Hostel (Eli Roth, 2005)

From Forum With No Name:

Hostel--eh. If you look at it from a shocker or gross-out level, it isn't as lovingly detailed or beautifully imagined as, say, an Argento or a Fulci. If you look at it from a storytelling level, big mistake turning these American kids into such hopeless dorks--you basically chortle when they're finally captured and tortured (after a fairly boring first hour), and there's no suspense or tension in that.

More, if that's basically a private club catering to those into torture and sadism, it's not a very convincing or very well-run one. Capturing an American tourist is a chancy proposition I imagine; I can't believe they can just grab one after another without either word leaking out or someone uncovering them. Roth's mistake is not so much in the idea of going after Americans as it is in not carefully considering the consequences--that this should be a strictly mobile operation (so it's harder to detect or track down a moving target), that the prices should be much higher, that the torture of an American should be an arena event, not the private locked-door pleasure of some amateur moron with a chainsaw (how unimaginative). A little role-playing would be appreciated too.

If you look at it from a political level--well, that's where the real repugnance lies: the film panders to American xenophobia, to American fears that the world outside hates them, and wants to do them grevious bodily harm (as if 'bodily' was the worst kind of harm). When the American escapes, it's by learning how to do it the way these decadent Europeans do--to do it to them first, and to do it to them harder; we're treated to all those scenes of torture so when retribution comes, the catharthic sense of vengeance is sweeter.

Which is fine in theory--a sort of horrorshow retelling of Bush's response to 9/11--but the film seems to be suggesting that this is a good thing, that the survivor has retained his humanity despite all that's happened to him, indulging only in one fairly quick vengeance killing in a train station men's room for our satisfaction. Bullshit. I like the original ending better with its darker implications, suggesting that the American has become what it fears the most.

Chris J: I honestly don't believe the film deserves that level of critical analysis in terms of Bush's 911 etc. There's nothing in the quality of the script or the movie to suggest such a thing. It's lousy on several levels but has an interesting idea that could have been developed into something quite interesting (as you point out in pretending there is something in the movie that isn't actually there or earned anyway).

We have problems right away when we're shown the dorks... the first guy to get nabbed is the older European character... not one of the two Americans. Their entire focus is on getting laid.. period.. and it's done like a very bad erotic film from the late 60s or 70s... We are supposed to consider them idiots and deserving of torture and death because the Boys just wanna have fun. The script treats women horribly of course... but the women wind up tricking the boys and are in on getting them captured and tortured... which makes them cruel accomplices and full blown blood thirsty conniving bitches... isn't that lovely....


when a couple of them get run over... I like how the guy is on the run and takes the time to go back and run over one of them again to make sure they are squashed...

I had heard this movie was a decent gross out kind of gore film.. better than most that came out in the last few years.. and that's utter bullshit... but there's people out there defending this attrocious film.

Nah, the 9/11 interpretation is only my lame attempt to cut them some slack, to try (for a moment anyway) to take them seriously, on what I thought were their own terms; but since the political angle doesn't fly (and I agree with you that it doesn't), the movie's every bit as bad as you say, if not worse.

Red Stick Lady: I tend to stay away from the slasher flicks. I don't find bloody and gross to be scary, just...gross.

Hostel's a bore. Drilled this, slashed that, yawn.


A Prairie Home Companion (Robert Altman, 2006)

A Prairie Home Companion (Robert Altman, 2006)


Robert Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion" (2006) is flat-out wonderful, and he could do worse than end his career on this particular grace note.

It's difficult to talk about it; David Ehrenstein pretty much sums up what I have to say in his comments on "A_Film_By:"


But let me try add a little to what he says.

In effect, Ehrenstein believes the film is all about death. The premise goes like this: it's the last show of Garrison Keillor's long-running program (someone called The Axeman (Tommy Lee Jones) is coming to close the place down); people are constantly talking about people who they haven't seen for years, or have died; someone actually dies (backstage, quietly, in the basement, while waiting to have sex); and Virginia Madsen as The Angel of Death In the Form of a Femme Fatale wanders about wearing a white trench coat through the corridors of the old Fitzgerald Theater, where the show is performed.

