Wednesday, October 07, 2015
( 11:45 AM ) posted by Setsuled
One typical solution to a love triangle in melodrama is to have one point of the triangle die, often heroically. What happens if you apply the same logic to a love octagon? You're going to have a lot of dead, heroic people, as demonstrated in 1966's Black Tight Killers (俺にさわると危ないぜ, literally "The Danger and Touch of Men", a stylish gangster ninja film that falls into an obtrusive pattern that is both disappointing and intriguing.
The film's fabulous poster seems to promise a Japanese version of Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill! but the influence is more James Bond as the film follows a male protagonist, Honda (Akira Kobayashi), as he makes his way through night clubs and bizarre, complicated villain lairs. In one scene, a pair of dancers painted gold reminded me of Goldfinger and immediately the scene cut to Honda observing to some other people at his table that the dancers are taking a risk because with their skins fully painted the skin can't breathe, the same thing that killed the victims of Goldfinger (this won't actually kill someone, by the way).
Unlike James Bond, though, Honda is on a mission to save his one true love, a pretty, innocent stewardess named Yuriko (Chieko Matsubara). Both the Black Tight Killers, a gang of ninja women, and a gang of American and Japanese war veterans want her. Why isn't exactly clear, it seems to have something to do with a hidden stash of gold that belonged to her father.
For some reason, the Black Tight Killers treat Honda like their enemy. One of them asks him into bed with her and traps him with what she calls a ninja technique, the "Octopus Pot", apparently using her vagina to hold his penis. As if the Killers' motives weren't ambiguous enough.
Honda escapes by throwing a laughing gas bomb, to make the woman's muscles relax, as he explains to his ninja teacher (Honda is also a ninja) played by none other than Bokuzen Hidari.
In case you were wondering if there's a movie where one of the stars of Seven Samurai discusses the use of a vagina as a ninja weapon, here it is.
After this, Honda runs into other Black Tight Killers one by one, at first as an enemies, then as reluctant allies against the male gang, and then as a pair of tragic lovers as the Black Tight Killer dies in Honda's arms, telling him how glad she is she's met him and what a good guy he is.
There comes a point where it really seemed like Honda ought to have remarked on how odd it was this story kept playing out. I'm not sure if director Yasuharu Hasebe was making a conscious point about formulaic story telling though, especially considering Seijun Suzuki was his mentor, it's certainly possible. Though nothing in the performances indicates this story is meant to be taken ironically, the repetition, and the characters' lack of acknowledgement of it, is hard to ignore.
Like a Seijun Suzuki movie, the film's aesthetics are good, filled with Dutch angles of Go Go dancers, dreamlike, overlaid images, and vivid, Expressionist use of colour.#
Tuesday, October 06, 2015
( 7:24 PM ) posted by Setsuled
How's a gangster supposed to carry out extortion and marriage schemes in a world composed of unpredictable, absurd extremes? Romani, Bulgarians, and Serbians alike swim in a sea of washing machines, buggies, flowers, accordions, shoes, and clutter of infinite variety in 1998's Black Cat, White Cat (Црна мачка, бели мачор), an entertaining slapstick romantic comedy about death and money.
Matko (Bajram Severdzan) and Zare (Florijan Ajdini) are father and son, two Romani earning a meagre living trading goods on the river. Matko has ambitions, though, and seeks to make a fortune through a complex plot involving money borrowed from a gang boss friend of his father's, Grga (Sabri Sulejmani) and a heist for a Serbian gangster named Dadan (Srdan Todorovic).
Dadan likes to sing along with the chorus to a song, "Pit Bull Terrier"--he sings "pit bull" and his ladies sing "terrier" back at him. What this implies, I'm not sure, but he takes a great deal of evident pleasure in it and it somehow seems to reflect the influence he has over these women.
Grga's legs don't work and he spends his time in a combination bed and car, watching Casablanca over and over, speaking along with Bogart's final line about "a beautiful friendship".
Eventually, hijinks and incurred debt compel Matko to marry Zare off to Afrodita (Salija Ibraimova), a.k.a. "Smurfette", Dadan's only sister without any suitors. But Zare's in love with a goony blond Romani named Ida (Branka Katic).
Ida upstages almost everyone else in this movie, Katic's comedic instincts and fearlessly broad performance leaving Zare looking grey and indistinct.
She's part of what makes the movie work which is in its overwhelming sense of meaningless goofiness. In one scene, Zare somehow brings an entire orchestra to visit his grandfather in the hospital, in a later scene, the same orchestra is inexplicably shown tied to a tree, still playing their instruments.
Ida puts Zare through the paces to prove his love and one scene has him swimming across the river carrying a bowl of ice cream for her. They end up making love in a field of sunflowers.
Dadan likes to juggle grenades. A runaway bride finds a hollow, stage prop tree trunk in the woods and uses it to escape, only for Grga's driver to spot a running tree trunk cross the road, dropping shoes.
The movie has a plot and an end but it almost doesn't seem to matter, the chaos of visual creativity dominating the experience.
Twitter Sonnet #797
Remote audiences echo on Mars.
Monday, October 05, 2015
( 12:34 PM ) posted by Setsuled
How thoroughly do preconceptions about race permeate a society? Even a black man in 1960s French Cameroon who considers himself the intellectual equal of his white employers finds his personality has become a latticework of repression in 1988's Chocolat. A quiet, meditative film of well composed long takes, it effectively evokes a sense of a stifling and strange day to day.
Protee (Isaach De Bankole) is a "houseboy", essentially a butler, to the Dalens family. He performs his duties in a cool, detached manner, refraining from engaging even in much banter with his fellow black servants. He does develop a mentor relationship with the little Dalens girl, France (Cecile Ducasse).
Here he teaches her how tasty ants can be on toast.
Against his will, he develops an attraction for Aimee Dalens (Giulia Boschi), the girl's mother. Perhaps the feeling is mutual but her face conveys nothing when he helps tie the back of her dress before she goes to meet and English visitor. But he clearly seems to see another significance to the shared moment.
When a white man who works among black servants named Luc (Jean-Claude Adelin) arrives he begins to upset the boundaries, eating with the servants and discussing Aimee's attraction to Protee which seems to become more evident from Luc discussing it.
Both De Bankole and Boschi give effective, subtle performances. The movie tells its story very simply but manages to speak volumes about the characters with just a few small moments. The movie's framed as a flashback experienced by an older France Dalens (Mireille Perrier) who returns to visit a liberated Cameroon. She finds even her friendship as a child with Protee has not prevented a ghost of the preconceptions of an old social order taking hold in her subconscious.
Sunday, October 04, 2015
( 1:50 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Why waste time thinking and researching when fighting a social injustice? Well, one might find oneself beset by the misfortunes graphically enumerated by 2015's The Green Inferno, a work of effective horror and devious pleasure.
Unsurprisingly, this film by Eli Roth, the director of the Hostel movies, has been misinterpreted by its critics. Actually, misinterpreted is too kind as it's clear to me from reading reviews on Rotten Tomatoes that most of its detractors did not see the film or if they did they certainly didn't stay for the end. I was surprised, because of the way this film's talked about, to find this movie is nowhere near as gory as Hostel and certainly not as shocking as Cannibal Holocaust, the mid-80s exploitation film among several to which Roth pays tribute with his film.
Justine (Lorenza Izzo) is the pretty daughter of an attorney for the United Nations. New to college, she becomes used to seeing protesters organising hunger strikes for janitor healthcare and other issues. When she meets the charismatic leader of one group, Alejandro (Ariel Levy), she ends up joining them on a trip to Peru and becoming part of a human wall to block bulldozers in the process of deforesting an area where an uncontacted tribe, the fictional Yawa, dwell. They seem to succeed but as they head home their plane catches fire, crashes, and they're captured by the very tribe they'd been protecting, a tribe that turns out to practice cannibalism.
While the tribe is fictional, it's not outside the realm of possibility for cannibalism to be practised in an isolated tribe in South America. Cannibalism, while relatively rare, is known to have been practised throughout South America and Mesoamerica. More prevalent was human sacrifice and ritual mutilation. The civilisations inhabiting the area, the Chimu and the Inca, were known to carry out human sacrifice. The ironic situation shown in the film, Justine taking up the cause of ridding the world of female genital mutilation only to get caught up in saving a group who carries out the very practice, is certainly plausible. However, critics who insist the film is a dangerous work of anti-indigenous people propaganda miss the film's fundamental statement. This statement became clear to me early on when we see Justine retrieve her necklace from where she keeps it underneath a copy of Moby Dick.
Like Captain Ahab's personal vendetta against the whale having little or nothing to do with the reality of the whale itself, Justine and her fellow activists create a world for themselves that has much more to do with proving themselves to their parents or peers than the real issues at the centre of their endeavours.
The film may be at its best in the first act. It builds tension beautifully as we see Justine go from the safe environment at college slowly into a world more alien to her. We see her and the other activists in an unfamiliar Peruvian city and then on the river in some beautiful location footage with which Roth said he wished to emulate Werner Herzog.
It becomes more and more clear that there are a million tiny details that the students hadn't anticipated about their task and each other--how they'll move their belongings, how they'll relieve themselves once they're on the river, how the politics at work are actually manifesting in the deforestation. Each piece of information seems to raise the tightrope higher.
But their imprisonment by the cannibals is pretty good as well though I found the film's minimal use of nudity a little jarring. One needn't look at many photos of actual tribes in South America before getting used to the fact that everyone walks around wearing little more than thin belts. So the rudimentary speedos and halter tops were a glaring anachronism though I can understand the pressures Roth might have been under to keep the film at an R rating.
It's a little funny seeing critics holding up Cannibal Holocaust vaguely as a high water mark and discussing whether or not Roth rises to the occasion. In The Green Inferno you will not see, as you will in Cannibal Holocaust, small animals actually being killed or torn apart, and no sexual assault aside from a priestess inspecting the female captives to determine virginity. Even compared to Roth's previous films The Green Inferno is pretty mild. Maybe he figured he'd have a hard enough time getting people to see it with his subject matter.
I won't spoil it but in case you're still wondering the film at the end clearly, very emphatically, comes out as being against deforestation. I thought of a line from Aliens: "You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage."#
Saturday, October 03, 2015
( 6:03 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Capaldi seems much more laid back this season of Doctor Who so far., despite the funny bit with Clara's cue cards. I think maybe they realised trying to channel Malcolm Tucker wasn't working. I certainly agree, as much as I love Malcolm Tucker, but Capaldi is capable of more than that.
Under the Lake is exactly the sort of story I was hoping for with all the two parters this season--It opens with the new characters, establishing the new situation and some of the new ground elements of this story and then the Doctor comes in, rather than it being about the Doctor. That was part of the magic of the old series--the Doctor was the wandering X factor.
Definitely some nice atmosphere in the underwater base and I like having a ghost story set there. Toby Whithouse's dialogue is a little clunkier than Moffat's and he's not quite as inventive. But I like the sense of unravelling a mystery.
I'm hesitatnt to say I can predict what's going to happen because I'm usually wrong whenever I voice my predictions out loud. I feel pretty sure things will get sorted when the deaf woman dies, though. Somehow I love that it's set in a freshwater lake instead of an ocean. That the Doctor is going back to a period before it was a lake gives a nice sense of scope.#
Friday, October 02, 2015
( 3:57 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Maybe all a school of problem boys needs is one very special music teacher to inspire them. Probably not, but it's the idea behind 2004's The Chorus (Les Choristes), a completely unadventurous, by the numbers film of the inspirational teacher genre that nonetheless manages some genuine charm.
Clement Mathieu (Gerard Jugnot) accepts a position as the new prefect at a boarding school for delinquent boys in 1949. He finds them under the cruel stewardship of Headmaster Rachin (Francois Berleand) who responds to pranks and tardiness with physical and psychological abuse.
But Clement has a secret love for music the boys soon discover when one of them steals the contents of his satchel--music sheets. He's a frustrated composer. With really astonishing speed, Clement turns the boys into a chorus and trains their voices, apparently having won their goodwill by consistently not ratting students out to Rachin. Only one student resists Clement's instruction, Pierre (Jean-Baptiste Maunier), who also, of course, happens to be a prodigy soloist singer.
It's only a matter of time before Clement has gently coaxed the boy around his distrust of the world that's never understood or been as kind as it ought to be to him and like gooey dough carefully baked in an oven, the movie rises to become as soft, warm, and unremarkable as fresh bread.
Sometimes it is nice to have a sweet little unambitious thing, though, so if you've had a couple glasses of wine and don't feel like getting up from the couch, this movie may assist you in feeling a little tender.
Twitter Sonnet #796
Brains pulverised are then humbled by slime.
Thursday, October 01, 2015
( 6:44 PM ) posted by Setsuled
People often mistake strength for control and control for wisdom. It's debatable whether or not there are any heroes in 1956's Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, an effective, morally provocative Science Fiction film.
So many alien invasion films of the 50s made the mistake of over explaining things, firmly pinning the humans and aliens into broad roles. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers steps back and lets us make our own judgements. The humans fire first, unprovoked, shooting dead the first alien to step out of a ship.
