4/28/06

The Cooler (Wayne Kramer, 2003)

The Cooler (Wayne Kramer, 2003)

Excerpt:

In Wayne Kramer's "The Cooler" (a 2003 movie for some reason being released in Manila only now) the eponymous character not only has consistent bad luck, but is able to spread that luck around him, like a social disease. It's the kind of superstition you would only find in the old Vegas; the new Vegas is too high-tech, too concerned with balance sheets and the appearance of theme-park wholesomeness to subscribe to such foolishness.

 

William Macy isn't just the lead; he's the main reason to actually watch this picture. Macy's done sad-sack characters before, most memorably as the put-upon car salesman in the Coen Brothers' 1996 "Fargo," and as the porn star's cuckolded husband in Paul Thomas Anderson's 1997 "Boogie Nights," but I think his Bernie Lootz is about as far as this persona can go without falling into cheap caricature. With his downward sloping eyes and rubbery lips and expression of constant disappointment, he radiates misfortune in waves, affecting players and tables as he passes.

Michelle Pfeiffer as "Catwoman" in "Batman Returns" (Tim Burton, 1992)

"Life's a bitch; now so am I."

Part of the Michelle Pfeiffer blog-a-thon, managed from this site: Pfeiffer-pforever

(Note: plot points of Tim Burton's Batman Returns (1992) discussed in close detail)

Those immortal words were first spoken on the big screen for the first time on 16 June 1992, and while they haven't exactly changed the world in obvious ways, they have in several thousand little ways, over the many years since. They've certainly stayed with me.

Batman Returns was meant to be Tim Burton's reward for making the 1989 Batman, a huge hit for Warner Studios. Where in the first film Burton felt the pressure and interference of the studio in directing a superproduction, this time he had carte blanche and it shows: the film has more--well, not coherence, you can't really say that--more consistency say, more evidence of a single consciousness' (Burton's) sensibility. If the plot isn't any more logical, the emotions do operate under some kind of satisfying system--Batman (Michael Keaton) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) share feelings that progress from mutual attraction to mutual aggression to mutually shared anguish--and the film has the dark humor and self-centered melancholy found in Burton's earlier work (Edward Scissorhands; Bettlejuice; his various shorts).

It helps that the script, started by Batman scriptwriter Sam Hamm, passed into the hands of Daniel Waters; Waters, who wrote a memorable female protagonist for his first big-screen feature Heathers (easily the best role dewy, dark-eyed Winona Ryder ever sank her teeth into) seem to have added all the best lines in the film, borrowed a plot from an old Batman TV episode about the Penguin (Danny DeVito) running for mayor, and turned it into an acrid political satire about the struggles involved in winning control over a major American city.

Burton and Waters' script went further on paper, including a more elaborate campaign to discredit Batman (among others, an army of fake Batmans running about and raising hell) and digs at spin-off merchandises like Batman lunchboxes (apparently Burton, unlike Hitchcock, was unable to persuade studio bosses to nip the hand that feeds you). Waters' scripts are often toned down, rewritten (his original ending for Heathers had the school blowing up), which says something about how comfortable studio executives are with his work; fortunately, much of the dialogue he wrote for Pfeiffer survives.

"How can you be so mean to someone so meaningless?"

Pfeiffer first enters the film carrying coffee for her boss Max Schreck (Christopher Walken); she's Selina Kyle, Schreck's secretary ("assistant," she insists), and Schreck's attitude towards her is summed up with the following words: "I'm afraid we haven't properly housebroken Ms. Kyle…in the plus column, though, she knows how to brew coffee."

It's a witheringly condescending attitude, made worse by how meekly Selina takes it all in, slapping her forehead and calling herself a "stupid corn dog;" when Schreck forgets his speech for a Christmas tree lighting, Selina hurries desperately to bring the notes to him and is assaulted by a clown member of the Red Triangle Gang, who holds her hostage with a stun gun at her throat. Batman knocks the clown out and leaves her without a word, to which she responds: "That was very brief. Like most men in my life. What men?"
Then we get the first hint of a worm turning: Selina picks up the stun gun and gives the unconscious thug a quick jolt.

Selina's first words upon entering her apartment are: "Honey, I'm home." Pause. "Oh, I forgot, I'm not married." She feeds her cat, Miss Kitty, all the while commenting enviously on the cat's active social life--apparently Selina's smart and witty, but also so lonely she has to provide her own funny repartee. Her answering machine furnishes further tidbits: a mother that nags her to call back and a boyfriend that on doctor's advice is breaking up with her "to be my own person now, and not some appendage" ("Some appendage," Selina mutters). Finally she hears her own voice, reminding her to go back to her office to do some more work.

"The party never stops on Selina Kyle's answering machine," she notes dryly at one point. If she's lonely that's because of her low self-esteem, beaten down in part from living in the big city too long (it's not as if she had a choice; back in her home town, her lovingly asphyxiating mother is waiting for her to call back--and here we see the other source (other than Schreck) for her shrunken sense of self). She's not without spirit--she beats her boyfriend at racquetball*, speaks up (if timidly) to her boss, gives the odd psychopath a good jolt in the ribs--but these are like fading signs of life in an upright corpse. Batman came to her rescue but didn't even bother to return her greeting; he responded to her jeopardy, but refused to respond to her neediness.

(*Selina wonders "I should've let him win that last racquetball game," but it's not a question of letting some man win a ball game; it's the pathos of choosing a man so lame his confidence is shattered at losing to a girl)

Pfeiffer in these scenes is wonderfully game: she was always good at comedy, especially romantic comedy, and can even do slapstick (Into the Night; The Witches of Eastwick; Amazon Women on the Moon; Married to the Mob; The Fabulous Baker Boys; Frankie and Johnny). Here her huge blue eyes widen in dismay or terror at problems big and small (a forgotten speech; a boss' withering comment; a psychopath's assault), her shoulders slump in comic exhaustion ("you have to come all the way back to the office"), her feet spin and whirl and double on themselves to keep up with her hectic yet empty life. 

Yet there's that moment with the stun gun. She looks around to see if anyone's looking, then jams the instrument into the man's side, her face crackling with malevolent glee; it's as if the gun were wired directly into her pubis and she was taking unholy delight from the voltage. When she pulls the gun away she's totally bewildered, unable to believe she was capable of such an act.

