Thursday, December 31, 2009

1 russian ark (sokurov, 2002)

Now that this is done, 2009 is nearly done. As I've mentioned a few times, I don't put much stock in the order of this list, except in broad strokes, i.e. 1 is better than 20, 20 better than 40, and so on. I just love all these darned movies. Even - or should I say especially - the ones that were poorly received, or ignored, during their release.

There are a few exclusions that deserve mention:

The Wire [TV] - television work was deliberately excluded, although a few memorable and brilliant passages come to mind, in particular Joe Dante's "Homecoming" episode of the Masters of Horror anthology on Showtime, and two episodes from the fourth season of The Office: "Travelling Salesmen" and "The Return," which deserve mention as one unit since they aired consecutively and essentially comprise a two-parter, anyhow. (And, as a two-parter, is awesome in every conceivable way: direction, performances, character development, new spaces explored (Dwight at Staples), and emotional truth.) Above all else, however, is the 5-season, multilayered, always complex and riveting HBO series, The Wire. It would make the top ten, easily.

The Road (Hillcoat, 2009) - my encounter with John Hillcoat's brilliant arrival - if The Proposition was his calling card - occurred while this list was over half completed. It would be a strong contender for the top ten listees, but, alas, it's a little late to tear it down and rebuild it.

A Christmas Carol (Zemeckis, 2009) - same situation, although not with the same degree of force and enthusiasm as with The Road. If I rebuilt the list, it would go somewhere in the 40s or 50s. Wrote about it here.

2 pulse (k kurosawa, 2001)

3 esther kahn (desplechin, 2000)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

january 1, 2010

List project gets underway. A rough timeline:

December 31, 2009: Introductory statement (with disclaimers)

January 1, 2010: 2009 titles

Throughout January: 2008 through 2000 titles printed / corrections made, more or less "on the run"

Throughout 2010: 1990s through 1900s titles printed / corrections... / marketing the great beast to film minds everywhere (tell your people!)

2011: Begin posting short-form essays on titles / corrections and additions continue in perpetuity

2012: World ends, so good luck

It all begins, in three days, on Unexamined Essentials!

7 code unknown (haneke, 2000)

8 eureka (aoyama, 2000)

9 father and son (sokurov, 2003)

10 the heart of the world (maddin, 2000)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

2010 just around the corner

January, 2010 will see the jump-off for my ambitious "list project," mentioned earlier this month and last. The lists are organic and open for additions, but it is not quite a free-for-all, community project. I'll act as gatekeeper, open to thoughtful suggestions. Titles from the 2000-2009 period will appear in January; the '90s in February, and so on. Watch this space for details!

That, my screenplay, and helping a friend produce his screenplay, will occupy my "project time" in 2010.

Friday, December 25, 2009

15 kill bill, vol. 2 (tarantino, 2004)

16 mouse heaven (anger, 2005)

17 speed racer (wachowski bros., 2008)

18 spirited away (miyazaki, 2001)

19 waking life (linklater, 2001)

20 pistol opera (suzuki, 2001)

21 la ciénaga (martel, 2001)

22 exiled (to, 2006)

23 land of the dead (romero, 2005)

cross-promotion: take your carol

Those fine folks at The House Next Door have been kind enough to accept my review of A Christmas Carol, just in time for the day itself. The review tries to handle some of the complex, troubling. and beautiful aspects of Zemeckis's great film.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

41 doppelgänger (k kurosawa, 2003)

42 all the ships at sea (sallitt, 2003)

43 election (to, 2005)

Yeah, kind of what everyone else is saying: To and his writers really did a good job transplanting Taylor and Payne's original premise to Hong Kong's organized crime scene, but let's be honest, Tony Leung Ka Fai is wildly miscast as Tracy Flick.

44 hulk (a. lee, 2003)

45 the way of the gun (mcquarrie, 2000)

46 bamboozled (s. lee, 2000)

47 café lumière (hou, 2003)

48 letters from iwo jima (eastwood, 2006)

49 the curious case of benjamin button (fincher, 2008)

50 flight of the red balloon (hou, 2007)

51 one day in the life of andre arsenevitch (marker, 2000)

52 wall·e (stanton, 2008)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

53 the heartbreak kid (farrelly bros., 2007)

The misperception of this film as a bad one instead of a great one is one of the keys to understanding cinema in the 2000s.

54 i'm not there (haynes, 2007)

55 there will be blood (pt anderson, 2007)

56 a prairie home companion (altman, 2006)

Destined to be one of those "great final films" that we sometimes talk about. But isn't it great? Musical, funny, full of heart, out-of-place humor, quizzical ending. An embodiment of the man's body of work.

57 the prestige (nolan, 2006)

I refuse to withdraw all the nasty things I've said about him. I gave Memento a hard, optimistic second try in 2005, and liked it less than ever; Batman Begins and Insomnia are disorganized bores. Yet out of this rubble emerges a very likable (if not quite great) The Dark Knight and…this puzzling, overloaded, meaty film. I suppose I'll keep an eye on him: good filmmakers have emerged from humbler roots.

58 private fears in public places (resnais, 2006)

59 war of the worlds (spielberg, 2005)

I'm 32 and I still have an ironclad confidence in Spielberg. I guess he's the auteur I've known and supported the longest -- after Kubrick. (Cue memory flashes watching 2001 with me da innumerable years ago.) He is like Ford, in that you take the ideological/sentimental/eccentric with the matchless narrative dexterity, fluid and expressive camerawork, and pungent editing all in one swallow.

60 tale of cinema (hong s-s, 2005)

61 changeling (eastwood, 2008)

One of the biggest surprises of 2008 was how much I liked this movie. I've been backing Eastwood for years, with a little help from Zach Campbell, with whom I attended the NYU Cinema Studies program back in the day. I think Zach still likes Eastwood - he had some kind words for Gran Torino. Much as I enjoyed GT, it was the "bigger" of his pair of 2008 features that meant the most to me, narrative issues and all.

62 stuck on you (farrelly bros., 2003)

63 oldboy (park c-w, 2003)

The density of films by year (a bunch of 2001s in a row, a bunch of 2003s) shows that I can't be bothered to sort out "what's better than what" on a micro level.

Can you tell my heart isn't in the ranking? I just want to broadcast that I love these movies.

