A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Thursday, February 25, 2010



* The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke's Oscar-nominated black-and-white period piece. The most affecting morality play ever, or the most affected bunch of twaddle? Can't decide.


* Hausu (House, a catshit crazy Japanese horror film from 1977 currently touring the country.

Portlanders, see this movie at Cinema 21 this Monday through Thursday at 9 pm!

* Howards End, the return of the Merchant Ivory classic.


* Buena Vista Social Club, a by-numbers reissue of the Wim Wenders musical doc, part of Lionsgate's Music Makers series.

* George Bernard Shaw on Film - Eclipse Series 20, a collection of three screen adaptations of the master playwright's work. (Also at Criterion Confessions.)

* Make Way For Tomorrow - Criterion Collection, a powerful Depression-era drama from Leo McCarey. (Also at Criterion Confessions.)

* Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak, Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs give us a wonderful documentary about the Wild Things author.

Current Soundtrack: Richard Hawley, Truelove's Gutter

e-mail = golightly at confessions123.com * Criterion Confessions * Live Journal Syndication * My Corporate-Owned Space * ComicSpace * Last FM * GoodReads * The Blog Roll [old version] * DVDTalk reviews * My Books On Amazon

All text (c) 2010 Jamie S. Rich

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


This concludes my coverage of this year's Portland International Film Festival. Thanks to the organizers for inviting me along. The check out what is left for the programming, check out the PIFF 2010 website.

Looking for Eric (Great Britain; dir. Ken Loach)

Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) is a postman who cares about football and little else. He has let his two sons slip away, even though they live under the same roof. He still pines for his first wife. Even his love of football is out of date. He hasn't been to a Manchester United game in ten years, and his hero, Eric Cantona, retired at the turn of the century. Eric is so lost, at the start of the picture he gets on the highway going in the wrong direction--possibly on purpose.

Once Eric is out of the hospital, he starts to get roused from his sleepwalking routine. It begins with a silly self-help actualization exercise put on by his supervisor, a gent named Meatballs (John Henshaw). In it, Eric is prompted to visualize a person of confidence he most wishes he was. After imagining himself as Cantona, the real Cantona appears to him in a vision and starts giving him life advice. His eyes newly opened, Eric starts to deal with things, attacking problems the way his hero would attack the ball on the field. What Would Cantona Do?

Looking for Eric is directed by Ken Loach from a script by Paul Laverty, who also wrote Loach's 1998 film My Name is Joe. Loach is known for his realistic films, a modern update of the 1960s Kitchen Sink era of British cinema. His approach captures the look and tenor of average life. Looking for Eric's detours into fantasy, then, are kind of surprising. Smartly, the script never tries to explain the nature of Eric's visions, or even question them as such. No clichéd "I'm a figment of your imagination" speeches from Cantona, who plays himself and also produced. Eric just goes with it, and so, presumably, shall we.

Except that, for me, the Cantona stuff sat somewhat uneasily next to the rest of the narrative. The appearance of the footballer doesn't feel natural, it's more of a gimmick, and it ends up making some of the positive changes Eric makes, such as his exercise regimen, ring false. Looking for Eric is much better the more natural it is. The best scenes involve Eric sitting with his postal worker mates and taking the piss out of one another. The self-help exercise and an argument about football loyalty down at the pub had the audience I was in howling with laughter. The film's final act concerns itself with one of Eric's sons having gotten in trouble with a local hood, and how Eric decides to stand up and get him out of it. The solution he comes up with is both surprising and amusing.

Looking for Eric is a harmless piece of entertainment. It works for what it is and nothing more. As far as Loach's filmography, it may end up being a minor blip; then again, it was quite the crowd pleaser at the afternoon screening I attended, so its heart and its humor could end up making it more popular than his more serious, demanding films. Only time will tell.

One side note, for those of us who don't know much at all about Eric Cantona, I appreciate that Ken Loach cuts in a healthy amount of clips showing us the man at work. It doesn't take much to see what an interesting personality he was on the field. Though, Shawn Levy at the Oregonian suggested I take a look at this clip for the less heroic side of the footballer. An out-of-control Cantona vs. a Spectator:

Looking for Eric plays on 2/26 and 2/27.

Current Soundtrack: Elvis Costello, Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

e-mail = golightly at confessions123.com * Criterion Confessions * Live Journal Syndication * My Corporate-Owned Space * ComicSpace * Last FM * GoodReads * The Blog Roll [old version] * DVDTalk reviews * My Books On Amazon

All text (c) 2010 Jamie S. Rich

Monday, February 22, 2010


A couple of comics related links today.

Scans Daily has posted a look at mine and Joëlle's Madman Atomic Comics story, and you can take a look at it here. It's nice to see that it being put up was in response to someone being in Joëlle's spectacular work.

This story is going to be collected in the third trade paperback volume of the series next month: Madman Atomic Comics Volume 3: Electric Allegories

Here is one of my favorite sequences, featuring one of the G-Men from Hell:

Joëlle has also updated her blog with info regarding her upcoming appearance at Floating World and an online gallery we've started in order to sell and show her original pencils from Madame Xanadu. Her second issue (#20) is out on Wednesday.

Click on the image to read all about it:

Also in stores this week is the trade paperback Batman: King Tut's Tomb, written by my good friends Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir, drawn by the legendary art team of Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan. I loved this comic. It reminded me when I read Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis' run on Detective Comics as an early teen. Just solid Batman investigating.

When I saw Nunzio and Christie at Comic-Con, I told them how much I liked it, and they said that wasn't surprising, since they based their portrayal of the Riddler on me! Apparently to get the right kind of smartass and smarm, they just kept asking, "How would Jamie say that?" How flattering! I love these comics even more now!

Current Soundtrack: Brett Anderson, Slow Attack


PIFF 2010 website

Nobody to Watch Over Me (Japan; dir. Ryoichi Kimizuka)

Ryôichi Kimizuka's film Nobody to Watch Over Me starts with a fascinating cultural premise. In Japan, when someone has committed a terrible crime, their family is often considered as responsible for it as the perpetrator, and police officers are regularly assigned to watch the grieving relatives to keep them from committing suicide as a result of the shame.

