11/30/05

'Land of the Dead,' and why Romero's zombies are so disturbing

From Forum With No Name:

DJ Joe: Land of The Dead- George A Romero's latest zombie pic- I enjoyed it- Dennis Hopper is King Rat on an island sanctuary away from the stenches- the usual mix of funny gore kept me amused throughout B+

An especially vivid passage from Dickens' Oliver Twist gives us a clue as to why Romero's zombies are so memorable:

these fears were nothing compared to the sense that haunted him of that morning's ghastly figure following at his heels...He could hear its garments rustling in the leaves, and every breath of wind came laden with that last low cry. If he stopped, it did the same. If he ran, it followed--not running too--that would have been a relief--but like a corpse endowed with the mere machinery of life, and borne on one slow melancholy wind that never rose and fell.

See, it's those words it followed--not running too--that would have been a relief that nail it for me. Romero's zombies are frightening because they're never in a hurry; they operate on a different sense of time from our own, and we feel, no matter how fast we run, that they will somehow overtake us--if not now, later; if not today, tomorrow.

Today's running zombies, you feel as if a tranquilizer and a long hot shower would make them feel better. Not so with Romero's undead: they feel as inevitable as the cold that will someday creep up your bones, and invariably, inevitably claim you for its own.

11/29/05

Mitchum and De Niro and Brando, oh my!

From Forum with No Name:

Don Seigel's The Big Steal's not bad--clean action sequences, sexy interaction between Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum. Felt a bit disposable, I thought, but very well done.

ted fontenot: The most pleasant thing about The Big Steal is the easy rapport Mitchum and Greer have. They exude more a feeling of camaraderie rather than one of sexual heat a la Out of the Past (which plays this evening). You can tell they genuinely like each other. The Big Steal is an early chase movie, and the stars seemed grateful for its being light, and ultimately lighthearted, for not having to take things with any great seriousness. The whole thing is an excuse for an exercise in sardonic repartee between the main characters that, while funny and integral to the characters and relationship, spoofs high seriousness of Out of the Past.

It was a Mitchum marathon last night and today. Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear, His Kind of Woman, Macao. I much prefer the Peck/Mitchum CF to Scorsese's. It's simpler, more direct, more concentrated, thus more forceful. Mitchum isn’t just evil; he’s a natural force. He's a calamity as pitiless as a hurricane. Humanity means nothing. John D. MacDonald, whose novel the movie was based on, is the creator of the legendary Travis McGee series. His depiction of society is Old Testament righteousness meets Darwinian ruthlessness in seeking out the main chance. The McGee novels are noted for Max Cady-type villains. CF's theme is that it's impossible to be decent—the veneer of civilization is mighty thin. Animals like Mitchum sense the niches in the liberal humanistic society they can take advantage of and thrive in. However civilized we may think we are, in dealing with them, at some point we're going to have to become like them, if we are to defend against them. I used to think the ending was kind of a copout, and emotionally I guess I still may feel a little like that. You want Peck to blow the mother away. But the movie subtly takes the point further. Bowden does become like Cady, and not just in that he sets him up to be killed, but he becomes Cady in his way—he stays within society's boundaries after all, and uses society’s institutions, not biological drives, to alpha Cady. In the natural world, when two males confront, often it is just ritual, a dangerous one, but ritual until one realizes he can’t take the other. However, sometimes there has to be a fight to a bloody end because they are too evenly matched or because one will not concede. That’s Cady. In the natural world, Bowden would have to kill him. But, in the end, in civilization, it's about transfusing Darwinian dominance and biological ruthlessness into socio-legal institutional acts of justice. It may not be much of a difference, and it may break down under great stress (see natural catastrophes, like Hurricane Katrina/Rita, or man-made ones, like the black market Germany immediately after the end of WWII),

His Kind of Woman was fun, too, in the same way as The Big Steal. Mitchum and Russell are more like sibling rivals than lovers in their movies, but, again, there's a rapport. Vincent Price is outrageously the ham, but when isn't he? Is there ever an instance on record of his "underacting". Nevertheless, in his self-parody, he's almost the best thing in the movie. But, then, there's Mitchum ironing his money when he feels stressful. Now, I laugh just saying that.

TonyaJ:  don't like the Scorsese Cape Fear either - DeNiro's Cady is just a gross guy and a sadist on top of it (note early scene where he takes a bite out of the hooker) - I don't remember Mitchum's Cady being a sadist - elements of sadistic maybe, as far as I can think back, but as you point out, he's more of an opportunist than just purely evil.

ted fontenot: By "understandable", I mean it can be understood, not that it is justified.

