The Fearless Vampire Killers

Looked at Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers again and it's a near-silent wonder: a minimum of dialogue and plenty of Polanski's handheld camera shots, the visual equivalent of a free-floating anxiety (you know something bad's going to happen, you're just not sure from what direction, what form it will take, or why). It's horribly hilarious, or hilariously horrifying--the kind of mix of visual wit and the supernatural that he doesn't quite get right in The Ninth Gate. Has to have been an inspiration for much of Joss Whedon's career.


The Devil's Rejects

Finally caught up with Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects, and it's surprisingly a lot better than I would expect it to be--which isn't saying all that much. Unlike his previous film, which looks like it was pureed, this one actually seems to transform that footage-in-a-blender into a distinctively disorienting style that actually adds to the tension, not fritter it away through sheer pointlessness. Also helps that he's doing homages along the way of telling a fairly original story, not stealing entire sequences from his favorite redneck gothic (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in particular).

That said, it's not exactly a good picture, much less an unsettling one; too many complications, too much fuss. I'm thinking of Michael Haneke's Funny Games, where a pair of youths torment a family at home, and does so with far less fuss and bother.


Stardust Memories

Stardust Memories isn't all that bad; I remember reading about how the critics hated the way Allen seemed to turn upon his core audience and send them up, but no one seems to point out that Allen mercilessly caricatures the character he's playing as well (he's on record as saying it isn't autobiographical, none of it is). If the world seems hostile and incomprehensible to Sandy, that's his point of view; he refuses to understand the world, or to admit that maybe it's not all about him.

Maybe where I'd fault it is in the way it evokes its models so religously: Fellini of course, but for some weird reason I keep seeing Fellini strained through the sensibility of a Bergman, or Allen's idea of Bergman--circus grotesquerie framed by Swedish severity, in short, a weird combination. Big mistake; he evokes Fellini and Bergman, but can't make them his own, or can't come up with equivalent images or moments that would rival the films he's trying to emulate--it remains borrowed Fellini, secondhand Bergman. Gordon Willis' black and white work here is gorgeous, however--maybe his best work aside from the Godfather films.


King Kong '05 is a video game!

From award-winning independent filmmaker Noel F. Lim

"Give me WILLIS O BRIEN and RAY HARRYHAUSEN and Jim Danforth anytime.Yes this KONG is much spectacular! YES it has more fight scenes! Yes this film is designed for the drooling idiots with sorround home theaters who's concept of a good movie is enough explosions and sub whoofer THUDS to make their speakers earn their keep.All STRUM and DANG but man no magic! Just because we have digital cg technology doesnt mean we have the RIGHT to remake or even have the audacity to think that we can best the original.Yeah yeah yeah there's motion capture and new texturing programs for minute close-ups of real fur. But it doesnt compare with the bristling effect that O brien accidentaly gave the 31 kong due to the stop motion technique. Accidental but still very intersting.

"On the onset I wasn' t hot about a digtal Kong. I saw Mighty joe young and i thought, " Now that looks like a real giant gorrila that they just superimposed on the footage. the same way with the new KONG. He's too real!I agree with ray harryhausen that the beauty of  stop motion is that it's not too perfect that it becomes mundane! There's a sense of the unreal. It has a dream like effect. Thats why when you have cg dinosaurs comming at you, " Hey it's just another rabid dog or lion.It Doesnt have thatagain, Dream like or nightmarish quality that O brien and Harryhausen unleased on us.

"Jackson's film is a giant videogame.it is designed like a thrill ride but nothing more. Those quiet moments between Watts and Kong were plopped in to make us think its anything but a videogame movie.Everything has been REVVVED  UP! Why settle for one T-REX when you can cut and paste three more? Why have just one brontosaurus when you can have an entire herd.

"For all the glitz and glam they put , nobody even had the idea of changing the dinosaur sounds. Its like its been lifted from Jurrasic park.

"And JACK BLACK? I'd take the orginal Denham anytime.

"The entire first half of the film was so totally useless! Oh yeah Jackson defenders would come out of the wod work and scream, " ITS CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT! " Well, looooooong film scenes that arent action scenes are not necessarily character development scenes. And those slapstick moments were very painful to watch.

