10/31/06

A survey, answered wid total honesty

1. The phone rings. Who do you want it to be?:

 

Orson Welles, calling from beyond the grave to tell me not only where the missing reels of The Magnificent Ambersons are, but the footage cut from Lady From Shanghai

 

2. When shopping at the grocery store, do you return your cart?

 

No. Should I?

 

3. In a social setting, are you more of a talker or a listener?:

 

Depends. If he or she has something interesting to say, I listen.

 

4. Do you take compliments well?:

 

Extremely.

 

5. Do you like to ride horses?:

 

They're okay. Rather eat them.

 

6. Did you ever go camping as a kid?

 

Sometimes. Haven't in decades.

 

7. What was your favorite game as a kid?

 

Chess...

 

8. If a sexy person was pursuing you, but you knew he/she was married, would you pursue it?

 

Never mind sexy, what kind of movies does she like?

 

9. Could you date someone with different religious beliefs than you?

 

Depends. What kind of sex does she like?

 

10. Can you speak another language?:

 

Siyempre.

 

11. If you had to choose, would you rather be deaf or blind?:

 

Deaf. I'd rather watch films with the close captioning turned on.

 

12. Do you know how to shoot a gun?:

 

Uh--air pistol?

 

13. If your house was on fire, what would be the first thing you grabbed?

 

Kids.

 

14. How often do you read books?:

 

Every chance I get.

 

15. Do you think more about the past, present or future?:

 

Past.

 

16. What is your favorite children's book?:

 

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Prefer that to either the Narnia OR Lord of the Rings books.

 

17. What color are your eyes?:

 

Brown sugar.

 

18. How tall are you?:

 

5'10".

 

19. Last person you talked to?:

 

Parents on a porch, handing out candies.

 

20. Have you ever taken pictures in a photo booth?:

 

Yes. I keep the results to scare rats.

 

21. When was the last time you were at Olive Garden?

 

Once. I don't consider that dining out.

 

22. What are your keys on your key chain for?

 

One for front door, one for car, one for--I forget what that one's for.

 

23. Where is your current pain at?:

 

Lumbar.

 

24. Do you like mustard?:

 

Yiz.

 

25. Do you look like your mom or dad?:

 

They're my parents. What can I do?

 

26. How long does it take you in the shower?

 

Ten minutes.

 

27. What movie do you want to see right now?:

 

Um--the reissue of Army of Shadows.

 

28. Do you put lotion on your dog or cats?:

 

Do people do that?

 

29. What was the cause of your last accident?:

 

It was a Saturday night. I was with a date and there was a traffic jam in front of us--someone was arguing with a security guard. Suddenly shots rang out. I reversed the car and went the other way. More traffic. Suddenly someone rear-ended me, hard. The car reversed, ground gears, jerked up on the sidewalk, crunched itself against the side of the building, and stopped.

 

Found out later that was the guy arguing with the security guard. The guard had shot him in the head, and ran off; he had enough strength left in him to put his car in gear, crash into my car, and die. The stuff on the ground beside the car was probably his brains.

 

30. What was the strangest thing that happened to you today?:

 

Uh--some guy brandishing a chainsaw at me while I was walking in the sidewalk.

 

31. What are you drinking?:

 

Water

 

32. Was your mom a cheerleader?:

 

She's got a masters in art and a business degree. I don't know about cheerleading.

 

33. How many hours of sleep do you get a night?:

 

5. Maybe 4.

 

34. Do you like care bears?:

 

Grilled and with a lemon squeezed over them, they're very good.

 

35. What do you buy at the movies?:

 

Balut. That's a duck egg 15 days old, when the fetus is formed. Very good with rock salt.

 

36. Do you always read MySpace bulletins?:

 

Depends on if they're interesting.

 

37. Ever been to canada?

 

No. Where is that?

 

Kidding. I'd like to.

 

38. Did you eat a cookie today?:

 

No.

 

39. What do you and your parents fight about the most?

 

Who I went out with and who I married.

 

40. What's your favorite brand of water?

 

Tap.

10/24/06

Last post: The Imaginasian Filipino Film Festival

Closing down my AOL blog. It'll still be here, but there won't be any more new posts. Or if there are new posts, they'll be links to this blog: Critic After Dark: A Review of Philippine and World Cinema, and Other Grotesqueries

And check out my first real post there: an account of what happened at the Imaginasian Filipino Film Festival.

So long, and see you there...

Ulzana's Raid (Robert Aldrich, 1972)

I've seen quite a few Aldriches including his oft-mentioned masterpiece Kiss Me Deadly (1955), and while I can appreciate the qualities of that film (considered by many to be the greatest if not film at least noir ever made), strangely enough it's only with Robert Aldrich's Ulzana's Raid (1972) that I truly appreciated the man's work. The film is late period Aldrich, and I think it shows: a young filmmaker can't do a picture this measured, wary, or economical.

I like the frustrating way the cavalry keeps arriving on the scene, always late (even unto the end, in fact), in time only to see the latest atrocities Ulzana hath wrought; I like the way Aldrich uses the tilted rocks of the Arizona desert as a series of Sisyphean slopes against which protagonists and antagonists struggle for the upper hand. I especially like the timing of some of the sequences: while violence often erupts suddenly and develops quickly, there are other times when patient action is required, and any attempt at hurrying leads to deadly mistakes. It's the kind of suspense our filmmakers have practically forgotten how to create, much less build on.

Most of all I like the way Aldrich uses the atrocities--they're horrifying enough, and Aldrich photographs them head-on, albeit without resorting to grisly closeups, but they're hardly gratuitous. They drive home more than any mere lecture or workshop or seminar every could the alien nature of Apache culture and thinking. It seems horrifying, cruel, and sadistic, and Aldrich doesn't deny any of these qualities, but he also gives equal time to the thinking that created these qualities. I think it's Davison's struggle to understand that thinking that's the true dramatic arc of the film, and not Ulzana's pursuit and eventual capture.

Aldrich gives adequate time to explaining that thinking to Davison, but I like the fact that he doesn't explain everything--he doesn't explain how this Apache practice of torture and mutilation (actually, stealing power), is in some way a tribute to the victim; that if he hadn't been so treated, it means he has nothing worth stealing, and is beneath contempt (that's why when one smart settler manages to shoot himself, the Apache's answer is to spit on his corpse).

The final, wordless confrontation between the scout and Ulzana--that was great. It brings the audience's sympathies full circle. We mourn for the dead settlers, and we mourn for--well, maybe not mourn, but perhaps appreciate to some extent, at least--Ulzana's devastated hopes.

A great film, and for the first time I think I truly appreciated--emotionally as well as intellectually--Aldrich the filmmaker.

10/12/06

Interview on Philippine cinema

Edi Sian interviewed me for his blog Pinoy Post: When was the last time you watched a Filipino movie?

Excerpt:

If there is one thing Filipinos love to do it is watching movies in theaters. It is one of the cheapest forms of entertainment in the Philippines. The cinema offers a temporary escape into another world where Sharon Cuneta is accused of being "a second-rate, trying hard, copycat" or Kris Aquino's Dida matches Rene Requesta's Pido. But, this proud history of Philippine cinema that stretches way back to the Sampaguita, LVN, Premiere era is sadly being swamped by a tsunami of Hollywood blockbusters.

So, how did Philippine cinema, once the most prolific in Asia, end up where it is right now? Pinoy Post devotes 45 minutes to the state of the Filipino movie industry with Filipino film critic, Noel Vera. Noel is the resident film critic of BusinessWorld Philippines. He maintains a
blog devoted to movies and he has also written a book on Philippine cinema called Critic After Dark.

10/11/06

I'm going to New York's Imaginasian Film Festival

Apparently I'm going after all to New York City's ongoing Imaginasian Filipino Film Festival:

Imaginasian Filipino Film Festival schedule

The films shown are all either on projected DVD or projected Betacam except Lino Brocka's "Insiang" (1976). Many of them will not have subtitles; the Imaginasian schedule will indicate which ("Insiang" is subtitled, for the record).

I do still think the films are worth seeing, if only because this is possibly the only chance many New Yorkers will have to see the best the Philippines has to offer.

Added incentive (for what it's worth): I'll be introducing the films at eight of the screenings, and hopefully doing a Q & A afterwards, depending on time availability.

The films I'm introducing are as follows:

Saturday, Oct. 14

Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang Lino Brocka 2.30

Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa, Brocka, 5.00

Angela Markado, Brocka, 7.30

Tubog sa Guinto Brocka, 10.30

Sunday, Oct. 15

Himala Ishmael Bernal, 1.00

Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos Mario O'Hara, 3.30

Monday, Oct. 16

Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos O'Hara, 6.30

Insiang Brocka, 9.30

I'll be the big guy with the loud voice. Hope to see you there...

