Reeler Archive for July, 2006

Willmore's New York State of Mind Not Quite New York-ish Enough For GreenCine Readers


The gloves are off over at GreenCine Daily, where editor David Hudson offered a few of his favorite film bloggers/commentators the floor while he goofs about on some kind of vacation (lazy-ass). Hudson’s basic idea was to throw a new question each day at a range of guest contributors, which seemed to be going just fine until he asked The IFC Blog‘s Alison Willmore: “What movie puts you in a New York state of mind?”
Willmore’s reply was intriguing (to say the least), and I think context requires its full reprinting here:

The cinematic mash note to New York is almost a genre to itself – and one hell of a genre. Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Sidney Lumet and countless others have illuminated distinct and vivid celluloid visions of the city that seem almost impossible to reconcile. New York may be the irresistible backdrop of a thousand stories, but it’s also a subject that eludes even the widest-angle lens – it’s better caught in small pieces, sidelong glances and the occasional dazzling cityscape.

What I love about The Royal Tenenbaums is that it summons the New York of the eventual transplant. Wes Anderson depicts New York the way Kafka envisioned an America he’d never seen, but valiantly divined from travel brochures and visitors’ anecdotes. For Anderson, his bible is The New Yorker, and what he extracts from it is a somewhat fuzzy, quietly fantastical version of the Upper East Side – one with a 375th Street Y, omnipresent and semi-official gypsy cabs, empty and windswept streets, and a slightly shabby academic aristocracy in which everyone seems to have a book deal. It’s a naïve and unaccountably melancholy portrait, an wistful daydream of the city that’s stayed with me long after I saw the real thing.

Putting aside my utter devastation at being left out of Hudson’s New York loop, and putting aside the inarguable fact that the word “cityscape” is not now and has never been permissible in good company, Willmore’s qualifications make sense even if her selection does not: On one hand, she seems to have anticipated a backlash, yet by choosing an admittedly false New York, she invalidates the whole purpose of her response.
But whatever–we can agree to disagree, right? Evidently not, if the feedback to Willmore’s item is any indication:

Alison Willmore sounds like a real scholar. Out of all the thousands of movies that have taken place in NYC she picks Tenenbaums. Does she live in NYC? … Alison Willmore works for IFC? Does her father or husband own it? …

Your answer is like the answer to a Rorschach Test and it sounds, to put it bluntly, like you haven’t quite experienced NYC fully, or, in other words, with more juvenile conviction, it sounds like you have no cred, like you haven’t paid your dues. It sounds like you’ve experienced 10% of what NYC has to offer. I get all of this from your choice of film. Wes Anderson is a tourist. It sounds like you still have the mindset of a tourist, too. …

To give Wes Anderson the honor of representing the answer to this question is to deny other directors who have absorbed the city fully the honor of their perserverance. …

Yikes! At any rate, The Reeler knows at least one person who is just fine with Willmore’s pick, but for me, at least, the whole thing has proven more thought-provoking than anything else. Sweet Smell of Success is easily the greatest New York film ever made, but “New York state of mind”? Does it emerge from J.J. Hunsecker’s proclamation, “I love this filthy city?” Or from Ray Milland crashing at the Yorkville clock in The Lost Weekend? Or from the bulging-eyed street drummer in Taxi Driver? The vicious teen beatings in Dead End and Kids? Ahmad’s grueling work routine in Man Push Cart? The mournful light captured by Chris Terrio and Jim Denault in Heights? Woody Allen chasing Mia Farrow to the Carnegie Deli on Thanksgiving in Broadway Danny Rose? Popeye Doyle chasing Charnier through Brooklyn in The French Connection? Jules Dassin reclaiming location New York in The Naked City? Al Pacino’s Sonny dictating his last will and testament to the bank teller in Dog Day Afternoon? Tony Manero’s strut down Fourth Avenue in Saturday Night Fever? Loretta and Ronny’s Lincoln Center date in Moonstruck? Taggers spray-painting subway cars as old women look on in The Warriors? Wren watching her clothes fall to the street in the Lower East Side war zone of Smithereens? Or God knows what hundreds of moments we can cull from the work of (in totally random order, as fast as I can type) Philip Hartman, Amos Poe, Jennie Livingston, Lodge Kerrigan, Abel Ferrara, Spike Lee, Jonas Mekas, Don Siegel, Merian C. Cooper, Peter Jackson, Dito Montiel, James Toback, Paul Mazursky, Stanley Donen, Billy Wilder, Peter Sollett, Nicole Holofcener, Ryan Fleck, Joe Mankiewicz, Bennett Miller, Ed Burns, Mel Brooks, Julien Duvivier, Mike Nichols, John Schlesinger, Roman Polanski or Alfred Hitchcock? Or–gasp!–Wes Anderson?
Man. Tough call–and probably a thankless question–right there.

