Death Proof - revisited

As already occurred to me yesterday, Crash and Death Proof would make a nice double feature: Crash is about people turned on by car crashes, and Death Proof is about one man for whom car crashes are a form of sexual aggression. He's a rapist, in a way: in the first part he his successful, and in the second, the girls take back the night.

I already discussed Death Proof at length before. This post is merely to contemplate the differences between the version I saw as part of Grindhouse a month ago, and the longer, stand-alone version I saw tonight.

To be honest, I'm not quite sure which I prefer. I do know I'm happy I saw both.

The main advantage of seeing Death Proof in it's originally intended form is that a) it doesn't really need to be longer than 1.5 hours, b) the fake trailers rule and c) Planet Terror is a lot of fun, and puts you in precisely the appropriate mood to be able to appreciate Death Proof.

However, there are things to be said for the longer version, too, and luckily, in the arthouse theater I went to see it, it was preceded by the trailer for Planet Terror, and that one only. The lenthening of the dialogues is not really necessary, and makes some drag on a bit too long, in fact, and the many more shots of feet and legs are somewhat superfluous, but two of the three extra scenes are definitely worthwhile. The first one is, of course, the "missing reel": Vanessa Ferlito's lapdance, which is all you'd expect it to be, and set to music worthy of Tarantino. But the second one, which was a surprise to me, is a long, mostly black and white, opening scene to the second half. It features something creepier even than the lapdance, and it also makes for a wonderful little moment when the color gets "switched on": the colors jump out at you, the yellow of the car, the pink of Rosario Dawson's shirt. It signals that this half is going to be different. That these girls are different.

Aside from that, the films are very similar: you still get the scary/funny moment when Kurt Russell's Stuntman Mike suddenly looks into the camera and grins, telling you that now the action's going to start, the brilliant moment with the beat-up Dodges spilling out into our world is still there, and at the end, you still walk out feeling like kicking the air, humming "Laisse Tomber Les Filles" and yelling yeah.

I wonder though: the triumphant feeling I got again tonight walking out of this film, do guys have it too? Is it gender-dependent that this fighting back feels to empowering? There's often criticism about films, for example about this new "torture porn" genre, that act like they "deserve" to degrade and abuse women as long as the women get the upper hand in the end, but truthfully, is that really so bad an attitude? As long as I get to be in the second batch of women, I'm not sure I think it is.

I'm still pissed Grindhouse was split up. I still think it's underestimating the viewer, and ripping off film lovers. But the longer version definitely has some things to recommend it.



First, the awesome news: I will soon be reviewing movies for the Dutch film website filmtotaal, and I couldn't be more thrilled. I mean, not only will I get to go to advance screenings and stuff, but, for the first time, I'll get paid (a little) for writing. Like a real journalist. I feel like Pinocchio. Hopefully I won't turn out to have been transformed into a smoking donkey.

Anyway, when introducing myself on the message boards, I listed a few of my favorite directors. Among them was David Cronenberg. And well, while I can honestly say I've loved all the Cronenbergs I've seen so far, it is true that, at the time of writing, I'd only seen two: eXistenZ and A History of Violence. Luckily, these things are easy to remedy, and now I've added Crash to that list. I'm glad to report that Cronenberg is, in my eyes, now 3 for 3.

I'm sure I don't need to add this, but I will just in case, for clarity's sake: I am not, I repeat, not referring to the recent Oscar winning Paul Haggis film about racism. I am instead referring to the Cronenberg film about people who get turned on by car crashes.

And boy, do they get it on. I don't remember seeing any other film -that wasn't porn- that included so much sex. In all kinds of positions, between numerous different couples, mostly in cars, but not exclusively. The most surprising thing is that, with maybe one or two exceptions, these sex scenes are not just window-dressing, they're not there (just) to titillate, no, they're essential to character development and even to the plot.

It's amazing to me how flatly and non-sensationally Cronenberg films everything. He views these characters without judgment: he never presents them as freaks, but I don't think he thinks we should fully go along with their fetish, either. As such, the film is fascinating, and you get to understand the appeal of mangled steel and scarred flesh, without necessarily needing to share in the obsession.

Still, the amount and graphic nature of sex scenes is not the most remarkable thing here. No, that would be the total lack of conflict in the plot. There is no jealousy, and while there is definitely physical danger, it is unaccompanied by any fear or pain. Our main character, played by James Spader, is impossible to read: he goes along with everything, and is clearly affected in some way, but it's unclear what it is exactly that he seeks.

Because of the lack of conflict, it's not really surprising that the ending is nothing more than a reflection of the beginning: James and his wife start out unsatisfied, longing for something they can't quite reach, and they end up exactly the same way, just with a different method, a different goal. Even the words are the same: "Maybe the next one". It's a film about people who are forever looking for the next thing, the next thrill, and the only conclusion you can draw is that whatever they try, they'll always be unsatisfied.

