’m sure a lot of what drives it headlong is the book upon which is was based. It wasn’t as good as the other biggies this year – I’m talking of course of “THERE WILL BE BLOOD” and “NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN” – not by a mile, but I think it’s something you’re probably going to want to see if you like movies, which I reckon you do.

Celluloid Hut Rating: B