Cowboy Bebop, The Movie (part 2)

(Please read previous post)

Vincent as a villain isn't so much a variation on Vicious (Spike's arch-enemy) as he is a variation on Spike himself. Like Spike, he's died once before; like Spike, he's not sure if his previous life is the reality, or this one (it's a restatement of a theme that runs through the entire series).  Vicious is Spike's personal demon; Vincent is more like a mirror image--Spike, but grown malevolent in his nihilism and with deadlier toys to play with. When Spike tells him he should have realized this life is all he has, it's ironic, because Spike needs this advice as much as if not more than Vincent. He's telling his mirror image, but not listening himself.


Or maybe he's gradually arriving at this conclusion with himself? The movie, if I recall, comes pretty late in the series, chronologically speaking. That may be why he's able to realize it. 


I like an animated feature that can do something this subtle and sophisticated. I like an animated feature that, despite the sophistication, has the sense of fun to have a mysterious Muslim contact lean against a handrail to speak ominous words to Spike, then slide down said handrail like a schoolboy. I like an animated feature with the audacity to set the climactic battle (wonderfully shot and edited, better than any of the close-combat sequences in LOTR) inside the Eiffel tower--in my opinion one of the most beautiful modern structures in the world--with fireworks blowing up around, and make it work. I like an animated feature with the perversity to have a deadly substance, capable of killing millions, encapsulated in something as innocuous as a glass marble, and to have the loveliest image in the film--a flock of glowing gold butterfulies--mean your brain's been breached and you are about to die (while their disappearance means you're going to live).  Coolest movie of the year, no question about it.

Cowboy Bebop, The Movie (part 1)

Shinichiro Watanabe's "Cowboy Bebop: The Movie" doesn't give us anything new.  We don't learn anything more about the four characters and dog that are the crew of Bebop (well, we do learn that Ein can play chess), or have anything really earth-shaking happen to them, like, say, actually winning the bounty (a hefty 300 million "woolongs"--which, if someone who wrote about this is right, should be equal to the Japanese yen, or roughly two million dollars).


Nope, nothing really new, and I don't think that's what the filmmakers were after, either. They merely thought, in the same wayward spirit of the Bebop crew, that fans would like to spend another hundred and fourteen minutes in the ever digressive, never straightforward world of Bebop. And they would be right, too.


So we get various scenes of Faye, Spike, Jet, and Edward (with Ein in tow) working their various beats, trying to trace this clue or that to their quarry. It doesn't occur to them to team up and work together, which would be the most sensible way--it's the way they actually do things in the end, but they never make a big deal out of it, never have a "yay, team!" moment--Faye grouches as usual and Jet complains about playing hen mother to everyone and Spike just jumps ahead of the rest. The movie isn't at all about being efficient or effective or even about teamwork.  It's about dealing with your personal demons, either in the past or in your head, rubbing your more abrasive character traits against the sandpaper of this particularly gritty future, and hoping the result would be more presentable, if not socially acceptable. As for us, the audience, we're here to enjoy the screech, the sparks, the friction that results.




Epics, Part 2

(Please read previous post first)

Not Edward fucking Zwick or Anthony fucking Minghella. Not Peter Jackson, who reveres Tolkien so much he's embalmed him on the big screen to the tune of three hundred million dollars (we're paying something like a billion dollars to see the nine-hour corpse). Those are mere costumed melodramas.


Take O'Hara's script, Hocloban. About a period in Philippine history, Governor-General Bustamante, who defied the Catholic Church, and was killed for it. What if a hocloban, a shapeshifting witch from a pagan sect so powerful that by the mere raising of her hand she can kill someone, on a mission of vengeance for her murdered husband, applied for employment at the Bustamante household, with the intent of killing the governor-general? And what if she instead fell in love with him?


A period epic with a supernatural twist, and all kinds of crisscrossing tensions: horror vs. history, Religion vs. State, native vs. Spanish, pagan vs. Christian, man vs. woman. That's the kind of epic that can get me excited.

Epics, Part 1

Seems to me all the wrong people are going for it. Where are the Griffiths or Eisensteins or Welles who could do the genre real justice?


Of those still living, Theo Angelopolous and Bela Tarr and maybe Im Kwon Taek might be capable of doing it (actually their recent output--Eternity and a Day, Satantango, Chunyang--are good examples). Miyazaki--and the Gainax people too, come to think of it. Coppola, if he'd get his head out of his ass, might do so again. Michael Winterbottom I hope can do at least one. Terry Gilliam again, maybe.


Ang Lee is too much of a plodder, I think. I'd like to see the crazies, the ones capable of really wild BIG projects. Scorsese proved he could do one--mixed results, but he did. Bertolucci, with a better script than he had for 1900. Spielberg, only I wish he'd...ah, screw it, I wish he'd stick to funhouse films.


Terence Malick. Alex Cox. John Woo and Tsui Hark, given decent scripts. And I wonder how Charles Burnett or Larry Cohen would react, given fifty million dollars? Godard would probably fling it back at the giver's face (so would Burnett, I think)--but then again, maybe not. Can you imagine a fifty million dollar Godard movie? It won't just be 'historically accurate,' that's for sure. Emir Kustarica, I'd like to see him try something. Fruit Chan, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Tikoy Aguiluz, Mario O'Hara...the list can be endless, if you look around a little.


(con't next post)


Film critic (part 2)

(please read previous post first)

This is a personal opinion, but the UP house style of writing that these "critics" like to use tends to be too jargon-heavy.  Clarity and simplicity are more effective means of delivering an idea.

(Joel David I respect tho--he was once asked by Sight and Sound to do a list of the ten best films ever made, and he included a porn film. I liked that; I especially liked the fact that he recognized that porn can be political, which it can)

And being rabidly politically oriented can blind one; I know of the high reputation of Sister Stella L.; I also think Sister Stella L. , while decently and intelligently made, is rather dull in its earnestness, and is more a political debate than a work of cinematic art (Pete Lacaba has heard this complaint, and god bless his gentle soul, still talks to me. But he's better off doing agitprop--which the films really are--with a real agitator, like Brocka. Or doing excellent noir with subtler social commentary with Tikoy Aguiluz).

What's more, Mike de Leon agrees with me--he dislikes the film, thinks it's his least personal project, and wonders what he was thinking of doing that sort of thing in the first place.

There's a lot of films like that--elevated because their maker's heart and passion but not skill and imagination were in the right place.  That's one kind of crap I speak out against, with every opportunity.

Well; I've pontificated--sounded more like a "critic" than I have in years. Feh.

Film critic

This in reply to some post:

"[b]FILM CRITIC[/b] - deploys a theory appropriate to the evaluation of a film release and configures a methodological approach that acknowledges both the contextual integrity of any given theory as well as the national and/or global significance of a film product under scrutiny"

My response:

See, you can do this, but never let the wires show.  And you can do it clearly and entertainingly, unlike, uh some "film critics" under this definition.

You should also keep updated,  be open to new experiences--not just of new films, but of old films you aren't familiar with.  Not just Hollywood, but foreign films, of different countries, documentaries, video movies, all kinds of genres, cultures, formats, whatever.  The list is endless.

One unforgivable remark one "film critic" made was "Bollywood films--what do they have to teach us?" This when said "critic" was attending the Hong Kong Film Festival, and a retrospective of some excellent films was showing. 

Oh, the sheer ignorance of that statement!

Not to mention the bevy of "critics" who at the MIFF once watched some clips from King Hu's body of work (he was one of the guests, believe it or not).  The remark from most "critics" was "ano ba yan, pa-talon, talon, pa-kung-fu kung-fu. wala namang significance."

