September 15, 2005

Notes from the Trenches

Just a couple of screenings this week, one of them the Miramax/Louisiana-based bayou thriller Venom that was a late blip on the radar and, consequently, scheduled at a conflict. Guess I’ll have to catch it at the dollar theater in a couple of weeks. With most of the local major daily crix in Toronto, there’s just not much scheduled for the rest of us and so I made some progress for the first time in months on my DVD backlog for the site as well as coming to terms with screeners of stuff like Darwin’s Nightmare, The Tunnel, Cronicas, 9 Songs and Kings and Queen with which I’ve been steadfastly avoiding eye-contact. There are something like a dozen films opening this weekend though, and with Bill busy at TIFF (and him not the only one, of course), I’m thinking there’s some kind of method to the timing of this release-glut.

Biggest disappointment of the week is
Lord of War - a film that I was really, really looking forward to; while the worst film of the week (not having seen Venom, remember) is Just Like Heaven. I interviewed Mark "Daniel's brother" Waters once upon a time and even asked him about his insensitivity towards Asians – wish now that I’d pressed him when this film marks the third consecutive time that he’s taken a potshot at the poor ol’ slants. Best film of the week? Corpse Bride. It’s marvelous. Speaking of Andrew Niccol, the special version of The Truman Show isn’t really worth it – but the film itself is worth a revisit. I’d argue that it’s more topical now than it was seven years ago: check out the travel agency scene.

Of the ongoing journal of the inevitable rudeness at the public screenings: Corpse Bride, Just Like Heaven
- only a cell phone answerer in the former, a woman who answered it not once, but twice, and repeatedly checked messages throughout the film. Her section got agitated, but no one said anything. Wouldn't have made a difference. A local critic sitting next to me used his flashlight a couple of times but as that’s the recommended way that one Christian yahoo is advising folks to see March of the Penguins (with a downloadable checklist, pen, and flashlight so as to mark off what God says to them and how during the film), I guess it’s something we should just hold our ankles for as Chronicles of Narnia slouches its way towards Bethlehem, carrying in its noisome wake busloads of folks who rented The Omega Code on VHS. Before the Corpse Bride screening, however, was my first look at the long-version of the trailer for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

It looks astonishing and, along with Peter Jackson’s King Kong, becomes the two films my viscera most wants to see this fall. Child of the Blockbuster - I'm helpless. The only real irritation during the Just Like Heaven screening were the weepers and the applauders, giving this appalling shipwreck the gold seal of middlebrow approval that means that Reese Witherspoon continues getting stuff that’s beneath her and Mark Ruffalo continues getting shoehorned into generic hunk roles when, let’s face it, he’s got just the right testosterone-injected skeeze to be something special.

Only one speaking engagement, a screening of the restored version of the 1942 re-mix of Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925) – a film that was cut by twenty minutes by Chaplin, narrated and scored (by Chaplin) to, in part, retain its copyright, and then restored to 72min for a late-70s re-release.

The 1925 original is better, goes without saying, not the least because of the original ending which saw the little Tramp kissing Georgia as a photog complains that they’ve “ruined the picture.” Self-awareness in the Gilded Age, the Roaring Twenties never got so melancholy, seriously, as it did in this flick’s “Auld Lang Syne” setpiece and its coded epilogue. The new version ends on the happy couple climbing some stairs – a happy ending that the piece doesn’t deserve to be saddled with into eternity. Alas, I don’t make these decisions for this series (at the Denver Public Library) and the audience had a great time regardless - brings up the question of director's cut pics, though, now and always.

The real tragedy is that this series is programmed directly opposite my friend Tom Delapa’s Alfred Hitchcock series for the Denver Art Museum. The screening of The Lady Vanishes, a turn-away crowd – but because my show was over early, I made it in time for the last ten minutes of the film (a ravishing 35mm print) and for all of the post-film discussion.

It’s a rare thing for a town like Denver to have that kind of choice on the same night: The Gold Rush or The Lady Vanishes, both with “professional” moderation and guided discussions (Tom’s a pro, I’m still paying for my own health insurance). It’s not much, especially in comparison to the cinemateque wonderlands of New York and Los Angeles, but it’s a start, goddamnit.

Next week, Sullivan’s Travels vs. The 39 Steps. Hate to say it, but even if I wasn’t doing the yakking, I’d choose Sturges over Hitch on this one. (Just finished re-reading Manny Farber’s piece on Sturges by way of research, by the by, and, holy crap. Sometimes Farber is just cross-eyed badger spit, but the man had a mystique about his writing that’s close to ecstatic.) Have to say that I feel a little rejuvenated after Corpse Bride - a film that for whatever else you might think of it, is alive in a way that most films aren’t anymore. It breathes, man, like it’s made of nerve-endings and synapses, and it couldn’t have come soon enough.


Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Never been a big Tim Burton fan, but like a misunderstood outsiders, did love Scissor hands. I think he falls in the same category as Terry Gilliam as a visual auteur who doesn't know hwo to tell a story. However I'm waiting for both corpse bride because of johnny. tideland looked very very interesting in it's trailer. did anyone see that ?

Anonymous said...

Not yet. But after "Brothers Grimm," I hope it's good. Glad to hear about "Corpse Bride." I wasn't sure when I saw the trailer, but the word of mouth all around so far has been positive. Very sorry to hear about "Lord of War." Aside from Charlie Kaufman, I find Nichol to be the most fascinating and interesting philosophical screenwriter working right now. I still plan on checking it out, but Walter's review has definitely made me weary.

