More "Passion"

Since some moron's trying to take me to task for knocking Mel Gibson's snuff flick, here's an article--from mainstream Christian sources, mind you--for his and y'all's edification:

"The Passion of the Christ," Jewish pain and Christian responsibility: a response to Mel Gibson's film

Enjoy. And for those of you susceptible to high blood pressure when reading more progressive material, lighten up; you'll live longer.

New Delhi (cont'd)

Toured the city.  Walked out of my hotel and a block down the road where the Lodi Gardens, with tombs and mausoleums built some five hundred years ago.

Hired a taxi for half a day for a little over ten dollars and visited the Red Fort, four hundred years old...the front of the fort is the Lahore Gate (so called because it faces Lahore, Pakistan), huge and red and intimidating.  Inside the fort is the palace of the Mughal emperors, which is a series of buildings, going from north to south.

First the Shahi Burj, the emperor's study.  Second the Royal Hamman, a series of baths (the baths had colored glass on the rooftops, that filled the rooms with a rainbow light; the bathhouse also used to have a fountain that sprayed scented rosewater).

Third was the Diwan-i-Kas, the Hall of Private Audiences, made of white marble with a roof of inlaid silver, on the center of which sat the Peacock Throne--a giant fifteen-foot throne made of solid gold that took seven years to make.  The back of the throne had peacocks, the feathers made of sapphires, rubies, pearls and other precious stones, and a parrot carved from a single emerald.  One of the stones used to decorate the throne was the Koh-i-Noor Diamond, the largest in the world.

Well...actually, I WOULD have seen the throne, if it actually sat there.  It had been broken up hundreds of years ago, and the Koh-i-Noor Diamond taken to form part of the Crown Jewels of England.  All that's left of the throne here is the marble pedestal it sat on.  And once inscribed on the walls (in gold) were these words that Shah Jahan's wazir once said: "if there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this" (tap your ruby slippers three times, make a wish...).

South of this is the emperor's private residence; then the chief wife's, then the favorite daughter's (complete with a fountain made out of ivory).  Through all these buildings, from the emperor's study to his favorite daughter's palace ran the Nar-i-Bhisht, the Stream of Paradise, a water channel that would work the fountains, fill the baths, and cool the buildings in the heat of summer (central airconditioning, four hundred years early...).

congrats to mr. bush!

the oscars award mediocrities. thats why the baby won.

eastwood couldn't even be bothered with finding out how mercy killings are REALLY done, or what the inside of a hospital really looks like.

oh, and congrats to mr bush for his razzie for impersonating a president! no one deserves it more.


More on Scorsese's loss

From pinoydvd:

slowhand: Ironically, he turned to doing crowd-pleasers like Gangs of New York and The Aviator, both of which didn't get him the directing award anyway (I don't think he deserved them if he won).

I don't think he did Gangs of New York or The Aviator to please crowds. The level of violence in Gangs...and a consistent comment about Aviator is that it isn't very moving. Trust Scorsese to avoid easy sentimentality (something you don't see Eastwood doing).

No, they're not his best work. On the other hand, who else is doing better work in the epic form? I say you have to go back to Terence Malick and Hayao Miyazaki (and no, I don't include Peter Jackson's ribbitt--sorry, hobbit--films). Hopefuly he'll do something else--not the films he's famous for, not just these kind of big-budget productions, but a different direction altogether. Which is what he's been doing for most of his career.

He deserves all kinds of awards; that he doesn't get them is a measure of how difficult and challenging the films are, and Oscar voters hate being challenged.

Scorsese lost again?

He's in excellent company, side-by-side with American filmmakers who've never won a directing Oscar like Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock (who was nominated six times, incidentally, and lost all six times--and wasn't even nominated for his masterpiece, Vertigo), Robert Altman, John Cassavettes, Charles Burnett, Buster Keaton, D.W. Griffith, Robert Flaherty...and that's just off the top of my head.