"Just because the extended long scenes worked for Lord of the rings doesnt mean it'll work for KING KONG. The former's a literary beast that weighed how many pounds. It's world creation for crying out loud.While KONG...its just KONG and the dinosaurs!


In the Mouth of Madness and Rasen

Two other films:

While John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness may be his most out-and-out suspenseful (at least at this pont of his career), In the Mouth of Madness is arguably his most unsettling, mainly because it has a taste--a hint--of real insanity in it. Sam Neil isn't as engaging in it as I'd like--not his fault, I suspect, he's usually interesting to watch--but the narrative makes interesting loop-de-loops with itself, and causes the hero to end up in what you might call a 'metaphysical moment,' laughing at himself in a moment of black despair.

Rasen was the other sequel to Nakata's Ringu--it basically took up the novel by Koji Suzuki and reconciled the novel's storlyine with the changes Nakata made (in the novel there was no videotape or TV set involved). It was made with Ringu's cast but not director, and was a flop, causing the producers to call back Nakata to make Ringu 2, (the story of which had nothing to do with Suzuki's novel).

The story seems all over the place, as it makes hash of the rules set up by the first film. Then it all comes together and shows us Suzuki's entire vision, not of Sadako taking simple revenge, but of her plan to conquer the world (the title is a clever reflection of the film's plot: where Ringu (or 'Ring') suggests that Sadako's vengeance will go round and round in circles, limited by the actual handover of the videotape, Rasen, meaning 'spiral,' suggests that Sadako has found the means to break out of the circle).

It's an odd trade: in place of Nakata's trademark sense of creeping dread and slowly mounting tension, you have instead a science-fiction drama (I'd like to say 'science fiction thriller' since this is what the story seems to want to be, or is structured to be, only there are precious few thrills here) with a touch of Faust involved. The chills are there, but subtler, more moral and philosophical.


Demons, Lilya 4-Ever, Psych-Out, Carnival of Souls

More stuff I can only mention in passing:

Demons--didn't read the credits carefully enough; turned out this was only produced by Dario Argento and directed by Lamberto Bava. It's a real mess, even by the standards of Italian horror, which isn't famous for watertight, logical plotting. The demons--mainly zombies that move faster and snarl louder--have the kind of makeup the lazier and less imaginative kids in kindergarden do with hands and fingers, mainly gross-out goo and bubbly stuff coming out of odd orifices. Most of its good ideas are stolen from Romero, which I wouldn't mind, only they could at least have done Romero the honor of doing something decent with what they'd stolen. I returned Demons 2 unwatched, first time I ever done so to a Netflix DVD, solely because of the sheer awfulness of this picture.

Lilya 4-Ever is the kind of film where the director thinks a shaky hand-held camera denotes gritty realism and jump-cuts denote a restless, ultramodern sensibility. It's the story of a girl abandoned by her mother and gradually ground into the dirt, a classic plotline for the likes of Lars Von Trier; it differs from Von Trier in that the script is actually solid--the heroine's fall is carefully plotted out and persuasively executed, you don't see the filmmaker cheat on details just so he can go straight to the sadism and cruelty; the suffering is honestly earned (or at least as honestly as I can see). Maybe the only thing unconvincing about it is the relationship between girl and her mother; if the mother is such a bitch towards the girl all the time, something suggested by the way she treats and talks to her daughter and by hints dropped by an equally unsympathetic aunt, then the girl should be tougher, more independent, more prepared to be left to herself. Good film; I only wish the director didn't feel the need to make his film look so damned fashionable.

Psych-Out was on the flip side of DVD of The Trip, and I assumed it to be yet another Corman quickie, but it turned out to have been directed by Richard Rush, with Laszlo Kovacs as cinematographer. It was a chance to see the difference between a brilliant producer and cunning director like Corman and a real filmmaking talent like Rush; the imagery is more fluid, the colors (thanks to Kovacs) brighter, more intense. Kovacs notes in the 'making-of' documentary the use of racking focus, to link together a series of images in a single shot--you see this in the scene where a long string of beads is taken up and tangled over the furniture, stairway, everything--hallucinatory imagery with only a minimum of special effects.

