Thursday, August 31, 2023

Once Upon a Time in China Parts 1, 2, 3 (Tsui Hark, 1991, 1992, 1993)

A Chinese feast

(Warning: story discussed in explicit detail)

Cantonese folk hero Wong Fei-hung has no real equivalent in other cultures -- what if Abraham Lincoln could kick so high hard fast his leg would leave no shadow? What if Jose Rizal was not just an accomplished healer and martial arts master (he's both, plus naturalist, sculptor, poet, and popular novelist) but bald as an ostrich egg? What if writer-producer-director Tsui Hark retold Wong's long-popular exploits in epic form, arguably one of the high points if not the high point of Hong Kong cinema's golden age?

Friday, August 25, 2023

Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995)

Toyed are us

Toy Story is a warm, witty, precisely paced entertainment. It has all your favorite toys, featured in one movie. It has the voice of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, two proven actors with a pair of Oscars and several hundred million in boxoffice between them. It has wall-to-wall state-of-the-art computer graphic effects designed to pop your eyes out if you’re not careful. It has the multimedia might of the Walt Disney conglomerate behind it for heavy marketing muscle. It’s going to be the biggest hit of the year. 

Monday, August 14, 2023

Meg 2: The Trench (Ben Wheatley

Jaw'd, too

Some folks may find it hard to believe (having trouble myself) but The Meg and its present sequel Meg 2: The Trench are adapted from a pair of science-fiction novels by Steve Altern, with a possible six more books if this installment makes money (indications suggesting it will). Adapted by three writers no less, which raises the question: can you even tell?

Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim, 1925)

The last waltz

Funny, if you compare the original operetta of The Merry Widow to Lubitsch' version with Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier you'll find a sophisticated romantic comedy involving a rich widow and the officer from a small country ordered to woo her.

I remember that Lubitsch version and loved it for the effervescent humor, the witticisms flipped at you like little crepes; at the same time it was a lavish production-- the ballroom scene alone had hundreds of extras and a thousand gaslights, and MacDonald wore a dozen gowns. Lubitsch, apparently, could direct a big production and still keep his signature airy tone.

Erich Von Stroheim's The Merry Widow you'd hardly recognize as the same creature except for the famous waltz that plays a prominent role in the plot. He delves into the widow's backstory, building up a failed romance between the widow (Mae Murray)-- who starts out as Sally O'Hara, dancer for the traveling show The Manhattan Follies-- and Prince Danilo (John Gilbert); against them he pits Crown Prince Mirko (Roy D'Arcy), a repulsive example of royal inbreeding, all smirks and leers and hypocritical fastidiousness (he loathes flies, but laughs in agreement when Danilo calls him a swine).

Monday, August 07, 2023

Bug (William Friedkin, 2006)

The Itchy and Scratchy Show

Bug is a small, relatively unheralded release costing four million dollars-- gargantuan by Philippine standards (most medium-sized productions run about half a million or so), but practically peanuts by Hollywood's, where 'small' films run from twenty to forty million. It's also the single best thing William Friedkin's ever done.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

The Greatest Food Films Ever

Lust for life

(An incomplete essay)

Hard to make a case for films about food before the late '80s. There wasn't much of a movement to help stimulate craving other than the occasional cooking show on American public television (Food Network was only a glimmer of an idea in the horizon), and the handful that actually dealt with the subject weren't all appetizing.