Not to mention the non-American filmmakers: F.W. Murnau, Carl Dreyer, Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, Isao Takahata, Ritwik Ghatak,  Raj Kapoor, Mrinal Sen, Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Jacques Rivette, Jean Luc Godard, Tian Zhuangzhuang, King Hu, Tsai Ming Liang, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Lino Brocka, Mario O'Hara, Mike de Leon.

In fact, looking at the list I just assembled, the non-Oscar winners are more impressive than the Oscar winners, and if Scorsese were to join the ranks of recepients of that golden doorstop, it would only improve their prestige, not enhance his.

I don't think the filmmaker who did Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, King of Comedy and The Last Temptation of Christ needs any further enhancement of his prestige. The films speak for themselves.

So I still think the Oscars are a joke, and Scorsese's better off without one. He lost another one? Good for him.

New Delhi

Stuff I wrote down when I was invited to the Cinefan festival in New Delhi in 2002 by the magazine I wrote for (Cinemaya):

What was New Delhi like?  Awful and wonderful.  The heat would hit forty degrees sometimes (which I'm told is actually cooler--summertime was forty-plus degrees, or so they claim; weather from October to February is actually wonderful, from fifteen to twenty degrees tops).  God help you if you try to go somewhere outside of Delhi--the drivers here don't quite drive like in Manila, but they do try their best to scare you (in Manila, they're sincerely trying to kill you).

The food is terrific--the rice, even in the poorest hole in the wall, is that delicious basmati rice; when I came to a dinner party at my editor's house, the basmati was mixed with poppy seeds, giving it a wonderful fragrance.  Then there's the standard dahl, which comes in a million different shades of brown or yellow (depending on the kind of lentils used), and a million different levels of heat, from mild to flamethrower.  Tandoori chicken was incredibly tender and juicy, and a specialty of the city (southern India is more vegetarian).  And the breads--hot, buttered, fresh-baked naan, chapati, roti, filled with all kinds of sauces, cheeses, vegetable stews and curries...The mutton is meltingly soft, in a gravy so thick and tasty you could hold it upside down and it would just sit and stare at you.

The desserts are inedible.  Round balls of dough, cream puffs and fried whatever in sugary syrup.  But when we had dinner at the Turkish embassy, they had baklava (Remember baklava in Detroit?)--crisp phyllo pastry and pistachio nuts in honey.  And the baked salmon in a cucumber and mayonnaise crust was good...not to mention the Turkish Delights (tiny but rich confections made out of dates and nuts).

My All-Time Top Ten (Actually, Thirteen)

From a_film_by (check out 'files,' then 'top 10 project' then 'best films of all time') 

If not available, here it is, in alphabetical order:

Sciuscia - Vittorio de Sica
La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc - Carl Theodor Dreyer
Kaagaz ke Phool - Guru Dutt
Meghe Dhaka Tara - Ritwik Ghatak
Vertigo - Alfred Hitchcock
Sherlock, Jr. - Buster Keaton
M - Fritz Lang
Kaze no tani no Naushika - Hayao Miyazaki
Faust - FW Murnau
Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos - Mario O'Hara
Banshun - Yasujiro Ozu
La Grande Illusion - Jean Renoir
Chimes of Midnight - Orson Welles

King of the Ants

Stuart Gordon's King of the Ants is terrible fun--a low-budget revenge flick with the not inconsiderable virtue of being more than usually plausible, with more than usually substantial and believable characters. Gordon with this and Reanimator shows himself to be one of the better American horror filmmakers--more than the rigidly Hitchockian/Hawkian John Carpenter, or the visually flat-footed Wes Craven (yes I thought even Nightmare on Elm Street looked flat), he has an effortlessly fluid free-floating style that keeps you continually on the edge, wondering where the next blow will land (for the record, he says his model for the camerawork in Reanimator was Roman Polanski, and it shows).

And 'blow' is a key word in this film--'blow' and 'bones.' King of the Ants, if anything, is a paean to the pleasures of bones and their breaking, or at least beating; where most Friday the 13th/Halloween flicks prefer the classic kitchen knife to do the dirty work, Ants likes blunt objects; the film (and Gordon, and Higson) seems to understand that blunt does more damage and causes more pain, and that the depiction of that pain and damage is more of a challenge to show onscreen (A knife slices and you see the blood; the consequences of a blow to the bone is not as readily apparent. Hint: sound effects are crucial).