Saori's life is turned upside down when her brother is arrested for killing two elementary school girls. The teenager, played by Mirai Shida, suddenly finds herself the subject of media scrutiny, and she is assigned a bodyguard, Detective Takumi Katsuura (Kôichi Satô), to keep her out of harm's way until she can tell police what happened. Saori may have been the only one to see her brother on the day the deed was done.

Things grow more complicated, though, when facts about Katsuura's past come to light. Three years ago, while trailing a drug addict, the tweaker stabbed a four-year-old boy. A reporter with an axe to grind paints Katsuura as indicative of a police force that cares more for the criminals than it does their victims. Katsuura has had the shakes ever since, blaming himself despite faulty procedure being the true culprit, and the psychological fallout has nearly destroyed his family. Protecting Saori may prevent him from taking advantage of the last chance he has to save his marriage, and the girl resents him for being there anyway.

The idea that a family would be held accountable for what one member has done is fascinating, and it's pretty easy to sympathize with poor Saori. Kimizuka and co-writer Satoshi Suzuki are offering a new twist on the old plot of one lone cop protecting one innocent witness, plugging the detective and a girl into a system that quickly overtakes both of them. Governmental policies, a ravenous media, and an angry public quickly dismantle any chance at escape they have. Each step of the way, there are new obstacles, and when internet gawkers get involved, the situation grows even more dangerous. Though most of the dramatic tension is more interpersonal than violent, we do get a pretty exciting car chase (with heartthrob Ryuhei Matsuda at the wheel) and Katsuura literally shows how far he'll go to shield his subject by taking a beating for her. The parallels to his old case are impossible to avoid, and in helping the girl come to grips with what has happened to her, he has to face up to what happened to him.

Kimizuka and cameraman Naoki Kayano shot Nobody to Watch Over Me in a slick, pseudo-documentary style. It has the kind of loose and sometimes shaky camerawork you might see on a show like Homicide: Life on the Street, but lit with neon. The acting is largely low-key enough to match. Satô and Matsuda indulge in a little buddy-cop banter, but when Satô is alone with Mirai Shida, he dials it down. Both offer poignant performances, even though Satô's shaky hand at times looks like he is literally at war with the material's inherent melodrama. It's one of a few aspects that are overplayed, and Nobody to Watch Over Me could have benefitted from a more cynical editor. Its overwrought theme song and the hyper graphics of the internet mobilization are jarring in what is otherwise a pretty down-to-earth film. The ending is also a little too conveniently tied together, but not necessarily out of line with more typical films of this kind.

Nobody to Watch Over Me asks us to stop and think about responsibility. Who is to blame for bad acts? What kind of atonement is really satisfying? Most of all, do our reactions make us any better or worse than what we are reacting against? Despite its minor flaws, Nobody to Watch Over Me is effective in this because it is also effective as drama. It was Japan's official entry into the Oscar pool this year, and though it's not even close to the best foeign film of the year, it's certainly better than last year's winner, Departures, and it's too bad that it's probably not going to get the same amount of attention.

Nobody to Watch Over Me plays on 2/24 and 2/27.

Current Soundtrack: Pulp, "Forever in My Dreams;" various artists, Dream Babes, vol. 1: Am I Dreaming?

e-mail = golightly at confessions123.com * Criterion Confessions * Live Journal Syndication * My Corporate-Owned Space * ComicSpace * Last FM * GoodReads * The Blog Roll [old version] * DVDTalk reviews * My Books On Amazon

All text (c) 2010 Jamie S. Rich

Friday, February 19, 2010


This past Wednesday, I visited Brian Michael Bendis's comics writing class at Portland State University. Dark Horse editor Diana Schutz and I were brought in to talk about being writers and editors. I wrote it up for the Oni blog, and Charlie Chu took pictures.

Read about it here.

Click on the image to see the Flickr photo set:

Current Soundtrack: last night's Project Runway

PIFF 2010 website

Mid-August Lunch (Italy; dir. Gianni Di Gregorio)

The screenwriter of Gomorrah cracks open the dangerous world of elderly women like a tenement slum!

Well, not exactly, but it is kind of surprising to see the architect of that grimy criminal expose making his directorial debut on a film about what old ladies like to eat. Then again, Scorsese followed Mean Streets with Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, so there's a precedent for this sort of thing.

Gianni Di Gregorio not only writes and directs Mid-August Lunch, but he also stars, playing Gianni, the middle-aged son of Valeria De Franciscis, a vain woman who lives in the upper condominium in Rome. I say vain because she still does her make-up and has a big pile of blonde hair despite the fact that it makes her look like someone mixed up Clyde with Ruth Gordon in Every Which Way But Loose. Also, because she and her son apparently haven't paid her bills in some time, and the condo co-op is ready to take action. As a trade-off, Gianni agrees to take in his landlord's old mother, Marina Cacciotti, for a couple of days. When Marina comes by, it's sprung on Gianni that he will also take Aunt Maria (Maria Calì). Then, when his doctor visits, the doc asks Gianni to cough and to babysit his mum (Grazia Cesarini Sforza) while he works the night shift.

Before he knows it, Gianni has gone from being a layabout to the concierge in an apartment full of four women, each with their own peccadilloes and demands. Maria forgets stuff and repeats herself, Marina is horny, the doctor's mom can't eat meat but sneaks it anyway, that kind of thing. At first the women all hate each other and retire to separate rooms, but then they find a common ground and get chatty and get Gianni to make them one big lunch.

