Archive for July 2010

Please, Please, PleaseTell Me We're All Extras In "Inception"

Laurence Fishburne's daughter and some complete and total loser ...ummm..."speaking" about her "introduction" into the porn world. I know Larry is (allegedly) holed up with much weed, cigarettes, and the best case of vodka money can buy. I know I would be. Are they filming in a La Bon Pain chain restaurant in this youtube video? *le sigh*

I'm sorry, but this chick makes Kim Kardashian, Beyonce, and Paris Hilton look like Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Obama.

For My New York Folkses....

Uk Box Office 23-25 July

The UKFC's demise on Monday distracted me from my box office duties. Here they are:

1- Toy Story 3 (£21,187,264)
2- Inception (£4,172,568)
4- Shrek Forever After (£1,223,759)
5- The Rebound (£360,015)
6- Predators (£305,424)
7- Khatta Meetha (£124,104)
8- Get Him To The Greek (£119,424)
9- Splice (£110,225)
10- Leaving (£39,409)

No surprises there: TOY STORY 3 wipes the floor clean with everyone, taking more than the rest of the list combined. INCEPTION holds up very well - proving that word of mouth is all you need sometimes.

And THIS Is Why I've Barely Been Blogging...

Okay, I'm coming back, but starting off with a quick one. I tweeted about this one this morning, but still can't wrap my mind around the direction in which Hollywood is just seems to get worse and worse by the millisecond.

Rihanna and that kinda hot dude Eric from "True Blood" (I can't remember his real name) are the leads in the film "Battleship", based on the freaking kids game! I wrote about this travesty of a possibility a couple years back, but figured someone must have come down from their crack high since I didn't hear about it again. Until now. Crack pipes for everyone!

(be back later with an ode to vonetta mcgee)

pic via dlisted

UPDATE: Hilarious reader comments:


Psssh. I'm still waiting on my Monopoly movie. But this sounds pretty riveting. Is he going to pick F5 or B7???

I wonder if they'll play on Rihanna's forehead...

Tafari said...

Never under estimate the value of a good crack high. Never!

Ehav Ever

I wonder if there will be a critical point in the movie, where all looks dark and at its worst. Then someone will yell out......You sank my battleship!

The End of An Era

In 2000, the Labour government created the UK Film Council in the midst of a frenzy of spending in the arts that was welcome by every creative person in this country after the Thatcher era, in which the arts were left to wither in the marketplace. Of course there were complaints about the projects funded, the distribution of the funding, and the quality of the content that was created in its aftermath, but the idea was a good one.

Script development, post-production, prints and advertising, digital projection, were among the things that the UKFC funded, and the Digital Screen Network, was, in my opinion, the single best capital project they ever financed. It created an advance post for digital projection in the UK, giving us an advantage over our European neighbours, the effects of which we can still feel in the specialised sector to this day. They also created the Statistical Yearbook, an invaluable resource filled with facts and figures about the film industry that was a godsend to people like me.

While the dissolution of the UKFC might seem like a small dot in the larger scale of cutbacks that are yet to come, with millions facing unemployment and reduced benefits, the UKFC had a multiplier effect, as it promoted (through the P&A fund) foreign language films, documentaries and British cinema that might not otherwise be able to reach a wide audience.

That said, I have been one of many critics of the UKFC – you can see my track record here. There are certainly elements of a safe, generic approach to filmmaking that produced some awful (and often unreleased) films. It also spent far too little on exhibition (about 5% of its total spend). The UKFC was also its own best advocate, and sensing impending doom, last year spent a lot of time and money preparing a document on the economic effects of the film industry. The Statistical Yearbook too, was full of self-promotion, and hid some of the uglier sides of the industry: the consolidation of the multiplexes, the decline of the arthouse sector, the precarious state of the independents, and the lack of a sustainable production industry.

For a far more eloquent breakdown of everything that was wrong with the Film Council, read Colin McCabe’s article here. On the other hand, you can also read Charles Gant's defense of the UKFC here. They both make good points.

So a whole decade and £300 million later, the UKFC disappears in the wake of an aggressive Tory plan to cut all public bodies, leaving behind some good movies, some digital projectors (including one for the Duke of York’s) and quite a few unreleased films. What will replace it? I understand the BFI has had to resort to major corporate sponsorship to ensure its survival and of course its dreams of a major Film Centre will have to be postponed indefinitely.

As always, we’re faced with a false choice – a dysfunctional organisation or nothing at all. Why not a third option, a properly funded BFI, with wide consultation in the film industry, producing both commercial hits and experimental work, supporting distribution and exhibition, and with a less London-centric view? If the BBC can do it, why can’t they?

Eat, Pray, Love = Italy, India, Bali

The phrase highly anticipated has become synonymous for fans of Elizabeth Gilbert's runaway international best seller-soon-to-be-movie Eat, Pray Love (Sony Pictures). Opening in theaters August l3th, EPL follows the real-life journey of journalist Gilbert who flees New York after a grueling divorce and embarks on a year long journey of self discovery and love. First stop is Italy where she learns the language,  expands her waistline and finds the ultimate pizza in Naples.  Next, she learns to quiet her mind in a sacred ashram in India, spending numerous hours in meditation. Her last stop in Bali finds the celebrated author her true love. And the cast alone will be worth the price of admission -- Gilbert will be played by Julia Roberts, while Javier Bardem (Felipe) and James Franco (David) play the love interests.

