Friday, February 28, 2014

Adventures in Shirt Washing

Victorian French laundry is pretty exciting especially as a theatre for a sopping wet brawl between two beautiful young women. That's my favourite scene in 1956's Gervaise, an adaptation of Emile Zola's 1877 novel L'Assommoir, which I suspect is somewhat less melodramatic than this entertaining and interesting but ultimately lightweight film about a pretty and unlucky woman.

Maria Schell plays the guileless and pure hearted Gervaise who lives in a miserable, crumbling flat with her two kids while her boyfriend, Lantier (Armand Mestral), tends to spend most of his time in a brothel across the street.

It's in the laundry Gervaise learns Lantier has finally run off with another woman. The woman's sister, Virginie (Suzy Delair), is at the laundry and laughs cruelly at Gervaise. Gervaise tosses a bucket of water at Virginie in retaliation and the battle begins.

I was already enjoying the scene for its detailed recreation of a public nineteenth century French laundry room. The room filled with women scrubbing and the proprietors up on the catwalk, the occasional trips to the boiler in the middle of the room. Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, Gervaise is the most expensive non-English language film ever made--214 million in 2012 American dollars. I can't honestly tell where the money went just from watching it unless a lot of the places I took for locations were actually massive sets. Or maybe a lot of it went to Suzy Delair's salary as compensation for Maria Schell straddling her, lifting her skirt, tearing her knickers at the seat and paddling her bare bottom.

After this episode, Gervaise moves and marries a roofer named Coupeau (Francois Perier). She opens her own laundry and things seem to be going well until Coupeau injures himself falling off a roof and becomes an alcoholic in the aftermath.

In a melodramatic perfect storm of embarrassment, Gervaise throws herself a Name Day party, invites the whole neighbourhood, and Lantier shows up. Instead of beating Lantier as he promised, the already embarrassingly drunk Coupeau takes an immediate liking to Lantier and invites him to live with him and Gervaise.

I think they were united in moustachery. I looked at the two wondering what they reminded me of and finally I realised they seem like drunken, womanising French Super Mario Brothers.

Ultimately, the point of the film seems to be that we should feel really bad for the perfectly innocent and pretty Gervaise to whom all sorts of bad things keep happening. Despite this, the film is rather charming, mostly for the ragged assemblage of supporting characters. The gossipy neighbour women, the big busted woman who works at Gervaise's laundry whose chemise always seems to be falling off, the drunken old man who solemnly accepts the party invitation so there can be more than 13 people at the party, the people at the burlesque show Lantier takes Virginie too. It's all rambunctious, delightful, idealised old French city working class.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I See Your Vampire Hand and Raise You One Better

Okay, I was going to write about a movie to-day but this list of 8 "badass" vampires on i09 is so pathetic I feel obligated to create my own List of Vampires More Badass Than the Ones On the Io9 List. Not that it's so hard since the io9 list includes Alucard from the lousy anime series Hellsing and the whiney Bill Paxton vampire from Near Dark. You just don't get much farther away from badass than any Bill Paxton role ever. Not that I have anything against Bill Paxton. I love him in Aliens because he brilliantly plays a whiney douche in it. That's what he does best and I certainly give him credit for it.

The io9 list features Christopher Lee's Dracula from the Hammer Dracula series but I'm kicking my list off with

8) Christopher Lee's Dracula (from the Jesus Franco Dracula)

Mind you, this isn't a list of great vampire movies (though some of them are great) but of badass vampires. Jesus Franco's film is not very good but it's no worse than Hammer's Dracula. However, unlike the essentially voiceless mugger Lee plays in the Hammer films, in Franco's film he's given opportunity to show he can play the undead warlord aged under layers of cool you only get with centuries.

7) Mathilda May as Space Girl from Lifeforce

io9's list included no women, I suspect because the list's author subconsciously doesn't think women can be badass, but tell that to the Space Girl from Lifeforce who strolls about totally naked, killing thousands of people slowly and painfully while seeming only hungry and mildly, sadistically amused.

6) Bela Lugosi as Dracula

The io9 list makes just an off-hand, dismissive mention of Lugosi but the ruthless hunger and elegance he exudes at the beginning of the Tod Browning film is too magnificent to ignore.

5) Lina Leandersson as Eli from Let the Right One In

This kid is cool as ice. And sure, he's not above attachment, but you notice there's never a moment in this movie where Eli entertains the idea of feeling sorry for who or what he is.