Finally saw Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls, and I think I need to revise my list of all-time favorite horror films (not immediately; have to mull this over a bit). Part of what makes Harvey's film so great is that he takes even his neophyte ineptness (he's done many instructional films, apparently, but this is his one and only feature) and makes it part of the film's unsettling atmosphere. It's as if god were telling you a story and getting it wrong somehow--as if he were suffering from memory lapses or schizophrenia, and it was affecting his sense of and narrative. There's also the suggestion that the heroine, Mary Henry (Candace Hilligloss, in her first ever film performance, so strong you wish she made a career out of it (she made only one other film afterwards)) is having trouble waking up from a fevered dream, is confusing her waking life with that of a dream--something we all might have felt at one time or another, when we've been up all night or have slept too long.

The Saltair Amusement Park is a tremendous location, all those enormous, empty buildings made lonelier and more depressing by the fact that they were designed for the delight of huge crowds. The finale is perhaps one of the most memorable horror fantasias I've ever seen, about as close to the experience of a nightmare as anything I can remember.


Christmas Eve dinner

Night before Christmas Eve, I took out twelve small lamb chops, drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled them with chopped garlic, and laid them to marinate between sprigs of rosemary. Turned them over once in the morning.

Evening of the day itself, put a big pan on medium high heat, poured off the olive oil, scraped off the garlic, put aside the sprigs, seasoned the chops with kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper, then panfried them in their own oil marinade, two minutes on each side, four at a time. While cooking the second side I added a bit of the chopped garlic and rosemary to cook a little. Set the chops aside, and garnished them with the garlic, now toasted, browned rosemary sprigs, and the oil they cooked in.

Served with hot french bread and butter, and a salad made of baby spinach, mandarin orange slices, and a dressing of extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, kosher salt, fresh-cracked pepper, mustard, honey, a splash of orange juice and a crushed garlic clove.

Easy to prepare, and quick to cook (if you don't consider the marinade time). The lambs came out a crusty brown with a juicy dark-pink interior and a fragrant herbed-garlic scent. Went well with the hot, crusty bread (perfect for sopping up the garlicky olive oil) and crisp salad.


Paisan (Roberto Rossellini)

Roberto Rossellini's Paisan (1946) is superb, using non-actors in the most wretched of shooting conditions with barely any budget and somehow coming out with a work of art. 

The original script (co-written by Federico Fellini) was written as a tribute to American soldiers who died liberating Italy, but in Rossellini's hands, it's something richer and more ambiguous--a series of encounters between two cultures and all the friction, irony, humor, bitterness, and even love that might result from such encounters.  The Italians are often bemused, even startled at the Americans' energy, integrity and, at times, nobility; the Americans discover something old and basic and simple, even spiritual, in their Italian colleagues.  Both come away often sadder, sometimes a little wiser. 

It's made up of six stories.  The first, between an Italian girl left alone in an abandoned castle with an American soldier (both not knowing the other's language) has an awkward tenderness (even the American's clumsy line readings--actually, few of the American actors here are any good--somehow adds to his sincerity).

The second, about a black MP who catches a street urchin, shows remarkable restraint, in that it ends exactly where it should end, without any additional comment on the matter.  Incidentally, the ruins around which the story is set are incredible; you'd need a budget in the tens of millions of postwar dollars to achieve the same effect (today, you'd have to use CGI...which would make a remake anything except neorealist).  All Rossellini had to do is set up and roll his camera...

In the Rome sequence a soldier falls in love with a girl, is called away, looks for the girl some months later but can't find her, is picked up by a prostitute, tells her his story, whereupon the prostitue recognizes herself as the girl in his story.  Hoary, but it's a variation on the old legend about Da Vinci using a beautiful model for the face of Jesus, spending years trying to find a face decrepit enough for Judas, finding it in some wretched prison, then realizing it's the same model.  Human faces change, Rossellini seems to be telling us, sometimes drastically.

