Star Wars vs. LOTR


Peter Jackson does great with the broad canvas--the digitally enhanced shots of the camera swooping down on the various battlefields--but his hand-held footage of the hand-to-hand combat is atrocious; you can barely see what's going on.

That said, he shows more variety and visual flair than Lucas. Looks like a win for LOTR.

On the other hand, the battle between Vader and Skywalker in Empire has more emotional resonance than anything in any of the movies, LOTR, Star Wars, whatever.

Win for Kershner.


Star Wars is a hodgepodge of influences, from Kurosawa to Campbell to Flash Gordon. Tolkien--well, I wouldn't go so far as to say he knew how to write, but he did know how to plot. And much as I like Empire, it's essentially a second act.

Win LOTR (unless we can argue that life is like a second act--all struggle and pain, and nothing is ever really concluded. In which case, win Lawrence Kasdan, Leigh Brackett, etc.).


Jackson gets wonderful performances from Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Miranda Otto and above all Andy Serkis, a consistently high level of performance all around, whereas the Star Wars movies have all these great actors who basically mouth bad dialogue and stare at what presumably was a very bright green screen. Plus it seems to me Jackson actually talks to his cast.

Win LOTR. Unless you factor in Kershner, who gets wonderful acting from a Jim Henson puppet. In which case, win Kershner.


Well--John Williams' score is more memorable, is what makes Star Wars. I have to give him that much. I can't remember LOTR's music.


Star Wars you forgive the lapses because of the casually grungy, relatively low-budget look of the spaceships and sets. George Lucas in the succeeding movies builds bigger and bigger sets out of more and more insubstantial material, ultimately making entire worlds out of nothing at all. It shows.

Jackson is a filmmaker.

Win LOTR. Except Jackson doesn't achieve the kind of emotional intensity that Kershner did. In which case, win Kershner.


Star Wars's later pictures are almost exclusively digital, and while much of the stuff looks beautiful or at least very professional, it has no emotional pull. LOTR has Gollum.

Win LOTR--unless you include Empire, in which the effects had plenty of emotional pull (Luke swinging his sabre despairingly, for example, while objects assault him from all directions). In which case, win Empire.

Voice Work:

Andy Serkis does a great job--is actually quite moving--as Gollum. Frank Oz is terrific as Yoda in Empire.

Close call. LOTR.

Good guys:

Star Wars' characters could barely muster a dimension between them while Tolkien's characters, if too polite and conventional, are genuine characters.

Win: LOTR, only Kershner's handling of the cast in Empire is superb, so Empire.

Bad guys:

A big ball of methane at the end of a sewer pipe (Sauron) vs. a bad guy who kills chocolate candy (Vader).

Win: neither. Except Vader was impressive in Empire, so Empire.


Yet even STILL more "Batman Begins!"

From pinoydvd:

diagoro: The use of the high frequency gadget to attract bats was in Batman: Year One.

The whole sequence in Batman: Year One was more riveting. Crazy SWAT commander drops a barrel of napalm on the building Batman was hiding in and he barely escapes.

That said, that was a large-scale action setpiece, a concession to batfans who want to see him do something superhuman. The real climax of the book was his confrontation with Gordon over the kidnapping of Gordon's son.

Gordon was a hell of a lot tougher in the novel, incidentally.

Dan: Remember that it was, after all, Ducard/Ra's Al-Ghul's League of Shadows that is the cause of the economic depression plaguing Gotham. It was the League that was supplying Scarecrow with his Fear powder and it was the League that, in a circular way, killed his parents: The League of Shadows created the Batman when Joe Chill Killed Bruce's Parents.

I didn't much like that part. In Batman: Year One the city was just corrupt and violent, like any major American city; it didn't need some supervillain sitting in the shadows manipulating the economy. And Batman didn't clean up the city; he upset a few people, made a little progress, gained an important ally--that's it. Far, far more realistic than the movie, which, as I've said before, is a half-hearted attempt at doing a Burton pic and a Miller noir.


Batman Begins article

Batman Begins

"Vertigo" viewed from a height

Saw Vertigo again, and found out it's perfectly watchable even for a nine-year-old kid.

Don't know if anyone's noticed this before, and I suppose it's too obvious not to notice, but Madeline (Kim Novak) wears a green dress when Scotty (James Stewart) first sees her, same as Judy (Novak, again); that shold have been a clue as to their true nature (that they're really the same person). Well, good enough for a film critic, tho I suppose in real life you'd need better proof.

More damning still is the moment when Judy comes out of that bathroom, wrapped in a green haze; when she emerges from that haze, she moves like Madeline, a dead giveaway (Judy's motions are casual, girlish; Madeline's are formal, and in intense moments, smooth and catlike), Scotty dressed and made her up like Madeline but wouldn't have taught her how to move like her (he had enough on his hands trying to get her to wear Madeline's hair). That's Judy, conspiring in her own way to complete Scotty's vision, only Scotty is too caught up in what he has wrought to notice.

Scotty tells us acquaintances call him 'Scotty' but friends call him 'John.' Madeline calls him 'John' first time but in succeeding scenes calls him 'Scotty.' Is it a move on Hitchcock's part, because 'Scotty' is a more distinctive, memorable name than 'John?' Is it the more informal Judy, preferring the less stuffy 'Scotty' to the more Biblical 'John' (so when Judy as Madeline calls him 'Scotty,' it's a Freudian slip on her part?)? Why all the hullabaloo about his name anyway?

The spiral is prominent in the credit sequence, in Madeline's hair, in the Mission belltower's staircase. It's also a good symbol for man's passage through time, because while there are many repetitions and correspondences throughout a man's life, each moment in time is never exactly the same as the previous one. Time and again Madeline comes back to Scotty's apartment, but each time the situation is different (first as a supposedly unconscious near-drowning victim, second as a polite visitor, third as a distressed lover); Judy acting as Madeline climbs the belltower, then climbs a second time as Judy substituting for Madeline.

Scotty is a man who tried to go back against that spiralling flow, to go back in time, in effect; for one night in Judy's apartment he achieves that goal--he's actually there, back in the stable, and Hitchcock brilliantly shows us his vision--thenhas his illusions shattered forever.

Someone once complained to me that she disliked Vertigo for attempting to glorify an unhealthy obsession; there was no trace of ordinary life or love in the film, of affection the way normal people express it. I told her normal love is something Scotty was striving for all the time, even when he was obsessed with Madeline, trying to possess her from beyond the grave, only he probably didn't know it.

It happens in the bell tower: Judy was pleading for a second chance, Scotty kept insisting it's too late, Judy presents her face at a certain, fatal angle--and suddenly Scotty was looking at Madeline again, face uptilt, lips sllightly parted, alive from beyond the grave. And he relents.

I'd argue that at that moment he accepted Madeline as having never existed, that all he has is plain old Judy, and that ordinary, normal love is all they had left (unless he could convince her during their honeymoon to try a few necrophilic games). That at that moment in the bell tower they fell in love again, and that this was the kind of solid, quotidian love she (the one I was arguing with) was looking for--marriage, children, the whole ball of wax.

And, of course, the story ends.


