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Roberto Succo (2001) - Kahn

Pyscho killer

The set-up? While on vacation in the south of France 16 year old Léa meets 19 year old Kurt one summer night on the boardwalk---to the dulcet tones of the Culture Club no less. He's also "vacationing". He's impetuous, bit of a bad boy, but clearly ca-ca-razy about her. A typical summer romance with an Italian dream boat with feverous blue eyes turns into something a little deeper when he unexpectedly shows up at her home several months later.

There's a lot of subtle humor in the film. His introductions to people are completely loopy. Depending on his whim, He's either a contraband smuggler, a spy, a secret agent or a terrorist. He'll tell someone he's Irish, yet speaks French with a heavy Italian accent.

Succo is clearly not a criminal master mind; most of the time, he's inept, if not completely hopeless. There's no rhyme or reason to his motivations. We can surmise the people who escaped his clutches and lived to tell about, did so only because they unknowingly made a connection to something in his fantasy world. In one scene, a policeman traces a series of unsolved crimes in his district on a map. which has him effectively going in circles---ruling out a single perpetrator. What kind of lunatic would kill a policeman, then return three days later to the same city to break into a house and steal a toaster?

Likes? The number of scenes beside still lakes, suggesting a symbolical echo of Succo, as something hidden in plain sight and ultimately unfathomable. I also liked the scene when Léa breaks it off with him: it's a repeat of the scene when he first showed up at her home after the summer vacation. She rushes down the stairwell of her apartment building into his waiting arms outside; her girlish delight is replaced the second time with a mad dash to save her school mates from being killed.

When the film first premiered at film festivals in France, it was picketed by the police who claimed the film glamourized the baby faced killer, who had became during his 1986-87 crime spree, one of France, Italy and Switzerland's most wanted criminals. It's more accurate to say, the whole film is kind of deglamorized. The local constabulary are always the picture of unemotional professionalism, workman-like in the collection of evidence, then methodically constructing their case.

The particularity of the film comes from a very specific POV that limits the scenes to hard evidence and eye witness accounts and the film divides along those lines. Which produces an interesting effect: Roberto Succo doesn't really "exist" at all in the strict sense. He's wraithlike. His essence molders in police files and in the memories of people who crossed paths with him; for these people, he will forever be "on the run" and he will always elude capture.

Haven't seen this. Would like to get my hands on it.



Thank God I‘m an atheist.
Page contents: Bitter Sugar (1996) / Wonderland (1999) / Inland Empire (2006) / The Sword of doom (1966) / Damnation (1988) / The best way to walk (1976) / Cosmopolis (2012) / The Attack (2012)


Bitter Sugar (1996) - Ichaso

¡Ay, caramba!

The set-up? Gustavo has just graduated at the top of his class and won an important and prestigious scholarship to study abroad. His brother is a guitarist in a rock band, and one night at one of his gigs; he spots Yolanda across the floor; more importantly, the dark haired beauty swaying to the beat has spotted him.

At the beginning of the film, Gustavo is only one remotely patriotic. The director hammers home the brutal despotism of the Cuban government to such a point it becomes unintentionally cartoon-like and funny in it's rabid propaganda. For example, there's a nice scene with a huge portrait of Castro painted on the side of a building with the slogan: Socialism or death, then below that, is the place the street hookers congregate to illustrate just how bad the revolution has failed. However, that same scene could also be interpreted with the opposite meaning, as a dark premonition of what's to come, once the buying and selling of human chattel returns to that tiny island.

Unfortunately, the film maker is being really disingenuous when he suggests that the Cuban revolution is falling apart because of the corruption and incompetence of their leaders. U.S. Trade sanctions to cripple Cuba began in 1960 and this economic noose has been continually tightened at regular intervals since; and is now the longest running trade embargo in modern history. Precious resources that could be channeled into important social programs have been diverted into internal and external security. There's an actual documentary detailing how many times (638 ways) the CIA has tried and failed to assassinate Castro. These draconian measures were put in place to achieve the actual economical collapse and demoralization that the picture accurately depicts; where a waitress or a chamber maid in one of the swanky hotels catering to foreign gringos can make a hundred times in gratuities, what the average professional person makes in the same month.

The look of the film is really gorgeous; shot in a black and white so pristine and sensual, one can almost imagine the textures of a white cotton shirt; the crumbling paint on a wall or golden brown of a shoulder glistening in the afternoon sun. The lightning is overly dramatic. And there's enough tension in their budding relationship to suggest the forces that tear these two young lovers apart may be greater than the forces to draw them together. The film really succeeds in creating the look and feel of Havana; where else in the world can you still see 50 year old Studebakers still cruising in the streets. One thing that struck me was the pristine emptiness on the sides of the buildings and walls, the total absence of the visual advertising pollution that plagues North American cites.





Thank God I‘m an atheist.
Nadia's theme:





Wonderland (1999) - Winterbottom

The Girl with the Cheshire smile

The set-up? A look at three sisters during the millennial Guy Fawkes weekend in London.

The film opens on a scene with the middle sister, Nadia on one of her numerous outings. She's a bit of a bounder. She prefixes all her getting to know you chatter with a declaration and feigned embarrassment that this is the first time she's ever done this---placed a personal advert---as if gaining some secret advantage over them. The man in question turns out to be a lot older than he originally lead her to believe. Strike one. The creepy joke that the drink he just bought her may be laced with "roofies" is another swing for the fence and a miss. And when he admits to a casual gambling addiction---strike three. She's out of there.

A lot of the intrigue of the film is trying to figure out the tenuous connections and disconnections between characters until we discover this is one working class family. The film gradually reveals the dynamics of the family but none of it's dark secrets. Their parents are unhappy. The mother desperately so---she always barking at her husband, who after years of this, is rather beaten down and quiet---their drama seems to have been imprinted on all their children.

The oldest sister Debbie, (Shirley Henderson) married an irresponsible child of a man, but is now happily divorced with a 10 year kid; she's got her own hair saloon, and at night she's footloose and fancy free---when she can score a baby sitter. Molly and Eddie are expecting their first child. When Eddie brings home "Eraserhead" for movie night, it's a wonderful character tell that reveals his own galloping anxieties about his impending fatherhood. They also have a younger brother, Darren, who unbeknownst to them, has taken the train down from Manchester for the week-end to celebrate his birthday in a posh London hotel with his girlfriend. But he's estranged from the family.

The film is all about dissatisfaction; so it underscores these moments of disconnection. A good example of this is Nadia's ride home on the double decker bus (surrounded by jubilant revelers) after her rather perfunctory tryst; she wants something much more from Tim, but she realizes he's only interested in something far less. This was a nice role for Gina McKee (she was the wheel chair girl in Notting Hill) her hair twists strangely suggest antenna in her search for love.

The sound track by Michael Nyman is good. But the star here is the direction; this is Winterbottom's baby; some of the obvious glitches in the story have been effortlessly stitched together. There's an over saturation in the colors and a grainy look which suggests the rawness of emotion. There's also great use of real locations when at times, the actors appear to have stepped out of the movie into real life with real people for a moment. All of the jobs in the film are tedium personified which tends to heighten the drama of their personal lives. And the Guy Fawkes holiday has been funneled into commercial entities and so gentrified that revelers could be forgiven for forgetting they are commemorating and celebrating open revolt against the ruling classes.

I loved the way London town functions as a character; the smallish flats, the great throng of people, street crime; alienation and loneliness but conversely it's also extremely comforting with it's sky line; familiar landmarks; hot spots and boisterous neighborhoods. These are just normal every day working folk confronted and confounded by life, but there are faint slivers of hope in the film: the never ending flood of calls to Nadia's voice mail; the way Franklyn secretly dotes on Nadia and his happiness at the end of his work day, and the way Nadia's father's eyes light up when ever his daughter is around.





Thank God I‘m an atheist.


Inland Empire (2006) - Lynch

The Polish woman

The Set-up? Fading movie star Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) gets a dream job that will catapult her back into the Hollywood firmament; every actress knows there's just something about playing the trashy hooker role that is like catnip for all those wrinkled, old white men who give out the Oscars.

The film quickly ramps up the tension. Immediately, the so called friendly visit from the new neighbor seemed to suggest all those old B movies where a creepy foreign accent was a good indication your next door neighbor---if not actually sharing a direct bloodline with a blood sucker or a lycanthrope---at the very least, had the icky nocturnal hobby of grave robbing. But unlike those old black and white films; Lynch omits the two other staples: the dramatic lighting and scary organ music. He simply uses a convex lens to suggest the horror genre ... that and her ominous gypsy warning. Dern is in the same scene, but she is shot with another lens that places her in a more realistic realm.

Nikki Grace's husband is a major player in the industry and a powerful man but is insanely jealous about the sacred bounds of matrimony. Her new co-star, Devon Berk is a notorious Hollywood lothario. At the table read, the director Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons) tells them he has just discovered the screenplay is a actually a remake from an old German film called Four Seven. The film was never finished and production abandoned because some people were killed. Which of course, is a roundabout way of telling them the actors who originally played their parts were murdered: since on a movie production, everyone is replaceable, except of course, the movie stars.

There's a huge component of the wackiness and make believe of the Hollywood dream factory. The average movie career at the top only lasts about 5 years, so after a brief period of flying high; you begin to drop inch by inch into obscurity. The Inland Empire? And the horrible thing is, the accountants can monitor and track your shrinking commercial value with each disappearing penny. Kingsley Stewart's trusty right hand man, Freddie Howard has trouble making his rent money and he's cadging money covertly from the people on set ... this will be his last job.

At the table read when they crack open the screenplay. Devon quickly turns to Nikki and gushes that she'll be up the task because she's a genius; but the thing of it is, she actually is a great actress. She falls into character almost immediately, and Susie Blue (her character) literally materializes behind them in the darkened sound stage.

The film script is interesting. It already seems to suggest a story with two different time periods: a de Sirkian melodrama in the fifties about a married woman who has an affair, and the contemporary tragedy of Susie Blue. The film was based on an old polish folk tale about marital infidelity, so we can assume---given the time period, it will have unforgiving and have brutal consequences for the woman.

Dislikes? The fudges. If one sat at the kitchen table and stared at the floor tiles, with a little imagination you can make out anything there: from simple geometric shapes; pyramids and rectangles; to objects and maybe even a family of fluffy bunny rabbits trapped in a sit-com. Your mind will seek to order any randomness and chaos quite naturally. So there's enough legitimate similarities and connections in the film to form an synopsis you care to find there. A pointing finger means someone has just been hypnotized. When Dern speaks with a twang, she's Susie Blue in a movie scene. But given the dream logic of the film, Lynch doesn't supply enough information to verify your interpretation.

So. what's it all about?

The short answer ... rather than a haunted house or a serial killer on the loose, the screenplay is haunted.

