Category Archives: Film

Film Festival Day One/Two

Film Festival Day One/Two
Your trusty blogging bastard has been given a press pass to the Santa Barbara Film Festival, which opened Friday night (the night I went to review the Chekhov play).
First of all, you can read my article on Flying A Studios that constitutes my coverage of the fest for this ish.
Then, bear with me as over the next week I give a few comments on the films I wind up seeing (I’m not doing the fest non-stop–I have other things to attend to, other writing assignments and such, but I’ve got at least one film per day).

RIVERS AND TIDES
Being the documentary on environmental sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, a big favorite of my friend Phil, who introduced me to his work. As Goldsworthy says in the film, his job is “to make all the effort look effortless.” His sentinel-like cones of slate, his pools of leaves, his serpentine motif running through a majority of his work, all look beautiful in the photos, but the documentary by Thomas Riedelsheimer adds the dimension of time, which Goldsworthy’s work is very much about. Seeing the pieces change over time as nature reclaims its materials is a major element. Goldsworthy has the patience of a monk (or a clay animator) and much suspense occurs watching him nearly finish a piece only to have the bloody thing fall apart. Good soundtrack by Fred Frith, working with what looked like a Swedish or Eastern European ensemble (credits went very quick).

SWEET SIXTEEN
Ken Loach’s new film is a big, steaming chunk of Scottish depression, in which a 15-year-old tries desperately to improve his lot, only to have the fate of his class and social standing grind him down again. Many in the British press don’t like Loach, seeing him as a melodramatic ol’ Red lefty, but for American filmgoers not used to seeing realism on screen (or, if you live in Santa Barbara, outside in the streets), this must have seemed like the grittiest, grimiest, most despairing portrayal of being young, ambitious, and downwardly mobile they’ve ever seen (8 Mile is a completely safe and moral film and doesn’t count). The two people next to me were particularly troubled and particularly clueless to the essentials to the plot. “Is that a knife?” she said when a knife appeared. Or they tried to second-guess the film using their limited knowledge of mainstream film. Also of bemusement was the woman’s need to put her head between her knees anytime the film approached violence of any sort (yes, there’s a stabbing, but even the Hayes Code would have let it pass). She didn’t have her table in its upright locked position, but it’ll do.
Despite all this, the film itself was pretty good–I didn’t enjoy it as much as “Bread and Roses”–and the young lead bore a passing resemblance to another Loach hero, David Bradley in Kes. Added benefit: sensitive American moviegoers discovered the myriad uses of the word “fuck” and “cunt,” which you haven’t heard properly till it’s come out of the mouth of a pizza delivery boy missing his two front teeth. Watch as the swear words above result in many more hits to this site.

THE EYE
The Pang Brothers (or should that be The Brothers Pang?) nearly deliver the goods in this Hong Kong/Thailand horror tail, indebted heavily to The Sixth Sense, Ka

We were hit by an

We were hit by an earthquake this morning at about 4:45 a.m. or so. It caused my framed Gerry Mulligan poster in our bedroom to detach itself and crash to the floor, scaring the bejeesus out of me. But that was all. In fact, I didn’t know it was an earthquake until I checked Yahoo near lunchtime. I had assumed that the nail or the hook attaching the frame to the wall was just cheap.
Anyway, there’s just so much evil going on, I don’t know where to start. First there’s the GOP jihad against White House Press Corps Truthteller Helen Thomas, one of the few who have any cajones left and who stands up to Fleischer. There’s the boiling oil war in Columbia coming soon, and what the hell are we doing in the Philippines? I get a headache just thinking about it all.
Thank goodness, then, for Cowboy Bebop, of which I had watched two-thirds. I will have more comments on it soon, but tonight’s episode, Wild Horses was creepy in a way the makers didn’t intend, and I’m sure that fans will note in the future.
The plot features Spike returning to earth to get his space-hopper fixed, and he returns to Doohan, the mechanic who helped design it in the first place. While there, Spike catches a glimpse (hidden from us) of Doohan’s hobby, restoring a famous spacecraft.
Much later, Spike rejoins his crew and sets out to catch some space pirates for the bounty on their heads. They wound his space-hopper and leave Spike to burn up re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. Doohan decides to come to his rescue and brings his restored spacecraft out of the hanger.
It’s the space shuttle. And not only that, it’s the Columbia.
Doohan and assistant rescue Spike and barely make it back home, with the shuttle in dire straits as well: “The heat panels have nearly all come off! I’m too young to die!” etc.
It certainly gave the episode a strange weight to it. One wonders if Cartoon Network will drop the episode (not that I think they should, but they have censored a lot of CB for America’s gentle viewers.)

Cowboy Bebop

I’m currently catching up with the anime series known as Cowboy Bebop.
I’ve known about Cowboy Bebop since buying the soundtracks back in 1999, but this is the first time I’ve watched the show. It really starts going by the third episode, and now I’m hooked. I dole one episode a night to myself.
The other reason to like Cowboy Bebop, apart from the music, the humor, the brilliant post-Blade Runner pop design, is leading lady Faye Valentine. Everybody loves Faye.

Hotcha!
Borrowed from All That Jazz.

Film review: Gangs of New York (2002)

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Martin Scorsese recreates the birth of New York City in sprawling epic
By D.M. Terrace, Special to the Voice

In Gangs of New York, Martin Scorsese has taken a blood-and-scandal soaked non-fiction book from 1928 and brought much of it to the screen as the backdrop to a quite simple revenge drama. Or is it the other way around? This is a movie so jam-packed with detail and history (some real, some pastiche) that at all moments it threatens to swamp the characters. Most critics so far — Kenneth Turan, especially — have balked at this elephantine film, calling it interminable and obscure. But I quite liked the excess of it. In its portrait of a city, the film captures the density, confusion, and lawlessness therein. As an adaptation of a book that is really one juicy, violent tale after another, it succeeds largely because it has such a simple story as Hollywood wrapping.
Continue reading Film review: Gangs of New York (2002)

Film Review: Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary

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‘Pages’ mixes ballet, sexuality and bloodsucking
By D.M. Terrace, Special to the Voice

Guy Maddin’s “Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary” is a curious beast, being a meeting of minds: Maddin’s retro-German Expressionism filming methods and the already offbeat Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s staging of “Dracula.” The ballet is at once respectful of the original novel’s narrative and willing to subvert it for pure movement and expression, focusing on the two women at the center of Bram Stoker’s work: Lucy and Mina.

Guy Maddin has led an extremely cultish career, creating films that seem to come from the golden age of silent cinema, with grainy film, intertitles, variable shutter speeds, broad acting, and pancake makeup with black eyeliner. Sometimes, his striving for effect and replication overwhelms the simpler things like plot and character; other times, all his efforts pay off, such as in “Heart of the World,” the brilliant short he made for the Toronto film festival (and shown two years ago at the SB Film Fest).

To film a ballet, then, doesn’t seem too much of a stretch for Maddin; the stylized movements of the dancers aren’t too far from the strange locomotion that often pops up in his films. And the “big” emotion of ballet is also close to his aesthetic. Strange, then, that Maddin seems not that interested in the dancing — he certainly doesn’t film it like he is, preferring close-ups and tableaux to wide shots.

What comes across after a viewing is that Maddin is very interested in Stoker’s novel itself, and saw the ballet as his chance to film his take on the classic. It’s clear that Maddin favors a reading that explores the strange sexuality of the novel. “Dracula” here becomes a sort of anxiety tale about the deflowering of innocent women, with Lucy taken before her wedding, and the mob-like desire for revenge exerted by her ex-suitors, jealous with rage. Blood, and all that it symbolizes to the female in this society, is most important here: in a black and white film, it’s one of the few things that Maddin colors (tellingly, the other thing is green money).

Best performance belongs to Zhang Wei-Qiang as Dracula. Casting an Asian in the role — the ballet company’s choice, not Maddin’s — works well in bringing out the xenophobia that, like the sexuality, lies barely suppressed below the surface of the tale (Maddin underscores the point with clips from a real anti-immigrant WWII film). Zhang is in the film sparingly, but his presence is felt throughout; he’s sexy, threatening, seductive, and cold, a perfect vampiric combo.

Ballet fans will probably get the least out of Maddin’s film, but anybody else into the strange and wondrous will find deep resonance in this most peculiar cinematic beast.