Blu Ray/DVD Review: (UNTITLED)

UNTITLED (Dir. Jonathan Parker, 2009)

Watching one of my favorite movies recently – Richard Linklater’s DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993) – I remembered thinking back in the day that amongst its cast of attractive newcomers (which included Matthew McConaughey and Parker Posey) that the acerbic Adam Goldberg was going to break big.

I was way wrong about that, but Goldberg has honed his sardonic persona nicely over the course of a respectable career in indie films as well as many roles on television.

As the pretentious pianist Adrian Jacobs in Jonathan Parker’s film (UNTITLED), Goldberg shows like in Julie Delphy’s 2 DAYS IN PARIS that he’s more than capable of carrying a movie and giving it a discernable viewpoint.

The viewpoint here is about the world of modern art in New York City. Goldberg performs with a small group of musicians his particular brand of “sound art”. It is cacophony made out of clanging metal buckets, violently banging the piano keys, and intermittent primal screaming. The group’s “music” makes small audiences even smaller when performed live.

Goldberg works his worry lines harder than usual while arguing: “Is the market place the measure of value in our culture? That would mean the death of all thought!”

Goldberg’s brother (Eion Bailey) is a painter who has had success selling his work to hotel chains through a gallery run by Marley Shelton. Shelton is the only one who seems to appreciate Goldberg’s compositions and arranges for them to play at one of her exhibitions.

So you just know that Shelton and Goldberg are going to get together and Bailey is both going to feel left out of Shelton’s heart and her gallery.

There is more going on than that in this film, but it’s thwarted by misguided characters such as Zak Orth as a computer millionaire art collector who only exists in the film to be ridiculed. Likewise a minimalist “thumbtack” artist (Ptolemy Slocum) who Bailey resents because he gets a show at Shelton’s gallery and is treated like a genius.

Much more effective is the brash Vinnie Jones as a over-hyped visual artist who chews and spits out all the scenery around him. There is also a subtle turns by Lucy Punch billed only as “The Clarinet”.

Still there is a lot of worth to the discussion about modern art and commerciality this film provokes. There are considerable comparisons to be made with the work of Terry Zwigoff (Think GHOST WORLD not the contrived ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL).

Another rewrite could’ve sharpened its attack, but (UNTITLED) has enough bite in it to be recommended. Goldberg may not be sneering his way to the bank, but with fine vehicles like this he’s definitely building a wealth of indie cred.

More later…



Okay, so it didn’t take as long as Guns ‘N Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” but Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne has been plugging the release of CHRISTMAS ON MARS since the dawn of this decade. After some festival screenings here and there, the film finally just dropped on DVD and it proves to be every bit the space oddity the Oklahoman art rockers have been promising. What wasn’t expected though was that the film has no vocal pop songs on its soundtrack, just reams of ambient embellishments that mostly serve as incidental music. So dont expect a Beatles-eque romp unless the idea of watching MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR with the songs edited out appeals to you.

In a scenario reminiscent of sci-fi staples like ALIEN, 2001, and the lesser known John Carpenter cult curio DARK STAR, a team of astronauts work to colonize Mars in the near future (2052?) while a baby is being birthed by extremely unconventional means which inspire qrotesque fetus hallucinations (think ERASERHEAD). This is mostly presented in grainy black and white shot on 16 MM film on makeshift sets making it resemble an art school project. Bright color sometimes blurry, sometimes jarringly vivid, does come into it in pointed places making it also resemble home movies of an acid test. The birth is timed for Christmas eve so the colonists which include Lips members Stephen Drozd (pictured left – presumably the protagonist), Michael Ivins, and Kliph Scurlock plan an impromptu pageant to mark the event. A Martian played by Coyne painted green with antennas (described by one character as looking like something “that crawled out of Godzilla’s ass) appears and is recruited to don a Santa Clause suit. Dialogue consists of ponderings such as:

“Humans aren’t meant to live in outer space; it destroys your internal beliefs…makes you think about ‘where is Heaven when you’re in outer space?’”

“I’ve got such a bad feeling that it should make you have a bad feeling.”

(shout-out to STAR WARS?)

“Space is cold, unfeeling, and mean. It crushes all the little things like a moth on a window sill.”

The rising conflict through all this psycho-babble occurs with a capacitor malfunction that threatens their oxygen supply. But with Coyne’s E.T.-esque chest light you can expect a Martian Christmas miracle! None of the Flaming Lips members are good actors (Coyne conquers this by not speaking at all) but there are a few talented thespian folks who ostensibly as fan favors lend a hand. Adam Goldberg (DAZED AND CONFUSED, 2 DAYS IN PARIS) as “Mars psychologist” has a great scene describing a Lynchian dream about a marching band that all had heads of human genitals, and SNL’s Fred Armison has a nice casual cameo credited as “Philosophical and Hymn-Singing Astronaut”.