Agree on Scorsese's Cape Fear. More, De Niro's done impressive work--once--but he's not the sui generis presence that Mitchum is; he has to work out, and Scorsese has to show him at it. Nolte is arguably a more interesting actor than Peck, but Peck is perfectly cast here--a decent man forced step by step to become, as ted points out, what he beholds. You can even see the moment--he's not only outfought Cady, but as he trains the gun on Mitchum, the final piece clicks into place, and he begins to think like Cady--going under the radar of social convention and law to take his sweet, slow revenge on the man who has tormented him into this present shape.

Oh, I do think Mitchum's Cady is a sadist--he's just too smart not to leave any marks. His preferred method of torture--sophisticated for its setting, which isn't far from where I'm sitting right now (the Cape Fear Hospital is just thirty minutes away)--is of the mental kind.

ted fontenot: Yes, he's a terrorist.

DJ Joe: I perfer the Mitchum version of Cape Fear- he does a good job of conveying evil with a rogueish charm- another decent Mitchum flick is Tobacco Road

just finished Streetcar Named Desire- talk about rogueish charm- Brando is hot in this flick - great dialogue/acting-glad I finally saw this film

TonyaJ: The trouble with Brando's performance in the film version of Streetcar (and it's been said by film buffs and reviewers other than me) is that he dominates so much in his performance, that he tends to overshadow the other actors. While Stanley needs to be powerful, Brando's performance veers towards caricature simply by the sheer scope and size of what he brings as an actor. I much prefer him (not that I world every throw Stanley away) in more low-key, meticulous character studies like The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris.

DJ Joe: I think he is magnetic- but very much the primal man- I know guys like that - there is no mute button and no personal censor- they say what they believe when they want to how they want to

and I don't think he overshadowed Viven Leigh or Kim Hunter who did a good job as the straight person cuaght between 2 explosive personalities

for some reason the Karl Malden charcter reminded me of Bill Daughtries from King of The Hill

ChrisJ: Brando and Leigh were the show, though Hunter and Malden weren't wallflowers in the thing. It had to be changed from the stage to the screen for the censors. The reason to watch is Brando.. . he overpowers and changes the dynamics of what is the toned down play that Kazan and company got onto celluloid. It has become the definitive version of the play for most and that's a shame... it should be a interesting adaptation.

Oh, I didn't think Leigh was no wallflower.

Always thought of Streetcar as a domestic comedy--the heart of the film for me is Stanley and Blanche bickering away at each other, as the in-laws from hell.

His best performance for me is in Last Tango.

11/23/05

Ring 2, both versions considered

Here's a strange case; Ringu 2 is now available on DVD. Took a look at it, and while Ring Two (the American version) seems to make more sense and to actually be more moving (I think thanks to Kruger's script in part, and to Watts and the boy playing her son), there are some bizarre touches in Ringu 2 that don't make much sense, yet at the same time really send a few chills up the spine (e.g. a live-action reprise of the video; a climactic showdown that includes Japanese science-fiction gadgetry and a swimming pool).

Nakata's touch is really missed when the series continues on to the prequel, Ring 0: Birthday (also available on DVD); on the other hand, the prequel does make the interesting decision to reposition Sadako's story as a romance, one with a horribly tragic conclusion.

11/21/05

Developments in the Filipino film industry

Finally, some proposals to help the Filipino film industry

Twenty or so films for 2005--where in 1998, it was as high as a hundred and fifty, more than the Hong Kong film industry back then.

And this:

SM Cinemas install digital projectors

should help digital film production.

Thanksgiving dinner

Someone's thanksgiving dinner--wish I could sit in. From Bizarre Hatred of Random Celebrities:

The Great Beast: The bird itself is crucial. If pressed, I'll use a frozen Organa farms bird, but usually I get it from Saltspring Island--an organic farm, free-range birds who eat worms and run about bothering the sheep. I prefer a never-frozen, New York dressed, 21-day dry-hung bird, but some folks find that too flavourful (oddly, a lot of folks who eat chickens and turkeys want them to taste like styrofoam it seems) so I've settled on 18 day if I've got guests.

My turkey is seasoned with three kinds of sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic, black pepper, salt and lemon. I cover the breast with foil, pop it into a well preheated oven at 500F, and turn it down to 450 after a half-hour or so, and take the foil off in the last 15 minutes. I cook it to 150 on the breast-bone, take it out and let it sit for 10 minutes. Gooshing with juice, and perfectly cooked.

