Katherine Heigl: the new Barbarella?

June 12, 2007

With the heated debate over the moral repercussions of Eli Roth’s latest blood fest currently dominating the blogosphere, it’s high time to switch over to a lighter and altogether more pleasant subject…

You’ve probably heard by now that they’re planning a Barbarella remake. Some are screaming blasphemy already, but I’m all for it. Apart from the shagadelic art direction and Jane Fonda’s impossibly sexy leading role, the original has lots to improve on.

Robert Rodriguez will be helming the project. Sounds like a groovy choice to me. The guy has a natural flair for superficial, glossy trash and Barbarella’s universe should be right up his alley. What’s more: this is the man who gave us Desperado’s Carolina and Sin City’s Gail, so I trust him to push the costume designs in the appropriate, sleazy direction.

There’s just one big question: How on Earth are they going to find an actress as INSANELY HOT as Jane Fonda in her prime? It’s impossible, right?

Well… almost impossible.

I present you: Katherine Heigl.

A spectacular blonde with dark brown Bambi eyes, a killer body and genuine acting chops. If this isn’t tomorrow’s It-Girl, I’ll eat my shoe before a rolling camera. Honestly, you don’t actually believe it’s the dorky Seth Rogen that’s responsible for drawing massive crowds to Judd Apatow’s sleeper hit comedy Knocked Up, do you? Of course not, it’s Izzie Stevens from Grey’s Anatomy!

Just watch this clip and nod in approval:

No need for a screentest: Katherine Heigl is the 5-star double-rated astro-navigatrix of the future!

Sure, I’ve heard the other names that have been tossed around. I love Salma Hayek and Scarlett Johansson, but they’re too short for the role. Uma Thurman or Cameron Diaz? Old hat. Drew Barrymore? Sorry, not up to standard. Angelina Jolie or Rose McGowan? Way too dominant. (Barbarella is submissive at heart, not a sexual predator!) Jessica Alba? Small potatoes. Kate Beckinsale? Hold on–that’s actually a pretty decent second choice, but surely no match for Heigl…

Just picture this girl in a transparent perpex top and plastic thigh-high boots… Mr. Rodriguez, are you paying attention? (And now we’re at it: for God’s sake, keep the title sequence, will ya?)

Is anyone with me on this? Am I leaving out any promising contenders? Let me know! Meanwhile, here’s one more pic:

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Sunshine and The Cinematic Experience

May 16, 2007

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Sunshine, a sci-fi epic, directed by Danny Boyle, about a team of scientists sent on a mission to reignite a dying sun, is neither a mindless Michael Bay extravaganza nor a chin-strokey affair in the vein of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. It’s the cinematic oxymoron many of us have been waiting for: the thinking man’s action movie. It also happens to be gobsmackingly stunning, ruthlessly intense, handsomely cast and blessed with a 100% INSANE last act that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but had yours truly grinning from ear to ear. Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is a spectacle quite impossible to put into words, and that’s exactly what makes it brilliant cinema–albeit the kind that’s difficult to defend on theoretical grounds.
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Read the rest of this (spoiler-free) article on The House Next Door. Yes, you heard me. Go on now!


Confessions of a De Palma fan: The Black Dahlia

March 4, 2007

I have resisted posting my thoughts on The Black Dahlia for quite a while now. Being the De Palma advocate that I am, and a host of a De Palma-minded forum to boot, I didn’t want my very subjective feelings to affect the enthusiasm of others. It just felt wrong. But now that a few months have passed, I suppose it’s time for a confession: I have mixed emotions about this film.

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Not that it’s bad. Hell no! It’s high class filmmaking, no doubt about that. I admire its narrative ambition, the stylized performances (stylized for a reason: everybody’s posturing) and the obvious skill on display. And yet… I don’t really care for it. Not since The Bonfire of the Vanities have I seen a De Palma film so far removed from my own sensibilities. Pretty odd when you consider that all the basic ingredients for a personal favorite (beautiful women: check, murder: check, mystery: check) were present.