Again, the sheer ignorance.  They shouldn't be staring at their own politically-oriented navel; they should be looking around them, seeing what's going on.

As for trying to put films in "context" or tracing the relationship to the larger social milieu or what have you, anyone familiar with my writings would know I do do that, with the overarching theme that Philippine cinema is as good as any in the world, and should be championed as such; I just don't do it obviously, or stridently, as some do, and I dislike jargon--that's used to make one sound more intelligent.

(con't in next post)



I like this:

"In The Return of the King, a passionate, deeply committed, borderline-erotic male bond reaches apotheosis through the annihilation of an oppressive ring." NATHAN LEE

I say, give it to 'im good!

This one's funny too:

"No man-on-man love this year could top that of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck—I mean, Greg Kinnear—in Stuck on You, but with its final installment, The Lord of the Rings proves itself the gayest film in history, capped by the Frodo-Sam (forehead) kiss and the boat ride into the sunset—wait, that's the ending of Querelle!" MARK PERANSON

Querelle had an 'annihilation of the ring' scene too. Brad Davis'. 


Best of the Year 2003 (Edited 1/18/04--might reach 10 films yet)


My top of the year, in ascending order:

8. Looney Tunes (Joe Dante)

Best recent evocation of the spirit of Chuck Jones and his fellow Warner animators.

7. Cowboy Bebop: the Movie (Shinichiro Watanabe--2002 release, but shown all around the USA in 2003)

Coolest movie of the year.

6. Hero (Zhang Yimou)

Most beautifully shot movie of the year.

5. Spider (David Cronenberg--2002 in Manila, 2003 in the USA)

Far better portrait of a schizophrenic than Ron Howard's tepid A Beautiful Mind; wonderful performances by Ralph Fiennes and Miranda Richardson.

4. Big Fish (Tim Burton)

Burton's most emotionally hefty film yet, about a son who hates his father's fantastic lies.

3. American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini)

Lovely tale of a loser who struggles--not to win, but to not lose more than usual.

2. Raising Victor Vargas (Peter Solett)

Another lovely tale, wonderfully told, of teens growing up in New York.

1. Babae sa Breakwater (Mario O'Hara)

The story of people who live and struggle along the Manila Bay breakwater, an inspired mix of grim reality, mysticism, and old Visayan songs.

I guess I haven't seen enough especially good films to make a ten best list.

Also-rans would include Femme Fatale (Brian de Palma) which should have been my fifth favorite, but it's a 2002 release (it was shown in Manila in 2003); Shattered Glass (Billy Ray) which was hair-raising, in a journalistic way; Master and Commander (Peter Weir) which was muscular but intelligent; Magnifico (Maryo J. delos Reyes) which was wholesome but honestly and skilfully made; Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola) which was lovely if slight; Holes (Andrew Davis) which had charm; Angels in America, a great play adapted, somewhat imperfectly, by Mike Nichols to the TV screen; Winged Migration (Jacques Perrin) which was beautiful if a bit dull; and yeah, why not, The Two Towers (Peter Jackson--2002 release, but shown in Manila 2003) which had some nifty battle scenes and a compelling performance by a CGI construct but is still an embalmed adaptation of a mediocre boy's fantasy novel.

Return of the King

"Return of the King" is okay.  What I don't get are all the hosannas critics heap upon it--Kurosawa has been mentioned; so has "Chimes of Midnight."  This isn't the reinvention of the wheel folks, it's an above-average adaptation of some mediocre boys' fantasy novel. I don't even think it's Jackson's best work; that would be "Heavenly Creatures."

Return of the King

Watching Return of the King tonight (once more into the breach, my friends).  Am bringing an apple--no, two--to keep me awake.

Babae sa Breakwater

(posted on another forum)

Finally saw "Babae sa Breakwater," about the people living in hovels along the Manila Bay breakwater.

I think it's the best Filipino film in the past two--maybe three years.

I don't understand what's being said about "bad editing."  O'Hara's editing here is imaginative, coherent, precise.  Editing is the Achilles' Heel of Filipino filmmakers, only a handful show any kind of skill at it (I don't mean them per se, but the editing style is consistent from film to film): Gerry de Leon, Celso Ad. Castillo, Tikoy Aguiluz, Mike de Leon, and Mario O'Hara.

I agree it's very rich.  If it lacks, uh, what's that, something, it probably lacks production value--the very thing Star Cinema and Viva Film productions have, and the very thing that matters least in a work of art.  Production value is nothing--not when you have ideas, imagination, and genuine filmmaking skill at work.

As for production design--well, there isn't much.  It's mainly locations, well chosen, I think. that show the huge difference between the kind of seamless, hygenic, rather lifeless postmodern architecture favored for upper-class, tourist-infested areas (like along Manila Bay) and the dirty, lively creatures that infest their foundations.

Wonderful, lyrical film, goes beyond what Lino Brocka started with his social realism. I'll say more when I can later.



Mononoke vs. LOTR

In response to something written on the Nausicaa Mailing List:


I'm not a big fan of "Princess Mononoke," but Tolkien's so-called complexity is mainly surface dressing: a lot of made-up history, some invented languages, so on and so forth. On an emotional level though, he's pretty much straightforward--the good guys are good, the bad guys bad (painfully bad--only Saruman is sketched with any detail, while Sauron is a big ball of gas), save for Gollum, his one successfully complex character. More like the exception that proves the rule.


Miyazaki's features may not have the sweep of Tolkien (except for his "Nausicaa" manga), but I think he achieves a level of emotional complexity in both films and manga that goes beyond Tolkien.  The question is not even worth considering seriously.

Selma, Lord Selma (part 3)

(Please read previous two posts)


In the end, it's Burnett's gift for characterization that brings the film to life: moments of despair, of sudden violence, of glorious, unexpected hope are sharpened by the fact that we have come to know these characters, and cared for them deeply. 


That 'calculus of value' Burnett knows so well, it's equally instructive when applied to films. "Mississippi Burning" is a film on roughly the same milieu, directed by a white director with two white Hollywood stars, and it won several Oscar nominations and is available for rent everywhere. "Selma, Lord Selma" I had to find from Facets' DVD and video rental arm all the way in Chicago, and only on VHS (though it's available for sale in both DVD and VHS). "Burning" is chock full of grotesque distortions, everything from having blacks stand about in picturesque poses as helpless victims to making the FBI the hero (?!); "Selma" is full of rich, true detail, emotionally and historically, and the kind of poetically understated humanity that makes you feel better about the human race as a whole (that we're capable of this kind of visual, narrative grace). Wonderful film, absolutely.

Selma, Lord Selma (part 2)

(please read previous post)


And then there's Burnett's attention to detail. The first march fails, of course, because King is urgently needed elsewhere, so the police are free to beat the horde of uppity blacks that have crossed the bridge on their way to Montgomery (didn't matter if the crowd included women and children). A black man is killed in the middle of a riot, but even that's all right--he's only doing his duty.  Killing a white man, however, is a different proposition--it has to be done on a deserted street, with no witnesses (This is different from the actual recorded death, a change for which I can think of only two reasons: Burnett may have felt the historical death too melodramatic to "play" in his film--the man saves a black woman from a shotgun blast--or he simply didn't have the budget to film it. Whatever the motive, Burnett seems well acquainted with the calculus used by '60s America to determine the difference in value between the life of a white man life and the life of a black man). I noticed that whites other than Daniels are barely characterized, but this works too--we are seeing them through black eyes, who would hardly have been given the privilege of seeing into any white soul, at least not in this town.