'Blow,' 'bone,' and 'pause'--at least that quiet pause in anticipation of what happens next; Gordon seems to be a master of that terrifyingly breathless moment. People talk of wince-inducing movies from Japan and Korea and even Belgium; Gordon shows that America has its own share of queasy cinema, and needn't hang its head in shame.


Infernal Affairs

Wow. I'd seen Andrew Lau's Stormriders and was not impressed--big-budget fantasy with plenty of dull CGI effects. This one, though...


Infernal Affairs, based on a script by co-director Allan Mak and Felix Chong (who also wrote the ho-hum Tokyo Raiders), represents what I'd say is both a quantum leap and a high point for the writers and directors involved--is possibly the first Hong Kong action film I've seen that turns on a tightly written, genuinely exciting plot, with a royal flush of fascinating performances.


The premise is interesting enough: a cop goes undercover and joins a triad gang; a triad member does likewise with the police force. Ten years later, they're brilliant, up-and-coming officers given the fateful assignment of hunting down and capturing the moles in their respective organizations.


It's the ultimate cat-and-mouse game, where the Hong Kong flair for virtuoso action choreography is set aside in favor of quietly intricate thriller setpieces, and matters of life and death are raised and settled by something as simple as a beeper message, or a cell phone's ring.


Part of what makes the film so compelling are the performances: Eric Tsang brings belligerent energy to the gang lord Sam; Anthony Wong is nicely understated as Police Superintendent Wong (they have a wonderful scene in an interrogation room where they taunt each other about each others' moles); Andy Lau, looking like a Chinese Harvey Keitel, brings shades of subtlety to his Judas of a police mole and does his level best to take over the picture--which, despite Lau's efforts, ultimately belongs to Tony Leung as the gang mole.


If there is a flaw to the film, it's that the parts the moles play aren't really symmetrical: Leung's is the flashier, more dramatic character, what with his sense of loss and alienation from all the things he values most (the most poignant gesture in the film may be the hidden salute he snaps at the passage of a fallen officer's funeral parade).


Lau's character is less showy, is perhaps a shade undermotivated (we don't completely understand why he decides what he ultimately decides), but there are moments of delicious ambiguity to some of his scenes, where you aren't sure just what dangerous game he's playing.


The ending has a voiceover narration and final plot twist that I found unnecessary--it didn't have the taut introduction and sudden spin into all kinds of unintended consequences that all the other twists had--but that's a rather minor complaint for what looks to be an almost flawlessly plotted film.


Andrew Lau doesn't have the distinct visual style of John Woo or Ringo Lam (you particularly miss the visual clarity or thrill those directors could bring to the one big gun battle in the film), but he's after different fish to fry: more tiny shifts in mood than operatic displays of grand emotion (like Woo at his most flamboyant (The Killer; Hard Boiled; and his masterpiece Bullet in the Head) does); more complex chess moves between intelligent opponents than complex character portrayals (like Lam at his best (Prison on Fire; City on Fire) does). Still, a wonderful film, one of the best from Hong Kong commercial cinema in a long time.


Recent deaths

Lee Eun Ju. Beautiful actress, most memorable performance in Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors.

Also, Miao Tien, who plays father in many of Tsai Ming Liang's films, including Goodbye Dragon Inn and King Hu's Dragon Gate Inn.


From pinoydvd:

indie boi: To believe that the Oscars is synonymous to quality is to believe that a movie is considered a "quality" piece of work if it earns a lot in the box office. Just look at Titanic.

How does that go?


Ah see yew. Ah feel yew.
Dat iz haw Ah know yew go ooooon.

Far kross da distance

And spasez

betweeeeeen uz

Yew have come tew show yew go oooon.