10/4/06

Homecoming (Joe Dante, 2005); Pick Me Up (Larry Cohen, 2006)

"Homecoming is a satire of Bush's re-election and of the Iraq War"--no kidding. What's really surprising is the gusto and sheer joy with which Joe Dante so thoroughly skewers his all-too-skewerable targets ("This is a horror story because most of the characters are Republicans," he's quoted as saying). He stuffs his short film with as much caricatures and political references as he does cinematic references in his other pictures (though he can't resist putting "Jacques Tourneur" in one tombstone here), and galvanizes everything with a moral outrage not dissimilar to the kind of spirit that drove the Civil Rights movement.

Something just as surprising is how moving it is; it's easily the most heartfelt (and least gory) of any entry in the series. Dante has a zombie soldier shamble into the voting booth and it isn't about the voting zombie (a nice twist on the classic election trick of stuffing ballot boxes with the names of dead people), but on the young woman who recognizes him, who sees him not as one of the walking undead, but as someone she knew and maybe cared for and admired--more now, with this sacrifice way beyond any reasonable call of duty, than ever. Later Dante manages to insert a quick vignette of a lonely zombie taken in by a sympathetic black couple; it's like a Saturday Morning Post cover painting of a pair of quiet liberals comforting a disillusioned Vietnam war vet.

Larry Cohen with Pick Me Up directs for once not out of his own script but someone else's, and the results are more coherent (if not quite as uniquely wild); it's a helluva lot gorier than I remember Cohen ever being, but the over-the-top humor is pure Cohen. Nice to see Michael Moriarity back in a Cohen film too; judging from his very best performances (his small-time-turned-big-time loser in Cohen's Q comes to mind), he's every bit as talented as, say, Robet De Niro or Al Pacino; with this entry he's apparently also doing better, braver recent work.

10/3/06

Filipino films in New York and in Vienna

Lino Brocka's Insiang (1976)--his masterpiece, in my opinion--is scheduled to screen at The New York Film Festival, Oct. 14, Sat. at 12 noon,  Alice Tully Hall (North side of 65th Street, west of Broadway).

I write about Insiang here (warning: plot discussed in close detail)

Meanwhile, Mario O'Hara's Pangarap ng Puso (Demons, 2000)--my vote for the finest film, Filipino or otherwise, of the past 25 years--will be screening at the Viennale in Austria on Oct. 16, 3.30 pm, at the Kunstlerhaus Kino, and on Oct. 24 at 11 am, at the Metro.

I write about the film here.

Finally, a rare showing (Rare? I believe it's its US premiere!) of O'Hara's Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God, 1976) at The Imaginasian, Oct. 15 Sunday at 3 pm, and Oct. 16 Monday at 6.30 pm. There will also be showings of Brocka's Tubog sa Ginto (Dipped in Gold, 1971), Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Weighed But Found Wanting, 1974), Tatlo Dalawa, Isa (Three, Two, One, 1974), Insiang again, and Angela Markado (1980); Ishmael Bernal's masterpiece Manila By Night (1980) and Himala (Miracle, 1982); Mike de Leon's Itim (Rites of May, 1976) and his masterpiece Kisapmata (Blink of an Eye, 1981); Siegfried Sanchez's mockumentary Anak ni Brocka (Son of Brocka, 2005); Manuel Silos' great Biyaya ng Lupa (Blessings of the Land, 1959); and Auraeus Solito's Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, 2005).

Here are links to articles I wrote on Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (warning: plot discussed in close detail); Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros; and Tubog sa Ginto.

(Some of these films may be in projected video; I know Tubog sa Ginto exists only on tape).

Recommendations? I say see them all, even the ones I didn't mention. If you don't have time, well, here's a ranked list.

10/1/06

Book meme

Caught it from Zach Campbell's Elusive Lucidity

1. One book that changed your life?

Frankly they all changed my life. Catch 22 introduced me to absurdist humor and (in the final passages) terminal despair; in One Hundred Years of Solitude I remembered how matter-of-factly the fantastic was presented, Moby Dick introduced me to a kind of pagan spirituality (or at least one that had as much connection with nature and the sea as it had to Christian faith); Dostoevsky's novels showed me the depths of human perversity and the wonders of human redemption were often two sides of the same degraded coin. 

If I have to choose one book, I suppose I'd choose Cervantes' Don Quixote, if only because of any novel, it most completely represents all novels: massive yet intimate, slyly witty, crudely hilarious, intensely moving, fabulously imagined, profoundly metaphysical. It's the whole set of Shakespeare's plays in one volume, the world entire on the palm of your hand (if your hand rested on a tabletop, that is--most editions of this are chunky).

2. One book that you have read more than once?

Olaf Stapledon's Starmaker. World-building and imagination of a scale and density of detail no writer of fantasy or science fiction has achieved before, or approached since. A chilly philosophical view that annoyed C.S. Lewis to no end (though people as disparate as Virginia Woolfe and Winston Churchill professed admiration, and Jorge Luis Borges called it "a prodigious novel"). A monumental work too obscure and difficult for most science-fiction readers to embrace enthusiastically, too centrally embedded in the genre for mainstream literature readers to easily swallow. What's not to like?

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

Easy: Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu. At around 5,000 pages it's long enough and complex enough a world to get lost in, and I imagine there's nothing in those pages that mentions deserted islands, something I'll probably appreciate on the tenth year of my stay.

4. One book that made you cry?

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. The final passages, when Humbert Humbert realizes just what Lolita had gone through--what it had cost her to be with him--are a terrible experience, not so much because of the suffering Humbert undergoes as the shame he feels (which Nabokov so memorably evokes). Better to have been shot in the head than to have to feel such shame.

5. One book that made you laugh?

Another easy one--The Bridges of Madison County. A laugh fest from beginning to end. I was in tears when I put it down.

6. One book you wish had been written?

Oh, yet another easy one: The First Encyclopedia of Tlon. Of course, there are those who say the book has already been written...

7. One book you wish had never been written?

I could think of several hundreds, but Anne Catherine Emmerich's The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ was the book that most readily comes to mind...

8. One book you are reading currently?

Still re-reading De Sade's Les 120 journées de Sodome ou l'école du libertinage and Thomas Rick's Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. Sometimes I can't tell which book I'm reading...

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

Well, the Proust. I have the volumes sitting here. Need to start.

10. Pass it on

Oh, anyone who wants to, go ahead.


Tags: ,

9/30/06

The single best American fiction film of the past 25 years

(Note: It's a hugely limiting question--if I were to pick the single best film of the past 25 years, it wouldn't be American at all, but this film, presently showing at this film festival (catch it if you can, I urge you).)

From Andy Horbal's film blog No More Marriages:

What is the single best American fiction film made during the last 25 years?

Excerpt:

This is a riff on the very similar poll that the New York Times conducted in regards to books a few months ago. You're on your own defining "American," "fiction," and "last 25 years," but I'm going to insist on that word single. It's this restriction that makes this question so interesting to me.

9/27/06

Road to Guantanamo (Michael Winterbottom, 200)

Michael Winterbottom's Road to Guantanamo (2006) is terrific, a scathing indictment of the US Government's malevolently nebulous policy on terrorist detainees.

These aren't the worse prison conditions I've ever seen; they aren't quite concentration camps, geared towards systematic genocide. And even as detention facilities I could think of worse--say, Filipino prisons where the fellow prisoners prey on each other as much as the guards do (Mario O'Hara's Bulaklak ng City Jail (Flowers of the City Jail, 1985) comes to mind). But that a developed, supposedly advanced country organized this--worse, one that proposes to be a vanguard of democratic principles--the monumental scale of the hypocrisy, that's the real shocker, the true obscenity (I think it can be argued that this is mostly the Republican's doing--but then, where were the Democrats?).

I don't have a problem with the three youths not quite registering onscreen--truth is, they come off as shallow at first, they don't seem worth committing to memory; it's when they're being dehumanized and treated worse than animals that their identities, their very humanity, comes to fore (In a way, the film's title is brilliantly chosen, evoking as it does the Cosby-Hope "Road" movies--this is a lark, an adventure gone horribly wrong).

I don't have a problem with their motives being not that clear either--I don't think their guilt is the point, and I believe Winterbottom took care to leave their reasons as vague as they themselves allowed it to be. The point is the treatment of these prisoners; guilty or not guilty, they don't deserve this treatment, not from a civilized nation.

And that I suppose is yet another point--that with Guantanamo, the United States (or at least this Republican version of it (with the Democrats in absentia)) reveals itself as less than civilized. The early interrogations seemed not only sadistic, but incredibly inept--they appear to have been staged not to gather information but to allow these amateurs (in military uniform instead of the clothes of real intelligence operatives (those appear later, with subtler techniques)) a venue for venting their anger at the people responsible for 9/11. It's the United States trying to get a bit of its own back, and as a result perpetuating the cycle of violence.

