Monday, August 29, 2011

Bad Fever

Dustin Guy Defa | 2010 | 77 min | USA

The ratio of shitty comedians to good comedians must be 1000:1, easy. But where's their story? The King of Comedy doesn't cut it. It's a daydream. And besides, Eddie, the aspiring comedian of Bad Fever, makes Rupert Pupkin look like Chris Rock.

Eddie is a loner trying to make a go of stand-up comedy. He spends most of his time recording, reviewing, and revising tapes of rambling routines made on a dictation machine. He is prolific, sure, but there is not a punchline to be found among his hours and hours of tape.

Eddie also suffers from a crippling nervousness, and when strange drifter Irene is willing to exchange a few words with him, Eddie quickly falls for her. In an effort to please and get close to her, Eddie is soon participating in bizarre "erotica" videos in an abandoned school which Irene mails to "a guy in Iowa" for income.

Shot over a winter in Salt Lake City, the grey setting is suffocating. Low clouds and mumbling strangers make it seem as thought Eddie and Irene live in a world where air can't penetrate and sound can't carry. Even attempts at small talk are usually stifled by chainsaws, clinking glasses, or cell phones. Eddie speaks as though he is simply unpracticed in commucating, and it's simple to understand his difficulty in having a relationship with anyone else.

Kentucker Audley's characterization of Eddie can feel like a guile-less Crispin Glover character, but with pure anxiety overcoming any canned eccentricities. Fortunately, Eddie doesn't feel mocking or over the top. Anything less than a sensitive, relateable portrayal would kill the film, and Audley steps up to the task.

The term "mumblecore" has been applied so broadly and so thoughtlessly that it lacks usefulness as a real descriptor. Many films that have tripped under the banner require tighter designation so audiences can have some sense of what they're getting into. Bad Fever is one of them. How about "No Light, No Hope, No Reason to Exist-core"? While Bad Fever isn't the choice to make for a pick-me-up, it is an absorbing case study of sex work and the economies of loneliness. If you have the fortitude, I highly recommend it.

Bad Fever will be screening with the short film Pioneer in Toronto on August 31, 2011, as part of the Refocus Film series. The program starts at 8:30 PM at Double Double Land, 219 Augusta, in Kensington. And as with all Refocus screenings, admission is FREE!

The trailer is posted after the jump.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Remembering Jack

Hundreds of messages inscribed in chalk over Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto, following the death of Federal Opposition Leader Jack Layton.

Thanks to Jackman Chiu for the beautiful photograph.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Gun Girl on a Motorcycle

"Just what dark impulse led this healthy, active young girl, member of a highly respected family, into this tragic situation is yet to be revealed. It has been learned that Cathy was at one time a patient in the mental health clinic operated by the country health department. It remains for the courts to decide the extent of her responsibility for the violence which erupted on a Tallahassee highway on the evening of April 13, 1961."
From Master Detective, September 1961.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Housing Development Sex Parties

MALE, August 1964.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Next Andrew Sarris

Marquee for the Rainbow Cinema theatre in Regina, Saskatchewan. This particular marquee resides atop a strip mall facing a main roadway. I can't believe I Rape Dudes 2 got a theatrical release.

Photograph courtesy of Errol West and the Prairie Dog blog.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Michael Mann | 1981 | 122 min | US

Thieves should really try to stop at the second-to-last big score, because that last big score always turns out terribly. James Caan's Frank is a perfect example. He's a safecracker doing every job quietly, cleanly, and professionally. He makes nary a ripple until his fencing middle man gets tossed out a window and Frank goes looking for his money. He finds his money in the hands of a syndicate that promises him everything he would need to finally get out of the game and lead a comfortable life in a comfortable family. But trying to get an honest deal out of Megacorp when you're running a local mom and pop isn't so easy.

It is impossible not to root for Caan's thief. He is a talented craftsman (a fact proven through intense, calculated robbery set pieces) and a likeable man. After too many years spent in the care of the state, Frank is trying to carve out his piece of the ol' American dream. His modest goals make him the least corrupt and corruptible man in a world of thieves. His courtship with Tuesday Weld, in which he tries to quickly explain the above through collage art, is one of the finer courtships on film.