Alex Jackson said...

Ed Wood and Batman, Ed Wood and Batman. Ed Wood is the best film I have ever seen about filmmaking. I love that line: "Worst movie you've ever seen, well my next one will be better!"

And holy shit, I'll just blabber like a goon on Burton's Batman. J. Hoberman called it our equivalent to Wagner's Ring series. Totally inhuman, completely stylized and heightened into the mythological. Check out my Batman Begins review on my home site.

I'm not a fan of The Truman Show. I think that it's the rare film whose cleverness cancels itself out. The show around Truman exploits everything. Everything. Truman's curiosity as to the greater world outside of his town doesn't feel primal or human, but calculated so that the Christoff character can gain higher ratings.

But I am a fan of Niccol, a very talented visual filmmaker who is a total square. I know that people complained about Simone that it wasn't very cutting satire and of course they're right. But yeah, it was sort of endearing to see Niccol try. He's far removed from this world, it's like he was raised on an island and given a classical education in Plato and Aristotle before going to Hollywood to make "contemporary" movies about reality TV, genetic engineering, and spoiled movie starlets.

Lord of War looks like it falls out of his area of comfort. Which may be why he elected to make it I guess.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I haven't seen ed wood. i want to, just nevcer get around to it. batman i'm not that big a fan of, i did love batman begins though. tim burton one's just felt so cheesy. the darkness in them felt constructed and the hwole thing felt really theatrical.

The Captain said...

Also on the claymation front, just saw Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Wererabbit down here in Aus and it was extremely enjoyable; not sure what the exposure to previous W&G adventures have been like in the US, but it's certainly a worthy entry to the series. Most of the shortcomings (including a rushed ending) are overcome by the humour, pacing and cleverness of the whole thing; batches of homage and sly horror references work their way into the fun too, and the film is entirely inoffensive whilst not insulting the intelligence.

Looking forward to that Corpse Bride; been a while since I've been truly impressed by anything Burton has done.

Dave Gibson said...

I added a “Corpse Bride” wallpaper to my desktop over a month ago, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating this film ever since. After some initial worry that the September release date implied that something was horribly wrong; I’m completely stoked. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was fitfully amusing but completely missed the macabre humour and dark morals of original book; a quality that even Chris Columbus (!) got partly right in the first couple of Harry Potter movies—the factory sequences reminded me (unfortunately) of “Hook”—accomplished actors stumbling around a well-appointed soundstage. Burton does his best work when it’s a “Tim Burton” film as opposed to “Hey—this is wacky shit, let’s give it to Tim Burton” film. Ed Wood” is one of the best American films of the last twenty years (the last scene, with Ed, Kathy and the water logged car --“(The rain) will probably stop before we get around the corner” tears me up as predictably as Stiller’s “I’ve had a tough year, Pop” line in “Tenenbaums”)—and, if “Corpse Bride” even approaches it—I’ll be happy.

Walter, I’m pleased to hear that your film series are going so well. Some of my fondest moments watching films were had in the basement of my hometown library. Harold Lloyd and Chaplin on 16mm—these kids today don’t know what they’re missing. I will never forget (nor will my mom) the apocryphal moment when a misguided programmer screened the silents “Nosferatu” and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” as part of “Kiddie Halloween” night (I think the Charlie Brown dealie was also on the bill). Screams, tears, anguish---a thing like that could screw a kid up for life; I loved it.

Walter_Chaw said...

Agreed re: Burton being underwhelming lately. Ed Wood's smashing, of course, heard that Depp modeled his performance in part after a ventriloquist's dummy which, to me, is the perfect explanation for why he works so well with Burton. Something "marionette theater" about the guy's stuff. His better stuff, anyway. But I think Charlie & the Choc Fac went seriously astray midway.

Big fan of W&G and Aardman in general. Takes balls to pull the plug on a stop-motion pic mid-stream because you're unhappy with the script (as they did with the project that was supposed to, initially, follow-up Chicken Run) - if only a few other big-budget boondoggles had that sense of self-shenanigans.

Playing the devil's advocate: I wonder if that sort of grand, hermetic circus charge makes the point rather than defeats it? I'm not a fan of TB's Batman, either, but only in the sense that I have trouble with most of TB in hindsight. His stuff seems to have a very specific - and rigid - sell-by date.

I see Hoberman's (and your) point about Batman - applies more to Batman Returns, though, no? Script by Daniel Waters, no less. It's no Heathers, but it's mean as hell and I gotta give it its due as a visual, visceral experience. Thing about Wagner is that his genius, I think, was limited to one great movement per opera that he subsequently beats the holy hell out of for three hours. If JH is speaking in terms of impact on society - well - maybe so. The modern comic book genre certainly got a kick in the funbag with TB's first Batman. I remember it was a revelation when I saw it in the theaters - at the tender age of sixteen, I don't know that I'd ever seen anything like it.

But what do you think of Warren Beatty's prosthetic nightmare: Dick Tracy? Rumor that he's working on a sequel. There's something I'd pay to see. The idea of a mortification of the self (and this loops back around to another thread where we talk about "ugly" leading men in the '70s) - of how some beautiful actors made it a project to be ugly literally (Beatty) or figuratively (Paul Newman) in their hallmark pieces.