I caught up with Gilbert this past spring who was still trying to catch her breath from the heady ride of the EPL phenomena. She felt the filmmakers completely "got it right" in portraying her story as the film has a lovely sweet energy around the book." She explains that "Life is very surreal right now -- I am on a 'surreality' overdose! Maybe when I am in my eighties I will put it all in perspective." Life today finds her happily married, living in New Jersey and spending most of her time gardening, "which is now a metaphor for my life." While the year long journey was certainly life-changing, she is more interested in staying home as there is "something exotic about it." 

Gilbert also confided that Javier completely nailed the performance as Felipe. The Oscar winning actor and her real-life husband spent an evening together in New York and "hit it off from the start," she says. "Javier has a warmth and affection" that was needed for the role. "After watching the movie, it made me fall in love with him all over again!"

And speaking of the Spanish heart throb, I will post my interview and cover story with Javier (and more on the film)  in two weeks. Stay tuned!

Shot on location in Manhattan, Rome, Naples, Delhi, and Bali, the film will be a travelogue of eye-candy, sights, food (styled by Julie & Julia foodie Susan Spungen) and adventure. Directed by Ryan Murphy (from Glee and Nip/Tuck), the film was designed by production designer Bill Groom and set decorators Andrew Baseman (of Nanny Diaries fame).




For more on the film, see the official website.

Photo Credits: Sony Pictures

UKFC Statistical Yearbook 2010

This week the UK Film Council put the latest Statistical Yearbook online. For someone interested in the nuts and bolts of the UK film industry, this is an important document. It offers, free of charge, a vast amount of data and research related to every aspect of the British film scene, from production to exhibition, from TV to 3D.

I always jump straight to the exhibition chapter, as this is the area in which I work in, and in many ways, not much has changed. The figures are roughly the same as last year. The other area I like to examine is the specialised cinema section, which details the fate of the types of films we like to show at the Dukes. The market share for this sector is up significantly, but only because 'specialised' includes things like Michael Jackson's This Is It and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

An intriguing section is the public funding bit - it lists the amount of government money given to the film industry - unfortunately it lumped Distribution and Exhibition together into the same pile.

So I asked them to break it down: according to the UKFC, "Of the £31.6 m total (D&E), £17.0m went to the BFI, which we can't separate into Distrib and Exhib. Of the remaining £14.6m (spent by the UKFC, Regional Agencies etc) we estimate £10.1m went to Exhib, with the remainder to Distrib." but that really doesn't tell me anything so I queried it yet again. They kindly agreed to furnish me with more information: "The figure for distribution includes the P&A Fund, EU Media scheme's support for distribution, and a number of smaller sources of support for the distribution sector. The figure for exhibition comes from a far wider range of sources and covers support including:
·the UK Film Council's digital screen network
·investment in the film society movement, grants to film festivals
·a range of investment in the programming and outreach of art house cinemas all across the UK"

So the mystery remains - where is all this money being spent on exhibition? Since the Digital Screen Network scheme, which finalised in 2008, there has been no investment in cinemas in this country.

Nearly 60% of all the public funding for film went to production, with films like Nativity receiving £500,000 and Centurion receiving £1,200,000, to name but just two. And those are the films that were released. There are dozens of titles supported by public money that you'll never see in your local cinema. And now the big Tory axe comes along to cut, and the UK film industry can look back at a wasted decade producing films people have never seen.


John Frankenheimer's Seconds is a strange, unsettling film that concerns itself with a primal desire: the fantasy of starting over, getting a second chance to do what one wants in one's life, to take on a new identity. However, the film only slowly reveals that this is its true subject. For much of its first act, its purpose is slipperier and harder to divine. The opening minutes of the film, after the trippy opening credits in which various facial features are warped and doubled, are dialogue-free and inscrutable, following an older man, Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), through a train station where he receives a mysterious message. Frankenheimer employs intentionally destabilizing and self-consciously off-kilter camera angles that infuse a sense of mystery and suspense to these otherwise prosaic scenes. The camera reels drunkenly, and tracks fluidly in pursuit of men who seem to be floating above the ground rather than walking. At other times, the camera seems to be skittering along the ground from the point of view of a subway rat, darting beneath the legs of the crowd. This camera trickery creates a sense of mystery throughout the opening sequences, but not necessarily the right kind of mystery: one is left wondering why the camera is careening around so bizarrely, and what these dizzying perspectives could possibly mean.

Unfortunately, these are questions that Frankenheimer is never able to answer, but there's still something unsettlingly compelling about his showy aesthetics. Throughout the opening sequences, as Arthur gets mysterious calls from a supposedly dead friend and gets sucked into conversations with a strange underground company offering unsavory services, the film slips easily from reality to dreamlike states. At one point, Arthur, drugged and dazed, has a frightening dream of sexually assaulting a young woman, as the room warps and twists around him, perspective lines stretching like taffy until he seems to be trapped within a Daliesque landscape. When he wakes up, though, he only encounters some equally surreal, equally baffling touches, like an elevator that seems to be missing its call buttons and an inexplicable room full of silent men who steadfastly refuse to answer his questions.