4) Gary Oldman as Dracula

Also not above attachment but as a commenter on the io9 article noted Oldman's version of Dracula becomes a vampire through pure, spiteful will, cursing God and drawing blood from a crucifix. I don't care how secular you are (and I'm pretty damned secular) that scene has to fill you with a little awe at the sheer wrongness and the furious wickedness of this Dracula.

3) Klaus Kinski as Dracula

I do give the io9 list credit for at least mentioning the original Nosferatu but I thought Kinski in the Werner Herzog remake was at least as good as Schreck in the original. They're both versions of Dracula that emphasise vampirism as a physical disease but Kinksi brings his peculiar, captivating, focused fury to the part.

2) Ingrid Pitt as Mircalla

Like Eli, Mircalla grows attached to humans and never seems to feel guilty over who she is. She snacks on peasant maidens and keeps a house of favourites in her thrall. There is a sadness about her but it's not that she's cursed with vampirism but rather that she's forced to live in a world with humans who would condemn her for her nature. Ingrid Pitt brings a performance that conveys extraordinary intelligence and sensitivity.

1) The Vampires from Vampyr

The ambiguity of these vampires is a big part of the awe they inspire. They're shadows, they're ghosts, they're dreams. They're the suspicious man at the top of a stairway, the familiar doctor, the quiet, fussy old woman, the image of flashing death. The boundaries of their power are unknown, the logistics of victory rely entirely on forms of instinctual logic the normal human mind recoils from examining in itself.

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Odin's horse stands over the hat brush.
Ants devoured the whole butter camel.
Half a dozen minute hands beat a rush.
Rugen's custom glove caressed his pommel.
Parnassus preys on a pacifist Kirk.
A revolver finds a metal haven.
On small cubes special black dots lurk.
Ock, Vulture, Baker, Dillon, Beck, Kraven.
Fruit gum zebras puked on the blonde Doctor.
Andrew left to Digory a green sign.
The sum was not found on Goody Proctor.
I mind it didn't turn out to be nine.
This night when these same geese are a laying
The Count laughs as you know what he's saying.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Oblivion Assistance

I doubt many films are done better service by their titles than 1976's In the Realm of the Senses, a film with at least three extraordinarily potent titles. "In the Realm of the Senses" aptly describes this true story of the famous (only sometimes infamous) Sada Abe who lived for sexual pleasure, the film portraying a period of her existence thoroughly consumed by her sexual relationship with Kichizo Ishida. The French title--the Japanese film was released through France to get around Japanese censorship--is L'Empire des sens, a reference to a French book on Japan called L'Empire des signes. But most intriguing to me is the original Japanese title, 愛のコリーダ
(Ai no Corrida). "Ai" means love, "no" basically means "of" or "for". "Corrida" is spelled in katakana, meaning it's not a Japanese word. It's a Spanish word literally meaning to run but used to refer to bullfighting. Yet it sounds similar to the Japanese word "korita" (凝りた), the past tense version of "koru" (凝る), a verb both meaning to obsess and used to refer to stiffening neck muscles. With three words, the title describes the themes, subtext, and surface of this fascinating film.

In 1936, Sada Abe was sentenced to just six years in prison (and served only five) for strangling her lover to death and cutting off his genitals. Wikipedia has this photograph from shortly after her arrest.

Abe was celebrated as a figure of sexual liberation in Japan. The film mentions this only briefly but we can see something of this public attitude in the reactions the two lovers are met with by the frequent witnesses of their coitus.

A woman tending a garden nearby when Sada abruptly mounts Kichi only smiles and tells them how she feels more energetic just being around them. But the two mostly carry out their love making in hotel rooms--sometimes in the hotel owned by Kichi where Sada was working as a waitress when he met her, later mostly in a series of geisha houses. Only once does a waitress speak disparagingly of them, telling them how geisha are refusing to entertain them because of their reputation. Sada becomes furious and accuses the woman of lying, of ascribing what is only her own opinion to others. Almost immediately we see Sada may be right when an elderly geisha shows up and immediately praises Kichi's virility.

To say that the film features unsimulated sex is something of an understatement. We see penetration more than once as well as oral sex. The film is not porn, the actors are always in character. It's not even an exploitation film. There is some genuinely beautiful photography in 1970s exploitation films--and Ai no Corrida is certainly well shot. And the sex between Sada and Kichi is not implicitly condemned by the film. They're two attractive people and yet the focus is on something subtler. The sex is mainly just the context, however explicit it is.

Eiko Matsuda plays Abe as sort of a junkie, enraptured but more defined by insatiable need. Tatsuya Fuji plays Kichi rather cool, laid back (often literally) and bemused by Sada's insatiability. He remarks that she always seems to be wet and she replies that it's not a physical illness--she'd had a doctor examine her and he'd told her she simply had an extraordinary libido. But the film rather unmistakably portrays the effects of a disease that's slowly pulling the two down, making them negligent of everything else in their lives.

Eventually the two begin to indulge in erotic asphyxiation. After several rounds of this, when Kichi tells Sada not to stop next time because it's too painful afterwards, there's a real sadness to it. It's something Abe said Ishida actually said in real life before the fatal strangulation--the fact that she desired the death penalty afterward suggests she may have been telling the truth. She later reflected that Ishida might have been joking. Portrayed in the film as a man with an ironic sense of humour, when Kichi delivers the line it seems as though it was meant as a joke that quietly, actually expressed the truth.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Excessive Produce

Last night I dreamt I was planning a heist with Jay, Silent Bob, Sissy Spacek dressed as Silent Bob, and a walrus with human legs. We started talking about who ought to score the heist and I said it was a shame we couldn't get Bernard Herrmann. I was met with blank stares and realised none of them had heard of Bernard Herrmann. I threw a fit, saying how I couldn't rob a bank with a bunch of people who weren't genuine cinephiles. It ended up Silent Bob was just Kevin Smith in a costume and Sissy Spacek had been the real Silent Bob all along.

Over a decade ago, my favourite drink from Starbucks was a white chocolate mocha with raspberry syrup. I long since lost my sweet tooth but to-day I ordered one for the first time in ages--with soy instead of real milk, of course, and no whipped cream. I enjoyed it. Is my sweet tooth back? Or do I just hate my health class so much I'm impelled to contrary behaviour?

Afterwards, I went to the Japanese market and bought the smallest radish they had.

So far I've only boiled daicons I've bought. I may try roasting or baking this one. Not all at once. I wonder if I could bake it like a potato--the only "baked daicon" recipes I see on google refer to "daicon fries". I thought "fries" implied frying. But what do I know? Giant radish fries does sound intriguing.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Brains

I think I still have the ragged VHS copy of Ghostbusters I watched over and over when I was a kid. Harold Ramis, who died to-day, played Egon Spengler and co-wrote the screenplay. I came to appreciate him later for his performance in Stripes and of course as the director of Groundhog Day.

Not all good artists are articulate--I challenge you to listen to one of Ridley Scott's hazy interviews. But Ramis had a great ability to analyse films and talk about them eloquently. And he seemed to have a great ability even to look at his own work without becoming defensive.

I heartily recommend listening to one of his DVD commentaries some time--his commentary for Groundhog Day is particularly good. 

Twitter Sonnet #599

Legless music repeats on silky turf.
Chromosome teeth filter an anxious howl.
Termite faces wink throughout the thick surf.
Triplicate faces chase a tea soaked owl.
Watch faces plug the martini funnel.
Solemn Scorpio shirts spell out, "Virgo."
Saltine clouds gently coat the throat tunnel.
Vegetables grow despite the embargo.
Asparagus neon blankets the eye.
Souls request blocks of telephones wire.
Galactic Siskel sighed for ether rye.
But Luke Skywalker turned from the pyre.
Glass circles flash through ectoplasm murk.
The unstopped stripe sock drill finally worked.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Robot Music Charms the Savage Robot

A man has a simple and pure desire to build an army of robot soldiers bearing his likeness but somehow people and emotions and mosquitoes inevitably stand in the way. This perhaps comes close to describing the runaway shopping cart of a premise belonging to 2010's Enthiran, a Bollywood musical homage (sort of) to Isaac Asimov. Asimov is name checked several times in one of musical numbers, anyway. This movie is a lot of fun, for the most part exhibiting a sequence of events heedless of formula or genre conventions. The climax of the film goes the wrong way but for all the silliness and weird logic the characters are genuinely engaging.

Bollywood legend Rajinikanth plays both the robot's creator, Dr. Vaseekaran, and the robot, Chitti.

Rajinikanth has been a star since the 70s and incredibly for this physically intensive role he was 61 years old when the movie was released. In addition of course to dancing the movie features several quite amazing action sequences.

This is from a scene on a trolley where Chitti saves Sana (Aishwarya Rai) from a gang rape. It's hard not to think of the widely publicised real life incident where a woman was gang raped on a trolley in Inda in 2012--two years after Enthiran was released. But of course it wasn't a crime without precedent. I felt here the film was attempting to reaffirm a social conscience by showing how a hero ought to act.

