Thursday, September 24, 2009
Rather than detail why I loved a Taxi Driver for fanboys starring Patton Oswalt and climaxing on Passyunk Avenue (the appeal seems pretty obvious to me, cartoonish supporting cast aside), I'd rather bring up a subject I haven't seen acknowledged in any reviews. So...
SUBTEXTUAL SPOILER ALERT!!!!
Is there any reason to believe that Oswalt's character is not gay? It's announced he's a compulsive masturbator, but he never shows the slightest interest in the opposite sex (the ladies at the strip club don't even make him blink). He sleeps under a crotch-centric poster of his favorite footballer, and has slo-mo visions of the sweat-dripping jock when he sleeps. A resolute Catholic, he denies any interest in the kind of life his married siblings have, and seems happy to spend his nights with his henpecking mother. The film even peaks with Oswalt locking a gay-baiting Eagles fan ("Giants fans suck my balls!") in a men's room and blowing a load (of sorts) on him. I'm glad the film never makes it overt - it would have reduced the scope - but writer/director Robert Siegel would have thrown a small cop to heteronormative behavior if he didn't want us to see it.
Friday, September 18, 2009
In the mumblecore hit of 2009, Mark Duplass, the evasive boyfriend who resents his girlfriend and free-spirit brother in the 2005 mumblecore hit The Puffy Chair, plays an evasive husband who resents his wife and free-spirit college buddy (somebody give this guy a series on HBO). Determined to prove their eternal bohemianism, the guys decide to tape themselves fucking for The Stranger's erotic film festival, despite (or rather, because of) their heterosexuality. That the pair refuse to abandon their drunken whim the morning after conceiving it should make perfect sense to Kevin Smith and hopefully no one else.
A tape of two bros navigating the basics of physical affection could make a great skit, but the hour that precedes it in Humpday is to Hollywood comedy what Henry Rollins' "spoken word" is to stand-up: a sloppy simulacrum that expects a cookie for avoiding crass pay-offs. But when your material is this silly, there's no point in leaving them out. Even Kevin Smith knows that.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
The crazy pills come fast and easy in Sorority Row - wouldn't it be a better prank to let the freaked-out "murderer" of Audrina Partridge call the cops than leave him alone with the body after telling him to dismember it? - but the characters' baffling life choices are of a piece with the bitchy performances (I don't know if even Leighton Meester could shrug off a rising body count as easily as the unfortunately named Leah Pipes does here), campy dialogue and silly death sequences. While I wouldn't say the film was inspired, it did deliver the prerequisites of the slasher genre with a modicum of wit and self-awareness. Also, boobs.
Aside from a regrettable moment of T&Quease, none of this can be said for The Collector, which glumly trudges through an even more absurd concept. If your M.O. was to break into houses and tie up the residents before slicing them to death, would you bother setting up elaborate booby traps in the empty rooms of the house? What's the point of nailing razorblade-lined planks of wood to the windows if those inside have little chance of reaching for them? Why tape kitchen knifes to the chandelier if you're going to blow the place up before the police can admire the handiwork? If a desperate thief-by-necessity (played by an exceptionally drab TV named Josh Stewart - watch out for this airsuck) hadn't wandered into The Collector's dastardly game, no one would have been around to play it. Without Saw's dimwitted morality plays to justify the dour tone, the film feels like a grisly, joyless homage to Home Alone (a comparison point I'm embarrassed not to have thought up myself - thanks, Leila).
While The Collector takes little pleasure in its sadism (and why make a horror film if you're not going to?), it at least delivers the prerequisites of the slasher genre with a modicum of imagination and minimal fuss. We aren't repeatedly graced with the sight of the director's wife wandering around with a white horse and shit, as we are in Halloween II (thanks for the opening dream dictionary definition, Rob Zombie, lest we assume Michael Myers just has a thing for ponies). The 44-year-old fanboy's returns have diminished to little more than a stream of facial traumas, the sound of Scout Taylor-Compton whimpering (never mind who she is, it won't come up again), a brief Deadwood reunion, less than thrilling cameos from Margot Kidder and Howard Hesseman, and interminable chatter more Diablo Cody than John Carpenter. If I have to struggle to remember anything Malcolm McDowell said or did in your movie, your last name probably shouldn't be Zombie.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
I thought it would be like taxes, but watching this was more like having an unusually awkward visit from an old friend. You're glad to see them and wouldn't have missed it for the world, but you have to wonder if everything's alright. Are they drinking too much? Is everything all right at home? Why were they talking about that ex the whole time? Was that self-deprecation or self-pity? Who knows? I wanted to say something, but had no idea how.
As weird as it was for Judd Apatow to cast his wife and kids as an opportunity lost while chasing success, these quirks might just be due to his chucklebuddies not knowing how to critique wanna-be James L Brooks. Maybe no one ever suggested a rewrite where the emotional focus was on the nice guy trying to make it in comedy rather than an embittered movie star of questionable talent. Sure, it might have meant cutting his family out of the film (not like Leslie Mann needs his help to get work at this point), but Adam Sandler might have gotten that "he can act!" Oscar nom if his lumpy Jack Nicholson kept to the background while Seth Rogen and Aubrey Plaza took the romantic spotlight. Why spend months beefing your cast's stand-up chops if the movie isn't really going to be about stand-up?
The muted reaction to the movie might be beneficial, as he's neither being pushed to chase that Oscar or told to make with a new Cannonball Run or get out of Hollywood. With his dayjob as The Biggest Producer In Comedy keeping him busy, hopefully he'll craft his next dramedy a little more astutely. Or, considering the value of an astutely crafted dramedy, he'll just stop directing movies.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
I assumed at first that the upper-class Argentinian dentist in Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman was suffering from severe brain damage following a small car accident, only no one cared about her enough to notice. Neat premise, but do we need to watch her smile with false serenity and hang up on people for a full 90 minutes to get it?
Once her conversation skills returned, it became clear she was simply concerned that the dead dog we saw lying in the street was actually a lower class orphan, or maybe she hit a dog and an orphan, and did she really stay in that hotel the night after and how do we really know anything and do we really need to watch her smile with false serenity for a full 90 minutes to get that the rich are detached from consequence and experience? Imagine Michael Haneke's Cache if you took out the MacGuffins and left those menacingly banal shots of someone silently making left turns.