Hey folks, Harry here.... My ankle hurts like you wouldn't believe... I'm all popped up on painkillers and the foot is turning yellowishy purple... or maybe that's just my memory of James Caan's foot... truth be told... I've only heard that I have feet... it's sort of like 'The Last Unicorn'... something that I believe to be a myth. Anyway... Anton is continuing to bust his ass out there in Toronto... and right now... with my ankle working like an original issue C3PO arm joint... well... I'm glad to be laid up at home.
Dearie me was that an exhilarating evening. The Vulgar party was terrif- finally got to meet Mr. And Mrs. Smith, as well as Brian O’Halloran and Scott and Monica and the whole View Askew posse that came north. Also met David the George Washington guy, and Amir and John (here with Fighter); even Mark Borchardt (American Movie’s subject, and Coven’s creator) was there! I have to say, though, that there is something very disturbing about female clowns in black cocktail dresses. Apparently I’m not the only one that thinks so- but enough on that, before I turn into Murgatroyd from Movieline.
Two MORE interviews added: Arto Paragamian, director of Two Thousand and None (the non-Gala Turturro film here) and Takashi Miike, director of City of Lost Souls (and Fudoh from a couple of years ago.) At this point the first question on your minds should be “When the hell does this guy find time to see movies?” The second is probably “Can I tag along and meet Asia?”
I just want to clarify something on my Shadow review: while I do think the film falls apart in the second half there is still some good stuff in there, and I do believe I finished the review saying to go see it. It’s not like I tore it a new asshole or anything.
Enough ancient history- on
The Irrefutable Truth About Demons (2000, directed by Glenn Standring)
If there’s one cardinal rule of Midnight it’s this: there’s horror, and then there’s NEW ZEALAND horror. And while Standring is hardly setting out to remake Bad Taste, he certainly doesn’t let the standard droop. Good thing too, considering the mess his film leaves on the floor.
The Irrefutable Truth About Demons is a solid entry into the ‘initiation’ canon, wherein a supremely confident character is shaken to his very core by revelation and enlightenment the hard way. Harry (played by Karl Urban, Xena’s Caesar) is a cult debunker who gets a tape in the mail covered in (he hopes) pig’s blood. He’s the target of a particular baddie named LaValient (ahem), and while he dismisses the threat, the fact that he’s soon chained by the neck to the floor of a warehouse clues him in that it’s serious. Events spiral even further out of Harry’s control, as he’s implicated in the bloody crucifixion of his girlfriend, this nutty chick named Benny is following him around and LaValient’s friend, the eight-foot tall wall-climbing demon, keeps killing Harry’s friends…
Another film (like Ginger Snaps) made on the cheap to great effect, ITAD is an amazingly effective horror thriller for a first-time director. Standring has a good feel for when to give the audience some slack and when to tighten the thumbscrews. And while the movie doesn’t cover any new ground (the Invisibles influence is fairly noticeable) it does find a couple of interesting detours
Vulgar (2000, directed by Bryan Johnson)
Well, isn’t THIS a dark little corner of ViewAskewLand.
Try, if you can, to picture John Waters directing the mutant offspring of Death Wish, Deliverance and Shakes the Clown and you might approximate Vulgar. A struggling children’s clown named Flappy (played by Clerks’ Dante, Brian O’Halloran) gets the brilliant idea to have a sideline as Vulgar, a transvestite clown that entertains at bachelor parties before the strippers show up. Unfortunately his first client isn’t a group of drunken fratboys but a father and sons team of psychotic, idiot sodomites. They ‘party’ with Vulgar all night long and leave him emotionally scarred for life, not to mention nearly dead. So when, as Flappy, he becomes a famous TV clown and his attackers come calling with blackmail, he vows revenge.
There’s really only one word I can think of to describe Vulgar, and that’s dirty. This is a dirty film- not smutty, but dirty, a film that leaves you wanting to take a shower afterwards. Flappy’s long night is horrific and unrelenting, a psychological pistol-whipping. And while the film does have funny bits, anyone who finds Vulgar extremely humorous ought to be immediately hauled away by the nice young men in the clean white shirts.
Johnson, with his first feature, does show promise as a director. Some of the film’s best jokes are in the shot selection, as out of the blue Flappy will be shown using a perfect Michael Bay 360 pan while doing the most unheroic things, or a discussion of Flappy’s dark secret is given a strangely (no, make that fucking bizarre) Bergmanesque cast by the camera angle and framing.
