Monday, October 29, 2007

Saw IV: Please help me

Disclaimer: I have not seen any of the Saw movies. The fourth one came out Friday and, like the first three, topped the Halloween weekend box office. Based on the trailers, reviews and film posters (which illustrate acts of torture), I will never see any of them. Yet I feel permitted to judge them, or at least judge society's appetite for them.

You are all sickos.

Look at this bewildering trend below. After each film's title is the opening date, the film's opening-weekend domestic gross and its all-time worldwide gross.

Saw. Oct. 29, 2004. $18.3 million. $103.1 million.
Saw II. Oct. 28, 2005. $31.7 million. $147.7 million.
Saw III. Oct. 27, 2006. $33.6 million. $164.9 million.

Saw IV made $32.1 million this weekend, almost triple the haul of the second-place finisher, Carell Keeps Trying to Be a Movie Star. It is the fourth consecutive Halloween weekend dominated -- nay, raped and flayed -- by a Saw movie.

There is a mass contingent of faithful followers of torture porn. They have made the genre the most reliably profitable in current cinema (given each film costs less than $10 million to produce). So please, I'd like a Saw devotee to explain why he or she makes a point to see these movies on opening weekend (or at all). If you're reading and you're a Saw fan, articulate this. I want to understand. Please. Someone convince me of their artistic or entertainment value. Please. Having not seen any of them, I'm willing to admit that there is underlying value in these movies. But the marketing inspires nothing in me but revulsion. And I can't believe that's enough to lure all these people into the theaters. Please defend these movies. Someone.

I am reminded of Viennese actionism -- a mode of art in which people reacted to horrific situations (like the Holocaust) by making horrific art. I saw an actionist exhibit in Vienna in 2003 and it was one of the most disturbing rooms I've ever been in. I can't even describe what I saw, for fear of throwing up my lunch. But if one had to assign a purpose to this awful art, it would be "psychological bloodletting." The only way these artists knew how to exorcise their own personal horror was to spew it out using some kind of artistic medium.

Do the Saw movies serve this type of purpose? Or do people like to go to be reminded of how good and stable their own lives are? Or are the movies some kind of twisted statement on the employment of torture in the political and military spheres? Something tells me, though, that the movies are nothing but a slick Hollywood product catering to the basest urges of humanity. Someone. Please. Explain.

Happy Halloween, you filthy animals.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A thank you note

Dear George, Tilda and Tony:

Thanks for restoring my faith in movies. You have directed and performed the sh*t out of a brilliant original screenplay (fancy that! An original screenplay). It's such a basic concept, but few get it right (or even try to). How wonderful it was to pay $10 and actually have oxygen instead of noise pumped into my brain.

Love, JJ

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Speaking of obsession...

My great aunt Loretto (aforementioned for her correspondence with Joan Fontaine) lives at a "retirement" home in Clarence, N.Y., outside of Buffalo. Recently the residents received pumpkins to decorate. Instead of carving or drawing a face on hers, Loretto simply wrote on it in marker: I LOVE CLARK GABLE.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Laces out, Dan; or, I'm not gonna be ignored, Dan

Garrison Keillor — of the strained bulldog voice, of Prairie Home Companion both on radio and film, of this sensationally botched satire — now has a restraining order against a woman who allegedly mailed him an alligator foot, stalked outside his house and sent an e-mail in which she graphically described performing the sex act with him. The woman denied the allegations, but said she harbors the "transcendental love between a writer and a reader."

Wow. Now I'm trying to think if I'd ever have the capacity for that kind of love — the love that appears transcendent to the lover and obsessive to the lovee. I don't think I've ever truly obsessed over a writer, actor or other kind of artist. Have you? I have a giant poster of Julianne Moore above my bed, but it's for aesthetics, not worship. After their latest redesign, Entertainment Weekly started a feature called Obsessive Fan of the Week. Seems like there's at least one obsessive in the world for every artist.

