Apr 30, 2007

Sick with Talent

My mom used this phrase, enfermos de talento, about pretentious artists. People who are sick with talent. Their talent is so monstrous that no other humans can hope to understand it. I'm sure you've seen examples of that.
Yesterday, I saw a film at the Tribeca Film Festival to which this description applies. The film is Passio, by an Italian guy whose name I frankly do not care to remember. He unearthed some silent film footage in many film archives across the world, and put it together to the live sounds of Arvo Part's choral work Passio.
On paper, the idea was intriguing. The footage is disturbing: medical experiments conducted at the beginning of the 20th Century, the idea that technology can become heartless, rendered in the first instances of film ever known, coupled with a haunting, minimalistic cantata . So far so good.
I have to thank Stephen Holden of the NYT for writing a flummoxing good review of this piece of garbage. Dude, if not my money, I want my time back. I'm sorry that as a film critic you have to sit through a lot of local trash, but that is no excuse to confuse this with something worthy. It is unadulterated, pretentious, annoying, obnoxious CRAP.
I was mostly curious because I wanted to hear that solemn, ethereal piece by Arvo Part performed live. The Trinity Choir's performance at St. John the Divine, which has great acoustics, was wonderful. But the moment I saw the words "Isabella Rosellini Presents" in the opening credits I knew we were in trouble. I've seen the documentary about her dad she did with Guy Maddin and I knew she's phony and pretentious, at least in her artistic taste (I have nothing against her otherwise).
So this is the movie: extremely short pieces of found silent footage, followed by flashes of titles in gibberish, like the stuff you used to see at the end of a roll of film, followed by excruciatingly long fades to black. Then very disturbing footage of naked epileptics writhing on the ground, people conducting experiments in Eugenics, and an extremely long shot of someone performing surgery on a human eye, and then another one of surgeons rummaging inside a human being. With bursts of other absurd footage in between: morbid, pornographic stuff, not in the sexual sense, but in the exploitative sense.
If the piece is supposed to be meditative, it is actually the contrary. Who can meditate when the montage is so obviously manipulative? Since the images are so short, and the darkness in between so long, you don't dare close your eyes for fear you will lose an image. If this is then an indictment of our natural, human curiosity to see, then the disrespect of this man for his audience is more than I can bear. Don't tempt me with imagery and then accuse me of prurience. The whole thing seemed to me to be utterly dishonest and masturbatory: Artporn.
It also shows great disrespect for the music. There is a huge discrepancy between the pure, solemn, spirituality of the music, and the arbitrary choices of the film.
Obviously, the kind of stuff that one expects: the nazis, the soviets, Mao, the atomic bomb, all of our modern manufactured hell is not represented: that would be too easy. Fair enough. But the footage does not really communicate anything but disgust and for a work that is supposed to invoke pity, since it recounts the sufferings of Christ at the cross, all it invoked in me was shame, alienation and boredom.

Apr 26, 2007

Hooray for Hollywood!

Your Grande Enchilada has always wanted to be a fabulous Hollywood star with many Oscars on her mantel and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (but not next to Zsa Zsa Gabor's).
And now the time has come to make my dream come true. Sort of. I'm going to direct my own film.
Before you all start screaming for tickets to the red carpet premiere, know that it is a humble and modest affair. A little vanity project that I hope doesn't turn out to be what my dear friend Orlando Leal calls an Inventicide. A suicidal invention. It went from a cast of thousands and four locations to 2 people and one hotel room. Cinema is expensive. It's the first time I write a screenplay and the first time I direct and the intention is to find out whether I will want to do it again when it's over. And also, whether I am capable.
So I've been mulling the idea of writing a production diary to keep you in the loop. My only concern is that given the delicate nature of the process, and the very public nature of this blog, I will not be able to rant and rave with complete abandon, because that would be quite unpolitic.
But don't despair: I will try to keep you posted on my adventures in the silver screen.
I'm ready for my close up, Mr. De Mille.