Somehow, I missed a heartbeat to guide me. I love De Palma at his most lyrical; when he lifts you up from your seat and smacks you down again with his relentless visual storytelling, when you’re completely THERE in the moment every step of the way. That romantic, emotional roller-coaster side of De Palma (I’ve never seen him as the cold technician that detractors mistake him for) doesn’t get much room in The Black Dahlia: he’s too busy spinning his intricate web of lies around the truth… to the point of the lies replacing the truth. If The Black Dahlia is a study in obsession, it’s a very cerebral one. I realize that’s probably how Ellroy’s mind works, and in that sense, De Palma’s film might be the ideal movie adaptation. But to me, that doesn’t make it ideal De Palma. I guess I’m not much of an Ellroy man…

That said: I adored the movie when it got out of control and took a detour into the bizarre (I wanted the whole to be like that!). The ending was a creepy highlight that gave me chills all over. There were plenty of bravoura shots, great music cues and rememberable moments (the crane shot over the roof that reveals the body in the distance, Johansson shutting the bathroom door, meeting Madeleine’s family in first-person, the shadowy figure with the knife, the reveal of the clown’s painting), but – dare I say it – I was underwhelmed by the set pieces. Especially after having been blown away by Children of Men a couple of weeks earlier.

There’s much to agree with the positive arguments raised by people like Matt Zoller Seitz, Keith Uhlich and Ari the Principal Archivist… It’s just that I expected Betty Short to obsess me as much as the film’s leading characters. She didn’t. Fortunately, this tells you more about me than it does about the quality of the film.


Boys like Peet are not afraid of wolves

February 16, 2007

Below is my second contribution to Jim Emerson’s Contrarianism Blog-a-Thon, running all weekend at Scanners. My earlier contribution can be found right here.
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The best animated picture of 2006 wasn’t made by Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, Blue Sky, Warner Bros. or Sony Pictures. It didn’t feature any talking or dancing animals. It wasn’t directed by Nick Park, Hayao Miyazaki or George Miller. It’s neither CGI nor drawn. Hell, it wasn’t even released in the US last year.

Last Christmas I was out shopping with my two sons. We visited the local electronic store looking for a new microwave oven, when I suddenly had this creepy sense of being stared at. I looked on my left to a wall covered with about fifteen giant flat-screens, all tuned into the same broadcast, and saw a pack of wolves staring right back at me, moving in perfect sync. It was a moment straight out of a dream.

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‘What’s that?’ I whispered when I noticed that my boys were as fascinated as I was.
‘A wolf!’ said my oldest, who’s always had a weak spot for dangerous animals. ‘It’s a puppet.’
I nodded and thought to myself: stop-motion animation. Our eyes were glued to the silent TV-screens. Apart from the wolf-puppet, we saw an intense-looking kid wearing a brown leather hat, a bird, a cat and a duck.
‘I think it’s Peter and the Wolf,’ I said, remembering the cassette tape of Prokofiev’s classical work I used to listen to as a kid. It simply had to be, and yet… it couldn’t be. I knew Peter’s giddy string theme by heart, and it didn’t match at all with the pale, brooding puppet I saw before me…

I got home, started googling and learned about an ambitious 29-minute short called, yes, Peter & the Wolf. Five years in the making. Produced in Poland. Shot on high-definition cameras. Directed by a female Brit by the name of Suzie Templeton. Music performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Mark Stephenson. Apparently, it premiered at the Royal Albert Hall last year alongside a live performance of the orchestral score. Being the animation enthusiast that I am, I couldn’t help wondering why I’d never heard about this project before.

Two weeks later, the DVD arrived from Amazon.co.uk. The boys and me sat down before the television and we pressed play. What we witnessed was an outright masterpiece.

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You see, as much as I enjoyed listening to that Prokofiev tape as a kid, a part of me was always a little let-down by the paper-thin story. Frankly, I couldn’t care less for the bird, the cat and the duck. It took ages for the wolf to arrive! This adaptation, however, took all these familar ingredients and made them work in every single way. The characters had been fleshed out properly, just like the action, and the lavish production design, the exquisitely sculpted puppets (not too cute!) and gorgeous cinematography were simply flawless.

In an interview for The Independent, director Templeton explains:

I had to work out how to visually tell the story, how to arc it and stretch it to the music, so that it keeps the viewer’s attention, and doesn’t just fill time but builds visual sequences that correspond to each musical theme.

Templeton’s first stroke of genius was to get rid of the traditional narration. As a true visual stylist, she decided early on to let her images do the talking, which meant that words and dialogue were ruthlessly abandoned. Mind you, we’re talking about half an hour of pure pantomime here! But wait, there’s more: Prokofiev’s world-famous composition – obviously the backbone of the whole enterprise – doesn’t start until six minutes into the movie. Instead of using the musical themes to establish the basic story elements, we’re familiarized with Peter’s ghoulish, claustrophobic world by listening to the howling wind on the other side of the fence, and the creaking backdoor that his overprotective Grandfather keeps firmly locked. It’s only after the tormented boy finds a way to sneak out of the house and into the woods where sunshine hits his face, that the string theme sets in as a breath of fresh air. Cinema doesn’t get more cinematic than this.

