Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The 47th Minute Project #5: The Dream Child (Xmas Martian Invasion Edition)

Gosh, it’s been so long since the last 47th Minute Project that you’d think I’d been to Mars or something….

First. Let’s start the next contest:
Starting for a triple play (three-way tie for last?):

Here are three (!!!) chances to win—three opportunities to identify the 47th Minute of three different films.

The first (below) : this is the 47th minute of undoubtedly one of the greatest movies ever made. Toestubber should know this one. It’s one of his faves, and maybe—please?!?—he’ll leave a comment…?

The second: this is the 47th minute of one of one of the favorite films of The National Film Board of Ivanlandia.

The third: this is a gift from Darius Whiteplume. (And it's actually a flick I haven’t seen yet—but want to!)

Please leave your answers in the comments section, or if you’re connected with me via Il Fache-Book, leave a note there.
Seeing as it takes me forever to create each entry into the 47th Minute Project, so expect #6 in November….

As for the last entry into The 47th Minute Project

All green of skin...
800 centuries ago, their bodily fluids include the birth of half-breeds.
For the fundamental truth self-determination of the cosmos,
for dark is the suede
that mows like a harvest.

The last entry into the 47th Minute Project was this frame of Jack Nicholson under bad makeup as Art Land, doomed corrupt land developer (one of two roles Jack played in the movie) from Tim Burton’s 1996 cult fave (and financial flopperoo) Mars Attacks!

The big winner with the first guess was the fab Mark H., rocking things from the Pacific Rim!

Otto Mannix made enough sarcastic hints to register as a correct guesser as well.

Darius Whiteplume tried manfully, though, with a wild swing:
“I have no idea. Looks like Owen Wilson dressed up (badly) as Charles Napier.”
(And what a flick that might be! And makes me think Mars Attacks! may have been very interesting in the hands of a Russ Meyer: What he would have done with the Martian Madame—Va va va voom!)

Mars Attacks!’ lack of success, I think, helped push Burton onto his current (and disappointing if not hateful) path of remakes and reimaginings (another version of Alice in Wonderland? Ay-yi-yi! Snooze City, here we come!).
(And why isn’t the excellent “elderly Alice” tale Dreamchild not on DVD yet, eh?)

SYNOPSIS: The Martians invade and have a grand old time destroying everything.

Humans are on the verge of complete annihilation when a kid
(wearing that awesome Alien Sex Fiend T-shirt with the close-up of Warren Oates as the mutant from that episode of The Outer Limits)
figures out that Slim Whitman’s song “Indian Love Song” makes the Martians’ heads explode.

World saved, although completely wrecked.

Released by Warner Bros., “Mars Attacks! [was]… scheduled for a Christmas release which explains Burton's color preference for scenes in which victims vaporized by the Martians became glowing green or red skeletons,” says TCM.

In Mars Attacks!, however,
several dumb plots involving screeching or jabbering humans in goofball/manic situations a la It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or 1941 interfere what we’re all here for:
Scenes of total destruction.

Now, I enjoy some of the human-related so-called comedy (especially Nicholson’s unctuous President Dale or Sylvia Sidney’s addled grandma), but other scenes are painful to watch (Annette Bening channeling her sister-in-law; Jack Black’s typical jerk shtick; a painfully miscast Michael J. Fox, and so on).
And Burton’s idea of comedy never seems to vary from shrill and heavy-handed (which works sometimes, primarily with animated alien skeleton-face brainheads).

And because some characters come and go so quickly (like Danny DeVito or Christina Applegate—who looks good in hiphuggers in this movie, though), it becomes obvious that several subplots were radically cut (which is not to say that it’s a bad thing—in fact, most of the subplots should have been cut immediately after the first Martian attack—we’ve seen these people in their lives, now they only exist to be seen getting killed by a Martian: it’s a comedy so poignant moments are unnecessary).

If I can’t have more Martians (I understand the budgetary limitations: those critters cost boo-coo bread, man),
I wanted fewer humans.

But what makes me love Mars Attacks!, though, is its sick sense of humor.
The Martians are mean and spiteful and completely uninhibited in their tastes. They perform ghastly, inhuman experiments because they can.
And for a while, they blow up plenty of stuff real good!

