Well, I didn't really enjoy the movie much, but I did learn something
interesting from doing the background research. I found out the reason why so
many French movies suck. The writer/director of this film, Olivier Assayas was
"President of the jury at the entrance examination of La Fémis (France's
national film school) in 2002."
Imagine that. France is filed with great filmmakers. Michel Gondry
directed and co-wrote Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Jean-Pierre Jeunet
is arguably the greatest living filmmaker. The list could go on and on, but I
chose two names familiar on both sides of the Atlantic. So who did they put in charge of
the admission process for the national film school? The director of Demonlover,
which is conceivably the worst film I've ever seen from a major director (and,
mind you, I have seen Robert Altman's Popeye and Spike Lee's She Hate Me), and
which would receive no better than
a gentleman's D as a final project in film school. Placing Assayas in charge of
a film school admissions process is like placing Amy Winehouse in charge of a
Boarding Gate is not as bad a film as Demonlover. Assayas obviously did a
little research since that earlier film, in which the business presentations involved
mistakes in basic arithmetic, because Boarding Gate expresses the
background details of international business in plausible terms. If he got his facts essentially in
order this time, he still made a mess of the actual filmmaking. In fact it's difficult to imagine
an experienced director making a film this bad without doing so intentionally.
While it is ostensibly an erotic thriller about double-crosses in the world of
international trade, it includes what is essentially a 34 minute face-to-face
talk scene in which two ex-lovers debate about whether they will get back
together. I'm only exaggerating a little bit. The conversation actually takes
place in two segments, one in his office (9 minutes) and the other in his
apartment (25 minutes). Those two scenes are separated by a brief action scene,
and the one in the apartment includes some attempts at sex and eventually ends with about a
minute of violence, but in the main my earlier description of a 34 minute conversation
was not unfair.
And this is not just any 34 minute conversation.
I guess it is possible to imagine a film scenario where 34 minutes worth of
bitter lover's reminiscences might be interesting, if the actors were Jack
Nicholson and Kathleen Turner and the dialogue were scripted by Woody Allen,
although I think even that would probably not work in a thriller. In this case,
however, the female participant is the Eurotrash queen Asia Argento, who mumbles every line in a energy-free whisper
with no hint of emotion and no change in facial expression, as if she were a Cylon with the volume turned too low.
Although she is in danger of being declared clinically deceased, she seems as lively and perky
as Betty Hutton compared to her male counterpart, Michael Madsen. Maybe the big
guy was jet-lagged, because he seems to go through the film in a sleep-deprived
stupor. He performed every scene in this film in two shirts, and he changed them
in the middle of one of the scenes, so it's possible that he showed up for a
day, shot his scenes, and left. I don't suppose the director had time to do a
lot of re-takes because there are a couple of occasions when Madsen seems to
have forgotten his lines, pauses a bit, then obviously fills in some generic verbiage. In
addition to his other problems, Madsen is completely miscast in the part of a
high-flying financial wizard who has fallen down on his luck. He is bloated and
overweight, breathes laboriously, smokes profusely, and looks like a slob.
(Refusing to change his wrinkled shirt doesn't help.) He's not exactly the guy
to instill confidence in the money boys in Hong Kong and Zurich.
Madsen himself has said:
"I was completely confused with that character. I really didn't know what the
fuck to do. I mean, the guy is on the internet and he is stockbroker and he's a
businessman and he has an office with a staff. He wears nice shirts, suits. He
drives a nice car. I could not relate to it at all. I did not know what the fuck
Madsen shows some real potential as a film critic.
Although he might want to learn how to use contractions first.
The really bad news is that Madsen and Argento's deadpan performances seem like
the hyperkinetic work of Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh compared to the
performance of Kim Gordon, Courtney Love's pal and the singer/bassist from Sonic
Youth, who is cast in a minor role. She delivered her lines as if she couldn't
understand English at all and had to pronounce it phonetically by spitting out memorized syllables
in a monotone. Other than a lack of time in the shooting schedule, the only
explanation for why Assayas didn't re-shoot Gordon's scenes is that his own
English is not up to a standard where he could hear how badly she was reading
The film is not completely without merit. There are a couple of fairly decent
Bourne Light action scenes and the basic plot is interesting, albeit told
in an utterly confusing way. Those few positives make it a better film than Demonlover, but that is faint praise indeed. Viewed in the broad perspective,
is a thriller in which the plot is confusing, the acting is indifferent at best,
long stretches include no forward momentum, and some parts are presented in foreign
languages without subtitles.
