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Dark Phoenix

We must fight back!!!
I see other reviewers pissed by those Hollywood hacks that have no remorse taking arguably the greatest X-men saga and selling it without any effing endeavor in matters of taste, plot, intrigue, new visuals or whatever! How many times have we seen the same formula repeated? The Infinity Gauntlet, Phoenix and Secret Wars (maybe it is next!) sagas were high points in my adolescence - two of them have been turned into crap - but I want to be absolutely clear: my fury is because we deserve something better; otherwise they are just sucking our blood - why would they have chosen those stories were it not that they are canonical? They have spoken to millions of people and are turning points in the art of mass comics - they are indeed classics, and they dare sell it back to me with Jane Grey's final words "My feelings make me strong" where obviously the only thing getting stronger is those hacks' wallets? Just noticing that this is horrible, or a shame won't change things greatly. Endgame and Dark Phoenix should mobilize us through whatever means available and show all those lazy and greedy people their days are over!

Ballet 422

Ballet 422 is not what it seems
Lipes, the director, comes through as Wiseman's disciple; this may seem obvious. Yet some choices, and especially something everyone notices, that is the absence of talking heads, something that Wiseman obliquely put in his Opera Garnier doc, make Lipes come through as more demanding through Ballet 422's elisions.

Peck, a corps de ballet speck in the illustrious New York City Ballet, gets a commission for a brand new choreography put to music of his own choice (why in the beginning we are only informed that this is music "from 1935" and not its title or composer, is a sour irony when the end comes)in just two months.

So, the documentary unrolls in a drama-less manner, since the corps de ballet, its top three dancers, the costume designer, the pianist - all pros included, are professional enough to pull it through just in time, with no bursts of tension.

I wondered by the time Paz de la Jolla, the choreographed piece, came to its premiere in the film, why the director decided then to put on a show, though wonderfully edited, of the choreographer's first steps and trying inspirations, to the more collaborative efforts and mounting - costumes! lights! - spectacle, for just some quick, somehow unredeemed glances.

And this is the sobering truth: after the premiere, the bows and the flowers, the quick, chill thrill and the relief all was well, Peck goes backstage to change into his costume for the next piece in the program, now as a low in the NYCB's ranks corps dancer.

The film concludes with a long take of a panoramic view of the MET where all that took place, with an almost cruelly extended portion of the next piece's music; and here the irony is manifold: Shostakovich's Piano Concerto no 2, whose andante we hear, was at once one of his most popular pieces, and one discarded as unusually cheerful and easy, even by himself in a deprecating manner, just to preempt any anti-proletariat criticisms.

How can one, after the stress of creation and premiere, slip into the shoes of a serial, by the numbers - now the title shines in a new light - dancer just right afterwards? This is a tough world, yes. But the film also passes, for its seeming genre, subtly and surprisingly an argument for the working classes that is itself sobering, even grim, yet ultimately artistic.


The Shining: the IKEA remake
The first shot that comes after the film's title intro ("a film by") echoes the shot of the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick's film, an echo the film openly turns into something more than allusion with the inter-titles counting the days: "Turist," the film's original title, unlike the confusing "Force Majeure" one, is a muted mutation, if not a self-conscious wooden imitation of the original's more than male anxiety.

An upper class generic family of four goes for five days in a ski resort in the French Alps. Day two finds them with an avalanche on their open-air breakfast table, controlled but seemingly gone awry, that has the father fleeing in panic leaving his family behind. A rift between him and his wife ensues. Add two couples for realistic, muted comic relief or its alibi or what.

Great panoramic views touch the sublime and - as interspersed with on one hand a quasi-mocking, quasi-feverish rendition in accordion of Vivaldi's last part of the "Four Seasons"' "Summer", and on the other the comically frenetic ups and downs of the snowcats - quickly become sterile embodiments of out-of-scale, creepy nature (as is so evident by the menace of the far mountains on screen in the bus in the end): the only (were it not for the scintillating menace of the soundtrack) scene where nature goes full scale majestic is when the two men go skiing. But this seems part of the joke.

The joke being male anxiety. This warps into family breakdown and suspenseful - if not literally bleached out in the "is it safe?" snow fog scene - reconciliation. Something is stirring still in panic in the end in his wife as we witness her want to get off the bus, were it not there also perhaps since the beginning, and everything by now seems polluted by sick suspense.

But where Kubrick juggled racial tension and animism, the supernatural of family traumas with history's struggle in the end, all within the confines of the shrewdly named Overlook Hotel, here male anxiety does not spill into madness (in The Shining there is no reliable internal viewer) but seems as idiosyncratically flat as taking up smoking. Is this an advanced cultural commentary?

The film even if it does not overstays its welcome, is, if you excuse my pun, overlong. For a film that plays with male impotence, this has just a whiff of sadism, if not the Haneke spice. ("Haneke laughs", sounds just like an improved vice.)

So many stylistic choices, to call them that, signify that we have passed from witnessing separation and alienation in social and familial ties, into, as the almost single orange-lit room in the hotel exemplifies, solipsism, without adequate commentary; I will pass on the final scene referring bluntly to the "Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie", which seems to me a cop-out: confronting cultural anxiety means we go from five bourgeois heading ahead to just a larger crowd in the freezing Alps? Since the film obviously borrows from cultural paradigms, does it achieve anything beyond frigid transpositions and rearrangements for a ready-made audience? As it is, solipsism with a laughing how-to manual - not quite appealing.

Mr. Turner

Hogarth's last tape
What made this viewer particularly realize with this film was that Mike Leigh's casting pitch more than simply choices is a straight descendant of Hogarth characterology; that granted, the question begs itself, why then choose Turner as subject.