Science Fiction: an introduction

From Bizarre Hatred of Random Celebrities at Worldcrossing:

Chris H: Earlier this month, when I was out west with the GF visiting her family in Berkeley, one of her nephews (about 16) was reading Heinlein's Starship Troopers, and apparently enjoying it. I made a little commentary on the controversies over that book, and told him that after he was done, he should read Haldeman's The Forever War, which is basically a deconstruction of Starship Troopers. He seemed interested, and asked me what other SF-type books I would recommend. can anyone suggest any(thing)? I'm probably not going to recommend anything to him that I haven't read, so I'm mainly asking you to prod my memory a little. Plus, of course, I'm always happy to get additions for my own reading list.

Jesus Christ--an introductory list, or a greatest of all time list? Introductory for now:

I'd say the works of Philip K. Dick--the period of Man in the High Castle and Martian Time-Slip is best; his later works (VALIS; Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said and A Scanner Darkly) are for more advanced readers.

Philip Farmer in 'adventure mode"--the World of Tiers series, the Riverworld series are easy to get into and great fun (not to mention hugely impressive and educational). His ultraviolent sex novels--Blown and A Feast Unknown--are strictly for adults. But his Tarzan Alive! (a mock biography) is a fascinating read, and so is his Doc Savage: An Apocalyptic Life. And his short stories are some of the weirdest I've ever read.

John Sladek--prefer him over Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut. Mechasm, The Muller Fokker Effect, and the Roderick books (Roderick and Roderick at Random).

H.G. Welles--of course. The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Island of Dr. Moreau (arguably his masterpiece).

Stanislaw Lem--Solaris, of course. Tarkovsky's film has its passing strangeness and beauty, but the novel is so much bigger than either film version. Forget the Soderbergh remake.

Miyazaki--he's not just an anime filmmaker; his Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is one of the finest examples of ecological science fiction ever written, as well as (in my opinion) an acute psychological portrait of a girl developing into a messiah figure, leading her people either to salvation or possible doom.

Thomas Disch--Camp Concentration and 334, tho the latter might be a bit too advanced.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein--but of course.

Alfred Bester--the two novels (The Demolished Man, Stars My Destination) and all the short stories. This man was never rejected by a publisher, by the way.

J.G. Ballard--Empire of the Sun and The Crystal World are great introductory reads. Then when he is (if ever) ready, he can take on High Rise, The Atrocity Exhibition, and Crash.

Frederick Pohl--his collaborations with C.M. Kornbluth (whose short stories are also worth reading) are great: The Space Merchants, Gladiator at Law. And Gateway is a great novel all by itself.

Alan Moore--V for Vendetta, Watchmen; when he's a little bigger Miracleman, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Then when he's bigger than that, From Hell...

A.E. Van Vogt--prefer his short stories, but Slan is pretty good...oh, and The Voyage of the Space Beagle, one episode of which was the basis for Alien...

And ditto on Walter Miller's A Canticle for Liebowitz. Throw in Michael Moorcock (The Jerry Cornelius novels, the short stories); Brian Aldiss; Gregory Benford (Timescape); Gene Wolfe (The Book of the New Sun is a tremendous piece of work); James Tiptree, Jr.; Jack Vance; Richard Matheson; Robert Bloch; Cordwainer Smith; Damon Knight.

What else? I'll probably be adding more to this list. Beyond all that, and beyond Wells (in my opinion) are late Dick, more violent Farmer, more experimental Ballard (he kind of leaves all these cyberpunks behind in the dust) and Olaf Stapledon. Him I'd save for last.


Still even yet MORE Batman Begins! (it's petering out now, tho)

From Pinoyexchange:

spiderdude: uh...the main reason Burton's batman was a big hit in the box office is because it was the 1st time we saw a batman movie...

Maybe because Burton also has (or had) the popular touch? He had two hits beforehand, Peewee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, so it isn't like he's a novice at making popular movies--or movies heavy with SFX.

And remember--batfans hated what they were hearing about Burton's movie; they hated Keaton, they hated it that Burton's never directed an action movie before...so the movie was a hit despite the many fans, and was an even bigger hit than the first real major superhero movie, Superman. So if Burton's work appeals to audiences far beyond worshippers of flying mammals like ourselves (besides looking like a genuine work of art), belatedly winning most batfans along the way, that's his accomplishment.

From Atlantic Refugees

JC: By the way, I didn't find Keaton's Batman to be colder or more distant than Bale's.  If anything, I thought he seemed too warm and approachable...too emotionally well-adjusted and passive to actually feel compelled to dress up as a bat and play vigilante.  He also wasn't even remotely believable as an action hero...we had to suspend our disbelief in assuming that the suit was doing most of the work.  He wouldn't survive an encounter with multiple thugs attacking from all sides, which is why they only ever attacked one at a time (how convenient). 

Why, Keaton is the least likely example I can think of of the typical action hero and that's why batfans were so hostile to the announcement that he was to play Batman, and why he holds so much appeal to me, even now; he's constantly surprising you. Bale--well, I've seen him buff up in several films, including American Psycho, so hearing he's going to play a semipsychotic action hero isn't exactly something that would make you sit up and take notice...

One thing interesting about Keaton that hints at his being suited to play superhero, or at least a costumed hero: in all his performances, even the comedies, his reactions are razor fast and unpredictable; that's the unique advantage of being a comic actor (timing is everything in comedy; surprise too). You can believe he'll respond swiftly to an attack, and you can believe you're never know what the response will be, exactly.


Cardinal Sin is dead

Jaime Cardinal Sin

I'll say this much: if he hadn't rallied the people way back in 1986, when General Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile's coup d'etat failed, they would have been dead and we'd still be under Marcos' rule. But it wasn't as true that he was crucial to the second uprising that overthrew Estrada--that was the entire middle class, coordinated by text messaging. And he was a hatchet man for the church's conservatism; no political leader could make any leeway in proposing a more realistic birth-control program, or an actual divorce law, or a viable AIDS program, or maybe even a few rights accorded to gay couples. He even helped scuttle a government tetanus immunization program, for christ's sake, by suggesting that getting a shot would cause abortions.

So he's dead, and I'll mourn him for the good he did, curse him for the bad he did, and hope the next cardinal won't be as bad (fat chance!).

Yet even MORE Batman Begins!

From pinoyexchange:

Cerebrus: Lots of fans invoke guys like Miller (contrary to what most think---DKSA wasn't bad), Moore, et al, without really understanding what their approach towards the character was all about.

I like what Frank said about Batman (from Christopher Sharett's Twilight of Idols interview): "There's a tendency to see everything as a polemic, as a creed, when after all these are adventure stories. They can have a lot of ramifications, they can bring in an awful lot of other material, but anyone who really believes that a story about a guy who wears a cape and punches out criminals is a presentation of a... viewpoint, and a presentation of a program for how we should live our lives..., is living in a dream world."

If you subscribe to Miller's vision (and I do) and considering how we've been hearing Nolan say that Begins should "keep it real," then yes, Burton's Batman is indeed closer to what the Dark Knight is all about.

That's the reason why I wasn't really taken in by all that's being said on a more "realistic" take on the character.

Good point! Realism isn't all that. It's a style of storytelling, no more, no less, and no more superior than an 'artificial' style like Burtons'.

Cerebrus: I thought Nolan's version was vindicatingly doing great---right until Batman showed up, that is. And if it didn't unravel midway up to the end, I suspect fewer people (even the discerning ones) would gripe about "vision" that much.

So it's a matter of craftsmanship too.

Granted, I've been complaining about the details (tho isn't God in the details, and what does a vision consist of, exactly? Philosophical questions, I'm asking). Does Nolan's film have the unity to be a vision? As you pointed out (and I agree), it can be broken into two halves, one 'gritty' and operating on 'street level,' the other on a bigger scale (tho not as big as Burton's).

