trailer tuesday

this week's entry for franco amurri's film proves that even harvey keitel can have monkey trouble (1994).


i suppose that means it's autumn

because today we say so long to summer. everyone wave goodbye.

here are the films she selected for me this week, for posterity's sake:

ponette (1996)
a little princess (1995)
mary and max (2009)
peggy sue got married (1986)
ladies and gentlemen, the fabulous stains (1982)
kicking and screaming (1995)
benny & joon (1993)
the house of yes (1997)
dogtooth (2009)
kings of pastry (2009)
hoop dreams (1994)
the pride of the yankees (1942)
microcosmos (1996)
free willy (1993)
wendy and lucy (2008)
me and you and everyone we know (2005)
y tu mamá también (2001)
dirty dancing (1987)
road, movie (2010)
last night (1998)

it was a red-letter week, most certainly. she was the first queue participant bold enough to appeal so brashly to my loins as well as my brains. it was easily the most erotically charged list i have seen so far. whereas previous lists have held a good number of surprises for me in the realm of kids entertainment, this week we were definitely traversing adult territory. lucky for me, sex and death are typically at the top of my hit parade. she also set a new standard this week for making me openly weep, which i am sure she finds satisfying, though not perversely. it was quite the emotional roller coaster ride and i am richer for it. thank you, summer. i appreciate all the work you put into it and for having the nerve to put me through the wringer.

the queue is taking october off, as that is my birthday and i am not watching anything i don't feel like. yes, the whole month is my birthday. i don't mess around. the queue will be back in november with my favorite contrarian, joe turner, at the helm. i guarantee that is going to be good. in the meantime, i'll see you guys around. as always, thanks for reading.


it happens every summer: day seven

here we are again, another day seven. we only have two films left, as different as night and day. up first is dev benegal's road, movie (2010).

in an effort to get out from under his responsibilities to the family hair oil business, restless twentysomething vishnu seizes upon an opportunity to take a cross-country trip to deliver an ancient truck. it is no normal rickety 1942 chevy, as it turns out. it has been outfitted as a mobile cinema. as he makes his way across the indian desert with his celluloid cargo he picks up a trio of travelers - a boy who works at a roadside tea stand, an older gentleman as adept at repairing things as he is at doling out wisdom and a beautiful nomadic woman wandering in search of water. they cross paths with a corrupt, sadistic police office and a ruthless gangster who is in control of all the water in the region, making it out of these scrapes thanks to the magic of the movies and vishnu's father's hair oil, respectively. as in the tales of scheherazade, the quality of the movie they show on a given night is their ticket to surviving and thriving another day. they go forward on faith, finally arriving at the fair they are in search of. in the manner of all great road movies, their travels forge a bond between them that can only dissolve bittersweetly, as all trips must eventually arrive at their destination. i really wanted to like this more than i did. it certainly wasn't bad but it just didn't move me that much, especially considering the subject matter. the desert is definitely beautiful and a roving movie theater or a traveling fair that sprouts out of the dust makes for a magic that is engrossing and entertaining. my problem was with the lack of an arc. for all their traveling, i felt no one really went anywhere. the attempt to generate danger, drama and transformation ultimately only results in something pleasant and mild. the notion of a traveling cinema, though, appeals to me like you wouldn't believe. i want a truck like that one of these days. what a beautiful dream - roaming the highways, going from town to town, stopping somewhere new every night and bringing the wonder of movies into people's lives. this film may not have been all i had hoped but now, when i win the lottery, i certainly know what i am going to do with all that money.

and finally, fittingly, we end with don mckellar's last night (1998).

it chronicles the last few hours in the intersecting lives of a group of people living in toronto who are literally facing the end of the world. an apocalypse, the nature of which is never elaborated upon, is going to culminate at midnight and we follow this disparate bunch of characters as they go through their rituals and prepare to meet oblivion, each in their own way. a family celebrates a christmas that is never going to come, supplies are gathered to complete a farewell dinner/suicide pact, a debut concert is performed, jobs are done right to the end, parties are thrown like it's new year's eve and a sexual marathon is in full swing, checking off every act that can be squeezed in to these final fleeting moments. the lack of mayhem is the most striking thing you immediately notice. the general atmosphere of lawlessness you would expect, while alluded to, stays far in the background. the gravity of the situation seems to have settled something in most of these people. they truly seem acutely aware of the fact that there is no more time to waste. the overall tone is one of resignation and, really, what else would it be? there is no more negotiation to be done. sandra oh is particularly good in this, i thought, determined to go out under her own steam only to see her obstinance ultimately yielding to an end that is richer and more profound. the real power in a film like this, if it's well done, as this one truly is, is reflected in just how many questions you ask yourself in the hours, days and weeks after the credits roll.

where would you want to be at the appointed hour?
whose face is the very last one you want to see?
what phone calls would you have to make?
whose door are you knocking on to consummate those things that have gone years unspoken before it's too late?
most importantly, if you would change everything so drastically, why aren't you living the way you want to right now?

thank you, summer. i can't think of a better place to end things.

big top starlite

we had a beautiful night tonight for this month's starlite screening. lauren made perfect end-of-summer skewers of grilled fresh pineapple, strawberries and nectarines and our three ring extravaganza started with robert mckimson's looney tunes classic acrobatty bunny (1946), followed by mystery science theater bringing down the tent on the short here comes the circus (1946). our main attraction was federico fellini's la strada (1954).

giulietta masina's face has to be considered one of the greatest in cinema history, so expressive and odd and beautiful. it struck me this evening while watching the film how unfair and inaccurate it is that her character in this film is so often described as simple. i think the more appropriate word would be pure, an angel inhabiting the body of harpo marx. as always, it was great to share this with an audience and i am eternally grateful to my friends for being such thoughtful and attentive viewers. you guys are wonderful to share movies with. double thanks to lauren this evening for being worth two smiths all by herself!

i am still working on the halloween edition of starlite. if you know me, you know i have made and remade the lineup in my head about a thousand times by now. halloween is always my favorite and i promise an excellent double feature for the occasion. as soon as we can nail down a date and i can commit to a program i will make sure and post all the pertinent details here and on the facebook page. i look forward to seeing you guys there.