Zoo: Review of A Movie I Haven't Seen

It's not really a review of this new documentary Zoo, about people who like making love to animals.
I think that some people who love animals too much actually abuse them. Human beings should leave animals alone. It is the apex of human arrogance to speak for animals. It is the apex of human arrogance to keep a pet cooped up all day long in an apartment with no attention whatsoever, and come home, take it out for a pee and demand love and attention from the poor creature. Or those vet stores where they put the poor little baby puppies in the window to tug at people's heartstrings. Even I, a heartless bitch when it comes to animals, feel like going in there and buying one of them. To sell animals, to display them in a window. To breed them for our own self-gratification. Not for food, which is a need, but for ego-stroking. What gives us the right?
I know vegetarians will say, well, we shouldn't eat them either. And some people make that choice. Animals eat other animals. It's the way of the world. But as far as I can tell, they don't get the hots for other kinds of animals. A dog doesn't get the hots for a cat, or a lion for a zebra. Nature is wise.
Now if a human being is deranged enough to want to have sex with an animal, purporting true love, and nothing but good intentions, does this make it right? The animal, like any other living being incapable of giving true consent, like a child, has no say in the matter. We don't know whether the animal loves it, wants it or hates it and rolls his eyes and suffers the humiliation in silence.
To me, forcing an animal to have sex with a human is as abusive as forcing a 5 year old. It is an abuse of power.
The horse that ruptured the colon of his human lover certainly did not know what it was doing. Had another human being done the same, it could have been called murder. So my point is that no; no matter how poetic and how romantic and whatever justifications these people find to make their behavior acceptable to themselves, it is not right to engage in sex with creatures that cannot speak for themselves. We are not governed by the same rules. And we should not be.

The Host

I wasn't sure I wanted to sit through a monster movie, but since the reviews were unanimously great, I relented and went to see this Korean movie, which may be the smartest monster movie ever, after King Kong. It's subversive spirit is a breath of fresh air, since this is a monster movie with a surprising dose of social satire, and an even more surprising dose of interesting human characters, not the standard monster movie heroes.
A horrid creature that looks like a bad fish, has grown in Seoul's river because of Americans (from the military base) dumping formaldehyde in the river. This horrid creature is a huge mutant fish with legs and a multiple jaw and it is reminiscent both of the shark of Jaws and the alien of Aliens and a gigantic catfish. It likes to devour people and also likes to keep people trapped in the gutters of Seoul for fun. I loved this creature because it was big but of manageable size. It was ugly but not that disgusting, it was smart and cunning and it somersaulted into the water and made pirouettes in gthe air with the elegance and grace of an Olympic diver.
The human protagonists are the most endearing family of misfits ever to grace a monster film. The father owns a little candy shack in a park next to the river, where he sells oodles of colorful junk food and instant ramen. One of his sons is a narcoleptic fuckup who has got to be the most bumbling, lazy human being in the history of Korea. His penchant for falling asleep in the most harrowing circumstances is the source of lots of mischievous fun. Another son is a drunk college dropout (the father put him through school selling ramen); a daughter is in the national archery team and although an amazing marksman, is incapable of shooting her arrows in time, so she never wins gold. The narcoleptic has a cute, smart little daughter, the only member of the family that has her wits about her. There are so many fun details about the lives and quirks of these people, that I bet Korean audiences had a blast, being represented by these unlikely heroes and seeing their society reflected with such sharp but loving observation. The father, for instance, a sweet, goodhearted man, is always trying to solve everything through bribes or connections. The brothers can't stop bickering. The things one assumes Korean society values highly: hard work, studying, industry, precision, restrained displays of emotion (the funniest scene takes place at a funeral), are lovingly skewered. It's so refreshing to see characters with more human quirks than your standard issue wisecracking American heroes. This movie owes a lot to the likes of ET in terms of character, but it finds much more nuance, and much more true feeling than we're used to in our homemade entertainments. For horrible things happen to this family, some of them hilarious and others quite sad, and the movie keeps challenging the clichés that we are used to expect in this kind of genre. The end result is that you deeply care for this bunch of losers who become heroes despite their major limitations and who, despite their constant bickering, are held together by the bond of family love.

Apr 23, 2007

I'm with Alec

I know it's going to sound insane, but somehow, in the horrible Alec Baldwin scandal, I feel for Alec. For those of you who were able to completely bypass this story because you were stuck in a nuclear shelter or something, actor Alec Baldwin left a really angry, hysterical, over the top phone message for his 11 year old daughter Ireland, in which among other things he called her a rude pig.
Someone, and let's guess who could have possibly done that, leaked that message and ten seconds later even I heard it. I know it is customary for bloggers to provide a link to these things, but if you want to hear it you can go to TMZ.com. I feel icky doing it for you.
Alec was super angry because the girl doesn't answer the phone when he calls her. The girl has been tossed around by both her parents like a whore's dirty underwear in their unseemly divorce battle, that's been ranging longer than the battle of Thermopylae and it's almost as nasty. The court mandated that the child talk to her dad once a week on the phone, and when he calls, she doesn't answer. Hence Alec completely loses his temper and leaves a raging tantrum on his daughter's answering machine.
The outburst was horrible. I certainly feel for the poor kid, who didn't ask these two monsters to beget her. But SOMEONE -- who most likely is either the girl's crazy mother or the girl herself (has anybody thought of this scenario?), leaked the message. That someone in my opinion is sicker and more disgusting than Alec Baldwin.

