Friday, August 30, 2013

Collective Hypnosis

Heart of Glass (1976) - Herzog
heart of glass photo 42a193a5-0acd-430f-88b7-7f3e663ffc11_zps4b641e15.jpg
 photo c5d0217d-16bc-4156-a59c-910c56dc1885_zps37973148.jpg
 photo 736f55e0-1624-457f-befa-9e5e38c32347_zps07b46fa6.jpg
 photo ec3522db-6fb2-462f-b70c-bf94cc854da5_zps31e81f1b.jpg
 photo 6e24a452-9f36-4651-88d5-55f4714891be_zps43775575.jpg
What is crazier: a film about a whole town going mad or a filmmaker hypnotizing all the actors to get a certain mood out of it? Herzog did the latter with one of his least seen masterpieces, Heart of Glass. In the heart of the majestic Barbarian mountains, a town is thrown to chaos because their glassmaker died, taking the secret of the much prized 'ruby glass' to the grave. Everyone, from the town's master, owner of the glass factory and his son to workers and farmers, is somehow completely dependent of this one industry. After many failures to duplicate ruby glass everyone sheepishly, subtly go mad collectively, just as Hias the oracle (Joseph Bierbichler)'s predicted.
(Non) actors who are hypnotized look and act like they are lobotomized zombies, moving slowly and uttering their fed lines in monotone. Their glazed eyes are either rolled back or staring nowhere, as if their souls have been sucked out. Herzog's mission therefore, is accomplished!

Accompanied by Caspar von Fredrich inspired visuals of nature and men and Popul Vuh's soundtrack, Heart of Glass is even more hypnotic than usual Herzog in many different ways. His commentary on industrialization, Fascism, losing soul in the modern world are painted with his usual bold style and he does it like no other. Its tacked on operatic ending at sea -- concerning the futility of man, at first feels like it comes out of nowhere, doesn't seem too far fetched when you digest the film as a whole. It's a truly majestic film and the one that needs to be seen on the big screen.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

No Harm Done

Abigail Harm (2013) - Chung
 photo 6524aa93-8b43-49bc-bd63-89f46f823d79_zpsc01cf1e0.jpg
I've always liked Amanda Plummer. Her small, gravelly voice, her fawn-like demeanor, and her hidden ferocity have always gotten my attention in the many films in which I've seen her. It's that fragile, otherworldly quality of the seasoned actress that director Lee Isaac Chung (Munyurangabo) taps into and uses to maximum effect in his new feature film, Abigail Harm.

This modern day fairy tale is apparently loosely based on a Korean folklore, Woodcutter and the Nymph, which goes something like this:

Once there was a poor man who barely eked out a living off of cutting down and selling trees deep in the countryside. One day, he encountered a wounded deer in the forest. The animal pleaded with him to hide him from the hunters. This he did. In return, the deer let him in a secret on how to keep a heavenly nymph to be his wife. "You see, there is this lake where the nymphs take baths. All you have to do is steal one of their robes. One that remains after others ascend to heaven will be bound to you forever." This the poor, lonely man followed so....

But I'm sorry to tell you that the story doesn't end well for the woodcutter because the lesson here is -- 'if you love somebody, set them free.'

Abigail Harm (Plummer) is a lonely woman living in New York City, making money here and there for reading books for the blinds. One night, she finds a wounded stranger (Will Patton) in her apartment. This slightly incoherent, ethereal man directs her to a grand empty building where she finds a naked Asian man (Kuramochi Tetsuo) taking a bath in a large metal tin bathtub. She nabs his robe and runs out. A few days after, she goes back and finds the man wondering around naked. She calls him, like she would a pet and brings him home. So starts a charming little romance, big on creating the melancholic mood of urban loneliness but small on everything else. But it's lovely nonetheless.

Plummer is adorable. Her childish excitement and happiness when she finds her first true love are palpable. It's all her. The almost mute companion is just there to stand around to be adored by our heroine. It's pretty hard to sell a man-child with a thick Japanese accent pass as being otherworldly in this day and age. But director Chung keeps everything light as feather. Serving also as a cinematographer, Chung beautifully captures magic light hours in mostly Brooklyn shot settings. Abigail Harm is a modern fairy tale with affecting performances by many character actors (including, Plummer, Patton and Burt Young of the Godfather films). It is rare to see urban loneliness presented in American films, and it's rarer still to see it done in a micro scale and budget, and done well. It's a charmer.