Which ties in with Altman's unnerving fascination with death--at this point of his life, what with a heart transplant, and Paul Thomas Anderson waiting in the wings to take charge just in case, Altman can't not have the subject on his mind. And his feelings I think infuse the film with a sense of dread, of nostalgia, of sadness.


Grave of the Firefly DVD (Isao Takahata, 1988)

(Plot discussed in close detail)

Looked at the DVD of Grave of the Fireflies. Decent enough dub (as if I was paying it much attention); no extras. Annoying '1/2' symbol hanging about on the upper right hand corner that I have no idea how to get rid of.

On umpteenth viewing, noticed how use of music was very spare--most of the film, and most of the moments that you'd consider the dramatic highpoints go on unemphasized, even casually tossed off (I'm thinking of the mother's death, shown only by a quick shot of maggots and the body being carried off) and Setsuko's (just a flat statement: "she never woke up again.").

Of course, Setsuko's gets the full treatment after the fact--flashbacks to her playing during their time in the shelter, and the final incineration--but it's difficult to imagine how else to treat this sort of thing, and when you think about it, there's a psychological basis for dwelling on her passing; Seita's remembering her when she was alive.

Outrageously repulsive moment: when the janitors find Seita's body, one of them picks up the fruit drop tin, opens it, tastes what's inside. Later we find out what the contents were.

It's possible to read Grave as a cautionary tale about the dangers of living outside of traditional society, of leading a nonconformist lifestyle; in a way the aunt represents the voice of wartime Japan, quietly supportive of the war effort, yet callous in the way she expresses that support--in the way she expresses sensible advice. You're against her the same time you know she's right; you're with the kids, the same time you know they're being very foolish. It's not so simple and straightforward a film as you'd think (tho I'm sure the dynamics of all this were found in the novel). They go off on their own, live (for a while anyway) a romantically free life, and because a war's going on, no one notices, or cares.

When things start to go bad, and even money can't buy food--this part is the most difficult for me to watch--Seita stubbornly sticks to their plan. Are we still with them? We are, emotionally, but now different feelings intrude--why don't they go back and apologize (and in fact someone says that very thing out loud)? Why don't they seek help from the government--at the very least, from the cityofficials? Your pity is alloyed with exasperation, perhaps a little anger. Why do they wilfully do this? Their excuses start to ring a little hollow--the school and factory where they lived burned down, they don't know where their other relatives are, and (most common excuse) their father's going to help them somehow. When that final crutch is taken away (the father's revealed to have died), they're left with a handful of half-assed excuses and a desperate situation incarnated in Setsuko's severely starved body.

Is it a great film? I think so. Strangely, crying in this picture is something people admit to all the time, some of them constantly, but I don't think any brimming over of the cup is requested by Takahata except on one particular occasion, the final incineration, and even there, I don't feel Takahata actually demands anything; it feels like it just happens, of its own will.


Inside Man (Spike Lee), An American Haunting (Courtney Solomon)

Inside Man (Spike Lee, 2006)


Spike Lee's "Inside Man" isn't the work of an outsider, the kind of iconoclast filmmaker that Spike used to declare himself to be back when he did films like "She's Got to Have It" or "Do the Right Thing." Gone are the deep reds, bright oranges, warm yellows of his favorite cameraman Ernest Dickerson, replaced by Matthew Labatique's gray concrete and dim daylight. Gone are the in-your-face close-ups, the actors addressing the camera head-on while they deliver hilarious, often profane tirades. At one point Denzel Washington, playing Detective Keith Frazier, finds himself going down the street in an effortless glide, but it's more a reminder of or tribute to the Lee we used to know than a return to old form.


The plot, by newcomer Russell Gewirtz (it's his first big-screen script), is satisfyingly complex in a shallow way, the quickly sketched characters in effect enacting a game of high-stakes chess. A bank robbery staged by one Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and three other collaborators quickly turns into a hostage drama, and Det. Frazier is called in as hostage negotiator; a subplot involving Arthur Case, the bank's Chairman of the Board (Christopher Plummer) has him hiring mysterious power-broker Madeline White (Jodie Foster) to protect the contents of a nonexistent safe-deposit box in that same bank. Plot twists and shadowy deals ensue, as Russell confronts Frazier and then White, and Frazier begins to realize that this is more than just a robbery.

