Dec 14, 2006

Awards Shmawards

You can count on the Golden Globes to get some of it right, most of it wrong. Babel having 7 nominations is just dreadful, although I'm glad for Adriana Barraza, who was quite good. I'm sick and tired of El Clinto and his boring, overrated movies (which I haven't seen, because every time I see one of his movies I need to remind myself to please kick myself in the butt if I ever think of doing it again).
And as happy as I am for Leonardo DiCaprio getting 2 noms, I think it is the utmost injustice to have forgotten Matt Damon, who was just as good, or in my view, better, as his nemesis in The Departed.
Yesterday I was flipping channels and I caught two old chestnuts with these guys. One, School Ties, is a very conventional, predictable film about antisemitism at Harvard in the fifties. It has a cast of thousands; young tender things that went to become big stars: Ben Affleck, Chris O'Donell, Brendan Fraser, Anthony Rapp and Matt Damon. Damon plays a corrupt rich brat and he's the best thing in the movie. Smug, mercurial, alive, and utterly convincing. I am officially starting the campaign to stop underrating this fine actor right now. He's particularly good when he plays assholes, because his boyish, cherubic face is a good counterpoint to his talents as a meanie. Then I caught The Basketball Diaries, an over-the-top, don't-use-heroin movie, and I was taken aback at how fierce and magnetic DiCaprio is. He is astounding. I remember him as an incredibly gifted child actor who had some excellent performances in This Boy's Life and What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Marvin's Room and then was kind of uneven. He was fantastic in Titanic and Catch Me if You Can, but boring and miscast in Gangs of New York and not too convincing in The Aviator. I wish he lost weight today so he could go back to that beautiful, chiseled, high cheekboned, angelic face that was made for the movies. And I hope he wins his prizes this season, just not all of them.

Dec 13, 2006

Days of Glory/Indigenes

This is an unfortunately generic title for a great war movie. The name in French (it's a French-Algerian-Moroccan coproduction) is Indigenes, which translates as "Natives", which would have been a much more apt title. Its five main actors won the best prize for male acting at Cannes this year and with good reason. The movie is also Algeria's official entry to the Oscars, and I hope it gets nominated. It would be great if it won, too.
Indigenes deals with the Arab soldiers that fought for the French army in WWII and were treated with racism, unfairness and contempt by the French, which should not surprise anybody. This film is an excellent war movie that quietly asserts its outrage over the injustices committed to the North African soldiers which were recruited to fight in the name of Vive la France.
The movie is a conventional war film, very well done, with great dramatic moments, great suspense and tension, and well rounded wisdom in the observation of humanity. Its greatest virtue is that it wears its outrage with dignity, not bombastic selfrighteousness, which can be a common trait of outraged war movies. It reminded me of Kubrick's Paths of Glory and of a fantastic, outraged film from Sidney Lumet with Sean Connery called The Hill; both about the cruelty of war, not between enemies, but inside your own ranks. It really is one of the best war movies I've seen and instead of the yearly Clint Eastwood kissass festival, if you are going to see a war movie, this should be it.
In Indigenes, the abuses keep coming, slowly, but surely. Many details, some relatively banal, others terribly outrageous, keep piling up as these men slowly realize they are being cynically used and abused by the French military. First there are no tomatoes for the Arabs and the Africans, then there is no leave to see their families, then it's censorship of their letters (if addressed to French white women) then it's no promotions through the ranks, despite outstanding heroism and evident leadership qualities. It slowly dawns on you that they are being used, quite cunningly and ruthlessly, as bait to get at the Nazis.
The film raises some very interesting questions, extremely relevant to our day and age. It makes you quietly wonder how could the French fight against the Nazis and be so relentlessly racist themselves. Although it is mentioned once, one thinks of Vichy. And one thinks of France's own unfortunate, brutal misadventures in Algeria. The movie is an indictment, not only of human prejudice (which not only happens from the French to the Arabs, but within the Arabs themselves), but also of the poisonous nature of European colonialism.
More importantly, one thinks about the legacy of French colonialism and racism present today in the youths who set fire to their neighborhoods in France because today, as then, they are not truly allowed to participate fully in the egalité and the fraternité that the French are so proud of.
After a while, even though they stick it out because they believe they will be rewarded somehow, because their sense of honor is genuine, you just know, painfully, that the North African soldiers are not going to see squat, not even a freaking thank you. Their contribution will not only be completely ignored, but a scandalous postscript at the end of the film confirms that to this day, the French refuse to honor the memory of these soldiers.

ps: And here is a comment from a disgruntled viewer on imdb who offers another view of history. There will always be more than one side to any story:
The fact that the "goums" where "mercenaries" and inflicted atrocities on the Italian and German population is completely ignored by the film that glories the supposed "liberation". Please refer to articles on Esperia and Sofia Loren's much earlier movie entitled "La cociara" where 60,000 Italian women (and men) suffered alleged rapes and plundering from these "liberators"..the French army is not without its share of shame as a result of non-prosecution of atrocities. This film presents a totally distorted figure. To be more specific, after the battle at Monte Cassino the French general gave the Moroccan Algerian and other North African troops 50 hours of blanket freedom to do as they wished. This resulted in the remaining 7000 men (from the 12000) that went on attack raping and pillaging the small Italian towns as they passed them once the Germans retreated. They even raped the village priest, who died from those injuries a few days later. That makes it particularly disgusting to then provide the image of "liberators" when they were mercenaries. Some apparently still draw war pensions from the French government.
Moral of this story: war is inhuman and human history sucks.

Dec 12, 2006

Best and Worst of 2006

Well, it seems that it's the time of year again to do a highly unreliable and unscientific list of stuff we saw this year.
Brought to you by the Film Critics Association of Tejeringo el Chico.

Movies I loved
The Queen
United 93
Little Miss Sunshine
When the Levees Broke
Army of Shadows
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Akira Kurosawa's High and Low

Movies I liked
The Departed
Last King of Scotland
The Prestige
Jesus Camp
The Moustache
Sophie Scholl
Days of Glory - Indigenes

Way disappointing
Casino Royale
Little Children
The last Altman movie with Garrison Keillor.

Bad, pretentious movies
The Science of Sleep
Down to the Bone

Just Plain Bad
Thank You For Smoking

Movies I'm Afraid to See
Apocalypto* *This I won't see because it is from the Mel and he is not only an antisemite, but a pornographer of violence.
Pan's Labrynth
Children of Men
The Fountain
The Pursuit of Happyness

Waiting for Netflix
Marie Antoniette
Fast Food Nation
For Your Consideration
Stranger than Fiction

Great Female Movie Acting
Helen Mirren
Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
Carmen Maura
Chus Lampreave
Frances McDormand in Friends with Money
Meryl Streep in "Prada"

Men we love
Alan Arkin
Ryan Gosling
Christian Bale
Matt Damon playing the meanie in The Departed
Jackie Earle Haley in Little Children
Toby Jones as Truman Capote
Forest Whittaker
Bill Nighy in anything
Simon McBurney
Daniel Craig, as dry as he is as Bond, he looks way cute in a tux.
The cast of Indigenes

Dec 2, 2006

Bond has no fun

I now know why I don't go to James Bond movies. They are made exclusively for gadget freaks, five year-olds who need to see everything ever made with an engine. They make no sense and all the action makes me yawn. However, since the new Bond is Daniel Craig, me and my friend Cynthia decided to sacrifice almost three hours of our precious time to support our beloved's career move. After three hours of boredom, all I can say to Daniel is: good for you, but don't quit your day job acting in small movies where you seem to have much more fun.
Whatever money they offered him, he is certainly working hard for it. He runs, bumps into things, jumps from buildings, has fights while someone drives a tanker, and is tortured (my favorite scene, since he is buck naked).
Meanwhile he only sleeps with two women, in my opinion, none of them earthshaking beauties, and he simply does not have any time to enjoy himself. When he is asked whether he'd like his martini shaken or stirred, and he answers "do I look like I bloody care?" I want to jump his bones immediately, but this is not my idea of Bond, a man who has always been wrong about martinis (stirred, always), but who at least in previous incarnations knew how to have fun at the job.
This poor Bond has issues. We are told he has a huge ego (maybe because he is now of petite yet powerful frame), he is a joyless killing machine, he trusts no one, he has a chip on his shoulder, he can't relate. Do please come crying to mama here, I will make it better, I promise.
I like that Casino Royale is darker and less silly (not by much) than other Bond films. I like that it is supposed to be more faithful to the original Ian Fleming book. The movie is very nicely shot, very sharply edited. It has a horrid song at the cool title sequence where the James Bond theme we all know and love should be raising our adrenaline, the product placement is way out of hand, and it completely wastes Jeffrey Wright (who is so good he still registers), Judi Dench and Giancarlo Giannini, who seems to be taking a long Italian siesta throughout the proceedings.
Now, Daniel Craig looks absolutely magnificent in a tux. He looks terrific in swimming trunks and he wears beautiful suits beautifully. Cynthia complained that he has buffed up way too much and looked much better naked in The Mother, a good, dark movie you should see in order to comprehend why Cynthia and I are fans of Mr. Craig. As Bond, he drinks shitty drinks, beds soso women and the most fun he has is being tortured by Le Chiffre, played with more panache and humanity than anyone in the movie by Mads Mikkelsen, a guy from Scandinavia with a name out of a Bond movie. He is the best thing in the film. Eva Green, and here my friend Mauricio will strongly object, does nothing for me. She seems to do nothing for Bond either, because despite his protestations to the contrary, there is absolutely no chemistry between the two.
Casino Royale is about 40 minutes too long. My advice to Mr. Broccoli is: for the next installment, girls just want to see Bond have more fun.