Abigail Harm opens on Friday, August 30 at Quad Cinema in New York.

Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions can be found at

Friday, August 23, 2013

Lithuanian Sci-fi

Vanishing Waves (2012) - Buozyte
 photo 08c1ae5e-d44c-4a7a-8131-80fdb29e1a04_zpsc15192ac.jpg
 photo be0073fa-b543-4299-aa4a-5c949a9d9d95_zps156c8a8c.jpg
 photo 203cecee-9578-4d00-a4e0-b4fdb4c46bdd_zps390353f4.jpg
 photo 60b9d208-9202-4fcf-a876-8741996f426d_zps2a15d934.jpg
 photo 93b49da0-62a1-45fe-8a03-593937f47291_zpsdc74cf8b.jpg
 photo 8bbce58c-a6cb-46ae-b302-4d663042e98e_zpsbc3ed5f6.jpg
A very good looking Lithuanian Sci-fi. Lucas (Marius Jampolskis) volunteers to an untested scientific experiment where he will be hooking up to a comatose patient to see if transfer of human psyche is possible. What Lucas encounters is a beautiful Aurora (Jurga Jutaite) and the experience is so real and sensual, he keeps the details to himself and hidden from the scientists. It takes a toll in his mental state and his relationship with his girlfriend. The psychiatrist assigned to the project suspects something is wrong but infatuated Lucas keeps pushing on, refusing to divulge his secret. After secretly injecting truth serum to unlock the repressed memories in Aurora, Lucas finds her dark relationship with a mysterious lover (portrayed very briefly by Sharunas Bartas) and how she had fallen into a coma. Determined to help her come back to life, he decides to dive in one last time despite everyone's objections.

This concept of Vanishing Wave is nothing new, but the execution here is exceptional and not derivative of any other films. It is worth checking out just for the visuals. Gorgeous Jutaite often bares it all as a damaged woman who was/is desperately in love. Writer director Kristina Buozyte doesn't lose her footing in balancing the film from falling into either being too realistic/procedural or full blown feel-good fantasy. One of the better Sci-fi films I've seen in years.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Grand Visual Master

The Grandmaster (2013) - Wong
 photo 4e8eb5ad-35ea-49f6-910e-c10303c1488b_zpseee0cdc6.jpg
 photo 35abb7d5-f94d-4d8b-ab86-3aa980f5acc0_zpsb8d858d4.jpg
 photo e5cd277a-bd94-41c3-8956-4f3f4306544a_zps8a414a16.jpg
 photo b537ed9f-fbd4-4760-875a-00794327832f_zps739a8f4d.jpg
 photo 8f3c3183-4991-4d12-b243-0581c49b2714_zps00df7f63.jpg
 photo 2555cb0b-8e30-4de2-b3b4-dcebbadf2566_zps55ef1dd9.jpg
 photo 058c8cd9-647b-44d8-a5d3-b1f30b20ec96_zpse14aaa2b.jpg
 photo 058e5a34-7020-47b7-8bc2-af871cc769f7_zps9078d636.jpg
 photo 70bab9ed-ff56-44f5-8c20-07fd492d275d_zps09ca83bc.jpg
 photo 05b9c93d-7c7f-4f45-8c92-9342458b2608_zps84a2ec16.jpg
Wong Kar Wai fans who's been waiting for this since it's first announcement back in...when was it, won't be disappointed. Even though it was Wong who initially started this Ip Man craze, given his notoriety for procrastination, his Grandmaster is the last to open after a series of Ip Man franchise. And since it's a WKW movie, Grandmaster is less about the famous martial arts master but the extreme visual fetishization of his life. There is not one frame of the film that are not screengrab worthy. Every frame, a work of art. As far as pure visual porn goes, it surpasses last year's Dredd (detractors, now is the time to speak up!)

Much like In the Mood for Love and 2046, theme-wise, we are safely in Wong territory: Unrequited love, lost chances, eternal beauty, etc. Unfortunately, because the film is based on a real life character, Wong has to resort to title cards for dates (as the timeline is heavily jumbled), hence, cramping his perfect sense of style. The unrequited love between Ip Man (Tony Leung) and Lady Gong (Zhang Ziyi) is fluidly meshed together even though they have very little screen time together. It's as much Ip Man movie as it is Lady Gong movie, who is the real tragic figure in the story. Wong paints Gong as a woman who fell victim of its time and place: she takes the burden of revenging her father(master Gong)'s death, which consumes all her strength, despite everyone's advice to walk away from the man's world and 'settle down'- no time for love, no time for life. It is that short sparring between her and Ip, that fleeting moment when their bodies mingled like two dancing flames that she cherishes cheesy.