Arguably, Winterbottom's use of both documentary and drama--re-enactments mixed with interviews of the actual detainees--is a weakness, taking away from the intensity of the re-enactments, but it does have one effect that may not be possible any other way: looking at the interviewees, it was a shock to realize that the man speaking in front of me was the smooth-faced, callow youth in the re-enactments. You wonder: what happened to him (beyond the obvious fact that, yes, they used actors (mostly non-professional) for the re-enactments)? The cliche 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' pops up, but seeing this contrast of faces, you feel as if you've witnessed the actual, working principle; you know these men have grown into their present strength. They looked like unlikely material for revolutionaries then; they seem more ready to stand up and struggle now--and that's the real danger of these detention camps.

It's interesting that Winterbottom includes scenes of the intelligence people trying to undercut the case for the detainess' innocence; they make a fairly good job of it too, or as good as they can (the three were released without any conviction, two years after they'd been captured). You get the sense that Winterbottom doesn't want to whitewash these youths, that he includes their flaws and police records and all, and at such a time--late in the film--when it would be most damaging (we've taken to them, we trust them, and it turns out they might be guilty after all?). It's arguably propaganda, but not simplistic propaganda; Winterbottom's smart enough to present the prosecution's case as well.

All in all, it's as good a film, I suspect, as we're going to get on the subject for some time. If the film hasn't made a bigger splash, well, I suspect I know the reason why: no one is eager to hear an unpleasant, unwanted truth.

9/26/06

Hollywoodland (Allen Coulter, 2006)

Allen Coulter's Hollywoodland is good, but good as a collection of performances than an actual thriller, and far better as the story of George Reeves than a noir. Adrien Brody's a terrific actor, but when someone compared him to Ralph Meeker, I wanted to laugh (okay, it was probably meant to be ironic--but I still wanted to laugh); the rest of his co-actors don't really make much of an impression (although Diane Lane makes a devastatingly sexy elder matron). 

It's when the movie goes into flashbacks that it really comes to life, and it's amazing that Ben Affleck, of all people, comes through best here. He probably doesn't capture the real Reeves (I haven't seen all that many episodes of the show, just enough to get a faint impression) so much as he creates a Reeves we can all identify with--ambitious, not a bit unscrupulous, charming nevertheless, and overall--and this is the tragedy of his life--haunted by the sense that he's not really as good as he makes himself out to be.

He does get to humanize what's essentially a cardboard character and a two-bit actor's interpretation of it: just before jumping into action in a children's party, he looks down to his crotch and asks (with apparently sincere interest) "does my penis show?" During the show's filming, he grabs Lois Lane and starts humping her saying "Here's the Man of Steel!" and "More powerful than a locomotive;" the actor playing Perry White makes his entrance and can only say "Great Ceasar's Ghost!" Affleck's Reeves gives us a hint of the things an adult, playing what's essentially an absurd children's show character, might think or feel underneath the relentlessly wholesome exterior. 

But the real thrill is seeing this man of flab (Affleck bulked up for the role) step into the costume of the Man of Steel, and somehow, as if by magic, his back straightens, his face brightens, and he seems to put on an air of invincibility--this was the kind of transformation I saw Chistopher Reeve do in his Superman movies and what I failed to see Brandon Routh fail to do in his Superman movie (Routh seems incapable of slouching, much less transforming); it's something of a treat for Affleck to throw in that same conceit here, with his small-screen Superman, that the costume--that hot, smelly, heavy outfit Reeves hated so much--somehow has the power to change someone, even if only for a time.

The picture isn't crazy--it doesn't have the exuberant sense of style or spirit of experimentation of De Palma's The Black Dahlia (I know, I'm in the minority on this)--but through Affleck (I still can't get over it) it does tell the story of one man's low meteoric trajectory. This is easily the best, most moving Superman film I've ever seen. Well, maybe not--I still have a weakness for Richard Lester's funny, sexually sophisticated Superman 2--but I'd say this comes a close second. And Affleck, after Reeves in Superman 2, is easily the best Superman I've ever seen.

9/20/06

Sven Nykvist 1922 - 2006

Cinematographer Sven Nykvist dies at 83

It's hard to imagine the great cinema of the '60s--or any great cinema, for that matter--without the work of Nykvist; he's practically defined the look of the period for many of us, particularly the kind of spiritually austere, introspective psychodrama he and filmmaker Ingmar Bergman were working on at this time. From the "Trilogy of Faith" (Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence), to the experimental Persona, to the horror-film Hour of the Wolf to the great Shame (my favorite of his films of this period), he's lit many a classic with that unique frosted-glass look of his, as if sunlight was cold instead of warm; as if it were filtered through a chilled windowpane, darkly.

Maybe the single most amazing trait of Nykvist's was that he achieved many of those magical effects through mostly simple techniques; as Bergman once said of the man in Bergman on Bergman: "All he needs to work is three lamps and a little greaseproof paper." He could in effect sweep aside all the technical paraphernalia associated with his trade, home in on the dramatic essence of the scene, and capture it on film for his director. 

He worked for other directors, most notably Roman Polanski (The Tenant), Woody Allen (Crimes and Misdemeanors), Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being); his finest non-Bergman work is arguably Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice, with its final six-minute shot (the first take of which had famously jammed, requiring a very expensive reconstruction and reshoot). If Nykvist had been known only for these films, he'd probably be considered a great cinematographer; as is, he is legend. The world is all the dimmer without him.

The Black Dahlia--masterpiece or monstrosity?

Brian De Palma's latest film The Black Dahlia is taking a lot of flak from critics, even traditional De Palma fans. Is it one of the worst films of the year or one of the most interesting? Matt Zoller Seitz's take on the film. The comments are worth reading too, I think (shameless bit of self-promotion, there).

9/19/06

Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972)

Revisited Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972), and noted with a shock that this was written by Anthony Shaffer (Why did I forget that? Has it been that long since I've seen it?).

Noted with surprise what the film's really all about--the possibility or impossibility of conducting a normal, healthy relationship between men and women. Couples abound, and even the first victim--or first character we come to know who becomes a victim--heads a marriage arranging service (the putative hero describes himself as one of her failures--her ex-husband, Richard Blaney (Jon Finch). Mr. and Mrs. Blaney's is an unhappy but not necessarily abnormal marriage: two basically decent people whose relationship couldn't survive the pressures of a (as Richard puts it) 'run of bad luck.' Their dinner together establishes that they do care for each other, but even caring can't stop the man from losing his temper.

Running counterpoint is Blaney's relationship with Babs, a barmaid he works with; their relationship is more easygoing and carnal, possibly because Babs is more at Richard's level (Mrs. Blaney seems too classy for him; possibly some upper-middle class princess he had dazzled with his military record). She trusts him too; when he presents his case for innocence, the facts as they are aren't too convincing; it's his likeability--and her affection for him--that wins her over. I don't know if it's intentional or not, but it's possible Blaney pushed her wife away because he thought she was too good for him; it's his screwed-up yet likeable sense of integrity that's doing him wrong.

Set that relatively healthy relationship alongside the more tense, more Hitchcockian Porters. Billie Whitelaw as Hetty Porter is positively full of sensible, if selfish, common sense, and she's furious at her husband's impulsive act of bringing a hunted criminal to their home (never mind if he's an old war buddy). They're moneyed, classy, well-traveled, and about as warm and compassionate (Hitchcock just loves dysfunctional upper-middle-class couples); any decent impulses in them reside in the husband (played by Clive Swift), who, when push comes to shove, readily gives in to his wife.

Maybe the oddest couple in the picture is Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) and his wife. They seem to be pretty much normal, but the wife insists on torturing her husband with baroque dishes out of a gourmet cookbook. It's a wonderfully odd love, with her getting off on the unholy messes she serves on silver platters, and him going through all kinds of contortions (sneaking the soup back in the serving bowl, spitting a pig's foot bone on his plate) to avoid said concotions--you might say they communicate through a kind of gastronomical S & M.

What makes it all funnier is how dated the film's notion of weird food is--duck with cherry sauce? Pig's feet? Child's play (she even serves a 'margarita'--a drink made of tequila, triple-sec, lime, and salt--menu items that are almost de rigeur in Hard Rock Cafe or Ruby Tuesday (double irony, they're just as indigestible when served in those places)).

All of which contrast with Barry Foster as the charming Robert Rusk. He's all friendly bluster and affable respectability, and he seems to have a close relationship with his mother (alarm bells going off in Hitchock afficionados' minds), but it's his otherwise inability to have a normal sexual relationship with a woman that sets this whole film going.