And that's it. There is nothing more grand to Mid-August Lunch. At a scant 76 minutes, Di Gregorio gets in and gets out and doesn't let it get any more complicated than that. (In this, it is the complete opposite of Gomorrah.) While it is, yes, pretty anemic in terms of conflict-based plot, there is something undeniably winning about the film all the same. Shot simply and in close quarters, there is an intimacy to Mid-August Lunch that invites the viewer to be a part of the gathering. No great lessons are learned, but the assuredness of the delivery makes it so we can be content with just enjoying our time at the table, sharing a meal with new friends.

Mid-August Lunch has already screened for the public. No word yet on a wider North American release.

Current Soundtrack: Elbow & the BBC Concert Orchestra, The Seldom Seen Kid Live at Abbey Road

e-mail = golightly at confessions123.com * Criterion Confessions * Live Journal Syndication * My Corporate-Owned Space * ComicSpace * Last FM * GoodReads * The Blog Roll [old version] * DVDTalk reviews * My Books On Amazon

All text (c) 2010 Jamie S. Rich

Thursday, February 18, 2010



* Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese's pulpy Dennis Lehane adaptation. Over-the-top B-movie excitement, sure to inspire debate.


* Lola Montes - Criterion Collection, Max Ophuls's final masterpiece restored at long last. (Also at Criterion Confessions.)

* Sarah Silverman Progam: Season Two, Part 2, a hilarious collection of episodes skewering the sitcom format in Silverman's inimitable way.

* 20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope, the middle section of the trilogy adapting Naoki Urasawa's sci-fi thriller.

Current Soundtrack: Muse, Resistance single B-sides; the Decemberists, "Up the Junction"


non plus one final from Tracy ANTONOPOULOS on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


PIFF 2010 website

Please note that I originally got my dates crossed for Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, and you can see it on the 19th along with the two films below. Refresh your memory with my review.

Vincere (Italy; dir. Marco Bellocchio)

Newsflash: Benito Mussolini was a jerk!

Vincere (Win), the new film by radical '60s director Marco Bellocchio is a biography of Il Duce's obsessive mistress, Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Love in the Time of Cholera). As a young woman, she stumbles into the emerging revolutionary more than once, usually while he is on the run for his life. She insists her way into his life, devoting herself entirely to her lover (played by Filippo Timi), though apparently never really clueing in to the fact that he was already married. Still, Ida gives birth to Mussolini's first-born son only to find herself increasingly shunned as the Fascist leader grows more popular. Ida becomes the living embodiment of the adage "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you." Eager to bury this extra family, Mussolini has his hoods lock Ida away in a mental hospital.

The tables are turned at this point of the movie, and Bellocchio challenges our perception of events. Is it possible that our first impression of Ida as an off-her-nut stalker was a little harsh? Mussolini has so effectively cut her out, she has a right to be angry, and he has placed her in the one place where it is assured no one will believe her. Bellocchio makes the smart decision to remove the movie's version of the dictator from the film at this point. From then on out, Mussolini only appears in unearthed newsreel, and the man himself looks far different than the handsome actor who portrayed his younger years (in a sly joke, even Ida doesn't recognize him). It's all about Ida at this point, and her unflinching devotion to the truth. Or is it the truth? Could his sudden absence mean it's all been in her head? Not likely, but you have to consider it.

Having recently viewed Bellocchio's debut film, Fists in the Pocket (1965), for the first time, I was eager to see whether the older director had retained any of the younger's anything-goes spirit. How would he fit in a formal genre like a biopic? Surprisingly well, as it turns out. When Vincere settles into its conventions, it's not unlike how Bellocchio's contemporary Bernardo Bertollucci got serious in the 1980s. The old man has some fire in him yet, however, and Vincere is frequently ignited by audacious doses of opera, collages of vintage cinema and documentary footage, and insistent title graphics that appear onscreen like propagandic headlines (not unlike how film was used to spread the message way back when). These are mostly present in the first half of the film, when the young Mussolini is ready to impose his will on his audience.

Filippo Timi is fantastic as Mussolini. He also plays the dual role as the younger Benito grown up, losing his mind, and doing impressions of his father. It's a fiery role made believable by Timi's intense charisma. He is powerful as Il Duce, establishing his hunger and his forceful personality, but then managing to parody his own performance with his comic turn as the deluded Benito Jr. Does he remind anybody else of Alberto Sordi? Litle Benito playacting as Big Benito is reminiscent of the comic stylings of early cinema's best funnymen.

Vincere is not the dictator's movie, however, it's an actress' picture, and Giovanna Mezzogiorno's passion not only dominates her lover's in the first half of the movie, but once Bellocchio surrenders his film completely to her, she runs with it. Ida's mental deterioration is heartbreaking, and Bellocchio pushes her by letting several scenes rest entirely on her face as she silently breaks down. Mezzogiorno is also dead sexy in that crazy kind of way, and the love scenes between Ida and Mussolini are extra steamy.

Vincere joins a spate of recent Italian movies that match political messages with cinematic vigor. Gomorrah played at PIFF last year, as did the less artistically successful but visually dynamic Il Divo. Something is obviously going on over there, the Italians are all fired up and ready to do some screen damage. I look forward to what's coming next.

Vincere plays on 2/19 and 2/21.

Mother (South Korea; dir. Bong Joon-ho)

Most people know Korean director Bong Joon-ho from his 2006 updating of the giant-monster movie genre, The Host. As fun and endearing as that movie is, the Bong Joon-ho movie I prefer is his 2003 crime thriller Memories of Murder, a darkly comic and grisly story of a hunt for a killer. The filmmaker returns to that kind of territory for his new film, Mother, and the finished product is no less impressive.

Mother follows a single mother (Kim Hye-je) who works as an herbalist and amateur acupuncturist. She worries over everything, but her biggest concern is her twentysomething son. Though a grown man, Do-joon (Bin Won) is developmentally disabled and has the mind of a child. When he is accused of murdering a neighborhood girl, Do-joon's mom refuses to believe he is capable of such violence, regardless of what the evidence says. When her attempts to plead with the police and hire a slick lawyer fail, she decides to investigate the situation herself. Enlisting her son's criminally minded friend, she digs into the dead girl's past, uncovering disturbing stories about the people she spent her time with, and leading her to unexpected actions.