There's a harmless little interlude in a monastery--funny and even poignant, if you still have faith in God.  There's an extraordinary thriller sequence where an American nurse looks for her Italian lover through streets still being fought over by partisans and Nazis, the whole thing built up from nothing more than a series of well-edited shots, music, and judicious use of silence and sound effects (machine gun rattles, bullet ricochets).

Finally there's the Po river sequence.  Warfare alongside a riverbank isn't something we often see in World War 2 movies, and the visual record Rossellini gives us of this particular riparian battle (the crouched way the soldiers move through the reeds, the peculiar, slow motion quality of fighting on boats) is reason enough to watch the film.  The ending is--well, I won't say more, but it's killer conclusion, and a fitting way to end the picture.


King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005)

King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005)

Additonal comments from a_film by:

Incidentally, I remember reading that gorilla penises average around an inch or an inch and a half; if Jackson's anatomically correct Kong at twenty-five feet is four times the size of a six-foot man, his schlong's going to be four, six inches, tops. He's not going to impress anyone watching him on the big screen. Except maybe Tom Cruise.

As I wrote in the article the '33 Kong I don't really consider a gorilla--more a cross between a gorilla, a demonic anthropoid, and the accumulation of the filmmakers' pulp nightmares. So if he has a two-foot male organ, I'm perfectly willing to buy that; he's more of a sexual threat to Fay Wray than he is to Naomi Watts, who considers him A Beautiful Soul (up volume the sound of a plaintive violin).

Strangely enough, the version that does fullest (if still inadequate) justice to the natives is the '76 version: it at least had a scene where Jeff Bridges tells us the natives will miss Kong--he was their source of mystery and grandeur. That went a long way in explaining why they did what they did, even gave a psychological dimension to their collective character.

I don't like the '76 version much, but I do like that cast much better--Lange's blonde, Bridges' sub Kong, even Grodin's oil executive has more scale and megalomania than Black's clueless filmmaker.


War of the Worlds: Spielberg vs. Welles vs. Wells

From Forum With No Name:

DJ Joe: War of The Worlds -This new version does a great job of conveying the menace of the aliens.It was neat to watch an invasion story from the ground- no war rooms,no cutaways to news coverage- just a man and his family adjusting to an everchanging reality.I admit I am not bothered by Tom Cruise the way others are- but I am not impressed at all by Dakota Fanning- maybe it was the spoiled brat who was always screaming at the worst times in this movie- but nothing I have seen her in that seems all that special.I enjoyed this movie - it had several surprising reveals - some of them up there with the door opening in the Wizard of Oz.This is a special effects movie and they are boffo- but it is also a suspense thriller- you never know when the aliens will make an appearance and what they will do - nor can you predict what other paniced humans will do or how they will react. A-

Spielberg's War of the Worlds has nothing on the kind of chill Welles' radio version can inspire.

Fact, it caused a nationwide panic.

But that wasn't due to the story itself. Welles cheated with his framing device. That was essentially Welles's stroke of genius. Spielberg (or “his Mexican non-union equivalent, Senor Spielbergo}) could concoct this elaborate pretense that he has made another socially uplifting opus nonpareil, a TV movie, and just as it starts, when all America is sitting down to have their sensibilities flossed and burnished, there would be an interruption, and CNN, Fox, etc. (it would have to be all of them) would interrupt with a fake "news flash", with documentary footage, and to top it off cast members would tramp through your garden, aliens would burst through your windows, etc., and this would be happening all over. Now, that would be some gag. Cinema and the Cosmic--together again. The pretense that there is a difference between reality and metaphysics would be smashed forever, finally and irrevocably. We could all just happily roll over, tongues lolling, droll dripping moronically, and let the Huns stick a fork in us, because we would be done.

[Homer hugging his TV]: “Let’s never argue again.”

Wells did take advantage of the moment.

But beyond the gimmick, it's a great piece of storytelling--ever heard it, ted? The (SPOILERS) first encounter of the Martians ('we areexperiencing technical difficulties), the fall of New York ('Is there anyone out there? Is there...anyone?'), the encounter with some idealist in a basement (I think Spielberg lifted his Tim Robbins character from the same basement)--I can't think of a better version.

