Monday, April 16, 2007


“Why is it called Grindhouse?” The question came from the back of the room during a panel discussion at Austin’s SXSW Film Festival last month. Robert Rodriguez peaked out from behind his Mexican fedora and didn’t hesitate. “Grindhouse confused people at first,” he replied. “They thought, ‘Well, it’s a horror movie called Grindhouse, so there must be a house where they grind people up.’ It’s called that because of grindhouse cinemas. They were called that—I think that the reference was that they would show double or triple features that were just grinded together.”

Rodriguez—who collaborated with noted cinephile Quentin Tarantino to create a retro double bill—nailed the salient answer, minus the gritty details. The micro-budgeted productions of grindhouse yore didn’t have the strength of affluent distribution companies to bring them wide audiences, partly explaining why they ended up in places like the trashy theaters sprinkled throughout Times Square. There they were ground together with pornography and primarily watched by lewd characters in search of dark rooms to indulge their hedonism. If the recent box office disappointment of Grindhouse itself recalls the miniscule awareness of original grindhouse movies, then the movie has managed a brilliant bout of performance art. It helps define the B-movie appeal: Devout audiences are willing to sit through anything thrown their way, as long as it gives them a good time. The people who choose to see Grindhouse—and stick around—prove their dedication. In that sense, grindhouse refers to a state of mind—sort of like New York, where the theaters left an indelible imprint on the Deuce.

Read the rest of the article in the New York Press...



With his 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, Alfred Hitchcock demonstrated that nobody was qualified to revisit the director’s work except Hitchcock himself. Great art generally doesn’t fare well under anyone’s guidance other than that of its source. Just take a look at some of the recent examples of mangled riffs on Hitchcockian concepts: Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-by-shot recreation of Psycho felt vapid and aimless; a made-for-TV take on Rear Window, starring wheelchair-bound Christopher Reeve, could use the subtitle Death of Superman. So, I’m not too pumped for the reported studio remakes of The Birds or Strangers on a Train.

Read the rest of the review in the New York Press...

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters

Fans of Cartoon Network’s late night Adult Swim programming recognize “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” as a colossal achievement in surrealist aesthetics. The show zips through bite-sized animated storylines with incessantly zany inspiration, and the credits roll before you can wrap your head around the whole absurd ordeal. Centering on the peculiar adventures of sentient fast food, the average episode builds to a crescendo of silliness by taking various muddled premises to their overwhelmingly bizarre extremes. Always intentionally ridiculous, it’s usually great fun—and, for its core contingency of baked viewers, really profound, man. Not to condescend to the faithfully stoned: “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” is a trip. Which makes its feature-length incarnation, aptly titled Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, into a befuddling journey.

Read the rest of the review in the New York Press...

Red Road

There’s no shortage of contenders when considering cinematic masterpieces to which the spectacularly unsettling drama, Red Road, deserves comparison. Critics have name-dropped a flurry of entries in the thriller genre to validate the movie’s immediate canonization: Rear Window, The Conversation and Michael Haneke’s Cache all make recurring appearances in the plethora of positive reviews. Considering its nuanced portrait of a troubled woman (Kate Dickie) engaged in voyeuristic obsession, Red Road undoubtedly earns its entrance into that prestigious crowd—but director Andrea Arnold insists on being coy in response to the accolades.

Read the rest of the feature in the New York Press...


Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis

He was doing just fine until he left Ohio and came to New York. That’s the verdict provided by the sister of quintessential avant-garde artist Jack Smith in Mary Jordan's inquisitive documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis. Her perception of his life, as someone far away from the Sixties counterculture that famously birthed Andy Warhol, serves to explain both the radicalism that fueled Smith's work and the futility that ultimately led to his undoing. Jordan pulls together a variety of talking heads and combines them with plenty of footage from Smith's eclectic creative accomplishments, resulting in a fairly tame collage masquerading as a movie. But to parse such abstract and frequently confounding forms of expression requires a certain amount of sobriety, which Jordan competently provides.

Read the rest of the review in The Reeler...

Friday, April 06, 2007


After the Wedding

Defining the qualities that make actors into talented artists requires a clear understanding of the elements that create their range. Sean Connery, for example, will always play James Bond, which either helps or hurts his later work. Samuel L. Jackson has devolved into cartoon riffs on his earlier performances. Neither man demonstrates a lack of ability—but the specific limitations of their careers are predicated on the roles that appear to most appropriately suit their abilities. Danish actor Mads Mikkelson is a different story altogether. In the last few years, Mikkelson has played a dangerous Bond foil in Casino Royale, a thug seeking redemption in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher II and now portrays the soulful manager of an orphanage in Susanne Bier’s After the Wedding. That sort of chameleon versatility doesn’t come along very often.

Read the rest of the review in the New York Press...

Budd Schulberg's classic novel What Makes Sammy Run? is the quintessential showbiz tale. Schulberg exposed the brand of selfish ego that beat at the heart of the Hollywood industry. It seems like perfect fodder for a motion picture--but even Ben Stiller couldn't seem to get it off the ground. Read more about it here.

It was late at night in Holland when Steven Spielberg called Paul Verhoeven, paving the way for one of the most insubordinate creative minds in the history of the movie business.

“He didn’t realize it was three o’clock in the morning,” recalls Verhoeven, now 68, looking back on the impetus that led to his immigration—and, eventually, indispensable Hollywood guilty pleasures like Basic Instinct. “I had a very nice conversation with him. He said, ‘Come to the United States. Your country’s much too small for you. You have to work here.’ It took me some time to conquer my fears, [but] finally I came, and he introduced me to several studios.”

Continue reading about Paul Verhoeven in the New York Press...