The eclectic and remarkable supporting cast includes Weld, Willie Nelson, Robert Prosky, The Belush, and a host of easily recognizable character talent like Tom Signorelli, Dennis Farina, and William Petersen. The movie is stacked with talent from the Michael Mann Players. And while I am not a big fan of Tangerine Dream, this soundtrack sets the perfect mood, often sounding more like discordant Eno than the sonic wallpaper of Risky Business.

Best of all, Thief is not troubled by the interior decorator pretensions that I find bog down some of Mann's other films. But don't worry Mann-purists: Frank runs a Cadillac dealership, offering plenty of shots of light arrays reflected in triple-gloss paint. Thief is set in that New York City which exists exclusively in film, with permanently rain slick streets and street lights that barely illuminate anything. De rigueur for neo-noir, but I'm not complaining. Thief is the complete package, aesthetically, with the emotion and story to back it up.

Though it is a great one, Thief is only a crime procedural superficially; ultimately it is a lesson in capital, labour, corruption, and exploitation. The inevitable shootout ending isn't neatly topped with a True Romance bow. The moment before credits instead marks the beginning of a Man with No Name story, or perhaps a revised vision of The Jungle.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Force Against Gravity

Levitation photographs by Natsumi Hayashi of Tokyo.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Babysitters

When's the last time we had a movie review on this blog, hey?

I discovered this little gem on Netflix a couple of nights ago, and was shocked at how great it is, because I'd never even heard of it before. On its surface, the film isn't much different from any other naughty babysitter premise. Shirley babysits for young-ish couple. Cute dad Michael (John Leguizamo) drives her home one night, and they end up making out. When it happens again and they end up having sex, Michael feels guilty and gives her $200 instead of whatever her usual paltry babysitting fee might have been.

At this point, The Babysitters veers off the usual formula slightly, as Shirley (played beautifully by the gangly, long-faced Katherine Waterston, who towers a full head above Leguizamo) embraces her entrepreneurial side and makes a business of it, enlisting her friends to "babysit" for Michael's friends. Madam Shirley operates her brothel through cell phone calls and notes left in her school locker, taking 20% from her girls and maintaining a neat calendar of appointments on her computer. Obviously, this idyllic situation cannot last, and like any good mafia movie, The Babysitters sets Shirley up for a fall.

By far the most refreshing thing about The Babysitters is the fact that the cast of teenage girls looks extremely plausibly teenage. Their mostly make-up free faces, awkwardly developing bodies, ordinary clothes (Shirley seems to live in not-so-tight jeans and borderline-frumpy sweaters) make them seem so real, and so much more like actual children than hot fantasy babes, and this gives the entire film a truly creepy tone.

These girls are, on the one hand, totally in charge of their own mini empire. On the other hand, they are in entirely over their heads and embroiled in a self-destructive and downright depressing misadventure. As Shirley struggles to keep control of the business she's built (battling other girls' rival startups, and the like), Michael starts to have misgivings, feeling more and more guilt about the monster he helped to created. The film treats Michael's love for Shirley as real, but thankfully doesn't give him much sympathy for it - after all, what kind of moral high ground can a father of two who's fucking his teenage babysitter really have, regarding her lucrative prostitution business?

A funny and at times really disturbing plot is elevated to 'awesome status' by brilliantly realistic casting and a pull-no-punches approach to treating everyone as equally bad, guilty, and deserving of some kind of punishment. No one gets away easy in The Babysitters, which is as it should be.

The Babysitter

My week has been very naughty-babysitter themed. First, I stumbled on the trailer for The Babysitter on tumblr.

Then I discovered that our friend Michael from Popcorn & Sticky Floors has a great poster for Weekend with the Babysitter.

What I don't entirely understand is, how did George E. Carey star as George Maxwell, the daddy in The Babysitter (1969) and as Jim Carlton, the daddy in Weekend with the Babysitter (1970)? The babysitter was named Candy Wilson in both films, but played by Patricia Wymer in the first and Susan Romen in the second.

Can someone solve this bad babysitter mystery for me? Also, what was mommy up to?