Nov 29, 2006


I scan the headlines and I see the usual: Bush insists the civil war in Iraq is not a civil war, as if by sheer force of stubborness and idiocy, reality would actually change to suit him and his petrified brain. It's a civil war, stupid. Ask the relatives of the thousands of Iraqis who've been blown to bits, murdered, kidnapped, etc.

Then, a tiny item in the Theater section of the NYT:
A group of men stormed the stage during a performance in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, of “Wasati Bila Wasatiya” (“A Moderate Without Moderation”), a play critical of religious conservatives, Reuters reported, citing Saudi newspapers and Web sites.
As the play began at a cultural festival at Al-Yamamah College in Riyadh, the men, described as Islamic extremists, ran to the stage in an attempt to halt the performance. Police fired shots into the air to break up a violent brawl that followed, as the Islamists, students and actors threw chairs and attacked one another with sticks. Seventeen men were arrested.
There are no public theaters or movie houses in Saudi Arabia.
The boldface is mine. And these are friends of the United States. Geez.

Yesterday on the plane they showed the movie Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, with Will Ferrell. It amused me greatly. I have been much misunderstood by my affection for movies such as this one and the 40-Year-Old Virgin (and Old School, and Zoolander and most of the Farrelly Brothers' oeuvre). I have to say: they make me laugh. There is something in these comedies that celebrates stupidity in a generously infectious way. Had I paid eleven bucks for Ricky Bobby, I may not have been so thrilled, but if you are stuck on an airplane at 40,000 feet, it's quite delightful.
Sacha Baron Cohen plays a French race car driver called Jean Gerard, who drinks espresso and reads existential books while he drives laps in NASCAR with his helmet on.

"Why did I come to America?", he asks Ricky Bobby.
"Because of the public schools and the health care system and the water parks?"

Will Ferrell is wonderful at being clueless but with great conviction, sort of like Bush, but funny. The movie also boasts the wonderful John C. Reilly, a master of enthusiastic naiveté, and the excellent Gary Cole, who is as good in serious roles in TV shows as he is doing seriously funny bits for film comedies, like Dodgeball and Office Space.
Ricky Bobby pokes fun at the NASCAR culture, at people who thank Jesus for everything, at white trash culture, at celebrity endorsements, at product placement. It is designed to attract the very people who fit the demographic it is making fun of, yet it is not abrasive. Sort of a gentle satire. I loved it.
And when it was over, I went back to my Marcel Proust (who, when he is not describing the effects of asparagus on his memory and the consequent smell of his pee, among other endless digressions, can also be quite hilarious himself).

Nov 28, 2006

Movie Magic

Hello, my darlings! Have you missed me? Probably not. I'm still here in Mexico City, a good place to have excellent tacos de carnitas (photo coming soon) and to go to movies you wouldn't dream of spending eleven bucks in the States but here you pay about five bucks. So I see stuff that I otherwise wait for it to come out on Netflix. I saw The Departed at the great Palacio Chino, our very own version of Grauman's Chinese Theater. It used to be, in the old days, when movie palaces still existed, a fantastically decorated Chinese temple, but around the eighties, like every other wonderful Mexican movie palace (the Variedades, the Chapultepec, the Metropolitan and others), it went to the dogs, showing cheap soft porn films, etc. Now, since the nineties, we finally have good cineplexes in Mexico, with mostly bad Hollywood movies but clean restrooms, good sound, good seats. The new Palacio Chino is one such cineplex: utterly generic, except for the fact that they chinafied the facade with bright neon lights and, a touch I love, the names of the movies are written in sort of Chinese typeface. Cute.
That´s where I saw The Departed.
Now: Martin Scorsese and his wonderful editor Thelma Schoonmaker, certainly know how to open a film. The degree of visual energy and panache in the first twenty minutes of The Departed is absolutely glorious, beautifully thrilling. I wish I could say the same of the rest of the movie, which, while enormously entertaining, has so many twists and turns, and is so long that after a while one would like to get off the fun ride. It is extremely violent and as happens with all movies that depend on intrincate plots, at a certain point one asks very logical questions of things that are not happening but should. Such as how is it possible that the Irish mafiosi controlled by a fun, over the top Jack Nicholson haven´t figured out by now who the rat is?
The Departed is delightful because everybody in it is a pro: Nicholson goes to town hamming it up, but his relish is contagious and he is wonderful. Matt Damon is extremely fine as a cold, professional, ruthless villain. I´m glad he was cast against type. Di Caprio is quite good as his counterpart, a mole in the mafia. And the rest are adorable pros: my beloved Ray Winstone, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and even Mark Wahlberg, trying real hard to come up with the goods and aqcuitting himself nicely. The Departed touches upon recurrent themes in Scorsese´s work: true morality, human hipocrisy, the corruption of the soul, how easy it is for evil to run rampant in this world, how very fucked up is human nature. The movie, as entertaining as it is, has substance, and is the best thing Scorsese has done in years.
The one weak link I found was the subplot with the female shrink, played, not too convincingly in my opinion, by Vera Farmiga. She falls in love with both Damon and DiCaprio and to me that´s already gilding the lily. Still, if you want to see what a master of movie making can do, run to The Departed and enjoy the mayhem.
One big nitpick: too much rock and roll music in every scene.

I also saw The Prestige, by Christopher Nolan, he of Memento and Batman Begins. I enjoyed it immensely for I was in a foul mood and in urgent need of escapism, and The Prestige delivers this with class. What is not to like about a contest of wills between two magicians played by Hugh Jackman (yum) and the always magnificent Christian Bale, (megayum to the nth degree), plus the always welcome Michael Caine, doing his benevolent shtick real well? For the males in the audience there is the scrumptious eye candy of Scarlett Johanssen, who has a face made for the camera, a decent British accent, but who, no matter how many times she appears in period pieces, always seems to me to be very much a girl of today.
The Prestige is also extremely entertaining, very smart, with the kind of cool plot twists that Nolan and his brother (who writes his screenplays) love. It is a story of obsessive rivalry between two magicians, the kind of behavior that is very typically male and that makes this one of the few period movies that males will enjoy: a Victorian ¨can you top this¨? I had a ball while I watched it, but it left me kind of cold at the end. Same reaction I had with Memento. Lots of neat tricks of the mind, very little in the way of insight. Still, Nolan is a gifted director, as good a showman as his two protagonists. The Prestige is a cool film. And it doesn't make you ask logical questions. It keeps you guessing right to the end. That´s a neat trick.

Nov 20, 2006


Yesterday the movie club had one of its frequent outings. We had every intention of checking out Scorsese's The Departed but it sold out because Bond (I told you about Daniel Craig) sold out too.
Tip for moviegoers: the only reasonable time in NY to go to a movie without drama is Monday thru Wednesday. Or if you are unemployed, the 4 pm shows. The rest is a pain in the ass.
In any case, we ended up at the lovely Cinema Village and rushed in to see Cautiva, an Argentinian movie we knew nothing about. I like not to know anything about what I am about to watch. Cautiva (Captive) is a small, low budget movie about one of the evil corollaries of the Argentinian Dirty War in the 70's when a despicable Military Junta ruled Argentina through terror and it "disappeared" around 30,000 citizens, all accused of subversion or communism, most of them young people with long hair and antifascist leanings.
Cautiva starts out with real footage of the goal that Argentina scored in its home turf against Holland to win the Soccer World Cup in 1978. The joy of that goal immediately sours and turns sinister as the camera pans to General Videla and other members of the Junta and their friend Henry Kissinger, who never met a fascist dictator he didn't like. Now, it was known around the world that the Junta had an atrocious human rights record but it is shocking today to see how they literally got away with murder and were able to host the World Cup with total brazeness. But I guess if Hitler could host the Olympics in 1936 and China, a country with an abysmal human rights record, is hosting the next ones, anything goes.
The military junta in Argentina committed terrible atrocities against its own citizens. They read the handbook by the nazis and tried their best to improve upon the torture methods, and the regime of terror and murder. They had clandestine prisons and torture chambers in the middle of Buenos Aires. One of the things they did, like the Nazis, was to deliver the newborn babies of imprisoned pregnant women and give them for adoption to families in the military or the police. Cautiva is the story of a teenager raised by a family who stole her from her imprisoned mother. It is a powerful, blunt film, with such a harrowing story that it wisely just tells it, without much embellishment or editorializing.
At the beginning the acting seemed a bit stilted, and I was afraid that the movie would turn into a tango. (Those of us who are not Argentines, use the word tango to denote a tantrum or a huge melodrama). But the film gained in intensity as the teenager is forced to confront the truth about her loving family. Cautiva explores the wounds, still open, that the disappearance of 30,000 souls has left in Argentina's psyche, and the deep ideological rifts and the hatred between the extreme right and the left. At the end, the movie says that over 70 children have been found out to have been "appropriated" illegally by others. Also, most of the police and military who committed the atrocities are under house arrest, at the very worst, or free to come and go as they please, because they were granted a general amnesty after the demise of the Junta. I remember Argentinian friends of mine in the 80's talking about the "Ley de Obediencia Debida", something that translates loosely as Law of Due Obedience, which basically exonerated many criminals on the grounds that they were obeying orders from above.