Cerebrus: That's the thing. It's hard to imagine a "realistic" Batman that would look good on the screen. Nolan could've nailed it the closest.  

Hmm...John Irvin? Actually, Scorsese, if anyone can bring him in? Geoff Murphy, Roger Donaldson, Lee Tamahori? Major filmmakers who did wonderfully realistic films (but with unique looks) in their own countries, then went to Hollywood to do diddly-squat?

How about Ringo Lam? His Hong Kong films are wonderfully gritty--City on Fire comes to mind. And his action scenes are kickass.

I'd argue they're as interesting if not more so than Nolan.  

spiderdude: Noel: challenging question...Burton's batman was scary because of the music and when we see batman he doesnt talk...we feel the music and fear just as we see batman....kahit sa cartoon ganun rin.

Nolan's batman naman reminds me of Frank Miller...the way he talked and the dark inks/background was so Miller. That said everyone loves Miller(he's batman is so good kc)...if every batfan makes a batman movie, I am sure it would be very similar to Miller or Nolan's.

Good point! If you gave the reins to a batfan, it would be exactly like Miller's. Why do on film what's been done well on paper already? I want something different. I want to be surprised. That's why I speculated in my article that the best relationship between filmmaker and fans in making a comic-book movie might be an antagonistic one.  

One last thought: Bale's Batman seems darker and grittier but he wimps out on actually killing people; Burton's Batman seems more kid-friendly but goes on to kill thirty to a hundred criminals. How does that go? "It's not what you are, it's what you do"?

If that's the case, Burton's Batman crossed the line. He's further gone, more psychotic, more disturbing. He's acting hero, but is he really a hero? Or the kind of massive psychosis that bends and pulls the world around it, creating supervillains to fight along its wake? Do these kinds of questions have as much relevance to Nolan's Batman?

If Burton makes Batman's killings a punchline, that's not Batman's fault; he didn't choose the camera angles or the timing of the cuts that made it hilarious/horrifying. Again, I'd say it's the director undercutting Batman's actions--acting as his enemy, so to speak. Do we see this in Nolan's Batman?

No I suppose Burton's Batman isn't easily likeable (tho I can't help but notice he enjoyed bigger boxoffice at this point in his commercial run, especially if you adjust for inflation). But that's the way I like 'em: outwardly colder, more chill, more distant. You have to think about it to realize that his is the darker vision, think about to realize that his Batman is more lost, more lonely, more in pain. You have to think when you watch Burton's Batman.Think because it's got layers. Like an onion.


Still MORE Batman Begins!

From pinoyexchange:

Cerebrus: Burton's vision (while now arguably dated) had entertaining theatricality and an element of dark perversity to it that best portrays the kind of world Batman is best realized in.

I thought Burton's vision wasn't the best kind for batfans...but it was recognizably his vision and I appreciated it as such (Nolan's world could've been done by, oh, Stephen Norrington, Bryan Singer, etc.). Plus I love it that, as I wrote, the villains, the world itself, even the director seems to be trying to undermine Keaton's perfectly serious Batman.

Cerebrus: Nolan's approach tried to incorporate "suspension of disbelief" with "realism." I appeciated the effort and thought he succeeded in some respects, but the film just couldn't mesh both together well enough. That's why the 1st half of the movie delivered great, and the latter half didn't.

It's kind of hanging in the middle--not all that stylized, not realistic enough. Miller's Batman Year One was not just gritty, but human sized--no Scarecrow, no superscience, just corrupt political figures and a very human, very scared Batman trying to bring it all together. I'd say the streets would look more like the New York of Scorsese's Taxi Driver. That would be truer to Miller's look.

kireigonjin: Maybe if they used the voice in the Batman animation series, it would be more effective. That voice is menacing!

Oh--him. Kevin Conroy. They call him The Voice. Yeah, sure. But voice actors' voices are almost always more impressive--that's why they're voice actors.

Keaton didn't need menacing lines; he had that look, like you just woke him up and you better have a very, very good reason for doing so. Didn't waste too much time trying to scare people, just get on with it.

Simply put, Keaton did more with less. That's impressive.

And he didn't need electronic amplification (one idea too many there). Maybe Flass got scared he might catch Bale's sore throat!
Does anyone remember the music? Very important part of a film, especially a comic-book movie. I walked out of Burton's films humming the theme; can remember it still, over ten years later. I forgot the theme in Nolan's picture while walking up the aisle.

jdlc: I remember the Burton's Batman theme. It's more recognizable as it has been used in the animated series. It fit perfectly with what Burton was trying to achieve with "his" Batman.

Batman Begins actually has a theme (after having seen it so many times already) but it's not as obvious nor as "classic" as you may want to put it. However I also think that the theme fits well for the Nolan movie. I don't think Burton's theme would sound right in Batman Begins.

Battousai: Sadly, no. I loved Danny Elfman's score better on the first two Batman films. Altough he was a bit off in Spider-Man. Sayang, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard pa naman ang composers for Batman Begins. It just didn't do it for me.

I'm thinking Elfman started repeating himself after Batman Returns. It's a classic, and a classic's a classic. If you stuck Nolan's theme in an animated series, I still don't think it'll stick. I mean, the new animated series' theme is more memorable.

I did like Hans Zimmer's score for The Thin Red Line.

From pinoydvd:

I think Burton's Batman films are as dark if not darker, they just aren't as obviously dark. I mean--Bale's Batman stops short of killing people, right? Keaton's Batman just went ahead and sent his Batmobile into the Joker's factory, dropped a bomb, and Boom! thirty to maybe a hundred henchmen dead, just like that, and just to provide a punchline to one of Burton's jokes (small ball, big blast). And Keaton didn't even (heh) bat an eye.

In Batman Returns, he's faced with a flame-throwing fire-eater. What does he do? Turn the Batmobile around, and fry the man in his jet exhaust.

This is not a kindler, gentler Batman--I'd argue he's even crazier than Bale's Batman, a real homicidal maniac.

From Atlantic Refugees:

JC: OK, I just read your review, Noel (I skimmed over it previously).

Honestly, my feeling is they developed the villains suitably enough to serve the story they were determined to tell...which is why they didn't chose a more flamboyant villain (such as Joker) this time around, because it would've bothered audiences more had he gotten short shrift.  And Nolan created something that, IMO, Burton never achieved:  he created a world I could believe in.  Not for one second during "Batman" or "Returns" did it not occur to me that I was watching actors on a soundstage.  Which is why the previous Batmobiles drove about as fast as a golf cart...because if they went any faster, they'd run out of set.  And yet I still enjoyed them, because they were fun...but I never found them particularly engrossing on a narrative level, because they didn't give me anything to latch onto that wasn't laced with artifice...hell, the Animated Series was more convincing. 

I'm not one to believe if an actor gets a lot of lines or has a lot of screentime you know more about his character. Goyer put in a lot of dialogue (most of it functional) but it's as if Bale was talking mostly to functionaries and acquaintances--he didn't have any equals in the picture, even if they are trying to kill him. There's Alfred, faithful servant and father figure, but it's different (and besides, it was mostly Alfred berating Bruce). You don't have the kind of interplay with an opponent that you want to fight and fuck at the same time, like with Catwoman (Katie who?). The movie threw a lot of information at me, but I didn't connect with the character, not emotionally. Whereas there's a mysterious reserve to Keaton's that draws one to him. You can believe (what Oldman says towards the end, that little speech about escalation) that Keaton's Batman draws supervillains almost out of the woodwork, they want to tangle with him. 