it happens every summer: day six

day six of the queue finds us navigating the perilous terrain of human connection. we start the day with miranda july's me and you and everyone we know (2005).

july's directorial debut charts the beginning of a relationship between artist christine, played by july herself, and recently separated shoe salesman, and father of two boys, richard, played by vitagraph favorite john hawkes. starting from them and spinning delicately outward we are introduced to a small community of people. there are his sons, whose online chat sessions illuminate a great deal that's both funny and disturbing about people's loneliness and the lengths they go to to alleviate that. there is a pair of teenage girls, classmates of his oldest son, who are precariously balanced at that point where sex is transforming from schoolyard rumor to real world practice. there is his coworker, who doesn't quite have the wherewithal to be a dirty old man and there is the curator of the museum where christine is attempting to have her work displayed who seems disconnected from every aspect of her life except when anonymously divulging her most secret desires to complete strangers. all of these characters go about their labors in one another's orbit, struggling, consciously or otherwise, to have one basic need fulfilled - to find just that one person that truly understands them. it's obviously central to christine and richard's budding romance but it's just as vital for the other characters as well, be they a six year-old boy or the elderly folks christine takes to run errands. there are going to be people that dismiss this as too precious, and there is a whimsical sensibility that dangerously skirts (socks would be a better article of clothing to use here but it doesn't function as a verb) that line a time or two, but what keeps it from tipping is july's unflagging sincerity. she stares straight at you with those perfect eyes and does not blink, much less wink. all the points at which the garden-variety manic pixie dream girl would have shown up and won the day are studiously inverted, exemplified best by the scene where she first talks her way into his car and he throws her out, responding at a gut level not to her whimsy but her borderline creepiness. it doesn't hurt when you have john hawkes on your side, either. the versatility he displays going from being the last hard man in winter's bone (2010) to the floundering, newly-single dad here is something most actors would give their eye teeth for. it's impressive and touching, watching him slowly stumble his way out of sadness to the point where he's willing to risk himself again. i wish this would have been programmed next to kicking and screaming (1995) earlier this week so noah baumbach could have looked over and seen how to use his keen powers of observation for good instead of evil. so he could see listening instead of talking, liking instead of self-loathing and trying instead of quitting. he makes me never want to talk again. miranda july makes me want to talk to everyone.

from there we hit the road with alfonso cuarón's y tu mamá también (2001).

diego luna and gael garcía bernal are a pair of friends from mexico who are in that pivotal summer between high school and the first year of university. their girlfriends are gone touring europe and they restlessly hit the road with maribel verdú, a spanish woman who is a few years older and has, for reasons of her own, decided to go along on this unlikely journey. once in the car, the conversation soon turns to the unavoidable - sex and death - and the conversation soon turns into the unavoidable sexual entanglements. she has sex with both boys and it threatens to undo their friendship as jealousy, desire, resentment and revelation propel them toward one last encounter which finds them in uncharted territory. the tone of the film is set from the very first frame, as it opens with both boys having a frantic farewell coupling with the aforementioned girlfriends. once you get to the airport a few minutes later and the boys see the girls off, only to immediately begin scheming ways they can play while the cat's away, you have all the major story elements here in these opening scenes - unflinching eroticism, immaturity, selfishness, clumsiness, sexual double standards and a lack of understanding just waiting to be cruelly ambushed by experience. it says quite a bit that cuarón can keep me this interested in the fate of these characters that i really don't like very much. they're dumb, average, horny stoner kids and the way they believe things work is informed mainly by their drive to get drunk, high or laid. this is the point that most all coming of age stories lose me. as i have said before, i just can't relate to how many people apparently find these silly, hollow experiences to be transformative. i know i can't have been the only kid out there wanting something substantial during those formative years but the overwhelming volume of these stories tells me i must have been in a distinct minority. i think they way he periodically brings in a narrator to offer social and historical context for their journey is brilliant and it definitely gives me something to hold on to, a way to see their trip as part of a much larger cultural tapestry. the complexity of maribel verdú's performance also offsets the one-dimensional annoyance of the boys and their inability to deal with everything from their betrayals of one another to their attraction to each other. she is as selfish as them in some ways, yes, but it is motivated by a sad knowledge rather than a blissful ignorance. she is simultaneously striving to satisfy her own desires, impart some wisdom and find a measure of peace. you are willing to follow the story to the end for her sake and it's good that you do. once you become attached to her and then are forced to let her go you are left with that fleeting feeling that is the essence of summertime. i was sad to see her go.

we end the day with emlie ardolino's surprise runaway hit and pop culture juggernaut, dirty dancing (1987).

a young girl and her family are on vacation at a resort in the catskills in 1963, in an america that, though no one knows it, is on the verge of coming apart. into this borscht belt enclave strolls dance instructor johnny castle, and baby, as the girl is affectionately/dismissively known, feels a stirring in her loins unlike anything she has noticed prior to now. being an outsider in her own peer group, she wanders over to the other side of the tracks, hobnobs with the staff and finds herself pressed into service as a dance partner when johnny's current partner has to miss a date because of a hastily arranged and, subsequently, poorly performed abortion. johnny and baby take their partnership beyond the dance floor and daddy's little girl isn't a girl anymore. daddy business and class warfare yet again, you ask? indeed, indeed. baby stands up for johnny when he is falsely accused of theft by a jealous former paramour and has to expose their affair to provide him an alibi. daddy is not pleased. johnny gets the axe and hits the road, but not before taking the stage at the season-ending talent show to tell everyone that baby is more than meets the eye with both a stirring speech and a dance routine. times of lives are had. i must give credit where credit is due. there are some surprising and refreshing elements here. it is nice to see a somewhat frank treatment of a young girl's sexual awakening in such a mainstream film. it's nice to see the girl be an equal participant in her love affair and be the hero. she is conscientious, loyal, loving and level-headed. and the inclusion of even a mention of the horrors women went through in the years prior to roe versus wade is a substantial issue for what is essentially a feel-good dance film to take on. so we take these small victories where we can find them. this doesn't, however, exempt the film from being completely predictable and, with an exception or two, very badly acted. i know that generations before and after have done the same thing, but there is no generation like eighties kids who so frequently, and incorrectly, substitute "this is good" (frequently "awesome") for "i like this, this means a lot to me". whether it's the goonies (1985), john hughes' garbage, back to the future (1985) or this, we shouldn't get the two confused. they are very different things. for example, real men (1987) came along at a time in my life when i found its absurdities hilarious and i still have a real soft spot for it but there is no way i am going to try to convince you it is a good movie. fish tank (2009) is a good film about a young girl's sexual awakening - powerful, not obvious and extremely well acted. so how can we use the same adjective to describe something which we know is clearly not those things? hostel (2005) and turistas (2006) are a valuable part of the conversation when considering how horror films are a century-long reflection of society's anxieties in general and specifically of how americans think about how the rest of the world perceives them post-bush administration but are they "good"? no. and if you're trying to convince me that the thoughtful elements of dirty dancing, and not simulated sex on the dance floor and patrick swayze's black tank top, are the main reason why the film has made over 200 million dollars then i am going to call you a liar right to your face. or at least deluded. still and all, i can't be mad at it. it tried, and succeeded, to go beyond the modest boundaries usually set for films like that. call it a draw.