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I could go on and wax rhapsodic about the beautiful frozen lake; about the muted color palette and the wide range of fabrics and materials that makes every shot a feast for the eyes; about the intricate sequence where Peter catches the wolf (an almost Brian De Palma-worthy set piece) and hundreds of cinephiliac moments crammed inside those 29 minutes. A personal favorite is when we hear the English horns play the wolf’s theme for the very first time. Instead of cutting to the approaching wolf directly, Templeton dares to show a 30 seconds long close-up of Peter, sensing the wolf’s presence. It’s a perfect set-up for the drastically altered ending – which I won’t reveal here – that would have Carl Jung clap his hands with glee.

The tag-line for this adaptation is “Boys like Peter are not afraid of wolves.” Now that I’ve seen Templeton’s film, I know why: Peter is the wolf.

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Peter & the Wolf – a co-production of UK’s BreakThru Films and Se-Ma-For Studios in Lodz, Poland – is available on region 2 and 5 DVD only and can be ordered here. Go ahead, you won’t be disappointed. It’s worth buying a region-free player for. To see an early short by Suzie Templeton, visit AtomFilms.


Anticipating 300: Pixels will blot out the sun!

November 1, 2006

When I read Frank Miller’s 300 a few years ago, I very much doubted if this graphic novel could ever be successfully adapted to film. Not because the story was too vast and complex to survive the translation, in a way Neil Gaiman’s intricate Sandman saga is; or too outrageously blasphemous like Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. No, simply because of Miller’s virtuoso use of extreme comic stylization within a historical framework.

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Nevermind that we’re talking about the ancient battle of Thermopylae, in which King Leonidas and his personal guard of 300 Spartans held off an army of one million (give or take) Persian warriors in a narrow gorge. Faithful reconstruction my ass! This is Frank Miller’s tall, mythical take on the historical event, existing in a universe all of its own. The swollen hyperboles, the ferocious violence, the supreme machismo and glorious heroism–it all worked to great effect on the page. Any attempt to approach this material in a less stylized manner, I figured back then, would make it seem utterly ridiculous.

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That was before Robert Rodriguez pushed the envelope of comic book faithfulness with his film version of Sin City (2005). Doubt turned into hope: Here was a movie that dared to stray from the medium’s inherent photorealism with expressive lighting, a digitally controlled color palette and (most importantly) all-CGI-backgrounds. The method proved so flexible that it even allowed the makers to match each shot of the film to every drawn panel in the comic. From the moment it was announced, I realized it was a wise move to follow a similar route for 300 (2007). And judging from his surprisingly solid remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004), Zack Snyder is just the man to pull it off.

Last month my hopes were rewarded by an awe-inspiring teaser trailer. Apart from the stunning imagery (watch this comic-to-screen-comparison to get a sense of how much Snyder sticks to Miller’s vision), this trailer excels at what the comic medium is incapable of showing: actual movement. Anything is possible now… Hear my inner geek roar!

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Children of Men

October 30, 2006

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I’ve just come back from seeing Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. What a marvelous film! Don’t expect a full review here (others are much better at that than I am). Instead, let me just say this:

Plausibles are complaining about the movie’s “hard-to-swallow” premise, being: humanity on the brink of extinction because of an unexplained crisis of infertility. They have no idea what they’ve just witnessed. Children of Men may very well carry the most relevant and potent metaphor of our times and manages to do it justice.

Cuarón has entered the Big League, that’s for sure. One instantly classic long take inside a driving car combines total chaos with laser precision film-making, bringing to mind the Spielberg of Munich and War of the Worlds (2005). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more successful blend of gritty realism and stylized storytelling.


Black Book in primary colors: Verhoeven’s back!

September 16, 2006

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Between invisible apes strapped to operating tables and pretty Jewish girls who dye their pubic hair in extreme close-up, the choice is easy… Welcome home, Paul Verhoeven! Zwartboek, Verhoeven’s first Dutch film in over twenty years (if you include 1985’s Euro-pudding Flesh & Blood), is the work of a director doing exactly what he wants, and nothing else. So it’s good, then? Oh yes. I’d go so far to say it’s Verhoeven’s best.