Seriously, that fight scene is not even the best one. The best is the one between Lady Gong and Ma San, the former pupil of/who killed papa Gong at the snowy train station, Leone style. Wong employs slightly slower shutter speed in seriously dark (the whole movie is dark dark dark) fight sequences where actors' faces and moving hands get accentuated against velvety black backdrop. The effect is close to an elegant ballroom dancing rather than kung fu. The worst are the ones in the trailers in the rain which is nothing more than an exercise in super slow-mo for a tire/windshield wiper commercial.

Since it's about these two lovebirds (who are not really lovers), everything else is just window dressing. Ip's wife and two kids never once factor in to the picture, nor does the Japanese Occupation and unfortunately, nor the Razor (Chen Chang) who takes up three meaty scenes which never develops into anything. My guess is his scenes are severely cut due to its length (the version I saw was already 2 hrs 10 minutes and seemed long). Since it's a Wong movie, I wouldn't be surprised if there already was a redux version or director's cut in the works.

All in all, it's a rapturous visual experience and on par with his later works on every level. Too bad I don't find joy in his films anymore. At some point he traded off his playfulness with static elegance, coquettishness with stoicism, humor with slow-mo raindrops. He might be back in form, but I'm not interested in what he's selling anymore.

**It's been said that the version I saw is different than the US version. The US release is shorter and more linear in structure. Keep that in mind, folks.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Death Tickles

Through the Forest/Á travers la forêt (2005) - Civeyrac
 photo 37dc3003-49dd-4d33-9dd5-b293ed1d7edc_zps2e9ba89f.jpg

 photo 4ee8b915-853b-40bd-b95c-049b1472fc8b_zpsf8730bdb.jpg

 photo 247231b6-4978-465c-bd8a-cd2588d5093d_zps7d6dc99b.jpg

 photo f1dec96a-0519-428d-9d26-8776aa9a9060_zpsde0f29da.jpg

Magical. Jean-Paul Civeyrac makes something extraordinary out of a story that could've been easily written by a morbid teenage girl. This 56 minute film, only comprised of nine 6-minute long shots, is at once a love story, super natural thriller and musical. A fawn like Camile Berthomier plays a grief stricken young woman, Amelie. She sees Renaud, her dead lover, in her dreams every night. After consulting a medium and having gone through a mental breakdown, she is suddenly given a power over people. So she wills her way over Hippolyte who is a deadringer for her dead lover- making him(and herself) believe that he is Renaud.

I usually hate musical numbers in films but Berthomier can sing and has a beautiful voice and the music is actually good. Then I find out she is actually a singer:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Love is a Battlefield

Cutie And the Boxer (2013) - Heinzerling
 photo 5a172626-4e4a-4445-9b65-d60f48b3ed53_zps1bb5ec0d.jpg

In Cutie and the Boxer, an intimate documentary by Zachary Heinzerling, we are introduced to the Shinoharas -- Ushio and Noriko,  both Japanese transplants/New York based artists, in their habitat, contemplating about the massive unpaid bills. "How much?" Ushio asks. "You don't wanna know. It's too high to even think about!" Noriko answers. They are the cutest elderly couple you'll ever see. Not only the film is a great documentary about struggling New York artists, but it's also the best love story playing in theaters  this  Summer.

The film starts with the couple getting up in their  squalid, cramped loft in DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass)  neighborhood, Brooklyn. Noriko braids her salt and peppery hair into her  signature pigtails, does groceries, makes breakfast and takes care of the bills while Ushio slowly wakes up. She also takes care of business dealings  and arranges his gallery shows. The loft is filled to the brim with  Ushio's idiosyncratic, bright colored paintings and sculptures. It is  quite clear who takes the artist role and and who plays the supporting  role in this household.
cutie and the boxer 1.jpgArmed with home videos and photos, the doc shows Ushio Shinohara's rocky career as a visual artist. One of the founding members of Neo-Dadaism movement in the 60s and known for his action paintings (he punches the canvas wearing goggles and boxing gloves with paint sponges strapped on), Ushio came to New York in 1969 and never left. There he hung out with other pop influenced artists such as Andy Warhol in the Greenwich Village, in an era that many romanticize as the golden age of the New York art scene. Seen as important but not commercially viable, Ushio's work didn't really have financial successes. Even with his innate optimism and boundless energy sometimes weren't enough to overcome the hardships of being poor. He started drinking heavily. And it was Noriko, an art student and 23 years his junior who stuck with him and supported him all these years.

cutie and the boxer 2.jpgThen, there is Noriko the artist. Her cartoonish figurative drawings, paintings and accompanying narrative are very much derived from her own life, especially the relationship with Ushio. In the beautiful flash animation sequences, Noriko's alter ego, a pigtailed, forever naked 'Cutie' goes through life's hardships and happiness with 'Bullie' (bull is 'ushi' in Japanese), her boorish artist husband. Asserting herself late as an artist in the Shinohara household, she has her own 'queendom' -- a small space in the loft where she sketches and writes and where Ushio isn't welcome.

It all culminates to their exhibition together in 2010 titled (Love is) Roarrr! in a New York art gallery.

Heinzerling gets a complete access to the life of Shinoharas and the result is amazingly tender, intimate and realistic portrait of a relationship between two artists that is built on respect, understanding and most of all, love.

Cutie and the Boxer will open in New York (and Los Angeles) on Friday, August 16 at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Landmark Sunshine Cinema. A national rollout will follow.

Diamonds in the Rough: The Shinoharas and Zachary Heinzerling Interview

 photo MV5BNjg2ODk5NTMzN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTM5NDU1OQ_V1_SX640_SY480__zpsa243596d.jpg
It's a sunny Friday afternoon in early August. I am waiting outside of an old three-story building in DUMBO, in what used to be an old, industrial neighborhood of Brooklyn, right across the East River from Manhattan. The neighborhood has been rapidly gentrifying in the last two decades with luxury high-rises and condos. I know the neighborhood pretty well and have been coming down here for years for various reasons.

I am supposed to meet Zachary Heinzerling, director of Cutie and the Boxer and his subjects, the Shinoharas, in their studio. They appear from the south side of the street with the iconic dark blue steel beam of the Manhattan Bridge in the background. The Shinoharas, Ushio and Noriko, a pint-sized elderly Japanese artist couple, look just as adorable as they do in the film. And Heinzerling looks so young, I don't even realize he's the director of the film until later.

While they are getting ready for the interview, I get the grand tour of their studio. The place is just as crammed and messy as in the film -- piles of large-size paintings on canvas frames and in rolled up forms and large scale, bright-colored sculptures take up most of the space. Paint cans, jugs and brushes litter every inch of the floor. I know how it is to live with an artist, since I myself am married to an artist with a very strong personality. I'm glad they didn't clean any of it up for the press or anything. We go on to the roof and are presented with the Manhattan skyline. It hits me that the Shinoharas have actually been living in that much romanticized, bohemian New York artists' life style all these years. But through the interview, I get the feeling that their lives aren't all that romantic and glamorous.

Cutie and the Boxer will open in New York (and Los Angeles) on Friday, August 16 at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Landmark Sunshine Cinema. A national rollout will follow.

TWITCH: How this project come about?

ZACHARY HEINZERLING: In 2007, Patrick Burns, a good friend of mine from college, met the Shinoharas and about a year later introduced me to them. We filmed one day with them and we made a short film and showed it to some people. They were interested in it and recognized the same things we thought were interesting about them. And then we just started coming here, once a week at night or on weekends, because we both had other jobs and working on other projects all the time. That was sort of the start of our friendship and our basis for the project.

For the first few years of our correspondences are not actually seen in the film, because it's just mostly getting to know them and their work. It was last year or so of filming when the honesty was shining through and there were situations where they both were thinking about each other in different ways. The show (Love is Roarrr!) happens and Ushio had to think about Noriko's work in a new way and consider her place in the art world in a way he hadn't before and Noriko having this body of work to stand on and use it as a fodder, power in her relationship with Ushio which she hadn't necessarily before, for their 40 year marriage, being always seen in his shadow.

I think the idea was to portray this relationship but it started out little bit more centered on Ushio and his work. We interviewed bunch of artists, contemporaries and curators but it slowly shifted to these scenes where they kind of interview each other and them dealing with everyday life that was much more interesting. The relationship was also more universal and potentially appealing to more people,  not only for people who are interested in art.

