Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cherry Bomb: The Runaways

The Runaways (2010) - Sigismondi MV5BMTk4MzUyODk5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODM0MTQxMw@@._V1_ Based on the memoir Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story and executive produced by Joan Jett, this all-girl rock band biopic hits all the right notes in all the right places.

Floria Sigismondi, a Canadian music video director (for Marilyn Manson, Sigure Ros, White Stripes, etc), knows how to lure the audience in from the get-go: the film starts with skimpily dressed, beautiful blond sisters Marie (Riley Keough) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) exchanging their underwear at a gas station bathroom because Cherie's period has just started. It encapsulates the theme of the film in such a short time - sisterhood, by and large.

It's Los Angeles circa 1975 and Sigismondi does a great job capturing the tail end of the glam rock era and dawn of disco. Tomboyish teen with shaggy jet-black hair and a black leather jacket, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) somehow manages to convince a lipstick wearing opportunistic music producer, Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) to give her a chance at an all-girl rock band. He knows what's good when he sees it. He recruits Sandy West the drummer, Lita Ford on lead guitar and Robin (fictional character) on bass. With these feline punkettes with their 'f-you' attitudes, he announces eloquently "What this group needs now is more sex" as he points his finger at a woman's crotch in a magazine. After he picks up Cherie at a club to be the lead singer of the Runaways, he asks for her age. "Fifteen," she says, and Fowley breaks out a menacing smile, shouting "Jailbait!" He makes the girls go through sort of a rock 'n' roll boot camp to toughen them up but Cherie is a young, sensitive glam kid who dons David Bowie jump suit with Aladdin Sane makeup and lip syncs to him at a high school talent show. She even likes to listen to Don McLean's American Pie from time to time, for crying out loud. It's going to be a rocky ride.

Kristen Stewart axes her image as an angsty teenage vampire lover and gives a no frills, nuanced performance as a tough as nails but well rounded Jett. As she growls on stage and plays guitar, Stewart is utterly convincing as a determined teenager who is destined to be famous. But it's Dakota Fanning who steals the show as she embodies that unreachable, vacuous glam rock waif who stumbles upon the scene and has a hard time dealing with the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Joan is in many ways Cherie's surrogate older sister while they are on the road. And Sigismondi is not afraid of suggesting their sexual affairs as well. Michael Shannon, again, proves here to be one of the most gifted American actors working today. His manic performance as a larger than life Fowler rivals his performance in William Friedkin's Bug as a psycho conspiracy theorist and in Werner Herzog's recent My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done as a schizophrenic stage actor who takes his pink flamingos hostage.

In the end, sex, drugs and being constantly on the road prove to be too much for young Cherie to handle. Despite its edgy subject matter, The Runaways is a sweet movie about young girls' rites of passage. As they go their separate ways, their reminiscence has no bitterness to it. It almost has a fairy tale quality rather than the cynicism of its 80's counterpart, Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains by Lou Adler, starring baby Diane Lane and Laura Dern.

This special preview screening was a part of Fusion Film Festival: A Celebration of Women Filmmakers. Joan Jett was there for the Q & A session packed mostly with female audience. Now 54, with a petite, athletic body and trade mark short black hair, Jett talked about the surreal nature of seeing her life on film and being a rock idol, she came across as personable, intelligent, and guileless. She also told the audience that Cherie Currie has become a well-known chainsaw sculptor and she is apparently very good. With Cherry Bomb continuously playing in my head like a broken tape, I exited the theater pondering on the harmonious relationship between rock 'n' roll and chainsaw. Review at

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Hunger (2008) - McQueen

I have not seen a more powerful piece of filmmaking like this since perhaps Children of Men. Let's forget for a sec that Steve McQueen is a celebrated visual British artist. Let's set aside the fact many of the sequences are devastatingly beautiful. The year is 1981. It's Margaret Thacher's England- kids are getting shot in the head with plastic bullets by British troops in Northern Ireland. Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), an IRA commanding officer in Her Majesty's Maze Prison, decides to go on a second hunger strike to certain death, in protest of IRA prisoners being treated like common criminals. He dies of starvation after 66 days. 9 others follow suit.