An American Haunting (Courtney Solomon, 2006)


Courtney Solomon's "An American Haunting" right off takes a high spot on my list of the five most awful pictures this year, even if the year's only half over. Solomon's only other credit as director is the screen version of "Dungeons and Dragons," and while I failed to catch that earlier opus, I can't believe it could possibly be worse than this. Swish-pan camera moves; Cuisinart shock cuts; candles and fireplaces that flare up as regularly as in a theme park ride; a loud standard-issue "haunted house" music score, accompanied by equally loud standard-issue "haunted house" sound effects--Solomon trots out every cheap scare tactic developed during recent years in the hope of getting a rise out of his audience, then trots them out a few more times, in case we don't get the point the first time.


Worse than the repetition is the silliness. John Bell, the haunted family's patriarch (Donald Sutherland), goes out hunting in the woods and is assaulted by what he claims to be a wolf, but the way the scene is shot and edited he could have been attacked by a rabid throw rug; the daughter Betsy Bell (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is dragged by some invisible presence in circles on the floor (leaving claw marks on the hardwood), and slapped so hard on both sides of the face you can't help but think of a Tom and Jerry cartoon (Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack!). Later Betsy escapes by horse carriage and Solomon cuts to a point-of-view shot of the spirit soaring out the window and dive-bombing the carriage, sending somersaulting through the air like a stray "Dukes of Hazzard" stunt car. The movie becomes such an insult to the intelligence you can't help but wonder: are these people trying to be deliberately funny? Because they're not scaring us--the attempts are sophomorically sad--and it's difficult to keep a straight face. 


Indio Nacional (Raya Martin, 2005)

Indio Nacional (Raya Martin, 2005)


The 2006 French Film Festival opens with a platter of recent Gallic offerings and a few classics, but easily the most interesting and imaginative of the lot isn't even French. Raya Martin, who just attended the Cinefondation Residence du Festival de Cannes--possibly the world's most prestigious filmmaking residency--is holding the Philippine premiere of his latest work: "Maicling Pelicula Nang Ysang Indio Nacional (O Ang Mahabang Kalungkutan ng Katagalugan)" (A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (Or the Prolonged Sorrow of the Filipinos), 2005).


The ninety-six minute film can be described as a conceit in the guise of a dream doubling as a memory told to us as a mystery. It begins with a woman lying on her mat, trying to sleep; she sits up, staring into space, and it's difficult not to read all kinds of emotions into her face--restlessness, dissatisfaction, impatience, even a kind of despair; outside dogs bark and crickets relentlessly chirp, but otherwise (you can tell from the ambient sound) the darkness is still and deep.



Samurai Champloo (Shinichiro Watanabe, 2004)

Shinichiro Watanabe's Samurai Champloo shows promise--it has excellent animation, and an intriguing mix of the historically accurate (the clothes, the architecture, the bits of historical details and figures) and the intentionally anachronistic (the rap music, the graffiti artists), plus some eroticism and sophisticated humor.

There's even Watanabe's preoccupation with humdrum reality--where they should sleep, what they should eat, how they should earn money for food and shelter. Superefficient heroes who look fine and even look like they've had a manicure and beauty salon session are fine and good, but ronins who've spent days on the road and actually look (and almost smell) as if they did are more interesting fare--they help convince you of the reality of what you're seeing, prepare you to accept the more fantastic stuff, the blindingly fast, intricately choreographed fight sequences.

What's quite not there are a set of truly memorable characters. Cowboy Bebop, Watanabe's previous major work, had this teasing tension between Spike and Faye; here, with two men to choose from, Fuu barely strikes any sparks from both, just maybe some romantic longings and silly sentimental ideas (which the men for some reason sometimes take seriously).

It also helped Bebop that the main thrust of the action was Spike's attempt to reconcile his present with his gangster past. That allowed the other characters--Jet, Edward, Faye, even the dog--to branch off in all kinds of interesting stories, but it's Spike's story that held it all together, gave it unity and shape. Here, Muugen, Jin and Fuu all have to go meet their fates separately, and the climactic episode goes from one storyline to another, frittering away momentum; in Bebop, Spike said his goodbyes--some of them painful--and walked away to his destiny. Simple yet effective.