In his interiors and caricatures alike, what strikes one is a gargantuan strife to come to terms with what society inscribes, to call it that, as internal antagonism: naturalistic or realistic eccentricity, or just plain Englishness, it seems to me simply circumvents the gist.

I do not think that Mike Leigh sidesteps the confrontation; it is rather that confrontation obfuscates clarity of vision, as if vision partakes of vulgarity that pre-inscribed class antagonism does not repress: politics seem more crucial to him, as the rather bland - and downplaying - presentation of John Ruskin exemplifies, politics as an agenda of modern sensitivity, especially in the portrayal of women, face to Victorian prudishness. But when one considers what is at stake in the anachronism is it not that Victorian prudishness wins?

Maybe a sense of paterian appreciation would be wanting, but since Ruskin was Turner's executor, the scene where he visits and Turner's attention turns to the moths this crude future anterior disavowal in favor of down-to-earth matters is not sarcastically realistic but another sample in the downplaying coalition of grumpy motifs.

The camera work is close to suggestively essayist, from Turner's depiction in profile when in frustration especially when meeting his ex-wife, to the almost great scene in the Royal Academy with camera spinning and tracing the grunting males (sic), specifically when contrasted to the half-cut screen sense after Victoria's visit.

To have a doggedness of spirit so amply played may be commendable, yet I wonder, when we have in the end the shot-from-above last-words scene with the vitalistic sun pun cinematic God-shot this does not suggest an embattled sense of English religiousness, only the rushed firm-footedness of what sounds more like Nietzsche than shows like Turner. It does not get deeper than a quote. Why do I say this?

When earlier in the salon gathering in Ruskin's place we have the conversation running among gooseberries, we should have in mind that since his beginnings Mike Leigh is a post-Beckett phenomenon, continuously trying to re-appropriate Beckett's pathos in English class-ridden sensibility, as is the case of dramatists from Pinter onwards - and one classic line in Beckett is the one from "Krapp's last tape": Picking gooseberries, she said. The scene in "Mr. Turner" stems from that, towards the semi-naturalist semi-camp Mike Leigh is prone to.

And there we have the confrontation of quoting with anachronism and what one better had in mind when tackling artistically such matters: in order to renegotiate and mar war with tradition and make it happen tomorrow, rough and raw males and females on the under-appreciated fringe should voice, as in the last lines in Beckett's play, their "not with the fire within me now". Or what picking gooseberries entails. Beckett can be amazingly ironic and direct, perhaps never more than in the former phrase, while Leigh prefers to be humanist and confrontational. But the question remains: why not choose a subject not jarringly tuned to his sensibility, instead of condemning the vicissitudes of the romantic era from which he is not exempt? Why not have something like say Pinter's last tape next time, with Tom Jones in the lead?


For the Angel
Whose Angel is this? seems to me a better question than what is the Angel or what is the Angel about. As mentioned in the end credits, it is a suite of studies: creatures glimpsed ascending menacing stairs, man fencing a doll, Kafkaesque staircases ascending and sardonic creatures gaze back to us in ever clearer light, maid bringing cream in a jug to a man-without-hands, feverish camera spiraling the stairs, man in tub having fun and posing, unbalanced attic cross-section with man getting out of bed and house leaving motionless man behind, feverish activity in a library, band of men breaking into (attacking? liberating?) cube where woman resides, painter adjusting his model's reflection on a perspective machine, and finally the quasi-epic opening up of the ascension towards the light.

What should one make of this? As in his early short films, Bokanowski is embedded in imagery that refers to late 18th, early 19th century, that is the time of the French Revolution, and here is what I say: in the first minutes he proves the French Revolution Dziga Vertov - such invention is astounding, and mutates its confrontation of time, space and perspective in what I would call Bokanowski's variation on the Hegelian theme of Master and Slave, turned here into Master without hands and Maid; Bokanowski not only attacks cinematic piety with Jacobin ferocity but also makes palpable with the jug divided ad infinitum that Zeno with his paradoxes was ambassador of Terror. The director in this segment communicates extreme, theological menace. As a man with a camera he witnesses the extremities of time as they pass between Master and Slave, that is, according to Hegel, recognition and death.

So maybe it is time to relax a little with the gurgling with laughter man int the bathtub. But is this not a reverse image of happiness for the famous portrait by David of the assassinated Marat? In this sense, the postures after the bath, as if borrowed by caricatures of the era, also fall into the place of our uneasiness. Watching a home movie from the French Revolution time-frame must be this bizarre.

And next, the scene in the library, betters the sibling scene in Terry Gilliam's Brazil of frenetic, pointless activity for your bureaucratic eyes only. To counter the small scene in the attic which comically demonstrates the it-can-be-a-bad-dream effect with the man-stain in the room (a ghost? a presence?), I think Bokanowski proposes his most subtle effect in the black-and-white scene of the painter and his model: the black and white communicates the artificiality of the scene, yet on the same time demonstrates the dictum "your eye is on the picture, but you are in the picture". That this takes place in an arguably renaissance context allies civic appreciation with artistic politeness, spinning like hell of a fun as in the hands of the mixer of colors.

So when the final, almost epic scene comes, the fragmented manner colors the ascension with the divine bureaucracy of the light. There is an achieved anxiety throughout the film, that makes us suspicious of the rightly omitted from the end Angel, as when God helps people it usually is that they end in more trouble than before. So the question returns: whose Angel is this? Is this a Jacobin's dream gone bad? Is it Montesqieu thinking about climate change and ending up in light? Topor waking from his torpor? Is it a pamphlet in the guise of a film for the Angel of History? The Angel of the Directory? Or Guignol? The Angel of 18th Brumaire?

En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron

be careful with that branch!
Who would have thought that this pigeon had read Hegel? "The spirit is a bone," said the German philosopher, and many would have thought that this could be a bad, obscure joke, one could feel sympathetic with, if one could frame it uttered in a school(?) performance by some kid with down syndrome, as in a central "tableau" of the film.