The film doesn't quite settle down after this, but it does at least cohere into a plot whose contours can be grasped, at least broadly, and whose themes resonate with anyone who has ever regretted a choice or had ambitions that weren't fulfilled. Arthur, it seems, has been contacted by a company that offers middle-aged men a second chance at youth, and therefore at life: a new, younger face, a new life, a new career, a life without responsibilities or ties. Arthur undergoes surgery and awakes as Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson), a painter who is already established in his career thanks to the company that performed the procedure. The company pitches it to Tony in an irresistible way: he doesn't have to prove himself, doesn't have to go through the hard, potentially dream-killing work of apprenticeship or early struggles. He is reborn into a fully established life, as a modestly successful painter with a nice flat in Miami, free to develop his skills — he'd always wanted to be a painter and now he was, at least in theory, free to be one.

The film's themes are compelling, and in several key scenes Frankenheimer probes these themes in emotionally resonant ways. The film's best scene is undoubtedly the one in which Tony returns to visit his old wife, Emily (Frances Reid), who believes Arthur to be dead. Posing as a friend of Arthur's, Tony asks Emily about her dead husband, and learns that she viewed her husband as something of a mystery, a blank and remote man who never opened up, who never emotionally connected to anyone around him, instead pouring himself into empty pursuits that she sensed didn't even mean anything to him. It is a devastating moment, and Frankenheimer shoots the scene with Emily in the background, facing a mirror and her husband's portrait on the mantel, while in the foreground Tony looks towards the camera, his eyes haunted by the realization of how badly he'd wasted his previous life, how completely he'd missed the point.

The film is at its best in moments like this, moments where Tony comes face to face with his wasted life, with the troubling question of what he could do differently when given a second chance. Equally affecting is Tony's reunion with his old friend Charlie (Murray Evans), who had also undergone the process, and like Tony had failed to really make a go of his second life. The two men meet and talk wistfully about what they'll do when offered a third chance, a third life and a third identity. This time, they say, they'll get it right, this time they'll be able to keep their priorities straight. There's something so poignant about the idea that even two chances aren't enough, that life is so difficult to navigate for these men that they've squandered their opportunities not just once but twice. It's a potent commentary on how difficult it can be to determine what one wants out of life, and it's especially moving when Charlie is called for what he believes to be his second operation, his third chance. There are tears in his eyes and a smile on his face as he looks at his friend, and walks off to be remade yet again, to finally get it right this time around. This moment becomes even more emotionally devastating when considered against the ending's recontextualization of what's actually going on in the waiting room where Charlie and Tony are reunited.

This is the core of Frankenheimer's film, but there's something unbalanced in the execution, perhaps because the film was compromised by studio interference, preventing Frankenheimer from completely communicating his vision. But the film as it exists now squanders too much time on oddball detours like the whole subplot involving Nora (Salome Jens), an exaggerated hippie "free spirit" who Tony meets in his new life, and who engages in such self-consciously arty behaviors as yelling at the ocean and attending a bacchanalian orgy complete with pan pipes and naked hippies. The orgy sequence, lengthy and raucous and over-the-top, is seemingly a frenzied attempt at demonstrating the empty indulgences and pleasures that Tony had been missing in his staid former life as Arthur, but it's overlong to make its point, and increasingly it's just grating, like so much involving Nora. In fact, the film too often seems to be meandering along like this, offering up strange diversions and sidetracks rather than cutting to the heart of the matter. What should be subplots or individual scenes at best wind up consuming the film for whole stretches of time, overshadowing the more compelling ideas that dance around the periphery.

Whether it's because of studio tinkering or Frankenheimer's simple inability to stay focused on his story's essence, Seconds remains a flawed but, at least sporadically, quite powerful film. Much of its power is certainly attributable to Rock Hudson's turn as the young, remade Tony. He occasionally goes over the top, as with everything else in this film, particularly in an exaggerated and loud drunk scene. More often, though, he delivers a nuanced, understated performance, suggesting with his sad eyes and pensive expressions the turmoil of a man who finds that even two chances aren't enough to achieve the life he wants — and that, in fact, the problem is perhaps that he doesn't really have any idea what he does want. It's this feeling of perpetual dissatisfaction and confusion that drives Seconds, even during those stretches when it threatens to go off the rails into self-consciously "arty" indulgence.

Grace Kelly Style

Perhaps no American actress, dead or alive, had more style than Princess Grace. Her cool and calm demeanor, regal features and exquisite taste made her a favorite with everyone from Hitchcock to Christian Dior and ultimately the Prince and principality of Monaco. At a time when the studios were churning out glamorous stars by the dozens, Kelly stood miles apart.