If I do stuffing, of course, I have to cook it a bit longer to take care of the insides. My stuffing takes about two hours to make, as there is a lot of peeling of chestnuts and sauteeing of onions, garlic, celery, water chestnuts, etc.

11/19/05

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Gobble, gobble

Cuaron introduced a bit of jazz to his film, and it was a breath of fresh air and sophistication; Newell mainly relies on John William's usual galumphing orchestral themes (supplemented by music from Patrick Doyle) and I can barely keep awake (there was some really loud rock music at the Yule ball that shook my teeth for a while, but otherwise left me unenchanted). Cuaron spent time watching the boys enjoy some free time together and have angry confrontations--he's really excellent at this kind of adolescent interplay; Newell concentrates on the TriWizard competition, which looks like Fear Factor on steroids. Cuaron created a gothic, forbidding Hogwarts, all vertiginous heights surrounded by towering peaks, broken ground, and dark forests; Newell doesn't quite turn his picture back into Chris Columbus' country-club-with-a-golf-course, but it's sunnier, less menacing. Cuaron did what I longed to do with Quidditch--throw so much wind and rain at it that it gets called off (it's the most wildly beautiful version of the game I've seen yet); Newell turns it into a World Cup tournament, complete with tailgaters (here using tents) and an elaborate pre-game show. And I like the conclusion written into Azkaban, which used ingenuity, imagination and not a little personal courage; Goblet's conclusion pretty much has everyone, living or dead, coming to Harry's rescue, as if he was a FedEx special delivery package marked "fragile."

Michael Gambon I approve of; he's vigorous and sly, and he keeps things moving along; Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman are given some moments--not many, but at least they're there. Emma Watson almost manages to make something moving about her underwritten relationship with Rupert Grint, and all in the space of a ball night (she even makes it seem it was there all along, and not suddenly sprung upon you like a bear trap by the screenplay). Ralph Fiennes is wonderfully villainous as the noseless Voldemort, but the menace he builds up in his one big scene is frittered away by a silly light-and-sound show involving a pair of dueling wands spraying digitized special effects (I've seen Popeye cartoons from the 1930s that handle this kind of cliche confrontation with more visual flair).

Cuaron's emphasis, I feel, was more on character, relationship, and atmosphere, to the detriment of the plot--and a good thing, in my opinion. Newell puts in major events and plenty of big-scale spectacle, and the nuances Cuaron brought into the franchise are lost as a result. This Goblet of Fire feels pretty much doused to me.

11/16/05

Really bad joke

Read this article years ago in a copy xeroxed from the New England Journal of Medicine; apparently it's true.

 

11/15/05

Bad joke

Q: What's worse than falling off a building?

A: Falling off a building and getting your eyelid caught on a nail.

11/14/05

'Carlito's Way' defended

From Forum With No Name:

DJ Joe: Carlito's Way Al Pacino is Carlito a reformed gangsta looking to clean up after a five year stint in a correctional facility.The DePalma flick never really jelled for me- it did have nice scenes like a groovy escalator shootout and Sean Penn's Jewfro- but I never bought into Carlito's romance with Penelope Ann Miller- she is cute- but there seems to be no chemistry. C

Tonya J: Interesting. I think Carlito's Way is a much better film that De Palma's Scarface, which is more a gangster caricature than it is a film about real human beings, which I think Carlito is. Miller and Pacino should have had chemistry (I have some recollection they did); they were doing it in real life at the time.

[edit] - I meant to put in here but I was in a hurry to leave, is that while Pacino gives a brave, balls-out performance in Scarface, I wasn't moved by it and the gore was hard to look at, what he does in Carlito's Way is so nuanced that the violence, while not pleasant, means more because Tony Montano only lives for scratching and clawing his way to the top of the gangster heap, and Carlos Brigante wants out of crime in a big way, to just run a legitimate business and be left alone. Unfortunately, getting out is mountainously harder than Pacino's Michael Corleone getting out.

Shit, Carlito's Way is one of the best films of the '90s and one of the best things either de Palma OR Pacino ever did. Pacino played a real character here (not, as Tonya called it, a potty-mouthed "caricature" like in Scarface), with real depth, and the ending has the amplitude of genuine tragedy.

And Pacino and Miller--that scene with Miller behind the door chain gives me a boner every time.

Tonya J: There's two ways to read that scene. The first one I don't like, which is "Come get me, I want to be taken." That's a major reason I don't read "romance" novels because the feeling of being overpowered is not one I would enjoy, besides being uncomfortably close to rape. The other is more palatable; "I'll lock the door and see how badly he really wants me and how hard he'll work to do it" (because really, she's not a helpless damsel - she was a stripper now trying to be a legitimate dancer [which is of course, something they have in common big time - two people who were way off the fringes of normalcy trying to have a more normal, decent life]) and yeah, it is kind of exciting how much he wants her.