Tom Cruise, for all his notorious faults as an actor and a human being, has a pretty fascinating track record of, once he was a superstar, mortifying his looks (losing his eyes, burning half his face, needing a haircut, etc) in his films. Feels to me like more than a retard-gimmick for easy cred in Cruise's case. I think Costner's late career would've been received much differently had he started taking roles as hideously-deformed quasimodos.

Haven't seen the trailer for Tideland, but, man, it's gotta be better than Brothers Grimm. Except for maybe Jabberwocky, I can't remember a Gilliam film I haven't liked a lot at least for long stretches (I still think The Fisher King needed to end with Williams in a coma - if you point to any hint that TG had something as compromised as Grimm in him, that dangerous cave to popular taste is it).

Walter_Chaw said...

HA - holy shit - Nosferatu and Caligari on kiddie night. Such is the stuff of legend.

Bears mentioning that just your mention of the Ben Stiller line from Tenenbaums makes me weepy. Haven't watched the film since my father passed away a couple of years ago - been afraid to. Slew me when he was alive, can't imagine what it'd do to me now.

Thanks, too, for mentioning Chris Columbus' (!) getting a few things right in the first two Potter flicks. Starting to think I was eating-bugs, making-race-cars-out-of-my-poop, tearing-wallpaper nuts for liking the second one as much as I did.

I'm starting my almost-two-year-old on Chaplin this week. The sentimentality of the Tramp films should appeal to a kid, methinks. We'll go to Lloyd and Keaton as she gets into kindergarten. This shit's essential to an understanding of our film culture. She's not required to like 'em, but she is required to watch 'em before she gets to have an opinion.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, Lord of War never interested me at all. Kind of seemed to me like National Treasure with Guns, but maybe that's because I'm kind of tired of Nicolas Cage and his perpetually-bored line delivery. (of course, after the hilariously misleading trailers for The Exorcism of Emily Rose, I just can't trust trailers any more, for whatever that's worth.)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, glad to hear about Corpse Bride. I've got a serious love-hate relationship with Burton's work -- I grew up on Batman Returns, but looking back on the original, it's pretty embarrassing. (Is there any more of a non-Batman moment than when Michael Keaton practices saying "I'm Batman" to Vicky Vale?) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a definite disappointment, but it looks like the old boy's still got some fire in him yet. I love how macabre the whole thing looks, simultaneously spooky and fun, even without the inherent kid-friendliness of Nightmare Before Christmas.

Also, Johnny Depp is one of the few actors that I can watch (or listen to, in this case) seven or eight times a year and not tire of; just discovered Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas after reading the original book, and I immediately fell in love. How delightfully insane that performance is! I know The Rum Diary is coming, but man, what I wouldn't give to see a Gilliam-Depp version of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. Not as druggy, but probably just as manic.

Also: Is Brittany Murphy the poor man's Reese Witherspoon, or vice versa? (More likely they're both poor man's versions of someone else, but still.)

-- Ian

Anonymous said...

(Also, that last "anonymous" post wasn't me. I'll probably get myself a Blogger account just to avoid confusion.)

-- Ian

Walter_Chaw said...

Brittany Murphy is the poor man's hideous homunculus, perching and gripping onto anything taller than itself with a baby-monkey's creepy, asexual fervor.

They were actually in a film together, she and Witherspoon: Freeway. Seen it? It's twisted and has one of the funniest scenes that I've ever seen. Wife and I rewound it something like nine times and laughed until we cried. Has something to do with an emergency room patient being shown a photograph.

Walter_Chaw said...

(ah, my bad re the other anon)

Anonymous said...

"...making-race-cars-out-of-my-poop?" Somebody saw the episode of "SNL" with Steve Buscemi. Unless the staff writers lifted that line from somewhere else, which I begrudgingly admit to being possible. "I poisoned your tea!"

Dave Gibson said...

Thanks for reminding me of “Freeway” that was one twisted little flick. One of the few movies marketed as a “modern fairy tale” that lives up to the grim, moral centre of the classics. Kiefer Sutherland was especially good as the sanctimonious and gruesome serial killer—I can’t imagine many of today’s young actors playing such a role. Sutherland doesn’t play him as charismatic or particularly bright—just a deeply pathetic, dangerous man. It struck me as one of the most insightful films about how young people from poor backgrounds can so easily get sucked into the world’s various meat-grinders; while the grownups continue to pay glib lip-service to the “children are the future” line. Despite not liking most of her work, I also maintain a soft spot for Brooke Shields (especially after her smack down on Tommy-Boy)—guess it’s still those Calvin Klein ads after all these years…I’ll have to watch it again soon, as I cannot remember the scene you’re referring to; I hope Rees Witherspoon will watch it again soon—to remind herself how much better she is than the junk she gets shunted into these days….

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if Reese Witherspoon doesn't get typecast (Mark Ruffalo too, for that matter); take a look at all of her roles since Cruel Intentions and in them all she plays some kind of insecure overachiever. It is a shame, because she is capable of better.

Chad Evan said...

Not on topic, but any thoughts on the recently departed Robert Wise? Never been a big fan, myself, but I liked The Haunting, and really need to see the one he did with Karloff--The Bodysnatcher? In any case, he will always have a place in history for cutting Citizen Kane so brilliantly.

Bill C said...

I've been wanting to post some kind of obit, Chad (I think I'm probably the biggest Wise fan of the four of us at FFC, but I could be wrong about that), but I'm unfortunately pressed for time. He reminds me of an American David Lean: he started out making small, expressionistic movies of unparalleled grace before succumbing to a certain stateliness; nevertheless, his roadshow epics are kind of awesome to behold on the big screen. You should check out his early noirs (The Set-Up, in particular) or The Day the Earth Stood Still, which is so brilliantly directed that you don't realize until afterwards that you've been condescended to.

Chad Evan said...

Thanks Bill--I'll put those on my queue (been meaning to check out The Day the Earth Stood Still for awhile now anyway.)

Interesting comparison between Wise and Lean. I watched Dr. Zhivagho the other week and was struck by what a ton of dead weight picture-post card prettiness it was--much like the Sound of Music, as you say, but I would expect more from the director of the superb Great Expectations. Was also reminded of another turgid pageant, this time from Lean's disciple Spielberg: the awful The Color Purple. Alice Walker sucks anyway, but ol' Spielberg certainly didn't do her any favors.

Bill C said...

Almost forgot Born to Kill, a really nasty little gem that definitely belongs on Wise's highlight reel.

Spielberg is... A few years back, he was surveyed about the best underrated movies, and he chose Lawrence of Arabia! Now, if someone like Tarantino had done that, there might be a lick of subversion to it, but it really made Spielberg look juvenile.

Lee said...

"Freeway" is great in the way it glorifies its nastiness. I was never brave enough to see the sequel.

Speaking of Chris Columbus, does it look like he's going to screw up "Rent?" The trailer was interesting, but translating from stage to screen can be tricky...


Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Out of subject, but I just came back from watching "2046" again and I must say, this is probably the most complex wong kar wai ever. the first time i saw it, i liked it alot but thought it was a bit out of rythm, which is essential in a lyrical film like this. On seeing it again, I realized that there is an underline rythm to the whole peice but it is hard to detect because of "perceivable" incoherence and the layers over layers of poetry in this film. There's very few filmmakers that make me consistently like every single thing they make. especially in last decade or so there haven't been many names other than say p.t. anderson, kim ki-duk, lynne ramsay, david gordon green, gus van sant, kitano etc. (I'm sure I'll hate myself for leaving someone out). But for me wong kar wai is right near top of the list. i cum in my shorts thinking of everything he has made since his arrival on international scene with chungking express and to me "2046" goes right to the top of the list with chungking. it is just a resplendent film and like all great films, i really got it on second viewing. This is a film that I will be watching, deconstructing and analyzing for years to come and I'm sure it'll end up as one of my favorite films of this decade.

intrusion ends.

Chad Evan said...

I've never seen the play, Lee, so I can't honestly say what I know there is to screw up (all I know of the thing is that it's got something to do with AIDS, and I only know that due to Team America (we aren't really privy to the latest Broadway news here in Mississippi)) but I can tell you that Chris Colombus is the last person I would want working on an adaptation of a work I like. After all, there is a reason he's such a pariah among cinephiles. But hey it could be worse. Consider this: Tom Shadyac.

Walter_Chaw said...

Yeah, Freeway, sick little flick. Sutherland’s excellent in it at a time when I think his career was well and truly in the shitter. The first hit I took in regards to my consideration of Witherspoon, though, was her marriage to Ryan Phillippe who, at the time (and still, for the most part) was just the most insipid, wooden lump of clay. He’s gained a few defenders now with Haggis’ Crash but I think that part more played to his so-called strengths than revealed him to be any sort of an actor. I wonder if motherhood, too, hasn’t softened her a little: the Patti Smith phenomenon. There’s a line in Just Like Heaven where she proclaims, dewy-eyed, that she would’ve liked to have been a mother. Sounds a lot to my ears like that horrible kid’s album Shawn Colvin recorded right in the honeymoon of her short-lived nuptials. With stuff like Legally Blonde 2 and Sweet Home Alabama on her record now, I do wonder how much is her getting typecast and how much is her choosing these things because they’re easy. I’ll be curious to see her in Walk the Line.

Bill’s the bigger Wise fan than me, for sure, but that’s mainly a result of his expansive knowledge of the man’s portfolio. I’ve been well-impressed with especially his early noir work – but confess I’ve only seen a couple. I confess that I have some trouble separating The Day the Earth Stood Still from its message – but the shot of Klaatu with a crown of barbed wire shadows across his brow is a lovely one, and a product of Wise’s training, no doubt, in noir. I wonder if there’s any profit in looking at the film as a noir?

Never saw the sequel to Freeway either – heard it was more of the same and not as fresh this time around. And as to Rent - not a fan of the musical in any case so I’m not going to be a very good judge (see also Phantom of the Opera), but the material does seem up Columbus’ alley: slick, big-messaged. And Chad’s right – Tom Shadyac needs to be kneecapped.

Interesting about 2046 - I liked it but wasn’t blown away by it but, then again, felt the same way about The Royal Tenenbaums until I watched it a second time. Have you seen anything by Kenoshi Kurosawa? Pulse and Cure and so on? Suspect you might dig him.

Lee said...

Looking at what Walter was saying about Reese Witherspoon, it realy is a shame she has become so lazy. I haven't seen a movie she's done since "Legally Blonde," which was the movie that made me realize I couldn't watch her in a romantic comedy again. After her career started with such promise, especially due to her work in "Election," it's too bad she settles for roles anyone could sleepwalk through.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I haven't heard of Kenoshi Kurosawa, but I'm listing it down as we speak. Will tell when I do see something by him.

ALso, Walter, I think I completely agree with yor "Lord of War " review. I liked it for simply showing me images I've never seen before. I didn't know what things in Liberia and Sierra Leone were like. And I didn't know anything about world of arms dealing. I disliked it for it's lack of balls and reliance on age old cliches to tell the story. I went with my friend yesterday, and as we were watching the movie, I whispered to him "If Jared Leto dies in next 10 mins. this movie blows". And he did. Same with his wife leaving him. It is a clear case of director trying to act like god. Concept of afterlife must have been conceived by some really jaded people, because they knew that bad doesn't always lose and most good guys aren't "good" by choice, but by years of social programming. So "They'll pay for their sins" just becomes a reassurance. When directors forget this and try and enforce instant karma, they fall on their face. In real life, the brother doesn't die and wife doesn't leave. But it being a hollywood movie, they can't show that because it is safe to explore all images as long as the story follows the oft-repeated, tried and tested formula.

So I'll give it what you gave it. 2 stars.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I think you meant Kiyoshi Kurosawa. WIll check him out. Do you like Takasi MIIke, Walter ? I'm not a big fan but he does have sparks of absolute brilliance. Especially in audition and under-rated "Bird people of China". I think he's little too excessive, almost like a shock-jock, but he is ok. I don't know any other current japanese filmamakers other then our shared favorite King Kong Kitano.

Bill C said...

For future reference, Hollow, you should warn if you're going to post spoilers. I don't particularly care, but I know that others around here probably will.

Anonymous said...

Good call, Bill.

I'll never understand how some women don't find Jared Leto attractive. I'm a heterosexual male and I practically wanna make out with this guy.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Shit... sorry. I generally don't blog and stuff, so first mistake. will take care.

Walter_Chaw said...

whoops! Yeah, Kiyoshi Kurosawa - I'm a friggin' bimbo when it comes to names sometimes, Bill will tell you. I think he only has hours where he actually doesn't regret asking me to work for him - it's no picnic editing my malaprops. In fact, I'm not sure there are that many people besides Bill who could do it at all.

Check KK out, though, in any case.

I do like Miike, understanding though that the guy does something like five movies a year and only a percentage of it isn't shit. Check out his Gozu, it almost made my top ten last year. It's nuts.

Audition is pretty amazing - I like the Dead or Alive trilogy pretty well and Ichi the Killer is lawless. Visitor Q I find to be almost unwatchable (if interesting) and Happiness of the Katakuris is pretty interesting in a "what the f was that?" way.

But for every one that I like, there are something like a dozen that I haven't seen, can't get, or don't get.

You should check out Chinese filmmaker Tian Zhuangzhuang as well, and Taiwanese filmmaker Zhang Ke Jia while yer at it. Be curious what you think of all of 'em.

Lee said...

I didn't like "Lord of War" either. Yes, it looks good, and Cage's performance is fine, but the movie feels like a stockpile of narrated facts instead of having a clear focus. Also, it got a bit too preachy for me in the last third.

I have enjoyed most of the Miike films I have seen, particularly "Audition," which stuck with me for days. Was not able to get into "Dead or Alive," though.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I've seen Blue Kite by Tian Zhuang Zhuang. I liked it very much, but it does have the same syndrome as a lot of early iranian films did, that of making the film as a back-to-back social commentary. I don't mind it but I'm really into the Kim ki-duk brand of deeply personal asian cinema. South Korean films are best in the world. Asian films in general have moved the epicenter of cinema , atleast in my eyes, from europe.

I've heard Horse Theif was Scorsese's favorite film of 90s and jonathan rosenbaum called "the world" best film of the year. But I don't rely on rosenbaum anymore. I watched this film "puppetmaster" by hou hsiao-hsien on his recommendation. let's just say, never again.

I saw Zhang ke-jia's "unknown pleasures" actually by mistake. thought it was boring. but i'll try and see more.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

i'm not very fond of too much realism. i like my reality a little spicy. either a bit of lyricism or visual invention or narrative obliqueness. anything to make it "magic" realism.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

p.s. talking of "what the f was that?" movies, i just saw "getting any?" by kitano. FlyMan on a giant pile of shit ? Sounds more kevin smith then kitano.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering -- wouldn't someone who wasn't a Child of the Blockbuster be more spellbound by previews for stuff like King Kong or Goblet of Fire? I ask because it seems to me like you're begging pardon for looking forward to movies your "viscera" most wants to see this winter, or at least, that's how I took it. In any case, I don't think you should have to; it's perfectly normal to be entranced by pretty pictures. Now if the movie's themselves end up being shallow, joyless turdburgers, then that shouldn't excuse them from reproach, but for now, I anticipate both with a shameless fervour.

Walter_Chaw said...