well, that most bittersweet part of the queue has come again. the part where i can see the finish line, when things are drawing to a close. the end is nigh.

for all of us.


it happens every summer: day five

day five finds us playing host to a menagerie. we begin with claude nuridsany and marie pérennou's fascinating nature documentary, microcosmos (1996).

using specially developed cameras, this filmmaking team explores life among the tiniest denizens of a meadow to astounding effect. the narration is almost non-existent and explanation or analysis is never offered. instead, what you have is sequence after sequence of some of the most exquisitely photographed routines of daily insect life you'll ever see. caterpillars, beetles, spiders, moths, mosquitoes, ladybugs, and on and on, doing what they do in vivid color. i love insects. i am endlessly fascinated by them, with their perfect geometry, all segmented, symmetrical and bright. they strike me as a perfect union of biology and mechanism, half living thing, half machine. on the one hand, so devoid of any motivation other than survival and subsistence, efficient and diligent in their toil. on the other hand, such beautiful examples of nature's greatest architecture. this movie really lets you indulge your appreciation of those things (assuming you have that to start with). employing time-lapse, slow motion and enhanced sound effects, it turns the infinitesimal routines of these insects into high drama and high art. something as simple as the amount of surface tension in a dew drop becomes fraught with suspense. and the colors explode off the screen. it's not a traditional nature documentary in any sense but i would certainly like to see more like it. i appreciate not having a human narrator trying to tell me what a snail might have on its mind or ascribing motives to a colony of ants. i would often rather just sit up close and watch and this is perfect for that - intimate observation of a tiny universe. just beautiful.

next, we go from the meadow to the sea with the smorgasbord of manipulation that is the appropriately named simon wincer's free willy (1993).

a troubled kid, in and out of foster care, is assigned a job at a sub-par aquatic theme park as punishment for vandalizing the place. he befriends an orca whale who is rightly upset about being held in captivity by this rinky-dink operation. when it's discovered that the owner of the park is plotting to kill the whale to collect the insurance money, the kid, an indian and tank girl take matters into their own hands and set out to return willy to the sea and his family, who are hanging around right outside in the bay. hoo boy. where to start? the first, and most obvious, problem this thing has is the casting director. i have never seen a kids movie so full of unlikely and/or unlikable performers in my life. michael madsen as the infinitely patient, loving foster father? that ought to give you some idea. i am not sure what foster care agency is handing out kids to mr. blonde but they need to invest in more thorough background checks. michael ironside, who knows his way around playing a heavy, is on hand to be the bad guy but ends up saddled with lines like "because we don't have theft insurance on the whale, that's why!". the most egregious example, though, is the kid. he is a jerk. starts a jerk and, i'm convinced, stays a jerk. not once throughout this entire thing did i find myself pulling for him or giving a tinker's damn about what happened to him. if you're going to make something so obvious at least give me some personality to hang my hopes on. i felt less like freeing this whale was something noble he needed to do than it was just one more thing he was going to get his way about. it's a real shame because i thought this might be one of those pleasant surprises the queue drops on me and there is no place i would rather be than in the ocean. it should have been easy to make me like this. i did like the whale and i am glad he made the jump, if only because it means he won't have to be around any of these people anymore. ultimately, though, any goodwill this beautiful creature might have generated was completely undone by this, the ending credits. skip ahead to 4:24 if you don't feel like sitting through the whole thing.

so now, on top of everything else, i have to listen to michael jackson crying? that's the last straw. free cole-y!

to the rescue comes kelly reichardt's wendy and lucy (2008).

wendy carroll and her lab mix, lucy, are on their way from indiana to alaska where wendy hopes to find work. what little money they have quickly running out, they break down in oregon and bad luck takes root like a particularly tenacious weed. wendy is picked up for shoplifting dog food for lucy and by the time she is released lucy is long gone from where she was tied up in front of the store. she spends some anxious hours waiting to hear if the pound has picked her up and, in the meantime, the repair bill for the car necessitates getting rid of it altogether. lucy is found, eventually, but the reunion is heartbreaking, as wendy's desperate financial straits and lack of a vehicle make it impossible to take lucy with her. it's not so much a narrative as an extended observation of hard times in this land of plenty, which is what kelly reichardt excels at. it is spare and elliptical and it allows you to fill the spaces with your own experience. michelle williams is quietly becoming the best actress of her generation. she certainly seems to be willing to take more risks than most of her contemporaries and manages to do so without being ostentatious. she subtly communicates so much in this film that you don't even realize until it's done how completely you understand her character. the supporting players are great as well, particularly will patton and wally dalton. as melancholy as it is, i also found it incredibly heartening, for a couple of reasons. first, her sorry circumstances expose a lot of the fundamental good in the people she crosses paths with, all people of modest means themselves. barring the vigilant grocery clerk that busts her for stealing, there is not one person she encounters that doesn't cut her some kind of break and their humanity is encouraging. i never thought i would be emotionally wrecked by someone giving another person seven dollars, but damned if i wasn't. it's the little things that make you believe in people and everyone involved in this production seems to have an innate understanding of that. the second reason that makes me hopeful for the character is that she leaves her dog. it may seem contradictory, and certainly feels terrible, but i think it's the first truly responsible decision we see her make. because of the kindness of strangers, because of wendy's pragmatism, because every dog has her day, i prefer to think that both of them are eventually going to be ok.

