Thursday, April 28, 2005

A few more...

I realize I'm not that good with this "it's a blog, it should be updated once a day!" business, but it feels like I've been very inactive the last few weeks. So here's a bunch of quick notes of things I've seen over the last few days:

Birth (Jonathan Glazer) - mixed+
Clinical, impersonal execution of a sort-of eerie premise that evolves mostly into a string of scenes seemingly hellbent on showing just how socially awkward things become when your dead husband returns as a ten-year-old boy. Harris Savides is da man though - his tracking shots, during the opening jog in the park in particular, are as mesmerizing as in Elephant, and I also enjoyed the sub-bass sound mixing and the Glass-imitating score.

Whisper of the Heart (Yoshifumi Kondo) - mixed+
Regardless how Ghiblilicious the animation is, the story never got to me and the hints of the fantastique frustratingly remained hints without exploring them as much as I wanted to - I like the admittedly lighter spin-off The Cat Returns better.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Sam Peckinpah) - pro+
Not without its problems, but picks up considerably in the second half, and it's only later that I realize why it's so great, apart from the usual Peckinpah blood & guts, thick-headed machismo and finality: the character of Benny feels so perfectly realized when it comes to conveying his dreams and ambitions and desperation, and the awesome Warren Oates lives and breathes that motherfucker like his life is on the line.

Cellular (David R. Ellis) - mixed+
Dumb fun, perfect companion piece to the inferior Phone Booth, also penned by Larry C; enough nonsense to keep it from pro, but it's damn close.

Silver City (John Sayles) - mixed-
Dangerously close to con; surely one of the sloppiest, overly talky, crude pics Sayles ever directed, yet there are glimpses of goodness in the acting and some of the scenes - the investigator's talk with the old mining engineer, for example, feels like vintage Sayles.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Elektrik Boogie

Elektra (Rob Bowman, 2005) - mixed-

Color me surprised. After the abysmal Daredevil, I can't claim I went after this seemingly pointless spin-off, featuring the love/bane of Daredevil's existence, the mysterious and cold-blooded hired assassin Elektra, with any high hopes. In the comic book, Elektra was a great supporting player, adding a sinister and dark edge to the dangers DD had to face, whether he was fighting for, with or against her. It's to Frank Miller's credit that he never allowed her to become an all-out good gal, but rather stay ambiguous and dangerous to everybody around her – and her death in the comic book is still somewhat of a trauma for me, after reading it for the first time when I was around nine or ten.

Would it kill ya to use the door?

As a main character however, Elektra never fully worked. The movie can't shake that feeling, but it does what it can with surprising efficiency, and what’s more important, without much of the cringe-inducing and ridiculous moments that were so prominent in Daredevil (and most other action films, for that matter). Never mind that the plot is standard chosen-one stuff, and is so thin that even at 88 minutes it feels pretty stretched out; at least the film chooses a style and sticks with it, rarely venturing into deep waters. I was impressed with many of the visuals too - the 'Tattoo' thug/ninja/demon guy was an especially inspired creation. Bottom line: decent Westernized ninja B-action – you don’t see that every day.

Monday, April 11, 2005

A Fistful of Seen Lately

My blog writes checks my creative output can't cash. That's why "a day or two" suddenly becomes 10 days. Anyway, here's a slew of opinions:

Be Cool (F. Gary Gray, 2005) - CON+
A reminder never to underestimate Hollywood's astonishing ability to turn out crap, especially of the disjointed, tone-deaf, out of touch with popular culture variety. Save for a few scenes featuring The Rock - who out-acts everybody but is criminally underused - it's a mess, filled with sloppy scenes that go nowhere, hideous phoned-in performances and a plethora of ugly product placement. It's lazy filmmaking at its worst - cool it ain't.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004) - PRO
Surely one of last year's best; a wonderfully imaginative and moving tale of revenge, forgiveness and underwater exploration. It's every bit as expertly cast and realized as Anderson's earlier efforts, and just as aesthetically honest and consistent. What really puzzles me, though, is the overall lukewarm reception of this the third of Anderson's forays into a world of boyhood dreams and flawed father figures, even by critics who loved Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums. It's baffling to me. He's making the same film all over again? His insanely detailed and precise universe has somehow self-imploded? What the hell are you talking about? It's called a style. If you don't like that style - fine. But don't sit there and whine about Wes - one of few directors working in Hollywood today with a distinct personal look and feel to their work - and say he's repeating himself, and then turn around and praise a yawn-fest like Melinda and Melinda as a "return to form" for the Woodster [I refer first and foremost to the reaction in Swedish press; Life Aquatic opened here last week].

Body Snatchers (Abel Ferrara, 1993) - mixed+
Cleverly lifts the plot from the small-town setting of Siegel's version and the San Francisco of Kaufman's, to an anonymous, near-deserted army base, which serves as an interesting ironic backdrop: the alien invaders are creating mindless conformists in an already uniformed environment. Ferrara makes the best of the film's obviously modest budget, playing it low-key most of the time, but the finale boasts some surprisingly excessive fireworks, and the fine alien make-up is impressive. However, for a film made in 1993, it looks more like something from the late 80's, with its bad hair and cheesy music. Script in part by Larry Cohen, and if not for Ferrara's name in the credits, one could have suspected Cohen directed it too.

