Thursday, July 29, 2010

catching up with the films of 2010

I feel so behind with films this year. Summer is always a bit busy for me to get to the cinema. Inception? Still haven't seen it. Even though we are approaching August, and I've missed so many, I caught up with a few notables recently. Some I've seen in theaters I loved--Winter's Bone and The Kids Are All Right, some that were just OK (The Runaways) and some that were just plain awful (Valentine's Day... blech) but there have been many gems that I missed during their theatrical run that are now available to rent.


Noah Baumbach opened with the sublime Squid & the Whale but hit a snag with the well-acted but overly prickly Margot at the Wedding. Greenberg is a fresh take on romantic comedy, with an extremely rude and unlikeable antihero at the center (calculated perfectly by Ben Stiller). Florence (the likeable and inventive Greta Gerwig) is an aimless assistant of a yuppie couple in Los Angeles. When the couple goes to vacation in Vietnam, the brother of the husband, Roger Greenberg, moves in the house after undergoing a nervous breakdown in New York. Roger is a bit hopeless, on his own island, selfish, and bitter. He writes letters to the editors to complain over trivial matters and seems unable to establish any real connections with people, including his ex-girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh, where have you been? We love you! She also crafted this film's story and helped to develop the project). When he becomes entangled with Florence, there is a lot of friction but also some moments of understanding. It may be difficult for some to get past Roger's grumbling but it's rewarding, at times, to sympathize with him, as he watches the forty-somethings move on with their own families and lives without him, and also the generation below him (in a funny party scene) dismiss him. Baumbach has an ear for crackling dialogue and it helps keep this film afloat. Gerwig is insanely present. Her "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" lipsynch is brilliantly funny. ***

The Girl on the Train

André Téchiné's (Wild Reeds and The Witnesses) The Girl on the Train is based upon a real life incident where a woman (here played by the luminous Émilie Dequenne) made a story up that she was victim of a violent, anti-Semitic attack. It has a special relevance this month with the hazing of Shirley Sherrod. The media is often guilty of picking up on stories without checking the truth. As displayed in other works, Téchiné's style is memorable and edgy, but here, he never explores too deeply into all of the issues raised, instead, he delves into the quick crash and burn of a relationship between two young, naive people. The reasons why the woman in this relationship decides to spin such a lie are unclear--perhaps how they should be portrayed. However compelling its subject is at times, the film feels hollow. Catherine Deneuve is excellent as always as the young woman's mother. **1/2


I'm still trying to work out my feelings on Joon-ho Bong's (The Host) Mother. I felt The Host was wonderfully shot but overcooked for a horror film, tackling too many genres and styles at once, but Mother is haunting and more refined.

Hye-ja Kim is electrifying as an acupuncturist and herbal healer, the mother of a mentally handicapped son, who tries to take matters in her own hands when her son is convicted of murdering a local girl. Bong eschews typical expectations of a formulaic story, instead vividly displaying the desperation and resolve of the mother as well as the intricate politics and dimensions of a small town. The photography (by Kyung-Pyo Hong) is also beautiful. ***

The Crazies (2010)

In the unnecessary remake of George A. Romero's ultra low-budget The Crazies, Timothy Olyphant plays a sheriff in Iowa who battles his own community after its members are poisoned by a mysterious virus via tap water. It's all pretty standard, slickly filmed, middling entertainment. Although it is much, much better than most horror films of this era, it lacks atmosphere and becomes repetitive. Some of it is to blame on the source material: not one of Romero's finest efforts. **

-Jeffery Berg

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

alexa, alexa

This is a tribute to Alexa Chung. Her fashion choices make me happy. There are too many looks to choose from so I selected a few. It's too overwhelming... I love everything she wears! See also StyleBistro and Daily Alexa Chung.

*If you have an Alexa post, send me the link and I'll link you.

Alexa Chung posts:
Bella 185
Fashion Roadkill
Rackk and Ruin

Monday, July 26, 2010

revisiting the house of the devil

I'm joining in on Final Girl's Film Club this week for the first time with a revisit to one of my favorites, The House of the Devil. I originally reviewed the film here as "refreshingly low-key."