tomorrow is all about connection and a vitagraph favorite returns.

nothing ever hurts like you think it will.


it happens every summer: day four

during day four we are going to take a look at the nature of competition, with all its ephemeral glories and inevitable broken hearts. we start in france with chris hegedus and d.a. pennebaker's kings of pastry (2009).

the setting is the meilleurs ouvriers de france competition. this is the pinnacle of the pastry world. every four years the greatest pastry chefs in the world convene here to compete for the coveted blue, white and red collar and to determine who is france's greatest craftsman. we pick up with a number of the competitors, primarily jacquy pfeiffer, returning to france from his adopted home of chicago, regis lazard, who suffered misfortune previously in the competition, and philippe rigollot, who has basically trained for this his entire life, as he grew up in his mother's bakery. the format of the documentary itself isn't much more than the most elegant kitchen-based reality show you have ever seen. fortunately, the drama is built in to something like this. it's impossible for it not to be riveting knowing how much effort and dedication went into the preparations and how crucial this event is in all of their lives. but you really need to see these creations, astounding and completely edible. they can tell you better than i can about what's beautiful about this movie. the level of artistry on display here is simply unbelievable.

there is a certain specific joy in watching someone who is the best in the world at what they do. hegedus and pennebaker's unprecedented access to this competition offers a brief glimpse of what is exalted in us when we give everything in pursuit of our art.

for some, though, their competition is a very practical matter. that is the crux of steve james' hoop dreams (1994).

the film follows the divergent fortunes of two kids from chicago, arthur agee and william gates, as they chase their dream of playing basketball in the nba. what started out being a thirty minute short ended up being nearly three hours long, culled from almost six years' worth of footage. i am glad they spent the time because there is no way you could have adequately compressed a story this valuable and multifaceted into half an hour. it encompasses issues of class and race, of potential riches and ruin and of exploitation and and transcendence. so much is riding on these kids and the sacrifices that they, and everyone around them, make that it is, in a manner of speaking, a matter of life and death. if they hit this lottery, it means at least a shot at a way out of crippling poverty and a piece of the american dream that is utterly foreign to them. if they don't make it, it's just more of a never-ending cycle of violence and degradation in their own community and, possibly worst of all, the slow death of a lifetime of deadend jobs with all the time in the world to think about what might have been. as we watch these kids grow up, and watch their stock rise and fall over and again, we watch an ever-expanding web of boosters, coaches, recruiters and relatives all trying to get a piece of these youngsters. it is appalling and terrifying to see just how much pressure these kids have to bear. when you think that these two stories are representative of hundreds, maybe thousands, of kids like them, who are now being approached as early as elementary school, it boggles the mind. you can only hope that they can keep their heads, avoid injury and make it out of high school relatively unscathed. it's a tall order, though, as the school systems in their neighborhoods aren't exactly equipping them to make the kind of decisions they're faced with and the school systems that can advance their careers only seem to see them as commodities. it really is an epic story. much like the first film, it is also about the relentless pursuit of a dream. it's just a very different type of food these kids are trying to put on the table.

we end the day with a look at one of the greatest competitors in the history of baseball in sam wood's the pride of the yankees (1942).

it's lou gehrig's story, from his humble beginnings right up to his farewell speech that makes me cry every damn time i hear it, tracing his path from rambunctious son of hard-working immigrants to his golden years with the yankees, cut so tragically short by fatal neuromuscular disease. it is almost impossible for me to be objective about this movie. i love baseball and i love lou gehrig. there is so much about him that i admire - he never took a day off, he let his work speak for him, he wasn't arrogant, he was devoted to his wife and mother and he was a gentleman, on and off the diamond. yes, he was just a man and he has been much-mythologized, but he was the closest thing to the living embodiment of hard work and fair play that i think we ever saw on such a grand stage. gary cooper does right by him here, though the scenes where he's playing a college-aged gehrig are stretching it a bit. there is good, playful chemistry between him and teresa wright as his wife, eleanor. walter brennan is downright excellent, playing against type here and babe ruth even shows up playing himself. it is an essential slice of twentieth century americana. yes, it is sentimental. it was released a year after gehrig died and they weren't going to do anything to sully his memory. if i didn't know better, i would go so far as to say it was sanitized but, by every account i have ever heard, he was just that good of a guy. and this is that good of a movie, once it gets going. it manages to avoid most of the maudlin pitfalls of melodrama and even handles things like gehrig's reunion with the boy he inspired to walk again with a surprising amount of restraint. it is a very fitting monument to one of the game's all-time greats and the boy scout in me recommends you put it in your queue right now.

tomorrow finds us shifting our focus from humans to the animal kingdom.

what are the chances that tomorrow also ends with a tearful farewell?


it happens every summer: day three

day three, an ever-increasing cycle of familial madness, begins with a film that i haven't seen since its original theatrical release, jeremiah chechik's benny & joon (1993).

it's the story of benny and joon pearl, a big-hearted, blue-collar guy and his highly functioning mentally ill sister that he has been caring for on his own, with the help of a succession of housekeepers, since they lost their parents when they were young. into this picture ambles sam, an eccentric young man enamored of cinema in general and the work of buster keaton and charlie chaplin in particular. as benny struggles with the decision to put joon in a group home, sam and joon fall in love, threatening the already unstable household. i think i remembered pretty much exactly what everyone who has seen this remembers - johnny depp's graceful physical comedy as sam and that damned proclaimers song. i realized watching it today that i didn't remember anything else because everything else in it is so whisper light. joon's mental illness is treated so cursorily that we aren't even told what she suffers from. it's hinted that sam's eccentricities are, at least in part, a mechanism with which he deflects attention from his diminshed capacities and/or a learning disability, but the only clue to that are a couple of instances where we view his kindergarten scrawl. everything here is presented in broad strokes and primary colors and follows exactly the arc you think it's going to. there are no surprises here and certainly not the gravity befitting a story about serious mental illness (and it is serious if you are considering even some mild form of institutionalization) and navigating a world that so often leaves behind those dealing with learning disabilities. i know it's a romantic comedy and depp's routines are all about injecting a bit of magic into a complicated world but it's ineffectual when that world is so candy-colored to begin with. even the best part of the film - depp's homages to keaton, chaplin, et al. - feels like it was wasted on almost the entire target audience for the film. if you are prone to this hallmark-style presentation, i am guessing you haven't spent a lot of time digging into the history of silent cinema and what all this probably amounts to for 98% of this movie's fans is just a dreamy guy doing adorable things. chechik's credits prior to this consist primarily of commercials and music videos and upon discovering that i wouldn't exactly say you could have knocked me over with a feather. you could certainly knock this movie over with one, though.