Tonya J: "Maybe the oddest couple in the picture is Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) and his wife. They seem to be pretty much normal, but the wife insists on torturing her husband with baroque dishes out of a gourmet cookbook."

Love those scenes.

What's so sad about the food is that I doubt if anyone really thought it grotesque--I think Hitchcock is sophisticated enough to enjoy such fare (I suppose I need to read his biography to really find out). The problem may be that she seems to be applying English-style cooking to the dishes, boiling them and heating them until  it all seems to have been reduced to the same uniformly muddy grey. Except the Margarita, of course, which looks a bit like baby pee.

9/18/06

Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993), Battleground (Brian Henson, 2006)

Finally convinced the kids that Groundhog Day might actually be worth watching (everytime I mentioned the title in the past their faces made this look, as if they had to eat fried toenails). They sat down quiet long enough to reach the point when Murray repeats the day for the first time, then they were hooked--'Why's that happening? When will he stop repeating himself? How can he get out of it?' Ultimately, they liked it, but it was a damned hard sell, and part of the pleasure is in finally saying 'Told you it was good.'

Which made me ask myself: what's the appeal of this picture? Partly I think it's seeing a metaphysical question--an idle one at that--made real (what if you had to repeat a day over and over again?); partly it's seeing a man wield the powers of god--or a god, anyway; partly it's the pleasure of watching Murray riff for the length of a picture on a single comic premise and all its surprisingly complex consequences, winning Andie McDowell (who is unusually lively and charming here) as first prize.

The younger pointed out the obvious right off: "He'll keep repeating till he gets his act together." But the film goes through so many permutations, and does so in so inventive a manner, that you forget the ending's inevitability, or choose to forget that ending, and allow yourself to be charmed by it when it finally happens. That's the film's achievement, I think.

Finally saw Brian Henson's "Battleground," the premiere episode of Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes, with a Richard Christian Matheson (son of THE Richard Matheson) script from a story by Stephen King. Better than I expected, with the nice conceit that not a single word of dialogue was spoken (mostly grunts and all), and that for a reasonable amount of time, the assailants are more suggested than shown, and that they retain their essential toyness.

I do wish they had shown the camp described by King's story, complete witha medic treating the wounded. And that the ending wasn't so attenuated. And that the 'special with this box' addition had a recognizable shape--not some obscure backpack--and that the classic mushroom cloud had been achieved.

I can see a problem with this series compared to, say the Masters of Horror series--that has some of the best names in the business (Carpenter, Gordon, Cohen, Dante, McNaughton, Hooper) working with a variety of writers, this one has some lesser filmmakers (Rob Bowman, Brian Henson) working on the stories of just one writer. You get less visual and verbal variety all around. At least "Battleground" was satisfying--but it had a good premise, of course, and a nice twist ending.

9/17/06

Coconut oil helps against heart disease, HIV

Now this is the view of a few experts; it isn't accepted by the establishment yet, I imagine, but it's interesting food for thought...

Docs support VCO (Virgin Coconut Oil)

9/12/06

Two by Hubert Cornfield: The Night of the Following Day (1968); Pressure Point (1962)


The Night of the Following Day (1968)--director Hubert Cornfield in the DVD commentary notes that this was a property Kubrick wanted to get for his Hollywood debut (but couldn't, forcing him to do The Killing instead, leaving Cornfield to finally adapt it years later). It's Brando at his least mannerly brooding best, and he's matched point-for-point by Rita Moreno as his junkie girlfriend (they have this marvelous scene together where he walks in and tries to calm down her jealous rage, and the speed and surprise with which he does it is startling), and by Richard Boone as his psychopathic colleague (it isn't so much the sadistic, irrational things Boone does, really, as it is the playful manner in which he does them).

Maybe the film's most notable for the atmosphere Cornfield evokes, more moody and surreal than in your standard-issue crime caper. The camera seems often handheld, in a state of free-floating anxiety, much like Polanski's in Knife in the Water and Repulsion, as ready to catch a stray psychological nuance as catch plot details.

The ending should really be a surprise and a twist, but considering the state of one's consciousness as you sit through it--the sense of sitting half-awake through a nightmare laced with odd details (like Brando and Moreno naked in a sensual clinch, fading in and out of the big screen; or the Magrittelike man in raincoat and bowler walking across the beach); the lighting being consistently half-darkened, as if the cinematographer was intensely reluctant to intrude into your drowsiness--that particular ending ultimately comes across as the only natural, inevitable direction the picture can take.

Pressure Point (1962) is, I think, simultaneously worse and much better than that later film. It's yoked with Stanley Kramer as producer, and he probably wanted the speeches clear and morally defensible, but Cornfield (I'm guessing) undercuts Kramer's twelve-step agenda with wild hallucinations and dream sequences, and strange transitions from reality to memory and back (a boy speaking in a man's voice, or a camera that swoops up and down, like a hawk at its prey) that move too smoothly not to make you suspect someone with a real visual imagination was at work.
Best of all is an incredible Bobby Darin playing one of the most persuasive and charismatic sociopaths I've ever seen, matched against a grim Sidney Poitier who feels not a little intimidated by the man's formidable intensity. And for all its melodramatic sturm und drang, I'd dare anyone to find a better or quieter scene of subtly sketched racial hypocrisy than Poitier's showdown with his white bosses over Darin's possible release.

I might add, googling around, that Richard Boone apparently directed parts of The Night of the Following Day, and that Stanley Kramer directed the sandwich scenes that turned Pressure Point into one long flashback (no question who did who there--it goes from flat to interesting back to being flat, with music that shifts from melodramatic to strange back to melodrama).

The final line, describing the fate of Darin's character, is a total sellout: it undercuts the awful power of Cornfield's final scene (where the forces of 'evil' hold sway), and injects a tinpan note of hope into the whole thing (very Kramerlike, I might add).

Still can't get over the uncanny resemblance between Darin and Spacy; no wonder the latter obsessed over the former. And I'll bet Spacey modeled much of his acting style on Darin's in this picture.

9/6/06

Espiritu de la colmena (Spirit of the Beehive, Victor Erice, 1973)

First saw Victor Erice's Espiritu de la colmen (Spirit of the Beehive, 1973) maybe seven or so years ago, on a poor video projection with a standing crowd in the way, and it looked impressive, but I wasn't moved--which was a pity; in a thirty-three year career, Erice has made only one film a decade, starting with this one (he makes Terence Malick look prolific). Saw it again in TCM recently (I just caught it by accident) and it's just tremendous--he plays with the metaphor of the Frankenstein creature, transforming Shelley's myth of hubris and failed responsibility into one of the lonely outsider (which is more in line with Whale's vision, and with what kids readily respond to). Over that is the metaphor of the beehive, which Erice has Fernando Feran Gomez looking at repeatedly like a god observing his subjects under glass. And over that is the developing consciousness of the children, which sees all through enchanted eyes, transforming the Spanish countryside into a fantastic dreamscape.

It draws from disparate sources: Spanish political history, Grimm fairy tales, Mary Shelly's novel, and I would say Swift in Gulliver mode (the creature is to the girls as the girls--or the father--is to the bees; perception shaped or modified by perspective), and I suspect Rene Clement's Forbidden Games. In turn, it has probably influenced films like Cinema Paradiso (a coarser, more sentimental treatise on the power of the cinema to fascinate the youth), My Neighbor Totoro (two girls exploring a lovely countryside, and encountering a mysterious figure (both have their threads of pathos, which the creators take in different directions)), much of present-day Iranian cinema (especially those that deal with children) and even The Shining (dysfunctional family in a large habitat; plus a shot of Ana at the typewriter, hearing a strange noise, moving away (along with the camera) from the typewriter into a series of doorways, to glimpse something terrifying behind a closed door). 

 Incredible complexity, and yet it comes across as hushed, simple, moving: you choose to see the connections if you so wish, but it works supremely well as the story of a young girl who wishes to make a friend and finds one, with all the attendant consequences.

Some notes: Erice rhymes and repeats images, sounds, textures, emotions. The day after the children watch Frankenstein, a schoolteacher unveils the figure of a man without internal organs; her lesson consisted of the kids putting the correct organs in place, a schoolroom parody of Dr. Frankenstein's work method. The sequence ends with Ana putting in the crucial component--the eyes--with which the figure, previously a collection of colored cardbored cutouts, suddenly acquires life and expression and perhaps even a soul. Ana looks on her creation with an ambigiuous expression: just what is she feeling? Longing? Fear? Pride? A masterful example of child acting (the actress, incidentally, made just one other film). The mother writes to a French lover, posts the letter at a drop box by a train's side, spots a handsome young man seated in a cabin. When her husband prepares for bed, the camera remains focused on the mother's face as she pretends to sleep, the father heard clomping around much as Frankenstein's creature does; when he finally climbs into bed, we hear a train whistle, and we're almost certain we know what--or who--she's thinking about.