It's a brutal film: starts out with feces, piss and blood and ends with a skeletal body, puss and bloody feces. Hunger opens with one of the prison guards with bloody knuckle preparing to leave for work, checking underneath his car for bombs, etc. It's a dehumanizing job and beating scenes are pretty brutal. The film is anchored by a powerful 20 minute uncut static wide shot between Sands and a priest (Liam McMahon) right in the middle. They talk about the pros and cons of starving oneself to death. The priest finds Sands a focused, immovable rock. The film has absolutely no sentimental moment and that is part of the strength along with its bea-u-gly cinematography. Fassbender's portrayal of man of conviction is quite astonishing. Whether you agree with IRA's tactics to achieve their political aim, one can't take away Sands' conviction in his beliefs. And that's beautiful.

Limits of Psychotherapy: Shutter Island

Shutter Island (2010) - Scorsese
In a nutshell:

Shutter Island is basically an impeccably crafted 50's red scare b-movie. It really feels like a Sam Fuller movie more than anything else. All the recognizable (at least to us film nerds) character actors doing their 2 minute bits is very distracting at best. Scorsese is thinking of bringing Michelle Williams up like he has been with Dicaprio with series of movies over the years? She is a total miscast here and not up to the task yet as a ghostly wife. The flow of the movie abruptly stops by the predictable climax and plays out at the LotR: Return of the King pace. Entertaining enough.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Who's gonna ride your wild horses?: Survival of the Dead

Survival of the Dead (2009) - Romero
Screen Shot 2020-06-30 at 10.09.28 PM
A small military unit left over from Diary of the Dead gets a tip from a gadget (iphone) wired kid that the Plum Island off the coast of North Eastern seaboard is the safe haven from the zombies. They are joined by James O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh, Windom Earl in Twin Peaks), an exiled head of the O'Flynn family. You see, O'Flynns and Muldoons have been warring factions on the island for generations and now, even in the face of zombie apocalypse. The thing is, O'Flynn wants to shoot any infected in the head, even if they were family members. Muldoon? Nah, they want to keep their living dead alive (like those old post-mortem photographs)- after all, they are family. Over time, they will surely want to eat something other than human flesh. Maybe horses?

Unlike many other Romero productions, Survival has a high production value, graceful camerawork and some funny snappy dialog. It also features some new inventive ways to kill off zombies involving a fire extinguisher and flair gun. It also features a dark-haired beautiful zombie (Kathleen Munroe) horse riding and some tasty bits of underwater zombie sequences which was solely missing from Land of the Dead. But it does have some unintentional hilarity involving hot twin sisters (Munroe as Jane- zombie and Janet- non-zombie). Romero had to give her more screen time I guess. It is thoroughly enjoyable and surprisingly light on in-your-face messages. I mean, Romero might be telling us it's Isreali Palestinian or Catholic Protestant conflict. The baseless hatred runs deeeeep, and no one's admitting the other is right- the follies of human life continues. All we have to do is wait and see if the undead would eat horses.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Doze Green

I'm not a big fan of his multi-colored graffiti stuff but I got to see his other works in a group show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in Chelsea this weekend on the last day of the show.
I see his work everywhere in NY these days. His stuff is used by Ecko clothing lines even. Very hip.
But I loved his black and white stuff. I love his line quality, the intricacies of Native American/Mayan/Khmer culture influenced imagery.

Jonathan LeVine Gallery

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Valentine's Day Dinner: Bouillabaisse

I finally got off my ass and made my lady a bouillabaisse (a traditional Provençal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille) as I promised when we first started going out 11 years ago and it turned out great. Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Recipe for two:
1/2 lb cod cut in 2 slices
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and cleaned
1/4 lb sea scallops
1/4 lb squids cut in rings
1/4 lb mussels
6 clams
2 cup seafood stock
1/2 cup wine (red or white, whatever available)
1 tsp tomato paste
2 tbsp La Morena Chipotle Sauce or any hot sauce of your choice.
4 cloves of garlic diced
1/2 medium onion chopped
3 stalks scallion chopped diagonally
parsley chopped
pinch of saffron
pinch of rosemary
2 medium bay leaves
1/2 cup corn starch
3 tbsp olive oil

Cover the cod pieces with salt & pepper and corn starch both sides. Set aside for ten minutes then pan fry them in olive oil, make it crispy each side.