Nov 16, 2006


It's been years since I liked a Pedro Almodóvar movie. I admired his very first movies: Law of Desire, What Have I Done to Deserve This, Matador and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. But in recent times I found his movies to be pretentious and overwrought without the freshness and verve of his earlier work. I liked Bad Education as an interesting failure, was not that thrilled with Talk to Her (I really hated its cinematic namedropping -- pretentious musical numbers by Pina Bausch, Caetano Veloso and Chavela Vargas really rubbed me the wrong way) and I had no patience for the sordid melodramas of The Flower of My Secret and All About My Mother. They seemed no better or sharper than the common variety Mexican telenovela.
I am so happy to report that with Volver, Almodóvar is back in style. Volver boasts a magnificent ensemble cast of phenomenal actresses, led by Penélope Cruz and with the miraculous return of the long departed Carmen Maura, who is a national treasure of Spain and one of the most formidable actresses of all time, in my humble opinion. She apparently had a feud with Almodóvar which is why she didn't grace any of his movies for many years. But now they have kissed and made up. Fittingly, she plays someone whose return is quite unexpected, thus making it a doubly delightful surprise.
The buzz out there is that Penélope Cruz is most certainly going to be nominated for an Oscar. She has always been a very good actress. She is a true movie star: gorgeous, alive, hypnotic, endlessly charismatic. And in this movie she is a stunner. I defy any American actress to muster her pep and vim and sexiness and soulfulness. However, the Oscar nomination, if there is justice in the world, should go to Carmen Maura. She is a great tragic comedienne. It is impossible not to be touched by her. One look of hers tells entire volumes. And how refreshing to see her without an ounce of botox or plastic surgery, all the wisdom and pain of her age reflected in her face. There is a scene where someone is watching a movie on TV with Anna Magnani and the homage is fitting. Volver is Almodóvar's paean to the strength of women, and La Magnani and La Maura are in the same league: genuine divas, larger than life.
Chus Lampreave, (who I've been campaigning for the Spanish government to erect a statue in her honor, or at least give her a postage stamp), always plays slightly eccentric, slightly mad Spanish women whose view of the world is entirely logical only to them. She is hilarious. Here, she sadly appears for a very short time, but a two-word line comes out of her mouth with so much comic baggage, it's miraculous. And Blanca Portillo, as a youngish lonely woman, most probably a lesbian, stuck in an old provincial town, is also something to behold.
The ensemble deserves the acting prize the won at Cannes. They all rock.
Volver is classic Almodóvar: a comic melodrama that both skewers and pays homage to deep Spanish culture, and also an anthem to the pluckiness and the courage of women. It will remind viewers of his comic masterpiece, Women on the Verge, but Volver has a more poignant, calmer, profound quality. Volver is about the need for forgiveness and the need to set things straight. It's about the buried pain behind the human mistakes brought on by love. The title is taken from a famous tango, I believe, by Carlos Gardel. Volver is a tender, human and extremely enjoyable film. Even when it hits the heights of melodrama, it tempers it with smart dialogue and gentle irony. Calamities pile themselves on top of one another, but the tone is breezy and warmhearted. I wish the American audiences could enjoy the flavorful language. The characters speak with the most delightful Iberian mix of insolence and innocence. Almodóvar is a master in mimicking the most banal conversations, the most feminine gossip. He is a great observer of the quotidian. This beautiful, elegant, rounded screenplay is very well written, in contrast to some of his recent work.
Volver is beautifully shot by Jose Luis Alcaine, a longtime collaborator of the director, in rich tones, colorful but not as tacky as the usual; with deep blood red as a recurring visual motif. There are scenes with modern windmills in La Mancha, the place where Don Quixote and the director both hail from. In Almodóvar's vision of Spain the old traditions coexist uneasily with the new and it is a little crazymaking. You can tell how fond he is of what makes Spain, Spain: the food, the superstitions, the little old ladies and their excessive reliance on prayer and gossip; and yet the narrowmindedness exasperates him. He also comments on the appalling incidence of spousal abuse, the kind of provincial attitudes towards foreigners, or anybody slightly different, the self-same superstitions, and the idiotization of the masses by what he calls TVBasura, Trash TV. As in the best of his movies, Volver is a portrait of Spain through its women, resourceful, chaotic, emotional, bighearted, wise and courageous. His mastery of the tragicomic reminds me of Chekhov. Volver is this good.

Oct 30, 2006

Scary Movie: Jesus Camp

The scariest Halloween movie is not Saw XII or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, but a little documentary called Jesus Camp. If you really want the living daylights scared out of you, I strongly recommend this film. It will give you heart palpitations. Aside from its obvious tendentiousness, (needless menacing music and weird camera angles), it is a very interesting film about an Evangelical camp for kids where they basically brainwash children into reclaiming the United States as a solely Christian nation.
I am not scared of the Christian Right per se. According to the film, they make up about 25% of the population and I strongly believe that the other 75%, even at its most conservative, is not as batshit lunatic as these people. I believe most Americans still hold on to some modicum of common sense and still want their country to be free and pluralistic. And if they don't want that, they want to be left the hell alone to do whatever the hell they want, so I'm not sure that they will welcome public religious frenzies with open arms. However, as the film points out, these fringe maniacs are extremely well funded and organized and they wield considerable political influence and power in this Administration and with this Republican congress. At the beginning of the film I thought that such an obsessive, sick, codependent relationship with Jesus is the last resort of the White Trash Nation. They ask Jesus to bless the powerpoint presentation or the bowling ball, and then of course, he never does. It can make someone crazy.
It soon became clear that these people are not White Trash (though they still favor mullets). They are well to do, middle class suburbanites that seem to have too much money and time in their hands. They live in places without intellectual or cultural stimulation and they isolate themselves in their hysterical love of God and their holier than thou attitude towards the rest of society. They behave more like a cult than a religion. And their tactics are manipulative and extreme and I was wondering if they are not illegal. As far as I'm concerned, these people are abusing their children psychologically, instilling constant fears and morbid thoughts about sin and death and abortion and killing babies in their tender, impressionable minds. So you have scene after scene of kids pretending to be speaking in tongues and having paroxisms of faith that they are not mature enough to understand, let alone muster. There seems to be, like in any group activity, a great deal of peer pressure. Plus some of these kids are home schooled and all they know is the Bible.
The formidable Becky Fisher, the pastor who runs the camp, is a smart, apparently sincere woman, and when she talks about how the Muslims train (that's the word she uses) their children to fast for Ramadan since the age of five, you know that a secret admiration for suicide bombing is not far behind. She stops short of going to this extreme, but she is indoctrinating future Christian soldiers for a cultural if not literal war on the secular values of this country. Christian Fundamentalism does not differ much from Muslim or Jewish fanaticism or any other extreme misinterpretation of religion. In essence, somebody that thinks that they own the absolute truth and theirs is the only way, and the only way to God is through force and coercion, is pretty much the same regardless of their faith. Their strength is that there is no questioning their faith, so rational discourse does not apply.
In contrast to some countries, where it is compulsory for parents to send their children to school, this country allows parents to homeschool their children. There is no supervision or obligatory state curriculum that the parents have to follow, on top of whatever other subjects they may want to teach their kids. I think there should be. Kids should not be used as missionaries or evangelists or proselytizers, like the film shows. There is one completely confused and neurotic, relentless little girl that I hope shows up here in NY and I hope I run into her on the street and I hope she tries to give me a little pamphlet about God's blood so I can knock her teeth out and do her and us a favor.

Oct 1, 2006

Cache: Talk About Denial

As beautifully played by the great Daniel Auteil, Georges is everything the French think of themselves: civilized, sophisticated, cultured, softspoken and refined. He's also a major asshole and is in huge denial about it, just like the French have been about their actions in Algiers (and if you ask me, about pretty much everything) for ages. Georges is a TV talk show host. This being France, instead of "My nephew raped his Grandmaw", they talk about books. They are all in love with their brains and their culture and their perfect little society predicated upon those lofty notions of liberté, egalité and fraternité. Georges starts getting spooky tapes of his home being watched for hours on end, and even spookier childlike drawings that intimate some awful violence. He sets out to unravel who is sending this stuff to him. The audience finds out the truth step by step with him, not twenty minutes ahead, like in Match Point, but not behind either. A lot of this movie is shot from his point of view, which makes it very unsettling. He is in the dark, just as the audience, and you sit for two hours giving your brain a major (and very needed) workout. You also sit there in a state of slowly accumulating tension. The way the tension is sustained in Cache is a marvel of economy, like watering a plant with a dropper. Michael Haneke is a director capable of unsettling you with very little. There is no music to make your heart rate go up and signal that something very bad is about to happen. The way the mysterious tapes start unraveling Georges' seemingly contented existence is just a slow, dense piling up of unknowingness, and dread, and fear. When the violence comes, it comes shockingly and abruptly, with no foreshadowing. But Cache is also a moral tale. So we find out that in Georges' life everybody lies. Little everyday lies, big hidden lies. At the same time, the lies of George's past are the same lies that the French nation has been suppressing forever, pretending that tout va bien. To Michael Haneke, the personal IS political. The choices you make dealing with other human beings, particularly if they are from a marginal minority, if they are not one of you, can have devastating consequences that are intimate and universal at the same time. Of the movies dealing with the aftermath of the European colonial catastrophes, the problems that France, England and Germany face today of hostile, unassimilated, segregated populations living in their midst, Cache so far is the best I've seen. It has none of the preachy, didactic tone of liberal mortification. It is an exercise in wringing out the truth behind the smug French self-satisfaction and, by corollary, that of all of Europe. As expected of Michael Haneke, it is a cold, cerebral movie, sharply written, slightly sadistic, (not as horribly sadistic as The Piano Teacher, or worse, the loathsome Funny Games). I have sometimes found his movies to be as manipulative of the audience as Spielberg's but much more perversely. There is a whiff of that here too, as when we are desperately searching for clues that he then deems irrelevant. For instance: why doesn't anybody bother to look where the hidden camera is coming from? As an audience we are trained by the movies to believe that we require a logical explanation for everything, and if there is no logical explanation then there is movie explanation. But Haneke likes to, excuse my French, fuck around with the audience. Cache looks like a thriller, walks like a thriller and quacks like a thriller, so the audience is frustrated at the end, when we are not rewarded for all our detective work as we expect from thrillers. But for Haneke, it's not important whodunit, but it is important, and perhaps more frightening, that there is someone living next to you, watching your every move with hatred in their heart. Now you must think why.

