East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Thursday, March 31, 2005

SFIFF '05: Schedule up

Listings for the SF International Film Fest are up.

But when am I going to get to see Café Lumière?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Downfall: So self-conscious

When Downfall turns into another WW2 survival drama, a la The Pianist, it's not so much offensive as lame. The movie is of interest, however, for stunning performances in impossible roles. Bruno Ganz's Hitler is grandly pissy, one moment verbally battering his generals; the next gently buttering whatever women he can find. Alexandra Maria Lara plays one of those secretaries, Traudl Junge (the star of the recent doc Blind Spot) - it's her POV that's taken most often, and though she's fine, she doesn't have the richness or insight needed to really elevate this movie.

Richness is provided by Juliane Kohler's Eva Braun, stark raving but just short of mad in her determination to party on while Berlin burns, trying to overwrite not only her insecurity but the Reich's. Insight comes from Heino Ferch's Albert Speer, architecture's equivalent of Leni Riefenstahl (the vital difference being that he used slave labor,) rueful if not exactly apologetic. And also excellent are Ulrich Matthes and Corinna Harfouch as Mr. and Mrs. Goebbels, and Christian Berkel as an S.S. doctor who's the one unambiguously lionized character. Despite the efforts of all of these performers, the movie still feels like a collection of minutia that relies too much on the violence of history for its significance.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Box scores: Bruce Willis - still tougher than I thought

Weekend winner: Hostage, $4.1M (1,977 theaters.) This is hanging on with surprising strength, although maybe not enough to break even. Still, there's nothing else to pick this week, with Guess Who producing merely adequate returns and Miss Congeniality 2 not even that.

Weekend loser: ICE PRINCESS~!, $3.7M (2,501 theaters.) Alright, I promise never to mention this movie again - it's not like anyone else will.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Weekend state: Bored with a nation

Opening in the East Bay:

*Dear Frankie
*Melinda and Melinda
Guess Who
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous
Mail Order Wife
Dot the I

Maybe of interest: DJ's Spooky's Rebirth of a Nation, in which he remixes D.W. Griffith's Klan Klassic. On balance I probably won't go, because I'm unwilling to pay twenty-four bucks (for the worst seat in the house) to hear about how Griffith was racist (Everyone who cares about film knows this! Get over it!) But if you're in the mood, it's at Yerba Buena tonight and tomorrow.

I think I'd rather catch up with Downfall. Or Constantine.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Gunner Palace: Freestyle album

Filmmakers Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein have been accused of not supporting the troops - now really, is there anyone in America who doesn't support the troops? And isn't not wanting the troops to fight unnecessary wars part of supporting them? Ken Tucker raises a more substantial charge - that the filmmakers were making the soldiers look like fools. I think he's wrong, because fooling around is what everyone does for five or ten years after high school, and to think that to point this out is insulting is in itself insulting to young people - something a critic of Ken Tucker's stature shouldn't stoop to until he's another five or ten years older.

Though it's not hard to guess Tucker and Epperlein's stance on their war, there's little explicit geopolitics - there's the ironic use of pro-Rumsfeld armed forces radio propaganda on the soundtrack, and the occasional intimation of doubt, and that's about it. It's about soldiers at war; in particular, young men from the Creed and Jay-Z generations. Unsurprisingly, Hov's fans describe their circumstances more eloquently, but only when rhyming. What both camps have in common is what they value most, in the absence of available women, is realness. They, hopefully, will get to come back and tell everyone they're combat vets; they feel the realness makes their present situation valid. Compare Spc. Richmond Shaw's "For y'all this is just a show, we live in this movie" to Marshall Mathers' "And it's no movie, there's no Mehki Phifer, this is my life."

Others find it redundant to state any of this and just get on with clowning - not because they're from the Blink-182 and Busta Rhymes generations, but because this is what young men do. Spc. Stuart Wilf wears a mop on his head and declares a Presidential campaign (not at the same time though.) Although he's intermittently funny, he mainly serves to remind the audience just how young these soldiers are. It's asking too much for Richmond Shaw to decide he's being used like Raymond Shaw - but if he ever does, he could make a great album out of it.