64 elephant (van sant, 2003)

Everyone, including me, is trying to do a little comment, a little blurb, for each title on their top 100, top 50, whatever. In my humblest opinion, if you have nothing to say, don't say it. Every placeholder on my list - all my lists - deserves a good reading, but most of you will agree that, unless you've seen a thing within five days of writing about it, the mind-grapes start to dry out.

In that spirit, instead of struggling to say anything new and meaningful about Elephant or, for that matter, the remaining films on my list, I'd instead like to applaud Chris Stults and Michael Sicinski for actually providing vivid illustrations to their listees. Round of applause!

65 playing 'in the company of men' (desplechin, 2003)

66 woman is the future of man (hong s-s, 2004)

67 kill bill, vol. 1 (tarantino, 2003)

68 panic room (fincher, 2002)

If Orson Welles can pass a camera through a pane of glass, why can't Fincher pass a camera through the handle of a pitcher?

69 the son (dardenne bros, 2002)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

70 la pianiste (haneke, 2001)

71 shallow hal (farrelly bros, 2001)

72 the fantastic mr. fox (anderson, 2009)

must-see films project

Once again I find myself, deprived of the luxury of infinite hours per day, rushing through my Top 100 countdown. Which I didn't even want to do in the first place, except I kinda did.

The project I hope to get rolling in 2010 and - fingers crossed - complete by the end of next year, although this isn't the kind of project that's ever truly finished, has to do with a renovation of the idea of "classic" and "essential" film canons, by assembling a catalog of film titles that are, how to put this...

When structuring film canons - or literary ones, etc - our cultural seers face two fundamental and destructive problems. The first, there's too many films to see. There's only a handful of people in the world who can confidently scan a given year's crop of movies, wherever they debuted (festival, multiplex, local, church, non-traditional, etc) and figure, at a reasonable distance from the close of that year (shall we say, March), "Okay, I've seen enough films to declare confidently that the search for more great films from the year-just-now-ended will yield diminishing returns, it will be more rewarding to redirect my efforts towards the year at hand." Even the person who says that can't get shut of the idea that there may be, just could be, something awesome that they've yet to see.

On the other end of the spectrum - the second problem, as it were - is that once you get a number of film buffs in a room, their consensus choices will feel boring and ossified, even to each other. Take No Country for Old Men as an example. Regardless of how I feel about the film, let's pretend there's something like a Pandora Radio or iTunes Genius for movie canons, and we plug in the variables "No Country for Old Men" and "2007." Let's say that's something we can just up and do. The "film canon genome project" - no such thing - will hem and haw and spit out the following:
  • There Will Be Blood
  • Ratatouille
  • Juno
  • Into the Wild
Plug in 2008:
  • Wall-E
  • Iron Man
  • The Dark Knight
  • Slumdog Millionaire
Or plug in 1972:
  • The Godfather
  • Cabaret
  • Deliverance
  • Solaris
  • The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
We can debate the relative assets and liabilities of these titles until we're blue in the face, but they're always the same films. If you love The Godfather, do you need to be reminded of its greatness? If you hate it, can you stand to hear about it again and again whenever people talk about American cinema of the 1970s?

My goal would be to assemble a catalog of films not necessarily with the goal of thumbing my nose at "appointed classics," some or many of which are genuinely great, depending on who you asked, but rather to challenge the essentializing mechanism a great many of us have accepted unquestioningly, or, if we questioned it, we didn't sit down a truly "alternate canon." Alternative not only in letter but also in spirit.

In fact, the project may include films that aren't great in the traditional, popular sense, but may instead be highly divisive, or disreputable. People who go through my catalog are not required to like the films I select. (For the record, I will be gathering contributions, so as to dilute, more effectively, my authorial stamp.) A fair number of movies will emerge from two groups that we don't examine very often: for lack of better descriptors, I'll call them "truly bad films" and "enormous Hollywood productions."

Forgive my being vague - but let's say that's how far down I'll plumb for titles. By down, I mean gathering up titles that may piss people off, or just not win many new friends, or have people calling me crazy. (In other words, I'm not shooting for neutral reactions.) As far as the opposite direction, it is my hope that I can bring exposure to truly great films that, if more people saw them, they'd develop a strong reputation. Maybe even exceed the tipping point.

This project, ornery but with a spirit of democracy and inclusiveness, was inspired by Jonathan Rosenbaum's now-famous rebuttal to the AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies.

It was Borges who suggested that, if we made a detailed enough map, it would actually encompass the territory it was intended to represent, i.e. the map would be the territory. Needless to say, such an endeavor would be as impossible to achieve as it would be foolish to try. (Anyway, you have the IMDb.) In a nutshell, I want to bring more attention to films that deserve it, and haven't faded from overexposure. That doesn't wrap it up philosophically, or polemically, but it'll do for now.

73 up (docter, 2009)

What you all said.

74 millennium mambo (hou, 2001)

75 in the mood for love (wong, 2000)

One of the things for which I am most grateful, in my continuing education: to appreciate spaces in films. They are there, and most of us ignore. (Pick a movie review at random: it will talk about "what happened" only in terms that can be most easily placed within the frame of plot synopsis. We don't talk about what happened with the walls, or the light, or to us.) We ignore space and - that academic that-which-must-not-be-named, mise-en-scene - yet we are affected by it nonetheless. As if the movies are oceans, and we're ships, pretending to ignore the swells.

76 o brother, where art thou? (coen bros., 2000)

You begin to understand O Brother by inscribing the absence of Preston Sturges, rather than his influence.

77 burn after reading (coen bros., 2008)

For better or worse, my worldview is closer to the Coens' than that of most other filmmakers: as characters in a Coen brothers movie, the struggles we are put through to get what we want are defined by an inescapable structure that we can't see, or can only see part of, and that part we misread, and the joke is, the structure has been erected by other people going through equivalent struggles. You see that a few times in Burn After Reading: when Malkovich confronts Jenkins in the basement, for example. This reading (man v. mans?) is not an exclusive property of the Coens - you could apply it to a wide range of filmmakers. They seem to have consistently made it their favorite subject, scaling back on sentimentality and doodling funny faces to represent the screwy moments in our lives.