As for Burton's storytelling--it stops and starts in parts; he's no accomplished storyteller (he's no craftsman). But when it comes to life, it flies; it hits highs. Nolan gets a more even tone--maybe even a monotone (he's no artist). Case to case basis, of course, but I prefer Burton's grand artifice to Nolan's plodding realism.

And Nolan's kind of a humorless director. Noticed it in Following. Insomnia had funny parts, but I suspect it's mostly Robin Williams (it's definitely not Pacino); Memento too, only I suspect it's mostly Pantoliano (it's not the dialogue, it's Pantoliano's delivery). Finding horror in humor seems to be a bit out of his reach, and he has to cast comic actors to achieve a variety in tone.

Even MORE on "Batman Begins!"

Conversations I had with a moron and a pretty sharp guy, from pinoyexchange (leave it to you to guess who is who):

Keaton--well, I talked about what I thought of him compared to Bale in my article upthread. In a nutshell, my favorite, because he delivered the most surprises.

jdlc: Well the curly haired Bruce Wayne will always hold a special place in your heart . The biggest surprise that Keaton gave me was that he was able to pull off the Batman role despite earlier criticisms by the comic fans when he was cast. But after seeing Bale in the role, I'd say he is THE Batman.

Prefer Keatons' Batman--he wasn't an obvious choice, and he didn't use an electronically amplified voice (I hear Tom Cruise does ). In fact, I don't remember him raising his voice at all when he was in costume...

And his Wayne was interesting--he played him as a man constantly in need of sleep, as if he kept long hours at night. Or as if he was the kind of man who had problems getting enough sleep at night (only innocent men have no troubled dreams).

I wrote that maybe the best relationship between filmmaker and fan is an antagonistic one.

Burton was true to his vision--truer in Batman Returns.  

kireigonjin: I didn't like it because Batman's voice was irritating and distracting. So electronically amplified pala kaya ganon...Anyway, I am willing to watch it again. Maybe without my noisy nephews, I can appreciate it more. But first, I have to condition my mind about that electronically amplified voice And snap out of the thought that Batman is not the reincarnation of Darth Vader who decided to get re-trained by Quai Gon Jin  

One gimmick too many? Dustin Hoffman, a proponent of Method Acting, was on the set of Marathon Man . He stayed awake for days, screaming his head off, to achieve the hoarse, exhausted look of someone being hunted by Nazis. Laurence Olivier, his co-star and the film's villain, said "you should try acting, my dear."  

kireigonjin: Ha ha. Somehow, Hoffman's voice in Marathon Man worked for me. But Bale's Batman voice sounded like he was trying too hard to sound tough and scary. The voice defeated his purpose  

jdlc: Not necessarily. He used that "sore throat" voice effectively when he interrogated Flass. Yup it's over-the-top/theatrical but it served its purpose at least for that scene. He does need a bit of work on this one but an almost irrelevant reason for me not to like the movie.

kireigonjin: But Bale's Batman voice sounded like he was trying too hard to sound tough and scary.


Mind you, and I've said this before, I loved Bale's Bruce Wayne. When he threw all the guests out of the party, he reminded me of Patrick Bateman. And he did it so assuredly that you wonder if he was completely acting--if, at some level, he wasn't expressing his utter contempt for Wayne and the society he represented.

But with the cowl on, he was definitely trying.

Art critic and poet Jolicco Cuadra once said to me: "So quiet! Real killers are like that. The loud man walking down the street, I don't notice. I'm afraid of the quiet man."


Aelita, Queen of Mars

I've heard so much about Yakov Protazanov's Aelita: Queen of Mars that it was a genuine puzzlement when most of the nearly two-hour film was spent dramatizing the marital problems of one Engineer Los (Nikolai Tsereteli)--what did I care who his wife Natasha (Vera Kuindzhi) cavorted with, when all I wanted to see was more of Aelita (Yuliya Solntseva) and Mars?

But as the film progresses, Los' dilemma grows more fascinating. A subtext emerges: Natasha is infatuated with various bourgeoisie indulgences (a sack of sugar, a box of chocolates) presented by a tenant as his way of seducing her; Los himself represents Soviet engineering at its purest and most idealistic...probably why Aelita, watching from a telescope, falls in love with him. Other characters include Kravtsov (Igor Ilinsky), an amateur sleuth so mercilessly parodied I take it sleuth wannabes who are really informants are not approved of in official Soviet society (or is this subversive subtext?), and veterans like Gusev (Nikolai Batalov), who cheerfully carries out an affair with a Martian handmaiden, are applauded (so civilian informers are frowned upon, military adulterers not so?).

When Los finally makes it to Mars (at around the 90 minute mark), it's a visual delight, as if piano wire and canvas sails are all that hold the massive walls and columns together (you wonder if this is a low budget feature; if so, the director made good use of what was available to create a unique look). Martian fashion is a delight; they wear bizarre headgear that often look cannibalized from television antennas, or in the case of Tuskub, King of Mars (Constantin Eggert), what looks like an arrow pointed to 'medium rare.' Costumes vary in detail from glitter to gold foil to, in the case of Aelita, a flange spiralling so that a miniature Alpine skier can have a great time slaloming down her body. Mars looks as if some genius had ransacked a machine shop, a grade-school art department, and a stone quarry for ideas and material.

What happens in Mars is no less witty (or bizarre SPOILERS): in around twenty minutes' time, Los wins the queen over, stages a revolt, and establishes a "Soviet Republic of Mars" (Long live the revolution!). Again here I'm guessing that Mars represents decadent Western culture (how communists portray capitalist society is Soviet filmmaking at its most fanciful, and entertaining), ripe for the picking by the right Soviet idealist. Then--therevolt collapses, Los finds himself murdering his wife (again), and wakes up to find that it's all a dream. I don't know how to take that, except maybe Protazanov is advocating revolution at a slower pace (as a rebuke to more radical elements), one engineering project at a time. Then there's the fact that a fellow engineer named Spiridinov, also played by Tsereteli, winds up dead, murdered by the villainous tenant (that I haven't figured out yet).

Seems like chunks were cut out of the film, what with the wife veering wildly from beleagured housewife to licentious adulterer, without giving either Los or the audience the chance to catch our bearings. Nevertheless, a wonderful fantasy, very much worth seeing.

More Memento (or: More Before Batman Begins)

From Atlantic Refugees:

le nubian: don't think you give Nolan enough credit - or his brother. I read the short story that predated "Memento." I've seen the movie backwards and forwards (special edition DVD). I have to say the movie hangs together both ways. In reverse order - the way Nolan intended it - the viewer feels a bit unsettled like the protagonist.

I read the short story too, and saw it played forward--thought it played better backwards, as Nolan intended.

Stuff that had me scratching my head included killing someone on the basis of a tattoo on your body that you have no memory of making (what if someone had done it to you, or you had done it on a drunken spree?) or a note scribbled on a photo; how unlikely it would be for a cop to develop a mentally handicapped man as a serial killer; and why the hotel clerk would let all the shenanigans go on for such a long time (I'd buy it if the clerk was in cahoots or intimidated by Pantoliano, but Nolan didn't go that way...).

Stuff like that. Hitchcock's films had loopholes too, but he made you forget the loopholes, mainly because he was freaking you out with the same fears and anxieties that freaked him out too...

Zero Mostel, Jerome Robbins, and HUAC

From a_film_by

Date: Sat, 18 Jun 2005 11:44:10 -0700 (PDT)

From: David Ehrenstein


You make your choice and then you have to live with yourself. Many suffered under the blacklist -- whether they were part of the Hollywood Ten or not. If Kazan suffered for being a fink that's all well and good, but it's between him and him.


My favorite story about that era centers on Zero Mostel and Jerome Robbins. Mostel was one of the people Robbins specifically named to HUAC. His talent and sheer force of will made a comeback possible. And as a result "Fiddler on the Roof" came about. The producers wanted Robbins to direct and choreograph. They NEEDED him. But they needed Zero more. So they went to him on bended knee. Could they hire Jerry? Zero had one question "Do I have to have lunch with him?" They said no. And so Jerome Robbins directed "Fiddler on the Roof" without ever having lunch with Zero Mostel.


In fact he never spoke to Zero Mostel at all.


Not that he or anyone else had to.


It is always important to remember that artistic talent has nothing to do with morality.


Before "Batman Begins"

Christopher Nolan's Memento is a pretty clever reworking of noir conventions that pretty much remains that: a clever reworking of noir conventions. Nice idea to tell the story in reverse order, giving us a sense of the kind of dislocation the protagonist might have, but it's basically the kind of gimmick Hitchcock might have used (and did, to some extent, in Spellbound). The difference between Hitchcock and noir filmmaker wannabes like Nolan and Bryan Singer is that Hitchcock creates or uses these gimmicks out of a deeper need, to express his obsessions with guilt and sexual dread; his films as a result are far more unsettling.


More on Batman Begins

From pinoyexchange: Well, I'm glad that at least, you're just one of the few (about 1 out of 10 critics?) that does not see the genius of the movie. 

What can I say? We geniuses are that rare. 

Christian Bale: But to me, whilst I enjoyed those ones, it was more the stylization of the villains than Batman himself. I didn’t see a whole lot going on in Batman.

But he would say that, wouldn't he?

I thought he did a good job with Wayne--said so in my article. But his Batman, if anything, had even less going on than Keaton, especially when Keaton had to face off with Pfeiffer (now that's  chemistry--someone you want to punch and kiss at the same time!). Bales' Batman had no one to react to really, as an equal and an opposite (he interacts well with Gary Oldman, but Oldman's an ally not an adversary. And Katie Holmes--well, she's no Michelle Pfeiffer).

To me if you’re gonna make ‘Batman,’ you really have to really pick a side and either really send it up the way that Adam West did it, because a man running around in a bat suit can be a very funny thing, or really take it seriously and delve into the demons, you know, of this character etcetera. I think that the other movies kind of went in-between.

A balance between Batman's grimness and Burton's black humor. Harder to do, I'd say, than Nolan's monotone.

bluewing: why does noel vera always NEED to swim upstream? i have a feeling it's already a bad habit for him. he couldn't help himself. he just HAS to play devil's advocate. is there a film you actually enjoyed with the rest of us mere mortals?

Check out the Hellboy and Prisoner of Azkaban thread.

 Spiderdude: Noel: you should be aware marami batman fanatics dito...mahirap makalaban sila. Kasing tapang nila si batman

jdlc: He probably didn't get the memo... errr you probably didn't get the memo about Noel Vera .

I hope they realize that mine's is at best an opinion...no better and no worse than anyone else's.

That said--you should see the fanatics in the THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (free registration necessary) thread!

From pinoydvd:

X44: Nice one, Noel.  Grin Agree with you onpractically every point. Specially the point about the villains being the stars of the show. From Adam West down to the last Schumacer, they always were. After all, once you've gotten past the anal-retentive-millionaire-playboy-traumatized-by-the- shooting-of-his-parents, there's really nothing left to say that's interesting. Even the guys doing the comics knew this.

Thanks X. Tho on one point, I'd argue: if Pfeiffer was so memorable in Batman Returns, was she memorable in a vacuum? It was a pas de deux, with Pfeiffer and Keaton reliving their bittersweet romance from real life...


Batman Begins

From peoplesforum:

Saw Batman Begins. On the whole, I still prefer Burton's take.

Adam Lipscomb: Burton's version was interesting, and a good bridge from the campiness of the Adam West Batman, but it just wasn't as solid as Nolan's. Don't get me wrong - I'm a huge fan of Tim Burton, but his Batman just didn't ring as true as this one did.

Nolan's a clever director, but what he lacks is vision. Seems consistent with all his films.

Le Nubian:  liked Burton's first movie. But...Kim Basinger just about fucked up the movie for me with all her crazy screaming. Burton really needed to reign her in. I believe it would have been a much better movie with some restraint shown by Basinger.

I'm not sure I agree that Nolan has no vision. Do you really think so?

Well--take Gotham. Everyone says it recalls Blade Runner, but I remember the cityscape there, and this one just looks like bits of New York and Chicago mixed together. I was wondering if anyone worked as production designer (Burton's first had Anton Furst, a real genius (tho I really much prefer the second overall)). I can barely pick out that subway train of Wayne Senior, it just looks grungy where, say, the trains in Guillermo del Toro's Mimic were memorably grungy--not just abandoned, but haunted as well.

There's a difference between clever and visionary, I think.

From pinoyexchange:

jdlc: I think the only people that will be disappointed with it are those with impossibly high (and greatly hyped up) expectations, those that are expecting lots of heavy action, those that are expecting the campy fun from the previous films and those that have short attention span.

Didn't think Burton's films were at all campy fun. In many ways they were more disturbing than this one...because they found the darkness in the middle of laughter.

It's like with Mark Twain--people remember him as a comic writer, but in the middle of Huckleberry Finn are some very real horrors, all the more startling because they were hidden in between the comedy.

Sometimes humor has its uses.

jdlc: I've always thought the first four batman films were campy in one way or another. You have Jack Nicholson spouting every one-liner they could come up with as the Joker to Danny de Vito's over-the-top performance as the Penguin. The only difference for me between the first two and the next two is that the first two Batman films have its Gothic charm while the later films were just plain ridiculous and too cartoonish for my tastes.

Campy is often defined as either "someting outmoded or banal or unsophisticated it's considered clever or amusing," or "something effeminate or homosexual." But Burton's Batman didn't have camp, it had wit--visual wit in the first film's designs (by Anton Furst), and verbal with in the second film's dialogue (by Daniel Waters). And DeVito's Penguin had a melancholic subtext: he's like that because ever since he was a child, he's been abandoned--by his parents, by Max, by the city, and finally, by his gang. He's a Dickens grotesque.

I don't even think of the Shumacher movies.

From pinoydvd:

Gary Oldman was decent. But...Tom Wilkinson as a Carmine (who'd have thunk?)? Katie (I'm so clueless) Holmes as a District Attorney? Wholly Hilarious Example of Miscasting, Batman!

And the music? I heard Elfman's music over ten years ago and still remember it (dananana da NAAA na!). Saw Begins only a few hours ago and I couldn't remember the music. Could you?  Huh

X44: Nope. And to think Begins had two scorers. Of course, when those scorers happen to be uber-hacks Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, what's to remember?

Two composers! The mind boggles.

Actingwise, everyone, except maybe for our Ms. Holmes, was pitching in, giving as close to all as they could. I liked Oldman here, too. And enjoyed Rutger even if he was playing another stock corporate snake. I hoped his disapproving looks at the playboy Wayne with the two European models would  go off into an interesting character tangent but nope, he had to be just another  bad guy in the end. Doh.  But he was OK. Still, you can only do so much with a script this messy. And the dialogue, eh? Terrible. Grin

Dialogue? What dialogue?

(Hits Catwoman)

"How could you! I'm a woman--!"

"I'm sorry--" (Offers hand to help her up) 

(Whips him off the roof, catches hisarm with the whip and hangs the handle on a TV antenna) "--I'm a woman, and therefore not to betrusted. Life's a bitch; now so am I."

Now that's dialogue!


Tokyo Godfathers

Satoshi Kon's Tokyo Godfather, loosely based (I think) on the John Ford film, is a joy of an anime. Three homeless bums--a man, a man who wished he was a woman, and a young girl--find a baby abandoned in an alley which they try to raise together.

Kon goes for the obvious route with this premise--a lighthearted comedy, which is possibly the only way to play it (Damon Runyon probably invented the genre with his short story "The Luck of Roaring Gulch" and no one's found a better approach since)--but it's the way Kon executes the comedy that makes it his own. He's the rare anime filmmaker who relies less on elaborate animation and digital effects (they're there, but Kon doesn't call attention to them) and more on old-fashioned gimmicks like characterization and plotting. He acknowledges the pathos of the homeless' situation--at one point, we see a group of young men doing their annual 'clean-up:' destroying the shacks and beating up their inhabitants)--without wallowing in the grimnness (for all the desperation of their circumstance, Kon's heroes are a feisty if beleagured trio).

Unlike Nimoy's 3 Men and a Baby, Kon largely avoids cheap laughs or pratfalls; most of the humor comes from character and the way the three consistently respond to each crisis (when Kon does allow a pratfall, it's in a less comic-book manner than the Nimoy comedy, and you see the bruises where the victim hits the ground). He has a delicate way with sentiment: even if we do come to learn each of the 3 bums' stories, we learn gradually, with little visual or aural cues to ease the transition into flashback; sometimes the character tells his or her own story, and Kon treats it as a dramatic monologue, with quiet respect for the actor's moment in the spotlight.

In stories about the homeless, there's always the possibility that they will go back to wherever they come from. Kon's treatment of this: he has each of them meet up with the parent or family they've left, but doesn't have them actually go back, content to leave matters open (a sequel, maybe?). The coincidental meetings and encounters seem funny, then seem a bit much, then come so often (and never when you expect them--or even when you DO expect them Kon puts a spin on it so that it's part of the joke) that it becomes a comic style all its own, like Oscar Wilde on a neorealist kick.

Kon seems to be the kind of canny commercial storyteller that isn't afraid to entertain, and isn't afraid to find smart ways of doing it. Wonderful fun.


Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

Saw Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, and can see how heavily Tim Burton borrows from this for his Mars Attacks! Hard to choose between Burton's blackly comic glee and Fred F. Sears low-budget cluelessness--I like both, for different reasons.

Have to note, the science is rarely strong in science fiction films, and it sure isn't here (surprising, considering the script was written by Curt Siodmak, a legitimate writer--but then science fiction writers in particular have always had unhappy experiences with Hollywood). That the aliens exist on a 'time differential' different from ours is an interesting concept, but that humans aboard their ship will have stopped watches and no heartbeat--all the while talking and moving like normal--is plain dumb. Throw in the humans' reply to the aliens' advance technology, a 'sonic beam' meant to interrupt their 'electromagnetic waves.' Okaaay...

The stars of the flick, of coures, are Harryhausen's saucers. They spin at an alarming rate (no cool display of antigravity, thank you), and just hovering there like gigantic throbbing frisbees they look threatening. But that's not all they do; they dive, shoot up, wobble, and make dramatic pauses before crashing into some of the world's most famous buildings (Harryhausen's saucers are incurable scene stealers). They're livelier, more entertaining performers than the human cast, including, I'm sorry to say, Hugh Marlowe, who gave a subtler, more sophisticated performance six years earlier in All About Eve.


Filipino Fantasy and Science Fiction

From Pinoyexchange:

Of Filipino fantasy, favorites would include Brocka's Gumising Ka Maruja (Wake Up, Maruja), Celso's Patayin sa Sindak si Barbara (Terrorizing Barbara), Bernal's Prigider (Refrigerator), Mario O'Hara's Halimaw sa Banga (Monster in a Jar), Dolphy's Omeng Satanasya, Gerry de Leon's Blood of the Vampires and the Caridad porton of Fe, Esperanza, Caridad.

Great fantasy would include Gerry de Leon's Sanda Wong and Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo (The Python in the Old Dome), and O'Hara's Pangarap ng Puso (Demons).

Good to great Filipino science fiction (there aren't many) would include de Leon's Terror is a Man, Mike de Leon's  Aliwan Paradise (Pleasure Paradise) segment of Southern Winds, and Lav Diaz's Hesus Rebolusyunaryo (Jesus the Revolutionary).

A.O. Scott on Miyazaki

Interesting piece on Miyazaki here

He's wrong on one point--Miyazaki does do a Blade Runner-like animated short, On Your Mark. Which in tone and flavor, of course, is uniquely Miyazaki.

Scott points out Miyazaki's attention to landscape and especially weather, something he shares with Kurosawa who is a master of onscreen climate (I'm thinking of, among many others the heat wave in Drunken Angel, the rainstorm in Seven Samurai, the snowfall in Ikiru, the wind in Yojimbo, the mist in Throne of Blood). Both bend the elements to their will, to comment on and emphasize the emotion, the drama of the moment.

The main point he makes I'd partly agree and disagree with: world's greatest animator (with Takahata around?)? One of the world's best living animators sounds more appropriate. But I do think that he is at heart something of an animist, and that any great animator will be able to bring his array of inanimate objects (flat drawings, or digitally rendered solid shapes) to life.


I've never been much of a "Star Wars" guy

From Phil Nugent, in peoplesforum:


Well, I've never been much of a "Star Wars" guy. I was in grade school when the first one came out so I should be squarely in that demographic, but as a kid I preferred monster movies to space operas, and I remember that for me the big movie news in the summer of 1977 was that they re-released "Jaws". I can say that the last couple of "SW" movies have finally convinced me that Lucas belongs behind a camera. He can't direct human beings to save his life, but he clearly enjoys arranging pixels and digital effects, and the times have caught up with him. I enjoyed the parts of the movie that were just state-of-the-art trippy visual candy, like the sequence showing the wiping out of the Jedi knights and the appaearances by the supporting baddie, General Grievous--my all-time favorite name of a character in a Lucas movie except for the representative of unspeakable evil in "Willow", one General Kael--a cyborg leader of droids who has what sounds like a smoker's persistant hacking cough, even though he doesn't have any lungs. If Lucas wants to turn feature animator, I'm all for it.