But Hegel, and Andersson, proceed a bit more systematically, than what seems at first: we first encounter the pigeon dead and embalmed; what would the pigeon think on this branch (were it alive?)? What does the man that watches it would probably think? What do we think when we encounter this man's stunned and dead-pan face? The spirit is a bone, means that at best what the spirit does is expand on the negativity of our first encounter with that phrase, when we presumably utter "what the hell!? no, the spirit is not a bone!" but our spirit has already hit on the bone of that phrase.

The next step of the dialectic is on the aforementioned "tableau" of the performance by kids with down syndrome, where we get the supposed explanation of the title through the forced recitation, to call it that, of a little girl: the pigeon sat on a branch, yes (says and repeats the stupid teacher), and it reflected, yes, on existence, yes, then thought it had no money, yes, and returned to its nest, yes.

How should we get what this is about? Is it simply absurd? No. Do we feel uneasy with the anthropomorphism of money? Yes. (But should we feel, in the exact reversed ratio, amused by the anthropomorphism of the repeated "I am happy to hear you are alright"? More of this later.) How can we escape the racist logic of this being uttered by a girl with down syndrome, so the poem must be, even in the slightest way altered? Where do we stand in the line between logic and absurdity?

I am glad to report that Andersson frames his questions in a much more rich and surely dead-pan (but what tableaux! what palette of colours!) way than mine: in the last step of the dialectic, not just one, but a whole bunch of off-screen pigeons, gurgle and somewhat wearily attract the gaze of a bunch of humans underneath, who have just argued inanely about whether it is Wednesday or Thursday, and how one should distinguish between them. Their communal, weary gaze, does it rhyme with the penniless question of the earlier poem? This somewhat constrained note, does it match the absurd riches before and underneath? Roy Andersson has suggested that the pigeons might be wondering what these humans underneath are doing; extending that line of thought, should death - as in the first scene - stop a pigeon from thinking? Is it not rather that death flies over our heads and reflects all the time?

It surely rhymes with the end of "You, the living", the film that came before this one in Andersson's trilogy: the retro-futurist, bizarre planes that half-wearily, half-mockingly, but in perfect, alarming alignment attracted the gaze of the humans underneath, may not be here, but on the other hand one does not need their off-beat, epic quality in this film; it is to Andersson's credit and honor, that he chose to end this film, and the trilogy, with such muted ethos.

For we have had a fine share of dead-pan directness after we dead have awaken: I will pass on the (mock?) Kantian horror of the simple heart (re)imagining the horror of Phalaris' brazen bull; the sequence in the underground bar, changing to 1943, with its parade of mock-heroic free kisses, a simple tune sang again and again, and then reverting to the elderly, deaf protagonist of our time, exposed in a heart-wrenching manner our mock-heroic, free dreams of yesteryear, our disfigured dreams that sing now and forever, as they receive their amusing, knowingly non-corresponding payment in kisses, in times that were difficult, yet had their own reign of inventiveness, before a deaf, absent-minded now (so who dreams this?).

And then the impossible happened: in a bar with some strange whiff of Americana, with a couple kissing in the corner and observed by the people in the bar, we witness the intrusion of King Charles XII of Sweden on horseback. What blew this viewer away is who could have thought that the most astonishing scene of one boy courting another could be found in a Roy Andersson film? Young King Charles offers to the so handsome, as he says, barman, to come and fight on his side, and sleep in his tent - and here is the impossible happening - touching their hands in his plea, the tune of the scene in the bar back in 1943, slightly altered, with new words, but expressing from another perspective the transience of human dreams repeats itself, acquiring explosive force: this comments and commends the absurd validity of passion, from the mock-heroic vanity of nations and epochs to the electrifying, absurd directness of enamourment, that, as always, is as if leaping centuries in order just to grasp a hand. This is wondrous. The equanimous hilarity of "happy to hear you are alright" may expose and play the anthropomorphism of amusement, as well as the anthropomorphism of uneasy money (maybe the weariness of the faces in the last tableau comes from the fear that the pigeons while thinking the penniless question might poop on their heads - if the spirit is a bone, it is also because the self is money), but this is undercut by the pathos of years and centuries leaping for a kiss or a plea, doing as they want to do, and as they have to do, from bone to money to gurgling off-screen in the skies above, proving the mock-hegelian thesis-antithesis-synthesis Swedish-style, any inane, debatable Wednesday. Thank you.


Self-incest does it again
I thought that movies like "Judas Kiss" inaugurated what one could call the self-incest mode; but that tradition seems to have existed earlier in the 20th century, and, perhaps, one day will have its historian.

For it seriously is an ethical genre despite itself; it confronts the ethical gap of our choices no time-line can guarantee, and no self-relating presented as literal relation with my gendered self can explain away.

Gendered is the crucial word here - that is, not immortal; but does conditioned in time mean that the only pluralism I get in my life is the one of all the clocks run mad, and the possibility of an amorous encounter is with myself only?

The film has two themes grounded in social matters: Jane at one point asks what work could she possibly find after her sex change, since being a woman meant being excluded from competitive work back then, and, two, the Temporal Agent battling/giving in to terrorist social frustration. The first theme of social/sexual exclusion in pre- feminist times spills over into what finally is an embattled - if not plain mad - sense of manhood.