Sweat onion and garlic with tomato paste in olive oil 1-2 minutes. Add liquids, saffron, rosemary and bay leaves, bring it to a boil. Put clams and cook until they open, about 5-6 minutes. Throw in half scallions and add rest of the seafood, cook 3-4 minutes until shrimp turn pink in color.

Place generous portion in two large bowls. Add cod pieces on top. Sprinkle the rest of the scallions and parsley.

We had our soup with a good hunk of bread and a
Hitachino White Ale. An amazing beer from a Japanese brewery and one of our favorites I might add.

Hope you guys try the recipe some time.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Life's little pleasures: The Pleasure of Being Robbed

The Pleasure of Being Robbed (2008) - Safdie
She steals everything from couple of grapes to bag full of kittens
Beautiful unassuming, handheld Super 16mm cinematography
Hanging out with a polar bear
Getting into trouble
Snowy day

If anything, The Pleasure of Being Robbed is string of beautiful moments in the life of a semi-attractive klepto girl (Eleonore Hendricks) walking around New York City. The thing is, I was fully expecting trustfund hipster culture being brought to life with pseudo-intellectual dialog and prerequisite party scenes lit by candles and china balls. None of that. It does have a lot of driving scenes for Safdie to jam in as much indie music as possible. But for a mumblecore, it really charmed me. The klepto part isn't even a big draw here. The film just floats. Eleonore just wants to connect with people by going through their stuff. I loved its simplicity and effortlessness of filmmaking. It was a pleasure getting my 70 minutes robbed that way. It really makes me want to go out and shoot something. And I'm not talking about hunting.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

All the Lonely People, Where Do They All Come From: On Dangerous Ground

On Dangerous Ground (1952) - Ray
**This review contains spoilers

Jim Wilson (Robert Ryan) is a hardened city cop with loose hands. He's seen all the angles from all sides and sick of it all. He's a true rage-aholic. After beating up another suspect to get the leads, he is sent upstate to help out a murder case of a young girl until things cool down. The small snowy town is in uproar. The father of the murdered girl, blinded by rage, takes law into his own hands and in pursuit of the suspect. Wilson reluctantly joins in the manhunt and it leads the odd couple into a cabin of a lonely blind woman (Ida Lupino) who turns out to be the sister of the suspect.

All this hard hitting daylight noir setting is just a backdrop for a Nick Ray drama about loneliness. Ray is skillful setting Wilson up from the beginning as a family-less man on the brink of losing his soul. He also brings out pity and admiration with many close ups of beautiful Lupino. Ray knew back then, that the loneliness is a universal disease that affects everyone - a cop, screenwriter, disaffected youth... On Dangerous Ground is subtle and quietly moving except for the ending which succumbs to cliché. The voice overs at the end and the happy ending was corny and too conclusive, leaving nothing to the audience to mull over.

This is how I would've ended the film after the climax:
*shooting script

Wilson is driving down the snow swept highway. He accelerates as if he is running away from something. After a while he pulls over to the curb. From the bird's eye view, we see his car slowly coming to a halt. Wilson sits there in the car for the longest time. Then he slowly gets out.

He closes the car door and looks around. Not a soul in sight but a barren wintry landscape. We pan three sixty on the barren surroundings and stop at Wilson's face. His expression is serious as always, but with a glimpse of quiet determination(?)

Cut to wide:
Wilson standing alone in the snow swept highway.
Eleanor Rigby starts to play and the credits roll.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tenement of Baba Yaga

My lady is an artist: she is known for her political cartoons, large scale prints and recently mural projects around the five Boroughs of NY. Now she is trying at screen prints. Below are pictures of her three dimensional installation consists of different screen printed images.
These pictures really don't do justice to the three dimensional piece. It's quite amazing.

