And more unsettling than the guilt and terror is that sense he gives you that at any and every moment he's in danger of giving way to his appetites (having been on a strict diet for maybe a year didn't help any). When Garcia gazes upon young male flesh he has to close his eyes and swallow, because the sense of sheer lust that takes over literally gives him vertigo, it's so intense.
It's an amazing performance, even more amazing because I've heard rumors about many actors, but never about Garcia (far as I know, he's not just straight, he's a one-woman man), yet his scenes kissing and caressing other men seem perfectly natural, not a single false note. Equally amazing is the source of the film's story, a komiks serial by Mars Ravelo (the Philippines' Will Eisner if you will) who along with this story created Darna (flying superwoman who champions the poor) and Dyesebel (mermaid who magically acquires legs and falls in love with a human)--fantasy figures seen from a uniquely Filipino perspective. Ravelo's is a protean mind coupled to a sharp ear and an uncanny sense of drama able to develop whatever ideas and characters that mind comes up with in a recognizably Filipino setting. No hint or rumor that Ravelo is gay, either; far as I can tell, he willed Tubog into being through the sheer force of sympathetic imagination alone.
Garcia's Benito is the focus of Tubog, but he's defined by the people about him. His wife Emma (Lolita Rodriguez) is the hapless victim, and it's tempting to make her an object of fun and derision; Brocka (and presumably Ravelo), however, resist the easy way out. Emma and Benito genuinely love and need each other; the tragedy of it is that Benito's lovefor Emma isn't sexual. It isn't just Benito's good name that's in jeopardy but a bond that Brocka and Ravelo so deftly sketch and both actors so sensitively and persuasively play--you can see that there are real emotional stakes to be won or lost here. Likewise with their son Santi (Jay Ilagan), who woships Benito; it's easy to try score comic points off of him, but his affection and respect for his father is real, and you can see why Benito is so frightened of losing both.
When Mario O'Hara's Diego enters the picture, he threatens to turn the film into a Filipino Boudu Saved from Drowning. But where Renoir's Boudu is something of a literary conceit (I've heard theories speculating that he's the subconscious product of the bourgoisie mind), O'Hara's Diego is a simple, all-too-real creation, a male version of the dewy ingenue/gay predator. O'Hara here has the easy arrogance and physical charisma of a young Brando (I remember saying about Brocka's version of Streetcar Named Desire that Philip Salvador as Stanley and O'Hara as Mitch were both seriously miscast), even Brando's pansexual appeal: when he confidently allows Emma to run her eyes up and down his near-naked body, you can't help but think of Viven Leigh or even Marcelle Hainia, their eyes rolling upwards from the sheer sexual heat.
But Renoir did Boudu to make a philosophical and intellectual point (that much if not all civilization is hypocrisy); Ravelo's and Brocka's intentions are probably more down-to-earth, and they spin out their tale swiftly and with great gusto. Love Boudu--think it's one of Renoir's best--but there's some merit to Brocka's approach too. It's tailor-made for a simpler race (us Filipinos), paying close attention to social details (Benito's advice to Santi is a classic summary of the Filipino male's attitude towards mistresses and wives) and psychology (Garcia's finely observed portrayal of Benito) in ways maybe even Renoir would approve of.
Some notes: Brocka was gay, and it's natural that his depiction of gays in this film is sympathetic, but he doesn't apologize or try to whitewash some of the things his gay characters do--the ease, for example, with which a gay man can threaten his fellow gay man with exposure (if outing a man can be embarrassing today, outing him in the early '70s, in the kind of climate Manila had at the time, must have been the equivalent of social suicide). And it's interesting to see that when the most progressive straight character--Benito's doctor friend--pleads for understanding of Benito's situation, he characterizes homosexuality as a handicap, an infirmity to be pitied or at least tolerated. Tubog broke plenty of ground especially in Philippine cinema, but it couldn't break everything at once.
Is this the Philippines' one great gay film? I don't know. Visually it lacks the expressiveness that a great cinematographer like Conrado Baltazar might have given it (the cinematography here is by Steve Perez); occasionally it shows flashy editing (by Felizardo Santos); perhaps it misses greatness by being a shade too melodramatic. All I can say is that it's probaby the finest Filipino gay film yet made.
Saw Josef von Baky's Munchhausen, with Hans Alber in the title role--he's much more charismatic than John Neville (looks a bit like a German George C. Scott), and the special effects were wonderful. Baky's version doesn't have a supporting performance from Robin Williams, and I'm guessing Gilliam has the advantage (somewhat) in terms of production budget and special effects (some of them--the sea turning into moondust--is quite lovely), but Baky's version has a more moving conclusion, something I felt Gilliam's lacked.
Many of the episodes are similar--I can see where Gilliam got much of his inspiration, or even shots--but the episode with the Sultan's bet over a bottle of wine seems odd. It's on both film versions, but I don't find it in the original book. It is, however, found in one of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales (written later than Munchausen's book), about a band of super-powered brothers.
From I Spit on Your Groove's Picture What Moves thread in Drive We Said:
Rkiivs: Grave of The Fireflies
Probably attributed to raw emotions from New Orleans, this film really moved me and put a big ol' lump in my throat at the end. I wouldn't exactly transpose this story to the fiasco in New Orleans, but this film illustrates what happens post-disaster when people are largely ignored.
That's a great film, one of the greatest war films and films on children ever made. In the same league with Forbidden Games and Shoeshine, I think.
Dock Miles: I'm on a different vibe with Fireflies. I agree that it's trying to be an animated version of Forbidden Games. And I think that's just a bad, pretentious, tedious idea. Some films slap you in the face every few moments: "I'm ART, goddammit, I'm ART!" For me, Fireflies just kinda whispered it over and over. Had a hard time finishing it.
Takahata making "art?" I don't know. It felt like he was telling a story (actually, I thought Forbidden Games was just telling a story). Scenes like making the best out of a can of candy drop didn't seem pretentious at all, but a precise observation of how kids act.
The performances were exquisite.
Dock Miles: Telling a story with live actors is simply different than telling a story with drawn actors. I think Fireflies indeed fails to acknowledge that. It may as well have been a live-action film.
