Film Review: Four Rooms (1995)

I do try to include thematic content round these parts when I can. And yes, I did have to wrack my brain to come up with an odd but enjoyable New Year’s Eve film.

Four Rooms is a portmanteau comedy film about a bellhop receiving stranger and stranger requests at a hotel on New Year’s Eve. Writer/director Alexandre Rockwell (In the Soup, 13 Moons) invited four other writer/directors to contribute stories set in a hotel. They are Allison Anders (Gas, Food, Lodging, Border Radio), Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Desperado), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs), and Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise). Linklater pulled out of the project shortly before filming, leaving Rockwell with four rooms and a chance to really let the other directors shine.

The central figure of the film is Ted the Bellhop, played by Tim Roth. He ably handles the madcap role, complete with distinctive walk, nervous ticks, and a tendency to lose his cool by throwing a whispered fit. Roth’s performance adds a sense of cohesion to a tonally inconsistent film.

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Top 10 Films of 2011

I have glutted myself on 2011 film releases these past few weeks to put together a year-end list I could be proud of. With few exceptions (Pariah, a handful of documentaries, Poetry, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [the first three are my own interests, the last being the last big event film I've missed]), I feel I’ve seen enough new releases to actually go after my own Top 10 list for the first time in years.

Update 1 January 2011: An amazing New York Times list about Top 10 lists guilted me into ranking the films for real.

#10: Rango–In a year of really strange films, Rango stands out as just plain weird. A pet chameleon is lost during a cross-country move and winds up stumbling across an Old West town of animals where water is a commodity. It’s a send-up and tribute to both Westerns and Absurdist Drama, complete with 4th Wall-breaking owl mariachi band that constantly sings about the danger the title character will face (and his pending doom). Review.

#9: The Artist–Sweet, funny, charming, and effortless, this joyful tribute to silent film takes a very intriguing look at the rise of talking pictures. The performances and period effects are strong, but the deconstruction of Hollywood history/the typical happy-go-lucky rags to riches story is stronger. Review.

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The Link Rally: 29 December 2011

Sean O’Connel ranks the Top 10 Action/Fight sequences of 2011. Needs more Sucker Punch. Cinemablend

I mercifully drop down from the most prolific commenter on Pajiba to the 20th most prolific commenter on Pajiba. No word yet on whether or not I make their noteworthy oddballs list this year. And just think: a little over three years ago, I was shocked I took 50th place out of 50 on that list. That Dustin Rowles, always passive-aggressively giving back to his web community. Pajiba

Obviously the Ocean Marketing kerfuffle came too late to make CNN’s list of the Top 10 Tech Fails of 2011. Regretsy versus PayPal did. CNN

I neglected to link to the excellent new Penny Arcade comic responding to the awful Ocean Marketing situation yesterday. Penny Arcade

This might be the most incomprehensible thing I’ve ever seen featured on Regretsy. Regretsy

Finally, say what you will about the Broadway revival of Godspell, I like what I’ve heard of the new orchestrations so far. Here’s a video from Playbill showing the cast in the studio recording “Day by Day,” my favorite song from the show. That Anna Maria Perez de Tagle has a fantastic voice.

Film Review: Certified Copy (2011 US, 2010 France)

Certified Copy is a sweet and strange little romance about perception, artifice, and imitation. Filled with framed images of real Italian settings and naturally layered images, writer/director Abbas Kiarostami riffs on the nature of originality for 106 minutes in three languages.

Starring Juliette Binoche as Elle, a french woman living in Italy, and William Shimmel as James Miller, a British writer promoting an art criticism book in Italy, Certified Copy flows effortlessly through bizarre changes in character, tone, language, setting, and story. What starts as a simple story of a woman trying to debate an author on the merit of his work shoots off in exciting new directions as soon as Elle and James meet in an antique shop.

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Film Review: Another Earth (2011)

One refrain I always go to when judging a really strange film is “I’d rather see something interesting not come together than see something boring done without interest.” Another Earth is always on the brink of doing something really special. This low-budget (estimated to be well under $150k) sci-fi/drama about a young woman finding the man whose family she ruined in a car crash the night the world discovered a second earth is fascinating. It’s everything and nothing you would expect it to be. With a title like Another Earth, you would expect the film to focus on the sci-fi. It doesn’t. It focuses on the psychological ramifications of finality and death for life and knowledge.

Starring writer Brit Marling and directed by co-writer Mike Cahill, Another Earth refuses to provide any easy answers to the audience. The deadly car crash that launches the film as well as the sudden appearance of a second Earth is never explained. Like low-budget genre classic Night of the Living Dead, you never find out the why behind anything. There are hints of dialogue and news reports that point out possible reasons but never enough to fully grasp the reality. The important subject is immediacy and the two lead characters fight against the passage of time at every step.