Selma, Lord Selma (part 1)

Charles Burnett's "Selma, Lord Selma" isn't on the level of his masterpieces, "Killer of Sheep" or "To Sleep With Anger"--he's out to depict one struggle out of many in the war for black equality in the '60s, a crucial one, but he's not trying to transform it, to show it through the same mysterious, prismatic lens he used in "Killer" and "Sleep." The demarcation lines are clearly drawn; there is little ambiguity here: it's blacks and the few sympathetic whites helping them vs. the predominantly racist white community of Selma, Alabama.

That said, and considering that this is of all things a Disney TV production, it's still a remarkable piece of work.  We get to know the main protagonists quite well--Jonathan Daniels (Mackenzie Astin), the seminarian who comes to Selma wanting to help; Sheyann Webb (Jurnee Smollett) the lovely 11 year old girl through which the story is told; and even Martin Luther King Jr., who, as played by Clifton Powell, is a modest, warmly humorous man who frets over the people he leads into danger.

The story may not be altogether fresh--we have the usual drama about peoples' uprisings and children trying to convince their parents to allow them to pursue their beliefs come what may, and there's some preciousness in having a precocious child tell the story (it's based on a book written by the actual Webb), but Burnett brings to the material his inimitable restraint, not so much good taste (something I'd sooner accuse Clint Eastwood of having) as a sort of simplicity of approach, a grace that he brings to any subject, however idealistic or even potentially mawkish.


To Sleep With Anger

Charles Burnett's "To Sleep With Anger" is a fucking masterpiece.


Lipstick on Your Collar, Part 2

Finished "Lipstick on Your Collar." 
I looked carefully at the credit sequence; I think this is early CGI, of the type REO Speedwagon and The Cars (if I remember what little MTV I saw) used to use in their music videos...
Upbeat ending for the younger generation, who are perfectly happy with the way things turn out (World War 3 is averted, Britain fades into the background of world politics).
Funny, but the Potter figure Pvt. Francis Francis (Potter doing a little Joseph Heller here) gets the biggest reward, a beauty (Kim Huffman) who's an intellectual equal and indescribably (in other words, American) rich. Ewan McGregor gets the working-class girl Sylvia (Louise Germaine, also gorgeous--Potter, who produces, knows how to cast his heroines), and they're perfectly content to listen to all the rock 'n roll that Potter skillfully (if with less depth and feeling than with his '30s songs) sprinkles all over the place.
The only note of nostalgia and regret is struck by Thomas and McGregor's boss, Col. Bernwood (Peter Jeffrey). He remembers when England was once great and he's the one champing at the bit to invade Egypt, perhaps face off with the ultimate enemy, Soviet Russia.  It's with the less ambitious and at the same time more practical and adaptable younger uns that hope for world peace lies (Thomas and Huffman love Pushkin and Chekov, while McGregor and Germaine would rather gyrate to rock).
No it's not one of Potter's best--which means it's only one of the more complex and witty and sophisticated recent musical comedies around, instead of an indescribable masterpiece (which "Singing Detective" was).


Lipstick on Your Collar

Am more than halfway through Dennis Potter's "Lipstick on Your Collar." Interesting effort, one of his late series (the last made before he died in 1994), and the debut performance of one Ewan McGregor.
You can tell, Potter's not as much into '50s rock and roll--his use of songs are clever, even funny, but only once does the song have the same intensity as in anything in "Singing Detective," or "Pennies from Heaven." Significant choice of setting: the nationalization of the Suez, which marked the end of England's reputation as a superpower, and is at one point thought to be the start of World War 3, or the end of the world (This series was made in 1993, seven years before the millenium's end).
Even more significant is Potter's view of women. He has at least one woman in his works that is well-sketched--I'm thinking Bernadette Peters' role in Pennies from Heaven, and Janet Suzman in Detective--but only in "Detective" is there a woman (Suzman) who is on equal footing with the protagonist. Most of the time they're whores or opportunists, usually both. Well-sketched, Potter's too good not to do otherwise...but Suzman makes you realize what he can do with women characters when he puts his mind to it.
It's much better produced than "Detective"--Potter wrote and produced this, and it's said that when he surrounded himself with yes men instead of collaborators his work suffered. You can see the sets are more elaborate, and they have a few optically printed (CGI?) special effects, but it works on only two levels--fantasy and reality--where "Detective" works on four: detective story, real life, childhood, and some meta-level where all three mix and play, with concurrently far more power.
Still, wonderful comedy, funnier and more complex than any recent musical I can think of ("Moulin Rouge," "Chicago," etc.).


Boiled beef

The wife did boiled beef with potatoes, parsley, whole peppercorns.  I took the bones, scooped out the marrow onto slices of toast, sprinkled a little fish sauce on em, and it was delish.

Angels in America, Part 2

Saw the second half of Angels in America.

Well, I liked this incarnation of the angel--no distracting fires, and Nichols actually seemed to have built a set and resorted to wirework to float Thompson. I'd have liked a fiercer angel--someone who looks as if she'd tear you to shreds as bless you. And the sex was annoying--onstage they just writhed in orgasm, no floating around or CGI nonsense, thank you (do I have to add that I found the flames on the aldder annoying?).

Nichol's directing I liked better, maybe because this part has more comedy setpieces; I especially liked the confrontation between Prior and Pitt and between Prior and Pitt's mother. I guess I've forgotten that Nichols is good at comedy...just don't ask him to do magnificence, or SFX, or subtlety, or large cast ensembles all talking in one shot.

Most critics find part 1 better, but I liked how part 2 developed...this is the payoff for a lot of what seemed pointless, and you know and like the characters that much more, even Cohn. Pacino was moving, annoying, funny, moving again--it doesn't have the intensity of a stage performance, but Pacino does it justice, I think.

Wilson's Joe Pitt is an interesting case. Kushner found it in himself to sympathize with all his characters, even a demon like Cohn, but Wilson is left practically in the dark--I guess you can be on the good side, or even on the wrong side, but magnificently, and he'd give you a measure of respect; it's the shirkers and the ones who fall short in their goodness or evil that are totally shut out.

Angels raises interesting thoughts about the differences and similarities between something like this and something like The Singing Detective, which is an obvious influence, and between someone like Kushner and someone like Potter, who use similar techniques to almost diametrically opposite ends--but I'd stop and leave it for further thought,,,maybe an article or two...

What film has the best special effects?

In reply to a thread with the above question:

That's an interesting question.  Effects make the impossible possible, of course, but sometimes it's not good enough that they do this realistically; they have to show beauty and imagination as well.

By that criteria, the all time greats for me would be the 1933 King Kong, Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast, Murnau's Faust, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (the shots are mostly not photography, but SFX), of course 2001, and maybe as recent as Blade Runner.  I may be forgetting a few here.

Of recent examples I did like the effects in Coppola's Dracula, Spielberg's 1941, and the Coen's The Hudsucker Proxy. 

Of CGI films my list would be very very short: Master and Commander shows the state of the art in realistic CGI effects, I think, while Jackson's Heavenly Creatures show how they can be used to poetic effect.  Pretty much all else tends to make me shudder.


Marinara redux

How to do decent marinara sauce without any fresh herbs or other ingredients?

So I chopped up an onion and four or five garlic cloves, fried them in olive oil, immediately threw in four mildly spiced Italian sausages, sprinkled in some kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper, then sauted until toasty brown.  I didn't have ground beef or pork, so I tossed in a large eggplant, peeled and diced.  An Indian college roommate back in Michigan taught me how to cook eggplant--if you cook it the right way, it looks and tastes like sweet pork fat. Emptied two cans of tomato paste, three cans of water (or the paste cans filled with water three times), all of the remaining Chianti (about half a can, not much), two tablespoons of brown sugar for that "I don't know what, but it's good" quality, some dried basil and a lot of dried oregano.  Tore several Kraft cheddar slices into the mix (learned to tear them lengthwise, so they'd melt easier when you mix), then, in lieu of a fresh basil hit, spooned the last of the remaining bottled pesto we bought from the supermarket into the sauce. Now THAT smelled and tasted like fresh leaves, just chopped and dropped into the sauce, with the added bonus of crushed pine nuts and a bit of parmesan into the bargain.  Not bad at all.