It is (story with live actors different from story with drawn actors), and the more similar art is I think puppetry: you're using an ostensibly less expressive medium to approximate the performance of the human face. Takahata achieves the kind of miracle master puppeteers (or master animators) achieve regularly: he creates performances out of base materials. Like Miyazaki, in fact; I think he's an equal of Miyazaki's, if not his superior.
As to realistic animation being no different from live-action films, that's an old charge, and I can suggest two answers to that: Spiegelman's Maus is an extensively researched and amazingly realistic depiction of the Holocaust (at the same time it's a painfully honest confession from a child of the Holocaust) that might as well be done as a book of photographs or a novel, with one difference: Spiegelman puts animal heads on his characters. It's a simple trick that uses of the medium of comics as an artform, and wonderfully expressive.
I think Takahata does something similar here, only instead of animal heads, he uses standard-issue anime faces--big eyes, small mouths, huge foreheads. Like Spiegelman, he's using a classic device to stylize a realistic story, to add metaphor to the material. You--or at least the Japanese audience, and any audience familiar with anime--are looking at anime kids who act and talk and think like real kids, slowly starving to death. I think that has a real impact.
Beyond that, if this were a live-action film, it's possible it wouldn't have been done by Takahata. He's done documentaries, but hasn't made a career of live-action features--animation is his chosen profession. It's his choice, this was the particular material he chose to work on at the time, and I for one am glad for the choices--animation or live-action, I think this is superb storytelling.
For more extensive use of the medium of animation, though, you might want to try Takahata's Pom Poko; for more extensive use of the medium of animation on strictly domestic as opposed to fantasy material, you could check out My Neighbor the Yamadas. I do believe Takahata is as skillful at directing fantastic and stylized animation as he is at directing realistic animation.
Dock Miles: Well, that may be the nub of the difference in our outlooks: animation doesn't seem any more like puppetry to me than it does live-person film. Three different things.
And I'm not sure that the "funny animal" comparison means anything. Carl Barks's ducks might as well be humans, too.
Three different things. Two of them have a similar purpose in relation to the third, I'd say.
And Barks' ducks are wonderful characters, to be sure, but the right question to ask might be: do mouse heads on Holocaust victims work, or is it just a shallow conceit?
Japanese anime studios do these kinds of super-realistic stories; Ghibli's done at least two others: Only Yesterday and Ocean Waves. No masterpieces, I think, but they're pretty good (Only Yesterday, which Takahata also did, I thought especially fine), and here again, I'd ask: what's the point of requesting that they be done live-action? They were done by Ghibli,as well as they could be done. A live action version might have been coarser, maybe.
I can't think of many Japanese filmmakers still alive who are actually good and do straight drama--Hirokazu Kore-eda, perhaps; Kurosawa Kyoshi if the mood struck him (License to Live was pretty good, I thought); not a big fan of Kohei Oguri or Akihiko Shiota (I might have to look at their films again), or even Takeshi Kitano's non-violent stuff. For better or worse, seems like anime filmmakers have taken up some of the slack.
Dock Miles: "do mouse heads on Holocaust victims work, or is it just a shallow conceit?"
I think involving that particular subject matter throws the discussion off. Using "funny animals" works the same imagination-displacement no matter what the story is about.
Doesn't a similar approach work in Grave? Does using big-eyed anime faces on children victimized by the Allied bombing of Japan count as a stylization of a subject often tackled with a realist approach (serious or trivial, it shouldn't matter), and doesn't it exploit the medium of animation?
And in fact, isn't using what is commonly considered a children's medium, in a film I'd say was meant for children (make it live action and you instantly relegate it to the arthouse circuit; make it anime and who in Japan are going to watch this--and at what ages?), to depict the slow suffering and starvation of children some kind of statement by itself? One I for one might consider artistic? Well, courageous, anyway.
Dock Miles: I don't think anyone imagines animation is a children's medium any more, and it was never true, anyway. So I think that's irrelevant. I'd have to take another look at Grave to have much more to say about it. And that's not likely to happen. And again, it's not what the film is about, as such, that matters -- it's how the work's done. (I've never bought the grand, tragic art = grand, tragic subject argument.)
No, grand subject, grand art--never bought that either (that's one reason why I like Takahata's Our Neighbor the Yamadas so much).
It is perhaps not true that animation was ever a children's medium, but the common perception is that certain animation is. I think Grave taps into that kind of perception, employing the kind of faces you find in children's anime , and using it for a specific purpose.
I'd say forget that it's animation and try looking at it (if ever you get around to doing so again) as a story. Is the story told well? I think so, but maybe if you set the question of "to animate or not to animate" aside, some other reason why it seems so unlikeable or pretentious might come up.
From the Bizarre Hatred of Random Celebrities Goes to the Movies thread in Drive, We Said:
We got fish--tiny little things, about a quarter inch long, five of 'em, swimming in a little plastic tank holding about a quart of water. Then they became four--found the head of one of them lying at the tank bottom. Then three.
Turns out one of the fish was eating the others. He's the only one left now, and as fat as hell. We call him Hannibal.
The missus is thinking of getting him a companion, says he's lonely. I keep saying "What for? You're just buying him an extra special dinner."
Lionne: Buy Hannibal a BIG friend. He can work off some of that fat by swimming for his life. ;)
Randy Wylde: I'm sure an arawana would make short work of it. My sister decided to give hers to an aquarium once it grew past eating live goldfish as food. She didn't think she could bring herself to drop live mice or chicks in the tank.
The fish in Tsai Ming Liang's What Time is It There? was an arwana, wasn't it? Best performance by a fish I've ever seen--suspenseful and funny.
From Bacharach in Bangkok
Philippine Star 10/24/05
The only book I stuffed into my backpack for last week's jaunt to Bangkok was Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review of Philippine Cinema (Singapore: BigO Books, 2005). I'd had the book for months - with no less than acclaimed film director Lav Diaz delivering a copy to my house - and I'd promised myself to read it one blessedly free day, a day that just never came until last weekend.