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The Link Rally: 28 December 2011

Did you hear about the awful PR person that may have single-handily killed a company that developed a special video game controller for disabled gamers? Penny Arcade’s got you covered. This must be seen to be believed. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Dustin Rowles does with Dustin does best: mock people with random lists labeled as such. The worst releases of January 2012 ranked in order of horrors unleashed on cinema. Pajiba

I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to seeing Stickfly on Broadway. I’m thrilled, however, that audiences are responding so well to an original play. In fact, the production has added extra dates for a cast and creative team talk-back series after the show. Broadwayworld

Speaking of awesome interactive theater opportunities, Speakeasy Dollhouse (review) is going to start running once a month in NYC. Congrats to the entire cast, crew, and creative team. Speakeasy Dollhouse

Kotaku just announced the winner’s of their first ever reader’s choice video game awards. Skyrim did not win every category. Take that, other awards. Kotaku

Finally, there’s a bilingual (English and Tamil) song blowing up worldwide on YouTube right now. Like, news stations covering it in a social context blow up. Like, over 28 million views in a month big. Catch on before its ubiquitous. (Title translates roughly to “Why This Murderous Rage, Girl?” and its lyrics are already being used in public service announcements in India).

The Calculated Dubstep Invasion

The music industry, at large, is trying to make Dubstep fetch for a wide audience in America. It’s one of those dance genres that people know by sound because it’s difficult to describe. Essentially, dubstep is layered dance tracks remixed to be highly syncopated. It typically uses big manipulated/processed bass lines and tiny little snippets of recognizable samples. The intended result, near as I can tell, is to get the listener to move.

After the unexpected Best New Artist nomination for Skrillex, I had to start digging around. Sure enough, the calling card effects of dubstep are starting to be tossed at Top 40 club-friendly acts to make them more appealing.

Flo Rida’s new single uses the digital processing typically reserved for bass manipulation on the vocal sample used as the hook. Skip ahead to 2:40 and you’ll hear a full-blown dubstep breakdown replacing a bridge on the song.

Rihanna’s new single is also pulling in some dubstep elements. Around the 2:30, you hear some strange syncopated synth rhythms start bouncing around an otherwise typical reggae-kissed Rihanna single.

Dubstep remixes are starting to get radio play during CHR/Top 40 shows where the DJ is allowed to mix the tracks. I’ve been hearing a lot of this “Till the World Ends” by Britney Spears feat. Nicki Minaj remix when stuck in traffic on a Friday night.

So what would be the ultimate end game for this attempt to push dubstep onto the masses? Actually promoting dubstep artists. It’s all well and good to go touristing in another genre for that new sound. Remember the dance hall craze a few years ago? It’s even better if a new trend can help the people who have made their careers in the genre.

Dubstep artists are in demand for remixes and have been for years. Britney Spears, La Roux, and a bunch of other artists get deconstructed and transformed into something new when official remixes come out. Shoot. I just wrote about the Remixed, Non-Classical category at the Grammy Awards and there’s dubstep aplenty in there.

Is it possible for a dubstep song to take off as a standalone crossover single? I’m not sure. People like a hook to be able to sing along with and you don’t get that in dubstep. What you do get is a very unique and recognizable mostly-instrumental track that could crossover to music video play on the mainstream networks. There is no reason why MTV2 or Fuse can’t start sprinkling in dubstep videos into their playlists.

Well, there is a good reason. Dubstep artists rarely get music videos. They release their tracks and they perform live. That, combined with remixing and DJ gigs, is their source of income. Maybe labels will be willing to take a chance on promoting a dubstep artist for Top 40 crossover if this trend really takes off in a big way.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

The Glow of Midnight in Paris

To fully explore this concept, I have to go into important plot details of Midnight in Paris. If you have not watched the film yet, read on at your own risk.

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (full review) is a sweet tale of nostalgia. Gil, an American writer in 2010 visiting France, finds a way to travel back to 1920s Paris. He has literary and philosophical discussions with all his idols (Hemingway, Stein, Dali, the Fitzgeralds) while falling for a well-known mistress of the salon crowd. He tries to balance these new stimuli with his engagement to a wealthy entitled woman.

Like many of Allen’s films, the setting becomes a major character in the film. He hits on famous locations in four distinct time periods for comedic effect and allows the historical allure of Paris to define how Gil relates to his own life and experience. More important, however, is the use of light.

Midnight in Paris is a very yellow film. Seemingly every added light source has a yellow filter on it to brighten, highlight, or distract from the action happening on screen.

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