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Paul Verhoeven has never been afraid of the Big Gesture. It’s what he’s all about. Zwartboek is no exception. In a recent interview, actor Thom Hoffman (who starred in De Vierde Man as well as Zwartboek) compared Verhoeven to the abstract expressionist painter Karel Appel, known for his motto “I paint like a barbarian in these barbarian times.” The comparison makes sense. Verhoeven’s style is the cinematic equivalent of CoBrA action painting: exploding with robust imagery, primary color schemes and violent brushwork. But don’t be fooled–this Dutch Master’s broad strokes often work together to paint a finely nuanced picture. Behind Zwartboek‘s brawny sense of adventure is a cautiously calibrated morality play.

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Not that it should come as a complete surprise. In the case of Zwartboek, Verhoeven and regular screenwrite Gerard Soeteman (Turks Fruit, Soldaat van Oranje, De Vierde Man) took twenty years to do their homework and refine their script until it snapped, crackled and popped, referencing a rough total of 800 documents, articles and books on the Dutch resistance. They based their film on real events and concocted a fictional storyline to glue those facts together.

Thematically, the film is rooted in Verhoeven’s experiences of growing up during WWII. Back then, the parents of one of his best buddies were members of the NSB – a Nationalist party that sympathized with the Nazis – convincing him that there were endless shades of grey between black and white. Verhoeven set out to make a picture in which no single character is purely innocent or strictly evil (although I believe he permitted himself one or two out-and-out villains). This in itself is not a radical philosophy – especially not in these trivial times – but it’s a truthful one. Zwartboek leaves you with the impression that the Liberation never came, that human atrocity lives on forever and people are not to be trusted… But hell, life’s sure worth the ride!

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All people behind the scenes worked miracles to make 17 million euros look like 70 million dollars. They had a hard time to raise money for this picture in Europe, but on the bright side Verhoeven gained access to an unbelievable pool of available acting talent. The lovely Carice van Houten as Rachel/Ellis, especially, is radiant in her leading role and Verhoeven quite rightly calls her the most talented actress he’s ever worked with. Here’s a heroine that modern audiences need to see more of: strong, down-to-earth and witty. When this brave young woman finally breaks, you’d have to be a cold-hearted stump of a being to not break along with her.

The same quality level can be found on every level of the production. I take back my initial doubts about director of photography Carl Walter Lindenlaub (Independence Day). His crisp lighting style is a good match with Verhoeven’s larger-than-life sensitivity. Lindenlaub wisely avoided shooting in black and white, sepia-tone or using a bleach-bypass process and based Zwartboek‘s look on German color films from the 1940s instead. (Whether Lindenlaub succeeded in his approximation is not for me to judge–it’s been a while since I saw one.) Anne Dudley’s score sounds like a cross between the military marches that Rogier van Otterloo composed for Soldaat van Oranje and Jerry Goldsmith’s eerie-ethereal main theme from Basic Instinct.

Frustratingly enough, the critical reception in the Netherlands doesn’t seem to be very positive. Some things never change. It just shows how good the Dutch are in underestimating their own artists. Until they die, that is.

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Production notes

After the principal photography of Zwartboek was completed, I’ve worked with a couple of its crew members on two of my own projects (the camera dolly we used was still marked with a “Carl Walter Lindenlaub” sticker). They told me that Verhoeven prefers to shoot in sequence to keep his actors in the moment, which meant that the lighting constantly needed adjusting as soon as the director decided to switch over to a reverse angle. And the man never, ever shoots a master. It’s in his contract, simply to avoid impatient producers going: “We’ve got the scene, I just saw it. Move on!”

Now listen to this: Apparently, Sharon Stone called Verhoeven on the set of Zwartboek directly after the release of Basic Instinct 2. When she asked him if he liked it, Verhoeven exclaimed in his clunky Dutch accent: “But Sharon, you look TERRRIBLE! How could they’ve DONE this to you!” Tact was never his thing. Thank heavens for that.


Brian De Palma’s land of paradox

August 26, 2006

The anticipation over the September 15 release of The Black Dahlia has sparked a wave of online interest in Brian De Palma. Apart from Slant’s much-welcome Auteur Fatale symposium, inspiring De Palma posts have popped up on the blogs of Zach Campbell, Jim Emerson, Peter Nellhaus, Girish Shambu, Eric, That Little Round-Headed Boy and Dennis Cozzalio. Consider this my contribution to what seems to have become another unofficial Blog-a-Thon.