How much footage of them did you have in total?

I think we had about three hundred hours of footage. But a lot of those are interviews that are not used in the film. Then we had the tropes of archival footage and home video to go through. They document themselves extremely well and other people have documented Ushio's life. So there was a lot more to find. My approach was to gather everything and carving out the most interesting story.  In a documentary, you can't really know what it is until you've filmed everything.


Editing is kind of writing a story. It's pretty much starting with wealth and whittling it down process.

How did you feel about being filmed, having your life so intimately documented?

NORIKO SHINOHARA: While they were filming, we never imagined it would take such a long time. Usually it's after few hours or after few days of filming and the movie would be done in a month. But Zach continued to come for many years, like every week. so after a while, we gave up caring. Then only after we gave up, thinking there will be no end to it, he said "it's finished!"

It wasn't smooth in the beginning. It's hard to open yourself up to a stranger if you hadn't had that kind of experience before. It was especially hard for me alone. I believe for Zach it was the first time experience too. We were both beginners at this. I think it was one of the reasons why it took so many years. I am glad to see the result though. He did a very good job. He gently and beautifully filmed. My complaint is that the film is too pretty.

USHIO SHINOHARA: Now I feel like this film's about some stranger. That's how I feel right now. I do realize that after the film is released, I wouldn't be able to ride the subway without being bothered.

I'm pretty sure that's most likely.

In the movie, your conversation about JAWS being the best film by Steven Spielberg really fascinated me, meaning you do your best work early in your career. Do you think that is the case with most artists and do you feel that way about yourself too, that your earlier work defines you?

NS: Spielberg's Jaws was a masterpiece. He made it when he was young. He didn't make a finer movie since then in my opinion. But in my case, the work I did in my youth wasn't the best. Mostly I chased other people's work -- work of renaissance painters or De Kooning, true masterpieces. Cutie Series, was my first own creation which I just finished as a book, not published yet. I want to do one more book. And since Zach showed me the possibilities of animation (in the film), I want to make Cutie story entirely with animation.

That would be lovely.

NS: I'm still working and there will be much more to come from me. Whether I can do it better than Cutie, I don't know yet. But any artist has to go through that.

US: I still consider Jaws the finest film around. I think it's more of a poem than film cause young Spielberg's energy and passion are in that film. Later he became more successful and more commercial and that's where we saw his real technical talent. But what's different about art from film is that as an artist you continually have to challenge yourself and reinvent yourself. I think there is a huge difference in what artist does and what Spielberg does. I don't consider Spielberg as a pure artist. If an artist aligns himself with commercial realm, that artist ceases to be an artist.

ZH:  (to Ushio) You didn't really answer the question, though. He's asking if your first work was your best.

US: To me every day is my first day as an artist. I am challenging myself every day.

The thing is there is a consistency in your work that never changed. There is a constant vitality whether you are punching the walls with boxing gloves dipped in paint or making crazy sculpture out of card boards, that hasn't changed. I am wondering if your 'being perceived as an action painter' works against you to find a representation for your newer work nowadays.

US: One thing you can say about artists is when you look at the masters' work, they are not really multifaceted. They have one or two things to say. Considering that, the only thing you can do as an artist is do one thing and destroy what you've just done and start anew. You have to constantly betray yourself. That's the only way to evolve.

Noriko-san. I've seen many figurative works and comic book style works before by Japanese artists. But your work is very different. It's not the typical manga style people associate with Japanese culture. I am curious where you get your inspirations from.

NS: I started as a fine artist. In art school in Japan, we had to study copying Greek sculpture. It's the basis for the art college entrance exam.

I know this. I did that myself in Korea for three years.

Oh, really? Also, we were taught calligraphy at a very young age. Maybe it was the same for you too.

Yes, it's true.

Calligraphy is one of the subjects they teach in school in Japan. I was good at that. So I had those skills at the basic level. But I never imagined becoming a comic book artist or a graphic artist. It was always fine art. I did a textile design for a year because our son was 4 and we needed money. But only that time. I didn't want to continue it even though the salary was getting higher.

My style is different from manga. Comic book art for me is not a comic book art. It's art. I published my novella in 1994 and it served me as the basis for my drawings. I also do etching. As you know etching techniques are all about fine lines and drawings. That's why my style is different than manga artists.