Who doesn't love an alien invasion film? Who doesn’t love seeing all our untouchable stuff smashed?
There’s a thrill of seeing American soil violated—and after all, an alien invasion flick is only a variation on the disaster movie!

It would be great to see a director’s cut DVD, with supplemental features including the stop-motion animation sequences that were never used. But I doubt that’ll see the light of day. There is a petition, though….

Mars Attacks! was very much a spoof/reference to
Ray Harryhausen’s excellent Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers (1956; collapsing Washington Monument, the design of the saucers) and
George Pal’s even better The War of the Worlds (1953; superdestructive, the very exquisite Technicolor palette).
Needless to say, both of these films are highly recommended—and in fact are required viewing by all citizens of The United Provinces of Ivanlandia.

But Mars Attacks! is actually based on a series of bubblegum cards from Topps—and it’s not the first movie like this: The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (also based on a series of Topps cards), a stupefyingly bad movie—a movie so utterly useless it doesn’t even deserve a viewing just for weirdness’ sake, honestly—gets that “honor.”

But returning to Mars….
According to
Alex Cox, the director famous/notorious for Repo Man and Sid & Nancy:

“I was the person who brought Mars Attacks! to the attention of the
studio. They were bubblegum cards I had as a kid. I developed Mars
with Jon Davidson, the producer of Robocop, for quite a
while, but at some point my project got shut down and it was given to Tim Burton.
“It was a bit of a shame,
but I think both the script

I wrote and the Tim Burton one suffered from not being enough like the
bubblegum cards.”

[He’s right.]

From TCM:
In 1962, Topps had issued a series of cards called Mars Attacks!, but they contained some scenes that were deemed too "intense" for younger children, and they were quickly removed from the marketplace.

The most infamous Mars Attacks card was “Destroying a Dog,” I think. Whiny citizens groups were bugged or something. They thought kids shouldn’t see examples of canine incineration. Idiots.
I remember reading about the Mars Attacks bubblegum cards in The Monster Times, and while I didn’t get my paws on any actual cards until I was a teenager, I knew what the cards were like due to the diligent work of mags like The Monster Times.
BTW: As a kid, “Horror in Paris” was my favorite card—I used to draw that bug on all my textbooks!

You MUST check out the awesome collection of Mars Attacks cards at the Hairy Green Eyeball blog: Seeing them all in a row is brilliant!

Somebody I used to work with always used to gripe that the ending of Mars Attacks! was a rip-off of the ending of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, where some bad song (called “Puberty Love") is used to make the mutant tomatoes shrink back to normal and the townspeople rush out and squash ’em.

Mars Attacks! needed an ending, and dumb luck was the best they could come up with. Nor would I be surprised if the similarities to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes weren’t unintentional.

I would’ve preferred that they ripped off one of those Star Trek episodes or Marvel Comics, where it turns out the all-powerful alien is actually an immature child.

Meaning, the
Martians were children and their parents (about 100 feet tall each) come and pick them up in some gigantoriffic star cruiser flying saucer.

In ponderous but terrifying and weird, slow-motion “Ack! Ack!” monolog, the “Dad Martian” chastises the kids for being late for dinner.

Of course, once the Martians are gone, because there is no longer any sort of “law and order” (governments are gone, every figure of authority is dead), the humans immediately revert to caveman thinking and start fighting amongst themselves to see who's boss.

In their parent’s departing super-saucer the Martian "children" watch on the viewscope as the hairless apes finish the job they started. My version of Mars Attacks! ends with them laughing and laughing.

Because FOR ONCE, don’t you think the Martians should win?!?!

(And to be really overly high-brow (and therefore actually lowbrow), I’d start my version of Mars Attacks! with that Shakespeare quote,
As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport

Technically, the flick is almost perfect, but Danny Elfman’s score needs to be singled out for praise. It’s absolutely the best Bernard Herrmann soundtrack that the great Herr H. never got around to composing.
It’s essential listening to all fans of soundtrack music.
The score borrows equal parts from The Day the Earth Stood Still and Brian De Palma’s Sisters (itself an absurdly over-the-top score), with a dash of The Devil and Daniel Webster, creating
whimsy, satanic mayhem and theremin-infused interstellar weirdness.