Apr 20, 2006

Capote II

I wonder what Truman Capote, who adored attention so much, would think about having not one, but two biopics immortalizing his writing of In Cold Blood on the silver screen. Two camps have seen the dramatic potential of this story and fortunately for us, with vastly different results.
Douglas McGrath's version, Infamous, is based on the book of interviews by George Plimpton, whereas last year's Oscar winner for Phillip Seymour Hoffman is based on the biography by Gerald Clarke.
So which one did I like better? Infamous.
When I saw Capote, I thought the filmmakers got on a high moral horse and punished Capote for how he went about writing his masterpiece. It bothered me that they neglected to give credit to the quality of the book. It was an interesting film, but felt a bit cold, somehow superior to its subject.
Infamous is less controlled, and thus much more emotionally gripping. There is a lot more information in it, not only about Truman Capote but also about his relationship with the two convicts, particularly Perry Smith. It gives a far more complex idea of who he was and what he did to write the book.
Here Capote is an incorrigible gossip, someone you couldn't trust with a secret, a talented imp hungry for attention, a master namedropper, and a brazen, self-centered charmer, who could be callous to his lover, selfish and needy with his friends. It also shows his extreme sensitivity, his serious commitment to his art, the sad family reasons behind his larger than life character. The British actor Toby Jones, who in contrast to Hoffman, has the right physique for the role, gives an astounding performance as Capote. Not only because of the mannerisms and the voice, but because of the intellectual acuity, the vulnerability, the neediness, the calculation and the constant presence of deep pain beneath the surface. As much as I liked Phillip Seymour Hoffman, at times I thought he was verging on the caricature, and he had only a couple of scenes in which the human being behind the eccentric flaming queen persona came through. I don't blame the actor, but the writing. Toby Jones, as outrageous as he looks and behaves, and he is hilarious, never seems a caricature. He is wickedly funny and extremely poignant, and he is given a lot more backstory, a lot more personal detail to work with. The material allows him to scope out much bigger emotional and psychological territory. I guess what the first film lacks is this poignancy.
has a marvellous cast of thousands. Sandra Bullock plays Harper Lee, and she is quite good, with a pretty solid Alabama accent and great empathy and intelligence. Then you have Sigourney Weaver, wonderful as Babe Paley and super sexy badass Daniel Craig as Perry Smith. Juliet Stevenson is dead on as Diana Vreeland and Peter Bogdanovich is very funny as Bennett Cerf. Before events turn serious, this movie is a hoot of characters and New York gossip and the eccentricities of the idle rich that Capote fawns over. It just seems much more full of life.
It also dwells much more into the sexual attraction and the intimate relationship that Capote forged with Smith. In essence it is a tragic love story. The personal fallout of having written such a masterpiece which dealt with actual people, feels far more tragic in this film. Infamous does not easily condemn Capote for his sins, and does not do a simplistic moral equation in which manipulating people for the sake of art is an evil thing to do, deserving of punishment. The tragic outcome is here for us to ponder, as is that gem of a book and the curious, wounded, maddening spirit who wrote it.

Sir No Sir!

You must run to see this excellent and important documentary now showing at the IFC Center on 6th Ave and W3rd St. Sir no Sir! is a powerful film about the GI anti-war movement in Vietnam. It just makes one feel ashamed at the collective apathy and lack of balls we all have manifested in comparison.
Here's the little review that appeared in The New Yorker and made me pay attention:
The rise of protest against the Vietnam War is more than forty years in the past. This blunt, heartfelt documentary, directed by David Zeiger, revives those passionate days and restores the historical record with his account of widespread opposition to the war from within the U.S. military itself. Starting with the lonely voices of Donald Duncan, a Green Beret who resigned his commission in 1965, and Howard Levy, a dermatologist who accepted court-martial rather than train other Army doctors, Zeiger presents men and women who braved the stockade or worse to denounce the war from within. Jane Fonda is a character here, as she gives a moving account of her activities on behalf of the soldiers themselves. Along the way, myths are dispelled and dormant outrage reignited: Zeiger’s technique, though conventional, is eloquent, as are the interviewees, whose righteous energy burns as brightly now as in the evocative archival footage.—R.B. (IFC Center.)
True, it's a different era. These are not the sixties anymore, where there was so much revolution going on: the civil rights movement, the hippie movement, women's lib. Young people truly felt the world needed to be changed. And to their credit, they tried to change it. Now, when you hear about somebody changing the world it's usually Bill Gates or Google or some stupid phone company. Now we have lobotomized complacency all around.
As one of the original Vietnam Vets said yesterday after the opening screening, there are instances of resistance currently that have actually made a dent: the widespread protests in France about the new labor rules, and the mass mobilization of this country's immigrants. Then why is it that about this misbegotten war nobody seems to be doing anything?
It's a different coverage of the war: we never see the civilian injuries, the maimed soldiers, the draped coffins coming home. This war is kept as far away from our human consciences as possible. It's a distant, sanitized war about an enemy that perhaps Americans feel more justified in attacking, even though those poor Iraqis had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11.
Also, as Sydney Schanberg mentioned in a panel after one of the performances of Stuff Happens, this government has not asked us to sacrifice absolutely anything. The stock market is up, the President advises us to go shopping, and the only people making any sacrifices are the soldiers and their families... people don't care. Will they care now that gas prices are hitting an all time high? Will that finally push them to the brink of outrage? What if the finale of American Idol is bumped to show some important news about the war? Bummer? Or does something utterly monstruous need to happen to wake people up to the Irak disaster? Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the illegal spying, and now our very scary nuclear pissing contest with Iran, none of this seems to bother most Americans.
A young woman stood up yesterday after the opening screening of Sir no Sir! and talked about how she was part of the anti-war movement. Perhaps she is. She and fifteen other cats. What anti-war movement? Where is it? As my dear moviegoing companion pointed out to me, every time we go to a film like this or an anti-war lecture, most of the people in the audience have white hair. It's the hippies from the sixties all over again. I can't imagine how they feel now, having been through that momentous era, to come all the way back to the worst national regression ever. It must be dismaying. Where are the young people now? Why aren't they demanding that their peers come back unharmed? Boy, I so wish there was a compulsory draft service. Then we'd see a righteous anti-war movement in an instant.
There are also Iraq Veterans against the war. One of them showed up yesterday. A young man with a Hispanic last name who has been a career soldier for 14 years. Last year he asked to change his status to a conscientious objector and says that his case is still pending, so he's still in service.

WTF is Latin Cinema?

If there is one thing that drives us Latins crazy is when we all get mixed in the same basket, as my dear friend Marta points out.
Oh, so they are kinda dark skinned and passionate and speak something other than English, then it must be Latins. Case in point, Variety's news about the 2006 Cannes Film Festival competition lineup:
LONDON — Latin cinema is the big winner, while U.S. and French filmers hold their place, in the Official Selection of the 59th Cannes Film Festival (May 17-28), announced in Paris today.
What exactly is Latin cinema, may I ask? Does it come from LatinLand?
It's a way that Hollywood people can wrap their little marketing minds around several films that hail from very different directors from different countries with even different languages. So there are films from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Mexico in competition. If you think about it, three of those are European countries, one is in Latin America. Bonus points if you guess which. Nobody ever thinks of mentioning Anglo cinema for films from the US, Ireland, Australia or Canada, Wales, Scotland. You get the picture.
In any case, the president of the Jury is Wong Kar Wai (whose exquisite movies rather bore me) but there are some very smart people in it: the great Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, director Patrice Leconte. Sounds like the deliberations could be fun. I hope they don't go too pretentious on us.

Apr 13, 2006

What's Self Serving?

