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, April 20, 2004

Short Takes

I go through phases where sometimes I do not watch any actual movies on DVD for a long, long time. Perhaps motivated by the rapidly declining number of television shows that I regularly watch, I find myself entering a new, more active viewing phase. I even joined the DVD rental service GreenCine last week. I got my first three DVDs over the weekend (plus, I managed to watch one of my favorites films, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, though I so realized that I need to upgrade from VHS to DVD on that one):

Flesh + Blood (d. Paul Verhoeven 1985) - The recently released "Director’s Cut" of Paul Verhoeven's first American film (well actually, an American/European co-production) was the first DVD I watched. I'd call it a transitional work or something like that, but I've managed to have never seen any of Verhoeven's Dutch work, despite my love for his Hollywood output. It's a very bizarre movie to have originated from a Hollywood studio in the 1980s: dark, brutal, grim, completely full of unsympathetic characters, or, as Verhoeven puts it himself in the audio commentary, an "apocalyptic" movie (though I can not hope to replicate the unique way he pronounces the word with his thick Dutch accent). Set in war-torn, early 16th century Europe, Flesh + Blood is centered around a love-triangle of sorts.

Rutger Hauer plays a mercenary named Martin, who after being betrayed and banished by an oily aristocrat named Arnolfini, leads a group of fellow mercenaries and camp followers in a pseudo-religious mission of killing, whoring, drinking, plundering, and vengeance. Vengeance is taken in the form of an ambush, which results in the kidnapping of the Agnes, the virginal fiancee of Arnolfini’s intellectual son Steven. Agnes, played by a youthful Jennifer Jason Leigh, is the ultimate survivor; after being captured by Martin's band, she literally throws herself at Martin, despite have been raped by him, manipulating him sexually into giving her protection and a more privileged position within the group, all the while encouraging the pursuing Steven, whose initial idealism and disgust for his father's actions is quickly discarded in favor of abusive, aristocratic privilege. Hmm, which ambiguous character to support, the psychopathic, rapist anti-hero? The charming, yet manipulative noblewoman, who ironically has feelings for both men, but puts herself above all? Or perhaps, the aristocratic prig? Yeah, that's a tough one.

Shot in Spain, with appropriately earthy photography by DP Jan de Bont, Verhoeven creates a violent, plague-ridden world on the precipice between the past and modernity (one major point of contrast between the characters is that Martin is motivated by a sort of misplaced religious fervor, though he more or less uses it to manipulate the rest of his merry band, whereas Steven is a scientist and rationalist who admires Da Vinci; other examples include the usage of guns versus swords; supernatural beliefs, especially medicinal, versus newer Arab knowledge; biological warfare, etc.). It's clearly not among the best Verhoeven film out there, but it was very interesting, at times outrageously cynical, setting the stage for the extreme nudity and violence of his later work (I personally enjoyed the Greed-inspired love scene between Steven and Agnes set under the rotting corpses of some hung men). It's a rather unique worldview, something that was much needed in American films of the time (I also found it interesting, that despite all the flack that Verhoeven got for Basic Instinct, the most sympathetic characters in the entire film are a gay couple).

By the way, while doing my laundry and listening to the audio commentary, replete with philosophical, religious, and historical references, I was wondering if the success of The Passion of the Christ would encourage the greenlighting of Verhoeven's own films about Jesus Christ or the Crusades. Now that would be an interesting Jesus film.

Black Mail Is My Life (d. Kinji Fukasaku, 1968) - Basically got this film because I'm a big fan of Fukasaku's Battle Royale, though this film, a dark, but rather jazzy, criminal thriller obsessed with memory (here represented by multiple flashbacks, voice-over narration, and still photomontages), is very different. Shun, the leader of an enterprising troupe of criminals, stages elaborate blackmailing schemes, gaining him both wealth and women, that is, until he tries to blackmail a highly-placed political boss, which leads to death and disaster. I guess the characters being defeated by an all powerful political regime is the common thread between Battle Royale and Black Mail is My Life (though the film created in the 1960s is much less hopeful). What I really liked about the film, and films like this, is the way that Fukasaku took the camera out onto the streets, capturing many shots of everyday Japanese urban life, much like their 60s New Wave counterparts in various European and Asian countries.

Barbarella (d. Roger Vadim, 1968) - Hmm, this campy sci-fi, where to start...Hmmm...Jane Fonda (complete with the Brigitte Bardot inspired hair) is really, really, really hot....uh, its weird....i liked the spaceships shag interior. Yeah, that’s about it. No, not really, actually it was kind of enjoyable, more as a late 60s time capsule than anything. Though, every time they said "Duran Duran" the song "Rio" popped into my head.

Also, besides Kill Bill Vol. 2, I also saw the documentary My Architect: A Son's Journey on Sunday afternoon (basically I had to run there after The Umbrellas of Cherbourg). I really liked it, despite the fact that I didn't know much more about architect Louis Kahn after watching the documentary then I did going into it; but that was kind of the point. It's kind of like Citizen Kane, everyone had rather positive things to say about Kahn (they made great allowances for this artistic genius, because sometimes he actually sounded more like a bastard), but nobody really knew him, just like his neglected son Nathaniel, whose quest to get to know his long deceased father is the motivation for the documentaries creation. Though he really doesn't learn anything concrete about his father, he does manage to visit all of his father's creations. Those sequences of the film, as the camera lingers on Kahn's monumentally beautiful achievements, were the best parts of the film. Makes me want to visit them myself and just wander around, because, as one Bangladeshi architect puts it, ten minutes captured on film is just not enough.

Well, my wrists are really sore today, and Scrubs and The Shield are on in short order, so I'm signing off for now. Talk to you guys later (waiting for Touch of Zen to arrive in the mail later this week).