The movie, which had been pure romantic comedy with some cartoonish slapstick up to this point, may jar Western viewers with the abrupt shift in the seriousness of subject matter. Well, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Vaseekaran takes Chitti to a military board of review hoping to sell the brass on manufacturing thousands of Chittis to replace India's human army. But the nefarious Dr. Bohra, Vaseekaran's mentor who sits on the committee, has been trying to develop his own robots to sell to the highest international bidders. He undermines Vaseekaran's demonstration by showing Chitti will stab Vaseekaran if ordered to. For some reason, instead of figuring the robot needs to be programmed with better recognition protocols, everyone figures this means Chitti needs to be given human emotions. This is reinforced when Chitti rescues several people from a burning building but rescues a woman from her bathtub, carrying her out to the waiting crowd without thinking to cover her nakedness. She immediately commits suicide by jumping in front of a bus and bizarrely everyone counts it as a murder perpetrated by Chitti.

Vaseekaran works day and night to give Chitti human emotion but has no success until Chitti is struck by lightning. I suspect this was meant to mollify some of the more conservative individuals in the audience.

Chitti proves his newfound sentience by delivering a baby which greatly impresses Sana, Vaseekaran's fiancée. Unfortunately, Chitti falls hopelessly in love with Sana. In my favourite scene, Chitti watches her sleeping at night from her window but rushes in when he sees a mosquito on her cheek. She wakes up, shocked to find him there. After he explains why he entered her room, he asks her to kiss him on the cheek like she did after he finished delivering the baby. She tells him that she kissed him before because he accomplished something great so he asks what he needs to accomplish in order to receive another kiss. She tells him to catch the mosquito.

Chitti pursues the insect to a community of mosquitoes and proceeds to have a dialogue with them. He demands they hand over the offending mosquito, they demand he provide them with AB blood and petition the government to make the mosquito the national bird. In a movie that keeps finding new left fields to pitch from this was the turn I absolutely adored. It's played without a trace of irony, it's just pure fairy tale which, for all the sci fi trappings, is really what the whole movie is.

Vaseekaran and Chitti enter a bitter rivalry for Sana's affections, presenting her with jewellery and dance numbers, until finally a confrontation takes place where Sana explains to a tearful Chitti that love between human and robot is impossible and not just because of the lack of a penis which Chitti alludes to and his inability to impregnate her. Sana tells him it's something that can't be put in words.

A surprisingly horrific scene follows after which there is the film's most curiously irrelevant musical number which brings Vaseekaran and Sana to what appears to be an Aztec temple.

The last act of the film features the misguided decision to put Chitti under the influence of an evil red chip. He slaughters hundreds of people and there is a really impressive car chase sequence as well as some of the film's most impressive musical numbers.

All of this is to veer away from the morally ambiguous direction the movie was heading in. Which is too bad. Personally, I think Sana would have been better off with the robot.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Bodies in the Holy Place

On the mostly dead lawn of the Mormon churchyard I walk through between school and the neighbourhood where I park I noticed a few days ago thousands of little white things.

Closer inspection revealed them to be snail shells.

Was it the recent rain? Was it pesticide? A combination? It seemed rather incredible for so many to die at the same time in any case. And why were the shells bleached? They couldn't have been in the sun very long, I walk through that area all the time and I'd never seen them before.

I suppose it must have been an effect of pesticide.

It's been a lazy Saturday so far. I played chess and watched a movie. I boiled some penne rigate for lunch and I'm on my second cup of tea. I slept in to 7am to-day. There's still a lot of instinct in my bones that wants to sleep to 11 every day. The whole world feels different with this schedule.

I had a dream last night about a romantic comedy taking place in clean metal laboratories. The lovers at the centre of the film were having a fight--the woman was feeling insecure about the fact that she occasional turned into a blue tiger. In the middle of their argument, there was the noise of something moving behind the ceiling. A moment later, a grating fell to the floor and a zebra tumbled out of the air conditioning duct. There was a lot more to the dream but I don't remember it. I think it was partly inspired by the movie I watched last night. Feel free to guess what movie it was. I'll write about it to-morrow.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Endless Reflecting Spell

I love a movie, or any work of fiction, that so completely brings you into a character's point of view that their perceptions, or misperceptions, flow seamlessly with the movie's presentation of an objective reality. 2013's Magic Magic accomplishes this. It's a really wonderful film that creates an atmosphere seemingly composed of a menacing will to portray a reality of humans bereft of guidance from a higher spiritual or moral authority.

Juno Temple stars as Alicia, a girl from the U.S. who is visiting her friend Sarah (Emily Browning) in Chile. She meets Sarah's Chilean boyfriend Agustin (Agustin Silva) and Sarah's friends Barbara (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and Brink (Michael Cera). The four of them, in something of a standard horror movie setup--which the film subverts--have decided to stay for a few days in a cabin isolated in remote countryside.