Probably one of the few positive reviews from the mainstream press of Mars Attacks! in its initial release came from Entertainment Weekly:
“Burton stages the destruction of the world as lyrically surreal spectacle. Even when the special effects are a parody of '50s cheesiness, they have a funky, ramshackle beauty — the wonder of a puppet show that almost looks real.”

From Bryant Frazer’s good review at Deep Focus, most of which I tend to agree with:
Mars Attacks! …takes its cues from the same sources as… Independence Day -- old alien invasion flicks, disaster movies, and big-budget special effects extravaganzas. But unlike Independence Day, which was a painfully middle-of-the-road appeal to the hearts, minds and wallets of America… celebrat[ing] the resilience of human beings, Mars Attacks! portrays us as the greedy and hapless schmucks that we are.

“While Burton’s satiric skewering is scattershot at best,” says Nick Schager at the (now unfortunately defunct) Screengrab, “the uninhibited madcap energy of his tribute-cum-big-budget-blockbuster nonetheless frequently makes it more amusing and inspired than that of the cheesy '50s B-movies (and bloated '90s summertime action-sagas) on which it deliriously riffs.”

If you have not yet seen Mars Attacks!, by order of the National Film Board of Ivanlandia, you MUST.
Over & out! Ack-Ack!

Mars Attacks! (1996)
Director: Tim Burton
Producers: Larry J. Franco, Tim Burton
Screenplay and screen story by Jonathan Gems

Rewrites by Gems, Burton, Martin Amis (!), Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
Based on the Topps cards
According to IMDB, the cards were created by
Len Brown, Woody Gelman, Wally Wood (see some of his rough sketches for the cards below), Bob Powell and Norm Saunders

Cinematography: Peter Suschitzky
Music: Danny Elfman
Editor: Chris Lebenzon
Production Design: Wynn Thomas
Art Direction: John Dexter
Set Design: Richard G. Berger, Nancy Haigh, Randy Thom
Costume Design: Colleen Atwood
Sound/Sound Design: Dennis Maitland, Sr.
Special visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic and Warner Digital Studio
Visual effects supervisors: James Mitchell, Michael Fink, David Andrews

Cast: Jack Nicholson (Art Land/President Dale), Glenn Close (Marsha Dale), Annette Bening (Barbara Land), Pierce Brosnan (Donald Kessler), Danny DeVito (Rude Gambler), Jim Brown (Byron Williams), Martin Short (Jerry Ross), Michael J. Fox (Jason Stone), Pam Grier (Louise Williams), Tom Jones (Himself), Sarah Jessica Parker (Nathalie Lake), Natalie Portman (Taffy Dale), Sylvia Sidney (Grandma Norris), Rod Steiger (Gen. Decker), Paul Winfield (Gen. Casey), Lisa Marie (Martian Madame), Frank Welker (Ack-Ack sounds)

Friday, July 17, 2009

In a lather: The chemical conscience of Dr. Bronner

Because cleanliness is next to godliness, there once was a man who thought universal peace and harmony could be brought about through a tingly, peppermint-scented soap

Regular visitors to health food shops or co-ops in the US, Australia, Canada, the UK, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan have probably seen the distinctive bottles of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, the epitome of strange American success story.

Not that the shape of the bottle is unique, it’s the label: after the product’s logo, ingredients and the standard US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) necessities, the label is crammed almost to the point of illegibility with a multitude of sayings, homilies, advice regarding the multiple uses of the soap – in addition to bathing, the soap can also be used, it is suggested, as mosquito repellant and toothpaste - and quotations from historical figures, all rendered in an English that might be best described as broken.
Nonsense, utopia and an anionic surfactant delivery system in a hypnotic design.

As the arcane knowledge and urban legend website The Straight Dope put it,
“Can you imagine a slogan like, ‘Eternal Father, Eternal One! Exceptions eternally? Absolute none!’ on the side of a Tide box?”

