Recent Musings about film, etc.



March 13th, 1996

This weekend I had the misfortune of not being drunk when I saw Golden Eye at the Bagdad. (If you are not a Portlander, the Bagdad is a $1 theatre and brewpub) If I had been drunk I might have been able to look over all the crass editorial and directorial mistakes that were made. The director has obviously never done a film with big special effects. Someone needs to tell him that bluescreening is not necessary when the background is stationary. Back projection looks much better. A lot of filmmakers may frown upon back projection as an out-dated technique, but when done right it looks better, and it's cheaper. Someone also needs to tell him that shakey-cam does not make a fight scene more exciting. On the contrary, it makes it look cheap. It draws attention to the fact that they didn't bother to have actors who can stage-fight well, that they didn't bother to have a decent fight coreographer stage the scene, and that they may have skimped on the sets. Since you can't get a good look at what's going on, it looses all of the effect. Shakey-cam is also what ruined Batman Forever for me. Both these films cost a hell of a lot of money, but they both look like they spent it in all the wrong places, and cut corners where they shouldn't have. The editorial mistakes were the same as I have encountered in Tsui Hark's (HK director/producer) films. He skips out on establishment shots. Without these the action does not seem to come from anywhere. OK, it's good for the element of surprise, but in the middle of a fight scene it just causes confusion over what the hell is going on, and where the bullets/punches are coming from. I did enjoy the death by liquid nitrogen/helium/oxygen (didn't say which it was, but any of the above will work). This seems to be the favoured dramatic death in film these days. My favorite so far was in "The X-Files" when a guy gets his head frozen, then gets hit by some blunt object and all the little pieces go all over the place. The best part of the whole scene was afterwards when the forensics team shows up and where all the little pieces landed are marked all over the floor by little chalk ex's. Nice touch. I think the first incident of this type to be shown on screen was in the Tarkovsky classic Solaris, where the constuct of the main character's dead wife kills herself by drinking liquid nitrogen. Even worse than the death is when she defrosts and comes back to life. Really beautiful scene.

After bitching about Golden Eye for an hour or so we went back into the theatre to see Get Shorty. I enjoyed this film a lot. I won't say it's a great film, but it made me laugh, which is very rare for a Hollywood film. As usual I found the supporting actors much more entertaining than all the big Hollywood stars (although Bette Midler was wonderful in her cameo role). Most notable among the smaller actors in the film was Jon Gries, who was most memorable as Lazlo Hollyfield in the classic Real Genius. And Penny Marshal and Harvey Keitel as themselves at the end were a nice surprise. I really like seeing films that Barry Sonnenfeld directs because he started out as a cinematographer, so he never makes mistakes with the camera. If he uses a hand-held camera he does it well, and he never uses shakey-cam. I don't think it should get any acting awards, but the production and screenplay were finely crafted, so I won't mind if it wins some in those categories.

After sitting on my ass in a movie theatre for 4 hours on Sunday, I repeated the act on Tuesday with Fargo and my second viewing of 12 Monkeys. I had been twitching in anticipation of Fargo since I first saw a preview two weeks ago. Anyone who knows me knows how devoted I am to the Coens and to Steve Buscemi, so this film could hardly go wrong for me. And it lived up to all my expectations. Some have criticized the characterizations in the film as being derrogatory stereotypes of Mid-Westerners, and I can understand that point. So here I'm going to quote Joel Coen in an interview Veronica e-mailied me: "It's a fundamental misperception, the charge of condescension. Because the only people who can really answer that is us, and we feel very affectionate toward all of these characters. You create them, and sometimes the more shmucky they are, the more you like them." So there. I especially liked the character of Marge, the pregnant, small town police chief who takes up the case. She is bright, caring and self-assured. Other than that point, there can be nothing wrong with the film. The script was much more realistic than most of their previous films. It didn't have the theatrical feel to it that, say, Miller's Crossing did. But I think that that was very appropriate considering the characters were much more ordinary than the gangsters and playwrights they have created in the past. I think my favorite aspect of the film was the vast empty white spaces. Nothing has reinforced my belief in the non-existence of North Dakota than the way they shot this film. The shots of the near-empty parking lots, the snow-covered highways, even the harsh white light seeping in through the windows in the interiors, left me with a very bleak and cold feeling. I feel I must quote the filmmakers here again: "Everything is white, just an empty field of vision." The self-lighting by the car headlights narrows the field at night, but the field is still empty. Steve's performance was brilliant as usual, and everyone else did a fine job, too. Even more popular these days than death by liquid gas (see my review of Golden Eye, above) seems to be woodchippers. I've been a fan of this technique since I first saw it used in Universal Soldier (a terrible film, but I enjoyed it). I am looking forward to more inventive uses for this piece of equiptment.

