Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Jesus Christ, what a beautiful, totally lifeless piece of chrome. This movie would work if you froze each different shot, framed it, and hung it in a waiting room for patients to gawk at; as is, it was a pretty restful hundred-minute nap, where I woke up every ten minutes or so to appreciate the breathtaking digitized scenery.

Don't know why they bothered to assemble that cast; I've seen video-game constructs with more wit and personality. I would have thought they would have tried to break through all that faultless, seamless landscaping with a few signs of humanity--some low slapstick, perhaps, maybe a little carnal groping, at the very least a dirty joke, but the actors seem to have polished their performances to the point of pointlessness, matching the backgrounds. There was only one funny running gag, where Paltrow tries to get the perfect shot (Perfect! The whole movie looked so perfect I could gag), but I wouldn't recommend sitting through the whole thing just to listen to the punchline.

Which is a pity; it could have been a great adventure--the plot had the requisite complexity, and the mechanical setpieces the necessary size and scale; what was lacking was a compelling character to throw against all those outsized toys. Couldn't they have turned this into a Doc Savage supersaga instead?


Lucio Fulci's The Beyond

Saw Fulci's The Beyond, and it's, well, let me put it this way: Argento is the very picture of coherence in comparison, and even Fulci's Zombie is more evenhanded and sane; this one jumps all over the place, you can barely keep track of the characters (what distinguishes them from the zombies is that the zombies have wounds and gore), and it's hard to swallow flesh-eating tarantulas if you know anything at all about tarnatulas (doesn't help that some of them wiggle their legs as if made of rubber).

All that said, it's unsettling all right, and I'm guessing an attempt on the part of Fulci to create a mythology much like Argento does with Inferno. That ending, incidentally, trumps Inferno's by a mile, I think.

I said nice things about Softley's Skeleton Key (not a lot); this blows Key out of the water, and urinates on the blasted remains.

ChrisJ: You have to approach most of Fulci on a surreal visceral level--even more than Argento. The shock gore, the almost comically absurd leaps he takes in terms of logic, story and the lack of character development create something unique.

I don't know that The Beyond can be called a good film at all. It's ridiculous, stupid in parts, yet parts of it you don't forget and if you let it, it's atmospheric, imaginative and of course tabu breaking.

He has this thing about eyeballs--best expressed in Zombie, I would say.

Yeah, I was thinking: none of this makes sense. Like a nightmare. Then it all made perfect sense, except for the wiggly spiders--they were just too giggle-inducing.

That ending was something, tho.


Top Fifty Movies Kids Should See

From The Cinephile:

Top Fifty Movies Kids Should See

I would have cut out Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Edward Scissorhands, Finding Nemo, My Life as a Dog, Some Like it Hot, Romeo + Juliet, and Toy Story myself, and thrown in Shoeshine, Batman Returns, Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed, The Iron Giant, Laputa, Castle in the SkyThe Black Stallion, The Orphan Brother, Alakazam the Great, Zero de conduite, and Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor.

And for good measure I'd add Magnifico, Halimaw sa Banga (Monster in the Jar), Prinsesang Gusgusin (Princess Tattertorn), and Suring at ang Kuk-ok (Suring and the Kuk-ok).

Also, I'd add Bashu the Little Stranger.

MadMan731: Why the hell would you cut out "Finding Nemo", one of the best family movies of the decade? And then replace it with "Batman Returns"? I don't understand that at all, man. Plus taking out "Toy Story", another terrific kids flick. 

Not a big fan of Nemo (I much prefer Spongebob Squarepants--the TV series, not the movie) nor Toy Story. Actually, not a big fan of Pixar. Too sentimental, I think.

Batman Returns, however, I love to show to kids--in fact have, quite a few times.


The Brothers Grimm

From Forum With No Name:

Dock Miles: Terry Gilliam just got hammered in the New York Times

Not just by the New York Times (Manohla Dargis is cute, but I wonder about her taste sometimes--Batman Begins, The Skeleton Key and The Amityville Horror get a pass, but this doesn't?) , but by Roger Ebert, America's most powerful critic (no use trying to account for his taste--he likes Chris Columbus and Joel Schumacher movies).

Liked it a lot. The common complaint among the critics (clueless Ebert included) is that the tone varies wildly, from slapstick low comedy to whirling action movie to delicate (on occasion) horror film, to which I might ask: have they actually seen the Python movies or TV show? It's all one thing after another, wildly varied in tone and style; if you don't like what's happening now, you needn't worry, because in a few minutes you'll have Something Completely Different.

