damages (+ nurse jackie)

simon and i have been watching damages and nurse jackie. the first two season of the former are available on dvd, so we basically gorged on them and absolutely loved them. the series is built like a long film broken into episodes, like the wire, and starts with a small, tantalizing taste of what happens at the end. this is also the format of each episode: we get a minute or so of the end, then a caption says, “six months earlier,” and the story resumes chronologically. every episode closes the gap between the chronological story and the end, which is in the meantime doled out to us in greater portions. of course, the end is entirely shocking and you have absolutely no idea (though by the end of the season you have your suspicions) how the show will get from where it is in the narrative present to the preposterous conclusion. Continue reading damages (+ nurse jackie)

the messenger

the messenger is, as one expects, replete with back-at-home war movie clichés, but i found it extremely affecting nonetheless, mostly because it’s about tender feelings, confusion, and mildness rather than blown-up warrior hurt and over-the-top drama. woody harrelson and ben foster play two soldiers assigned to the Casualty Notification Team, the folks who are in charge of telling next-of-kin that a soldier was killed in combat. woody’s character, capt. stone, was in desert storm but never got hurt; foster’s character, staff sergeant will montgomery, is just back from iraq where he was injured by the IED that killed a fellow soldier. ben foster is the kid who played claire fisher’s sort-of boyfriend in six feet under, but while in six feet he was weedy and scuzzy looking, here he’s buff, clean, strong, and surprisingly handsome. Continue reading the messenger

All this over a fucking shopping mall?

The first installment of the British miniseries Red Riding1974–is better than any film I’ve seen thus far this year. It’s a little flawed–a little too in love with impressionistic love scenes, but emphasis on me nagging when I should be crowing. Performances across the board are phenomenal, particularly a late-arriving heavy played with thick shaggy mane and thick shaggy Yorkshire accent by Sean Bean. It’s gorgeously filmed, almost impossible to tell it was television, given such rigorous attention to ’70s-influenced widescreen compositions and a showboat tracking shot or two. The story begins with and ostensibly centers on a possible serial killer, taking little girls, but that mystery is a thread through a thicket — dense social and political context, a thick ash-cloud gray-sky atmosphere, and a poisoned moral universe….

I got the UK dvd set, but I’d say this’d be very much worth catching in the theaters, as it sneaks around the country.

Party Down

I don’t have Starz, as my cable provider only carries plurals using the letter “s”–those repressive motherfuckerz–so I had no clue that this even existed. And when I did hear some rumor that it existed, the it sounded crap: a series about down-on-their-luck Hollywood-wannabes who work for a catering company. Hijinks ensue! Every week new guest stars (“hosting” the parties where the catering goes down)! Love Boat meets Entourage–that’s one unseductive mashup, there.

But–with some wit and style from a creative team which included the Veronica Mars head honcho and Paul Rudd–season one is pretty damn funny. The cast is generally very strong, with a standout trademark loop-de-loop turn by Jane Lynch. But my favorite is Ken Marino, the schlub team-spirit work-ethic-chanting supervisor with a huge schlong (episode 4, I think). All of these are available on Netflix’s play-now, so… give it a go.

women’s films

just kidding. the embalmer, a 2002 italian movie by gomorrah‘s director matteo garrone, is a longing, brave, heartbreaking dirge to doomed desire. peppino, a dwarfish and very ungainly middle-aged neapolitan taxidermist played by a fabulous ernesto mahieux, falls in love with a spectacularly handsome young man who, too, has a passion for taxidermy. peppino convinces young valerio to come to work for him. but, then, who knows: maybe valerio doesn’t have a passion for taxidermy but simply a sense of the dead-endedness of what he’s currently doing. or maybe he’s just flattered that peppino should like him so much. this is only one of the multiple uncertainties on which this film so brilliantly pivots. Continue reading women’s films


I lack any good rationale for linking these three films under a loose “point” about genre, but I’m lazy and haven’t posted in forever.