The tone of Mother is very similar to Memories of Murder. Laugh-out-loud black comedy is mixed with the dark details of the crimes. Bong Joon-ho figures if you're in for a penny, you're in for a pound, and he doesn't think it's right to let you laugh at the situation without showing you how gruesome death and violence really are. He is able to flip back and forth effortlessly, without it ever being jarring or gimmicky. The gallows humor gets us through the rougher times.

Kim Hye-je is amazing as the frightened mother. Though her character is irritating and overbearing, the actress manages to make her human. Her concern for her child is ever-present, and her stubbornness is admirable. Joon-ho gives us tiny nuggets from the woman's past, hinting at deeper despair and even possibly implicating the woman in her son's mental deficiencies. The mother is someone who believes in simple remedies for complex problems, and the story pushes her out of her comfort zone: there is no root or potion that can navigate the maze her son has drawn them into.

And Mother is like a maze. It's an ever-changing narrative, full of dead-ends, wrong turns, and surprising revelations. Its final act is full of unforeseen twists. More than gotcha!-type discoveries, these switch-ups reveal how smart the writing really is. A good mystery can be as contorted as the screenwriter wants it to be without having to resort to cheap shocks. Bong Joon-ho also believes that every solution to a problem comes with a price, and so Mother ends up being far more satisfying as a result. Whether the right man is exonerated or the wrong man gets away with it, it doesn't matter, because no one walks away unchanged.

Mother plays on 2/19 and 2/23.

Current Soundtrack: The Dandy Warhols, The Black Album

e-mail = golightly at confessions123.com * Criterion Confessions * Live Journal Syndication * My Corporate-Owned Space * ComicSpace * Last FM * GoodReads * The Blog Roll [old version] * DVDTalk reviews * My Books On Amazon

All text (c) 2010 Jamie S. Rich

Monday, February 15, 2010


Well, this is a first for me.

I've spent more than an hour searching my computer and desk in vain for script pages I am convinced I wrote a month ago. I know approximately when I would have written these pages, they'd have been done after I sent Kelley Seda the pages that preceded them. Yet, comparing the file that I sent her to the file on my hard drive and the file in every directory of Time Machine that I have backed up, I wrote a single solitary page after that and did no more. The last page of the chapter, left blank on the old file, nothing from chapter 7.

The thing is, I remember writing more. I have an abstract vision of chapter 7. I remember improvising a police interrogation scene and seeing where it took me. I remember the hero being released, being picked up in a car by the femme fatale, including blocking where he appears on the street and where her vehicle does. I remember them having a conversation where she drops hints about a forgotten past. And given the nature of the writing, that I was off the outline and winging it, that's all I remember. I couldn't tell you what they said, what other discoveries might have emerged from this playing around.

Searching the contents of my drives for the hero's name only turns up the files in the project folder. I didn't write the chapter and accidentally saved it in the wrong spot, as I had hoped.

The work is either gone, or I have completely invented the whole memory of having written these sequences. Is it possible I have just blown up some ideas I had for what to do next and convinced myself that I took them farther?

Up until 2008, I used to keep annual notebooks where I chronicled my day to day activities: what I read, watched, worked on. If were to dig into the boxes with these books, I could tell you, for instance, that on this day in 2007, the last year I kept such a diary, I spent the morning writing a review of Elia Kazan's The Arrangement, attended a screening of the Nader documentary An Unreasonable Man, ran some errands, watched some Thursday night TV, proofread my scripting on a volume of Hissing for Yen, watched The Bicycle Thieves and wrote a draft of the review before going to bed. The next day, I began work on Love the Way You Love vol. 6.

I started keeping these diaries after seeing something similar that Mary Shelley kept, which scholars then used to trace her influences and what might have led to Frankenstein; I stopped because I never went back and looked at them and was no longer sure what I had kept them for to begin with. As usual, you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Had I continued with the old habit, I could flip back a month and look at my notes and see if I had, in fact, done this writing or not. Knowing I hadn't, I could give up the dream of finding my lost brilliance and begin again content that I hadn't done it better once before; knowing I had...well, at least I'd know I haven't lost my mind and accept that something weird happened with my computer.

One of the themes of the comic these vanishing pages belong to is how we attempt to alter memory in order to manage our lives. Somehow, in the process of exploring this idea, I've tested it out on myself.

Current Soundtrack: Neil Diamond, "The Boxer;" Utada, "Come Back to Me;" Jewel, "Foolish Games;" Christina Aguilera, "Keeps Gettin' Better;" The Divine Comedy, "A Lady of a Certain Age"

PIFF 2010 website

The Girl on the Train (France; dir. André Téchiné)

Veteran French director André Téchiné hits a whiffle ball with his latest, the boring, overlong, and intellectually muddled The Girl on the Train. Based on a play by Jean-Marie Besset, which itself was based loosely on real events, it tells the story of Jeanne (Emile Dequenne), a dull girl bored with the dull life she's too empty-headed to do anything about. Téchiné would have us think she's a free spirit, and he spends a good portion of the movie's first twenty minutes filming her dreaming the day away, editing it like she was in some bad music video, complete with the crappy music. Her mother (the always gorgeous Catherine Deneuve) wants her to get a job and even helps her set up an interview with an old admirer, crusading lawyer Samuel Bleistein (Michel Blanc). Naturally, Jeanne doesn't get the job. Bleistein is at the forefront of a fight against anti-Semitism. He doesn't need silly little gentile girls wasting space around his office. (Blanc at times comes off as a bulldog version of Martin Scorsese, as excited about lawyering as Marty is about movies.)

Eventually, Jeanne meets Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a college-aged wrestler who stares into the camera like he's Jonny Lee Miller in Trainspotting
and makes vaguely threatening "jokes." Franck gets them a job as a caretaker at an electronics warehouse, but doesn't tell Jeanne it's a drug front. He gets stabbed, arrested, and rejects her. Now having no one to pay attention to her, the spoiled child draws swastikas on her stomach, cuts herself with a knife, and goes to the police to say six thugs beat her on a train because they thought she was Jewish.