Apr 14, 2007

The Hoax

It's been a while since Lasse Hallstrom had a good movie to his name and in Hoax he delivers a very good film, with great energy and gusto and a very good performance by Richard Gere as Clifford Irving, the man who invented an autobiography of Howard Hughes and got a million dollars for it in the seventies.
Anthony Lane, in his review in the New Yorker, asks whether we can believe Gere as a Jew. Why the hell not? Does every Jew have to look like Woody Allen in his book? That's quite a retarded comment, considering that Jews look like everything and everybody: like Lauren Bacall and like Mark Spitz and like Ali G, and like Albert Einstein, so really I've had it with the thing about people looking or not looking like a Jew. It's is the oldest, stupidest stereotype in the book. But we can believe the great Alfred Molina as another Jew because he is not as handsome? Puhleeze. Also, I was trying to discern if Gere, besides wavy hair, was wearing a slight nose prosthesis, and I'm afraid he was, which is totally unnecessary, but I couldn't really tell. I can't believe people still go for the nose shit.
In any case, the film documents in a very seductive, entertaining way the elaborate hoax that Irving perpetrated. You root for Irving and cannot but be amazed at his incredible command of spin. While Molina, his best friend and sidekick, sweats buckets and fears for his life, Gere just gets more emboldened with each breathtaking lie. It is almost sexy and you can feel Hallstrom, Gere and Molina having tons of infectious fun with the piling on of the lies. Also, it turns out that Gere and Molina are a wonderful cinematic pair. There is undeniable buddy chemistry between them. Their scenes together, which are most of the movie, are fantastic. It's as if Gere woke up from a long movie slumber of negligible characters and was happy to sink his teeth into this role with great relish and great skill. He is a very seductive actor and if there are a couple of key moments where perhaps a more accomplished actor could have gotten something deeper, he is quite believable as a narcissistic, put upon brilliant man with a chip on his shoulder, delusions of grandeur and humongous amounts of chutzpah. He has the right amount of likeable arrogance to pull it off.
Then of course, there is Alfred Molina, who is wonderfully awkward and funny, but mostly very moving as a good, loyal, decent friend who gets manipulated into the whole deal, relishing the prank and its potential windfall and dreading it at the same time. I liked his serious scenes much better than the funny shtick, but he is an actor of such warmth and aliveness, I love him to pieces. There are other welcome NY faces: Zeljko Ivanek, a great character actor, and Stanley Tucci sporting hair, Hope Davis and the delightful Eli Wallach, who still rocks at 120.
In the end, the movie is about everybody lying, about lying for money and power and glory. Lying is as American as apple pie, it seems. The movie tries to connect the Irving hoax to the Nixon paranoia, and apparently Hughes somehow was behind Nixon's motives for breaking into the Watergate Hilton. So yes, everything is connected and conspiracy theories are not totally farfetched.
Clifford Irving somehow wanted to stick it to The Man (which is why you kind of root for him, duping all those greedy assholes at the publishing house), and found out that in this country that is totally impossible. The Man is always in control, always in power and He only looks out for Himself.

Apr 10, 2007

Things I Haven't Seen...

...but that doesn't prevent me from having an opinion about them.

First: Grindhouse, another unpleasant jerk-off from Quentin Tarantino. Critic David Edelstein in NY Mag almost came in his pants. Well, I have not seen the movie and I will never see it, just as I refused to see Kill Bill one and two. The last Tarantino movie I saw was the inexplicable Jackie Brown, I think the only movie in which I actually felt valuable time slipping inexorably and infuriatingly away from me, a movie where I couldn't find a redeeming quality, hard as I tried. An exercise in uselessness. After that, I swore him off for good, and unless he comes out one day with a Jane Austen adaptation, I ain't going to his movies. The day I went to see Hoax, they actually had to put on a disclaimer in the box office telling people that the condition Grindhouse was in: burnt around the edges, scratched, out of focus, etc, was actually ON PURPOSE, so they wouldn't come back to the box office screaming for their money back.
Well, precisely that is what infuriates me about master idiot savant Tarantino, $56 million wasted on recreating trash. It's not that I don't have a sense of humor, it's that it galls me to see someone who wastes his meager talent on shit and he does it on purpose, because even though decades have elapsed since Pulp Fiction, his only movie that is worth seeing, he is bent on remaining as puerile, immature and committed to shock pornography as possible. It is tiresome. There is no question Tarantino is an accomplished filmmaker, but I hate his deliberately stupid frame of reference. I hate the reverse snobbery of fetishizing utter pieces of crap. It's all posturing with very little substance, if any. Empty, deliberately stupid style.
Don't get me started on Rose McGowan sporting an automatic submachine gun for a leg in Robert Rodriguez's installment. I do not wish to sound like Andrea Dworkin, and I am not a feminist (in fact, one show I hate that I haven't seen is the Feminist Art expo at the Brooklyn Museum. I know it sucks and you know it too, but that is fodder for another rant), but the sight of that woman with a firearm as a leg actually repulses me. And it may be all the tongue in cheek you want, but it is disgusting and offensive and if someone has not understood what feminists mean when they object to the denigrating objectification of women, well I guess this is a great example.
Two: talking about things that disgust me: that exhibition of Bodies that subjected us to outdoor posters everywhere of people who seemed to have been skinned alive. I refused to see it because the posters grossed me out completely, and I'm not squeamish. But I think it is terrible disrespect for these people, who all seem to be Chinese for some reason, to be used as embalmed mannequins, supposedly in the name of science (more like prurient entertainment). And if I'm not mistaken, there was some controversy about the provenance of the bodies. When someone dies, unless they say so in their will, leave their body alone and at peace, don't you think? Imagine someone took one of your departed and showed them naked, and without their skin in a museum. Yuck. I've always thought that this exhibit is exploitative and pornographic. And no, I haven't seen it.
I was hoping to see Kevin Spacey in A Moon for the Misbegotten. I'm not a fan of O'Neill. He's such a windbag. But I've seen Spacey doing it, and he is great. So Ben Brantley of the NYT is unhappy because Spacey supposedly speeds through the production, giving it I bet some much needed LIFE. Well, it probably is a very good thing than instead of having to sit through a ponderous, longwinded evening, there is lightness of heart. Now that I know it comes in at less than three hours, I want to see it more.
You are all welcome to disabuse me of any notions expressed in this article, by the way.

