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:
Friday, November 14, 2003
A few films

This is basically my first work-free weekend in 4 months; most of last week I spent writing a long piece about Peter Lorre's shadow in popular culture (for a book to published on his 100th anniversary): As much-needed contrast I mostly spent the late hours with dubious Asian films and a few recent fave-actor releases that finally arrived here - on DVD (though the worst of 'em, Spun will actually be released in cinemas next month).

Dead or Alive 2 (Miike Takashi, 2000)
I'm still mixed on Miike, this one gives ample proof why. Most of it is spent in vacuous parody mode; Sonatine being the model after a moderately outlandish, solid Miike start, but aped without grace. In the middle there are ten minutes, however, that are the most outrageous thing Miike has ever directed and it would be worth sitting through Ghandi to see them. The resident hiding yakuzas (the DOA trilogy's eternal antagonists, Riki Takeuchi and Sho Aikawa, the latter sporting Hawaii shirts to his bleached hair) partake (don't ask) in a lunatic bit of anarchic theater for children; meanwhile there's anultra-bloody massacre by a rival gang. (Now crosscut.) By the time the, uh, funny "lion" pulls out a dilletante prop-made penis - much to the amusement of the older ladies in the audience -, a gangster has gotten round to raping the corpse of the woman he just put a few bullets through (she was unwise enough to fuck her boyfriend during his assassination). Etc. Shortly afterwards the two leads grow angel wings, as they've decided to use the money they earn through hit jobs to foster African orphans. Oh, well

Willard (Glen Morgan, 2003)
Or Crispin Hellion Glover - The Movie (it might have performed better if they had actually distributed it under the title). Which means, if you're, like I am and every sane person should be, of the opinion that there is far too little Crispin on cinema screens, recent Charlie surge notwithstanding, you may concur that this is the most splendid Hollywood entertainment of the year. It's a bit too slick (refreshingly controlled, but unoriginal visual style), though it does show much of the sadistic ingeniousness of Final Destination, which Morgan co-developed, and is played for queasy laughs, wich is probably the only way to make it work with Grispin. The rats may be CGI mostly, but so is Middle Earth, so why should it bother anyone? Witty in its nasty bits (the scene scored to The Jackson Five's "Ben" a particular highlight, and I especially enjoyed Jackie Burroughs - as CHG's frighetningly deranged mother - inquiring about his stool as well as Lee Ermey's trademark utilization of marinecorps training routines to devise an evil capitalist stock part of mock-epic proportions), but mostly it's the rollercoaster of watching Crispin the role he was born to play - call it his Rebel Without a Cause if you will.

The Good Thief (Neil Jordan, 2002)
Nothing more than a tastefully done, well-built old-school crime film (the unnecessary freeze-frames distract and the female lead is underwritten cliche, but that's about it); probably so satisfying mainly because that has become such a rare thing these days. Wise enough to invent itself anew in substantial parts instead of just clumsily transposing, it is one of the few remakes of classics that is not insulting (cf. also McBrides Breathless, Franjus Judex), replacing the existential philsophy of Melville with comfortable bickering, some well-done tongue-in-cheek bluffing and other assorted time-proven entertainments. Nolte perfect for the role, obviously.

Spun (Jonas Akerlund, 2002)
The first twelve minutes were like Von Trier's i<>Idiots reconceived as MTV-Soap, so I'd almost turned it off, if I hadn't caught a few glimpses of Mickey Rourke phoning in. Turns out I was right; some of the embarassment-indulging performances here do make the boredom a bit less grueling. Probably it's just the relish with which Rourke (whose face has become almost recognizable again by now) delivers the pussy monlogue that makes him run away with the picture, even if it - like everything else here - is lifted from someplace else and barely glued together, if at all, and certainly not with ideas. See also under Thirteen in "how to make risque topics ripe for the mainstream" and embarrasingly blunt "look-ma, here I am"-attention-grabbing.

Narc (Joe Carnahan, 2002)
Was afraid that this would go in the same direction for a short while, but is thankfully saved by sticking to 70s-cop routines, fleshing out the characters, investigation pieces and the conflict between the leads, though its exactly the displays of flashiness that subtract considerably from the grittiness it strains for. Turns into a mostly decent potboiler about a battle of the wills, with Jason Patric (surprisingly) and Ray Liotta (obviously, and obviously, enjoaybly sinking his teeth into this attempt at Oscar-baiting) providing enough acting chops to keep the interest afloat. Must see-DVD Bouns: a ten-minute interview with director William Friedkin, who asserts that this film "will stand the test of time", seems to deplore that cops of Narc would be charged for their actions nowadays, while the French Connection officers would have possibly gotten a medal, and compares Liotta's perf to that of Orson Welles in Touch of Evil: "Very reminiscent, but also very original."

The Spy in Black (Michael Powell, 1939)
We're doing a Pressburger/Powell retro at the cinematheque and I've caught up with all their films (and some interesting Powell-only work) save the last, Ill Met By Moonlight; theirs was certainly the most continually amazing and influental partnership in the history of cinema. This was the last film I saw, but their first collaboration (it would take a few films till they shared all credits), a fine-tuned thriller set in World War I that already employs one of their ingeniously perverse twists (they would make what may be their greatest film, 49th Parallel, on a similar basis): Conradt Veidt plays the hero, a German U-boat-captain spying in Scotland and plotting to sink a significant bulk of British destroyers. Released two or three weeks before the beginning of WWII, it turned out to be an enourmous success. (P&P made a quasi-update with their next film, the somehow similar, very entertaining and visually dazzling - then again, what isn't in their ouevre? - Veidt vehicle Contraband set during the WWII blackout, but this one is even tighter, better, more intense.) Not really Hitchcockian, but there are a few similarities (even in their peculiar variations on British humor), and Powell clearly loves doing a few silent references, what with that amazing shot of Veidt disguised with big hat and cape aboard a vessel.

Red to Kill (Billy Tang, 1994)
For the opening, a stalker scene culminating in rape and killing is intercut with a desperate mother's suicide leap (tugging her child along). That's what exploitation's for: This notorious Category III thriller by "Bloody" Billy Tang wastes little time on thought or taste, using every apalling possibility in sight to dare its audience (it reminded me of Irreversible in a way, but it's not patronizing, more fundamentally demeted) while milking pathos and uncomfortable (as well as really badly staged) comedy from its HK-only premise: A mentally retarded woman is institutionalized after her father's death; turns out the hospital is not only the home of the opening's serial-killer, but also of many cringe-inducing scenes involving handicapped people and synthie-sleaze. To cut to the chase: being a singularly nasty piece of its genre, Red to Kill soon unveils that it's none other but the hospital doctor who has suffers seriously from a traumatic incident in his childhood, involving domestic struggle, a red dress, some clumsy footwork and butcher knife. Seeing red, as he does for instance on the heroine's body, unleashes his madness (he also doesn't like being hit with an electric iron, as we find out in the gory finale), so he rapes her, after which she uses a rather sharp instrument not only her pubic hair, but also through it. Legal matters prove ineffectual (obligatory set-up drawn into derision), and it's balls to the wall, almost literally, in the ensuing showdown which features a new definition of overacting: Frances Ng turns huge, really. Tang doesn't quite hold up the necessary intensity for all the blatant conceits to work: there are Argento-like flashes of visionary stylization, but next to them may well be a beer-commercial-like product placement. Still, if you (know who you are) want to accept its rather peculiar terms, it may well mean acknowledging that Red to Kill is one of the best films ever made about raping retards. My favorite bit: Ng pulls the two broken halves of a fluorescent light tube out of his chest and breaks one on the back of his now-shaved head as he screams. Very Angy.