Friday, October 02, 2015

Ricki and the Flash (Jonathan Demme, 2015

Flash in a pan

Not a big fan of dramatic Meryl Streep--all that technical perfection, the precision, the rather chilly Nordic beauty serving up some of the most passionate dramas in recent Hollywood (Sophie's Choice, The French Lieutenant's Woman) left me, well, cold. 

Liked Streep best in Fred Schepisi's A Cry in the Dark where her character--a Seventh Day Adventist--alienated not just the audience but almost everyone in Australian society. Streep in a severe Joan of Arc 'do cast impassive eyes over the courtroom audience--slightly more irritated eyes at the television camera--and the disapproving response is almost palpable (The public seems to be punishing her less for killing her child than for refusing to give them the heartrending family melodrama they crave). You're disturbed by the indictment of media and public opinion; you're--yes--moved by the sight of this emotionally stunted woman struggling to hold on to her sense of self when everyone else clearly wanted her to let go.

Strangely enough her flaws--the perfection, the precision, the chill beauty--become virtues in her comedies. In She Devil she's the bright point in an otherwise dull film; in Postcards from the Edge she's funny and sings, an irresistible combination (she has a fine voice, and early in her life took opera lessons from vocal coach Estelle Liebling). In Death Becomes Her she's Hollywood star Madeline Ashton, who avoids being upstaged in the midst of Robert Zemeckis'  metaphysical dark comedy about mortality by being larger-than-life, by unleashing emotions and insecurities and punchlines on the same demented scale as the digital buffoonery ("wrinkle wrinkle little star, hope they never see the scars")


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Scanners / Videodrome (David Cronenberg)

Exploding head syndrome

David Cronenberg's Scanners (1981) begins where Brian De Palma's hallucinatory The Fury ends--with the image of a man's head exploding in slow motion

The film goes on to sketch a world of renegade paranormals and shadowy secret organizations worthy of Philip K. Dick ("Scanning isn't the reading of minds but the merging of two nervous systems, separated by space." The mix of provocative metaphysical ideas with pulp SF terminology is purest Dick). The plot is complicated--Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is sent by CONSEC psychopharmacist Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) to infiltrate an underground society of scanners and eliminate its head, Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside)--but really just a framework on which Cronenberg hangs his paranoid and increasingly bizarre view of reality. 


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki)

The greatest Disney film ever released

Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no tani no Naushika, 1984) was based on his thousand-page manga, first published in Animage magazine from 1982 to 1996. He'd been asked by Animage's publishing company Tokuma Shonen to do a feature anime project and offered two proposals, both of which Tokuma rejected: neither was from a successful manga with an existing audience, a prerequisite for raising the big money needed. Miyazaki agreed to draw a manga instead, under the condition that it not be made into a film (he reportedly felt he wanted to express things in the manga that he couldn't onscreen).


Friday, September 25, 2015

The Brood (David Cronenberg)

The children are 

Interesting to chart the course of David Cronenberg's career as if it were a pathology, the coursing progress of a disease through the body--from early infection (disease invades and incubates inside body) to prodormal (initial signs something's wrong) to full manifestation (symptoms run rampant) to response (body attempts to subdue the disease) to recovery/reintegration.

Wouldn't call The Brood (out in Blu Ray October 13) an early work--Cronenberg seems already aware of infection (Shivers, Rabid)--but with this feature you might say he's past prodormal stage, and the symptoms have become fully apparent. Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar) is being treated at the Somafree Institute, under care of Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed). The institute encourages the manifestation of one's repressed anger as a means of therapy; meantime Nola's husband Frank (Art Hindle) has to deal with the mysterious killings that follow their daughter Candy (Cindy Hinds). 


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Clouds of Sils Maria

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) is remarkably nebulous and unstable yet intense. There is a plot, but the plot--aging actress asked to perform in play that made her famous, only in a different role--matters less than the intricately staged and written scenes between said actress and her young assistant, at times rehearsing the play, at times acting out their fascinatingly knotty relationship.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)

On the occasion of my Inside Out non-love, my thoughts on an alternative far superior tale, of a girl uprooted and forcibly transferred to another town:

Little girl lost

(WARNING: Story and plot twists discussed in close detail)

Hayao Miyazaki's Sento Chihiro no kamikakushi (Spirited Away, 2001), about a girl named Chihiro whose parents have been turned into pigs, has been called everything from an anime variation on Charles Dodgson's Alice books to a fantasy treatise on parent-child relations in modern Japan to (as Miyazaki himself put it) a parable on developing maturity in ten-year-old girls.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)


Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker starts from an image of almost total stasis, where the camera moves past a pair of double doors to find the Stalker (a self-appointed guide into the alien-created forbidden Zone) in bed, with his wife beside him. Cut to a high angle shot of a bedstand: a water glass trembles, starts to slide; the camera glides sideways, finds the wife gazing at the bedstand, the daughter fast asleep, the Stalker trying to gauge his wife's wakefulness; glides back (past gazing wife) to the water glass in original position, as if it had never moved

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