Too bad this gets convoluted in a way that is unredeemable; terrorism looming large still haunts what was once called the faculty of imagination. Did the Spierig bros played that card in order to embark on the American variation of terrorism Hollywood supports? They will probably follow Sarah Snook on that one (but perhaps Leonardo di Caprio will veto her immigration). In Heinlein's short story the tone is significantly different; the film remains close to it in the first part, but what gets lost in the end, and I mean in the end, is that the hard-boiled tone of the narrator is pared down to what could very well be the fantasy of a little girl abandoned in the orphanage, as if Heinlein could see light-years away into a noir universe where the hard-boiled detective and his femme fatale could no longer exist since the name of the father, courtesy of lacanian psychoanalysis, is no longer operative for the girl to become a woman, or, and here is the paranoid whiff of the story, for the man despite so many time jumps in order to save the world allover to be nothing but a little girl.

In "Predestination" the zombies reference, that is middle-class no doers and their communistic other, does not exactly leave us in Cold War communism as sex change. The Spierig bros added, indeed insisted on the terrorist subtext, so where does this leaves us? In our times, where terrorism is the only new element of the story? A crucial added element is the exchange, to call it that, on the theme of "killing people to save more" which is a mantra of our times, threatening with its spectrum all kinds of persuasions. The story and the film wearily demonstrate that no matter how many time jumps you perform a remaining piece of time will always be there, a left-over co-substantial with what one does. Self-incest may do it again, but that is not political enough.

Tim's Vermeer

Funny how the question of genius still preoccupies us; what is that untouchable quality that makes one a genius?

Not funny how the usual answer our era gives to that question is some kind of how - not who - dunnit, that actually masquerades what one can well call the traumatic quality of genius, by transforming it into some kind of expertise, aggressive projection of idealizations, and, eventually, a bland denial that the question of genius even exists.

I consider "Tim"'s approach actually loathsome; from the initial premise that had some kind of frisson, the mystery is violated by his bland need to be the smartest boy in the room, in that pal manner bosses have to intimidate their employees.

There is no sense of recognition, or even of absurd rivalry (Salvador Dali excelled in that when confronting Vermeer), just a nerd's resentment (at least Mr. Hockney has some smaller talent's resentment in order to prove reductive persuasions about painting)that totally blinds him to the dimension of art as such, or when encountered in the deft, sublime brushwork, let alone simpler facts like one cannot strike the same pose for months, especially when the portraits demonstrate such spontaneity and transience.

As it is, the film reads more like a bad omen for cognitivism: what claim humanity had in the once sublime, je ne sais quoi quality of art, it returns as a repressed artless invention, as in the reduction of language - that is essentially poetry - to some elaborate chemicals juicing the brain; or like articles one reads nowadays that promote sex as good for blood circulation and even muscle development; that urge french kissing so that when one grows old will escape drooling. And that is depressing. There is no pleasure in it.

Another Earth

Let me be just
I thought about giving it a go the sarcastic way: does cheese taste the same on earth two? Does Mapother deliver an equally awful anger scene ruining any possibility of affective pitch for the whole movie, after the considerable one-note efforts toward that direction by his co-protagonist? Is Lars Von Triers tortured by this film on earth two, or, is Lars Von Triers torturing with this movie on earth two, while his "Melancholia" is authored by Cahill on this planet, so the collision happens anyway? And so on and so on.

But I want to be just. I want to be just toward the confession scene at least that had something low-keyed, avoiding the clichés one feared approaching; I think this is the part that worked best in the film.

But I want to be even more just. The film ends with a variation on the "metaphysical confrontation scene" trope, to call it that, that makes or ruins a film; here, Rhoda, confronts herself, in her other earth version, to call it that, too. Confronts silently, that is, and the film ends, leaving the viewer - leaving this viewer slit-eyed from the film's ultimate navel gazing.

The golden rule for the "metaphysical confrontation scene" is ultimately the final scene in Charlie Chaplin's "City Lights": the tramp is finally recognized by the blind girl (who has undergone an operation) by touch and the film ends in a sublime sense in the agonizing question "Will the other accept me as I am?"

Not "Will I accept me as I am?" which is the ultimate confrontation "Another Earth" has to offer, while still clinging to some sense of otherworldly alterity like a fetish in the sky, which is in fact another name for liberalism.

When Rhoda and John dine, his toast "Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust", apart from the minor stringent morosity that like a theme runs through the film, sounded to me like "Sun to sun, and dance to dance!" in the happy, self-congratulatory universe of Sundance: why not have its founder, Mr Redford, play the musician, and Meryl Streep play Rhoda, in a film called "Out of Earth"? The allegory might have been liberally resonant in this case.

As it is, and since "Another Earth" could not have in its premiere a world-renowned physicist - as Charlie Chaplin had Albert Einstein for "City Lights" - validating by his presence, beyond relativity, the human abyss of the other's acceptance, let us lament the cultural permissiveness that allows a lame film like "Another Earth" be niche-ly and nicely celebrated; its dopey sense of alterity is the obverse side of the stern liberalism of Sundance's founder.

Monster Pies

Monster Pies after school special
Kid#1 losing brother in freak accident? check.

Kid#2 with catatonic mother and little sis with down syndrome? check.

Kid#1 & kid#2 falling in love? check.

Catalyst for kid#1 & kid#2 falling in love school project for kids giving their own version of Romeo and Juliet immortal love story? check.

Abusive father for kid#2 driving him to bad decision? check.

From trauma to trauma unsparing editing? check.

Amateur, unfortunate chemistry between the kids? check.

Full fat lips Dafoe-perfect for the job, though the job is not done if you excuse my pun? check.

Shameless presentation of suicide? Your call.

Add all ingredients with two chunks of cringe-worthy Beethoven pianistic sentiment and chill; spill on screen.

Garnish with snowflakes.

Goes best with monster pies.


Simply luminous
I am in a state of rapt thankfulness, if I may say so, after having just watched this film: it was tone-perfect! For once, and a first, we can enjoy a film which is also an advance in gay representation: not a touch of rancorous self-blame, or an undercurrent of political agendas, over-dramatic kitchen sink weights, silly gayness or tragic turn of events. Not since the danish film "You are not alone" do we have such a unapologetic stance, or since "A natural thing" a sense of the possibility of paradise.