This is the central event of The Girl on the Train, but it takes so long to get there and the lie is treated with such nonchalance, I kept hoping Téchiné was working his way up to something to say. Alas, he is not. There is little point to this story, nothing is learned, and it's not sufficiently interesting to warrant watching the film anyway. Jeanne is a nothing character, absent of any spark or emotion. Franck isn't the only one to fall in love with her, and the devotion men around her show to this brat is baffling. She doesn't even come off as sufficiently broken so we might think they have a white knight complex. Hell, she's not even that pretty.

Téchiné also spends a lot of time looking at Bleistein's life; particularly, there is a whole subplot involving his son (Mathieu Demy), his ex-wife (Ronit Elkabetz), and their child (Jérémie Quaegebeur), who is about to be bar mitzvahed. The divorced parents are just as spoiled as Jeanne, and are actually more insufferable for how highly they think of themselves. For whom are movies about the over-privileged made anymore? There are so few of them left, it has to be the most specific of niche audiences. I have a hard time feeling sorry for people with no real problems. Only the older generation here is portrayed as anything remotely human or doing anything worthwhile. I suppose I should consider that Téchiné is displaying some self-awareness, as Deneuve and Blanc seem as baffled and disgusted by their children as I am. Then again, maybe that's just him playing up to the baby boomers and the self-mythologizing where they convince themselves they are the last generation to have gotten it right. If I pretend to agree, will you go away?

The Girl on the Train plays on 2/17 and 2/18.

Current Soundtrack: The Fantastic Mr. Fox soundtrack

e-mail = golightly at confessions123.com * Criterion Confessions * Live Journal Syndication * My Corporate-Owned Space * ComicSpace * Last FM * GoodReads * The Blog Roll [old version] * DVDTalk reviews * My Books On Amazon

All text (c) 2010 Jamie S. Rich

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Floating World Comics, my local comic book store, has released their top 25 best sellers for 2009.

The top 3 in terms of dollar amount are:

1. SCOTT PILGRIM VOL. 5 (Oni Press)
2. WATCHMEN TP (DC/Vertigo)

That's right, we were #3, and in pretty good company.

See the whole list here

And congrats for the #17 spot being snagged by the The Caterer #3. It's a comic book created by Jeff Lint and published by Floating World. It's a completely whacked out throwback to the greatest comic you've never heard of. Read a little bit about it here, including how to order it. It's totally worth it.

Current Soundtrack: The Smiths, Meat is Murder

e-mail = golightly at confessions123.com * Criterion Confessions * Live Journal Syndication * My Corporate-Owned Space * ComicSpace * Last FM * GoodReads * The Blog Roll [old version] * DVDTalk reviews * My Books On Amazon

All text (c) 2010 Jamie S. Rich

Friday, February 12, 2010


A Common Pornography: A Memoir (P.S.) A Common Pornography: A Memoir by Kevin Sampsell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For those who like full disclosure, Kevin Sampsell published a comic book story I wrote in Portland Noir, and he also set me up with my readings at Powell's Books over the years. That said, those are favors that are behind me, I totally took and I ran and I could easily get away with trashing the guy's book if I wanted. Which is my was of saying you can trust me, I have nothing to gain here. A Common Pornography is some good reading.

This memoir has been described by the author as a memory experiment. It's put together as a bunch of vignettes, short pieces of specific remembrances of the author's life, tracking him growing up in the late '70s and through the 1980s.. Some chapters are a page long, a couple are five, some are just a paragraph. The anecdotes are told without embellishment, with only bare reflection, these are the moments as either he remembers it or someone in his family remembers it. As you first start reading, the bits and bobs seem disjointed, but the further in you go, the more a whole begins to form. A life comes into focus, almost like staring at those 3-D art things that used to be so popular. It's a matter of not looking, of just letting it come clear.

A Common Pornography is the sort of book you can read a few pages at a time, and you may start out that way, but pretty soon, you'll discover you can't sit down with it and not read 20 pages, then 50, and then you're done. Kevin's prose is clear and direct, there isn't a word out of place. The senses are vivid, tactile. With just a few spare syllables, he roots you firmly in a place and a time. Sadness lurks between the lines, the despair of nostalgia, but there is never a sense that the author is feeling sorry for himself. I'd say he's at peace with what has gone on, actually. And not that it's all a downer. A lot of it is really funny, too.

It's also hopeful. Though Kevin doesn't outline the lessons learned, he does find ways to show them through action. The last events he chooses to relate reveal how far he's come from the anxious little boy we met at the start of the book, and the final lines bring it all to a perfect, effective close. Like the title suggests, we are voyeurs peeking in at something that is maybe risque, the truest emotions lain bare, but the truer thing is, there is nothing common about it. Rather, this book is something very special.

Kevin is on a book tour and currently on his way to the East Coast. Check out the dates here.

View all my reviews >>

Current Soundtrack: Midlake, The Courage Of Others

Thursday, February 11, 2010


PIFF 2010 website

The Good, the Bad, the Weird (South Korea; dir. Kim Ji-woon)

The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a movie that doesn't just go over the top. Each time it climbs a particularly dizzy height, it peers out on the horizon in search of another summit, and then it climbs that, too.

Kim Ji-woon's Sergio Leone homage is being billed as a "kimchi Western." It is in every way Asian cinema's truest response to the 1960s Italian renaissance of the cowboy genre. Set in Manchuria during the 1930s, when China and Korea were occupied by the Japanese, the movie is one long chase, punctuated by occasional gunplay and slaptstick humor. Its trio of anti-heroes are a clean-cut bounty hunter (the good), a killer with anime hair (the bad), and a bumbling train robber (the weird). All cross paths at the start of the picture. The killer, Park Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), has been hired to rob a Japanese banker transporting a map believed to lead to the greatest treasure of the Qing dynasty. Only, when he gets on board, he finds that Yoon Tae-goo (Kang Song-ho, The Host) has already killed the banker and taken all of his baggage. Also on the train is Park Do-won (Jung Woo-sung), who is on the trail of Park Chang-yi and has just gotten lucky.

