SHORT REVIEWS OF NEW
RELEASES SEEN, SEPTEMBER 2004
All films from U.S.A. unless
(- seen on video; [v] video
piece; [s] short, under 30 minutes; [m] medium length, 30-69 min; * grade
changed upon repeat viewing)
This section does not include my capsule reviews of films seen at the Toronto
IFF. For those, click and enjoy.]
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky)
-- "Oh my god, dude! Metallica are such pussies! They're all like, 'When you criticize my drumming it makes me feel this way,' and 'What I'm hearing you say is...' It's like Lars and Hetfield are an old married couple and they just bicker back and forth and Hammett is the enabler and it's just so fuckin' funny! How could those guys put this shit out there for people to see? Now everyone knows what girly-men they are."
-- "I'm hearing a lot of gender insecurity coming from you right now. You seem to fear that Metallica exploring their feelings about themselves and the other members of the band indicates some sort of feminization."
-- "Oh no, man. Don't you pull that shit on me. Metal music ain't for pussies, dude. It's ALL about KICKING ASS!" [raises double devil sign]
-- "But why should the 'ass kicked,' as you put it, necessarily be external? It seems to be that the Metallica film documents three men kicking the asses of the demons that haunt them. And even though I don't approve of your derogatory language toward women -- who really have it a lot harder in this society than I think you realize --, I think what Metallica are doing here is pretty manly."
-- "Whatever, dude. Remember when Hetfield went into rehab and Lars was all like, 'I always felt like he'd leave us eventually' or whatever? I mean, that's just lame. People in the audience were laughin' at these dudes."
-- "Sometimes laughter is a natural human response to displays of emotion that make us feel uncomfortable, that break us out of our emotional habits and take us into a new zone of experience."
-- "What? You mean like those signs that Phil Towle put up everywhere, about the 'Zone' and shit? That was so retarded."
-- "Hmm . . . Well, yeah, okay. But we're not talking about the self-serving, game-playing, 'I'll make sure you need me forever,' 'hey, I've got a great idea for a guitar lick, sort of Cat Stevens but, you know, heavier' Phil Towle. He was a tool. That doesn't matter. Right now, we're talking about you."
-- "I dunno, man, it's like, without the drinking and the drugs and the bitches, these guys are just going soft. And I don't want my dick to go soft with them! Fuck this!"
[patient storms out; next day, therapist calls and leaves the following message on his voicemail]
"You know, [NAME WITHHELD], I think we were beginning to make some progress regarding your anxieties about Metallica. I believe that deep down, you realize that when one of your imagos for what you consider to be appropriate masculine behavior begins to break free of the most restrictive aspects of that definition, it shakes your belief system to the core. But I want you to know that my role isn't just to tear down what you think is vital to your identity, but also to help you rebuild, in a way that will allow you to really reach out to your loved ones before it's too late. It's easy to snicker, but I think the greatest proof of what I'm talking about is right there in the film. The very last lines of the documentary are, 'Metallica loves you.' And despite what you may be conditioned to think, I believe that's a very powerful statement. If and when you're ready to resume our sessions, call me back. Take care, [NAME WITHHELD]" [click]
Festival Express (Bob Smeaton, Canada / U.K.)
. . . when you absolutely, positively have to get the wasted hippies across Canada overnight.™ The Buddy Guy Blues Band were the only revelation here, and I want to seek out some recordings really soon. Seeing his performance, with its spastic sputtering and gyration, I think maybe David Byrne copped some moves from this guy, er, bud, um, fellow. I've never been a Janis Joplin fan, but I can see why her live shows were so significant for the era. Her charisma is unstoppable, made all the more bone-rattling when you look past the purple shades and feather boas and see this woman who looks like a tripped-out bank teller, scraping soul from the bottom of her guts. I guess I've been checking in with The Dead once every decade, just to make sure they hold no interest for me whatsoever, and that judgment stands. The Band are much tighter in The Last Waltz but jeez, no wonder. And what of Sha Na Na's agent? To get them into this gig and Woodstock, he must've been sitting on some pretty raunchy photos of some record-label prexy somewhere. Best moment: refueling in Saskatoon.