Saucers had been appearing for some time, we learn. Not attacking, just flying through Earth skies. When finally one ship lands near a rocket testing facility, they retaliate after being attacked by wreaking massive destruction. It turns out later they'd sent a message ahead that they wished for a peaceful meeting to Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe), the man in charge of some new rocket technologies, but he'd failed to decipher or even recognise the message in time.
The aliens claim to be refugees from a destroyed world and do seem intent on subjugating the human race. The movie doesn't attempt to state what is the right or wrong thing to do, becoming more a straight forward procedural as Dr. Marvin and military officials decide how to combat the invasion. Leaving these questions hanging not only heightens the tension, something that always happens when you're not sure if the protagonists bear a guilt for which they might justly be punished, it also conveys a very human messiness in the behaviour of both the humans and the aliens, who after all are essentially allegorical humans. Very rarely is human wisdom equal to the human capacity for destruction.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
( 12:04 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Why does fate unite a handsome, brilliant, selfless Doctor with a beautiful, self-sacrificing, gentle hearted nurse only to have her fall prey to the same congenital heart condition that brought them together when it killed her mother and have her get in a train wreck and appear to be dead long enough so that he marries his childhood sweetheart who blinds him with acid when they get in an argument? To these eternal questions life has not yet provided answers but 1968's Saathi dares to pose them again with charismatic stars, enjoyable songs, and really weird, sloppy editing.
In my favourite bit of weird editing, the couple are on their honeymoon and the scene transitions from dialogue to song with a really quick shot of a random tree, the camera zooming out really quickly on it from an extreme closeup on one branch. I heard in my head a sped up tape of John Cleese saying, "The larch" (I don't actually know if it is a larch so I've learned nothing). But the movie is filled with odd little beats of people in the middle of starting to say something or abrupt beginnings other shots that get instantly cut off.
In case you haven't figured it out, this is a melodrama. It's about a brilliant surgeon named Ravi (Rajendra Kumar) who meets a gorgeous nurse beloved by staff and patients named Shanti (Vyjayanthimala), an angel who puts the needs of others always before her own. Then her mother suffers from a heart problem and Ravi operates only to lose the patient. So Shanti is left alone in the world and Ravi, like any gentleman in a patriarchal society, marries her. But it turns out they really love each other.
Rajendra Kumar is fine as Ravi but mostly Vyjayanthimala makes the film work, being so adorable that her picture perfect, patriarchy-wank cliché character isn't annoying. The songs are good, too, the centrepiece being "Mera Pyar Bhi Tu Hai".
The song is reprised later after Ravi is blinded and for various ridiculous reasons Shanti attends him as his nurse pretending to be someone else, allowing him to continue thinking his beloved Shanti is dead.
At two and a half hours, this is short for a Bollywood movie, but would probably be more enjoyable watched in multiple sittings.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
( 7:19 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Catherine Coulson, who died yesterday, in her best known role as the Log Lady from Twin Peaks, discussing the meaning of dreams and an in between state. And she's talking about a quality of mystery that is essential to art and which many people who aren't artists can't understand. In the class I'm taking now on John Milton, I've been surprised to see how many of the students adamantly refuse to believe there was anything about Paradise Lost which Milton did not intend despite the fact Milton's piety has been too well established by now to think he'd willingly create what came to be known as the Satanic Hero. Some things will always be hidden and finding the right balance between control and asking the magic to "do as you will", as a character in The Last Unicorn put it, is the essence of creating art. Above all, it means letting go of prejudices.
Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling.
Note. The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it.
There were two versions of a new Sirenia Digest released to-day because Caitlin accidentally featured a story, "The Drowned Geologist", that she'd already featured in the Digest before. She originally wrote it for a Sherlock Holmes/Lovecraft Mythos crossover anthology and in her Prolegomenon she discusses how she likes the story better now than she originally did, saying that her previous discontent with it was due to it not being the story she had intended it to be. It'd been years since I'd read the story, but I still admire the sense of mysterious dread in it, a touch more melancholy than Lovecraft's similar sense of unknowable menace tended to be.
Twitter Sonnet #795
A blue bird interposed before my meal.
Monday, September 28, 2015
( 12:16 PM ) posted by Setsuled
I wouldn't have made it far outside on Saturday if I'd been a mosquito or housefly. A large web had been constructed and apparently abandoned overnight in front of my door. Thin strands extended all the way down but the concentration of spirals at the top makes that part the most visible.
