Friday, February 24, 2017

Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)


The medium, the message

Denis Villeneuve's Arrival is an oddity of a major Hollywood production: a science fiction film boasting the latest special effects where the effects are at best incidental, a pooling together of men and material resources intent on promoting spiritual (immaterial?) and temporal transcendence to its audience.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie (Chris McKay)

Iron Man sucks!

The first twenty minutes of the movie are best (What is it about recent pictures that the first twenty minutes are always best? Have they forgotten to teach the importance of the next eighty at scriptwriting class?): Batman leads a spectacular public life, soaking in wave after wave of adulation with a celebrity's limitless confidence. The joke about his private life--in his vast Batcave located deep within Wayne Island, surrounded by miles of tunnels and tons of memorabilia and armadas of military-style weaponry--is that he doesn't have one; he's basically kidding himself saying everything is awesome when he (and we watching him) know otherwise (In short: life as someone like Trump would have it vs. life as it really is)


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tokyo nagaremono (Tokyo Drifter, 1966) - in memory of Seijun Suzuki 1923 - 2017


You'll shoot your eye out
  
In memory of Seijun Suzuki, 1923 - 2017

Seijun Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter's like a bottle of Hennessy smashed across your face; even through the waves of pain and blood--and even more pain from the liquor seeping into the cuts--you appreciate the taste of fine cognac.

Suzuki doesn't even pretend to be trying for coherence--he goes for the most bizarre effects amongst the most baroque settings (he says that unlike Ozu--whose realism and the feeling of the commonplace is key--he needs to wow his actors with his sets, cue them to what he expects from them in terms of performance). He doesn't try for realism, either--in the eye-popping train-track shootout, it's clear that the hero Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari, a pretty boy whose sense of entitlement on the big screen is for once utterly justified) is walking in front of a rear projection. It's not the rear projection you're supposed to look at--or rather you're supposed to look at it, snort in derision, then be blown away by the utter cool of the hero's walk.




But it's not just attitude and art direction--there's a core of real feeling in this picture. When Tetsu has to say goodbye to his boss and wants to cook for him but the man turns him down, the moment is unaccountably moving--you can see that they love each other as father and son. When Tetsu is helped by a man who betrayed his superior, Tetsu can't help being grateful and annoyed at the same time--he knows the man is good but can't stand what he considers ingrates, purely on principle; loyalty is a prime value for him, perhaps the only value. For all the bizarre elements in the picture the psychology of the film is actually quite coherent, and impressively complex.

The finale--Jesus, what wasn't influenced by it? Casino Royale (The Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest, Richard Talmadge-directed romp, not the Martin Campbell snoozefest) if it didn't actually steal the look and humor, followed on its well-trampled path; I'd say the Austin Powers movies as well, only Suzuki's has the stronger colors sharper wit. Think Tim Burton with more attitude, David Lynch on speed, Patrick McGoohan incarcerated on an island operated by Magritte and Bunuel in fiendish collaboration. This is terrific stuff. 


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Split (M. Night Shyamalan, 2016)

Divided

M. Night Shyamalan's Split as of this writing has taken in some $115 million in the United States and $172 million worldwide, all the sweeter considering the minuscule $9 million production budget involved (mostly self-financed), the years of commercial failure and critical abuse the filmmaker suffered.

So Shyamalan's back in a big way, and the question on all our minds is this: what have we bought into/welcomed back/re-created this time, exactly?

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Paul WS Anderson)

Lost in a Roman wilderness
 
Paul WS Anderson's Resident Evil: The Final Chapter begins on a suitably ominous note: Alice (Milla Jovovich) climbing out of a steaming underground exit, looking around, being chased by a vast winged monster while driving a recalcitrant humvee. Welcome, Alice (the name's hardly coincidental), out of the rabbit hole back not into reality but Wonderland. Things are a little different nowadays.

It's been fifteen years and six films so far, with a combined boxoffice of close to a billion dollars, arguably the most commercially successful video-game film adaptation ever. And the rare popular film franchise I might add that features a kickass female in the lead (with an ethnic-and-gender-diverse set of allies, while the villains are mostly privileged white males).


Thursday, February 02, 2017

Sundalong Kanin (Rice Soldiers, Janice O'Hara: 1980 - 2016)



(Belated tribute to Janice O'Hara, 1980 - 2016)

War games

To say Janice O'Hara's Sundalong Kanin (Rice Soldiers, 2014) is clumsy isn't I think a false or fatal flaw--it is clumsy. But it's also by story's end an engaging, suspenseful, even powerful film, fitting successor you might say to her late uncle Mario O'Hara's wartime classic Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God), which dealt in its own way with the moral ambiguities of war. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)



Papa don't preach

Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann on paper sounds like that most tiresome of tales: a free spirit goosing up a prig's life, teaching her how to relax, be in the moment, grow a sense of humor. Basically the plot of half of Robin Williams' movies (though for the record the films by Michael Richie, Terry Gilliam and Robert Altman I liked), Steve Martin's (though his collaborations with Herbert Ross, Fred Schepsi, and Carl Reiner I liked), John Candy's, a host of other Hollywood comedians.  

Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) teaches grade school music and is an incorrigible somewhat disturbing prankster--early on for example he makes his face up as a ghoul to pay tribute to a departing teacher; later at a lunch with family (and still wearing the makeup) he informs them that he has a side job at a retirement home--50 euros per death. His daughter Ines (Sandra Huller) is an ambitious up-and-comer in an international consulting firm, constantly on the cell phone, constantly traveling to other countries. The two aren't close: Winfried and his wife divorced and Ines grew up with her mother. Winfried only finds out at the lunch that Ines is celebrating her birthday early and has no gift for her; Ines in turn is palpably uneasy talking to him. When Ines flies to Bucharest for an important meet Winfried suddenly pops up at her office lobby to deliver his promised birthday gift, announcing that he's staying a month; Ines scrambles to close the deal and accommodate her dad at the same time.

If Ade largely avoids the pitfalls of the genre that's no small achievement. Peter Rainer at The Christian Science Monitor wonders at the oddity of a German comedy and wonders further if perhaps this is why most critics are rapturous about the picture; I think it's a tad more interesting than that. Simonischek, a hulking bristly man, doesn't play Winfried the way an accomplished comedian would; his schtick is more awkward than polished, his hunched massive frame half-ready to apologize for whatever absurdity he's about to commit, and he often gives up or admits it's a joke part of the way through; folks react with a blank face, unsure what to say, then give a polite nervous chuckle. It's like Open Mike night at the local comedy club: someone steps up halfway sure he's going to bomb, and you can't help but clap in embarrassed sympathy.