muckefuck: (zhongkui)
My cold really blossomed yesterday so I didn't expect I'd be able to keep my promise to accompany the GWO and Turtle to Eataly today. But after taking tea, my throat stopped hurting quite so much. She also drove us there and back, which made me far more amenable than I would otherwise have been. The zinc I've been taking gave a strange tang to the vegetable soup, but the skate wing sandwich was tasty enough, as was the chocolate-strewn focaccia I had afterwards. Turtle hadn't been there before, so we had the joy of showing her around.

Still, it wore me out enough that I slept away most of the afternoon. For dinner, we had some mushroom and black truffle ravioli del plin. Tomorrow it's my job to cook, and I dipped into my cookbooks trying to find something a bit different than the usual coques. To my surprise, we also got Tokyo Godfathers in the mail, which the Old Man watched with me. It was thoroughly enjoyable--sentimental at times, stuffed with unlikely coincidences, but with beautiful mise en scène, some genuinely surprising twists, and a Japanese reggae cover of "Ode to Joy" just to wrap things up.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I meant to use the weekend to catch up on some reading but I caught up more on films instead. For various reasons, there were three at the house, but I don't want to watch Winter's Bone until it's cold, so I sent it back. That left a Chinese film and a French-Canadian one, and I watched them in that order.

It's been so long since I dropped 桃姐 (English: A Simple Life) into my queue that I forgot it was a Hong Kong film. It took me until the end of the credits to figure out that they were speaking in Cantonese and even longer than that to figure out that this was an Andy Lau film. When I discovered Hong Kong film, Andy Lau was a god--or more precisely, a Heavenly King. We called him "Andy 'Not In The Face!' Lau" because his Cantopop heartthrob status meant that, even during the most vicious fight scenes, no one took at swing at his head. He wasn't as pretty as Leslie Wong, but then no one was, not even the starlets they paired him with. And he grew into his acting roles from a slightly stiff stand-and-model start.

Which is good, because the film rests on his shoulders as much as it does Deanie Ip. She's the focus character, an orphaned maid who's been with the same family her entire life. He was the last child she was allowed to spoil before the bulk of the family packed up and moved to California. Now middle-aged and still unmarried, he's the only one left for her to take care of in the cozy Kowloon apartment they share when he's not jetting away to Beijing or wherever on movie business.

Speaking of which, there's an early scene where he's in a contentious meeting with three other guys. Through the dialogue, it's revealed that one of them is a film director, another is an action director, and a third--the only Mandarin-speaker--is a financial backer of some sort. When the director pitches a fit and stalks off, someone calls after him, "Director Tsui!" It wasn't until that moment that I placed him as legendary director of the OUATIC series Tsui Hark. Then I took another look at the action director and placed him as fight choreographer and comic actor Sammo Hung.

That cosiness is one of the things I enjoyed about the Hong Kong cinema of the 90s. After all, the only reason I know what Tsui Hark looks like is because of his cameo in 雙龍會 (Twin Dragons), which also includes walk-ons from Ringo Lam and John Woo. And there's a callback to the in-jokes of that film in the very next scene, where it turns out that the argument in the conference room was all staged to extort more funds and Tsui compliments Lau's character by telling him, "You should've been an actor!"

So I was already in a nostalgic frame of mind, which made the film's themes of loss and forgetfulness all the more poignant. (Andy Lau hasn't had a chart-topping hit in more than fifteen years; after hears of chronic depression, Leslie Cheung killed himself in 2003.) Ip (the "Miss Peach" of the title) suffers a debilitating stroke and decides she wants to move into an nursing home before she becomes a burden to anyone. But Lau, left without any family in Hong Kong, becomes as devoted to her as any son. It's frankly sentimental, but that's not all bad, because (apart from discordant elements which recall some of the broader HK comedies) it works.

By contrast, I felt much less connected to the characters in Le Déclin de l'empire américain. They're all very full of themselves, in the way that only academics can be (The fact that they're all speaking French only makes it worse) and most are cheats or liars of one sort or another, even if they're only really lying to themselves. The drama turns on an incident of infidelity disclosed out of casual spite and at times the stereotyping (e.g. the nurturing homosexual addicted to dangerous sex) becomes a bit hard to take.