Kelly won the Academy Award for Best Actress her performance in the 1954 film Country Girl

Written by Kristina Haugland with Jenny Lister and Samantha Erin Safer, Grace Kelly Style (V & A Publishing) is the companion book to the Victoria and Albert Museum's exhibit in London. The book is filled with wonderful illustrations of Kelly's wardrobe, including creations from Madame Gres, Christian Dior, Chanel, Yves St. Laurent and Balenciaga that display both her personal, film and royal style. And who but Grace could have an iconic handbag named after them?

Grace Kelly and Prince Rainer Engagement Photo

Kelly with James Stewart in the Hitchcock classic Rear Window, 1954

You can order the book on Amazon and read an excerpt at 1st Dibs.

Photo Credits: Grace Kelly cover-Photograph by Erwin Blumenfeld New York, 1955.
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld 2009

Grace Kelly with her Academy Award for Country Girl: 30 March 1955
© Everett Collection/Rex features

Engagement of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco, 1956:
© Snap/Rex features

Grace Kelly in ‘Rear Window’ with James Stewart, 1954
© Everett/Rex features

Flick's Flicks - August

Cat People (1982)

Forty years after the original 1942 Cat People, directed by Jacques Tourneur under the guidance of sophisticated horror producer Val Lewton, Paul Schrader remade the seminal horror classic. Schrader's Cat People nods to the original in many ways, following its basic premise and even recreating a few key scenes in homage to Lewton's shadowy, evocative horror, but in most ways it's quite a different work. Schrader minimizes the horror of the premise, pushing it even further into the background than Lewton, who often used his horror frameworks as mere excuses to explore deeper subtexts, ever did. Schrader is interested in the baroque eroticism of the story more than anything: the idea that there exist people who, when they make love, are transformed into vicious black leopards, and must kill before they can resume their human forms. Schrader uses this outlandish set-up to create a lush, absurd, sexually ripe film in which sex is dangerous and shiver-inducing, in which the promise of release carries with it an electric charge of terror.

Nastassja Kinski, as the virginal young Irena, is perfectly suited to this aspect of Schrader's vision; she brings to the film a raw, sultry sensuality that convincingly conveys the impression that she might bite or claw you at any moment, as easily as she might kiss you. At the film's opening, she has come to New Orleans to visit her long-estranged brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell, radiating nearly as much deadly energy as Kinski), since the pair were raised in separate foster homes after the death of their parents when they were very young. Schrader gets a lot of mileage out of these two, particularly from the weird sexual tension between them, as Paul insists that they need to make love, that in fact they can only make love with one another. The film sets up a divide between the strange sensuality of Paul and Irena and the ordinary world, as represented by the zoo where Paul, in leopard form, is captured for a time, and where Irena gets a job thanks to the zoo's curator Oliver (John Heard), who falls in love with her as soon as he sees her. As in the original film, Irena's otherworldly sexual energy is juxtaposed against the girl-next-door appeal of Oliver's co-worker and current girlfriend Alice (Annette O'Toole), who wears braids and is girly and playful, a stark contrast to the simmering, pouty Irena.

It's a familiar dichotomy, the good girl and the bad girl, the familiar and the foreign. In the original film, it was the fear of literal foreignness that Lewton was exploring, but here it's a more metaphysical fear/attraction to the unknown, the mysterious and frightening. The film alternates this blossoming sexual tension with dark humor and moments of suspense and horror, but Schrader never really tries to resolve the film's different moods and modes into a coherent whole. Instead, the goofy humor — like an ape intently watching a TV soap opera, or an eccentric cab driver who suggests that the only zoo worth visiting is the Bronx Zoo — is allowed to jar uncomfortably against the truly grisly bursts of gore and the open sexuality. This becomes especially apparent when a zoo orderly, the primary fount of comic relief in the film's first half, meets a particularly gory end in the jaws of the leopard.

The film lopes along after this, its plot never quite making sense, and never seeming to care whether it does or not. Schrader is more concerned with making individual scenes vibrate and throb with the potential of violence or sexual bliss, and whether it all fits together in the end is at best a secondary concern. Paul drifts in and out of the film at will, lurking in the shadows, watching from the trees, smashing through windows and finally being killed and reborn in a way that evokes David Cronenberg's body horror effects — a loose end that's never picked up again as the film focuses more singularly on Irena in its latter stretches. There's something feral and frightening about Irena, virginal and yet so sensuous, even (or especially) when her mouth is smeared with blood. Once she accepts her nature, Kinski plays Irena as though she's constantly stalking her prey, even in human form; her walk, her posture, the expressions on her face become cat-like. Even her sexuality becomes predatory, and she manages to make disrobing seem like a threat, slinking through the shadows, the muscles in her back twitching as though she might pounce at any moment.

