Outstreched arm

Friday, February 17, 2006

Suffer the art

I don't think I've ever been in a theater as quiet as Tampa Theatre tonight during the second half of Michael Haneke's Caché. It's a slow, slow movie with barely a whiff of action anywhere in the theoretically tense plot. It's loaded with virtually still images, so static that when the camera softly dollies, it's a Hitchcockian moment. Yet the audience sits quietly and stares, just as unmoving.

It's difficult to describe what goes on in Caché without spoiling it. It's also difficult to describe how exactly I feel after seeing it, and for the same reason. It's difficult to say why it's difficult. In a crowd less accustomed to artsy pieces, there would be riots, so filled with difficulty is the film. If you wish to be entertained, look elsewhere, See, it's even difficult to recommend this thing.

It's probably the best movie of last year, and certainly the best-directed one.

Let me attempt a summary. A French yuppie couple starts receiving video tapes of their home: still, sickly harmless surveilance videos. The search for a meaning of the bizarre prank leads the husband to remember a childhood event, and revenge soon becomes the most obvious explanation. Clues are deciphered, tension is built, confrontations take place - yet to describe Caché as some sort of nail-biting thriller would be sadly disingenuous. This is not Phone Booth, or Panic Room, or Cape Fear. It's as genre-defying (genre-denying, perhaps) as Hitchcock's Birds or Antonioni's Blow-Up. Things that take place are, on the surface, mostly the stuff of pop culture, but the overall effect is decidedly more cinema than movies.

Having seen Caché three times now, I'm very much haunted by it. It's deep, challenging, original, rich, and all those nice things art teachers make googly eyes at.

Speaking of teachers - I promptly got a copy of Haneke's earlier Cannes success, The Piano Teacher. All the online reviews talked of a repressed woman indulging in sexual fantasies. Cool. Boy, is it ever difficult to do justice to what really happens in this guy's pictures.

Both Caché and The Piano Teacher deserve lengthy, careful analyses. I don't feel I'm up to that, so instead I will voice an opinion and a concern: I think both are fantastic movies, directed in a hypnotically minimalist, tangential style I didn't think too many filmmakers were fond of anymore. The Piano Teacher's script is a bit more problematic than Caché's - maybe I need to see it again, but some reactions seemed emotionally implausible - but both are like nothing you've seen before.

That said, listen carefully. I don't know what sort of rating The Piano Teacher carries, but take it very, very seriously. This is coming from a liberal, twenty-something dude. Both movies contain extremely disturbing scenes, but The Piano Teacher is about experiences that we go through in our daily lives (i.e. sex). If you're going to see it, be prepared, and I advise you to see it alone. No date, no partner, no kids. No friends, ideally - the natural reaction in a group will be to laugh (there's nothing else to do). The movie will make you feel uncomfortable enough if you watch it solitarily.

Enjoy. Or, uh, think.

Move that image

Some disconnected thoughts about movies...

Is it strange to get the feeling that some movies need to be seen in solitude? I don't exactly know which movies, not before I see them. The World's Fastest Indian, for instance, is a fun, lovable, effortlessly friendly film, and every family should waste an evening on it (it, and the ceremonial tossing-out of Tim Allen/Steve Martin Lite movies that will surely follow.) But having seen it by myself - an unplanned happenstance - I don't think I would have cared for it as much had I seen it with company. I don't think any sort of theory is needed on this. Being alone with the story makes it mine; perhaps it's the difference between spending a night with the girl or boy you fancy and going out with the posse. There's also that not-always-healthy tendency of mine and everyone else's to comment wittily and with great insight when surrounded by people.

Speaking of The World's Fastest Indian - I love typing that title - even after seeing Capote, Anthony Hopkins's turn as Burt Munro is my favorite lead performance this year (Heath Ledger would probably come in second.) Of all the things he is in the movie - a child, a teacher, a lover, a genius, a stubborn old fool - he is virtually never Anthony Hopkins. The transformation is almost entirely internal, free of make-up, costume, and other crutches. Even his down-under accent is natural. See, I just know someone would've done the fava bean line had I seen this with other people. And thanks to Hokpins's mastery, I would have probably said, "Huh? What are you talking about?"