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If you look at Brian De Palma’s erratic filmography, shifting as it does between hit and flop, cult, mainstream and avant-garde, a returning stylistic pattern becomes evident. Not only do his films frequently contradict with each other, they each contain a multitude of antagonisms of their own. They’re at once moral and manipulative, compassionate and calculating, gorgeous and repellent, spellbinding and unsettling, sardonic and rhapsodic, gloomy and sublime. Looking at a De Palma film is entering a land of paradox. No wonder the man has always inspired controversy: De Palma’s entire oeuvre is the pinnacle of conflict.

His substance has always been in the form. Right there in that recurring paradox motif. De Palma has explained himself as an artist who works on moral outrage. Another typical De Palma axiom: no matter how immoral his movies may appear (his talent for infusing all things nasty with poetry is legendary), at the heart they are intricate tales of morality. From the revenge fantasies that make up Carrie and The Fury to the cathartic moment of forgiveness in Casualties of War; from the fruitless run for redemption at the close of Blow Out to the divine second chance given in Femme Fatale; from the sleazy adventures of an all-American housewife to the hooker with a heart of gold in Dressed to Kill–they’re all vivid representations of the dualism between the righteous and the crooked, the vulnerable and the obscene, of predestination versus willpower, of crime and punishment.

De Palma’s characteristic use of discordant style elements like the double, parallel action sequences, split screen and split-diopter shots, rear projection, reverse angles, clashing archetypes and symbolic inversions serve not to show off his directing skills, but are there to help the viewer see both sides of the moral coin and explore the effect of contrarian choices during similar opportunities. What better way to lay bare the mechanisms of fate, choice, power, obsession and betrayal than to let your audience experience the subjectivity of truth firsthand through multiple points of view, or to follow two people who are either polar opposites or a close match within the same storyline? If the similarity is obvious, the difference will be easier to detect. And it’s the difference that matters in a morality tale; the difference between fortune and tragedy, life and death, innocence and guilt, failure and success. Knowing that nuance is to know right from wrong, or to realize how hard it is to make that difference.

Despite the archetypes and schematic structures, De Palma never arrives at a black and white conclusion. He deceives expectation to reveal there is no such thing as a single truth, or that our perception of it is incomplete. Even when his doubles expose a yin/yang dynamic right from the beginning, he complicates matters by reversing roles halfway through the film (Rick Santoro and Kevin Dunne in Snake Eyes), juggling around with false identities (Gloria Revelle and Holly Body in Body Double, the face swapping in Mission: Impossible) or fusing his antagonists (Dr. Robert Elliott and Bobbi in Dressed to Kill, Carter and Cain in Raising Cain). This eloquent masquerade and constant shifting of perspective is what makes De Palma’s oeuvre so fascinatingly ambiguous. Ultimately, all his works share a uniquely personal vision on the duality of Man.

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Most of the above was taken from my essay The Shape of Substance: Brian De Palma and the Function of Form, which can be described as a passionate defense of cinematic visual style, culminating in a fictional trial of Style vs. Substance, with Brian De Palma as the defendant and the late Stanley Kubrick as a surprise witness. You can read it at 24LiesASecond.

While you’re there, check out these other De Palma related articles:
Objects of Appalling Beauty: An Appreciation of Brian De Palma
by Mike Crowley
Casualties of Genre, Difference, and Vision: Casualties of War by Jim Moran
The Plausibles: The Problems of Make-Believe in the Age of Reason by yours truly


Films I look forward to

August 1, 2006

Click on the titles to watch the trailers:

  • The Fountain
    I was lucky enough to be among the first to see two scenes of this eagerly awaited Darren Aranofsky film at the Cinema Expo in Amsterdam. Visionary stuff, dark and lyrical, with a strong emotional core. Absolutely my cup of tea!
  • Zwartboek / Black Book
    I’m not sure what to think of Paul Verhoeven’s choice for Independence Day DP Karl Walter Lindenlaub, whose type of blockbuster gloss I’m not particularly fond of. Still, this smells like vintage European Verhoeven.
  • The Black Dahlia
    Just look at it, dammit! Look at it! De Palma’s next masterpiece is just a kiss away.
  • El Laberinto del Fauno / Pan’s Labyrinth
    Adult fairytale by 24Lies favorite Guillermo Del Toro, which seems like a gorgeous companion piece to his previous Spanish film, The Devil’s Backbone (2001).
  • Sunshine
    Danny Boyle, the British director of Trainspotting (1996) and 28 Days Later (2002), does existential sci-fi? Oh yes… right now, please!
  • Borat
    Sacha “Ali G” Baron Cohen in what promises to be the most politically incorrect comedy of the year. His (in-character) speech during the Cinema Expo almost killed me!
  • The Science of Sleep
    French visionary genius Michel Gondry doesn’t seem to be holding back one bit with this playful romantic fantasy. Can’t wait!

