The Week in Moving Pictures

Wild Reeds/Les Roseaux sauvages. André Téchiné, 1994. ****
It Happened One Night. Frank Capra, 1934. ****
Recount. Jay Roach, 2008. ****
The Long Good Friday. John Mackenzie, 1980. ****
Ikiru. Akira Kurosawa, 1952. ****
Hamlet 2. Andrew Fleming, 2008. ***
Autumn/Automne. Ra’up McGee, 2004. ***
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, 2008. ***
Mildred Pierce. Michael Curtiz, 1945. ***
Choke. Clark Gregg, 2008. **
Sukiyaki Western Django. Takashi Miike, 2007. N/R

Planet Terror

It’s one of the profound mysteries of the movie year 2007: why, exactly, did critics embrace Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof the way they did while dismissing the far superior Robert Rodriguez half of Grindhouse out of hand? I could go on about this, but instead of expounding on the comparative joys of Planet Terror yet again, I’ve decided to join the Close-Up Blog-a-thon underway at The House Next Door and post a number of dramatic close-ups that perfectly illustrate just how much fun Rodriguez is having with the Grindhouse concept. The DVD of Planet Terror, severed from its insufferably pretentious twin, is available tomorrow.

Planet Terror. Robert Rodriguez, 2007. ****

Odds & Ends, New Jersey Edition

From the secure, undisclosed New Jersey location where we’re weathering the storm, here’s a muckworld roundup, covering the triumphs, marriages, deaths, drug convictions, and ambivalent critical reception of five artists so famous their first names are enough.

I have neither video nor photos to prove it, but an exquisite literary time was had at KGB Bar on Friday, where Jami Attenberg celebrated tax day and the release of her Instant Love paperback together with Pauls Toutonghi (Red Weather), Darin Strauss (Chang and Eng and The Real McCoy) and Min Jin Lee (Free Food for Millionaires.) Jami read a story about anonymous sex with accountants. Darin Strauss played the Dobro, and Anya Ulinich sang the Internationale. I have it on good authority that less than half of those in attendance actually recognized the song, which indicates that it’s been a good long while since everybody was angelic and sentimental about the workers. The dustbin of history, indeed.

Finally, good news from New Orleans: Kermit Ruffins got hitched! I realize St. James Infirmary isn’t quite appropriate, but it’s the best Kermit on YouTube. Congratulations, and thanks for all the BBQ. (And thank you for the tip, Robbi Jeanne.)

“If you read Kurt Vonnegut when you were young — read all there was of him, book after book as fast as you could the way so many of us did — you probably set him aside long ago,” begins Verylin Klinkenborg’s piece in the Times. I followed her advice and just picked up Cat’s Cradle for the first time in 15 years, and it’s even better than I remembered. Around 1999, I saw Vonnegut speak, but at that point, he wasn’t my wavelength at all and just seemed like another bitter old Luddite griping about how superior the post office was to sending email. My friends Dusty and Kathleen enjoyed hanging out with him afterwards, so perhaps it was me who was bitter. Either way, Kurt could write. John Leonard in The Nation:God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut.” Mourning at Metafilter and on Maud Newton.

That Cleopatra rant was my last word on Grindhouse, but there are a few more pieces worth pointing out: Filmbrain, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last week, thinks Quentin needs a girlfriend, and the Looker agrees with my assessment that Death Proof is just way dull. At The House Next Door, Keith Uhlich and Matt Zoller Seitz have a debate that’s twice as exciting as the actual movie–and almost as long.

Trey pleads guilty. IANAL, but five years probation with mandatory prison in case he slips sounds like a tough deal. Hang in there, Trey. We love you. Push on ’till the day and don’t you listen to that evil Amy Winehouse. A video of better times:


Cleopatra, Sith, Death Proof

Prompted by the grand finale of Rome, we took another look at Cleopatra, which is one of those movies I can rewatch every few years. Compare-and-contrast is a fun enough game, and Marcy, who was never entirely sure which of the HBO characters were fictional, was entertained by noting differences in motivation and plot. Every frame of Cleopatra must have cost more than an entire episode of Rome, but the storytelling is much more contemporary on HBO. The movie nearly bankrupted Fox because it was designed to trump TV by outspending it. Forty years later, it has been shown up by… a TV show. But the images are still twice as wide, and the characters twice as grand.

Here’s what fascinated me, though: the palatial sets, outlandish backdrops, and outsized drama of Cleopatra resemble another, much more recent epic about larger-than-life figures. Along with forties serials, The Hidden Fortress, Ray Harryhausen and all the other usual suspects, there is no doubt that the Cinemascope epics of the fifties and sixties, and specifically Cleopatra, served as a blueprint for the Star Wars films. Archetypes in ever-morphing hairdos and caped costumes acting out eternal tragedies and reciting awkward, overwritten lines of dialogue — especially Revenge of the Sith, the episode in which the galactic shit hits the fan, is the spiritual and cinematic heir of Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s four-and-a-half-hour epic.

Read on for more about Star Wars, Grindhouse, and why Jar-Jar Binks is cooler than Stuntman Mike. Also, lots more screenshots.