ChrisJ: Ditto Carlito's Way is one of the best modern Gangster films, far far better than Scarface (Pacino's)which goes from an over-the-top guilty pleasure to the equivalent of a bad Bay, Harlin, Schumacher sequel during its last 30 minutes. I enjoy DePalma's Scarface as camp of course and pretend it isn't utterly despicable in its portrayals of minorities and women.

DJ Joe: I am not a big fan of Scarface either- it felt forced

my fave recent Pacino gangster thingy was Donnie Brasco

I liked Carlito's Way but I was underwhelmed by it yet again- it felt vaguely real- but the Penn character was too over the top and I just never bought into the Carlito/Penelope Ann Miller romance- but I do like it better than Scarface easy

my fave gangster flicks are Godfather 2 , Godfather , Casino, Goodfellas,Donnie Brasco,White Heat,Force of Evil &Bugsy- but truth be told- I am more amped up about the upcoming seasons of The Wire & The Sopranos then anything

Carlito's Way was a genuine tragedy, the way it was shaped and paced, circumstances rising up against Pacino's character until he's undone by a character flaw (mercy, compassion--not a strong survival trait in his world). Unlike Scarface, where the man was a bastard and hard to sympathize with (I don't care how many kids he saves from blowing up--you need to sympathize with the hero / antihero before the tragedy can have any sting).

Donnie Brasco had a great Pacino performance...but the film itself didn't have the visual snap and clarity of De Palma, and I keep forgetting Depp's in the picture (he kind of faded into the background). It also didn't have DePalma's cynicism to counterbalance the sentiment (Pacino was very fine, but the film practically asked you to weep for him--Mike Newell's handling of emotions there is crude...unlike, say, Wiseguy, maybe the best recent undercover-cop series, or even Ringo Lam's City on Fire).

I'm not sure which magazine voted Carlito's Way best film of the '90s--Cahiers du Cinema, perhaps?--which made me raise my brow back then. But now I tend to agree: not THE best, but one of the.

11/13/05

Neon Genesis Evangelion

(Warning: plot twists and revelations discussed in close detail)

Saw the first seven episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion and...well, it's interesting enough. The first episode was shockingly sloppy--poor animation, poor editing, all the cliches of mecha anime present. Understand the cliches--it's a setup for their ultimate deconstruction, but were they suffering budget cuts then? This isn't the Gainax that did the wonderfully animated Fooly Cooly.

It recovers. The hero's angst concerning his father feels like standard mecha melodrama, but it's intriguingly revealed, little by little, through throwaway details, and the character of Rei (funny hers is the only name I remember) contributes to the fascination nicely. Nice idea of making the mechas' power supply limited (puts a time limit on the fights, which can get tiresome), of making the feedback more intense (usually the pilots seem to be screaming because they're terrified of being blown up), and of suggesting that the mecha's armor is really skin, hiding something monstrously alive underneath. Here the series borrows not just from science fiction, but from science-fiction horror.

I also like it that the battles aren't so ritualized--usually we see filler footage of the pilots suiting up, docking into their robots, etc., etc.; not so with Evangelion: it spends the minimum time on the fights, they're never when you expect it, and they never end up quite the same way. We also never know what the enemy is thinking of or feeling; the Angels just come, the people just deal with them the best they could--talk about the Unknowable Other.

Not so crazy about the humor, the peek-a-boo stuff with the girls and their underwear (although Rei is interestingly nonchalant about it, and slaps our hero when we least expect it), or the hero's tendency to shriek and cry at the least provocation. Plus the last episode I saw (the one that introduces whatshername, the redhead), is the first ordinary-looking battle I know of (well, there are hints that there's more to it than that--let's hope so).

All in all, I'd say it's easily the best mecha series I've ever seen (not that I'm an expert), and one of the better animes out there. Not ready to say it's up to Miyazaki's level, or that it's a great work of art, but we'll see.

Have this to say about disks 3 and 4--the redhead is much too annoying. She becomes a source of much of the 'fan service'--standard issue t & a shots with giggly comedy--when she should have been a breath of fresh air in the overserious atmosphere (she ends up just irritating everyone around her, and me). The battles are moderately inventive--as I've noted, never when you expect them to be, and never the same method of attack, or defense.