Prachya Pinkaew’s Tom yum goong (renamed in the US The Protector by some dolt) is in many ways simply a showcase for Tony Jaa jumping really high and kicking people in the face, or flying through the air to land with his knees on someone’s nose, or jumping from a standstill to smash a lightpost over a guy’s head, or doing a backflip and landing on a narrow scaffold over a long fall to escape a crazy BMX guy trying to run him over. And so on. It’s got a prototypical faux-classical schmaltzy set-up: the ancient protectors of elephants lose an elephant–and her baby!–to mafiosi in Sydney. Revenge/rescue ensues. Cue Tony Jaa’s thighs and steel toes. Continue reading Zhaownrrhhh


i’m going to waste some breath here on an italian film i just saw which no one on this blog will, and probably should, watch. It’s about a lesbian couple who, coming back from a lovely holiday in tunisia, finds hidden in the trunk a stowaway moroccan kid (17? 18?). in fact, this is not exactly what happens. it is one of the lovers, a conflicted and tender maria de medeiros, who sees the boy while looking for something in the trunk. she doesn’t tell her girlfriend mara until they are safely in italy and in a deserted place. in fact, she doesn’t tell her at all; she just darts to the back of the car and lets the poor kid, who’s by now cramped, sick, and dehydrated, out of the miserable tight spot in which he has spent at least 24 hours. Continue reading Riparo


Wow. I’m not even sure how to describe this psychedelic circus ride of a biopic about Michael Peterson (aka Charles Bronson, his “fighting name”), a violent sociopath who hurls himself into an anarchic “mission of madness” to become something of a national celebrity–a penal performance artist whose numerous hostage incidents have led him to be proclaimed Britain’s most violent prisoner ever. Incarcerated for armed robbery at age twenty-two in 1974, Peterson, at the time of the film’s release, had served thirty-four years behind bars (thirty of those years in solitary confinement). He’s still locked up and I think that’s probably a good thing. Continue reading Bronson

House of the Devil

No matter what the genre, there’s something wonderful about watching a filmmaker so absolutely certain of her methods, so attuned to generic conventions, so confident in his every shot and edit. Ti West has been making low-budget horror films for a couple years, and each was good (the very low-budget The Roost an effective sort-of-meta creature feature, the equally low-budget Trigger Man an even more idiosyncratic and utterly unnerving sniper film). But with House of the Devil, West pulls out his old video library of late-’70s/early-’80s horror films and doesn’t just wholly inhabit their tricks and tone, he recreates and exceeds their pleasures. Manna from horror-fan heaven.

Set in that time period, House gets all the details right: walkman and cheesy AOR rockpop songs, feathered hair, the elaborate teasing exploration of a big old small-town Edwardian home. College student (Jocelin Donahue) strapped for cash, takes against her best friend’s advice (Greta Gerwig) a babysitting gig with Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov. Shit, even *I* know never to take a babysitting gig with Tom Noonan (in full eccentric creep mode, and PERFECT).
Continue reading House of the Devil

The Chaser

Insert interesting post here. Damn good–often nerve-wracking, strangely silly at times, blackly sarcastic, then horrifying, then a gut-punch emotional wallop. This is a serial killer flick, of sorts, out of South Korea — a corrupt ex-cop (a sweaty,sleazy, superb Kim Yun-seok) now a pimp, finds that some of his “girls” are going missing. He’s pissed — they’re running away, or some asshole’s selling them, after all the money he paid himself. . . and the film opens with him sending another escort out, only to realize that it’s to the same john who was the last customer for the long-gone women. . . And the film bites down hard on your nerves, razor-blade editing slicing us back and forth from potential victim and killer to angry seeking pimp, but it is (really) very familiar, and then: boom. It shifts. Suddenly the film hangs an abrupt left and it’s going in directions you hadn’t expected, and it begins to slowly ratchet up the tension again.

The performances are strong, the editing superb, director Na Hong-jin shoots with plenty of unobtrusive style… it’s like a great Sam Fuller film, pulpy and histrionic yet smart and then smart-ass and then sincerely melodramatic.

I got a region-2 disc, and I don’t think it’s out here yet–but keep an eye on Netflix. Pretty damn good.