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12.08.2007

3 DAYS OF DARKNESS (TATLONG ARAW NG KADILIMAN)

3 Days of Darkness (Tatlong Araw Ng kadiliman)
Directed by Khavn de la Cruz
Written by Alfred Aloysius Adlawan






Nothing quite bashed my young skull in like old school Catholic mindfuck did, all its silt like baby tarantulas in my head- - - the 3D Jesuses, the self-flagellating nutters, the stormtrooper nuns, the injured Jack Chick comics. But Revelation’s freaky grip was special, a trauma lesion. Endtime scenarios spooked the altarboy in me for the sticky claustrophobia it teased out of all that Lovecraftian cataclysm - - -the wrath of God singling me out, getting personal. It’s on you, sisters - - - all that religion’s wire in the blood now. False alarms from pulpits may have made anticlimax out of apocalypse and David Seltzer may have housebroken it into a cuddly subgenre, but these veins of dread run deep. Watching Michael Tolkin’s The Rapture after having thought myself long past its clutches fortified that. That young girl alone, eerily crooning Hark The Herald Angels Sing inside her jail cell as TVs everywhere blank into white noise and distant angelic trumpets blow, has doomed me to never hear that song in the same way again.

None of this gets as scripturally anal- - -or scriptural at all - - -nor is there anything here that can get under your skin as purely - - - what happens when Katya Santos confesses her troubles to a priest is another mode of fuck-you-up entirely- - - but it invokes the same colors of unease : gray and grim, mostly. Invokes Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger and Diamanda Galas and Blair Witch and Wait Until Dark and Rosemary's Baby, too.

Horror in a nutshell boils down to that moment when you’re backed into a tight corner you can't get out of and the bad shit starts having its way with you. This is that moment drawn out- - -ominous calm melting into a din of oppressive hysteria, teasing claustrophobia from cataclysm. The more fragile among you might wilt from the confusion the last half's near-utter sensory deprivation brings- - - more stressful than scary, which amounts to same, which is the point. It's really a siege but seen from what brokedown senses the besieged have left in all this night and all this fever and all this panic- - - and Oggs Cruz's theory that the three girls- - -Katya in her blond wig, half-Japanese Gwen Garci, ilustrado stock Precious Adona - - -are colonial detritus backs this up more than my theory that they're just three variants of ditz.

But there is a gleeful perversity in having these bimbos hole up in a country house to stave off a clusterfuck of demons and does count for most of its grotty glory- - -Samuel Z. Arkoff would've thought the world of it. They all could be hallucinating the invasion, of course, but it's far ballsier to think they aren't. And that the world is coming to an end and it isn't letting us off easy. * * *

12.07.2007

WE OWN THE NIGHT

We Own The Night
Directed and Written by James Gray







A Biblical schism, Luke 15:11-32, triangulates the emotional turmoil here also it's a genre trope long encrusted with mold: a grizzled cop and his two sons, one dutiful, the other wayward. But Gray's bigger fish to fry is a specific permutation of high pulp, not a deconstructing really but more a darkening and deepening and a deromanticizing and deglamorizing, too, of the old saws. If he weren't so unprolific, you could cede him proprietorship for the tendency, gone missing, save for spurts, since the 70s. His works are somber, purged bummers- - -Little Odessa, The Yards, moreso this. Here's the drudgery of the working class cop life. Here's the pyrrhic glamor and decadent void of the thug life. Here's both worlds going nowhere as a prodigal son learns what price to pay for waking up on the side of the angels. And in the gray jungle snarl, all the fight you’ve got going for you is love, but even that can turn as fragile as a heart of glass. Not too many American cop pieces of recent vintage are as fiercely tinged with quotidian weariness as this, are as surrendered to its desolate futility, are as a bitch to shake off. Not The Departed, no, which it's kindred with, which it never gets as quasimythic as, which it beats. The Glass Shield, maybe? And that was, what, 1994? TV seems rife with it- - -David Simon's incessantly brilliant The Wire pops to mind ,as it should. But these tackled more the sociologies of the cop/criminal coin so similarities finish with tone and fierce thesping. We Own the Night may derive its evocative title from an 80s NYPD slogan,and is not above a spectacular rainswept car chase that blows the wheels off every car chase we've seen since possibly when Friedkin did it, but is really less about the vicissitudes of the job than it is about the vicissitudes of family. The inexorable, sometimes merciless hold blood has on us. 