The 11th Angel, however, was impressive--nanomachines. This episode showed a good understanding of what AI machines could become (or at least uses the concept of AI in a consistently fascinating manner--uses an excellent metaphor for depicting AI, in effect), at the same time revealing a different side of a previously uninteresting character (the blonde computer scientist). Always knew smallest is deadliest.

More hints of lack of cooperation, that things are not what they seem. Nicely ominous, but I have to see the whole thing to say whether or not the payoff justifies the promises.

On Neon Genesis Evangelion discs 5 and 6: finally saw the infamous episode 18, which reportedly made the moneymen cut the series' budget drastically. Nothing out-and-out graphic, but it's pretty intense for television, and the sight of a mecha hunched down on all fours chewing on the enemy's corpse does have a potent horrorshow charge to it.

The drama between boy-hero and dad, however, still seems off--things are falling apart around them, and daddy still wants to know what his son wants?! Not convincing, feels forced. We also pretty much knew who the Fourth Child was early on, so hiding the identity seemed redundant. The issue that divides father and son--that father used son to kill an enemy with a human inside--also feels forced and contrived.

Episode 20 looking very experimental--they probably feel the budget crunch already. Interesting interiority--for now.

Final disk of the Eva TV series:

Well, it's impressive mostly for the number of ideas and the amount of storytelling they put forth on an obviously painfully smallbudget--making their straitened circumstances, in fact, something of an asset.

I like the last angel--turns the notion that alien invaders are bizarre creatures out to destroy us neatly on its head, and Shinji's reaction to all this is more believable than the angst he goes through with his previous conflict-of-interest drama (where he beat his classmate's mecha into the ground and, well, consumes him)--here he's responding to what literally is the first love of his life, and you understand the psychic costs he paid to win.

The final two episodes devolve into a psychiatric exploration of Shinji in particular, in an attempt to prove that nothing is more complex, or more dangerous, than the human mind. Veddy ambitious stuff...but probably thanks to the budget cuts, not quite flawlessly executed. Whole characters were dropped out (So who shot Kaji? What was the point of kidnapping whatsisname, the second-in-command?), questions remain unanswered (What is the Instrumentality really? So what if the angel at terminal dogma is Lilith and not Adam? Why does that make Kawuro suddenly understand us?), and Asuka, after all is revealed (suicidal mother and all), is still an annoying brat.

Not fair to mention Bergman, Bunuel, Lynch and Cronenberg on film, Ballard and Philip Dick on print as being better purveyors of man's inner landscape, but there you are; I would have thought with all that hype about the Kabbalah and the mystery of numbers, there would be some coherent, complex connection to it all, but they remain mainly clues, to a puzzle I suspect even the creators never bothered to finish constructing.

To be fair, Ritsuko and Misato (finally, I remember their names!) come out better drawn then I expected--but Shinji is still a sniveling failure, and that's a major disappointment, especially as the series has to end up inside his head, undergoing a combination of basic therapy and Philosophy 101. Can't help but feel Oshii's understated questions about the nature of human and machine consciousness are better put, more persuasively asked.

Evangelion: Death and Rebirth is interesting--a clip show that's a marked improvement over the series' ostensible ending. I don't agree that the Death portion is just a rehash ofthe entire show; I think Anno was able to retell the entire series using judicious sampling of previous material plus a few minutes of new material (a practice session of Pachbel's Canon in D).

The form of Death is unusual: it starts with an early image, goes to the end, then recounts the story in between, going into digressions along the way that help explain each character or event that takes place. What's unusual is that Anno doesn't so much as explain the whole series all over again--you definitely need to have seen the episodes to understand all this--but does it as a variation of the theme, shortened and heightened at the same time.

I think the clue to this is the extensive use of Bach, who's famous for doing this sort of thing-- basically playing the same melody over and over, only different each time.

It's compelling and at a certain point, even moving--Shinji's angst isn't tiresome, Asuka's brattiness isn't annoying, the general contours of the story comes out clearer, the themes and sense of despair stronger.

Rebirth has some interesting revelations to make, but is basically a preparation for the next movie, and thus is more conventional.

End of Evangelion is something of a relief and a disappointment. Relief in that it's all over, and we don't have to listen to Shinji whine anymore, or Asuka bitch; disappointment in that true to form Anno once more goes for the willfully obscure, but doesn't give us much of an incentive to follow him into the intricate thickets of his narrative.

It's intelligently made, and ambitious, but even at its most experimental it shows the limits of mecha anime--we're still talking about adolescent frustrations and fantasies, only more graphically, and about the only strange images Anno can come up with are some non-animated footage of power lines accompanied by extensive use of classical music. I thought putting "Fly Me To the Moon" in the TV end credits was more subversive--it didn't reek of high art, yet it was still a startling choice.