Erice creates incredible imagery (with the help of the great Luis Cuadrado, who started to go blind during this production, and took his life in 1980). There's one that stays with me, even if it has little other significance: the father comes out of the house, the day just dawning, the the windows still lit, the house beautifully framed in the strengthening light; we follow him as he crosses down the path to the fields beyond and suddenly it's another composition, this time of the sun breaking over the horizon, the camera moving slowly past some tree branches to get a better view.

I read a college website that considers Ana a representation of the innocent Republicans, the older Isabel a representation of the corrupt, materialistic Nationalists. Possible, but I can't help but recoil from such bald symbolism. Isabel tells lies and teases Ana, but they both seem equally innocent, equally caught up in their childhood world (Isabel just seems more capable of using it to her own ends). One startling image of her developing beyond childhood is a scene of her with the cat. She strokes it lovingly, then in a fit of childish pique or excess affection, squeezes it; it hisses and bites her finger. She goes to the mirror and, looking at her face, spreads the blood across her lips. Remarkable image of oncoming sexuality, with the blood on her lips forshadowing the blood that will come forth another time. 

This is considered by some the greatest film ever to come out of Spain. I don't know if I disagree; at the very least, I think I understand where such people are coming from.

8/31/06

Water (Deepa Mehta, 2005), Zulu (Cy Endfield, 1964)

Not impressed with Deepa Mehta. Thought Fire was softcore porn (and pretty lukewarm porn, at that); thought Bollywood Hollywood a travesty of the Indian musical, compared to Dutt, Kapoor, and the like. Water (2005) may be her best and most coherent work yet, and it's still unsatisfying.

It's a great subject too, more's the pity: the treatment of widows in India during the 1930s and earlier is a tragedy, and it would help to present that tragedy as it appeared, without a modern-day consciousness in the form of an ultrahandsome Bollywood actor to pass judgement on the mores of the time. "It's economics," he declares near the end of the film, when asked why this happens; maybe it would be more useful to ask that question at the beginning of the film, and trace the various answers to their various bitter ends.

Would also help if the characters are more intelligent. The pretty widow rented out to old men to help support the ashram should have had the sense to ask just who the handsome man's father is; the handsome man should have had the sense to ask just why the pretty widow is able to keep her hair long in a convent full of short-haired women, and so forth. Maybe the best performance is by one of the widows, who begins to have motherly feelings for the little girl who begins the story--at least hers isn't an obvious tale of innocence corrupted or evil tradition attempting to preserve itself, but somewhere in between.

What else? Cy Endfield's Zulu (1964) is a terrific film. It neither condescends to nor demonizes the Zulus--they are terrifying and mysterious, but they have their reasons for attacking, even a sense of humor. The film unfussily gives us the tactics of both sides (the Zulus do clever feints and do not hesitate to exploit weaknesses; the British, though it's never explained, are smart to stay where they are and rely on an inner and outer redoubt instead of running away (where they could get hunted down and killed), or seeking higher ground (where they would have a difficult time building high defensive walls, run out of food and ammo, eventually be hunted down and killed)). It's also an excellent essay on how relationships between men warp or hold fast under stress, depending on the quality of the men involved (these are some fine specimens, apparently). Excellent performances from everyone, especially Michael Caine as a foppish officer undergoing his baptism of fire, and Stanley Baker as a military engineer doing something a tad beyond his field of experience.

8/27/06

Rob Reiner attacks Gibson's films

Rob Reiner attacks Gibson's films

Not a big fan of Reiner. Well, I loved Princess Bride, and he had a hand in shaping that film's comic timing and performances of course (I do wish he showed a less clunky visual style), and I love This is Spinal Tap (which I haven't seen in, oh, sixteen years?). But as far as I'm concerned, he's grown a pair of brass balls, and about time too!

8/23/06

The Road Warrior (George Miller, 1981), The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979)

From Forum with No Name:

Two apocalyptic visions

(Plot discussed in close detail)

Saw The Road Warrior (George Miller, 1981) again and it's strange how prophetic all this seems today, the desperate struggle for dwindling supplies of oil.

Loved Norma Moriceau's punk costumes (I used to call it burlap chic) and always will, and really have no problem with the fact that Gibson's Max is mostly passive throughout the picture, that he mainly serves as a doll (sorry--'action figure') George Miller can pose against the ravaged landscape, or torture at will (the film fits in with Gibson's extensive gallery of masochistic messiahs). The movie's real hero of course is Bruce Spence's autogyro captain--he's a go-getter, and eventually we learn that he's also leader material (he becomes chief of the tribespeople Max rescues).

You see the lack of a production budget (which actually works for the film, because it really looks as if everything--their vehicles, their homes, their clothes--were salvaged from a junkyard), and you can spot the footage undercranked to make it all look dangerously fast, but it's such a skillfully shot and pieced-together picture that it gets to you anyway.

Interesting note: halfway through the chase (where Max's enormous Mack truck is pursued by twenty or so motorized marauders, ravenous for his cargo of precious 'juice' (refined gasoline)), there's a shot of Max pinnned to his seat by an iron-clawed punk, the Feral Kid (Emil Minty) whaling away at said punk. Papagallo (Mike Preston) drives up to the side of the beseiged truck and calls to the kid to jump; "We've won!" he says, but both Max and the kid ignore him. The very shot prior to his delivering that line we see the truck on the left and Papagallo's car coming up from the right; you can see the truck's--I don't know what they call it, drain pipe, or release valve or whatever--spewing not gasoline, but dust.

What follows is ten minutes of the most savage collisions between car and car and men and car ever seen on the big screen, an orgy of violently combining metal and flesh that would have given J.G. Ballard multiple orgasms. Then the twist: Max's (Mack?) truck tips over, and you're expecting (ever since the truck pulled out of the settlers' compound with its thousands upon thousands of gallons of what we all thought was fuel) a huge orange-ball of fire to follow, dwarfing the explosion that destroyed the compound earlier (on record as the largest pyrotechnic effect ever set off in an Australian film); instead, it's all spinning wheels and silence. Max walks up to the still spilling valve, cups his hand under the contents: red dust. Turns out the tribespeople had hidden the gasoline elsewhere, and used his truck as bait to lure away the punks.

Which means--what? That the last ten minutes of mayhem was all for nothing? That people died, and others murdered not for the precious fuel, but for the sheer joy of violence and destruction? The punks could plainly see, as we could, that the tanker was filled with red dust--that shot I mentioned earlier was a dead giveaway, and there were several more such shots--but they and we don't notice, or choose not to notice. We must have our share of blood, in other words, and plenty of it.

Final note: Miller, like Lucas, cites Joseph Campbell's "Man of a Thousand Faces" as an influence; if it is, it's an influence on the film's most pretentious parts (the opening monologue about 'world history,' the closing monologue by the same actor over an image of Max standing before a darkened sky (why would he elect to stay behind?)). Miller could have done very well without Campbell, I think (he did well without him in the first "Mad Max"); to be fair, Miller makes a more eloquent case for use of the man's ideas with this film than Lucas does with his Star Wars prequels.

Also saw Walter Hill's The Warriors (1979), after so many years. I could take or leave the director's cut with its comic-book transitions that don't seem necessary, and the Greek-warrior prologue that makes explicit what was implied all along; on the other hand, I've always seen the film in a murky video transfer, and this handsome DVD is practically a revelation: Andrew Laszlo's stylized photography of New York is tremendous, a gallery of beautiful graphic-novel artwork come to full-page life.

A lot of it is dated: the language ("boppers," "rumbled," "can you dig it?"), the relatively squeaky-clean streets (rain-slicked, to reflect the powerful colored lights better), the relatively low-calibre weaponry (handguns, no automatics), the lack of racism or drug use. But it's a handsome-looking action film, tightly structured (twenty-seven miles of city travelled in a single night), expertly paced, with the odd bit of surreal imagery (warpainted gang members with baseball bats) and eroticism (two women dancing sweetly to rock music; two lovers kissing as a subway train roars by (a cliche that--far as I know--was created by this picture).

There is enough characterization to sketch each player as Rogue, Riff, Fury or Warrior; there's not much acting, outside of David Patrick Kelly's punk Richard III. Hill's using these people for their bodies, for the way they run and move and the way light is sliced off by their sharp cheekbones and shines through their halo of hair.