After Fargo, Jemiah and I hopped the bus to go see 12 Monkeys for the second time. As with all Terry Gilliam films, it just gets better and better. Brad Pitt really impressed me, and I used to really hate him. I think he does have talent, but no director has ever made him work before. They just put him up on the screen and have him look pretty. I am really tired of talented actors being used this way. I hope this role (and his subsequent Oscar nomination) means he will start getting more challenging roles and prove to the world that he is not just a pretty piece of ass. (I was just remembering that this is not the first time I liked him. He was great as Floyd, the stoner housemate in True Romance) One thing about 12 Monkyes that really impressed me was that I didn't figure out the ending until the day after I first saw the film. I kept thinking it was a bummer ending, that Cole's mission failed, then all of a sudden I remembered that the mission was only to get a sample of the original virus, and that's why the woman scientist from the future timeline was on the plane. The major plot point that many viewers did not seem to like is that you cannot change the past, but you can learn from it. This gives me an opportunity to rant about Gilliam, and why his films and ideas are not readilly accepted by American audiences. (This is an rant that applies only to his earlier films, not to 12 Monkeys) To Gilliam there is not difference between reality and fantasy. Everybody lives in an entirely subjective universe, and imagination and dreams are just as important in that universe as so-called reality. If we ignore the power of the imagination we become the rationalistic villains of Baron Munchausen, or featureless bores like the parents in Time Bandits. For this reason I see Gilliam as the only true surrealist filmmaker working today. The surrealists viewed the dream state as an intergal part of human existance. To deny its validity is to deny life itself. OK, enough ranting. I will probably go into this further at a later date since this is one of my favorite subjects. Until next time.

(On a Post Script: A local movie reviewer who shall remain nameless said of 12 Monkeys that it "had too much plot and was too difficult to understand." This statement epitomized what I loathe about typical american film goers, they don't like to think. They want the film to hash out every point to such an extent that they don't have to force their lazy brains to come up with their own conclusions. If the politicians wanted to make a rational point about how Hollywood is corrupting "american society" they should dwell more on how this manipulative approach to entertainment is turning us into a nation of morons instead of trying to convince us that movies are driving up the violent crime rate. This particulr reviewer had made me want to slap him if I ever saw him on the street for some of his past comments, but his review of 12 Monkeys made me want to kick him in the groin.)

Oblique Strategy of today: "Don't be frightened to display your talents"


March 14th, 1996

For the last week or so I have been involed in conversations on alt.cult-movies and rec.arts.movies.past-films about Peter Greenaway, and it made me dig out my copy of the book of The Falls. (For those of you who are less familiar with his earlier works The Falls was his first feature film.) I first saw The Falls about 4 years ago at Cinema 21 as part of a festival of early Greenaway films. The first night of films was a bunch of his early shorts. Some of these were highly enjoyable ("H is for House" and "Water Wrackets" in particular stood out), but the last two were excruciating. They were "Vertical Features Remake" and "A Walk Through H," 45 minutes each, and they both made Prospero's Books look like Speed. I went to these films with about 5 other people, half of them fell asleep, and the other half had to restrain themselves from running screaming out of the theatre. "Vertical Features Remake" centers around 10 or so different edits of the same film, the subject of which is vertical features: trees, fenceposts, telephone poles, you get the idea. "A Walk Through H" spend 45 minutes following a white line through 92 of Greenaway's map-like abstract paintings. It would have been a fine film if it had been 10 paintings, but no, the number 92 is really special to Greenaway for some reason, so he had to have 92 paintings. After that experience the only one of my film geek buddies who had the balls to go see The Falls with me was Nelson, brave soul. The rest of them all bailed as soon as they found out it was 3 hours long.

So the next day we got really buzzed on coffee, gritted our teeth, and plunged in the theatre. We were both pleasantly surprised. The film consists of 92 (again) biographies of people effected by the Violent Unknown Event, a very subtle catastrophe that "had randomly showered its victims with both benign and malign symptoms. The most identifiable characteristics include compund articulacy, immortality, and an identification with birds, with especial, though not exclusive, reference to a bird's enviable ability to fly." The 92 people whose lives after the VUE are chronicled in the film all have names that begin with "FALL." As usual for Portland audiences, they took the film way too seriously at first, and I think they may have been a bit confused since the film really doesn't explain what the VUE was, it just describes the after-effects. It was not until the 7th biography, that of Lacer Fallacet, that they started to loosen up and just go with it. The effect of the VUE on Lacer Fallacet was a fascination with flying, so much so that she was continuously trying to teach her dogs how to fly by pushing them out airplanes. The public outcry against her actions brought only a fine of "three cronen for excercising a dog in a public place witout a lead." The film gets even sillier as it inroduces characters who drowned in cruise ship swimming pools, starts to dwell in the Theory of the Responsibility of Birds, and introduces FOX, the Society For Orintological Extermination to deal with the pesky birds. Luckily not all of the biographies are complete Such as number 35, Cole Fallbird: "Cole Fallbird's biography is sub judice pending trial for mis-condict with a minah."