For once the common denominator is innocence. The film takes its themes which may strike no new notes, but with a sure, steady rhythm that overstates nothing, and invites the viewer, not too close to the drama, but close enough to the young conscience of its protagonists and their sense of discovery and of turmoil, inviting him in, that in the end we are touched in a tuneful manner.

Young Sieg, a runner, prepares for a sports event, and the pressure by his coach is palpable. He also feels pressure at home not directed towards him, but by the tension between his brother and their father. We gather at some point in the film that his mother died last year, and, a point the director passes skillfully, he does the house chores trying to maintain the family balance and not to disappoint. That branches into the frustration of what his sense of self is after a new runner in his team, Marc, sets the sparks of love in his heart. Should he play it straight in order to, one surmises, form some sort of coalition with his brother that plays the independent rebel of the house? Should we press names in a film that wisely denies even the name of love, meant as a torch in the sky?

Here one should pay tribute to Gijs Blom (Sieg) and Ko Zandvliet (Marc): for me not only did they collapse the divide between portraying and being lovers, but the portraits they offer are quiet registers of high caliber.

Watch the progressive frustration in the face of Sieg, or the snatches of gaze after having watched Marc playing with his sister that signal his feeling of falling in love; watch Marc in the let's call it confrontation scene falling into Sieg and his 'girlfriend' and simply, stubbornly standing next to him, communicating his eagerness just to be next to him, and then, as Sieg seems to prefer the girl, look at him with eyes that push aside reprimand - I cannot emphasize enough the fact that the film shows no reprimand or condescension -, and mix love and hurtfulness.

Having also a sister, a loving one, helps; along with the uplifting joy of a trampoline, running along the beach with seagulls, going for nightly escapades, surprising deers, chasing cows after having a swim into the nearby where you live from lake, it all helps, into communicating - without any of it being kitsch, or a plain textbook of innocence - the expansive, secretive freshness of young love.

The director is mindful to, for example, establish three things with their first kiss: the suddenness of it, for us viewers, happening, with no false preparation, the no fuss feeling of it, and crucially the shot from above, that safeguards the intimacy of the boys. Only then we are let in, when the boys float on water with their gazes directed above, where we look them from, lit with revelation.

This concern of intimacy that runs through the film, of the protagonists' intimacy of feelings, pours into our intimate reception of them, along with a delicate, yet forward, sense of space. That is why, when in the end, Sieg after his resonant "No!", goes to find Marc, we do not need a "recognition" scene, but we can take flight with the boys as they speed towards their - at last - shared intimacy.

Thank you.

Transformers: Age of Extinction

From Cary Grant to Car Grand and Beyond
Tune your radios and hear me out! I am Optimus Prime - er, no, tune the radio, please - OK, I am an optimist in his prime, or then again, watch out Chinese frequencies! I opt, I must, prime. Prime time, again for Michael Bay.

In "North by Northwest", Cary Grant run in a field of corn, in order to escape, after being called into nowhere field, an airplane that spread pesticide - and then, for those in the know, in a juggling sublime cinematic moment that defined sensibilities of viewers and directing conjurers like Michael Bay. What director is not - seriously - influenced by Hitchcock after the 50's? I love Michael Bay.

That is the answer, yes, that is the answer, the way he proceeds, you jump cut into love, but anyway more of this later.

You have that scene in the cornfields, and then, later when the nuclear pop non-family hangs over the skyscrapers, as in the scene in the former film when Cary Grant and Eve Marie-Saint hang over Mount Rushmore, lover and daughter and father, hang over mount-rush-more, well, literally. OK, that made me dizzy.

This is dizzy fun. There are the stupid parts, stupid because they are fill-ins, where you cool off in a way, that at least for me, that was a turn-off: OK, you get that action has to be filled in somehow, with the occasional fall off the Chinese block of apartments, or the obscenely lit bad guy going off into a portentous phrase (or, that was the purpose, getting so bored with the bad government guy? if so, bad turn-off for American policies) - but, and this is where Michael Bay goes beyond Cary Grant, as the movie escalates, oh, I got a car'd-on: yes, this is an amazing celebration of cars, yet again, after the previous installments, cars that signify, after the first part of abstract machinery celebration and menace, human scale and otherworldly sheen.

Hitchcock's statue with foreign-menace-film-within gets transformed into mythical (even if Godzilla references synchronized part of the film year - should we expect in the next installment, when Star Wars will be released, as the Creators theme promises, a Darth-Vader epic motif?)machinery expanding machine and narrative alike to what is not a mash-up I warn you: the magnet that sucks and lets lose the metal, going after 'Man of Steel', is better not to be condemned on grounds of pop plagiarism, for here is the Bay signature: kinetic marvel along with the most basic, even unashamedly blatant comedy of family values cutting in, and then restored with optimistic prime by the otherworldly machine that also unabashedly stands for connectedness into communal values. With the jump-cuts, M.Bay cuts into love after all the suspense, and jumps the Futurists of the 20's would be absolutely numbed (me, even though not a futurist, had a pressing effect when I got out of the cinema, that is how hellishly kinetic this film is). And yes, since the first big moment of the film runs in a field of corn, Bay knows, after Hitchkock, how to be corny! (So absorb the corn into the last field of knightly dinosaurs.)

For me, the last installment had one of the best lines in years of film adventure: "Live, love and name it!" Now, Michael Bay betters it, as Optimus Prime veers into spacial redeeming, with: "There are innumerable mysteries in the universe, but who we are and what we can do is not one of them." That made my pop-corn chill, all hail!

Winter's Tale

Everything belongs to a higher purpose
I am willing to admit that everything belongs to a higher purpose, even if you are a secular Jew named Akiva Goldsman, so I suppose that includes the Holocaust, though I do not see the bigger picture for the suffering and refuse buy into it.

As for the film itself - well, not many words to waste: Mr Goldsman is obviously a deluded salesman, escaping the scale of tone deafness into stone deafness, yet how easily he claims for the big stones in the sky; as easily as one can buy into Will Smith being Lucifer - low, self pleased Hollywood.

This film is not even bad. I hoped for a really bad one.

But when I remember Colin's haircut in the movie, falling like a crow curtain under the chill moonlight over the front of dying redheads, then I want to believe in higher hairdressing purposes; this is certainly one of the worst movie haircuts of the last decades. If this is not a career downfall, Colin has some angel over his shoulder.

After the Dark

The Enjoyers
Funny how literal-minded most of the reviews are; also how angry. Why? The film is supposedly about a thought experiment on the edge of apocalypse, courtesy of a teacher who wants to provoke his students before grad day: atomic bombs fall, life on earth faces extinction, a lot of 20 people has to be cut down to 10 because the supplies in the bunker etc. What do you do?

Sorry to say that what people did are stay tone deaf: the love making at the beginning should make us think that it is at odds with the apocalyptic genre, so that when the third act comes this should be no surprise.

At least for this viewer it is then that things start getting serious; even if the film itself is tone deaf lots of time even to the heights of holy crapola, I found it admittedly beautiful towards the end.

Ultimately it is not about eugenics, utilitarianism, or even getting a good grade. The ultimate decisions it appeals to come not in life or death situations- I am sorry to see that lots of people buy false dilemmas everyday - but love and live ones. The film behind its apocalyptic genre facade is - surprise - about what a woman wants, and how an intelligent and older man gets stuck in the corner when a woman this young, beautiful and lovely, with the head on her shoulders so adultly poised and erotically wise confounds him: the film crudely exposes a man's fear of impotency (why the other guy and not me?) by way of a blackmailing dilemma that betrays itself by a coughing fit, but we should at least accept its turns and trials in dipping its toes in funny male psychology waters. The doomsday teasers being false clues, in the end all such bigger than life questions are cancelled by our erotic actions, the film, even despite itself, suggests, in a troubled expatriate love experiment on the edge of Jakarta.

The teacher finds himself alone, and the true, poignant question is not some big, baggy ideological monster blackmailing us with choosing between two options of unrelenting sacrificial logic, but choosing a frame of mind: the young, lovely woman whom I will never possess abandons me forever; should I accept this loss and go on with my life, my sandwich, or - oh her lovely face!

All apocalypse is a male fantasy, the film quirkily reminds us, and I applaud John Huddles, its writer/director for being brave enough to film this oblique love letter to deep male insecurities and female sublime ambiguities, matters we avoid so much, as most of the reviewers' reactions testify to, and also the studios' unrefined renaming of the film: in the end, beyond apocalypse, and let me become literal here, we come face to face with the philosophies of erotic loss.

Yves Saint Laurent

One of the definite films
about imperial ass-kissing. The film proclaims to be the closest to reality version of YSL's ascendancy and troubled middle years, what with all the couture and sketches from the archive, that had the approval of Mr. Berge. Also his astonishment by Niney's portrayal of YSL. And that should be enough.

Yet the moment off-screen narration steps in, with the voice of an elderly version of Mr. Berge, as in an extension from his funeral eulogy for YSL, we are in deep, troubled waters. Is this a personal letter in the form of a movie feature length film? Does it inaugurate something new, something equal to its initiative, given the imperial gesture? The motive seems little more than ass-kissing. People may object that Mr. Berge has the same chauffeur for decades, and that tells something about the man, but you cannot go into film-making with that kind of mentality; at least, you cannot supervise it thoroughly. And the fact that he chose a first time director, instead of someone more experienced to handle such a dramatic life that calls for insight, should make us pause and think.

As it is, Pierre Niney gives a wondrous impersonation; but this is not acting. The film soon derails after its beginnings, into a run-by-the-numbers descent into drugs, insecurity, jealousy, retaliation, beauty and second-rate shenanigans portrait of a couple's life that seems as interchangeable as any. Should we care for Mr. Berge's "sincerity" in exposing himself as a vindictive personality who wanted to control YSL's life by getting into his bed everybody the former cared for? Yes, we should care, by condemning this self-aggrandizement AND advertisement, for it is nothing else, and no one should buy into the "sincere" element of this loathsome behavior.

But in order not to be abstractly moralistic, I will ground what I suggest in more detail: watch Gallieni's gaze that has something epicene, which the actual Begre surely lacks: this is a fictional detail that calls for unwarranted sympathy.

For all the Marrakech scenery, the LSD sequence comes off as offensively unimaginative; clown faces in the camera, really? This severely undermines YSL's vision, who may have experimented with drugs but not like a deluded off-shore May '68 student: after his sojourn there he came back with the sublime scandal of the first see-through blouse. Where is that? Where is the '71 Occupation show scandal? Of all the references to his shows all we get is the famous and respected Russian one from 1976 that is presented in the film in a mortuary manner. And then the appearance of Berge's old age suddenly talking to a ghost. Please. Spare us the badly edited sanctimony.

The film has only the fashion, the sketches, the lodgings and the artifacts to offer, but this does not amount to film exactly; the film feels introverted, with YSL's friends and court curiously lacklustre, with none whatsoever evocation of the era's scale, of the persons' complexity or/and vision, as if it all was a mundane party affair of a middle shots sensibility and eye for space and how people occupy and move around it. May the garden forgive and forget.

