Reviews

Here’s a joke that was very popular with the tech crew at the Grady Gammage Auditorium in Arizona:

What do ballerinas use for birth control?

Their personalities.

Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is being hailed by some as the best film of the year, and a brilliant psychosexual thriller. Sadly, that’s far more hype than the movie deserves, and maybe that’s part of my problem. If I had been sold a creditable – but largely rote – film about psychological self-destruction, I wouldn’t have been disappointed.

It isn’t that Black Swan is awful; In fact, I think it’s Aronofsky’s best film. But given that I have largely hated his previous efforts, I suppose that’s not much of a compliment.

This movie got off on the wrong foot with me early because of the way it’s photographed. Shot by the extremely talented Matthew Libatique, Swan lifts the “camera bouncing along behind the protagonist” aesthetic that we first saw in The Wrestler. I didn’t like it in that film, either, but at least I understood it. It was motivated. In Black Swan it simply feels self-conscious and recycled.

I also had a hard time overcoming Natalie Portman’s character. Portman does a truly inspired job of being absolutely true to the character of Nina, but that character is weak, simpering, self-obsessed and fantastically uninteresting. Her reaction to every hurdle and pitfall is to curl up into a ball and cry. By the end of the movie, I didn’t care if she lived, died, succeeded, failed, ate her mother or took wing and flew away. I was just tired of watching Nina break down and sob at every opportunity. Had Black Swan been about Mila Kunis’ much more interesting and self-sufficient Lily, I probably would have had more patience with what I consider to be the movie’s huge failing: the symbolism.

I’ve said before that I think Aronofsky is similar to Zack Snyder in that they both have a very childish understand of human emotion and motivation. Look at the oh-so-shocking (yawn) dildo-show scene in Requiem for a Dream and tell me a 13-year-old sexuality didn’t conceive that. Black Swan is full of metaphor as distilled through the eyes of a child and then purveyed – supposedly – to adults. From the all black & white set dressing that adorns much of the movie to Natalie Portman being the only dancer in white the first time we see the company assembled to Mila Kunis being the obvious “black sheep” dancer because of her wing-like tattoos (oh, the subtlety) to the moment when Natalie Portman has a tantrum which ends with a shot of the shattered ballerina from her bedside music box, Black Swan is jam-packed with such heavy-handed sledgehammer leitmotif that I often found myself laughing suddenly at the ridiculousness of it all.

Is it a terrible film? No. Is it a work of genius? Certainly not. But would I fuck Mila Kunis senseless given half a chance? Oh, hells yes.

For my birthday I took myself out to see RED last night, and it was great. I haven’t read the comic, but you can see Warren Ellis’ fingerprints all over it. I’m a sucker for movies about old farts anyway, but RED is a terrifically entertaining amalgam of Sneakers+Ronin+Grumpy Old Men.

And let me just state, categorically, that at 65 Helen Mirren is still just about the goddamned sexiest thing I’ve ever seen in a movie, and I would bang the doors off that woman in a heartbeat.

I also had the treat of sitting through the worst trailer I have seen for a movie since Next of Kin. If you haven’t seen the trailer for Drive Angry, you owe it to yourself. It is absolutely ridiculous, and proves yet again Nicolas Cage’s insatiable urge to embarrass himself. This is the first trailer I’ve ever seen worthy of its own Rifftrax.

If the movie is half as bad as the trailer, it should be The Room of car/driver from Hell movies (and, yes, there’s a long precedent of precisely that; The Car, Christine, The Wraith… shall I continue?)

This morning I looked at the news and discovered that Dino De Laurentiis had died on my birthday. Despite being 5’ 4”, Dino was a giant in the film industry, and was a huge influence on my childhood. He was one of the last old-school independent producers. He never directed a film, and probably never wanted to, but he was the driving force behind hundreds.

Some – la Strada, Serpico, Ragtime – are brilliant films, true classics. Some – Maximum Overdrive, Red Sonja, Lipstick, place easily among the worst movies ever inflicted on an audience.

Many of the movies De Laurentiis produced are cultural icons, pieces of gaudy fluff that have become cool or camp or kitsch because of their shamelessness or over-the-top style. Movies like Danger: Diabolik, Barbarella, Flash Gordon, Dune or Mandingo. I personally dislike every one of these films, but each has its following.

Like many Italian filmmakers, De Laurentiis didn’t distinguish between the pomp and the circumstance. All art was opera, and all stories were to be told on the grandest, loudest, most gaudy scale possible. Every painting deserved a bigger canvas. If De Laurentiis had been a jacket, he would have been made from red velvet and gold lamé.

For me, De Laurentiis was Conan the Barbarian, Death Wish, The Shootist (the first time I cried in a movie), Three Days of the Condor, and his awful remake of King Kong that I watched in awe and disappointment at the age of 8 in the biggest theater in Phoenix.

Tycoon, shlockmeister, showman and crook, Dino De Laurentiis was a bastion of Golden-Age Hollywood bombast and we’ll never see his like again.

A few months back we got word that Chris Nolan was producing the re-re-boot of Superman from a script by David Goyer. Now, I’m personally of the opinion that Nolan is one of the finest filmmakers in the world. I can go on for an hour about everything that was right about The Dark Knight, and I would fuck Inception if I could. David Goyer has written a lot of… stuff, some of it genius, some of it… not… so much…

But I had hope.

Yesterday, Warner Brothers officially announced that the director of Superman: The Man of Steel would be… Zack Snyder. Y’know, the director of the pointless, ridiculous gay Fantasia know as 300, the new CG-Fest Owls of Ferngully or whateverthefuck that retarded Owls-in-Armor movie is called, and The Watchmen.