The film is also interspersed with "Tulse Luper stories." As Greenaway puts it "Tulse Luper was an invention who couls speak preposterously and authoritatively about many things for which I would not get the blame." Tulse Luper is the pretentious filmmaker of "Vertical Features Remake" and he made some appearences in several of the other shorts as well. If you watch the rest of his films carefully you will find Tulse Luper in almost all of them. Anyway, I thought this is a good place to share my favorite Tulse Luper story, "The Cassowary."

"A jet aircraft on a cloudless night began its landing flight-pat twenty miles due east from the airport where it was due to land. For the first five miles of its descent, the noise from the jet's engines disturbed no-one. At the sixth mile, an orinthologist, birdwatching on a reservoir, was irritated by the jet-noise just enough to give the aircraft a quick glance. He turned into a swan. At the seventh mile a naturalist and his wife was the aircraft through net-curtains and were turned into crows. At the eighth mile, four children in a school dormitory saw the aircraft through a skylight and turned into herons. At the ninth mile, seven night-nurses in an old people's home saw the plane and turned into swallows. At the tenth mile, twenty-one members of eight families saw the plane and turned into gulls. By the ninteenth mile, twenty-four thousand, nine hundred and twenty-seven people in two towns, four villages and a camping-site had seen the plane. Most of them had turned into penguins.

"When the plane exploded on the air-strip, a cassowary with a purple beak stepped from the wreckage and checked himself into the VIP lounge."

The reason all the talk of Greenaway came up in the first place was my curiosity as to why The Baby of Macon never seemed to make it to the states. I guess I was prescient, since it seems to have just arrived in SF and Boston this week. That means it will get to PDX in about a year. I've heard unanimously terrible reviews of the film, even from die-hard fans, so I'm not stressing about missing it anymore. Plus I found out it has Ralph Fiennes and Julia Ormond in it, niether of whom can act their way out of a wet paper bag. I'm much more excited about his most recent film which just premiered in England, The Pillow Book, which stars Ewan McGregor from Shallow Grave. (Gotta love a scotsman named Ewan!) I assume this one will go the same way as The Baby of Macon, and it will be several years before I get to see it. Oh well. I'll just have to content myself with watching The Draughtman's Contract and A Zed and Two Naughts over and over again. And when I do I'll be sure to write about it.

Above quotes by Peter Greenaway are excerpted from "The Falls" and "Fear of Drowning" both published by Editions Dis-Voir, Paris.

Oblique strategy of today: "give way to your worst impulse"


March 17th, 1996

I spent the last two days in a dark room on an uncomfortable couch watching selected episodes of "Twin Peaks" and the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. I have seen the whole series about half a dozen times, and the film ten or twelve times, so this was not a new experience for me, but like so many of David Lynch's projects, it just keeps getting better. I think the best part of this particular experience was trying to explain to the rest of the crowd that was there exactly what happened in the episodes that we skipped. I won some chocolate donuts in the trivia challenge by being able to remember two of the three things that the Giant says to Cooper after he gets shot. ("The owls are not what they seem, there's a man in a smiling bag, without chemicals he points.") I came away from the experience with a greater respect for many of the actors involved in the show, especially Miguel Ferrer and Ray Wise. I had already been on a Miguel Ferrer kick all week, and his role as Albert, the hostile FBI forensic pathologist, is certainly my favorite. I really want him to play Albert as a crossover character on the X-Files. There are already enough connections between the two shows: David Duchovny, Michael J. Anderson and the guy who played Major Briggs have had appearences in both. In FWWM Ray Wise was brilliant as Leland Palmer. The subtle shifts in his expressions when he goes into and out of his Bob personality are truly amazing. Why is he still doing stupid Aaron Spelling shows? His talent is wasted. And he has a fantastic singing voice that makes me think he missed his calling as a lounge singer. "Oh, mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy, a kid'll eat ivy too, wouldn't you?"