With film you are creating entire imaginary worlds; breathing life into formless characters and resurrecting them from a page is interesting. But by not completing this process, you're going into the entirely lynchian realm where you leave these characters trapped and suffering in a kind of netherworld. The original actress from the first production created the character: the woman who now remains trapped eternally in room 47. Nikki Grace, with her fearlessness as an actress to go into all the nooks and crannies of this character---however foreboding, succeeds in finding her in that dark labyrinth and secures the film it's happy ending ... well, I gave it a try.

"Inland Empire" easily delivers on the scares and the things that go bump in the night. The sound design is great. With his new digital camera and it's great mobility; Lynch seems as giddy as a beach bum with his learner's permit and a new dune buggy---hot rodding all the way to hell and back again. Laura Dern's face can look movie star gorgeous to trailer trash grim and every variation in between; there are scenes where Lynch allows only the expressions on her face carry the story.

And the ending, in addition to finishing up the film in a wonderfully boisterous and rousing fashion, this suggests yet another lynchian idea: that of a version of the Hollywood actors old folks home where tragic movie heroines, after all their celluloid suffering, attain a kind of grace and come to sip tea (or gin) in the lobby and live on peacefully for all eternity.





Thank God I‘m an atheist.


The Sword of doom (1966) Okamoto
 
B-B-B-Bad to the bone

The set-up? The film begins on the eve of a routine competition between rival fencing schools in a small village in the year 1860. The featured bout involves Ryunosuke---he's not a happy camper, he's being pressured from all sides to throw his fight. His opponent is a young man who has staked his entire future on the match; a loss would exclude him from becoming the head trainer at the school, and with no economic opportunities in the area, he'd have to leave and make a life elsewhere. So, a win would assure his little family of a comfortable life.

Ryunosuke, on the other hand, seems to come from a wealthy family. He doesn't need the win. He certainly doesn't want to become a permanent instructor. His own father also tells him he must throw the match. Unfortunately, Ryunosuke already envisions a life lived on the edge (of his sword)---not to fight to the best of his ability would be the greatest dishonor and disgrace. And since he's an extremely gifted swordsman, it's a luxury he can completely afford to indulge in: he won't be dying anytime soon. The opening part of the film sees Ryunosuke deliberately burning his bridges and ironically not following his beloved bushido, but cynically manipulating the warrior code to achieve his own ends.

When Tatsuya Nakadai (Ryunosuke) is on screen---you can't tear your eyes away from the guy---he's such a train wreck. After the bloodiest of fights, the tiniest of smiles will briefly caress his face, yet Ryunosuke remains a beguiling cipher at the center of the film, as one who lives and breathes the complete nihilism of his life. And all his brooding and aloft sullenness seems to strangely suggest a constant inner turmoil. Take the opening match; since he was champion of both fencing clubs (expelled from one, joined the other, rose quickly to the top of that club) he essentially represents both sides and for a brief instant we get the idea he's fighting himself.

But that same duality extends to a lot of the characters in the film. The only Shogun or (Lord of war) we see in the film, could care less that his whole world going to hell in a hand basket; he seems content to enjoy the ride and be a closet sadist with his servants. Ryunosuke's own father, so disheartened that his only son has become an evil man, sends the brother of one of the men he killed after him and even coaches him how to kill his son. Shichibei who---on the surface is a mild mannered traveling salesman, is in reality a successful bandit and thief. He confesses late in the film, that rescuing Omatsu was the only act of decency in his entire life.

The time period is interesting. After a very long period of (relative) stasis; the Shogun empire where the country was parceled out into individual fiefdoms is collapsing, and with it, their private armies are now flooding the peaceful countryside.

I really liked the kind of novelistic thing happening in the background with the different characters such as Omatsu, the orphan. At the beginning of the film, a minor character named Seriwaza is in the crowd at the fencing match as a spectator and a recruiter; he's just joined a fledgling paramilitary organization that is going to police the troublesome ronin. After a break in the action he turns and finds Kondo sitting behind him in the crowd, he will become his second in command. At the end of the film, these two will have climbed to the very top of the organization; with Ryunosuke doing all of the dirty work. I liked that Ryunosuke's past is never that far away, it returns out of nowhere again and again through-out the film, like a black cat to nuzzle and purr at his feet.

"The Sword of Doom" was the first film in a proposed trilogy---of which the other two were never shot---so the film gains a lot from the ellipses (more than a few things go unexplained) and loses only a little from the episodic structure of the film---for instance, a couple of showdowns never materialize. We can't be sure if Ryunosuke's story would have continued on in the subsequent films or if his character ended with this film.

The director Okamoto has a nice recurring visual motif, where a figure in the foreground deliberately obscures another in the background. The soundtrack is dramatic. The film appears to have thematic bookends: it begins on hallowed ground, the sacred shrine on the mountain top and ends on the unhallowed ground, the abandoned room where a despondent concubine ended her life.

There's enough action here for fiends who like their samurai flicks, sliced and diced with a decent body count---although the three brawls in the film are highly poetic in their own ways: the first one where Ryunosuke achieves his notoriety; the second one where he watches a night fight with a master swordsman during a snowfall and foresees his own death; and the last one where he seems to literally descend into the depths of hell before our eyes, taking on all comers, past, present and future: from the innocent people his sword has made a ghost of, to the small army of assassins sent to end his brief and brutal life; to the snarling demons he'll meet further down below.





Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
I certainly like and admire Sword of Doom more than Inland Empire. The ending of Sword is outrageous. On the other hand, while agreeing with much of your Inland Empire review, I still give it a generous
, and (sorry for repeating this) I've seen it three times. OK, I'll shut up and try not to act like WSSlover re: The Town.
__________________
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. - John Wooden
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Thank God I‘m an atheist.
I still give it a generous , and (sorry for repeating this) I've seen it three times.
I had no idea this is one of your "known" dislikes. Obviously, a lot of care and attention went into making Inland Empire, a lot of the production elements are top notch---I agree that if you want logic and coherence in the plot, it's going to be infuriatingly obtuse. It's definitely an odd film. There may be not a lot to love about the film, but there's a lot to admire.



Thank God I‘m an atheist.


Damnation (1988) - Tarr

The lady is a tramp

The set-up? A man tries to find a little meaning in his life.

Our (anti) hero is a balding, middle aged man with a wee bit of a fondness for rot gut whiskey; apart from a daily walking tour of the five taverns in his village, Karrer doesn't seem to have any occupation. His only other hobby of note is watching the elevated conveyor belt outside his window. The clanking and metallic groan from this seems to supply the monotonous sound track for the entire village. Karrer says he can spend hours watching this conveyor belt: but is he day dreaming or reminiscing?

The center of his life, and the only really high class joint in the village seems to be the Titanik bar where every night ends prophetically the same, when ice cubes strike the bottom of one's glass. There's a suggestion that this is a cabaret, a couple of topless women in spangles appear in one scene upstairs but the main attraction is the torch song singer. She's recently slammed the door on their affair, and now that she's gone, he spends the entire movie trying to rekindle the flames of their feckless passion.

The village seems less of an actual place and more of the bleak metaphysical landscape that the main character inhibits. Mongrel dogs constantly sniff and paw the ground in search for the tiniest scraps of sustenance. Everyone is scheming and dreaming of a better life, the singer believes moving to some dive in the city would put her on the road to success, however I doubt city folk would take to her act, seems to consist of collapsing into a chair off to one side of the stage with all the animation of a limp dish rag then killing them softly with her song.

It's interesting that the only real conversation (a monologue actually) that Karrer has with the singer; is when he tells her the story of a woman who once loved him; but he was totally indifferent to that love. This woman tried in vain to reach out to him for three days (ironically the same time period of his current idyll) before locking herself in his bathroom. He sat by his window counting the buckets late into the night, and finally in the morning, he broke down the door to discover her lifeless body on the floor. His only observation was the astonishing amount of blood that spilled out of one so tiny. He then seizes the opportunity to declare his undying devotion to her, unfortunately---after that story---rather than a declaration of love, it's more like saying she's worthy of suicide. Telling someone you'd die for them, is a lot different from saying you'd live for them.

This was my first Béla Tarr film. I had avoided him until now, having heard he made films that were abstract and as slow as molasses ... wow. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The camera work in this film is deliberately hypnotic. Those glacial side to side tracking shots with the constantly mutating compositions---combined with a gorgeous black and white photography that---on one end of the spectrum, can be stark and unsettling, and the other end, easily captures an infinitely textured world of ethereal greys. The mornings are always cold and damp with characters materializing in the distance from a grey fog. And apart for one unidentified metallic hum in one scene and a constant clicking in another scene (a glass washer?) all of the sounds in the film are wonderfully diegetic.

With that the mountain of dirt on the horizon in the opening shot, there's a faint suggestion that comes straight from Beckett's theatre of the absurd, that they are merely digging a hole then transferring the dirt elsewhere. Depending on how you look at the elevated conveyor belt, the cast iron buckets are either transporting something on an industrial scale or carrying existential emptiness. The film begins and ends on mounds of earth that suggest graves.

If I had to voice one criticism, the intrigue seems rather slim compared to all the thoughtfulness that went into the images. Although it's bleak and despairing, a lot of the desolation has been deliberately constructed. Early on, there's a scene where Karrer stands across the street from the Titanik and waits for her husband to arrive before goes in for the night---guaranteeing a confrontation with him. The hat check girl at the Titanik is an older woman who affectionately calls Karrer ... son. Is that his mother? She crosses paths with him from time to time and gives him sage advice which he never heeds. She tells him his feelings for the singer are misplaced and to beware ... she's a bit of a bounder. So he knows pinning all his hopes on this woman is a risky proposition. The singer is married with a child, but I'm sure there are other women in the village who'd realize what a catch (not!) he'd be. When Karrer passes off the smuggling job to her husband, he tells them happy endings are impossible in this world, and so they cheerfully toast to their own destruction and oblivion.

The singer admits that she loves the rain, therefore it seems to be always raining. And to say there's a little inclement weather in this film, is an understatement. The tavern floors are always wet and glistening; puddles even form inside the dance halls. One wonders however, what would have happened to this story, had she let slip to Karrer, that she actually loved sunflowers and sunny sunny days?







The Sword of doom (1966) Okamoto
 
B-B-B-Bad to the bone

The set-up? The film begins on the eve of a routine competition between rival fencing schools in a small village in the year 1860. The featured bout involves Ryunosuke---he's not a happy camper, he's being pressured from all sides to throw his fight. His opponent is a young man who has staked his entire future on the match; a loss would exclude him from becoming the head trainer at the school, and with no economic opportunities in the area, he'd have to leave and make a life elsewhere. So, a win would assure his little family of a comfortable life.

Ryunosuke, on the other hand, seems to come from a wealthy family. He doesn't need the win. He certainly doesn't want to become a permanent instructor. His own father also tells him he must throw the match. Unfortunately, Ryunosuke already envisions a life lived on the edge (of his sword)---not to fight to the best of his ability would be the greatest dishonor and disgrace. And since he's an extremely gifted swordsman, it's a luxury he can completely afford to indulge in: he won't be dying anytime soon. The opening part of the film sees Ryunosuke deliberately burning his bridges and ironically not following his beloved bushido, but cynically manipulating the warrior code to achieve his own ends.

When Tatsuya Nakadai (Ryunosuke) is on screen---you can't tear your eyes away from the guy---he's such a train wreck. After the bloodiest of fights, the tiniest of smiles will briefly caress his face, yet Ryunosuke remains a beguiling cipher at the center of the film, as one who lives and breathes the complete nihilism of his life. And all his brooding and aloft sullenness seems to strangely suggest a constant inner turmoil. Take the opening match; since he was champion of both fencing clubs (expelled from one, joined the other, rose quickly to the top of that club) he essentially represents both sides and for a brief instant we get the idea he's fighting himself.

But that same duality extends to a lot of the characters in the film. The only Shogun or (Lord of war) we see in the film, could care less that his whole world going to hell in a hand basket; he seems content to enjoy the ride and be a closet sadist with his servants. Ryunosuke's own father, so disheartened that his only son has become an evil man, sends the brother of one of the men he killed after him and even coaches him how to kill his son. Shichibei who---on the surface is a mild mannered traveling salesman, is in reality a successful bandit and thief. He confesses late in the film, that rescuing Omatsu was the only act of decency in his entire life.

The time period is interesting. After a very long period of (relative) stasis; the Shogun empire where the country was parceled out into individual fiefdoms is collapsing, and with it, their private armies are now flooding the peaceful countryside.

I really liked the kind of novelistic thing happening in the background with the different characters such as Omatsu, the orphan. At the beginning of the film, a minor character named Seriwaza is in the crowd at the fencing match as a spectator and a recruiter; he's just joined a fledgling paramilitary organization that is going to police the troublesome ronin. After a break in the action he turns and finds Kondo sitting behind him in the crowd, he will become his second in command. At the end of the film, these two will have climbed to the very top of the organization; with Ryunosuke doing all of the dirty work. I liked that Ryunosuke's past is never that far away, it returns out of nowhere again and again through-out the film, like a black cat to nuzzle and purr at his feet.

"The Sword of Doom" was the first film in a proposed trilogy---of which the other two were never shot---so the film gains a lot from the ellipses (more than a few things go unexplained) and loses only a little from the episodic structure of the film---for instance, a couple of showdowns never materialize. We can't be sure if Ryunosuke's story would have continued on in the subsequent films or if his character ended with this film.

The director Okamoto has a nice recurring visual motif, where a figure in the foreground deliberately obscures another in the background. The soundtrack is dramatic. The film appears to have thematic bookends: it begins on hallowed ground, the sacred shrine on the mountain top and ends on the unhallowed ground, the abandoned room where a despondent concubine ended her life.

There's enough action here for fiends who like their samurai flicks, sliced and diced with a decent body count---although the three brawls in the film are highly poetic in their own ways: the first one where Ryunosuke achieves his notoriety; the second one where he watches a night fight with a master swordsman during a snowfall and foresees his own death; and the last one where he seems to literally descend into the depths of hell before our eyes, taking on all comers, past, present and future: from the innocent people his sword has made a ghost of, to the small army of assassins sent to end his brief and brutal life; to the snarling demons he'll meet further down below.


This one my favorites Samurai sagas. Tetsuya Nakadai is the master swordman displaying no feelings nor remorse for his deeds. When you feel his presence, there is a vast emptyness inside, devoid of soul, and you know that you must kill him or die trying.



Unreliable Narrator
Your usual art-house 101 film, where you know right from the beginning that noone in the film is going to end up smiling. The melancholic dance scene seemed to drag on and on for so long that I actually considered turning it off. And does Bela Tarr have to confess his love for Tarkovsky with all those glistening walls and floor? If you're interested, Werckmeister Harmonies is a far superior film.



Thank God I‘m an atheist.


The best way to walk (1976) - Miller

How I spent my summer vacation

The set-up? Summer camp, circa 1960 in the south of France; Mark (Patrick Dewaere) the monitor for the sports program, discovers an interesting tidbit about Phillipe (Patrick Bouchitey) the monitor in charge of the theatre program. Like any good bully, Marc knows he's hit the fricking mother lode.

After a long apprenticeship with François Trufffaut this was Claude Miller's first feature film. It's a short watch, clocking in at only 82 minutes. The literal translation of the French title doesn't quite "work" in English. It comes from a boy scout song suggesting a boyish optimism and a sunny disposition, but in the context of the film, it drops hints at the dark time for those who fail the grade.

Almost immediately, Phillipe adapts a kind of "deer caught in the headlights" persona which doesn't quite appease Marc. He has to exhaust the entire process of trying to placate, pacify, and bribe him until, like any kid in the playground eventually learns, unless he stands up and confronts his bully, it will always be that way.

This all boys summer camp seems to immediately divide into two separate programs, the fast track: athletics, and the slower one for boys who can't dribble and chew gum at the same time: arts and crafts. There's lots of activities to occupy their time but what they seem to be learning is finding their pecking order amongst themselves and the larger world.

Marc is the perfect alpha male. He's handsome and egotistical; loud and uninhibited; and quick with a smile. The secret of his success rests in converting everything into a physical confrontation or a challenge, where he excels effortlessly. The huge poster of the toredo on his bedroom wall, seems to visually suggest the one dimensional way he will bulldoze through life and obliterate it's many questions.

When Marc's little athletes aren't training, they marched about from place to place like little soldiers. The way they march past the theater building belting out a song as loud as they can disrupting the quiet of the rehearsal within; matches the late night scene in the common room, where a few of the more sensitive monitors gather in a corner to watch a Bergman film on the boob tube and while the others play poker; they constantly hoot and holler until the "Bergmanites" give up one by one and slink off to bed leaving the room entirely theirs. There's a nice echo between a little boy who is the teased (his frizzy blonde hair is his only difference) and Phillipe and the way smallest monitor is mercilessly hazed by the other monitors---he's eventually expelled from the camp for "moral" shortcomings.

The film has lots of other subtle comparisons: Phillipe maintains an epistolary relationship with his girlfriend, Chantal. She immediately notes the strain and change in his personality; she notices he's become more emotionally guarded and less expressive in his letters. When Phillipe passes Marc a note, this gains the romantic undertone of their relationship. The best thing the film really does well is advance how arbitrary the tropes and traits of being a real man really are: the two leads are interchangeable and indistinguishable. The two actors could have reversed roles without the slightest hiccup in the story. Were this same film be remade today, these roles would be completely miscast.

But the time period is problematic. Early in the film, when Marc is doing his nightly pass before turning out the lights in the dormitory. He walks over and turns a sleeping boy from his left to his right side for the night. The superstition being at that time, sleeping on your left side weakened your heart and caused infirmity. But what other superstitions and prejudices were also prevalent at that time? The actor who played Phillipe, had great difficulty getting roles because of this film, forever linked with this character.

And the ending seems slightly bizarre, when they cross paths several years later, this incident is all just water under the bridge and almost forgotten. Marc now sells real estate and Phillipe and Chantal---although no actual plans for marriage are afoot---they are shopping for an apartment together. Which seems to suggest the bone of contention was merely a kind of effeminacy on his part. But we have to wonder: was it possible these two characters didn't known they were attracted to each other? Certainly when Phillipe screams at Marc in desperation. "What if I barged into your secret room? What terrible secret would I find there?" From our contemporary vantage point, we'd all like to whisper the obvious spoiler to him: "Dude! He's not tormenting you because he hates you ... "

Likes? Both actors are great, and easily look 15 years younger than their actual ages. When Phillipe has to change his clothes before his date with his girlfriend Chantal; Marc rushes over to chat her up while she waits, bouncing a basketball off of a bell attached to a wall, so up in his room, Phillipe has to listen to him, "scoring points" with his girlfriend. During the masquerade ball, Chantal quietly mocks Marc's virility with her own pencil thin moustache.

Both Marc and Phillipe seem to embody for each other their personal nightmares. Marc is terrified of Phillipe's emotional softness; his vulnerability; and his need to understand and nurture. Phillipe on the other hand is horrified by the casual violence and cruelty of this brute, incapable of empathy and lacking in any kind of self-awareness. Even with the passage of time, "The best way to walk" still remains a beguiling study of masculinity and bullying.







The Sword of doom (1966) Okamoto
 
B-B-B-Bad to the bone

The set-up? The film begins on the eve of a routine competition between rival fencing schools in a small village in the year 1860. The featured bout involves Ryunosuke---he's not a happy camper, he's being pressured from all sides to throw his fight. His opponent is a young man who has staked his entire future on the match; a loss would exclude him from becoming the head trainer at the school, and with no economic opportunities in the area, he'd have to leave and make a life elsewhere. So, a win would assure his little family of a comfortable life.

Ryunosuke, on the other hand, seems to come from a wealthy family. He doesn't need the win. He certainly doesn't want to become a permanent instructor. His own father also tells him he must throw the match. Unfortunately, Ryunosuke already envisions a life lived on the edge (of his sword)---not to fight to the best of his ability would be the greatest dishonor and disgrace. And since he's an extremely gifted swordsman, it's a luxury he can completely afford to indulge in: he won't be dying anytime soon. The opening part of the film sees Ryunosuke deliberately burning his bridges and ironically not following his beloved bushido, but cynically manipulating the warrior code to achieve his own ends.

When Tatsuya Nakadai (Ryunosuke) is on screen---you can't tear your eyes away from the guy---he's such a train wreck. After the bloodiest of fights, the tiniest of smiles will briefly caress his face, yet Ryunosuke remains a beguiling cipher at the center of the film, as one who lives and breathes the complete nihilism of his life. And all his brooding and aloft sullenness seems to strangely suggest a constant inner turmoil. Take the opening match; since he was champion of both fencing clubs (expelled from one, joined the other, rose quickly to the top of that club) he essentially represents both sides and for a brief instant we get the idea he's fighting himself.

But that same duality extends to a lot of the characters in the film. The only Shogun or (Lord of war) we see in the film, could care less that his whole world going to hell in a hand basket; he seems content to enjoy the ride and be a closet sadist with his servants. Ryunosuke's own father, so disheartened that his only son has become an evil man, sends the brother of one of the men he killed after him and even coaches him how to kill his son. Shichibei who---on the surface is a mild mannered traveling salesman, is in reality a successful bandit and thief. He confesses late in the film, that rescuing Omatsu was the only act of decency in his entire life.

The time period is interesting. After a very long period of (relative) stasis; the Shogun empire where the country was parceled out into individual fiefdoms is collapsing, and with it, their private armies are now flooding the peaceful countryside.

I really liked the kind of novelistic thing happening in the background with the different characters such as Omatsu, the orphan. At the beginning of the film, a minor character named Seriwaza is in the crowd at the fencing match as a spectator and a recruiter; he's just joined a fledgling paramilitary organization that is going to police the troublesome ronin. After a break in the action he turns and finds Kondo sitting behind him in the crowd, he will become his second in command. At the end of the film, these two will have climbed to the very top of the organization; with Ryunosuke doing all of the dirty work. I liked that Ryunosuke's past is never that far away, it returns out of nowhere again and again through-out the film, like a black cat to nuzzle and purr at his feet.

"The Sword of Doom" was the first film in a proposed trilogy---of which the other two were never shot---so the film gains a lot from the ellipses (more than a few things go unexplained) and loses only a little from the episodic structure of the film---for instance, a couple of showdowns never materialize. We can't be sure if Ryunosuke's story would have continued on in the subsequent films or if his character ended with this film.

The director Okamoto has a nice recurring visual motif, where a figure in the foreground deliberately obscures another in the background. The soundtrack is dramatic. The film appears to have thematic bookends: it begins on hallowed ground, the sacred shrine on the mountain top and ends on the unhallowed ground, the abandoned room where a despondent concubine ended her life.

There's enough action here for fiends who like their samurai flicks, sliced and diced with a decent body count---although the three brawls in the film are highly poetic in their own ways: the first one where Ryunosuke achieves his notoriety; the second one where he watches a night fight with a master swordsman during a snowfall and foresees his own death; and the last one where he seems to literally descend into the depths of hell before our eyes, taking on all comers, past, present and future: from the innocent people his sword has made a ghost of, to the small army of assassins sent to end his brief and brutal life; to the snarling demons he'll meet further down below.


I reread your review and would like to add something.
What makes Ryonosuke such an essential character is that he doesn't just represent the personification of the evil Japanese swordsman but also the duality of good and evil that existed in most notable Samurais, the one notable exception being Musashi Miyamoto, the best of the best.
Tastuya Nakadai was hauntingly good in making Ryonosuke appear almost as a ghostly beast.
I'm not big on ratings, but if I was to rate this movie, it would have to be a 5. Capturing the mood and flavor of the era and it's inhabitants just doesn't get any better than this.



Thank God I‘m an atheist.
Cosmopolis (2012) - Cronenberg

Day of the Rat

The set-up? A billionaire boy wonder decides to get his hair cut.
 
Cronenberg has been clicking consistently for me every since "A history of Violence" Before that, his stories seemed to be about individuals deformed by technology and those individuals couldn't quite integrate the changes, and they always ended up, if not actual grotesques, at least one of the walking wounded. But with Tom Stall, the process was complete; here was a small businessman who by merely locking onto his intended prey shed all humanity in the blink of an eye and became a cold blooded sociopath. As soon as Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) established himself as the lead character in the film, I knew I was watching another one of Cronenberg's genteel monsters.

And there's still a hint of that transformation process, At 28, Packer's habits here are kind of quirky with just a dash of entitlement---but tack on 30 years of him stewing in his own juices, these same quirks will become debilitating tics and phobias. His medical check-ups already suggest a kind of hypochondria. Also his transformation into a monster occurs visually just after the dessert tray passes, lemon meringue pie looks conspicuously like exploded brain matter from an open head wound.

Although Pattinson is good in the lead; he gets oodles of sequential support in the guise of his business meetings with other characters. Unfortunately, all of these scenes are frustratingly short. Five more minutes with Juliette Binoche or Samantha Morton wouldn't have hurt the film. One thing's for sure, I can't imagine the popcorn crowd enjoying "Cosmopolis." There was a large number of walk outs (twi-hards?) during the screening I saw; and that may be because the film seems plotless and entirely driven by the dialogue.

The opening literally sets up a comic farce, the one where two working class stiffs borrow the boss's limo for a day of hijinks and high adventure. One driver gabs with another, and he makes the snap decision to take the car and get his hair cut. The next sequence has him hiding behind his sunglasses taking a meeting with what seems to be the company's head of information security. The computer guy assures him of his unassailably in all areas and that the probability of him being assassinated that day, is statistically less than zero. Opps, maybe his guy is the boss.

The last generation of financial wizards were mathematicians working on infinitesimal financial algorithms to generate wealth. In his brave new world, the flow of information is overwhelming: all of his advisors look for patterns in the chaos. With Packer's personal Bot system, he now appears to be using Black magic and alchemy to try to stay ahead of the curve. Is this the next step in business evolution or metastasis?

Packer meets with his "Idea" consultant---who willingly volunteers several times, she couldn't explain any of these new ideas if her life depended on it, although she can tell you with chilling prescience which ones are popular and trending. Their limo crawls past a street demonstration and they notice one of the protesters has appropriated a symbol from the 60's. They look at it and decide in a heartbeat, that it's earning potential is extremely limited because it's derivative and unoriginal. This shows how divorced from reality they really are, when content becomes merely the stuffing between the commercials.



There are several arcs that travel the length of the film; Packer himself and his relationship with his employees. The space inside the limo begins as a state of the art bulletproof portable office, and seems to end as personal survival pod. Which is undone ironically, by simple gridlock; any kid with a skate board and a little excess energy can skip to his destination and arrive hours before his Excellency. Indeed, the limo eventually becomes a symbol of just how soulless his pursuit of wealth has become.

My favorite arc is the one with his wife. Packer spies a beautiful young blonde in the taxi next to his limo and he gets out and brazenly slides inside. It takes a couple of minutes of banter before we discover this is his bride, they were married a couple of weeks ago. This is the key relationship that best illustrates him.