But something does unite the movie, I think, and the key is the early scene involving magic beans--one brother beats the other because he's too willing to believe in fairy tales. The brothers become hustlers out of necessity because they've always had a hardscrabble life (we're talking of Gilliam's brothers, not the historical ones); if the hard living conditions of the 19th century don't kill them (strangely, the most realistic aspect of Gilliam's film), the magical creatures and spells suddenly come to all-too-real life will. They have to cling to each other, believe in each other to survive, and this interdependence in the face of foreign oppression (one of the funnier throwaway jokes is a legend: "Germany under French occupation"), supernatural monsters, and Gilliam's own brand of larger-than-life filmmaking, is actually quite moving.

Might add that the most grotesque monsters in the picture are Jonathan Pryce as French officer Delatombe and Peter Stormare as Italian torturer Calvadi.

Happy Gilmore

Hard to believe, but I liked Dennis Dugan's Happy Gilmore (1996)--first Sandler flick I can say that about (yeah, I've seen him do Paul Christian Andersen). This seems to be the original on which the less funny Tin Cup (which I do like as well) was based; the plot basically turns on the question of whether or not Gilmore can hold his temper during the course of a golf tour, a premise Sandler's violently passive-aggressive comic style fits admirably.

It's your standard-issue story--loser concocts an original way of competing, collects a bunch of oddball figures along the trip, and wins things his way. What makes it entertaining are the outrageous bits--Christopher MacDonald frenching Sandler's mom, Sandler alligator wrassling, the mini-golf course that resembles a theme park Carl Weathers takes Sandler to to practice his short game. That, and the sense that Sandler and Dugan are giving the genteel, geriatric game of golf a deep, thorough, and leisurely reaming.

Oh, and Bob Barker here is cool beyond description.


Cooking in Wyoming

When I was vacationing in Wyoming at my sister-in-law, I offered to do dinner. So: bought two two-inch-thick porterhouses (weighing from thirty-six to forty ounces each); slathered with a mix of olive oil and butter, sprinkled liberally with kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper. Lay them in a twelve-inch cast-iron pan (which was with her husband's family for generations, or so I hear--and the main reason why I chose steak (wanted to see how they would taste, cooked in such a wonderful implement)), which had been kept heating in a 500 degree oven for twenty minutes. Kept the steaks in there for eight minutes one side, seven the other. Came out medium-rare--crusty dark-brown on the outside, red and juicy on the inside, with a kind of dark, buttery juice running about all over the pan.

Let the steaks cool, and scorched some sliced Italian bread on the pan. which soaked up all the juices. Served it with herbed butter (butter, kosher salt, fresh-cracked pepper, garlic, half a dozen dried herbs, all run through a blender) and a spinach salad with strawberry vinaigrette (olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic clove, kosher salt, fresh-cracked pepper, and a few heaping tablespoons of strawberry jam, run through the same blender). Not too bad.


Hayao Miyazaki's "Sherlock Hound" (disc 1)

Nothin' but a hound dog

Saw the first disc of the Sherlock Hound DVD and didn't have to know who directed what to realize that there's a sharp break in quality between the first two episodes and the last three--the characters are more vivid, the animation more detailed and more ambitious, the humor more, well, humorous.

The printing machine in The Little Client, for example, a 'drop forge' as they called it, becomes a ravenous behemoth in Miyazaki's hands; when it goes beserk, it stamps out bizarre shapes like coin necklaces ("this would be nice for mother") or coin jellyfish ("this would be nice in her parlor"). The little girl and her method for observing her cat sleeping at an inaccessible part of the roof not only provides a crucial clue, but is in itself an example of her ingenuity and a lovely bit of characterization (that Miyazaki could present it so quickly and economically and make the whole thing fascinating is itself an achievement).

The Blue Carbuncle starts with an ingenious twist, a thief victimized by a theft; it also features yet another little girl, this one pluckier and more resourceful than the last. Hound shows extraordinary tact in taking the girl on her own terms, not even asking for the hidden jewel (she has to ask him why he doesn't ask). The sandwich she builds for Hound and Watson--piled high with cheeses, meats, lettuce leaves, a celery stick, a slice of lemon and (of course) a maraschino cherry on top--is a marvel of a childhood concoction (you're not sure whether to salivate or gag).

The Abduction of Mrs. Hudson takes a minor character in the Holmes books and turns her into a major one (far as I can recall, Holmes' housekeeper was not nineteen years old, nor was she in any way attractive). It's the quietest of the three episodes in terms of action and animation at the same time it's the most purely delightful; all the comedy and drama of the episode stems from the characters, the way they rub against each other, deal with each other, and ultimately develop affection for each other.

Might as well take a note of some of the changes. Dr. Watson suffers the least transformation; I've always thought there was something of the faithful hound about him, even in Arthur Conan Doyle's fiction. Moriarity I miss the most; the malevolence you felt in the fiction has been turned into the worst kindof melodramatic cliche, complete with villainous laugh. In the 'Mrs. Hudson' episode, however, Miyazaki does get comic mileage out of him, when he reveals the quivering childlike loneliness hidden under the sneering moustache.

Holmes here has admittedly been watered down, his narcissism and arrogance muted, his misogyny uncommented on (though you notice that while everyone else either falls for or worries about the kidnapped Mrs. Hudson, Hound seems strangely nonchalant). In place of these character traits, though, traits that made Doyle's detective so fascinating, Miyazaki substitues a kind of bedrock decency. This Holmes you feel you can trust the family jewels with (it isn't that Doyle's Holmes felt untrustworthy, it's that when you first meet him the impression you get is of a keen and powerful intellect; Hound is likeable, above all--it's later when he starts making deductions that you notice he's actually smart too). Might also add that Hound has a special rapport with kids, particularly girls; Holmes had his Baker Street irregulars, but I remember them being mostly boys, and supposed that their special connection with Holmes was that he was in many ways an overgrown boy himself. Hound acts more like an understanding father--can't help but wonder if he doesn't act like Miyazaki himself.



I love Steamboy, but it's so clearly a reworking and expansion of Miyazaki's Laputa: Castle in the Sky, from the boy of humble birth and girl of high birth to the giant mobile castle to the little object of great power. There's even a particularly pointed steal from Laputa--the moment when the boy at the lip of a precipice leaps up for joy with the girl in her arms, and nearly falls over (a reprise of a similar scene when boy and girl first land at Laputa).

I love the details in Steamboy--the way they worked out that anything is possible so long as a compact and lightweight power source exists (hence the 'steam balls'); the way the machinery look so 19th century, and familiar because they are based on countless old published sketches, but are introduced with such buildup and drama that when you see them in action you gape in wonder anyway; the idea that low-temperature, high-pressure steam isn't hot but actually sucks heat from its surroundings (enables Otomo to create a few vivid images, including a windswept London and a climactic explosion that avoids the "mushroom cloud" shape that has become such a cliche in most anime).

That said, I still think Miyazaki's Laputa is the superior film, and not just because it was first. It's perfectly paced, where Otomo's tends to drag in the third act; its characters are far more vivid overall, especially the boy hero (he's given gestures and moments--the pigeons he serenades with a trumpet each morning, the handful of gold coins he flings to the ground--that stay in mind, even years after I first saw the picture). The girl Sheeta is perhaps less vibrant than Otomo's hilariously headstrong Scarlett O'Hara (perhaps the best--or at least most fun--single character he's ever invented), but Sheeta's helplessness and passivity is crucial, in that it makes the moment when she finally makes a stand all the more dramatic. Not to mention the pirates in Laputa--and the villain, the rare decadent sadist in Miyazaki's films--have it over the entire supporting cast of Otomo's picture.

Themewise, Steamboy is sophisticated enough to make the distinction as to what technology should serve--man's desire for power and greatness or his need to help his fellow men. Laputa has an ostensibly hoary theme--technology without wisdom is destructive--but acquires an interesting sidelight if you consider Miyazaki's own character: the girl's final speech, that these flying castles (symbols of high ambition) need the ground (symbol of humility and level-headedness), stands out as a repudiation of Miyazaki's love for flight and fantasy. In effect he's reminding himself to keep his feet on the ground, even while providing us with one of the most gorgeous aerial adventures ever created.

Having just used Laputa to thoroughly bash Steamboy in the head, I do have to say I can't understand critics who prefer Otomo's earlier Akira to this one. Granted that the former has a more ambitious scope, and if it seems cliched today that's because it invented many of the cliches, I just don't get it when, say, Film Threat claims that the runt-turned-superman in Akira is interesting (the idea is interesting, if not new, but what Otomo actually does with him isn't), or that the earlier film shows how anime can be emotionally involving. I was involved with Akira, but never emotionally; I thought it was a prime example of stupendous eye candy and weak characterization (think it's true of both anime and manga). Wouldn't put Steamboy in the same league as Miyazaki's films, much less Laputa (one of his best), but I'd definitely consider it Otomo's best to date.


Howl's Moving Castle

Saw Howl's Moving Castle today. Frankly, I don't know what Ebert's talking about--Sophie "more witness than heroine?" Impatience at "spectacle without meaning?" Never stopped enjoying the plot, much less the picture; more, brought a nine year old and six year old and they loved it as much as I did. Like with Chinatown, or The Big Sleep--you can pile on whatever twists you like, but if you have what I call a clarifying element (Noah Cross' diabolical presence, or the chemistry between Bacall and Bogart, or in this case Sophie's love and concern for the unstable Howl), something that clears away all the complications and makes it simple for you to enjoy the film, then you can weather through anything. Possibly Ebert's sense of appreciation has narrowed from too much conventional thinking (it needs a thorough reaming).

It's not Miyazaki's best ever (I'd say that would be Nausicaa, of the Valley of the Wind), or even best recent work (that would be Spirited Away, I think); but it's head and shoulders above any commercial screening I've seen this year.


City of No Limits

City of No Limits



Saw Shinji Aramaki's Appleseed, and it's gorgeous, so long as it sticks to machinery and armored human bodies in motion; when it shows someone in ordinary dress, or zooms in on a face, either the costume has to be tight-fitting or the human has to be drop-dead gorgeous; any suggestion of loose textiles or less-than-perfect facial features seem beyond their capabilities (I don't even want to talk about the hair, which looks like it was screwed on (the rendering in Final Fantasy is superior, tho the storytelling was even more wooden)). It's telling that the best performance in the picture isn't by any of the 'humans' or 'bioroids' (in effect watered-down versions of humans) but by a metal cyborg, with a red light for a face; when he argues with his fully human girlfriend he has a way of wearily standing up and swinging a bag off a bench that had me feeling for him, totally; they should give him better roles than this total waste of time.


Michael Bay on "March of the Penguins"

This is so cool:

Michael Bay on March of the Penguins

John Carpenter's "Prince of Darkness"

From Forum With No Name's Guilty Pleasures thread:

John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness (1987) makes even less sense than The Fog (Satan as a canister of swirling melon juice?), but takes a page (I suspect, anyway) off of Gregory Benford's novel Timescape to fashion a clunkily effective zombie/Satanic-cult/end-of-the-world science-fiction/horror flick that, for minutes at a time, have you actually worrying for the characters (despite their cardboard nature). Plus there's this video footage (ostensibly from the future) that may just be one of the creepiest ever recorded for a feature film.

Ooh! Ooh! Look what I found!

From Richard Harrington of the Washington Post: 'The Prince of Darkness' stinks. It too deserves to be shut up in a canister for 7 million years.

ChrisJ: PRINCE OF DARKNESS is a far better film (than The Fog). The film is ridiculous, but it's entertaining from start to finish withlots of 'you've got to be kidding me... oh this is a hoot... " moments.

I think Prince of Darkness had an even more dire reputation than The Fog did, but googling around, I find it's built up quite a cult rep. Who would've thunk? I do love that flick.


John Carpenter's "The Fog"

From Forum Without a Name's "Guilty Pleasures" thread:

I'd say John Carpenter's The Fog is a prime example of a film that makes little sense*, yet is somehow effective thanks to atmosphere, a strong visual style, and terrific pacing (Carpenter knows when to keep things brisk, and when to linger a bit--well, sometimes more than a bit). The fog (which looks like it must have been a real bitch to light and shoot) makes a far stronger impression than any of the characters, which is a problem.

*It begs too many questions--why, if the spirits can manifest themselves without the fog, do they seem confined to the fog bank during the film's latter half? What's the point of delivering that plank to Adrienne Barbeau (who, incidentally, is drop-dead gorgeous here)? Barbeau seems able to connect fog to the killings without much prompting (okay, she's spending a lot of time by herself up in that lighthouse), but how do you explain Janet Leigh and friend buying the whole business on the basis of a single radio broadcast (It would help if everyone was familiar with the curse, but why does only John Houseman make any mention of the story, at the beginning (okay, his scene was a last-minute addition))? Why, if none of them are pirates, the affinity for so many hooks and sabres? And why did they save Hal Holbrook for the end?

Tonya J: Oh Gosh, I wouldn't classify The Fog as a guilty pleasure. The plot may have been inconsistent as you pointed out, but the craftmanship was obvious. I think a guilty pleasure is a film whose quality is in extreme doubt but may have performances, or at least the hot body of someone you just like in it. Maybe it was the first film you had sex afterwards or french-kissed to in the theatre, or scared the shit out of you as a teenager or child, was so bad it made you laugh out loud, or just one moment gets you every time. It's got some confluence of elements that do something for you, and it's the film whose box you might take out of your DVD/VHS tower or shelf and hide when people come over to visit.

ChrisJ: I thought the Fog was crap. It started out beautifully as described with plenty of atmosphere. Then was schlock of the very worst kind. SAFE schlock. UGH. Yeah A.B. was gorgeous in it and it was a good cast but after about 40 minutes or so it was all straight downhill.

I can understand claiming it as a guilty pleasure. I don't understand anyone saying it's a good movie.

Never saw The Fog before; only major Carpenter I think I actually missed when it came out, so this was like a fresh reaction, after all the bad reviews. I can see the plotholes are huge, and if you think about em you'll be laughing, not cringing (or cringing, but not in a good way), but for a cheap scare it works.


Douglas Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows," and Filipino melodrama

Watching Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1955)reminds me of claims (in the Toronto festival, no less) that Filipino filmmaker Carlitos Siguion-Reyna's films are 'Sirkian.'

Certainly both turn the dial up on melodrama, but the way I see it Sirk's films are based on some level of psychological and sociological reality, made plausible by smooth pacing and a gorgeous visual style--in this case a woman driven by peer and familial pressure to reject a lower-class man that she loves--while Carlitos seems driven by a need to, I don't know, come up with something we have never seen before (and with any luck never will again).

Like the plot of his Abot Kamay ang Pangarap (Elena's Redemption, 1996)--a woman made pregnant by her employer signs an agreement prepared by the employer's lawyer to settle out of court; once signed, she is raped from behind by said lawyer and spat on in the face. She returns home to the provinces, is slapped and shaken by her father (for bringing shame to their family, he yells), screams, and faints after having a miscarriage; when she wakes up she's suffering from amnesia--the rest of the picture is a flashback as her mother tells her her story, in an attempt to restore her memory. All this in the first ten or so minutes of the picture.

Sirk adds touches like the deer that miraculously shows up for the film's finale, affirming themes about nature and naturalness, that (if you look carefully) looks nervously offscreen before bounding away, apparently frightened off by some unseen stagehand.

That's subtle compared to the maid's attempt in halfway through Abot Kamay to get an abortion. She enters the world's most unsanitary illegal clinic and the first thing the abortionist does when entering is to drop all his instruments on the filthy floor. He's all apologies as he picks them up, asking her if she wants to go through with it; she doesn't (I wouldn't either, if he insisted on using those sticky instruments). He waves her aside with a sniff and calls for the next patient; a young girl and her boyfriend come in, heads bowed. The girl looks up, exclaims: "Father?" The abortionist looks down, yells "daughter?" He proceedsto slap her around, saying she's a disgrace to the family, etc., etc.

Sirk might provoke titters, if the viewer is in a particularly cynical and unreceptive mood, but Carlitos--Howlsville, absolutely.


Johnny Belinda

Jean Negulesco's Johnny Belinda is a straight melodrama, no chaser, that at least for the first half exercises remarkable restraint--it seems to unfold entirely naturally as Lew Ayres' doctor meets and forms an interest in Jane Wyman's deaf mute Belinda, and Negulesco's spare black-and-white filmmaking serves the simple story admirably. It gets overwrought about the time of Belinda's father's death (to his credit, Negulesco's staging of the fight between father and killer is a real nail-biter), and by the time of the murder trial you can see the script straining to squeeze every last drop of drama and suspense out of what should have been an open-and-shut case.

Wyman's huge eyes and wide, unspeaking lips are the movie, of course, but I can't help liking Lew Ayres' doctor--something I suppose he prepared for by playing the lead on all those Dr. Kildare pictures.


Stuart Gordon movies (Dagon, Re-Animator)

From Forum with No Name:

ChrisJ: Well Noel, you know I have not taken Gordon for granted and believe several of his films, flaws and all are far far better than both the junk and over-rated stuff that seeps into the movie theaters under the premise of being horror films (when they are instead horrible films: The Grudge, the crap Wes Craven has his name on, the bad slasher movie re-dos etc.).

I'm glad you have an appreciation for DAGON. There is quite a bit of humor in the film, if you look at the lead character as a Harold Llyod archetype. The actor decided to do Harold Lloydd in a few scenes and Gordon thought it worked. Perhaps it was a bit more subtle than it should be--but if the film is viewed in a theater (which it rarely has been in the United States) you focus on what is on the screen and it works very nicely.

KING OF THE ANTS was made for well under A MILLION, it was shot on short ends. Gordon remains very very independent and he'll do projects he believes in for far less money than he deserves and work under terrible conditions...

Gordon comes from a strong background of theater in Chicago and New York, he discovered several actors and playwrites. He encouraged and helped David Mamet form his first few plays...He was the first to stage Sexual Pervesity in Chicago which eventually was made into the truncated movie.. About Last Night. He is editing Mamet's EDMoND now which stars Bill Macy and Julia Stiles. I'll be talking to him more about it shortly.

Oh, I appreciate the slapstick in say the hotel room scene, or the carnapping scene (love it when he tries to hotwire the vehicle), or when he locks himself in that house with the young boy, or when he's shutting a door and turning to face a beautiful woman lying in a luxurious bed (I'm guessing the punchline was the basis for a Futurama episode, the one with the lost sunken city of Atlanta); Gordon's probably never without a sense of humor (haven't seen Robojox). But there's Harold Lloyd homages and then there's Jeffrey Combs, looking down on David Gale's corpse, pensive expression on his face; a bulb goes off inside his head and he says "Parts! I've never done parts before..." Poor Combs really hasn't capitalized on his onscreen persona since; maybe the only time was when Jackson let him loose in The Frighteners...

Rabal--can't say enough about him. In his penultimate moment he manages to put some humanity into what's essentially a prosthetic effects scene.

And the other oft cited complaint about the film is how difficult it is to understand Rabal. I saw that and just wanted to spit...

It's not a perfect film but much better than a lot of over-praised low budget horror films that did 100 times the box office of Dagon.

Haw! It's a story told by a crazed old man, poetry in a Spanish accent. When Daniel Day Lewis tried that stunt they gave him an Oscar.

Holy shit--it's so fucking obvious. Stuart Gordon would be perfect to do The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch--in fact any Phil Dick adaptation.


Bollywood beginner

From pinoydvd:

oggsmoggs: I'm currently building my collection of Indian cinema, and I'd like to get some recommendations from you guys. What are the must-see's of Indian cinema. Also, let's discuss everything and anything Bollywood here. So far, I've only seen two, and I immensely enjoyed both...

I'll throw names of filmmakers at you: Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, Mehboob. Of recent filmmakers I'd say Mani Ratnam.

But Indian cinema goes beyond just musicals. Satiyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Adoor Gopalakrishna, and Shyam Benegal are the many others you need to check out...

oggsmoggs: could you tell me the recommended titles from these filmmakers?

Everything and anything by Dutt, Kapoor, Ray and Ghatak. Roy I'd recommend Bandini and Do Bigha Zamin; Mehboob I'd recommend Mother Earth. Adoor I recommend his The Servile, Shyam I recommend Kalyug, Mani--well, haven't liked what I've seen, but he's the best of recent musical filmmakers (it's gone downhill since the '50s I think).

Klaus Weasley: What do you think of Mira Nair, Noel?

Don't much like Mira Nair. Her Salaam Bombay is rehashed Bimal Roy, she gets her details wrong (a child running on the streets? With a taxi behind him? He'd be run over in a second!). Kama Sutra was softcore porn, and pretty lame porn at that, Mississippi Masala--well, the casting was nice, but it didn't leave much of an impression. Monsoon Wedding was a weak-tea musical with a toothless incest subplot.

Roy's Bandini, incidentally, is comparable to Bulaklak ng City Jail (Flowers from the City Jail), tho I prefer O'Hara's film (I have reasons, other than the obvious ones).

oggsmoggs: Noel, have you seen Ramesh Sippy's Sholay. It was voted as the best Indian film by some groups in India. Check this list and see if it's a good one, thanks...


Sholay's fun, and I know a New York cineaste who thinks it's the greatest Bollywood musical ever made. But I thought it was secondhand Leone with a third-class villain; the only interesting setpiece--a dance over broken glass--was probably borrowed from the far superior, far more beautiful Pakeezah.

The list is interesting; Mughal E Azam is stupendous to look at. But why is Lagaan so high? Over Mother India and Pyaasa? No way! And what is Dil Chahta Hai doing there? That's a terrible movie.


Nestor Torre's advice to new filmmakers

From pinoydvd:

indie boi: I just read this today and thought that this would be a good jumping off point for discussions. Ironically though, the article is from Nestor Torre, it would be interesting to see if you guys agree with his views or not -- take note, this is a man who saw redeeming qualities in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. 

Viewfinder: Why some new filmmakers' movies don't quite work

By Nestor Torre

I’VE written a lot about the good films and positive results of last month’s Cinemalaya indie film festival. Today, let’s focus on the efforts that didn’t quite make the grade in terms of quality and pertinence, hopefully to come up with lessons that will benefit other new filmmakers who will be trying their luck at next year’s festival:

To my mind, four of the nine full-length movies that were produced for the film fest suffered from problems that prevented them from ending up as creditable productions. Some of their storyline and scripts had been promising (I judged all levels of the competition), so it was disappointing to see them failing to realize their full potential.

What were some of the inhibiting or distracting factors that negated their promise? First, lack of directorial organization, visualization and editing sense.

Some people are simply better scriptwriters than directors. They can’t fully vivify the good points in their scripts so that they are fully realized, not just on paper, but on the big screen.

As directors, they should know which scenes to highlight, and which to play briskly, or even eliminate for the purpose of clearer storytelling. They should also remind themselves to avoid repetition, or saying pretty much the same thing in different ways.

This repetitiveness results in yet another common problem: excessive length. Some new filmmakers think it’s OK to shoot a movie that is almost two and a half hours long. They forget that many feature films these days run for only 90 minutes.

As directors, they shouldn’t fall in love with their material so much that they keep hitting their audience on the head with it. Suggestion and intimation are better than relentless iteration.

To make better movies, self-absorbed filmmakers should remind themselves that they’re at the service of their audience, not themselves. So, brevity, clarity, accessibility and empathy are the cinematic virtues they should do their darndest to acquire.

Also, avoid long, languid, artistic and symbolic sequences that are more poetry than cinema. New directors should stress the importance of editing to energize their work, and ruthlessly cut out footage that, while truly lovely, impedes the dynamic progression of the stories they tell.

They should also have a keener sense of the requisites of feature filmmaking. While indie movies don’t require star value, you should at least choose for your leads unknowns who don’t turn your audience off.

Don’t cast people just because they’re your friends, or are readily available to you. Cast as the role requires, period.

Finally, new filmmakers should realize that, when they get to the full-length mode, they can no longer play around and entertain themselves with their private notions and conceits. Feature-length filmmaking is cinema at its most public and rigorous, and heretofore dilettante artists have a lot of growing up to do.

If Lav Diaz followed every bit of Torre's advice he'd be another Joey Reyes.

edsa77: LAV DIAZ SAYS..

Ang pinakamalaking kasalanan ng Inquirer sa lahat ay pinayagan nitong magsalita ang isang kolumnista tungkol sa independent cinema na hindi naman nito naiintindihan at wala itong authority para magsalita tungkol dito. Ano ba ang pelikulang nagawa niya? Naghihiganti siya dahil pinagtawanan 'yung pelikula niyang ginawa noon. Sabi niya hindi magagawa ang "Kriminal ng Barrio Concepcion" in twenty years after manalo ito sa scriptwriting contest. The next year,naging pelikula siya. Ngayon, ang nakakalungkot, siya ang nagdidikta sa mga bata ng kung ano ang indie cinema dahil lagi siyang nababasa. May power siyang ikontrol ang utak ng mga tao tungkol sa kultura. May power siyang sabihin na dapat hindi lagpas ng dalawang oras ang pelikula mo.


(The Inquirer's biggest sin is allowing a certain columnist to speak on an independent cinema that he doesn't understand and has no authority to speak for. What films has he done? He's just taking revenge because the pictures he's made were laughed at.  He said "Criminal of Barrio Concepcion" would never be made in twenty years, after this won a scriptwriting contest. The next year, it was made into a film. Now the sad thing is that he's dictating to the youth what indie cinema is because he's being read. He has power to control the minds of people on matters cultural. He has power to say that a film cannot exceed two hours.


Lav really is being too diplomatic and tactful. He should tell us exactly what he feels!  Grin


Miss Saigon

I remember the best kare-kare I ever had was at The Aristocrat, at Taft Avenue in Manila--which is strange, because the restaurant is better known for their barbecued chicken.

But the kare-kare there is excellent--tender oxtails and tripe, crisp bright-green vegetables, all in a thick, sweet, bright-orange soup, served in a palayok (a clay pot) with a little fire burning underneath. Comes with hot rice and a bowl of pungent shrimp paste.

The meal was the aftermath of a night at the theater...some moron had had the bright idea of spending millions of totally unnecessary dollars to stage Miss Saigon in Manila, complete with Lea Salonga as the eponymous hooker. Tickets were a hot item and long since sold out (Salonga is something of a heroine to Filipinos, even if she's much too healthy-looking to play a Vietnamese refugee, and is about as expressive and sensuous an actress as a department-store mannequin, twenty pounds overweight). I wasn't very interested, but a friend and fan of the musical had access to tickets, and gave me a pair, so I went.

Afterwards, we talked over the phone, and he asked me how was the show. I said "It was worth every penny!"

"Your tickets were for free."

"That's exactly what I meant!"



I saw Hirokazu Kore-eda's Maborosi--about a woman whose husband was run over by a train, an apparent suicide, and who years later comes to terms with his death--in the 1996 Hong Kong festival, if memory serves, and was bored out of my skull by it, both during the twenty minutes I sat through in the theater, and the full length I endured played out on one of the festival's many VCRs. The experience was so excruciating I invented a term for it--'The Cinema of the Comatose'--and used it to refer to either a film's energy level (or lack of it) or the effect induced on the audience.

What a difference ten years makes--watching it again it comes off as strangely poignant, even lovely. Koreeda's storytelling seems livelier (maybe watching Turkish, Iranian, and Taiwanese films helped stretch my attention span), the musical cuing and acting style more emphatic. And little touches--like the woman's visiting the neighborhood where she and her husband first lived, then having a bike ride past behind her ringing its bell (the husband once stole a bike because their bike had been stolen)--have all the sharp, delicate pain of a needle prick. Then there are moments like when the two children--the woman's son and her second husband's daughter--walk down a tunnel towards a grove of sunlit trees on the other side, the image shot just so that the children look as if they're wandering into the crystalline passages of an emerald; or when the woman and her second husband listen helplessly to the howling of a terrible storm outside, knowing their elderly neighbor is out there foolishly trying to catch them some crabs...

The penultimate scene, where the woman is finally forced, after a long period of anguish, to confront her trauma, is shot from afar and in sillhouette; this time around the effect wasn't soporific, but restrained, understated--you feel her cry reaching out to you from a great distance. I don't know if it's the film's innate power or the shock and suprise of finding out that something I used to dislike is actually quite good, but I was moved.


"The Other Side of the Bed;" "Box 507"

"The Other Side of the Bed;" "Box 507"

Fallen Angels

Took a look at Wong Kar Wai's Fallen Angels again, and had to note how much it owes to Chungking Express, down to the character who ate pineapple out of an expired can, and the killer and woman who fronts for him, a situation that could have developed from the first film only with the sexes reversed (I hear these stories were first considered as a segment in the earlier film). It's slightly grungier than the usual Wong Kar Wai and blood spatters the camera lense more than once, something I don't remember happening in his other pictures; I guess he tried it, didn't like it, never used it again.

For the assassination scenes he quotes heavily from John Woo, only he doesn't have Woo's clarity ; I know, I know, he's probably not interested in that, is probably trying to deconstruct the Woo action sequence (the way he's supposed to have 'deconstructed' the 'wuxia pian' genre in Ashes of Time), and my being irritated by his incoherent editing and camerawork is most likely due to my conservatism with regards to action sequences...but I'm annoyed nevertheless.

I'm glad I saw it, though I don't think it ranks as among his best works; it doesn't have the lightness of touch or freshness or freewheeling innovative structure of Chungking (might even go so far as to call it recycled Chungking), and it doesn't have Tony Leung to give it an added dose of charisma (tho it does have Karen Mok, who is wonderful as Blondie).