Both nights that I was down at Reed watching "Twin Peaks" I had disturbing encounters with a large gray owl. The first night I was walking towards Old Dorm Block when the large bird of prey glided across the lawn towards me and landed on a tree branch right above my head. It just sat there staring at me for a few minutes, then flew off. The next night a similar thing happened farther down the path. Now, wildlife on the campus is not an unusual event. There is a wildlife preserve running through the center of campus full of beavers, racoons, possums, herons, ducks and the occassional kingfisher. I guess there is a need for a bird of prey since the rodents get a little out of hand. But after watching "Twin Peaks" and encounter with owls is bound to be a little spooky. "How big was the owl?" "Large enough to cloud my mind and memory."

Oblique strategy of the day: "WATER"


March 19th, 1996

In my research for the first Obscure Actor Pick of the Week, Brad Dourif, Jemiah and I rented Sonny Boy and Wise Blood. From the first few seconds of Sonny Boy it reminded me of an old Peter Fonda "sensitive western." The soundtrack was excruciating, the screenplay little better. The only reason to see the film (unless you are obsessed with Brad Dourif), is to see David Carradine in drag. Yes, that's right. As Jim put it: "Dave makes Patrick Swayze in Too Wong Foo look scrummy." Very bizarre film, but this time that is not a recommendation. The film also stars Paul Smith (The Beast Raban) and Conrad Janis (Mindy's dad on "Mork and Mindy"). It portrays a bloodthirsty group of thieves in the New Mexico desert bringing up a child to be an animalistic killing machine. Of course he's just misunderstood, and you have the classic scene with the posse of ignorant townsfolk chasing him down in the desert on dirtbikes and battered trucks (very Mad Max). Dourif's role as Weasel was sadly quite minor, and I don't think he really cared about the film at all. A big letdown.

Wise Blood, on the other hand, was a fantastic film, and Brad was the star. I give a hearty recommendation to this film. Directed by John Huston, based on the Flannery O'Conner novel and also starring Harry Dean Stanton. This film totally inflamed my passion for Brad; perhaps it was the slick blue suit and the big preacher's hat, most likely it was his brilliantly twitchy, obsessive and haunted performance. See my page on Brad Dourif for more ranting about his performance in Wise Blood. Again the soundtrack for this fim was terrible to the point of being distracting, but that is the only bad point that I could find with the film. For all you Ministry and Butthole Surfers fans out there: this film is the source of all the samples in the song "Jesus Built my Hotrod." "Nobody with a good car needs to be justitfied." "Nobody with a good car need to worry about nothin'." "Where you come from is gone. Where you thought you were going, weren't never there. And where you are ain't no good unless you can get away from it." I give this film two very enthusiastic thumbs up. Go out and rent it now.

Oblique Strategy of the day: "trust in the you of now"


March 20th, 1996

I saw King of the Hill the week it opened several years ago, and have been wanting to see it again ever since. Directed by Steven Soderberg (Kafka, The Underneath and sex, lies and videotape) this film was totally unappreciated when it came out and lasted only a week in the theatre here, despite excellent reviews in the local papers. In fact I seem to remember that I gave it a very good review in the Reed College Quest as well, but if I remeber right the film was gone before it even went to press. Thins film goes into one of may favourtite genres: smart kid left to fend for himself in a very difficult situation. The other films I love of this genre are The Empire of the Sun, starring Christian Bale (*swoon*) and The Black Stallion, which I love just as much now as I did when I was 10. King of the Hill is about a kid, Aaron (played by Jesse Bradford), whose parents are struck hard by the Depression and end up abandonning him while the father travels for work out of state. The most difficult part for Aaron is the social stigma he suffers at the hands of his schoolmates for being a "charity case." He makes up grandiose stories to cover up his parents' absence, but the lies all fall apart at his junior high graduation party. He locks himself in his hotel room to prevent the evil bellhop from locking him out, and survives on stale dinner rolls until his little brother arrives back home. At the height of his desperation he starts to eat cut-outs of food from magazines, perfectly arranged on his plate.

The supporting cast of this film is spectacular: Karen Allen as the sympathetic teacher, Spaulding Gray as the lecherous old man across the hall, and Adrien Brody as Lester, a street-wise hood who does all he can to help Aaron get through his troubles. As always with Soderberg, the production design is impeccable, with loving care given to the details of the period. The focus on the details is strictly from the kid's point of view: cigar bands, marbles and Converse All-Stars recieving very close attention from the camera. This film certainly deverves a lot more attention than it got when it first played in the theatres. I can only hope that it gets more respect in retrospect.