The movie lets an opportunity slip by failing to give us insight into how the Iraqis feel about all of this. I know this is outside the film's brief, but if you're going to spend months as a journalist in Iraq, shouldn't talking to the Iraqis be at the top of your list of priorities? The only Iraqis who get to talk are the interpreters, who turn out to be tragic heroes and villains, and a self-proclaimed journalist who gets a few words in as the Gunners arrest him. And we get fascinating glimpses into the homes the soldiers bust into - with TVs and cellphones and everything. But there's no follow-up. I'm glad to know how the troops feel, but they're not the ones who will decide the fate of Iraq.

News: 2046 gets distribution

2046 has been picked up by Sony Classics. (Credit: MCN)

Thank you thank you thank you. Now do Cafe Lumiere and I will buy a Playstation.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Steamboy: They go up-tiddly-up-up, they go down-tiddly-down-down

The marquee attractions of Steamboy are the contrabulous fabtraptions: a unicycle where you ride inside the wheel, a "steam automotive", and all sorts of magnificent men in their flying machines. Many of these are weapons of war, and so to ease somebody-or-other's conscience, we get lots of speechifying about how science should be for the common good and not be an extension of the will to power. I wish director Otomo Katsuhiro had taken his own advice and spent less time destroying Victorian London, and more time exploring his version of this world. Here Otomo may be lifting from Chirs Ware's comic Jimmy Corrigan, which also featured a girl leading a boy to a view of a Great Exhibition. The abundance of immensity in Steamboy means its rooftop panorama doesn't have the jawdropping effect of Ware's - perhaps the same effect felt by those who attended such expos in the nineteeth century. Still, with the characters as mechanized as the rest of the movie (apart from the eye-rollingly-named Scarlett O'Hara, who is merely annoying,) this respite from techieness more or less saves the movie.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Box scores: Ice follies

Weekend winner: Million Dollar Baby, $4.1M (2,210 theaters), total $90M. Jeez, people are still seeing this? Even though everyone knows what happened now? There won't be a sequel, but the TV series is a worry.

Weekend loser: ICE PRINCESS~! $7.0M (2,501 theaters). Clint's movie nearly convinced me it was 1939 again, but this movie's frosty reception showed this thought wasn't cool.


Friday, March 18, 2005

Weekend state: Spring Brreeeeeaaaakkk

Opening in the East Bay this weekend:

**The Upside of Anger
**Lost Embrace
*The Ring Two
In My Country

Thursday, March 17, 2005

SFIAAFF '05: Baytong, Sorceress of the New Piano, The People of Angkor


Nonzee Nimibutr's dramedy is about a devout Buddhist who leaves his monastery to care for his niece. The style of humor is old school Adam Sandler (the monk has an erection! Hahaha!), although not even P.T. Anderson had the foolhardiness to kill off a little girl's mom in a terrorist attack. The Betong district in Thailand, which borders Malaysia, has a large Muslim population. When the hero discovers a friend is dating a politically active Muslim, the movie bravely strays into unexplored territory. Unfortunately, it peters out into a Buddhist bromides: love is painful so don't get too attached to people. The Muslim character demonstrates his dedication to their faith, but doesn't get a viewpoint beyond this. Give Nonzee credit for ambition, though.

Rating: 464 MMotB.

Sorceress of the New Piano

Veteran filmmaker Evans Chan has, intermittently over the last decade, documented Margaret Leng Tan's explorations of the pomo piano repertoire, from Henry Cowell's clusters and string plucking, through to her own experiments with toy pianos. Now, my knowledge of contemporary classical music, like my knowledge of every sort of classical music, is spotty. What might end up being the most valuable benefit I got out of this this is an appreciation of John Cage. I previously considered Cage to be a first-rate novelty act, but listening to Tan's excursions on the prepared piano is, well, pleasant. Tan is certainly virtuosic - you have to be to get any feeling out of a toy piano (she even creates dynamics, or more likely the illusion of dynamics.) She gave a short recital at the screening. It's always great to see an Asian eccentric, someone defiantly blazing their own trail. Even if I don't approve of all or many of her musical choices, she's as outstanding an Asian-American role model as I can think of (well there's me, but I don't consider myself an Asian-American.)

Rating: 2,015 MMotB.