It is all part of the philosophy the soap’s creator, the late Emanuel Bronner (1908-1997), called the “Moral ABCs,” otherwise known as his “All-One-God-Faith.”

[Sorry, but the label is just too dense to reproduce here properly, please go HERE to have a better look. It’s amazing: by the way, my favorite phrase is, “Dilute! Dilute! OK!”

[Meanwhile if you’re interested in a much more legible transcription of Dr. Bronner’s amazing label, go HERE.]

Bronner was certain his “Moral ABCs” would teach humans to love thy neighbor and put aside war, and eventually save “Spaceship Earth.”

But as Bronner’s sister pointed out in a letter to family members over 50 years ago, unfortunately, “it is not normal to unite Spaceship Earth.”

In 1947, Bronner escaped from a mental institution in Illinois (he’d been locked up for promoting the “Moral ABCs” too vociferously in Chicago) and made his way to California where, the next year, he started making his soap.

Be that as it may, Bronner was at the vanguard of the organic or green movement using “natural” ingredients from the beginning, and with the help of his more business-minded sons—when Jim Bronner returned home from the Navy in the mid-1960s, he said he was “disgusted” at his dad’s “Mickey Mouse operation” and began implementing changes— turned the peppermint-scented business into something successful.

Maybe nothing to give Proctor & Gamble sleepless nights, but a steady and faithful clientele that have supplied the company with approximately $6m/year in sales from at least 1997 to 2005. Yearly, the company sells roughly 400,000 gallons of liquid soap and 600,000 lbs. of bar soap.

Fan of the soap include rapper Eminem and actors Drew Barrymore and Sandra Bullock.

A documentary about the man and his soap has been recently released to DVD, titled Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox, and it’s a worthwhile view: Showing the good and bad this obsessed businessman caused: often he’d have to abandon his children with foster parents as he took to the road, pitching soap and his “All-One!”

Interestingly, Bronner, a hero to the counterculture (the company’s CFO—Jim’s wife—says in the film, “The backbone of the company is the counterculture”), was a fervent anti-communist; and a bit of a crank about it, as well: He sent many letters to the FBI regarding his fears that the fluoridation of drinking water was a communist plot. Shaking any expectations you might now have about Bronner, consider this: he became friendly with former Black Panther Eldritch Cleaver after they bonded over health foods.

Putting aside what you might feel about Bronner’s seemingly contrasting beliefs, here’s a poor immigrant chemist who set out on his own, turning his rented apartment into a lab where he manufactured his product, who then tried to sell it everywhere he could out of the back of his truck.

And according to Bronner’s sons, he would give the soap away until the customers bought it. He may have been the archetypical “absent minded professor,” but he believed strongly in hard work.

I’m impressed: Bronner has made a product with a philosophy that has never wavered. Sure you can call him a Grade-A Kook, but he’s done what he’s believed in, using chemistry.

And grandson David Bronner (Jim’s son), now president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, keeps fighting the good fight:

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps was the first US company to use 100% post-consumer recycled plastic for its bottles, and it routinely gives away about 70% of net profits to a variety of charitable organizations.

The company is also especially fervent about how terms like “organic” are misused.

At the beginning of July, the family-owned business filed its Second Amended Complaint against several personal care companies. At the hearing, David said,

"Organic consumers expect that the main cleansing and moisturizing ingredients in ‘Organic’ or ‘Organics’ products are in fact made from organic material, and are not simply conventional formulations with some organic tea on top. If defendants cannot live up to their organic claims, they need to drop those claims. The misleading organic noise created by culprit companies' labeling practices, confuses, misleads and deceives organic consumers who want to buy authentic organic personal care products, the main ingredients of which are in fact made with certified organic, not conventional or petrochemical, material, and are free of synthetic preservatives."


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Foreign Film Fest: Summer 2009, The National Film Board of Ivanlandia Presents

The National Film Board of Ivanlandia makes sure that at least 25% of the movies screened for the campesinos are not from the Hollywood Propaganda Machine™.

And that’s even when The National Film Board of Ivanlandia
absolutely fucking hates
some of those movies.

Must keep an open mind! Ha-ha!

The flicks may be from other nations’ propaganda machines, but that’s the point.
Different propaganda views enable the brainwashed to choose the right propaganda for them. Or themselves.

BTW, today’s art direction is by His Excellency, the Most Exalted Tzar Ivan Amin Dadaism—so don’t expect your so-called rational illustrations: I’m looking at you, Maddox, yeah, you.

The National Film Board of Ivanlandia Presents
Foreign Film Fest: Summer 2009
(in no order except one that may be aesthetically pleasing to a reader of film reviews)

Blood & Bones (Chi to Hone) (2004; Japan)
Directed by Yoichi Sai
Written by Yoichi Sai & Wui Sin Chong
Based on the novel by Sogil Yan

Blood & Bones is a grueling, violent epic about the dingy, sordid, miserable life of a loveless bully. Takeshi Kitano plays Kim, a Korean immigrant to Osaka circa the early-1920s, and a man so mean that he eats rotten, maggot-encrusted raw pig meat.

The movie is hardly a character study, though, more like a series of episodes showing how awful Kim is. Much of this flick will be inaccessible to those without some knowledge of the twisted histories of Japan and its former colony Korea.

But mainly, Koreans are considered third-class citizens in Japan, and I think the film implies that much of Kim’s brutality is a result or response to that. (Korea was a colony of Japan until the end of WWII.)

I like the fact that the movie makes no attempt to “explain” Kim, but I wish there had been a bit more plot, or at least 20 to 30 minutes edited out. Blood & Bones is a dense movie that feels longer than it is—
not that I ever found it boring or dull.

The flick has a clinical style that’s somewhat entrancing; whole scenes of violence and mayhem are seen in long takes from a stationary angle. It’s a style that hypnotizes.

The movie, however, is probably best watched like a mini-series, in two or three parts over a few nights—to give you some breathing room—seeing this in a theater must have been a grueling, claustrophobic experience, and Blood & Bones really can only be recommended to those interested in offbeat or physically and emotionally violent Asian dramas.

Waltz With Bashir (Vals Im Bashir) (2008; Israel)
Written and directed by Ari Folman

Despite a potentially horrific topic, Waltz With Bashir is surprisingly listless, and for the first 30 minutes, quite boring.

The film relies MUCH too much on narration, and the mediocre animation is a quasi-rotoscope style (like Waking Life or A Scanner Darkly) that I’ve never really liked. This type of animation seems incredibly self-constrained: animation should breathe life and/or exaggerate, not seemed like traced-over footage.

I can see why this flick might be a big deal for Israelis, but the US has its own wars and war movie clichés to deal with, and Waltz With Bashir doesn’t bring anything really new to the table to anyone who is familiar with the genre of war movies.

Made in U.S.A. (1966; France)
Written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Based on the novel The Jugger by Richard Stark (penname for Donald E. Westlake)

Another bit of boring uselessness from blowhard Jean-Puke Godard, absolutely the most overrated filmmaker ever. God, how I hate his movies!!!

I only went to see this because I’m a massive Donald Westlake fan
But readers of the author will find no resemblance to any of his books in this flick, and the rest of us will be hard pressed to stay awake.

The only memorable moment in Made in U.S.A. is the cameo by Marianne Faithfull, who is sublime (of course) singing “As Tears Go By.”
(I can’t wait to see her in The Girl On a Motorcycle: meow!)
(I got to see Marianne Faithfull perform at a cabaret in the late-’80s: incredible!)
The framegrab of the stunning Ms. Faithfull is swiped from Glenn Kenny’s awesome Some Came Running site (named after a movie Ivanlandia strongly approves of!).

For some reason, Kenny—and about a bazillion other people whose opinions I respect!—
love Godard and think he’s the bee’s knees.

Maybe it’s the slope of my forehead or something…. I HATED Breathless ("Useless" is more like it), and Weekend was…okay…I guess…which really means "no."

But I really lean towards this opinion:
“Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film.”
—Werner Herzog
(Hooray for Uncle Werner!)

Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards (Tantei Jimusho 2-3: Kutabare Akuto-Domo) (1963; Japan)
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
Written by Gan Yamazaki
Based on a novel by Haruhiko Oyabu

A private eye goes undercover to infiltrate a gang that’s stealing from the yakuza in this hip, very fun caper flick from Japan.

It’s a B-movie plot done very well, adeptly aided by some incredible widescreen Technicolor photography and a unique choice of actual locations. Could this movie be the missing link between 1950s noir and Boorman’s Point Blank?

Often Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards is a beautiful time capsule of 1963 Tokyo. A very recommended movie.

The Cat (Lao mao) (1992; Hong Kong)
Directed by Ngai Kai (Simon) Lam
Written by Gordon Chan, King-Ka Chan

Nowhere near as blood-drenched as the director’s previous The Story of Ricky, The Cat is its own unique brand of weirdness very much deserving a cult following if it doesn’t have one already.

Even if the subtitles weren’t completely incomprehensible already, I’m not sure if this flick would make sense anyway.

But it doesn’t matter, not when things get as good as this.
A kee-ray-zee mash-up of The Hidden, the 1988 version of The Blob, The Terminator, That Darn Cat and (dig this) Turner & Hooch, The Cat manages to transcend its references by being completely gonzo and out of control—despite some slow spots and a lead actor absolutely devoid of charisma.

There’s plenty of mayhem and madness throughout, leading to a wonderfully disgusting, quasi-Lovecraftian conclusion with puppet blob monsters.
But it’s that junkyard fight between an acrobatic space cat and a Zen master bullmastiff that puts this flick right into hyperspace: it’s pure genius, I tell you,

Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite) (2007; Brazil)
Directed by José Padilha
Written by Bráulio Mantovani, José Padilha, Rodrigo Pimentel
based on a book by Luiz Eduardo Soares, André Batista and Rodrigo Pimente

A high-octane plunge into a rotten world where a person’s good intentions are sure to doom them, and as much a socio-politico-cinematic head-trip as the original Funny Games or Starship Troopers, Elite Squad is much better than any typical cops vs. drug dealers flick precisely because of the film’s unreliable narration.

The film is narrated by the character of Captain Nascimento, the leader of the squad, and, boy, is he a mess—and he gets worse as the movie progresses.

The audience cannot view this passively, simply accepting what the captain says as some sort of objective truth: The tough-talking, self-aggrandizing, self-righteous, mythologizing voice-over is supposed to sound like a cheap paperback book as Nascimento tries to convince himself that what he’s doing is right.

How else can he justify his very dangerous, but almost meaningless job? For me, this led to Elite Squad’s “elephant in the room:” during the film, no one ever bring up that if the drugs weren’t illegal, then there wouldn’t be any violence.

King Lear (Korol Lir) (1971; Russia)
Directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Iosif Shapiro
Written by Grigori Kozintsev, from Boris Pasternak’s translation of William Shakespeare’s play

A really great adaptation of Shakespeare’s play about the doomed-from-the-get-go monarch who stupidly divvies up his kingdom before he’s dead, this version of King Lear is a genuinely exciting movie.
It doesn’t feel like a filmed play or some Masterpiece Theater snoozefest; it feels epic.

And somehow, Lear feels more appropriate in Russian: the dramatics and the intense theatricality definitely pumps up the play quite a bit.

Meanwhile, this film has some beautiful B&W cinematography that must have been impressive to see in a movie theater. Very recommended.

Mongol (2007; Germany/Kazakhstan/Russia/Mongolia)
Directed by Sergei Bodrov
Written by Arif Aliyev and Sergei Bodrov

A great potential double feature with either Korol Lir (see review above) or Conan the Barbarian (and about as historically accurate), Mongol is beautiful and exciting and stunning---and ultimately somewhat tedious: It’s a very shallow biopic of the legendary Genghis Khan’s early years. But there are enough awesome scenes of battle and spectacle in this movie that I have to at least like it.

BTW, Mongol isn’t as bloody as so many people are claiming.
Not to say that the action and stunts are not often spectacular and always well done, but the way reviewers were squawking, you’d think Mongol out-splattered Saving Private Ryan or Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. (There are more beheadings in Conan the Barbarian, actually.)

