Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fat February

Don't let anybody tell you otherwise, kittens: this is the best time of year. Oh sure, the weather is bullshit and the winter weight gain is in full effect, but: the early darkness! the implicit permission to avoid social engagements in favor of reading books on your couch and going out to movies alone! It's easy to bitch about the craptacular nature of February--and I do, often--but really, I'm having a blast. A quiet, sleepy, fat blast.


Again, it'd be all too easy to complain about how many shitty movies I've seen recently (my brain tends to hold on to the details and negative emotions elicited by the bad ones in far greater proportion than the good ones, skewing my internal control group), but, as I've often said, the simple act of watching a movie is just inherently pleasurable to me, so even a bad movie is preferable to no movie at all. A quick rundown of what I've caught recently.

Pineapple Express. It's obviously Franco's movie, of course, but when David Gordon Green recontextualizes the whole thing as a metaphor for Vietnam, I was like, ohhhh, well played, sir, well played. Kevin Corrigan was also extremely well used here.

In the Valley of Elah. Given Paul Haggis's involvement, I was a little dubious about the film, but it's way more artfully done than I thought it would be. We recently published a nonfiction book, Murder in Baker Company, about the true story that inspired the movie, and I had the opportunity to talk to Lanny Davis, the inspiration for the Tommy Lee Jones character, on the phone last year not long before he died. Unfailingly polite and eager to see us do his son's story justice, he called me ma'am once or twice during our short conversation. There's a scene in the movie when Jones's character does the same for a waitress in a bar, and I nearly crumpled. This isn't a feel-good movie by any stretch, but I'm surprised by how heartily I'd recommend it.

The Dreamers. Wait, wha--? I thought this movie was supposed to be sexy. Gawd, it was just pretentious and confusing and the worst example of a self-conscious, self-serious art film. Clearly a metaphor for American/European politics in the late '60s moreso than any kind of interesting or coherent story, this totally failed for me both as erotica and as the proverbial love letter to cinema.

The White Ribbon. Haneke, that magnificent bastard, nails it yet again. Tonally, it reminded me, in a weird way, of Cronenberg's Spider, in the way that Haneke, as a director, knows by now what his audiences are expecting out of a Haneke movie, so he deliberately rides that tension for all it's worth, until the audience is squirming for release, forcing us to acknowledge that seeing something really fucked up happen onscreen would actually make us more comfortable than being patient with all the ambiguity. Sure, there are some zingers that get revealed, but mostly what has stuck with me is the velvety black and white cinematography, the scene where the farmer sits with his wife's recently bathed corpse just out of frame for that nice long take, and the way that the voice-over provides a meta-commentary on the act of discussing the narrative slipperiness of a Haneke plotline when it describes the way the townsfolk attempted to impose some kind of logic on the disappearance of two of the main characters.

The Young Victoria. Total candy. Excellent scenery chewing from Mark Strong as Sir John Conroy (he's also the baddie in the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes). I always forget, too, how much I like Paul Bettany.

Crazy Heart. There is no way that Jeff Bridges, talented and likable as he demonstrably is, gives anything other than a competent performance here. Also, I'm so mad at Maggie Gyllenhaal for perpetuating the older man/younger woman thing here, especially given that her performance is also fairly by-the-numbers. You know the movie is really all over the place when Colin Farrell gives the most interesting and memorable performance. (Jesus fuck, can we talk about that hair?)

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. In many ways, I sincerely hope somebody takes this movie to their bosom and reclaims its bat-shit-craziness, turning it into a so-bad-it's-good cult classic because there's something weirdly appealing about it. Tom Tykwer's direction maybe? Maybe something in the source material? Anyway, I basically rented it because of Ben Whishaw, and, while he's clearly throwing everything he's got as an actor at the wall, it was the wrong kind of effort and didn't really do anything to help the film. An exceedingly miscast Dustin Hoffman mercifully dies early on, and Alan Rickman does his Alan Rickman thing somewhere in the back half of the movie (not complaining about this in the least).

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. OK, unlike Perfume, this movie isn't even charmingly bad enough to be campy. Actually, I think it would love to consider itself campy, but it fails painfully, on just about every level. I really always try to find something redeeming about a movie, but this one made me so actively angry with its crappiness, I really can't think of a damn thing. (The scene when they go to the dominatrix's apartment, maybe? Robert Downey Jr.'s shoulders?) It's just a complete train wreck from the first frame--which explains, via painfully literal intertitle, what it means when it calls itself "an imaginary portrait"--to the last.

Fish Tank. Bleak as all hell, but really, really great. The creepy interplay of absent-daddy issues and a young girl's burgeoning sexuality is handled really nicely, helped of course by Michael Fassbender's exceedingly charming and manipulative (in a good way) performance.

The Piano Teacher. Obviously, The White Ribbon got me on a Haneke kick. This is basically a perfect encapsulation of everything I want out of a film: French and German subtitles, gorgeous music, a steely, inscrutable female protagonist, and horribly twisted sex. The Walter Klemmer character is a bit too unrealistically convenient/contrived to be believable, but I didn't mind too much because of where he allows the story to go and for what he allows Isabelle Huppert to reveal about her own character. Uncomfortable and mesmerizing.


I've basically had Spoon's Transference on constant repeat since its release in January. "The Mystery Zone" is instantly one of Britt Daniel's best-ever songs, but I find new things to love on the album every time I listen to it. This week I've got major love for "Trouble Comes Running."

When I feel the need to give Transference a break for a while, I've been having my mind unexpectedly blown by Chris Whitley's Dirt Floor. I'd never even heard of this dude before one of my Tiny Magnets bandmates mentioned that I'd probably like his stuff, and now I'm obsessed. Though a lot of his other songs get loud and rocked-out, Dirt Floor is firmly in the realm of one-man-with-an-acoustic-guitar gorgeousness, reminiscent of Pink Moon on one end of the spectrum and For Emma, Forever Ago on the other, though he's way more blues-influenced than either of those guys. Highly, highly recommended.

I anticipate that Jason Falkner's I'm OK, You're OK--now finally released in the US after several years of only being available as an import from Japan--will probably be giving both those albums a run for their money in coming weeks, though. It's vintage Falknery goodness--his voice is as strong as ever, and the hooks will insinuate themselves into your very soul. "Anondah" is utterly gorgeous, and "This Time" is basically a perfect album opener.


Tiny Magnets (oh, hey, look: a MySpace page!) have a show coming up this Friday, 2-26, at the Horseshoe on Lincoln. (Guys, this is not to be confused with the Lucky Horseshoe on Halsted.) We're set to go on around 9:30. Bring yr friends!

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