On the other hand, some of my best friends are intellectuals who are full of themselves and, at its best, Déclin reminds me of listening to their banter. At other times, it feels like a Canadian French Big Chill. (That's not a compliment.) Perversely, giving the viewing order, this functioned as a prequel to Les Invasions barbares for me, which probably made me less sympathetic going in. I'm not surprised that both films made the list of top Canadian films of all time, and I'm equally unsurprised that both have seen their position slip with time, to the point of dropping off altogether in the current version.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Poor [livejournal.com profile] monshu! Despite how tired I was after entertaining his family Tuesday night, I had every intention of joining up with them again the next evening in Wicker Park for fancy vegan food. Then Wicker Park became Norwood Park and the restaurant became dowdy old Amitabul, which I have strongly meh impressions of from the days when it was still located on Southport. Even at rush hour, the RTA trip planner couldn't find a route which took less than 65 minutes and the taxi fare estimator put the cost around $36. I was so eager not to disappoint anyone that I even checked Uber (which I consider the pimple on Satan's glans of transport companies), but then I came to my senses and begged off.

Of course, by then it was too late for forging alternative plans, so I decided instead to grab some pie to heat up at home while I cleared a title off my NetFlix queue. I try to screen them well, so it's a rare day indeed when I find one so unwatchable that I seriously consider giving up a half hour in, so either I was in a far worse mood than I thought I was or No Way To Treat A Lady is just a special kind of awful. George Segal isn't entirely charmless, but neither is there much apparent reason for Lee Remick to pursue him so single-mindedly. The real puzzle, however, is why too-clever-by-half serial killer Rod Steiger sees him as a worthy opponent for a game of cat-and-mouse when it's basically dumb luck that bears him along. I love Rod Steiger--clearly I must to stick with him as he eats every piece of scenery within arm's length. But he doesn't have enough charisma to save this shambles of a script. (Not surprised Goldman didn't put his name to it.)

But of all this, what had my hand hovering over the remote was the atrocious performance of Eileen Heckart as the most embarrassing caricature of a Jewish mother this side of the Borscht Belt. (In retrospect, the smart thing to do would've been to put on closed captioning and watch her scenes muted.) The whole thing is such a mess of stereotypes (ethnic and otherwise), from Irish cops and priests to mouthy dames and flaming queens, but none of it prepares you from an amazingly ill-conceived confrontation between Segal and a midget confessing to the crimes which is played for laughs only there aren't any--not even from sheer nervous confusion.

Still, I didn't regret my choice. I regretted it even less when the Old Man stumbled in at 11 p.m. with a tale of woe of waiting nearly two hours in the unseasonable coolness to catch a cab back from the burbs. The whole business wore him out to the point where he spent most of the next day sleeping. I'll make it up to him tomorrow by riding the rails out to the Blue Line terminus and plunging into the maelstrom of Comic-Com with him. Then it's a day of recovery before the clean-up day for the out-of-towners.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I may have managed to catch a summer cold. (One day after switching the AC on at home. Coincidence?) I only meant to take off half a day yesterday, but by the time I woke up from my nap it didn't seem worth going in. And since NetFlix had sent me Midnight Express, I thought I might as well spend the afternoon watching it.

Poor [livejournal.com profile] monshu got an earful at dinner when he asked me what I thought of it. To summarise what I ranted to him: technically accomplished, politically awful. I guess I'm just automatically supposed to identify with the protagonist because he's a good-looking middle-class White American guy like me? Never mind that he was actually guilty of the crime he was convicted of and only started out with a reduced sentence due to his family's money and pull. Yeah, the conditions inside the prison were terrible. But know what? They're every bit as terrible for the rest of the people in there. But (except for Randy Quaid, whose sad fate is also supposed to pain us though he brings most of it on himself) they're not Americans, so fuck 'em.

Honestly, any bit of sympathy I had for Hayes is extinguished halfway through by his grandstanding speech in the dock where he goes way beyond lamenting the fact that the Turks unaccountably aren't willing to give him special treatment and personally insults every one of them in the most brutal and vicious terms. And the director has the judge look abashed by this? I'd be like, "Fuck your slowly rotting living corpse."

What makes it even worse is the historical perspective that the movie was released just as the USA launched its "War on Drugs" in earnest. We all know how that turned out: sky-high incarceration rates, overcrowded prisons with conditions eventually ruled "cruel and inhumane", the decimation of inner-city communities, etc. It all makes his self-righteous speech about "justice" ring very hollow.

Ironically, those developments helped inform the script: In the featurette, Oliver Stone goes on about how the Turks were just a stand-in for oppressive authority in general. How convenient! Why take on your peers at home when you can demonise a whole country of brown people on the other side of the world who aren't in a position to put up much resistance? And since this is a Stone script, as a bonus we get the consensual homosexual relationship in Hayes' original memoir downgraded to a "thanks but no thanks" and a completely gratuitous (not to mention ludicrous) climactic male-rape-cum-revenge scene.