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Montiel 'Runnin' ' to Paramount for Sophomore Pic


My RSS reader was all fucked up last week, resulting in delayed word that Astoria native and renaissance man Dito Montiel will follow his debut A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints with the underground betting drama Runnin’. According to Variety, Montiel notched a deal with Paramount to rewrite Robert Munic’s original script as well as direct the film, which is set in New York. No word on script deadlines or shooting dates, but nothing will be rolling prior to Saints’ Sept. 29 release. I will get back to you by that time with the latest on production.

This Week in 'WTC': Ansen, Conservatives Over the Moon


After a relatively busy week of premiere crashing and misogyny theory, The Reeler sees one thing and one thing only on the radiating horizon: Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, booked for an Aug. 9 release and yielding a half-dozen or so “news” stories per day. Most follow the same “Don’t look now, but the right loves Ollie” or “too-much-too-soon?” tack we have seen roiling the media since last month, largely acknowledging that Stone is smart and the film is good–while loosely implying that was it not good, nobody would actually say so.
Take David Ansen’s expansive cover story in the latest issue of Newsweek:

Stone’s World Trade Center is a very different kind of movie. For one thing, it’s a story few of us have heard. More crucially, it holds out hope: it’s a story of survival and selflessness. What it does share with United 93 is the desire to look at the event with eyes uncontaminated by politics. WTC should be embraced as readily by conservatives (whom Paramount is actively courting with advance screenings in Washington) as by liberals. For two hours and nine minutes, at least, it makes the distinction irrelevant.

In other words, WTC has entitlement issues that have nothing to do with its quality: It is gutsy art, it is humanist catharsis, it transcends ideology and thus, in many ways, defies opinion. As such, maybe the issue at hand is not whether or not artists have the right to survey 9/11 (a ridiculous non-issue to which Ansen and others pay far too much heed), but rather the point at which their work stops being art and instead exists as a sort of cultural doctrine–a standard-bearer rather than a reflection. I will not see the film for another week, but the question I cannot shake is not the one asking if World Trade Center is too much too soon for victims and their families. I just want to know if it is too much too soon for a culture that appears to reward risk only insofar as it affirms its identity (and forwards a cut of the profits to charity). Does this make me a cynic?
(Photo: Francois Duhamel/Paramount Pictures)

Oh. Canada. : Haynes Flees North, Takes Dylan Quasi-Biopic With Him


Word just over the Reeler HQ transom reports that director Todd Haynes will finally get his long-awaited Bob Dylan film I’m Not There rolling this Monday, July 31. That is the “good” news. The “bad” news is that Haynes is taking himself, the crew and the whole goddamned cast portraying Dylan (“six actors play the iconic singer-songwriter in his different life-guises,” the latest release says) up to Montreal to shoot the film. This means no Cate Blanchett-as- Dylan sightings around the Village and at least two or three weeks without Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams and Baby Matilda cute-ifying the hell out Brooklyn. Even David Cross has to leave the East Village for a few days to supply his supporting role.
I mean, David Cross? Will this ruthless nation stop at nothing to defeat us?

Screening Gotham: July 28-30, 2006

A few of this weekend’s worthwile cinematic happenings around New York:
Like I said before, Gela Babluani is going to be around for a while, and you might as well find out why: His feature debut 13 Tzameti, which broke through at Sundance and is getting the American remake treatment this fall, recounts the Hitchcockian/Polanskian/insert-austere-Euro-thriller-director-here-ian tale of an impoverished young man embroiled in one of modern cinema’s more insidious get-rich-quick schemes.