Shattered Glass

Billy Ryan's Shattered Glass is pretty damned good.  Hayden Christensen, recent Anakin Skywalker, shows he can act well as Stephen Glass, the New Republic star writer who fabricated 27 of his 42 articles (not that I'm surprised--Lucas has misused whole lists of great actors, from Terence Stamp to Brian Blessed to Rena Owen to Peter Cushing). But the actor that held my attention and for my money owns the film is Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck Lane, the dour TNR editor who takes over the beloved Michael Kelly (played by Hank Azaria) then go on to pick apart the career of one of his most celebrated reporters.

We don't get earth-shattering journalism on the level of All The President's Men--Glass' articles are mainly entertainment pieces, not some deep political scandal--nor is this some psychological study probing why Glass did what he did. But we do get some sense of just how important a journalist's regard for truth can be, and how much the prestigious magazine had to lose when Glass' fabrications come to light, and this is mostly thanks to Sarsgaard's low-key performance. He's captain at the helm of a famed but leaking ship, and the drama of the film is in his realizing the ship has leaks, finding them out, and plugging them.  I like it that it took a dull, unconfident drudge to dig out what his popular predecessor could not--that sometimes it isn't one's skill at public relations, but dogged will and the inability to let go that gets the job done.

I do have one question though: where was Stanley Kauffman and what was he doing when all this was going down?

Singing Detective commentary, disc 1

Tremendous stuff, the commentary and supplementary material to "Singing Detective;" I usually don't listen to commentaries (life's too short) but couldn't resist here; as I suspected, a lot of Potter's life went into his work. 
Like the fact that he was sexually abused as a child.  His mother had brought him to London (much like Marlow in "Detective") to live with some relatives; and he was bunkmate to a gay uncle who fellated him at night.  Now we know where some of his horror of sex comes from. 
Also, the fact that Potter had essentially dropped the detective story thread in the first episode, but that Amiel asked him to rewrite it, and he did in seven weeks in what Amiel describes as "the most extraordinary act of creation I've ever seen."  The thread now has a more complex relationship with Marlow's real life now, and I suspect (haven't heard the commentary on disc 2) provides the basis for the show's surreal climax. 
Producer Kenith Trodd I think (or was it Jon Amiel, the director?) also notes that you can be indifferent or combative towards Potter, but the one thing he can't stand is sympathy; that really infuriates him.  We're talking one spiky son of a bitch here.
Interesting, but Amiel and Trodd point out the godlike qualities of Bill Paterson's psychiatrist.  Maybe the character does stretch credulity (Potter's actual experience with psychiatrists was far less successful), but how many government-paid therapists out there have the intelligence and will to handle a Marlow, much less Potter? Think of him as Marlow's sounding board, the way writing "Detective" was Potter's, and think of Marlow as, in effect, performing therapy on himself.  I think it works that way.
Trodd and Amiel confirm something I also suspected--that Potter came to rock music late in his career, and that this never had the emotional resonance that the songs of the '30s and '40s he grew up with had for him.  Not that those songs are better than rock 'n roll per se; it's his obsession with them that gives them much of their power (and which is why the screen version of "Detective," which uses rock, marks it as late Potter, and not on the same level as his earlier work).


Carole Lombard

In terms of beauty or attraction I'll admit I'm a pushover for Barbara Stanwyck and Ida Lupino and Ingrid Bergman but Lombard's statuesque beauty, while I appreciate it, leaves me cold (nothing wrong with her, it's prolly me). I do like her dreamy, half-stoned style of delivery in Godfrey and To Be or Not To Be, the way the words tumble, half-intended almost, lightly out of the mouth, and kind of trail away like wisps of fog...


My Man Goldfrey

My Man Godfrey is giddy fun.  Visually unremarkable, but cleanly made to showcase the verbal exchanges.  A serious social agenda, about helping the poor, but it's given the same treatment as every other element in the film--which means, no special emphasis, no undue dwelling on the subject, no mawkish appeals beyond the flat declaration.

Totally refreshing; William Powell is a mustachioed wonder and Carole Lombard, if anything, is even sexier here (that first kiss she gives Powell is one startling toe-curler) than in Lubitsch's "To Be Or Not To Be" (tho I prefer that film, overall). No they don't make em this brisk and bubbly any more and more's the pity.


Angels in America

Saw the first half of "Angels in America."

Best thing I can say about Mike Nichols is, he doesn't ruin it. The CGI entrances and exits of the apparitions are annoying, and the angel (who turns out to be Emma Thompson) isn't half as impressive as, say, Terry Gilliam's in "Brazil" (maybe they should have let him co-direct). This was all done onstage, presumably (I saw it in Manila, not Broadway), so Nichols could have at least asked the people who staged it how they did it...and done better by just following their lead.

Some of the staging seems so uninspired--the intercutting between the Mormon telling his wife he's gay and the gay man telling his dying lover he's leaving him, I remember that onstage as being gripping theater. It's good drama, still, but cutting between two scenes in a film/tv show, that's not realizing the potentials of either stage or film, it's just plain old crosscutting.

Can't help wondering how Altman might have handled this...his style onscreen seems already theatrical, all those wide shots of the cast onscreen, talking at the same time, all those sinuous long takes that seem to imitate the audience's eyes panning from one end of the stage to the other...Nichols directs like a TV movie director with a big budget, but not much more.

That said, it's still recognizably Kurshner's "Angels"--a recklessly ambitious, wonderfully imaginative, even poetic panorama of life in the Reaganist '80s, and if I wanted to be fair, I'd suppose it's thanks to Nichols that most of the cast is terrific--Pacino as Cohn, Justin Kirk, Mary Louise Parker, Ben Shenkman, Jeffrey Wright...even Meryl Streep, who I'm not especially fond of, does funny work in various roles, but especially as the prim-mouthed Ethel Rosenberg.

Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves specializes in one role, and that is The Surfer. No matter how high the wave, or how violent the waters, The Surfer always manages to ride it out.  He doesn't choose the wave, or the moment, or cause anything to happen; it all happens to him, and he simply rides it out with this serene look on his beautiful face.

That's what Reeve's career's built on--The Surfer's look.  From Bill and Ted to Point Break to Speed to Little Buddha to the Matrix movies, when climax time comes he flashes that look, and all is well.  That look has been interpreted as everything from the beginning of a retard's comprehension to a disicple's disillusionment to a police officer's realization (of a bomber's REAL trick) to Enlightenment to a man's epiphany that he is The One. The only thing that varies is the nature and intensity of the wave The Surfer rides, from film to film--from Death to villainous guru to mad bomber to the world as we know it to a worldwide computer.  It's his one trick, and his one genius is to build a career out of that trick.


Baby Doll

Oh, caught "Baby Doll" on TCM, and...

Well, I'm tempted to say that THIS is the best collaboration between Elia Kazan and Tennessee Williams I've ever seen.  I'm sure I'll be proven wrong, and another viewing of "A Streetcar Named Desire"'ll tell me that Marlon Brando's performance makes that film one for the ages, but "Streetcar" is so damned serious--"Baby Doll" doesn't have to prove anything, it doesn't drag along any of Williams' heavy themes the way "Streetcar" does; it's just a comedy, and as such is free to be as wildly grotesque as it likes. Caroll Baker puts on screen what Kubrick and Sue Lyon tried to do in "Lolita" only Baker radiates a whole other level of heat (Kubrick had to fall back on Peter Sellers, James Mason and Shelley Winters for comedy instead of sex), Wallach looks damned cool and confident as her Italian lover and Karl Malden I never liked better as the hapless bulldog husband.