I'm glad I watched the "making-of", since hearing how Puttnam and Parker had to fight the studio to keep in even the hint of homoromance at least took some of the bad taste out of my mouth. The details of production, from the grueling shoot in Malta to the struggles with casting and the dramatic reversals of Cannes, were interesting to. But mostly, I'm just glad I can cross it off my list--and sad to see the late Paul L. Smith in another thankless part that probably contributed more than the rest to his relentless typecasting.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Anyone remember when cubanos became the new food asshole thing? I recall Dale complaining some years ago now about trendy redesigns which change the original formula (ham, roast pork, pickle, mustard, soft white roll) in ways that really demand renaming. For the longest time, I only remember seeing them in ethnic eateries like La Única or Cafecito but I was in two upscale cafes on Sunday and each had its own version.

By an odd coincidence, I'd just watched Favreau's Chef the night before to unwind from a hard day's shopping. If you haven't seen it, he plays a bigtime chef who loses his job and decides to open a food truck which sells cuban sandwiches. To explain the choice, he's given a Cuban wife (played by Colombian-born Sofía Vergara, whose costeño accent is fortuitously close to Cuban) and roots in Miami.

ObLing: Can I just take a moment to register the total implausibility of someone who got his start in the restaurant trade in Miami of all places not knowing a word of Spanish? Honestly, this is like being a computer programmer in Germany who doesn't speak any English. Giving him a Spanish-speaking wife is just insulting, and actively decreases my sympathy for the character. (What kind of asshole doesn't learn the language of 90+% of his workforce, two-thirds of the population of his hometown, and his own wife?)

It's a sweet film and easily one of the most food-porny I've ever seen. The father-son scenes are truly affecting; by the end of the second act, I was tearing up and pledging to call my father to suggest we take a trip together. I was also wondering what kind of resolution the director was going for. The answer, unfortunately, is an egregiously implausible feelgood one. Which is both too bad and--in hindsight--something I should've seen coming.

It starts with the soundtrack, which is stuffed with the most obvious choices imaginable. We want a Latin vibe? Let's open with "I Like It Like That" and close with "Oye Como Va". We have Perico Hernández playing Favreau's father-in-law? Let's have him do "La Quimbumba". We're coming up on LA? "West Coast Poplock". Same with the food and locales. We're in New Orleans? Well, then, let's park on Bourbon Street, have beignets at Café du Monde, and naturally a jazz funeral will come marching through on cue.

What saves the film for me are the scenes between Favreau and Emjay Anthony (a ten year-old playing ten for a change) which are well-scripted, touchingly acted, and devoid of cloyingness. I feel like they soft-pedaled the rigours of kitchen work on a child (although thankfully they didn't ignore them completely). It's the absurd final reel which gives the whole thing the taste of a middle-aged man's fantasy (Spoiler alert! He ends up with the woman of his dreams doing what he's always dreamt of doing) as it spreads a thick layer of irony all over the hero's outspoken dedication to offering challenging cuisine rather than smothering comfort.

The food scenes are incredible, though. I would watch it again just for those. Favreau does his own cooking in his scenes, which is pretty impressive, given that I naturally assumed he had stunt hands for his knifework. Celebrity chefs (such as Roy Choi, who was co-producer and oversaw all the cooking, and Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue in Austin) guest star but take second-billing to their products. (Honestly, I was expecting the brisket and the lechón to appear in the cast credits.)

Needless to say, it all left me hungry for some good food. My Sunday game session was around the corner from Growling Rabbit on Sheridan and I was naturally tempted by the cubano on their menu. But I wanted to save up my binge credits for dinner that night with an old friend of [livejournal.com profile] monshu's so I went for the "sorta vegan" skillet instead. The vegetables were cooked well enough, but the eggs were badly overdone and the seasoning was terrible--lots of black pepper and tasteless herb confetti.

When I saw the Cuban again on the menu for Uncommon Ground, I declared it fate. The GWO's friend also gallantly offered to split it with me in return for half his fried green tomatoes to lessen the impact of all those injurious purines. I'll say this: unlike some of the meals I've had there, this one was perfectly fine. But the sandwich wasn't pressed and the pork was surprisingly dry, making for a less-than-satisfying experience for this food asshole.
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Apr. 17th, 2015 10:40 pm

Ratso!

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Today was a slug day. My excuse was that I was at work until 1 a.m. last night, but I still could've pulled off at least a half day. Instead, I slept in, watched an MST3K episode, and did one or two chores around the house, telling myself I'd make up for my idleness tomorrow. I also read the last couple chapters in The informer and watched Midnight cowboy, which I'd never seen before. It holds up well. Kind of amazing to think that it got an X rating back in the day, simply for suggesting that there was a homosexual relationship between the leads. But then it was released all of a month before Stonewall.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
My NetFlix discs arrived with blinding speed. Like if I hadn't been out all yesterday evening (and into the night) gallivanting about, I would've been able to watch the first episode of Jack Taylor. I'm glad I chose to gallivant, because it was shite. Almost none of the changes from the book made any sense to me. Like of course you knew the main character would be less of an asshole than he is in the novels, but what's with making the rocker chick singer into a garda...who's a blues singer on the side? Really? And was there like an EU grant for shoehorning Kosovo into the plot? Because Jesus God.