Spielbeg's has too much heroism on the part of Cruise and betrays Wells' premise by having the Martians rise up from underneath, instead of crashing in from the sky (if they've already been here thousands of years, why don't they know about our bacteria?).

ted fontenot: I've heard parts of Welles's broadcast. I've never read the book.

The book doesn't have the immediacy of Welles' broadcast, although it has plenty of memorable moments all its own.

"Spielbeg's has too much heroism on the part of Cruise and betrays Wells' premise by having the Martians rise up from underneath, instead of crashing in from the sky"

DJ Joe: Well that is to be expected - the hOllywood beancounters figured they needed a big name to open the movie- I honestly think the movie could have done just as well or better without Fakota Danning and Tom Cruise-but it is not my investment or whatever

in the extra features they decided that the capsules where in the ground cuz it would be creepier thinking that this alien presence had always been here just waiting to attack

and while Cruise had some minor heroic things - most of the movie he was cowering/crying or just trying to hold it together

"they decided that the capsules where in the ground cuz it would be creepier thinking that this alien presence had always been here just waiting to attack"

Creepier? Eh, not really. Plus a big plot loophole. Never do to 'improve on' Wells.

And Cruise looks constipated either acting angry or acting scared. Has all the range of a toaster oven. No insult meant to toaster ovens.

You only have to look at Tim Robbins to see who could have been the better lead.


Comrade X (Hedy Lamarr, Clark Gable, dir: King Vidor)

From a film by:

Mike Grost: NINOTCHKA relates to a very long history of political satire in Lubistch. This satire on Communism is an unofficial sequel to TROUBLE IN PARADISE, Lubitsch's satire on Capitalism.

Call it heresy, but I was looking at King Vidor's Comrade X some weeks ago, and...well, I enjoyed it a lot more than Nintochka. Not sure why--maybe that Lamarr is so much more a warm, sensuous presence than Garbo (a goddess, okay...but goddesses are untouchable), and the jokes here seem to have more teeth (a commissar is willing to have all his followers shot to prove his loyalty). But I never thought Ninotchka was Lubitsch's best, it's probably all apples and oranges (you might say X's story begins where Ninotchka ended) and I seem to prefer Ben Hecht over Wilder anyway...

From Forum with No Name:

ted fontenot: Although it is by no means Lubitsch's best, I like Ninotchka, but not especially because of Garbo. Douglas is quite personable, as is Garbo's foil, and the ensemble of supporting players is buoyant. Garbo is just the straight man for everyone, and in this capacity she's surpisingly good.

The movie Lamarr made with James Stewart right after Comrade X wasn't bad either. The premise wasn't particularly original, but for a while there it looked like it was going to develop into something special. It never lives up to that, but still it's interesting. Lamarr seems to have been underserved by Hollywood for some reason; she just didn't have many quality projects. I wonder why.

I like Ninotchka too, and I agree, it's mostly the story and the little touches of characterization from the cast. But I do think Comrade X is stronger, funnier.

The film is famous (or that's what I gather) for the lack of chemistry between Gable and Lamarr, but Lamarr makes up for most of it, sensually speaking, and Gable is game. They're funny together.


"Dominion" (prequel to "The Exorcist")

Finally saw Paul Schrader's Dominion, having seen the Renny Harlin version and wow, if there's a worst case of bastardization I can't remember it at the moment. Same sets, some of the same cast, roughly the same story, but the difference is almost night and day. Perfect material for a Hollywood satire, where this serious filmmaker is given a free hand until he's almost finished his picture, then he's shown the door and replaced by a barrelful of monkeys.

I think the first half is superb--after a grabber of an opening sequence (that ends with a haunting series of sound effects, fading away on the soundtrack) the details accumulate slowly, patiently: a church is found, but signs indicate it was buried as soon as it was completed; the angels inside are poised not to worship god in heaven, but to gaze downwards, watchful of a hole in the floor; outside the church, a pack of hyenas attack a herd of cows--the cows kill the hyenas and eat their flesh.