Keep those Five Words coming, people! (See post below.)


Skinny-dipping with Angelina Jolie

July 16, 2006

I’m re-reading A Dame To Kill For at the moment–my favorite Sin City yarn and the graphic novel that will form the centerpiece for the upcoming Sin City (2005) sequel. One look at the panel below unveils how grateful we should all be for Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez to have cast the curvaceous Angelina Jolie in the leading role. If their faithfulness to the source material in the first adaptation is any indication – and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be – expect OODLES of nudity in the next installment…

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It’s easy to be entertained by Sin City‘s glorious design and think that’s all there is to it. The hard-boiled prose blown to Shakespearean proportions, the one-dimensional pulp archetypes and a downright fetishistic attention to sleaze and violence, make it seem all surface. And yet Miller taps into the romantic core of masculinity to give flesh to the most primal of urges.

A story like A Dame to Kill For laughs at the whole flimsy notion of civilization – social etiquette, virtue, nobility, tact – rips it open like the cheap dress that it is and reveals the roaring heart underneath. If film noir taught us that love is a trap, the inhabitants of Sin City show us how much we love to be trapped. Even if destiny looks us right in the eye, we can’t help giving in to our animal instincts.

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Which brings us back to überwoman Angelina Jolie… A word of advice: Forget the bad press Mrs. Pitt is currently getting because of the boring Brangelina hype. That’s gossip for losers. Forget all about that silly little tomboy called Lara Croft. Stuff for twelve-year-olds. Ava Lord is the role Angelina Jolie was born to play. The actress always seems slightly out-of-place in realistic settings, and here’s why: Sin City is where she truly belongs.

To be credible in Sin City, only the incredible will do. Jolie’s supernatural charisma will be a natural fit for the Frank Miller universe. Divine physique? Check. Throaty voice? Check. Unrestrained pleasure to the senses? Check. Danger lurking behind almond eyes? Check. We’re talking about Ava Lord here: the femme fatale to end all femmes fatale. It was a very inspired decision of the filmmakers to postpone the production of their sequel until after Jolie’s pregnancy. This dame shall be worth the wait.


Takashi Miike’s The Great Yokai War

July 5, 2006

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Miike’s bizarre fantasy film The Great Yokai War (2005) opened in selected US cinemas this week. For those who missed my first impressions back in February, here’s a chance to read them again:

I just came back from seeing Takashi Miike’s new film The Great Yokai War at the Rotterdam Film Festival. I knew nothing about this movie going in, and boy was I in for a treat! It turned out to be something akin to Japan’s answer to the Harry Potter or Narnia series. You know: Miike, for kids!

Apparently, for the first time in his career, Miike was handed a big-ass budget and the cult-favorite made sure it showed. This film is massive in scale yet remarkably off-beat and full of the perversities and black humor Miike is known for. For a supposed family film, it’s way too “out-there” for Western taste (mine anyway: I wouldn’t let my oldest son see it until he’s, like, ten or eleven), but it will blow your mind. In fact, The Chronicles of Narnia is the undercooked egg The Great Yokai War swallows whole for breakfast!

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You won’t hear me declare it a masterpiece. To tell the truth, I don’t know what the hell it is. Something I’ve never seen before, that’s for sure. Miike’s cinema is just too plain weird to satisfy on any conventional level. This guy re-invented the word “subversive.” Kiddie movie or not: Yokai War goes from gory body-horror to intimate drama, from absurd parody to epic grand guignol fantasy, from kinky science fiction to all-out slapstick. It features legions of Asian folktale goblins, the coolest robots I’ve ever seen in a motion picture and two very sensual female characters, young enough to make me uncomfortable to be aroused by. Just picture Miike behind the computer screen, trashing proven Hollywood impulses and pushing his CGI-artists in every direction he can think of. (If you’ve seen Audition and Gozu, that should mean something.)