Vulgar isn’t for everyone. Very possibly its best demographic match might not get a chance to see it without early parole, but this raw little 16mm hand grenade of a film will certainly be like nothing you’ve ever seen before, unless you own a copy of Clowns in Heat 8: Cotton Candy Sweet. But I’m pretty sure mine’s the only one in North America.
Two Thousand and None (dir. Arto Paragamian)
Death is a funny thing.
I don’t mean funny ha-ha, necessarily, or even funny peculiar. More funny like your guts are made of taffy and your lungs are filled with taffeta roach clips. And for a thing that isn’t, it sure can mess with your head. I mean, think about it for a minute: you’re going to die. You. And you. And even you there, grinning and nodding like an idiot waiting for the punch line to a knock-knock joke. There ain’t one. You. Are. Going. To. Die. All your plans, all your dreams, gone like the phantoms they are. That’s it. No more. Insert your favorite Parrot Sketch quote here. Fade to black.
But we don’t want to think about it, do we? Death is the psychotic harlequin capering just behind our left shoulder that we dare not acknowledge. Etc etc etc. Damn, being pretentious is hard work. I need something to drink- hang on.
Yeah, so, death. OK, nobody really likes death, right? Not even the goths, who ‘love’ death the way a Catholic ‘loves’ God. So what would you do if this cute redheaded doctor told you you were going to die in a month? What would you do? (I mean, other than get laid. That one’s a given.) Everything you were going to do seems pretty irrelevant. I mean, clean the garage? Death doesn’t care whether your garage is TIDY, dammit. That godamighty mystery train’s still gonna hurtle down the tracks, aimed straight at your heart. Yeah, same again, thanks. And two more shots of Jaeger- damn this Toronto tequila shortage! - one’s for you. Skol.)
So, what do you do? I mean, John Turturro gave his stuff away and had sex with one of his students and tried to rebury his parents in Armenia but lost them at the airport, but I’m not a paleontologist with an incurable brain disease so that doesn’t really apply to me, or you either maybe. I like John Turturro. Remember how fifteen years ago people were bemoaning the passing of the character actor, and now Spacey’s A-list and Bill Macy nearly so, and there’s Turturro and John Goodman and Luis Guzman and Philip Baker Hall and John C. and Tony Shaloub and Stanley Tucci and Will Sadler and Michael Duncan and Delroy Lindo and Joe Pantoliano. Yeah. It’s really cool A&E is re-running Murder One. That first season was awesome, and Daniel Benzali- there’s another one! - would make an awesome Kingpin. And Turturro probably knows Sam Raimi through the Coens, so he can pass that along.
Um, I should probably tell you Turturro stars in the movie I saw. And he was good like always, going from quiet uptight Turturro to wacky desperate Turturro to blissed out Turturro, the whole enforced enlightenment tango. No accent, though. And Daphne, the student, has this hot Alicia Witt thing going for her even though she doesn’t look much like her. And the script has all these cool little moments in it. And instead of his life flashing before his eyes all at once he gets it stretched out in these neat little bits of silent film footage he sees in reflections that reminded me of that Spanish film I saw last year but now I can’t remember why. So it was pretty good. And it makes you think about stuff, like how I might even finish covering the fest for Harry ‘cause my ticket could be punched without me even knowing it.
Creepy. I’m going to go ha
Sexy Beast (2000, directed by Jonathan Glazer)
One of the ‘little Galas’ Toronto has every year, Sexy Beast is the tale of two men: Gary, retired British hood now living the good life in Majorca with his wife, and Don, the mad dog from Gary’s criminal past. Don has a job for Gary, and the word ‘no’ isn’t in his vocabulary. Well, actually it is, but it’s only used when you are shouting at and/or head-butting people.
As a crime thriller Sexy Beast is lacking, but as a character study the movie holds its own. Ray Winstone plays Gary as just an average bloke, but one not quite as dim as he lets on; and in the role of Don is maybe the last person you’d expect this side of Dame Edna, Ben Kingsley. Kingsley is a feral presence in the film. Everyone who knows him, fears him, and with good reason. Pig-headed with a raging temper Don threatens those around him with nothing more than a muscle twitch. Glazer’s direction isn’t spectacular, but gets the job done with some nice comic flourishes, and the supporting performances are all solid, with Ian McShane standing out as Don’s boss, and a guy who in his own way is even more dangerous.