There's a strong base of viewers who reject their work as caricature artists; I understand but I don't agree. Mankind can withstand better caricaturing.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

tv highlights of the '00s: firefly and dollhouse

Going back a few years, Joss Whedon had all the earmarks of a writer-producer leading a charmed life: Buffy ran for six seasons and Angel ran for an alarming five. This doesn't exactly indicate someone who's been touched by God, but in TV land that's batting close to a thousand. The new millennium saw the disappointing cancellation of Firefly (lasting half a fall season before blowing up on syndication and home video) and Dollhouse (which lasted a charitable two seasons and fulfills its obligations in early 2010) and, while it's safe to say that everyone who's summited a few peaks in television has more than likely also hit a few valleys, I wouldn't like to send Whedon over to the job placement agency just yet. If there are enough people like me, who'll render unto him a large account of that priceless currency called good faith and goodwill, all we really need to do is hope that he spends it wisely.

tv highlights of the '00s: burn notice

For the most part, I don't believe in guilty pleasures. Why feel guilty about pleasure? But there are some cases when I do. When a TV program, for example, is nothing but stupid, minute after minute, but I keep watching it. Why? Maybe because the arc of 42± minutes required for drama/mystery/crime teleplays is, at this point, so scientifically perfected in this day and age, that if a show meets minimum watchability requirements, it's enough to sustain my interest. Maybe because, if the writers are not completely subhuman, and they clothespin two quips to every three minutes of running time, I will laugh hard at least once each episode. Maybe there's a higher percentage of employees at the networks and cable outlets who show up for work alert and sober.

Whatever the reason, there's one recent cable television program that fits the description in my opening. It's stupid, stupid, stupid, but I just keep watching, watching, watching. It's about a small group of roguish individuals who, episode after episode, led by a resentful ex-operative, help out some poor schlub who's found himself, or herself, or their family, in a pickle. Each hero has a checkered past and a good heart.

That show is called Leverage. We're not here to talk about that show. We're here for Burn Notice, and while Leverage (appearing one year later) kinda sorta rips off Notice's version of rough-and-tumble professionals helping out goodhearted citizens and protecting them from villains and scoundrels, it's not nearly in the same league. Leverage is cheese fries, a get-by show. Burn Notice, on the other hand, is just really fucking good.

You have undoubtedly already heard the premise of Burn Notice, but even if you haven't, it's reiterated at the top of every episode. "We got a burn notice on you. You're blacklisted..." And so on. How does a show get so much mileage from one problem? And how can a show be so much fun when every episode is the same?

Here's how each one breaks down:

Michael Westen: I should be able to get closer to finding out who burned me.
Sam Axe: Think I'll have another beer.
Fiona Glennane: (something sexy/catty)
Sam: (something something)
Guest Star: I heard you people help people.
Michael: Not exactly, but what seems to be the problem?
GS: Well, (blah blah blah)
Michael: Sorry, no-can-do. I don't like guns (or something).
GS: Pleeeeeeease. (emotional)
Michael: Oh, all right.

Michael solves the problem with MacGyver homemade weapons or telecommunications solutions, cuts through some of the jungle surrounding his dismissal, and the show ends with a funny scene, then a cryptic/dramatic open door for the next episode.

Providing not just action and thrills but novel perspective via Westen's voiceover ("Air ducts in a modern office are 18 inches wide. So if you need to make a quick escape, and you're older than four, you won't fit"), the show's creators execute this structure in nearly every goddamned episode like clockwork, never seeming to fall asleep at the wheel, keeping the show alive with strong writing and recognizable character actors in guest roles, such as Lucy Lawless, Max Martini, Patrick Fischler, Tim Matheson, Mark Pellegrino, Erick Avari, Mark Sheppard (is he on every show?) among others. Apart from them, and the gifts of Bruce Campbell (the chin!), Gabrielle Anwar, and Sharon Gless (never in frame without a lit cigarette), it is Jeffrey Donovan's vehicle for a reason.

Able to out-deadpan George Clooney, Donovan brings tremendous focus to his role, able to slip between moods and states of mind without undue stress. Westen's seeming imperturbability provides comfort and cover through dozens of trials, and even when he's really and truly had enough - when he's bound and helpless and being interrogated by Carla, the one woman who (at that moment) may be the key to the dilemma that's taken over his life - he doesn't crack, but expresses his anger, fear and frustration in simple, articulate bullet points, with sufficient genuine emotion to drive those points home. Rarely has a show used dialogue to diagram the hero's by now familiar goals and challenges and gotten away with it! Credit both Donovan and the house the creators have built around him.

78 the darjeeling limited (anderson, 2007)

Although it's too late to recalibrate my list, The Fantastic Mr. Fox would likely appear alongside Darjeeling. Anderson implied promise at the start of his career, and he has more than delivered.

79 death proof (tarantino, 2007)

This is when my list really kicks into a higher gear.

Hang up your chick habit.

80 stardust (vaughn, 2007)

Perhaps too full of business, the highly talented Vaughn (Layer Cake) nevertheless keeps this adaptation of Neil Gaiman's novel on brisk pace, democratically giving everyone as much room as possible - including De Niro's potentially career-suicidal role as a cross-dressing, queer pirate captain. Rupert Everett's death in this film is both elegant and totally unsporting, a very Gaimanlike move - a fair amount of dignity and just not quite enough heart.

81 the 40 year old virgin (apatow, 2005)

82 the sun (sokurov, 2005)

Presumably the last of a trilogy, following Taurus (Lenin) and Moloch (Hitler), Sokurov provides clues into the film's psychology by creating an atmosphere out of light and color. If the estate occupied by Bolshevik leader, now elderly and infirm, is allowed a serene, dignified twilight, and Hitler seems a prisoner of a seemingly haunted mountain retreat, the surrounding wintry landscape as barren as following an apocalypse, then Emperor Hirohito is bathed mostly in golden sunset, or else roaming alone through darkened interiors.

83 the manchurian candidate (demme, 2004)

I think it's appropriate for an incomprehensible nightmare and an incomprehensible conspiracy theory to be one and the same.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

discussions of note

It seems to have subsided (the last post was three days ago), but it remains worth being re-broadcast: from Dave Kehr's blog, a discussion which began with a review of a DVD release ("The Jerry Lewis Show," c. 1967) and proceeded - as Kehr roundtables are apt to do - to cover a wider, more freewheeling range of subjects, eventually touching upon digital cinema. David Fincher and Michael Mann, among my favorite presently employed American filmmakers, are the hubs of the wheels, but the vehicle seems to travel everywhere. Kent Jones, a writer whose comments I always enjoy, even when I don't agree with isolated opinions, the highly cine-literate Adrian Martin (of Rouge), lovable curmudgeon Jean-Pierre Coursodon, and others, make this one of the site's best reads.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

84 i ♥ huckabees (russell, 2004)

Shockingly, in a film of serious actors attempting humor and veteran comedians who don't break a sweat, Naomi Watts is the funniest performer in the cast.