Oblique Startegy of the Day: "it is quite possible [after all]"


March 23rd, 1996

This was the third time I had seen ZOO: A Zed and Two Noughts, a wonderful early Peter Greenaway film, and I think I really understand it now. The primary theme of the film is dichotomy. Greenaway uses all the fundamental opposites as central images in the film: life/death, black/white, light/dark, beginning/end, real/fake. He sets each of the elements up as disparate at the beginning, but throughout the film the contrasting pieces move closer and closer together. On the surface the film is about two zoologist brothers whose wives are both killed in a freak car accident and their relationship with the surviving driver of the car. Both brothers (Oswald and Oscar Deuce) become fixated on the accident and console themselves with two women: the zebra-obsessed seamstress Venus de Milo, and amputee Alba Bewick, the survivor of the crash. When Alba becomes pregnant she declares them both the be the father, but she later rejects them in favor of her recently arrived "white knight" Phillipe Arc-en-Ciel. After a second amputation leaves Alba legless, she gives up her life knowing that her twins will be well cared for by her new family. The brothers, out of grief or for a sense of completeness, kill themselves at the estate where Alba was born. Everything comes full circle.

The film begins with a startling image of death, the accident. A large swan has crashed into the windshield of the car, causing the accident right in front of the zoo where the brothers work. The headline in the paper reads "Swan Crash Two Die." It is soon revealed by the policemen at the scene that the swan was female and carrying eggs, which were smashed on the hood of the car on impact. It is also soon revealed that one of the wives was pregnant at the time of her death. The beginnings and the ends of life are present in that very first scene. Oscar works at the zoo as an animal behaviorist, studying the lives and habits of the animals. Oswald studies the deaths of the animals, in particular the process of decomposition. After the funeral the brothers discuss the decomposition of their wives' bodies, caused by the bacteria that have always been present in the human body, which he traces back to the first kiss between Adam and Eve. The brothers watch a series of documentary films about the evolution of life in a vain attempt to "make sense of it." The films trace the progress of life, implying that if there is a beginning, and movement in one direction, then there must also be an end. Oswald studies decomposition through time-lapse photography, yet when we see the completed films there is much life evident in deaths of the animals, the movement of the insects is constant, and the crocodile even seems to breathe in the film. In his first encounter with Venus de Milo, Oscar covers his body in snails, saying that they are a "nice primitive life form." At the end of the film after the brothers have died, their bodies, and everything around them, have been covered in snails. At the end of life the brothers are surrounded by reminders of the beginning of life.

The black and white dichotomy abounds in the film. Where most directors would just use this idea visually, Greenaway uses it in every way he can. The owner of the zoo systematically eliminates all of the black and white animals from the zoo, until there are only the zebras left. The reason that is given is that he is colourblind. Seeing only in black and white his world exists only within that contrast, a world that he is trying to beak out of into a world of only shades of gray. He even goes as far as running over a dalmation dog, and in the final irony, he kills the dog on a zebra-crossing in the road. Venus de Milo is always seen dressed in a black suit, Alba Bewick in white. The one character that consistanly dresses in full colour is the female assistant of the evil Dr. Vandemeer, who is always in a flambouyant red outfit, but she reveals to Oscar and Alba's daughter, Beta, that she prefers black and white striped knickers. The completeness in Alba's life comes with the arrival of the legless Phillipe Arc-en-Ciel (french for rainbow). Although he always dresses in white, his name implies all the colours of the spectrum, which of course come from the difraction of white light. His presence to Alba promts her resolution to exclude dichotomy from her life (the twin Deuce brothers) and join with the man who is all in one.

Greenaway uses light and dark primarily in the scenes in the time-lapse photography studio where Oswald works. The room is on the whole dark, but lit up at certain points by the lights of the cameras. Each light flashes at a different frequency, and the pool of light is confined to the individual subjects. This leads to a very strange lighting effect that is unique and very distinctive. Later in the apartment that the brothers rent for Alba Bewick the lighting shifts in a similar fashion within the scene. The apartment has also become a studio for observing death, the brothers' death and Alba Bewick's. While Oscar is viewing the documentary film he is in a darkened theatre, and these scenes are generally filmed looking back towards the projector, with the very bright light in the centre of the shot, and the dark shadow of the viewer in sillouette. Oscar spends his time in the theatre cutting up hundreds of newspaper copies (black and white) of the article on the car accident, possibly in hopes that the exquisite corpse (a surrealist game of cutting up and reassmbling text) will make more sense to him than the straightforward report does. While the light tells the tale of the beginning of life, the dark figure of Oscar is de-composing (tee hee) the tale of end.