If you run a film school, I wouldn't recommend placing Assayas
in charge. In fact, I wouldn't even recommend admitting him
as a student, unless you have a remedial education department.
The nudity, however, is A-OK, and the sex scenes have a strong hint of
The dystopic Southland Tales may have been the worst-received film in the
history of the Cannes Film Festival. Observers said that it set a
record for walk-outs, and Roger Ebert called it the greatest festival
disaster since the infamous Brown Bunny.
The normally staid and verbose BBC shrugged its shoulders and
declared, with terse simplicity, "It sucks."
Worst of all, the Village Voice gave the film its kiss of death: "Southland
Tales actually is a visionary film about the end of times."
As I watched the film, my first reaction was, "This is what Blade
Runner might have been like if it had been directed by John Waters
instead of Ridley Scott." I thought that was an insult until I found that writer/director Richard Kelly
was going for precisely that aesthetic. His own quote: "A strange hybrid
of the sensibilities of Andy Warhol and Philip K. Dick ... It will
only be a musical in a post-modern sense of the word in that it is a
hybrid of several genres. There will be some dancing and singing, but
it will be incorporated into the story in very logical scenarios as
well as fantasy dream environments."
You may already have guessed
that the film makes little sense. The size of its cast would make
Tolstoy envious, and its storyline sprawls so much that the
synopsis is 8000 words long. You can't really follow the
anfractuous plot at all while watching the film, and your eyes will probably
still be glazed over even after reading that summary linked above,
because the byzantine story contained within the film is only the
final three parts of a hexology. The previous three parts are
contained in comic books:
Two Roads Diverge
- The Mechanicals
The story not only sprawls, but it moves freely back and forth
between the possible, the improbable, the deliberately surreal,
and the just plain silly, so you can't find any anchor to get involved
in the film since it follows neither the rules of our universe nor its
I was in the same boat as many of the critics in that my attention
kept wandering during the film, but it wasn't so much because I didn't
understand what was going on. I just didn't care. It's a labyrinth and
there is no entry point. If you're befuddled by the plot, don't look
for an entry into the film through the characters, because you can't
relate to any of them, and I presume you are not supposed to, ala Dr.
Strangelove. And don't look to be sympathetic with the film's point of
view. Although political and social commentary are an important
part of the film's raison de etre, they are shallow and sophomoric.
And that's actually an insult to sophomores everywhere.
I think it's easy enough to describe the film. Here's how to
replicate it. Take four high school students with B averages. You
can't use top students, because they would have a pretty good grasp of
the subtleties and nuances of geopolitics. You can't use poor students
because they probably don't know where Iraq is, or why it is
significant. You need the type of students who surf the internet
enough to have developed a superficial and one-sided view of the world
which they are convinced is the One True Faith. Ask them each to
compose a short story about the future, and forbid them from
discussing the project amongst themselves. Then take every single
detail from all four stories and combine them into one narrative.
Discard nothing, even if it seems to be irrelevant to and completely
outlying from your cobbled storyline. Just try to stuff it all
together somehow. Voila! The script for Southland Tales 2.
order to make that into a film, hire a bunch of people who used to
work on SNL. Not the top-liners, but the second-tier actors. Get
other actors of the same type: the type whose idea of comic
performing is to deliver lines so that everyone knows they're joking
around, like Stifler and The Rock. Have your four students try to
choose the right cast members for each role, then shuffle the deck
around until you use none of their choices.
There you have it. The Village Voice thinks you're a genius.
This film has been cut substantially since its Cannes premiere and
the longer version of this film must have had more nudity, because
that is listed as part of the reason for the R rating, and the only
"nudity" I could find was
this Bai Ling downblouse. It is, however, a dream come true to see
a Bai Ling nipple. Who would ever have dreamed that we'd see one of
those one day?
Catch the deluxe
version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles,
Notes and collages
Anne Marie in Talk Dirty (2003)
Heather Graham in Killing Me Softly
clips are a mammoth download - 280 meg - but here's the deal.
They are taken from an HDTV source, and their native size is
1280x688. The samples below were prepared by the same guy who did
the clips, so they give you a good idea of the quality.
Michelle Trachtenberg in Beautiful
The scene is disappointing, but
is 640x480, so at least you get to see it in pretty good quality. I
snapped the two frames below and magnified them 2x.
Keri Russell in Grimm
Love. She swims and takes a shower. Unfortunately for us, she
does both in a swim suit.
|Two from episode 1 of the Tudors, season two.