No. 13 with a bullet: George Babluani shoots to live in 13 Tzameti (Photo: Palm Pictures)

Despite a serviceable lead performance by George Babluani and a brilliant, enervated turn by Aurélien Recoing (Time Out), Babluani’s script has nothing on his style: 13 Tzameti flourishes in its silence and space, more accomplished in all it leaves unspoken than any of its pedestrian plot trickery. Which, I guess, is what frightens me about the American version: Consider this my earnest prayer for more show, less tell.
–The Film Society of Lincoln Center continues the 2006 Scanners video festival this weekend, showcasing Diane Nerwen’s abstinence-ed satire The Sexorcist: Revirginize as part of Saturday’s Mediated Media program. Nerwen combines images from The Exorcist and the Britney Spears masterpiece Crossroads with a million or so sound clips culled from elsewhere around cinema; the result features a young woman (Spears) who swears off sex only to vie with her mother (Ellen Burstyn) and, naturally, her libido in the fight for her soul. Alternately campy, idiotic and borderline unwatchable, the film nevertheless symbolizes the type of creative, organic political rebuke that American culture so sorely lacks. OK, fine–I’ll give you the 11 o’clock hour on Comedy Central, if only to give you the exception that proves the rule.
–Celebrate Russian motherhood with tonight’s bouncy Sokurov/Tarkovsky double feature at Anthology. Mother and Son fires up at 7 p.m., with Tarkovsky’s The Mirror following at 8:30.

Lumenick Channels McCarthy, Brain Death in 'Ant Bully' Review


You have to hand it to the Post’s Lou Lumenick. Obviously tiring of his colleagues’ half-assed Soviet allusions in their analyses of conflicts in the Middle East, the critic today reaffirms his old-school GOP cred by steadfastly clinging to the Cold War–in the most reactionary way possible, of course:

If The Ant Bully were made 60 years ago, it would have been one-tenth the length, boasted 10 times as many laughs – and probably would have landed its makers before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

This generic exercise in computer-generated animation may provide passable entertainment for very young children, but adults will be less than enchanted by its preachiness, talkiness and Communist Party-line political views. …

Our hero is taken prisoner and the ant queen (voiced by Meryl Streep, no less) assigns a nurse aunt named Hova (Julia Roberts) to indoctrinate Lucas in the ways of the colony.

She yammers so incessantly about sacrificing all for the common good that her lines sound like they were scripted by Karl Marx. Did I mention these are red ants?

Well, no, Lou, but go right ahead. Anyway, not all is lost: Warner Bros. can take consolation in its new film being “passable entertainment for very young children,” especially considering The Ant Bully‘s “very young children” target audience.
More excitingly, Lumenick has bumped up the flow in his and Kyle Smith‘s right-wing hack pissing contest, inching the 2006 competition closer to its All the King’s Men/Bobby review showdown and the coveted grand prize: one’s name scrawled on a rocket into Lebanon and a signed color headshot of Andrea Peyser. That Murdoch guy sure knows how to motivate people.

Mahurin Goes About 'Killing Flies' in Nifty Village Restaurant Doc

This is not really news, but the phrase “independent film” has been co-opted, looted, plundered and pillaged in such a variety of ways by so many different parties that the indie brand has all but supplanted the indie practice in 2006. As such, when a film like Matt Mahurin’s documentary I Like Killing Flies comes along (today at Cinema Village, in fact)–a clever slice-of-life piece shot, recorded, edited and paid for (on a sprawling, mid-four-figure budget) entirely by its filmmaker on days off from his regular gig–the achievement tends to linger in the long shadows thrown by higher-profile indieplex fare like Little Miss Sunshine or Clerks II.

Day labor: Restaurateur Kenny Shopsin at work in Matt Mahurin’s documentary I Like Killing Flies (Photo: ThinkFilm)

At best a paradox and at worst an indignity, this phenomenon might actually find itself reflected in the subject of Mahurin’s film: Kenny Shopsin, the imaginative, profane restaurateur whose Village institution Shopsin’s endured New York’s gentrification shuffle in 2002. After 32 years (and 900 menu items) in his tiny joint on Morton Street, a formidable rent spike drove him and his family to their new digs at Carmine and Bedford streets–forgoing almost two generations of hole-in-the-wall mythos for survival’s sake. Himself a longtime customer and friend of Shopsin’s, esteemed photographer/painter/music video director Mahurin uncapped his video camera and documented the hopes, fears and pesky logisitcs surrounding the transition.
Most important for Mahurin was finding the real Shopsin, whose brusque disposition (“Everybody should get thrown out at least once,” one interviewee tells Mahurin) belies the benevolence behind his enterprise. “In the back of my mind, I always believed that Kenny was worthy of a film,” Mahurin told The Reeler earlier this week. “When you go to Shopsin’s, you think about, ‘Who can I bring here?’ And that was my ultimate film. Maybe they won’t be able to come here and eat the food and that kind of stuff. The food is wonderful, and it’s the heart of the experience in one way, but what Kenny has has to offer transcends what comes out of the kitchen.”