Before he recently flew off with his family to North Carolina, I'd met Noel a couple of times, and he looked more to me like a Marine or a defensive lineman than a film critic - which only goes to show how rare and atypical real film critics are, that we haven't typecast them in the way professors, priests, and policemen generate caricatures in our heads. There are, indeed, very few of Noel's calling and caliber in our country (and now even he's gone out of it, albeit in just a physical way); whether for lack of time, education, or integrity, many "reviewers" here are really little more than publicists (which is why I decline, as a matter of personal policy, to review books; call this a book report). Noel wasn't even formally trained for film (heck, who is?) - he took up Legal Management in Ateneo, before doing an MBA at the University of Michigan in Dearborn and working as an officer of the Bank of the Philippine Islands.
But over the past decade or so, no one has written more knowledgeably, more consistently, and more passionately about Philippine cinema than Noel Vera. I know some people who share his passion and perhaps even his learning, but they don't write, not nearly as well as he does. Noel doesn't just live and breathe movies; he teaches them, teaches us about them, and brings the full armament of his considerable knowledge and his keenly refined preferences to bear on even the seemingly most insipid or inconsequential movie to turn it into a learning experience.
Here's Noel on Mario O'Hara's Babae sa Bubungang Lata (1999):
"Babae sa Bubungang Lata (Woman On A Tin Roof) isn't about films so much as it is about the people who make them. Not the directors or proucers or stars (as in Federico Fellini's 8 (sic), or Francois Truffaut's Day for Night) but the little people on the fringe... O'Hara works inthe neo-realist tradition of Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini (a tradition Lino Brocka belonged to), but there's also a touch of gothic in him. He stages much of his story inside the Manila North Cemetery, a vast landscape of tombs and crosses and silently weeping angels, where most of his characters - so poor they can't afford a house - live. It's a marvelous visual conceit, a brilliant coup de theatre: crawling among the mausoleums and monuments of famous dead presidents and statesmen, O'Hara's little people struggle to survive."
Vera isn't just dropping names; he's locating a work and its director within a certain tradition, to which every work is, in a sense, responsible, and from which every work must also depart. Vera makes us aware of the long continuum and context of filmic thought and practice behind every new project, big or small. No matter how un-serious a movie may be - and we seem to have an inordinate number of these wala-lang productions, hatched on a toilet bowl with a storyline that could fit on the back of a bus ticket - Vera does it the ultimate courtesy of taking it seriously, dispensing praise and damnation with equal gusto and perspicacity. To Vera, the point of a review isn't to make or break a movie (wisely, because in this country, reviews don't seem to matter at the till); the point is to understand it, and by doing so, to understand ourselves.
You can't always agree with Noel's judgments, which is a sign that he must be doing something right, to have such firm opinions and preferences we can argue with. (The last time I looked, he was an active protagonist in online film forums, where he was taking and giving as much fire as a GI in Iraq.) For example, he makes all the right references to George Orwell, Jose Rizal, shoot-'em-up video games, and martial law when he discusses the otherwise brilliant Lav Diaz's Hesus Rebolusyonaryo (2002),without saying what to me seemed all too obvious - that it was overwrought and in parts boring, though doubtlessly important.
The book isn't justabout the strengths and weaknesses of individual Filipino movies. As the title suggests, it's a review of Philippine cinema as a whole, and Vera completes the picture by devoting useful and informative sections to film festivals, interviews with film personalities, reviews of plays, and Catholic films (e.g., movies about Christ). He has a very interesting list of the 13 most important Filipino films as of 2000 (his top three, in order: 1) Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos; 2) Insiang; 3) Kisapmata.) He takes a look across time periods and genres to discuss films about society, films about sex, films about Manila, and personal visions.
I do have a minor stylistic quibble: Vera (or his Singaporean editor) strangely chooses to italicize only Filipino titles - as in Init sa Magdamag - while leaving English titles in regular roman (such as The Kiss of the Spider Woman). Movies are movies in whatever language, and in my stylebook, their titles should all be italicized, the better to spot them on the page.
Noel's been invited to the Rotterdam International Film Festival to talk about a small group of Filipino films that he's written about. Whether we agree with his views and choices or not, we can only wish him well on his personal mission of sharing our filmic vision with the rest of the world.
Critic After Dark is available at Fully Booked, Power Plant Mall; the CCP Bookstore; Datelines Bookstore, Cubao; and Booktopia, Libis, Quezon City. Go pick up a copy and let Noel know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will U.S. go into culture shock?
UNESCO walls off Hollywood fare
By LIZA KLAUSSMANN
In a slap in the face to the U.S., member states of U.N. cultural body UNESCO have voted to protect their film businesses against creeping globalization -- in other words, Hollywood.
The vote, a Franco-Canadian initiative, was passed by 191 states: Only Israel and the U.S, which recently rejoined UNESCO after a 19-year absence, opposed it. Four countries abstained, including Australia.
Move could spark quotas on film and music imports, particularly in countries like France, where, in the first nine months of 2005, U.S. pics took 57.4% of the market share while Gallic films took 37.4%.
The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions gives member states the right to act against what they see as encroachment on their cultural identity.
Article 8, contested by the U.S., authorizes countries to identify "situations where cultural expressions ... are at risk of extinction" and take "all appropriate measures" to preserve them.
Vive le exception
The adoption of the convention is particularly important for France, which has for years championed "the cultural exception" -- a term that has come to be synonymous with protectionism and quotas.
Gaul is known for its generous subsidies for its film, TV, music and literary industries.
"We are no longer the black sheep on this subject," said French culture czar Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres. "This makes culture an exception, which is to say that it's not the market that should regulate, it's the states that should support and promote their own artists."
The U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, Louise Oliver, called the convention "erroneous," "ambiguous" and "protectionist." "The term 'cultural exception' has never been defined," she said, adding that the convention puts into question freedom of expression.
Gaul is in the middle of a heated debate on whether to open its state coin to Hollywood films, which many here see as tipping the balance even more in favor of U.S. fare.
Late Thursday, the MPAA released a statement from chairman-CEO Dan Glickman.
"The MPAA believes strongly in the value of diversity," Glickman said. "However, we share the concerns of many, including those expressed by the U.S. government, that the convention appears to be more about trade and commercial activities than about the promotion of cultural diversity."
Glickman will give a speech on the topic of diversity and the UNESCO decision today at the Beaune Film Festival in France.
An MPAA spokesman said the org would address the issue further then.
In the meantime, org released a letter sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sept. 9.
The missive, signed by 14 U.S. business groups including the MPAA, Independent Film & Television Alliance and RIAA, expressed sympathy for the convention's goals but called it "extremely troubling in many respects."