I remember Skarsgard in Harlin's version: he seemed tired and beleagured, not by guilt or past memories but by a sense of "what the hell am I doing here?" Watching Schrader's version completes that performance, because now you understand what was going on in his mind: here, he was in the hands of a fascinating writer (and on occasion, competent filmmaker) with a genuine sensibility; there he was in the hands of a, well, hack. There he was trying to do his measured, tortured Merrin, looking backwards on that horrfying winter day in Holland, while the movie was doing Ghostbusters meet Close Encounters of the Third Kind; here the performance is in perfect harmony, as the very African air breathes a sense of bleakness, overlaying a profound corruption.

The film stumbles towards the end; too many flying figures, and this really bad heavenly glare that looked as if the producers had cut Schrader's sfx budget a month too soon; I'd have liked him to maintain his measured pace to the very end. But an imperfect Exorcist film by Schrader is far preferable to anything by Harlin; if I had to rate the movies, I'd put Boorman's sequel on top, this second, Friedkin's original third, Blatty's occasionally funny, often inept version fourth, and Harlin's slap-and-tickle brand of horror deep beneath the church, where it belongs.


"Seconds," "Deep Red," "Donnie Darko," "Funny Games," "Dementia 13"

Stuff I can only mention in passing:


John Frankenheimer's film has such a high rep actually watching it was something of a disappointment. The acting was great--both John Randolph as the man experiencing a middle-aged crisis and Rock Hudson as the improved version manage to convey his spiritual anguish; more, they manage to suggest it's the same man trying to cope with a different face, a different body (no easy feat, I think).

But the story itself feels clunky now; all that money, effort, surgery, and you still have a high percentage of failures? Maybe it needs a touch more of fantasy or science fiction to smooth it out (Death Becomes Her just attributed it all to a magic potion; Orson Scott Card's short story, "Fat Farm," spends a paragraph on the transformation, then the rest of the story on the consequences).

Deep Red

Plenty fun, if highly implausible (David Hemmings' character shows an insane amount of courage, breaking into deserted houses at night and letting his girlfriend wander a darkened high school building even when he knows a serial killer is out to get him); what saves it are Argento's seductive camera moves and incredible sense of color (even a construction vehicle--bright orange aganst the black asphalt--stands out). I do think I prefer his supernatural to his myster-thriller films, if only because it's easier to swallow improbables when the unearthly are involved, while you assume watertight logic when you see a mystery thriller.

Donnie Darko

Starts out nicely ominous, but diminishes the more you watch and the more you understand. Ultimately clever and entertaining but not much more--Lynch lite, with a need to resort to time travel to achieve its more surreal effects.

Funny Games

Thought Michael Hannake's Code Unknown was remarkable, this one less so--a hermetically sealed film that subjects its mice to a series of increasingly sadistic ordeals.

That said, Hannake's a master at the game--more severe, more convincing at it than Von Triers (who's so eager to begin torturing his protagonists you wonder if he left out a missing reel or two) or Gaspar Noe (who if you look at the details deals mainly in fantasy) or Miike (who's just plain cartoonish) or Park Chan Woo (who's just plain sloppy). Hannake has such confidence in his control he can even make jokes about his killers losing theirs overthe situation (and regaining it with the push of a button). Not a bad film--a masterpiece, if you enjoy watching mice in a maze with no cheese reward.

Dementia 13

Fun, in a low-budget way (it's Francis Coppola's debut film), with unusually well-written characters (unusual for films of this budget, anyway) and near-nonexistent special effects.


Richard Pryor dies

Richard Pryor dies

Live in Concert is easily one of the greatest performances I've ever seen. The Wayans brothers, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, they're all pygmies at the feet of this genius.


Bright Future

Bright Future seems like a strange film to come from Kurosawa Kyoshi; it's relatively light in tone, it has an unabashedly optimistic final shot, of a group of youths striding down a street to the tune of a bright pop song. Its central image, that of a jellyfish glowing in the water, is reflected all throughout the film--in the character of Mamoru (Tadanobu Asano) for one, who like the sea creature manages to be seductive, monstrous, and somehow nourishing all at once to his protege Yuji (Jo Odagiri). He fascinates Yuji, to the point that the latter is willing to wait years for them to 'do things together' (he does will his pet jellyfish toYuji to care for--which Yuji promptly loses into Tokyo's canal system); he manages to suss out Yuji's wishes, and perform the film's one blood-splattered murder for him; and he manages to be a kind of goad to Yuji's life, to finally give up his isolation and reach out to others, and to society in general.