The greatest science fiction film ever made

Found out my DVDs from Manila of Nausicaa and Mononoke work in my very expensive and not too versatile American player.

Lara (who grew up on these films) loves Nausicaa but considers Mononoke her favorite. I think it's as ambitious as ever, with a very intense first half, but the time roughly after Ashitaka takes Sen from Tataraba to the moment Eboshi fires at the Shishigami leaves me cold--too many characters, too many subplots to resolve satisfyingly...I know I'm in the minority on this...

And Nausicaa...aah, Nausicaa's just the greatest science fiction film ever made, is all.


Filipino films

Good Filipino flms are the ultimate arthouse films--they're difficult to find, almost impossible to get on DVD, VCD or VHS, and if you go anywhere in the world, especially New York, Paris, London, Tokyo, Rome, Berlin, Bombay or any of the other great film cities, you are instantly an expert.

Beyond that, there are so few good ones, much less great ones, that the great ones are like priceless gems--walang kapalit (there's no equal).

The Singing Detective

Am going through "The Singing Detective" again. I first saw it on PBS on a tiny 14 inch set with dubious color (it was secondhand), and I thought it was fantastic, maybe the best TV I've ever seen. Seeing it on DVD on a big screen, oh wow...

Ashamed to admit I'm using close-captioning, but Potter's words are such lovelies, I can't help not wanting to miss any of it...

Oh, Michael Gambon is a great actor. Absolutely. Up there with De Niro, Pacino and what have you.

When I finished the first disc (three hours), I ran through the commentary. A few gems:

Jon Amiel mentions Patrick Malahide's pithy summation of "Singing Detective:" "It's a psychological case study told as a detective thriller, then set to music."

Amiel also says of Gambon that the producer wanted Nicol Williamson (who's brilliant as Merlin in "Excalibur"), but that he insisted on Gambon because Williamson would have gotten Marlow's (the protagonist) sarcasm and eloquence and anger, but he'd never have broken your heart. Which Gambon does without the least sentimentality.

Finally, Amiel says of their first read-through of the script with the cast that, after the last line of dialogue was uttered, instead of the usual congratulations or compliments there was complete and utter silence. Amiel turned to look at Dennis Potter who was white as a sheet. Then Potter muttered: "Christ, I never realized how close I cut to the bloody bone."

The Least Samurai

Friday at Turner Classic Movies, Edward Zwick and Tom Cruise took over TCM and showed a whole slew of Kurosawa samurai movies--"Seven Samurai" (of course), "Yojimbo," "Throne of Blood," plus the odd
Gate of Hell," each of which they talked about with much enthusiasm and love.

Big mistake, I think. If Zwick, who I pretty much think is an inept director, wants his "Last Samurai" to come off as being at least passable, he shouldn't be reminding us of how GOOD a samurai movie can be. Just sitting down to a few moments of each film is enough to make me dissatisfied with anything else, even if Kurosawa rose up from the dead to try again...


Different film critics

Something I posted on the Movies and TV thread at www.pinoydvd.com, on film criticism:

If you study every aspect of the film thoroughly and are powerful enough to be sent to interview the filmmakers and stars and are diligent about watching all kinds of films, from Hollywood to foreign, from documentary to anime, but you're as sensitive as a block of concrete and can write about as well, filling out most of your article with a summary of the film's plot then almost always ending it with a rating of three stars or above, you're Roger Ebert.

If you have brilliant prose and can write witheringly and insultingly, bringing to your piece a wide-ranging background in literature and the various arts but basically don't even know the first thing about the art you ARE writing about, which is film, you're John Simon.

If you do know something about film and can string together a series of glittering witticisms that show off your omnivorous intelligence to its best advantage, even though you think the medium you're writing about is basically beneath you, you're Anthony Lane.

And if you're a Roger Ebert who can't even bother to study the film or do interviews, but just mainly pad out your column space with TV bloopers, you're Nestor Torre.


Clint Eastwood's Very Important Picture

Clint Eastwood's Mystic River is a serviceable film serving up a pretty good story. I like the way he lets the film unfold at a leisurely pace, but every time a big scene comes up--the kidnapping that opens up the film, for example, he slathers on the big orchestral music and has the camera lurch around in a stylish way.  I wish he'd just do what he does in the rest of the film, which is let the camera sit, more or less intelligently, and simply record what's going on.

The performances. Sean Penn has the showiest role, but I liked his quieter moments far better--like when he admits that his daughter scares him more than prison ever did, or when he simply reacts to a speech his wife gives, gratefully receiving her words of comfort to cover over the big gaping hole in his conscience. Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne are pretty good--Fishburne has a better role here than he ever had in the Matrix sequels, but the one I liked best was Tim Robbins.  Sure his character felt underwritten and didn't make sense, but he has the look of a victim just right--like someone carrying a dark, tight knot deep in his guts that he's afraid people can see, and just the effort of carrying this around, this shameful secret, bends his back and tires him even before he gets out of bed. 

The ending (skip if you plan to see the movie) pretty much flushes all that down the drain--I mean, if I were investigating and I was handed THAT as a final answer, I'd be suspicious immediately; more coincidences and unlikely happenings occur in two hours than in Oscar Wilde's entire body of work. And poor Laura Linney, who's in the background most of the film, suddenly comes forth and delivers an eloquently evil speech.  She delivers it well, it sends chills down your spine (and the way Penn receives it like lotion on a fresh sunburn is equally chilling), but where the hell did it come from?  If they at least established that Penn counts on Linney's advice, it would help; as it is...eh.

It's ambitious, it has its moments (particularly Penn confronting Robbins--okay, that had some suspense; I guess I much prefer the interrogation scene where Robbins outwits Bacon and Fishburne), and it's easily the best thing Eastwood's ever done.  But...would it be blasphemous to say I prefer the Looney Tunes movie?

Non-sexual fantasy

Another post in reply to a query about Lord of the Rings (funny how I seem to be bashing non-sensual films nowadays):

One of my major objections to a fantasy film like Lord of the Rings, or the books by Tolkien in general is that they may seem to be adult adventures, and have the maps and made-up language (complete with poetry) and detailed, made-up history to prove it, but they're not. And one reason is the lack of important roles for women or for sexuality in the films. If you compare LOTR to, say, the Arthurian legends, women are strictly in the sidelines, and are hardly looked at as women at all--at most they are brave soldiers or enduring nursemaids; you wouldn't know if there was a vagina in the lot, or if it ever lubricated.

Oh, people have pointed out that, say, Morgan le Fay was a negative stereotype...but she was central to Arthur's legend; Eowyn is a positive role model, but she's barely more than a stick figure, albeit a positive one. You might argue that Galadriel is crucial, but the most she does is provide Frodo with a glorified flashlight to scare the big spider with; it's not a crucial role, and I think not an especially memorable one.

People have pointed out the sensuality of Gollum's hunger--sure, it's the best thing in the film and novel. Actually, about the few characters I still find interesting in either films or novels are those that give any evidence of having any genitals: Gollum, Saruman...Aragorn suggests he has a pair, but mainly in battle (he's queer that way); even his love for that lily-livered fairy is as chaste as driven snow. Sauron--fughedaboudit; he's a flame at the end of a gas pipe leak, and about as scary.

Which is why the only franchise I'm really looking forward to is the third Harry Potter flick.