Neeeer, faaaaar, wherEEEvr yew aaaare

Ah believe that the heart duz go ooooon

Oooonce mooore yew AAAAwwwpn da door

And yer here in mah heart

And mah heart will gew awn and aaaawwwwn

Luv can touch uz wan tam

And last fur

a laaaftam

An nevir go till we're wuunnn

Luv wuz when Ah luvd yew

Wun true tahm

Ah hoOOoold to

In my laf we'll alwayz gew aaaaawn

Neeeer, faaaaar, wherEEEvr yew aaaare

Ah believe dat duh heart duz go ooooon

Oooonce mooore yew OOOpn da door

And yer here in mah heart

And mah heart weel gew awn and aaaawn

Der iz sum luv that will not go way

Yuuur hiiir

durz nuttin Ah fear,

And Ah know that my heart will go oooowwnnn

Weeel staay furEEEEEvur dis way

Yew are sef in mah heart

En mah heart weel gew Ooon en oooOOOooooooonnnnn

Sounds like she's talking about the running time, isn't she? Grin


The Outlaw Josey Wales and Pale Rider

The Outlaw Josey Wales, one of Eastwood's early directorial efforts, is crude beyond belief, what with its by-the-numbers opening family massacre and its teeth-gritting revenge finale. Comic scenes lifted from Little Big Man stitched alongside plodding drama lifted from late John Ford stitched alongside embarrassing ass shots of former Eastwood squeeze Sondra Locke (anyone ever take Eastwood to task for misogyny?) stitched alongside action sequences lifted from Eastwood's earlier films with Leone and Seigel (only without the visual fluidity or clarity). I hear Philip Kaufman was to direct this before he got replaced--I'd love to see what he could could have done with the material (for one thing, he could probably have better integrated the wildly swinging tone).

Pale Rider is a more confident directorial job that really brings out the beauty of Bruce "Prince of Darkness" Surtees' moody cinematography (maybe the best shot in the film is of Eastwood in--what else?--deep shadow, a more still, evocative figure than Marlon Brando would be in Apocalypse Now), but the movie is such an obvious steal from Shane, only without George Steven's sense of grandeur and sureness of touch. Sydney Penny replaces Brandon de Wilde as the Shane worshipper (she's got several inches of bustline on him, but he's got several dozen IQ points on her), and Carrie Snodgress takes Jean Arthur's role as the housewife, pretty much staying in the background until we learn late in the film that she has the hots for him (?!).

Michael Moriarity is the Van Heflin charcter, only here he's all victim, which makes for a much less interesting dynamic all around (in Shane, Alan Ladd always considered Van Heflin an equal, maybe his superior even). Moriarity's played weakling in many of his films, but at least in those that Larry Cohen directed that weakness is complicated by a number of things: a vivid sense of his own weakness; an unholy energy driven by fear and loathing of said weakness; and an intriguing sense of perversity ("okay, so I'm a weakling, bring it on!").


White Hunter, Black Heart

Looked at White Hunter, Black Heart, and I can see where it might be a great novel, a vivid and even harrowing portrait of a great and complex character with a gift for self-destruction, but that wasn't the movie I saw. Kudos to Eastwood for stretching, and this is about as far a stretch as I can see him doing, trying to impersonate the loquacious, ever-witty Huston...but when he falls on his face, he falls hard. Some of his lines are funny, even brilliant, but when he says them I kept hearing Huston's voice in the background, and my response to them as a result keeps souring.

I keep thinking of O'Toole's performance in The Stunt Man, which probably isn't any closer to David Lean (who was supposedly the inspiration) than Eastwood's is to Huston, but which is alive, and funny, and profane. Shit, when Eastwood's Huston comes up with a shocking remark or insult, it comes off as yet another Dirty Harry zinger, meant to be the ironic prelude to his blowing the other guy away. Except here the other guy isn't blown away, and Eastwood is left with egg in his face.

A minor Kate Hepburn performance here by Marisa Berenson which I did like (even if it isn't as close to Hepburn as Blanchett's), partly because Hepburn is not the focus of the film the way Huston is, and partly because Berenson's performance is so relaxed and cheerful where Eastwood is sweating bullets to try appear to be relaxed and cheerful. I've never seen a more strained performance in my life.   