It's flattering, at least one spider wants me to stay. Maybe she was just ambitious and thought to have stocked her larder for several generations. At least it didn't have "Some pig" written on it. I'm not even a cop.
I did take some pictures of the moon last night but they all look like I put a flashlight behind a black cloth.
I'm not sure how much of this blur is due to my unsteady hand or my inferior camera. It seems okay for taking pictures of birds during the day. There always seems to be a bird perched on this sign whenever I walk past:
Sunday, September 27, 2015
( 4:19 PM ) posted by Setsuled
What is precious and horribly elusive to you may be attained or destroyed in the blink of an eye, hundreds of times a day, by someone else. The two of you aren't necessarily enemies but may see each other as alien, your conceptions of need borne of vastly different experiences of fulfilment and disappointment. Two such people meet in Michelangelo Antonioni's 1962 film L'Eclisse which taps an existential horror of nuclear war for a beautiful film about the limitations of love.
Vittoria (Monica Vitti) has left her fiance after finding herself dissatisfied with her feelings. After staying up all night with him discussing the breakup, she confirms to herself that she'd only been going through the motions and no longer loves him.
For the first portion of the film she wanders aimlessly, meeting her mother and her friends. At her friend's apartment she ponders pictures from an African vacation, images of values and customs remote to her, she can only guess at the level of significance they have for the people. Goofing off with her friends, she dances in black face, the activity superficially having no serious implications for them, but afterwards we see her watching other people, trying on modes of behaviour as though trying to study the ways in which feelings manifest. After a bad day at the stock market, she follows a man who lost millions. He doesn't seem to notice her, she watches him doodle some flowers on a napkin at a restaurant.
She becomes a rather profound avatar for the film's audience as we're compelled to think for a moment why we look for movies like this, what we're looking for.
At the stock market is a broker named Piero (Alain Delon), a handsome, constantly fast moving man, buying and selling all day. When Vittoria asks him if he hires call girls, he says, "Who has time for call girls? I'm the call girl." One senses he's not being quite honest--we see him flirting with other girls, he may not engage prostitutes but he's certainly not chaste as it seems he takes her question as wanting to ascertain. There is an element of truth in his response, though. He is constantly moving and he's constantly moving the valuable possessions of others, portions of companies for which he has no concrete idea of size and meaning. His car is stolen at one point and turns up in the lake with a dead man inside and all he can talk about is how difficult or easy it might be to clean and sell the car.
He can't understand why Vittoria is so slow to accept his advances. He persists so he probably really wants her but like everything else Vittoria now wants to study the process, she interrogates or quietly watches his every flirtation, as though trying to divine the secret of indescribable human chemistry. When they finally kiss, in a rather potent symbol for them both, it's with a glass between them.
Saturday, September 26, 2015
( 5:06 PM ) posted by Setsuled
So I guess sunglasses are the Twelfth Doctor's fez. I really liked what they did with them in this new episode but with the hoodies, the sunglasses, the electric guitar . . . which I did like and that Capaldi looked like he was actually playing it (he was in a band with Craig Ferguson) and I want to stress Twelve is still my favourite of the new Doctors . . . he's kind of coming off as the "mid life crisis Doctor". The bow tie on Eleven started off ironic and became genuine, just because there's a sense that that's the only way the modern audience can take even a hint of weirdness, I think. Can you imagine a new Doctor wearing a ruffled shirt or a cricket outfit? Even the bow tie, of course, was originally worn by Two and the tartan trousers I love so much were worn by One, Two, and Seven. I wish there was more courage to genuinely rock the boat.
That said, it was a good episode, Capaldi and Gomez were great, Coleman was fine but she had kind of a reduced role. Missy felt more like the Companion, actually she kind of reminded me of Turlough although I think Gomez is successfully channelling a bit of Anthony Ainley.
Spoilers after the screenshot
And Clara's back in a Dalek. No-one even says anything. The Doctor could have said, "Seriously, how does this keep happening to you?" but, oh, well. The Dalek shell translating "I love you" into "Exterminate" and other nasty things was one of my favourite ideas in the episode.
I also love Davros' diabolical double blind, if you will.
I loved how much the sewers resembled the caves from the original Dalek serial, I love how accurately the corridors were recreated and, of course, I loved the return of the original design.
I'm looking forward to next week's episode. I'm hoping it'll be less about the Doctor--a lot of people have said it, I've said it before, the show needs to get off the subject of the Doctor a little more often.
Twitter Sonnet #794
A blue background ink cloud gave dust to bins.