This criminal milieu is Sexy Beast’s strength. These aren’t Tarantino’s romanticized hitmen, or Ritchie’s likeable fuck-ups. The criminals here are pros, and most of them stone killers to boot. These aren’t people you’d want to be in an elevator with, much less know personally.
Sexy Beast clearly shows who it was your mother was warning you about when she said not to associate with the wrong people. Maybe it’s time you called her up and thanked her for that one.
SÃ©ance (2000, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Kiyoshi Kurosawa is one of the most distinctive filmmakers on the planet. His use of sound, and the oppressive nature of his silences, is on a par with David Lynch’s, and his plots usually fall into one of two categories: the ‘mindfuck’ film, with an ending that leaves you felling disemboweled; and the ‘huh?’ film (the best example of which is his Charisma, a film where the main villain is a tree.) Unfortunately SÃ©ance is neither, and while it is pretty creepy the linear nature of its plot hampers the effect, much as sticking to genre conventions held Lynch back on Blue Velvet (ah, I can hear the knives being sharpened now.)
SÃ©ance is the story of a medium who occasionally assists the police. Her husband is a sound technician, giving Kurosawa plenty of opportunities to create his signature soundscapes. She’s called in on a kidnapping, and while she can’t find the girl using her gifts her husband obliviously rescues the girl from her attacker and locks her in one of his equipment trunks. A couple of days later the medium gets a flash, and they find the girl before she dies. The medium, however, believes this is her chance to make a mark, and convinces her husband not to phone the police. Instead she concocts a plan to make her look like the girl’s savior, and thus become a hero. The plan fails miserably. The girl dies in their care, and her spirit returns for revenge…
The scenes with the dead girl are best in the film. She doesn’t say a word for the entire picture, just staring and screaming while alive, and cloaked in shadow after death. The effect is chilling. Alas, nothing else in the film is. It even ends with a whimper. Highly disappointing.
Kurosawa is a dynamite filmmaker, but SÃ©ance is a minor entry into his canon. Not one I can recommend
Requiem for a Dream (2000, directed by Darren Aranofsky)
Dear Mr. Aranofsky,
Hello. How are you? That isn’t a generic greeting. I am genuinely concerned about your welfare after seeing your latest film; I’m afraid you may do yourself some grave mischief, if Requiem is any indication of your mental state.
I have seen many dark films in my time, Mr. Aranofsky. I am not a person to be easily cowed or disheartened by a mere ‘flick’. Yet Requiem crumpled my soul up into a little ball, threw it onto the floor and pissed on it. Was this your intention? To create a film that would be feared and shunned, rather than praised and adored? Because you have succeeded. Requiem makes Fight Club look like Rocky. It makes Breaking the Waves look like Breaking Away. It makes… it made me hurt, Mr. Aranofsky, hurt in ways I would not have thought possible, and now will never forget.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a powerful piece of work. Brilliant, even. Ellen Burstyn gives you one of the bravest performances I’ve seen from anyone in a long while, and you certainly don’t waste it. Jared Leto is equally magnificent, Marlon Wayans surprisingly good, and you even found a role that perfectly suited Jennifer Connelly’s talents (and I don’t mean that how you might think I do, you sick bastard.) The direction is a quantum leap forward from Pi, and your expansion of the ‘aspirin’ montages is inspired, if not deranged. Your talent as a filmmaker is indisputable.
But please, Mr. Aranofsky, is there room for hope in your world? Your characters (OK, to be fair they’re Hugh Selby’s characters, since the film is based on his novel, but you did agree to direct them) don’t just end the film unredeemed, they are destroyed. Lain waste. The emotional bottom dropped out of Requiem so many times I felt like I was in freefall. And that smile from Jennifer at the end- Jesus Christ. Oh Goddess. There are certain things that just should not be, and that was one of them, and you splashed it across a thirty-foot screen for all the world to see and go foetal after the seeing.
This isn’t just the proverbial dark ride to hell. This film is a symphony of pain and despair. And no amount of technical genius is going to hide that. Someday you will have to answer for what you’ve done here, answer a single question: Why? For the love of Goddess, why?
Yours in agonizing admiration,