The People of Angkor

Rithy Panh films his homeland and goes Iranian - that odd stradling of the boundary between fact and fiction that formalists love so much. They won't go crazy over this because Panh doesn't overcompose his shots (and because it's DV,) but it's gently effective. Even when showing us archeological marvels like the Angkor Temple, Panh isn't trying to knock us out with the beauty of it, instead focusing on the local paddy farmers, who double as construction workers, puzzled that their count of the temple steps doesn't match the number their mothers told them. It's a sound-over-visuals movie: Panh heightens the background noise, turning birds' chirps and carvers' chisels into music. And there's a lot of talking: a kid listening to his elders explain the meanings of the carvings; arguments over the endlessly changing Cambodian flag; the kid being told point blank that the woman whose picture he treasures is dead. The featured men, all unpolished features and weary forbearance, have a dignity that's not just the easy nobility fiction cedes to the poor; this creates a lot of goodwill. Still, I wish there was a broader perspective - the absence of living women seems like an opportunity lost.

Rating: 2,270 MMotB.

Full court press: Charley's back!

And he loves The O.C.!

Addendum: I assume this isn't a permanent gig, as the Observer already has their own reasonably famous movie critic, and in the past he hasn't been too hot on Paulettes.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

SFIAAFF '05: Butterfly

I came in late, and since the teen lesbo version of the protagonist looks nothing like the unhappy mom she becomes, it took me a while to realize the flashback-powered structure. As a whole, the movie's political erotics and girl-on-girl emo are reminiscent of Bertolucci and Almodovar, and the flashbacks are better than anything those two talents have produced this millennium (being a woman, director Yan-Yan Mak actually respects the fairer sex.)

The resonance of the more conventional present-day scenes comes from echoes of the characters' pasts: filled with flesh and Godard posters, but with Paris '68 replaced by Tiananmen Square. Some loves last and some don't; there's a point in everyone's life that it feels like this fact could kill you, but it's also something you can grow so used to that you can watch a waitress pick up a sketch a customer has surreptitiously left for her, without crying.

Rating: 7,077 persons of unspecified gender masturbating on the beach.

Monday, March 14, 2005

SFIAAFF '05: Cutie Honey

(Others later; this is the one I loved.)

The opening action sequence, climaxing on board an aircraft carrier, had me crying tears of laughter. Imagine an episode of Power Rangers with a multimillion dollar budget - that's what you have here, as Honey battles the superpowered Gold Claw, one of the color-coordinated Panther Claw gang, for the life of her brilliant scientist uncle. These minutes are filled with Stephen Chow-like gags - the villains surround the police chief, fire their guns, and guess what happens? - and big explosions, set to technopop and edited at an insane pace.

Director Anno Hideaki, most famous for the legendarily vague Evangelion anime saga, plays camper than an RV at all times, but unlike almost every other ironic movie ever made, the thing manages to sustain itself throughout. Loosely adapting from the '70s anime of the original manga, Anno and cowriter Takahashi Rumi know how to motorvate the nonaction scenes, neatly triangulating Honey (Sato Eriko), the cop (Ichikawa Mikako) and a mysterious journalist (Murakami Jun). Playing the sensible one, Ichikawa is particularly effective - she's pissed off with the overbearingly kawaii Honey, so that we in the audience don't have to be. If that doesn't sound like much, remember that even the great Naomi Watts couldn't deliver us from Lori Petty in Tank Girl.

Is the movie about anything? It's about energy, it's about movement, it's about color. It's about Sato Eriko's body. It's about how it's OK to love girl groups as much as boy bands. It's about nostalgia, perhaps a little too much. It's about the silliness and beauty of the source material - this is clearest in the "power of love" ending.

If Anno had added his usual pretensions, viewers might not be embarrassed to talk about this in the same breath as Hero or Kill Bill. But essentializing the pop makes Cutie Honey more thrilling and thus a richer experience than those movies. It's the most rewarding piece of camp I've seen outside of a Buffy musical.

Rating: 13,024 men masturbating in the theater. (And it was at the Castro!)

Box scores: Guess they came for the scourging after all

Weekend winner: Hostage, $9.8M (2,123 theaters). Bruce Willis takes what he can get these days.

Weekend loser: The Passion Recut, $240,000 (954 theaters). To put this into context, it was outgrossed by Downfall, which played in 46 theaters. Bright side for conservatives: now no one's going to bother with Fahrenheit 9/11: The Bipartisan Cut.

Coming up on EBV - SFIAAFF: Butterfly, Baytong, Sorceress of the New Piano, Cutie Honey. Butterfly's replaying on Tuesday and you should make every effort to get to it. Oh, and the Raging Bull thing's coming eventually too.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Grace notes: Masculine Feminine

The first Godard I saw was In Praise Of Love. I heard that this was the master finally returning to top form, so when I saw it was nothing but endless quotes and factually inaccurate anti-Americanism, I assumed JLG was overrated. After that, every time I went to see a Godard film, I came out a little disappointed, although the passage of a little time allowed me to see Pierrot le fou and Band of Outsiders in particular as the classics they are.

But no disappointments, no need to lower expectations here. It may be satirical, but it's still one of the most romantic movies ever made. I will never again doubt JLG's position among the greats.

Rating: 82,543 men masturbating on the beach. Please go and see the thing.

SFIAAFF '05: The Year of the Yao, Ethan Mao, Dumplings

The Year of the Yao

I took it as a bad sign when the doc opened not with footage of Yao, but with shots of modern China and the Great Wall. But that was about all the sociological analysis we got, save for the occasional talking head telling us that Yao is important to Asian people, really he is. And though we get deep insight into his translator's life, we don't learn any more about Yao himself than a casual Sportscenter viewer knows (He felt he was under pressure? Get out!) That the movie manages to be entertaining despite all this is mostly thanks to Yao being totally freaking awesome.

Rating: 558 men masturbating on the beach.

Ethan Mao

Rent boy Ethan and his protector Remigio sneak in to the house of Ethan's holidaying family; things go horribly wrong. The audience at the Castro howled at all the comedic parts; unfortunately they howled at all the serious parts as well, and when a line like "I don't think I can ever really love anyone" is treated as profound, what do you expect? It would be sadistic to quote any more of the dialogue; it's atrocious, and the acting and editing make it seem worse. Director Quentin Lee was gracious after the screening, professing to be happy with any reaction. He may not be so happy once this gets its commercial release and the critics go after it. I wish someone had said to him a little earlier, "Quentin man, I love your work but you might want to get a script doctor to take a look at this." The best hope for this is camp status; recutting as a pure comedy might help.

Rating: 136 men masturbating on the beach.


Try not to read anything about this before seeing it (apart from this post of course.) If you don't know the secret of what the dumplings contain, you might think this is the grossest movie ever made. It's certainly the grossest good movie I've seen. I despised Fruit Chan's Hollywood Hong Kong, but here he has a shrewd writer, novelist Lilian Li (Farewell My Concubine), which means there's a point to all the disgust - a devastating satire of Hong Kong's wealthy elite, who like to think themselves above the coarse mainlanders. The fine cast includes Miriam Yeung, the Other Tony Leung, and soon-to-be Playmate Bai Ling (why didn't they get Chris Doyle to do the shoot?), who nails the morality of the dumpling-maker. I can't say any more without taking the fun out of it for you, aside from noting that it's absolutely undistributable, so don't miss this chance to see it.

Rating: 7747 men masturbating on the beach.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

SFIAAFF '05: Green Hat

Though the script could be a WKW cast-off (that's a compliment, dummy,) the film is very mainland, with the refusal of easy beauty typical of China's Seventh or Eighth or Whatever Generation even more pronouned than usual. A trio of crims stage a bank heist; their leader (Liao Fan) wants to go to his girlfriend in America. Meanwhile, a midlife cop (Li Congxi) is having problems satisfying his wife. In the central scene, the cop and the head robber meet, as hostages are taken and blood is inevitable; this rhymes with a later scene, where the cop confronts the swimming coach he suspects of having an affair with his wife.

This latter scene takes place entirely within a claustrophobia-stuffed locker room, and includes a long static take of the two men sitting side by side on a bench, which Li carries with aplomb: head bowed, rarely raising his eyes yet still controlling the situation. (Long static takes need terrific actors to sustain them: that's why Ozu and Tsai built up stock companies.) Director Liu Fendou has some novel camera set-ups, but the impact comes from the content of the shots: a monkey and a dog in a cage in a car; the same dog trotting across the road, after one of the robbers, preparing to face the police, lets it out of the car.

In honor of Green Hat, I'll rate all the SFIAAFF movies using the Men Masturbating on the Beach scale. Watching this movie as much fun as watching 5,578 men masturbate on the beach.

Second opinion: Sneersnipe.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Weekend state: Why aren't you at the movies right now?

Big big weekend in the Bay, with the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival up front. I plan to see eight or nine of these at the Castro this weekend, and then somehow I have to squeeze in Masculine Feminine as well - one week only (at the Opera Plaza,) and it had to be this week.