An interesting problem for the meek and mild Selina to try and grapple with; you can almost hear the questions: "Who is this inside me, ready with power racquetball serves and stun guns? Why do I let all these men walk over me--when they bother to notice? Why did I leave home, where I’m oppressed, to come to the city, where I’m oppressed even more?" All interestingly knotty questions that would take most other movies the rest of their running time to work out; she never does here, unfortunately, because she's murdered that very same night.

"I don't know about you, Miss Kitty, but I feel so much yummier."

Selina's death is terrifying enough (Schreck pushes her out a high window, and in moment of Burton-style visual audacity we follow her all the way to the ground) but the scene with all the cats 'feasting' on her body--what is that? Resurrected life was not part of the Catwoman comic-book mythos (though Selina in the early comics suffered from amnesia caused by a blow to the head, which might be considered a kind of resurrection (later, the amnesia is explained away as faked, an attempt to give up her life of crime--yet another resurrection, in effect)).

Bast--a creature in the form of a cat, or a woman with a cat's head--was one of the most popular gods in Egyptian mythology; she was said to be a daughter of Ra, the protector of cats and of those who protected cats. In the Middle Ages, black cats were considered familiars of witches, associated with the Devil, and burned. Cats have a mystique, a sense of not being completely of this world, and are worshiped for it; at the same time their aloofness and unpredictability can be aggravating, even terrifying, and they're persecuted for that as well (to the medieval Europeans' unknowing regret--the massacre of cats led to a proliferation of rats, and helped bring about the Black Plague). The same can be said of women too, that they're worshiped for their beauty and mystique, and persecuted for their fickleness and duplicity (a dog's affection or dislike is readily apparent; a cat's--who knows who it likes, and for how long?).

Can we say that Selina, protector of a cat (or at least its keeper), is possibly under Bast's protection? That Selina's Miss Kitty is a witch's familiar, calling on fellow cats and the the Devil to bring its mistress back to life? That the cats, sensing a fellow feline in distress, lent her their life-force? That Selina is a kind of put-upon cat who in extremis finds herself wielding the cat's most fascinating power, its ability to live out nine lives (to, in effect, survive eight deaths)?

Whatever; the upshot of all this is that Selina Kyle is reborn as the more powerful, less sane Catwoman. The rebirth is not a painless process; Selina comes home, recites her familiar line ("Honey I'm home. Oh I forgot, I'm not married..."), walking like a woman in a trance. She listens to her answering machine, relentless chronicler of her so-called life,and on the umpteenth message with ironic import finally cracks, screaming her head off, trashing her apartment, smashing the letters 'o' and 't' in a neon "hello there" sign (making it read: "hell here"); she sews patches and gloves together to create a cat costume, all wire and gleaming black vinyl.

Selina's already fragile psyche has shattered; in her attempt at recovery she's stitched together various fragments into a Frankenstein personality (talk about sewing as psychic therapy)--part avenging angel, part feline, part psychopath. Pfeiffer's eyes take on a wild glare, her lips red and moist and open, her voice a mix of low purr and barely controlled shriek.

"Mistletoe can be deadly, if you eat it." "A kiss can be deadlier if you mean it."

To make things more complicated, Selina shows up for work--to no small surprise to Schreck--and Batman, in the guise of Bruce Wayne, is finally expressing interest. Why? Bruce is yet another hurt psyche; as a superhero, he finds it more prudent to respond only to great need and extreme circumstances, otherwise he'll stop functioning altogether (from sheer exhaustion, for one). If Selina attracts Bruce, that may be because she's no longer entirely Selina but a stronger persona, one who--like him--has learned to cope with her various traumas in a not-altogether-sane fashion. As Selina puts it later in the film "sickos never scare me--at least they're committed." Sickos apparently don't scare Wayne either--the opposite, if anything.

Selina ventures forth as Catwoman; she encounters Batman, and they fight. Catwoman's tactics are distinctly feline (distinctly feminine?)--when Batman strikes her, she yelps  "How could you? I'm a woman!" Batman murmurs "I'm sorry," reaches down; she promptly kicks him backwards off the roof, lashes her whip round his hand and, as he hangs by his arm, continues: "--I'm a woman, and can't be taken for granted." More witty banter, more innuendos, some napalm judiciously applied to a slender upper arm, a savage thrust at a heavily armored midriff (Batman's vest is proof against bullets, but interestingly not against Catwoman's sewing-needle claws), and Batman finds himself accidentally throwing her off the roof. "I tried to grab you--save you--" Batman later tries to explain, to which Catwoman replies "Seems like every woman you try to save ends up dead, or deeply resentful."

We've seen this sort of relationship before: two people mutually attracted the same time they're antagonizing each other, a storyline that was old back when Shakespeare used it for The Taming of the Shrew, through the screwball comedies of the 1930s, up to "Moonlighting" in the 1980s. To this classic formula Burton and Waters add masks, and a shared case of borderline psychosis.

The additions are no small thing. Notice, for example, that when meeting each other as normal human beings, Selina and Bruce are politely civilized; when masked their true selves come out fighting. They're able to do more--kiss, caress, lather the other's face with saliva, share their most intimate details--disguised than they do undisguised, where a special news report or urgent phone call can cut short their lovemaking (it helps that Keaton and Pfeiffer were former lovers--they bring the physical ease and sexual chemistry they had in real life (what other actress would be so liberal with her tongue on an actor, no matter how famous?) to the big screen).

Then, of course, Schreck's costume ball--it's a brilliant conceit by Burton and Waters that the one time everyone is expected to don a mask Selina and Bruce wear bare faces. They talk softly, flirt gently. Selina reveals her reason for coming (to kill Schreck), and Bruce, shocked, tries to shush her; details slip from between their lips, and they recognize each other's true identity.

But it was already obvious; you just had to take note of the way the two were talking to each other, as if they had their masks on, their civilized veneer off. They need to remember that their masks are off, and that they have to keep their discoveries from everyone else. It all becomes too much, at least for Selina; when Bruce asks her who she think she is, Pfieffer gives a wild, near-hysterical laugh and replies, tremulously: "I don't know anymore." It's a funny line, and you laugh when hearing it; then you look at Pfeiffer's face, see how lost she looks--a little girl who literally doesn't know which way is up--and the laughter dies in your throat. A poignant moment, one of the loveliest in a career full of lovely moments.

"I am not a human being! I'm an animal!"

It might be argued that Batman Returns is essentially a '90s variation on classic screwball, with this silly monstrous Penguin-Man getting in the way once in a while, but DeVito's Penguin is too memorable a character for that to be totally true. He's a grotesque variation on Charles Dickens' youthful protagonists, the little orphan grown to mutant proportions (he might have been someone Dickens thought up had Dickens lived to the the 1990s and written for Hollywood). He represents unattractive little boys and their tendency to be abandoned by their parents, by friends, by everyone; his story gives us the pathos of people so utterly unlovable they can't totally be hated (Batman, I suppose, gives us the pathos of someone who hates too well to be able to love easily). Both Penguin and Batman and every other aspect of Burton's masterpiece have dimensions and complexities that deserve further discussion in their own separate articles.

It's interesting to note, though, how the three main characters are treated, how their storylines unfold across the picture's running time. Each is a force of nature, with his or her set of 'familiars' (animal servants representing the witches' will, life-force, what-have-you) hovering about them, giving them a larger-than-life quality, sometimes influencing the outcome. The three storylines criss-cross, interlock, careen and bounce off of each other--Penguin's is the first to begin, first to end; Catwoman's is the last to begin and ends next; Batman's is perhaps the saddest, continuing to the next few (and far more wretched) sequels directed by Joel ("I'm such a hack everyone and their sisters for miles around can smell me") Schumacher.

If Penguin represents the fear of abandonment and Batman the thirst for vengeance, Catwoman comes to represent the tendency of the feline and feminine to attract as well as antagonize. In emphasizing the split nature of Selina and Catwoman--how they're two radically different faces of the same coin--the film shows us the equally radical faces of cats in general, the different ways we respond to them, and, by incident and metaphor and imaginative imagery, how this extends to the way women appear and are treated as well. We've heard stories of cats burned, crushed, smothered, drowned, tortured, turned into steamed buns, of a hundred and one uses for a dead cat (in fact there's a famous joke book from the late '80s), of worse, much worse; it's not so much the fact that they're abused as it is the number and variety and sheer cruelty displayed that's so unsettling. Selina Kyle / Catwoman in this film is dropped from a building, scorched by napalm, strangled by an umbrella's crook, repeatedly shot by a gun, electrocuted by a massive air-conditioning unit, leered over, abused, insulted and all around humiliated; at the same time she's reborn, renewed, even regarded with love, affection, regret.

The film is not a cheerful depiction of the treatment of cats (or of women), overall, but it's a strangely inspiring one; it shows their strength and uncanny ability to survive, even thrive in the face of adversity. I don't think it an accident that after this film Burton wanted to make a spin-off sequel, this time focusing on Catwoman's character alone (would have been even nicer if Pfeiffer had been available to reprise her role). Catwoman / Selina / Pfeiffer may not have been the only memorable character in the film, but she was arguably the one with the most resonance, the one that haunts our--or at least my--memories the most often, leaving the sharpest pangs of, well, whatever. To quote one of the Penguin's funniest lines:

"Just the pussy I've been looking for!"

I can accept no other.

4/25/06

The Bad and the Beautiful (Vincent Minelli, 1952)

Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful is a struggle to like at first; knowing it's a takeoff on David Selznick's life doesn't help. Every time one of the people facing Walter Pidgeon tells his or her story, Pidgeon replies with "Oh yeah, he ruined your life--all you got was an Academy Award, big boxoffice, the Pulitzer Prize, etc."

And maybe that's bearable, but the line "you know, when they list the ten best pictures ever made, there are always two or three of his on the list" really sticks to my craw. Well, there is The Third Man.

Maybe even if I didn't know it was Selznick it's a bit of a struggle. His brand of tough love in the service of his passion for moviemaking seems, on one hand, teasingly authentic in detail, yet on the other, somehow sanitized--he doesn't go to bed with Turner, he's implicated but did not cause the murder of Powell's wife, so on and so forth.

But it's still a fascinating story, and it's wonderful to see how real Hollywood characters are conflated or combined, leaving you guessing who is who (is that Stroheim or Sternberg? Is Turner Diana Barrymore or Jennifer Jones? Is Powell Faulkner or Fitzgerald?). And the climaxes of each story have real power, as Douglas runs through the deadliest of the sins. Betrayal for power, betrayal for sex, betrayal for maybe the most perverse motive of all, the good of the person betrayed.

The most vivid climax I thought was the second, with Douglas freaking out and frightening Turner into that half-suicidal drive. I've heard of people watching that scene for laughs but I thought it was hair-raising the way the camera swings around her like a passerby catching a glimpse, the way the traffic lights glare and glower round her, the way Turner (in one take, I hear, possibly her single best moment on film) runs the gamut from hysteria to despair, all in a few minutes. She upstages Powell's story, though Powell does have one great bit--when he stares at Douglas, finally knowing what he'd done, and Douglas desperately tries to talk his way out of it.

4/24/06

Alida Valli, dead at 84

Alida Valli, dead at 84

Walking past the hapless Joseph Cotten in Carol Reed's The Third Man, being humiliated by Farley Granger in Luchino Visconti's Senso, grinning as the evil Miss Tanner in Dario Argento's Suspiria, she's had many a memorable moment in many a memorable film.

4/21/06

2046

2046 (Wong Kar Wai, 2004)

Excerpt:

Critics seem to feel that Wong Kar Wai's latest film "2046" (2004) is inferior to his previous "In the Mood for Love," made four years earlier; that the former--endlessly tinkered with to the point that it was seriously late for its screening in Cannes--is essentially an amorphous, unfinished work that needs both serious tightening-up and developing. I feel differently; taken together, the two films seem to be stronger than if taken separately.

 

It's about Mr. Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), a writer in the '60s living in a Hong Kong hotel, making love to a passing parade of impossibly beautiful women (Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi, Faye Wong, among others), obsessing about a neighboring hotel room with the number 2046 nailed to its door, and writing about a superfast train traveling in time to the year--you guessed it--2046.

The proper use of Rock Hudson

I liked Sirk's famous pair of films with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, but what stays with me is the question of Rock Hudson. He's like a taller, more imposing Keanu Reeves--impassive, somewhat limited, but there's something to that dully handsome exterior that you can't quite dismiss.

Much--maybe all--of the fascination is in the way he's used, and Hudson's lucky in that respect; in Frankenheimer's Seconds (where he gives what I think is the performance of his career), he's convincingly anguished. In Sirk's films, he barely cracks a facial muscle, but Sirk manages to suggest pages behind those minimal twitches, in the way his characters are written, and the way he's directed and shot. Sirk's always using his handsomeness against him--in Magnificent Obsession, to suggest an initial shalloweness, something Hudson has to struggle against and finally overcome; when he courts Wyman, his ardor suggest that of a drop-dead gorgeous but insecure actor courting his muse, wishing she would bestow on him the blessing of a great--or at least fascinating--performance. The gambit works, I think.

In (and I think more interestingly) All That Heaven Allows, his handsomeness suggests a monumental sense of self-possession, comparable to Reeves in Little Buddha or in The Matrix. Hudson's character has got no insecurities, no neuroses, no hypocrisies, nothing to prove or achieve or hide, and the effect, the film seems to suggest, is to make him supremely calm and serene--to make the man, in effect, as physically magnetic as, well, Rock Hudson.

In both films, it's Wyman who's the dramatic focus, Wyman who moves us to tears. But Hudson's the rock--the pure, unadulterated crystal that Sirk's melted down and fused--against which Wyman is able to turn and find dramatic traction; he focuses her energies in the direction Sirk intended.

4/20/06

Roast Placenta (in honor of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' alleged baby)

Taken from a website Mothers 35 plus:
Chop one onion, one green pepper, and one red pepper; crush one packet of saltines into crumbs. Add in a bowl the onion, peppers, saltines, a teaspoon each of bay leaves,  white pepper, black pepper, one clove of roasted and minced garlic, and one cup tomato sauce and one 3-pound placenta (fresh; no more than 3 days old) in a bowl.
Put in a loaf pan, cover, bake at 350 degrees for ninety minutes, occasionally pouring out excess liquid.
Actually sounds tasty.

4/19/06

"Imitation of Life" (John Stahl, Douglas Sirk; 1934, 1959)

For some reason I've been catching Douglas Sirk and Vincente Minnelli films.

Interesting to see the two versions of Imitation of Life; thought John Stahl's version has a wonderful performance by Claudette Colbert, and some lovely give-and-take between her and Warren William as her boyfriend. Liked the film overall, and wondered how Sirk could improve on it.

Few days later, saw Sirk's version. No, I didn't think Lana Turner was quite the equal of Colbert (I can't think of many women who are), and John Gavin was a poor substitute for the suave William.

Juanita Moore, however, was tremendous as Annie Johnson, and she answered the one question bugging me about the classroom scene in the 1934 version: how can a mother be so dense as to not realize the effect her visit to her white-looking daughter would have at a school full of white children (in Juanita's case, Annie had expected her daughter to admit she's not white)? Louise Beavers played Delilah Johnson as a sweet simpleton; Moore's Ms. Johnson is cannier, wiser to the ways of the world--when her heart breaks, it's more affecting.

And her daughter, Sarah Jane, has been reworked into a more malevolent presence. As played by the young Karin Dicker, Sarah Jane's chillingly impassive; as played by Susan Kohner, she's an intimidating sexual presence as well. I actually felt a thrill when she looked hungrily at Gavin, thinking she'd make a play for him, was disappointed when she didn't; she added a lot of heat to the film's already melodramatic mix.

Maybe the one scene of hers that I disliked was her meeting with her boyfriend--that somehow felt off, like they should have perhaps played that scene physically closer together, or perhaps they should have talked faster, in a more casual manner; I'd also like to see more convincing blows from the boyfriend; as is, they seem to miss completely. And I wish the music had been anything other than the obviously lurid jazz piece actually used.

Sandra Dee's plotline isn't so hot, either. It wasn't when Rochelle Hudson played Colbert's daughter, but at least she provided the catalyst for Colbert and William's conflict; in Turner's case, she just looks distressed for a while, then forgets the whole thing because Sarah Jane's in trouble again. The black women's story consistently overshadows the white women's; only Colbert is able to give her dilemma some poignancy towards the end.

Turner, to her credit, plays some of her best scenes near the beginning, when we see her struggling to succeed. The subplot in the '34 version involved pancakes (it's amusing to see Delilah incarnate the story of 'Aunt Jemima'), and while setting up a successful business is probably harder and more involved work than succeeding on the theater stage, it isn't as dramatic, which is what we get with Turner's story, and she runs with it as far as she can.

Lovely to watch Sirk tell the story--I'll have to admit, I like the 34 version's no-frills storytelling, but there's something to Sirk's voluptuous, bright-colored style that's maddeningly seductive. He'll give you a deceptively simple setup, and have the actors walk from one side to the other, away and towards the camera, and you realize that no matter where they walk, they end up in a series of interesting compositions. At a dramatic moment Sirk moves the camera in closer, and the movement is like a punctuation mark, like the thrill of feeling a rollercoaster car jerk closer towards a sheer drop.

I'm afraid I don't like the music--I'm hardly an expert, and almost definitely not qualified to judge, but the score seems to do a disservice to the intelligence of Sirk's visual style, points up the melodrama when I'd much prefer it underplayed--or maybe used as some kind of ironic counterpoint.

4/18/06

Roman-style carbonara

From The Forum With No Name:

Did a  carbonara the way they do it in Rome (or as close to Rome as I'm going to get), which turns out to be as easy as falling off a log. Fry a cup of panchetta (which had soaked in water the night before, to leach out the saltiness) till crispy, set aside; boil the pasta (eight ounces only, or half a box--this is a heavy dish). While the pasta cooks, whisk four egg yolks with half a cup of heavy cream, add plenty of grinds of black pepper, gurgle maybe half a cup of white wine into the mix; a few minutes before it's done spoon half a cup of the boiling pasta water into the cream and egg, to temper the mixture. Put the panchetta back on low heat, drain the pasta and dump on top of the panchetta, pour in the egg and cream mix, toss immediately for one minute, then top with a cup of grated Pecorino cheese and chopped Italian parsley.

Not too bad. Can't eat too much of this, or my arteries'll clog...

Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988): a little debate

Interesting debate on Grave of the Fireflies, Isao Takahata's 1988 masterpiece, initiated by gabe in the Miyazaki Mailing List

He does an admirable job of editing together the various posts in a very long and rather intense discussion...but fails to include my final word on the subject.

So, to put the record straight:

Friday, 28 October 2005:

> From:    Sing Yung JONG <singyung@PACIFIC.NET.SG>
> Then there is the "art film" aspect, by which I mean
> a film that is NOT
> plot-driven. I mean, some "stories" are really
> mood-driven, character-
> driven, theme-driven, etc., rather than
> story-driven.