This extended action sequence, which features the three different shooters working independently to stop the train and then coming together in a hail of bullets, is the first in a string of increasingly ludicrous and exhilarating gun battles. As Yoon Tae-goo becomes aware of what he has lifted, he makes a run for the booty, picking up more enemies along the way. By the end of it, not only is he contending with his rivals, including Park Chang-yi's gang, but he's also being chased by colorful bandits and the Japanese army. Horses, jeeps, dynamite, machine guns, mortars--if it can be used to pursue a guy or to try to kill him, expect it to show up. There are even the occasional anachronistic additions just to keep us on our toes. If you are one of those people who worries about where gunfighters get all their ammunition, you'll probably want to see a different movie.

Kim Ji-woon, who also directed A Tale of Two Sisters, crafted The Good, the Bad, the Weird with incredible style. His camera is regularly in motion, and he uses a very wide aspect ratio to get the full panorama. We see the vast expanse of the Manchurian desert, but we also get the larger-than-life close-ups, the zoom-ins on the eyes of the players. The big rectangle allows the director to show all the action. He whips around to follow motion, he chases his fighters through back alleys, he swoops down on them like a hawk. The best part is he does most of it with a minimal use of computer puffery or editing tricks. Some of the trickiest stunts are done live and Ji-woon often lets them run without cutting, just so we can see. One great bit features Park Do-won swinging over everyone's heads and firing his rifle, and though it's hard to tell if it was all done for real, photos during the closing credits show that at least some of it was.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird is meant as an admiring wink to all the films that its participants love, and they do a great job of it. The clothes may be more tailored, but the dirt and the heat are just the same as it was in Leone. The film's score openly references Ennio Morricone, and there is even a nod to Quentin Tarantino, borrowing the version of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" he used in Kill Bill. (I want this soundtrack so bad!) This is a film where it's clear that everyone involved really just wanted to get dressed up as cowboys and run around shooting at each other. Thank goodness they are so good at it. Every ounce of fun they so clearly had is up there on the screen.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird plays on 2/13, 2/15, and 2/27.

Current Soundtrack: Inglourious Basterds OST



* The Wolfman, needs to disappear gently into that dark night. What a tragic bore! It should have been called Emo Wolf (like Teen Wolf, but emo). Look at Emily Blunt up there and just try to forget...

And does anyone know what is up with steampunk cosplayers showing up to the screening of this? There were multiple middle-aged fetishists at the movie. One of the women was cackling like a banshee during the more violent scenes. I'm a little scared of what her fanfic would be like. Almost on par with the bloodthirsty cheering at Edge of Darkness a couple of weeks ago.

I also find it weird that I've seen a couple of reviews where people wonder how Benicio Del Toro could be Anthony Hopkins's son. It's fairly obvious in the movie that his mother is Spanish. The actress playing her is Cristina Contes, and her character is named Solana. The math isn't that hard.


* Fists in the Pocket, the twisted debut of director Marco Bellocchio. (Watch for my review of his new movie, Vincere, next week...)

* Paris, Texas, another emotional masterpiece from Win Wenders, written by Sam Shepard.


* A Man Called Adam, the 1966 jazz movie starring Sammy Davis Jr. as a troubled trumpet player. Features performances from Louis Armstrong and Mel Torme.

* Orson Welles in King Lear, a somewhat stiff 1950s television broadcast.

* Rod Serling - Studio One Dramas, two live teleplays from the master writer.

* The Simpsons: The Complete Twentieth Season, in which papers are filed to end this union after two decades of ups and downs.

* Split Second, a B-movie that drops a nuclear bomb on the crime genre. Directed by Dick Powell, who was Philip Marlowe once upon a time.

* Wild Oranges, a lusty King Vidor silent picture.

* Wolverine & the X-Men: Fate of the Future, the fourth volume in the fun cartoon series.

It's been a while since I posted mail here, but this post from the DVD Talk forum cracked my shit up:

"I read Jamie S. Rich's DVD review of Across the Hall and...

I think Jamie's review is ridiculous. He's clearly jaded and bitter - probably a want-to-be filmmaker that never was. I almost skipped this movie, but just watched it and it was much stronger than he made it sound to be. Beautifully shot, well acted...felt very classic. There were some truly beautiful moments in it. I was shocked to find it was made in ONLY 17 DAYS!! Pretty remarkable in that regard. Jamie's review sounds more like he's letting out the anger of his failed career than giving a very good film a competent criticism. WAY too angry. Not so surprising that I've never heard of HIS work..."

The best part is the guy was so mad, he registerd on the site specifically to write this. No one has come to his defense yet. Do you want to?

The mail's not all bad these days. In reference to the Wild Oranges review, one reader writes:

"It was a genuine pleasure to read your review...It was better than articulate, it was witty, eloquent, and (I suspect) accurately evocative of the film. Thanks!"

And in regards to An Education:

"[Your review] is SO GOOD. Thank you. I appreciate fine writing and analysis, and look forward to the Blu-ray video for my collection. I've always felt that Nick Hornby, rather than 'preaching,' leads one to a point where some new perspective is gained - you said as much in your review, so your credibility is established with me. After all, don't we all seek approval and agreement? ;-)

I know that you got paid for writing this review, but it seems to be honest work by a capable craftsman. Again, thanks."

Actually, the movie is the payment. I don't receive any other coin for my work.

Finally, RodSerling.com is going to be spotlighting my review of the Studio One Dramas staring some time this weekend, which I am super psyched about!