The heart of the story, though, seems to be the relationship that forms between Yuji and Mamoru's father Shinichiro (Tatsuya Fuji, famous for playing the male lead in Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses). When Mamoru's life goes into a downward spiral, Shinichiro is forced to backtrack, to find out why his son did what he did, and the trail leads him to Yuji. The two have enough in common to form a bond: Yuji is clueless because he's young and hasn't tried to connect with anyone, Shinichiro is old and has spent his life trying to avoid connecting with anyone. Tatsuya's performance as an old man shaken from his isolation is easily the film's most moving, because Kurosawa contrasts his life, essentially a candle flickering to the point of extinction, against Yuji and other youths, who glimmer with untapped possibilities (at one point, Kurosawa shows us the lovely image of a youth gang walking up a street, every member wearing a pair of blinking headphones and glowing in the dark like a herd of, well, jellyfish). Like father, like son, like jellied pet, like slacker friends, like the movie itself, they're all a mixture of fleeting, fragile, phosphorescent beauty, hiding a set of venomous stings.  

The director's interview is just as fascinating. Some highlights, noted through a quick viewing and imperfect recall:


Kurosawa admits he's always fantasized being the one behind the scenes, pulling all the strings (you can see how fascinated he is by manipulators in the number of times they've appeared in his films: the hypnotist in Cure, the kidnapper in Serpent's Path, Mamoru in this picture, to name a few).


He says he's not one to read psychology into his characters, and prefers to focus on their physical aspects (paradoxically, his characters' often perverse physical actions suggest complex and tortured inner psychologies). 


He enjoys doing genre films (yakuza, horror, science fiction) because genres have conventions that he can conform to or break; a non-genre film (if there is such a creature) he doesn't have anything to get a hold on: he approaches such a project with plenty of restraint and caution.


A crew member notes that the main leads in Bright Future are all aspects of Kurosawa: age him a few years, and he's like Shinichiro; take away a few years and he's Yuji; add a menacing look, and he's like Mamoru. Kurosawa is delighted at this observation, noting that when he writes, all his characters are figments of his imagination; they lack the roundness to come to life. That's where the actor and costume designer comes in: they put in their input, their interpretation of the character, and it becomes something more solid than a mere figment, and he's grateful for the contribution.


When the film has wrapped, Kurosawa changes gears; while editing, he declares himself a dictator. He's democratic on the set, but in the editing room he's a tyrant, especially when it comes to music. Someone notes that on the set Kurosawa keeps his madness restrained, then when editing unleashes it.


His definition of a film is something people view as a group. Everyone has a different reaction to a film, and it's instructive to see how your reaction differs or conforms to the groups' reactions. It's a quick outline of your relationship with society, in what ways you are a member, in what ways you are alienated.


The director of the interview asked Kurosawa what he thought of being the subject of a film himself. Kurosawa replied that he's always changing, it's what he does, it's part of living; when he's being filmed, he's being shown an aspect of himself that he's abandoned, changed, left behind, and it's tough for him. He's of the generation that takes pictures of his life, so seeing his image isn't so bad, but when he hears his voice, on video, it's upsetting.  


More on Feischer's 'Popeye'

From Forum With No Name:

Melpster: Great review for Popeye, Noel I'm a rabid fan of the Fleischer films and those three 20-minute features were extremely influential to me as a child.

Thankee! Wanted to do all three but didn't have the magazine space to do it.

Felt Ali Baba's long rides through the desert sand didn't exploit the stereopticon process as thoroughly as Sinbad's island landscape--or for that matter the zoo sequences in Little Swee'pea--did (not as much rough texture), but that the forty thieves were a marvelous sticky-fingered invention. Bluto's chief thief was a delight, but didn't have the bluster and outsized ego of his Sinbad (the Ali Baba cave sequence though, did have jewels, unlike the Sinbad's, where people swore there were (but there weren't--they only thought they saw some because of the colored lights)).