Between the two--I don't know; some years back, I would have chosen The Road Warrior straight off, but now, I don't know. Miller's is the bigger vision, a whole new world risen from the blasted sand, where the cars roar and careen and crash and die almost as memorably as human bodies do. But Hill's has the gorgeous color palette, the classic action photography and fight choreography, the ability to take a familiar setting (New York City) and turn it into something fabulous, a nightmare fantasyland. It's also more moving in its understated heroism (it's clear Hill views these kids as heroes), and there's real pathos in the line delivered by Swan (Michael Beck): "This is what we fought all night to get back to?" (that he says it in a quiet deadpan makes the line all the more suggestive). I'd hate to do without either of these two pictures.

ChrisJ: Road Warriors/Mad Max 2 by far preferred by me but I like the Warriors a lot. If felt like it was in a dated time capsule when it came out... a bizarro world fantasy.

Warriors come out and play a hay...

Randy Wylde: You have no idea how many times I heard that ditty growing up. (Randy Wylde'sreal last name is "Warrior").

DH1: Looking back on it, the only real thing wrong with 'The Warriors' is the soundtrack. Don't get me wrong, it's a good soundtrack, BUT it's a flick with apunk attitude and punk look released right in the heart of the punk movement in the US. Instead, you get lots of Motown and a good Joe Walsh tune at the end, good stuff, but wrong for the movie, IMHO.

Especially with being set in NYC, there should have been boatloads of Ramones tunes.

ChrisJ: There's a whole lotta stuff wrong with the film ...

It coulda' shoulda been much rougher and tougher, without a few pretty boys in the cast a lot more consequences for violence, more gore of course... and if it was made tougher than you should have at least had the Ramones, New York Dolls, maybe Lou Reed and some others on the soundtrack rather than the motown, synth-near disco stuff and Joe Walsh.

There's a couple of real continuity error things...

 DH1: Yeah. Even now, I'm thinking about how much cooler the fight scene with the baseball-themed gang could have been if it had been scored with the Ramones' 'Beat on the Brat.'

ChrisJ: Exactly.

I'll take y'all's word on the music. The violence for me is just fine; stylized, balletic, carefully and simply choreographed.

What was really fine, though, was this scene on their subway trip home. They're slumped on the seats or lying down outright, exhausted; Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) and Swan, who have developed some affection for each other through the long night, are sitting next to each other. Then some kids come straight out of their prom night walk into the car (the girl even has a corsage) and sit down opposite the couple. The two girls (Mercy and the prom date) stare at each other, and Mercy is conscious of the fact that she looks like she'd been dragged through miles of underground tunnels and several battles (which, as a matter of fact, she was). She puts up a hand to brush away a stray strand of hair, and Swan catches her hand, slowly pulls it down.

I took that gesture to mean Swan is saying to Mercy: 1) "Don't be ashamed of the grime and disheveled hair--they're a badge of honor;" 2) "Don't feel you're alone--you're my girl."

Not a single line of dialogue, but it's easily the best moment in the picture. Road Warrior is great, with tremendous action sequences, but I don't remember it having a scene as deeply felt as this.

jenniferb: loved that scene too.

DH1: Me too.

8/21/06

Food on film

A NYT piece about food in movies

 

Eh, cute article, but it limits itself to the usual suspects (Tampopo, Babette's Feast, Big Night), and leaves out quite a few excellent examples. And as for the filmmakers involved--Peter Chelsom? Scott Hicks? Nora Ephron? A better calibre of filmmaker couldn't be induced to making a film?

 

The article also calls Ang Lee's Eat, Drink, Man, Woman the 'peak' of the trend, forgetting that Tsui Hark made A Chinese Feast a year later, and Stephen Chow God of Cookery a year after that. And while you can always count on Lee to make films full of terminally good taste (I suppose Brokeback did wonders for the gay cause politically, but I can't call it an interesting gay film artistically--much prefer Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin, 'Joe Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady and Solito's Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros anytime), Chow and especially Hark trump Lee when it comes to outrageous dishes and eyepopping cooking skills, presented with the kind of filmmaking flair (at least on Hark's part, I consider Chow more a comedian than a filmmaker) that Lee so sadly lacks.

 

I'd mention Ridley Scott's Hannibal for the climactic dinner scene--the film itself is a wretched mess but that dinner was a witty and stylish setpiece, and the appetizer course featured an intriguing recipe for sautéed brains (the trick with sautéing fresh brains is how to keep them firm enough to retain their shape in a hot pan).

 

Even better is Fruit Chan's Dumplings, about a recipe for dim sum involving human fetuses that grants the consumer renewed youth (Don't watch the shortened version in the Three Extremes DVD; instead, look at the far better feature film, which is included as an extra in the second disc).

 

And arguably the greatest film on food ever made, at least for me, is Yasujiro Ozu's The Scent of Green Tea Over Rice, a wonderful domestic drama about conflict between a husband and his wife that is resolved in the film's penultimate scene, where they actually make the eponymous Japanese comfort food. It's a quiet, scene, nicely detailed, and a lovely metaphor for what is happening between the two (out of unpromising materials--cold rice, hot tea--comes a classic of Japanese cooking).

 

It's also the film Kurosawa (Akira, not Kyoshi) liked to poke fun at (He once said something like 'I don't make films about the scent of green tea over rice,' or words to that effect) but I think at least on the subject of Ozu he's both made a point and missed the larger point altogether.

8/17/06

Pom Poko (The Raccoon War, Isao Takahata, 1994)

Pom Poko (The Raccoon War, Isao Takahata, 1994)

Isao Takahata's "Pom Poko" (The Raccoon War, 1994) starts out with a little song where children call on the tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) to come out and play, and the tanuki reply that they can't, because they're eating pickled plums. The film goes on to outline their situation: land developers want to turn 3,000 hectares of the forests of Tama hills into suburbs housing 300,000 people--the same forest the tanukis have lived in for countless generations.

 

Takahata gives us the story straight, presumably because he has so much ground to cover. He has scenes of tanukis discussing strategy, followed by scenes of the same tanukis carrying out their strategies--scare tactics, sabotage, even outright assault on construction workers or the people surrounding the forest. The tanukis aren't as helpless as you'd think--according to Japanese folklore they have the ability to change their shape, much like the fox does (they even have the bizarre power to transform their testicles, from area rugs to paragliders to even small bridges), and the tanukis (and Takahata) exploit these shapeshifting abilities for their visual, psychological, and military possibilities.

8/16/06

George W. Bush is a saint

From Bizarre Hatred of Random Celebrities:

President George W. Bush was scheduled to visit the Methodist Church outside of Washington as part of his campaign.

Bush's campaign manager visited the Bishop and said to him, "We've been getting a lot of bad publicity among Methodists because of Bush's position on stem cell research and the like. We'd gladly make a contribution to the church of $100,000 if during your sermon you'd say the President is a saint."

The Bishop thinks it over for a few moments and finally says, "The Church is in desperate need of funds. I agree to do it."

Bush showed up for the service and sat in the front row. With him were Dick Cheney, who sat on his right, and Karl Rove, who sat on his left. He nodded to the Bishop to begin.

The Bishop said: "George Bush is a petty, self-absorbed hypocrite and nitwit. He is a liar, a cheat, an unintelligent weasel, with the world's largest chip on his shoulder. He steals elections. He politicizes science. He lied about his military record and had the gall to sit himself in a jet plane on a carrier with a banner above him stating 'Mission Accomplished.'"

"He invaded a country for oil and money, and managed to do it by lying to the American people. He continues to blur the line between church and state. Corruption is rampant in his administration. He routinely appoints incompetent and unqualified cronies to high-level federal government positions and as a result, thousands of Americans died tragically in New Orleans. He is so psychotic and megalomaniacal he believes he was chosen by God."

"He is the worst example of a Methodist I've ever personally known."

"But--compared to Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and the rest of his cabinet, George Bush is a saint."

8/14/06

Campanadas a Medianoche (Chimes at Midnight, Orson Welles, 1965)

Finally, finally saw the Spanish DVD of Campanadas a medianoche (Chimes at Midnight, Orson Welles, 1965)--personally my favorite of all of Welles' films, easily the best-ever adaptation of Shakespeare to cinema, and arguably one of the greatest pictures ever made. Reasonably clear, everything as I remember it, not a frame or detail out of place--the brief, inexplicably ominous slow-motion shot of soldiers facing the camera at opening credits' end, hanged men swinging helplessly behind them; the flagstones laid on a kitchen floor doubling as the castle floor (with a crown on top); Falstaff running out into a field of crumpled white bedsheets standing in for melting snow (on a 35 mm print you can actually see the linen creases).

And the only battle sequence Welles had ever filmed, the Battle of Shrewsbury, which has haunted my dreams for the past, oh, fourteen or so years (the last time I saw the picture was in 1991 or 1992). I remember all the preparatory details--the armored men hanging from trees (visually rhyming with the opening image of executed men hanging from poles) as they're lowered on their horses; the tracking shot of soldiers marching past a row of spears aimed just above the audience's heads. Falstaff, iron-plated like a potbelly stove--with a thundermug for a helmet--tries to get himself lowered onto a horse (a squadron of serfs puffing away at one end of a rope), and is dumped on the ground for his pains.