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Aronofsky, Hawke Lead Small NYC Delegation to Venice in '06

Congrats to Darren Aronofsky, Ethan Hawke and… and… that’s about it for New Yorkers premiering their latest films at the Venice Film Festival starting Aug. 30. Although I guess Neil LaBute and his Wicker Man remake count for something, while The Devil Wears Prada and World Trade Center will also be screening out of competition.

The Venetian: Hugh Jackman in Darren Aronofsky’s Venice-preeming The Fountain (Photo: Warner Bros.)

But the geek cavalcade is already suiting up for Aronofsky’s The Fountain, the big-budget mind-fuck fantasy that Gothamites will likely get their first glimpse at during this year’s New York Film Festival. A little less prick-engorging is Hawke’s The Hottest State, the actor’s directing debut that so cruelly turned Chelsea street parking on its ear before God smote its production HQ last spring.
I will defer to Venice’s Web site for a list of 2006’s remaining selections (including, at long last, David Lynch’s Inland Empire), and I wish Aronofsky the best in bringing the Golden Lion back home to Brooklyn. Or the East Village. Or wherever the hell he and Rachel Weisz have the baby furniture set up these days.

'Woody Thinks It's Funny': Scarlett, Sex and the Trouble With 'Scoop'

The Reeler had the chance a while back to talk with Scarlett Johansson about the romantic comedy/thriller Scoop, her latest collaboration with Woody Allen. The film is a pleasing-enough trifle, with the passable Johansson portraying a student reporter chasing down the identity of London’s notorious Tarot Card Killer; her quest is aided by the spirit of a deceased journalist (Ian McShane) and a D-grade American magician (Allen), whose counsel and conspiracy lead her to the suspect arms of dashing aristocrat Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman).

Scarlett Johansson sizes up her source in Woody Allen’s Scoop (Photo: Clive Cooke / Focus Features)

Despite a mildly sclerotic screwball comedy vein and the grating dead-guy-sending-news-tips tack too underused to be anything but a contrivance, seeing Allen onscreen remains one of cinema’s grand treats–no matter how corny the jokes (“Land is so difficult to come by, especially outdoors,” he kvetches to an assemblage of bluebloods) or how self-referential his schtick (had Danny Rose not turned to repping talent, he would have become Scoop‘s Sid Waterman). And his climax is so exquisitely crafted–it lasts about 20 seconds, totally eschews melodrama and works better as any of the clunky exposition preceding it–that one cannot help but cherish its invention. Nevertheless, as Allen is on the record as wanting to pay homage to “first-rate investigative journalism,” his depiction of a 20-year-old who sleeps her way to her scoops is a little more Judy Miller than Nellie Bly.
And as Scoop‘s brilliant conclusion implies, Johansson’s Sondra Pransky knew exactly what she was doing–even if the actress backs away from the tactic and its sordid implications.
“Woody finds it very humorous to just have sort of the way that people kind of use sex as a means of getting things out of one another,” Johansson told me. “I think that he comes from a time when sexuality was something that was very kind of frivolous and young pretty girls sleeping around was not seen as being scandal or anything like. I mean, we live in such a conservative society today–it seems to be a huge deal. But I think it’s so great how Woody kind of makes light of that, because the truth is that people are probably having as much sex now as they ever did. But for some reason nobody wants to talk about it. But he never really spoke about that drive or that ambition. Clearly, I don’t think my character is forcing herself into sleeping with Hugh’s charcter, Peter Lyman. I mean, she’s totally head over heels. He’s gorgeous and charming and rich and everything that she kind of isn’t. So I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch.”
Let us forget for a moment Johansson’s transposition of sexual eras. The bottom line is that comedy or not, head-over-heels or not, all of Scoop‘s sex is goal-oriented sex. Allen sets it up in his introduction to Sondra, who stakes out a famous filmmaker in a hotel lobby, badgers him into an interview and then, we find out later, fucks him to no good end. “I slept with him and I didn’t even get the scoop!” her character cries to her roommate, who rejoins her with the consolation, “So you blew the story; it’s not life or death.”
Which is fine, I guess; the film’s DNA is too innocuous to be that outrageous. But Allen’s, on the other hand… “first-rate investigative journalism” my ass.
“I think she’s just kind of drunk and kind of taken by this popular, successful, sophisticated guy,” Johansson said. “There was actually a longer chunk of that where she gets more and more drunk, but it was probably getting over the top and she was trashed. But it was very funny. The key is Woody thinks it’s funny.”
Got it. Woody thinks it funny. At least somebody does.