The third had no 3-D effects (a disappointment), but I love the joke about the diamond-powered spotlight, and the film did have what is probably Sammy Timberg's single most delightful song--What Can I Do For You? The evil sorcerer isn't as memorable as Bluto's thief or Sinbad, but overall, the animation is beautifully smooth (if not as distinctively funky as the first two).


My favorite cookbook, my least favorite cookbook

My favorite cookbook.

Taught me how to fry an egg. Maddeningly coy (it assumes you've the proficency of a master chef too), it leaves out some crucial recipes, like his crayfish gratin--in the opinion of some, his masterpiece.

And as for least favorite, check this out, from Rosie Tinne's Irish Countryhouse Cooking:

1/2 lb spaghetti—cooked and cold

1-2 lb white fish—cooked and cold

1-2 pt white sauce—cold

1 (or more) tin shrimps

1 dessertspoon curry powder

chopped chives

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon redcurrent jelly or apricot jam




Mix all ingredients gently together, sprinkle with parsley or paprika. Chill and serve.



Ho boy, oh boy, do I dislike Oldboy. Wasn't a big fan of Park Chan Woo's JSA either (too hysterically acted, too melodramatic, too much CGI), but this one really hit bottom for me. Ludicrous plot, spotty attention to detail (If you're going to imprison a man for fifteen years, wouldn't you consider taking out all breakable items? And how did they know he slit his wrists--a camera? But if they had a camera, why did they allow him to almost dig his way out?), too much resorting to lazy devices like knockout gas and hypnotism (both undependable, the former rather dangerous) to advance the story.

Park pulls off some interesting shots (a long take where the hero dispatches of twenty or so assailants with a claw hammer), shows a meal involving a deliciously live octopus (shocking table manners, though), and builds a nice circularity into the plot (revenge story turns out to be a different kind of revenge story), but really, the story's innermost secret (SPOILERS) doesn't seem like such of a big deal, especially in these desensitized times; definitely not a reason to lose a body part or that much of one's dignity over--I mean, Park has read (or heard of) Oedipus, I'm sure, but hasn't he read Oedipus at Colonus? Sometimes you can reconcile yourself with your sins, without the need for yet more hypnotism.

Choi Min Sik, incidentally, is winning all kinds of praise and an acting award here that he never earned in the far superior Happy End, and I've got mixed feelings about that. He carries the movie better than it has any right to be carried--puts a sad-eyed conviction into every hammer blow and chaw of tentacle--but I still remember his more persuasively anguished husband in the previous film. No cartoonish violence there; his dilemma and the suffering it provoked was heartbreaking.

Oldboy's of a genre that isn't to everybody's taste--shock cinema--and something I watch wondering more and more why the hell I keep watching (for the sex and violence, stupid). With sloppy Korean filmmakers like these provoking so much praise and relatively little protest, I'm also wondering what the case is against Kim Ki Duk; he tells stories that are far more coherent and psychologically plausible (relatively speaking), his characters display a becoming reserve (Park likes to shove his obsessions up your right nostril), and he has an eye for the beauty found in a shocking or transgressive image.


Michael Gambon

I'll say one thing for the Potter movies--they give Michael Gambon a steady income. Spotted him in several ads for Potter merchandise, and I hope he gets plenty of fat paychecks for each and every one. He's a great actor, and his performance in The Singing Detective is one of the greatest I've ever seen. If he can't get millions upon millions (not to mention every acting statuette from every award-giving body for the past few decades including the Oscars) out of doing that, he can at least make money off of this franchise.

I don't understand the lack of love for Gambon's Dumbledore. Harris has had his moments (This Sporting Life, Return of a Man Called Horse, Juggernaut, even as recently as Patriot Games and Eastwood's Unforgiven he's terrific), but when he was doing the Potter movies he was literally at the end of his tether. Gambon makes for a sly, cunning wizard; he gives you the sense that while he may represent authority and establishment, he'd much rather be with the students, having fun.

And then there's the Gambon in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover--don't much like that movie, but he's terrifying there. Gambon would have made an incredible Voldewhastisname--as likely to plunge his wand right into Potter's eye socket as wave it.



Starring Uma Thurman, Meryl Streep

Directed by Ben Younger