Letter said the convention could be used to erect barriers against trade in almost any kind of goods and that it fails to mandate stronger intellectual property rights protection.
"Even more fundamentally," says the letter, "the convention must be clear that it does not override agreements reached in other fora." Letter's signatories are concerned that the convention may be cited as a pretext for ignoring World Trade Organization treaty obligations.
The vote on the convention, held at UNESCO's Paris HQ, must be ratified by 30 member states to take effect. (David S. Cohen in Hollywood contributed to this report.)
Date in print: Fri., Oct. 21, 2005, Los Angeles
Interesting thoughts on the political allegory behind Serenity:
You Whedon fans might want to spread this around...
Anyone, incidentally, noticed how critics read the film? Some point out (finally) that it's an improvement over Lucas' space fantasies, but carp over the lack of Harrison Fordlike charisma on the part of Mal (Frankly, I think Fillion has a low-key charm all his own), or the cheesy effects (Lucas' effects are state of the art; it's his script and sensibility that are cheesy); almost everyone points to the political allegory, but faints back from naming names (the Bush administration as the Alliance, terrorists as the Rievers, etc.).
From Forum With No Name:
I'd say it's Michael Powell's masterpiece--his one epic film without an obviously epic feel (it sneaks up on you), and his most ambivalent portrait of a man ever. Deborah Kerr makes you ache for her, and Anton Walbrook is devastating. He has that one scene--where he's telling the immigration offcier why he, an enemy alien, wants to move to England--and he has to explain not only the intervening years, but his 180 degree turn of character (from fanatic military officer to wary and humbled pacifist). He does so clearly, convincingly, and in a way that's unutterably moving. There's years of struggle and heartbreak in that speech.
ted fontenot: I have to say that this is one hell of a movie. I had never seen it before. I'll have more to say later after I see it one more time first. Luckily, I recorded it. Livesey's realization of the character is complete.
Livesey is wonderful; he embodies all the contradictions so perfectly you can't make up your mind about the character or the film (which is what I think Powell intended). You love him the same time you want to smack him upside in the head for being so thickheaded. Kerr isn't just beautiful, she subtly shades the three different characters so that you can differentiate them in your head afterwards (all this at the age of twenty one!). Even the little bits are great--James Makechnie as the enterprising Spuds, John Laurie as faithful Murdoch. But Walbrook was something else.
DH1: I was drawn in from the word go. The opening scene, of the messenger motorcycles zipping around in formation to give word of a military exercise, 'The war starts at midnight', was just fabulously shot. And the way they went from some cheeky soldiers, with an undercurrent of anger as to the current state of the war (released in '43, I have no doubt it was quite real) and that there are no scheduled starts of battles in the real thing so they go ahead and 'capture' the main character in a turkish bath, and he flashes back from being an old, fat officer to being a young, muddleheaded soldier who makes fun of people like he's destined to become was likewise excellent.
I also have to agree with the kudos for Deborah Kerr. Besides being luminous, her grasp of the character was first rate, it's very difficult to believe she was so young.
I suspect David Lean borrowed that motorcycle scene to open Lawrence.
DH1: Oh yeah. The way much of 'Colonel Blimp' was shot in general, I strongly suspect that Lean was a big Michael Powell admirer.
A Matter of Life and Death used to be my favorite Powell for the longest time (until I resaw Colonel Blimp), and is perhaps the most easily delightful (even over Thief of Baghdad, I think).
ted fontenot: Surprisingly, and affectingly so, although the character may be something of a God's fool, Colonel Blimp is not a buffoon. He is, in the last analysis, a man of character, not a caricature, an admirable being deserving of respect and even of being emulated in certain respects. He is a man of principle, but he’s definitely not hidebound. We come to see his positive qualities as others do. He is admired, even wondrously so, by Theo (he’s surprised to be so captivated), and loved by the beautiful Barbara (and perhaps also by Edith), and it's all because of who he is—a simple, unfailingly solicitous, kind, and fair man who doesn’t have a hurtful bone in his body. Yet, he seems oblivious at what sterling qualities these are. That’s because he thinks everyone is like him. When he begins to dress down the radio interviewer, he catches himself and apologizes. He is courteous, considerate, and open-minded—to the point and extent that others see these qualities as failings. Not usually the modern tempers estimate of the Victorian anachronism. He may not see what his younger wife sees in him, but what she sees in him is this, and one of the finer things in the movie is how that point is made. Not only the brave, but the good and good-hearted, too, deserve the fair seems to be one of the movie’s promises. When Barbara and Candy are sitting by the fire, and he takes her hand as if it is this thing of unimaginable value, the look on Kerr’s face, of love and gratitude and wonder, says it all. Her face is magnificently expressive in that scene. It makes the point; his is out of camera range.
The opening of Colonel Blimp brings to my mind The Palm Beach Story. PBS is screwball through and through, screwball interfering with the romantic; CB is only bookend with screwball, though. But the frantic circular structure brings the comparison to mind. It also reminds me of Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait. Like the main character in that film, a review of his life makes him realize it has been a life justified. But he must change. The roseate tinge of ironic tragicomedyin Colonel Blimp is the slightly ridiculous spectacle of an old man finally forced to lose his cherry—doubt in himself and in his view of the world has finally been sown in him. He, at his age, must change, and his most superior quality is that he will do what he must do. Oh, he’s dead, make no mistake about it.
It’s funny, in a way, that Churchill would so dislike the movie, for Candy is a lot like him. Churchill married a younger woman. He was full of ideals, not the least being the idealization of women. At Lord of the Admiralty during the First World War, when it became apparent that the Allies were going to win, he burst out in a cabinet meeting that they, the English, must do something about the Germans starving—the war was over, time to be big about it, hail fellow well met stuff. The rest of the government mucky mucks simply looked at him coldly. Like Blimp, there was always something of the boy who never grew up (in the best sense of that) in Churchill. He loved and lived by the sentiments embodied in Macaulay's poem:
Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Then facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods?"
Amen to everything you said, ted, about General Candy, but there are moments in the film where Powell really seems to be trying to undercut everything that Candy stands for, or at least, show us the darker side of his obliviousness, or innocence--that may be what Churchill (smart man, I've always thought) was responding to. That's why it's such a great film, it doesn't go for the easy answers. A genuinely good man, and the film shows not just his virtues but his limitations.
