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Spider-Man 3 [06 May 2007|04:53pm]

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My review of the Spider-Man 3 can be found here. Spoilers included.
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The Booth [27 Jan 2007|10:00pm]


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Art School Confidental [27 Jan 2007|09:59pm]


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[03 Dec 2006|02:49pm]

I hardly have time for full blown reviews but here's my ranking of movies I've seen so far this year:

The Departed - A
Casino Royale - A
Little Miss Sunshine - A-
Borat - A-
Pirates of the Caribbean: DMC - A-
She's the Man - A-
The Queen - B+
Superman Returns - B+
Marie Antoinette - B
Babel - B
Mision Impossible III - B
The Devil Wears Prada - B
The Da Vinci Code - B
An Inconvenient Truth - B
The Lake House - B
John Tucker Must Die - B
X-Men: The Last Stand - B-
Running With Scissors - B-
Step Up - C+
The Illusionist - C+
Aquamarine - C
Lady in the Water - C-
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The Tao of the Gun: Yakuza, Triads, Cops and Hitmen in [18 Nov 2006|06:31pm]

1. Fallen Angels

Intense, inscrutable, impossibly dreamlike from Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai, built from the fragments of memory and loss - one of the most visually rapturous films of the last generation.

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Saving Private Ryan [20 Oct 2006|03:37pm]

(This is reworked from an earlier essay comparing Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, which some of you may remember.)

Great film is an illuminating thing: it shines its light into the dark recesses of humanity, revealing the greed, hatred, and hypocrisy that fester there.  Bad film is often just as revealing: its existence and reception serve as a mirror reflecting the hearts of its intended audience.  Saving Private Ryan is a classic example of the latter, in the flickering light of its propagandistic glow, the American people stand revealed for what they really are: stupid, self-absorbed, morally unsophisticated rubes ready to be fleeced by the first charlatan who comes along and tells them what they want to hear.
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"Quinceañera" [11 Oct 2006|06:47pm]


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"The Science of Sleep" [05 Oct 2006|01:32am]

"The Science of Sleep"

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"CSA: The Confederate States of America" [28 Aug 2006|01:39pm]

CSA: The Confederate States of America

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest [13 Jul 2006|02:24am]


First review in this community. I really love the atmosphere here. 

Warning: Spoilers (Major)

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The Second Death of the Historical Epic as Told by Slate.com [02 Jul 2006|05:59am]

Ross Douthat (associate editor of Atlantic Monthly) has written an interesting article for Slate.com regarding the post-Gladiator mini-renaissance of the Hollywood historical epic (the article can be found here ). He points to the critical and commercial failure of this 'movement' and contends that these failures result from three basic flaws common to most of the films:

1. Thematic and ideological concerns that are essentially anachronistic, and the emotionally flat or simply confusing plotting that results from their inclusion.

2. The inadequacy of most Hollywood leading men when faced with the task of playing epic heroes in all their muscular, masculine glory.

3. The failure to embrace the 'otherness' of the past.

In some respects, Douthat has hit the nail on the head. Recent historical epics have been enormous creative as well as commercial disappointments, despite often being placed in the hands of directors who are usually solid at worst (Ridley Scott) or even brilliant (Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and Wolfgang Petersen).

Douthat is also absolutely correct to highlight the inadequacy of many of the industry's leading men (most notably the precious Orlando Bloom) when thrust into the role of epic hero. Hollywood is more than ever a temple of youth (or feigned youth), and the boyish charm and charisma of actors like Tom Cruise, Bloom and Colin Farrell are ill-suited to the hypermasculine (and all grown up) gravitas a historical epic typically demands of it male lead (I would, however, quibble with Douthat's backhand dismissal of Brad Pitt's performance as Achilles in Troy, which, by accident or design, perfectly captured the Homeric hero's arrogance, volatility and inhuman detachment and invicibility).

Where Douthat veers off course is in his evaluation of thematic elements and his prescription for revivifying the historical epic as a genre. His contention is that recent period epics have been undermined by the intrusion of modern sensibilities, sensibilities which sabotage what he sees has the primary purpose of the historical epic: providing escapist entertainment through immersion in the spectacle of the past's 'otherness.'

The problems with this approach are twofold. First, it is a reversion to the sort of projective construction of the silent 'other' that forms one of the less admirable subtexts of Western art (the past reimagined as the last colonial frontier). Second, it ignores what made the great period epics of the past so powerfully timeless, namely the ability to address universal or even contemporary questions through the medium of the past. The greatness of films like The Seven Samurai and Aguirre: The Wrath of God is rooted in the way they connect the past with the present, not some alien 'otherness' that allows viewers to escape the moment. Revisionist westerns like Once Upon a Time in the West and Unforgiven owe their success to a similar approach.

The fallacy of Douthat's approach is made abundantly clear by one of the recent historical epics he does praise, Mel Gibson's pornographic snuff flick The Passion of the Christ. Douthat lauds the film for not shying away from the otherness of the past, ignoring the fact that this embrace of the alien past is precisely why The Passion of the Christ was creatively bankrupt: it had no means of reaching anyone who didn't already share Gibson's Dark Age superstitions. Which is why, two years later, despite $350+ million at the box office, The Passion of the Christ is largely a forgotten film.
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The Five Most Intellectually Insulting Films [11 Jun 2006|06:29pm]

5. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - Because Nazis are so bad and so evil that only the magic monkey in the sky can beat them. This wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't EXACTLY HOW THE FIRST MOVIE IN THE SERIES ENDED.

4. IZO - For trying to palm off 2 hours of unremitting crappy swordfights as a Nietzschean philosophical journey.

3. Starship Troopers - For teaching me that in the future, the Marines will have co-ed showers. And 'science' will be primarily concerned with sodomizing bugs.

2. Schindler's List - For being one of the most simplistic, moralizing, propagandistic films in modern history. And for one of the most pandering scenes in film history, the Graveside Hokum ending.

1. Saving Private Ryan - For assuming that Americans won't know who to pull for if you don't have the only German character in the film turn out to be a lying, sadistic psychopath. And they sure as hell won't know what happened to Tom Hanks if you don't close the film with Graveside Hokum, Pt. II.
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As Tears Go By [10 Jun 2006|01:21am]

As Tears Go By

One of my favorite film viewing pastimes is going back to the early films of some of my favorite directors and getting a feel for where they’ve come from to get to where they are. In the last year or so, Wong Kar-Wai has firmly ensconced himself as my favorite contemporary filmmaker, and tonight, I treated myself to his 1988 debut feature As Tears Go By.

What makes this film fascinating is the startling degree to which Wong’s instinct for visual poetry and his ability to translate the almost physical pain of longing onto the screen are both already finely honed, though the languid pacing and narrative inventiveness of his later works (like undisputed masterpiece In the Mood for Love) are notably absent.

As Tears Go By wears the clothing of a straightforward Hong Kong street opera of the type made famous during the 1980s by John Woo, though Wong also tips the cap to Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets. It features swaggering bravado and staccato violence one expects of such fare, and is both Wong’s most accessible film and his only commercial success to date.

As Tears Go By centers on Wah (Andy Lau), an up-and-coming Triad gangster trying to balance his own ambitions against his loyalty to his feckless “little brother” Fly (Jacky Cheung), whose impulsivity represents a constant danger, not only to himself, but to Wah as well (though he also provides an otherwise tense film with much needed humor). Wah’s life is further complicated by a growing love for his cousin Ngor (frequent Wong collaborator Maggie Cheung in her first major dramatic role), a beautiful girl whose existence he was totally unaware of before she came to stay with him while seeking medical treatment in Hong Kong.

Beneath the familiar aspects of genre film, however, lurk the seeds of Wong Kar-Wai’s later mastery. As Tears Go By could have been just another bullet ballet, but it is instead a searing, romantic work of art, despite occasional clichés. Always something of an actor’s director (and famous for leaning heavily on the improvisational talents of his stars, despite his own background as a screenwriter), he coaxes from his cast performances that are uniformly excellent. Jacky Cheung, in particular, stands out, and he imbues Fly with a reckless machismo that only serves to highlight the self-doubt that gnaws at his soul. The Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actor trophy which Cheung won for this role was well-deserved.

But it is Wong Kar-Wai who really dominates As Tears Go By, as the visual and emotional style that characterized his later works is already in evidence. His signature thematic concerns of longing and memory, and the master iconography he associates with these concepts (slow burning cigarettes and torrential downpours, respectively) figure prominently in As Tears Go By, and while his mastery of the basic visual style he introduces in this film would increase with later films, he was already a powerful cinematic poet.

The only elements of his mature style that are missing are the characteristically recursive and self-referential narrative structures of his later work and the constant weight of emotional isolation that so perfectly captures the disassociative rootlessness of modern existence (though the latter is not completely lacking, and is especially apparent in the opening scenes of the movie). This has the effect of slightly lessening the impact of some of the imagery, but it cannot keep As Tears Go By from being an immensely powerful debut film.

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The Seventh Seal [04 Jun 2006|06:52pm]


The Seventh Seal


For a reviewer, there is often nothing so difficult as returning to a long-time personal favorite and trying to do it justice, objectively and without indulging in the sort of rapturous fanboy antics that make reading internet commentary such a chore.  With that in mind, I have decided to skip the "objectivity" part and go straight to the rapture and the fanboyism.  Read on at your own peril.

The Seventh Seal is the greatest achievement in the history of cinema.  There.  I said it.  No ifs, ands, buts, hems, haws or prevarications.  Period.  Final.  That's fuckin' all, folks.  (Which, I suppose means I'll have to get around to moving Rashomon from 1B. to 2 on my all-time list, but a little change never hurt anyone.) 

Interestingly, there was a time when one could make that very statement without precipitating fits of eyebrow raising, condescending looks or, most often, the sort of blank incomprehension you might expect after name-dropping Derrida at a Bush family dinner.  There are, I suppose, historical reasons for this.  For starters, there was a time when people didn't feel free to proffer their views about film on the operating theory that owning Fight Club made them a real movie expert. 

Beyond that, The Seventh Seal is a film of ideas.   Stark ideas.  Dark ideas.  Ideas about life and death, meaning and emptiness, heroism, cowardice and the silence of God.  We unfortunately live in a diminished age.  Many of us grew up with a sheltered complacency and groped about a world where abortion and gay marriage seemed vexing enough.  As a result, the profundity of the existential questions is lost.  They seem naive at best, arrogant at worst.

But for an earlier generation, the big questions were not so easily dismissed.  How could they be?  They gazed every day over the precipice into the nuclear abyss.  Most people alive in 1957 had lived through the cataclysmic nightmare that had pulled stone from stone in a matter of less than a decade an edifice of belief 200 years in the making.  Many were still living, literally, in the rubble left behind.  The feral, gnawing doubt at the heart of The Seventh Seal spoke loudly and clearly to that generation.  And maybe, in the brave new world that has emerged in the wake of 9/11, it can speak to a new generation.  I fervently hope it does, because The Seventh Seal is one of those great works of art that demands experiencing. 


The Seventh Seal is high-impact cinema in the most significant sense possible, and every frame staggers under the apocalyptic weight of the search for meaning.  The story is simple – a 14th Century knight (the incomparable Max von Sydow) and his nihilistically cynical squire (Gunnar Björnstrand) return to plague ravaged Sweden and make their way back home after a decade of fighting the Crusades – and the film’s structure is equally straightforward in its linearity, but extraordinary in the terrible certainty to which it inevitably moves.  Director Ingmar Bergman’s mastery was at its peak The Seventh Seal, and his own stern upbringing and existential insecurities made him uniquely suited for reconstructing and reinterpreting the doomed march of medieval morality plays for a world that saw itself on the brink of a new Armageddon.