Interesting, worth seeing, but not the kind of breakthrough series that Bebop was, I think.


"Cigarette Burns" (John Carpenter), "Dreams in the Witch House" (Stuart Gordon)

From Forum With No Name:

Saw my first Masters of Horror episode.

John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns, about the search for a long-lost horror film print with fatal effects on its viewers, seems highly uncharacteriststic of his work--no self-composed minimalist music score, no Hitchcockian angles, long takes or POV shots (at least, none that really stand out or call attention to themselves), and far more gore than is usual for Carpenter.

It's not the sort of thing that's going to have immediate appeal, and the concept--that the closer the hero comes to the print the worse the effects will be--doesn't have much of a visceral impact, beyond what's provided by shock cuts. The burning rings signifying 'burns'--visual warnings to the projectionist that the reel is about to run out--don't have much creep value either; I wished it could have been depicted in a subtler way.

But Carpenter speaks a secret language here, of the heedlessness of cinephiles and the allure of legendary lost prints, and anyone even moderately steeped in the lore will understand, even sympathize with these characters, or brood over their fates ("that Udo Kier, his fate wasn't that bad, considering..."). It's fun for that subtext alone, though I wonder at the film dubbing its hermit critic character 'the one of Kael's disciples who can really think.' That's giving Kael a whole lot more heft and influence than she really had, I thought.

Stuart Gordon's Dreams in the Witch House (taking a tale from his favorite source, HP Lovecraft) shows the kind of fluid camerawork and naturalistic yet effective lighting he gives us in his best works (Reanimator, From Beyond, King of the Ants, even Dagon). Not to mention he has a wonderful knack for introducing us to totally engaging characters (a likeable college student living in a rat-trap boarding house and his beautiful single-mother next-door neighbor).

It falters towards the end, and doesn't have the metaphysical punch of his best work, but he's got us hooked to the story and people, and we squirm and worry accordingly. A lovely little gem.

ChrisJ: I also appreciate more and more the usually natural humor that Gordon and company find in various situations. It's rarely overly exagerated (thought sometimes a bit stagey which you can chalk up to Gordon's stage experiences) It's missing from straight horror (like Carpenter's Cigarette Burns) and over-done in both campy (some of which I like) or I- want-to-be-loved-by-the-teen-audience- horror crap that invades our theaters every year.

Good quick snapshot Noel.

Udo rocks !!!!

Actually I think the staginess serves Gordon in good stead; he's able to draw from entirely different sources than film-school geeks usually do, and I think there's a force and authority in doing something deliberately theatrical (a ritual, say, or a tableau) that most screen images lack.

Carpenter's humor is more the deadpan, you-gotta-be-on-the-inside-to-appreciate kind.


Cars (John Lasseter, 2006)

Cars is pretty much okay, about par for Lasseter (I'd be hard put to name a favorite--not because I love his works (I don't) but because I don't have many fond memories to choose from). Pixar, with Lasseter behind it, seems to revel in trying to animate unpromising material, from toys (which are fairly anthropomorphic, and therefore easy) to bugs, fish, automobiles, no less.

Do they succeed? The cars at certain angles have a startling photorealism--but who wants photorealism when you can just watch NASCAR on TV? The stylized bits are more interesting, somewhat, but there's only so much human expression you can squeeze out of a front bumper and a pair of headlights--the movie really stands or falls on its voice performances, and other than Larry the Cable Guy (who's mildly amusing as a tow truck) and one other exception, the cast is pretty much undistinguished, aurally speaking.

That said, Lasseter pours plenty of nostalgia for the sixties into the movie, from the building designs (the drive-in 'soda fountain,' the motel--but what, no drive-in theaters?) to the desert landscape (featuring car grill cliff faces and exhaust pipe mountain ranges and whatnot), and a lot of thought into the incidental details, from the VW Beetle houseflies to perhaps his funniest creation, tractors playing free-range cattle (they give off a little fart of a backfire when frightened).