In making the film all about mood, about the resonances of the underlying themes, Schrader is in some respects drawing on the example of Lewton, whose films always made the tangible horror secondary to the psychological and emotional subtexts of the stories. Schrader's film draws on the original Cat People in more direct ways, too, with homages to specific scenes. Of these, the most obvious is the famous pool scene, which Schrader recreates more or less intact: a young woman taking a swim when the lights go out, and she hears noises in the darkness suggesting a big cat stalking around the borders of the pool. This is Schrader's most complete tribute to Lewton, beautifully capturing the edgy and haunting atmosphere of the original, heightened here by the lovely green and blue hues of the lighting, and adding a hint of sexual frisson as the topless Alice floats in the center of the pool, bare and vulnerable in the gloom. That's yet another contrast: Schrader makes the pale, fleshy Alice seem soft and prey-like in her nakedness, whereas when Irena takes off her clothes she only becomes more predatory, as when she takes a naked stroll through the woods and winds up on all fours, chasing a rabbit with a hungry gleam in her eyes. This dichotomy suggests the two dominant tropes of movie femininity, the woman as victim and the woman as dangerous femme fatale; Schrader doesn't so much investigate these opposing stereotypes as present them in their raw form, for equal parts contemplation and delectation.

Schrader's other tributes to Lewton are more matter-of-fact, like the sinister and cat-like woman who addresses Irena as a sister and then disappears from the film, a source of unresolved mystery just as the similar figure was in the Lewton Cat People. Schrader's tribute to the famous bus scene in the original is the only homage that falls flat, that sticks out as a naked tribute and nothing more, because Schrader can't recreate the sudden thrill of terror that Lewton achieved just by having a bus abruptly stop in front of a fleeing young woman, making a noise very much like a leopard's growl. In most other ways, though, Schrader doesn't even try to compete with Lewton, a wise move since the original Cat People is a near-perfect horror film, a rich and evocative work that maintains its ability to elicit deep chills even today. Schrader's film, despite its obvious debt to the original, strikes out in a different direction, amplifying the sexuality and violence underlying the original story, allowing these dangerous forces free reign. If the resulting film is messy and jagged, with loose ends dangling shredded and bloody as though a leopard had taken a big meaty bite out of the script, that's to be expected from such a raw work. Schrader risks, and occasionally falls headfirst into, silliness and tackiness in order to get at the silly, risky, frightening, exciting feelings of love and lust.

UK Box Office 16-18 July

The box office continues its upward trend, and to the relief of the adult moviegoer, a serious blockbuster opened: INCEPTION cracked the number one spot without much difficulty. TOY STORY 3 will obviously dominate the charts tomorrow, but Warners will be happy to dominate the non-kiddie, non-tweenie market for a few weeks. The interesting thing about this chart is the incredible divide between the top three films and the rest of the chart.

1- INCEPTION (£5,903,779)
2- SHREK FOREVER AFTER (£4,189,666)
3- TWILIGHT: ECLIPSE (£3,376,216)
4- PREDATORS (£892,602)
5- GET HIM TO THE GREEK (£440,075)
6- KILLERS (£71,487)
7- HEARTBREAKER (£67,521)
8- SEX AND THE CITY 2 (£50,812)
9- LEAVING (£50,444)
10- I HATE LUV STORIES (£36,679)

A Legend In Its Own Time

One of the most successful advertising campaigns during the sixties was Blackglama fur's "What Becomes a Legend Most." The brainchild of copywriter Jane Trahey in 1968, the campaign featured luminaries from Hollywood and New York to the Met and Motown in glamourous black and white photos. It was a time when wearing fur was considered glamorous (along with smoking) and an interesting window into social, fashion and Madison Avenue history.  Sophia Loren, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, Shirley MacLaine and even Ray Charles were  a few who lent their famous faces. Ironically Brigitte Bardot, now an arden animal activist, was also a part of the ad campaign.

Brigitte Bardot

The campaign ran from 1968 to 1994, went on hiatus and has been back in full swing in the 2000's. Next up is singer Janet Jackson as this fall's cover girl (and facing the wrath of PETA). Ad Age even named it one of the Top 100 ad campaigns of the 20th Century.

Lauren Bacall

Shirley MacLaine

According to a wonderful story on the New York Social Diary, Ava Gardner is one of the few who would not do the photo shoot as she wanted to wear leopard (which was outlawed).

While I don't condone the use of fur (I prefer mine on the backs of four legged animals),  I thought this was an interesting walk down memory lane...

Photos courtesy of Paper Pursuits, New York Social Diary

Image Gallery: Five Sensual Shots

Joel Bocko over at The Dancing Image has tagged me for a fun new meme: a themed image gallery assembled from cinematic screen captures. The idea originated with Stephen of Checking On My Sausages, who a while back put out a call for single images displaying the glory of cinema.

This small gallery is my response, assembled rather loosely around the theme of sensuality and sexuality: images that entice, provoke, and suggest. The images are very different in their context and their content, suggesting the sheer variety with which the cinema has approached this most human of subjects. An image from Godard comes from a scene in which the French master, always fascinated by the eternal battle between man and woman, satirically mocks the fetishization and commercialization of sexuality, a theme he'd explore even more savagely in his 1980 Sauve qui peut (la vie). It is a theme that of course also resonates with Buñuel, who approaches it in an entirely different way while explicitly framing such sexual excesses in response to clerical puritanism, as an audience of priests observe, with horror, a sadomasochistic encounter. Claire Denis and Maurice Pialat, meanwhile, are concerned with the violent aspects of sex, the former delving into bloody horror as sex becomes synonymous with death, the latter dealing with the psychological wounds lovers inflict on one another. (Which doesn't stop Pialat from pausing for a delightful, charming moment of sexual joy.) Finally, Apitchapong Weerasethakul captures a moment of casual intimacy amidst a low-key argument.

It should be noted, too, that I didn't intend for this to be the theme. I simply grabbed five films I like off my shelves, more or less at random, and discovered that the commonality between them was these kinds of images.

The films, in order, with links to my full reviews where applicable, are:

Police (Maurice Pialat)
The Phantom of Liberty (Luis Buñuel)
Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis)
Syndromes and a Century (Apitchapong Weerasethakul)
Two or Three Things I Know About Her (Jean-Luc Godard)

I'm supposed to tag people for this, but I'd rather just leave it open. If you're reading this, go ahead and make your own image gallery. Just make sure to link back to Joel and Stephen's original posts.

Brute Force

Jules Dassin's Brute Force is a dark, fatalistic prison noir, a film in which there is no exit, no freedom, no opportunity for escape — it's an unrelentingly oppressive journey towards its final confirmation that bloody destiny is inescapable. The film is set in a prison that's dominated by the cruel, sadistic guard captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn), who keeps the men under his charge on a tight leash through brutality and manipulation. Not only that, but he seems to take pleasure in it; when he's beating an inmate, or driving another to suicide by spreading lies about the man's beloved wife, a small smile inevitably creeps across his lips, while his eyes bulge in insane joy. The film presents the prison as a near-complete moral vacuum, a place where if anything the prisoners are mostly morally superior to those who watch over them. The prisoners are men who have made mistakes, who have done stupid things, committed petty crimes for foolish reasons, or been betrayed or framed. On the other hand, if Munsey is a brutish sadist, the prison's warden (Roman Bohnen) is a coward with no ability to curb his underlings' excesses, while the good-hearted doctor (Art Smith) tries his best to resist such brutality, but mostly just drowns himself in booze. He's prone to boozy speechifying, to bursts of righteous outrage and indignation, but all his fiery oration never has any impact despite his good intentions. Even so, he does provide the apt summation of Munsey's approach that provides the film with its title: "not imagination, not cleverness, just force... brute force."

Dassin surrounds the prisoners with an oppressive system that offers no possibility for escape. As Munsey makes clear, he's the one who decides what prisoners have been on "good behavior," and therefore he more or less controls the parole system. This means that the prisoners understand parole as an empty promise, and collaborating with Munsey is equally fruitless since it practically guarantees death by fellow prisoners: one "stool pigeon" meets his end in a license plate press, chased there by inmates with blowtorches. Dassin is essentially showing how few options are open to these men, closing each avenue of escape off one by one, demonstrating that there's really no hope. The stool pigeon tries to gain his freedom by turning on his fellow inmates, and meets a grisly end as a result, while Munsey brushes the man off once he's done with him, not caring about his fate. The prison newspaper editor Gallagher (Charles Bickford) hopes to gain his freedom through parole, by maintaining friendships with both guards and inmates, helping to keep the whole prison system running smoothly. But he soon enough learns that parole is a remote hope, especially when the prison board arbitrarily decides to suspend all parole hearings, demonstrating conclusively just how little control these men have over their circumstances. Lister (Whit Bissell) tries to keep to himself, only concerning himself with writing letters to his wife, but Munsey's intervention teaches him that even this is not a tenable position.

The film's mood is one of claustrophobic intensity. Dassin films the men in their cramped cells, packed together within these concrete walls, the bars casting striped shadows on their faces, as they squirm and plot under the restrictions enforced by Munsey. The men all want something on the outside. Collins (Burt Lancaster) wants to be reunited with his sickly girlfriend Ruth (Ann Blyth), who is wasting away in his absence. Soldier (Howard Duff) wants to get back to his Italian wife, for whom he took the fall in the first place, risking his career to get her and her father rare post-war food and supplies. The others have girls and dreams, too. Dassin awkwardly shoehorns in the men's flashbacks to their pre-jail days, and these saccharine diversions seem to have come from a different movie, with melodramatic acting and trite stories. These interludes don't serve the film particularly well, since they distract from what is otherwise an all-encompassing claustrophobia and dread, the sense of being trapped within the walls of the prison. The flashbacks, by taking the action outside the jail walls, dilute the film's feeling of being trapped along with these men, and moreover these scenes are unnecessary to establishing the stakes of escape. The desire to get out is written in every man's face anyway, in their desperate eyes, and the flashbacks don't do anything that a couple of terse lines of dialogue don't do just as well.

Flashbacks aside, the film is a stark, angry prison drama, and Dassin does a good job of ratcheting up the men's desperation until an escape attempt seems like the only possible solution. Early on, a glimpse of freedom is offered by the sight of the prison's gates opening and its drawbridge going down to let out a car carrying the body of a dead prisoner. Dassin films this shot as though it were the gates of Heaven itself opening: there's something ecstatic about the sight of an open road appearing where before there had only been forbidding walls. Collins watches with yearning, not realizing that this scene confirms what they all already know, that dying is one of the few ways to ensure that those gates will open and the bridge will lower.

This tension pays off in the final sequences, as Munsey's sadism reaches previously unimagined levels. The captain's beating of an inmate who he suspects of being involved with the escape plan is truly brutal, and Dassin films the scene mostly through suggestion, with the actual violence happening off-screen. Instead, Dassin captures the expression of mad pleasure, nearly lustful, that plays across the captain's face as he beats this man. Cronyn, so bland and innocent-looking, plays the role with obvious relish, brilliantly portraying the banality of evil, the ordinary sadist whose own ambitions and dreams are modest, and seemingly extend no further than the advancement of his career. In service to these utterly conventional middle-class ambitions, he commits acts of unspeakable horror and nastiness, not because they're strictly necessary but because he enjoys it, and because he's convinced himself that brutality is the only possible response to his charges.

The escape attempt itself is predictably violent and nasty, as the prison is set ablaze, so that the whole sequence seems to be playing out in this fortified Hell, flames licking up at the men's desperate, rage-filled faces, as they struggle against impossible odds to get those gates open again, to get their revenge. By this time, the film's mood has reached a fever-pitch peak of insanity and cruelty, as the prisoners and the guards prove themselves equally capable of pointless violence and destruction, while everyone's confused plans fall apart all around them. In the end, no one gets what they want, and no one can escape. It's the fatalistic essence of the noir, a lesson Dassin imparts in a point-blank coda that underlines the impossibility of escape, the fact that bars — literal and metaphorical — cage us all.

Uk Box Office 9-11 July

These figures include the TWILIGHT previews, which add about £6 million to its overall figures. Nonetheless, its impressive. The real winner this weekend is HEARTBREAKER, which on its second week saw a £4,423 screen average. This shows that foreign language need not be a barrier at the box office if the film is appealing to audiences. This coming week, the box office is coming back with a vengeance, as the World Cup is over, and big budget adult films like INCEPTION open.

1- TWILIGHT (£13,686,987)
2- SHREK FOREVER AFTER (£4,565,635)
3- PREDATORS (£1,644,386)
4- GET HIM TO THE GREEK (£606,965)
5- KILLERS (£157,603)
6- SEX AND THE CITY 2 (£103,332)
7- HEARTBREAKER (£85,527)
8- I HATE LUV STORIES (£78,353)
9- PRINCE OF PERSIA (£48,268)
10- THE TOOTH FAIRY (£45,180)

Italian Eye Candy

Many of you in LA and NYC have already seen I Am Love and it's just now hitting the rest of America this weekend. The film is filled with lots of wonderful Italian eye candy and something for everyone --- passion, food, couture, beautiful Italian landscapes (Milan and San Remo), great interiors and yes, lots of melodrama.

The film is the story of the Recchi family, wealthy textile manufacturers experiencing a changing of the guard. Actress Tilda Swinton plays Russian turned Milanese wife Emma Recchi whose passionate affair ultimately changes her family forever.

Filmmaker Luca Guadagnino worked with Raf Simons of Jil Sanders on Swinton's clothing (above and below) and Silvia Venturi Fendi on the male actors's wardrobe, each custom designed.

Food plays a major role in the film as many of the dramatic tensions take place during the film's many dinner parties. Both prawns and ratatouille with sweet and sour sauce and Oucha soup play important plot devices. Actor Eduardo Gabriellini who played the chef in the film studied with Italian chef Carlo Cracco (of Milan's Ristorante Cracco) to learn his many moves in the kitchen.

Swinton and Gabbrielini

The Villa Nechi opened its doors for the filming and was the perfect place according to director Guadagno for a home of "great wealth but also a restrained sensibility." Built by Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi between 1932-1935 and decorated by Tomaso Buzzi in the fifties, the house is a stunning mix of modern architecture and decorative arts. As the New York Times notes, it's a "modernist palate cleanser in a city chocked full of palazzos."

For more on the Villa Nechi, see the New York Times article "Leading Mansions."

For more on the film see the official website.

Photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. The World's 50 Best and Villa Nechi.

Peeping Tom

Peeping Tom was a breaking point in the career of director Michael Powell, the end of his productive association with Emeric Pressburger, who had co-directed most of Powell's previous run of films throughout the 40s and 50s. Powell went solo for Peeping Tom, and audiences of the time proved unprepared for its psychosexual darkness, its ugliness and brutality, its stark frankness about the sexual thrills of murder experienced by a shy, quiet young man working in a film studio. One would expect that such shocks would not endure, that audiences would become inured to such horrors — and, indeed, the reputations of Powell and Peeping Tom have been rehabilitated since the initial controversy. But this is not to say that the shock of the film itself has worn off. It is still an extraordinarily tense, raw film, dealing with some nasty and discomfiting emotions in a very open way, laying bare the despicable violence that lurks within the impulse to voyeurism, including or especially the voyeurism of the movie theater.

The voyeuristic murders in Peeping Tom are explicitly linked to the cinema, and Powell places his audience in the position of the voyeur, admiring the victim through the lens, thrilling on the expressions of fear and revulsion that pass across the faces of the young women about to be killed. Right from the opening scenes, in which a killer stalks a prostitute, Powell places the audience in a voyeuristic position by filming from the point of view of the killer, with the view-finding crosshairs of the camera centered on his victim as though marking her for death the moment she appears in the frame. Later, a murder takes place on a movie set, with the eager young extra Vivian (Moira Shearer) posing happily for the camera until she realizes that her photographer has a darker fate in mind for her; screen immortality coupled with physical mortality. The camera captures the images of the victims at the moment when they will be lost forever. Of course, the victim is found the next day while filming a scene, stuffed inside a trunk used as a prop by a "real" studio movie, and again the killer is on hand, filming the reactions of the actress who discovers the body, as she screams and faints, her reactions not faked for once. The director, who had earlier spent countless takes trying to get a realistic-looking fainting scene out of this same actress, looks over in frustration, exclaiming, "that silly bitch has fainted in the wrong scene." Later, this same director will cruelly force the actress to repeat the scene with only cosmetic changes, asking her to repeat the same lines that are now inextricably intertwined with murder and the discovery of a corpse. Powell's dark humor makes it apparent that he's tweaking the voyeurism of the audience, suggesting that we're all too happy to take pleasure and entertainment in horrible things as long as we know that it's fake, even when we allow an engaging movie to fool us, if only for a moment, into reacting as though it were real.

Later, the home movies of the killer Mark (Karlheinz Böhm) will be discovered by his innocent young neighbor Helen (Anna Massey), and she'll recoil in horror, crying and begging him to tell her that it's not real, that it's just pretend, just a movie. But there is no such reprieve for her; none of the security that ordinary movie audiences have when watching fantasies of murder and madness. Maybe this is why audiences were so turned off by Powell's film, which takes the potential ugliness of the cinema, its capacity for abstracting real horrors, and rubs it in the viewer's face. Mark's murderous cinema places him in a violent and sexual relationship to the women he films, the "actresses" in his homemade psychodramas. When Mark is filming Vivian, at one point he stands behind her, holding his camera close to his chest, raising one of the legs of its tripod in what can only be called a stunningly obvious phallic symbol, an erection even. But it's the camera that's getting excited on behalf of Mark. It's as though he's transferred his sexuality — he's clearly a virgin, and can barely muster the composure to speak most of the time — into the camera, made its tripod leg (capped with the knife he uses to murder his subjects) an extension of himself, just as its lens is an extension of his own vision. Through the camera, he sees everything with crosshairs layered over it, a subject to be captured and immortalized, all working towards a "perfect" film.

Powell's filmmaking is brilliant here, creating almost unbearable suspense in one scene after another. Böhm turns in such a creepy but oddly charming performance that it's never quite clear what Mark is going to do next, when he's going to give in to the darkness within him and when he's going to resist. This tension is especially acute in the early scene where Helen visits Mark's apartment for the first time, intrigued — why she's drawn to him never really makes sense, other than that she needs to be for the sake of the plot — by this awkwardly shy man upstairs. When she enters his dark room/screening room, it feels like an invasion, like she doesn't belong in such a place of evil and perversion. Powell creates an overpowering mood of dread, infusing every movement, every action, with suspense; even the way Mark glides around the shadowy room, guiding the hesitant Helen to admire his camera equipment, is incredibly eerie. But the most profound suspense comes from Helen's request to see one of Mark's movies. Powell draws out the moment, showing Mark at his cabinet, hesitating over what to show her, and it's so tense because in some way, we understand that Mark's choice of film reels will decide this woman's fate. Will he show her one of his murders? Or the film he was watching when she came in, an only slightly more innocuous documentary reel he shot of his latest victim's body being removed by the police? Or will he actually choose something innocent?

It turns out that in fact he chooses a childhood film of himself, shot by his father, and Powell again ratchets up the tension as this film begins to make sense of Mark's warped mind, at least for the audience; Helen, not understanding what she's seeing, without the knowledge of the adult Mark's actions, is only confused. Powell's genius here is to make the audience root for Helen to stop watching, not to look any deeper into this man's tormented psyche. We don't know what's coming next on this reel, but we fear for her eyes anyway, fear that she'll see something she'll wish she hadn't, fear especially that she'll something that will provoke Mark to turn his camera on her, as he does eventually, trying to film her reactions to this childhood memory. Instead, the camera keeps running, revealing the origins of Mark's psychosis in childhood traumas and the cruel experiments of his father (played, in a brief cameo in these films, by Powell himself, further confirming the film's linkage of cinema with corruption and horror). If the psychology is perhaps a little trite, seen now, it's only because Peeping Tom — along with Hitchcock's Psycho — has served as one of the template inspirations for virtually all the serial killer thrillers to come along in its wake.

Even so, Peeping Tom retains much of its power for making audiences squirm, tapping in as it does to the psychosexual undercurrents of the cinema, the appeal of the glamorous actress posing for the cameras, the appeal of the action and horror that makes audiences react viscerally. For Mark, the cinema is a mortuary, a method of embalming. When watching one of his films, as he approaches the screen, the face of a screaming woman is stretched out across his back, and where this happens her pretty face becomes skull-like, gaunt with black eye sockets, killed within the camera's trap. This, Powell suggests, is the real horror lurking within the empty entertainment of the movies.