Suzuki’s Pistol Opera

We’ve discussed Youth of the Beast elsewhere and also over there, and from what I’ve read that’s the film where Seijun Suzuki blasted out of the action genre expected by his studio bosses and into some hyperstylized visual poetry assonant but not consonant with a tough-guy crime thriller. Or, put plainly, it has all the markings of a crime movie but feels like a species entirely alien.

And his films got stranger from there. I just watched the fairly-recent Pistol Opera which seems wholly unconcerned with narrative coherence, instead riffing on gorgeous, gorgeous, silly and stark images. To call this a crime film will steer people wrong; instead, imagine a pop-art reiteration of everything a crime movie might have, including quasi-professional assassin guilds, rivalries between top-ranked killers, and lots of tough-guy and tough-dame patter. It’s glorious to watch, even though I couldn’t pretend to know how one would “make sense” of the film.


‘Brothers’ is a Danish film, directed by Suzanne Bier, that was apparently some kind of hit at Sundance. It is very good, though frequently painful to watch, and it is that pain that makes the movie so powerful. The setup is pretty simple. There is Michael, the good brother, who is a soldier and a good husband and parent, and Jannik, the bad brother, who is a fuck up, released from prison as the movie begins. Michael goes with Danish/NATO forces to Afghanistan, and on his first day there, the helicopter he is in is blown out of the sky, and everyone believes, and his family is told, that he is dead. In fact (and this is no spoiler because the movie is quick to tell us), he survives and is kept captive by some Afghan military group. Meanwhile, Jannik rapidly shapes up as he helps Michael’s wife, Sarah, and kids get over their grief, and he becomes dependable and perhaps a little in love with Sarah. Michael is forced to commit an atrocity, and then is rescued. But when he returns home, his rage, guilt and bitterness overwhelm him and he spirals downhill. Thus, a little too neatly, the good and the bad brother trade places.

Despite the too-pat storyline, this is a beautifully acted and subtle portrait of a family torn apart and trying to put pull itself together. All the leads are excellent, and Connie Nielsen, as Sarah, is astounding. She manages grief at the same time as she knows she has to protect her two young daughters from the pain of losing their father. The camera lingers on her face (which is, after all, incredibly beautiful) and a whole range of different emotions will pass across it in the space of a few seconds. Almost all the scenes are interiors, mostly of pretty cramped houses, and Suzanne Bier gets to use low lighting and shadows to accentuate the way the emotions register on the faces of her characters. Enjoyable would be the wrong word, but this is well worth seeing.

netflix friends

in the very early days of the blog i asked:

more later. by the way, i am intrigued by netflix’s new “friends” feature–even if it unkindly says “you have no friends” when i click the tab now. anyone interested in linking to each other’s rental queues?

mike and i are netflix friends (which he has somewhat pathetically had inscribed on his business card, and listed in his cv). embarassingly for me, we agree on 90% of our film ratings; embarassingly for him, i can see that he has the entire emanuelle and ernest series in his queues. anyone else on netflix who wants to open themselves up in this way? if so, click on this.

Heading South (Vers Le Sud)

This is a film by Laurent Cantet who directed the superb ‘Time Out’ and the not bad ‘Human Resources’, both films about the alienation of work and the struggles and personal demons that follow. ‘Heading South’, by contrast is about sex tourism. Set in the late 1970s in Haiti, the film depicts a group of middle-aged white women who stay at a small hotel in Haiti in order to surround themselves and have sex with young Haitian men. In fact they are little more than boys. There is a mock documentary style as every so often, one of the lead characters speaks straight to the camera and tells his or her back story. And the whole film takes place against the backdrop of grinding poverty and the Duvalier dictatorship.

It is about sex tourism, but the use of power for sex pervades the entire film from the opening scene when a Haitian mother tries to give her 15 year old daughter to an older Haitian man at the airport, to depictions of the Haitian power elite forcing young girls to become their mistresses. The ability of middle class white women (one is a college professor at Wellesley, another works in a warehouse in Montreal) to buy sex with gifts, food and pocket money is just the most direct example of the relatively powerful using their power for sex.
Continue reading Heading South (Vers Le Sud)

classic horror films

none of them are scary. at least last house on the left, which we watched a week or so ago, and night of the living dead, which i watched last night, are not. last house is horrifying, however, in a way that living dead is not. perhaps these films were scarier to audiences in the late 60s/early 70s but now they read more like material for sociology theses. in craven’s film the flower-power kids get it from the working class, and the bourgeois parents turn into monsters to get revenge (while the law bumbles around outside). (sunhee remarked on the resemblance/difference to lady venegeance in terms of the parents’ revenge.) in romero’s film the dead rise up as a result of government science gone awry, and a black man has to survive not only the “ghouls” but also the white survivors.