All in all, I would've been better off just reading the next novel in the series, which I got for cheap used along Elie Wiesel and something called Losing my Espanish by Herman Carrillo. There was much more I wanted to buy but I kept swatting my hand every time I reached for something by yet another White guy (particularly another dead White guy). Unfortunately, that's almost all there was in the foreign-language section. It's particularly annoying to find newer authors I'd love to read more of (like Jelinek or Barbery) in translation but not in the original. But that's what potluck nets you.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I was somewhat ambivalent about my annual visit to the Irish-American Heritage Center on Saturday and then, when I felt a twinge of gout, I decided the last thing I needed was to drink a lot of beer. So I gave it a miss and tried to get some things done at home instead. Things like making Irish soda bread and reading a murder mystery set in Galway. This was supposed to culminate in me writing an entry about my doings complete in Irish, but I just ran out of steam before that happened.

Partly it's because I decided to catch up on my NetFlix viewing so I could send the discs back and get me something Irishy for tomorrow. I've had Royal Flash and Coup de torchon at home since before [livejournal.com profile] monshu's surgery. I thought the former would be a delightful romp that we could enjoy sometime when we really needed a break from it all, but neither he nor my mother ever had any desire to watch it. It's amusing enough, but one can kinda see why it was never picked up as "a series like James Bond", as the producers were hoping for. For me the most outstanding thing it had going for it was Oliver Reed as Bismarck; every time he came on screen, my eyes would lock on him until I sorta forgot there was movie going on in the background. Alan Bates was great fun, and the early cameo from St Bob was simply gravy.

Coup de torchon is an odder duck in almost every way. It's based on a novel by Jim Thompson about a bumbling small-town sheriff with a hidden sadistic streak, but in order to keep the racial elements Tavernier had to translate the action to French West Africa. Clearly, the budget was small, which contributes to the vagueness of the setting. The principles are in period costume, but the extras just seem to be wearing their ordinary garb as if that hadn't changed at all in fifty years. There are old cars and advertisements around, but this is a colonial backwater so that's all inconclusive. As a result, I wasn't sure what decade we were in and what "the war" was that was being talked about until Germany gets mentioned three-quarters of the way through.

From the plot summary, I had pictured something rather different: a punching bag who gets pushed too far and finally snaps, à la Joe or Falling Down. But even after he starts killing, he preserves his inoffensive veneer, dropping it strategically to terrorise individuals or win their complicity while everyone else continues to take him for a fool. The results of that are even more disturbing. Overall, a good study of the corrosive effects of being a low-level enforcer in a corrupt system (and as timely now in the age of Ferguson as ever).

Ken Bruen's The guards covers some of the same ground but in a less serious way. Soon as the book arrived and I saw home much dialogue there was, I knew it would be a quick read, which is why I decided to take a break from my other reading and tackle it Saturday evening. I ended up reading the whole novel in less than three hours with only a couple breaks, which is the first time I can remember doing that in simply ages. It's the first in a series and I may stick with it to see how Bruen deals with the instability of having a murderous alcoholic as an ongoing protagonist.

As usual, Sunday was chores day. It was also the warmest day of the year so far (save today) and I decided to take advantage of it by strolling over to the former Safeminick's on Ridge. A friend of ours had related to us how it'd bought by one of the Hispanic minichains which didn't seem to know what to do with all the space. There solution seems to have been to fill it with every kind of crazy ethnic goods they can find. So it's the kind of place which has five brands of sugar wafers, only one of which is American and it's not Nabisco, while at the same time carrying only one brand of hummus. But if you want one-stop shopping for frozen idli, canned ackee, grass jelly drink, and Belarusian "wellness mayonnaise", then this is your store.

Unfortunately, I misunderstood the Old Man when he gave me a list of ingredients for dinner. Since he'd started cooking again the previous week, I thought we was offering to fix it himself when it turns out he was only "making suggestions" on what he could "help me out" with. This sparked an ugly fight at quarter to six when I discovered he was expecting me to do all the actual cooking. I'm so anxious to return to our old routine, I keep forgetting that it's something we should be renegotiating constantly in light of [livejournal.com profile] monshu's recovery rather than making any assumptions about. His making quiche tonight as a peace offering. Maybe that can be a stepping stone to getting this all worked out.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
The city I grew up in had but one art cinema. Happily, it happened to be located close to where I lived. I have vivid memories of inviting several friends to see a Mike Leigh film there for my 18th birthday and having to "translate" much of the Cockney dialogue for one of them. But I remember the movies I didn't almost as well as the ones I did. When I got a circular, I would read through the synopsis of every single film even though, at best, I saw maybe one in twenty.