Lengua con champignon

Bought beef tongue, boiled it till it was soft, sliced it up, and froze it in its cooking broth while I thought over what I was going to do with it.

So I dug up an old recipe book (looked online, and there isn't anything exactly like this out there except on Filipino websites).

The recipe called for half a cup of butter and a fourth cup of olive oil; I assumed that was because I was supposed to brown a whole tongue (the damned thing was around a foot long and weighed around two pounds).

I melted the butter and oil in a bowl, spooned a bit into a pot, and browned the sliced tongue in medium heat, salt-n-peppering it along the way, and then set it aside; I put in the rest of the butter-and-oil combo, tossed in a large chopped onion, two chopped tomatoes, and five chopped cloves of garlic, sauteed till soft.

Dropped in the browned tongue; added bay leaves, whole peppercorns, three tablespoons of soy sauce, the juice of half a lemon, and a fourth of a cup of white wine. Lowered the heat and simmered till it thickened, then added a cupful of broth and stirred some more. After forty minutes of simmering and adding broth when necessary, drained the tongue and arranged it on a serving plate.

Took the biggest frying pan I had and sauted several slices of mushrooms in a few tablespoons of butter over medium high heat. Took out the mushrooms, lowered the heat to medium, added half a cup of butter (does it show that I'm not on any diet?) added a fourth cup of flour, stirred till mixed. Poured in the drippings from the tongue stew, added back the mushroms, mixed until thickened, then poured over the tongue.

Lengua con champignon--only a Filipino would have thought up of this heart-stopper. The tongue meat is buttery soft, the mushroom gravy buttery rich (hell, it was half butter anyway); the tomatoes, lemon juice and white wine add just enough tartness to cut through the fat. Not too bad, considering.


The Aviator, revisited

Took a look at The Aviator again. The CGI effects don't seem as glaring this time around--seems to me Scorsese tries to avoid the cliche shots (rollercoaster POVs, bullet-time, etc, etc) and keeps equal emphasis on both CGI and non-CGI footage. That is, he tries to make the effects shot look like a live-action shot, down to choice of angle, lighting, and all. Not totally successful, but better looking than what some other directors do--in this I think he's on a similar track as Cuaron in Prisoner of Azkaban.

Checked the color scheme. The two-color Technicolor stops exactly in 1935, when Juan Trippe is listening in on his around-the-world flight (We see him contemplating the walls of his office, which are a distinct green shade, and--is that the top floor of the Chrysler Building? The office windows are distinctly triangular). That's the same year the first 3-strip Technicolor feature film, Becky Sharp, opened.

Cate Blanchett's finest moment could be in the bathroom scene, when she recalls how reporters crashed her suicidal brother's funeral, and she says "There's no decency to it." Sharp and pained, like she reveals a hidden scar. Hughes' reply is at least interesting--he says he has hallucinations, which makes us suspect the veracity of the rest of the film.

I think Bill Krohn is right on the money about this being comparable to Bush's career--in fact this may be THE film about George Bush, more so than Fahrenheit 911 (whose heart is in the right place and whose bile is wonderfully caustic, but which, unfortunately, doesn't have the benefit of dramatic licence to justify all the factual distortions). Also amusing to think where obsesssive behavior is to Hughes, stupidity is to Bush (reminds me of the men's room scene with the man on the crutches--not only foreshadows Hughes' own walking cane, it points up how much worse a mental handicap is to a physical one).

Kate Beckinsale is no Ava Gardner, right; but her character is refreshingly level-headed, even if once in a while she tends to confuse impassive cool with a blank stare.

The ending is hardly optimistic. It really depends on what emotional shading you get out of DeCaprio's final line, which I think DeCaprio renders intentionally ambiguous. "The wave of the future. The wave of the future"--this IS the future, but do we go on to say "thank god," or do we say "nor are we out of it?"


Million Dollar Baby Questions

Million Dollar Baby has good things in it: Hilary Swank is wonderful, spirited, huge-hearted; if you have to break my heart by breaking someone, she's just perfect. And if you have to paper a film full of voiceover narration, you can do worse than Morgan Freeman's slow-measured voice. It's a voice so authoritative you often forget that what you're hearing can be pretentious drivel, plus he has a scene where he dons a pair of gloves that for me is the highlight of the movie.

