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Monday, Aug 14, 2006


As the summer film season slowly starts to fade in the still humid days of August, SE&L turns its attention to the upcoming fall parade of possible releases. Some of these titles aren’t 100% confirmed, and there is always the possibility that a studio or distributor can change their mind and pull the picture before it opens. And SE&L is not concerned with the obvious choices. You won’t find entries for Scorsese’s The Departed, Aronofsky’s The Fountain, Nolan’s The Prestige or Sean Penn in the long delayed remake of All The King’s Men. Those are standard filmgoer gimmes. No, we at PopMatters are looking for the unknown quantity, the borderline movie or moviemaker who can and will quite possibly deliver something decidedly different come autumn. So, without further ado, here is a list of the 10 films that will have our attention during the last four months of 2006:


This Film Is Not Yet Rated (1 September—NY/LA)
Ever wonder who, exactly, makes up the membership of the MPAA, those guardians of cinematic right and wrong and purveyors of the patented rating system for films? Well, so did documentarian Kirby Dick (Twist of Faith). Hoping to out the actual people behind the pronouncements, Dick lays on the standard industry thesis—violence gets a pass while nudity gets the axe—yet there is more here than just a missive about misguided values and the basic breakdown of how the Association works. Dick is also saying something about the way in which entertainment formulates social philosophy and visa versa. It’s a lesson that’s long overdue. 


Science of Sleep (22 September—Limited)
With the imaginative and idiosyncratic Michel Gondry behind the camera and rising international superstar Gael García Bernal in front, this looks like—pardon the pun—a real sleeper. In this fairytale comedy about a dreamer who loses his fantasy/reality filter when he falls for a new neighbor, the standard Gondry guarantees are present—impressive visuals, joking juxtapositions and deep emotional resonance. How audiences will react to the famed filmmaker working without a Charlie Kaufman script for once (the pair previously collaborated on 2001’s Human Nature and the masterful Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) will be interesting. We at SE&L can hardly wait


Renaissance (22 September—Limited)
While some would like to call this a Parisian Sin City rip off, SE&L believes there is room enough in the cinematic universe for two black and white animated crime thrillers. While it will have a long way to go to top Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s endlessly fascinating fake film noir from last year, Renaissance appears ready to do battle. Granted, the plot sounds a little convoluted (there’s a ominous genetic engineering company at the center) with lots of speculative fiction facets, but the cartooning is indeed quite impressing. As a matter of fact, in some ways it puts the humans as drawings dynamic at work in Sin City to shame. 


Infamous (13 October—Limited)
No, it’s not deja-vu all over again, or a quickie remake of a recent triumph. The story goes that writer/director Doug McGrath (Emma) was working on this version of the backstory behind In Cold Blood—based on a George Plympton book—when Capote came along. Suddenly, actors were dropping out and Oscar nominations (and awards) were being won. Now, it’s nearly a year later, and if the trailer is any indication of the overall quality, the Academy may find itself in the odd position of giving out TWO Best Actor trophies to different performers playing the same person. Toby Jones is terrific as Tru - both evil and elfin all rolled into one - and the supporting cast looks excellent. Here’s hoping for a dynamic double play.


The Queen (6 October—Limited)
How’s this for casting: Helen Mirren as the reigning Queen Elizabeth, James Cromwell as her disconnected spouse, Prince Phillip, and Underworld’s Michael Sheen as Tony Blair. With such a group of actors on board, occasional genius Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters) has more than enough performance power to pull off this story of the UK government’s struggles while trying to find an appropriate response to the death of Princess Diana. Such meaty behind the scenes exposés usually make for good clean catty fun. Here’s hoping that Frears and his fellow Brits cut through the sermonizing and idolatry and get down to the sensitive subjects at hand—specifically the still lingering tensions between Her Majesty and the famous former daughter-in-law. 


The Marine (13 October—Wide)
With a trailer so overloaded with jump cuts you’d swear the editors were suffering from epilepsy when they crafted it, The Marine marks Vince McMahon and the WWE’s entry into so-called ‘legitimate” filmmaking (along with this past May’s sloppy slasher film See No Evil). Taking a simple story—a war vet seeks revenge on the criminals who’ve kidnapped his wife—and cramming it full of as much action, gunplay and fisticuffs as possible, SE&L senses an adolescent action epic in the making. So why is such an obvious attention getter featured as part of this list. Well, even we film snobs enjoy a little escapist popcorn schlock now and then, and this one looks nice and cheesy.