Whereas most of the dichotomies in the film begin to blur by the end, some of the real/fake distinctions become more apparent. It is reavealed that some of the less active animals at the zoo are actually stuffed fakes, including the panda (a black and white animal). In an attempt to maintain the deception the zookeepers place fake droppings in the cage every day. The adults in the film do not notice the deception, it is the innocent children who are more observant. The Dr. Vandemeer character we are told is the descendant of another who painted fake Vermeers. The doctor as well attempts to recreate the deception by dressing Alba up in a costume duplicated from one of the paintings and staging a scene similar to a famous Vermeer painting. At the end of the film the main characters are unable to tell whether or not Dr. Vandemeer and his assistant are even the same people as they met in the beginning. Vandemeer attempts to get alba to live a deception by fitting her for a prosthesis, which she refuses. At the scene of Alba's death the brothers debate whether she should be buried in a long or short coffin, after they decide on the truth (a short coffin) they give up the idea when confronted by Arc-en-Ciel. The brothers themselves have been living a partial lie themselves for most of their lives, but when Alba realises that they are not only brothers, but twins, they also reaveal to her that they were indeed born siamese twins. They attempt even to recreate their reality by asking Vandemeer to rejoin them surgically. They don't undergo the proceedure, but they do have Milo make them a suit that joins them in appearence. After their two attempts to reveal the truth to the world, they settle on two deceptions.

Most of the camera positions in the film are stationary and symetrical. In the hospital and in the apartment Alba is always in the center of the shot, and the two brothers are on either side. At the center of the foot of the beds there is a circle, a unifying element that is associated with Alba. The brothers, through their association with Alba, become more and more like each other, until Beta can no longer tell them apart. They are only distunguishable by what physical side they take, on the left or the right of the center element. After the accident one of Alba's legs is amputated, and she declares that the other is dying without its mate. "Symetry is everything" she declares to the brothers, a statement that applies not just to her physical body, but to her relationship with the brothers and even to the cinematography of the film.

The alphabet is another element of the film that comes full circle through the film. Beta is often shown playing an alphabet game with other characters where she names an animal that begins with successive letters of the alphabet from A at the beginning of the film to Z is for Zebra at the end. The name of the film begins with the end, the letter Zed. The two Os are symbolic of the brothers Oscar and Oswald, as well as being symonomous with the number 0. The two noughts (the brothers) added together, is equivalent to one nought, another indication that the brothers are one and the same. The sign for the zoo is the three letters ZOO, very large and blue. The are seen throughout the film, but in the final scene at the zoo, when Milo goes into the zebra enclosure they are seen from behind and are therefore backwards. The two Os are unaffected by the reversal, but the Z (a non-symetrical letter) should be backwards, instead it is normal. I think that this can be interpreted in two complimentary ways: the Z is backwards when the sign is viewed from the right direction, meaning that the alphabet is going back to the beginning only to begin again at A, or that the order of the letters has been reversed, and we are seeing the end and looking back to the beginning. In either interpretation we can assume completion and renewal.

Oblique Strategy of the day:"the tape is now the music"


March 26th, 1996

I must say this this was the least disappointing Academy Awards that I can remember. Almost all the people I was rooting for took home an Oscar. I'm still pissed that 12 Monkeys was passed over for an adapted screenplay nomination, but Emma took that one for her impeccably scripted Sense and Sensibility, so I can't complain. I was especially excited about the two awards that The Ususal Suspects won, Kevin Spacy certainly deserved the best supporting actor award, as the did the writers for that screenplay. The best supporting actor category was the one that could hold no disapointments for me, I really thought they were all fantastic. Perhaps if Rob Roy had been even vaugely watchable Tim Roth would have taken that one. Mel (fag-basher) Gibson took home too many for my preference, and the Scientologists were out in force, but that's really all that's bad that I can think of. The only one to bring up God was an italian, and I can forgive that. Susan Sarandon and Nick Cage were no surprise, they both certainly deserved it. Quentin Tarrantino can now be happy since he can't be an Oscar winner himself at least he's fucking one. No beer bottles were thrown at the tv, and most of the drinks in the awards show drinking game were awarded for shots of Scientologists. No over-abundance of ribbons, no excessively long speeches, and very few of Whoopie Goldberg's jokes fell flat. Let's just hope it goes this well in the future. Last night certainly renewed my slagging faith in the Hollywood establishment.