I do have problems with many of the details. David Walsh points out that in that scene with the mother, it's 1) hard to believe that anyone could be that much of a bitch that she would put down a house and lot free and clear and the daughter's profession that bought that house, and 2) hard to believe even if she is that much of a bitch, she can be so dumb that she would prefer a rinky-dink welfare check to a house and lot, free and clear.

Walsh attributes it to contempt of the lower classes; I'd say it was more a failure of observation of the lower classes, in a rather strained attempt to make Swank more sympathetic.

In the penultimate fight scene, we know going in that the ex-prostitute fights dirty, we presume Swank's watched the video of the ex-hooker's former fights, yet Swank goes right into battle seemingly innocent of the girl's dirty tactics, nor does Eastwood have any concrete strategy to deal with her. I remember seeing the girl attack an opponent when she was down or from behind on TV, and I for one, having seen that, would never leave my back exposed, or let my guard down at any time.

Beyond that, it seems unbelievable that this would be the first time Swank dealt with anyone who used dirty tactics; surely she'd have dealt with someone like that before in her rise up, and learned to deal with it accordingly; at the very least Eastwood should know about it and train her accordingly.

Might as well point out here that the boxing circles depicted in this film are surprisingly clean--no bookies, no crooked deals, and while the managers and agents look sleazy, they don't actually do anything sleazy, like maybe try cop a feel off Swank's ass. Walsh also said something to this effect.

Finally (SPOILERS) the death. Eastwood walks into what looks like the darkest corridor in hospital building history (I've seen hospitals in the poorest corners of Manila that are better lit), lugging a bag fullof adrenaline (where did he get that?), detaches a respirator and leaves it off, injects her with a lethal dosage (why take her off the respirator then?) that he's not worried would show up at an autopsy, and takes his sweet time while the monitors scream out flatline readings.

Also, first time I've ever heard of an American hospital where the nurse's desk didn't respond to a code blue, coffee break or no coffee break (the nurse who took the break was talking to someone, so the desk was manned). Worse of all, there's no sign that Eastwood gets investigated after all the shenanigans. Was Eastwood right to have had her checked in in that place? Someone should have been sued, big time. Plus, injecting a bubble of air would have been simpler, harder to trace, and just as painless--remember she can't feel anything from the neck down. Someone's not up to his euthanasia research.

Other than that--yeah, it's entertaining, solid, meat-and-potatoes filmmaking. Not my favorite of the year, though, not by a long shot, I still don't think Eastwood's a filmmaker, and I sure as hell don't think he's an actor. Freeman and Hackman might have been a better choice--hell, their moment together was one of the best things in Unforgiven.

"Babae sa Breakwater" on Senses of Cinema's Filipino Section

Issue 34, Jan-Mar 2005 of Senses of Cinema presents a special section on Philippine cinema, and includes my article on Babae sa Breakwater, which went to the 2004 Cannes Festival's Directors' Fortnight (the first Filipino film to do so since Lino Brocka's Orapronobis, in 1989):

Manila on the Edge of Realism

Plus Alex Tioseco's interview of filmmaker Khavn de la Cruz:

Family Meals, Family Values and Philippine Cinema

Plus Brandon Wee's interview of Lav Diaz:

The Decade of Living Dangerously


They wuz robbed!

From peoplesforum:

Jim Cavaziel's underwear for "Best Supporting Loincloth" in The Passion of the Christ.

Through thick and thin and one of the most sadistic scourgings ever recorded on cinema, this heroic crotch towel managed to mask Cavaziel's modesty (no wonder they called him the Son of God!), even if most of his skin didn't make it.

It wuz robbed!


boxing films

From peoplesforum:

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Wise's The Set Up (1949) is that it's taken from a poem (by Joseph Moncure March), happens in real time, and occurs in a confined space (the boxing ring, its dressing rooms, and the street in front of it). Wise emphasizes this somewhat, by using long takes, a camera crane, and angled shots that link Robert Ryan's dressing room with his hotel room, where Audrey Totter sits waiting for him.