Opening in the East Bay:

***Up and Down
***Gunner Palace
*Schultze Gets the Blues

Insufficient information: Night of Henna.
Too much information: The Passion Recut.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Misunderestimates: Family feuds

After the commercial success of Vin Diesel's The Pacifier, filmmakers are now working out ways to disguise their ultraviolent fantasies as family comedies:

Producers have spoken of this being "The Passion of the Christ for kids." See the heroic lion Aslan get beaten, scourged and crucified by the White Witch! But you can't keep a good lion down - Aslan comes back like Michael, and when a lion wants blood, he gets blood...

William Shatner is kidnapped, and Sandra Bullock receives his ear in the mail. From then on it's bullet-ridden action all the way in this loose remake of the 1985 classic Commando, starring Sandra Bullock in the Arnie role, Regina King in the Rae Dawn Chong role, and Skippy the Kangaroo as the weird Aussie guy.

Jason decides to go straight, so he decides his knife can be put to better use... as a surgeon in a hospital for teenagers! But when the teens get possessed by, um, some evil thing, Jason has to start killing them to save himself! Smell the Tarantinoesque irony! Watch the limbs go flying! With John Travolta as Jason, and the dog from Frasier as Jason's Dog From Frasier.

Stone sets up cameras in an inner city high school and waits for the inevitable. Hey, Gus Van Sant saved his career by doing less...

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Sea Inside: More youth in Asia than Days of Being Wild

I'd only ever given thought to voluntary euthanasia in cases of terminal illness. In that context, it strikes me as compassion without drawbacks - if you're dying (and of course there would be checks and balances to ensure this,) you should be able to go out on your own terms. But as for the merely disabled, I balk: will they feel pressured to take their lives, to avoid being a burden? What justifies Ramon Sampedro's death but not Kurt Cobain's?

The key to the movie's case isn't any pain that Ramon feels, or even the lost dignity that he keeps refering to (everyone involved goes to great lengths to emphasize this is just how Ramon feels and doesn't apply to all quadriplegics - but if Ramon were not hypocritical, surely he would regard them as undignified as himself?) The key is the twentysomething years Ramon has been suffering, all the time without turning away from his goal. Amenabar's decision not to show the first twenty-six years of this period pares the movie down to a managable size. But it's a cheat - not a cruel one like that other recent suicide movie, but still a cheat.

The movie thus fails, in my view, as pro-euthanasia rhetoric, with the hapless priest (how come Julia's wheelchair can get up the stair, but his can't?) being the crassest miscalculation. Where the movie succeeds is as a study of how sometimes love just ain't enough. Despite his family's devotion, and the attraction of every woman within twenty miles, Ramon still doesn't want to live. The question in the priest's mind and mine wasn't "why?" but "is this possible?" The task of showing that it is falls to Javier Bardem. Need I tell you that he nails it? I'd go into details, but David Edelstein and Ella Taylor say it better than I can.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Animation Show 2005: Histories of cinema

Like any compilation of shorts, The Animation Show 2005 has its ups and downs, but here the ups are so up, I want to focus on them exclusively.

Third prize: Ward 13 by Peter Cornwell. After a car accident, Ben wakes up in hospital. Not knowing where he is or what is going on, he starts exploring the corridors, only to find that the staff don't have his health in mind... The gags will be familiar to anyone who's watched a few "Treehouse of Horror" episodes, but they're crisply executed, and the ten minute chase through the hospital corridors is as thrilling as any claymation not done by Nick Park. It even got an award from noted killjoys FIPRESCI for "its criticism of the power of doctors and the refreshing cynicism of its treatment of genre cinema."

Second prize: The Meaning of Life by Don Hertzfeldt (who was at the screening.) The crowd scenes, featuring dozens of distinct characters mouthing off in frame, are a tremendous technical achievement - although in this context, Hertzfeldt's disavowal of computers seems less an invigorating aesthetic decision than masochism. Then it goes cosmic, in a manner less like Bob Eggleton than Abraham Ebdus, Jonathan Lethem's fictional filmmaker and Hugo winner from The Fortress of Solitude. Then we see a gallery of fantastic creatures, evolving or devolving. In all the most beloved fantasies, the achievement is the creation of another world with its own rules. Hertzfeldt plays off this in two ways: first, regardless of how unfamiliar it is, it's not another world, it's ours - like Steve Zizzou or Jack Goldstein, he reminds us of how unfamiliar most of our world is to us. Second, he strips all inessentials like plot, character, setting, morality. To make up for this absence, Hertzfeldt next gets one of these creatures to explain the meaning of life to another. Then more Ebdus, and that's it. What lingers is the scale - no movie I've seen has ever made time pass like this before. Don told us he got a B+ from UCSB Film Studies for Billy's Balloon; this would get him tenure. But I don't know if it's better.

First prize: When the Day Breaks by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis. The "pregnant moment" short story is rarely attempted on film, because a director needs to be a Scorsese-level craftsperson to visually represent what's going in the protagonist's head. Tilby and Forbis (who more recently did the United Airlines "Interview" ad) merely come up with a workaround, but what a workaround - swirling through the town like a pepped-up city symphony, or more particularly like "22 Short Films About Springfield." Stream of consciousness gets dubbed by stream of existence. Of course, that's not the way it works - individuals represent communities, not vice versa. This sidestepping leads to a resolution that Alice Munro fans may consider a little pat. But any psychological loss is drowned by the sheer gorgeousness, from the songs by McGarriglites Martha Wainwright (album finally finally finally coming out next month) and Chaim Tannenbaum, to the quirky yet completely appropriate visuals - in retrospect, how could the main characters not be a pig and a rooster? And for her assertion that in an urban setting, community necessarily exists, I want to kiss that pig.

Full court press: I totally identify with... um, I mean, is this an Onion story?

Colin Leach made a pledge to himself to watch every movie listed on the American Film Institute's annual “100 Greatest” list.

I'm in two minds about whether to tell the poor guy about this. On the one hand, he'd never leave the house again; on the other, the quality of his viewing experience would dramatically increase.

Nah, I won't tell him. Any guy who compares Braveheart and Forrest Gump to "two supermodels" deserves what he gets.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Box scores: Do you know what the time is?

Weekend winner: The Pacifier, $30.2M (3131 theaters.) What's the appeal of Vin Diesel as a Navy S.E.A.L. turned babysitter? I thought this would alienate both the family and action audiences, but I forgot that the family movie audience often only sees the posters and TV spots. The strategy of playing cute for publicity purposes (if you looked at the poster you wouldn't suspect there was any violence in the movie) has paid off big time.

Weekend loser: The Jacket, $2.7M (1331 theaters.) Needed good press; didn't get it. I'm disappointed because I like most of the people involved (especially Adrien Brody, who looks like becoming the latest victim of the Oscar curse) but I'm not gonna see it or anything.

Link: Weekend estimates

Friday, March 04, 2005

Weekend state: The meaning of life, and other brief encounters

Opening in the East Bay this week, ordered by strength of recommendation (the more asterisks, the better):

**The Animation Show 2005
*Walk on Water
*Be Cool (recommended solely for The Rock)
Paper Clips
The Chorus
The Jacket
The Pacifier

Yep, it's Festival Season. Don Hertzfeldt will be at the Acts on Saturday night, so I'll probably go to that; and I'll finally get to catch up with The Sea Inside.

Next week: The Raging Bull Collector's Edition DVD. Plus, lists! Have a good weekend.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Gossip folks: At least it wasn't "The Doug Wead Story"

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Misunderestimates: The original temple was built by a guy with 300 concubines, you know

Natalie Portman and some other guy recently caused a kerfluffle by shooting a kissing scene by the Western Wall, upsetting Orthodox Jews. Portman has apologized, and Hollywood is now being extra careful not to offend local sensibilities. For example:
  • The makers of the new documentary about Crazy Legs Conti, Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating, originally planned to stage a hot dog eating contest at Nanzen-ji temple. This plan was scrapped, however, after certain contradictions between Zen and competitive eating were pointed out to the filmmakers.
  • The upcoming Steven Seagal existential thriller Today You Die has relocated its climactic shootout from Gandhi's Tomb to Peckinpah's Tomb.
  • At the MPAA's request, Gunner Palace has been recut, so that it now consists entirely of clips from Germany, Year Zero.
  • Shooting for Ron Howard's adaptation of The Da Vinci Code will be shifted from the Vatican to Hell.
  • The upcoming Roland Emmerich movie, King Tut, planned to have as its finale the destruction of the Sphinx. This will now be computer-generated.

