Sunday, July 03, 2011

Adjustment Bureau

This is one each romantic Philip K. Dick film, highly recommended!

The Tree of Life

Yes, it was worth the wait. And the drive -- after all, why would the Cannes Palme d'Or Winner show any closer than Wichita? Thanks to the Warren Theaters for not just showing the film, but showing it properly. Even a quiet film needs great sound and sharp focus.
A quiet film tackling the big questions. Well, not so much as tackling as holding the questions up to the light in  a way we might not have seen yet. Certainly " The Thin Red Line" was a war movie, but it was a war movie like no other, and this film, apparently long delayed, resonates at an even higher frequency than Thin Red Line.
Is that possible, one might ask, since the Criterion Blu Ray of the The Thin Red Line, freshly viewed, gave this viewer several days of shame about the quality of his entertainment choices.
Comparing TRL and Tree of Life is actually more appropriate than comparing it to Transformers or even Malick's last masterpiece, "The New World". Thematically TRL and TOL both probe the nature of man, the nature in man, and perhaps urges us, albeit obliquely, to humble thyself in the face of the beauty and majesty of the shape of chaos that seems to exist in every nook and cranny.
Call TOL "Affliction" with a positive outcome and a side of God, if one must, as long as one recognizes this is not a sign of conversion from yours truly. Malick has something to show us all. I was able to enjoy Transformers this long weekend also, so have no fear, I am not going all Arthouse on you. Tree of Life is for anyone with an open heart and an open mind.
(there are dinosaurs!)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

RIP Gil Scott Heron

Saw Gil Scott Heron some time back in the '80's. Steel Pulse opened for him. He wrote songs with fantastic social commentary, catchy lyrics and a message, sometimes embedded in real poetry. Arguably his best known title, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", is proving prescient, if narrow-focused on "his people's experience" in the still struggling with it -- in spite of a black president -- United States. I am glad the USA has come as far as at has and refuses to say it is over.
 Reading a recent New Yorker profile of him it seems like this might be the release from pain he has been chasing for awhile. Regardless, his voice, mind and passion will be missed.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The King's Speech

A guest review from my Wife, Sarah Desmet. Yeah, she is a better writer!

When I learned of The King's Speech (TKS) trailers online I woke early in Costa Rica to begin downloading. By one afternoon several days later the snippets shared the King's awkward public address and beauty of Helena Bonham-Carter, but saved everything of the experience I would one day see on screen: The ineffable command to communicate we humans share, a soulful courage fighting halting, silent fear.

We are not birds with one signature chirp, but mammals with the shared grace of human speech. Slightly Cinderella but far from Pygmalion, TKS traces the battle line we worldwide fight from inside the mind: “What do you expect to hear from me?” “Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth?” “Can you feel me?”

Jeffrey Rush nails the future King in this fog of duty and asks “What are you afraid of?' To speak includes fear of not being understood for who you are, who you want to be, and who you must learn to be.

We were once two face to face lovingly crammed in an elevator going down to a Piccadilly Place where what we most feared – being direct, angry, honest -- is the native tongue. Today when one day a stutterer smooths a phrase we've heard haltingly ever before, we think, You found your flow! To do as others do does not give one his voice and TKS reminds us that to embrace being unique – left handed; a model maker, not collector – are places where we find our command of language. How we, as Kings, lead lives with the strength of clarity.

TKS shares a place of history when the language, the physical audio contact of how what was said, mattered so psychically, so physically – from tongue, jaw, heart, smile and finally ephemeral fears of being 'just human', and ever so full of grace.

Academy Awards or none, eminently memorable.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


I have no idea how or why we got this fabulous film here in Manhattan Ks, just going to count my blessings. You see the small print, "music by The Chemical Brothers", don't you? The boys are back without the block rockin' beats, but man can a choreographer work some magic to their particular and unique churning ambience. Not that this is a fight film.
Call it "The American has a Baby" and get part of it right. You would have to start with a patriot sold out rather than a cynical arms dealer the shadow world is catching up to, but still. What would that guy do, knowing scorched earth is the policy that applies to him and his family?

Cate Blanchette trumps the last Bourne CIA director and even pushes Oldman's John Rain antagonist CIA dude down a notch, "Darlin". Eric Bana, excellent as usual, let's Hanna chew the scenery all to the beat of Joe Wright's  camera of discontent. YEs, the camera is as good as it needs to be, and better than the Haters deserve! Don't make me name names. I am still shocked at the critics blasting a guy for shooting a "could have been by the numbers" spy film with verve and experimentation.

So: music, camera, acting and a clever script all equal a really good excuse to see a quality film on the big screen!


Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Here is an enjoyable and dark ride, one of slew I've seen lately, that stands above the crop. The crop? "Edge of Darkness", "Law Abiding Citizen", and "Harry Brown" come to mind, each have their merits and strengths and I sat through them entertained. "Faster" offers similar themes, stripped to their essence, monologue redacted.
Dwayne and BB Thornton live in their roles. I know, the car repair dude in "U-Turn", but man, both of these guys hit this Grindhouse Joint with nary a wink to the audience. Tom Berenger does a quick, perfect turn as the flic opens, as effective as his role in "Inception" but even more fleeting.
The score is by Clint Mansell, and does not assault, but informs. The camera is, on the other hand, flash and spectacle. This is not the Crank Camera kids incredible acro-cam, (they actually shot in daylight) but dark, grimy hi def angles and zooms. This dark palette meshed seamlessly with Mansell's throbbing bottom.
No one wanders into a movie like this expecting high art. It is certainly a treat to see fine craft and charisma together without the Luc Besson slapstick(which I love) or the gore fest that has gained so much ground since the wars started.
Make no mistake, the violence is quick and harsh and big, but I saw no identifiable organs and the camera chose to linger on the list rather than bodies. Let me wrap this  with the title of a Minutemen Doc as a summation, "We Jam Econo" and a nice quote from Faster, "Where's the exit?"

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Black Swan

The Black Swan. Where to begin?

Aronofsky makes some damn compelling, difficult, films. I am still rubbing my Requiem scar in phantom pain. The only deeper cut was seeing the Fountain by myself in Topeka because there was a game on, or some such nonsense preventing the normal movie people from joining me.

Black Swan is a psychological horror film in the Joseph Conrad mold, a tale of self destruction and recovery a la “The Secretary” and an exploration of a modern day child star mother-daughter relationship with a bit of titillation thrown in to get the guys to come to the show.

Black Swan might be a dissection of celebrity culture, perhaps an examination of ballet, at the very least a bird's eye view of a mind driven too hard to perform and cracking under the pressure. Aronofsky does this with his characteristic great camera, style adapted to match the story, and a cast that is willing to pull out all the stops to make us believe.

Darren(not Aronofsky) and I had this discussion: what if Portman's transformation hadn't been done with effects? Well, the answer is, of course, we would have been watching either a dance or a play, not a movie. The transformation is as perfect and breathtaking as it is startling. I can feel the shivers I got watching it just thinking about it.

Black Swan is a dark Christmas film, one that gives me hope for the genre, and adds another notch to Aranofsky's belt. Bring on the Terrance Malick!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In The Loop

I generally don't like "Comedies". This statement is still under evaluation based upon the large number of exceptions to the rule that have been cropping up. In the interest of fair and balanced reporting I refuse to take the short route out by branding this film "Satire" and not "Comedy."

"In the Loop" is, in fact, one of the funniest movies I've seen in a long time. It is the story of the run-up to the Iraq War (2) from the British side, looking in at the inner workings of the 'Empire" and the kids across the pond that seem to be leading the dance.

"In the Loop" is a  behind-the-scenes look at Diplomats, their aides, and staffers that was perfectly timed for my viewing in these weeks of cable-gate courtesy of Wikileaks. Like the Sopranos episode that mirrored real life with the pair of FBI Mob assassins, In the Loop is a fiction that lays bare the clumsy and frustrating dance of international relations, domestic press, and personal foibles.

The UK government is skewered as hard as the US Government, from a uniquely British perspective. Like the LeCarre portrait of Ollie North in "Tailor of Panama" the caricatures ring true. The acting is spot-on, the writing sharp and irreverent with nary a nod to the fourth wall.

The camera is zoomed chaos, flitting about between abrupt scene changes, swooping and panning to catch reaction shots and details crammed into the lightning paced narrative. Nooks and crannies of the foreign branch are illuminated, backdoor dealings get teeth once the action gets to Washington, and all of this is wrapped in a "keep up if you can" take no prisoners screenplay.

Gandolfini proves once again more than capable of the role, I am thinking of his turn in "Perdito Durango" and the Redford film with the upside down flag who's name escapes me atm. The actor's prize in this ensemble piece has to go to Peter Capaldi, the Scottish press guy with a mouth like a machine gun firing depleted Uranium whenever he opens it.

I came late to the party on this film, overseas as I was when it was released, but this film is still relevant, wickedly funny and damn good entertainment.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Colbert In Congress

He speaks the truth, he captures the zeitgeist, he gets it. Who is in charge? Why? Is there a solution to everything that he hits on in such a short time? If he can package it, explain it, grok it so quickly, back it up with facts, why are we sending in the drones?

I pulled the code out of a Politico article that was bought and paid by someone trying to discredit him.

Bravo Mr Colbert!

Tyler Feeney, I hope you are listening...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

TV 3Fer - Virtuality, Global Frequency, Rubicon!

One of these shows never got to pilot, one was never picked up, and the other is rockin' my world every Sunday night...

"Global Frequency" began as a comic written by Warren Ellis. He is the comic writer/personality responsible for Planetary, The Authority, Gravel, FreakAngels, Red and a very entertaining novel, "Crooked Little Vein". According to Wikipedia, the Global Frequency pilot was leaked in 2005. The leak irritated the producer who said, "No more." Most torrents die quick, this one is still live, and kicking. 

Global Frequency is a crowdsourced agency defending the world from itself across national borders and continents. My favorite Bajoran Ensign Ro, aka Commander Cain of the Pegasus aka Michelle Forbes is the head of this far reaching organization, linked by a dedicated cell phone network.

I am pretty sure that within a few episodes the bumps and quirks in the non-pilot would have been ironed out and this show would have been another excuse to keep the it out!

"Virtuality" is a 2 hour pilot that never got picked up, packaged as a movie. It is very much Philip K Dick meets "Reality TV" via an episode of the Outer Limits and a brief dash of JG Ballard. The pilot, of course, does not resolve at all, but nonetheless stands on its own. It is TV, and the commercial break rhythms are in place, but are upstaged by the Solipsism and Holo-Deck sims.

I am a big fan of long space voyage novels and films, check out my "Pandorum" review (or just rent it), and Virtuality did a nice job honing Ronald Moore's vision of "Caprica". When are you back on the air, "Caprica?" Until then, rent the Dvd "Virtuality" for some good TV.

Rubicon is an AMC show, currently on its eighth episode, who's title, "Caught in the Suck" is so good why even give you a snapshot? Remember "3 Days of the Condor" which had Robert Redford reading for the CIA? Well, Rubicon is about a group of analysts reading and analyzing data in real time for the US Government caught in an apparent conspiracy, revealed in codes.

The Wire, one of my favorite shows, was on fire, plot development wise, compared to Rubicon. You will remember this reviewer loved "Crank" and "Gamer", so I am no cerebral "War and Peace" reader, but I do love a great cast mixed with current events and espionage, and I prefer a slow build to a dozen red herrings and filler episodes.

Sunday Nights are crowded, but I'm pretty sure that is why they make Tivo, right? Since Rubicon is the only one of the three shows mentioned actually airing, I politely request you set the Dvr to "Record".

SnapIt Screen Capture Utility

I have been blogging for a number of years, and considered monetizing once, during the ValisCafe days. I went so far as to sign up for Adsense and check the layout, but ultimately I couldn't bring myself to do it. Blogging is a creative outlet, not a revenue inlet.
My slim readership and odd topic choices have insulated me from click frenzy lures and the weird ads that fill the right side of my gmail folder. Then I reviewed "9" and was offered embed code for the trailer. Well, everyone wins then, instead of a movie poster image I had the trailer.."click".

SnapIt wrote me asking for a review of their software. (wow), in exchange for the software, which is shareware that will cost you $17.99 to purchase. I went ahead and downloaded it. Longtime readers know I don't do negative reviews, there are too many good things happening that I attend/buy to waste time hurting someone else, so, on with the review!

What is wrong with right click save image you ask? Why not just hit print screen and paste? Well, those have worked for me for years, but in these days of flash and Chrome things are not so easy. Snapit allows me to crop a full print screen to whatever rectangle I desire, very handy.

The install was very straightforward, starting with a clean website download page and instructions that are clear and concise. It took me about five minutes of trial and error to get the hang of how the software works. I am nearly over my fear of cluttered taskbars, and with the little SnapIt camera sitting there I know it is one click and a drag to size to save whatever I want from the screen.
(image captured with SnapIt)
There is customization available as far as "hotkey" and naming conventions, as well as file format for the capture. Part of me believes a browser writer should buy up this functionality and build it in to right click options, but until that happens SnapIt "works for me".

Here is a link for you to try it for yourself!
Once you have tried it Digeus software is giving it away in exchange for a review in a blog, Facebook or Twitter. Once you have written the review simply contact for a reg code!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Air Doll

As I approach the second anniversary of my 3rd marriage I posit this: I have learned nothing!
I take this position as axiomatic, but what is an axiom without proof you say? Well, herein lies my proof:
"Hey honey, I picked out a great drama for us tonight, it is about a Japanese love doll,  whadd'ya think?"
Nothing. I have learned nothing. Read on...

The spouse was skeptical from the start, as we watched the lonely Japanese guy riding home on public transportation. "Wow, a seat on Japanese public transportation."

This wasn't going to go well.

By the end of this movie we were both in tears...

This is a well shot film. The costuming is spot on, the story supposedly Japanese but apparently universal. There are a lot of people that are empty inside. Ride the metaphor into modern urban life. Take it to the movies, or at least the movie store.

The soundtrack was so perfect I sought out, and found, a few discs by "World's End Girlfriend" and find it strangely moving, like this film. The spouse has seen "Lars and the Real Girl" and said that "Lars" was about Lars, and that "Air Doll" was about the doll..

The film worked for me on more than a cinematic level, it commented on modern life in so many small ways, the meeting with Gepetto, played by the Japanese son in "Plastic City", seemed like an "of course" moment.
That meeting is one of many moments in this film, each of them bathed in history and pathos and not without humor, though occasionally grim, to truly dark.

The Air Doll Nozomi is asked once, point blank, if having a heart had turned out positive...

Where is your plug?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Avatar Special Edition

This is the tale of my 10 hour journey to see Avatar in Imax 3D...
Before we begin, let me cut to the chase: seeing this film, with that technology, was worth everything you are about to read. Trying to get my mind around the thousands of details involved, from the initial starship scene to the updated mech-suit control surface, makes me wince when I read the reviews deriding the minute count of added content. There are no home theaters available that can present this anywhere close to what I saw in Escazu. To not see it when possible, would be a darn shame.

We bought tickets online 3 days early, lured by a red herring 25% discount for using our Visa card. Without having seen the inside of the theater we were allowed to pick seats. Yep, assigned seats for a movie! Matinee price, $10.00 a ticket included the glasses.(no, there was no discount, as we do not have a Visa Infinity card)

"Avatar Eve" the rain started in earnest here in Panica. We set both phones to wake us at 4:00am. We needed the rain to stop so the bridge wouldn't wash out again. We use our phones for alarm clocks as no one would take the odds on us not losing power that night.

Spencer picked us up promptly at 5am, and we headed to the ferry, all 3 of us silently hoping the bridge was not under too much water. The TLC is good for about 2.5 feet...We made it to the Ferry 5 minutes before the boat left, the rain had stopped and it was a steamy-dreamy jungle dawn in the harbor.

One cafe and one Campari doble later we got out of the boat in Puntarenas, and onto the bus. Stopped in town, bought 3 Jamon Queso pastries and walked 3 blocks to the "Direct Bus" to San Jose. We arrived in San Jose 2 hours later, hopped on the wrong bus and headed vaguely towards the hotel.

The bus ride ended abruptly not much closer than we would have ended up had we taken the direct bus the whole distance. Our bags were light so we walked to the hotel. Our plan was simple: connect the computers to the internet, take a hot shower, change into nicer clothes, head to the theater for the 2:40 show. Piece of cake!

The room wasn't ready, wouldn't be until 2pm. It was only 11am. 3 hours is too long for me to sit and drink in the hotel we went out for a light lunch and a beverage. We went looking for a non-gringo place to relax, but not quite the seedy Cacique and beer joints filled with old men that San Jose seemed full of, at least at this end of town. Then the rain started.

Umbrellas keep the top of your head dry, only. We decided to bus to Escazu and eat there. We took the wrong bus. We did not want to drink at TGIF or Tony Roma's. We decided that we would treat ourselves to a good scotch at the French place near the theater. We were told: walk straight down this street for a long way and you will come to the fence at the back of the theater. Just walk the fence until you find the front.

We were already soaked. We walked, and walked, letting the new neighborhoods help us forget the kilometers involved. When we got to the fence our target was in sight. No entrance. To get to the entrance we  ascended and then descended a muddy slope, in the rain. Mud oozed into my sandals. I helped the spouse down with muddy hands, leaving inappropriate prints on her white top.

After 20 minutes drying her socks in the restroom we made our way to the restaurant, tickets in hand, just an hour left to kill. Glenfiddich all around and a gorgeous cheese plate...

The Nova Repretel Theater is brand new. "Product C", who was to be the HowlerCafe Seafood vendor, has a new restaurant going in off of the food court. Brand spanking new Imax! Apparently I did not explode waiting, probably being soaked helped.

Our seats were perfect. The audio was spot on, deep loud bass, crystal clear. I was confident they would shut off the stair lights when the movie started (they lit the bottom 1/3rd of the screen) and was only off by about 15 minutes in that estimation.

By the time the cryosleep pod thrust out of the wall into my lap the fact that we had stumbled into the Spanish Dubbed showing of Avatar was apparent...Thankfully this was my  3rd viewing, and I am thinking I preferred dubbing into a foreign language better than 3D subtitles anyway...

Did I mention the AC was blasting the place down into the 60s and we were soaked to the bone? It only mattered when the Spouse had leg cramps...The guy behind mine was only on the phone for about 3 minutes, and as mentioned, they killed the lights within 15 minutes of the movie starting.

Avatar 3D Imax is one hell of a technical marvel, the extra minutes add depth and nuance, and I would go every day it was showing if I had the time, just to remind myself of what can be done, in spite of all the roadblocks, the war, and all other manners of lunacy that keep the good stuff from us!

Sunday, September 05, 2010


I'll admit it: Cronenberg's "The Fly" brought tears to my eyes. Here is what you can garner from that: I can suspend disbelief, I'm a touch old and something of a softie. Brody and Polley are a fine update to the Goldblum and Davis pair...and Splice is a worthy update to "The Fly", with several twists and changes that reflect the director's (Natali) sensibilities and the changing role of science in our lives.

Cautionary tales are cautionary tales, and Splice blows up the bio-engineering fear that grips the food and medical press reporters and then takes it ...somewhere else. What looks like a creature feature really cuts deeper into the psyche of the scientists.

It used to take a lot of sheep to make a single vial of Insulin. Science changed that, via bio-engineering. The "trans-genic" organism as "drug factory" is not an entirely preposterous jumping off point. Just add hubris and stir...

Natali, the director of "Cube" keeps the story moving even as he builds tension. The creature effects start early, and never stop. While we move from "Robocop" view slugs to Dren we also dig deeper into our pair of scientists. They unravel even as "Dren" reaches new levels of complexity.

The cinematography, music and fx never crowd out the human story at work in this "sci-fi horror" film, and I did not miss the crew of attractive teenagers that are normally slaughtered in the service of scaring us...I think the director wanted us to leave the theater thinking rather than frightened. Just a guess.


Saturday, September 04, 2010


2404 has not turned into the War Channel, Discovery has already claimed that prize!
I was tempted to drop in the review of 9th Company and change the names and nationality, but that would do a disservice to both films. "Nefes" is another terrific variation on the "from training to combat" story.

I am not sure whether this is based on an actual battle like the 9th Company was, but that is neither here nor there to appreciate the film. The film is Turkish, and follows a small group of soldiers to a remote outpost in the mountains.

A standout performance by the commander is highlighted early in the film during a passionate 5 minute speech to his men standing in formation in the snow. I don't speak a lick of Turkish, but his delivery was so powerful I was glued to the screen. As this type of film goes, the entire ensemble of men we meet grab and hold us, making us care about their fate (which, of course, we already know).

The camera is excellent, to contrast with 9th Company again, where that camera felt organic this camera felt sharp and technical, a dispassionate eye that captured sniper fire and reaction. The music, poetry and song that infect this film and our team are as moving as the deadly combat.

This is the third film about war from another culture's perspective that has gained my attention and held it for days. The first was a Korean film, the second the Russian, and now this Turkish movie. I have, of course, seen the "home" versions, and one thing rings true: war is a plague that has little to do with civilian everyday life and yet infects entire nations with bitter and ugly pain.

That being said, if someone rolled a tank down my street to liberate me I would take up arms too.

Friday, September 03, 2010

9th Company

"Charlie Wilson's War", from the opposing side. CIA armed terrorists stop a superpower cold in Afghanistan (which begs the question, who is stopping the hyperpower today?). One cannot take the eye off of the machines, or the machinations of war.

Comparisons to "Full Metal Jacket" are apt, if misguided. 9th Company is a based on a true story, and this film apparently captivated the Russian -- no longer Soviet -- public when it hit the screens there, 5 years ago. Who loves US Film Distribution more than me? Everyone! Can I get an Ong Bak in da house? /digression

The Hind gunship is very photogenic, particularly when flying in formation. The Soviet troops, in their striped tanks n' tees, chanting "pull the pin, throw the grenade" as they jog even more so, it is just a matter of scale. 9th Company  has a lot of hardware on display, and even more bared souls.

Our war films are so close to us now. The bitter taste and high cost of Iraq and now Afghanistan(as if Afghanistan was a new front for us) have borne several small, tight and great films that have failed to keep people in the theaters, precisely because of their concision, and the lack of distance.

Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and the 9th Company are all exploding history, not current events. 9th Company is now current events for the United States. All of these films have one thing at their center, and Conrad said it best, "the horror, the horror."

9th Company is filmed organic. The vistas and machines and men glow with warmth. Heart and soul and the can-do make it work ethic in the face of adversity rule the day. Vodka, pot, dreams of Olya and home inked tatts fill the spaces in between. The score is as dead on as the action and actors are riveting.

Tears will flow before you pull the Blu-Ray disc from your PS3, subtitles or not.

Somewhere in the film it is stated, "no one has ever beaten Afghanistan in all of history." God forbid we learn a lesson from that.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Youth Without Youth

A second dip into the surreal in as many days. Coppola confounds critics (mostly) and spikes debates in the dreaded comment sections respectively.We have already talked about "Mr Nobody" being compared improperly to "Benjamin Buttons", well here is perhaps the 3rd go at reverse aging, but I'll refrain from the "Buttons" comparison save to note that both films star exquisite beauties as the "unobtainium" that drives the eye inward.

I wish I had scene this on the big screen. The absolute only advantage to the Blu-Ray I own is the Director's Commentary. Mr Coppola is as interesting to listen to as his films are a delight to watch. Sure, I do not understand all the references, and have only vague memories of having read about the origin and branching of languages, but a film can sometimes be enough as a feast for the eyes and ears.

I enjoyed another film called "Stop Making Sense" a long time ago. I've enjoyed puzzling the logic out of David Lynch's clues, found "2046" lush and moving even if the train went nowhere. "Youth Without Youth" has its own rhythms, logic and paths that are as Escher as anything in the jaw dropping "Inception's" architecture of dreams.

To dismiss "Youth" as too cerebral is flat out wrong. To dismiss the film because it has no discernible plot would be a shame. Every film should be judged, perhaps, by the rules the director is playing by. Yes, I'm a fan of Lars Von Trier too.

"Youth Without Youth" might not be your cup of tea. I don't care for "torture porn" but made it through "Unthinkable" in spite(after all that, Mamet made the same point in "The Unit", before that, "The Battle for Algiers", but terrific modern nuance made it worth the disruption to my household). Coppola has put his mind and heart on the screen, and his years. He does so with easily discernible skill. His cast has faith in him, and performs for all of us as well as I have ever seen Roth act, which is to say, bravo!

Do pick up the Blu-Ray, worth the dime for the resolution and the audio and that commentary track.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Plastic City

Anthony Wong in Brazil!
USS Iwo Jima docks in Costa Rica!
"24 City" director Yu Lik-wai rips some pages out of the Latin-American Surrealists playbook!

Buckle up, this will be a long one.

This alleged review is a tale of the end game of Capitalism, the shattering of Libertarian Idealism at the hands of reality, all in the service of a movie steeped and delivered in plasma blasted super saturated imagery...

Yes, I'm an ex-libertarian. Yes, I do believe the end result of one world not nation-states or transnats, where we all get the stakes of our actions, and work to help each other is a worthy goal. My time in the 3rd world, brief as it has been, has shown me just how far off we are, and how difficult the transition is going to be.

San Jose, Costa Rica on foot is a terrific experience. The spouse and I walked up and down busy crowded streets passed dozens of shops selling the latest in Chinese....everything. Granada had a multi block open air market selling used books from the United States, used Clothing from the United States, cheap electronics, counterfeit fashion and footware as well as local fruits and vegetables.

Managua Nicaragua has 2 large markets, miles of tin and plastic covered stalls, selling everything from dried herbs to cologne, and toys from a decade ago. These markets are jammed with buyers and sellers, and, in these economic times, mostly sellers.

Sao Paolo, Brazil is apparently much like the Central American cities I mention. The spouse informs me that Sao Paolo has the largest Japanese diaspora in the world. Yu Lik-wai films a fantastic and diverse multi-ethnic street scene, bustling with races, colors and languages.

This relates to the movie very directly: Anthony Wong traveled to Paraguay via Brazil from China to set up a counterfeit goods distribution center. 20 years into it he has an adopted Japanese son, a small empire centered in Sao Paolo, and political connections aplenty. Along comes FTAA.

With that as the bare thread of a plot, one can extrapolate where the tale goes, but one might not anticipate some truly startling parkour along the way and the first "rooftop" fight scene to approach what Wimmer did in Ultraviolet with Milla against the Blood-Chinois.

The soundtrack is minimal glitch ambient, mutated sound field recordings with snatches of 70's Funk, J-pop and Arabica grating up against digital feedback and distortion. Heavy, appropriated and appropriate. The mix of Portuguese, Cantonese and English as the spoken languages was a terrific stab at authenticity, regardless of the speaker's actual skill-level.

I've mentioned the surreal sequences already, but the camera is not to be missed. Surreal doesn't mean hectic, doesn't mean hyperactive, but does mean colorful. These seem to be mostly film and camera rather than digital manipulation, which lends an organic quality to every frame.

This film is so much more than a gangster movie, so much more than a political film. One only has to have seen a single Anthony Wong film to know that a film like this has to brim with soul.

A friend once dated a Korean woman who told him Korea's relationship with the United States was like having a Tiger in the kitchen, one felt safe but hoped the Tiger never got angry.

I wonder what the White Tiger that appears in Plastic City symbolizes...


Monday, August 30, 2010

Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer

I have a theory about movie titles, (don't we all) buttressed by my time at the Digital Shelf, that posits: some titles can sink a perfectly great film. Two quick examples: "Sexy Beast" and "Dirty, Pretty Things". Both fantastic films, neither remotely erotic or sleazy, but who wants to come home and say, "Honey, I picked out a great film for us tonight, "Sexy Beast!". Those film titles are fine for their films, just make the selection difficult in a world of easy choices...

The Ghost Writer title has a different problem, though it is a perfect title, and the movie itself fits the title on at least 3 levels, but it is so generic I added the "Polanski" to the review title. His association with the project brings all kinds of unrelated baggage from the "know the man, know the work" and the "the work should stand apart from the man" camps, but this is a blog, not a thesis.

Roman Polanski, like Woody Allen, can't just make a movie anymore, but they can't not make a film, either. They both have too much to say, too much craft, to stop. We should be thankful. This review is about "The Ghost Writer", but feel free to apply it all to Woody Allen's superb "Whatever Works".

The Ghost Writer stars Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan as ghost and subject respectively. Pierce Brosnan will always get the Bond reference, but Tailor of Panama, Matador, and now Ghost Writer demonstrate that the brand can be extended into new territory...a great performance. Ewan Mcgregor isn't Tom Hanks, but to drive across continents with Charlie Boorman, snare Cameron Diaz and train Darth Vader bespeaks an everyman as everyman as Forrest Gump and Jim Lovell.

Ghost Writer is set largely in the ghost town of Martha's Vineyard in the wintertime. The modern architecture of the summer cottage with the bold but cold lines of the modern art that be-spectacle every grey surface, the slate gray sanded beaches and grey  clouded skies, and the shiny black rain splotched BMWs speak volumes to the ghosts(and spooks) in and around this film.

The Ghost Writer is as thoughtfully paced and shot as the other "thriller of the summer", The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Both films bring a decidedly cerebral and European feel to the cineplex, and expect the audience to keep up. The rewards for doing so last a lot longer than the bon mots  the new breed of romcom, sitcom and superhero fare deliver.

I do think TV pacing and dialog rhythm have intruded as far as should be warranted into the movie format. Tv is not Cinema. I want my films, and I want them on the big screen, shot by masters or upstarts, but with passion, not accountants, calling the shots.

Stay tuned for reviews of "Youth Without Youth" and "Tetro" by Coppola,  but never fear that I've gone to the darkside. B13U and Ong Bak 3 still play on the ol' video shuffle(oh wait, that tech isn't here yet)...

Meanwhile track down "The Ghost Writer" and feel like you've eaten at a restaurant instead of a drive-thru.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Move over Danny Boyle, Fernando Meirelles has joined you in the winners circle of modern "Lord of the Flies" movies with this fantastic piece of work, "Blindness". Mr Meirelles caught our attention several years ago with "City of God", and cemented his reputation as a director with vision with his outstanding adaptation of Le Carre's "Constant Gardener".
"Blindness" is the hat-trick (omg, a sports reference) film, starring some heavyweights like the new Hulk, Mark Ruffalo (as Mike Dukakis) [yes, arcane ref, but after the film{you do rush out and watch my recs!}check back and nod to yo'self in understanding], Julianne Moore and (since we are working in 3s) Danny Glover, that elevates Meirelles work into must see territory. Both Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo reach deep and pull off fantastic, daring performances.
The camera is sure, the editing and pacing spot on, and the music just right. We knew all that from the "Constant Gardener", of course, but, since this film is only his 3rd to hit these shores I feel compelled to mention. Like Danny Boyle and Robert Rodriguez and heck, even Ang Lee, Fernando Meirelles trusts his audience to keep up with his innovative storytelling shorthand, trusts us to connect the dots.
This is not a happy film, and apparently on theatrical release, made a few groups -- notably some of the blind -- downright angry. Well, the Catholic Church protested the Exorcist too. I am guessing this is why I just found this film, or maybe it was living in a country with the closest movie theater 4 hours away by bus and boat, but who knows? This film no more slurs the blind than the Exorcist, a very pro-faith film imho, did Catholicism.
This one is not to be missed, and you can bring the SO, but not on a first date!
Please note, the lack of synoptic detail is deliberate, I am 100% glad I did not read the reviews I read - post viewing - prior. This movie-goer grows frustrated with spoilers on the back of boxes, in trailers and most especially in reviews that treat us as if we have never seen a film before.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Blood and Bone

Blood and Bone is an English language street fighting Martial Arts movie.

Anyone left?
Ok, you fans of Bloodsport and Lionheart, gather round for the no hecticam, no flash edits, no wire 7 black belt holding Michael J White battle(s) royale.  He is a pleasure to watch, the embodiment of power and grace in the over the top flash of the LA street-fighting scene. This scene is, apparently, the proving grounds for the "international underground fight scene" run by the nefarious and largely invisible "Consortium".
Besides the fighting and moralizing there is the Genghis Khan center filtered through the screen burning Eammon Walker, who is also a fan of Wang Chung. Mr Walker commands the screen without taking his shirt off, though he does bare his sword.
What sets this film above the usual suspects is the subtle application of restraint in the tropes. The crowd is not filled with society women in finery savoring blood spatters off of their cleavage. The mixed races of LA are authentic, the stakes are in the hundreds not thousands and millions, at least at the beginning.
The slow burn of the plot is punctuated by the ratcheting up of the skill level of Mr White's opponents, the replacement of the rims on his promoter's car, and flashbacks to the prison he just left. What's not to like about a chess playing Tai Chi master?
The climax of the film is all too brief, and betrays the careful pacing of the rest of the film, but is not a dealkiller. Did I notice Zoe Bell in the credits :)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Once A Gangster

Jordan Chan as Roast Pork.
Alex Fong as Kerosene
Candice Yu as Lady Pearl
1990s translation goofiness or could it be...satire!
Yes, this is in fact the second review in 2 days that is about comedy and restaurants. This one has Kung Fu though, and the spouse loved it. All that chop-socky I've force fed her paid off in spades as this film riffs hard on legendary films, directors and stars.
These are not the soft chuckles of Soul Kitchen, but full throated laughs as the Departed/Infernal Affairs "cast" goes from arm to arm and the arguments of which right arm the cast was on escalate...
I suppose the caveat is if you have never seen a Johnnie To film, The Departed, any of the 11 or so films in the Young and Dangerous series this might not be the film to start with. With that in mind I would be hard pressed to find as sharp a satire on this side of the Pacific that has the original stars lampooning themselves.
Yep. Asian comedy without Stephen Chow. Who'd a thunk it?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Soul Kitchen

A few things we need to make clear, for the new peeps: I own a restaurant that has just closed, I don't care for comedies, and I don't mind subtitles.
Soul Kitchen is a subtitled romcom, and I loved it.
Still here? Think I've gone soft?
It is macht nichts if you haven't started the insane journey into the food biz or spent 18 months in the superfine country of Germany, where "Soul Kitchen" takes place, these things just got this film in the narrow door of movies I'll actually watch. Yes, even a comedy. You are right. My wife has seen enough Kung Fu...
The movie starts off quick with a typical improvised solution to an unintended crisis. We meet the crew, the girl, the con brother (don't tell anyone) and the customers. It never slows down. We follow the Greek wheel the Greek lead is riding (you know the one you learned about in comp 101[composition, not computers]) with the usual mix of dread and hope.
Nodded my head to the minimal techno, tapped out of time to the funky soul, laughed and pointed at the prep and kitchen insider stuff. Loved the knife wielding chef with the mystery bark, and smiled the whole movie through to the credits.
This is light life affirming stuff, the plot stress is catch and release, the heartbreaks heartfelt but resolved and at the end of it I didn't have any speeches, just a broken heart for my broken dream.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Catching Up

Before I begin: wow, long time between posts! I have been publishing with another blog tool, tumblr. Most of the posting there has been about the restaurant, HowlerCafe, that I opened a year and a half ago with Spencer. We are now closed, and it is time to catch back up. Here are some links to those posts:
all things Howler
reviews, rips, short form stuff
trip to Granada, in pics

Tumblr has some advantages over blogger, but it does not seem to be about the Twitter isn't about pictures or exposition I suppose. The new strategy is to get 2404 back to current and use tumblr to point. thanks for listening, and enjoy!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Little Drummer Girl

This is the first LeCarre I had my wife read. I saw the film in the 90's and thought it relevant then, and, apparently, still now. Pretty entertaining also. This clip is from the Warner Bros Archive, as it is not available on DVD. Warner will burn a copy for you - a great service!

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Please ignore 99.7% of the Gamer Reviews and "comments" -- the boat has been missed and the Lemmings have supplied chorus.

So way back when we stumbled into Crank alone. Movie buddies shook their collective heads.."dude, that shite ain't worth turnin' off my cellphone for 80 minutes"...
We all know now exactly how different Crank is/was will be -- clever, daring, amplified with a DIY in your face style that took no prisoners. To borrow a term from the other tabooland, Gonzo filmmakin'.

Gamer takes it to the next level.

I am trying to remember the movie from a few years back full of violence and gore where the fourth wall is broken and the character screams at the audience why are you watching this!

We have all seen the trite tsk tsk movies about games. We have all been disappointed by our games being made into truly awful movies, and endured the scorn of so called adults pawing through our media calling us 13 still.

Well my answer is: science fiction paved the way for your damn cell phone flashlight you use sitting in front of me in the dark. Science fiction tried to warn you about now needing a calculator to multiply 72 x 3. They also warned you about microflash transactions -- the trades that brought the first world to its knees last year. But please, keep up your condescension. I know you don't read anymore so by all means post that iPic to your Facebook and move on.

Wow, touched my own nerve writin' a dang review.

Gamer isn't perfect, even for what it thinks it is doing. It does it better than most though. Movie 2.0 if you will, and there are a scant handful of directors/camera-peeps even thinking at that level, never mind delivering.

I am reminded of the first 20 minutes of Magnolia where information is pile driven quickly to bring you up to speed then the movie relaxes and slows down. Gamer does not until the very end. It is not so much frenetic as it is deconstructed.

Its "message" is hung on a trope we have all seen before -- Running Man, Rollerball, Death Race etc. I loved the remake of Death Race -- real cars, tough gritty performances, but it was an homage, a cover version if you will. Gamer goes beyond that.

FPS games get all the bad press -- responsible for every male child loner with a handgun and no girlfriend after all -- and the foreground of Gamer advertising is in fact that particular brand of game. Second Life and the Sims -- where the other gender games -- are also subjects of Gamer, as is Capitalism, role playing, and the Wall-E thing.

My favorite is the complicity of the IT department who have apparently never heard the Google motto "do no evil".

Highly recommended, a must see on a screen bigger than the one you aren't allowed to watch the Superbowl on.


Pandorum, in spite of the poster and the trailer, is not a horror film.
Pandorum is science fiction, and well wrought at that.

A long time ago - and many miles away - I ran a book club out of Borders (at the cusp of them deciding "corporate" made more sense). Our topic was "space voyages that last 100 years or more". There are a surprising number of books written, and worth reading, on the topic.

Pandorum is a movie we would have discussed in the club. Joseph Conrad rears his head without Marlon Brando. So does James Cameron, yes, Ridley Scott and all the other "related" horror science fiction guys being bandied about in the sniggering negative press. The comparisons being made seem to be calling this film a pastiche, but it is much better than that.

There is no fourth wall breaking film stutter to signal the end of madness. There are no tanks of blood spewing and only one Casshernesque gene pool..

I was hoping for something as cool as watching Steve beat "Dead Space" - a PS3 game with a rich backstory - and got something even better!


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Threefer - District 9, Star Trek, 9

3 days, 2 theaters, 3 movies. A fine "welcome back" to the 1st world. No embedded travel stories in these short reviews, I promise. Reviewed in viewing order:

District 9 - Wow. Terrific film here. This is the new school stuff, with seamless CGI blended into daytime instead of night, the real world instead of a dark, post-apok alterna-verse.

Great story, well written, that does not beat you over the head. I am thinking "3 Kings" good as far as the writing goes. The lessons and points are absolutely there to be taken, but are not force fed through a narrow tube or POV down the throat.

The main character is an everyman that does not make all the right choices in any situation. His acting is top notch, and fearless.

Peter Jackson presented this, so 'nuf said about the SFX.

This one is a must see.

Star Trek - They got it right, finally. I have enjoyed moments of all the other Star Trek movies, but usually leave shaking my head. I went to this one hopeful (and at the dollar theater) but not unguarded. Everyone that told me how good it was was too young to have seen the original "back in the day".

This is a real treat for those of us that did. A bona fide feature length episode that perhaps shits on the Shat too much, but that is geek humor. Trust the audience enough to present the multiverse without too much of a didactic spew of over-explanation.

Kudos to all the fearless actors playing characters so dear to so many and getting it as right as the script allows. MVP to Karl Urban for being "the Bones".

This one might not ignite a new generation of fans, but will bring us all back in 2011 for the next installment...

9 - I am a sucker for animation, and Burton has done a lot for the genre. This film advances that, and offers a dark alternative to the laugh a minute coolness Pixar off handedly tosses us with such startling consistency.

This movie earns its PG 13 rating. I hope teens do go, and I hope the goth/emo/weird kids have enough buying power to keep this afloat long enough for the moneymen to greenlight Burton's next piece, because the younger kids will be scared out of their minds. I'm not one to a> respect the rating system or 2> believe it, but this no breasts, little gore, and animated, film pushes some sophisticated buttons.

I am still digesting this 3rd one, as it conflicts with a bunch of my base principles, but i can without hesitancy say that this is a must see for anyone who wants to see big screen risk taking.