The most accomplished female purveyor of horror ever, in my humble opinion. Is there a filmmaker out there who even compares to her, in terms of versatility, technical ability, and originality? She applies genre cliches (gallows humor, loads of gore) with post-modern questioning of institutions (economic, sexist, classist) and makes it visceral and meaningful all the same. She’s the French, female Cronenberg with a greater sense of pain, especially at injustice. Her persona onscreen is monstrous and human. She reminds us of the terror lurking in banal expressions and interactions- from the self-destructive to the psychopathic. Marina De Van is a serious investigator of humanity and society.
Category Archives: Film
I’m not going to write a thorough review of the movie I just saw tonight at Coolidge Corner: The Kids Are All Right. I’m not going to include a plot summary, though I am going to include many spoilers as I describe, briefly, why I hated it.
The film, to me, comes across as both disturbingly amoral in its blase presentation of fucked up events yet preachy. In other words, director, Lisa Cholodenko is like the worst of all authority figures: absent when situations need a firm, moral perspective, and heavy-handed and doctrinaire when situations require ambiguity and subtlety.
Critics have said that the film is about two “normal” parents and their “wry, wise” teenaged kids. Let’s cut through the bullshit. The kids in this movie, Laser and Joni, are not nice, pleasant people, nor are they particularly insightful. But boy do they quip. Another adult filmmaker’s misbegotten, superficial conception of smart, angsty teens who are way too nonchalant to be real and way too surly to be likable. These kids make Juno seem realistic and lived-in. I suppose we’re supposed to feel a great sense of respect for Laser when he prevents a dog from getting pissed on by his reprehensible friend. And that Joni must be deep and thoughtful because she is always frowning? The film expects way too little of its characters before morally exalting them and presents them as having qualities it is too lazy to show. Continue reading
I saw Human Centipede this past week at home on demand. I’d been looking forward to the film for many months after my roommate or brother (can’t remember which) informed me of the totally disgusting premise. The jist is that a crazy German surgeon captures three tourists and turns them into a “human centipede,” a crawling kneecap-less surgical creation that’s like a permanently, imposed rim-job-centric menage a trois. The middle position gets double-duty, with both her face sewed onto the (literal) asshole in front of her and her butt sewed onto the third person’s face. German doc’s goal is person at the front eats, poops into middle person’s mouth, who then poops into third person’s mouth, who then poops. Voila. Continuous gastric system. Human centipede.
So, I wrote two SXSW recaps: pt1 Party in Round Rock and pt2 The Showcases and promised to write a third, but never did. Well, I suppose the only really notable things I left out were that I had a really great time playing with Black Kettle on St. Patty’s Day at a random gig at an Irish bar on 6th street for the Red Gorilla festival. AND that I saw Mary-Louise Parker on the street on Friday night, which i will expound upon in greater detail in a bit. First BK: Black Kettle got asked to do the gig Wednesday afternoon, and I, having stayed the night with them at Sara Houser and Grant Himmler’s place, was present and ready. The gig went exceedingly well. They sold a bunch of CD’s, and some ladies wanted their picture taken with them. Though I no longer have the time to play with them regularly, it was cool to fill in at a moment’s notice and be able to help out. Plus I got to play Grant’s sweet Jaguar bass.
I don’t know where you are or what you are doing…I assume you’re in London, living a life of auditions, meetings, rehearsals, and tv/film shoots. I’m writing you in the faint hopes that you have googled yourself and have arrived here. Granted, I’ve only seen you in one film- 2004’s My Summer of Love. But the range of emotions you demonstrated in that movie, which I’ve watched upwards of 10 times is magnificent; you have elevated film acting to art. Your portrayal of Mona, a working-class British country girl, is so naturalistic and devoid of self-consciousness, she seems real. One gets the feeling that one is watching a documentary at times- which is due, in no small measure, to director Pawel Pawlikowski’s intimate compositions and free-wheeling editing. But Mona (nee Lisa) is your construction and your genius.
Each time I watch the film, I am stunned by not only the dynamic range of your performance- its anguish, listlessness, and sense of humor- but how you perfectly calibrate and balance these emotions, keeping the disparate, contradictory nature of human personality so believable and yes, cohesive. It takes an expansive mind to do that. It’s such a great performance that I genuinely have no idea what you’re really like. Is that really your accent? Are you really that funny? I don’t know and I don’t care to know- it would spoil the illusion. It’s been over six years since My Summer of Love, and I hope to see you on the stage or screen soon. Until that time, I have your creation- your Mona on DVD, in all her complexity and brilliance.
In my post about the best (or my favorite) movies of the decade, I forgot to include a film that is certainly in my top ten: Ghost World. Directed by Terry Zwigoff (who has gone on to do less illustrious work in Art School Confidential and Bad Santa) this 2001 film is both a satire about the decline of American culture and an earnest inquiry into the meaning and limitations of authenticity. It boasts a quirky, sarcastic, but subtly disturbing tone due to the dread and hopelessness of its anti-hero Enid (Thora Birch) who is surly to the point of cruelty. Aside from bland jabs at Starbucks in the Shrek films, cubicle hell satires (Office Space, The Office) and the occasional Jewish suburbia nightmare flick (A Serious Man, Solondz movies) there are few films that really examine the depressing, soulless character to modern, corporatized America. Ghost World has to be the most thorough, funny, human, and tragic.
or…just my favorites…
10) The Mist (Frank Darabont, 2007)
Apocalyptic in its tone and unyielding in its violence, The Mist is a potent Bush-era horror movie, filled with untrustworthy military figures and religious zealots who pose an equal or greater threat to the protagonists than the vividly imagined monsters.