I believe Theo's aware of them--in fact, I believe Theo more closely represents Powell's point of view--he knows the world isn't what Candy thinks it is, but he can't help loving him, nevertheless.
ted fontenot: There's no doubt that Candy's world has passed, if it ever existed. He's outlived his time and he's outlived his kind. May be the knell, too, of a certain British sense of itself. In the early stages of WWII, before America entered the war, I believe it was in Greece, the Germans miscalculate and parachute into the waiting sights of the British soldiers. The British didn't expend much effortjustifying gunning down the helpless Germans as they parachuted in. As one officer said (you'll have to imagine the clipped English accent), "Not cricket, I know, but there you have it." No more Mr. Nice Guy.
A short review of Critic After Dark: A Review of Philippine Cinema:
There isn't exactly a surplus of literature on the output of Southeast Asia's most important national cinema [Finally, someone outside of the Philippines said it!--NV], whether it be in English, Tagalog, or any of the 80-plus other languages of the Philippine archipelago. That this latest entry wasn't even published there but abroad in Singapore is fitting for a writer whose sometimes wry and acidic comments have pissed off many a self-important hack with family connections to the powers that be. (Did I say Carlos Siguion-Reyna?)
Critic After Dark is a testament to Noel Vera's 1994-2004 run as a newspaper critic and his concurrent battles with a film culture he regards as dominated by bad taste, riddled with corruption and guilty of a general under-appreciation of director Mario O'Hara in particular. It all adds up to a pretty accurate overview of what was going on in Philippine feature filmmaking over the last decade. Interspersed are pieces dealing with more general subjects, ranging from skeptical musings over the true value of Carlos Vander Tolosa's repatriated not-quite-classic Giliw Ko (My Love, '39) to reconsiderations of such masters as Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, and Mike de Leon, to comparative contemplations on sub-genre-wave phenomena such as Rizal or OCW (overseas contract worker) films.
Vera, like all of us, has his pantheon as well as a long and lovingly cultivated shit list--and he makes no secret of either. He'll do anything to find something good in a film by his hero O'Hara while it would take the third degree to make him say anythingkindabout Erik Matti (or the above-mentioned power-elite scion). And that's basically okay, not because he's right (who ever is?), but because it all amounts to a transparent theory of cinema and a critical practice that enables discerning readers--both aficionados and neophytes--to draw their own conclusions.--Olaf Moller
Film Comment, September-October 2005
The book, incidentally, is also available at Datelines Bookstore Cubao; Cultural Center of the Philippines Bookstore, Manila; Fully Booked, Powerplant Mall, Makati;and Booktopia, Libis, QC.
Well, well, well, well. First look I've ever had of the Firefly series, and I'm impressed. Whedon's filmmaking skills have grown since his work in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (well, he does have a relatively bigger budget)--now he stages fight scenes with clarity and little fuss, and you can see the action choreography and Summer Glau's awesome high kicks in all their glory (maybe not in the league of Hong Kong action, but far better than anything in multiplexes nowadays). And he seems to have struck the right balance between evoking old history and telling a new story in the context of that history, allowing newcomers like me to follow without being swamped, and leavening all that complex detail with careful characterization and offhand humor.
And I'm sure y'all notice the allegory here--that the Alliance with its tight hold over everything including the media can't control absolutely everything, that the tighter the control the more things slip loose; that what those beyond Alliance control needs now is commitment to the cause of opposing the Alliance (can't help notice that Alliance people have immaculate uniforms and stroll spotless corridors while the rest--including the Serenity crew--relax by strumming guitars and sitting by a fireside. What with conservative labelling of liberals as upper-class elitist intellectuals, this image of them being the plain ole folks instead of the right is downright refreshing).
Also note that Whedon knows how to stage a knock-'em-up, drag-'em-out battle where the stakes are high (are, in fact, practically everything), and the casualties are people you know and even care for, that he knows how to pile the odds against our heroes to the point that you begin to wonder, that if they are able to survive the odds, the means of survival are reasonable and even ingenious (until the next death struggle). The heroes, if they are to succeed, do so not through the rightness of their cause, but through skill and cunning. And the odd misplaced nerve.
And (SPOILERS) nice to see that the crew's success is put in context--it's not a knockout blow, but a wakeup call, not the end of the struggle, but a good start. Seems to be a pretty accurate reading of where the United States is at the moment, and just what it needs to get off its ass, at least from where I'm standing.
I've seen some of The Thief and the Cobbler before, in bits and pieces, probably from all those animation documentaries and compilations through the years. It's impressive all right--partly inspired by M.C. Escher, and it's right smart of Williams or whoever did the production art and backgrounds to tie in Escher's and various abstract styles with Islamic architecture, which use srepeating geometric shapes and fractals in their designs. Certain characters are a joy--Jonathan Winter's thief, the brigands (who have the best single song), and Vincent Price's lovely cadences. And I can see where the vulture was stolen for Disney's Aladdin.
The script's the weakest part; standard-issue boy-thief going after standard-issue Disney-style princess (complete with spunk, absentminded father, and Broadway power ballads), with a MacGuffin (three gold balls) to start things rolling. And I felt that the villain's huge monster machine was revealed too late, just when it's breaking apart, to be all that impressive.
It's like this great storyteller who uses all his skill and magic to tell yet another tiresome love story--maddening and fascinating, in equal measure. I suppose the complete workprint will make a difference (though Winters' ad libs at times was the only thing sustaining my interest), but I'm not quite sure how.
From Forum With No Name:
Saw Roy Del Ruth's The Maltese Falcon (1931), and it's interesting to see how Ricardo Cortez's playboy interpretation measures up to Bogart's iconic performance. Del Ruth was operating in a more liberal atmosphere, and he could openly show Sam Spade messing with his clients, his partner's wife, his secretary (sometimes two out of three, and in the same office); Bograt wasn't as lucky (although he made up for it considerably in The Big Sleep). Una Merkel as Effie is sexier than in Huston's version and Bebe Daniels has it over Mary Astor, who seemed miscast anyway (she was pretty, but a femme fatale?).