I’ve avoided spending six hours writing the full, doctoral-thesis version of why I hate The Watchmen as much as I do. But I really, really hate it. I mean words fail. The last time I was on the Warner Brothers lot I walked past Snyder’s parking spot where his convertible was parked with the top down and it was all I could not to take a dump in it.

I hated everything about that movie. I mean Every. Single. Frame. I hated the look, the script, the design, the acting, the music (dear lord, the song cuts…). As much as I want to have sex with Inception, I want to drag The Watchmen  into an alley, stab it repeatedly in the abdomen with a chunk of shattered glass, reach in the hole, yank out its intestines and hold it by the throat as I watch its eyes grow cold and dead.

“Hate,” you see, is far too mild a description.

So it was distressing to say the least to think of Snyder, who has the emotional depth and resonance of a Spencer’s Gifts thank-you card, tackling the continuing saga of the Father of Superheroes. Yes, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns is a flawed movie, but at least it has a story. Emotional clarity. And, I would still argue that the rescue or Richard Branson’s 747 is one of the greatest action sequences ever shot.

The thing I really can’t fathom is how Nolan, who is making some of the most adult-driven and thoughtful cinema today; movies with FX sequences designed to be real and serve the story; movies intentionally shot never to be released in 3D because Nolan believes (as do I) that it’s a pointless gimmick that interferes with the storytelling; how is this man going to produce a movie being directed by the King of Emotionally-Retarded 8-Year-Olds?

Zack Snyder believes that every movie should be a fucking video game, and I’m sure if you could see into his tiny little frantically-masturbating monkey brain and asked him to imagine “compelling human drama,” the result would be a mental catalogue of the cast of Jersey Shore.

Maybe we’ll get lucky and Nolan will beat him to death with a copy of Filmmaking for Beginners.

I just found out that I missed Hickey & Boggs on June 20 at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

This is the kind of movie film festivals still exist to serve up. Directed by Robert Culp, and written by Walter Hill, Hickey & Boggs was released in 1972 and is one of the finest 70s anti-hero, L.A. noir films ever shot. It stars Culp and Bill Cosby obliterating their I Spy good-guy facades. In fact, this is one of the last times in his career Cosby did any real acting, and he’s brilliant.

Cosby & Culp play two miserable, apathetic private eyes awash in the cesspool of their own abject failure. When they catch a break with a missing persons case which subsequently turns bloody, they cope with the same whiskey-tinged dystopic coldness that colors their lives. If you’ve ever wanted to see Cliff Huxtable gun down a mothafucka in cold blood, this is your movie.

Unfortunately, it was released once on DVD in a tiny pressing (the discs go for hundreds on eBay and Amazon), and that was a really shitty, unmatted transfer of an even more shitty hacked-up broadcast print. That same shitty transfer is available for download on Amazon, but it’s a terrible way to see the film. I haven’t seen it in a theater in 20 years, and I can’t believe I missed my chance.

Last night, Mischief & I ordered Chinese and watched Corruption. It was her idea, not mine, so don’t imagine I’m forcing the girl to sit through my oeuvre and tell me how brilliant I am. In fact, I have no idea what she thought. There was a lot of heavy silence, so my guess is she was less than impressed.

I’m not surprised. A few days ago, I showed her – without telling her I was responsible – a Cock Diesel music video I directed as a cross-promotion for ICON, and she hated it. Not knowing it for what it was, not being able to recognize the location or the roof or Kylie or Hillary (largely because we were watching it in Ultra-Shitty-Scope on YouTube) gave her permission to express, and boy did she.

I don’t mind. Her opinion was so heartfelt and honestly delivered, I can’t take it personally. Besides, there’s a lot going on; the age difference, the different cultural references, the fact that she was, to an extent, comparing a video shot for free in 4 hours to a $460,000 Fatboy Slim video (Weapon of Choice directed by Spike Jonze) that was shot over six days, the incredibly bad YouTube encoding, etc.

None of which changes the fact that she hated it, and I’m okay with that. Doesn’t change the fact that I’m proud of it, either. We’re learning that we have very different taste in media. But it was useful to compare her reaction to Corruption and gauge her distaste by all she didn’t say.

I suspect she hated it as well. And that’s okay, too.

The most curious part of the evening was how it brought crashing back into my consciousness something I know, but often forget. A subtle reminder of why it’s so often pointless to put real effort into porn films.

No one takes a critical eye towards a cheesy Brady Bunch parody. But for those who care, no matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we work, we just can’t compete. To the average viewer, movies like Corruption that come close to looking and feeling like “real” movies get compared to those same mainstream films, and that’s a contest we simply cannot win.

Compare my little political drama with its crew of 11 and its 10-day shooting schedule to even a single episode of West Wing, whose catering cost more than my entire budget, and we’re just not going to shine very brightly. Like Icarus (in my new favorite poem), having flown too close to the sun, we come to the end of our triumph. I suppose that’s the very definition of hubris.

But, like a proud parent ignoring his child’s faults, it is so very easy to forget. I don’t take it to heart, but I have to admit, the whole enterprise has made me somewhat melancholy and reflective about the hopelessness of my life’s ambition.

I have a close friend who is in his final weeks of pre-production on a mainstream film. At one time, I was to have a small role in it, essentially playing Helms from Corruption. When that looked untenable I asked if I could at least audition for the part, simply to be seen by a real casting director. I asked for a job on the movie, even as a P.A., just to get back on a real set, just to get the taste for blood, the hunger back in my mouth.

I have essentially offered to work for free. Apparently, I am too tainted by my current career to pursue my vocation even as an avocation. Free, it seems, is too high a price for a broken-down old pornographer to venture back into mainstream.

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The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets successfully through many a bad night. — Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil