Monday, August 30, 2010

Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere


My lady Nicole had her mural dedication today. It was commissioned by a Dutch Human Rights Lawyers group Miles4Justice and co-led by our artist friend Chris Soria. The mural was designed and painted by young adults (14-20yrs old) from Red Hook Community Justice Center and after school program ran by Groundswell Mural Projects under Nicole and Chris's guidance. This is her 4th Summer mural.


These small pictures really don't do justice. Hopefully Groundswell would load up bigger pictures on their website soon.

The Mural overlooks the waterway between Brooklyn and the Statue of Liberty on the Valentino Pier in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It's on the side of an old box factory right at the edge of the pier. It's massive and very awesome!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bird Calls

I don't know why but Nicole and I stopped at FAO SCHWARTZ toy store in Midtown while we were around that area. It was huge and filled with yapping children and their parents. There was a section of stuffed birds by Audubon Society, where you can make birds sing by squeezing the small voice boxes in them. We spent about half an hour squeezing and tossing as many stuffed birds we could get our grubby hands on. We must've looked like a pair of crazy bird haters to innocent kids. It was fun.

Essence of the '80s

Liquid Sky (1982) - Tsukerman
An UFO the size of a dinner plate lands on the roof of a fashion model, Margaret (Anne Carlisle)'s penthouse apartment in Midtown Manhattan. The alien is after effects of heroin and similar effects of endorphin produced by humans when they reach an orgasm. Margaret is the object of desire. Whether she likes it or not, everyone wants to have a way with her. People start to evaporate into thin air right after having sex with Margaret, leaving her with the god complex and still no orgasm.

Funny, corny, endlessly nihilistic and beautiful, it's a wondrous experience. Neon lights, fashion, drugs, fame and androgyny fill up the screen. If you could bottle up the essence of the 80s, Liquid Sky would be it. This will make a killer double feature with The Man Who Fell to Earth.

I've been riding with the ghost

The Eclipse (2009) - McPherson
A touching ghost story that is miles better than any other recent boo! horror. Michael (Ciaran Hinds) is a sad faced widower with two kids and an old father-in-law in a nursing home in the small gothic town of Cobh, Ireland. There is a literary festival going on and as he always has been for many years, Michael is volunteering for driving writers around town. He meets Lena, a famous writer who writes about ghosts and supernatural encounters. Funny, because he's been having spooky encounters lately, with the ghost his still alive(but for how long) father-in-law.

With blustering Aidan Quinn as a famous writer who has hots for Lena, the acting in Eclipse is superb, so as careful framing and effective steadycam shots- it's all silhouettes and lots of breathing rooms. There are only a handful of ghost sequences and they are truly terrifying. McPherson's ghost story is mature and rings true for anyone who experienced or thought about grief, death and fear of losing the memories of past love. Thanks Ben, for this rec.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Viva il separatismo della liberta

Salvatore Giuliano (1962) - Rosi
Francesco Rosi's depiction of the life and death of the Sicilian separatist Salvatore Giuliano makes Soderbergh's Ché look like a daytime soap. With a cold narration and Giuliano being only a dead body, Rosi paints a complicated picture of postwar Italy where the politicians, mafia, separatists, police are all in cahoots, trying to get a piece of power and leave poor peasants to fend for themselves. The first half concerns with guerrilla warfare against stark/beautiful Sicilian backdrop and the second half, the courtroom drama where Giuliano's lieutenants are on trial for a civilian massacre. Turns out everyone had their own angles to play and things get muddy quickly.

Resembling a newsreel, Rosi's work might lack an identifiable character, but still maintains its power and weight through its immediacy and naturalism borne out of Italian neo-realism. Only comparable film I can think of is Gillo Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers which came later.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Simple Life

The Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005) - Davaa
Young Nansal comes home to the Steppes of Western Mongolia for Summer break from school in the city. No more than 7 years old, she helps household chores and takes care of two younger siblings in tough, normadic life.

Nansal learns about reincarnation and responsibilities along the way. Their way of life hasn't changed for hundreds of years but there are some hints of modern civilization - they own a motorcycle, and father brings home a green plastic bucket to the appreciative mother who in turn asks, "Oh, beautiful colors, is it heat resistant?"

