Friday, June 12, 2009

"I Stand Alone" (1998, Gaspar Noe) -- Audio Commentary

This is a five-part audio commentary on Gaspar Noe's I Stand Alone (1998), which we recorded on 11 June 2009 together with Simon Abrams. Hope you enjoy it. Here are all the clips:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5 (includes pronouncing the unpronouncable: Simon says my last name and it sounds like "Stallone", yey!)

"Imagine That" (2009, Karey Kirkpatrick)

Eddie Murphy must be the youngest-looking 48-years-old actor I have ever seen. Compare his face to that, say, of James Gandolfini, or even to that of his Imagine That (2009) co-star, Thomas Haden Church - you could never tell all three of them were born in 1961.

Murphy's youth is vital in Imagine That, a story of reinventing yourself as a child to become a better father. Murphy has both the goofiness that enables him to do the former, and the stature to pull off the latter. He's the coolest dad you'll ever see.

The movie is about a corporate businessman getting investing tips from his 9-years-old daughter. The tips come from the world of her child imagination, but prove to be surprisingly effective. What the film does, it tries to reconcile the world of wonder and the world of money. Unfortunately, what the screenwriters perceived as an act of redeeming moneymaking by likening it to a fairy tale, often proves to degrade fairy tales, instead, by "justifying" them as a valid moneymaking strategy.

Thomas Haden Church plays a Native American corporate villain that borders more than once on a racist portrayal, only to be disclaimed by the end by means of a sudden ethnic twist (Church's character is proven to be Finnish-Armenian, which adds insult to injury, especially if you're a Finn or an Armenian yourself).

But still, the movie is easy-going and fun, and if you were wondering what would happen if one would merge the faces of John Travolta and Charles Bronson together, then Thomas Haden Church's mug is your living and breathing answer. And howgh.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"The Hangover" (2009, Todd Phillips)

The premise of fun too great to be remembered has founded some of cinema’s masterpieces, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) and Last Year in Marienbad (1961) being the most notable examples. Todd Phillips, of Old School (2003) fame, has just widened the geography of places likely to make you forget how good a time you just had. In The Hangover (2009) it’s not Morgan’s Creek or Marienbad: it’s Las Vegas.

More than just yet another movie about a bachelor party gone bad, The Hangover employs a good narrative mechanism that sustains your interest throughout. The trick lies in multiplying absurd clues for the three characters to decode; clues that will help them reconstruct what exactly happened the night before, when – apparently – they had too much fun they could have handled. In its “spot-a clue-follow-a-clue” approach to narrative, the movie is much more fun than recent Angels & Demons (2009), where the stakes (the existence of the planet Earth) weren’t nearly as high as in The Hangover (the possibility of facing a pissed-off bride).

I liked The Hangover less than I expected and more than I’d like to admit. The trailer had a big appeal for me: it seemed to project the kind of absurdist immediacy I often like in comedies (what won me over, was the chicken walking around in the post-orgy hotel suite). But very soon after the film started I realized that what I liked condensed in the ads, got very diluted in the whole narrative. Also, most of the jokes seemed too mechanical to be enjoyed in any other way than by giggling, a reaction I don’t like to succumb to. It’s half-hearted laughter and I value comedies that do without it (hail to conquering Sturges!).

But the movie is often very funny, which is mainly thanks to one single performance. Zach Galifianakis, best described at some point as “fat Jesus”, is a new comic master I failed to recognize when I saw his stand-up act on Comedy Central. His beard and hair is so thick, there is barely anything left of his face to work with, but that’s the point: he projects the kind of aloof idiocy that doesn’t really engage with the world at hand. What I liked best was his pre-written speech to his about-to-be-married buddy, where he speaks of himself: “I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolf pack”. It’s worthy to see The Hangover just to listen to the conviction with which he delivers this line.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Straight Eye for the Queer Guy -- "Tearoom" (2007)

An extraordinary instance of working with found footage, William E. JonesTearoom (2007), makes for an unsettling viewing experience – and thus succeeds in what it sets out to do in the first place. What we see is some operational footage of Mansfield (OH) police, shot to track down instances of lewd (as in: homosexual) behavior in one of the public toilets. Most of the 56 minutes of Tearoom is filled with a strange ballet of men checking each other out, fellating or masturbating each other, having sex, or just passing one another with no contact whatsoever (potential contact is what the movie is about, too).

It’s unsettling, because the men themselves are unsettled. There is no tenderness here, no kisses, no holding hands (unlike in the classic scene from Terence Davies’ Madonna and Child [1980]). The constant fear of the door being suddenly opened, and the readiness to “rearrange” once it does open (by swiftly jumping away from the partner and pretending to be otherwise “busy”) – that’s what makes for the strange, exhausting and unpleasant suspense of Tearoom, and in this it makes us complicit with the men presented.

But we are complicit with the policeman filming, too. Of course, it’s hard to identify with him in the first minutes of the film, when we see him gleefully waving to us and explaining the positioning of the camera (it’s placed behind a mirror door). But for the rest of the movie, we’re stuck with his gaze for better or worse, and thus we replicate his act of voyeurism in our viewing of Tearoom. That’s what Jones’ movie is about – it makes us question not only social mentality that forces homosexual desire to fulfill itself in a literal shithole, but also the viewing practice offered by surveillance camera footage, with the subject unaware (or, at best, vaguely aware) of being caught on film.

Of many individuals appearing in the film, possibly most striking is a couple having sex somewhere near the middle of Tearoom: a bespectacled young man and a harshly carved guy (Lyle Lovett-lookalike, to be honest). Their bodies joint in nervous spasms, their eyes fixed on the ever-threatening door: together they personify desire as distilled from any personal attachment and intimidated by both its own nature, and by the society’s dominant morality. It’s a world light years apart from the clubs shown on mainstream TV series like Queer as Folk (2000-2005), with the gay club’s toilet door bearing the ever-useful reminder: “Do not have sex in here. That’s what couches are for”.