[spoilers follow]
Continue reading classic horror films

The Hidden Blade

Just a few words of praise for this samurai movie. It takes place at end of the samurai era, when infantry and rifles are replacing swords, and the code and culture of the samurai. It is above all else a quiet, contemplative movie, with almost no action, as the lead, played by Masatoshi Nagase, tries to chart a personal route as all around him changes. The male acting is superb (the female lead is given a pretty thankless role), the pacing manages to be relaxed without feeling like it drags, the scenery is wonderful, and the entire movie seems fresh despite the fact that every samurai movie is ultimately about the conflict between traditional codes (imagined in a utopian fashion) and the challenges of modernity. Political intrigue swirls around the movie, but it never loses its focus as the story of one man trying to do the right thing (in love and in politics). Highly recommended.

Crispin Glover’s What Is It?

Crispin Glover has been working on What Is It? for close to ten years now. I’ve been reading about it, and waiting to see it for as long as that. He finally brought the film (literally; he travels with it and attends every screening) to Los Angeles for three showings, which I eagerly attended.

I enjoyed some of it, and I admired more of it, but unfortunately, I really can’t say it was worth the wait. If for no other reason, it has kept Glover so busy that he has only appeared in a handful of movies in the past ten years. When he does show up, he’s not always in quality fare. For example, the remake of Willard might have been good, and Gloverhimself really is quite good in it, but it’s never more than a B-Movie. He has been one of my favorite performers since I can remember, and I’d love to see him get roles in smart, interesting oddball films, like River’s Edge and Reuben & Ed. Instead, his trip in getting What Is It? made has been epic on many levels: It started as a short film, he worked hard to get funding to make it into a feature film, he lost all faith in what he calls the “corporate methods of film-making and distribution,” and financed it himself. He did this mostly with money from appearing in Charlie’s Angels, while most of the film sat in a vault in NY and promises in post-production made to him were broken one after the other. He ended up editing it mostly himself, with help from volunteers, and for the past year he’s travelled from city to city showing it, finally ending up back home in LA last week Continue reading Crispin Glover’s What Is It?

inland empire

well, there’s a new david lynch film out. unfortunately, it is self-distributed and unlikely to come anywhere near me, and so i’m probably going to have to wait for it to come to dvd next summer. the slate review says it is ultimately more maddening and opaque than rewarding but it sounds enticing anyway, even at three hours:

Inland Empire is inland, all right—it travels so deep into its creator’s brain that the rest of us poor saps are stranded there without a map, like the kids in The Blair Witch Project. But Lynch’s brain is a fascinating place to get lost in, full of red velvet curtains, vague foreboding, Polish prostitutes, and giant bunnies (more on those later).

mmmmm giant bunnies. did anyone here ever become a paying member of lynch’s website and watch those rabbit films? are they available on dvd anywhere?

Peter Boyle

I had a few moments in between final exams to check out the headlines, and there is more sad news for fans of the films of the seventies. I knew Altman was ill, but I did not know that Boyle was ill as well. I don’t have much to say but I do think that Boyle (like Hackman, Nicholson, Duvall, et al.) belonged to a unique generation of American actors. I’m struck, now thinking about it, how many of the great leading male actors were just plain, well…plain. Not terribly ugly, but certainly not dashingly handsome. More important, though, is that Boyle was a gifted character actor. And he raised (for me, anyway) the status of the character actor. Or maybe he was a product of his time. Perhaps, during the late sixties and early seventies, the art of acting was changing anyway, and that actors were encouraged to seek out and play characters (like “The Wizard” in Taxi Driver), rather than become a movie star. In a lot of the films from the seventies, even the leading roles (like Joe) seem like characters, real characters. Anyway, I don’t have much more to say beyond this. Everybody loves Peter.