-The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (Larry Blamire)
What would happen if I spent hours trying to write this review in the style of Eric Lurio? You see the dilemma here. There's blithe, innocent badness, the type that gets its hackles up the more you laugh at it, achieving a sad poignancy by projecting wrongheaded dignity in the face of scoffing millions. This badness (see J. Hoberman's old piece on Ed Wood and Oscar Micheaux) isn't just funny / cruel. It aches, because it shows up the grandest ambitions of humanity as a semi-random hat-trick. Hard work and gumption aren't enough. Sometimes art is just a single line-delivery or costume-construction seam away from falling flat on its face. It's that danger, an anxiety we all feel, of being found out, of suddenly waking up to our smoldering delusions, that allows any would-be aesthetic tchotchke to be "so bad it's good." And then, on the other hand, there's winking, hipster badness, in its trucker cap and carrying its "The White Shadow" lunchbox. So that brings us to the odd case of Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, a perfectly respectable attempt at something that should, theoretically, be possible -- to make a replica of a no-budget Z-grade 1950s sci-fi horror flick. Trouble is, too often the concerted effort to be "bad," to make idiotic dialogue "blunders," exceeds any level of comprehensible human idiocy, tottering into outright aphasia. "I am going to go do some science because I am a scientist whose work advances mankind's scientific understanding of science," that sort of thing. At the same time, when Blamire and crew forego the labored mangling of the English language and the too-long mwah-hah-hah! villain cackles, they hit pockets of hilarity. The film scores with off-the-wall bits like the alien cocktail party or Animala's dance, because those are obviously the brief instants when Blamire drops the posturing and simply reveals what he thinks is funny. Then, and only then, can it hold a pale candle to John Paizs' Top of the Food Chain. Also, it's mighty irritating that this film got a commercial release while its predecessor went straight-to-video, despite being superior in every way. Canadian cinema can't catch a break.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Kerry Conran)
I will never, ever go to the 100-point scale. That is just too nerdy even for me. But I feel the need to convey that this 5 is the lowest possible 5, a 5 of admiration for the film's staking out of a particular aesthetic mien and holding fast to it, against all commerical logic or good sense. It's a quixotic 5, the 5 of the solipsistic dreamer who keeps a flashlight by his bedside and stays up until 3 a.m. on a schoolnight, filling his drawing journal with images of the most fantastical, far-away lands. It's a 5 that respects film history, even as it doesn't have a very deep or thoroughgoing grasp of it. It's a series of gestures or back-of-the-mind scribblings that don't really lead to an embarrassing pastiche, but, like Tarantino at his worst -- we'd be lucky if all filmmakers' worst was as good as QT's -- cannot think outside of giddy pop impulses. It's the 5 of irritating script contrivances, not ameliorated but rather made more irksome by the fact that the good-humored gumption of the film is constantly making you feel like a stick-in-the-mud for noticing them. It's a 5 of jangled senses, since the physical act of watching this film, with its hazy, indistinct images combined with its action-film kineticism, often left me dizzy and a tad nauseous, not quite the same effect that prolonged exposure to projected video has on me, but something altogether new. (Conran is right to use computers to generate a look that photography alone could never produce, and yet everything's sort of smeared, as though viewed through a rainy windshield.) We could even go so far as to say it's Charles Demuth's 5, whose glittering charisma could hypnotize you into not even noticing that it's really a 4, that you had to turn away from it repeatedly, that it thrust you into a fitful slumber. Don't see this film.
-Tiptoes (Matthew Bright)
America's Favorite Straight-to-Video Auteur™ recovers, somewhat, from the bold misstep that was Ted Bundy. But for Bright, this is just backsliding. Based on the premise and the director credit, I expected a film too exploitative to receive release, and instead I found that it's just dull, overly tasteful, practically Lifetime material. Tiptoes is a very patient, non-judgmental examination of the health and social-stigma issues faced by little people. Matthew McConaughey is a recessive-gene anomaly, a full-sized man from a family of dwarves (the film's "clinical' term), who has to face his demons when his girlfriend (Kate Beckinsale) discovers she's pregnant. The fact that I've written this much plot summary should give you an idea of how little there is to grapple with in Tiptoes, which is neither compelling nor aggressively awful. It features two noteworthy performances, although they ultimately get swallowed by the picture's aimlessness and hesitant tone. Gary Oldman's turn as McConaughey's twin brother is impressive in its restraint, and his prosthetic endwarfment (???) is carried off quite nicely. (Imagine Toulouse-Lautrec as a grim middle-aged electrician.) And Peter Dinklage steals every scene he's in, playing a drunk French anarcho-Marxist little asshole. That guy's so cool.