It's not the same as a self-service cafeteria, in case you are confused. The other day, my fellow movieclub colleagues and I had an interesting discussion about what defines something self-serving. This arose because we all went to see Michel Gondry's Dave Chappelle's Block Party at BAM. We all really enjoyed the movie. It was charming, spirited, funny and touching and it gave you a strong sense of the talent and variety of hip-hop artists, of pride in the hip-hop culture, of place. Also, it showcased Dave Chappelle at his sweetest. We then went to dinner to a South African restaurant where we had to scream to be heard. The music, although great, was too loud, as is the custom everywhere in NY.
So one of us asked the question: why is it that this movie doesn't feel self-serving? But because the rest of us were temporarily deaf, we thought she said that the movie was self-serving and we heartily disagreed with her. As you can imagine, this was not one of our more successful debates.
Still, the question lingered. What makes something self-serving? How do you define it?
I can tell you it's like that famous definition of porn, I know it when I see it. If we take the Chappelle movie as an example, Dave Chappelle decides to throw a block party in Bed-Stuy and invite his very famous rapper friends. It's a free concert and he's doing it, convincingly, because he likes to and he can. The concert scenes are interspersed with scenes of Bed-Stuy neighbors before the concert, of Dave Chappelle traveling to Ohio to invite a black college marching band and some white people and other black people to his concert. The movie is spontaneous, breezy, funny and at no time does one feel that Chappelle is doing this to aggrandize himself. He has a self-deprecating streak that avoids that. You don't feel he's a hero to the community, you just feel he, for whatever reasons, enjoys doing this. Not self-serving.
So as an example of self-serving, I thought of that horrid film Life is Beautiful, by Roberto Benigni, where he marshalls the idea of being a clown in a concentration camp in the Holocaust to spew forth some vile, empty bullshit about hope and love and god knows what other utter nonsense. To me, it is not that the Holocaust is off limits as a venue for comedy. It's tough, but maybe someone will come along that will make it a veritable barrel of laughs. I can think of Mel Brooks' movie The Producers and Chaplin's The Great Dictator. But the difference is that both movies make fun of the villains, instead of using the victims as a forum for their own shtick. Life is Beautiful (for starters the title makes me gag) is so calculated to tug at your heart strings, so forced in it's making some sort of saint out of its protagonist, so blatant in its exploitation of maudlin human sentiment, so enamored of Benigni's comic-redemptive qualities, so utterly fake and insincere, that on top of making me want to retch, it seems to me a perfect example of self-serving. One of us argued that it worked for a lot of people. Well, A Million Little Pieces also worked for a lot of people and that didn't make it good. People fall for the corny bullshit. That doesn't mean it's true.
There's an episode of Curb your Enthusiasm that features a screaming match between a Holocaust survivor and a survivor of the show Survivor that is freakish and subversive and uncomfortably hilarious. Truly pushing boundaries, which is what Larry David does best, but not self-serving. Another good example of using comedy in touchy contexts is my new boyfriend Martin McDonagh's, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, where he skewers the IRA. Again, he makes a broader, powerful, intelligent point about the absurdity of religion-based sectarian violence. I can't articulate how smart and ironic and knowing and shocking it is. How well structured and incisive and bitterly funny and uncomfortable. It is certainly not something pat that appears to have fallen out of a Hallmark card because my new boyfriend wants to be loved by mankind. It is fueled by true outrage, not by some sort of needy childish innocence. Beware of childish innocence in anybody over the age 14.
Is this blog self-serving? You tell me.

Tom Hanks has the same taste as me!

Almost. Yikes. I thought he would love crap like The Shawshank Redemption and other treacly stuff he's done before, but no, the man has a certain penchant for slightly perverse movies.
He loves 2001. He loves Fargo. (J'adore Fargo). He loves The Godfather (it's becoming sort of a cliche to love that movie so much), strangely enough he loves Elephant by Gus Van Sant, (it bored me). And he loves Boogie Nights. Not bad. Not bad for the guy who has given us the unforgiveable Forrest Gump and the equally awful Cast Away or whatever that horrid 2 hour FedEx commercial was called.
By the way, who asked him?

Mar 15, 2006

Annie get your gun

And do us a favor, shoot yourself in the mouth.
The peeps from Brokeback Mountain: what a bunch of sore losers! I'm referring actually only to Ang "Sourface"Lee, who forgets to thank the cast and then kvetches about being dissapointed and now, and much worse, Annie Proulx, who wrote the original story. She writes a disgraceful, badly written rant in the Guardian, whining about being "robbed" of an Oscar. How undignified. How low. Crash is not a good movie, but most of the Best Picture Oscar winners ever are, so stop having a zirotsky.
Ungracious losers like that don't deserve to win anyway. It's not like Night on Gay Mountain, or, I love the title they gave it in Mexico: "Secreto en la Montaña" -- Secret on the Mountain (oooooh....) is such a masterpiece either. Pipe down, losers.
Question: has the movie gotten any audiences in Mexico? Men are so paranoid of being considered gay down there (despite the fact that many of them are) that I wonder if they are even seen driving anywhere close to where the movie is showing, God forbid someone may think they are maricones.

Mar 14, 2006

Box Office Poop

More creepy entertainment news:

• Want to get completely depressed? Take a look at the weekend's box office results.
The movies did great. But boy, these are the movies America is watching. What a bummer.

• Even more disturbing: Americans watch over 50 hours of TV a week and only 15% of the channels they have (which is not surprising, since only like 2% are actually worth watching).
According to Imdb's Studio Briefing:
The average American household received 96.4 channels in 2005 but watched 15.4 of them, according to a survey by Nielsen Research and reported by MediaPost's online MediaDailyNews on Monday. The study also found that the average household watched TV 57 hours and 17 minutes per week, up from 56 hours and seven minutes during 2004. Reporting on the survey, the publication observed that it indicated that "given an unlimited number of media options, the average person will still opt to use a relatively small number."
57 hours! That's way more than the freaking work week! When do they watch?
How many hours do they spend reading?
No wonder we're so dumb.

He Gives Me The Willis

On the other hand, not all celebrities can be counted to use the two neurons attached to their brains. Witness professional asshole Bruce Willis' comments about the US invading Colombia to stop the cocaine trade. The Colombians were very upset when they should have been laughing in his face. Really, when a hasbeen opens his yap and says some idiot thing, it dignifies him too much to have a response both from Colombia's Ambassador to the US and its President. But they did have a point. The drug problem is one of supply and demand. Being that here in America we have an overpowering hankering for drugs, our Colombian suppliers are just happy to oblige.
The Colombian President went on to say that Willis is arrogant and ignorant, which pretty much describes the guy. It also describes our own President, but that's another story.
Instead of invading Colombia in such a gung ho spirit, (it'll be just like Iraq: we're not even there yet but hey, mission accomplished) perhaps we should be legalizing drugs, so that our evil Colombian suppliers have less incentive to keep us loaded with blow.

Mar 13, 2006

Clooney Tunes

George and I are bloggers. Isn't that divine? I am a liberal too, George. And proud of it.
George, besides being extremely handsome, is also quite smart and I appreciate the fact that he is not afraid to speak out because it so happens that he is right. I'm glad he holds the Democrats accountable for their cowardice and ineptitude. I've been saying the same thing for years, but who listens to me? I'm not George Clooney.
George, honey, we have so much in common, let's do lunch.

Mar 9, 2006

Or: Not a date movie

Or (my treasure), an amazing film from Israel, is one of the most brutal, depressing, heartbreaking films I've seen. Or belongs to the kind of bleak films like Lilya 4-ever, or Morvern Callar, that document sordidness and squalor in the lives of women. These films never hail from the United States, by the way. Call it box office poison. In any case, of the ones I've seen, including the overrated Turkish-German film, Head-On, Or is the most intelligent. It is a truly hard, unsentimental film about a teenager, Or (which means "light" in Hebrew), whose mother is an incurable prostitute. They live in a shabby apartment and they have no money. Or's mother is a bottom of the barrel prostitute. She behaves like a spoiled, irresponsible child, as if she's entitled to all the indulgence in the world because of her suffering. Her daughter goes to school and then works her ass off. She washes dishes in a restaurant, collects empty plastic bottles for recycling and mops the stairway of the apartment building where they live. She brings food home, she buys her mother's medicine, she locks her mother in to prevent her from going back to the streets. But the mother has succumbed so deeply to her victim's mentality, she is virtually incapable of taking care of herself. She chooses to be oblivious to the sacrifices her daughter makes for her and to the very fact that their roles are inverted. This is not a proud whore, this is not the absurd fantasy that the world entertains that whores are a happy lifestyle choice. This is a broken woman, broken beyond repair. She is a bundle of needs, a monster of unconscious selfishness, and quite stubborn in her helplessness. Or finds her a job cleaning a house and she looks down on it, can't hold on to it. But Or is devoted to her and is obssessed with saving her. Then as the film unfolds slowly, painfully, too intimately, it dawns on Or that there is no hope for her either. No matter how hard she tries to change things, her mother has given her a stigma she cannot escape. This is a harsh, quietly devastating film. It doesn't preach, there are no morally exalted speeches or terrible villains and heavenly saints. Not much happens except the daily grind of survival. The neighbors help until they stop helping. Some of them help by taking advantage of the situation, others by halfheartedly lending a hand, then taking it cruelly away. It seems that if you are a whore, everybody can feel superior and look down on you even as they help you. Or learns that no matter what she does or how she feels or who she is, she is an outcast, tainted, and cannot escape the abyss of degradation.
The bluntness of this movie made my stomach churn. At the end, I felt like taking a shower and having two alka-seltzers. No barrel of laughs here. But it is a great example of the kind of stories a film can tell, not with the intention of sermonizing, just of showing what a cruel, unfair place the world can be.

It's Duck Season!