Another great Old Fart performance - John Wayne in The Shootist (yes, I only just saw it). Frankly, I had always found his chubby, tired figure something less than imposing. In this role, however, that's a requirement. There's great strength and courage in the way he and Jimmy Stewart play people as close to all the pains of life after seventy - including death - as they themselves were off the screen.

One more thing that stayed with me - in John Frankenheimer's tight, paranoid, no-nonsense political thriller Seven Days in May, a film propped up in broomstick-up-the-ass fashion with stern-faced Burt Lancasters and Kirk Douglases, one person drifts and waltzes through with feminist independence and motherly concern over boys with toy guns: a strong, mature, stunning Ava Gardner. She is quite possible the only character not in uniform, and it's food for thought that her minor troubles with booze and men seem more dramatic than the nuclear holocaust and fascist threats in the main plot. This is no put-down of Rod Serling's, Frankenheimer's, and other guys' job in this fine flick (it and Seconds are no worse, and often better, than The Manchurian Candidate). It's a Valentine's Day love-note to Ava. I like you, do you like me? [] Yes [] No

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dirty Photoshop history

Adriano suggested that Photoshop's history palette gave him naughty thoughts, and I didn't really get what he was talking about at first. But, here's an example...

(Yes, I have to use a PC at work)

Dirty Photoshop history

Click here!

Engrish is one of those things that are unbelievably hilarious for a day, then mildly entertaining for a week, then nauseating when you realize how much of it there is online (I once had a dream in which Stalin was making me move a mountain of toothpicks one by one. That's the kind of Sissyphian task that browsing Engrish.com often seems like.)

But then, sometimes you run into things that bring back the original hilarity. Check out this priceless image from rahoi.com (click for full size):

Click for full-size image

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Posse at Zante's

Originally uploaded by clunkygirl.

There's a lot of good food to be had in Tarpon Springs, but perhaps the most original restaurant up there is Zante, a converted thrift store that serves Creole, Greek, and continental food, delivered to your table by the owners' adorable kids. Call if you're going, they often run out of tables and sometimes close early if the kids need help with homework.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Fauxckney 2006.2.6

Fauxckney 2006.2.6
Originally uploaded by Neven Mrgan.

My thanks to Dean for introducing me to David Hockney. This is a rough digital equivalent of his photocubist technique. I have some ideas for making the style more my own, but I thought I'd do a test piece first.

Stubborness and misogyny; yay?

Two good movies, one out in the theaters right now, the other available since the 80s:

You know, Disney tries very hard every year to make a movie like The World's Fastest Indian: sweet, formulaic, inspiring, and genuinely nice. But they rarely succeed. They don't have Anthony Hopkins in one of those roles that make you wish for a sequel, a TV show, or some sort of continuation of the character's history, adventures, and outlook on life (Just imagine, The Bride of Atticus Finch) This is now on my top-five list for 2005.

My friend Bill and I were discussing a fascination we both had as young sci-fi readers, and we are most definitely not alone in it: forced mating. Ah, to be pressured into casual sex with prime females because of the super quality of my seed - it's a bubble bath for the teenage mind. Bill brought up Harlan Ellison's book A Boy and His Dog, and said I should read it or see the movie and that was all he would say. The movie, starring a babyfaced Don Johnson and his telepathic, Oxford-schooled dog, is a hilarious, over-the-top post-apocalyptic satire done on little or no budget, but marvelously effective. It's also quite offensive to women, but that's part of the basic premise; it would be rather disingenious to conclude that Harlan Ellison really shares any of the attitudes of the characters here. It's like a minimalist Repo Man, only more highbrow, if that makes any sense.