'Sunshine' Sets at Upper West Side Premiere

The Reeler also crashed last night’s official New York premiere of Little Miss Sunshine–not to be confused with the “opening-night preview screening” that unspooled a few months back at BAM, and certainly not to be confused with the world premiere that so enraptured a Sundance ’06 crowd that standing-O’d it to a $10 million sale. This was the Broadway-media-phalanx, if-I-can-make-it-there-I’ll-make-it-30-minutes-late Gotham remix. With a gold carpet in place of a red one.

Let the Sunshine in: (L-R) Greg Kinnear, Jonathan Dayton, Toni Collette, Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin and Valerie Faris, running late and loving it Tuesday night at Loews Lincoln Plaza (Photo: STV)

Oddly, it all seemed so final–like a wrap party for a half-year spent over the moon. Is this, in fact, the last premiere?
“This is the last premiere,” Little Miss Sunshine co-director (and all-around nice guy) Jonathan Dayton told me. “We’ll do a little bit more traveling, but it’s hard, because the great thing is that when we get to go out and watch the film with new audences, that’s always fun.”
“It keeps it really fresh in a way, because you’re watching with total strangers,” said Valerie Faris, Dayton’s wife and directing partner, foreshadowing what would become the sentiment of the evening. “They’re not even necessarily film enthusiasts. So that’s been really rewarding, and you know, hopefully, we want it to find its audence. People who like what it is, and–”
“And it’s certainly not for everyone, you know,” Dayton said. “It’s been great that there’s been so much buzz about it.” On cue, his cell phone rang. Dayton checked the caller ID. “602. This is my best friend from high school.” He excused himself.
I asked Faris which of their colleagues and peers they had consulted with as part of their publicity-marathon training. “We talked to our friends Mike Mills, who directed Thumbsucker, and Bennett Miller,” she said. “Both of them just said, ‘Sleep as much as you can now–beforehand. You’ll just be exhausted.’ ”
Near the wall of the lobby, Dayton plugged his free ear. ” You’re where?” he asked his caller. “OK, we’re coming in right now.”
“But, you know, it’s weird,” Faris continued. “I think maybe because our film is a comedy, and everytime you watch the end of the movie with people it’s such an energy charge, I haven’t been that drained by this process yet, I guess.”
Dayton stepped back up. “It’s a very good problem to have,” he said.
“But a few bad reviews could really do me in,” Faris said.
Which makes it even harder for me to be down on Sunshine itself, which seemed little more to me than a fetish party of quirks–five rich performances in search of a story (and Alan Arkin in search of an Oscar nod) and about three indie-ready road-trip montages too many. That’s all my conscience will allow me to say; I will be doing no doing-in today. Or maybe I just did. Damn.
Anyway, fuck it. Little Miss Sunshine opens Wednesday in New York, go see it, tell me I am wrong, etc.

'Brothers of the Head": The Treadaways Take New York

The way it usually works is that IFC will premiere one of its films in plush mini-gala style at IFC Center, and afterward the guests will pile into the adjoining café for hours of deabauched gaiety. But Tuesday’s premiere of the conjoined-twin rock saga Brothers of the Head was so stylish and so debauched that party proceedings had to be relocated a few blocks south to Don Hill’s, lest the indignity of hipster bacchanalia forever sully the joint’s classy appeal.

Brothers in arms: (L-R) Harry Treadaway, Louis Pepe, John Cameron Mitchell, Keith Fulton and Luke Treadaway pile on after Tuesday’s Brothers of the Head premiere (Photos: STV)

Which is not to say that the gathering deteriorated into some convention of trash; quite the opposite, in fact. Sure, the Misshapes DJ’d the whole thing, and servers cruised the room wielding plastic shot cups held down with Jameson. For the most part, however, the company was good, most notably Brothers directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe and their film’s twin leading men, Luke and Harry Treadaway.
“I don’t think it’s started yet, to be honest,” Luke Treadaway told The Reeler when asked how his night was going. “We need a few more beers and well be on it, really.”
“Yeah, I’m kind of pissed,” Harry said. “I’ve been awake for 30 hours; I need to wake up and I might realize what I’m doing. But I enjoyed it, I haven’t seen the film for ages, so I enjoyed watching it quite a bit. Every time you watch it with a different audience, there’s a different reaction. Different laughs, different silences. That’s when you start to understand what a film is about more, I think, because you start to be able to see it through an audience’s eyes–the way a fresh audience sees it.”
“The first time was in Toronto, and it was the most sort-of horrific experiece of my life,” Luke said. “I mean, we sat in this huge fucking IMAX theater and it was the first time I’d seen it on a bg screen at all. And I remember gripping onto Lou (Pepe) and–”
“It’s fucking good, you know?” Harry said. “The favorite part for me is seeing the band and the people we know and the little looks, and…” Harry hesitated. He twisted his body and convulsed slightly. “Joy Division’s just come on.” He flattened his palms and began playing the drum part for “Transmission” on his thighs. He stood up and exorcised a series of halting dance moves.


