The Perfect Store
Well for starters, I suppose I should apologize to the organizers of the Moscow International Film Festival (MIFF) for my unkind remarks in the previous issue. It seems that at least some of the venues showed films in the original language, with Russian translation coming by headphones. Still, while this is all well and good for native English speakers and Russians of similar linguistic capabilities, it nevertheless means that everyone else had to watch the films with a translation of translation of who-knows-what quality—while losing much of the original soundtrack. To say nothing of the Chinese, Iranian, etc., films of course, in which case everyone (except your Primakovesque orientalists) was pretty much fucked. All in all, it’s only typical of the disdain MIFF shows for the capital’s filmgoers—the folks who, at least in theory, the festival ought to be geared toward. Any non-accredited persons who attempted to obtain screening information from the festival “information center” know exactly what I’m talking about.
And I might as well add that the film at which I learned of the aforesaid translation situation was itself subject to a last-minute cancellation, Julien Temple’s Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and the Fury being replaced by Hal Hartley’s hour-long millennial meditation Book of Life—a picture every bit as annoyingly pretentious as any of Hartley’s more hateful pictures. Although the soundtrack was vaguely rocking and P.J. Harvey was looking pretty cute in the role of Mary Magdalene (as long as she didn’t open her mouth, anyway).
No apologies, however, for the nastiness I directed at Monsieur Mikhalkov, except perhaps for the fact that I did not express my contempt quite as clearly as I would have liked. Oh well—until next year, MIFF.
Not surprisingly, this week’s new releases are all holdovers from the festival. Among them is Kimberly Peirce’s based-on-a-true-story BOYS DON’T CRY, for which Hillary Swank not unjustifiably won the Best Actress Academy Award for her performance as a lesbian petty criminal in rural Nebraska who manages to pass with some success for a man—at least until her subterfuge is discovered by the moody boyfriend of an impressionable young woman (Chloe Sevigny, who also performs admirably) he/she/it seduces. As you may have guessed, such malfeasant machinations are punishable by death (without benefit of a jury trial) in places such as Nebraska.
Besides the fact that it is showing in Moscow with Russian subtitles, Boys Don’t Cry is recommendable inasmuch it is a thoroughly solid production—even if in fairly standard indie-film fashion. As noted above, the performances are compelling and satisfyingly nuanced, despite the fact that Hillary Swank’s voice frequently sounds decidedly pre-pubescent for the young man in his early twenties she’s supposed to be impersonating. The supporting players are likewise believable and sympathetic—even the ultimately murderous boyfriend. Another element that is key to whatever success the film manages to achieve is the soundtrack, which appropriately enough is chock full of the classic-rock standards that to this day are still responsible for roughly eighty percent of what you hear on the FM dial in the United States once you get more than about fifty miles from either of the Pacific or Atlantic coasts (which, it should be noted, even includes my own hometown of Philadelphia). Also worthy of note is the fine cinematography, which nicely captures the stultifying atmosphere of the midwestern prairie states. Even the visual effects—reminiscent of the tripping scenes in the early Jack Nicholson acid-scare flick Freak Out!—are handled subtly with just the right degree of restraint, thus keeping them from degenerating into the realm of student-film masturbation.
Normally eXile style guidelines would compel me to dismiss such a film on trendy lesbian-chic grounds alone, but in the case of Boys Don’t Cry such a unilateral decision is unwarranted.
The same cannot be said, however, for Wolfgang Petersen’s latest summer blockbuster (again, based on “actual events”), THE PERFECT STORM (rendered simply as Der Sturm, or The Storm, in Petersen’s homeland of Germany, as I learned recently while passing briefly through Bavaria; whether the fact that the word “perfect” did not need to be included in the German title in some way explains the phenomenon of German Nazism is of course another matter, which I won’t go into here). More importantly, this film demonstrates all too clearly what vileness can be expected from the post-Titanic chick-flick-ization of the summer action movie. And who better than Petersen—whose intensely claustrophobic Das Boot is one of the undisputed classics of the disaster-at-sea genre, but whose later Hollywood films (Air Force One, for example) have frequently been odiously propagandistic abominations of limited psychological depth—to cash in on the detestable combination of female-friendly plot elements and unconvincingly rendered digital effects.
David O. Russell’s good-for-the-first-thirty-minutes Three Kings having apparently transformed George Clooney and Marky Mark Wahlberg into a reliably marketable buddy team, here we have the two again battling the elements and other uncontrollable adversaries as they attempt (unsuccessfully, needless to say) to gain fortune and perhaps a tiny bit of glory by cutting a few logistical corners, which is always the downfall of cinematic working-class slobs like these. (For the record, I should probably note that while Marky Mark remains a thoroughly detestable actor whose entire career should be purged from the record with retroactive effect, Clooney has surprisingly become a fairly workable crusty leading man type—something to do with his ability to look respectable with the kind of three-day beard growth that has not looked passable since Miami Vice was a cultural phenomenon.) The problem with the Clooney-Wahlberg buddy team here is that, instead of character-actor support from the likes of Ice Cube, we have only bearded fat-body John C. Reilly with one of his instantly off-putting hopeless castrato everyman characters and that angular-featured Van Zant guy from Heat—dressed in this case in a ludicrous bandanna and wife-beater muscle shirt.
But still, it is the pre-seafaring opening segments—forty-five minutes of tedious “character development” in which the Massachusetts fishermen’s strained relationships with their special lady friends (or lack thereof) are simplistically established so much with maudlin vacuity—that ultimately dooms the picture while firmly establishing the dreaded Titanic action flick for chicks pedigree. Realistic or not considering the regional setting, it doesn’t help that the various and girlfriends and wives are a fairly unattractive bunch. Even the once-hot Diane Lane has, with entirely Sheila-like predictability, gotten real ugly during in the last three years (although, to her benefit, it’s fairly amazing that she managed to hold out for so long). As the song says, sometimes it’s hard to be a woman—especially once you hit your thirties. Not that the inevitable effects of feminine aging should in any way be accepted as a valid excuse for the ridiculous Massachusetts accent she’s copping here. Whoever hired the dialogue coach should be sent back to the farm league.
It also helps not at all that, once our motley group of unlikable heroes is rid of the pesky womenfolk and finally gets to sea, this supposedly “perfect storm” they encounter ends up looking like it was shot in the swirling foam of some mogul’s backyard jacuzzi. In fact, the digital images of the furious ocean are so murky and translucent that it’s practically impossible to distinguish between the rough seas of the storm’s early development and the would-be apocalyptic tidal waves marking its rather undramatic climax. Then at the end of it all, we’re spared even the guilty pleasure of watching the moronic fishermen suffer their justly unpleasant death by drowning as the ship goes down. Instead we get a parting image of Marky Mark floating alone on the sea and sending some teary-eyed telepathetic message to girlfriend Diane Lane about how he’ll always love her. Only once this message has been received by Lane is Herr Wahlberg finally sucked under by a massive wave that looks even less impressive than the low-tech images of the fifty-year-storm at the end of Point Break. I for one have had enough of these pointlessly brave seafaring dufuses whose tortuous deaths in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic are somehow mitigated by the dubious stirrings of “true love” within their mechanized hearts. Someday perhaps a real storm will come and wash away all this scum.
Until then, boys and girls, all we have is the temporary salvation of genetic engineering—which as Mr. Hat has taught us, is to correct nature’s horrible mistakes... like German people.