Current Soundtrack: Spoon, Transference


Big shout-out to our hometown heroes, Things from Another World, who have featured Spell Checkers on their indy page and as a spotlight in their newsletter this week. Though to us they are a local retailer, they can also be your out of town e-tailer.

Check it out.

Current Soundtrack: Kill Bill: Volume 2 soundtrack


PIFF 2010 website

A Prophet (France; dir. Jacques Audiard)

Malik El Djebena is a 19-year-old Arab sent to prison for six years after an altercation with police. Played by Tahar Rahim, the boy is functionally illiterate and as completely alone outside jail as he is in jail. He is an isolated nothing of a character, slow to react or understand, the kind of guy who was made to be a pawn. Which is partially why the Coriscan gang leader César Luciani (Niels Arestrup) picks Malik for a job. A witness for the state (Hichem Yacoubi) is currently being held in the Muslim ward of the prison, and César thinks Malik's heritage will be his passport into the man's cell. He's right, and when Malik kills the witness on César's behalf, it starts the boy on a path that will give him new opportunities and a whole new education in the way things are done.

A Prophet is a staggering 150 minutes of cinema. In terms of narrative, it's a film that never once signals ahead to where it's going to go. Director Jacques Audiard and his co-writer Thomas Bidegain have rewritten a screenplay by Abdel Raouf Dafri and Nicolas Peufaillit and made a film that defies conventional genre classification. In some ways, it's a prison drama; in others, it's a criminal apprenticeship a la Ray Liotta's in GoodFellas. This isn't movie writing with a dogmatic three-act structure or the usual conflict/resolution step-by-step plot set-up. A Prophet is more like a novel, one that has room to grow and follow the natural succession of events, free of any imposed dramatic arc. It's not that Malik doesn't go from being the scared teenager he is at the start of the picture to something entirely different at the finish, it's that there is no way to predict what that something will be. The story of his life is a lot like life: unpredictable.

Audiard has assembled an impressive cast for a A Prophet, but the movie really rests on Tahar Rahim. He is in practically every scene, and you're not likely to see a more complete performance this year. For as good as Rahim is at convincing us that Malik is terminally stupid when the movie begins, he is even better at slowly revealing what is really going on behind those searching eyes. There is never a moment where you can look at the actor's face and not see that something is going on inside his head. The wheels are always turning, he is always watching, and Rahim develops the boy piece by piece. Even when Malik has to get touch or starts showing his cunning, Rahim manages to make him appear vulnerable, so that we as the audience keep underestimating him as much as everyone on screen does.

A Prophet begins with a series of inky images, black frames melting away like ice, giving us glimpses of what is behind the darkness. It's an unobtrusive visual metaphor for the movie. Our vision is limited, but the story is large. Clarity comes at a price, and in this film, it's often an extraordinary outburst of violence. It's violence that has gotten Malik imprisoned, but it's also violence that first begins to shed light on what he can be. It's the movie's central irony: the man he kills is the one who teaches him the most. He is Malik's prophet, showing him the way, and it's Malik who shows the rest of us.

A Prophet plays on 2/13 and 2/15.

Fish Tank (Great Britain, dir. Andrea Arnold)

It was only some time after I had finished watching Fish Tank that I started to realize that this movie is like a British version of Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire. It didn't occur to me during the screening because the two movies couldn't be more stylistically different, nor could they be farther apart in terms of artistic success. Both films are about young women living in poverty who dream about doing something flashy with their lives, but who must battle a lack of education, an uncaring mother, and the inappropriate advances of older men before they'll ever get a chance. Where Precious is manipulative and aesthetically cheap, however, Fish Tank is smart, emotionally honest, and technically restrained.

Fish Tank is the second film of writer/director Andrea Arnold, who previously made the stark crime drama Red Road. For her sophomore outing, she employs a similar digital, Neorealist style. Shooting on location with no musical score, she follows her main character Mia, played by a wonderfully effective first-timer named Katie Jarvis, through her day-to-day routine in an Essex housing project. She gets in fights, practices her dance moves, and wanders aimless and alone through the streets. When her mother (Kierston Wareing) brings home a new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender), Mia is attracted to him sexually, but also touched by the kindness and interest he shows her. He'll encourage Mia to pursue dancing and to open up, but when he moves into the apartment, Mia's attraction reaches a boil.

The final portion of the film is devoted to how Mia deals with this new attention and the fallout it causes. It's a strange, volatile ride. Her immaturity becomes more apparent with each irrational decision. Consequences don't seem to enter into the girl's mind before she does anything. Katie Jarvis is utterly convincing as the sullen teen whose rage seethes just below the surface. Fassbender is also very good, charming the audience into hoping he's not too good to be true. I really, really wanted to like him. He's a little like Peter Sarsgaard's character in An Education, except he's not Peter Sarsgaard, so it's not a foregone conclusion that he's creepy.

Most of Fish Tank is appropriately underplayed. Andrea Arnold doesn't rely on her characters to explain what is going on, she is far too intent on showing us through actions and reaction. (Something Lee Daniels, the director of Precious, is by all evidence incapable of.) Her camera practically stalks Mia, often having to run to keep up with her. Fish Tank is essentially a point of view film, Katie Jarvis is in every scene. The only time Arnold strains for a shelf she can't quite reach is when she tries to inject literary and visual metaphors into the movie. There is a thread involving a horse that was obvious enough before Arnold decided to put a finger right on its nose at the end. The final shot of the film is also a bit too "high school poetry" for my tastes.

Still, that's maybe four scenes in a two-hour movie. Not a bad ratio when you consider how much so many other directors get wrong in half the time.

Fish Tank plays on 2/19.
* I mixed up some dates in my review list, so posted this a little early, it seems.

