Monthly Archives: September 2006



As might be expected from De Palma, the trailer for The Black Dahlia implied several parallels to Vertigo: obsession with a dead woman, involvement with her lookalike (named Madeleine!), a spiral staircase from which someone falls to their death, and Scarlett Johansson wearing Kim Novak’s hair and colors. The movie itself, unfortunately, revisits these themes with little innovation. Though De Palma makes use of one element from Vertigo he had somehow left untouched in Obsession, Body Double, and Femme Fatale, it is not explored here with much insight and is overshadowed by the fact that the movie has more in common with Pearl Harbor than either Hitchcock or earlier De Palma.

That’s not to say BDP doesn’t reuse his own material. One of the attractions of his work is his ability to reexplore the same tropes in such a way that produces something which feels brand new. But in The Black Dahlia, when a cop sees an address inside a borrowed matchbook it doesn’t feel like a new spin on a classic convention so much as De Palma hoping you don’t remember how the same thing turned out in the Untouchables.

Perhaps he’s is a victim of his own success. I was expecting a De Palma film to end all De Palmas, and if not that, then at least the movie event of the year. Instead I got De Palma lite (and boring). Maybe he didn’t want to distract the audience with form and so limited himself to a single “virtuoso” crane shot, but similar shots have been done better as early as Carrie. As it is, my favorite shots are a couple with a diopter lens that simultaneously focus on someone’s head in the foreground and a character in the background (another De Palma staple), as well as a multi-layered shot in which Harnett appears reflected in two mirrors. Hey, I’ll take what I can get. After all, I did like the movie’s vision of Los Angeles in the 1940s, beginning with cops wearing black leather jackets, an image that has become so appropriated by camp culture it was a revelation to see it played straight.

But most problematic (and foundational to the movie) is probably Josh Hartnett who is simply too young for a noir protagonist and has neither the face nor the voice for a hard boiled story. When he tries to talk softly “in his low voice” it cracks and I missed a lot of his narration. Combine that with the reprisal of his role in a Pearl Harbor triangle in which the joke that Hartnett is more in love with the guy than the girl is even more applicable, and it’s not exactly a recipe for classic status. And though Eckhart, Johansson, and Swank are adequate, none of them seem inseparable from their characters like Crowe, Pearce, Spacey, Basinger, and Strathairn were in LA Confidential. Perhaps it is a comment on Hollywood that the best actress in the movie is dead and seen only in film clips watched by the other characters, and a comment on the movie itself that the most memorable scene is one of comic relief by Fiona Shaw (Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia).

Though it got bad press, I think Femme Fatale will be reappraised someday as the best De Palma picture of this decade, but as of now that’s not saying much, and I’m not holding out great hope for The Untouchables: Capone Rising. But all that said, I plan to see The Black Dahlia again in hopes that my impression will change.


Muse: Black Holes & Revelations

The day after I bought Black Holes & Revelations, Muse’s fourth album, I asked my flatmate if he had heard of them and he turned around and burned their first three for me, but so far I’ve only listened to Absolution a couple of times. I was surprised to recognize a couple of singles from Absolution but comparing them as albums I think Black Holes is the better work and the singer seems to depart more from his Thom Yorke sound.

Black Holes begins with what I think is supposed to be a political dissent song that is very judgmental, climaxing with a chorus repeating “you will burn in hell for your sins” whose joyfulness produces a dissonance of irony.

There is strong guitar throughout the album reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age — or earlier Muse — especially on “Map of the Problematique” and the hard-rocking “Assassin” and “City of Delusion.” Meanwhile “Soldier’s Poem” could be one of Queen’s softer ballads.

Though diverse in style, the songs on the album are nonetheless interrelated. There is much more trumpet on “City of Delusion” than “Knights of Cydonia” — a whole solo in fact — and like “Cydonia”, “Hoodoo” also demonstrates the similarities between surf guitar and spanish guitar that evokes Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang My Baby Shot Me Down”.

I don’t have a favorite track yet, mostly because they are all good and each one has a great hook somewhere (sometimes late) in the song, but the long guitar intro on “Cydonia” is still one of the best new melodies I’ve heard in a while.

Knights of Cydonia

Do you like Sci Fi?

Or Kung Fu?

Or Westerns?

Then there’s something for you in Muse’s music video for Knights of Cydonia. I realize it’s a couple months old but the video was new to me.

UPDATE: If you found this post on its own page you might also be interested in my subsequent review of Muse’s album Black Holes & Revelations.


I can describe Gilliam’s latest only as a gorgeous nightmare. Every shot is beautiful, with a vividness of color that hasn’t been seen since Danny Boyle’s Millions, and in one scene Gilliam interprets the phrase “amber waves of grain” with a breathtaking literalness.

However (or I should say moreover) there are several scenes that in any other movie would be visions of unnerving horror yet, because of the absolute innocence of the young female protagonist, their inherent repugnance is completely neutralized. Several hours after the movie I’m still amazed how it was possible to accomplish such a psychological feat.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the images are disturbing while watching them, but Jeliza-Rose makes their evil practically melt away by her presence. I wish I could describe without spoiling the story (such as it is — “the events” would be more accurate) the kinds of images Gilliam gives us but you would probably be repulsed. Even citing the movies they are reminiscent of would ruin the surprises.

The movie could be interpreted any number of ways, the most mundane being that the girl’s naivete makes her oblivious to evil or that her abusive background triggered psychological blocks to protect her. In terms of the literal storyline, sure, there are clinical explanations for her behavior, but such rationales would be depressingly reductive.

Tideland is the first time I’ve ever seen what Tolkien expressed by Tom Bombadil’s utter immunity to the Ring. Jeliza-Rose is like Tom: so completely innocent — in the good way — that the greatest evil is powerless against him. It is not a denial of the objectivity of evil to recognize its subjective ability to influence us only insofar as it has a foothold in us to latch onto. Like the Ring is to Bombadil, objects of horror become Jeliza-Rose’s playthings because of the purity of her imagination.

Speaking of her imagination, the most obvious and consistent references in the movie are to Alice in Wonderland — hence “Jeliza” — but there is no single point at which reality dissolves into fantasy for her. Rather the boundary between them is constantly in flux as Jeliza-Rose “narrates” the story aloud by talking to — and in the voices of — her dolls. The result is an acting tour-de-force by Jodelle Ferland (last seen in Silent Hill) who creates six different voices, including a squirrel’s voice that will make you forget Steve Carell’s in Over the Hedge.

But the central “Alice” theme is interwoven with strands from many other sources such as Norse mythology, as the story begins with Viking-rocker Jeff Bridges (channelling The Dude) setting out in search of ancient Jutland, but not before attempting to resurrect the Nordic funeral pyre tradition in a non-traditional way. Though it is unquestionably Ferland who carries the show, Bridges’ relatively passive performance will no doubt remain one of his most memorable.

Green Arrow, Eat Your Heart Out

I don’t know what show this is (with The Hoff in it!) but Lilia Stepanova should win EVERYTHING. NOW. Cancel all future shows, there’s no point in further rounds. (HT: MO)