But as long as he's doing "Star Wars", he's still stuck having to try to direct actors and fit them into the mix, and he's still so uncomfortable at it that the seams really show. For me, though, the real problem with what are now the first three "Star Wars" movies is that they're supposedly there to "explain" how Darth Vader got that way, and I was never especially eager to have Darth Vader's bad personality explained, anymore than I wanted Ming the Merciless explained, or to see a trilogy prequel to "Jaws" establishing that Bruce was a Depression-baby shark who knew hunger in his youth and so grew up unwilling to think about who he was hurting by using the coastline of Martha's Vineyard as his own personal snack counter. I mean, for twenty-five years I've had to hear from Joseph Campbell and whoever writes the cover stories for Time about how Lucas has given us a mythology in the same direct line as Homer and the Arthurian legends, and instead of some wild, violent tall tale that you might think would be appropriate for how some towering Satanic space warrior came to being, we get this good-liberal load of hot air about how poor little Annie, as he's known to his friends, was really a good fellow at heart but was misled by mean people he trusted and so gave into the human "weaknesses" Master Yoda was always warning him about, such as his capacity for "anger and hatred", which are yoked together so many times that I have to assume that Lucas, or at least his Jedi, are under the mistaken belief that they're the same thing, and his capacity for caring about other people, which is bad because it makes him vulnerable to fears that he'll lose them. (And though I'm sure that I'd understand this better if I just hung out on the right message boards, I don't really understand why the Jedi spend half their time bad-mouthing emotions as if they'd studied under Mr. Spock and spend the other half counselling confused individuals to "listen to your feelings".) And I thought it was a real let-down to see that all the physical  damage that turned Annie into a walking burn ward hooked to James Earl Jones's voice box happened in one especially bad ten-minute stretch, instead of being the cumulative result of years of a life devoted to war. Not to flatter myself unduly, but I think I probably fantasized a more vibrant backstory for Darth Vader on my own, and I'm not one of those people who've devoted their lunch hours to the task every day for a couple of decades.


Details on the book

Supply reportedly ran low in Datelines Bookshop in Cubao, only two copies left as of last week ('selling like bibingkas (hot rice cakes)' is how someone put it); don't know about Old Pop (also in Cubao). Seventeen more copies are on their way (update: the seventeen copies arrived).

Meantime, I'm expecting twenty copies (yes--twenty!) to be available soon at the Cultural Center of the Philippines' bookshop, in time for the Cinemalaya Filmfest on July 12 to 17.

As Philip Cheah puts it: "onwards and upwards." As best we can, I suppose.


Filipino Film Festival in New York

I've known this for some time yet put it off till now; I hope my late post isn't too late.

All the Brocka and Bernal films are worth watching, but Brocka's Makiusap sa Diyos is at best well-made melodrama with a wooden actress in the forefront. Likewise more recent efforts: Naglalayag features the Philippines' finest actress, Nora Aunor, being pretty good, if not at her best; Magnifico features a script by a Japanese writer that has a nice understated quality--no loud histrionics, no high drama, just ordinary life with a touch of humor, a touch of (for want of a better word) enchantment; Sakay is the first feature length film of Raymond Red, whom Tony Rayns (and I agree with him) considers an extraordinary filmmaker (his best works are shorts; this one moves slow, but has a hypnotic pull to it).

But the priority films I'd say are the following:

Relasyon (Relation): Ishmael Bernal's finely wrought low-key kitchen-sink drama, about a woman having an affair with a married man. June 14 at 5.30

Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Judged and Found Wanting): Lino Brocka's first great film, a cross between I Vitelloni and The Last Picture Show, but infused with Brocka's sense of neorealist urgency. Not just important artistically, important historically: this was the film that signalled the beginning of the '70s golden age of Philippine cinema. With a great performance (and script) by Brocka's collaborator, Mario O'Hara. June 10 at 9.30, June 11 at 3.

Batang West Side (West Side Avenue): Lav Diaz's 5 hour epic, about a Filipino-American community in West Side Avenue, Jersey City. Diaz's masterpiece, I think (even over "Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino"), one of two great films made A.B. (After Brocka), and the film to see if you can see only one. June 16, 6 pm.

To confirm schedules and venue, check their website:

Imaginasian Filipino Film Festival

And for Batang West Side's sked, try this link


Asheboro Zoo

Just got in from the Asheboro Zoo, lovely place if not as comprehensive with animals as the Washington Zoo, it does have a beautiful layout and plenty of forest to lay it out in and walk in and get lost in (if it weren't so freaking hot!). I just learned from the grizzly exhibit that the male likes to raise its arm up--like it's waving 'hi!' or asking to go to the bathroom--while making an upward humping motion with its hips, tossing out an erection the exact size and shape and length and color of a red marker pen. Yep, the bear had a serious boner, which it was stroking with its formidable claws; one kid cried out "it's saying hi!" to which I muttered "that's not 'hi' it's saying" which drew general laughter from the more intelligent people around.

That gesture kind of reminded me of this dance fad that went with this '80s song, which I simply could not remember till I got to the parking lot...after which I was singing and gesturing it, to the dismay and delight of my fellow travelers, all the way home.

"Just got lucky..."


Anatomy of a Murder

Saw Anatomy of a Murder. Stewart's very good--it's the kind of humane lawyer he plays in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, only this one actually has the cunning to win a court case. George C. Scott is an excellent low-key predator--the word "tiger shark" comes to mind; Ben Gazzara has the most unsettlingly feminine eyes, they're so lovely, and Lee Remick is hot. Oh, and Joseph Welch--well, he doesn't seem to be giving a performance, exactly, but he's still an engaging presence, the very voice of amiable reason, so to speak. If I like this less than Advice and Consent, that's because you don't have a powerhouse performance in the league of Charles Laughton lighting up the screen.



I saw Kapo (1959) on TCM last Friday. Gillo Pontecorvo's film is everything that Spielberg's Schindler's List is not--where Spielberg's flick shows the Jews as purely victims or survivors, passive receivers of their fate, only Schindler and Fiennes' Nazi officer seen in any kind of complicated light, Kapo focuses on one Jewish character, Susan Strasberg's Edith, and gives us a detailed view of her and her motives.

The film begins strictly from Edith's point of view: we're right beside her when she walks home and realizes that her parents are being arrested (nice touch, the parent's inexplicably cut phone call ), and we know what an unbelievably stupid--yet inevitable and brave, considering her age--act it was to run after them.

She undergoes a series of experiences that, on one side, miraculously puts her in a 'good' work camp (she's no longer a Jew, but a criminal named Nicole), but on the other side, takes away her identity and ultimately her humanity. Pontecorvo leads us through this transformation step by step, so while she becomes a hardened kapo and an unfeeling bitch, she never loses our sympathy because we know exactly what she's gone through. Then love enters her life...and provides the final impetus towards her ultimate destiny.

I'd love to call it neorealist--Pontecorvo I think mentions he's inspired by those films, and it has the directness and simplicity of that kind of filmmaking, only the concentration camp sets and smoothness of Pontecorvo's direction (lengthy takes with elaborate camera moves) tends to mark the film as, well, better-funded than an ordinary neorealist production (I'd say Battle of Algiers, though equally well-funded, has a better claim on being a visual descendant).

I also noticed how closely Strasberg's character resembles a great character in Philippine cinema--Nora Aunor's Rosario in Mario O'Hara's Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God, 1976)--both are women forced by circumstance to collaborate (so to speak) with the enemy, and both find themselves struggling on the wrong side towards the end of the war. Pontecorvo's film is great, great, great,  Strasberg is wonderful, and the character has a skein of complex emotions and series of ironies that the Filipino film doesn't go into (interesting that, while Strasberg loves the Russian soldier, her sympathies, after the final epiphany, are with the Nazi officer), but I can't help feeling that Aunor's character captures a broader range of experience (she, for one, has a child by the enemy officer, and much of her rage and shame focuses on the child), and that O'Hara's film has the bleaker, more realistic ending. 