Maybe the best single thing worth watching for in the picture is Paul Newman's gently grizzled performance as "Doc"--an old race car turned town surgeon / mechanic. Newman has a wide chrome grill mouth that somehow manages to look wrinkled and leathery, and he's been given those unsettling baby-blue eyes (the hero (Owen Wilson, who I usually like in real life--he needs his handsomely goofy face to make a full impression) also has blue eyes, but not this bright, or this magnetic). Newman effortlessly incarnates the kind of old-time grace Lasseter seems to put so much premium on--even validates it to a considerable extent. If the picture doesn't quite make it for me, it's probably because Lasseter didn't make him the lead of the movie (big mistake, in my opinion).

I'll say this much for Lasseter; I think he's learned  from his idol and (let's be honest about it) master Hayao Miyazaki, everything from putting a pause to all that busy plotting to show us What It's All About, to giving us a fairly exciting ending where we learn that Winning Isn't Everything (isn't Newman's character some kind of indirect tribute to Miyazaki's sensibility?). Lasseter doesn't have his master's subtlety (for one, the lust to win is rarely an issue; in the case of Princess Mononoke, it's actually part of the problem), and doesn't feel the need to tackle genuine issues (the vulnerability of our environment, the folly of war, the quiet tragedies  and triumphs of everyday living), but he's taken some baby steps. Not too bad, better than Over the Hedge (which I also fairly liked). You can do worse than watch this pic, but I wouldn't call it a must-see.

Additonal thoughts from Bizarre Hatred of Random Celebrities (6/12/06):

The culture of gas station cafes and roadside eateries along Route 66 is a fascinating one, and I regret not seeing in Cars--mainly because it is about cars--the kind of food you found in these places. Hamburgers and milkshakes, or so I read (I'd like to actually visit some of those places, someday), oddities like Rattlesnake Stew and The Worst Apple Pie in the World. Lasseter does okay--I don't think it's a bad film--but in my ideal Route 66 movie there'd be an endless line of greasy spoons.


Thinking about it, is Lasseter in Cars trying to teach a different kind of lesson? Not so much that Winning Isn't Everything, but that there exists a Cool Beyond Cool--that instead of attaining what everyone considers the ultimate goal or achievement, you forge a new kind of achievement and have everyone recognize that instead.

Could Lasseter, from his recent experience with Disney, have realized that association with the Mouse (or, as I like to put it, The Rat Factory) isn't the be-all and end-all of animators--that he himself is considered so golden (boxofficewise and criticwise) he's ipso facto the very zenith of modern-day animation quality (at least to those who don't seem to know any better)? And then--consciously or unconsciously--could he have grafted this attitude to his racing-car hero?

Is this what Cars is really all about? And would Lasseter's master approve of such a message?


Pinikpikan - a supertasty Filipino chicken soup done by gently beating the bird to death

Taken from this article (Not for the squeamish)

Ringside view of 'pinikpikan' process

First posted 10:58pm (Mla time) June 07, 2006 By Micky Fenix

Editor's Note: Published on Page D4 of the June 8, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

MY pinikpikan experience consists of eating the dish, twice at the Café by the Ruins and once at Ebay's near the Narda's outlet. It was like tasting tinolang manok, only more complex than trying to discern what made this soup dish so mysterious.

My information on the process of making pinikpikan was, at most, hearsay. Everyone described it by using the song title "Killing Me Softly" because the main ingredient, a fowl (wild bird, duck or chicken) was beaten to death but gently, if there's such a thing.

The Internet has something on the process, in word and pictures. But there's nothing like seeing it firsthand. And so when a friend, Aling Christie, said she would do it for the family lunch marking our mother's first death anniversary, I looked forward to documenting making pinikpikan from scratch.

Bicolana 'expert'

Three native chickens were brought, all from our guest cook's hometown in Naga. It seemed strange that a Bicolana was doing a Cordillera specialty. But she explained that, on her father's side, her grandmother was from the Mt. Province while her grandfather was from Bicol. And so she and her sister learned how to do the pinikpikan in Baguio where she grew up. Surprisingly, they had also been taught the pinikpikan by their American teachers in their home economics class at the Easter School where they studied until high school. I thought it such a wonderful policy to include traditional cooking as part of cooking lessons.