85 million dollar baby (eastwood, 2004)

To date, the most deserving Best Picture winner since Schindler's List.

SPOILER: You will not see No Country for Old Men or The Departed anywhere on the remaining countdown.

86 the hunted (friedkin, 2003)

For my money, Tommy Lee Jones is at his best under Friedkin: in this and in Rules of Engagement. In other Hollywood films he's likely to be a caricature of himself; in The Three Burials he does an admirable job interrogating his image but Friedkin gets the job done with so little fuss.

Plus, I guess I'm a sucker for genre films where people don't act like wisecracking CSI-style morons. Enough with the wisecracking, writers, you're not Joss Whedon. (Unless you are.)

87 master and commander: the far side of the world (weir, 2003)

Alongside Cold Mountain, Weir's loose yet robust adaptation of Patrick O'Brian's first Aubrey/Maturin novel is my favorite costumer-not-made-by-a-certified-"auteur" of the last ten years. Nothing more or less than a damned impressive piece of work, and very entertaining. A clean and sober - yet not un-rollicking - answer to Verbinski's Caribbean trilogy.

88 breaking news (to, 2004)

My first encounter with To was PTU at the 2003 New York Film Festival. I liked it - not so much for its plot (cops v. crooks; the IMDb just reminded me it has something to do with a missing gun) than for its visual style: Hong Kong by sodium streetlights, seen through the kind of curved 'Scope framing that John Carpenter preferred for his 1980s films. Where everything seems to float across a parabolic wave, even if the camera isn't moving.

Breaking News was made a year later, although I didn't catch up to it for some time. I simply didn't think To was worth pursuing. Now I know better.

Marvelous use of interior spaces and an amusing examination of media manipulation. Crackerjack entertainment with complex layers. Very little time to say more, but I hope to dig deeper when I get to...oh that's a secret.

Monday, December 07, 2009

i just can't...

decide which is slower up here in Middletown, NY: the service at Chili's, the traffic, download speeds on my phone, or the internet connection at my hotel. As a result, I'm going to have to resume my list unveiling until later this week. In the meantime, to recap titles already revealed on my Twitter feed:

90 BULLY (L Clark)
89 FEMME FATALE (B De Palma)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

tv highlights of the '00s: the office (usa)

When the idea of Ricky Gervais's universally-acclaimed UK comedy was being remade for American viewers, it seemed as if the whole world let out one big, exasperated sigh. I was there. I contributed a sigh. A big one: Gervais's Office is a terrific piece of work: biting, hilarious, and just long enough not to wear out its welcome, and no longer.

As the American Office continues its sixth season (the UK Office ran for two very short batches, plus a Christmas special), it's safe to say that, all due respect to Gervais and co-creator Stephen Merchant's pioneering efforts (which was also remade in Germany, France, and Quebec), the Americans have made The Office their own. The American program follows numerous character trajectories in ways that deepen and expand the program in season after season. In spite of its "mockumentary" veneer, the show doesn't shy away from cartoonish, surrealistic behavior and situations - in fact, the un-real makes it stronger and more durable, so that, while the ship may list, it never sinks. It's a magic ship.

Having only seen through Season 5, I don't know if Season 6 continues with what seems to be its best formula for growth: using existing characters and their backstories as established through prior seasons and episodes, continue to push beyond any imaginable comfort zones but then, while there, build new structure.

Towards the end of Season 5, the program seems to pay tribute to the party scene in Tati's Playtime. Not in the destructive-elative party anarchy, but in the way the characters transform a space of failed purpose into one of community-musical pleasure. It's a magic ship.

93 the ring (verbinski, 2002)

This may be my least defensible pick in my entire list, but I think it's entirely worthy. While Pellington (Mothman Prophecies, Arlington Road, haven't seen the new one) uses dark colors and precise tempos to generate mood and shock effects, Verbinski (best known for the financial behemoth, underrated artistically, Pirates of the Caribbean) uses slate grays, lots of water, and a cascade of evocative images that recalls Nathaniel Dorsky's Triste.

Also worth seeing: The Weather Man (2005), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006), and The Mexican (2001).

94 as i was moving ahead occasionally i saw brief glimpses of beauty (mekas, 2000)

Its description seems to indicate an endurance test: 288 minutes of Proustian remembrances by Jonas Mekas, Lithuanian emigre, paterfamilias of American avant-garde* film, the man at the controls at Anthology Film Archives (which is where I saw this), altogether a filmmaker, historian, teacher, and a-g impresario - a man who spent time in a German forced-labor camp during WWII, and who would be arrested in 1964 for showing Flaming Creatures at Anthology (nee Filmmakers' Cinematheque). After arriving in New York, it was my first "All right, I'm fuckin doin this, let's go" avant-garde work, and it was a terrific experience. Rather than difficult, As I Was Moving expresses Mekas's memories often in mesmerizing fashion, as images flit by, barely seen, achieving the cumulative effect of rolling through the maker's mind and memory. Mekas narrates, reads, and sings.

* For lack - the old story goes - of a better term.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

tv highlights of the '00s: curb your enthusiasm

Along the unveiling brick road (you can use that, it's free), I'll mention my favorite TV of the past decade. I'm pretty sure it all premiered after 2000. In fact, TV kicked off after 9/11, didn't it? Wasn't it like, (1) horrible event, (2) we're duped into war - well, some of you were duped, people like me just watched in horror, like watching a drunk mother of five getting into a Cadillac Escalade while our foot is caught in a bear trap and we can't talk, like in nightmares, and (3) American television just up and starts kicking ass.