11.21.2007

GALACTICA RAZOR

Galactica: Razor
Directed by Felix Alcala
Written by Michael Taylor








Frak me if the postapocalyptic sturm and drang of Ronald Moore's Battlestar rejig isn't still the seismic motherlode of current longform sci-fic TV
- - - as opposed to shortform sci-fic TV, which is what Doctor Who is, which is every bit as grand so far. Nowhere near series best, though,this recursive, supersized episode flashing back to the brutal goings-on aboard the Battlestar Pegasus under Admiral Helena Cain's watch means to hinge everything so far - - - the new signposts to where Earth is, New Caprica, the Baltar trial, the four new unmasked Cylons, the return of Kara Thrace and the repercussions of what she brought back with her, that Bob Dylan song and what it means- - - with its looming final leg and is so vigorously co-dependent on at least the last two seasons that it has no autonomy as a piece, is so of a piece , really, that rookies to the mythos - - -essentially a spacebound Book of Exodus but so much more than that - - - should back off and boot up with the pilot, suck in that aura of haggard doom then work their way here before all the backstories and foreshadowings and reveals start to pack brunt and bristle.

The choir of geeks it preaches to, though, is bound to shudder with glee - - -at what was going on between Cain and the Number 6 she had on board, at the old school Cylons and what they're guarding, at the eleventh hour revelation that darkens everything to come. It isn't so much the severity of the sociopolitical mirror this new Galactica holds up to the world as we know it post-911 but the way interpersonal dynamics mutate under such conditions that resonate more with me- - - less the space opera than the space soap opera. Cain has one line epitomizing her venomous temperament that somehow nails, too, what the show, at its core, is ultimately about: “Sometimes we have to do things that we never thought we were capable of, if only to show the enemy our will. When you can be this for as long as you have to be, then you’re a razor. This war is forcing us all to become razors. If we don’t, we don’t survive, and then we don’t have the luxury of becoming simply human again." * * *

11.17.2007

BRINGING UP BABY

Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Dudley Nichols & Hagar Wilde







Hooks you purely on its lunatic velocity, also, it's irrevocably funny, because, let's face it, there's no one here to hang on to, no one to root for, no one to like. Not Katherine Hepburn's sassy monster and the kindling she makes of Cary Grant's spineless paleontologist. Nor the gaggle of loopy, batshit kooks that populate this snowball of ruckus. The leopard, maybe. A chaos mechanism full of grace,here is where Hawks' command of the frame gets truly masterful, propelled by nothing more than the anarchic glee with which he works that exquisite dissonance the auteur in him was always savvy at. With not a beat out of synch and not a hair out of place and with no let-up and no coming up for air: calamity physics on 11. There's a line about the love impulse showing up in times of conflict not meant to be throwaway but could misrepresent that cozy rom-com veneer this Kane of screwball has accrued over time to be more than what it is, a veneer. Grant's upright scientist flouncing around in a nightgown or scrabbling about for bones in the wild makes obvious that this is the anatomy of a breakdown, rather, a man broken down by a woman he loathes. But much as Hawks' odd couplings always had the never-ending war between genders as
fulcrum and also happily ending in armistice, he has no pat truce for the crackpot and the nerd here, no. Their misadventures reform neither the pushover he is nor the dominatrix she is and when they fall into each other's arms as a brontosaurus skeleton crumbles below them, after she browbeats him into submitting to her love, you just know their relationship is doomed.

10.23.2007

TRIBU

Tribu
Directed and Written by Jim Libiran





First you think - - - City of God. Then you think - - - Tondo always had dibs. Late's better than never, then, and same might go for Jim Libiran's newfound career. Outdone by the upshots of vim and trickery City of God indulged in but not by the bang-on acting of non-pros, Tribu instead rubs itself raw in feral grit and builds up this primeval vigor - - - artless, graceless - - -that pumps blood into its pulse, not least when it lingers on its incessantly fascinating sociologies - - - the gangstas' home lives, the initiation rites, the breaks into freestyle . It does work more as anthropology , getting a little gangly and droning when it rewires itself as melodrama, faltering partly from brief lapses into gangsta soap cliche in its pursuit of poeticizing its milieu and partly out of trying too hard to tell us nothing we don't already know - - - inner city life is a culture of violence and a culture of poverty and a culture of boredom- - - and partly out of churning anticipation for a volcanic climax that's a no-show. The last, knee-weakening shot doesn't want for attack, though.

SUPERMAN DOOMSDAY

Superman Doomsday
Directed by Lauren Montgomery,Bruce Timm
and Brandon Vietti
Written by Duane Capizzi







Let's piss on a sacred goat, why not. The Death of Superman was a turd - - - the infantile nadir of deep continuity superhero eventmaking. You do sign up for Bruce Timm making a 75 minute OAV out of it because he seems to think so, too- - - and his design sense's got dynamic game, you get to dip your eyeballs in candy at least. Supercompressed like the way it is here only means it's crisper for having the flab cut out but does crank its pitch to a degree of hyper that only nerds in advanced stages of ADD would find soothing - - -don't kids breathe at the movies anymore? Within-budget upgrades still boom, though. Freeing themselves from feeding an event marketing brief and the repercussions of the outcome, Superman dying here is just another trope to play with for Timm and cohorts and less didactic for it, less in the grip of the buildup , more with the aftermath, where the story is anyway - - - the co-dependencies bred by superheroes in the real- - - and the resurrection engineered in the fray feeds everything of Dan Jurgens and cohorts to the sharks. Also, Doomsday gains a measure of pulpy arcana - - -who'd have thunk? - - -and gives good skirmish and carnage at that. And Luthor at his snakiest emits hard crackle, no Gene Hackman buffoonery here. The moment when he whips out a gun to shoot his assistant because he felt like it trumps everything the movies did wrong . The geek in me just wet himself.* * *

9.27.2007

SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY

Syndromes and a Century
Directed and Written by Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul

*Syndromes and a Century is one of seven films commissioned for the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth.






Amadeus is in the details here* so it isn't a diptych but variations on a theme, two views of a memory- - -they're movements. But whether across time or geography is what Joe Weerasethakul isn't making apparent - - - that's always been part of his elliptical charm and past/present and rural/urban overlap as dichotomies anyway so it's not as if knowing which is which is crucial to getting anything. And neither is getting anything per se. Knowing a bit about its Mozart connections sort of is, though, because as used as we may be to the way his work splits in half, the one thing we do get is how melodic the whole piece feels. How benign with happiness, too. Joe's remembering something he has no memory of- - -how his doctor parents met - - - so it's hazy, so it's fond, so idyll drapes it. From the first half's country hospital - - -where a young doctor is torn between her forthright suitor and the elusive orchid farmer she's starting to fall for and a dentist who wants to be a pop star strikes an odd friendship with a monk who wants to be a DJ- - -to the secret wing of the city hospital in the second half - - - where mysterious diseases with no names are treated and brandy is stashed in the hollows of prosthetic limbs for the staff to sneak a nip in. And all over, between bisected halves, murmurs and ricochets and rhymes and refrains and shapeshifts : an outdoor concert becomes an outdoor aerobics session, a pop CD given to the monk becomes a remote-controlled UFO two other monks play with, a solar eclipse becomes an ominous air duct, and one deceptively passive woman with one leg shorter than the other crosses over both segments unchanged by the transition the way other reappearing characters are. All exuding, even at its most obtuse, this persuasive calm that makes you fear decoding them will upset its delicate, contained loveliness. So you don't. There's bliss enough in just humming along to those magic changes, those melodies - - - prettified with mystery, soaked in bearable lightness, invincible to regret.* * * * *



9.25.2007

AUTOHYSTORIA / INDIO NACIONAL

Autohystoria
Directed and Written by Raya Martin

Indio Nacional
Directed and Written by Raya Martin





Projector issues- - -that's likely. But there is the way the image in that opening long walk home seems to corrode before your eyes, the way the noise picks out shapes of things that aren't even there, the way it feels less like postwork - - -that is, premeditated but artificial- - -and more the risk you put yourself through shooting on analog then blowing it up to see what happens- - -that is, premeditated but organic. And the way in which what does happen counts as foreshadowing. For how it similarly obsesses on the active degrading of our collective memory, on history as something mutable and suspect, but not with the same elegiac prettiness as Indio Nacional tapping into silent cinema's textures of otherness to find eerie new con/subtexts - - - 1896's hard-won independence as a kind of cultural neutering, for one- - - in our beloved revolutionary saga.

That one opens, too, with a man walking, not home, but down a cave. A returning to the womb, perhaps, also a descent into mystery. The mystery of our birth as a nation reflexively full-circling to our dying as a cultural entity and retold as ghost stories at bedtime so it gets feverish and hysteric with swaths of unease and swaths of whimsy and swaths of surreal imagery - - -the blessed virgin dogging a katipunero down a field , the sun rising from between a man's legs then giving him a wink, a plaster saint flirting with two women in church - - - where Autohystoria gets feverish and hysteric but only with unease and in more than mere swaths, it's nervy with it.

The death it gets under the skin of, after all, isn’t as abstract, as metaphoric, as philosophical. And is,in fact, bloody and viscous. Is, in fact, a murder- - -Andres and brother Procopio Bonifacio’s execution at the hands of Emilio Aguinaldo’s cohorts and the conspiracy to whitewash it, retold with microscopic agony and brutal immediacy as presentday salvage in real-time. Noble aims superseded by gleeful artifice means the pleasures of Indio are purer as mere cinephilic fetishism, nothing wrong with that. More nihilistic, more wounded, Autohystoria triumphs as surface, too, only with more seepage and tackle. Its subtext - - - that political homicide is in our blood - - - runs hardwired with marrow chill and black voltage, but its visceral jolt is the volatile that stays with you. Autohystoria * * * * * Indio Nacional * * * *

8.30.2007

TOKI WO KAKERU SHOUJO (THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME)

Toki Wo Kakeru Shoujo (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time)
Directed by Mamoru Hosoda
Written by Okudera Satoko
Based on the Novel by
Tsutsui Yasutaka







Take that title at face value- - -she really does leap through time, backwards, forwards, clumsily, funnily. Time travel tropes gain emotional mileage from the diesel of regret - - - that pang we all feel at some point to go back and redo the fuckups we can't undo. But if you're an impetuous schoolgirl, that could go from yesterday's exam scores to the other day's lab mishap to the boy that gets away because you were too caught up in yourself to notice. And when the power to make clay of reality falls on your lap and you go use it to loop after-school videoke with your boy friends into a perpetual afternoon, it's really the cold feet of growing up, which fades, of course, but until it does, you want to hang on to it as long as you can. Bounce this off Groundhog Day, much as the time travelling there had more to do with Nietzche's theory of eternal recurrence - - - it makes sense. Has the same hedonistic spunk, the same loopy pop spark, the same blissful awareness of where it's head's at - - - a chick-lit universe in which the wonderment of leaping through time is just something to color the drab everyday of high school with and an impossible visitor from another dimension is just another potential boyfriend. Has nothing to say that the subgenre hasn't said over and over and over - - - seize the day, life's too short, action/reaction - - - but a way of saying it that's so dosed up with teenpic endorphin that when the inevitable butterfly effect twists the plot to reveal a tantalizing hidden reality, threatening to swell the ramifications and deepen the aura, you actually dread the moodswing from shojo exuberance to sci-fic gravitas that thankfully never happens. * * * *


8.28.2007

2 DAYS IN PARIS

2 Days In Paris
Directed and Written and Edited
and Produced and Scored by Julie Delpy








Samey backdrop and samey repartee and samey characters - - - but where the conversations in Before Sunrise/Sunset had this evasive meander and nonchalance, the back-and-forth here is full-tilt screwball, playing for laughs that pivot from the kind of mildly farcical chaos every interracial couple - - -and,indeed, every couple - - - go through and that screwballs burn road with. The more crucial dillema here's not how well you know the one you love but how well you should know the one you love. Not too much if you want things to last, is what it's saying. And when the double exposures with Delpy's Celine end at samey precocious temperaments, and the kookiness her Marion here has more of starts to throw fits, not too much is more than enough to make hapless, hypochondriac wreckage of any boyfriend. All over the place, for all its self-contained rom-com minimalism, but that's out of Delpy's sense of rhythm not having sea legs yet. The erratic shambles does meet cute with the nervy confusion, achieving a tonal fit that ,if anything, keeps it honest and not only enlivens the one screwball trope Delpy has down pat - - - her rapidfire banter cracking good funny- - - but makes the virtues of making do with the one you're with swoon full of romantic possibility. * * *

8.22.2007

PARIS JE'TAIME (I LOVE YOU PARIS)

Paris Je'Taime (I Love You Paris)
Directed by Olivier Assayas, Federic Auburtin & Gerard Depardieu,
Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Ethan & Joel Coen, Isabel Coixet,
Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravanese,Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydes,
Oliver Schmidt,Nobuhiro Suwa, Daniela Thomas & Walter Salles,
Tom Tykwer and Gus Van Sant

Written by Olivier Assayas, Gena Rowlands,
Paul Mayeda Berges & Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet,Ethan & Joel Coen, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Christopher Doyle & Gabriel Keng & Kathy Li , Richard LaGravanese,Vincenzo Natali, Nadine Eid & Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydes,
Oliver Schmidt,Nobuhiro Suwa, Daniela Thomas & Walter Salles,
Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant and Tristan Carne











Paris you go to for many things, mostly cultural: wine, cinema, cuisine, art, haute couture. But Paris you go to mostly for l'amour, that's its niche and its cliche, its tourism come-on. Paris as emotional geography,then - - - the effect the city has on you, which, depending on who you ask, could go from high-strung anxiety, in the Coen slapstick, or benign calm, in the touching Payne finale. 18 aspects of love, or what vague membranes of connectivity pass for love these days, attached to an itinerary that quickly becomes immaterial, at roughly 5 minutes apiece. It wobbles and sags in parts, of course, has two spots of profound awfulness- - - Chomet's jailbird mimes and Natali's deo-cologne advert with vampires- - -and indulges a handful of piffles at turns anorexic with barely there payoffs (Podalydes, Chadha) or supercompressed at a loss of nuance (Coixet, Suwa) or fine if underfed (Cuaron, Thomas/Salles). The good will out, though, and funny how the grace notes- - -slight and wary mostly- - -have to do more with the many disguises love puts on. The co-dependency Assayas' drughead actress shares with her dealer. The things lost in translation between Van Sant's possible soulmates. The punchline twisting the buoyant turmoil of Tykwer's hyperballad of blind love. The ghostly whispers keeping words from failing for Craven's bickering sweethearts. The old codes of affection rekindled when Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara finalize their divorce for Auburtin/Depardieu. The cup of coffee that breaks the heart of Schmidt's paramedic - - -as it did mine and most likely yours, too. Handful of piffles notwithstanding, my only real nit is lack of Godard. And more Asians- - - and no, weird Chris Doyle with guerrilla beauticians don't count. * * *

8.16.2007

PLOY

Ploy
Directed and Written by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang







The part of you that comes loose in transit and takes its time catching up, William Gibson says it's your soul and maybe that's what it is and what we have here - - -bodies waiting for missing souls to catch up. The eerie lull of jet lag is the rhythm of its secret heart , that sensation of not being here nor there and having nowhere to hang your hat. Husband and wife here are both homeless in their homeland and neither one wants to be the first to say goodbye. He says they're past their sell-bys. She just wants him to try a little tenderness and a fuck now and then wouldn't hurt either. And the maid and bartender getting nasty somewhere else in the hotel could be their disembodied souls having one last mad go before re-entering their frigid shells or could all be in the dreaming head of the eponymous teenager sleeping on their couch. Jealousies simmer, dire things occur in a roomful of old clocks, youth and obsolescence rub shoulders, someone breaks into song , another declares love and means it and everything is framed sticky and intimate like an eavesdrop. Makes or breaks on aura because Pen-ek's not your go-to man for artfilm languor and it's not even the artfilm languor you're used to that he's trying to nail here but something gauzier, almost spectral - - - the opaque vacuum of hotels. You could feel a little disembodied and lightheaded , too, that's the risk, but for evoking the metaphorical half-sleep of marriages and the hope that you do wake up from it, no other tone will catch. Sometimes being alone together is better than being alone.



8.15.2007

PEN CHOO KAB PEE (THE UNSEEABLE)

Pen Choo Kab Pee(The Unseeable)
Directed by Wisit Sasanatieng
Written by Kongkiat Khomsiri









Sedated and dripping with mood because it's a ghost story and ghost stories are supposed to get by on the sedated drip of mood alone, this is atypical Wisit only if you go by the speed at which his candyland visuals used to run riot - - -which was never really his true knack but more the way he twisted environments like balloon animals into weird, offkey shapes with attack. His palette's calmer, yes, but the gorgeous crumble of that countryside manse is as florid an artifice as any he's ever manipulated - - - and pungent with the spooky which makes the turning of architecture into character that every good gothic demands of its edifices enough to subsist on. Oldfangled but thick with feed. * * *

OVERLORD

Overlord (1975)
Directed by Stuart Cooper
Written by Christopher Hudson and Stuart Cooper








There is audacity of process here, intercutting archival wartime footage with a madeup soldier’s story- - - a kind of time travel on one hand, the way it was shot using tech from the era, and a kind of obsessing over the mildew of history on the other, the way it belabors the specific textures for resonance. It’s gimmicky but one with legs to at least stand on if not marathon the distance. You can only go so far before fact starts subduing fiction, after all, but that could be the apex of its slightly pedestrian sentiment - - - war's immensity and how it swallows the people fighting it whole, soldiers as cogs in the machineries of combat. But then the madeup soldier (and John Alcott) starts to fabricate perverse, impressionistic fantasies about his dying in battle that twists everything into an investigation on notions of history as grand, spurious hallucination. * * *


8.13.2007

AIO HARU (BLUE SPRING)

Aio Haru (Blue Spring)
Directed and Written by Toshiaki Toyoda
From the Manga by Taiyo Matsumoto









Schoolboys in revolt - - - it's the same old cruel story of youth that goes back all the way to Vigo but every generation demands a few of these for their own , if only to throw a bone to that hormonal urge to rebel we all phase through. The generation this is meant for already have their Battle Royale but they might find uses still for the cartoony vigor it shares with the Taiyo Matsumoto manga it siphons off - - -the filmmaking has a kooky, propulsive energy. But its cartoony vigor parallels Matsumoto only in terms of form. And Toyoda seems to have confused the way he draws with the tone he aims for. Kinder, gentler then- - -and how can it not be with that benign dwarf botanist? Also more upful and aggro with many liberties taken, not least of which is Toyoda finding deep-seated heartbreak behind the nonchalant anarchy where Matsumoto merely found a black hole of ennui. The manga was corrosive with blank nihilistic chill. Meet its big wussy thaw. * *