The film is about the Shinoharas the artists and Shinoharas the couple. but it's also about New York. I don't want to go down the memory lane with you but the 70s-80s era New York is fascinating times. I want to know from your perspective how the city the art world has changed.

NS: New York back then was a dangerous town. We were constantly in danger. We moved here (to DUMBO) in 1986. It was a scary place. After 7 p.m. we couldn't go out. Now, even the newspapers say DUMBO is the most idealistic place to live in New York City. But our lifestyle has not been changed. It became harder for us because the rent is going up.

Back in SoHo, everyone around us was artists, dancers, actors, a real community. They would give us free drinks after the second drink at the bar. Not anymore. That might be the worst thing that's changed in New York.

US: When we were living in SoHo, it wasn't called SoHo. It was called Jackson Pollock Area. Eventually we got kicked out and we moved to DUMBO seventeen years ago. Being in New York City has always been fun. The things I notice is that there are more people in the city. As far as art goes, there are more Asian artists. That shows now the center of the world is China. Mao Zedong, zen art and all these subject are now being talked about. so that's kind of a huge change.

(To Heinzerling) Is it the same for you?

ZH: No. I'm from Texas. My romantic idea of New York is when it was in the 70s. For me New York's art world is defined by that era with the certain SoHo art scene and every museum has 'your stalwart of the New York art scene,' it's interesting that Ushio and Noriko were part of that and lived that lifestyle. What's interesting too is that they continue to live that way when a lot of people moved on to other things and became very successful. But they transplanted their life here where nothing like this exist anymore and continue to live and work in this loft and struggle --

NS: Many people are very envious of this loft. (laughs)

ZH: It's really a diamond in the rough. I'm sure there are a lot of other diamonds around which we don't know about. So my outsider's perspective sort of enhanced this romanticism of their lifestyle. I think a lot of people in my generation have this romantic idea of struggling artists dying with brush in their hands...

Oh yeah, myself included.

So it became an infatuation.

I just wanted to ask Ushio san a personal question. (I whisper the following in the translator's ear.) Your real reason for giving up drinking, was it for Noriko? You can say yes or no.

NS: As I said to Alexander Moore in the film, the liquor refused to go through his throat.

US: When I tried to drink, I couldn't breath. That was the real reason. So the answer is no.

You could've just said yes. (They all laugh)

The result was great. We both are very happy about it.

How long have you been sober?

Almost seven years.

If you had a chance to box anyone in the world. Who would you box?

US: Well, I don't want to box any person really. If I do, I'd probably box Jaws.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) - Lang
 photo 2f0667d0-a3e2-41c6-b747-bcd008e533cb_zpsa2a388b2.jpg
 photo 25d4791c-6710-4a11-bd15-72c9c7d602de_zpsd5d88390.jpg
 photo b3fa4f17-9f38-400a-a318-ff4e08c61e39_zps037f5e7d.jpg
 photo 18ee4033-2a81-4909-afe2-804a62b8648e_zps3ca49833.jpg
 photo 7816baca-db96-4616-ac1f-2dea57570ac4_zpsb1dcbd89.jpg
The storyline of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is probably one of the craziest, most subversive things I've ever seen in a movie. A mad hypnotist Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein Rogge of Metropolis) plans an widespread anarchy behind the walls of insane asylum, then beyond the grave. His manifesto influences criminals to commit elaborate fake currency scam, blow up a chemical plant, poison water system to bring about the end of civilization. There are some truly mesmerizing expressionistic, creepy cinematography (I can see where Lynch got some of his ideas) and gritty gunfight sequences. Lang combines many genres in one: noir, horror, police procedural, romance, action. But the film's stretched out way too long and gets very tedious. Some tight editing would make it a much more effective, concise movie. I'd like to checkout Dr. Mabuse the Gambler now.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Portraying Human Condition