My friend Nelson, whose taste I trust, has always maintained as one of his favorite films the Richard Burton classic Equus. I used to just chalk this up to his unnatural affection for the star, but watching it last night I really began to understand the appeal of the film. This is a truly excellent film about the power and passion of the mind. The view of psychiatry that is espoused by the film is probably the healthiest I've seen since Ordinary People. It concentrates on the problem of psychiatry destroying the passion in the human soul, and how taking away that passion makes the individual flat and bland. Burton's character is tormented by this aspect of his profession, to the point that he is reluctant to treat a young boy who is brought to the hospital after he blinds six horses in a stable where he worked. The boy has built up a mythology in his mind, a secret religion centered around the spirit of horses. Burton's character does not try to debunk the boy's faith, as he recognises the validity of everyone's personal dieties. "Worship everything around you, and you will see more."

Oblique Strategy of the day: "use fewer notes"


May 12th, 1996

Okay, I have been exceptionally lame about writing reviews since I got my new job. So I'll just have to jumble together all the films I've seen in the last month into one entry. Here goes:

James and the Giant Peach
I had really been looking forward to the release of the film, and it was no disappointment. The one fault I can find with the film was the soundtrack, not that it was bad, it just wasn't Danny Elfman. The songs were cliché and trite, and the incidental music was boring standard Disney stuff. There were three fantastic Terry Gilliam moments in the film: the dream sequence at the beginning in Gilliam's Pythonesque cut-up style, the spinning planets and orbiting objects during the flight of the peach over the sea were a nice reference to Time Bandits, and the Red Knight-ish rhinoceros in the clouds. I put these references in the category of homage, not rip-offs (a distintion that I have been attempting to standardize for several years). Joanna Lumly was brilliant as the dried-up, severe and vain aunt. It's a shame she's not going to be playing Cruella DeVille, she would have been perfect. For once I was glad I went out of my way to see this film with digital sound. I rarely notice sound design, unless it is really spectacular, and here it was. I'll see this film again and again.

Mystery Science Theatre 3000: The Movie
I have been a long-standing fan of the show, and I went to see this film in the theatre mostly to show my support for Best Brains and Co. I did not walk away feeling like I had misspent my hard earned $3.25. It was fast, well written and up to their usual wittiness, but all in all it was not any better than some of their best episodes made for tv. The choice of This Island Earth was a good one in that it is a more watchable movie without Mike and the Bots than some of my favorites from the show (like Hercules against the Moon Men and Viking Women Vs. the Sea Serpent). It was, however, way too short, and I came away from the film wishing that they had put a short film in before the feature, something along the lines of Mr. B Natural or the Iowa State College Home Economics recruitment film. They maintained their tendancy to refer to past episodes without making it too obscure for first time viewers (like the obsession with waffles and the Manos: the Hands of Fate manipulator arm). The inside jokes were hysterically funny to those of us who got them, but did not seem entirely lost on the rest of the audience. I especailly liked the opening sequence, all of which was a skillfully contrived take-off on 2001, from Mike working out in a "weight-less" environment (Oh! Mike, those legs!!!) to the Katchaturian ballet as the incidental music (one that only die-hard 2001 freaks like me would appreciate). Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) seemed to really enjoy that the film was going to be PG-13, and he took advantage of the opportunity to say "shit" as often as he could. I am still trying to figure out where this one reference comes from (which tortures me dailiy): guy in film jumps out of bed and the response line is "Footaball practice!" as if the character had overslept. I know that this is from some '80s teen comedy, but for the life of me I can't remember which one. Help!

Time Bandits
I watched this one thinking I would have enough time to watch a bunch of films to do my Obscure Actor Pick of the Week on David Warner. Unfortunatly my schedule these days has not permitted me to watch the rest of the films, so it will have to wait. But I figured I might as well write this one up here first. As you could probably already tell, I really love Terry Gilliam's films (see my musings on 12 Monkeys) and can go on and on as to what makes him a superior director. One of my favorite things about Time Bandits is that he makes it a film that is interresting to kids as well as to adults. One of the ways he does this so successfully is in very subtle references to literary works and philosphical ideas. To an adult audience Baron Munchasen is an alegory of the conflict between Cartesian rationalism and subjective imagination. But to a child it still hold great merit as a fantastical adventure story. Time Bandits is in essence a tale of Good vs. Evil, a theme that is well understood by both children and adults, but underscoring that theme are diatribes against materialism, technology and ambitions of power. Gilliam writes these diatribes so subtly that they can be registered by a younger audience without making the film inaccessible. They are also not so blatant and manipulative that they detract from the entertainment value of the film to an older audeience (a fault that I find in most mainstream kid's movies, especially those spawned by Spielberg and Disney). Gilliam portrays the child's view of the world, whereas many other directors show an adult's view of the world through a nostalgic memory of childhood. Again I have to point out my opinion on why Gilliam's films are not as widely accepted in America as I think they should be: American audiences are so accustomed to being manipulated in their thinking that they cannot accept a film that does not force a certain point of view. There, I've said it, I'll go on.