I'm ecstatic to hear that Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón (Y tu mamá también) has helped find distribution for Duck Season, a lovely Mexican film that had none some months ago, when it was shown to great acclaim at the New Directors/New Films at MoMa. Its young director, Fernando Eimbcke and his producer, explained that they were finding it hard to sell the film in the US because of two reasons: it was in black and white and it was not in English.
Have you noticed how, when you see foreign film previews in artsy fartsy cinemas (because that's the only place they show them), they usually have no dialogue? The reason is that Americans are too lazy to read subtitles. Subtitles put American audiences off. Sad but true. And how do you suppose that most of the world watches the crap that Hollywood exports? In many cases movies are dubbed, but most of the time they are subtitled.
It would have been truly sad if Cuarón had not come to the rescue, for Duck Season is a lovely, lovely film. It's been compared to the films of Ozu and Jim Jarmusch. I found it much more breezy and entertaining than Ozu and much less calculatedly hip than Jarmusch, so Eimbecke has made good use of his influences. Duck Season is fun and touching and fresh and charming, and surprisingly bold cinematically. In this day of easy cheesy digital effects, crazy color correction, smoke and mirrors, Eimbcke shot the film in long takes with a camera locked in place and yet it never feels slow or boring or contrived. I strongly recommend this movie. It's going to be showing at the Angelika soon.

Mar 8, 2006

Eat My Shorts

I saw the live action Academy Award nominees for Best Short.
The winner, playwright Martin McDonagh's Six Shooter, is way better than the rest and deserves to win. It is superbly written, a pitch black comedy with extraordinary dialogue and acting. I can't get it out of my head. I won't attempt to try to explain it to you, except to say that it starts out with an extremely dramatic moment and continues escalating until one doesn't think it's possible to do so anymore. The premise is almost ludicrous. Four strangers meet on a train; they've all had a very recent death in the family. From there all hell breaks loose, thanks to a funny psycopath who chooses to engage his fellow travelers in conversation.
This short is a master class in condensed dramatic writing. Every person who wants to direct or write a short should consider watching this one homework. Maybe it's unfair for the other nominees to have to compete against a major living playwright (and boy, does it make a difference). Still, it's his first film.
The other shorts kind of pale by comparison, so it's a good thing that Six Shooter is screened last. The first one, Our Time is Up, is a frivolous, mildly amusing short from the U.S., about a bored shrink who is suddenly told he only has 6 months to live and, as expected, starts telling off his patients. It's conventional and predictable, and nobody in it is a real human being.
The Last Farm, hailing from a Scandinavian country (I couldn't tell which and there were no end credits) is about an old guy who lives in a remote farm with his old wife, who's just died. He buries her and himself in a little plot next to the house. The piece is beautifully shot, but I didn't buy it. Death is the worst cliche in the movies and the worst lie. In real life, dead people start leaking and stinking after like five minutes, about twelve if you live in cold weather. They do not retain the beatific composure they show you in the movies. Their faces become distorted, unrecognizable, all their expression is sucked out of them. It is an ugly affair. And so, the fact that this old guy lays down to sleep next to his very dead wife, who's been dead for at least a day, seems to me bogus. It's a powerful short, morbid and humorless, and the second best of the lot, but I didn't like it.
Cash Back, from England, is a very amusing, if rambling story about a slightly smarmy art student who works the late shift at a supermarket. It is quite funny, but tonally all over the place, veering between philosophical musings about art and beauty and sheer slapstick (I was much entertained by the slapstick, less thrilled with the musings). The short has an advertisingy feel to it, relying on Matrix-like fx, the sort that are routinely abused in car commercials. Also, this artist kid expostulates about the beauty of women yet all the naked women they show are leggy models in poses that remind you more of Axe ads than of the concept of female beauty in art (you know, unshaved armpits, tubbiness). They are too perfect, too thin, too tall, too creamy. Ergo: bogus.
Ausreisser, from Germany, is a whimsical story about a child that appears at a guy's doorstep, a sort of annunciation. It's well done, but I don't like sugary whimsy.
So then Six Shooter, the most outrageous, over the top of the shorts, seems the most human to me. And it's all in the writing. Sharp, complex, funny, vicious, real.

Mar 6, 2006

Oscars 2006: Crash and Burn

Darlings: Today I spent all morning writing my recap of the spectacle known as Oscars, only to have lost all my brilliant thoughts in a moment of technological blunder. I am still fuming, particularly as it was yours truly who neglected to save said info, blindly trusting this stupid Firefox browser.
In any case, I'm glad to report that we survived the evening due to important quantities of beer, good food and Jon Stewart, who was classy, funny and appropriate and I would have liked to see more of him.
The big upset of the night was no upset at all, of course. In the end, the Academy could not bring itself to vote for the more controversial choice and to make the more courageous statement. They just gazed at their glamorous navels and congratulated themselves for living in a town that thrives on racist fenderbenders. They knew that in good conscience they couldn't be as cynical as to anoint the gay tolerance message when Hollywood won't easily employ homosexual stars, with a few brave (Ellen de Generes) or obvious (Alan Cumming) exceptions. So they went for the toothless choice. I'm sorry, but racism in the Oscars is so yesterday, so In The Heat of the Night, plus Crash is a crappy, bogus, fake, ridiculous movie whose only saving grace is its exceptional ensemble cast. But for some reason, the Academy likes Paul Higgis' heavyhanded scripts a lot (either that or I wonder who he's blowing). Just witness his script for last year's winner, the AWFUL Million Dollar Baby.
Now, for my very smart and astute readers this may be stale news, but yesterday I confirmed what I have always suspected: it is an utter lie that the producers of the show don't know what's on the envelopes. In fact, you can guess many of the outcomes within a 100% degree of accuracy to judge from whoever presents the category. For instance: Salma Hayek, wearing a dress twelve sizes smaller than her bazoombas, presented the musical score nominees. There were two Latins in the group so it stands to reason one of them would win. Sure enough, Gustavo Santaolalla of Brokeback won, quite deservedly. Then the amazing Queen Latifah presents the nominees for best song. You could bet your sweet ass that it wasn't going to go to Dolly Parton or the other white chick. Sure enough, it went to the rap group, who lost what little street cred they had with that unfortunate musical number that looked like it was staged for a Sunday afternoon at Epcot Center. When I saw that Jack Nicholson was presenting the best picture nominees, I immediately knew it was going to Crash: the LA connection. So why keep pretending that those two nerds from Price Waterhouse Coopers have anything other than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in those briefcases? It's very annoying.
I knew Brokeback was in trouble when Michelle Williams didn't win for best supporting actress, just as Clooney knew he wasn't going to win best director after getting his Oscar for acting. We're glad for Phillip Seymour Hoffman, not surprised by Reese, the golden girl, who almost made an ass of herself as seems to be traditional in the best actress category, trying to make a feminist statement about women, but she corrected course and managed to thank her grumpy co-star Joaquin Phoenix and her long suffering husband Ryan Phillippe.
The worst faux pas of the night, however, belonged to the sour Ang Lee, who thanked Annie Proulx and the writers of the script for bringing to life characters who didn't exist and never mentioned the two great guys who actually did it onscreen, flesh and blood and tongue kissing included. It was horrible, and unforgiveable; compounded by the fact, that as he spoke, the camera froze in on Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, whose stony faces were growing ashier every second this putz neglected to thank them. He should blow them from here to eternity for that one. Loser.
We knew it was going to be the Penguins for best documentary and anything but Paradise Now for best foreign film. It's not that good a movie, but it was some kind of statement from the Jewish Liberal Media Conspiracy. Nice, halfhearted try. The winner was Tsotsi, probably another treacly spectacle, but again it's a safe choice not to pit nazis vs suicide bombers. Also, it is refreshing not to have a Holocaust topic get the prize, even if the German movie is supposed to be actually quite good.
The day the show's producers kill the musical numbers, we shall finally witness a miracle.
I loved the obits, which are one of my favorite parts. Can't believe Shelley Winters is no longer with us. Bummer! I liked the montages too, but I couldn't understand how they related to the proceedings. I loved the woman who thanked the Academy for sitting her next to George Clooney at the nominees' luncheon. I hear you, sister! I loved Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin doing a graceful Altmanesque riff as they presented Robert Altman with his kiss of death statuette. Also, Dustin Hoffman ad libbing and giving a hand to the losers. He's funny.
All in all, it was actually better than last year, perhaps because the movies were slightly less awful. I can't believe nobody in the rest of America has seen these films. What the hell do they watch? It's a rhetorical question, people, I know what they watch. The caca that Hollywood feeds them. Have you ever seen what they play at the multiplexes in suburbialand? It is freaking scary. But then the President of the Academy has the gall to chastize people about how they should not watch movies on DVD. The chutzpah! Hey, pal, perhaps if you didn't charge almost 12 bucks a ticket, we'd go to the movies more often. Perhaps if you didn't lobotomize people with dreck like Cheaper by the Dozen IV, more people would watch the movies that do deserve awards. And perhaps if you hadn't overlooked King Kong, or other good movies (like The 40 Year-Old Virgin) that are not insufferably high-minded, you'd have more people watching the Oscars.
Best Dress:
Uma Thurman. It is a testament to that dress and how she wore it that she made a roomful of women gasp in amazement as she sashayed towards the mike.
Runners up: Reese, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Jennifer Garner, Keira Knightley, Meryl Streep.
Worst Dress:
Multiple tie: Helena Bonham Carter, who also wins for worst hair, worst shoes and ugliest husband.
Diana Ossana, with a dress from the sales rack at Loehmann's.
Poor Felicity Huffman, who seems like a really nice person, looking as if a bunch of satin draperies had fallen on top of her.
Charlize Theron looked like a giant box of chocolates.
Naomi Watts looked like she tried to shred her way out of that dress, like a desperate mummy.
J.Lo looked like a giant, humorless cactus. Hair pulled back to such a degree, it's considered plastic surgery.
Men Looking Good:
Clooney, Terrence Howard, Jake Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, David Strathairn, Sam Jackson, Steve Carell.