7.15.2007

CLEAN, SHAVEN

Clean, Shaven
Directed and Written by Lodge H. Kerrigan








There's the dissonant rhythm of his cutting, fracturing more than cohering, and the way his cropping a frame so severely makes them like bits of jigsaw and you have to lean in
- - -Kerrigan's playing you, like Hitchcock before him, only with little trace of Hitchcockian cheek. He wants us to actively believe Peter Greene is going to visit the same bad things on the estranged daughter he's tracking down as he did that trail of dead kids and we do. His is a syntax of confusion, baiting our preconceived notions of schizophrenics, and of schizophrenic thrillers, then dismantling them by letting us into the head of one, letting us hear the voices he hears, and taking the stylistic twitches to empathic multitask when the din of ghost chatter makes sense of the impulse to burrow into your own skull with a pair of scissors just to shut them the fuck up.
* * * *

7.02.2007

LES ARMEE DES OMBRES (ARMY OF SHADOWS)

Les Armee des Ombres(Army of Shadows) (1969)
Directed and Written by Jean Pierre Melville
From the Novel by Joseph Kessel






His resistance fighters have the swagger of thugs because, well, they are thugs, with the same fatal delusion, the same purity of purpose- - - amounts to the same thing, really. Obvious from how the genre shift is more apparent chronologically but not emotionally, Melville's time in the resistance gave his gangster inversions its contours and while none of us are obliged to look at them in this new metaphorical light, it does oblige us to recognize that what we have here is that same world of clandestine duplicity and shadowy code and misplaced honor we've come to expect from him, except maybe for the diminished rogue glamour. That tends to amp up futilities ,though, and amps up claustrophobic overbear even more . . . in the ugly and messy languor of executing a traitor without a bullet , in that dirty hand clasping its rescuer's in relief evoking the desperate isolation of fighting for a cause, and in how every spasm of derring-do - - -an escape sequence that happens in a tic of brutality, another that happens in the thick of smoke- - -is upset eventually by painstaking failure. Wonderful and depressing and rubbed raw until you have nothing but the violent gleam of bone. 

7.01.2007

BUG

Bug (2007)
Directed by William Friedkin
Written by Tracy Letts
Based on his Play






Aphids and spots of bother and glitches in the system and malicious surveillance - - - a bug is all that and is all that here. Zero in on mood and claim the Burroughsian for when the four walls of what's real start to curdle into paranoid soup. Claim surprise,too, at how Friedkin's grip on matters is in-depth enough to make writing him off after years and years of awful and indifferent cinema feel like a gross jumping to conclusions. Dick helps decode this for me - - - reality is something you create more rapidly than it creates you. What grounds the hysteric patina is Ashley Judd's white trash burnout desperate for emotional cling. The deadened hum of her deadend life so sticky with anxiety and hurt and bad love, you root for her taking up with Michael Shannon's twitchy stranger and for how their conspirational, consensual apparitions of weird science, insect kingdoms and black helicopters feels less like the shrapnel of breakdown and more like the out they desire and deserve.

6.30.2007

TRANSFORMERS

Transformers
Directed by Michael Bay
Written by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman









Not that Bay ups robotporn stakes here nor does he one-up the Japanese in making mecha mayhem dance- - - and he really should put that overeager camera of his on a battery of downers - - - but it does get as big and loud and stupid and hooky as hair-metal powerchords. That preps you to forgive the ridiculous lashings of plot the way you'd forgive the ridiculous lyrics to, say, The Battle of Evermore for the sake of the kerrang! - - -and this headbang is spinal tap. A bit harder to forgive is the way it holds sacred the backstory of a toy line that had no mythic presence in the first place to justify its hold on a generation - - - other than as placebos for all that Voltes withdrawal we were going through . When it chooses to sideline the reverse-engineering and low tech vs. high tech when it's really grist for dark Patlabor revisionism and more vicious thrash-metal parallels that's the toy opera denying its metamorphic nature for the cozier confines of being a throwback. Bumblebee is sleeker as a Camaro, though , and that courtship sequence is a gas.* * *

6.26.2007

SLITHER

Slither
Directed and Written by James Gunn










At what point does the pastiche go up a subversive notch? Brenda ballooning to a planet of flesh and that wet squish she makes every time she tries to move? Or when she pops like a zit spewing alien slugs over everybody? Or when one of the slugs crawls into a naked girl’s mouth and she gets flashes of its homeworld? Or maybe when that tentacle slices a guy in half and his guts slip out - - -but not before he blinks and makes the tear flap for a bit, also known as the part where the pastiche goes up a notch to gore nirvana. * * * *

6.24.2007

KIMYO NA SAKASU (STRANGE CIRCUS)