The Seventh Seal is a triumph of cinematic formalism, and the heart of its power lies in its startling (even after decades of parodies) imagery and the dark poetry of its visuals.  The film’s master metaphor is introduced at the outset.  Sydow’s Antonius Block wakes upon a beach where he and his squire Jöns have washed ashore.  There, he finds the black-clad figure of Death (Bengt Ekerot) waiting for them.  He challenges Death to a game of chess, with his life on the line.  What follows is one of the most famous frames in film history.  Block and Death face each other across the board, silhouetted against a dark, raging sea and sky.  Sydow’s face is almost completely in the shadows, his sharp features made indistinct by the gloom.  Only Death seems fully real (despite his fantastic appearance), his face is well lit and draws the eye with the same inevitability with which he reaps his victims.  This game is continued intermittently throughout The Seventh Seal, though we know from the beginning how it must end.


The rest of film is taken up by two journeys.  Block and his squire must traverse a land wracked by plague and torn by fear.  Along the way, they encounter signposts of a world in crisis and decay: flagellants marching through the streets, whipping themselves in atonement for sin, a fearful young girl tortured and burned as a witch, and the priest whose honeyed words convinced Block to take up the Cross, an opportunist who Jöns prevents from raping a seemingly mute woman (Gunnel Lindblom).  They also add to their party, as they are joined by the mute and a pair of traveling players (Nils Poppe and Bibi Andersson) and their infant son.


However, it is the second, spiritual journey that forms the true center of the film.  The Seventh Seal is, at its heart, about the search for meaning in a world where only Death is real.  Jöns and Block represent two opposing approaches to problem of meaning.  Block desperately wants the comfort of belief, but cannot bring himself to it in the face of the evidence of his senses.  His squire, on the other hand, neither has belief nor seeks it.  Jöns is rather a Sartrean figure, reveling in the very absurdity and meaninglessness that Block recoils from.  The interplay between the two (both directly and in the omniscient eye of the camera) and between Block and the cloaked figure of Death form the primary subtext of The Seventh Seal.  Will Block (and through him, the viewing audience) achieve some sort of satisfactory understanding before the inevitable triumph of Death? 


The answer is as enigmatic as the the film itself.  Block does indeed seize fragments of meaning and purpose. In particular, he finds something both worth living for and worth dying for in sharing the simple joys of wild strawberries (a favorite Bergman image) and a spring afternoon with Jof (Poppe), his wife Mia (Andersson) and young son.  Indeed, it is through this beautiful young family that Block finally fulfills his duty and destiny as a warrior, dragging out his chess match with Death just long enough to allow them to escape the Reaper’s scythe under cover of storm and darkness. 


And yet, when his own end comes, Block remains defiant, insistent that it should not have come with so many questions still left unanswered.  His plaintive prayers seem all the more pathetic next to the dark acceptance of Jöns.  From a distant hill, Jof, ever prone to apocalyptic visions, witnesses the final march of the doomed.  He watches as Block and his companions gyrate wildly in an ecstatic procession behind Death, describing the scene to his wife.  “And the strict master Death bids them dance.”  He then smiles ruefully, turns and leads his family into the rising sun, toward life in the living, but ever cognizant of the fate that lies both behind and ahead.



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Holy Crap X-Men3! [27 May 2006|09:24am]

X-Men: The Last Stand - The third and (possibly) final part to the X-Men series. A mutant "cure" is found, and then everything goes to hell. Magneto (the always wonderful Ian McKellen) gathers an army to destroy the source: a mutant boy named Leech. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his band of peaceful mutants hope to stop Magneto and blah blah blah. You get the picture. The story's much cooler in execution than on paper.

Okay. The great things. Characters lose their powers. Characters die. And goodness knows there are a lot of them. Storm, Beast ,Wolverine (me fav), Collosus, Shadowcat, Iceman, Magneto, Pyro, Cyclops, Juggernaut (who almost steals the show with his one-liners) and best of all: Jean Gray (Famke Jannsen). I haven't even read half the list off, but you get the picture. Needless to say, with so many protagonists, some people's screen time is shunted over, but I don't really give a crap. If you've ever read the original comics, the fightscene pages were twice as spastic and crammed as this movie was.

Kelsey Grammar and Hugh Jackman are wonderful as Beast and Wolverine. No wonder the latter's getting his own spin-off (I personally hope he's going to fight the Hulk). She's changed actresses three times over but ShadowCat (Ellen Page) finally gets to kick some ass. Jannsen is F***ing SCARY as Jean Gray/ Phoenix. This plot line in particular is well done.There's no cheesy "coming out" sequence like in #2. The action sequences were a blast.

People were so afraid that Brett Ratner was going to screw up the movie. In my opinion he did better than Bryan Singer. There weren't so many stupid moments that caused me to shake my head. This was hard-hitting. Wolverine got to kill people. Favorite characters got to die. This was serious, and it really uped the ante knowing that no one was safe from termination. Well, everyone but Hugh Jackman, cause he rocks so damn much.

Halle Berry can kick the bucket for all I care. She can use lightning but she's just not cut out for comic book movies. And can she STICK with an accent/hairstyle/place in the story? Jean Grey may change into Phoenix but Berry is the real re-inventor around here. I mean, now she can FLY and spin faster than a twister on crack? C'mon. Lets have some continuity here.

A great comic book movie except for Halle Berry, X-Men:: The Last Stand gets an A- Now lets move onto that Wolverine movie.
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Yet Another Review of The Da Vinci Code [21 May 2006|08:57am]


Because of all the hype The Da Vinci Code has been receiving, I decided sometime last week I wanted to see this film when it came out.  To that end, I went out and bought a copy of the book, thinking that reading the book would add to my enjoyment of the movie.  Boy, was I mistaken.  Writing a review for this movie is proving rather difficult because I became such a fan of the novel.

It's not that Ron Howard's version of The Da Vinci Code is particularly deficient in any particular aspect, but it does, however, pale in comparison to Dan Brown's novel.  The novel makes an effort to add depth and understanding to the actions of it's characters, particularly the Opus Dei albino monk Silas, that would otherwise seem entirely morbid and macabre.  The novel also has the luxury of patiently dwelling out the historical lore of The Da Vinci Code, without having to cram it into the reader’s brains before they have to get up and go to the bathroom.

Tom Hanks is a superb actor and delivers a solid performance as always.  Audrey Tautou is a good actress who fulfills the role of Sophie Neveu quite well.  And while she is awesome at making that facial expression that makes any male with a libido melt, at times her French accent is a little too 'French', making her difficult to understand.  And sure, perhaps that is realistic, but certainly not welcome in a movie that asks the viewer to chunk as much information as The Da Vinci Code does in two and a half hours.  The real life of the movie, however, can be found in Ian McKellen, who not only delivers the only few light-hearted moments in the movie, but is excellent in every scene.

"I show you doubt, to prove that faith exists." - Robert Browning, english poet

Visit my brand-spanking new LJ at hyperion_way

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The Da Vinci Code [19 May 2006|04:15pm]

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Youth of the Beast [16 May 2006|03:15pm]

Seijun Suzuki is one of the more polarizing and ambiguous figures in Japanese cinema.  Genius?  Madman?  Something in between?  Perhaps it doesn't matter, the differences between these positions are in any case, quite sleight.  An amazingly prolific director - he directed over forty films in the 1960s alone - his very productivity helped lend credibility to those who dismissed him as B-movie man, preeminent among these to be sure, but a B-movie man nonetheless.  In recent years, however, his work has been increasingly appreciated, particularly in the West.  

In large measure, this uptick in esteem is can be traced to the film industry finally catching up to Suzuki.  His classic mid-60s films (Youth of the Beast, Gate of Flesh, Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill) featured a powerful combination of brutal, explicit and often sadistic violence, morbid humor, a keen sense of the ridiculous and a visual and narrative style that is fractured and often hallucinatory, all held together (or, rather, defiantly not held together) by a totalizing nihilism that denies any higher or greater meaning to actions beyond the demonstratable consequences of action itself.  This made for cinema that, at the time, was incomprehensible to many viewers, and Suzuki was famously fired by Nikkatsu in 1967 for making films that "make no sense and make no money."  Decades later, however, the potency of his best films is keenly appreciated by many cinephiles raised on Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers (both almost completely derivative of Suzuki's work).  

Suzuki himself identified Youth of the Beast as marking the beginning of his most creatively fertile period, and all the distinctive elements of his filmmaking are in evidence, and meshing perfectly.  The basic story - a mysterious tough muscles into the center of a war between rival gangs, then begins pursuing ends of his own as he plays each off the other - is strongly reminiscent of Kurosawa's Yojimbo, but where Yojimbo is a period piece set in a down and out town of the Edo period, Youth of the Beast is a (post)modern gangster film set in contemporary (1960s) Tokyo.  Mifune's iconic role as the amoral ronin Sanjuro Kuwabatake is here filled by Jo Shishido as disgraced ex-detective Joji 'Jo' Mizuno.  

The film opens with police investigating the apparent double suicide of a detective and his mistress (we later learn that it was actually a double murder).  The initial sequence plays at being a traditional police procedural, with middle aged men in rumpled suits and worn hats speaking clinically of the dead.  The camera pans to a table and an incongruous splash of color, a single cut red flower in a vase.  It is an image of fleeting life that  is repeated as the film's closing frame.

Suddenly, the film jumps to full color with a blast of hard bop from the soundtrack, cutting to a crowded street in Tokyo and the maniacal laughter of a woman.  The camera soon finds 'Jo' Shisado, who explodes into violent action, attacking three men, pummeling one of them to the ground and kicking him repeatedly before fastidiously wiping the blood from his shoe onto the fallen man's shirt.  He then turns with an air of total indifference and strolls into a hostess bar.  

His outburst provides an entree into the Tokyo underworld; the men he thrashed were low-level yakuza soldiers, and the ease with which he dispatched them attracts the attention of the local underboss.  Soon, he meets the big boss, Hideo Nomoto, and becomes a hitman for Nomoto's gang.  It rapidly becomes apparent that Jo is playing a deeper game.  He forces his way into the office of Nomoto's chief rival, earning a place on his payroll as well, this time by providing intelligence on Nomoto's activities.  He plays the rivals off one another, eventually achieving the cataclysmic annihilation of both gangs.

But why?  We learn through flashbacks and his own admission that Jo is a former cop,framed by the yakuza and sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit.  More significantly, it is revealed that the detective whose murder was investigated in the opening scene was his former partner.  He knows that someone in Nomoto's gang is responsible for that murder, and he is bent on discovering the killer and dispatching him..but he's not at all particular about who else he kills in the process.  The purity of his vengeance is eventually undermined, however, when he befriends one of Nomoto's henchmen, and, particularly, after he learns who the real hand behind the killing was.  In the end, his success brings no satisfaction, only more death.

The great strength of Youth of the Beast is its combination of superb visual flair and unremitting nihilism.  Suzuki's shots are almost invariably dynamic in their composition, a riot of color and movement against a gritty background of corruption and decay.  They create at once a hallucinatory detachment and a gut level immersion in the violence.  Even the relatively static shots are intensely poetic and loaded with symbolism.  Several scenes take place in the office of Nomoto's hostess bar.  The entire back wall of the office is a one-way mirror, looking out into the nightclub. The floor of the office is set below the floor of the club.  It is a perfect visual depiction of an "underworld" existing side by side with everyday life, but invisible to most people.

One aspect of the film will likely be extremely disturbing to many contemporary Western viewers.  Suzuki's films were often possessed of a violent and virulent misogyny, and this is no exception.  The female characters are invariably unsympathetic; prostitutes, addicts and murdering adulteresses.  One scene features a pimp humiliating an addicted woman while she begs for a fix.  In another, Nomoto beats aa call girl with his belt and then rapes her.  The movie reaches its climax when Jo leaves the woman who orchestrated the murder of his partner to the tender mercies of a straight razor wielding psychopath.  It is a fitting end to one of the most relentlessly violent films of its era.
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Not Quite a Review...Great Film Antiheroes [14 May 2006|06:53pm]

The local indie/foreign rental place frequently prints up various "best of" lists and leaves them out for anyone who is interested. Some of the lists consist of highly scientific surveys of their own staff (an eclectic mix of emo fucktards, indie fucktards and fatchick hippie generalist fucktards), but others are more 'professionally' assembled by the likes of the staff of Premiere magazine (the exact same demographic, only not on an hourly wage) or the American Film Institute (same demographic, only older and made up largely of gay men).

The 'new' list this week was the AFI's list of its top 50 'heroes' and top 50 'villains.' Like most AFI lists, it is a weird combination of masscult pandering, lefty ideology in place of honest engagement with art (c'mon, Atticus fucking Finch as "greatest hero" in film? and Gandhi), for not eating and wearing a fucking diaper?!!), and a small leavening of just-don't-fucking-get-it (you would think that most film critics would be aware that Michael Corleone is not the 'villain' of the Godfather) series, and apparently, you would be mistaken, I know I was).

One of the AFI's big problems is a consistent inability to distinguish between 'villains' and 'antiheroes.' In addition to the aforementioned Michael Corleone (#11 on their list), some other characters that are clearly not 'villains' in the context of the films in which they appear made the list, including: Bonny and Clyde (#32) and Count Dracula (#33). Their pick for 'greatest villian' is Hannibal Lecter, another rather ambivalent figure.

Some of the 'heroes' likewise are best understood as 'antiheroes' (James Bond, Han Solo, and Dirty Harry). And could someone explain how Thelma and Louise (and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) made the 'heroes' list while Bonny and Clyde are 'villains'?

All this got me thinking about the idea of the antihero, the morally ambiguous figure who does good things for bad reasons (or bad things for good reasons), or simply has no identifiable motives. These are, I think, some of the most complicated and interesting characters in film precisely because they defy easy pigeonholing (and are more like real people for it), so I've made a little list of my own favorite antiheroes:

1. Don Lope de Aguirre (Aguirre, The Wrath of God) – The genius of Aguirre lies as much in Werner Herzog’s decision to invert the conventions of the heroic journey – turning it into a voyage of undiscovery and a descent into madness – as in Klaus Kinski’s monumentally brilliant performance as the curiously restrained, but obviously bent (and more magnetic for it) conquistador. His mannerisms are arresting, his dreams grandiose, his vision doomed.

2. Sanjuro Kuwabatake (Yojimbo) – Toshiro Mifune’s swaggering bravado is legendary, as are the brilliantly choreographed fight scenes. But why does he do it? Money? Duty? Some strange conception of honor? One gets the sneaking suspicion that he’s found a convenient cover for a personal hobby: killing people. Mifune was the master of creating a character from physical gestures (Brando not excepted), and, in Sanjuro, he created a character of seminal importance, a deadly enigma whose motivations are forever beyond our ken.

3. Jake LaMotta (Raging Bull) – Jake LaMotta was a brutal, uncompromising man in a sport and an era that were both also brutal and uncompromising. But this is a complicated character, even if he is defined by his physicality. His brutality (towards his family, his friends and even himself, not to mention the odd ring opponent or two) is matched only by his raw courage, not only in the ring (his five losses to the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson included some of the most one-sided beatings in boxing history, yet LaMotta never once went down, much less out), but, ultimately, in coming to grips with himself, his flaws, and the consequences of his life.

4. William Munny (Unforgiven) – In a way, the conflicted, tragic side of the Man With No Name (who was, of course, Sanjuro with a six gun), Eastwood’s most memorable film and role turns the sociopath of his early work for Sergio Leone on its head. The Man With No Name had no past as well. Munny has a name and a past, but no future. He has a conscience, but his only tomorrow is death – for those he strikes down and, presumably, for himself.

5. Mr. Murakawa (Sonatine) – A quintessentially Kitano character: stoically resigned in the proud Japanese tradition, but possessed of a morbid sense of humor, a sly nobility and a manly willingness to engage in violence at any moment. He is a weary man, a yakuza underboss who wants to leave the syndicate life behind, but is also willing to see events through to their inevitably awful conclusion. He is likeable not so much as a man of honor in a den of thieves (in truth, he has none), but because of his quaint willingness to stand and face the consequences of his choices openly, with gun in hand.

6. Michael Corleone (The Godfather Part II) – Michael Corleone is a family man. It is, of course, required of him as the head of a mafia family. It’s also what separates him from being just another charming, murderous bastard. His devotion to his family, and particularly to his children is what keeps him a sympathetic figure within a swirling vortex of nihilistic butchery, backstabbing, lies and deception…a vortex entirely of his own making. And even here, he isn’t easy to like. He abuses his wife (admittedly when she tries to take away his children), and, when an attempt is made on his life that nearly kills his wife as well, his concern is as much for the implied insult to himself as it is for the safety of his family. And, of course, the ultimate victim of Michael’s vengeance is his own brother, executed while he dispassionately looks on.

7. James Bond (Goldfinger) – Bond, James Bond, secret agent, bon vivant, womanizer…sociopath. Bond will always be an anomaly: the Brit that every American man wants to be, a spy with a catchphrase, a “hero” into which all the familiar aspects of villainy have been rolled. Absolute disregard for any concern beyond his own purposes? Check. Willingness to put innocent life at risk for any and all reasons? Check. Manipulative sexual predator who uses women then uses them up? Check. But hey, it’s all cool. He’s 007, getting his wick dipped and keeping his beak wet in service of Queen and Country. Bond is, of course, a franchise, an institution more than a man, but only Sean Connery ever perfectly captured his peculiar blend of panache, indifference to suffering and robust virility, and never better than in Goldfinger

8. Adolf Hitler (Triumph of the Will) – Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will is widely considered the greatest (and most successful) propaganda film ever created. Part of this is due to Riefenstahl’s undeniable brilliance both as a director and editor, part is due to the NSDAP’s unparalleled gift for choreographic public spectacle and drama, but a large measure of the credit has to go to sheer charisma and personal magnetism of the film’s central figure, Adolf Hitler. Here, Hitler is something of a split personality; the film goes to great lengths to show the Hitler of Nazi myth, the messianic figure descending from the clouds (literally, in the opening shot) to bring salvation to his people. Yet its most powerful and arresting sequence shows Hitler bathed in the flickering glow of torchlight and veiled in smoke as he addresses a nighttime rally of his loyal stormtroopers. This is a very different führer, a dark and arresting god, possessed of a demonic energy, pronouncing a blessing (curse?) on his acolytes.

9. Count Dracula (Nosferatu: The Phantom of the Night) - Again, the Herzog/Kinski collaboration proves fruitful. While the film itself is not the equal of Murnau’s silent original, nor even of the Bela Lugosi Dracula, Kinski’s Count comes closer than either to capturing the tragic figure of the source novel. He is not a force of unstoppable evil, nor a suave seducer, but rather a man – an immortal man to be sure – trying to bear up under the crushing weight of time, consequences and a terrible curse.

10. Dr. Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs) - Obviously, Lecter is not the villain the American Film Institute would have you believe, but he is fascinating nonetheless. A true psychopath, but one who lends his aid in capturing another killer, partly out of self-interest, and partly out of sympathy and (and a schoolboy crush) for FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling. Anthony Hopkins’ performance seems a bit hammy now, but it perfectly captures the menace and theatricality of the Lecter character.
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United 93 [08 May 2006|09:52am]

United 93 invoked a wider array of emotions from somewhere deep down in me than any other movie I have ever seen.  Fear, pride, hatred, sorrow, anger, and terror all swelled up in me at different points throughout the movie.  I was so mixed up by the end that I couldn't speak for ten minutes after the movie ended...there's not too many things that render me speechless.

The movie guides us through the events of 9/11 from the perspective of several of the key players of the day:  the FAA, different air traffic control centers, the military, and the hijackers and passengers of United 93.  In many cases, the characters in the movie outside of the plane, such as air traffic controllers and flight directors, were portrayed by the actual men and women performing those duties on that fateful Tuesday.

The passengers of those hijacked planes were put in a most horrifying and impossible situation.  I'm very glad this movie was made, America needs to know about the heroes of flight United 93.

"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction" - Blaise Pascal, famous scientist and physicist

Check out my brand-spanking-new LJ and a longer version of this review at hyperion_way
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