Apr 2, 2007


I have become a fan of Will Ferrell.
I loved Talladega Nights: the Legend of Ricky Bobby. That movie I remember as being slightly more intellectual, if you will, less concerned with crotches and gross out humor and more with skewering Nascar nation and Jesus lovers.
Blades of Glory skewers the cheesiness that sports broadcasting has become, particularly so in the inherently cheesy sport of ice skating. Those puke inducing segments where they present the life of the athlete in question with the corny music and the prescribed setback and the triumph of the will and the quest for the gold and all that crap, are taken to town here with such a vengeance that it makes you want to cry out in thanks.
Also, any comedy that begins to the insufferably gooey strains of Andrea Bocelli (which immediately generated hearty chuckles from the audience) lets you know that its sardonic heart is in the right place.
But what I love about these Will Ferrell comedies is the character he creates. Basically it's always a variation on a bumbling, moronic overgrown American baby who deep inside is a good guy but whose excessive self-regard always gets in his way (the brilliant Anchorman, Ricky Bobby, Old School). Here Ferrell, happily overweight, wearing a wig a la David Cassidy, plays Chazz Michael Michaels, some sort of absurd ice skater with the heart and bad taste of a rocker. A perfect take on those male ice skaters that insist on looking manly and skating to Aerosmith, as if that is going to disabuse people of the received notion that figure skating is a sport for sissies.
Ferrell loves to show how out of shape he is. There is always a sequence where he strips and runs like a maniac in his underwear. Here he bares his flabby torso in a scene where he has a serious conversation and you can't take your eyes off the gelatinous, hairy flab of his gut. He is today's quintessential representative of America's everyman. And he doesn't let everyman off the hook that easily. Bless him.
His comedies take some of the rituals of American culture and really show them for what they are, full of hot air, full of unbridled self-regard, of a contented ignorance, at which Will Ferrell excels. There are some really funny bits where he misuses words (it bottles the mind!). What nails the jokes is his utter cluelessness that he is wrong and his sincere conviction that he is right. When he is caught being wrong, he always finds a way to spin himself out of his predicament with super lame excuses. It is no wonder that Ferrell delivers one of the most dead on impersonations of George Bush. Except that Ferrell's characters have a certain innocent charm. He is never a malicious bully, and he is always true to himself. He is not mean spirited.
I have to say there will be no justice in the movie world if Julie Weiss, the costume designer, doesn't get at least a nomination for an Oscar. The ingenious, outrageous costumes generate huge laughs by themselves. The sight of Ferrell wearing Ugg boots and an elastic band on his forehead will not leave my consciousness any time soon, let alone the sight of him wearing spangly unitards with fire motifs.
Jon Heder is great as his deadpan sidekick and their partnership is lovely. Heder plays a virginal, innocent skater, who still believes in getting the gold no matter what, and as you must know by now, the two former rivals end up skating together quite memorably in the pairs competition.
The routines on the ice are incredibly funny, the skating sequences are super well made and the stars do some of their own skating, which is thrilling. There are some really funny, dexterous verbal jokes and much slapsticky stuff that is puerile but extremely funny (such as a chase sequence on skates, yet not on the ice). The movie is a riot.
I love the fact that this is, as should be, the number one movie in America. It is healthy and good that we laugh with Will Ferrell at our pathetic folly.