It's always exciting for a horror buff to discover that hidden gem. On IFC, I caught 1980's The Hearse, a drive-in ghost story about a woman (Trish Van Devere) who is terrorized by a mysterious hearse while staying at her dead aunt's house. It's not particularly good but I can appreciate its vibe. It seems to me whether or not you "enjoy" a film like The Hearse, will likely dictate your feelings on how you feel about The House of the Devil. West dubs it as a "period piece," something rarely mentioned in reviews of the film. So inspired by this particular Hearse era, West nails texture. All of the details are exactly right. The orange foam headphones, the tangled phone cord, the jokey answering machine message, paper Coke cups, the soundtrack choices (as the Greg Kihn Band's "The Breakup Song" suggests, Hollywood lamentably really doesn't write horror films like this anymore) the backpacks and denim, the moody score (by Jeff Grace) and film quality--shot on 16mm (abundant in the 1980s).

The script is also refreshingly free of too many in-jokes, which seems typical and crippling of film throwbacks, spoofs or tributes (the inclusion of Dee Wallace as "The Landlady" is such a perfectly earnest choice, not a cheesy wink). In an interview with Cinematical, West commented, "So when I set it in the '80s, a lot of people call it a homage or a throwback and I don't really see it that way. I'm not so ignorant to say there isn't a few nods in the movie, but really just wanted to make an authentic period piece; if the movie had taken place in the '50s, I'd have made it as authentically '50s as possible." And yet the way the film is done, it suggests homage. Think of how differently Far From Heaven would be perceived if not filmed in that lush, Douglas Sirk-ish style. Aside from the freeze frame opening and closing credits, here, the blandness (Jocelin Donahue is our very ordinary heroine) is part of its charm: the film seems to run in real-time fashion, building slowly to its bloody conclusion. That episodic build-up has divided critics and film goers, used to quicker, more complex plot lines. And the climax isn't necessarily as riveting as it could have been. Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt bemoaned that "the story takes place in the late 1980s for no apparent reason other than writer-director-editor Ti West doesn't want mobile phones to gum up his feeble plot." Of course horror buffs are smarter than that and know why the 1980s are important to the intrinsic feel of the picture. And it's so obvi that this is not late-80s but early or mid (Gerwig suggests in an interview that West was adamant that it was taking place in '83).

Since much of the running time is spent on our heroine bumbling around a house, I can understand why horror fans may not really like the film. It came out in the midst of feverish underground hype (the trailer is excellent), not to mention its slick, nostalgic marketing (the retro posters and clamshell video release). West's strength is with creating a banal atmosphere not typically seen in film today (atmosphere instantly conjures flashy sci fi and prize winning novel adaptations). Even the pace of the movie itself (The Hearse is pretty slow burn, suspense-less stuff too) is part of the atmosphere as well.

Since I first saw the movie, it's been great to see the rise of Greta Gerwig who was so memorably Terri Garr-esque in Greenberg. As the quirky friend in Devil, she's both annoying and endearing and seems to be having a great time. She remarks, "I think people took to it because, in many ways, it is the antithesis of the way people think of lo-fi horror movies looking. People are hungry for good, small movies that have some style."

-Jeffery Berg

My friend Katie, a Connecticuit native, was kind enough to snap this photo of the actual house in Lime Rock. I love it!

lite fm

I woke up today from a strangely compelling dream about Donna Lewis's "I Love You Always Forever." I was standing with a group of New York City tourists and we were dancing to it. A woman with a neon fanny pack was grooving and said "this is my jam." I hadn't heard the song since 1996 and I am truly perplexed why it figured so vividly.

Sometimes I will jam out to some truly maudlin Lite Fm songs.

Do you have any Lite FM guilty pleasures? Admit it, it's OK!

Here are some of mine:

Angel of the Morning - Juice Newton

Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do) - Christopher Cross

Torn Between Two Lovers - Mary McGregor

If You Could Read My Mind - Gordon Lightfoot

Magic - Olivia Newton-John

We Just Disagree - Dave Mason

I Love You Always Forever - Donna Lewis

Glory of Love - Peter Cetera

Stuck on You - Lionel Richie

Always - Atlantic Starr

Some may find these nauseating. Let the haters hate, there are some good melodies here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

hair affair

Vintage hair ads. Be sure to check out Found in Mom's Basement which houses a fascinating collection of vintage print advertising.