The dialogue is pretty good, terse and realistic, even if the overdetermination so characteristic of noir tends to get to you--the fate of every character Ryan meets is an object lesson or commentary on his own; every person or thing Totter meets or sees is either a threat to her marital fidelity or a reminder of her husband's mortality.

It's a pretty good boxing film; the fight scenes are wonderfully edited (Wise, after all, cut Citizen Kane) and executed (Ryan was a former boxing champ). Maybe my problem with it is that while Wise is skilled and versatile and all, he's not a flier; if say Welles handled this film, it would have been much more baroque, more stylized, more dank; maybe every shot and not the first few would have been a long take, to further unify and emphasize the claustrophobia of the little world Ryan moved around in. It's also (until maybe the last ten minutes) too well-lit for my taste; the boxing ring scenes in particular, well--

Take Body and Soul, done two years earlier. Abraham Polonsky's script isn't necessarily inferior (the dialogue here also rings true), but the plot mechanisms are even more blatant--John Garfield's best friend (played by Joseph Pevney--who, incidentally, goes on to direct some of Star Trek's best episodes, including Amok Time) points out and denounces Garfield's Moral Malaise, then gets knocked down by a car straight after, just for dramatic effect; the girlfriend and mother (Lillian Palmer and Anne Revere) are I suppose Garfield's Voices of Conscience, but also so unforgiving and relentless you feel a little sorry for the man for having these two harridans on his back.

The film is pure hokum, humanist melodrama...and yet the film as a film, thanks to Robert Rossen (who also directed All The King's Men, and that masterpiece of tension and visual design The Hustler) and the great James Wong Howe (The Sweet Smell of Success, Hud, Seconds, Jesus, what didn't he make look great?) simply blows The Set Up right out of the water. The shadows are darker, more menacing, the grit grittier; and when Howe (who was himself a boxer) climbs into the ring perched on a pair of roller skates with a handheld camera, he achieves a sense of immediacy and nightmare (the shimmering, strobelike light that keeps Garfield blinking, as if someone had just whacked his (and your) head with a two-by-four) that not even Raging Bull can equal.

Was looking at Requiem for a Heavyweight recently, and while the script may be the best of the three (by Rod Serling) and the acting as strong (Anthony Quinn, Mickey Rooney, Julie Harris, Jackie Gleason), the directing is gimmicky and overdone in the worst way (Pevney might actually have done a better job). Which only proves the point I was making, about dialogue being dialogue, and plot structure having its own demands and needs, but film as film...uh, what was I talking about again?


From Hell

Not a book, a graphic novel--Alan Moore's From Hell.

Heard a lot about this one and I agree, there's a lot more going on here than what actually found its way into that awful movie adaptation.

It's a perfect marriage of text and art, I think. The problem with Moore is that, in something like Watchmen, I never really thought the artwork measured up; the impression I got was that as long as the artist could draw all the details Moore wanted to put in, or draw the equivalent of a close up, or a zoom in, or a match cut, then Moore was happy.

With Eddie Campbell, I think he's met his match. Campbell's drawings evoke Victorian England in a way that helps Moore's text--enhances the period feeling (they look like ink sketches--storyboards for some Victorian idea of an animated feature), possess a beauty all their own, and still get in all the details and camera moves Moore wants.

And it's not a literal visualization of the source book, Knight's The Final Solution: there's an appreciation here of the geographical and architectural features of London that immerses you in a web of dark, unseen forces long before Jack starts cutting up his first victim--a web so pervasive when Netley starts vomiting, you don't raise an eyebrow in puzzlement, you nod your head in sympathy. There's a gift for characterization--Moore's finest talent, I think--that I can't imagine Knight could ever match, much less surpass.

