Don’t Look Now

Donald Sutherland in <em>Don't Look Now</em>

Seen from the uncompromising vantage of a quarter-century’s passage of time, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is showing its age. The injudicious use of the zoom lens, impressionistic editing techniques, and an ill-advised sound mix featuring mainly Donald Sutherland’s moaning all contribute to a film that feels very much of its era.

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The Brown Bunny

68/100

“If people are sitting there watching The Brown Bunny and waiting for the motel scene, then I just can’t relate to them,” says Vincent Gallo, who directed himself in a “motel scene” where he receives head from Chloë Sevigny. “Maybe I was being idealistic or possibly insane, but I didn’t think people would concentrate so much on the sex scene,” says Sevigny of her own performance. Those quotes are from the press kit, in which both Gallo and Sevigny profess surprise that the inclusion of a hardcore sex scene in an otherwise understated indie film would draw a certain prurient interest from the press corps. It would be impossible to credit these two pros with this level of naivete — if you don’t want to draw attention to a scene, it’s probably a good idea not to have your lead actress fellating you in close-up in that scene — if the film itself weren’t such a heartbreaker. The Brown Bunny is intimate enough, and Gallo’s own performance is so naked and fearless, that it’s just barely possible to believe that he’s nutty enough to have expected viewers to engage with it fully and react to it with measured thoughtfulness.

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Secret Things

69/100

There’s a certain, distinctive sound — at least there was in the days before six-channel digital mixes came into vogue, with their full dynamic range and dead-empty silences — made by a woman’s moans on a film’s soundtrack. Especially if you’re watching a worn print, the sound will be distorted. Every gasp surges up from near-silence, the speaker crackling with each breath drawn. It’s a harsh sound, not much like the noises that real people make. But it’s also a very distinctive sound. The dirtier the film print that you’re watching, the more noise that ecstasy makes.

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Radio Silence

Kirsten Dunst's nipples in Spider-Man

The extended silence you may have noticed at this site was me spending time in Hollywood and in Colorado. I answered some email and at least toyed with the idea of posting some Weblog entries, but wound up not having enough free time to think straight. I considered going to see Simone (or is that more properly spelled S1m0ne?) at some point, but didn’t get to that, either. I don’t much like this writer/director Andrew Niccol’s work, see, but I am interested in keeping track of what he’s up to. But, geez, did anybody like his new one?

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I was amused to learn that Spider-Man was the feature on my westward flight from New York to California. I didn’t plug into the audio, but instead took in the visuals while I listened to assorted MP3s. I was pleased to note that, yep, the A- I gave it seems to hold up under scrutiny. This is a goofy, giddy superhero movie, and the purest embodiment of exactly what I hope to see in a summer blockbuster. The trick in this case is, I think, that the film was storyboarded extensively, with the result that the images play out in distinctly comic-book fashion. My main cavil is still the too-frequent replacement of Tobey Maguire by obnoxious CGI, but even some of the whiz-bang graphics have an exuberant appeal this time around, in a bet-you-didn’t-think-we’d-ever-be-able-to-show-you-that way. I did notice that, while the film’s frequent bursts of violence — including a final-reel impalement! — seem to have been left more or less alone by the airline censors, Kirsten Dunst’s naked-beneath-her-clothes nipples had been digitally removed from the scene where Spidey rescues her from a group of thugs. Good lord, the lengths to which people go to strip even the hint of sexuality from anything that they might have to watch with their children. (Ever wonder if the folks who run sites like Screenit.com get any particular jollies from their exhaustive cataloguing of explicit content? Here’s how they describe the scene in question: “Mary Jane shows some cleavage in various outfits in various scenes. In one scene, she’s caught in the rain and her wet top reveals that she’s not wearing a bra (the shape of her nipples can be seen).” Sounds pretty hot to me.) Makes me long for the good old days of PG-rated Swamp Thing and topless Adrienne Barbeau.

Since getting home, I have taken the time to check out the new Kino DVD of Code Unknown. I didn’t exactly avoid this one when it was playing in New York, but I didn’t make any effort to put myself in proximity to a theater showing it, either. This was due, I think, to my deep-seated irritation with Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, a film I felt was trying to hector me, start to finish. All that makes me a chump because, boy howdy, is this a terrific movie. I hope to write something about it. For now, I’ll just say it’s a shame Kino couldn’t do better than this version of the film. I suspect that the DVD is transcoded from a PAL master, partly because the details are kind of fuzzy and also because the frames flicker in weird ways when I try to step through them. In one scene that Juliette Binoche plays in long shot, her face is just a big pink spot at the center of the screen. I wondered if she was wearing a stocking mask, for all the detail I could(n’t) make out. At the very least, this should have been anamorphic widescreen instead of plain letterbox. But if you turn up the volume (a six-channel sound system will definitely help) and turn out all the lights, I suspect that even this version of Code Unknown works the way it’s supposed to.

40 Days and 40 Nights

62/100

Love, predictably, conquers all-or almost all-in 40 Days and 40 Nights, the newest sex comedy in a long string of Hollywood sex comedies. Directed by the guy who made Heathers and written by first-timer Rob Perez, the film has a profoundly goofy premise: Soft-spoken Web-design whiz Matt (Josh Hartnett) swears off sex for Lent. The premise, of course, is just a premise, and this one could have made a profoundly dopey movie. But thanks to a good-natured script, sharp direction and immensely appealing lead performances, it turns out to be smart and genuinely funny. Continue reading

Trouble Every Day

728_TED.jpgVincent Gallo — his face angular, perpetually scruffy, and with a piercing, insistently crazy gaze — is the fulcrum on which Trouble Every Day, a seat-clearing sexual-vampire movie from impeccable French stylist Claire Denis, turns. As usual, he looks intelligent, handsome and scary in equal measure. It’s no wonder recent gossip links him romantically with PJ Harvey. He’s that weird.

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Mulholland Dr.

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Early in David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., one guy describes a

recent nightmare to another guy over breakfast at a Sunset Boulevard

Denny’s. (It’s called “Winkie’s” on-screen, but it’s clearly a

Denny’s.) Struggling to catch the quality of dream light, he says that

the dream took place in a “half-night.” He may as well be describing an

old Hollywood movie. Scenes that were supposed to take place after dark

were usually shot in broad daylight, with the light filtered or mostly

blocked on the way into the camera. The resulting image has an

inadvertantly unreal quality, where figures cast long shadows even

under cover of alleged darkness. In Hollywood, such photography is

known as “day for night,” but Europeans simply call it “American night”

— the term that gave Francois Truffaut’s essential movie about

moviemaking its title.

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The Idiots

It seems likely that, for Lars von Trier, The Idiots is both the beginning and ending of Dogme 95, the set of back-to-basics aesthetic principles he helped concoct. Certainly his next project, a lavish musical starring Björk, falls outside the Dogme 95 purview. Stipulating natural lighting, natural sound, and the absence of props or special effects, the Dogme restrictions supposedly spur directors to new creative thought by making them re-evaluate the importance of character and story in an era where world cinema is more and more dominated by Hollywood-style artifice.

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