next, we up the ante in the crazy family sweepstakes with mark waters' deep black comedy the house of yes (1997).

after slogging through a couple of genres i have no love for yesterday, it was nice to get this today and revel in its bitterly funny mixture of drawing room drama, home for the holidays disquietude and long day's journey into night staginess - all things i have a fondness for - resulting in an old, dark house of psychosexual dysfunction. quite obviously adapted from wendy macleod's play, it is the story of a tumultuous thanksgiving weekend with the affluent and mad pascal family. eldest brother marty is bringing home his newly betrothed, a donut king waitress from pennsylvania (josh hamilton, parker posey and class issues for the second time in forty-eight hours), to meet the family. arriving just ahead of a hurricane, they find themselves at the center of a storm inside as well, respectively dealing with sexual advances from the brilliant, cutting and unhinged twin sister who is obsessed with the jfk assassination and the pathological, manipulative and inept younger brother. it doesn't take long before the incestuous history between marty and jackie-o, as his twin sister is known, that is hinted at early on is confirmed. their favorite childhood game of acting out the jfk assassination long ago blossomed into a sexual ritual for them which they partially justify by being twins, as, in their minds, it's practically like having sex with yourself. neither marty nor his fiancée exactly put up much of a struggle and the seductions take their toll on the fragile peace and false sense of security that accompanies the eye of every hurricane. in the cold light of day, marty seems to recognize that his relationship with lesly is possibly his last chance to escape the lunacy of his family, but before that can happen jackie-o insists on one last game of assassination. you know this is not going to end well. jackie-o is not going to lose marty even if keeping him at home means buried in the backyard next to daddy. parker posey is the standout here, going from broken and lost to a viper in a pink chanel suit in the blink of a bipolar eye. tori spelling is also well cast in a role that takes full advantage of her normalcy. the movie is at its best when giving posey room to work, fully exercising the malicious glee behind her eyes. it is a sly, wicked and sharp-tongued look behind closed doors and i enjoyed it a great deal. the insular world of virginia's upper crust breeds a lot of skeletons in those genteel closets, including some with webbed feet.

taking the madness that develops among a family in isolation to its terminal point, we close the show with yorgoth lanthimos' beautifully perplexing dogtooth (2009).

this greek import is a difficult one to synopsize and still impart any of what makes it so effective. a husband and wife have raised their children to young adulthood in an environment that resembles a compound more than a home. the children, never named in the film, have obviously lived their entire lives on the grounds. they have received a lifetime of instruction designed to mislead them and keep them in fear of what lies beyond the walls of the family's residence. in their world, ordinary housecats are man-eaters, planes are the size of toys (since their parents plant them in the backyard whenever a jet sounds overhead) and everyday words don't mean what the rest of us know them to mean. it's a hybrid of prison and the most extreme homeschooling environment you have ever seen. it plays almost like science fiction, as if the parents long ago decided to use their offspring to conduct a brutal, radical and lifelong sociological experiment. as often happens in these scenarios (as if there has ever been a scenario quite like this) the introduction of an outsider is the catalyst for a great unraveling. the father, who is the only one who ever leaves the house, brings a woman who works as a security guard, christina, at his factory home to sexually service his son. in the context of his experiment, it is just one more biological function that needs addressing. when the son's performance is unsatisfactory for the security guard she tricks the oldest daughter into performing oral sex on her in trade for a sparkly headband. i use the word trick but that's not entirely accurate. it doesn't convey the mechanical, joyless nature of the transaction. since the daughter has received no moral tuition, the act has little context for her. a lick here is the same as a lick anywhere else and the favor is an even exchange, as far as she is concerned. what begins to undo everything is the day the daughter insists on trading this service for a pair of videotapes in christina's bag. jaws (1975) and rocky (1976) expose her to a world heretofore unknown and a seed of agitated discontent with her situation is planted. the father can't allow christina to come back after this and, wary of the influence of strangers, the parents decide that one of the sisters will act as the son's sexual surrogate. after an episode where the blindfolded son fondles the sisters to determine which he would prefer, the duty falls upon the elder. the ensuing explicit session between the siblings marks the beginning of the end and she soon resorts to knocking her canine tooth out with a dumbbell, as this is what she has been taught is the sign of maturity that will grant her access to the outside world. throughout, the compositions are off-kilter, with heads frequently cropped and disembodied voices speaking from outside the frame. this, combined with the lovely, gauzy cinematography, results in a dreamlike ambiance that makes these episodes more a puzzle than repulsive. it is a luminous piece of provocative, experimental filmmaking quite unlike anything i have ever seen and it raises a good deal more questions than it answers. is it even possible to fault the children for indulging their murderous or libidinous impulses when they have received no tutelage that makes them appreciate the consequences of those actions as everyone else understands them? when does art cross the line from depicting depravity to indulging in it? is morality a dungheap, everyone standing on their own to shout about everyone else's? this is definitely not for everyone, and that is unfortunate, but i feel like i have seen something we very well may look back on as revolutionary.

tomorrow we move back toward more traditional, but no less entertaining, fare as we spend a day exploring the spirit of competition.

true blue.


it happens every summer: day two

day two of the queue begins with a trip back in time with francis ford coppola's peggy sue got married (1986).