Kubrick, Or: How I learned to be scared of sex and make millions off of my fear

Here's a paraphrase of something I posted on indiefilpino, in response to Alex Tioseco's post (his statements in quotes) about the lack of sex in Kubrick's films, and someone else's post about the lack of sex in Mike de Leon's films:

Sex--or the fear of it, is crucial to a film like Mike de Leon's "Kisapmata;" Mike is more like Hitchcock--it's what he's TRYING not to say that makes him so interesting.

You get the impression that (Kubrick)'s not just not afraid (of sex), he's not interested at all. Makes you wonder if his kids are adopted.

"judge him not on what he left out but what was included"

I don't know, I wouldn't do it on principle, it would depend on the film.

"Did you think any sex scenes should have been included in a specific film?"

Well, sensuality. Take the rape in (Kubrick's) "Clockwork Orange" vs. the one in (Sam Peckinpah's) "Straw Dogs." "Clockwork" has two of em, of radically different designs, and pretty much imaginatively staged; "Straw Dogs" only has one, but it's of such sensual power that I for one was turned on, and that is disturbing. I can see what the man is doing is wrong, but my getting a hardon in the process drives home the fact that the rapist may not feel the same sense of repulsion, but instead hunger. It's worse than what Kubrick does, which is to stand from a great height and put a magnifying glass on the scene; in Straw Dogs, you feel like you're sticking it in her yourself.

And as I've noted in "Eyes Wide Shut," the comedy is in Tom Cruise not getting any for most of the night; but it would be an even better comedy if there was anything that was actually tempting--the nude show Kubrick puts on is so inept it's laughable. He can't seem to stage a sexy moment to save his life (may be one reason why in "Lolita" the comedy is emphasized), and it's a serious weakness. Sex is a major part of life as we know it.


Thanksgiving feast

Haven't tried this:


But I have tried deer penis wine.  Literally,  wine with a deer's penis pickled inside.  Tony Bourdain had this in a recent episode in Singapore, too. Copycat.


A secret

Wanna know one secret to writing? Walk.

Yeah, that's it, walk.  An hour a day, at least, every day.  Get out of your damned car, and just walk.  Stop once in a while to hear, smell, see things. For an hour, at least.

The best scriptwriter in the local film industry, Mario O'Hara does this.  He walks everywhere, around Makati, Malate, Quiapo, Binondo, Escolta.  He can be seen commuting up and down Manila in a jeep--not his jeep, a passenger jeep.  He pretty much knows the bus network of this city.  He's the only Filipino filmmaker I know that does this (even Lino Brocka has a car--well, O'Hara drives a van, but only on special occasions, like an out-of-town shoot), maybe the only filmmaker in the world that does this.  That's how he came up with the scripts for films like "Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang" (You Were Judged and Found Wanting), "Bakit Bughaw ang Langit" (Why the Sky is Blue?), and "Babae sa Bubungang Lata" (Woman on a Tin Roof), among others. He looks at the people around him, listens to them, puts them in his screenplays.

And I'll tell you another little secret: "Insiang," considered by many to be Lino Brocka's masterpiece (including myself, over the I think overrated "Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag" (Manila in the Claws of Neon), and perhaps the finest, tightest Filipino film script ever written, was inspired by what happened to O'Hara's backyard neighbors.

O'Hara walks, that's his secret. Oh, it's not the basis for some of his wilder flights of imagination, in films like "Mortal" or "Pangarap ng Puso" (Demons), but it's the basis of his understanding of people.  By being among them.


Finest kind

So someone at pinoydvd forum asked: what is it, primarily, that you judge a director by?

- Ability to tell a story?
- Bringing out the best in actors?
- Way with the camera?
- Editing?
- Originality of vision or technique?
- Others?

I realize it's normally "all of the above." But, if you don't mind, which aspect of directorial work do you prioritize?

My answer:

That's hard to say, really.  Kael called it a "film sense" which is really a made-up term she uses that she has to qualify so much it's pretty much useless.  I think sticking to one virtue or another and holding it high above all else limits one's way of thinking to the point that one's preferences are influenced, which is what I don't want to happen. 

I just like their films; that comes first; then I have to explain why.  Their films have to interest me, for one reason or another; I guess that's the ultimate criteria to me: the ability to arouse and sustain interest.  Which, again, has to be qualified so much that as a criteria it's also pretty much useless.  Better to read my thoughts on a filmmaker than have me check off his qualities on a list.


Magdalene Sisters (Part 2)

(Read previous post)

And while the nuns were wonderfully played (McEwan was the best of a fine lot), I would have like to have seen more of their side--how do they form their opinion of the girls, how do they justify their sadism?  Showing their side would have again helped give the film more texture, make it more than the mere anti-Catholic Church, pro-feminist screed that it seems to be. This one-sidedness is especially felt in that scene where one of the girls stands up to Sister Bridget after Crispin was taken away, and she has a brief attack of self-doubt.  If we knew more of what went on in her head, that moment could have been more powerful. As it is, it seemed puzzling--surely she knew about the abuses Crispin was subject to, or at least purposely turned a blind eye towards it?  Why the crisis of conscience?

And maybe my biggest complaint would be reserved for the end titles.  I've always thought end titles (where are they now?) should only be used when depicting actual people; otherwise, you're claiming a realism that just isn't there, and Mullan seems to be saying that his characters are composites. I disliked it as far back as American Graffiti, I disliked it in something as recent as Three Kings, and I certainly dislike it here. 

The Magdalene Sisters (part 1)

This is a movie I would love to love, mainly for confirming what I suspect about nuns all along, that they're Nazis with a serious sadistic streak.

The performances ARE strong; of the generally excellent cast, I'd single out Britta Smith as Katy, the elderly, rather simpleminded inmate, and the thoroughly courageous Eileen Wash as Crispina. And Mullan was good enough to relate the existence of the convent and its practices to the general community, who condone such things happening (or at least condone sweeping girls away into places where such things can happen). That moment when Margaret hesitates before the open door is telling: she knows if she gets out she has nowhere outside to run to. The surrounding community is every bit an extension of the convent.

But it struck me the wrong way, somehow, starting from the moment one of the girls has an interview with Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan) and she counts money right in front of her.  First, I wouldn't dare count money where someone in front of me could pick up a bill from the desk when I wasn't looking; second, it seemed like a hamhanded way of saying "yes, we're in this for the money," which Mullan suggests isn't true anyway, or tries to.

And I'd like to have seen more complexity in the characters.  Were all the girls on one side and all the nuns on the other?  I would imagine there was bullying even among the girls, cliques formed, loyalties and enemies made.  As is, they had a few spats, and maybe Katy sucked up to her superiors, but by and large they were all united against the nuns.  Can it have been as simple as that?

Quentin Taranwhatsisname

Nicked a copy of The New Yorker from a doctor's office (what, you think I'm going to actually spend money on an issue? Come to think of it, a doctor that reads The New Yorker...?), and it turned out to be their movie issue. 

Enjoyed an article on Pauline Kael by a former Paulette--he keeps sounding like a rehab alumnus confessing and ultimately condemning his hidden vice. Enjoyed even more an article on writers wrangling over the writing credit on the Hulk movie--they should have taken their cue from Gore Vidal, who won his suit to have his name added to the credits of "The Sicilian;" when he actually saw the movie, he called his lawyer and said "get my name off this piece of shit!"

Then there was this long, fawning article on Quentin Tarantino. Early on Tarantino acknowledges Jean Luc Godard as one of his early heroes, which is only right and proper; then the article goes on to say "he has now outgrown Godard," which had me howling till I fell off my seat.  You don't outgrow Godard; you can only attempt to use what he's developed intelligently, in the hope of not disgracing his name with the association, acknowledging that such is not always the case.. 

