Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead opens with one hell of a flourish. No sooner have the lights gone down than you’re greeted with the spectacle of Philip Seymour Hoffman vigorously fucking Marisa Tomei from behind. Hoffman is watching the coupling in a floor-to-ceiling mirror; the effect is not much less sordid than the similar scene in American Psycho. (Tomei goes on to, essentially, spend her screen time in the next few reels of the film topless — with the sudden arrival of this, Feast of Love, American Gangster, Into the Wild and In the Valley of Elah, not to mention the towel-free shenanigans of Viggo Mortenson in Eastern Promises, it looks like I picked the wrong year to start complaining about a lack of nudity on the part of Hollywood movies.) Their furious, awkward rutting behavior is sort of a metaphor for the whole film, which is about a certain animalistic low-mindedness and love of money — behavior that stinks like a rotting carcass. After a first-reel heist-gone-wrong sequence, the action rachets down somewhat, but much blood (along with some other bodily fluids) will be spilled once the film starts cranking again toward its Shakespearean conclusion.

Ladies and gentlemen, Sidney Lumet has entered the building, and he wants you to know he’s still a badass.

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Feast of Love

The first half of Feast of Love is a near-riot of sex and skin. Every few minutes, it seems, a different youngster is pulling off her blouse or dropping his trou. Nearly everyone in the film is depicted banging or getting banged by someone else, and there’s an athletic undertone to the various pairings-off that suggests the vitality of youth — one woman seduces another on a softball diamond, a couple does it on a football field (and, later, in front of a video camera). Like director Robert Benton’s earlier Twilight, it’s specifically an old man’s movie, and one that contemplates the bodies of beautiful young people in order that it may more fully appreciate the predicament old people find themselves in.

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Hollywood Can’t Get It Up: Superbad and the Retreat from the Erotic

The MPAA tag explaining the R rating it gave to Superbad is almost hilarious in its exhaustiveness. (It’s also one of the longest I’ve ever seen.) “Rated R,” it says, “for pervasive crude and sexual content, strong language, drinking, some drug use and a fantasy/comic violent image – all involving teens.” I imagine those last three words italicized and written in boldface, though the MPAA doesn’t actually do it that way. They seem written to be spoken aloud with a sudden exhaling of breath, or through gritted teeth, as if in a last-ditch effort to dissuade anybody’s mom or dad from accompanying them to a screening of Superbad. Won’t somebody think of the teens?

Not so many years ago, Clerks was threatened with an NC-17 because somebody at CARA thought one scene contained too much talk about blow jobs. But that film’s dick-sucking diatribe seems downright quaint compared to the awesome sustained vulgarity of Superbad, which opens with star Jonah Hill discussing a (fictional?) online porn site called “Vag-tastic Voyage” and ends with a lengthy (and, amusingly, kind of disturbing) cartoon-penis montage. However, the MPAA ratings board seems to have gotten tired of hearing how repressive it is, and has gone into a sort of crouched, defensive position, giving a rating to stuff like Hostel 2 (“rated R for sadistic scenes of torture and bloody violence, terror, nudity, sexual content, language and” — wait for it! — “some drug content”) with a wrinkled nose and a sigh.

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Battle in Heaven

Battle in HeavenBattle in Heaven opens with a deliberate, calculated provocation. It seems to be a very explicit fantasy sequence involving a young and rather beautiful woman performing an iconic sex act on an obviously less attractive older man. To be blunt, he’s fat, and blank-faced. The camera spins around the actors, coming to rest in the man’s place so we see this woman from his point of view — the audience is placed in the position of being on the receiving end of this sexual act, an act which seems to be not of love, exactly, but of kindness.

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Via Mobius comes news that the downtown Manhattan Film Forum

is spending money on new, presumably more comfy, seats. This is great

news — even if your ass is smaller than mine — considering that Film

Forum commonly shows hard-to-see stuff on the scale of the forthcoming

six-hour-long The Best of Youth. It also reminds me that I need to get off my ass and see Notre Musique

this week.

Memo to movie theater employees: If you’re starting

clean-up work while movie-nerd types are still in their seats watching

the credits roll, kindly SHUT THE FUCK UP until they’re done. Thanks.

Notice a lot of recent press lately about how the FCC is cracking

down on “indecency” over broadcast television and radio? Read about how

enforcement has been spurred by record highs in complaints about said

“indecent” material from the heartland? Well, according to the FCC’s own estimate,

more than 99 percent of those complaints — which totalled nearly a

quarter of a million last year — have come from a single source: the

Parents Television Council. Mouthpieces for the group say it shouldn’t

matter that all the complaints come from the same place as long as they

highlight actual indecency on the airwaves, an argument that

conveniently neglects to take into account the fact that decisions on

the “indecency” of a given broadcast hinge in part on “contemporary community standards”.

If it’s only a tiny, tiny proportion of the “community” as a whole

that’s complaining about any given broadcast, what does that say about

the relative “decency” of that broadcast? What should rankle wannabe

moral guardians the most is the fact that ordinary Americans want to watch Married by America

and listen to Howard Stern; most of them probably didn’t mind a split

second of quality time with Janet Jackson’s boobie, and I have yet to

hear compelling evidence that a naked tit is somehow more damaging to

America’s precious youngsters than is a three-hour gridiron match-up

permeated by grunting aggression and punctuated by bone-cracking


Gift-giving note: those terrific “Director’s Series” DVDs

from Palm Pictures are now available in convenient boxed-set form,

with an extra disc featuring more recent material not included in the

original releases. (This latter development had me cursing under my

breath in the aisle at Best Buy until I checked out the contents of

that fourth disc and convinced myself that the only must-have is the

Spike Jonze video for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Y Control,” which is

already available as a bonus on that group’s swell concert DVD, Tell Me Which Rockers to Swallow.)

Also, Palm has announced release dates for the next four (!) discs in

the Directors Series, which I’m hoping will include a Mark Romanek

volume before such a thing becomes obsolete — the great video for

“Hurt” was released as a DVD double-pack in specially labeled copies of

Johnny Cash’s last Rick Rubin-produced album, “Little Trouble Girl” was

released on Sonic Youth’s Corporate Ghost DVD, and “Closer” is available on the new Dual Disc (one CD, one DVD) reissue of The Downward Spiral,

which also includes surround-sound versions of the album in its

entirety in both Dolby Digital and DVD-Audio formats.

Speaking of

Romanek, you can check out a superior two-minute version of his

iPod-themed commercial for U2’s “Vertigo” (wait, I mean his U2-themed

commercial for Apple’s iPod) by opening up iTunes and going to the main

U2 page.

Yes, new reviews are coming. I’m working on them. More




Joe “Woman Trouble” Eszterhas reteams with ace stylist Paul Verhoeven, who should know better, to create this bumbling epic of a skin flick. The bulk of the movie is pretty dopey, albeit kind of entertaining. But the World According to Eszterhas, as revealed in an unbearably hostile, stridently righteous final reel, is so smelly and distasteful that Showgirls is, finally, truly and thoroughly repellent.

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