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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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."


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.


Kairo (Pulse, Kurosawa Kyoshi, 2001)

Kairo (Pulse, Kurosawa Kyoshi, 2001)

Remade as Pulse (2006)


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.


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.


Piranha (Joe Dante, 1978)

Was looking at Piranha and it was good fun. If Jaws is a diminution of Moby Dick, and Piranha a diminution of Jaws, maybe the smaller film's advantage is in knowing its place in the food chain, and actually scoring a joke or two off of it (an early shot shows a (remarkably primitive) Jaws video game; at one point a vacationer reads Moby Dick).

Dante gets extra points for operating at a budget several levels lower than Spielberg, and for using a script (an early effort by John Sayles) that actually seems wittier and more literate than Peter Benchley's source novel.

I love the little stop motion creature--Dante's tribute to Ray Harryhausen--wandering cautiously through the corners of Kevin McCarthy's lab; I love the lines "They're eating the guests, sir," and "Terror, horror, death--film at eleven;" I love Heather Menzies flashing her breasts (insert shot, pity) at John Sayles, after asking him "are you gay?" (who says writers don't enjoy any benefits?). I love the piranha footage, the little devils nibbling furiously away, whipping up so much blood and chaos you can't see them clearly (which makes them more effective; more, when you look at real footage from the National Geographic channel, the shots look amazingly similar); I love the brief breast shots, all creamy soft with erect nipples, and the creamy young faces above 'em (for some reason, I never liked the girl in the opening of Spielberg's film, I don't know why--was it the frizzy hair?).

I love it that Dante's smaller film picks more ambitious targets (water resorts, aquafarming, scientists ("some things are more important than a few people's lives"), the military, and the news media) than Spielberg's, and skewers them more thoroughly (not only is the military here callous and sinister, it's involved in shady land deals with water resort developers). The film's prophetic, too, in saying that the United States' weapons development programs and numerous military adventures are going to come home and bite it in the ass, literally.

DVD commentary's fun too, especially when Dante notes that 300 gallons of Karo syrup and a thousand dollars' worth of marine plants managed to create a new life form in the swimming pool they were filming in--the USC had to drain the pool and scour the walls before they could use it again.

And Dick Miller, as Buck Gardner, the resort owner--for most of the film he comes off as all sleazy and avaricious, but there's a moment near the end where he shoves aside a TV reporter filming the bloody victims and suddenly becomes human for us. Certainly it's in his interest that they stop filming, but no one in his right mind could think they would really stop, or that the news won't come out; the act seems more like a sense of disgust at the cameraman's predatory instincts, instincts he recognizes in himself as well. It's a sign of remorse, I think, and it actually comes off as moving, in the light of the catastrophe visited on his resort (ironically, the actual Aquarena resort bragged for years about being a major location site for the picture), that he's started to care about his guests.

All in all, it's a worthy no-budget alternative to Jaws--even its superior, possibly, in some aspects.



Southern Fried Chicken

Tried my hand at Southern Fried Chicken--soaked a dozen chicken legs in brine overnight; dredged them in a flour mix that contained garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, sweet paprika, salt and pepper; dipped the pieces in a buttermilk-and-hotsauce mix; dredged them a second time in the flour mix; laid em in a plate to dry.

Heated up half a pot of peanut oil on medium high heat; tossed in while cool three sprigs of rosemary, a bunch of sage leaves, a bunch of thyme stems, and half a head of garlic (lightly crushed) into the oil; fished them out when the oil hit 370 degrees (I bought a candy/frying thermometer for the occasion); fished the herbs and garlic cloves out and set them aside.

Dropped in four drumsticks which caused the oil to bubble up, and the thermometer promptly slid off the side of the pot where it was clipped. When I fished it out, the top half had melted--you can imagine what fun it was to try maintain a 350 degree frying temperature with an oily, half-melted thermometer in one hand. Finally gave up, donned an oven glove, and held a probe thermometer in the oil.

The chicken came out dark brown with slightly burnt spots--but they were huge (they had swelled up thanks to the brining apparently), from drum sticks to bowling pins full of briny juices, with a crisp oniony-garlicky-paprika skin, and just enough heat to sharpen the flavor, but not sear the tongue.

Served the dozen or so pieces of chicken on a large serving plate with lemon wedges, topped with the fried herbs (the sage was especially nice and crispy). The meal was accompanied by a salad of baby spinach leaves and an apple-butter vinagrette (extra-virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, kosher salt, fresh-cracked pepper, garlic clove and all the apple butter left in the jar, with a bit of maple syrup for sweetener). Dessert was--what else?--watermelon, cut in huge chunks.