Advise and Consent

Thanks to the fans at a_film_by and a NYT article, I decided to rent Otto Preminger's Advise and Consent, and it's terrific fare. Aside from the fact that much of the dialogue seems to echo--sometimes with unnerving accuracy--recent headlines (John Bolton, anyone?), Preminger manages to make the intricacies of Senate procedure fascinating and, at one point, even exciting (I'm thinking of the sequence where Preminger uses a roll call as a kind of countdown device, while a senator desperately tries to get himself heard). A lot could be credited to Allan Drury's novel, of course, but there've been plenty of novels with thriller setpieces that somehow translate poorly to the big screen.

Large cast--everyone from Henry Fonda (whose salt-of-the-earth persona comes on so strong it's a shock to hear him admit to lying) to Walter Pidgeon (who's simply magnificent) to Franchot Tone (who has this moment of silent comprehension opposite Pidgeon that's very fine) to Burgess Meredith (who seems like the only innocent in the film, and appropriately befuddled) to Lew Ayres (possibly the most intelligent and sensitive vice president in all of history) to Don Murray and George Grizzard, all give excellent performances, not only by themselves but opposite each other (you can believe just watching them that they all have worked--and not just worked but worked in politics--together, for years).

But what sold me to the film, what raised the film beyond mere intelligent political filmmaking, was the senior senator from South Carolina (hiya, neighbor!). Charles Laughton in his last screen role holds this movie as assuredly and thoroughly as his Senator Seabright Cooley holds whatever audience he speaks to, from Senatorial chamber to a small bridge party, in the palm of his hand. He waddles along, like an oversized penguin; declaims to the highest rafters then drops his voice to the merest whisper; throws lecherous sidelong glances at the odd pretty young woman; does the most outrageous, audacious things, and it's all an integrated, completely controlled performance--you can't take your eyes off him for a minute, the very air in the room seems to dim whenever he exits, brightens whenever he pops up; even just sitting at a card table he manages to steal the scene. 

And while Murray's story is strong enough, and Murray is intense and moving as he labors under an impossible predicament (strange how that same 'predicament' seems just as damning--if not more so--today as it was then), and his ultimate fate harrowing (though I for one felt that with this particular subplot I was consistently ahead of the story--knew what the problem was the moment I heard the word "Hawaii," didn't need the visit to the bar, or the letter that followed, at all), Laughton's Cooley somehow tops that dramatic climax with his own little twist--a twist that manages to be dizzyingly idealistic and soberly realistic, both. Murray, in short, was good, was riveting, but Cooley's speech that followed moved me almost to tears.


"The Passion of the Christ" recut is STILL Anti-Jewish

"The Passion of the Christ" recut is STILL anti-Jewish

The Perfectionist

Despair at the Top of France's Food Chain

By WILLIAM GRIMES Published: June 1, 2005

Life and Death in Haute Cuisine

By Rudolph Chelminski
354 pages. Gotham Books. $27.50.

On Feb. 24, 2003, a bulletin interrupted the 11 o'clock news on French television. Bernard Loiseau had been found dead in his home, a suicide at age 52.

No one needed to ask who Bernard Loiseau was. The chef and owner of the three-star Côte d'Or, a restaurant in Burgundy, he was a media darling, an upbeat, tireless self-promoter whose big smile and bouncy personality made him a natural for television programs and splashy magazine features. With an adoring wife and three children, and an expanding empire - three Paris bistros, a line of prepared foods - he seemed to have it all, right down to the Legion of Honor, conferred by François Mitterrand, one of his biggest fans.

But there was another Bernard Loiseau, the haunted, desperate man whom Rudolph Chelminski in "The Perfectionist" calls "the prince of paradox and the king of smokescreen." According to the French press, he was driven to suicide by a slight demotion in the Gault-Millau restaurant guide and fear of losing a star in the next edition of the Michelin guide.

The truth was more complicated. But in a sense, the papers were right: the same cultural forces that created Loiseau and drove him to excel alsodrove him to the depths of despair. He died a poet's death. "The artist has left the stage in full glory," said a speaker at his memorial service, attended by all 24 of France's three-star chefs. "We feel as much like applauding as crying."

Mr. Chelminski, the author of "The French at Table," knew Loiseau well. Better yet, he knows France well and the exalted role of fine dining in French culture. "The Perfectionist" tells, in rich detail, the story of Loiseau's rapid rise and desperate efforts to stay on top, but this cautionary tale is also a deeply informed guide to the last half century of French cuisine, a brilliant chapter whose ending is uncertain.

No one predicted great things of young Bernard Loiseau. As an apprentice under the great Troisgros brothers in Roanne, he once distinguished himself by absentmindedly dumping a shovelful of coal into a pan on the stove. But luck was on his side. By happy accident he soon found himself at an up-and-coming Paris bistro run by Claude Verger, a whirlwind promoter of the then-revolutionary nouvelle cuisine.

Loiseau quickly took to the new style, which called for high-quality fresh ingredients, clearly expressed flavors and cooking done for each diner at the last minute. Gault-Millau, a feisty new guide intent on creating new culinary stars, pushed him relentlessly, and before long, Loiseau, still in his early 20's, became the talk of the Paris restaurant scene.

In 1975, Mr. Verger bought the Côte d'Or, a venerable auberge in the little town of Saulieu, and installed Loiseau in its kitchen. There he developed his signature "cuisine des essences" and embarked on his obsessive, self-destructive quest for three Michelin stars.

Mr. Chelminski, a perfectionist in his own way, goes into great detail explaining both the cuisine and the nature of the quest: Loiseau turned to classic Burgundian dishes but took out the heaviness, following the example of the Troisgros brothers and Michel Guérard's experiments in ultra-light spa cuisine. Each flavor would express itself with maximum clarity and intensity in dishes that, although based on tradition, would spring a surprise, like his nettle soup with snails.

Loiseau's signature entree was an ingenious take on frogs' legs, usually served in a pool of butter with chopped garlic and parsley. By cutting away the meat at the bottom of the leg he created jambonettes, or miniature hams, meant to be eaten with the fingers. Sautéed in butter, they were arranged around a pool of bright green parsley puree with smooth dollops of pureed garlic. Readers not prepared to spend several pages on this one dish should not bother with "The Perfectionist." They will miss the point.

Driving himself like a madman, Loiseau took on a mountain of debt, determined to wrest three stars out of Michelin by creating a perfect restaurant with a perfect hotel attached. To woo the press, he dashed up to Paris constantly for quick television or magazine interviews. Loiseau would stop at nothing, not even posing for a German magazine with snails crawling on his head.

The Côte d'Or got its three stars in 1985. But fame and adulation only brought uncertainty, ever-harsher self-criticism and black depressions. "If one customer out of 80 was unhappy with his meal, it could destroy the whole evening for him," recalled Hubert Couilloud, Loiseau's maître d'hôtel. "He didn't need approval, he needed to be adored. Unanimously."

With time, the fickle press tired of Loiseau, even Gault-Millau. New stars rose on the horizon. New trends, like fusion cuisine, swept over France. Loiseau, steeped in French tradition, was bewildered. His day, it seemed, might be over.

In the end, it was all too much, especially when rumors began circulating that the Côte d'Or's third Michelin star was in jeopardy. In fact, the talk might have originated with Loiseau himself, frantic with anxiety. Finally, he took a shotgun, given to him as a birthday present by his wife, and turned it on himself.

When the 2004 Michelin guide came out, the Côte d'Or retained its third star. It still has three stars today.