Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

What a darn film.
When I moved in with Marna and her daughter Ariana I was the big bad father figure that Ariana might have used her imagination to escape...this movie is so crystal clear to me on that level it is frightening!
We saw this as the second half of a double header with Smoking Aces. Aces had the advantage of DLP vs the dim film showing of Pan...and even in the darkness the violence of Pan's implied torture rang truer than say... Aces "sitting on a running chainsaw" scene. Yeah, that is all the review you are going to get of Smoking Aces.
Pan's Labyrinth is a terrific film. Imaginative, restless and engaging with a delightful young star.
This is more than a film about childhood. There are politics afoot here, and while little sympathy can be mustered for the Army, the rebels prove themselves "the same as the old boss"..
Guillermo Del Toro tropes are all over this film. Chronos is revisited with the watch, Mimic gets a nod with our chittering Pied Piper..Even Blade 2 gets an homage..but I won't spoil that one!
The director skill has been on display throughout his career, and if you have not found him, this is a terrific introduction. Oh yeah, it is in Spanish with subtitles--and playing in a megaplex. There is hope!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


"Dreamgirls" is a musical in the sense that much of the dialog has been replaced by song. The other singing..the actual songs..are terrific, though from the cell phone usage (cut short by yours truly) not as universal as I would have thought. What do high school kids know, besides everything, right?
Dreamgirls is a period fiction but may be compared to two earlier films, "Ray" and "Walk the Line." Ray was very much about Ray and Walk the Line about Johnny Cash, but Walk the Line put Johnny into musical perspective, with Elvis and the Bopper in short roles.
Dreamgirls is the story of Motown and and specifically Diana Ross and the Supremes. I love this music, but guessed wrong on some of the parts, much to my chagrin. I fully intend to correct my scant knowledge of R&B many lovers of Jackie Brown have already.
Acting is mostly terrific..Eddy Murphy stands out on the male side, and the American Idol (I have never seen an episode) Jennifer Hudson dares to let us not like her for much of the film, knowing she already has you.
The music is top notch, of course, the camera, while not pushing any edges, does a great job capturing the period. The story is heartbreaking, and embarrassing for this white is much of our history. I promise not to get on the soapbox about Tuskagee..this time.
Politics and business burble under the surface of this film, but the burble is constant, not like in Ray's creative bubble where he had to be picketed to notice the wrong around him. Those of who who want to wait on this one, so be it, your loss. It is original, historical and emotional and it is not a remake.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Thinking XXX

This is a making of a book movie. Let me explain.
XXX 30 Porn-Star Portraits is a large format photobook done by the balding guy(Timothy Greenfield-Sanders) in the picture above. This book is part photos as art, part cerebral ruminations on porn, and 50% porn --if the bible thumpers are to be catered to. 50% because the central conceit of this book is: here is a porn star naked, here is the same porn star, in the same pose, clothed. It celebrates/examines the power of images on each of us, and society, without being didactic.
It is salted with several cool written pieces by the likes of Lou Reed, Karen Finley, Salman Rushdie and John Malkovich. Oh yeah-the pictures are pretty neat too.
"Thinking XXX" is a making of this book documentary. A quick intro to the photographer and his equipment is followed by interviews with the stars and the writers. Everyone with an opinion for or against porn, or an interest in celebrity, film and society needs to see this film.
Recommended. The dvd has a truckload of extra interviews and the full length versions of the excerpted interviews.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Curse of the Golden Flower

I want the king's robe. It is about time the mantle of my robe obsession --"the Comfort of Strangers" flowing white-- was replaced. The king is played by the king of "Anna and the King", Chow Yun Fat. He chews the screen and is as riveting as Gong Li, without the aid of cleavage. You are correct..he did have the robe!
This is a work of fiction, based on a book about another time and another place..apparently palace intrigue has less borders than the region coding system..and can be played in any country. Palace intrigue foments into a coup, and the movie goes grand scale, lush, and absolutely stunning.
The inevitable debate of which film is better, "Hero", "House of Flying Daggers" or "Curse of the Golden Flower" is as distracting as which day is worse..Monday or Friday for the Customer Service types out there.. All three of these films are terrific, and I can't wait for the next one.
We were treated to a weather related private show at a decent theatre that still managed to showcase the differences between projection medium: digital is better. It is not quite VHS to DVD better, but so far once the digital is set up right focus, tracking and sound problems can no longer be blamed on the projector.
Do see this movie on the big screen, it is absolutely that beautiful.

Harsh Times

Dark, gritty, bi-lingual treat for the darkness obsessed among us, of whom I number. It is another terrific film for Mr Bale, and he throws himself at the role, or more accurately, into the role. This film deserves more attention than "The Machinist" which will always be remembered by those who saw it as truly starving for your art.
Bale is hardly emaciated here, sporting the appropriate tats for a misogynist gulf war vet needing a risk fix. Risk and violence are no longer omnipresent as he is back in LA, and his corrupted psyche demands it.
Without the tension of combat he is out of his element, and his type A drive demands he get back in. He creates situations where the only outcome is violence, he comes to life during these, dragging his small circle down with him.
The theatre we saw this film in was second run, and the already dark film was underlit at the projection level, with stuttering sound and the occasional silent moments when the soundtrack dropped out completely.
This is probably not a date movie, and some time around or in the military will enhance your enjoyment. This is not an anti Iraq film, nor is it "Johnny Got His Gun", but it treads similar waters..though Bale has all his limbs..

The Wages of Fear

It occurred to me that even the remake of this film is old! That remake is called "Sorcerer", and it starred Roy Scheider. The original came out in 1953, released two years later in America heavily censored.
While the idea that censorship existed(s) in the "land of the free" is not news to anyone paying attention, I was surprised at the delay before the American release. I was under the impression that that was something new, brought on by distribution rules and DVDs, not just the country of origin.
Regardless, this is a double-dip feature rereleased(again) by Criterion, and thankfully so. The censored scenes have been put back in, the transfer cleaned of debris and the English subtitles--when English is not being spoken--are apparently closer to what is being said.
This film is a "Treasure of Sierra Madre" for the discarded. The spoils are hardly worth the risk but appear to be the only escape. The set-up is the truck loaded with volatile nitroglycerin across the country on a dirt road. Survive the trip and get enough cash to leave the forgotten land.
Tension and fear mount as psyches fray.
There is backhanded political stuff sprinkled throughout this character study, not too heavyhanded. The cast is universally superb, there are no special effects.
I believe the characters Mario and Luigi from Super Mario Brothers were modeled after characters from this movie. Video game fans...check it out and tell me I'm wrong!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Children of Men

Best Science Fiction film of the year. Proper review with sources and links after second viewing this evening.
Click here for background (spoilers) from Wikipedia. Very thorough, and accurate as far as I can tell. Took me awhile to get back to the review as I am still thinking about this movie, and, of course, doing my part to spread by word of mouth. Most reviews have been positive, here (spoilers) is a negative review with a lot more research behind it than the lip service usually given. I believe the reviewer is thoughtful but objects to the director using PD James as a springboard for his own agenda.
I am putting this film up there with Bladerunner.Here (spoilers) is a review that reads like a 25 year old Bladerunner review. The complaint that nothing is explained was a chorus when Bladerunner hit, and, as a guy that was initially disappointed in Bladerunner for similar reasons, I can understand. The book was richer, more textured and had a lot more thematic threads that were not touched on by Ridley Scott's masterpiece.
In retrospect, how could they have been? Both Scott and Cuaron work in an entirely different medium, and have enriched the source rather than try to recreate it. Both of these movies are timeless and immediate, both shake the whole body with emotion and adrenalin, excite the eye with stunning camera, and float you through on a sculpted soundscape.
"Children of Men" takes place next week, next year, 10 years hence or 20 years ago. It is immediately believable as "an outcome". It is as harsh a criticism of paranoia and response as "V for Vendetta" and thoughtful enough to set it overseas so it does not get branded unamerican and boycotted here.
I had wanted to do a post called the british invasion about Theo, the new Bond, and Dubstep, but how do I lump the Mexican director Cuaron into that without ruining the geographical accuracy of the post?
This is absolutely 100% recommended for your big screen big theme great movie viewing pleasure.
BTW, Franco Battiato did the "Ruby Tuesday" cover. Your welcome :)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Scanner Darkly

FROM NYT, 1/3/7:
Arrests for drug offenses among those over 40 rose to 360,000 last year, up from 22,000 in 1980.
1980 was 3 years after the publication of Philip K Dick's novel "A Scanner Darkly". The book was a paranoid cautionary tale rooted firmly in PKD's life. The read is chilling, familiar, depressing and funny. Not as funny as Ubik, not as weird as Valis, but definately prescient.
This is a movie review though, so onward! The movie is rotoscoped like Linklater's "Waking Life" version 2.It opens with a junkie seeing bugs crawling all over him and for a moment I worried that the tone was to be too light..
My worries were soon assuaged.
The story digs right in and we follow the Keanu Reeves character through dissociation to disentegration and watch his friends not even notice. Mostly.
Apparently the production was troubled, the release moreso. Wide release was stymied by animation weary critics that would stop the distribution and put this on their top ten list (of course). I am a PKD fan from the early seventies so my judgement is clouded but you know I have to recommend this one..

Holiday 3 Pack

New Years Weekend brought good food and friends together in this Kansas town, and still left a little time for movie viewing. Only one film on the big screen though, our Multiplex is apparently dead last to get the holiday films. Oddly enough the major city Kansas City is not nearly as major as I once thought it was--I couldn't even drive for a good film! Let's see what this weekend opens..
Two films viewed and not reviewed this weekend: Alien and Aliens. Watched both of these Quadrilogy versions on New Years Eve--a good trick to keep the lightweights awake for the "ball drop". I cannot wait for Bladerunner 07, thank you Ridley Scott! On with the trio of unrelated films...
"Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" This movie was beamed in from a parrallel universe. Everything is recognizeable and nothing is from this world. Ebert penned the script back in the day. It watches like an Elvis Movie channelled through Edward Scissorhands land. Russ Meyer directed so the breasts are in full force. Groovy man, but a bad way. The Passenger is still fresh. Bad Timing is still fresh. This watches like a mockery of a period and it very well may have been intended as a satire. A parody of hip and cool if you will at a time when the country was truly in the throes of a cultural revolution. I'm not finished with this one, and will report back after doing more reading and research.
"Baba Yaga" Before Immortal, Sin City, Mirrormask, V for Vendetta and 300 there was Baba Yaga -- a graphic novel brought to the screen. This is a story of a gorgeous fashionable female photographer with a hip pad in Milan, a bevy of suitors and models and a lesbian priestess of the dark arts after her..I have not mentioned yet the leather clad voodoo doll..
Panels from the actual graphic novel are employed a tad sparingly, and the english dubbed italian version of this french novel suffers editing and plot issues. I watched it all the way through waiting for a larger story and some kind of in "Venus in Furs", but none was forthcoming. Recommended for the graphic novel fans only I'm afraid.
"The Good Shepherd" for this Le Carre fan an absolute masterpiece, trading the saturation and emotion of the Constant Gardner for levels of nuance and shades of gray. Not to mention enough RL parallels to make me want to read more history!
We watch as the job first takes our hero's "life" and then hollows him out into a shell of a man. Watching his light recede and watching him watching the forces around him move and shape the world we live in is utterly heartbreaking in the quietest of senses.
Le Carre often paints the American Intelligence Agency people as gung ho clueless cowboys from across the pond, and we meet a few of them here. Our hero is not one of them. Deadly earnest, loyal and patriotic the things he questions are not the same that might, the things he observes impact on him like stones thrown in the water, barely rippling the surface.
Camera, editing, colors and acting are all top notch, and I cannot find fault Deniro's second outing as a director. It is daring to put a slow moving intellectually challenging movie that may or may not be critical of the United States at any time, but particularly during the Christmas holidays. Good to see William Hurt again after his cameo in History of Violence.