A moment later I learned Harry is portraying Joy Division drummer Stephen Morris in Anton Corbijn’s long-awaited Control. “It’s amazing,” he said. “I was filming last night at 8 o’clock, and now I’m here. So that’s pretty fucking weird. Anyway, Joy Division is incredible–”
Wait, wait, wait, wait — he was shooting Control last night? In England?
“Yeah, in England,” he said. “But the music is incredible, and… and… I can’t start talking about it yet, because I haven’t even fucking done it.”
The rest of the conversation comprised more Joy Division-geek bonding than you could possibly want to imagine, let alone read, so I am sorry to let you down once again. I did not even take the opportunity I should have taken to congratulate John Cameron Mitchell (who arrived just in time for the medium-drunk photo-op above) on Shortbus, which I glimpsed last week and am glad to say I was wrong in dreading, even if his high-minded sophistry at the time continues to rankle me. Of course, his own film’s depraved afterparty will be here before we know it. I expect to have swallowed enough of my pride by then to feel better about showing my face. If not, I’ll always have those plastic cups of whiskey.

'Descent' of a Woman: Marshall Talks Horror, Misogyny at Lincoln Center


At a fairly crucial point in Monday’s preview screening of Neil Marshall’s wonderful new horror film The Descent, a man stepped out of the Walter Reade Theater to collect his senses. “Man, that shit is scary,” he muttered. He inhaled, chuckled tensely and walked back into the theater for the climax.
Such is The Descent‘s appeal–draining, terrifying and so compulsively watchable that even the most fragile of viewers would shrivel their noses in benign disgust before turning their heads in distaste. Taking a quick breather from a film about a caving expedition gone wrong seems intuitive enough, I suppose, but Marshall’s taut narrative and exquisite technique defy staying away for long. If nothing else, The Descent adopts a horror style so endangered that it transcends lost art and acquires the luster of holy trinity: robust frights, liberal gore and six characters (or more notably, six women) whose interpersonal dynamics reflect the complexity of the cave system that traps them.
“Up until that point, I couldn’t think of any examples that had come before,” Marshall (above) told the audience at Lincoln Center. “And it seemed such an ideal environment. There are so many ways to die in caving–it’s considered to be the most dangerous ‘dangerous sport.’ There’s falling and dark and paranoia and psychosis and claustrophobia–you name it. There are all these horrendous ways of going in caves, and I thought, ‘This is the right environment to set a horror film in.'”
And that is not even acknowledging the “crawlers” who threaten the sextet, or the grudges and guilt polluting the women’s survival efforts. For starters, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) resents Juno (Natalie Mendoza) for fleeing her side after the tragic death of her husband and daughter a year before. Reunited in Appalachia with four friends and acquaintances, the pair bond over the outdoors and, eventually, the underground. But Juno’s overreaching quest to make things right forsakes catharsis for pride, and soon the women are lost in beneath the earth in caves way, way off the map. Not that Juno brought a map, of course.
The terror of close quarters emerges well before the group’s understanding that they are not alone, making claustrophobia sort of a broad macguffin once Marshall’s slick, screeching carnivores set upon them. And they are slick: Unpretentious in every way, Marshall’s blind, limber humanoid predators are little more than guys in slimy makeup and milky contact lenses, but their invisibility and sameness make them as formidable as any high-tech horror villain of the last decade. In their flight, the group gets split up, and in the attrition that follows, old wounds rub raw. Despite everything, scores must be settled.