I still think that A History of Violence is the more controversial and though-provoking film of the two, not in spite but because of its apparent normalcy, and it's the more coherent, precise film too. However, I did enjoy Crash very much, and I'll definitely be watching more Cronenberg soon.

Some more Othello screengrabs

Easy, Tiger

Ryan Adams' latest, Easy Tiger, has been out for a few weeks now. I downloaded it right the first day it was available, to decide whether to buy it or not. Yet I kept postponing writing this review.

Why? Might it be that *gasp*, I simply have nothing much to say?

In general, I've disagreed with the majority of critics about Ryan's albums. I actually liked the reviled Rock N roll and 29, even loved Love is Hell, especially pt.1. At the same time, I wasn't too enthusiastic about the critically well-received Jacksonville City Nights, which was too country for me, and Cold Roses, which I found pretty much a snooze. So when critics starting praising this album, lauding its consistency in particular, I was worried.

It is a consistent album, but why is that a good thing? Yes, true, there are no wtf-moments, no strange unpolished, out-there songs, but there's also no greatness here, and what's worse, there are no surprises. There's no innovation here, no stretching: it's all pleasant and harmonic, sure, but that's not why I like (or should I say liked? Already?) Ryan.

The only moment that half-way stands out is "Halloweenhead", and it should be said that the last two songs, "These Girls" and "I taught myself how to grow", are quite good. But this album stays a disappointment, maybe best illustrated by "The Sun Also Sets": it starts out interestingly, with a seemingly classic chord progression that doesn't go where you think it will, but the song then devolves into, well, "generic Adams", and who would have thought two, three years ago that there would ever even be such a thing?

Much has been made of Ryan Adams' recent sobering and cleaning up, and I feel almost guilty, complaining that the manic outbursts and unbearably quiet cries of despair are gone. Of course I'm happy he's gotten his shit together, but I won't be buying this CD.



Wow. I mean, wow.

Othello opens with a funereal procession, heavy dramatic music playing. The shots are truly black and white, in that there are barely any greys: the figures are just black silhouettes set against a forbidding fortress. A man in a cage hangs overhead. This is a tragedy, there's no mistaking it, and when the title card comes up, accompanied by some -by now stereotypical- lute music, it's a jarring contrast.

This is how Shakespeare adaptations should be done. This is how theater adaptations should be done, period. Welles both enhances the theatricality here, and at the same time uses every tool and possibility offered by the medium of cinema. One breathtaking shot follows another: in some, the characters are dwarfed against the backdrop of the Essaouira fortress, insignificant and powerless, and in the next they can be seen looming ominously large, filmed from below, often set against a monochrome sky.

It's one of the most efficient and unencumbered Shakespeare production I've seen, too. Nothing feels rushed, and time is taken both for long silent passages and grand speeches, but the film lasts only 90 minutes and nothing seems superfluous. Many directors confuse respect for the source material for a prohibition against leaving anything out (I'm looking at you, Kenneth), but Welles gets to the essence here, to the core of this jealousy-driven story.

Then there's the voice. Has there ever been a deeper, more majestic, more thrilling voice than Orson Welles'? At some points, it literally sent a chill down my spine. Some might object to the blackface used in the movie, but I cannot imagine Othello now with anyone's voice but his.

I could talk on and on about this movie: the intriguing scene in which Rodrigo is murdered; the shots of Iago with the empty cage hanging overhead; the strangling of Desdemona; how this makes me want to go back to Essaouira. In the end, of course, the film's a mess: some of the text is very hard to understand, Rodrigo's motivation is never made clear, and I didn't find Iago at all convincing. However, it's a mess that's imminently fascinating every step of the way, and with more memorable shots than I could keep track of, shots that make you gasp in surprise and wonder, shots that remind you of why Welles is revered for more than just his hypnotic voice.



It's sometimes so nice to come into a movie with no expectations or preconceived notions about it, and so rare, unfortunately. It's the big movie geek dilemma: you want to read everything that's being written about a movie you're eager to see, but this does have the side-effect that you lose the ability to be surprised. By the time a movie finally comes out here in the Netherlands, it often feels like I've seen it already.

All I knew about Croupier was that a) it was about a croupier and b) it was Clive Owen's breakout role. My crush on Clive Owen made point b) enough of a reason for me, and after just watching Ocean's Thirteen two days ago, the casino setting seemed appropriate.

I loved: the noirish third-person narration - though it spooked me a little, as when I get in a writerish phase I start narrating my life to myself in my head, also in third person; the unreliability of said narration, Clive Owen as a blonde, even if it isn't for long; Clive Owen's hat; the surprises of the plot; the cynicism; Clive Owen's grin at the end.

I wasn't convinced so much by: the South-African accent on the woman from ER; the ending; the overall tone; the quality of Jack's writing.

So the verdict? Definitely worth checking out.