As for the plot: even granting that Anno is being veddy veddy experimental and oblique, it still doesn't make sense. If SEELE was planning to trigger the Third Impact all the time using the Evas, why bother fighting the Angels? If the Evas and not the Angels were meant to trigger Third Impact, what were the Angels for, then? If the Angels want to wipe out humanity, which SEELE wants to stop long enough to trigger the Third Impact, why doesn't SEELE just trigger the Third Impact and save themselves the trouble of fighting the Angels?

Or is SEELE prevented from doing so because they have to follow the Secret Dead Sea Scrolls, which predict all these events? In which case, are those scrolls Anno's parody of the classically arbitrary mecha series script, which often goes through the motions of waging robot battles without making much sense? I don't see the point in sitting through yet another senseless mecha script for the sake of watching a satire on the senselessness of mecha scripts.

Shinji continues wimpy; as I pointed out when I wrote on Death and Rebirth, he's best taken in small doses. Asuka at least partially redeems herself by freaking out in suicidal samurai frenzy, though I really wanted to learn more about her escape and slow spiral into depression and catatonia (it seemed more motivated by a drug overdose than by any psychological cause it's so sudden). And I'm not clear just where SEELE and Gendo Ikari differ in their strategies--so what does it matter if Adam merges with Lilith? Does that mean Gendo gets to meet Yui again, and the rest of humanity can just go to heck? Rather selfish and small-minded motives for someone so intensely driven for so many years to do what he did.

People have pointed out various interpretations--that Shinji is ego, Rei superego, Asuka id; that Shinji is the psyche, Rei Thanatos, Asuka Eros; that Shinji, Rei and Asuka are the Japanese gods Susanoo, Amaterasu, and Ama-no-Uzume; that Gendo, Shinji and Rei represent the Christian trinity; that Shinji and Asuka represent the Orient and the Occident; that Ritsuko and Misato represent intellect and emotion. Haven't found anyone who pointed out that Shinji is Oedipus who hates his father and wants to sleep with Rei/Yumi his friend/mother (Gendo putting his hand on Rei's breast prior to uniting poor Adam and Lilith gives you an incestuous tingle), but that may be because I haven't found the right website yet.

That hand-on-breast image just about summarizes the series' problems for me: Anno wants to break out of using mecha conventions and does, partly, but can't resist copping a feel along the way, his choices incidentally being often the naughtiest and most Freudian he could find.

Ultimately, what is Anno saying? That one must be free to choose between uniting with others or keeping distinct and separate? That one can do both as long as one has will and imagination? Truisms, and I suppose all films present truisms, the difference between a good and not so good one being that good ones present them with persuasive forcefulness (or persuasive gentleness, whatever). Anno seems to say it with a lot of baggage attached, is all; you wonder at all the effort expended to express something obvious. I'd say Anno is top of a particular genre he only partially transcends, but to put him in the same class as, say, Oshii, who is able to pose his questions in more radically different terms that at the same time keep you both stimulated and fascinated, using images that are surreal but not abstract, or Miyazaki, who uses child characters in an uncompromisingly realistic environment (even his fantasies are grounded in a superbly realized reality) dealing with adult themes and complex emotional and ethical issues--I don't know. He still needs some growing up to do first, I think. 

11.13.05

11/9/05

"The Red Shoes" debated

From Forum With No Name:

ted fontenot: The Red Shoes is a fine movie. Maybe I was spoilt by Colonel Blimp and Black Narcissus, however. The movie is essentially Footlight Parade or 42nd Street with Walbrook in the Cagney/Baxter roles. Shearer was an extraordinarily striking presence and Walbrook was suitably a dark commanding one. Nevertheless, I felt the theme of the all-consuming nature of art was underdramatized. I never felt that Shearer was a "prisoner of rock 'n' roll". Indeed, we sort of have to take that for granted. We never see evidence of her mania after she marries and leaves the company. We're told about it. She was a truly naturally gorgeous creature, though, and the ballet justified itself if only in serving to accentuate that remarkable feature.

Apparently, TCM will not be running "I Know Where I'm Going", which stars Wendy Hiller and Livesey. There are damn few movies with the young Hiller and not nearly enough with Livesey, and from the comments on IMDB, this seems definitely worth seeing.

The Red Shoes didn't feel underdramatized, only just right--what sign there is of her obsession, of being under a spell, happens very quickly, and depends on Shearer's and Litvak's acting; think it works, myself (try showing it to young girls of 9 years and older...stuns them, every time). But I agree, Blimp is so much better.