Mar 3, 2006

Creepy Entertainment News

My dear readers, you will excuse me. It's the end of Fried Day and I'm almost brain dead. Here's the latest news from Uglywood:

How retarded can these people be?

A Christian high school in San Diego, California is trying to distance itself from dangerous menace to society Michelle Williams because she participated in the Gay Cowboy Movie, in which she kicks major acting butt. To her misfortune, she attended said institution when she was younger:
Jim Hopson (the principal) has branded the Oscar nominee a poor role model, and hopes his education establishment won't be linked to the film's themes. He tells the San Diego Union Tribune, "We don't want to have anything to do with her in relation to that movie. Michelle doesn't represent the values of this institution.
Here's hoping that you don't represent her values either, you selfrighteous moron. I hope she gets the Oscar just to spite you.

Department of Too Much Information

This is one of those things you wish never ever entered your consciousness. It appears that Jane Fonda has a penchant for husbands with triangular proclivities, who like to record their disgusting shenanigans for posterity.

Memo to Bennett Miller:
Being within two feet from Courtney Love before the Oscars or at any other point in time:
NOT a good career move.
All she wants is to show up at the Oscars avec toi and pretend, with the help of a borrowed gown, that she's not a scary, deranged psychopath. AS IF.

Contagious illnesses of the Rich and Famous
Who on Earth gets chicken pox in this day and age? Apparently Jason Lee.
I always suspected something creepy lurking behind those sideburns.
Not only does he name his son Pilot Inspektor, he gives him the chicken pox too. Child abuser.

Lil' Kim "Terrified" of Breast LeakGrande Enchilada Terrified of Lil Kim.
She looks like a female version of Chucky "El Muñeco Diabólico".

Film Club

I attend a movie club on Sunday evenings. As you may have fathomed, it's like a book club but with movies, and therefore less intellectually taxing. We did Oscar night last year, and we're doing it this year, goddamit, even if some disgruntled members are threatening to boycott the proceedings. I say there's a lot to learn from this Hollywood extravaganza, provided you equip yourself with plenty of booze. Also, I want to see the dresses. The dresses are key.
In any case, here's a list of recent movies I've watched on DVD at the movie club and on my own. Movies in red are from the very discerning movie club, where there are more exacting standards. Movies in blue are from my own guilty pleasures.
  • Peeping Tom by Michael Powell. Fabulously creepy, over the top, amazing film from 1960.
  • Red Eye by Wes Craven. Wants to be all of the above and isn't. But it is sort of fun. The filmmakers talk about it as if it was a Bergman film, when it is an action movie with some snappy dialogue. Cillian Murphy is very good in it.
  • Cul de Sac by Roman Polanski. A black humor masterpiece. Delightful.
  • Repulsion, by Roman Polanski. Catherine Deneuve loses her marbles. A gem.
  • Knife in the Water. Polanski's first feature. Amazing. (We had a Polanski love fest)
  • Caligula. I had to rent it. It is stomach-churningly awful. It is scary to watch Peter O'Toole, Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren and John Gielgud participate in this epic exercise in porn kitsch.
  • 3-Iron by Ki Duk Kim. A strange Korean movie that grabbed me at the beginning and then exasperated me to no end.
  • Big Deal on Madonna St. A delightful, super-well written Italian comedy by Mario Monicelli which stars both Marcello Mastroianni and Vittorio Gasman, which is all anybody ever dreamed of in a film. Woody Allen ripped it off completely and without even mentioning the source in his mediocre Small Time Crooks.
  • Enron: The smartest guys in the room. This film gave me nightmares.
  • Darling by John Schlessinger. It looks great and it stars the great Julie Christie and Dirk Bogarde, but it is a leaden, unfunny social satire.
  • Francois Truffaut's Day for Night. We saw a version dubbed in English. Terrible job. The movie is a sweet love letter to the process of making a film. Very moving.

Feb 24, 2006

Extra! Hear Jon's Stewart Oscar Jokes Here First!

Click on the dots next to the title, dears, and check out the LA Times outing what probably are going to be some of Stewart's jokes next Sunday. Why would they do that, beats me. What's worse, the jokes don't sound very promising, at least on paper. A bit between penguins and bears could be kind of an Uma/Oprah moment... ugh.
In any case, I searched for headlines today that would deserve a post and I couldn't find anything. For your information there are more dead in Iraq, Venezuela is limiting American airliners from flying there but that we had to learn from our British pals in the BBC because apparently no one in the American press gives a fuck. The BBC also reports that George Clooney accuses the US media of labeling him a traitor. Of course nobody here cares about that either, which is fine by me. George, even though I admire your politics, sometimes I wish you'd just look handsome and shut up.

Girls on Film

Today a friend sent me a petition to sign in which I'm supposed to ask Hollywood to include more women in their movies, their stories, etc. Boy, I've been hearing this complaint for as long as I can remember and what has been done about it? Charlize Theron uglifies herself in Monster and becomes a coal miner in North Country. I think that what the petition is really saying is that women want to see stories not only about gorgeous, subtly surgically enhanced women in their twenties, but also about more mature women, and women who don't look like inflatable dolls or kabuki masks or who have so much collagen on their lips they are starting to look like Amanda Lepore. But something about the "sisterhood" nature of the petition bothered me. Yes, I agree there should be more women directors, screenwriters and better roles for women of all ages, as long as that doesn't translate to chick flix or new agey sisterhood stuff, which I can't abide. I hate the notion of stories for women. If a story is good, it doesn't matter if it is about a woman or written by a woman or a man. I don't think there should be special genres for women. They are a disservice to our gender, because they tend to be formulaic. Every time Hollywood comes up with their notion of what a film for women is like, we get inane "romantic" clunkers with Diane Lane about dogs and/or Florence, both of which I'm not in love with.
Fargo, a movie that has one of the best female roles ever, was written by the Coen Brothers. In The 40 Year-Old Virgin, the best romantic comedy in a long time, the woman who plays the romantic interest is the interesting, older, more normal looking Catherine Keener. The movie was written and directed by a guy. I love the idea of more women directors, more women screenwriters, better roles for women. I just don't like the idea of petitioning for it, as if Hollywood needs to fill a politically correct quota. Hopefully, they will pay attention to good stories or concepts or movies directed by women, because of their merit and skill, not because it is pc to do it.
Still, this organization for women in the arts has a very useful list of organizations which provide grants for women artists in a broad range of disciplines. That should be more helpful.

Feb 22, 2006

Red Alert: Bond Fans Unhappy With Daniel Craig!

They are threatening to boycott the film. Run for your lives!
I got nothing against the very dapper Pierce Brosnan, but anybody who fails to see the dark, steely, juicy sexiness of Daniel Craig is a moron. They obviously haven't seen him in the powerful little film The Mother where he plays a housepainter who has an affair with the mistress of the house and with her sagging mom. Mr. Craig appears in some sex scenes in all his naked glory which is enough reason to adore him forever (and he's a damn fine actor too).
He's also excellent in the underrated Enduring Love, a chilling film that no one saw based on the novel by Ian McEwan.
He played Ted Hughes in the completely unnecessary biopic Sylvia about the insufferable, Sylvia Plath played by the increasingly intolerable Gwyneth Paltrow.
He was fabulous as a gangster in Layer Cake, one of those new British films a la Guy Ritchie that try to outviolence our violence.
He was underused in Munich but it was nice to see him wearing dramatic sideburns and very tight bellbottoms.
So what if he's short and has big ears. It's what's between the ears and what's between the top of his head to the floor that counts. Obviously Bond fans, who must have been asleep the last two years because the replacement was announced eons ago, have no clue of what makes a man suitable to play a spy in the house of love.
This is a transparent attempt by the Bond publicity department to drum up interest in a franchise that should have been mercykilled years ago. In fact, when I heard the news of Mr. Craig becoming Bond, I was crestfallen, because so far he had been doing interesting characters in interesting movies. But I was happy for him because he's gonna be rich. Sell-out.

Feb 7, 2006

The Scariest Guys In The Room

Man, yesterday I saw Enron: The Smartest Guys in The Room and I went to bed in such a state of outrage and anxiety that I had nightmares about Enron all night long. Yes or no: when people tell you their dreams it's always a WTF moment. You go: why exactly are you telling me this? Then you wonder if they are not certifiably insane.
Well, I had fabulous Technicolor nightmares about being trapped in an Enron compound in California. In short, a rollercoaster ride of angst triggered by one of the most abhorrent corporate crimes of all time.
I'm not surprised the documentary got an Academy Award nomination. Californians are probably still trying to get back at Enron for what it did to them, for which Ken Lay and Skilling should be slowly grilled, skewered on a spit over a huge bonfire. Not to mention the traders who were joking about the misfortunes they were creating for millions of people with the dispassion and cruelty that SS stormtroopers displayed in their brutal dealings with inferior races. What blows the mind is the acceptance of a corporate culture of such cutthroat competitiveness and unchecked greed, of absolutely no sense of human empathy or moral obligation. If you have bosses that nurture and foster such an environment, it's not surprising that people will turn into vipers, rats and vultures. They are given carte blanche by the bosses themselves. Which is why the defense that Lay and Skilling did not know what was happening is unacceptable. They created that monster and they should be made accountable. They not only gave permission to rape and plunder, they encouraged it. They both deserve unending punishment and shame.
As Sherron Watkins, the woman who blew the whistle at Ken Lay, says in the film, Enron is not an isolated incident. It is the messiest, but not by any means the only one. This is capitalism run rampant, (which is how that moron in the White House and ex best friend of Ken Lay wants it to be) and it is extremely frightening.
It happens in all kinds of companies: gross mismanagement by obscenely paid executives who are just looking to cash out and who are royally oblivious to the fate of their employees and the lives of hard work and dignity they destroy with their arrogance and their incompetence. CEO's and Who The Fuck's who are absurdly overcompensated, masters at bullshitting their way around but not much else, while their employees do all the grunt work and struggle with the bills. And then, when the shit hits the fan, workers are let go, entire groups of people demoralized if not worse, the solid reputation of a company destroyed, while these assholes are still cashing their salaries and no one holds them accountable for anything.
A feeling of revulsion in the pit of the stomach.