I guess where I stand on reality is the same place I stand on adaptations of novels: I don’t care if you do it word for word, but I do care that you’re faithful to the feeling. I can find something like The Royal Tenenbaums or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind extremely “realistic” where something like Mad Hot Ballroom strikes me as patently artificial. There’s a question, too, of intentionality in that if it’s really obvious how you’re trying to manipulate me, you’d better be Godard or Hitchcock (or Kitano or Zuangzuang, etc) – if you’re freakin’ Haggis or Ron Howard or even someone like Eastwood lately, you’re not outsmarting me and, in fact, you’re sort of pissing me off by trying. Just the idea that some of these yahoos think that they’re teaching me something gets my dander up. Cinderella Man, Jesus – friend of mine called films like that repositories for the “retard tingle” and I have yet to hear a better critique. This Fall’s entry to the retard tingle sweepstakes is Dreamer. Bring a shot of insulin and a puke bag.

I like spicy, it’s the syrupy and the ham-handed that gets under my skin.

I think that you’re talking about something a little different though, and I want to bring up Nobody Knows, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s remarkable film from this year (his After Life and Mabarosi are tremendous as well) that developed without a screenplay over the course of the year during which it was filmed. Non-professional actors – most of the scenes improvised – and at over two-hours, a test for some. And yet, I found it to be consistently fascinating throughout in crafting a child’s moral universe. Almost miraculous for its “reality” even though the reality that it defines defies quantitative judgment.

The World is pretty fabbo, but I agree that Rosenbaum is hard to trust anymore. It’s not that he’s lacking integrity, it’s that he’s losing touch. The kind of hyper-hermetic crix that names a best of the year list that includes mostly films projected on the side of a mud hut somewhere in Borneo, filmed on pounded leaves and directed by a blind shepherd with a camera made out of a bird’s nest. I’m not saying it’s not great, I’m saying that he’s the only one who will ever get to see it at some obscure festival. I admire that sort of anthropological spirit – but I do wish that it impacted my life, too. That being said, Puppetmaster is one of those culturally-specific allegories that don’t make sense to anyone without a pretty fair knowledge of region and tradition. This includes me. I thought it was inscrutable and interminable – but I love his City of Sadness and Millennium Mambo. I think someone mentioned, though – maybe you? – that you hated the latter so this might be a case of cutting your losses with Hou.

Early Kitano, by the way, often plays like film falling past a beam of light. I feel like there's something there for the auteurist, but a lot of it's just nuts and babble.

South Korea, by the way, I agree is the epicenter of exciting film the last couple of years. Anyone catch Tale of Two Sisters?

Walter_Chaw said...

I dunno, re Child of/Blockbuster status, I guess what I'm saying is that I'm hardwired to be optimistic about giant-budgeted spectacles. Makes my rage against them when they suck rage all the harder.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Man... I can not agree more with you on Ron Howard, paul Haggis type. We have already talked about Crash, but I really was punching the air when Dillon rescues Thandie Newton in the film (It freaked my friend the fuck out, but now he's getting used to it). I must admit that I was sort of liking the film till that point, but after that it just got worse and worse.

I just don't like to be manipulated at all. And that includes hitchcock, spielberg, godard or kubrick. I also wanted to say "war of the worlds" beats "crash" as worst film of this year for me. and I didn't like 90% of it like you did. Infact that film was an insult to my intelligence right from the first frame. I would rather sit through a double bill of "independence day" and "day after tommorow" (two films I abhore) then sit through it again. And science in the film (worst in years) is the least of the reason why I hate it. Like in Crash, when teenage son comes back at the end I wanted to knock Speilberg the fuck out. And this time I freaked more than just my friend out.

I can not wait for goblet of fire. I'm a huge fan of both LOTR (the last one could've been 1/2 hour shorter) and Harry Potter series. Especially Azkaban, which I think was one of the best films of the year. Kingkong looks horrible. Giant gorilla fighting T-rex ! I think this one's gonna blow.

Despite falling in "What the f was that?" category, I can't get myself to dislike any kitano films. He is very good at finding rythem in a film even if he goes all over the place with the content. He has a tendency of nailing the key scenes and being completely unpredictable.

I've been trying to rent "tale of two sisters" for ages, can't find it. can you recommend me some more S. Korean films or filmmakers though ? I really dig them. i just don't feel like picking something randomly. I did that with this film called "painted fire", which I didn't like despite a killer performance from Min-sik Choi (oldboy).

Rosenbaum has really gone "I don't give a fine fuck!" now. He liked "dead man" for native-indian in-jokes. How he knows them, lord only knows. I love that movie too but for it's bizarre atmosphere and parallel allegory through the film. Jarmusch went balls out with that one. Have you seen "Mystery Train" ? I can't believe no one thinks that that is the best film of the 80s (tied with Paris, Texas).

I've only seen one hou film, maybe i should check out the two that you mentioned. Rosenbaum has tendency to pick really esoteric works of filmmakers as his favorite. I think he enjoys having this sort-of, dare I say, elitist taste. Clear examples are "The wind will carry us","puppetmaster" and "dead man". I love the guy but I think he's going bonkers.

The film I'm waiting most for is "The New World" made by God himself. I don't know how I feel about Colin Farrel in it though. He was pretty good in "A home at the end of the world", but I still don't know.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

p.s. i saw "dreamer" trailer on T.V. and let me say, I can not wait to hate a movie more. I can so see the pitch "Imagine Dakota Fanning in Seabuiscit. We can get the stupid-kids-and-their-stupid-parents demographic". I also had the misfortune of seeing part of the press confrence at TIFF where Kurt Russel was going gaga over Dakota Fanning calling her the best actress he has worked with. He should be shot with a gun inside his anal cavity so that his brains can be splattered all over Dakota Fanning's cute-as-a-greeting card face. Let me say, Dakota Fanning is everything that is wrong with child actors today. I prefer Linda Manz.