It also showcases mobile Mongolian adobe - Ger, as Batchuluuns dismantle and move to another area for grazing. And it's specious inside, practical and ingenious in design.

Byambasuren Davaa (Story of a Weeping Camel), a mongolian born, German filmmaker spent a Summer with Nansal and her normadic family and made this quietly observed, lovely docudrama about a stray dog that came into their lives. Makes you question if our lives were way too complicated.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Altitude Sickness

Altiplano (2009) - Brosens/Woodworth
Altiplano opens with the start of the Virgin Mary procession in the town of Turubamba up in the Andes. The statue shatters right outside the church because children get over-excited about silvery liquid in the potholes on the ground. The whole sequence is breathtakingly gorgeous. Then it cuts to a battle field of Iraq, where a Iranian-born, Belgian photojournalist Grace (Jasmin Tabatabai) is forced to take a picture of the death of her guide, Omar. Soon after, she denounces her profession and falls into a deep depression racked with guilt while her husband, a cataract surgeon Max (Dardennes' regular Olivier Gormet) heads for the Andes for the volunteer work.

People in Turubamba get sick from the mercury poisoning and a headstrong girl Saturnina (Magali Solier of Madeinusa) loses her fiancé to the illness. Her blind rage becomes the focal point for the riots against ever present mining companies digging for gold.

Set in otherworldly Andes backdrop, Altiplano is bravura filmmaking at its best- colors, music, camera movements and unforgettable images mixed in with myth and spirituality conjuring up emotions like no other. The filmmakers does take artistic freedom to bring home the message. But it doesn't feel cheap. Their tragic lyricism doesn't feel made-up. And the camera adores Solier, understandably so- she is the definition of exotic beauty. Her defiant martyr carries this otherwise too on-the-nose film. By the end, this stunningly presented tale of reconciliation and fraternity really cuts deep.


Monday, August 16, 2010

An Education

Un Prophète (2009) - Auidard
Without ever being showy, Un Prophète is a pitch perfect prison movie that could easily have been called An Education or Life Lessons. The Prophet reference comes late in this two and a half hour film which you don't feel the length at all- Our hero Malik(Tahar Rahim), a young Arab criminal serving 6 year sentence, has a premonition: "The Animals are Coming!", and surely, they do. He could've just easily blurted out, "Arabs are coming!"

The dangerous chess game Malik plays in and out of the prison is almost too coolly and confidentially realized by Auidard. It floats without one false note. As great as he was in The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Niels Arestrup here plays a menacing Corsican Don, César, treading the screen like a caged lion.

The film alludes to the bigger picture reflecting the French colonial history and the changing face of French society. It's like Caché with recognizable face, much less abstract and much more personable with an unobtrusive supernatural flare. Auidard once again demonstrates that he is gifted with a rare combination of Neil Jordan humanism sans drama and rhythmic elegance of a good classical music.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Farewell to the Rights of Man!

Billy Budd (1962) - Ustinov
Set in Napoleonic War era, The film tells a story of an incorruptible sailor, Billy Budd (Terence Stamp) and his sadistic superior Claggart (Robert Ryan). Good natured, always smiling Budd gets recruited from the merchant ship(The Rights of Man) by Royal Navy. Soon, Budd's beauty and innocence wins over weary sailors and officers alike, except for the Master-at-Arms, Claggart who is despised both by shipmates for his cruelty without reason and by officers for being an unwelcome headache during wartime. And he is out to destroy something perfect, something beautiful.

The best part of the film is the two's on deck confrontation - no matter how hard Claggart tries to get a rise out of the angelic kid, he only finds himself defeated by Budd's innocence and straightforwardness. "Oh, no. You would charm me too, huh? Get away." He shouts.

Billy Budd, Melville's the other famous seafaring novel, has been loosely adapted to two highly homoerotic films - Beau Travail and Gohatto, both set within military ranks and holding on to the idea of 'sailor' from the Village People a tad bit too seriously.

No doubt, 22 year old Terence Stamp is gorgeous and fits the title role as the innocence and virtue personified with speech impediment. Robert Ryan gives the performance of his career (even though he's the only one on the ship who speaks with an American accent) as evil Claggart who's just as vulnerable and lonely as anybody.

Things escalate and the film turns in to a Path of Glory like courtroom drama. Ustinov directs, produces, writes and even plays a hammy role as Captain Vere who has to make an impassioned decision on the young sailors fate (he can't veer off, get it?). He solemnly declares, "Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!" Even though it's a little heavy on its biblical notion of the sacrificial lamb for the common good, with a heartbreaking and well deserved ending, Billy Budd is well worth the trip.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) - Arnold
Photobucket An archeologist down in Brazil finds a puzzling fossil- a quite intact arm of a creature equipped with webs inbtwn fingers. Can such a creature still be around? Band of scientists, including lovely Kay (Julie Adams) aboard the boat named Rita is dispatched to confirm the existence of such a creature.

Black Lagoon plays out like Jaws. The creature is tenacious, smart and deadly. It's a much more dangerous killing machine than a Great White because it can attack you both under and out of water. It's also infatuated with Kay.

I have a thing for the underwater photography and this one features plenty of beautiful underwater sequences. Pretty cool monster wet suit too.

Friday, August 6, 2010


So, how is your heart doing?

Well, she didn’t say. She just told me to take off my shirt, turned off the light, put some goop on my chest and prodded me with her magic wand and we watched my heart on the computer together. That was it.

So an echocardiogram is like an ultrasound?

It’s exactly like an ultrasound. But instead of seeing tiny hands and feet, you see this gray image of a pure muscle palpitating. You can hear its sound too.

Wow, really?

And it sounds like a swamp toad. Not graceful at all.

So when are you gonna know if your heart is okay?

I don’t know. She will give the test result to my doctor and he will call me by the end of the week, maybe.

Why did you have to get an echo in the first place? What’s wrong with your heart?

I had a heart surgery when I was seven. So I have to get it checked regularly. I can’t ever remember the technical term for the defects. Something to do with the wall of my heart having holes. So the-

The blood wasn’t pumping through your body.

Correct. The blood wasn’t sufficiently circulating through my body. I couldn’t really run. I walk, say, from here to over there to the door, I had to take a break. I had purple lips and fingernails.

But now you are all better.

Well, because I had a heart transplant. I have a baboon’s heart.

A baboon’s heart?

Yeah. They gave me a baboon’s heart.

They didn’t fix your heart? They replaced it with a baboon’s?

No, they didn’t fix it. Apparently baboon’s is the closest to human’s they say.

Did they give your heart back?

What do you mean?

You know like in a jar, like when they take your tonsils out?

No, I wish. They probably threw it in a garbage can or fed it to the dogs.

Don’t say things like that.

No. I didn’t get my heart back in a jar.

Too bad.

Well, now I got incredibly warm hands and feet and I sweat a lot. Thanks to my baboon heart.

Why is that?

Because it beats faster than human’s.

Is that why you are always hyper?


Do baboons live long?

I detected a real concern in her voice. I couldn't lie anymore.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tunnel of Love

Subway (1985) - Besson
After blasting through the safe of a rich man at a party, a no good small time thief (Christopher Lambert) takes a refuge underground. At first, he is blackmailing the rich man for 'the documents' but he is infatuated with the rich man's trophy wife Helena (Isabelle Adjani). Down in the metro, he meets a bunch of cooky characters and wants to form a music band. But there are many people who are after him. Blabbity blah...

Neon lights, shoulder pads, hair gel, really bad synth pop, dancing to a Rickie Lee Jones and roller skates consist of most of Besson's Subway- an amour fou taking place in the Paris Metro. The colors, unnecessary steadicam moves, a sax solo, plenty of fog machines- in short, it's got everything. A great 80's time capsule.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Memento Mori

Inception (2010) - Nolan
Can a film in which you are spoon-fed for two and a half hours still be entertaining? Yes. Nolan achieves it here. Inception, a talky, dream within a dream within a dream corporate espionage thriller(?), is a typical Nolan subtext free filmmaking. Dream and subconscious are treated like straightforward science where you can even time them to set up a countdown style thrill ride (which works less and less as it is stretched out). It really doesn't matter. It's only Leo Dicaprio's Dom who has any kind of personality and who's actually running around with any kind of emotions. That doesn't matter either. It's so dense visually and plot-wise you don't have time to think about all that. You are completely sold by the time the ambiguous ending rolls around, thoroughly entertained and exhausted and maybe a little moved too. No harm in that. Supreme entertainment. But it's not going to age well.