Kimyo Na Sakasu (Strange Circus) (2005)
Directed and Written by Sion Sono








Incest fucks you up ,it's saying- - -um, you think, Sono-san? Go to Rampo for signifiers to where this draws its ero-guro wrinkles from- - -the metafiction, the daddyshagging, the orthopedic eroticism, the bod-mod, the blurring of what is and what isn't - - - but Sono's slight gift for the grand guignol has trouble reining in its garish enthusiasm that it does little but amp its own rococo noise. Unease would've been less annoying to tap into- - - Lynchian, or even Sigismondian. And a giddier ecstasy. Oh, but that cello case wants to be the sack from Audition so bad, it's practically touching for how it tries so hard. Shame. And to think Suicide Club was such a world-class gas, too. * *

6.18.2007

BLACKOUT

Blackout (2007)
Directed by Ato Bautista
Written by Shugo Praico











It's Repulsion for the way it wrings murky delirium out of one man going to slow seed - - - at some point, you half-expect hands to emerge from the grimy walls and grope Robin Padilla's narcoleptic landlord. But his downward spiral doesn't root itself in sexual hysteria and, in fact, his psychoanalysis- - - his denial twist,if you will - - - you can see coming and is a bit colorless when it does. The piece owes him for owning you, though. Like Deneuve, Robin's a one-man band of emotive palpitations. His recurring blackouts ,the dead people he sees walking about and that stink coming off the septic tank could well be figments of a man at odds with his milieu ,and it's Repulsion for that ,too - - - the oppressive claustrophobia of one man held prisoner in the chokehold of his environment. * * * *

6.13.2007

TONARI NO TOTORO (MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO)

Tonari No Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro)
Directed and Written by Hayao Miyazaki











The whimsy's there if that's your thing and there are days this is like a down blanket for me, something to keep warm in - - -that bus stop vignette and my wanting to play it over and over again as if looping would somehow enable me to cross over, there's no way you can break that down to a science, no way to peg why it works in the way it does, no way to do it again, not even Miyazaki himself tried. Could be the wet, shimmery palette's what makes it - - -and the whole piece ,really - - - so immersive, a kind of hush. Also the absence of anything going on in the usual sense of anything going on - - -two sisters billeted in a country house, their mother in a hospital and oh, next door lives a family of snuggly tree spirits that help them plant a tree, take them on a bus ride and later flying through the night. It's ambient, almost. The magic circle aura holds until you get the sense that the supernatural never overwhelms the natural, that there's a certainty to the creeping uncertainty in its peripheries- - -and you get it. Miyazaki would go on to do more ornate work - - - wiser, prettier,better. But what he nailed here that he won't nail again to such a degree is what Erice nailed in El Espiritu De La Colmena : that blinding headrush of what it's like to be a kid - - - and the sense of wonder and threat that come with it. And he nails it not because the magic he taps into makes those wisps of foreboding go away, like they do in neo-Disney mollycoddle. But precisely because it doesn't. * * * * *





Post Written for the Ghiblogathon.


6.09.2007

ZODIAC

Zodiac
Directed by David Fincher
Written by James Vanderbilt











You're not overburdened by milieu the way you sometimes are when it thickened into an almost supernatural Other in Fincher's movies. His '70s San Francisco is pure backdrop : bland, anonymous even. It's Pakula's Washington from All The President's Men - - - those placid everyday surfaces swimming with society's night-thoughts like black filaments of dread. Dread, of course, has always been the other milk of Fincher's aesthetic. No less here , his first period piece - - - but without his usual cock and preen and showboat. It's all suggestive, evoking instead the passive brutality of Imamura's Vengeance Is Mine and leaving a freaky seepage you wish horror movies would leave you with more often. Fincher's always been adept at riffs. Here, his riffs gain sustain and - - -in a suspect's fiendish savoir faire in turning an interrogation around alone - - - deepen. Less about the minutiae of a manhunt than about the minutiae of obsession, a police procedural about the dismantling of procedure , that splendid chaos when method is subverted and the hunters - - - puzzle otaku Jake Gylenhall, maverick reporter Robert Downey (predictably brilliant), world-wearied cops Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards- - -get captured by the game, sustaining damaged aftermaths that beef up the Zodiac's bodycount much as the ones on the morgue slab.
* * * * *