Emulating the Russian sci-fi of the 60’s (the likes of which Francis Ford Coppola was enlisted by Roger Corman to rework for American audeinces – NEBO ZOVYOT which became BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN), and distilling dystopian elements down to lazy shoe-gazing isn’t quite the space pop opera cinema that I anticipated. Artists though should constantly thwart expectations and dive into different mediums with different ideas not caring about consequences so it’s hard, or downright impossible, for me to dismiss or dislike this effort. CHRISTMAS ON MARS may gain cool credit as a ironic holiday late night movie to put on after feasts of food and other altering substances are consumed in seasons to come but for now I can’t get past that it’s just weird for weirdness-sake.

More later…

Westerns, Lovers In Paris And Media Circuses Are Doing Fine Thank You

“I feel like Dorothy – everything just turned to color.”
– Don Draper (Jon Hamm) Mad Men (AMC Original Series 2007)

Got some recent moviegoing to babble ’bout so let’s get at it :

3:10 TO YUMA (Dir. James Mangold, 2007) I don’t want to spend much of this review addressing the state of the modern Western – I’ll just say that it’s a genre that will never die (see Deadwood and the upcoming THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES). Those prematurely eulogizing it are discounting the allure of that period of history – tales with a backdrop of a lawless land that stretches to infinity will always be told. The tale told in James Mangold’s (WALK THE LINE) 3:10 TO YUMA is told very well – especially for a remake. I haven’t seen the original so I can’t compare but reasonably I am very skeptical about remakes so I was pleasantly surprised at how strong a movie this was. Christian Bale plays a down on his luck rancher who takes on the daunting task of transporting a villainous fast drawing outlaw (Russell Crowe) across country. The film’s title is their destination – a scheduled train with a prison car that will supposedly take Crowe to be tried and hung.

Obstacles aplenty surround Bale and his posse (including a wonderfully grizzled Peter Fonda) – Crowe’s murderous gang close behind set on freeing him, dangerous Indian territory, and the conniving overly confident Crowe himself. As Ben Wade –you’ll know him from the trail of the dead – Crowe does a career best performance. He perfects the kind of evil man who laughs through bloody teeth when being punched in the face, quotes ominous Bible passages, and never flickers for an instant in any hostile predicament. As an actor though he’s surely met his match with Christian Bale. Adding another sharp intense performance to an incredibly impressive roster, Bale really shines and should be rewarded come Oscar time. Far more than a genre exercise or a modernized re-imagining – 3:10 TO YUMA is one of the best films of the year. So forget about all the “death of the Western” diatribes and just savor the scenery.

2 DAYS IN PARIS (Dir. Julie Delphy, 2007) Looks at a distance like another BEFORE SUNRISE/SUNSET love story travelogue but a closer look reveals that Delphy’s directorial debut is fairly removed from those chatfests. Of course there is considerable Richard Linklater influence in the dialogue and use of tracking shots but there is an offbeat dynamic that is all Delphy. The premise is simple – a couple (Delphy, Adam Goldberg) spend a few days in the city of love during what appears to be a rough patch in their 2 year old relationship. She’s a photographer; he’s an interior decorator though during this trip he’s the one taking pictures – a lot of pictures. They seem to run into a former lover of Delphy’s at every turn which makes the already extremely neurotic Goldberg’s heavily tatooed skin crawl. Goldberg’s Woody Allenesque asides provide the humor throughout especially in one of the best scenes – a dinner with Delphy’s real-life parents (Albert Delphy & Marie Pillet). Some funny affecting moments but maybe would’ve worked better as a short film – even at 96 minutes it feels a bit drawn out. Better yet – condense the best moments from 2 DAYS IN PARIS into a montage and it would’ve made a kick ass segment of PARIS JE T’AIME! Nah, I’m just blogging out of my ass – Delphy’s film may be only fair but as a first time effort it’s on the good end of fair.

ACE IN THE HOLE * (Dir. Billy Wilder, 1951) It’s amazing that Wilder’s follow-up to the inarguable classic SUNSET BLVD. has been missing in action (never available on home video until now) and undocumented for so many years. I’ve picked up movie guides from the last decade that didn’t have a listing for it (not even in Wilder’s filmography!) and when I’ve mentioned it to my other film buff friends it got no recognition. Well, this spiffy new Criterion collection edition should change all that. Kirk Douglas stars as a wild-eyed hard drinking newspaper man who arrives in Albuquerque, New Mexico to revive his troubled career. Stopping at a trading post on the way to a rattlesnake hunt he hears of a man (Paul Benedict) trapped in a mine because of a cave collapse. He milks the story for all its worth even delaying the man’s rescue and it becomes the definition – possibly where the phrase came from – of a media circus. With Douglas at his most intensely vicious and Wilder’s gloriously cynical but insightful script – it’s so nice that this film comes back to bite us on the ass and show us how little has changed. After watching it I turned off the DVD player to see pundit after pundit espouse about the latest O.J. caper on cable. Hard to look at that pointless blather the same way again after seeing ACE IN THE HOLE. You can’t get a higher film babble recommendation than this.

* After its original poorly received release the film was re-titled THE BIG CARNIVAL and re-released. Apparently this didn’t help – the film was still deemed too dark and it failed to gain an audience. Until now…

More later…