The editing of the battle itself--possibly some of the finest in all of cinema--has been oft mentioned; what hasn't, I think, is the sound design, nightmarish yet tangible, real. Like much of the battle it seems confusing at first; after a while you sense a progression--from cavalry to weaponry to hand-to-hand combat; from the thunder of hooves to the thwack of arrows to the clash of armor to the thunk of steel into meat, the thud of club on bone, fists flailing away, everything eventually overlaid and overwhelmed by the sound of squishing mud.

The battle shows a similar progression, the shape emerging gradually out of the chaos--cavalry charges (Hotspur's army charges left to right, Henry IV's from right to left), infantry assaults, archers launching arrows; the action breaks up into small groups rushing here and there (the left/right dichotomy quickly disappearing), the peasants pulling knights off their horses to be clubbed to death. Matters degenerate further into a general tumult of nameless figures sunk in sodden soil, like struggling crustaceans on a tide-drained beach. Welles' Battle of Shrewsbury is, in effect, evolution in reverse, the men devolving from soldiers in an army to creatures in slime. Occasionally trumpets would sound, the men would rally, and you're invigorated by the odd twang! of arrows being fired. But the trumpets and battle-cries ultimately give way to gasps of exhaustion and pain, and even that gives way to an awful silence, as Welles' camera rises to take in a view of the field, choked with corpses (they almost don't need burying; they've halfway done the job already, screwing themselves firmly into the mud).

Paradoxically the only sane figure in all this is the fool in the potbelly stove, distinguishable from the general slaughter by his bulbous shape, and stubborn insistence on siding with the vegetation. Falstaff's done nothing but run from one massacre to another, watching without joining in; when opportunity presents itself, he steps forward to claim (falsely) credit for the single most significant event in that battle, Hotspur's death, and succeeds. War, Welles (speaking through Falstaff--first in soliloquy, then in action) seems to be saying to us, is foolishness anyway. For all the sacrifice and suffering on display the past ten or so minutes (seems like hours, it's so devastating), what one really must do to earn reward and military honor is to tell the right lie, at the right place and right time.

8/10/06

Kairo (Pulse, Kurosawa Kyoshi, 2001)

Kairo (Pulse, Kurosawa Kyoshi, 2001)

Remade as Pulse (2006)

Excerpt:

Looking at Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s Kairo (Pulse, 2001) again on DVD, it is all the more apparent that the ironic subtext is that with all the means of connecting with others – email, webcams, the cellphone – people are still alienated. Kawashima (Haruhiko Katô), the computer-illiterate economics major, doesn’t seem to have anyone, neither friend nor family (that said, he’s the most resilient, and most persistently optimistic of anyone in the picture); pretty Harue (Koyuki), to whom Kawashima is attracted, has acquaintances – the students she helps out in the computer lab, the graduate student Yoshizaki (Shinji Takeda) – plus she’s more aware of what’s going on, but if anything this makes her more susceptible (it’s the computer geeks that fall victim first).

The one group that shows any cohesiveness are the employees of Sunny Plant Sales, a tiny business that grows orchids and other exotic plants on a rooftop greenhouse. Michi (Kumiko Aso), one of the employees, is worried for Taguchi (Kenji Mizuhashi) and visits him at his apartment (where he promptly hangs himself); she and fellow colleagues Junko (Kuruma Arisaka) and Yabe (Masatoshi Matsuo) meet at a café afterwards to talk about the suicide, and it’s clear from their interaction that they (and the absent Taguchi) were friends.

8/9/06

Princess Tutu (2002) and Master Keaton (Masayuki Kojima, 2003)

From Pinoyexchange.com:

Princess Tutu (2002)

First five episodes of Princess Tutu were a chore. The heroine's voice is annoyingly squeaky, Prince Mythos is prettier than anyone around (I actually wonder if there isn't anything going on between him and Prince whatsisname, Fakir or Fakia, or something), the humor's forced, the premise--she's got to recover shards of Mythos' heart by applying dance therapy on various people (dancing with them while psychoanalyzing em) is a tad repetitive, the animation and artwork didn't feel like anything new.

I do know lighthearted animes darken towards the end, and there are hints early on, which is why I'm slogging on. This better improve soon.

That said, the outtakes were fairly amusing--easily the best thing in the disc.

DKL: Don't worry, just wait for the actual conflict to show up (which, hopefully you didn't spoil for yourself yet by doing research on the series… as crazy as that sounds, it’s totally better if you’re in the dark since a lot of the stuff is genuinely surprising), it ties all of what you've seen so far up really really well (in fact, maybe you’ll like it better when you look back on it afterwards).

Well, it starts rolling on at the end of episode 6, so, yeah.

... in fact, the first thing you'll probably think when you get that far in is "how the hell are they gonna close all of this with just X more episodes in the first season?"

But I dunno, it's nice to know that you're giving it a shot though; I really appreciate it with the full extent of my otaku-ness.

The outtakes were nice, but I think Jin Ho Chung did away with them after the first two volumes mainly because it might seem inappropriate at that point. Or they ran out of production time to slap one together, I dunno, we should go and ask David Williams (we hinted at it, but he didn’t really give us a straight answer last time… yup, when you’re in the biz, you gotta have that ambiguous poker-face kinda thing going on to keep everyone guessing).

Did you sit through the Etude and Beginner for Ballet sequences? The music seems to be re-interpreted to a certain degree, but I was impressed at how well researched everything was (And Mike Yantosca, the ADR scriptwriter, is pretty hardcore with the research himself, for the adaptation I mean)

As for the dub... it was pretty okay for the first 2 volumes (Marty Fleck as Drosselmeyer and TJP as Mr. Cat pulling in the most hardcore performances), but the quality jumps the hell up on the third volume (this was when there was a several months break between recording because some issues with the Japanese packaging came up)… it’s as if Jin Ho Chung spent all that time trying to figure out how to make stuff better; there was a lot of subsequent spot-on delivery on the 3rd disk that I found it hard to believe that it was the same ADR director.

For one thing, Luci Christian (duck) used a deeper projection disk 3 onwards, which I thought was a lot better (reminds me a little of her Kaname voice from Full Metal Panic! but then spliced with Duck’s voice… uh… yeah, that’s better than it sounds)

As for the actual show, I was immediately “enthralled” by the idea, because I found it strangely thought provoking (I mean, about identity and stuff… which actually reminded me of Kon’s Perfect Blue at the time… and no, I’m not kidding)

Who’s is Duck? Who is Tutu? Is she a bird, a girl or is she the prima-ballerina that returns the prince his heart? But if she’s a prima-ballerina, then how come she’s such a clutz? Who’s the real person behind the 3 personas?

I like that the idea didn’t feel muddled by the actual story.

I also like that they didn’t just stop at the idea and that they actually DEVELOPED it and provide a simple, but pretty brilliant, answer at the end (of the first season).

As for the “darkness,” I was actually surprised at how dark the series got… I mean, even with the expectation in there, I was taken aback by some of the darker story elements that moved everything forward. It came out of left-field (or right-field… whichever one conveys surprise a lot better).

As for the production… I dunno, I thought it was pretty great looking. The art director was doing his/her job since the way everything looked and felt helped convey a lot of the surreal/fantastic direction Koumoto was aiming for; I was surprised given that it came from HAL FILMAKER since they don’t exactly put out the best looking stuff. Arguably, the character designs cancome off as overly simplistic, but never has Ikuko Ito’s adapted art looked better (the recycled attack footage from Sailor Moon doesn’t count)… what’s more, from a character animation point of view, a lot of the movement is fairly realized when it’s at its best, so that’s always a plus for me; it just flowed well.

Yeah, labor on, you might be surprised (or you might not be… but then, you’ll at least have seen the first half like I wanted you to)

Oh… but then I’ve hyped you up and raised your expectations :P

The art direction is about level for most Japanese anime--better than American fare, but not as good as, say, Gainax or Watanabe's work.

As for the surrealism mentioned--I don't see it. It's no wackier than, say, Ranma and definitely more sane than Fooly Cooly (which I love). At least from what I have seen.

DKL: As for the surreal in Tutu, I dunno, I thought that it was pretty dreamlike and the atmosphere could get pretty thick. One scene in particular that I can think of is where Rue asks Mytho to tell her that he loves her (and then asks him to go and fetch some water after his lifeless reply… at least, that’s how I remember it going). I thought it was pretty cool. I also like the dynamic feel of the choreographed sequences. The dance-off between the ghost-maiden and Rue (and later, with Tutu) to Giselle was SOLID; I was also impressed that they got the timing down with the music.