His sketches of Marie Kelly and Abbeline are very fine, especially the touchingly awkward pas de deux the two perform in a pub, the resolution of which is particularly knotty--she may have lied to him, but reason one makes her look like a bitch (and adds all kinds of shadings to that burst of anger Abbeline vents, early in the novel), reason two makes of her a particularly tragic figure forever beyond his grasp. Even William Gull earns our sympathy, and Moore's take on his final act of murder and the reason why it went the way it did is perversely moving (I only wish you could glean it from the actual pages and not from the appendix, as I did--well, I suppose it's possible, but that's how it happened with me).

Finally, there's a mystical vision towards the end of the book that ties everything together, causes us to feel interconnected in a more profound way than Gull's citywide pentagram could ever hope to achieve (can't help but suspect, though, that Moore borrowed this 'vision' device from Stapledon's Starmaker). 


More defense (of sorts) of Catholicism

From peoplesforum:

Speaking for myself, all that blood and flesh-eating never really bothered me. I kept looking up at that figure hung up there on the crucifix--and in Catholic churches it was always anatomically accurate, unlike those cleanly abstract crosses in Protestant churches--trying to figure out how those wounds were created, and what they felt like.

Catholicism is a sensuous religion. Gibson got that part right, but he put the sensuousness to a limited use, made us hate what's happening to the hero, and unwittingly, hate those who put him in that situation (and thanks to Gibson's clueless fidelity to Emmerich and Brentano's text, the primary object of that hate are the Jews). There's no love, no sense of sacrifice to counterbalance the suffering, the way a real Catholic (and not some literal-minded ninny like Gibson) would put it.

Like I said in my article, Scorsese's violence always pointed to something beyond the physical suffering--to a guilt that had to be eased, or redeemed. Gibson's snuff flick is simply aerobics with plenty of bodily fluids, with a supernatural loincloth thrown in to hide the sex organs.

Glenn H: I think the Catholics are the only one's still into Transubstantiation these days.  We Episcopalians understand the concept of metaphor.

Shit, we not only believe in transubstantiation ( a concept Philip Dick finds so fascinatingly weird he includes it in his novels), we believe in exorcism.

Yeah, the Body of Christ compels you!

Earl Hartman: Well .... erm .... uhhh... urgh.... ahem.... uhh... So....uhhh...how does G-d taste, Noel?

His flesh is crisp and flaky; we have a cashew-flavored treat wrapped in that kind of bread, very popular in Manila. Interesting flavor.

The blood is like a sweetish liqueur with a medicinal flavor. Microwaved cough drops with a mild kick.


Ode to Ebert

From pinoydvd (I know it's bad poetry, but it's really a tribute to an annoying pinoydvd poster):

For what it's worth, his kind of soft shoeing
underneath the stars is kind of nauseating to look at.
can anyone understand that? Or is it
kind of a coded message I need to make clearer. To be

'xact, I mean Ebert's been doing this thing
all the time, and I for one don't think it adds to his credibility one bit.
god, what a moron.

until his kind gets bounced out of the media
press, we're still going to get that kind of wholesale whoring of mainstream and

hollywood movies no matter what.
it's kind of disgusting to think of, really, crass and
so depressing.

hindsight would tell us that
anything ebert praises
is probably too mainstream to be worth
reviewing, and anything he condemns is too provocative to be worth missing.
you have to go and see what he's got his panties in a bunch about.

so the best thing for us all
to do, probably,
is to not read him. ignore him.
can't be influential if he isn't listened to. he might as well go fly a
kite, jump a lake, something like that.
you dig?

at least, that's how i
see it.  so on with the

to arms, man, keep the good fight
in play, keep these darned 'critics
laid under,

he needs a good trouncing,
i say, a good bouncing. well, his weight at least has gone down. that's progress of
some kind. if i

ever meet him, i'd probably tell the
nincompoop that he should
get a life; more, he should get a sensibility.
like he ever will, of course.
is it too much to ask him to at least improve his prose? it reads and
scans like newspaper wrapping.
hell on the eyes.

if you can stand him, good for you.
my tender senses can barely read five
pages before i start to nod off.
of course, he doesn't exactly inspire confidence as a
virtuous journalist. when a friend of mine, diane, spotted him in the street,
ebert had the choice of going into an arthouse cinema or a porn movie. ebert
shuffled into the porn movie theater.