Mrs. Packer is a poetess; and his estrangement not just from the world of art and culture, but real life is most obvious when he's with her. It was almost painful when she leaned over in the taxi and noticed for the very first time, that his eyes were actually blue. In an effort to get a little one on one time, Packer compares sensual swell of her breasts with those of her mothers---even his chief of security who is sitting a few tables away winces at just how gauche that was. It slowly emerges their union may have had more to do with a push from her family (old money) to commingle with this upstart parvenu, rather than any striking attraction between the two of them. I loved that strange dress of hers, she wore it like a suit of armor.

Top marks to Cronenberg for retaining a lot of the exquisite, stilted dialogue from the novel. Some of it is very wicked indeed. When someone asks Packer why bother with the limousine on such a day; I can't recall the exact wording, but it had something to do with self worth and droplets of urine, but the meaning was crystal clear.

What sounds like a throwaway line can return later in the film, like a boomerang. There's also seamless interconnection and invisible set-ups in the film. One of Packer's security agents mentions she's not all that jazzed by her job---she loves the pay but she's not all that worried about the threat of violence, since the cross hairs would skip past her and rest on him: a line of dialogue. Later, there's a visual reveal that during the afternoon demonstration, someone---in addition to the sides had also taken the time to spray paint cross hairs on the rooftop. The street protests are echoed subtlety in the club scene, when part of the trendy ambiance includes being oppressed with gentle slosh of symbolic pepper spray. There's also wonderful moments of vertigo when, the other gridlocked lanes suddenly move forward creating the mild sensation of traveling backwards.

This movie is like an onion: you can peel away layer upon layer to find something underneath. The story could be about an investor's bad day at the office---his wife always comments on his progressive dishevel each time she meets him. But this could also be perversely seen as the journey of a true believer who has attained enlightenment and embraced his fate with open arms. In 1% of Eric Packer's life---when it comes to bean counting---he's king of the bean counters. But in other 99% of the time, he's horribly lacking; qualities such as empathy or the ability to play well with others may be woefully underdeveloped or even non-existent in his personality. And indeed, the film makes a direct comparison between him, a titian in the world of finance and the lone deranged gun man in the clock tower.

As private control over information intensifies, and more and more business filters are placed over the news we have access to; diversity of opinion and truth constricts and shrinks to the single point of view contained within this stretch limo. Which begs the question: is that the real world outside those tinted windows?
 




Nice review must keep an eye out for this
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Thought you and anyone who likes or is interested in your review, might like this.

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An "extras" clip.
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Thank God I‘m an atheist.


The Attack (2012) Doueiri

The invisible man

The set-up? Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) is essentially a man who has everything. He's at the height of his career; his manual dexterity and intelligence has made him a sought after surgeon, his business acumen is such that he can afford second vacation house by the sea. He watches his carefully constructed world slowly crumble around his feet after a terrorist attack.

Early in the film, we get a(nother) lethal force story about a policeman and in the emergency room; a patient screams that he doesn't want his dog hands touching him; so Amin excuses himself from the operating theatre. It's obvious this racism has been around him his entire life and it always fallen to him to be gracious and quietly stoic.

But rather than an isolated one in a million story, Amin's journey is that of every single apolitical everyman, who discover their world is crooked as a dog's hind leg and contrary to what they originally assumed, everything is political. Although most people never receive that shock to the system that awakens their civic duties; since the rewards for submission and not pointing out the obvious corruption are as varied and plentiful as the raindrops within the rain.

The specter of collective punishment is barely suggested in the film. It's only when Amin ventures into "Injun territory" that we sense that he notices how brutal and arbitrary the violence is, up until that moment, his wealth and social position has always insulated him personal harm. It's kind of hard not to laugh out loud when the mean faced interrogator---who is in a righteous fit about his wife's penchant for violence, yet who wouldn't hesitant a second to beat one of his own detainees senseless. Or when some of his friends visit and try to hypothesize on what kind of monster Siham (his wife) must have been, yet barely notice the depravity of their own policies. In a world where human decency exists, one life has basically the same weight and value as any other human being: a simple comparison of victims reveals the underlying reality operating beneath the cover of lofty ideals. Compare the two bloodbaths in the film, the difference is striking.

The upside? There's nice little scenes here and there. During the lunch at what appears to be a roof top cafeteria, the doctors hear an explosion in the distance and Amin goes to the railing to look out over the city, this points out visually both his privilege and his isolation. He blows off the phone call from his wife, at that moment, he's striding to the podium to receive a great prize that will crown his career. When he asks to see an Iman in the mosque, he tells the guy, he's Doctor Jaafari (that would have immediately garnered instant recognition and respect across the border) here it gets a blank look. He rephrases; I'm Siham Jaafari's husband. The man's eyes light up.

The downside? The best part of the film was the idea of spending a lifetime with someone, then discovering for all intents and purposes that person was a total stranger. Unfortunately, although Amin sets out to unravel that mystery, he doesn't get far a foot. Apart from one heart breaking discovery; I got the feeling that Amin stopped asking bothersome questions, and returned to the citadel to remake his life. Although the film gets brownie points for firmly placing the story within the slow spiral of endless revenge; this is hair-splitting territory to say the least.

The Attack




Thank God I‘m an atheist.
Thanks, you noticed the time stamp too, eh? It's been an eternity since I've written a film review; definitely going to crank out a few more. For my next one, I'm thinking about revisiting an old polish television series.



Some great reviews here, they all look really well written with a lot of effort put in to them. Only read a few so far, but I'll take a look at some of the earlier pages some time. Very good review of Inland Empire, and your review of Cosmopolis, a film I have ready to watch, makes me want to watch it.