Although, they do resort to using still images to save money at some points (it jives with everything else anyway, unlike other shows that use the whole still-frame thing and fail since the imagery is inconsistent and has a jarring transition)… but still, a lot of the cooler sequences get some nice animation in (I loved the Cinderella ballroom sequence in… episode 11, I think).

Oh yeah, there’s also a six-foot cat ballet teacher that threatens to marry his students if they don’t shape up. That’s pretty odd in itself.

The cat is cute, but hardly what I'd call surreal. Maybe if he turned his testicles into a dance floor...?

Well, the "surreal" feels fairly seamless since it's in the context of ballet/folklore/something... but still, there were a ton of peculiar elements like having animals coexist with humans I (which isn't particularly new), a whole town based in european fairy tales and... well… a lot of ballet dancing and even an entire ballet school (in fact, the medium of education seems to be something based in art... dancing, painting, acting, etc.).

It's not the normal surreal I usually see in anime... I mean, there's Hiroshi Hamasaki and stuff (like what he did with Texhnolyze), but most of that is still based in a reality kinda setting.

A nifty little thing in the art direction (that helps with conveying that surreal I was talking about) is how all of the settings change when Duck turns into Tutu... like... the first episode where everything in the backdrops suddenly has chalk-outlines and they change the setting in order to make it appear as if she's on a stage. That’s pretty dreamlike right there.

And Drosselmeyer, I mean, he’s the dead author who wrote the Prince and the Raven, yet he’s here right now somehow narrating the story. That can’t be normal :P

(In fact, he’s a deliciously evil character since he takes joy in the tragedy of the characters in the story… a lot of people don’t seem to like him because of that, but I was actually rather fond of him like how I was fond of Hamdo from Now and Then, Here and There… they’re just too crazy to not like).

But yeah, in the end, most of this is really explained, so it isn’t really all that strange without a reason (if being necessarily mysterious has to do with attributing to how surreal something is).

I don't know; Haibane Ranmei felt more surreal to me. This doesn't seem strange, only sloppy.

Appreciate the use of classical music, but that doesn't seem so strange either. "Fly Me to the Moon" in Neon Genesis Evangelion, that was strange.

Finally saw the second disc of Princess Tutu. Opinion improved, marginally. Prince Mythos (His head looks like an artichoke, was that intentional? I keep calling him 'Chokehead') just as annoying as ever--he's prettier than Tutu, and you just know he and Prince Fakir are having a Brokeback moment.

Keep thinking: Haibanei Ranmei felt stranger, the first ten minutes of Spirited Away felt stranger.

The outtakes are the best thing in the DVD.

I really hope this improves.

Haha! Yeah, it only gets better and the climax on the third disc is immensely satisfying... well, I thought so

And well, strange is... I dunno anymore *hahaha*

So, what'd you think about the whole insertion of Princess Kraehe thing?

Oh, and the whole "He looks prettier than her" thing is like... that whole Androgeny thing right?

Ever seen Gackt? Or that other guy, Hyde? *hahaha*

But yeah, that's considered handsome... in Japan, anyway (from what I recall)

Spike in Cowboy Bebop's good looking, and I never doubted his masculinity. Same with Kenshin, or Naruto, or any of half a dozen anime heroes--that androgynous thing gets doubly annoying when the android--sorry, androgyne--is a passive wet noodle like Mythos. Fakir's more interesting; he's at least as bitchy as Princess Rue and the rest about having his piece of the Prince's ass.

Princess Kraehe--didn't feel anything special. Actually, this whole thing reminds me of Magical Princess Akazukin Cha Cha. Although, come to think of it, she didn't have any limp-wristed princes to deal with either.

Finished all 18 episodes of the series (that's what's available)--it gets better, and the climax at episode 13 has better than average (for the series) animation. Mythos continues annoying, but with the second story arc, which doesn't finish, at least they give him a nasty edge--not his own tho; it's a form of mind control so obvious you wonder why no one realizes it sooner.

I guess all in all, this thing isn't my speed. I really miss the outtakes, they were worth the rental.

Maybe part of why I can't appreciate Tutu (so far, anyway), is because I keep remembering Michael Powell's The Red Shoes. Great ballet film, maybe the greatest ever. Also very strange.

Master Keaton (Masayuki Kojima, 2003)

Okay… while in the shower a while ago, I decided that I think that Masayuki Kojima is a superior director in comparison to the likes of Hayao Miyazaki (well, I saw Princess Mononoke last night, which is now my new favorite Ghibli movie *whisper was my last one*)

So… anyway, I’m going to take this “controversial” stance in my upcoming review for Master Keaton by going into detail as to why I think so… yeah, controversial… Mmm… good.

But… maybe this will help promote the show, since, you know, maybe people will be interested in why the hell I thought this way… or something.

But, so I don’t fall into the “Oh my god! Miyazaki is t3h overrated” mindset, I’m actually going to have to study his touch very comprehensively for the next few weeks… I mean, so I can pick it apart

First five episodes of Master Keaton I like better than Tutu--maybe because Keaton is like a male version of Miyazaki's heroes: pacifistic, low-key, smiling all the time. The eyes aren't the huge, sharply defined kind with standard-issue blue irises, and the hero has an intriguing pug nose that makes him less boringly handsome, and more good-naturedly attractive.

If there's a flaw, it's the details in some of the episodes, like the first one--stepping out in the open with only a spoon, against a handgun? Granted Keaton claims the spoon's more dependable on a windy day, but I wouldn't count on wind blowing my enemy's bullets of- course; besides, the opposition can fire twice in the time it takes to swing that spoon up and over, no matter how fast I am.

Stuff like that. The opening of the second ep in the market--if he's such a surveillance expert, why wasn't he aware of the men tailing the woman he's following? And why did he allow himself to be picked up? Was he so certain they wouldn't beat him up or silence him? I wouldn't be so confident of predicting what 'amateurs' will do.

And when they stage the assault on the terrorists' lair--weren't the terrorists worried about a large truck, however innocently marked as 'maintenance' being parked outside the building? It was close enough as to be almost touching, and I'd imagine a terrorist would be too paranoid not to worry.

Some of the other details ring true--like shooting the hinges and not the lock, or using seven or more people to shadow a house.

The lasagna episode--it seemed too callous, how Keaton just told the girl that her father died from drunk driving; I guess it's meant to be honest, but still. I do like the showdown between Keaton and the former boxer (even if the boxer is your run-of-the-mill thug), the relationship between him and the girl, and the ultimate joke he tells the girl, which is nicely lame.

The immortal man was the first episode I really liked; for one thing, the old man kept showing up Keaton not so much with tactical smarts as with his philosophy in life (so what if he does the wrong thing sometimes?), plus he's both irritating and charming in an amusing way. That said, shouldn't it have occured to Keaton that when the weather improves the Russian mafia would be looking for them (they're just walking in the snow, out in the open)?

The fifth is more of a character development type episode, and we learn more of Keaton's weaknesses, vulnerabilities, doubts. It's okay. I could have used a little more humor.

Been looking at volumes 2, 3, and 4 of Master Keaton. Can't remember too much, but my impression was: not bad. My favorite episodes would be those that involve some crotchety old man or woman ('A Case for Ladies;' his own father in 'Memories of Summer Pudding') who was actually smarter than Keaton, or able to exploit him or abuse his hospitality; not that the turnaround is surprising (it isn't), but it's so much fun abusing him, and the filmmakers seem to have a gift for depicting these walking anachronisms. Even that earlier one "Immortal Man" was enjoyable precisely for its familiarity, and deft way with details.

I do seem to notice that the plots, especially the crime capers, seem to be getting predictable--I realized, for example, in 'Mansion of Roses' that the gardener's body was buried in that empty plot (just one look and I said 'there's a body buried in there.'), and that in 'Walls in One's Heart' the long-lost daughter was actually the nanny, and that she wasn't up to any good.

Plus the plot for that faker episode is a direct lift from Nagisa Oshima's 'Boy,' only in Oshima's film the parents force their sons--one 10, the other 3--to fake their own car accidents...harsh and funny film...

And I found 'Negotiator's Rules' especially problematical--if two to three million is the standard ransom amount, why didn't the kidnappers ask that in the first place, instead of going through all this rigemarole? It's so unusual a request you can't help but think either the kidnappers are morons (which the police assure us they are not), or there's more to it than just the money--but the episode never answers that for us. Shouldn't have raised our expectations if it's just going to be an ordinary kidnapping.

As mentioned, plenty of similarities with Miyazaki--not sure that the manga writer wasn't influenced. Maybe what I'm missing is the kind of inventive visual imagery Miyazaki can toss off, even in a TV series (I'm thinking of his Sherlock Hound series, Disc 1, Disc 2 & 3.