Days of Being Wild: They've never been so tired in their lives

It's no disgrace that Days of Being Wild isn't the best of Wong Kar-wai's movies, since in the following decade he raised his game to such great heights. That it's a marvelous experience in any case isn't in question. At this point Leslie Cheung and WKW himself and upstart cinematographer Chris Doyle are in their thirties, with all their trademarks in place; they're just waiting for the right story to tell. Meanwhile the big names of Hong Kong entertainment in the Nineties - Maggie and Andy and Carina and Jacky and, for an inexplicable moment, Tony - are younger, still a mere twenty or forty movies into their careers. For all its formal invention, Days offers largely the same pleasures as a classic MGM starfest like Grand Hotel.

Leslie Cheung's the best actor at this point, solitary, spoiled and seductive. But Maggie Cheung, who doesn't get a lot of screen time, almost steals the movie just by looking like she does while being shot by WKW and Doyle - she haunts the movie, so that the talented Carina Lau seems lessened, in the way that Joan Crawford seemed lessened in the same picture as Garbo. The depth will come in a few years with Chungking Express (even if you think that movie is frivolous just after you've finished watching it, after a while it strikes you that the feelings are as large as you've ever seen on the screen); Days of Being Wild achieves awesomeness a harder way, through sheer force of personality.

Further reading: "Difficult to follow on a first viewing (although not thereafter), the movie may feel shifty as smoke, but it's composed entirely of straight cuts. The various flashbacks and flash-forwards are marked by abrupt transitions that give no indication of elapsed time. This succession of privileged moments is less evocation of the past than nostalgia for the present." (J. Hoberman, Village Voice)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior: Nope, Asian actresses don't come off any better here

Foot Strokes Face!

Is there really such a move in the Muay Thai manual? If so, kickboxing will gain back some of the respect I lost for it after seeing their guys repeatedly get schooled by the grapplers in Pride. (Although if you're reading this, Mirko Cro Cop, please don't hurt me.) Some of this status has already been reclaimed thanks to the star here, Tony Jaa. To my untrained eye, he doesn't have the speed of Bruce Lee or the elasticity of Jackie Chan, let alone the acting ability of Chow Yun Fat. But he has a mean jumping elbow and a clever director, which is enough to build on. Writer/director Prachya Pinkaew makes Jaa, who's also credited as co-choreographer with co-writer Panna Rittikrai, go through the standard performing seal tropes (hero running down road + workers carry coil of barbed wire across the road: do the math.) The fighting is on a higher level: there's one sweet strike I remember in particular, where Jaa, while ducking a roundhouse, hits his own spin kick. Pinkaew obliges us by repeating this in slow motion, as he does with every cool move in the movie, sometimes more than once.

Downside: The women in the movie have nothing roles, and are thus prone to hysterically overacting at the slightest provocation. Upside to the downside: Tony Jaa's non-acting, in constrast, seems like studied understatedment. Just hope that no Village Voice writers try to deconstruct his asexuality.

Oh, and the story is garbage, but neither you nor I really care about that.

Further reading: Chuck Stephens's only slightly nondeconstructive review.

Gossip folks: I'm not a straight black man, but I play one on my blog

  • Studio Briefing: "If, as Oscar host Chris Rock had maintained, no straight black man watches the Oscars, the weekend box office provided a clue to what he did instead - watched Diary of a Mad Black Woman." What, you think men watched this movie?
  • What straight black man is paying any attention to the Michael Jackson trial? Apart, of course, from O.J.
  • What straight non-white man likes Jude Law? If you don't get turned on by him, and you can't take satisfaction in the fact that a guy the same color as you is inexplicably considered the sexiest man alive, then what's left? Not his acting, certainly. (Except in A.I.)
Addendum: Yes, of course race is still an issue. As one minor pundit put it, in Hollywood "one's value is based, at least partly, on one's race - not solely on one's ability to act" - but what that schmuck doesn't realize is that most value is obtained by being white. Case in point: can you imagine a white actor, after having the year that Jamie Foxx had, getting third billing in his next movie, behind Josh Lucas and Jessica freakin' Biel?

And it's not much better for women. Will Smith made this inflammatory, astonishingly underreported remark in a recent interview:

There's sort of an accepted myth that if you have two black actors, a male and a female, in the lead of a romantic comedy, that people around the world don't want to see it.

Ironically, American attitudes meant they couldn't cast a white woman. Good for Eva Mendes, bad for Asian actresses, who thus rate fourth choice at best.