kathleen turner is peggy sue, a woman for whom divorce seems imminent. she is looking down the barrel of her 25-year high school reunion and the prospect of having to answer question after question about where her husband, and high school sweetheart, is is not particularly appealing. after being named reunion royalty, in the midst of the coronation ceremony, peggy sue faints and awakes to find herself back in 1960, reliving the days right before her high school graduation. i have a deep aversion to this particular subgenre. i have never been able to understand or empathize with the whole bodyswitching thing. usually, the only emotion it engenders in me is pity. the eternal presence of this trope on our entertainment landscape just makes me sad that there are apparently so many people out there that so desperately wish they were someone else, that they could go back and do it again. and it only reinforces my separation from the material by setting it at a reunion. for the life of me, i will never get what is so goddamned traumatic about these events and how they cause full-grown adults such anxiety. my predispositions toward all this repression and wish-fulfillment aside, there were one or two things i enjoyed about the movie. kathleen turner was good, and the scene where she rediscovers the joys of singing "my country 'tis of thee" was quite funny, as were some of the jokes revolving around her knowledge of future events. the implied rekindling of peggy sue and charlie's relationship at the end remains troubling, though. why go through this elaborate fantasy with an infinite number of new choices to make and the benefit of all your experience to arrive at the same place with a person who is a parody of the one you fell in love with? why spend time skewering all of those eisenhower-era societal constructs only to be presented with a series of choices at the end that find your fate so contingent on the choice of the man you're going to be with? marry the geek, run off with the beatnik or stick with what you know? what about all the other choices, the ones that would have been peggy sue doing what she wanted, strictly for her own sake? after a brief dalliance with a world of new possibilities, she awakes in the present and immediately begins to rebuild her white picket fence, dreams and aspirations of her youth once again pushed to the side. i already feel like these "wish i could go back" narratives are sad and empty, doubly so when you don't actually do much with the opportunity except have sex with a bad poet.

i prefer modern girls - and when that modern girl is a no-bullshit, punk rock diane lane, so much the better - so thank goodness for our second feature, lou adler's ladies and gentlemen, the fabulous stains (1982).

i loved this. it's not perfect, by any means, but it has such a ragged charm and a distinct lack of concern for the marketplace that i give it a lot of credit. diane lane starts a punk rock trio and sets out to carve a place for herself in the annals of music history. it doesn't matter much that they aren't particularly talented. it's punk rock and virtuosity should be suspect. what matters is that she is smart, able and fiercely independent, equally blessed with brains, guts and guile. yes, some of the sentiments that are expressed are a bit juvenile but it's a movie about teenage kids, for cripes sake. what i found most striking about the whole thing is just how much they don't make movies like this about girls. they didn't then, they still don't now, and that is a damned shame. the scene where lane comes into her own during a disastrous debut performance is an explosion of straight-ahead punk rock badassery that women are hardly ever afforded the opportunity to portray onscreen. even with the editorial choices of the film sometimes undermining the strident sexual politics of the lead character, this is a remarkably forward thinking film for 1982, overall. add to that some critical commentary on the role, and manipulation, of the media in our daily lives, the fickle nature of celebrity and the commodification of culture, popular and otherwise, and you have a film that tries to do an awful lot compared to the other movies made for teens at the time. it doesn't always succeed, but considering some of the other, more successful films aimed at "the youth market" in 1982 - porky's, the last american virgin, zapped! - or the formulaic treacle cranked out by john hughes throughout the eighties, this thing plays like a manifesto, a call to arms that went sadly unheeded by the people who needed it most. see it and start a band with your sister!

and, finally, starring elliott gould as the only character i didn't want to slowly murder while making sure they looked in my eyes so they knew who was doing this to them, we have noah baumbach's kicking and screaming (1995).

i may have an aversion to the bodyswitching subgenre but it is nothing compared to my bright disdain for the "twentysomethings on the verge of 'real life' who don't know what they're going to do with themselves but will talk about it ad nauseum" subgenre. held no appeal for me when i was twentysomething, holds no appeal for me now. you can certainly make the argument that i just don't get it. you would be right. there's nothing in here that applies to me. i don't want to get it. here's what you do: you just get on with it, you pasty, overeducated, first world crybabies. do you know how bad it is when i would rather be watching a whit stillman movie? (sorry, joe). baumbach's story follows four friends dealing with graduation from college in the following ways: having indiscriminate sex with freshmen, taking up with girlfriends that are (in their minds) below their station, thus turning what should be a relationship into silent, sadomasochistic class warfare, confusing knowing trivia with having wisdom and saying cruel and clever things to one another. and oh man, the clever is on eleven. you think kevin smith is in love with the sound of his own voice? i understand that baumbach might be trying to make some sort of comment about the stunted emotional states of these characters but any significant insight is completely lost in how much he wants to impress you with how he is saying it. his method ends up not only not condemning their immaturity and evasions, but aiding and abetting them. vitagraph favorite, elliott gould, shows up to provide an all too brief respite from these effete clowns and olivia d'abo and her overbite manage to brighten things momentarily. she at least fastens her quirks to a character with some focus and energy, making her neuroses feel lived-in and not just a figment of undergrad imagination riddled with affectations. those were the highlights, what few i could find. if you consider this a spot-on depiction of college life then, not to put too fine a point on it, you most likely were an insufferable, privileged asshole in (your small liberal arts) college. this absolutely dissuades me from seeing anything else he's made, which is a shame because i hear the squid and the whale (2005) is miles better than this. with any luck, it has more success working in humanizing aspects of character and doesn't rely on unrelenting, unrepentant smugness as its sole voice.

oh well, can't win 'em all. ending on a down note tonight.

i am confident that tomorrow will reverse that trend.

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for michel hazanavicius' bold foray into contemporary silent film, the artist (2011).


it happens every summer: day one

summer isn't wasting any time with this one. this installment of queue de grâce begins with the devastating body blow that is jacques doillon's ponette (1996).