Brink is a weird name and an appropriate one for the role Cera's character plays in the film. Cera gets an executive producer credit on the film and I suspect it's because he put money into it. Considering how remarkably creepy and pathetic his character is in the film, it's kind of admirable of him. The limp awkwardness he normally channels to portray sweet, impotent boys he here employs to portray a sheltered, giggly nebbish with no apparent super ego. When Barbara passive aggressively tells Alicia how white people fucked up the lives of Chilean farmers, it feels like the film is setting us up for a story about U.S. arrogance. But Cera, the biggest asshole in the film, speaks fluid Spanish and seems to be suckling on the life of the more well adjusted Agustin. Brink seems to be plugged into an incorporeal sadism that pervades the atmosphere and oppresses Alicia.

Brink is aptly named, I think, because it's his behaviour that seems to be the primary catalyst for the strange alterations to reality Alicia encounters--though it's by no means limited to him. The film is told primarily through Alicia's point of view.

Alicia tells Sarah, the only person she feels she can trust, about her feeling that the people she's with are "sadists" after she witnesses Brink shooting and killing a parrot. She also mentions how Barbara is obsessed with silence and how no matter what she does Alicia feels she can't be quiet enough for Barbara. One of my favourite scenes which shows how much the film is shot from within Alicia's mind is a scene in the living room where Alicia and Barbara are sitting and reading. A profile shot of Alicia in focus as she looks down at her book has Barbara out of focus in the background, loudly chewing some crisps, apparently staring at Alicia.

When we see Alicia look up, there's a beat before the camera goes to a focused one shot of Barbara who is looking down at her book and not at Alicia. It isn't simply that Barbara wasn't looking at Alicia when Alicia thought she was--the beat gives ambiguity to the moment. Barbara could have been looking at Alicia but her body language suggests she hadn't been. We're uncertain, just as Alicia is.

Yet, even as we're so anchored in Alicia's point of view, we're able to discern distinct aspects of her personality that seem to be reacting to the strange phenomena. She finds Brink's sexual immaturity threatening because he's physically more mature than he is mentally. The mysterious, menacing force makes her fear apparent sometimes by causing her to behave in a manner opposite to her feelings, causing her at times to behave in a sexually provocative manner, as in one scene where she, hypnotised, perhaps pretending to be hypnotised, complies with Brink's suggestion that she "dance like a whore."

This is part of a series of events that occur and things that Alicia sees that seem to manifest because she fears them.

I won't tell you what precisely is behind the strange phenomenon Alicia encounters as I think discovering it along with Alicia is a great aspect of the film's dedication to her point of view. But I will say I loved how the buried guilt connected to the callous killing of innocent animals seems to push a storm to the surface.

Twitter Sonnet #598

Bone beeswax candy stations tap coasters.
No ring of sweaty drink'll damage us.
Orang-ootang boas leave to boasters.
We provide pretzels for the whole campus.
French fry regrets came in lieu of the rice.
Blue plate skulls came to us in hatless bulk.
Alaskan Mexican place had no spice.
Water colour crust burns a vapour hulk.
Imminent ceiling fan trials came down.
Nothing proves a book's medicinal strength.
Red fingers in a cave paint a crude clown.
Serpents swallow dragons double their length.
Another grey lunch dreams of battleships.
A trained pigeon watches all moving lips.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Creatures Who Eat

Last night I dreamt about Buster Keaton movies. I'm not really sure it counts as a dream, more of a recollection--it was just scenes from The General, Steamboat Bill, Jr. and College.

I've been trying out some of the Mexican restaurants around here for lunch. In the part of town where I used to live, years of experience had taught me all about the many Mexican restaurants in the area--it's amazing how consistently I find each little place makes a unique burrito. Even if we're talking about comparing a bean and rice burrito with a bean and rice burrito (my usual)--the seasonings will be subtly different, the sizes will be different, the price will be different. There was the K-39 place that pushed the Creation Museum--their bean and rice burrito was only a dollar thirty and tasted slightly like paste. There was Cazadores which made really big, slightly disgusting but somehow in a good way, bean and rice burritos for three dollars.

Yesterday I tried a place I can't remember the name of--I think it was called Mike's. Anyway, I won't be going back. I don't think anyone remotely connected to Mexico had ever worked there. They didn't even have bean and rice burritos--I had vegetarian Tacos which tasted like they were made by a blonde Republican senator, bland and gross. The best part of the meal was the French fries.

I walked down the street and handed out some more stale bread. The seagulls hovered all around me, screaming. It was great.