Love is the Devil (1998) - Maybury
 photo 19d776f4-78b5-4423-b638-938e66a6a17d_zpsd80cec88.jpg
 photo 1618ef79-0a49-406a-b4bb-48ac07c85c00_zpsc429c151.jpg
 photo 2901b9ee-7f35-4828-bd22-d98668e108fa_zps990957ba.jpg
 photo f3760019-29b6-4880-9713-3a4a5002c60c_zps413bee45.jpg
 photo d5f66f9e-7ce9-419f-a11e-0961251804e7_zpsfab68a1a.jpg
 photo 59970971-7efe-4112-9896-5a26f51037bb_zps3617c093.jpg
Francis Bacon, known for his grotesque figurative paintings gets portrayed here as a cold hearted major A hole perfectly by Derek Jacobi. When a petty pretty bugler George (Daniel Craig) comes literally crashing down from heaven to his studio one night, Bacon coolly invites him to his bed, promising him anything he wants. So starts a tumultuous, completely lopsided relationship. Bacon loves pleasure and being physically dominated, but has absolutely no feelings for anyone. Even among his snarky, floozy friends, he is the biggest bully with the sharpest tongue. George is a junkie and has OCD. Against the the wishes of his older, benevolent friends who warn him about his bitter fate: that famous rich artist will get what he wants from you and discard you like a rag doll, George continues his relationship with Bacon. There is a particularly chilling scene of Bacon in his studio with George passed out in front of him. Bacon simply checks his lover's breath with his compact mirror if he is dead or not. This is the man who is being honored at Grand Palais, Paris for his paintings that depict 'human condition'.

It made a strong impact on me when I first saw it in the theater. I knew the filmmakers didn't get the permit to use any of the artist's paintings in the film and I'm awed once again by the ingenious way to show Bacon's style in simple camera tricks and economical set deco. Both leads are terrific so as seriously hedioused up Tilda Swinton as the member of Bacon's circle of ugly side of humanity friends.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

End of Days, Again

Last Day on Earth (2011) - Ferrara

Al Gore was right. There is a hole in ozon layer and the world will end for everyone on earth at 4:44 (Eastern time I guess?). A couple, Cisco (Willem Defoe) and Skye (Shanyn Leigh) start the last day just like any other. Skye says shaving Cisco, "Why bother?" and he replies, "For you. You like it smooth." Throughout the day, they make love several times, she concentrates into her painting on a large canvas on the floor while changing in and out of several outfits, showing off her nubile body, he glues himself in front of many modern gadgets (giant TV screen which blares images of the end of times, news, faces of sages, skyping with friends and family) in their cavernous Lower Eastside loft space. It is pretty clear Ferrara is not really interested in the mechanics of the world's end or how to portray it effectively. And unlike von Trier's visceral, anxiety ridden apocalypse in Melancholia, Ferrara's is met with a quiet, resigned attitude. I mean what can you really do in that situation? The strength of the film belies in its melancholic mood, as the couple wait for Chinese food delivery and lets a Hmong delivery kid to use their computer so he can skype with his family and say the last good bye or when Cisco sneaks out to visit old junkie friends for one last score and some good conversation.

As much as I hate seeing bad art in films, unfettered new age-y sentimentality, cheapo special effects and bad acting (Ferrara, I don't really care if Leigh is your girlfriend, but you don't put someone as uninteresting as her against Dafoe and hope for the best), I didn't completely hate 4:44. It's an honest depiction of how normal people would react in the face of apocalypse.

Monday, August 5, 2013

War Crimes

A Woman and War (2013) - Inoue
 photo 4e46c9c2-8dfd-418d-a936-e1afb7d5f86e_zpsee2d6afc.jpg
There are two stories happening in this slim but pointy new Japanese film. Ohira (Jun Murakami) comes home to his wife and a young son from the frontline of Northern China after losing his right arm. It's near the end of WWII. Because all the atrocities he committed, he can't have an erection. After witnessing a gang rape in his home town full of frustrated, demoralized men and the woman's almost comatose state, Ohira finally gets hard. With the promise of rice (everyone's starving because of war rations) he lures in women into a secluded area, knocks them unconscious and have his ways. He becomes a serial rapist. Then there is a defeatist writer (Masatoshi Nagase) who is waiting for total annihilation of Japan. He shacks up with a local bar hostess/former prostitute (Noriko Eguchi). His grand idea is to make love with her until the end of the world. Because of her past and being treated like a boy toy at a young age, she can feel pleasure. The end comes. Japan surrenders. The Emperor is a human being again. Now the writer is shooting himself up with heroin to death, the woman is a prostitute again, this time for American GIs. It's only the serial rapist who can give her pleasure.

Scathingly damning in Japanese war atrocities, A Woman and War is an uneasy film that plays out like the other side of JG Ballard. The violence against women in this film is to the point and unflinching. Uneasy zoom in shots are very effective in showing fuzzy moralities of the characters. A difficult film to like.