Here is her website:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

When God is Dead...: Madeinusa

Madeinusa (2006) - Llosa
The film starts with a very Andean looking young girl (Magaly Solier) preparing rat poison in the kitchen as she sings a song about herself and being somewhere else in her childish raspy voice. It's quite possibly the my favorite opening of a movie ever. Madeinusa (a common name for that region) is a pretty 14 year old in a remote mountain village called Manataycuna. Townsfolk are preparing a festival of 'Holy Days' btwn Good Friday and Easter Sunday: it's three days without sin- incest, stealing, wife swapping... anything goes, because god is dead. The film unfolds as Salvatore, a tall handsome gringo from Lima comes into town and catches the glimpse of Madeinusa at a Virgin of the Year contest, part of the Holy Days festival. Madeinusa struggles in a household with a lustful mayor father and a violently jealous sister. Salvatore might be the ticket out of Manataycuna, a fictional backward village which means "a town no one can enter".

Director Claudia Llosa skillfully weaves unique Andes mix of ancient Maya beliefs and Catholicism into an allegorical fable. Being a niece of a famed writer Mario Vargas Llosa, she demonstrates a firm grasp in her material as writer/director in her debut feature. With its beautiful HD photography and colorful settings, Madeinusa is an intoxicating, fascinating concoction. It plays out like Wicker Man directed by Buñuel.

Coincidentally, I've been watching Light at the Edge of the World dvd, a National Geographic TV program hosted by ethnobotanist/anthropologist Wade Davis (author of controversial Serpent and the Rainbow)- if anyone's interested in cultural anthropology, the dvd is an excellent source for understanding culture and religions from the far side of the world. The section on Peru really helped me to understand Madeinusa better.

first 3 minutes

I can't wait to see La Teta Asustada/Milk of Sorrow.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

O Capitan, My Capitan!: Dersu Uzala

Dersu Uzala (1975) - Kurosawa

I'll keep it short. Dersu Uzala is a tender story of budding friendship btwn a captain of military land surveyor team and a Goldi hunter with the stunning Siberian forests as a backdrop. It's also about changing times and somber observation of disappearing way of life. Even though settings and actors are foreign, you can tell right away it's a Kurosawa film- the mastery of exterior shots and movements are unmistakable AK. It's much more personable Dances with Wolves/Kaspar Hauser for grown-ups. It's mature, guileless, direct and teeming with mutual respect. AK fan or not, one can't deny that he is a master storyteller. There is a real feeling of joy seeing the cheerful reunion of Dersu and his capitan. I really loved this film.

The show at Film Forum was sold out even though it was a weeknight. A lot of AK love going on here in NY. Even though the 35mm film print was scratched and discolored, I was glad to see it on the big screen with my good friend Ben.

doodling at work #2

Just read this short story. Couldn't get the image out of my head, so had to put it down on paper.

It's one of 57 short stories from the book Varieties of Disturbance: Stories. I love it so far.

doodling at work #1

Doodling at work. More to come.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Contrasts: Chocolat

Chocolat (1988) - Denis
...amidst bronzed and black African faces the white skin color evokes something akin to death...

Watching this again since the first time about 15 years ago, I realized how Mireille Perrier (Boy Meets Girl, Un Monde Sans Pitié) looks very much like Claire Denis, as she plays a woman reminiscing about her childhood in French colonial Cameroon, mirroring the director's own background.

France, an aptly named (for a film about French colonial Africa) young girl, lives an idyllic life in northern Cameroon with her parents (the Dalens) and black servants in her perfect sheltered life in a racist country. Everything gets shaken a little when Luc (Jean-Claude Adelin), a former missionary turned laborer gets brought in along with the local black workers. France's parents, Aimée (Giulia Boschi) and Marc can't get a handle on enigmatic Luc. He is kind of an instigator using his white man gone native shtick against clueless whites and obedient blacks alike. Tension rises and the forbidden passion surfaces when a good servant Protée (Isaach De Bankolé) gets pushed by Luc's antics.

Chocolat is a very subtle predecessor to Denis's White Material last year. You can see her progression as a filmmaker in those twenty years- loose structure, striking cinematography and visual poetry. What's not changed is her ability to capture those brilliant moments of alienation/contrasts, sexual tension and lurking-right-underneath-the-surface violence like no other.