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