Fuck (10 November—NY/LA)
What’s better than a documentary about the MPAA? How about one destined to give said designators of decency a series of substantive conniption fits. Using a format similar to the hilariously vulgar The Aristocrats, first time fact filmmaker Steve Anderson gathers together a formidable group of celebrities, everyday citizens comedians, and scholars to discuss why the F-word is so used, abused and confused. While the answers seem kind of obvious, Anderson and his interesting collection of voices promise more than just a tawdry tour through the scatological and the shocking. We can hardly f*cking wait!


For Your Consideration (17 November—Limited)
Christopher Guest is back, and this time, he’s taking on awards season itself as the focus of this promising mockumentary. Featuring the usual cast of Guest regulars (Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, Harry Shearer) and a few very familiar new faces (including the UK Office‘s own Ricky Gervais) the film already has impressive credentials. Add in the Oscar-like environment and this look at how the ballyhoo surrounding the yearly rush for recognition affects three unknown actors could be classic. Considering Guests previous track record, odds are that this one is equally silly—and satisfying.


Black Christmas (25 December—Wide)
There’s no better way to celebrate the yuletide with its festive sentiments of peace on earth and goodwill toward men than with a good old fashioned genre workout. While die-hards are probably foaming at the mouth over yet another horror movie update (in a true touch of irony, A Christmas Story’s Bob Clark directed the first film), Glen Morgan, the mastermind behind the fantastic Willard update from 2003 is on board. That means that, no matter the spirit of the season, we fright fans could be in for a nice, gory gift under the X-mas tree. Besides, original cast member (and SCTV alum) Andrea Martin is back—after 32 years.!


Pan’s Labyrinth (29 December—Limited)
Following in the same sensational footsteps as his previous look at war as a child’s nightmare—2001’s The Devil’s Backbone—many have called Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro’s latest frightening fairytale his masterpiece. The preview images are astounding and the international trailer argues for an artistry not typically seen on the big screen. If anyone can pull off the complicated tonal shifts and the merging of magic with reality, it’s Del Toro. From his criminally underrated Hellboy to the best Blade of the franchise, this is one director who appears to be a single breakout film away from major commercial and critical adoration. This just may be the one.


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Sunday, Aug 13, 2006


Outlaw Prophet is dead brilliant. This low budget journey into the center of David Heavener’s evangelistic mind is as flabbergastingly inventive and bizarre as the universes created by other obtuse auteurs like David Lynch and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Like a cinematic carpet sweeper, Heavener casts his narrative net to the four winds and sweeps every last potential plot point and storyline strand out of Haroun’s sea of stories. In one film we have all of the fictional sci-fi melodramatic filaments: aliens, space, computers, radio waves, telepathy, shape shifting, brainwashing, device implantation, foster children, abandonment, trailer trashing, pre-school runaways, grilling, picking, grinning, sinning, salvation, ham radio, strange frequencies, reality television, ratings, Van Dykes, morphing, mutations, zombies, kung fu, car wrecks, The Bible, the Antichrist, the new Messiah, death, rebirth, angels, demons, disco, adoption and bad children’s programming. Yet somehow, Outlaw Prophet makes all of these divergent elements coalesce into a fine mist of monumental moviemaking. NO, really.


It takes a rare and refined talent to get this all to work, and yet Heavener finds a way to make his cockeyed Christian vision, as well as his rock and roll musicianship and personal faith, serve the final cut. What he manages is a kind of innocent idiot savant con job, an entertainment flim flam where, instead of grade Z direct to video VHS filler, you receive a strangely evocative substitute for typical street preaching channeled through an outrageously original independent movie mentality. This director dives into the same pool of sermonizing - one spicing up the brimstone with all manner of special effects and action figure permutations - that other deity die-hards indulge in. The result is an addled allegory about the second coming of Christ carved out of a reality show spoof, a smattering of Turkish Star Wars, and a whole lot of crappy hair metal. Toss in the Devil as an evil TV producer (there’s a stretch) and a trip to a zealot BBQ and you’ve got the kind of cinematic Stilton that satisfies as much as it stinks.