4.11.2007

SUNSHINE

Sunshine
Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Alex Garland









The mission's immaterial - - - eight astronauts re-igniting a dying sun. It's crew dynamics Boyle's after . . . at first. And the polyglot crew here's . . . um, dynamic. He thrusts us thick into it from the get-go, never really letting the weight of the task sink in, neutering the urgency and scale and consequence that fulcrums all the hackneyed planetary rescue thrillers this wants to subvert. It's science fiction only for the tropes it engages - - -the science is a bit wonky - - -and the air of the piece segues deliberately, elegantly, from drudgery to desolation to desperation, least while its busy contemplating the possibilities of divinity in the Great Outside That Is, the sun on the brink of oblivion like a metaphor for godhead, whose immensity in full blast can melt your eyes out of its sockets . . . or turn men into monsters, one of which pulls a third act hijack and all the Tarkovskyesque solemnity takes a sharp turn into stock event-movie bluster. The heavy damage it sustains from the dumbing-down makes everything buckle fatally. Blame it on the bogeyman. * *

3.08.2007

300

300
Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon
Based on the Graphic Novel by Frank Miller & Lynn Varley








Me as a boy was fetishistic about history, long as you could boil it down to pulpy juvenalia - - - so yes to Alexander, no to Captain Cook. The Battle of Thermopylae was one saga full-on with fetish. Boiling it down to hardboiled grit , Frank Miller's comic spoke to that boy in me. Snyder is that boy,too - - -except with bigger , shinier toys at his disposal. So his 300 is reckless, irreverent, overacted but spectacularly choreographed combatporn that feels like a game engine wrote it. And does nothing to up his stock as little more than a hired gun hack-in-waiting with money to burn on post. But the macho eyecandy is severely engrossing man opera - - - history boiled down to pulpy juvenalia, really. Me acting my age wishes more was done with it. But me as a boy is hyperventilating in skirmish ecstasy. * * *

3.03.2007

GWOEMUL (THE HOST)

Gwoemul (The Host )
Directed by Bong Joon-Ho
Written by Baek Chul-hyun , Bong Joon-Ho and Ha Won-Jun








It's a given that you imprint the monster in monster movies- - - that corrosive interloper that usurps and upsets the status quo and rallies humankind to restore order to the universe - - -with whatever you want its intrusion and threat and carnage to stand in for. The slime-black Lovecraftian reptile here comes encoded with toxic dumping and not a little wary xenophobia for intrusive Americans. But when it abducts a young schoolgirl, and her bickering family of four - - - grizzly grandpa, buffoon dad , stoic archer aunt, hairtrigger drunk uncle - - - grudgingly coheres into a combat unit , it's the dysfunction of the family dynamic that takes over and heightens the drama of fatherly love and the lengths blood will go to to keep its own from harm. Not that it's a crawl, no. The Host is steeped in another monster movie given: set piece upon set piece of rampageporn - - - gruesome, gorgeous, emotionally resonant. * * * * *

1.15.2007

MY 2006 AT THE MOVIES

OK,I missed a lot but go, self control anyway, for keeping it down to a minimum. The 10 movies that stole my heart in 2006, then.

Alphabetically.


































1.Citizen Dog (Wisit Sasanatieng, Thailand, Cinemanila) and
2. The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry, France, Cinemanila) :
You can treat these as the satires they claim to be but notice how doing so makes it lose its spring. Better to take them as absurdist pastries for when you want to spring-clean your eyesockets and feed your brain candy- - -and pig out on the buoyant artifice.




















3. Exiled (Johnnie To, Hong Kong, Cinemanila) : It was never going to be The Mission, you knew that. Nor a kiss-off. Instead, the Leone otaku among us - - - which should be all of us - - - now have a toy.




















4. The Host (Bong Jun Hoo, Korea) : Monster movie, also family movie. Both cases ,to the bone. So - - - with heart and heartbreak , plus the archer lady Mark Reyes stole for Tiyanaks.















5. Heremias (Lav Diaz, Philippines, Cinemanila) : Nine hours - - - Lav's running time alone is bullheaded enough to either piss you off or alter all your notions of process, product, procedure. It does both then breaks your heart,too.
















6. Kubrador (Jeffrey Jeturian, Philippines, Cinemanila) : It's all about how we live our lives thinking we're one step ahead of the doom that tails us. And how way wrong we are.















7. Me And You And everyone We Know (Miranda July, USA) : These two and the way they blunder out of loneliness - - -awkwardly, sexily, touchingly- - - is like a held breath that comes out in a cathartic hush when holding in its true feelings starts to hurt.


















8. Miami Vice (Michael Mann, USA, Domestic Release) : Away with espadrilles and Glen Frey . . . Mann reclaims glam-cop fetishism only to implode it into gorgeously incoherent high pulp. Not remake, antithesis.

















9. Munich (Steven Speilberg, USA, Domestic Release) : Speilberg metabolizing the history he's ingested so thoroughly it comes out coarse, depleted, leeched of color.
















10.Three Times (Hsou Hsao Hsien, Taiwan) : Everything is memory and sometimes it fails us. Love through the prism of three kinds of nostalgia- - -remembered, borrowed, imagined.