There is a whole mode of storytelling in film and
literature that works this way, to which Japan is a
significant contributor: the works of masters like
Naruse and Ozu, of present-day contributors like
Hirokazu Kore-eda, of Taiwanese like Hou Hsiao Hsien
and Edward Yang, of Theo Angelopolous, Jacques
Rivette...it's a whole other way of storytelling
Hollywood (or Disney, for that matter) hasn't even
begun to explore.

> That's why I think it's a great idea for the
> Japanese TV series based on
> the book to use the aunt as a viewpoint character.

I'd like to see that series; wonder if it'll ever make
it on DVD.

> On Tue, 25 Oct 2005 21:24:12 -0700, Patrick Drazen
> <patrickdrazen@YAHOO.COM>
> Specifically, I'm thinking of the scene in which
> Shizuku nestles happily
> into Seiji's back as he gives her a ride on his
> bike.

Another moment that stays with me is San waking up to
Ashitaka watching over her. She has this moment where
she blinks sleepily, and it's as eloquent a moment of
blissful content as anything I've seen. A prime
example of Miyazaki transcending the, what I called
"ostensible limitations" of his medium.

> From:    gabe <gabechu@GMAIL.COM>
> that I found the
> brother's actions/inactions disgusting

Disgusting I can possible agree (I think that's one of
the key ambiguities in the film), but a person acting
in a morally repulsive manner doesn't necessarily
imply that the film is morally repulsive.

> I'm not trying to convince you
> that it's a bad
> film.

Understood. But if a person speaks out in a strong
negative reaction to a film others cherish so much,
the others can't help but ask (at the very least) that
person to try substantiate or elaborate on his
reactions--to help them at least understand where that
person is coming from, and beyond that, I guess,
hopefully learn that where that person is 'coming
from' is at least an understandable view. I'm not
quite sure I understand.

> I really don't remember the music (a hallmark of a
> good soundtrack
> some might say)

Two kinds of music: those that stay in the background,
and those that do not. Good music would follow the
artist's intentions. I do believe Takahata wanted
background music, not something you would hum walking
out of the theater.

> When I said that I felt it was trying too
> hard, I was
> referring to it's plot and situations (from a story
> point of view, not
> from a biographical point of view). See my statement
> regarding bathos.

Bathos coming from a real-life situation? I can't see
that. I can see bathos coming from the tone of the
film, and the way crucial scenes are played; that's
why I'm focused on the music and 'acting' (word in
quotes because, after all, these are celluloid figures
(which is the magic of it)).

> Not that I want anyone to, but I don't think anyone
> has actually
> refuted my main point of the brother's actions being
> disgusting.

I've mentioned choice being an essential part of
classic tragedy. Beyond that, the fact that the
brother had a choice gives rise to a series of
thoughts and feelings that complicate one's attitude
to the film beyond mere pity. That's the sort of thing
art does.

> already brought up). I don't want to see him letting
> his sister starve
> to death again. That, to me, is not a good story.

I understand the sentiment, though I might add by that
line of reasoning, Shoeshine and Los Olvidados (an
equally if not more harrowing film) do not have good
stories. Come to think of it, they have 'meandering,'
'shapeless' narratives as well (words in quotes since
these qualities are often arrived at through careful
script writing).

> While discussing any subject it
> certainly helps to be
> well-versed on the subject matter

Definitely agree with that.

> From:    Charles Schoppet <schoppet@GMAIL.COM>
> I can understand the actions of the brother in GOTF.
>   It's so easy
> for an adult to miss the signs of starvation in a
> child, that they see
> everyday.

There's  that moment of shock when the girl takes off
her shirt, and the brother sees her ribs poking
through the skin. He may have had an idea, but I think
the full extent of it never dawned on him until that
moment.

> From:    gabe <gabechu@GMAIL.COM>
> without question. But without admitting the brother
> character
> logically had to have eaten his sister's food,
> viewing the movie might
> seem that the brother character placed a relatively
> larger part of the
> blame on the situation rather than his own decision.

It's possible; the tragedy there then is of willful
blindness. But if he blames the situation rather than
himself, would he allow himself to starve to death?

> Reading the author's words, there was a very clear
> admittance of guilt
> and wrongdoing on his part. Watching his story, I
> don't think he went
> so far as to fully disclose the depths of his
> depravity.

But does this make the film a bad film? The author
speaks out directly, and that's good; the film makes
the point subtly, the guilt hinted at by the brother's
decision to leave his aunt (he kills his sister with
his pride) and his own eventual suicide.

> On 10/27/05, Charles Schoppet <schoppet@gmail.com>
> wrote:
> > However, I do believe he should have taken his
> Aunt's lead and found work.

And that's why I believe Grave is closer to classic
tragedy than a mere documentation. He had a choice, he
wilfully led his sister to her doom. With the
mitigating thought that he probably didn't think of it
intentionally that way (I'd rather have my pride than
my sister), that he actually thought they can live it
out on their own, and that swallowing one's pride in
that situation is really quite hard. I can see he's
wrong, but I hesitate to condemn him for it.

> From:    gabe <gabechu@GMAIL.COM>
> I mostly avoid dramas, but when it comes to
> tragedies, I'll move to a
> different state. Had I looked at it in that way (or
> had it been sold
> to me in that manner), I probably would've never
> even watched it.

I do think the marketing doesn't do enough to warn
prospective viewers...but how to do that without
giving away the story? Tough sell.

(Postscript: I should clarify that what I mean by "classic tragedy" isn't the tragedy of the Greeks, where fate is unchangeable, but something closer to Shakespeare, where character determines fate as much as outward forces do. Seita is undone by his inner flaws as much as by the war.)


4/17/06

Dirty pictures in a Disney film

Naked women in The Rescuers

The key question here, as pointed out, is why the video was pulled out. If they didn't bother with all those other films (The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin), why this one? To help with nonexistent sales?

Fatty shrimp in pasta

Quick pasta--some large shrimp, fatty head still attached, cleaned and deveined, thrown into a really hot pan with olive oil and a pat of butter, quick sear, then just as quick put aside, toss in the shrimp heads for a moment till they turn orange (for the flavor), take out and discard, then add chopped smoked oysters, mushrooms, minced garlic, a squeeze of lemon. Toss in pasta cooked a minute short, put back the shrimp, top with chopped Italian parsley, toss to mix, and serve.