The Keillor news item also got me thinking about person-to-person obsession in the movies. I can only think of five examples of true film obsession (meaning the obsessive is captivated to the point of relative insanity and ends up exacting some kind of pain on the obsessee), but I'm sure there are a ton I'm forgetting.

1. Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction (above). Glenn Close has a tryst with married man Michael Douglas and ropes him in for some serious psychological lashings. Still via Movie Screenshots.
2. Scottie Ferguson in Vertigo. Jimmy Stewart gets wrapped up in Kim Novak.
3. Finkel/Einhorn in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The inimitable Sean Young plays a transsexual cop who used to be the place kicker for the Miami Dolphins. All she wants is to get back at Dan Marino for a botched snap.
4. Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Matt Damon tries to become Jude Law, or at least become those who are closest to him.
5. Sy Parrish in One Hour Photo. Robin Williams ambushes an all-American family.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Happy birthday, Joan Fontaine

In her more sentient days, my great aunt Loretto was penpals with Joan Fontaine, one of Hitchcock's earliest blondes, still one half of the feuding de Havilland sisters (Olivia is also still alive, if not kicking) and living in semi-seclusion in Carmel. That penpalship was passed along to me, and for a brief time in college Joan and I sent short, polite cards to one another -- in one exchange she admitted that the ending to Hitchcock's Suspicion (for which she won her Oscar in 1942) was a severe compromise in order to satisfy studio suits and lazy audiences. Boy how times have changed. (Not.) If you've got the day off, TCM has over 12 hours of Joan today, her 90th birthday, with showings of Born to Be Bad, Gunga Din and The Women (currently being remade by Diane English). And for giggles, watch her above on What's My Line? in 1972 after she'd given up movies.

Update / 10.24.07, 11:34 / Check out the Self-Styled Siren's knowledgeable posts on Joan here and here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Wow them in the end, and you've got a hit

The 10 best movie endings are delineated in today's Independent by Anthony Quinn. I've seen six of the 10, and I heartily agree with his inclusion of The Third Man (perhaps the best movie ending ever), The Conversation (a practically perfect ending to a practically perfect movie) and Chinatown, of course.

The inclusion of Chinatown allows me to address, for the first time, the title of Blog. "As little as possible" not only indicates my affinity for brevity but also serves as a tribute to an almost inaudible line at the conclusion of Chinatown. SPOILER ALERT. Jack Nicholson (as private eye J.J. Gittes, my namesake) has just witnessed the shooting of his lover by trigger-happy cops. He stands by the scene, blank-faced. You can see his soul shriveling up. After a moment, his mouth mutters, "As little as possible." The line is almost impossible to hear on first viewing, yet it makes the movie. People remember "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown," but it has a fraction of the emotional devastation of "As little as possible."

Earlier, we learn that Gittes was once a detective in Los Angeles' Chinatown area, and that he left (or was forced out of) the business when a case went wrong and someone got hurt (presumably a love interest). When he's asked what he did on the Chinatown beat, Gittes wryly admits he and his colleagues were encouraged to do "as little as possible." Why fight corruption if it only results in strife? At the end of the movie, Gittes finds himself again in Chinatown. Again, his well-intended meddling has resulted in the death of someone he cares about. He doesn't scream or cry or rend his clothing; he simply chastises himself with a whisper. "As little as possible." It's a line that encompasses the futility of his existence. It's a killer.

What would you add to Quinn's list? My top pick would be David Mamet's House of Games, which ends on a seductively sinister note. Who knew the quiet theft of a gold cigarette lighter could be so damn delicious?

Update / 10.23.07, 6 p.m. / I forgot to mention that there is at least one other blog out there that takes its name from a line in Chinatown. This would be Bad for the Glass, a culture blog. "Bad for the glass" is uttered several times by Faye Dunaway's groundskeeper. It proves to be the clue on which the plot hinges.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Deborah Kerr 1921-2007

My favorite of her films is the superb psychological thriller The Innocents (the right clip). When I attended a screening of The King and I in New York several years ago, the singer Marni Nixonwho dubbed Kerr in the musical (and in An Affair to Remember, the left clip) — noted how gracious Kerr was to her. The studio wanted the public to believe Kerr was actually singing, but she was forthright with the press about Nixon's contribution. The two worked hand-in-hand, studying each others physicalities and inflections, to create a believable facade. This speaks of her professionalism and her humanity, which were coiled inside an alabaster beauty (note her most famous scene, in From Here to Eternity in the middle) and unfurled slowly over a grand, concentrated career.