Walter_Chaw said...

HP III: Azkaban was fanfuckingtastic. Genuinely discomfiting adolescence melodrama. Just awesome.

Gotta say, though, I'm a sucker for giant monkey vs. T-Rex movies. But I have to confess that Naomi Watts is giving me an ulcer lately with her film choices and her performances therein. Let me think about the South Korean directors question - you've already got Kim Ki-Duk of course, who I think is probably the best - and the Oldboy guy, of course, is pretty insane. There was a great article about S.Korean cinema in Film Comment like a year ago - I'll try to dig it out.

Big fan of both Mystery Train and Dead Man - though Dead Man, I have to say, is one of my faves all time. And it has nothing to do with Native American in-jokes. Had a lot more to do, for me, with the British Romanticism in the William Blake in-jokes, the idea of Machine logic, and all those beautiful locomotives.

Can't wait for the new Malick (and Linda Manz' voiceover work for Days of Heaven alone is enough to include her in the pantheon of greats) - but Farrell is such a ponce. Didn't even like him in Home at the End of the World; thought it was more of a stunt than a performance, really - was honestly more interested in the penis controversy surrounding the pic than the pic itself. (I guess the giggling at the size, big or small, I dunno, of his manhood in a full-frontal scene caused Farrell to nix it in the womb.)

I laughed not a little, by the way, at the "stupid-kids-and-their-stupid-parents demographic" line. Ah, I know it well.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I'm watching Incredibles right now. I love this fuckin' movie. Pixar movies are probably the only thing I really agree with masses on.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

There is nothing in the world better than a well made kid's film. and we have had some really good ones in last few years. with the harry potter ones and pixar's stuff. dreamworks tries to do it but they just end up making trite like shrek and whatever the will smith one was called. even some superhero films have been so good in last few years spiderman 2, batman begins, daredevil etc. plus LOTR series. Overall fantasy genre, which happens to be one of my favorites, has really seen some spectacular stuff (despite all the cynical trite like fantastic four, punisher and the cheesy ones like spiderman). The fact is people still can't tell the difference between good and the bad as shown by success of spiderman and fantastic four. maybe lucas was right when he said "we could've made the same amount of money with half the effort". and he did. maybe even less than half.

Anonymous said...

"The masses?" Yeesh, brotha man. Try not to sound too scornful.

Walter_Chaw said...

Thing about The Incredibles that really works for me is, besides the tech stuff which is above reproach, just how subversive the thing is. A mainstream American animated flick, ostensibly about children, about being exceptional?

I mean, wow.

Anonymous said...


I don't follow. I guess the implication is that most American 'toons are about being okay with not being exceptional? I can see that with Robots and Shrek, but I'm having a hard time coming up with other examples. Part of that might be because I choose not to see most of 'em, but color me curious nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

By the way:

I say American 'toons without the qualifier "children's" not because I think 'toons are necessarily kiddie fare but that, again, I'd be hard-pressed to find one that's not (ostensibly) aimed at children besides for the two that Linklater's been involved with.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I didn't mean to be scornful. I just meant that most movies I like don't make money, other than the Pixar films which are exception and few other ones every year. That's just a fact, not an opinion.


I got Millenium Mambo, Cure and A tale of two sisters. Will say what I think of it sometime this week.

Walter_Chaw said...

Yeah - Americans have a hard time with "cartoons" - they reject anime for the most part just because it's animated. We're raised to think that animated films are just for kids and so the preponderance of non-Linklater flicks are steadfastly directed at kids. And they're also, almost without fail, horrible.

Disney's the worst, lately, with films that are not just bland, but extraordinarily hateful: racist, misogynistic, feckless, on and on.

In the U.S., though, back to the point, the belief is in building self-esteem in our youngsters at the expense of actual aptitude. Find in the school shootings that plagued us at the end of last millennium at least the seeds of that policy of aggrandizement. Self-esteem nation: I recall a study done where groups of folks were tested for their level of self-esteem - the highest-testing were convicted felons - the next highest were high school students. Another study, a more general one of academic aptitude, found that Americans often tested in the bottom of science and math, but always at the top in the affirmative in answering "Do you think that you're good at math/science?" - a problem, you'll agree, that we'd rather our kids feel good than keep score at soccer games or grade their papers.

So when you have a film like The Incredibles that isn't interested in pitching the class lesson to the slowest kid in class (no kid left behind, yes?) - then it's sort of amazing. I don't have a lot of patience for the phasing out of gifted & talented programs in our public schools - and of extracurricular activities, etc. . . but we hate voting for taxes, not giving much thought to where our public works are meant to come from without them - and so things like FEMA, our libraries, all our public institutions, fall into disrepair while we run out to spend our $100.00 refund checks on. . . two dinners at Outback Steak House? Who the fuck knows.

Anyway - the idea that if you're super, than you should be unashamed of it (as opposed to the policy of "if you're just barely average, you should be unashamed of it" as evidenced in our beloved leader's refrain of "Did pretty well for a C student!") is a rare one in an increasingly intellectually hindered United States.

Walter_Chaw said...

Sweet! Hope you like at least a couple of 'em.

Chad Evan said...