Del Ruth's version is, well, plainer; Huston makes the story flow from shot to shot (which it should; if I remember right, Huston, carefully planned each shot, the only time in his career he would do so). I do like Del Ruth's use (or lack) of music; I remember Huston's tended to simply mickeymouse the action.
It holds up surprisingly well, until the end, where Cortez seems to be simply kissing Daniels off goodbye, another dame he's tossed off like kleenex. Bogart played the scene as if it was high tragedy, which--when you think about it--was what Hammett probably intended, though Astor hardly seemed worth getting tragic about.
Chris H: There was also a 1936 version with Bette Davis in the Astor role, called Satan Met a Lady. I've never seen it, but I think the tone is supposed to be closer to The Thin Man than the darkness of the '41 version.
DH1: You see, for me the scene works even better in some ways with Mary Astor as that character, because the way I've always perceived it is that she wants to be a femme fatale but doesn't truly have the chops for it. She's over her head, trying to swim in the deep end with the big kids, but circumstances conspire to make it convenient for all involved that she be fed to the cops. To me, it makes it all the more tragic, with of course the undercurrent that while she's overmatched by the situation, she's not a nice person either, and it's not wholly undeserved.
Bogie's playing of the scene at the end, with Huston's direction, is just brilliant too, as you feel the slick, cynical meanness of his character, while coming close but neverquite going over the edge where you'd hate him for it.
In the book, and in the 1931 movie, and I believe Bogie says it too in his version, Spade tells her "you're good." Spade's achievement loses a lot if he was just outsmarting a woman who didn't know what she was doing; of all of them she's supposed to be the smartest operator, the one who keeps her hands clean. I think Daniels' performance really brings this out (there's a scene there, not in the book or 1941 version, I think, where she even holds out on Spade for a lot of money).
And Astor just doesn't have the zing to her. No sex appeal. Daniels was hot (so was the actress playing Effie--but the women in Huston's version seem less sleazy overall, and I miss that).
ted fontenot: I liked Astor. But,then, I like her in almost everything she's done. Una Merkel was hot,though, in her "teen" years. See that Lubitsch film with Morris Chevrolet and J. MacDonald, who was also hot in some pre-code films.
Huston's film is simply great. It's also just about a word for word adaptation of the novel. You can follow the dialogue from the novel as you watch the movie. Cortez is pretty repulsive. But, then, he's the opposite of Astor--I've never liked him in anything I've seen him in. Warren William was fine, always an interesting actor--he was very good in the lead in Capra's Lady for a Day. But Bogart is to Spade what Connery is to Bond--recreated the role so that it totally absorbs the original conception.
Huston's version is great, and Bogart plays the final scene like the tragedy it was meant to be, of course; never thought otherwise. The 1931 version, if not as memorable, does have a few things to recommend it--well, maybe not Cortez.
Nerdy Chick: A little National Enquirer-type crud: wasn't Mary Astor involved in a lurid divorce case in the late '20's? I wonder if casting her was an attempt to capitalize on this.
ted fontenot: While divorcing her second husband in 1936 her personal diary was entered in evidence in the custody fight for their daughter. Included among other well-publicized juicy bits was her secret affair with playwright George Kaufman [that's the great George S. Kaufman who wrote, along with Moss Hart, You Can't Take It With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner, among other popular plays]. Her career picked up after the scandal -- The PrisonerofZenda (1937), Midnight (1939) (again with Barrymore), _Brigham Young - Frontiersman (1940)_ , and a best supporting Oscar for The Great Lie (1941). Her crowning role was the lying Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon (1941).
From the IMDB
And there you are. Scandalous life, and she still seems as wholesome as Snow White.
ted fontenot: I've never thought of her as wholesome, although she did have the Grace Kelly part in the precursor to Mogambo. And she was thoroughly amoral in The Palm Beach Story.
You should check Daniels in Dangerous Female, ted. She's hotter than Astor was in the role (and I suspect Astor knew it, from the way she dressed).
ted fontenot: Oh, I have seen that version of The Maltese Falcon, and I do like Daniels (and agree she's pretty hot), although I think Merkel and Todd are more natural and modern, have more easily adapted to talkies at that point.
What is stands out about Astor's performance is how she exactly captures a certain type, a certain sort of woman -- the compulsive liar and betrayer at the service of egomania. If the movie didn't move so fast, if it slowed down some and allowed you to consider and connect, you might even find her comic -- she reminds me, in dispassionate repose, of Joe E. Brown in Alibi Ike. Like him, she wouldn't/couldn’t tell the straight truth even if it was to her benefit to do so. She, like Brown, like that certain type of compulsive liar, babbles, riffs from one deceptive embellishment to another. She can't stop running as fast, emotionally, as he can. If she does, she knows she'll be caught. She would lie even if it served no purpose; it’s simply her MO. It has to do with her worldview. She trusts no one. This is what makes her distinctive and original. It’s an especially unromantic and unsentimental interpretation. She uses sex as a matter of course to get her way and to exert her will. For all the wardrobe and cosmetics, it’s primal. She’s like the female version of Mitchum in Cape Fear. I get the feeling in those culminating scenes that Spade better watch it, better not let her near a knife or gun. Remember what she did to Cairo? Like Bruno in Strangers on a Train, she'd do the dirty with her dying breath even if it meant eternity in hell.
What I remember best about Astor in Falcon was her final scene--how she couldn't believe she's being handed over.The description in the book went something like Spade goes pale, and smiles a humorless smile, and Bogart's performance matched that moment exactly. Astor felt and acted like a sacrificial victim.
ted fontenot: Well, of course. It's the culmination of the pathology. They can't believe they've actually been found out, and they can't believe that they can't work their wiles so that they can slide one more time. If they can't prevail, it has to be because they've been wronged.
It's a great character, and a great role, and I'm sure Astor gave it her all. It's just that, when she offers herself one last time to Spade, and he swallows, looking at her, I don't quite feel what he feels (someone giving up a sex goddess to avenge a principle (and save his hide)). He makes me understand what he feels (he's excellent in that scene), but I don't feel it.
Lambasted by almost all critics for its sentimentality, and for throwing in a love affair between Samuel Jackson and Juliette Binoche, John Boorman's In My Country is a drama about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Hearings, a unique legal process where accusers (mostly black) confront their torturers/jailors (black and white), and truth is traded for amnesty, if the defendant can prove he was only following orders.