Current Soundtrack: Retribution Gospel Choir, 2

e-mail = golightly at confessions123.com * Criterion Confessions * Live Journal Syndication * My Corporate-Owned Space * ComicSpace * Last FM * GoodReads * The Blog Roll [old version] * DVDTalk reviews * My Books On Amazon

All text (c) 2010 Jamie S. Rich

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


For the second year in a row, I was lucky enough to see some of the movies from the Portland International Film Festival in advance of the starting date this coming Friday. Take some time to visit the PIFF website and look at all the movies they have to offer. Amongst the films I did not get to see, there are pictures by Alain Resnais, Peter Greenaway, Chen Kaige, Michael Winterbottom, Peter Chan Ho-Sun, and I am sure many fine artists who will be the top directors of years to come. There is even a Moomin movie!

As with last year's round of reviews, I am going to post my write-ups a couple of days before each film's initial screening to give you enough time to plan to go. PIFF begins this Friday, and the two films below are both part of the opening night.

(By the way, last year's reviews can be found tagged with "Portland International Film Festival," or here.)

Police, Adjective (Romania; dir. Corneliu Porumboiu)

A lot of people are going to call Police, Adjective boring, and I am not going to pretend I won't be one of them. That said, I may be alone in declaring it boring and saying I liked it anyway. Is that possible?

Dragos Bucur stars in Police, Adjective as Cristi, a drug-enforcement officer who is on a case following high school students around, wondering where they buy their hash. He wants to see the chain through and arrest people who really deserve to go to jail; his bosses want him to pick up the pace and arrest the kids for using. Apparently, in Romania, smoking a joint on the street can get you up to eight years in jail. Cristi doesn't want to destroy a kid's life for something acceptable everywhere else in Europe, his superiors bust his balls, and he's forced to make a decision.

Pretty straightforward stuff, but director Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest) takes a lot of time hanging around the subject and wondering what it's all about. Long stretches of the film are devoted to Cristi silently tailing his subjects, and equally long chunks of time are given over to mundane tasks. Cristi eating dinner, waiting for a meeting, literally doing nothing. There is one scene where his wife plays a schmaltzy song three times in a row. One more, and I was going to get up and look for the pause button.

These things are dull, even if I can't say I was entirely bored. The real quandary is why they are even there. Isn't there more to this story than the cop's sullen routine? Porumboiu is apparently saying no, there isn't, and using these mundane scenes as an illustration of Cristi's predicament. There is nothing else, so why the fuss? Many will ask the same of this movie. Police, Adjective's saving grace in these sequences is its gritty realism and voyeuristic framing. Apparently, there is still something inherently intriguing about spying on other people's lives.

Cristi is kind of an interesting character, even if his actions aren't all that interesting. He is wrestling with an abstract concept, one his boss boils down to settling on the correct meaning of the words "law," "moral," and "conscience," and reconciling those definitions with the duties of the police. The closest Police, Adjective comes to a climax is a long semantic argument. It mirrors an earlier drunken debate between Cristi and his wife over that song, in which the officer is seemingly incapable of grasping the concept of poetic metaphor. Why can't things just be what they are, why must they be something else? It's the same schism he feels in his brain. Thus, is there any real question what he will do when faced with the same query? If you are police, be police.

Then again, isn't that "police" as noun?

Police, Adjective plays on 2/12

Terribly Happy (France; dir. Henrik Ruben Genz)

One part Western, one part David Lynch, two parts noir pastiche, Terribly Happy is the Danish equivalent of Hot Fuzz. A dialed-back black comedy about a police officer whose bad mistakes have gotten him exiled to a small backwater town where he must learn to deal with small backwater ways.

Robert (Jakob Cedergren) has had some issues with his family and with his mental health, but he's back on the mend and if he serves his time in a remote Southern village, he can return to the police force in Copenhagen in no time. His new constituents aren't all that accommodating, however, they are quick to tell him that they only want his help on their terms. The self-described local quack (Lars Brygmann) is the only one to really establish himself as Robert's ally, and one half of the town's trouble couple, a woman named Ingelise (Lene Maria Christensen), latches onto the marshal. Her stories of being battered by her husband, the area's mean drunk (Kim Bodnia), are kind of believable, but she never seems to tell them without hitting on Robert at the same time. She also fills his head with horror movie tales of the mysterious Bog on the outskirts of the village that we know from the giggly opening voiceover is prone to sucking things into its depths.

Terribly Happy is a pretty entertaining movie, even if director Henrik Ruben Genz and co-writer Dunja Gry Jensen aren't always capable of making its disparate elements work. Based on a novel by Erling Jepsen, it's best when it's being a crime thriller. The bendy love-triangle narrative has positive echoes of the early films of John Dahl, the gleefully twisted Red Rock West and The Last Seduction. Robert is the dumb semi-hero, repeatedly stepping into the wrong thing--quite literally, as it turns out, from the number of soaked socks drying on his clothesline. Jakob Cedergen plays the cop with a straight-faced confusion, approaching each new development with the same blank, dunderheaded calm. Kim Bodnia is also great as the bad husband, giving chewy line readings from under his cowboy hat, coming off a little like a Danish Kevin Pollack.

It's the more wonky bits that never quite gel in Terribly Happy. The odd quirkiness of the rural folk and the scary movie tropes seem forced, as if the filmmakers are catering to our foreign perceptions of what dry Scandinavian humor must be like. They didn't need to go so far with it, the drab and desolate look of the town is enough to give us a sense of Robert's isolation from the modern world. This is a frontier outpost, a cowboy town that makes its own laws. 'nuff said.

Terribly Happy's plot isn't terribly original, but the movie has enough charm to keep you guessing until the very end. At a taught 95 minutes, it moves fast enough that you don't really get time to linger on its familiarity anyway. It also has some pretty great music. Definitely worth a look.

Terribly Happy plays on 2/12 and 2/14.

Current Soundtrack: Massive Attack, Heligoland expanded edition remixes

e-mail = golightly at confessions123.com * Criterion Confessions * Live Journal Syndication * My Corporate-Owned Space * ComicSpace * Last FM * GoodReads * The Blog Roll [old version] * DVDTalk reviews * My Books On Amazon

All text (c) 2010 Jamie S. Rich