Thursday, December 24, 2015

Confidential Report (a.k.a. Mr. Arkadin, Orson Welles, 1955)



(Especially for the season, an old post on one of my favorite--and easily the strangest--of all Xmas films)

The mysterious Mr. Arkadin

(Revised; warning, story discussed in close detail)

Wow--do I really want to do this? Dip my toe into the murky history of Welles' Mr. Arkadin (1955), the film famously taken from his control, re-edited, eventually released in seven different versions? A picture every bit as baroque in the viewing as it is in its making? I say seven versions, but there are suggestions that "an infinite number of Mr. Arkadins" is possible, so--


Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

(Warning: plot twists and story discussed in detail)  

The Forced Turducken

Ingredients:


One (1) putrefying carcass of once-popular movie franchise.

One (1) fanatic fan base composed of millions of acolytes (cerebral cortex removed).

One (1) director fast becoming better-known for rebooting tired old series than original projects.

One (1) evil empire bent on dominating the minds of youths all over the world. 


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2015)

Technically a knockout

Never been a big fan of the Rocky movies. Stallone's career-making sports drama--the little picture that did good, that wore its heart moistly on its sleeve, that strained for likable to the point of unbelievable (a loan collector with a heart of gold?)--is just too, I don't know, comfortable with the notion that an inarticulate schlub's dreams can come true (last time I bought that canard it came with a singing cricket). Mind you I like boxing movies: liked how Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull unfolded its premise (boxer enters the ring to punish himself for real and imagined sins), liked how Robert Rossen's Body and Soul (with script by Abraham Polonsky) threw a melodramatic light on the whole corrupt system of the sport, the equally inarticulate schlub in that film finally digging in his heels and proposing himself as existential hero ("Everybody dies!"). I like the way some of the more thoughtful films attempt to pry open the sport's darker danker corners; Rocky and its sequels alas don't do corrupt systems: "really don't matter if I lose this fight...cause all I wanna do is go the distance..." Battered spud wedges deep-fried and drowned in cheese, please, hold the hot sauce.  


Friday, December 11, 2015

Twin Peaks (David Lynch and Mark Frost, creators)



That gum you like 

David Lynch and Mark Frost's murder mystery/spiritual horrorshow/police procedural/goofball soap opera Twin Peaks debuted on ABC Network April 8, 1990 and television hasn't been quite the same.  


Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Kakabakaba Ka Ba? (Does Your Heart Beat Faster? Mike de Leon, 1980)

On the occasion of its restoration and screening, an old blog post slightly tweaked.

Come on get happy

Filipinos love to dance; even convicted Filipinos love to dance, and dance well--you only have to see the occasional
video clip CNN plays, of orange-clad convicts from the Cebu Detention and Rehabilitation Center dancing to pop tunes (the choreographer is an accused mass murderer) but strangely enough there aren't a lot of noted Filipino films that feature dance, or at least notable filmmakers making musicals that include dance.

There are early musicals, like Carlos Vander Tolosa's Giliw Ko (1939); problem is the surviving print is in wretched condition (even after restoration by The Philippine Information Agency and the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra), and what little song and dance I do see in it is, well, of interest, but not quite inspiring. Comedy team Tito, Vic and Joey have done dance numbers; so has comedian Dolphy, among many others. Lino Brocka did Stardoom (1971), a showbiz melodrama full of singing (only the melodrama--a Jacobean struggle between two brothers (Mario O'Hara and Dante Rivero) is more interesting than the music); O'Hara's own Kastilyong Buhangin (Sand Castle, 1980) features singing (you can sense that O'Hara actually gets into his song numbers--gives them genuine emotional heft), and fight sequence so gracefully done I'd argue they are dance numbers (and for a while was tempted to write about them as such).

But an honest to goodness dance number, in an honest to goodness musical, one that I actually like? None off the top of my head, except, of all people, from the forbidding dark genius of Philippine cinema, Mike de Leon. The filmmaker responsible for such grim masterpieces as Itim (Rites of May, 1975), Batch '81 (1982) and Kisapmata (Blink of an Eye, 1981) directed Kakabakaba Ka Ba? (1981), a bizarre caper comedy involving Yakuza gangsters smuggling an audiocassette tape full of opium into the city of Manila and eventually to the northern city of Baguio, for processing and eventual distribution throughout the Philippines.


Friday, December 04, 2015

The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime pilot, directed by David Semel, Daniel Percival, written by Frank Spotnitz)


Bless my homeland forever

Frank Spotnitz's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's classic alternate-history dystopia The Man in the High Castle is alternately ballsy and flawed, but does get this much right: it opens with Jeanette Olsson's tender rendition of "Edelweiss," the song's thick longing turned sour by off-kilter music, the recording apparently defective as it skips forward a few times. This is nostalgia curdling gradually into nightmare: we see images of American monuments, maps of the country, flags, war footage. Eventually (like a creeping pestilence) we see swastikas here, there--hints of the state of the world as it exists in the series.

"Edelweiss" of course was written by Oscar Hammerstein with music by Richard Rogers for the 1959 musical The Sound of Music. It's about as Austrian as french fries are French.  


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Good Dinosaur (Peter Sohn)

A boy and his 'saur

Pixar's The Good Dinosaur is arguably the studio's problem child--in 2009 announced for production, in 2013 director and producer replaced, in June 2015 nearly the entire cast replaced. The movie was released to fairly little fanfare, a few months after Pixar's major production had already been launched and declared a favorite by audience and critics alike (but not by me, alas). 

The picture opens with a joke: an elaborate sequence involving a giant rock being nudged like a billiard ball out of its (unrealistically crowded) asteroid belt, hurtling towards the Earth, flaring up from the heat of atmospheric passage--and whizzing past the planet by a few thousand miles. The sauropods look up and around, curious at what they might have missed.