Curb Your Enthusiasm is not a show that I got along well with, at first. On the whole, improv-y shows have a certain samey-ness in the conversations, the hesitation in the speaking, the halting, the same tics on show after show. That bugged me. Also it just felt sour, mean, and dull. So after giving up halfway through the first DVD of the first season, I took a break that lasted about a year. At the urging of friends, I picked it up again, and I was glad: it's not that the show stops having the traits mentioned earlier. It's that they get under your skin and stay there. That, and the show has dozens of indelible moments and images. I think my favorite is when Larry SLAPS MARTIN SCORSESE ACROSS THE FACE AND SCORSESE JUST KEEPS TALKING AS IF NOTHING HAS HAPPENED.


Keep an eye on this blog in January, when I'll begin coverage of my "essential films" project. It's...not what you think.

95 ali (mann, 2001)

The biopic is a pretty bankrupt genre and there's little that Michael Mann can do except flex his considerable formal muscles and like, kiss one formal bicep and say to cinephiles in the audience, like me, "Yeah, you like that shit, right?" And I can only nod groggily, a little spindle of drool hangin'. And then he introduces digital video like he just picked up the camera and says, "What's this? Let me (*flexes deliberately*) see if it can do anything for my movie!" Expect more Mann as this list goes on.

turner classic movies

I hope TCM keeps going forever. The same essential matrix of film choices, without compromise.

At my hotel this week - away on training, company dime - I put on TCM and let it run. That and Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network. (Family Guy and Robot Chicken are my favorite pieces of violent, random, misanthropic surrealism.)

Anyway, highlight of TCM:

about 30 minutes from what appeared to be the final reels of Kid Galahad (Curtiz, 1937); some terrific, fluid filmmaking, especially in the boxing ring

And lowlight:

for about the same amount of time: The Adventures of Marco Polo (Mayo, 1939)... perhaps the very, very worst film from Hollywood's classic period, that features a major Hollywood star (Gary Cooper). Not just incompetent, not just ridiculously racist, but also as boringly shot and cut as the other justly forgotten films of the period; as a friend once said, it must be seen to be believed, or better yet, don't!

96 mothman prophecies (pellington, 2002)

Richard Gere is so well-known for making horrible films - and one of the worst Best Picture-winners - and he's not exactly the strongest screen presence - that it's easy to forget that he's been in a lot of good movies, too: Malick's Days of Heaven, Haynes's I'm Not There, McBride's Breathless remake, and this one, a truly scary ghost story from a filmmaker whose work represents the greatest distance between visual talent (high) and storytelling intelligence (not quite rock-bottom). Terrific deployment of inky blacks and high-impact shock cuts (even in the quietest scenes).

97 oasis (lee c-d, 2002)

The term "magical realism" is so ill-defined and abused that I feel safe to use it however I like, and you should, too. Here, it indicates Lee Chang-dong's mixture of a "naturalistic" environment (urban dwellings and businesses, what appears to be natural light and location shooting), and its characters projecting onto the environment their fantastical ideas and dreams. Butterflies.

98 the royal tenenbaums (anderson, 2001)

Some say that Luke Wilson's on-court breakdown is the film's highlight. My vote goes to the opening sequence, which I saw in 2001 with the unlicensed use of the original "Hey Jude." His character's suicide attempt now frighteningly anticipates Owen Wilson's real-life attempt in 2007.

99 i'm going home (de oliveira, 2001)

This depressing film hums with life. That's the De Oliveira paradox.

These posts are going to be more like Twitter lines than blog entries. It is what it is: I haven't seen some of these films in a while.

100 what time is it there (tsai, 2001)

Tsai Ming-liang has become our foremost, cinematic poet of sadness and empty spaces. Influenced by Tati, tribute paid to Truffaut. A fixation on clocks. Depressing sex.

Top 100 of 2000-2009: Intro

I don't remember the New Year, 1980. I was not yet three. Vague memories of Legos and whatnot. Nothing whatsoever linked to the New Year, new decade.

1990, late night watching television. Very, very distinct memory nursing a warm glass of Mountain Dew. Everyone else asleep. Room stuffy. This was at my old house in Ledyard, Connecticut. This was the part of my life where, perhaps not unwillingly, I programmed my physiology to be most "awake" between 9pm and 1am. The 32-year-old me hates the 12-year-old me for that, but what can you do.

2000, I was on watch at the hangar/office at VAQ-132 (the Scorpions!) on US Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. I went out for a smoke - I no longer smoke - and inadvertently interrupted a couple sneaking a New Years'/new decade/new millennium smooch. Dear Navy: fraternization happens. Deal with it.

2010, unless there's a catastrophe, I'll be sharing the New Year with the woman that I love. We just observed our four year "relationship anniversary." Fastforward to the next decade marker, her son will be old enough to vote.

Anyway. I've been a cinephile since around 1992, 1993, when I had a crush on the girl at the video store. Let's call her Jessica G. Prettiest girl in New London County. (The girl with whom I presently share a mortgage was the prettiest girl in Hartford County, but I wouldn't meet her for nearly another ten years.) At the same time, I also had an unfulfilled hunger for movies that led me around the aisles of Act One Video (long gone by now), and if I had to guess, I'd say my subconscious was screaming: "What the fuck are you looking for?" Hormones, a hunger for new movie sensations, caffeine, Doritos, etc. Somehow I discovered - or remembered - a video section at the Groton Library. They had... old movies. Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, The Third Man, and what I'm almost certain was my first foreign-language film, Fellini's 8 1/2.

The sky opened up.

Almost twenty years and four thousand films - lightweight compared to some of you, I know - later, I'm getting ready to watch the second episode of the second season of Mad Men. My sensibility, well, I won't bore you by writing out my whole personality here, nor will I have time to go on & on (lucky you!) when I kickstart my "essential films" project, but I've come to believe a few things:

1) Movie love is transient. Second looks, third looks, etc = playing with fire. Fourth looks = sometimes the awesomeness hits you like a ton of bricks. This I learned when I revisited L'Atalante a few years ago (Museum of Modern Art, I think) and I couldn't stop crying. (Pansy.)

2) Trust your instincts, but know they can sometimes be wrong.

3) Have faith when others around you say something's great and you "aren't feelin' it." You can't make yourself feel the love, there's no Kool-Aid to drink, but take my advice, put those movies on the top shelf. Take them down every ten years. Life is short, but you get a reasonable amount of acreage.

4) Take all the pleasure you can get, wherever you can get it. The most underestimated groups of films are "clearly bad films" and "gargantuan Hollywood superproductions." Partly they made their own bed, those directors and producers, and trudging through these groups can be really punishing, but we often look last for art in these places, or avoid them altogether.