The other important ingredient of pinikpikan is the etag, the salted pork of the Cordilleras. Pork chunks are cured by salting (hence, its other name is inasinan). These are then dried in the cool Cordillera air. Etag gives the pinikpikan its flavor because no other seasoning, save for more salt, is added to the mix. But Aling Christie said she had run out of her supply of etag. So she bought about a kilo of pork liempo (belly), salted it and roasted it on charcoal. It will do, she said.

Odd one

Not one of my siblings wanted to watch, grimacing at the thought of witnessing chicken killed that way. That makes me the odd one in the family. It must have been because I always watched my grandmother start all her chicken dishes from scratch that it never bothered me. I thought that was the only way we could have chicken. Each of the pinikpikan chickens had its wings and feet tied together. The cook took one chicken, removed some of the feathers on its neck and started tapping it with a small flat stick. That both anesthetized and created blood clots, she said. You want the clots so that when the chicken is cut up, no blood is spilled.

The tapping is not done all over the chicken but only around the neck, inside the wings and at the inner thighs. While tapping the chicken, Aling Christie talked to each fowl, cajoling each to just sleep and thanking each for the service it was doing. The chicken hardly moved when the tapping was done. But it was still alive, as my son found out when one chicken was lowered into the boiling water for the final kill. It bolted from Aling Christie's firm hold and surprised him. The hot water makes it easier to remove the rest of the feathers. It also cleans the chicken. The whole chicken is then placed on the grill to burn the skin a bit. After that, each chicken is cut up.

The etag is finally cut and placed in the pot together with the chicken pieces. Water is added and then some salt. Everything is boiled. Aling Christie said it wouldn't take long to cook the pinikpikan because the chickens were fat and young. And so, for a little over an hour, the chicken and pork were cooked. The broth turned out to be rich and yellowish. We all had our spoons and dug in. Everyone kept going back, declaring the pinikpikan rich and flavorful and filling. It was better than any tinola of native chicken I ever tasted. The chickens and pork were indeed tender. It was the best pinikpikan I've had.

Great cook

It surely had something to do with Aling Christie being a great cook. She didn't have time to do her Arroz Valenciana to partner with the pinikpikan, she said. The last time we had it, the rice, including the chicken and everything else mixed in, was cooked perfectly. The secret, she declared, was letting the rice finish properly by cooking over very low fire, the procedure known as in-in. And she made the best laing, smooth and creamy when taken. She said she made sure the gabi (taro) leaves were from a particular place in Naga, picked by someone who really knew how, so the leaves didn't make the eater itch.

Pinikpikan can be just a dish, albeit an exotic one, especially for lowlanders. But Aling Christie said the cooking process could be a ritual that included prayers known as the ata. She said, with the prayers, were the acts of drinking a little gin from a small glass and puffing on a cigarette. The ritual of the pinikpikan was taught Aling Christie by her grandmother. None of her three daughters were interested. She has been training one of her nieces. This had to be passed on to the next generation, she said.

I tried the pinikpikan at Cafe By The Ruins, in Baguio. It was a large wooden bowl, filled with a dark brown liquid. The chicken leg meat was gum-bruising tough, and the skin was leathery, but it was flavorful; a big chunk of pork floated in the soup, almost as large as a small pork chop--that meat was a sin to eat, as it was made almost entirely of salty, pillowy-soft pork fat.

As for the broth itself--oh wow, that broth. Dark and powerful, dark as Igorot skin, and thick; you can feel your tongue struggling to wrap itself around that taste. It was like some mumbaki boiled half a dozen self-made chicken bouillon cubes in a cup of water, sprinkled mysterious herbs in it, then let it sit for a month and a half in a dark cave, praying over it all the while, only stronger. It made your toes curl and skin itch to think how much salty chicken fat was pouring into your veins.


Abras Los Ojos (Alejandro Amenabar), Night Moves (Arthur Penn), The Green Ray (Eric Rohmer)

One gripe I have about Alejandro Amenabar's Abras Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes, 1998) is that it's essentially Philip K. Dick's Ubik without the wit and with the intensity dialed down a few notches. Other than that, it's wondrously shot and performed, especially with Noriega in the lead; I even liked (and was moved by) Penelope Cruz's hapless, helpless Sofia.