The oysters gave the whole thing a nice smokiness, and the shrimp fat--thick and bright orange--adds a whole world of flavor and richness to the sauce...

4/13/06

Philippine horror films at monstersandcritics.com

My article on Philippine horror films at monstersandcritics.com:

It's Alive

(Apparently you need to be patient; it takes time to upload)

Excerpt:

Horror isn't a respected genre in the Philippines--actually, it gets little respect everywhere--but there's been good, maybe even great, work done in the country.

Gerardo de Leon started a trend with 'Terror is a Man' (1959), loosely based on H.G. Wells' 'The Island of Dr. Moreau,' but because of a small budget, Wells' monsters were reduced to one limping Leopard Man.

De Leon's atmospheric style made up for lack of monsters, however, and the film earned enough money that De Leon followed up with a series of so-called sequels, the 'Blood Island' movies: fun if carelessly made flicks full of nudity and gut-spattering gore.

De Leon also directed a pair of vampire films--'Kulay Dugo ang Gabi' (Blood is the Color of the Night, 1966), and 'Dugo ng Vampira' (Blood of the Vampires, 1971) which are worth seeing for the lovely visuals and seething subtext of incestuous passions.

4/12/06

Smart kid

From Bizarre Hatred of Random Celebrities:

Mrs. Brooks was having trouble with one of her students.

"Johnny, what's your problem?"

Johnny answered, "I'm too smart for first grade. My sister's in third grade and I'm smarter than she is! I think I should be in third grade too." Mrs. Brooks took Johnny to the principal's office.

The principal spoke to Johnny: "Now Johnny, if you're so smart, you should pass this test. What's 3 x 3?"

Johnny: "9."

Principal: "What's 6 x 6 ?"

Johnny: "36."

The principal looks at Mrs. Brooks and tells her, "I think Johnny can go to third grade."

Mrs. Brooks says "Let me ask some questions. What does a cow have four of that I have only 2 of?"

Johnny: "Legs."

Mrs. Brooks: "What do you have in your pants that I don't?"

Johnny: "Pockets."

Mrs. Brooks: "What starts with C, ends with T, is hairy, oval, delicious and contains a whitish liquid?"

Johnny: "Coconut."

Mrs. Brooks: "What goes in hard and pink and comes out soft and sticky?"

Johnny: "Bubblegum."

Mrs. Brooks: "What does a man do standing up, a woman sitting down and a dog on 3 legs?"

Johnny: "Shake hands."

Mrs. Brooks: "You stick your poles inside me. You tie me down to get me up. I get wet before you do. What am I?"

Johnny: "Tent."

Mrs. Brooks: "A finger goes inside me. You fiddle me when you're bored. The best man always has me first."

Johnny: "Wedding Ring."

Mrs. Brooks: "I have a stiff shaft. My tip penetrates. I come with a quiver."

Johnny; "Arrow."

Mrs. Brooks: "What word starts with F, ends in K and means a lot of heat and excitement?"

Johnny: "Firetruck."

The principal said to the teacher, "Send Johnny to the university. I got the last ten questions wrong, myself."

4/11/06

Peter Dragon in 'Action'

From The Forum with No Name:

Peter Dragon, testifying before a congressional panel on violence--

Senator Powell: Mr. Dragon, you have a young daughter, do you not?

Dragon: Let's not go there.

Senator Powell: Her name is Georgia. She's about 10 years old, I believe.

Dragon: Don't do this.

Senator Powell: Has little Georgia seen your film entitled "Ripcord"?

Dragon: She can't get in, Senator, it's rated 'R'.

Senator Powell: --which contains 357 acts of violence, 175 profanities and four scenes of lesbian sex? Is she proud of her daddy for that one? How can you look that sweet little girl in the eye?

Dragon:  I manage. I never voted to subsidize the growing of tobacco while turning my back on programs for starving kids. I've never vetoed a gun control bill--all my guns are fake, Senator. I've never rushed to the defense of Kuwaiti oil fields while ignoring genocide in Africa because the big oil companies that line your fat pockets aren't concerned with Africa. Those are all productions of your company, Senator. This company right here.

Powell: Now you're coming perilously close to being cited for contempt, Mr. Dragon.

Dragon: I'm already in contempt. I'm in contempt of all of you old whores and hypocrites. At least I'm giving the American people what they want.

Powell: And just exactly what is it that you think they want?

Dragon: I'll tell you exactly what they want, Senator. They want chase scenes and car crashes, they want firm breasts and tight-assed Latino men. They want their cowboys to be strong and silent, they want their cops to bend the rules to get the job done, they want the boy to get the girl, they want the alien to be killed--unless he's cute. They want the good guy to win, they want the bad guy to die, hopefully in the biggest explosion the budget will allow but most importantly, Senator, they want to walk into a theater and forget the fucking mess you have left of this nation.

4/10/06

Harold Ramis tears yahoos a new one

From an interview of Harold Ramis in The Believer:

BLVR: Rumor has it that you turned down the chance to direct Disney’s remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner because you felt they weren’t interested in really exploring racism.

HR: The way they wanted to do it didn’t have a lot to do with the colossal amount of pain and violence that swirls around racial injustice. It would’ve been like an episode of The Jeffersons. What’s the point? But who knows, maybe that’s as much as most people want. I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “When I go to the movies, I don’t want to think.”

BLVR: Does that offend you as a filmmaker?

HR: It offends me as a human being. Why wouldn’t you want to think? What does that mean? Why not just shoot yourself in the fucking head?

Robert Sheckley's 'Immortality, Inc.'

Was reading Robert Sheckley's Immortality, Inc, and it's brilliant metaphysical stuff, with enough ideas to have inspired half a dozen life-after-death films, plus plenty left over that no one's mined yet. And funny as hell, with an intriguing sense of morality. The plot twists and outrageous effects aren't there to amuse and provoke (though they do plenty of both); they're there to drive home an actual point, about the concept of karma and the idea of taking responsibility.

One thing not a lot of people mention is that Shecklye's prose can be quietly lyrical. His description of the Marquiesas is loving yet specific, not just the sights and sounds and scents but the very feel of the place; you get the idea you'd find the place familiar if you ever dropped by for a visit.