Think Miyazaki, but live-action, with a slightly fetishistic sensibility. Just a few references that popped in my mind while looking at the film: Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Wizard of Oz, Nightbreed, Blade Runner, Akira, The Neverending Story, Metropolis, Labyrinth, Godzilla, The Terminator, Kung Fu Hustle, Lord of the Rings–all filtered through the prism of the mad filmic genius of our lifetime.

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An open letter to Sir Ridley Scott

July 1, 2006

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Dear Mr. Scott,

Jim Moran and me developed an editorial policy at 24LiesASecond that restricts our contributors to write about films they appreciate. The concept behind it being: Why waste words on what you think stinks, when there’s plenty out there to love? It’s a policy that I’ve really taken to heart and intend to stick to on Lost in Negative Space.

But alas, not for now…

You see, this is an emergency. Someone really needs to I feel the need to warn you that – in spite of the pats on the back the suits nice gentlemen at Fox might be giving you at the moment – for a director of your considerable stature, churning out turds like your latest film A Good Year (2006) is nothing less than a fucking disgrace strikes me as something of a disappointment.

It’s not that I don’t admire your work. Alien and Blade Runner are masterpieces of genre cinema that I value deeply, and despite its narrative problems on a purely visual level, I consider the director’s cut of Legend to be one of the most mesmerizing fantasy features ever directed. I realize it’s hard to sustain such a high level of brilliance throughout an entire oeuvre, but not even GI fucking Jane little could have prepared me for the crap I had to endure what I was to behold at the Cinema Expo in Amsterdam last week.

Here’s the thing. About a quarter of an hour into A Good Year, I realized to my great shock that I was looking at an attempt at comedy… and not a very succesful one at that. Trust me, Sir, leading man Russel Crowe is many things, but droll isn’t one of them. What’s more: I couldn’t escape the impression that I was witnessing the product of an old man a filmmaker with nothing left to prove much to say or show. Let me put it this way: In case you’re looking for a few blurbs to polish up the newspaper ads, my suggestions would be either ‘NUMBINGLY BORING,’ ‘UTTERLY PREDICTABLE,’ or ‘MADDENINGLY MORALISTIC.’

Yes, I’m sure the wine and the cigars tasted good around the sun-soaked vineyards of that wonderful French estate where most of your shoot took place. And no, I certainly have no complaints about A Good Year‘s lush cinematography, although you’d have to be a moron to fuck up a shot in the Provence. But I came in expecting to see a film by Ridley Scott, the visual stylist… not to watch his freaking holiday snapshots!

‘Everything matures… eventually’ seems to be the tagline that the copywriters at Fox made up to promote your film in days to come. The real question, I suppose, is how you choose to mature.

Yours truly,
A worried admirer


Jim Emerson’s Opening Shots Project

July 1, 2006

Jim Emerson, the founding editor-in-chief of RogerEbert.com, and a 24Lies reader to boot, has a fascinating project going on at his Scanners blog, focusing on opening shots. It’s a truly wonderful read with many remarkable contributions (don’t skip 24Lies author Bob Cumbow‘s take on that famous Steadicam shot in John Carpenter’s Halloween).

I made a personal contribution with a description of the opening shot of Ken Russel’s Altered States (1980). Here it is:
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Altered States opens with the image of a fluorescent, egg-like shape surrounded by darkness. It is a window. From below, in comes a floating human figure (William Hurt as Prof. Eddie Jessup), who appears to be immersed in liquid. Surrounded as he is by the dark oval frame of the window, he resembles an embryo inside a mother’s womb. The camera slowly tracks back to reveal that Jessup is inside a horizontal tank in an empty room. As it tracks back even further, the viewer detects the edges of a second window, rectangular this time. In front of that window sits a bearded scientist in a laboratory, who carefully monitors the room with the tank holding Eddie Jessup.

altered2.jpgAltered 2Altered 3

In the film, science tries to discover the essence of the Self by use of altered states of consciousness. The opening shot prepares the audience for this very process by taking the viewer through different layers/windows of consciousness: from the symbolic birth of the Self, via self-awareness, to self-examination; from subjectivity to objectivity. The soundtrack amplifies this trajectory, going from bubbly water effects and steady breathing through an oxygen mask, to the buzz of lab equipment and clicking of buttons.
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For many more examples, visit Jim Emerson’s Scanners blog.