Meet the Fockers (Jay Roach, 2004) - CON
A horrible exercise in awfulness, filled with such gut-wrenchingly embarrassing moments and truly moronic characters that you not only feel insulted by them, but violated, in the prison sense. Usually I think it's pretty redundant to even bring this kind of a silly Hollywood sequel any attention, let alone vitriol, but this is vile, crude cinema. The filmmakers are obviously evil heartless sadists who should be jailed. And I'm a masochist for spending nearly two hours watching the shit.

Chihwaseon (Im Kwon-taek, 2002) - mixed-
By-the-numbers biopic about apparently legendary 19th century Korean artist Ohwon; pic is pretty as a landscape painting, and most of the time just as boring. Choi Min-Sik of Oldboy fame is a charismatic lead, but the film's statements re The Arts and Life are banal and too absolute for my taste.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Going Places

I spent the entire Easter weekend in London, where I attended the wedding of a good old friend and his lovely lady. All in all it was a time well spent; the wedding was a success (nobody said ’no’, the sun was shining, happy days – although too many people were wearing really sloppy outfits, and the cake got wolfed down by a bunch of flown-in Americans before I even got to taste it; it was supposedly good), and the happy couple are now spending their honeymoon in Paris, in the very same apartment Bertolucci shot Last Tango in Paris (believe it or nuts!). The temperature in London was so pleasant that the cherry trees were blooming, shorts-wearing sports types played football in Hyde Park, and kids ate ice cream. I had both a couple of refreshing ales a day and a few tasty meals – including a nice midnight snack in Chinatown and my first ever visit to a legendary bagel joint on Brick Lane. And thanks to my crazy-person planning, which included bizarre print-outs of maps and journey planners in absurdum, the logistics went very well.

Needless to say, I was on a strict budget, and since my flight left Stansted at 7 in the morning on Tuesday after the weekend, I figured what the hell, and never booked a hotel room for that final night. Why spend €100 for a few lousy hours of restless sleep when you can stay out, clubbing and bar-hopping all night instead, and go straight to the airport in the wee hours? Quite. Of course, this meant I had to minimize my luggage – no small feat indeed. My small rucksack, in which I reluctantly stuffed my now worn suit and my extra pair of fancy shoes, along with everything else, was literally bursting at the seams. This also led to a strict no-shopping policy, since I basically couldn’t fit a thing in the bag – which is absolute murder when you’re in a place like London. No Blackmarket Records, no movie stores, no clothing stores, forget about books and posters and even magazines – but I did manage to squeeze in the smallest of goods: six coasters from wood designers extraordinaire Unto This Last, a thin book by Banksy, and two pairs of Paul Smith socks.

Tate Modern was having a big Joseph Beuys exhibit I really looked forward to, but demanded a hefty £8.50 for it, so I stuck with the regular (free) galleries instead, which suited me just fine. Similarly greedy, the National Gallery lured me into their lairs with promises of free admission, only to slap me in the face at the gates and inform me that the intriguing Caravaggio exhibit not only (1) would cost a lot of money but (2) was sold out for the day. ’Come back tomorrow’, the swine of a guard told me. ’Never’, I growled, used their men’s room, and left. I spent the afternoon in St. James Park instead. The evening ended on a good note, as I made my way into Bar Rumba, my favourite spot in SoHo for laid back clubbing. Mondays are That’s How It Is!, a legendary night out (now in its 11th year, I believe), originated by the Worldwide Don himself, Gilles Peterson. They recently changed resident DJs, so Gilles is not around as much as before, but it’s still all about the music. Without a doubt the friendliest club environment I’ve been in: hand-shakes, pats on backs and smiles all around. Pretty cheap to get in too, but the bar will rob you blind if you’re not careful. I stuck around for a couple of hours, before catching the night coach to Stansted, and arrived at home in Malmö before lunchtime. Pretty sweet, but although everything worked out as planned, I almost felt jetlagged there for a while.

My two feet are firmly on the ground, but I still haven’t landed yet, emotionally. The days continue to go up and down, as feelings of happiness, sorrow, joy, and grief come at me from all sides. As I’m writing this, it’s Saturday, and I’ve spent the last few days at my parents’ house. My grandma’s funeral was this Thursday, and I guess the less said about it, the better. Not for it’s execution: everything went well, it was a very nice little ceremony, but I’m just glad it’s over. Hopefully, we can all move on now, and almost as if to illustrate that life really goes on, my sister gave birth to a healthy, cuddly little baby girl last week, and she certainly helps us to focus on the more positive aspects of life. She is to be named Stella Rosa Majken, and I am one proud uncle.

I also happened to watch two movies during my stay in England. More about them, and a few others I’ve seen lately, in a day or two.