Our fearful leader: Natalie Mendoza in The Descent (Photo: Lionsgate)

Marshall admits drafting and redrafting his script to accommodate characters who were “much more real and human.” Keeping his last film–the male-bonding horror exercise Dog Soldiers–in mind, however, it is not hard to invoke a devil’s-advocate position recognizing these women’s decisions to turn on each other. Their motivations are not always clear (Juno’s attempts to help Sarah teeter between earnestness and disingenuousness), and their politics are not especially conducive to progress. At least as The Descent portrays it, vengeance has its own rewards, but it fails mightily as a feminist touchstone.
And Monday at Lincoln Center, at least one viewer objected to this part of Marshall’s vision. “Why women, and why so unflattering?” he asked.
“‘Why women, and why so unflattering?'” Marshall repeated. “Why do you think it’s unflattering?”
“You have women who run and break their legs, you have an egomaniac, and you have a… well, Sigourney Weaver wanna-be, I would say.”
“Um…” Marshall started. “Well, I think that’s just what regular people might do under those kinds of situations. They’re not meant to be superheroes. They’re not soldiers. They’re neither. They’re just civilians. And when the shit hits the fan, some of them run. Some of them don’t run. Some of them fight. And, yeah, there’s an egomaniac involved, but yeah, out of six people, every so often you get an egomaniac. I wasn’t trying to make flattering portrayals of women; I was trying to make accurate portrayals of humans. The whole point of using women in the film was that it wasn’t about them being women. … It would have been exactly the same story had it been a bunch of men.”
I tend to side with Marshall, although the bitchiness-as-gratuitous-emotional-arc camp could mount a decent argument. At any rate, rest assured there will be more of this debate (hopefully more articulate; the critic took three tries before giving up on the word ‘egomaniac’) when The Descent opens nationally Aug. 4. Look for me in the lobby, watching for defectors.

Hanni-mation: Diesel Brings Carthaginian Cartoon General to BET

When The Reeler last caught up with Vin Diesel in March, he attributed a sincere (if rambling) measure of creative influence to his Find Me Guilty director Sidney Lumet. In particular, Diesel noted his added confidence heading into the production of Hannibal, his long-gestating, dead-language epic about the vengeful Carthaginian general, the Alps and some elephants.

The illustrated man: Hannibal hopeful Vin Diesel (Photos: STV)

After all that, however, pardon me if my expectations were irrationally higher than this:

Vin Diesel will take on the Roman Empire in a new BET Networks cartoon series about military leader Hannibal. … Diesel, who also is in development on a feature film centering on Hannibal, called the series “groundbreaking.”

“I knew that BET would be the perfect place to launch an animated series that celebrates an African mythology and a general that is probably the most notorious general of all time,” Diesel said. “It’s a story that resonates with everyone — it truly is a celebration of a general who is able to bring everyone together with the common cause to essentially fight for freedom.”

“Resonates with everyone” but Sony, perhaps, where the project continues dangling in the gentle breeze generated by Revolution Studios’ implosion. At any rate, BET’s animation boss Denys Cowan insists “this isn’t a Saturday morning show”; a sprawling anime miniseries could go over well, with the general vanquishing Rome in a revisionist twist with a glowing blue bolt of light shot from his sword. Personally, I would rather see Diesel try claymation, or perhaps try something featuring South Park‘s construction-paper elephants. Come one, come all with your ideas–the guy evidently needs a new one.

Where's Anderson? One New Yorker's Quest For Wes

While enduring a walk through SoHo last week, I spotted a few photocopied posters taped to lampposts along Prince Street. They queried in blockish, hand-drawn letters: DEAR MR. WES ANDERSON, WHERE ARE YOU? SARAH, accompanied by an illustration of what I assumed was the artist guided by some hipster-auteur radar gadget in hand. “If you are Wes Anderson, know him or know how I can get in touch with him, please e-mail wesandersonsearch [at] hotmail.com,” the poster entreatied.

All-points bulletin: Sarah Law’s flier, near Prince and Mulberry streets (Photo: STV)