The article continues: "Godard was, in the end, too breezy, too detached, too motiveless, too delicate, too French to serve as a model (for Tarantino)."  No, of course not; Tarantino merely borrowed Godard's bags of tricks and instead of investigating the nature of cinema and huiman behavior with them, used them to build a rickety altar of cool over which he can preside, wobblingly.  It's no a growing beyond, it's a regressing beneath. It's using high tech weaponry to crack open a walnut.


Mah Tricks Lava Lotion (Part 2)

(Please read previous post)

Meanwhile, inside the human city Chiong, got one garang leader called Mui-fan. He organised his band of fighters. The lobots then break into the city. Mui-fan end up being leftover rice instead. Then got more fighting scene and got two woman tag-team bazooka like WWE. Big long fight. At the same time, Niao tok-kok with this giant machine (made of small lobot) called Door Macham Ex to make deal. Door Macham Ex okay, you kill Agent Simi. I flee human.

Niao kena jacked in and fight Agent Simi in the rain.

After fighting until even my cock sian by half, Niao finally allow Agent Simi to take over him. Door Macham Ex then sends power surge to Niao, killing both Niao and Agent Simi. The rest of the Agent Simi all die, leaving a lot of puzzled people asking,"Simi?" Mor-peng and Nah-beh then give group hug saying they are saved because of Niao.

Orkang, and that KFC man come back. Mah-Trix then get Lee-loaded. Black cat again. After a while, KFC man says,"Ko kwa simi lan cheow! Movie liao lah! Go home!"

Mah Tricks Lava Lotion (part 1)

Singapore Coffee Shop Talk- Matrix Revolution: The Ah Beng Review:

Last night, I go with my Ah Lian to see Mah-Tricks: Lava-lotion. This is my long and short (but my Ah Lian always says I long wan ha-ha).

Niao wake up in Mobil Petrol Station - cannot get out. Have to wait for latex wearing Titties and kwa-simi-lc Mor-peng. Tit and Mor-peng go see the black lady, Orkang. Orkang says "Niao boh lui pay petrol so kena confined at Mobil." Tit and Mor-peng then go see guy at Hell club called French Kiss -- pay extra attention to Hell club where his char borh with big boobs that can occupy whole screen till you can salivate. French Kiss sez, "gimme Orkang's eyes." Tit says "you tokking more kok some more, I give you eat bullet." French Kiss boh pian and let Tit and Mor-peng win. Niao then gets free when tots and Mor-peng come with train. He go see Orkang and wakes up from coma.

Orkang kena take over by Agent Simi. Agent Simi laughs, showing nice white teeth -- advertisement for Darlie toothpaste. Tit and Niao then sex again. So horny this couple.

Niao say he want to go Machine Shitty. Mor-peng's char bor, Nah-beh says, "Take me!" (I think she say take her ship but close enough). Niao then take his ah lian, Tittity to machine shitty. On the way, the chao kwan, Beng, fight with Niao. Niao kena blinded but Beng dies. Nah-beh and bf, Mor-peng take another ship to rescue their own city, Chiong, fighting lobot along the way. Sibeh exciting. Above ground, Niao explode more and more lobot, they fly to sky but in the end, crash, killing his beloved ah lian, Tittity. Niao supposed to cry until no bak sai but he is blind - so dunno really crying or not or because his eyes still pain.


Fire Department barbecue

Garner once said: no commerical establishment is ever going to win a face off with any local fire department.

That's prolly an exaggeration, but the Lumberton Rescue Team's fundraising barbecue doesn't suck (else they'd have run out of funds long ago).  Cars lined up down the block; you handed them five bucks, they handed you a styrofoam box--two in my case, a barbecue plate and a fried chicken plate.

Inside was unusually spicy cole slaw, white bread (remarkable stuff; like a sheet of softest cotton with a leather border sewn in); a generous pile of decent gas-grilled, hickory-chip-smoked barbecue, prolly the best the little town has to offer--chewy, juicy salty, only the slightest hint of tang. The chicken plate was even better, with a tart potato salad, some kind of pink pound cake (strawberry flavored, I think which the wife liked very much--but she's expecting, so I'm not too sure of her tastes); and juicy chicken with crisp skin and an indefinable, unforgettble flavor--when I asked one fireman the secret he pointed me to a meat shop in Martin Luther King Drive that sold the mix. Having visited several North Carolinian cities I couldn't help noticing that avenues named after Mr. King aren't in the best of shape.  I'll still have to visit, if I want that mix...and I think I want that mix.  


Matrix Revolutions

Saw it. Makes "Lord of the Rings" look good, and I don't like "Lord of the Rings." 

The Wachowskis (you might not want to read this if you haven't seen the movie, or plan to see it) go the LOTR route, with a big battle up front and a Hail Mary pass going in the back (only the Frodo on secret mission here packs a liddle more firepower). 

The battles SHOULD be impressive, if only we could see for ourselves, clearly, the importance of that dock there in Zion or whatever it is, the capabilities of Machine City's sentinels or whatever they are, and the abilities of the APUs, or whoever was manning them.  And if we could see, clearly, what was going on.  But no, it's all CGI, and the Wachowskis are too much in love with that damned roller-coaster type shot, where the camera goes up and down and swishes right and left, and you FEEL like you're in a coaster.  Which is pretty exciting--back when it was first done, years ago (I can't even remember the first time I've seen this shot, it's been done so many times).  Entire batles, several of them, take that kind of point-of-view, enough to put you to sleep several times over.

It makes you appreciate what Peter Jackson did with "Lord of the Rings."  There, he kept the coaster shots to a minimum and the camera well back, the better to see the lay of the land and general situation. If I were to sum up the difference between the Wachowski's visual strategy and Jackson's when it comes to heavily CGI'd battles, Jackson uses the camera as if he were filming old-fashioned battle sequences, with real extras crawling over real landscapes, while the Wachowskis tie their camera to a (virtual) high-tech train track and watch it go chugging round and round. 

(This may sound as if I actually like LOTR but Jackson's sins are on a different level--a lack of irreverence that takes any surprise or freshness out of a remarkably unsophisticated story some half a century old.)

The ending is what Richard Fleischer might have done with the Superman sequel if he had the budget and techonology, but not the breezy, lighthearted wit.  Give me wit over budget and technology anytime.


Tanging Ina: recent hit Filipino film considered (Part 1)

Wenn V. Deramas' "Tanging Ina" is a surprisingly supple, surprisingly well-made, comedy that turns on the acting and comedy talents of the decidedly unglamorous Ai-Ai de Las Alas. Ai-Ai is an odd combination: generous bosom and glamour-girl legs attached to cartoon face and horsey jaw; you can see why men would find her attractive enough to make their wife, the same time God would find her funny-looking enough to act as butt to some of his less kindly jokes.


The first twenty minutes are the film's high point. Deramas uses the standard tropes of Filipino comedy: speeded-up slapstick, absurdist imagery, semaphoring silent acting; what distinguishes her use of these devices from the usual Filipino comedy director's is that it's all in the service of creating a genuinely complex and fairly original comic character: the mother as hapless creature of fate, doing her best to keep her sizable chin above the water as she marries one husband after another, is widowed in a number of rather ingenious ways (one drops dead from a heart attack; another falls from the balcony of a movie theater during a stampede; yet another is electrocuted at their wedding reception), each leaving her with a number of children.