Gilliam's rants against materialism, ambition and technology go hand in hand. The parents think of nothing except having better consumer goods than their neighbors. The "most fabulous object in the world" which Evil uses to tempt the adults is a kitchen full of shiny, chrome appliances. He sums it all up in a brilliant monologue delivered deliciously by David Warner's Ultimate Evil:

"I shall have understanding of digital watches. And soon I shall have understanding of video cassette recorders and car telephones. And when I have understanding of them I shall have understanding of computers. And when I have understanding of computers I will be the Supreme Being. God isn't interrested in technology. He knows nothing of the microchip or the silicon revolution. Look how he spends his time. Forty-three species of parrot. Nipples for men. Slug. He created slugs. They can't hear, they can't speak, they can't operate machinery. I mean, are we not in the hands of a lunatic? If I were creating a world I would have started with lasers, 8 o'clock, day 1."

The next film up here should be the long awaited new feature from Jim Jarmusch. I'll be twitching in anticipation all week.

Oblique Strategy of the Day: "a very small object [its centre]"


June 8th, 1996

I known that the next one was supposed to be Dead Man, and I did see it as soon as it came out, but I missed the first 15 minutes due to traffic problems, so I figured it wouldn't be fair to write it up until I had seen the whole thing. So, probably next week.

Nico/Icon
My dad happened to be in town during the short run of Nico/Icon at Cinema 21, so I figured since he was the one who introduced me to Nico by way of the Velvet Undergound, that I should take him to see it. I had a feeling that he had been feeling a little out of touch with the counter-culture, especially since for the last couple of years he had been working in the stifling coporate unvierses of U.S. West and AT&T. Plus his SO would never want go see a movie like that, so this was pretty much his only chance. All in all it was a very satisfying biographical documentary. With mountains of whimsical stock footage of her days with Warhol and the VU at the Factory, and surprising footage of her band in the 80s tooling around Europe playing to largly disinterrested audiences. Interviews with her family and friends gave depth to her rather ephemeral character. The structure of the film interspersed tales of her glamorous days as a european supermodel and her decidedly un-glamorous life as a depressive junkie. Her rejection of her physical beauty seemed to form the crux of her personality in her later years, and yet we are still presented with scenes of Nico painstakingly applying her make-up to a sunken and wasted face before going on stage. As a woman she presented a wealth of contradictions, and the film does a fantastic job of presenting all of the facets of the icon through the perspectives and observations of her many varied friends.

Richard III
When I first heard about this film I thought "oh boy, another tiresome british Shakespeare adaptation." Then I saw a couple of previews and thought "well, at least the production design looks good." Then I found out that it was not an adaptation, but a literal staging of the play set in the 1930's and thought "hmm, maybe I should go see it." After hearing rave reviews from a few friends (I've come to distrust media reviews) I went and saw it. And the production design was certainly good, and I hesitate to say it was the best part of the film. The costuming and location all present a tableau that is at first flambouyant and grandiose, but moves gradually thoughout the film into stark fascist colors and architecture. The reason I hesitate to say that the design of the film was the best part is that there are also some brilliant acting performances. Ian McKellan's twisted body perfectly mirrored Richard's demented and vicious character. A large percentage of his facial expression are centered around his mustache and how he could make it an almost vertical feature when he smirks. His physical performance is outstanding. All the everyday motions normally requiring two hands McKellan executes one-handed as if he had been a cripple his entire life. He even manages to bring a bit of levity to his depraved and manipulative character by using the asides to chuckle over his machinations with a humourous twinkle in his eye. The other noteworthy performances in the film are from the reservoir of well established and highly trained british Shakespeareans: Dame Maggie Smith, John Wood and Nigel Hawthorne. These actors could pull these roles off in their sleep, and here they do not disappoint. One to watch out for in the future is Adrian Dunbar, who plays Tyrell, Richard's young aid-de-camp. Maybe I'm just a sucker for middle-class english actors with big british noses (friends, you know to whom I refer), but I found Dunbar's screen presence to be quite magnetic. Sadly, not all the actors are brilliant, and it comes as no surprise that the two most disappointing ones are the americans: Annette Benning and Robert Downey Jr. They are both flat, uninteresting and hopelessly outclassed by their british collegues. The play was adapted for the screen bu McKellan and the director, Richard Loncraine. Lead actor/director collaborations like this can seldom go wrong, especially when they involve such talent as this.

Oblique Strategy of the day: "allow and easement [an easement is the abandonment of a stricture]"


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