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Saturday, Aug 12, 2006

When I first read David Bauder’s Long Lost Listener Has to Relearn Top 40 (SF Gate, August 7, 2006), I was pretty dismayed about how sad and out-of-touch the guy sounded.  I also thought that this was so hopeless that it would just fade away.  Now that AP is syndicating this all of the place, it can’t be ignored.


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Saturday, Aug 12, 2006

The two-day weekend is something we tend to take for granted in America, as natural and normal as breathing oxygen or driving thirty miles in stop-and-go traffic to get to work. Of course it is of relatively late provenance in the history of labor, and I’m sure at the time, capitalists resisted shorter work weeks with all their collective might as if it would mean the end of all productivity gains. But now is no time to elaborate the lump of labor fallacy.


Anyway it’s interesting to read about how it can feel just as unnatural to those not acclimated to it. Yesterday the Wall Street Journal had a story about yeoga kwallisa, or leisure counselors, that the Korean government has begun to use to convince Koreans that it is okay to relax on Saturdays. Though, as the article reports, most Koreans resist the idea and worry about the economic burden leisure will allegedly impose, in truth leisure is business; leisure allows workers to work as consumers and prop up the segments of the economy that rely on free time and boredom to thrive: entertainment, services, luxury consumer goods, lifestyle accoutrements.


Though the article highlights Korea, leisure counselors are by no means limited to nations new to shorter work weeks. In America we have an entire elaborate industry that tries to tell us how to relax and entertain ourselves; because the free time is not especially organic—it’s not a product of needing to take it easy after great exertion, it’s no wonder we don’t know what to do with ourselves and look for guidance. And it’s no wonder that we feel under pressure to enjoy ourselves, constrained and compelled by the fun morality Baudrillard writes about—the imperative to manufacture distinctive signs of being leisured. Leisure, relaxation, basically don’t come naturally; I’d like to think optimistically that this means we are inherently predisposed to be productive, which is why an economy’s chief measure of success ought to be how well it provides people meaningful work, not solely how much growth it is capable of generating. This is basically a nostalgic attitude, I know, conjuring up some non-existent golden age where people worked until they were tired on things that made them happy and then enjoyed themselves with authentic folk culture, lost communal rituals. It certainly was never quite so simple, and who knows if we’d be able to experience that simple, limited life as pleasurable. The modern pleasures may have something to do with building new communities and new rituals from scratch, again and again.


 


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Friday, Aug 11, 2006


Michael Tolkin’s amazing The Rapture is a work of powerful ideas. It challenges the stance of traditional religious belief as it questions the concept of the contemporary lifestyle. It attempts to illustrate the epic ideas in the Final Days while it keeps its story in the personal, not the ephemeral realm. It takes events of cataclysmic scope and boils them down to a select story of individual endurance. With it’s seemingly simple chronicle of a sinner – in this case, a sexually adventurous Information operator named Sharon – adrift in a world of one night stands and self-serving sin The Rapture asks you to identify with and sit in judgment of a beleaguered soul in development. It also has you wondering to yourself if you could withstand the same verdict as well. It then takes the mandatory leap of faith, moving its lead along until she, too, is faced with ultimate blessing, eternal damnation or something far, far worse.


As a film, it contains acting performances from Mimi Rodgers (as the suddenly spiritual Sharon) and David Duchovny (as her lover and future spouse) of subtle power and unusual invention. And as a writer/director, Tolkin never talks down to or up at his audience. he doesn’t expect you to know the Christian concepts inherent in the storyline, but does provide hot button frames of reference (sexual cynicism, disgruntled employees on killing sprees, child endangerment) as a way to make the inhuman tests within religious conviction seem comprehensible. At its core, The Rapture is one woman’s journey to personal enlightenment, a post-modern pilgrim’s progress through the basic tenets of devotion. But there is a deeper, more depressing notion to what this movie has to say. Beyond all the prophecy and puzzles, in between the testimonials and the tribulations, The Rapture seems to be asking two competing questions: Is God really worth it, and more shockingly, are you worth it to God?


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