Tanging Ina (Part 2--Please read previous post first)

Along the way Deramas (using a script from Mel Mendoza del Rosario--one of the better comedy writers working in the industry today--and Keiko Aquino) scores a few satiric points: the tendency of Filipinos to produce unbelievably large families (Ai-Ai eventually ends up with an even dozen kids), the mad scramble for decent jobs in an increasingly indecent economy; the value put on displayable material wealth and "face," or surface respectability. Some of the better jokes include Ai-Ai naming her children after numbers (Juan (Marvin Agustin), after "one;" Portia (Heart Evangelista) shortened from "por" or "four"); Dennis Padilla as her latest suitor, a taxi driver with an appealingly maniacal twinkle in his eye and a penchant for showing up in his knight-errand taxi at the right place and the right time; and, of course, the film's title, which literally means "true Mother," the same time it's a pun on an obscenity that means: "whore mother."


The film doesn't sustain the comic momentum: about two-thirds of the way the picture seriously sags from all the tearjerking drama, meant to underline Ai-Ai's plight and suffering (they could have underlined it and still made it funny). Some of the satire isn't as pointed as it could be--Heart Evengelista could have really gone to town on her materialistic Portia, who expects her mother to fork out enough cash for her swanky debut birthday party, but other than some deft slapstick she does little else; no connection is made between Ai-Ai's troubles and the Catholic Church's medieval policies on birth control; and an incident involving a terrorist bomber seems to come out of left field if one isn't familiar with the turmoil that embroiled Manila at the time the film was made (some political context would have been welcome). Still, this is a film with serious targets that it manages to skillfully skewer at least half the time (most Filipino satires nowadays seem too broad, or miss their targets entirely); and in terms of general quality it stands head and shoulders above the standard-issue "toilet humor" or "tits-and-ass" slapstick.


North Carolinian Barbecue (Part 4)

Okay, Wilber's in Goldsboro is the fattiest, Allen & Son the smokiest, Murray's in Raleigh the saltiest--but they're all superb barbecue, coarse-chopped, pit-cooked.


Murray's is a humble white cinder-block building, with a parking lot full of secondhand cars and pickup trucks and the odd BMW. Plates of paper, forks and spoons of plastic, but the pulled pork is first class--a heap of steaming-hot, juicy, well-salted cue, nicely vinegared and pepper-flaked, and marvelously al dente.


The sides go well with the cue: boiled potatoes in melted butter; string beans; perfectly sweetened cole slaw, dark sweet tea, rich Brunswick stew sweetened with fresh corn, and since it's Monday, huge brontosaurous ribs, a huge rack chopped in half and dropped on your table with an audible ka-thump! The tips are toasted to a flavorsome crisp, the base is wrapped in meat that in terms of tenderness could give the cue a run for its money.


I talked to Murray, a nice old man who stands behind the cash register (and cleans up the tables when the other servers are busy), and told him I went some ninety miles to eat at his place; he said he gets customers from Florida, New York, Canada. I told him this has to be better known in places like Europe and Asia; they just don't get the concept of barbecue, not the way it's eaten in North Carolina. He confirms the place is the only one that still cooks over a wood burning pit in Raleigh, and when he retires, there'll be no one left in the city.  Which is kind of sad.  But for today, I eat like a god--a pork-loving one, anyway.

North Carolinian Barbecue (Part 3)

Allen & Son's at Chapel Hill has pork shoulders cooked slow over hickory logs and hand chopped and it's so good it'll make you swear off vegetables forever. Intense hickory-smoke flavor, with the meat just dripping with fat, it's in the same league as Wilber's in Goldsboro, I think (just found out Goldsboro had a great barbecue joint as early as the 1930's--what is it with these North Carolinian small towns? Durham and Raleigh are far bigger and ostensibly more significant communities than Goldsboro and Chapel Hill, and there reportedly isn't a decent barbecue joint between them). Wilber's is tenderer and juicier, but that hickory flavor--as if they had smoked my tongue in hickory for hours I can't get rid of the memory of it; it's like if I died and was buried, people would pause by my grave to salivate.

Crisp hush puppies the size of golf balls and a hell of a lot sweeter; amazing baked beans; fries from potatoes cut with skin on and cooked a dark brown; a pound cake with cream cheese icing to die for, served hot with a crisp crust rounding the edges. I don't know if it gets any better than this.

North Carolinian Barbecue (Part 2)

(Read previous post)

North Carolinian cue is really something else--I like the elemental simplicity of it, the emphasis on pork as the prime ingredient. The toasty skin added occasionally is very nice, though not as nice as we're used to in Manila--weeks-old porker roasted whole, entire skin perfectly crisp and glistening with fat. The Cebu version is even better, rubbed with salt and stuffed so full of lemongrass you don't need any sauce at all.

But the Manila lechon is slathered with a thick and sweet liver sauce; this Carolinian version, with its pepper and vinegar taste (especially the bottle I bought from Wilber's), that's a huge improvement on the meat. This isn't good eats, this is great eats.

North Carolinian barbecue (part 1)

Last summer we went to New Bern, birthplace of Pepsi, and they had some nice eateries there, if expensive. Pepsi tasted same there as everywhere else.

Along the way we tried a few barbecue joints. King's Barbecue was an improvement over the cue we eat in our little town here. They served it on buffet on a bed of its own skin, crisped and laid whole on the table. If you dig down to where the meat is marinating on the skin's underfat, it's very juicy indeed.

Moore's Old Tyme Barbecue in New Bern had even better cue, cooked (at least partly) over coals. That was a revelation; North Carolinian cue for me was usually the vinegary Smithfield's. There's a place here called Fuller's with a buffet, but it's finely chopped almost into threads, and you got to dig in for the juicier meat (Fuller's okra deep-fried in fatback, however, was to die for, sweet, crisp, and salty).

On the way back from New Bern we dropped by Goldsboro. Tried McCall's and  loved the succulent deep-fried scallops the size of a gold doubloon (why is seafood always deep-fried around here?), tried the cue ordered from the kitchen, not off the buffet, and it was even better than Moore's, fully pit-cooked, juicy and rough-chopped.

Then we dropped by this place called Wilber's. Not far from McCall's--I'd say a few hundred feet down and across the road. Small rooms, nothing big like in McCall's, and the meat I ordered hardly tasted like it had sauce at all. But it was delicious--pit-cooked smoky, buttery-fat, mixed with deliciously crisp brown edges, or outside-brown I think they're called. Add the sauce (I bought a bottle) and it's perfect, peppery and tart to the tongue.


Marinara sauce

I usually start with a big stewpot on medium heat--less splatter that way. Pour olive oil in a circular motion, twice, and call that two tablespoons. Toss in onions, chopped, and garlic, crushed and chopped. Toss in about a half-pound of chopped hamburger (the generic "burger" is a mix of odd bits of everything: sirloin, ribeye, you name it; it's actually pretty good stuff, all mixed up) with some mild Italian sausage chopped and mixed in. Sprinkle some salt, and fresh-ground pepper, and saute, stirring occasionally, until browned.

A can of tomato paste--paste has very little sodium, I noticed--and several cans of water (two to four, depending on mood). Tip over a bottle of Chianti; stop when I feel like it. Toss in a bouquet garnish of basil and oregano stems, the thread tying them together hanging over the pot's edge. Add two tablespoons brown sugar--don't know why, it just tastes better that way.

Simmer on medium low, some twenty minutes. Remove the bouquet. Stir in freshly grated parmesan--half a cup, more if I'm feeling industrious. Stir in at least half a cup of fresh-chopped basil and oregano. Add salt and pepper if needed.

About the time I add tomato paste I put a stockpot three-fourths filled with water to boil; the water's usually roiling by the time I toss in the herbs.  I put in salt--lots of it--drop the dried pasta in, cook till recommended time, dump in a colander to drain.

Serve IMMEDIATELY, while pasta is hot. Fork some pasta in a bowl, add sauce, grind some pepper and grate some cheese over it, eat with grape juice (can't do wine anymore).



Second entry


Still nothing to say.

More later.  I guess.


First Entry



Nothing to write. Maybe later.