Strangely enough, I think Amenabar's best film to date is The Others, his 2001 film with Tom Cruise's ex-beard, Nicole Kidman--there he had an elegantly simple concept that unfolded with a bouquet of unnerving little details, and a central performance that captured you, fascinated you, ultimately moved you.

In Arthur Penn's 1975 masterpiece Night Moves Gene Hackman's Harry Moseby, much like Elliot Gould's Marlowe in Altman's The Long Goodbye, is an artifact (Moseby's more aware of it, though, and thus more effective at surviving). Hackman's Moseby (arguably his finest performance in a career of fine performances) gets by on what seems like sheer force of will, bullying when he's in a hurry, charming when he wants to be low-key. Maybe his weak spot is a sneaking sympathy for wounded creatures (a weak spot that's promptly exploited)--that and his complacency concerning his wife (who seems to know all about his weak spot--even loves him for it).

The ending is a startlingly violent (a pontoon ramming a diving mask; a pair of exhausted old men ramming fists into each other) and beautiful (blood on a bright blue sea; slow movement of a crashed plane sinking into the deep, taking its helpless, soundless occupant with it) demonstration of reality spinning beyond everyone's control, plans, wishes. The final image--of the boat running about in circles--is about as Sisyphean an image as one can wish for from the pessimistic '70s.

I'll have to agree with many others that Eric Rohmer's Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray, 1986) is probably his finest work and my favorite of his films, with a great character in Delphine (Marie Rivere, in a bravely unsympathetic performance) walking around petulantly unsatisfied with the world around her (She's like a walking rebuke towards all those French films featuring sunny landscapes, countryside food, bright-red wines, rustic houses, young men and women with slim, casually erotic bodies). She asks the question wedare not ask: "Why should we enjoy these things anyway? Isn't there, well, more?" With perhaps one of the most thrilling finales--all the more remarkable considering it involves no chases, explosions, violence or even the threat of violence--in all of cinema.


Party in Hell like it's 6/6/06

Party in Hell planned for 6/6/06


The day bears the date of 6-6-06, or abbreviated as 666 -- a number that carries hellish significance.

And there's not a snowball's chance in Hell that the day will go unnoticed in the unincorporated hamlet 60 miles west of Detroit.


The Da Vinci Code (Ron Howard, 2006)

The Da Vinci Code (Ron Howard, 2006)


It would be tempting to consider "The Da Vinci Code" a kind of corrective to "The Passion of the Christ," the kind of movie liberal-minded Catholics, agnostics, or nonbelievers like to throw back on religious wingnuts--sorry, conservatives--when they mention Mel Gibson's snuff flick; it would also be tempting to think of this as a sensational expose of the nefarious activities of the Opus Dei (who may not be involved in any elaborate world-wide conspiracies, but do display cult-like mind-control tendencies towards their members)…but after actually seeing Ron Howard's latest opus, an adaptation of Dan Brown's best-selling novel, I'm forced to agree with most critics: the picture is a sad, sorry crock of cow manure.


Perhaps Howard's biggest mistake--aside from accepting the assignment to direct in the first place (or entertaining the notion that he is in any way a director)--is in treating this material with such reverence. The picture breathes portent the way a cheap horror-movie monster breathes halitosis down your neck; the characters keep reminding us that this is all part of the "biggest cover-up in human history," staged to "protect a secret so powerful that if revealed it would devastate the very foundations of mankind" (to quote Ace Ventura: "Re-he-he-he-ally?"). Howard and collaborator Akiva Goldsman (the scriptwriter of such artistically renowned films as "Batman Forever," "Batman and Robin," and "Lost in Space") necessarily trim some of Brown's awful dialogue--the airport paperback edition drones for some 454 pages--but force the actors to intone the surviving lines as if they were hallowed scripture. The book, bogged down by Brown's clumsy prose and hilarious lack of familiarity with (among other things) the Catholic Church, colloquial French, and basic European geography is made worse on the big screen by limping camerawork and the most laughably ominous Hans Zimmer music score this side of Ingmar Bergman parodies. This isn't filmmaking or even good commercialfilmmaking, it's big-budgeted finger-painting; if it's at all a hit that's because everyone trooped to the multiplexes, curious to see what the fuss is about.