The Method (El método) (2005; Spain/Argentina/Italy)
Directed by Marcelo Piñeyro
Written by Marcelo Piñeyro and Mateo Gil
Based on the play “El mètode Grönholm” by Jordi Galceran

As the streets fill with rioters, a series of nasty mind games are played on a pack of smug yuppies all vying for the same job in this very tense, anti-capitalism variation on “10 Little Indians.”

The Method really turns the screws, upping the paranoia, and for what’s essentially a one-room thriller, it has great visual style.

The actors are all stars of Spanish cinema, and do a great job. However, if you’re anti-subtitles, you won’t like The Method: it’s wordy and they speak quickly.

BTW, to compare the star power of this cast, the American version would have to star George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Gene Hackman, Kevin Spacey, Samuel L. Jackson, Kathy Bates and Anne Hathaway, essentially.

The script is a neat intellectual exercise that mixes moral/philosophical arguments and fear equally, and the faux-muzak score is a fab counterpoint to the action.

Finally, the film is an engaging intellectual exercise that the viewer can join in on with the corporate personality-ethics tests, while pondering the mystery of what’s going on.

The Method does peter out somewhat during the last 10 minutes, but how can any flick maintain such intensity?
Otherwise, this engaging and nerve-wracking thriller is highly recommended (especially for fans of The Game, Battle Royale, The Parallax View and, of course, No Exit).
Totes recommendato!

This Is England (2007; UK)
Written and directed by Shane Meadows

A confused and muddled mess, This Is England is doubly disappointing for the opportunity it misses and potential it wastes: Thomas Turgoose is great as the young kid, giving a powerful, but very natural performance, and he’s really the only reason to watch this movie.

But rather than sticking with the fascinating story of a pre-teen skinhead and his introduction to “skin” culture, and later, to the rascism which came to define it, the movie introduces a new character, whose psychosis and crazy violence negates any potential discussions about race, class or politics.

And if we can’t have those discussions, then what’s the point of making a film about skinheads, unemployment, racism, nationalism, Maggie Thatcher and the Falklands War and calling it This Is England?

Father of the Kamikaze (Aa Kessen Koukuutai) (1974; Japan)
Directed by Kousaku Yamashita
Written by Taizo Kusayanagi

I'm not sorry I rented Father of the Kamikaze, but I can't give the film a recommendation either.

There's about 90 minutes of excellent, well-acted, insightful film here trapped inside 3 hours and 18 minutes of boredom, repetitiousness, WWII stock footage, listless action scenes and tedium.

So only someone with a strong interest in the brave pilots of the Divine Wind during the last days of the Pacific War against the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere should rent this: It does provide a shifting of perspective that any student of history needs to experience.

Doggy Poo (2004; Korea)
directed by Kwon Oh-sung
screenplay by No-Mi Park
based on Kwon Jung-saeng’s 1968 children's book Doggy Poo, illustrated by Annie Rose Godsman.

The first 15 minutes of Doggy Poo is worth seeing just for the weirdness value alone, as we are introduced to the cutest pile of claymation canine excrement and its existential dilemma.

However, while this film is only about a half-hour in length, Doggy Poo’s tone does not change enough to maintain an audience’s positive interest: the titular pile of poo is much too whiny, yet complacent, to engender long-term sympathy.

Le Corbeau (1943; France)
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Screenplay: Louis Chavance
Adaptation and dialogue by: Henri-Georges Clouzot and Louis Chavance
Director of photography: Nicholas Hayer

A new favorite of mine, Le Corbeau is a mystery/noir that feels like a Jim Thompson novel in tone and plotting: The inhabitants of possibly the meanest and most petty town in the world are driven into a frenzy as all their secrets are revealed by an unknown letter-writer. Meanwhile, the “hero” is a cynical abortionist!

Smooth and crisp camerawork effectively increases the mood of paranoia and suspicion, and the exquisitely crafted script keeps the twists (and red herrings) coming. But make no mistake, Le Corbeau is an angry, acidic film – not surprising considering the circumstances of its production in German-occupied wartime France.
Because of that dark worldview, the film still holds up today.

Le Samouraï (1967; France)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by Jean-Pierre Melville, Georges Pellegrin
(based on the novel The Ronin by Joan McLeod, uncredited)

Le Samourai is, like Breathless, another “classic” that I do not get or like. Okay, take away my film-lovers license, but I fell asleep four times trying to watch Le Samourai.

My problem is that I have already seen most of the films influenced by this flick: movies like John Woo’s The Killer, Walter Hill’s The Driver and Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog (all of which I think are worth seeing and are much better), and seeing the original turned out to be a let-down.

The Sword of Doom (Dai-bosatsu tōge, "The Pass of the Great Buddha") (1966; Japan)
Directed by Kihachi Okamoto
Screenplay by Shinobu Hashimoto
Based on the novel by Kaizan Nakazato
Cinematography by Hiroshi Murai

Great sword-fighting, exquisite B&W cinematography and a memorable performance by Tatsuya Nakadai all make The Sword of Doom worth renting – it’s as if Albert Camus and Sergio Leone got together to make a samurai movie.

Nakadai plays a samurai version of Anton Chigurh, an evil, amoral killing machine who takes pleasure in causing so much death.
Toshiro Mifune is also good in what’s an extended cameo as a samurai who’s the complete moral and spiritual opposite of Nakadai, and the only one who can stare down the evil warrior.
It’s almost as if John Wayne showed up in the middle of a Clint Eastwood western, understand?

But The Sword of Doom’s mood and pacing are routinely disrupted and derailed by what I felt was an unnecessary subplot involving a courtesan-in-training (whose grandfather had been killed by Nakadai) and a thief who’s in love with her.

Gentler souls than mine might need the respite from the rest of the film’s brutal nihilism, but these scenes are what kept me from loving The Sword of Doom completely.

Inside (À l'intérieur) (2007; France)
Directed by Alexandre Bustillo
and Julien Maury
Written by Alexandre Bustillo

WHOA! This flick is craaaaaazy.

If you call yourself a gorehound, you must see this film. Brutal and gruesome, Inside is a MEAN endurance test of a movie – and it’s not stupid either; the filmmakers really know how to twist the screws. I found it often unbearably tense. There’s tension in even the tender moments.

Meanwhile, Beatrice Dalle is an awesome killing machine. Inside is not perfect (there’s the usual horror movie nonsense of going into dark rooms, etc.), but it is a complete success as the ultimate mindfuck-splatterpunk flick. If that makes any sense…
Gory madness…

The President’s Last Bang (Geudttae Geusaramdeul) (2005; Korea)
Writer/Director: Im Sang-Soo
Director of Photography: Kim Woo-Hyung
Music: Kim Hong-Jib
Editor: Lee Eun-Soo

The President’s Last Bang is a smart, intense film, right up there with other top-notch political thrillers like The Lives of Others, Costa-Gavras' Z and even Pontecorvo’s work.
I was totally fascinated by this movie and watched it twice in a row the first time I rented it.

But despite several critics and commentators’ claims, this film is not so much a comedy—something with jokes—as it is something infused with a giddy, bleak outrageousness—almost nihilism—
which isn’t so surprising considering the film is a true story about a bloody assassination and an attempted coup d’etat.

It’s mindblowing to think that this political thriller really happened! Watching this, I kept thinking/transposing what was happening: What if one night CIA director Richard Helms came to the White House, and after dinner, popped caps into Nixon and Kissinger? If Leon Panetta did the same to the Prez and James Jones?

Because THAT’S what happened in South Korea! If something like that had happened in the US, it would be like pouring a gallon of liquid PCP on the floor of the cabin of a passenger jet full of armed cops: total psychic Armageddon.

America would really go bonkers—I couldn’t tell you how, I could only speculate, but bad scheisse would be stirred…

Back to the movie:
However, I don’t really like the film’s English-language title; I was told that the original Korean title translates as “The People of Those Days” (or, more colloquially, “The Folks Back Then”).
I find “The Folks Back Then” more evocative of what the movie is about, of how the situation occurred, and how it maybe needed to happen so that change in the right direction could begin—and also: that it wound up reinforcing a repressive regime for a while.