9) Junebug (Phil Morrison, 2005)
The rare Southern film that doesn’t kiss the South’s ass nor does it pay insipid tribute to “family.” A movie that understands the complexities of dysfunctional families and of a region still coping (or not coping) with the legacy of slavery, Junebug achieves its power from its wellspring of seemingly average yet complex characters and locations.
8) Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez, 2007).
Out of all the movies that have been made as homages/pastiches over the past decade (and that includes Tarantino’s 00’s output) this is my favorite. The film is fun from the first frame on, an ode to exploitation cinema from direct-to-video action to grindhouse horror. It features inventive action sequences and gore gags as well as iconic characters, played exuberantly by an ensemble cast, including standouts, Marley Shelton, Jeff Fahey, and Josh Brolin.
7) Kissing Jessica Stein (Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, 2001)
Comedy may be one of the most sexist genres, and so Kissing Jessica Stein is an especially refreshing rom-com, written by two women (who also star) that doesn’t rely on penis jokes, male sexual hangups, and sexist characterizations to deliver laughs. The movie’s queer content is legitimately felt but can also be read as a larger metaphor for the female (queer and straight) struggle to assert itself, sexually and professionally, amidst the conformity of upper-middle-class society. The movie has delightful, witty dialog, and Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergenson possess hilarious comedic timing and chemistry, not to mention Herman-Wurmfeld’s camera-work, which is lively, sensitive, and always assured.
6) Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004).
A week-long road-trip through California wine country with two endearing yet deeply flawed protagonists- a whip-smart, neurotic writer and alcoholic (Paul Giamatti) and a washed-up, sex-addicted actor (Thomas Haden Church) is ultimately about friends who are screwed up in opposite ways and thus compliment and learn from each other. The cinematography, camera-work, and music make wine country look intoxicating, and the screenplay is both sharp and poignant.
5) Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
The best performance by an actress this decade is Ellen Burstyn’s in this as Sara Goldfarb, a lonely Brighton Beach widow who tries to fill her emotional void with a fantasy of being thin on television. In Goldfarb’s character, we see a legitimate existential crisis which propels the terrifying chaos of drug addiction. Clint Mansell’s score and the editing set a new standard for film music, and the Darren Aronofsky synthesizes frenetic, post-MTV editing and camera techniques into a legitimate aesthetic.
4) Adaptation. (Spike Jonze, 2002)
A satire of Hollywood movies as well as a funny Woody Allen-esque neurotic comedy (with Nicholas Cage doubling as twins- one insecure, the other hyper-confident) Adaptation. does justice to the real people within an unadaptable non-fiction book (The Orchid Thief) while showing the burdens of the artistic process, presented as an amalgam of creation, adaptation, and masturbation.
3) A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)
Cronenberg expands into conventional narrative drama, yet doesn’t shed his interest in the vulnerabilities of our bodies (exemplified in his trademark, unforgettable violent imagery and truly erotic sex scenes) and delivers a powerful message about America’s problematic conflation of heroism and violence.
2) American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000).
A feminist/liberal skewering of the Reagan 80’s, Harron’s satire-as-horror-movie disturbs and amuses in both its text and subtext. Christian Bale as mass murderer Patrick Bateman captures the vapidity of consumerism and the evil of corporate greed run amok, merciless to the public and accountable to no one. The last scene features a Reagan speech– Harron and co-script-writer, Guinevere Turner drawing a direct link between the psycho of their film and the psychos in political and economic power.
1) Mulholland Dr (David Lynch, 2001).
How can a film make so little logical sense yet so much emotional sense? Lynch toyed with movie-as-wet-dream before in Lost Highway, but Mulholland Dr expands upon that inferior yet fascinating film’s themes, bringing the critique straight to Hollywood and its chew-em-up/spit-em-out culture. Lynch also defuses his trademark misogyny by making the protagonist a lesbian, and acknowledging his own moral culpability by positing the Lynch doppelganger (played by Justin Theroux) as a chief purveyor of the fucked-up, sexist Hollywood system. This is my favorite film of the 00’s because the more I watch it, the more I realize how Lynch has created a universe unto itself, an alternate reality that is almost more in keeping with science fiction than conventional narrative drama- and how this universe is rooted in a deeply emotional, tragic place. Each time I watch Mulholland Dr, I am swept away- haunted, titillated, and moved.
Moon, Far From Heaven, Let the Right One In, Dogville, Gosford Park, Beau Travail, Eastern Promises, Zodiac, Audition, Wolf Creek, Milk, There Will Be Blood, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Royal Tennenbaums, Fahrenheit 9/11, Donnie Darko, An Inconvenient Truth
Best performance by an actor:
-Sean Penn in Milk
Honorable Mentions: Christian Bale in American Psycho, Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood, Sam Rockwell in Moon, Nicholas Cage in Adaptation
Best performance by an actress:
-Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream
Honorable Mentions: Naomi Watts in Mulholland Dr, Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven, Nicole Kidman in Dogville, Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher