2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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The Blog:
Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Short Takes

I’ve been on a relative tear lately, I haven’t watched this many films on DVD (or TCM) for quite a while; basically, my DVD player has been used to watch TV series, but no longer. Plus, the Cinematheque is starting up it’s summer film series this week, with the annual screenings of African films (I’m really looking forward to the Algerian film Chronicle of the Years of Embers) and a retrospective of films by the Czech director Vera Chytilov? (I’ll be missing the first two films of her retro, since I’ll be helping a friend move on Friday). So, I have some quick reviews on some films I’ve seen lately.

Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary (d. Guy Maddin)

One of the best ballet movies that I’ve seen (which is a very short list, but this film is probably second only to The Red Shoes), and one of the more faithful adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novella (I loved how Maddin dispensed with the entirety of Harker’s story in about a minute of montage; speaking of montage, it’s unfortunate that this screening was not preceded by Maddin’s Heart of the World). After watching the film, I was wondering who the virgin of the title referred to: the repressed, puritanical Victorian males (including the surreptitiously petticoat sniffing Van Helsing) or the sexually frustrated women (basically, I’m leaning towards the women)? Either way, the Maddin’s mannerist, silent, B&W images (well not strictly B&W, since there is are also sepia tones and color tints, and what looks like color painted onto the image) and florid melodrama creates a rather dreamlike atmosphere, while the addition of ballet adds an extra layer of sensuality to an already erotic story. The casting of Zhang Wei-Qiang, which probably has more to do with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, is still fortuitous; Dracula is the ultimate sexual Other (also replacing an Eastern European with a Chinese man allows Maddin to maintain the racial Other dynamic from the novella, something that Maddin clearly exploits, an example being the beginning of the film, as the oil-like blood seeps across the map of Europe, and the hysterical intertitles basically scream out “THE EAST!”; also, I have to give credit to Roger Ebert who noticed the change in Lucy’s surname, from the Westenra to Westerna). Zhang’s Dracula is photographed much more clearly, and is more charismatic, in my mind, his performance is modeled upon that of silent matinee idol Sessue Hayakawa (see The Cheat).

Full Time Killer (d. Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai)

A very solid HK action-thriller with a meta-narrative twist (also with a debt to Wong Kar-wai, with the multiple voice-over narration from different character’s perspectives), though it’s clearly not as good as some of the other recent Milky Way Productions that I have seen lately (such as The Mission, or the Patrick Yau directed The Longest Nite and Expect the Unexpected). I liked the contrast between the cold-blooded, efficient Ono (Takashi Sorimachi) and the flamboyant, often quite funny Tok (Andrew Lau). If I had to pick an individual set-piece for both, I would pick Ono’s confident stride through the train station, cooly executing an old schoolfriend from long range, while for Tok I would pick his escape into the subway tunnels in Malaysia (that was an impressive shot, when Tok presses his body against the tunnel wall, as a train roars by, even if this was done by SFX). Taiwanese actress Kelly Lin was quite sexy and strong as the wallflower Shin, who craves excitement and danger. The final showdown in the fireworks factory, all based on Ono and Tok’s favorite video game was well-done, and I liked the scoring to Beethoven. A very satisfying example of the genre.

Pillow Talk (d. Michael Gordon)

I’ve been wanting to see this film since I saw Down With Love, so I was happy that it was on TCM Sunday. I can see the genesis of many of the modern film’s jokes, though Pillow Talk is very tame in comparison. Pillow Talk is still fairly funny (ironically so, when Rock Hudson implies that the alter-ego he’s created for his romantic subterfuge is gay). Tony Randall steals the show from both Doris Day and Rock Hudson, and always great Thelma Ritter makes the most out of her underwritten alcoholic role (she’s a funny drunk).

Days of Being Wild (d. Wong Kar-Wai)

Well, my local video store has stocked up on the regionless DVDs (when I was returning my DVDs today, I noticed that they already had DVDs of Hero available for rental), which is a great boon to me. Now I can finally watch the two Wong Kar-wai films that I have yet to see, As Tears Go By and Days of Being Wild, I chose Days of Being Wild, which lead to an unintentional Andy Lau double-feature. Less stylistically baroque than Wong Kar-wai’s later films, it still shows Wong’s characteristic themes of time, memory, and romantic longing. The late (it’s kind of weird saying that) is Leslie Cheung, a rootless womanizer, who repeatedly compares himself to a bird without legs, that only lands on the ground when it dies. Most of the film concentrates on Cheung’s relationship with two women, a quiet ticket-teller played by Maggie Cheung and a brassy nightclub dancer played by Carina Lau, both of whose love for Leslie Cheung is not exactly returned, especially after the women begin to pressure Cheung to settle down (Jacky Cheung rounds out the cast as Leslie Cheung’s best friend, who pines for Carina Lau’s character). Andy Lau plays a cop who befriends the heartbroken Maggie Cheung on a rainy night, and falls for her. One day, Leslie Cheung’s ex-prostitute adoptive mother tells him she is leaving for the USA, and tells him about his birth mother, a woman in the Philippines. He travels to the Philippines to find his mother, and is unsuccessful, and returns to his rootless existence, where he meets up with Andy Lau, who is now a sailor. With Lau as a witness, Leslie Cheung continues his self-destructive streak, getting into a bar fight which ultimately turns fatal, dying on a train (it reminded me of the ending of Dilip Kumar’s version of Devdas, another rootless wanderer on a train to nowhere). Days of Being Wild is filled with the characteristic touches of Wong’s romantic melancholia. One of the most beautiful motifs is Wong’s usage of a phone booth, which charts the false-start of Maggie Cheung-Andy Lau’s relationship (Wong wrings sadness out of a man waiting for a phone call which he knows will never come, and later in the film, when the phone rings). A beautiful film that demands another viewing; maybe it will dislodge Chungking Express or In the Mood for Love as my favorite Wong Kar-wai.

DOA (d. Rudolph Maté)

I’ve been taping a lot of B-movies off of TCM lately (watching Joseph H. Lewis’s Terror in a Texas Town tomorrow), and this is the first one I’ve watched. I vaguely remember the Dennis Quaid-Meg Ryan remake, but I never have seen the original 1950 film (all the local video copies are ancient). Edmund O’Brien plays a man who investigates his own fatal poisoning; the movie takes the form of flashback, as O’Brien narrates his own story to the police. Probably one of the ultimate examples of postwar cynicism, O’Brien finds himself a dead man because he was effectively at the wrong place at the wrong time, and finds that through some kind of cosmic joke, he’s been intertwined in two criminal conspiracies. DOA generates a lot of tension out of it’s premise (O’Brien’s literally is running out of time), as well as the structure, once it gets going, it keeps going, the pace of scenes and dialogue accelerating as O’Brien nears his (and the stories) conclusion. Maté is not exactly subtle, but he’s effective (after O’Brien learns of his impending death, he runs away stopping in front of newsstand, which happens to have a row of Life magazines prominently displayed on the right side of the screen, distraught, he watches a couple embrace, as well as a little girl and her mother; O’Brien quickly realizes the mistake of his life, holding back on his relationship to his secretary, Paula). The feverish close-ups that Maté uses is evocative of his work as cinematographer on Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.