"I have never had a fight with any director, good or bad," she said toward the end of her career (via the AP). "There is a way around everything if you are smart enough." She also told the AP that TV reruns of her old movies have "kept me alive" for a new generation of film fans.

It's that time of the year again

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cologne meets the Seven Years War

A commercial for Diesel's fragrance Fuel for Life has been playing all over the tubes, and it's unnerving me because of its use of the first bar of music from the second movement of Franz Schubert's Piano Trio in E Flat (opus 100). It's right at the end of the commercial (left). Bah bah bah bah-da-dah. Gets my attention immediately, even though it seems to be in a key other than E flat. You might recognize the cue from Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (right), in which the trio's beauty is A) in the correct key, and B) not reduced to a catchy soundbite.

Clift notes

The Montgomery Clift Blogathon is today at The Film Experience. Pop over there. I have nothing to contribute other than my sadness for not being able to contribute. Of Clift's films, I've only seen Suddenly, Last Summer, which betrays the depths of his personal sadness.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

And now, a word from our sponsors

It is Tuesday, Oct. 16, and I have had my Netflix movies at home for a solid month or more. I am essentially paying $15 to not watch movies. I have not seen a movie in theaters since Telluride. Yes, I have watched movies with friends in the interim, but it appears my days of ravenous solo-watching are over. I get home from work and go straight to a social obligation, or I spend time working on other projects, or I go to sleep. Movies, it seems, are taking valuable time away from life.

It is with extreme irony that I now make this pledge: I will post once a day through mid-January. Given extenuating circumstances, I have toyed with dissolving Blog, or simply changing its mission. I have decided to do neither. However, since I will be posting at least once a day til January, you can expect me to address topics that aren't rigidly anchored to film. I will not totter into syrupy personal issues; I will seek to connect what's on my mind with what's on film; but know that I will consider most topics "in bounds." Times change and so must I. Stay with me.

What happens in mid-January, you ask? I take a sabbatical from the Internet (and Blog, and Job, and Life) for six weeks. I will be sailing my way to the other end of the globe for reasons known only to me. I will spend that time on a ship, somewhere between Tokyo and Muscat, with strangers. During that time I will pay attention to my fellow man rather than a computer screen or television. Yes, this means I will miss the Oscars (and the entire Oscar season) for the first time in 13 years. Yes, this means I'm suspending the DZ Oscar Pool just as it's about to hit its remarkable 10th anniversary. Yes, I need to do this. I hope you understand.

I will surely return to Blog when I return to Internet, and Job, and the New World (the second week of March, perhaps). But! We still have all of fall and some of winter together. I will continue to hack away at my Triple Crowners Series, which has been my spurned magnum opus for a couple months. And while this blog has overstayed its welcome since its inception, I will seek to refine it in small ways. You might already notice alterations to Blog's template and sidebar. I will be trying new things. That's what's so great about the film blogosphere: it allows for invention and reinvention, and I'm happy to be doing both, sometimes simultaneously.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Symphony in Liz Taylor

The most recent clip (at right) made me laugh and laugh. Then it made me want to find two more clips of Liz in two other sections of her lifetime. I now sit and watch the three in succession and wonder what I should be feeling.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I wanna be loved by you. Just you. (And nobody else but you.)

I've resisted the urge to do this before, but The Great Mofo Delurk provides a legitimate excuse (thanks to Middento for the alert). If you read this blog, please identify yourself in the comments. You don't have to give your real name. Just say hi. Say anything. Praise. Criticize. Suggest. Thank you. (My temporary hiatus continues, but feel free to sustain yourself with any of the sidebar delectables, including my award-winning Triple Crowners series.)