One which particularly lodged in my brain was Tenue de soirée ("Evening dress"; shown here under the title "Menage"), a little French film starring the then-unknown-to-me actor Gérard Depardieu. I wasn't out to myself yet, but I was moving in that direction, and the homo romance at the centre of it intrigued me. The description I remember is too detailed to have come from a single-paragraph blurb, so I must've read a review of it in the local paper as well.

It's hard to imagine what kind of effect the movie would've had on me had I actually seen it. It would've been my first full frontal nudity, my first simulated gay sex. Depardieu's Bob might've become fantasy fuel in the same way as Rod Steiger's Komarovsky. (I saw Doctor Zhivago for the first time the year after.) I certainly would've imbibed some bizarre ideas about gay relationships while having almost every stereotype of French artsiness and lubricity completely confirmed.

Seeing it nearly thirty years later is a markedly different experience. Titillating, not groundbreaking. I'm jaded enough to note how little the sex scenes show rather than how much. The rampant misogyny and rapey notions of what constitutes romance and seduction simply make me shake my head. Et je comprends en fait un peu du français. Modest though its charms, I have to admit that I had no idea where it was going and my interest in finding out never wavered.

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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Last month, when I was casting about for movies to NetFlix, I tossed on couple of the better-looking dramas concerning Henry VIII and his wives. Then, a few days back, when I was feeling in need of some inspiration for the final push on Wolf Hall, I pushed Anne of the Thousand Days to the top of the queue. A sumptuous Technicolor costume drama starring Geneviève Bujold and Richard Burton? How could I go wrong!

I couldn't. Burton may have hated the film, but I loved him in it. Even when he was being hateful. Yeah, the acting can be a bit declamatory at times, but some of the dialogue is bracingly lewd and entertaining and the scenes with Bujold are touching. Her Anne is more sympathetic than Mantel's version without being as insufferably virtuous as Donizetti's heroine.

In fact, I was taken aback by how wanton she's portrayed in the opening sequence, where she admits to not being a virgin while propositioning Percy. And even moreso that, despite that, she's allowed to be the model of fidelity in her marriage to Henry afterwards. The film is an interesting collision of both the end of the Hayes Code and the twilight of the traditional costume drama, so everyone's wearing amazing embroidery while talking freely about adultery and incest.

Among the supporting cast, Torontonian John Colicos (a familiar face from the bad tv of my childhood) stands out as the oily lawyer Cromwell, as do Anthony Quayle as Wolsey and Irene Papas as Katherine. I'm sure errors of fact are legion (even with my rough understanding of the timeline, I caught some hiccoughs in the chronology) but there are worse ways to spend a couple hours on a cold winter's evening.
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Nov. 10th, 2014 12:44 pm

Du rififi

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Yesterday's feature presentation was Rififi. As I suspected, it's suffered a bit from decades of imitation. One of the blurbs from the trailer called the suspense during the half-hour heist sequence "almost unbearable". Believe me, it's quite bearable--to the point of near boredom, some might say. For me, the tension only really ratchets up when the whole thing begins to unravel.

For me, the history of the picture was as interesting as the story on screen, if not moreso. For instance, I was tickled to find that the surname of the author of the original novel, Le Breton, is a nickname of the sort carried by several of the protagonists. But whereas Le Breton was actually born in Brittany, the actor playing "le Suédois" is Austrian, "le Stéphanois" is from Belgium rather than the south of France, and--to top it all--Césare "le Milanais" is played by the director himself, who despite bearing the uber-Gallic name of "Jules Dassin" is a native of Connecticut.

In the accompanying interview, Dassin tells an anecdote about how Le Breton pulled a gun on him when asking him of the screenplay "Where is my book?" Apparently the source material is considerably more lurid and Dassin focused on the heist in order to cut a lot of it out. What's interesting to me is that despite this, he keeps in an amount of violence toward women that is shocking to modern sensibilities. Early on, a woman is beaten with a leather strap--by the protagonist. Sure, he's an anti-hero, but how many directors today would bank on the audience summoning up the least sympathy for a character like that today?

It's amazing how good the cinematography is given the small budget. There's a panorama of crumbling low-rise buildings in what looks like Montmartre that I'd love to have framed. Amusingly, I recognised a locale from the slide cataloging project we just finished up. There was an image of a barricade on the Rue Castiglione during the Siege of Paris with a view looking north to the Place Vendôme; the jeweler's they rob in the film is located north of the plaza on the Rue de la Paix in what even today is a high-end shopping street.

Dassin stated that the argot in the novel was so impenetrable he had to ask the producer to come over and read the book to him. The name rififi itself is a slang alteration of rif "combat zone" from an earlier colloquialism for "fire", a word unfamiliar enough to a Francophone audience that the theme song contains an explanation of the meaning (along with more disturbing references to partner abuse). Otherwise, the slang seems to mostly of a very common sort, e.g. words like gosse and mec that they even teach in French class nowadays.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Pit Stop did have some elements I liked. For starters, most gay films end when the married guy comes out. Here that's already happened and instead we get a look at what happens when the lovers don't ride off into the sunset but the responsible one sticks around to give his child a stable home. We also don't see the accident that put someone into a coma, and we don't see them miraculously come out of it either. A less-than-accepting relative doesn't get lectured or undergo a sudden change of heart.

What it didn't have, however, was a satisfying arc. It feels unfinished, like there was at least another ten minutes of movie they forgot to film somehow. The central romance, if you can call it that, feels idealised and arbitrary and there's no sense of how it changes the characters whose backstories have been exposited so leisurely. So it all ends up feeling rather slack. I also joked to [livejournal.com profile] monshu that it could just as well have been called Awkward conversations with poor lighting. But that's true of any indie mumblecore film, gay or straight, isn't it?

Given the sketchy plot, I'm not sure how much better calibre actors would've helped. It goes to show that there's more to making a good gay movie than simply steering clear of all the clichés which make so many bad gay films bad.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Burn After Reading was a disappointment. It was an extremely well-crafted film with fabulous actors do a terrific job. But after it was over, I couldn't think of any way in which I was better off for having seen it. At heart it was dumb people doing dumb things. A number of details tested my suspension of disbelief and the fact that it made no real attempt to satirise the security state at a time when it feels more out of control than ever struck me as a massive missed opportunity.

I had some of the same feels after finishing Tomato Red. It suffered from being read right on the heels of The death of Sweet Mister, with its gut punch of an ending. But at least it was in a milieu that I find near enough to home to relate well to but distant enough to be intriguing. Before heading down to St Louis for my cousin's wedding, I found myself trying to decide between starting another Woodrell and reading a Fontane novel. Finally I asked myself which would have have more resonance given who I would be spending my time with over the weekend and the answer became obvious. They may be Missourians, but my mother's people are more similar to bourgeois Berliners than Ozark lowlifes. Class trumps culture.

So I shelved The maid's version for the time being and started on Irrungen, Wirrungen instead. After only a few chapters, I found myself wondering if I could find an English translation to gift my sister with. Nothing at Subterranean in the Loop, but that's hardly surprising given that Fontane isn't very cool and hasn't been for generations. (More surprising was their lack of Woodrell; I was hoping to pick up his volume of short stories.) I keep fretting that there's not enough witty banter to hold her interest, but I think maybe I'm guilty of selling her short.

I certainly did on the whole matter of Ferguson, but that's a post for another time. I'm glad we had a chance to talk it out, I only wish it hadn't ended up being the evening of the rehearsal dinner. Between that and the alcohol, I didn't drop off until after 1 a.m. Still, I avoided the chronic lack of sleep that tends to characterise my holiday visits (although I did still end up with a minor cold). Not coincidentally, I didn't play any games--something AWI mentioned as a regret (though we did spend some quality time working on the same jigsaw puzzle).

Overall, it was one of my most successful visits home ever, marred only by a frustrating day of departure. Naturally Dad was noncommittal about whether he wanted to have me to himself for dinner before the theatre on Sunday, but afterwards he asked, "What time are you heading back?" Which was a good as saying, "I didn't get enough." So I agreed to a "breakfast" that ended up consuming most of a morning I'd rather have spent on low-key interaction with my sister. Oh well; as I told her on the drive to the airport, one of these days he'll be gone and I'll be glad I made those sorts of choices.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
It's hard to explain why I enjoyed Eyes Wide Open (עיניים פקוחות) so much more than Free Fall (Freier Fall) when they essentially tell the same story. I think the key is the degree of sympathy I have for the protagonist. In that review, I noted the permissiveness of society as throwing the selfishness of the father's actions into starker relief. Coming out would mean the end of his marriage, but not the lose of parental rights or contact with his family, plus he and his lover would be able to set up housekeeping together with little to no difficulty. The father in Eyes Wide Open, being a Hasidic Jew, has none of those options.