4/9/06

On nasty film reviews

From Salon's Laura Miller, reviewing Lopate's new anthology of film criticism:

Of course, for indiscriminate journalists — the sorts of writers who have filled the post of movie reviewer at a lot of American newspapers and some American magazines for decades — the preponderance of dull, average movies isn’t a problem. They can’t tell much difference between “Wedding Crashers” and “Failure to Launch” to begin with and are happy to be dazzled by the stars. But good reviewers, remember, must also be good writers, and good writers want subjects that fire them up. The kind of person who sees, say, “Ultraviolet,” then goes home, looks up a review online, marvels at the critic’s vitriol and fires off an e-mail saying, “Chill out, dude, it’s just a movie. It was fun,” is not someone whose opinions anyone wants to read at length, on a regular basis — or ever, really. (And, confidentially, if you are the kind of person who sends those e-mails: What gives? If you don’t think certain movies should be taken so seriously, why even bother to read the reviews?)

Italics mine. Grin

4/8/06

Richard Fleischer, dead at 89

Richard Fleischer, dead at 89

Son of Max Flesicher, he was a terrific craftsman. Maybe my favorite of his works was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (the best live-action Disney, as well, until Lynch's The Straight Story came along). I'd love to have seen his 3-hour cut of Mandigo, said to be a great film.

4/7/06

How much of a film snob are you?

TOTAL FILM SNOB
You scored 100% film snobbery. If you are not working for a film magazine or an academic film program, you should be. You are Hollywood's most harshest critic. You even gave "Lord of the Rings" a bad review. Oftentimes, your friends will look at you funny because of your obscure film tastes. You would even occasionally get into arguments over films, to the extent that people think you hate films. Your favorite hobbies are likely to incluide sipping lattes and bashing Spielberg. However, you have a tremendous love for film even though most people think you're a cinematic party pooper.


My test tracked 1 variable How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online dating free online dating You scored higher than 99% on variable 1

Link: The How Big of a Film Snob Are You Test written by klausweasley on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Some comments:

Simon has a tremendous filmography (L'Atalante, La Chienne, Boudou Saved From Drowning), but I love Mifune more.

Ditto Auteuil vs. Murray (no, I'm not a big fan of Jean de Florette and Manon of the Springs, and yes Auteuil is very good there).

Ditto Seberg vs. Bergman (far as I know, Seberg's only worthwile pic is A Bout de Souffle).

Huppert can be such a bitch; if I vote for her, that's because she's worked with plenty of great directors (Chabrol, Godard, Tavernier) and very good ones (Kurys,  Haneke, Ozon, Russell).

I love Lloyd (and so do my kids) but Keaton is God.

When mentioning regions, the time period is also crucial. Hence, France and Italy are unbeatable in the silent period, India is great during the '50s, etc....

Not a fan of Tati, but the rest of the choices are even less palatable.

Kafka's 'Metamorphosis' has been done many times.

Ivens died in 1989?!

Jack Cardiff (cinematographer of The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus) is still alive?!

4/6/06

Rent (Chris Columbus, 2005)

Rent (Chris Columbus, 2005)

 

An excerpt:

 

I like the theory that operas actually need their relatively melodramatic plots. It's the nature of the medium to heighten emotions, and nothing inspires (or tempts) a composer more than some extreme situation calling for the expression of intense feelings (you don't see many operas written about, for example, accountants doing an audit). It's not so much a flaw in operas, I think, as it is an element that helps them break through to a dramatic level few other art forms can touch. If Violetta in Verdi's "La Traviata" or Mimi in Puccini's "La Boheme" both have to die for their beloved after years of suffering and heartbreak, that's not some silly convention you have to endure again and again but a meticulously prepared and carefully timed moment allowing the composer to pour his heart out; and, far as I know, an outpouring from a Puccini or a Verdi is all the excuse you'll ever need to listen.

 

The problem of "Rent" onstage, I imagine (I haven't seen it onstage), is that it's Puccini's premise without the music (okay, Puccini took his scenario from Henri Murger's "Scénes de la Vie de Bohéme"). One thing (maybe the only thing) that justifies Jonathan Larson's modern-day Manhattan version (it's set in Alphabet City, a rough neighborhood that has recently seen a surge in upscale housing) is the introduction of AIDS. Talk about upping the ante from Puccini--not only is the heroine dying, but half the cast and a good number of bystanders as well (this was in 1996, years after Norman Rene and Craig Lucas' film "Longtime Companion," our own Laurice Guillen's "The Dolzura Cortez Story," and Tony Kushner's epic play "Angels in America" dealt with the subject in their own more thorough and more profound ways).

 

4/5/06

Castle of Cagliostro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1979)

Looked at Castle of Cagliostro again just tonight (it was a Christmas gift for the kids) and was struck at how many similiarities it had to Grimault's The King and the Bird--not just the castle, but the dungeon, the high-speed elevator, the airy towers, and even Cagliostro himself bears some resemblance to Grimault's designs.

The action scenes are terrific. There's an unfounded story that Spielberg admires the opening chase and if he didn't, he should; it's perfectly paced, inventive, with plenty of surprises and intricately choreographed bits of business.

And I might add, the water in this film is so beautifully clear and pure, it's almost a magical effect by itself. When Lupin swims in it he looks like he's floating; when water pours in a waterfall it shimmers like a glass column; when a face peers through a fountain it's like looking through a lens.

The image of such purity is ironic, what with the base and decadent corruption at the heart of the film, at the heart of Count Cagliostro--don't know if Miyazaki intended this, though.

Clarisse, on the other hand, matches that purity, down to her clear blue eyes and simple, straightforward manner. She's no run-of-the-mill damsel in distress; when Lupin's knocked unconscious, she tends to him with water gathered in a glove (she can be resourceful, in effect); when he's seriously hurt, she risks her life to save him. She earns Goemon and Jigen's respect and admiration in about ten seconds flat (literally), and she may have been Lupin's greatest peril, the one time when he comes closest to being captured (you can see that in the expression he desperately tries to hide from Clarisse).

One last thing--this 100 minute film was done in an unheard-of four months, and as a result, Miyazaki (according to IMDb, anyway) had to abandon his original ending for what he considers a less satisfactory one. Boggles the mind to think of what that ending might have been.

4/4/06

The Pink Panther (Shawn Levy, 2006)

Just saw The Pink Panther yesterday and as noted elswhere--well, practically everywhere, actually--it stinks worse than panther piss.

What's interesting, however, is just why it stinks. Blake Edwards Panther films were not the height of cinema art, or even comic cinema art, but they had some kind of integrity: pretentiously sophisticated middle-to-upper-class bourgeoise worlds through which Clouseau passed, wanting to but not belonging, leaving chaos in his wake. You saw that in The Pink Panther, which ideally is a lightly comic heist film; A Shot in the Dark, a clever whodunit; Return of the Pink Panther, a 'To Catch A Thief' remake; The Pink Panther Strikes Again a James Bond superadventure--all well-made genre films, the only difference setting them apart being this two-legged disaster walking through their midst.

I didn't get that in this remake; there isn't any polished surface hiding turmoil beneath, any seriousness trying (vainly) to hold back welling insanity. It's just a kiddie cartoon using big and expensive setpiece--no subtext, no levels, nothing. The comic sequences don't have Edwards' beautiful simplicity; the music accompanying the sequences doesn't (as in Edwards' films) float on its own weirdly unaffected plane, but simply mickeymouses the action. The director, Lawn Chevy or whoever he is, doesn't show (unlike Edwards) any particular gift for comedy, or action, or musical numbers; he doesn't even seem to have much of a reason for being behind the camera at all.

As for Martin--just what I suspected: he puts quotation marks on his performance. He's a smiling goofball playing at a clod. He's probably a better physical comedian than Peter Sellers, but what he doesn't have, it seems, is Seller's incredible focus. Peter Sellers didn't play Clouseau, he was Clouseau; he totally inhabited the character. He's so totally convinced of the importance of what he's doing, no matter how moronic it might be, that his very seriousness is funny.

Herbert Lom as Dreyfus, unlike Clouseau, gets the joke, but considers it horrifying (that's why he goes mad); Kline, who was amusing in A Fish Called Wanda, can't even summon the enthusiasm to ask what the joke is. Only Jean Reno is maybe within deadpan shouting distance of the spirit of the original, Bert Kwouk's Cato (and even then the slapstick is largely uninspired--surprising, considering both Reno and Martin are physically adept actors).

Martin smirks and lets us know he isn't fooled; well, the joke's on him. I pretty much sat through the whole thing not laughing (except when Jean Reno started dancing--his moves were so sinously game I had to chuckle once or twice).

Nerdy Chick: Took a bullet for us, eh Noel? You'll never get those two hours back, you know.

Needed to see this movie, actually; goes to show just how difficult to achieve and how underappreciated (critically speaking, I mean) Edwards' Panther films were, at least to my mind...

Incidentally, Martin has an outlandish scene where he tries to pronounce 'hamburger.' Feh. Can't compare to Seller's fractured French:

"They attacked me with a beum."

"A what?"

"What?"

"You said 'beum.'"

"Yes, the exploding kind."

Mancini's theme music is used, but you miss his incidental music; where Mancini was sexy and sophisticated (again that word), Christophe Beck's sophomoric.

Might also add that the animation (by Bob Kurtz, whoever he is--he wrote some of Fritz Freleng's Panther shorts, apparently) is smoother and more opulent and for some reason a helluva lot duller than Richard Williams' (has the same problem re: the pratfalls--Williams' are so much better than Kurtz's). There are no cartoons at the end titles--maybe the filmmakers were aware they shouldn't bother.

The movie's all the more redundant when you realize that Seller's schtick has already been remade, and successfuly (tho to a lesser degree, I think), in Leslie Nielsen's Lt. Frank Drebin movies.

To be fair, Emily Mortimer's nice to look at; actually I thought she was a helluva lot sexier than Scarlett Johanssen in Match Point.

The Voice notes that between this picture and The Trail of the Pink Panther (which was constructed from outtakes), the only real difference is that the star in this Panther is alive.

And--ooh--Roger 'I whore for a dollar' Ebert hates it. That's really scraping bottom.

4/3/06

Revenge of the Pink Panther (Blake Edwards, 1978)

From The Forum With No Name:

I thought Revenge of the Pink Panther started out strong, with Edwards playing off the idea that Clouseau is world-famous.

The first Balls scene ('The Great Balls,' it turns out, is the man who provides Clouseau with his grotesque disguises) isn't very funny until the explosive shows up (and for that you have to find round black bombs with sparking fuses funny), but the scene where Clouseau, immediately after the explosion, reports to his superior, is given a letter, and promptly sets the letter on fire with his smouldering clothes is so superbly underplayed you can miss it entirely if you were paying attention to what they were saying (which we were). In which case, we were staring at this dull scene where two men were talking endlessly and before we knew it, the entire office was in flames.

The Chinese brothel scene I liked ("you two" Clouseau says, pointing at a prostitute's bosom, "should be ashamed of yourselves!"). I thought the idea of having the brothel's customers say they are "Inspector Clouseau" was particularly inspired--as if Cato, mourning his master, was paying him some kind of kinky tribute (and making serious dollars on the side). Dyan Cannon blowing up at Robert Webber I liked--she's a wonderful spitfire, and he's the perfect hapless stooge to receive the brunt of her fury.

Maybe the best single scene in the whole picture involves ex-Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom at his most demented) trying his utmost best not to crack up while he delivers Clouseau's eulogy. "He was a great man," Lom says, eyelid fluttering, lips twisting into a grimace, and the audience sobs, thinking he is overcome with grief.

Then...it kind of peters out. Sellers wasn't at the best of health by this time, and you can see where Edwards inserts stunt men to do the pratfalls, which takes away from the unity and fluidity of the shots. It's a long drought until the moment when Clouseau in Hong Kong, running for his life, yells at Dreyfus, who is shooting at him with a pistol: "it's me!" to which Dreyfus replies "I know!" Knowing this would be the last of the Sellers Panther films and knowing that the line is funny because of everything we know about both characters makes the moment as moving as it is funny.

Better than I expected (I remember feeling this was a letdown after The Pink Panther Strikes Again), but still the weakest of the three sequels, I thought.

Chris H: Herbert Lom is far underrated, especially in the Pink Panther films. When I first saw them as a kid, one of the things that made me laugh hardest was when Dreyfuss blows off the tip of his nose with a gun that he thinks is a lighter. The ironic thing about his character is that he may not get top billing, but despite turning into a crazed maniac, he's much easier for the audiences to identify with than Clouseau; we *know* why he wants to kill Clouseau, and suspect we'd do the same thing if we were in his shoes.

I suppose Lom represents our reasonable, humane, intelligently civilized selves, and how we would end up thinking and feeling if we ever met someone like Clouseau for any length of time.

Sometimes I think Clouseau's everywhere; sometimes I just think he's sitting in The White House.