I Know Where I'm Going is a lovely little film, much like The Edge of the World, only with a luminous Hiller performance in the center. Powell's early work is much underrated.

DH1: "The Red Shoes didn't feel underdramatized, only just right"

I have to agree. Besides Shearer, Anton Walbrook's performance is damn near mesmerizing. And the thing that was striking about the movie to me is that even though the use of colors and set design suggest the surreal, and even though Walbrook's character is larger than life, the performances are delivered in a non-scenery chewing style. The contrast between elements of the movie and the 'modern', more natural acting style was quite interesting.

ted fontenot: Walbrook's character's effect on Shearer's seems unrealized. Is he a Svengali? A Mephistophelean tempter? Just a shithead?

How about the shoes? Are they magical? That aspect never came to fruition. The magical aspect of the story seems almost an afterthought, then is forgotten, then comes back as if it is fairy tale talisman.

All three, I thought. The shoes I believe are just shoes--it's what her mind believes about them and what they symbolize (the need to dance) that matters. Powell gives us just one shot outside of the ballet that invests them with magical significance--where the shoes move backwards in the corridor, pulling her to the stairs, and her destiny. I think it's an image of the shoes that comes from her mind (what she thinks is happening to her feet at that moment in time), and it's an electrifying image.

11/8/05

"Touch of Evil" defended


From Forum With No Name:

ted fontenot: Peeping Tom was too thought out, too cerebral, and ultimately unaffecting. I didn't really care about anyone. Not the protagonist/antagonist, Shearer, Massey (remember her from Frenzy), or the alcoholic blind mother. It reminds of Touch of Evil in one way. The technique, however ingenious and adroit, overwhelms the substance. 

DH1: Sorry, I love Touch of Evil. There's a lot going on in there besides slick technique.

ted fontenot: I like it a whole lot.

"There's a lot going on in there besides slick technique."

Yes, there is. Nevertheless . . . . The technique is more than slick. It's the end-all/be-all, the only real reason to see the movie. Everything is subservient to it. It's like bodybuilding--so extreme it almost becomes caricature of the human. It's topiary art.

ChrisJ: Style over substance arguments revisited. Touch of Evil however has STYLE AND SUBSTANCE. Absolutely correct in saying during several sequences style is nearly as important as anything else going on in the screen--but that's okay if it is blended into the film and it doesn't completey overwhelm.

You can look at something like Sin City as an example where style completely dominates substance. It wears off and your left with whatever scraps make up the rest of the movie. Sometimes there's enough there, often there's not.

Touch of Evil is an exception-- so is North by Northwest and Psycho and Peeping Tom for that matter.

VERA: Touch of Evil has a great subject--the destruction of a good cop and flawed human being (he was right, but morally he was wrong). Everything pointed to his corruption and long descent, including the border town's garbage-strewn streets and choked canals.

And I've always argued that Charlton Heston was perfectly cast, as a straight man to all this perversity and malevolence; an unlikeable, charmless man who cares more about justice than he does his wife who is, nevertheless, right. You have to learn to see beyond Heston's cluelessness and Welles' brilliantly charismatic performance to realize that it's Heston who's the hero and Welles the villain (Welles stacked things that way, so that somehow the victory of justice is a joyless affair--a tragedy, even).

Maybe my only reservation with the film is what the gang does to Janet Leigh--c'mon, that was a gang rape; it's only because of the censors that they couldn't show what really happened (that, and all the manufactured hysteria involving weed--thank god Mercedes McCambridge managed to mention heroin).

Not all of Welles' effects are outlandish, or even obvious. That scene with Akim Tamiroff where he's offered a shot of whisky and he goes "I don't drink" is a beautifully understated little pas de deux where Tamiroff dances like a devil imp around the orotund Welles, needling him, Welles' right hand creeping up to the shotglass like a spider to its prey; when Welles repeats his statement "I don't dri--" he realizes that he just did; the camera cuts to a high-angle shot, with Tamiroff smirking and leaving Welles in his cubicle to order another shot (a double). Suddenly Welles looks like a fly in a web.

Then there's the scene where Welles confronts his superiors about charges that he planted the dynamite; I love the business with the little bird's nest where he picks out an egg; when Heston drops the bombshell that he knows the dynamite comes from Welles' ranch, Welles' hand convulses, crushing the egg; he's left with dripping goo on his fingers looking for a handkerchief, and--beautiful moment--it's Heston who hands him a handkerchief, hands him, in effect, the one chance to 'come clean.'