the film opens to find four year-old ponette in a hospital bed, arm in a cast. we soon learn that the cast is a result of a car accident that claimed her mother's life. her father, loving but stalled in the anger phase of his grieving process, takes her to stay with cousins in the country while he resumes work. we spend the remainder of the film watching ponette trying to navigate her inexorable grief, guided by well-meaning adults with the balm of religion and playmates with their miniature versions of those same rituals and magical thinking. i have never seen anything like the central performance in this film. victoire thivisol turns in a performance as a four year-old child that actors go their whole lives without coming close to. in fact, you can do away with the "child" appellation altogether. you may make the argument that she is reacting rather than acting, but it is as natural, raw, honest and open a display as i may have ever seen. cassavetes himself would have been proud. it was all of ten minutes before she reduced me to tears. her pain is so palpable it is nearly unbearable. to watch the complex set of emotions that register on her cherubic face as she tries everything she can think of to resurrect, communicate with and join her mother is to feel every bit of her loss. to watch her be cowed her father for her fruitless fixation on bringing her mother back and then see her resolve stiffen, standing there in front of him, as she regains her sense of herself and what she must do is just astounding. an equal amount of credit must be given to doillon's direction, as well. to create the environment where he could capture this performance speaks of a confidence and sensitivity almost unrivaled among his contemporaries and just the very basic device of shooting almost everything from her eye level, with sometimes claustrophobic closeups, exemplifies his ability to use technique to put you that much further into her universe. the film also serves to expose the contradictory nature of religion and the role it plays in bringing comfort to the afflicted. as you watch ponette go through "trials" dreamed up by playmates to get her closer to god, and therefore her mother, you realize that all the theology in the world unravels when a child tries to apply their logic to it. i will never understand humans and their silly and sad inability to just let a thing be unknown and not be so mortally terrified by it that they have to retrofit the inexplicable (for now, preternatural is the watchword) with metaphorical fairy tale origins and explanations. hiding in a garbage bin for five minutes or jumping off the highest bit of playground equipment to prove your bravery and devotion to earn a visit from your mother from beyond the veil is obviously a ridiculous notion that only a child could conceive of but a man made of dust, a woman made of his rib and a boat the size of new york city to house mating pairs of every animal in the world - that is not ridiculous at all. as you watch her clutch desperately for anything and everything, including suicide so she can just go to where her mother is with jesus, to make sense of her agony and confounding loss it certainly makes all of it seem childish, basically underscoring how peculiar it is that this behavior is not something most people leave behind once they reach the age of reason. the only misstep the film makes is in the final act when her mother indeed momentarily reappears to comfort and release ponette from her suffering. after going the whole film engaging in pitch perfect naturalism, this seems like the absolute wrong thing to do. maybe doillon couldn't live with the notion of making this child suffer so utterly and completely but i think it undermines the honesty, purity and dignity and everything that preceded it. even with that, though, i highly recommend it. i will make it a point to seek out a lot more of doillon's work and i will never forget this little girl.

we follow that with a much more standard variation on this theme with alfonso cuarón's a little princess (1995).

this is the second cinema adaptation of the children's novel by frances hodgson burnett, somewhat inspired by the first one which starred shirley temple in 1939. it is the story of a young girl, who has a gift for storytelling, whose idyllic childhood in india is interrupted by her father going off to fight world war one. he sends her to a boarding school in the interim where she encounters the things you would expect - group of lovable secondary moppets, harsh headmistress with a cruella de vil streak in her hair and her soul and freckled snotty bully. things go well for her until she receives word, during her birthday party, that her father has been killed in action. with her father's funds no longer at her disposal she is forced into a life of servitude at the school. not one to be easily subdued, she continues to entertain the other girls with her fantastic stories and holds fast to her belief in the transformative power of imagination. across the alley, conveniently enough, her father, not dead as it turns out, is being nursed back to health by a kindly old gentleman and his indian manservant after suffering the blinding, amnesia-inducing effects of a gas attack. as you might imagine, things look bleak for a while but the sun shines on the last act, everyone is reunited, the bully comes over to our side and the headmistress gets her comeuppance. happily ever after with a side of daddy issues. primarily, this suffered mightily just from its juxtaposition with ponette. almost anything was going to be a step down in performance but especially so when you follow it with a bunch of child actors being very child actor-y. it might be a little unfair but i cannot help but compare the two. in its favor, it is very well made and a joy to look at. the art direction is spectacular, minus a couple of really bad cgi moments. it did make me smile a time or two but the overriding feeling again has to do with contradiction. as much as i deeply love and respect my mother, the last time i remember wanting to be "mama's little man" was probably when i was about ten years old. i understood even then that i had a choice to make and that to be my own person i had to leave that behind, where it belongs. i would think the same rules apply to being "daddy's little girl". i wish more than anything that we lived in a culture where every woman knew that she was special and beautiful and strong, but this business about "didn't your daddy ever tell you that?" being the route to get there seems counterproductive. it seems like that is something you have to decide on your own. i understand the comfort to be found in waxing nostalgic about a time in your life when your happiness was looked after but the daddy thing is a bit regressive here, or anywhere, and it undermines the central idea of empowerment.

we end the day on a perfect note with a little restorative from adam elliot called mary and max (2009).

this beautifully rendered bit of australian claymation tells the story of a pair of outsiders - mary daisy dinkle, 8 years old, living in an endlessly brown australian suburb, fond of drinking condensed milk right from the can and max jerry horowitz, an overweight new york city dweller whose mental problems have made his world a very small, lonely and confusing one. one day, at random, mary chooses max's name out of the phone book and begins a correspondence with him that will see them through decades, a manslaughter case (thrown out), a marriage (dissolves when mary's husband turns out to be gay), a lottery win, and who knows how much chocolate. as mary's letters become increasingly difficult for max to answer, he eventually has a breakdown and is institutionalized for a time. while in the hospital, he is diagnosed with asperger's syndrome and this helps him develop strategies that make his life, and answering mary's letters, much more manageable. mary graduates with her psychology degree, inspired by her relationship with max, and writes a book about asperger's using max as her case study. max feels terribly betrayed by this and a rift develops between them that is the catalyst for a serious downturn in mary's life. max eventually forgives her, though, and mary makes her way to new york to finally meet the man who is her only true friend, arriving to find that he has just passed away, the last thing he saw being twenty years worth of her letters that he has laminated and covered his ceiling with. this thing is beautiful. each person, place and thing in it is so wonderfully sweet and odd. not odd in the sense of weird, but odd in the sense that every single person on this earth is unique and has something of their own to offer. odd in the way that every one of us is a little odd. i can't tell you how much i enjoyed this. i am watching it again before i go on to the next one, which is unprecedented in the mad dash that queue de grâce often is. the animation is stellar, the characterizations, while occasionally exaggerated for comic effect, are never less than honest, peculiar, funny and warm. one of the best things art can do for us is make us feel glad to be alive and part of this crazy mess, that there are infinite questions to be asked and every answer is worth the struggle. that is how this movie makes me feel. if you've ever felt on the outside of things, open yourself up a nice tall can of condensed milk and give yourself to this for an hour and a half. you won't regret it.