Jan 31, 2006

No Wonder Nobody Watches The Oscars Anymore

Well, they have been announced and they're kinda lame... I'm offended by the fact that they couldn't even get two glamorous past winners to announce the nominations. Yet I suspect it is a weakness of mine, that as much as the Oscars frustrate me, I feel the compulsion to speculate talmudically about them.
It looks like this year is gay year, just like last year was black year.
Who the hell are the voters? Why do I get the feeling they are all 75 years old and look like the old leatherfaced lady in There's Something About Mary?
Male actor:
Goody good for Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Terence Howard. Good for David Strathairn, but instead of Heath Ledger I would have given the nod to Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence or to Tommy Lee Jones for his work in his own movie, The 3 Burials of Melquiades Estrada. I'm rooting for Joaquin although most likely the prize will and should go to Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
Female Actress:
Maria Bello should have been nominated instead of Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice, which is a bullshit nomination; the New Pretty Young Thing Award. I didn't see North Country but Charlize Theron's and Judi Dench's nominations bore me. Enough with Judi Dench. We all know she's fantastic. Let's move on. So it's between Felicity Huffman for Transamerica (the Academy loves physical transformations, retards and/or drunks) but I'd bet it's going to Reese's Pieces, and if so, good for her. Unless it's really gay year and we have a Capote/Transamerica combo in the acting prizes.
Male Supporting:
As much as I have the biggest crush on Jake Gyllenhaal, and he was quite good as the other gay guy, I'm not sure his performance was that great. I'd rather see his brother in law Peter Sarsgaard get it for either Jarhead or The Dying Gaul. Or for Kinsey last year or just for breathing. Matt Dillon was great in Crash and deserves his nomination. I'm very happy that George Clooney got the nod for his worldweary CIA agent in Syriana. I'm rooting for him. I love Paul Giamatti, but I hate consolation prizes. And I thought William Hurt was way over the top in A History of Violence. Jeff Daniels deserved it more for his scary, dead-on portayal of a humongous egomaniac intellectual in the Squid and the Whale.
Female Supporting:
I didn't see Junebug but good luck to Amy Adams. The rest of the bunch is quite solid. Michelle Williams was amazing in Brokeback, but if I was her I'd be afraid to win. Supporting actress prizes tend to be jinxed for newcomers (Mira Sorvino, Louise Fletcher, Marisa Tomei -- you tell me). But then, she's married to Heath Ledger so she can't have it all. Frances McDormand always rules, Catherine Keener was lovely in Capote and Rachel Weisz was quite good in The Constant Gardener, so this is a pretty even field. Rooting for Michelle.
Original screenplay:
The Academy managed to include some of the most obnoxious movies, in my view, of the year: three of them bogus to the core: Crash by Paul Haggis, an interesting premise that quickly turns to ridiculous schmaltz, the dreadful Match Point and the pretentious, incoherent Syriana. The Squid and the Whale is very well written, but too smarmy for my taste. So the bald man should go to the only one that deserves the honor: Good Night and Good Luck.
Screenplay adaptations:
I agree with A History of Violence. Night in Gay Mountain is probably going to win, Capote is very respectable and if it wins, I will be happy for Dan Futterman, on whom I've always had a crush, and Munich is a mishmash of kosher and halal and by no means a better screenplay than King Kong. I didn't like The Constant Gardener. Rooting for Violence, which won't get it.
I'm overjoyed that both Rodrigo Prieto (Gay Marlboro Country) and Emanuel Lubeski (The New World) have been honored. It's not only a matter of sheer nationalistic pride (both are from Mexico) but they both kick major cinematographic ass. I wish them luck.
Song and Dance:
Nobody has listened to us about killing the best song ordeal, but at least we're down to three instead of five. Rooting for Miss Dolly Parton (yeah!).
As per music, two John Williams nominations are two too many. He's the Judi Dench of the music category.
I'm surprised Syriana didn't get one, with taut, cool music by Alexandre Desplat, who is my favorite "new" film composer (loved his music for Birth and The Beat my Heart Skipped). Rooting for Gustavo Santaolalla.
Alien Movies:
Where is Cache, where is La Niña Santa, The Beat my Heart Skipped, Downfall, Look at Me or some of the Korean films I didn't see but got great reviews this year? The foreign film nominations are a joke. The Academy needs to revise the stupid rules for eligibility because the movies considered are officially chosen by bureaucrats, and therefore they are mostly toothless, politically correct choices. So I'm rooting for the Palestinian movie even if I haven't seen it yet.
I'm elated that the voters had the good taste to pick three very strong, unusual contenders instead of the usual pixarish commercial crap. Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, Corpse Bride by Tim Burton and the probable winner, Wallace and Gromit.
The Penguins are going to be the smartest guys in the room.
It goes to show that really, movies weren't great this year. None of these guys have real autorial panache, except for Spielberg (whether he gets on your nerves or not). Meanwhile, two of the directors with a surplus of autorial panache, David Cronenberg and Peter Jackson, were left out. So was Tommy Lee Jones, who did a pretty good job with Melquiades. And so was James Mangold, who did a fine piece of directing the very conventional material of Walk the Line.
The acting in Crash was great but the rest was not. Capote is a fine opera prima, but no great shakes, and Munich is more of the best and a little less of the worst of Steven Spielberg. George Clooney has proven that he is an intelligent, subtle filmmaker and if he wins, goody, but it looks like Ang Lee will be the man for his sensitive touch. Rooting for Clooney.
Is Munich better than King Kong? No. Is it better than a History of Violence? No. Is Gay Cowboys that great? Not really. Are any of the five nominees better than The 40 Year Old Virgin? Um, maybe only Good Night and Good Luck. Is life fair? _______.
Achievement in Sound Mixing:
Just kidding.

Jan 30, 2006

Tristram Shandy Vol. 2

When I was in college, I took a course in 18th Century English Literature. Not because it was my favorite period, but because the 19th and 20th were already fully booked and I had no choice. It was a bummer. All the students whose last names started with M to Z, had to take this course; a stupid, arbitrary way of making anybody take the class, because nobody would. Our teacher, Mrs. Violet Khazoum, was an eccentric woman who looked like Mahatma Gandhi in drag. Her classes were monumentally boring, except when she'd tell us personal gossip about the writers: Fielding, Richardson, Defoe. Except for Tom Jones, I hated everything I read in that class. The Spanish-speaking contingent, my friend Sonia from Barcelona, Henry from Bogotá and yours truly had a fierce argument with Khazoum because she claimed, in a self-assured, imperial way, that the English invented the novel. We were outraged. Cervantes had written Don Quixote about at least fifty if not a hundred years before Daniel Dafoe put his clunky prose on paper. Khazoum was regally uninterested in revising her views.
We were supposed to read Tristam Shandy, by Laurence Sterne, which was rumored to be a very funny book, ahead of its time. Well, I tried my best but it was a crazy, maddening book, and I was bent on hating my forced 18th Century literary experience, (which also led me to despise Jane Austen, quite unfairly, I might add).
Recently I went to see Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story in the same way that I watch all the film adaptations of Jane Austen, so I don't have to read the books. I was also curious to see if the film would be as unwatchable as the novel was unreadable to me, or if in fact it would persuade me to give the book another try. My moviegoing companion could only take about 15 minutes of the story jumping up and down in time, announced she didn't like it, and promptly fell asleep. But I stuck it out and had a delightful time. I have never been a fan of director Michael Winterbottom. His movies strike me as dried out affairs, correctly put out, but entirely dispassionate. Yet A Cock and Bull Story is quite fun. It manages to evoke the mischievous spirit of the original, which I, like Steve Coogan, who plays himself and Tristram Shandy in the film, have not really read. As Steve Coogan explains in the movie, Tristram Shandy was the first post-modern book long before there was anything to be "post" about. And the movie, written by Frank Cotrell Boyce and Winterbottom, is a clever, airy exercise in postmodern screenwriting. I know this sounds like the kiss of death, but actually, the idea of filming a film of the filming of Tristram Shandy is lovingly executed, cleverly written, and above all fantastically populated by a bunch of extremely funny actors. Steve Coogan plays a self-absorbed, quite insufferable star named Steve Coogan, and he is hilarious in a deadpan, dry as a deadly martini, kind of way. His sidekick, the amazingly funny Rob Bryden, plays himself, another self-absorbed, clueless actor, but without Coogan's mean streak. The way they riff off each other is a marvel of comedic partnership (don't miss the end credits; they are a delightful surprise). Dylan Moran is also excellent as Dr. Slop, perhaps the world's least sympathetic obstetrician.
A Cock and Bull Story horses around a lot with what's real and what's fiction, but there is a sweet, playful nature to the whole endeavor, and the characters, even when they are grossly narcissistic, are funny, vulnerable and real. By the way, Tristram Shandy, the novel, is now on my reading list.