Another factor is the novelty of the milieu. I don't know much about Hasidim and the parallels between them and conservative religious communities I have had some experience with (e.g. ultra-Catholics) are approximate. Still, it's enough for me to understand how he's able to rationalise his (ultimately self-centred) choice as, of all things, an act of mercy, a mitzvah even. The differences, however, are fascinating. It's an austere lifestyle, but there's also a degree of spiritual joy unlike anything I ever say in Catholicism.

It's also better in all the small ways that count: better acting, better direction, better music, better mise-en-scène, etc.--though I still have to wonder why, in this day in age, it apparently isn't possible to film realistic daytime rain. Both movies contain downpour scenes which feature direct sunlight falling in the foreground, and I doubt that was a conscious choice. Also, the one aspect of the Israeli film which felt less-than-lived-in was the conspicuous and often convenient absence of customers at the butcher shop where most of the action takes place (although this could be at least partially attributed to the fact that it was only recently reopened and is only gradually winning a clientele).

It's still a familiar story, of course, but one which I suppose hasn't lost its power to move me and probably won't for as long as I know that there are still no shortage of communities in this world where openly loving people of the same sex means complete ostracism--or worse.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Given how many times I've been burned by gay dramas, I had misgivings about Freier Fall. But it came highly recommended from [livejournal.com profile] nashobabear and I was hungry for some German practice, so I put it on the queue. Ugh; if I'd wanted a German movie about coming out in the police force, I'd've been better off rewatching Echte Kerle.

Why are we still making this same damn film in 2013? "Married guy has torrid gay affair, feels conflicted" just isn't enough to hang a film plot on anymore--certainly not in a country which has legally-recognised same-sex marriage. To make it worse, the protagonist is a selfish lying bastard, who never apologises for his shitty actions, only offering to tell the truth after he's exhausted all other options. There are some feeble thrusts at making it seem like some of those hostile to him are motivated by homophobia, but make his fuck buddy female and it wouldn't alter the righteousness of their reactions one iota. And, of course, the possibility that he's simply an unethical bisexual is never entertained for a moment.

On top of that, damn, but it was turgid. Not a touch of humour in the whole damn thing. (And don't try to tell me that Germans can't do comedy; they just lack practice is all.) Instead a lot of bleak sequences scored with portentous synths as we plod from one hackneyed plot point to another. (Will there be a scene in a gay club where, to the accompaniment of really bad techno, a desperate need to forget his pain drives him into a futile attempt to have meaningless sex with a pickup? You bet!) It's like a trip back in time to the bad old days where misery was the lot of all homosexuals. I'm honestly surprised that all of the featured fags lived to the end.

Oh well. At least the previews spotlit a film (Pit stop) which looks like it might actually feature gay men who are well-rounded characters facing interesting dilemmas. Probably another disappointment in the making, but I'm choosing to live in hope.
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Jul. 27th, 2014 10:18 pm

Wrecked

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I watched Wreck-It Ralph tonight and enjoyed the hell out of it. I made only a token effort to get the Old Man to watch it with me, because I'm sure he has exactly zero warm feelies for any video arcade game. My moments of squee! included the first appearance of Q-bert and cameo by Beard Papa. (I think I may have actually yelled "Beard Papa!" at the screen.) It's probably for the best the Japanese girl group who sing the theme were some act I'd never heard of; has it been Shonen Knife, I would've shrieked like a little chiisai gyaru.

Even back in the 80s I was never a big video gamer, so a lot of the references passed me by--I couldn't've named any of the villains at the bad guy group and I wouldn't've picked up on the resemblance of Sugar Rush to Mario Kart if I hadn't just watched my nephew play that over vacation. Part of me wanted to watch the whole movie again just to have a chance to catch some of the more clever details. Oh, and given that the main characters were clearly modelled on the voice actors, I was surprised to discover Ralph was voiced by John C. Reilly rather than Mark Ruffalo.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Yesterday's evening film was Rabbit-proof fence, based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by the daughter of Molly Craig, an Aboriginal woman who, as an adolescent, walked 2400 km back home from a government settlement near Perth--twice. It's an incredible achievement given that the route took her (and the girls she led--a sister and a cousin on the first journey, one of her daughters on the second) through some of the most inhospitable parts of the Western Australian desert.

So it's a shame to see director Phillip Noyce turn that amazing story into a morality tale for schoolchildren. (Literally: the film was used in classrooms throughout Australia to educate pupils on the legacy of the Stolen Generations.) Chief Protector of Aborigines in the Western Territory A.O. Neville comes off particularly badly. Although he seems to have had some racist views about assimilation of "half-castes", the worst statements ascribed to him in the film seem to originated with his counterpart for the Northern Territory, Dr Cecil Cook.