5) Sometimes, it takes just the right moment of reflection to make me see films differently. Sometimes, I'm blind to ... gifts. I'm glad there are other eyes.

6) If I'm drawn to anything, it's probably the absurd, the insane, underwritten by creative energy and conviction (or what looks like it). I like complex things but I don't always appreciate them when they're in front of me.

Since the Mikio Naruse retro of 2005, I have had no choice but to miss a lot of movies in Manhattan. It's a simple matter of life interrupting movie love: I don't have the time. As a result, I've seen almost everything since then on DVD, battered VHS tapes, Blu-ray, and Netflix Instant. I've missed a lot, so my 2005-2009 lists are thinner and weaker than my 1992-2004 lists.

Beginning with the next entry, I'll count off my favorite films of the decade, limiting myself to 100. I'll say a few words if the spirit moves me. Otherwise, I won't.

Friday, December 04, 2009

best of the decade

With an air of "Fuck, I'm getting a Cinnabon" reluctance, I've decided to reveal my top 100 of the aughts, beginning tomorrow. There'll be double coverage on my Twitter feed.

I also have a pretty unconventional "essential films" project in the works. That'll get some build-up advertising as well.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

CGI and green-screen

I know, it's boring to decry CGI, but it's starting to impact some films that I - or friends of mine - really, really like, and that's unpleasant. So, a few words:

For a lot of films I've liked over the past, I would say, almost 20 years, CGI actually ages more painfully than any effect from "the old days." And under that umbrella, I would include everything from early Melies to '80s Cronenberg. More fairly recent films than I can ignore seem not a little spoiled by the fact that digital and greenscreen effects seem "Scotch-taped" in, like the matte shots in the original Star Wars.

What is going on here? Do effects rot, like fruit, or laserdiscs, or AA batteries? It was acceptable in the theater...or were we just tricking our minds, selling ourselves the feat of Hollywood magicians? This is, admittedly, easier for younger moviegoers - and some of my older colleagues probably have zero sympathy whatever.

Here goes:

* Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi got a lot of mileage from its digital blood-spray effects, which appeared unreal, uncanny, and unnerving. Now they just seem unreal. And spot the uncooperative digital blades waving freely between Ichi's opponents' shoulder blades. This made me very unhappy - I still like Kitano's films as director quite a lot, and Zatoichi was the favorite, based on a single viewing at the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival. I took a chance on the Blu-ray disc and...regretted it.

* Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers: well, in all honesty, fewer reservations here. In a recent viewing, I was overwhelmed, in spite of myself, by the emotional force of the totally, totally absurd story and characters (as with Sirk!!), and to his credit, Verhoeven actually cares a heck of a lot more about framing a shot, or making an effective cut, than wowing audiences with "realistic" computer animation. That, and his more conventional, plastic effects are very effective: like when Rico's love rival gets "brainsucked."

* Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy: have never been a fan, but since I have a young one, I occasionally have to put up with it. Unfortunately for Jackson, since almost EVERYTHING in the trilogy was filmed against greenscreen, it is crystal clear that you're watching little more than a parade of actors standing, or waiting, or swinging props, against a blank wall with a post-it note saying "rear projection TBD." They all look like overly done-up extras standing in a phone booth while a high-power fan blows bits of papier-mache and crap around their heads.

* the Wachowski's Matrix trilogy, in particular the second film. Here's an odd cross between my comments above, regarding Jackson and Verhoeven. I've actually come around to enjoying the Wachowski brothers' work, after I fled from the middle Matrix (i.e. Reloaded) and avoided the concluding chapter (Revolutions). After I was positively blown away by Speed Racer - for a number of reasons, not least of which was what I now see as a heartfelt commitment to total, goofy unreality - I went back to revisit the trilogy. The first one remains the best, with its indelible (and iconic) imagery, the way it hinted at a hidden other-world without showing a whole heck of a lot of it (contrast this with the second and third installments, when every aspect of the Wachowskis' creation is illustrated explicitly, flipped upside down, and turned inside out), and - I'm still working on this one - as a film ABOUT TALKING, in its many forms: chatting, lying, intoning, arguing, persuading, proselytizing, etc., etc. The second film has the worst process shots, in particular a wide shot of Morpheus traversing the top of an 18-wheeler, where it's clear that everything we see, right down to the well-known, Oscar-nominated actor, is a choppy, pixely, robo-phony. And yet, and yet... in spite of what can be accepted as flaws, I LIKE what the Wachowskis do, and the third film, warts and all, is full of incredible energy and nimbleness for a good forty-five minutes. (Right up to the end of the siege at the Dock, after which the film is still okay, but playing on a lower key.)

* Karyn Kusama's Aeon Flux: My better half thought it was spectacular. I could hardly believe my eyes, my ears, my...whatever other senses it affected. Destined to be Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder for future generations (when that show is inevitably "rebooted"). Stunningly, this was released a mere four years ago, and already the effects seem to be peeling apart, as you may expect from weak rubber cement and uncooperative posterboard.

If there's lessons to be learned - to quote the grammar-resistant Gabriella Cilmi - it's that an effective deployment of basic, cinematic competence can purchase a lot of viewer goodwill. At least, that's my attitude. One of the strangest and most unforgivingly effective horror sequences I can recall - and it's from a comedy-musical, at that - is the transformation sequence in the original Nutty Professor. There are no "effects" to speak of, no process shots, only some eerie music (or was it silent?), a wealth of costume/prosthetic devices, and two key ingredients: Jerry the actor, and Jerry the director, investing an ostensibly humble "monster" montage into something of sweaty nightmares.

Monday, November 30, 2009

the devil-doll (browning, 1936)

Lionel Barrymore makes a surprisingly convincing elderly woman.

Monday, November 09, 2009

halloween ii (zombie, 2009)

Returning to the rather more public sphere after a long absence, thanks to the fine folks at the House Next Door.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

the sandlot (evans, 1993)

Sorta watched the last few reels with the sound off. Long story. Seems to have no real rep, but while it appears to end in Field of Dreamsy schmaltz, the extended sequence involving the kids attempting to retrieve a Babe Ruth-autographed baseball from the Cujo-like dog next door is fun.