It's not as critical as it might be about the proceedings (pretty much takes it for granted that this is an unprecedented thing that will actually work, and doesn't really look deeply into why it could), and there was an HBO documentary (Long Night's Journey Into Day) that covered these cases in more detail, but it does show things that go beyond documentary--the mindset of one of the officers responsible for the tortures, for one, memorably portrayed by Brendan Gleeson; Jackson's character, when confronted with this monster, barely holds his own, and these moments of confrontation, sometimes just silent, are perhaps the finest in Jackson's career to date.
Flawed, very, but as mentioned, there are things in it, and I do like Jackson and Binoche together--I think they have a nicely relaxed chemistry.
From The Forum With No Name:
For some reason Kazan's Splendor in the Grass rubbed me the wrong way. I don't find there the same level of immediate realism as I found in, say On the Waterfront (surface realism I mean; even the characterization in Waterfront has its problems).
Part of it I think is that I'm never happy with the way Kazan scores his films, usually with Alex North's music (here it's David Amram, but it sounds pretty much the same)--what's happening onscreen may be drama, but the music reduces it to melodrama.
Part of it is the American youth movies of this period bother me; I always found even the younger children in European movies more persuasive (400 Blows, Forbidden Games, Zero for Conduct; for adolescent pictures, well, I Vitelloni comes to mind). And the sense you have that not just the Kansas folks but the movie itself finds the subject matter--repressed sexuality--sensational and shocking seems not a little funny (I suppose part of it is seeing this material today).
Warren Beatty is superb--carries the load of Adonis and troubled youth effortlessly on his square shoulders; even at this pretty-boy age you can see he's not just any pretty boy. Natalie Wood I find problematical--she's pretty, but I thought Barbara Loden far more striking. Doesn't help either that Sandy Denis is around--seeing her reminds you that she could play Natalie's role better and with less effort than a duck shakes off water.
Oh, and it's amusing to see Gary Lockwood play a cad; he shows more life here in his few minutes than in all of 2001. I remember him giving off some heat when he and Keir Dullea worried over HAL; he must have been really champing at his bit in Kubrick's movie to cut something--anything--loose.
TonyaJ: Glad you enjoyed Warren's performance, Noe - I thought you might. Yes, I have to say the last time I saw the movie last year, I found the music exasperating (but then you have to remember the era it was made in). Instead of simply providing a simple backdrop to the story, it threatened to overwhelm it. Yeah, we get it, we get it already! Overblown teenage hormones and emotions. I am fond though, of separate scenes in it, like Wood getting up and explaining what Wordsworth's poem means in layman's terms.
ChrisJ: Splendor IS dated and IS overwrought melodrama with a handful of superb scenes. However, I think that's the movie they were making. The gave us the movie they wanted to and we get as Noel has said some performances worth watching. Beatty is excellent. Wood always seemed a bit off, not up to the task of playing this role, I want to like her but she's not up to it and overshadowed by others as Noel pointed out.
However as these kinds of films go, it's an excellent one.
I have a very very sour taste in my mouth for Kazan but On the Waterfront is a great film and Face in the Crowd superb. Streetcar is a grossly compromised film partly because of censorship and partly because Brando just takes over the film--which you could argue he should.
Boomerang with Karl Malden's melodramatic performance is another top notch Kazan film.
Gentleman's Agreement never gets over the fact it knows it's an important message film (anti-semitism)and we've got serious script problems throughout. Peck is also miscast, but for me that works FOR the film.
PINKY is very dated and had censor problems and also suffers from the message film syndrome. Too bad the studio didn't let Lena Horne play the title role---Chickens.
Panic in the Streets is suspense thriller noir set in a very seedy New Orleans (take note) with a message of paranoia woven into the film that worked better a few years after the movie was made...then when it first came out. It's dated but I like this one a lot.
Viva Zapata is also an excellent film from a prize winning John Steinbeck script and featuring one of Brando's best performances. It's a strong step away from Hollywood's safe, somewhat cliched studio epic biographies.. but still has elements of the era that date it.
Baby Doll created a sensation, it definitely has a real sleazy and trashy feel to the film and part of that is created by the need to fudge and play within strict censorship guidelines pushing it here and there and not being able to push it in other ways. The acting and Kazan's direction are superb. Not my favorite On the Waterfront and Panic are those and I'd put Zapata ahead of it too), but one of Kazan's best.
DH1: The problems of Gentleman's Agreement for me were summed up by Arthur Laurents, who said that its central message was that "you better be nice to a Jew because he might turn out to be a gentile."
ChrisJ: Great line--but it was a difficult film to get released and taken seriously--which it was. It's an easy target to deride for a few reasons, but the message was important. Of course just because it was an IMPORTANT film doesn't mean it's a good one and if you could once consider it above average--time has been cruel to it.
Baby Doll's my fave precisely because it's so sleazy (right on, Chris); Kazan got that down pat. Splendor seemed off because you feel even for that time and place the kids were more sensible and crazier (in different ways) than on the screen.
We can call it "Sirkian," but even Sirk's melodramas are more persuasive, partly because he clues you in that it isn't exactly real life--it's very stylized.
After watching the Disney-released English dub of My Neighbor the Yamadas, I've got to conclude that Takahata is at least the equal of Miyazaki, if not his superior, is a master at understatement and the domestic drama, and that this film is a major Ghibli production. Just because people including Disney think of it as an amusing family comedy doesn't mean it isn't a significant film--their boldest and most experimental effort, in both form and content, and the single most delicately beautiful use of digital animation I've ever seen. Period.
Saw this back in 1998, if I remember right, in Singapore, and much preferred it over Edward Yang's Yi Yi (A One and a Two), especially in its depiction of women.
jpcoursodon: I am really surprised and disappointed that you, of all people, should come up with such a superficial and dismissive review of one of the greatest fantasy movies ever made. Your piece almost reads like one of those snotty, condescending reviews some pseudo-intellectual, movie-despising critics were always writing in the thirties and forties. Oh well... You put it up on a _film_by so you asked for it...
A reprimand that somehow comes across as a compliment!
