Culture To Go

           'Nah!' Johnny erupted. 'That ain't my scene! What do you think I am, a bleedin' hunk of meat without any feelings of my own?'"

           Rarely are Slow Death's numerous encounters either this tame or witty. But Home's commentary on pop culture outshines his pulpy porno adventures, two to one. (Matt Keppel)

VIDEO

Faces

Orion Home Video

           According to actor Peter Falk, John Cassavetes's craft was as much a process of mis-direction as direction. The famed independent filmmaker (Killing of a Chinese Bookie, A Woman Under the Influence) would regularly give hazy and even contradictory instructions to his cast, sending them through confusing and often maddening rehearsals. Until the actors were floundering and lost, that is--then Cassavetes would start shooting. Finding the director's oeuvre on video has often been a confusing task unto itself; the release of 1968's Faces now gives audiences another fine opportunity to judge Falk's anecdote on the evidence.

           Faces' Updikian plot seems unextraordinary on the surface: Dickie and Maria, an upper-class couple in a loveless marriage, go their separate ways for an evening of grim carousing. Dickie (John Marley) visits the pad of escort Jeanie (Gena Rowlands), battling a pair of more boorish businessmen already on premises. Meanwhile, Maria (Lynn Carlin) and her matronly peers visit a go-go club, where they meet Jed, a mindless Casanova played by an astonishingly young Seymour Cassel. And while this sorry collection laughs, drinks and cavorts as if they were at the corporate Christmas party, there is a loneliness at the core of every vapid thing they say ("Why'd the man throw his clock out the window? To see time fly..."), an ennui too humdrum to qualify as existential crisis. Cassavetes's shaky camera and editing are surprisingly compatible with this talky script, making the viewer feel as edgy and disjointed as the cast. And in the many fine reaction shots, Cassavetes, the wily genius, shows us the plaintive truths that the characters themselves cannot decipher. Not to mention the beleaguered actors. (Michael Tortorello)

Calendar

Kino Video

           Atom Egoyan ranks up there with Krzysztof Kieslowski as one of the best filmmakers of our time--and despite the critical success of this Canadian's Exotica last year, one of the most underappreciated as well. Calendar, a one-hour movie he made for German television, is a tour de force of editing, opening with a stream of overlapping film and video images; voices both present and disembodied, in a variety of languages; and music ranging from Armenian folk songs and drumming to American blues.

           Like the loser restoring order after a game of 52-Pickup, Egoyan gradually sorts these elements into a comprehensible form. The filmmaker himself plays a photographer shooting medieval churches in Armenia for a calendar; his wife (Egoyan's real-life wife, Arsinée Khanjian) is along on the trip, serving as his translator. Both have roots there, but while she gravitates toward their homeland (and a local man, played by Ashot Adamian, acting as their driver and historian) the rational, bespectacled photographer is all business, ensconced behind the barriers of camera and language. Back in Toronto, he remains as static as his photos and controlling as the completed calendar, which now hangs on the wall and ticks off the months of his separation from his wife. He bitterly analyzes his hurt, mulling over footage of his wife and the guide talking, laughing, having fun; he ignores her phone messages, and develops an obsessive ritual that involves beautiful women of various nationalities and foreign-language phone calls.

           A kind of parable about making art at the expense of living life, Calendar is layered with coolly intellectual ideas about looking and being looked at, control and surrender, presence and absence, etc. Thankfully, it's also not without crucial moments of self-deprecating humor. The biggest joke may be on us Americans, however, whose broadcast TV industry virtually disallows projects like Calendar. But at least we can rent the video. (Julie Caniglia)

Haunted

Evergreen Entertainment

           Does every ghost story play out like this one? Doors mysteriously open and close, lights go out, and a little girl's ghost wanders around the castle grounds, one step out of reach. Um, yawn. What little plot there is here gets put into motion when psychology professor and published skeptic David (Aidan Quinn) is called to one Edbrook Hall in order to prove to an elderly woman that the estate's not haunted. Once there, David becomes quickly smitten by the often topless Kate (Cold Comfort Farm's Kate Beckinsale) and begins to experience the "weird" happenings described above. What stretched my attention span was yummy Aidan and spiffy Kate. But, sadly, their talents far outweigh those of the screenwriter and director. In the end, they succumb to the slow-as-molasses pacing, surprising lack of action (let alone scares) and predictable "twists." Still, the splendid definition that Aidan (or his body double) has on display in the film's one love scene is just about worth the rental fee. (Andrew Peterson)

MULTIMEDIA

Understanding McLuhan

Voyager CD-ROM for Mac and Windows

           Marshall McLuhan was always so ready to throw an aphorism at any new idea, phenomenon, gadget, or event that it's surprising he didn't favor us, as George III's doctors did, with insights on his daily stools. This Canadian outlaw academic with the mind of a newly sighted monk and the mouth of an advertising wizard remains relevant today--and possibly forever--and is done justice by this CD-ROM. It's a quirky, decentered beast, appropriately enough, and even with a neat overlapping interface of topic fields, it manages to seem chaotic and full of surprises.

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