Yeah, Walter, I think I remember that study--seem to recall that bullies and other such assholes also had a very healthy self-regard, giving the lie to the pious fiction that bullies are mean because they really don't like themselves. What's to say; the bad sleep well. I'm sure our Fearless Leader is dreaming beautiful dreams under the eternal sunshine of his spotless mind as I type this. And yeah, the Incredibles was great--works wonders as a comedy and as a straight-up super hero yarn, and probably the most unifying American movie of the last year--everyone seems to like it. Hollow Man is right: Pixar may be he nexus where popular and critical tastes meet.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

To me ... just tell me a good damn story. that's it. i'm not asking for any of the other stuff that i expect from "art" films". all i'm saying is, if you are taking my 10 bucks to entertain me for 2 hours, you better do. don't treat me like a moron, don't give me the same cliches and stereotypes and don't offend me with your callous cynicism. i'm perfectly happy to dish out 10 bucks for a pixar film or batman begins or really anything with 2 cents of originality. i don't find that any more... at all. other than say 10 films a year that come out of studio system. So, it's not about being scorful or elitist, it's about not being a moron.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Just finished seeing agnes varda's vagabond. what a fucking film ! i have never seen a film with lesser judgement for it's characters. a lot of filmmakers talk about realism in their films and then end up naming films like pixote. films like pixote, as good as they may be, just use realism as a template to make an artistic statement. there is always someone guiding them into an area. however, this film to me plays like early errol morris documentaries or recent van sant films. no easy answers or conclusions. it realizes that it is futile to look for any sort of structure in life. world inhibited with all it's people with their individual experiences and brains is an infinite matrix that can never be solved. so why not just acknowledge it ? there are no stories or plots or stereotypes. we are all just like poolballs randomly hitting each other creating memories of how we collided. this film was a great experience and i didn't even know about it until i picked it up. highly recommended.

Carl Walker said...

Walter, perhaps you are remembering my e-mail when you were trying to think of who hated Millennium Mambo. I'll be interested to see what hollow man thinks about it, perhaps there could be some kind of interesting discussion. For me, the thing that completely pushed the film over the edge into the irredeemable was that damn narration. Why on earth do I need to be told what's gonna happen right before it happens? Obviously this isn't a movie about "what's gonna happen" per se, but at least let me watch it unfold.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

just saw "california split". i will be slave of altman's cat for all it's nine lives. i can watch films like this over and over and over till my nose bleeds and i've shat my pants. i'm such a retard for not watching these films before.

Walter_Chaw said...

Carl - I hear what you're saying. Have you tried to watch it without narration? Since you hated it, I doubt you'll be picking it up again anytime soon, but if it happens to be on somewhere, turn off the subtitles. That's how I watched it (though I do speak the language) - and it feels different. At least it did to me.

The sound of her voice and the cadence of the language played like score to my ears. I can imagine that it might feel differently with subtitles.

Carl Walker said...

Hey Walter, interesting suggestion, but I have to confess somethign I didn't get around to mentioning in my last comment. That is, I also found the movie to be ugly, as far as the visuals were concerned! At least when Wong Kar-Wai shows people listlessly floating about their apartments, it's anything but ugly. I readily conceed that I may lack the visual sophistication, but without narrative heft, which is fine, I figure the visual impact needs to be more prevalent somehow. Or maybe it's just a taste thing and not a matter of sophistication. I'm open to either possibility.

Walter_Chaw said...

HA! Well, that's that, then.

I guess we gotta call this one on one of those agree-to-disagrees until one or both of us gives it another look-see. Far as I'm concerned, just you taking the chance on it marks you as visually sophisticated so I don't think it's a problem with your assimilators. I'll put it on my Netflix queue and see if I can't see it from your perspective next time around.

Carl Walker said...

Heh, well personally I hope you don't come to loathe it when you give it a second (?) chance. I know as a civilian that that is never a good feeling even as a civilian, and I imagine it's gotta be worse as a critic having bestowed four stars upon something. I hope it didn't seem like I was trying to convince you that it sucked and I was right! Mostly I would like to understand the source of the disagreement (selfishly, for aid in knowing when to disagree with other recommendations of yours), yet it does just kinda come down to I found it ugly, you found it the opposite. What's to understand, right?

Finally, don't give me to much credit just for watching it. I know people who rent all the new indies at Blockbuster just to bitch about how they'd rather be watching Road Trip and how they hate "art." While I'm a far cry from that (let's just say, I certainly hate most of the same things as you) the moral is that you can't give someone too much brownie points for just "taking the chance."

Sometimes I think I respect people more who know what they should avoid, rather than repeatedly bashing their head againgst that same wall and complaining about the bleeding. This in fact is why I'll probably never give Hou another chance, although I'm trying to figure out if my reaction to Jia Zhang-ke is going to be about the same, which has been tricky.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Man! I don't get either of the two, Hou and Jia. This I say, only seeing one film by both. I'll probably see Millenium Mambo before end of the week. Then I'll know for sure.

For my money, try Kim ki-duk, if you haven't. My favorite of current filmmakers. That guy makes films i want to make. The first time I saw 3-iron, I could at times predict what was gonna happen next, and usually that's a bad thing, but in this case it wasn't because it was a cliche, but beacuse it felt like that's what something i would write or make. Who knows if I could ever come up with stuff like that, but goddamn it, just seeing it makes me feel like kim is like a brother-from-another-mother.

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