Not quite believing (or even being able to rationalize) what I was seeing, I sent along an inquiry to learn more. “Wes Anderson is just one of my all-time favorite directors,” said Sarah Law, a friendly, candid 20-year-old Hong Kong native who began her quest late in 2005. “I’m an art student at Parsons, and I’ve always wanted to meet him, but I’ve never been able to figure out how I could get his contact (information). So I just started putting up these posters. I put them up downtown, in SoHo, East Village, West Village, kind of all over the place. I’ve been getting a lot of contact from people, but so far I haven’t really gotten in touch with him.”
And after she meets him? “I’d really like to work with him in some capacity,” she said. “I’m very interested in all kinds of art, and I mean, it could be a very naïve, student-type thing to do, but just to be in these kind of creatvie situations and projects, that what I want to do. It started as a project to find him, and whatever comes out of it–even if it’s nothing–I still had fun doing it.”
Law puts the response tally at about 40 so far, adding that most people contacted her out of the same curiosity that guided me to write. On the whole, feedback has been supportive if not productive. She said one woman got in touch saying her son once worked with Anderson; her note compiled the names and contact information for the companies they had in common. Law said she passed along letters to each just a few days ago.
Only a handful of replies have been negative, including a few customary Wes Anderson haters and one man who wrote to complain about “litter” after removing Law’s handiwork from his neighborhood. Among the positive contacts, Law stays in touch with a few seeking to stay apprised of her progress. The latest development has her heading off for a year of studying in Paris–coincidentally or not, the city in which Anderson is rumored to be taking up semi-permanent residence.
As hinted at above, Law frequently refers to her search as a “project”–as in, her family and most of her New York friends support her project, but several of her old boarding school friends “just thought it was one of the most wack projects.” Naturally, the “S” word has crept into more than one such exchange. “They thought I was stalking him and stuff like that,” she said. “I definitely understand that, but I don’t know. That’s just not how I see it. If I met him, I wouldn’t be really crazy or anything. I don’t see it as stalking him; I like his work, but I’m not in love with him. I’m interested in working with him.”
Law paused. “But like I said,” she continued, “if I never meet him, being able to do this has been a lot of fun, too.”

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Screening Gotham: July 21-23, 2006


My scarcity around these parts culminates in a few heavy deadlines Monday; I hope to return next week with something resembling regularity, or at least utility. Meanwhile, as per Reeler custom, here are a few of this weekend’s worthwhile cinematic goings-on around New York:
–BAM continues its Great Villians in Cinema series with about as disparate a trio as you can conjure. James Cagney stars today in White Heat (right), the crime saga showcasing the actor’s turn as sneering, wretched gangster (and unapologetic mama’s boy) Cody Jarrett. For anyone who missed A Clockwork Orange earlier this month at the Museum of the Moving Image’s Kubrick retrospective, you’ll have an encore opportunity Saturday to see Malcolm McDowell’s eyelids peeled back in the name of rehabilitation. Finally, Sunday brings Michael Powell’s voyeuristic lady-slayer Peeping Tom. And if all that unrepentant nastiness is just too much of a karmic burden, you can always check in on the more lovable puzzle nemesis Will Shortz in Wordplay, also now playing right in the same building.
–I swear I am not on Celebrate Brooklyn’s payroll; the Prospect Park arts series just has that much going for it in consecutive weeks. You will remember Yo La Tengo chiming and shimmering last week over the underwater films of Jean Painlevé, and tonight, the Alloy Orchestra takes the Bandshell to perform its score to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1929 silent-film swan song, Blackmail. Probably most famous for its British Museum chase sequence and its concurrently made talkie version, Blackmail is even more notably the dynamic, accomplished work of a master director barely 30 years old. As I prepare for my own 30th while flailing away on a fucking blog, I will try not to be too resentful.
–Catastrophe, camp or classic? You be the judge as misunderstood genius M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water opens with all the grace of a picnic on a shooting range.

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“We don’t have any idea what the universe is. Wise people have always told us that this is proof you shouldn’t think, because thinking leads you nowhere. You just build over this huge construction of misunderstanding, which is culture. The history of culture is the history of the misunderstandings of great thinkers. So we always have to go back to zero and begin differently. And maybe in that way you have a chance not to understand but at least not to have further misunderstandings. Because this is the other side of this question—Am I really so brave to cancel all human culture? To stop admiring the beauty in human production? It’s very difficult to say no.”
~ László Krasznahorkai

“I have a license to carry in New York. Can you believe that? Nobody knows that, [Applause] somebody attacks, somebody attacks me, oh, they’re gonna be shot. Can you imagine? Somebody says, oh, it is Trump, he’s easy pickings what do you say? Right? Oh, boy. What was the famous movie? No. Remember, no remember where he went around and he sort of after his wife was hurt so badly and kill. What?  I — Honestly, Yeah, right, it’s true, but you have many of them. Famous movie. Somebody. You have many of them. Charles Bronson right the late great Charles Bronson name of the movie come on.  , remember that? Ah, we’re gonna cut you up, sir, we’re gonna cut you up, uh-huh.

Bing!

One of the great movies. Charles Bronson, great, Charles Bronson. Great movies. Today you can’t make that movie because it’s not politically correct, right? It’s not politically correct. But could you imagine with Trump? Somebody says, oh, all these big monsters aren’t around he’s easy pickings and then shoot.”
~ Donald Trump