What really caught my eye was the 'Scope photography, which is vividly colored, spacious, and has an exuberant, free-falling effect. You'd think the director thought he was composing for 70mm or IMAX, and given the delirious, larger-than-life perspective of the kids, and the equivalent performances of the cast, the charm is hard to resist.

Notes on an underexplored genre: studio-made kid/teen films.

Friday, November 06, 2009

sunshine (boyle, 2007)

Handsomer than the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire by many leagues, yet still, at long last, a disappointment, Boyle and frequent screenwriter Alex Garland, in their best film since Trainspotting, can't just let well enough alone and have a bunch of astronauts try and rescue a dying sun, they have to pick 'em off, one by one with some old-dark-house, Agatha Christie bullshit. And when the treacherous nature of their environment isn't enough, he introduces a villain. To my few readers, of those who've seen Vincenzo Natali's Cube - remember when it was awesome? And then, remember when it started to suck? Yeah. Thankfully, Boyle and Garland don't go so far as to have a good guy turn heel, but the actual development is, if anything, more lame.

Must say, though, the visuals are on point from start to finish.

the proposition (hillcoat, 2005)

As another writer noted, the idea of a rock musician writing a screenplay for a western (albeit an Aussie variation) sounds like a recipe for disaster, but Nick Cave's screenplay for The Proposition is so rich and novelistic that one may be alarmed to discover, upon digging deeper into the film's production history, that it's an original work, not based on any pre-existing book or screenplay. Hillcoat's direction yields a nasty, concise bit of business that recalls not just Cormac McCarthy but also Werner Herzog (particularly Cobra Verde) and Alex Cox (Walker, less for the fever-dream surrealism and more for the relatively sober period production scored to contemporary music). Making the most of the Australian outback, Hillcoat makes frequent use of overhead camera angles as well as underground or partly-underground structures, conveying the impression that every hideout is already a grave, every interior that of a mausoleum.

the friends of eddie coyle (yates, 1973)

The dialogue is, on occasion, just this side of precious - a prototype for what would eventually be called "Mamet-speak" - but that's a small complaint; this is one lean, grim, no-nonsense crime movie that recalls the best work of Jean-Pierre Melville.

scanners (cronenberg, 1981)

Cronenberg gained notoriety with this 1981 feature - it's the one where Michael Ironside uses his mind to make a guy's head explode. But that's not all you need to know about it: while he never tops the scene's "did that shit just happen?" effect, the main experience to be had here appears to be the complete sterility of the action narrative. Practically all that happens in the story is that two young lovers hit the road as they try to escape the clutches of a very powerful villain, and it's almost as if it doesn't matter whether or not the path of destruction that pursues them is their responsibility. Flight, landing, chaos, bloodshed, flight again. By draining a conspiracy/humans-with-special-powers thriller (a bit like Stephen King's Firestarter, which was published the year before) of its "juice," or any sense of pulpy excitement or titillation, Cronenberg focuses our attention on composition, which is angular and boney-shouldered, and color, which is pale and earthen. In the film's second-most memorable image, an agent of Ironside's shadowy corporation is propelled (via telekinesis) into a massive piece of artwork, which shatters beneath him.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

mad men (late to the party)

I dunno. Smug "weren't they primitive back then" jokes to conceal vapid relationship dynamics and mindblowingly overdetermined mise-en-scene. Yet I can't not watch it. Ain't TV a weird animal? If it was a film I'd snuff it inside five minutes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

the brothers bloom (johnson, 2008)

I started and restarted a long consideration of Rian Johnson's wonderful second film, but I was unhappy with both drafts and so they went into the scrap heap. All I wanted to keep, I guess, is that I've never before had such enormous affection for Rachel Weisz, and that Johnson may be paying tribute to Wes Anderson - each WA film is given a nod - but that he is also, fiercely, and I resist the temptation to elaborate, his "own man." I'm eager to see the next one.

the hangover (phillips, 2009)

I know I'm the only person in the Northeast who wasn't blown away by this, and that includes my better half, who was in stitches, but to my mind, the only show here is Ed Helms. The director made a much funnier film, with a wider, gamer cast, and (yeah, I'm going to say this) a tougher nerve, ten years ago: Road Trip. No masterpiece, that, but its loose, unpracticed structure was more 1941 (that's a compliment) than Very Bad Things.

Helms, not exactly playing a HUGE variation on his Andy Bernard character on NBC's The Office, is given the first, least belabored, and therefore the funniest portion of the Taser bit, a silly, Pythonesque song, and a deftly delivered line that sweeps all Sin City misdeeds under the rug of a MapQuest snafu. Well played, sir.

Monday, October 05, 2009

the pink panther 2 (zwart, 2009)

Not much to say here, but not a bad piece of work, and it looks fantastic!

the defect (feuillade, 1911), cont'd

Resuming 21 minutes in. No chapters for this 41 minute film, so fastforward is only option to get to where I left off, i.e. waiting for the heroine's defect to reappear and mess up her nice life. (It bears observing that her sordid past is expressed visually by her acts of waiting tables, bussing tables, and being flirty with male patrons. SCANDAL!) Had to stop to admire the overhead train transition shot.

24:41…aaaand here we go.

29:29…Calm and menace. Images prefigure Les Vampires; Ann…a good Irma Vep?

31:33…this meeting of society's elite investors seems to be going great, what could go wrong?

31:50…a mysterious letter!

33:13…"So, ladies and gentlemen, I trust you've had a chance to review...say, why so glum?"

33:31…"It's not you, whore, it's us. You understand. I'm sure you'll land on your back--er, your feet."

35:51…these people, clearly not fans of music and revelry. Half-hoping this movie will end like Animal House or School of Rock, something.

36:03…holy moley,that one lady is really getting into this, a la Marcia Gay Harden in The Mist. Counted at least three Christ-figure poses since Ann's forced outing.

37:02…nice trick-wall shot, beatifully executed but also the whole scene employs it well. Trick or no trick, the most graceful shot in the film.

the roman orgy (feuillade, 1911)

Feuillade understood the power of actors and costumes to rebuild a frame or simply redirect its visual energy. Feathered orgy is wonderful "moment out of time." Lots of color, each shot seems to be built on one direction across the frame: left or right, up or down. Result, viewer feels highly unstable at precise moment of melodramatic release.

homicide (mamet, 1991)

Note, then, a more than passing resemblance to Vertigo, as a faceless criminal eludes law across treacherous architecture, finally showing true face in the last reel, mise-en-scene (who can forget the green wallpaper) expresses states of mind, and a protagonist willingly, zealously, erects the scaffolding for his own hanging.