But I'm simply putting forth my reaction to some aspects of the film that, when considering other films in other countries, made at an admittedly later period, seem not to hold up (I'm talking about the decor and the--I don't know how else to put it, the 'disposable' portion of the cast (y'know, like the singing couple nobody notices in the Marx brothers comedies)). I'll stand on the good things I did say of the film, and say that I do consider it a great fantasy--just one against which I hold some reservations.
As for throwing in Reiniger's film--personal opinion, as I said. But as you pointed out, I did put it up on a_film_by, and you gave your opinion accordingly. Comments accepted.
David Ehrenstein: Interesting, Noel. But you should keep in mind that this film was made on the run as Hitler was attacking England at the time. Korda and company had to come to Hollywood to shoot parts of it, and then rush back to England to finish it -- this the many directors. The split you note between John Justin's adult romantic lead and Sabu's adventurous boy MAKES the film for me.
It's all about childhood peering over the edge into adulthood -- and pulling back in favor of adventure.
A tension between growing up and going out? That's interesting. I wish they had at least modulated the characters, gave Ahmad a bit of a spine; as it is, I find it hard to respect him, find it far easier to love Sabu. And Veidt.
Haven't seen Alexander Korda's The Thief of Bagdad (which Michael Powell and six other directors handled) in, oh, fifteen years, I think, and the opening image--a ship with gigantic blood-red sails, billowing at the screen--is an eye-popper.
The sets, however, are a bit of a disappointment: the colors are bright, but the design isn't as ornate or ostentatious as you'd expect from Islamic architecture. If you want extravagant film sets, you might want to take a look at K. Asif's Mughal-E-Azam, with its terrace after terrace of dancing women and intricate canal system; most of that picture was shot in black-and-white (I don't know why, but I suspect it's to give our overworked eyes some relief), but a climactic dance sequence in full color is shot in the famed Palace of Mirrors (the sequence might be compared to a lightning bolt striking a glacier, or a tornado scoring a direct hit on Tiffany's).
As for the cast, June Duprez and John Justin are nice-looking kids, but barely the kind of wondrous beauties you might expect to find in Bagdad, no matter how heavily they apply eyeliner to Justin's eyes; even the poorest Bollywood musical has a better-looking cast.
Conrad Veidt, however, is wonderfully villainous, and actually not as one-sidedly evil as you might think: with the princess in his hands, he hesitates, because for all his powers he does love her and wants her to love him of her own free will. At one point, he confides to the princess' captor: "Love she has yet to learn. But I'm here to teach her;" later he declares "Forget Ahmed. He's no longer blind. For a man with eyes the world is full of women. Only I am cursed, that I can see only you." Justin's Prince Ahmad can only show a fraction of Veidt's passion, and about a hundredth of his initiative; truth to tell, Ahmad is something of a limp rag, and you wonder why the princess just doesn't dump him in favor of the older, far more intense lover.
The problem may be that the Prince Ahmad character has been divorced from the thief character (unlike in the Raoul Walsh silent version, with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), with the resulting decrease in, well, character (not to menton balls) in the former. When things get rough, Justin's Ahmad throws himself down in despair; Sabu as Abu, the thief of Bagdad (and real hero of the film), doesn't give up so easily.
Sabu is a joy, of course, and gets all the best lines; he has many adventures, but none so memorable as the ones he has with the genie (Rex Ingram), a far more malevolent and unpredictable creature than Robin Williams' fuzzy old dear. I'm assuming the character split was made so that they could use Sabu (who's too young here to be a romantic lead--or is it they didn't think an Indian actor could be a romantic lead?), and still have a romance, in which case I suppose the split was the best compromise they could make under the circumstances. A wonderful fantasy, despite my reservations, mainly thanks to Ingram, Veidt, and Sabu, though (in my opine) it can't possibly hold a candle to Lotte Reiniger's wonderful, wonderful The Adventures of Prince Achmed.
Michael Powell's The Edge of the World (1937) is about an island called Hirta (actually Foula doubling as Hirta) off the coast of Scotland, and as beautifully bleak and lonely and windswept a place as any on earth (an introduction tells us that when the Romans sailed around Britain they saw this cloud-enshrouded isle in the distance and called it 'The Edge of the World'). The islanders are a closed, tight-knit community, and as a result they're dying out--all the young ones are leaving, and the remainder are old and few.
The foreground drama--about a pair of lovers cursed with bad luck because, as the legend puts it, they saw the coast of Scotland through the cloud covering--seems to be so much salad dressing to hold together what Powell was really interested in: that is, all the dramatic shots of rock and sea and sky, and any combination of the three, he can find on that island. You can see Powell's influences--late Eisenstein, Robert Flaherty, and Dozhenko come to mind. I'd almost consider it a silent film, as what feels like more than half of the picture is devoted to gazing at men struggling wordlessly against nature in this barbaric landscape. Wonderful little film.
Some reservations with regards to David Cronenberg's A History of Violence (Warning--plot discussed in detail):
1) Everyone is too cheerful about Viggo Morentensen's character getting all that press; if you live in a small town, I imagine the attention would be more annoying. Mortensen is guarded; I'd have thought he'd be more freaked out, maybe even panicky. And I'm not sure such an incident would reach national news; it probably would have to be an extremely slow news night.
2) Looking out your window after being accosted by a news crew and seeing a black sedan outside, I'm not sure I would assume that's yet another news crew (in a black sedan?), and I'm not sure I would be so complacent about it. People see these reports, they tend to get crazy ideas; the people here should be more aware of that.
3) The sheriff expresses skepticism that gangsters from Philadelphia would show their hand so completely unless they have the wrong man, but expresses NOT ONE WORD about him being able to dispatch three men singlehandedly, or almost. Also, that for a small-town man he seems to end up in the hospital with some regularity.
4) I suspect the movie follows the graphic novel pretty closely (as closely as the fight sequences?). The fact that the film seems to dwell more on the violence than on the consequences of living with it, I think this tendency come from the novel. It's the most entertaining way to go, but not necessarily the most thoughtful, useful, or even interesting.
That said, it's probably one of the best mainstream films of the year, right up there with The Constant Gardener, Land of the Dead, and Corpse Bride. This isn't a great year for films, I think, from the few I've seen, but it seems to be shaping up to be better than last year, anyway, qualitywise.