It's not all flash moves and shock cuts and grotesque imagery; some of it is superb theater, subtle characterization, and all of it is of a piece of Welles' sensibility: a visualization of entropy, of the coming apart of a man you have so many knotted feelings of repulsion and regret and pity about that you can't articulate them clearly; when Marlene Deitrich was asked to try, she just shrugged and said 'he was some kind of man.'

ChrisJ: And there's also Dennis Weaver showing Tony Perkins how to run a hotel if you know what I mean.....

VERA: Yeah. Read accounts that Hitchcock was looking over Welles' shoulder, so to speak, when he did Psycho.

ted fontenot: Touch of Evil is a fine, even brilliant, technically daring movie. But, too much is "stacked". Sure, there is a lot of nice little business. You can always count on Welles to be visually ingenious. But, the whole enterprise has a schematic air of being predetermined (not pre-destined). Everyone, except possibly Welles's character, is a stereotype (except those that are vacuities), some more amusingly freakish than others. This is no Elizabethan tragedy. I don't see it as the fall of a good man. He's fallen already. The movie is about his being found out. Too many people make too many extraneous comments on his character. I, too, think Heston has gotten more grief over his role in the movie than is warranted. He was the big bankable star and he essentially handed the movie to Welles, relegating himself to a supporting character, a mere plot device really. Same for Leigh. Too, too much is just too unbelievable. Welles was handed a film noir mule, and he dressed her up, making you believe he had the Kentucky Derby winner, but in the process he so overpacked that mule that it collapses under the weight of everything it's carrying--it barely staggers across the line. All the sweaty freneticism, the unaccountable agitation to and fro, the unexplained behavior, the change of motivation, the utter seriousness with which it takes itself--all of this finally distracts from the story, which was pretty empty anyway. It's Welles's version of Hawks's The Big Sleep without any of the wit of that movie. But, I like it. Really, I do. It's a fine prancer. But it ain't Secretariat.

VERA Never suggested Welles in this film was a good man; he was a good cop, but a lousy human being (I think the script had a different line, but roughly the same idea). Didn't think it was Elizabethan drama either, though I imagine Richard III would consider Welles' cop a distant spiritual cousin.

I do think the motives are well-accounted for--Welles needs his man, later he needs a cover-up; Heston's prosecutor is interested in justice; Leigh is interested in her husband; Tamiroff is interested in pinning Welles and with his help framing Heston. They're mostly grotesques, but hardly just stereotypes--think Dickens with a Mexican flavor; he was always able to give even the smallest walk-on a detail that brought the character to life.

Didn't think Touch took itself too seriously either--look at Tamiroff, or McCambridge, or Weaver; even Welles' lines (and the comments on his weight) seem as much a joke on him as on his character. And surely Heston was smart enough to realize he's the straight man to all of Welles' huffing and puffing (and as such, perfectly cast).

I'd say Touch takes itself seriously on the subtext level, in the way Welles stacks the deck emotionally and dramatically against Heston and for Welles' police officer. But above that level--the visual gags (the egg dripping from Welles' hand), the verbal gags ("Someone found a shoe; it had a foot in it. You're going to pay for that"), the performances (Weaver unable to say "bed" out loud)--it's a darkly funny movie.

11.8.05

11/7/05

"Broken Flowers" and Bill Murray movies

From Forum with No Name:

Not a big fan of Jim Jarmusch and I guess Broken Flowers isn't going to change my mind. What I see here is Bill Murray in a pair of cool shades wandering the length of Jarmuschland in a Ford Taurus. He's funny, and the movie maintains its tone and lack of predictable cliche with all the skill of a master, but I'm not sure there's anything more than that. The movie seems hermetically sealed. I can respect it, and I like it to some extent, but that's pretty much my response to it--my feelings are every bit as sealed off as the movie.

ChrisJ: I found Lost in Translation to be exactly that with some additional false notes added to the mix (despite some superb scenes and Murray) so I have put off seeing Broken Flowers.

Well, by way of comparison--Lav Diaz uses this minimalist style to ponder some pretty weighty sociological and philosophical problems; Tsai Ming Liang seems to have more fun (cracking open a few metaphysical questions along the way); Kitano uses the style to to bring a fresh approach to violence, romance, so forth. Seems to me some newer filmmakers have taken minimalism to different directions, while Jarmusch pretty much remains staring (expertly, skillfully) at his navel.

crabgrass: nice to see someone else who didn't think Lost In Translation was some great masterpiece. I mean, it's a nice little film and all, but it's not all that.

Lost in Translation was okay; didn't feel like I had to go flipflop over it. My fave Murray (maybe because the film itself is so good) remains Groundhog Day...