Friday, October 02, 2009

the defect (feuillade, 1911)

"…where loose women congregate…". A prequel to Custody?
Once again, theatrical choreography with an architecturally- preoccupied camera position.  I feel confident that this is one of the director’s defining features.  However, I'm 4-5 minutes in and the film is not yet great and the relentless musical refrain (not Feuillade's fault) is driving me bananas.  And then a HALF DOZEN waitresses (profanely recalling Feuillade's 1909 Spring) just MATERIALIZE to clean a table that would take (and has) one waitress less than 9 seconds to make new and pine-smelling for the next patron.  The kind of grand gesture that Feuillade slips under our noses from time to time.
Transition: gorgeous deep-focus photography, train passes foreground (bird's-eye with slightly canted angle; sunlit bay in far, depressed background).
I respect contemporary long-take directors, think static-cam maneuvers challenging enough that even mild success earns at least a grudging respect.  Roy Andersson’s Songs from the Second Floor employed long takes that worked the foreground and background against each other and built gargantuan visual tapestries.  Usually to indicate one joke.  Feuillade's static camera juggles multiple planes and multiple timing cues to further the narrative.  As alluded earlier, Feuillade's crowd control is the impulse while his use of architecture is the correction.  Closer to Welles, in this way.
In this odd film, what appears to be a gaggle of moralizing harpies descending upon the heroine evaporates to reveal the heroine's apparent benefactor.  (But we are not sure of that, either; a mindbending manipulation of expectations. Yet Feuillade continues to promise NOTHING: promises neither cathartic she's-a-saint fist-pumping nor snarky ha-ha-that's- what-you-get-for-expecting-happiness tragedy; what is on the agenda, with Feuillade creating set-/frame-centric backgrounds and allowing the melodrama to run its course?  The director coaches his actors to express rather than telegraph, so each gesture seems to be taking place in the present, and events seem to end before they begin.
Transition:  as the "loose woman"'s patron expires, his entourage suggests jealousy and black-clothed contempt but appearances deceive as their demonstration of easygoing acceptance resembles that of a Farrelly brothers movie.  How long can this idyll last?  The title after all is DEFECT.
To be continued.  At 41 minutes, The Defect is quite long in comparison to almost all of Feuillade’s non-serial work.  Will resume with a Part 2.

custody of the child (feuillade, 1909)

Of course, Feuillade would begin a melodrama with a shot that promises to drop us into the story yet, Tati-like, does not highlight the principals or even indicate they have entered the shot! But with unaccented grace he sweeps aside all visual noise and clarity arrives. (Among silent-film titans, LF was the ninja, silent but deadly.)

(Should note that I am highlighting LF's formal strengths very nearly in panicked defense from the pulpy melodrama, which perhaps only form can transcend. The film's title practically exclaims, "skip me!")

Rooms structured around tasteful yet extravagant decor, LF is rarely happy unless the background contains a few ports: doors, windows, curtained nooks, fireplaces...why is the painting over the fire curtained?

An idiot could have handled this narrative, but an idiot didn't, Feuillade did. And he gets suspense from a child hiding (badly) from cops under the dining room table. His seamless merger of film frame and theatrical arch pays huge dividends.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

the fairy of the surf (feuillade, 1909)

Not more refined than Melies' work but Feuillade's approach to phantasmagoria exhibits his capacity for directing individuals and groups, and his compositions create startling shapes and intersecting lines because of his human players rather than in spite of them. (See also The Colonel's Account.) Felt my heart lift during the final shot, a mesmerizing collage that celebrates what was then the cutting edge of film production: layers of in-camera effects, puppets, pageantry, hand-painted frames joined with early 2-strip color. Divine.

EDIT: Realize I called puppets "cutting edge 1909 technology.". Intended, rather, to indicate multitude of layers within shot, which mixes old & new, hi-tech with lo-, and such.

spring (feuillade, 1909)

Ice melts to become whiteclad girl. Nymphs, in-camera superimpositions. Why shoot birds when miniature f/x will give you tiny flutists? Inconsequential pageantry? Maybe, but I wonder if Feuillade did the other three seasons in the same mode; have a feeling the whole would be greater than the sum, etc. Final shot is pleasurable and sincere, like the middle section of Le Plaisir.

a very fine lady (feuillade, 1908)

Feuillade may not be the first filmmaker to use music hall gags (the swinging ladder/rifle that hits the other man; man is sprayed by ignorant gardener, etc), but here at least he has a knack for exploiting the frame's edge and foreground-background interplay. Gags would be perfected later by Chaplin, Keaton, Tashlin, Kovacs, Tati, et al. Crude but fun.

A girl so hot she leaves a trail of disaster a mile wide.

the colonel's account (feuillade, 1907)

An elderly dinner guest tells a war story that comes to life, leaving no guest unperturbed, no inanimate object unsmashed. A stunning ensemble work, as perfectly timed as a flock of birds changing direction midflight. Two and a half minutes separate Victorian fine dining from utter bedlam.

Monday, June 15, 2009

californication, most of season 1

Finding it fitfully amusing, always watchable, for the most part disposable. Whenever the show gives us "writing" - i.e. the work of its central character, or anyone else, it's invariably a complete shitshow. And yet...

There's something really odd and fascinating about David Duchovny on this show. He frequently operates within the framework of the show, as a normal actor will do under normal circumstances. He is a part of the cast, the leading man. But there are times, mostly during the first few episodes, when he seems to operate like a loose cog, and it wakes you up. I wish I had a specific example, and it's sometimes very subtle, like if you were watching an ensemble cast rehearse and you pick out an actor who's very gently off-rhythm, just slower or just faster, just a shade lighter or darker. In a show that very blandly pitches us the charm of a loser's existence, Duchovny gives the producers what they may not have known they were looking for (and would reject if it rose to the surface); the gallery of forgettable (and frequently nameless) L.A. ladies, you wonder, "How are they going after this creep, but for the fact that he's created in the self-deprecating/self-loving image of the show's writers/producers/critics?" And the answer may lie not in the presentation but in the effect Duchovny creates in the show's fabric - an offhand assortment of rips, contusions, and imperfections.