One sincerely hopes that the forthcoming film about YSL, since it does not have the approval of Mr. Berge will deal with less archival respectability. I for one hope that it will deal, since it is yet again a young actor portraying YSL, with the guerre des dentelles (pauvre Lagerfeldt, by the way) in a less hammy manner. Who knows? Perhaps one day we will have a feature covering the 80's wars between Berge and Arnault, or one for the 1990 January show and its aftermath with the Opera Bastille opening with Les Troyens, with Aeneas flying from the fallen city of Troy and his ill-stared love for Dido. Tell me about some story-within-a-story operatic lace, not some Marrakech chewed up-scenery in a sophomore manner for the emperor.

I Want to Get Married

Ban Matthew Montgomery
I would like to give Matthew Montgomery a prize. In fact I would like to give him a prize every other day from Oklahoma to Tokyo, from the Streetfighters Weekly Achievement Award to the Crochet/Lacrosse Crossover Lambda Community Person of the Year Award to the Antarctica Board of Film Critics Lifetime Achievement Award! Or whatever. So having to fly every other day in order to receive this fabulous flow of awards he would NEVER EVER appear on screen or stage or wherever again, and we would be relieved from the anxiety of witnessing his retarded acting chopsticks the way they flood and insult the screen from the first minute he appears, as if vomiting his facial expressions all over the place. An unbelievably moronic display of conceit, watch it and get scarred from the badness. At least I am sure after this, I would never see a film that has his name on it; poor thing, he may even think his acting may be a concentration of - even Jerry Lewis! - camp, but the sad fact is he is only eligible for a concentration camp. Award, that is.

Torka aldrig tårar utan handskar

Too much glove, not much love
"Never wipe tears without gloves" must go down in history as one of the great melodramatic titles; unfortunately, for this viewer, the tripartite mini-series does not live up to its great title: although in the first minutes of the first episode I thought maybe this was going to be as great as Peter Watkins' "Munch" (also upon its release a three-part docudrama), whose cinematic idiom - adult life back and forth, the jump-cuts, the angles, the voice-over - informs NWTWG.

Unfortunately, the umpteenth time I had to witness father wiping out son's hand-print upon glass, I had passed from the first revelation that had signaled so movingly the trace of a life now, already erased (with an almost biblical poignancy since it is the father not acknowledgedly perpetrating the erasure), to frustration and then to disappointment why this had to be repeated so many times; of course, this is a three-part TV series so I suppose a little reminder has to pass from one week to the next, and I saw the series in one sitting, so it doesn't cut both ways...

What I found oppressive was the unvaried juxtaposition of the group, the couple and the parents; for most of the series, it seemed no take lasted more than thirty seconds, and this for me means I am not allowed the ground to sufficiently root for the characters.

The 80's footage was very atmospherically mingled with the involving period details, and I was transported now and then to the dark side of the 80's, but in general the series seem to me a hit and miss: now delivering a punch, then again lacking focus.

The focus was neither on the couple, nor upon a sense of (lost) community, and it swayed on both the docu and the drama sides without actually taking sides. I wanted more sex between the couple which did not really ignite for me - two things: since we know from the first time Rasmus has sex he is doomed, then why not give us some sex between the couple for the suspense, the sweat, and the sheer, transient beauty of it? If it is only the random encounters that are depicted, then this bends to the moralizing side of it. Second thing, since on the day Rasmus finds out he is just another serial, anonymous positive patient has, arguably, just broken up with Benjamin, then the latter's mournful dedication (the sudden, operatic appearance in the third act, of a wall full of his pictures is not really prepared) is tinted by the question to what extent Benjamin does not idealize his lover-on-the-loss; his mourning becomes then not wholly justified.

The two Adams play it to that pitch, though: they are both first men to witness the day, and even if the series is not quite successful, we are pierced by their beauty and their youth, one in glowing conviction and smiling innocence: their eyes! Especially Adam Lundgren's (who seems an improvement upon Elijah Wood, if you don't mind my saying so) are haunting; he also has the good skills of making us feel him as the more solid, and maybe more lonely, character.

This is then what will stay with me: their beauty, the liquid light upon their eyes.

Uncle David

Hoyle remains highly critical
of the mainstream gay culture in Britain, believing it to be "off-the-peg" and generic, and describing it as "the biggest suicide cult in history". He has also called the British scene as "materialistic-hedonistic". That is what one reads on the wikipedia page dedicated to David Hoyle. I wanted a clue for the film and the artist, so I visited the page.

The performance-artist-meets-gay-porn-actor challenge and the fact that they improvised during the film's shooting intrigued me.

The result seems like a haughty allegory where uncle David most of the time rants about social ills (he is not as interesting as he thinks he is) and condemns nephew or whatever to a higher level through death.

Mr.Hoyle takes a representative of the adult industry and by scapegoating tries to blur what separates film, performance, social commentary, social reality. The backgrounds of the participants must be taken into account. As it is, this film plays like "I, performance uncle David Hoyle, put to death the materialistic-hedonistic, generic gay Brit scene," but the effect is neither comic nor insightful.

The title also feels interchangeable. Godard would have make something like "Uncle Sam" and he would have meant America and Beckett, or something, for he truly is a fierce spirit, unlike David Hoyle who should check out a film like, say, "The Awful Truth" (1937) based almost completely on improvisation - with such brilliant results - before he tries something so perilous as basing an artistic endeavor on interaction and improvising again.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The beard jewelery is amazing!
That is for me the best thing and the true innovation this film brings.

I really liked the cinematography and the scenery of New Dizzy Disney Zealand was great.

But nothing quite matches up the heights of the first ten minutes - the beard jewelery parade warrants a lifetime achievement award for artistic innovation or something!

The film took some time to unfold, but it had a steady pace - and now that I say pace, Lee Pace was so GAY - I will watch the Lord of the Rings Reloaded sequels just to see how gay he gets!