It's hard to say for sure, though, because in trying to research the background to the film, I found myself suddenly immersed in Australia's own answer to the Historikerstreit. But in contrast to Craig's own account, Noyce has idealised the girls' life before removal and represented the removal itself as more violent and brutal than it actually was. Contemporaneous documents reveal concern that they were at risk of sexual exploitation in their home settlement, but the only depiction we see of this involves a mature woman who was removed in the same way and ultimately placed as a domestic in a White household.

Whether the film is accurate or not, it's undeniably effective--and terrific to look at thanks to Christopher Doyle's cinematography and the stark beauty of the Western Desert. There's also a sad life-imitates-art irony concerning lead actress Everlyn Sampi. She ran away during filming and again from a boarding school where she was placed--wait for it--by director Noyce, who was concerned about her lack of prospects and vulnerability to sexual exploitation.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I tried to call my older brother for his birthday but I only got my brother-in-law and my sister (fresh from the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville) instead. In preparation I'd even watched La planète sauvage, a trippy French/Czech animated film from 1973. (Actually, they'd begun work on it in 1967 but due to the turbulence of the times and disputes with the animation workshop it took a lot of doing to get a finished print released.) Not sure how my brother came across it, but he wanted to compare impressions.

The surreal imagery, stately pace, and somewhat disjointed plot (according to one of the producers in the making-of featurette, four sequences are missing) leave ample room for personal interpretations. At first I tried to read it as a straightforward political allegory, but I got more out of it when I tried to view it as a meditation on the nature of the creative process itself. It all feels very 60s and very very French. No wonder it won the Grand Prix at Cannes.

The DVD was badly organised, but I eventually found the Special Features. There was an earlier collaboration between the same artist and director about an attack of giant snails from the French countryside and a music video which seemed to be of more recent vintage inspired by the main feature but not directly related to it. I got the most out of the interviews with director René Laloux, a disheveled Santa bear and diehard Marxist. He actually got his start doing art therapy at a psychiatric clinic in Loir-et-Cher, which led to creating animated shorts incorporating the patients' own artwork.

I'm kind of at a loss about what to watch next. Apparently Laloux went to to create a film together with Mœbius, but as per usual, it's not available on NetFlix. As I was complaining to [livejournal.com profile] monshu the other night, nothing ever makes the jump from "Saved (Availability unknown)" to the queue. It really functions more as as a reminder to me of cool foreign films I've heard about that someday, when the politics of film distribution finally catch up to the technology of it, I might actually be able to order from somebody.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I queued Galaxy Quest knowing only that it was a decently-reviewed Star Trek parody that might appeal to both me and the Old Man and having but the vaguest notion of the plot (aliens contact the cast of a cult scifi show thinking they're real and ask them to help out). About twenty minutes in, I said to myself, Oh God, this is another white saviour film. I had to shut down that thought altogether to keep watching. Thirty minutes in, I was struck by the near absence of female actors (the IMDb entry notes that the Alien Love Interest role was beefed up "after the producers noticed Sigourney Weaver was the only female main character"), and in order not to let that bother me I had to tell myself this was a conscious choice to reflect the sexism of the original source material.

So after walling off a good part of my critical brain, I managed to find it an amusing diversion (at least until the disc began skipping and I nearly threw something at the TV). There were cute touches, more fanboy injokes than I had any chance of ever getting, and a clutch of character actors I enjoy seeing. Chief among these is Enrico Colantoni (i.e. Veronica Mars' dad) whose performance as the leader of the alien race was about ten times better than it needed to be. I couldn't figure out why no one but him seemed to have the Thermians' melodically nonhuman intonation down pat, then I found out that he invented it himself.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
At Nuphy's suggestion, I queued Le temps qui reste from François Ozon. I didn't expect the GWO to watch it with me. "It's French," I reminded him. "What if you get bored?" "Then I'll go do something else." He didn't, but he didn't care for it either. I wasn't sure if I did myself until he opened his mouth to criticise it and I said, "I don't want to hear you didn't like it." Sometimes I feel like he doesn't really grok cinema--which is, of course, totally fine. But I'm just not used to that from someone who has such a consummate appreciation for literature, so it confuses and annoys me.

He made Swiss steak for dinner, which tasted like it did when I was a kid, only good. After the film, I called my sister to wish her a happy birthday. She was at a convention for boardgame geeks and having a whale of a time. I wasn't sure if our mother had given her my gift or not, so I kept her on the phone while I awkwardly felt her out about that. I guess she'll get the surprise on Sunday. Our stepmom is also in town, but she's solo babysitting, so it sounds like we won't see her before she leaves on Sunday.
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