and i'll need that extra boost of happiness because it looks like tomorrow i have a date with one of my least favorite actors on the planet.

what? was andrew mccarthy booked this week?


on my fest behavior

one of my favorite weeks of the year, fantastic fest, will be upon us in just a few more days, so i thought i would give you guys a rundown of some of the things i am looking forward to most. my schedule is limited, so i am going to stick mainly with discussing things that i am potentially going to get to see.

saturday, 9.24.11, is going to be the first day that i get to really attend the festival in earnest and that morning is kicking off with a kids club screening of byron haskins' war of the worlds (1953). very excited about this one. never seen it on the big screen and this science fiction classic will be a nice way to ease into things before the full-tilt madness begins.

we will be going from the end of one world to the end of another with lars von trier's melancholia (2011). i approach this one with some trepidation, but after the unforgettable experience that antichrist (2009) was a couple of fantastic fests ago, i figure it's worth a shot. if nothing else, it appears to be beautifully photographed.

the rest of the evening is most likely going to be dictated by the size of the crowd. being badgeless, i anticipate difficulty getting into the screening of an american werewolf in london (1981), as revolutionary makeup artist rick baker will be in attendance. ditto for the more high-profile fest entry you're next (2011) with director adam wingard doing q & a afterward. fortunately for me, laurent achard's last screening (2011) looks to be flying under the radar with its intriguing mixture of french arthouse sensibilities and italian giallo tendencies, all while ruminating on the role of cinema in our lives, something i like to do a fair bit.

sunday, 9.25.11, starts with tomasz thomson's blackly comic snowman's land (2011).

following that, we have the return of a film that hasn't lost a single high-octane step in the decade or so since its original release, ryuhei kitamura's versus (2000). lead performer tak sagaguchi and writer yudai yamaguchi wii be in attendance for this one.

which brings us to my first absolute must-see on the schedule, jeff nichols' haunting take shelter (2011). michael shannon is the best actor working today that almost everyone is unfamiliar with and i have high hopes for this one. if there is one film during the week that i wish i could convince everyone to see, this is it.

hoping to close things down sunday night with hong kong action. throughout the week, they are screening a surprise roster of hong kong exploitation classics from the early eighties/late nineties and i am crossing my fingers that they won't be filled to capacity.

monday evening kicks off early with a screening of jiang wen's let the bullets fly (2010) which i recently featured in this installment of trailer tuesday. after a brief dinner break, i am shooting for a second round of the hong kong mystery movies. closing out the monday festivities will be the midnight madness of lucio fulci's house by the cemetery (1981)

tuesday evening begins with the second effort from nacho vigalondo, extraterrestrial (2011). i thoroughly enjoyed his debut feature, timecrimes (2007) and look forward to seeing what he does next. he will be in attendance along with producer nahikari ipiña for q & a after the film. following that, i will probably forego a third round of hong kong in favor of justin kurzel's snowtown (2011), which appears to be just the latest in a growing line of staggeringly powerful australian crime films. no one is doing it better than them right now.

i know it's a longshot, but i am going to try to get in to the 100 best kills event to close out tuesday evening.

barring any unforeseen openings in my work/band schedule, that looks like the extent of what i will be able to catch. of course, as with most festivals, plans B and C will probably come into play, but if you're interested in seeing any of these with me, just let me know. i guarantee a good time. fantastic fest never disappoints.


trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for hideo gosha's three outlaw samurai (1964).

as part of the preliminary to fantastic fest, the alamo drafthouse is showing a pair of gosha's beautifully dark samurai films. alas, three outlaw samurai was last night, but you still have the opportunity to see bandits vs. samurai squadron (1978) next monday, 9.19.11, at 7 p.m. i heartily recommend it. it's free if you have any type of fantastic fest badge. if you're not a badgeholder you can purchase tickets here.


trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for clarence brown's the rains came (1939).

if only the title were true. for my friends who aren't from this part of the country, central texas is in a bad way right now. record-shattering drought and triple digit temperatures for months at a time have turned the area into a tinderbox. since the beginning of fire season in texas, an area roughly the size of connecticut has burned, including, tonight, a portion of the apartment complex i live in. it is a desperate time for a lot of folks. if you would like to help, here is a link that outlines what materials are in need and who to get in touch with to contribute your time, money or services. also, one of my favorite bands in the world, and a swell bunch of fellows, centro-matic, are donating all proceeds from their online sales this saturday and sunday to help victims in the particularly hard-hit community of bastrop. so, if you haven't picked up the new record yet, or want to get something for a friend, this weekend would be a great time to do that and help your texan neighbors in the process. in the meantime, everyone stay safe, be careful and hope for rain.


ain't no cure for the summertime queues

it will soon be upon us again, the sixth installment of queue de grâce will be here in a couple of weeks.

the rules are simple: for one solid week i turn over complete control of my netflix streaming queue to one of you folks. during that week, excepting visits to theaters or starlite screenings, i only watch what you selected for me and document my viewing experience here for all. no other television, no other movies.

our next guest programmer is summer anne burton, whom i don't get to have dessert with often enough.

summer is the genius behind one of my favorite endeavors ever, every hall of famer. she has taken it upon herself to draw every member of the national baseball hall of fame in chronological order. here's one of my favorites.

if you love the game you should take a look at it. hell, you should look at it even if you don't.

summer will be in charge of things around here from 9.19.11 through 9.25.11 and i am very much looking forward to it. stop in soon and see what surprises she has in store for me.


another summer over

sadly, it is that time of year again - the paramount's summer classics series is coming to an end. it still runs through this sunday but, sadly, i am unable to attend the final weekend. this summer was busier than ever, what with moving to cedar park and the band's tour, so i didn't get to see as much as i normally do, but what i did see was fantastic. once again, here is a poster gallery of everything i saw there this summer, in chronological order of original release, from el tren fantasma (1927) to the shining (1980).

this finale stings less than in years past, though, as paramount programmer jesse trussell is expanding the film offerings beyond just summertime. no longer do we have to suffer that long, sad drought, bereft of classic offerings, between september and may. the first summer i do not have to say goodbye to row q is a pretty good summer, indeed.