PS Too bad Barry Humphries as the Goblin King gets killed so early in the trilogy. Maybe we will have a chance to have him resurrected as Dame Edna Everage? That will be a dream come true!

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina asks what do you want to be, darling?
I admit this is a tough job, summing up this film. But - let's take a step back and consider if this falls entirely in the category of film - my! it partakes of so many endeavors one almost feels like calling it an avant-guard film.

The sad thing is it never fully acknowledges the thing that it came before the WWI, so that it jumps before its own anguished post-modernism. Anyway who cares? It hops culturally from a hitchcockian sense of suspense interlaced with Sirk's melodrama - and, overall a 50's sense of melodrama. Who knows if this will be a classic? Its horse stumbles midway in a most unassured violent matter, obviously crashing the limits between scene and screen.

But is a limit a threshold? A bit too much of English school acting obfuscates the gist: let yourself go more than you are describing! Yet this is partial also. The film does not know in a way what it does: from camp to sensuality, from frenetic ennui to testing pop enactment with or without an avant-guard alibi, it brings us to some wonderful moments, to whole to-the-point sequences, and to deducted-as-for-their-sublime ones-.

What grounds the film is a simple intuition as I take it: this is a closeted Bovary.

This is for me the big thing happening in the film: it takes Bovary's quixotic sensuality in its best parts and gives us a sublime intuition into Anna Karenina. As Quixote asks us where reality lies, so, at its best, this Anna Karenina does.

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas, Loud Atlas, Shrugged Atlas
To have a tattoo-like comet on your buttock (how gay, my!) or on your clavicle (how sensitive!) or on your scalp (uh, was that a reference to the 1983 "Yellowbeard" with the map tattooed on a scalp?), to have a series of this mark or of nosy noses seems to be the lucid moral of what history is about (did I say history? how insensitive of me, failing to face the cosmic grandeur that connects us all!).

I enjoy a good old predestination drama and an open-ended, blooming melodrama equally, but this film is just awful; it is six bad films for the price - a very big price for a loud film that falls allover the place and ultimately marries opportunism with cynicism despite its revolutionary crap because its mantra is "our lives are not our own" - in the look-how-small-you-are-in-the-divine-proportions-space-and-time-wise (although you can be a revolutionary leader later turned into a religious figure) dimension that makes one's heart blink in astonishment and humble recognition.

Did Ayn Rand turn into the three-headed monster of the directors using the greatest box office star of all time Tom Hanks and the lame Hail Razzie Hale Berry to promulgate History as a series of unfortunate make-up (if you excuse the reference to "Lemony Sniket")?

But maybe one should return to "Yellowbeard", whose protagonist recalls the steps to his buried treasure saying the great line "Stagger, Stagger, Crawl, Crawl" in reference to the injured state he was in when he hid the treasure, in one of the underrated films of sublime bad taste. Only here those involved in the film do not recognize how they stagger or crawl or their injured state. How serious and heartwarming it all is.

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

The Mind of the Gastronomist
El Bulli: Cooking in Progress. The subtitle obviously refers to the "work in progress" kind of modernist tradition undertakings, and I sympathize with this angle; I consider Ferran Andria's undertaking to be an artistic one and I would go as far as claiming that he puts a serious candidature for being this century's Picasso just for the sake and scale of Hispanic audacity (although his approach - and El Bulli's whereabouts are so alike the Cadaques mansion - are closer to Dali, the Dali of scientific preparation and preoccupation rather than the "surrealist"). Should this claim shock us just because it is put in the realm of culinary delights?

What I found really instructive was that the fourfold team surrounding Andria for 11 years the most recent one worked like a crossbreed between a (quantum) physics laboratory and a Rennaissance studio where the apprentice takes crucial decisions for and in the canvas: this is ensemble work and clears any misconceptions about 'imagination' and 'predetermined decisions' (I liked the learn-as-you-go approach both for the highly trained chefs and the seasonal staff).

Some things were on this side of fishy though, as with the need to be supplied with a calendar concerning seafood and the best time to pick it by the local fisherman: did Andria really needed the local expertise at this time of his career? Also some experiments in the kitchen during the first part made me wonder how come they had not tried them some years back. But maybe this is the flip side of being unable to fathom what, say, water with oil would taste like and how magical, in what way can it be.

And this is where the doc underscores for me: having the master chef scribble things at the last act of ultimate decisions while tasting the definitive menu had me simply craving: this was just mute. There was no sense of wonder, just opaqueness, no sense of worship for the man, just a casual presentation of someone preoccupied. Was casualness the point? This seems more like casualty to me, for it lacks the bite like, say, early on, of having Andria saying to one of his sous-chefs "Do not ever give me anything that does not taste well!" imperiously angry and controlled and straight-forward! I felt cheated in the end, for no matter how good the shooting of the courses (this was like a substitute for a third act), illustration ultimately signifies the mysteries of lifestyle.


Camping in Africa
What would "Out of Africa" if shot by Wes Anderson, along with a bipartite alibi borrowed after Murnau's "Taboo", look like? It would like this film.

The quirkiness of the band intruding cinematically here and there on the second part, along with the use of music or the charming, fleeting delineation of the animal profiles on the clouds, testify to Gomes following the steps of Anderson; to what purpose or tenor, apart from some kind of academic camp ("her harmless, soft bipolar disorder" snaps when heard), or the occasional charm (I especially, really liked and appreciated the "monkey business" dream early on the film but the film fails to deliver after the double-entendres implied there), I can not tell. It just feels random rather improvisatory and the cinematography, its posing and sequences, if it scores once, then misfires thrice.

I am also someone that finds voice-over the easy way out, unless when used in manner like say Godard or Marker does, and that means part of the stroke, rather than part of a misty crutch. (When at the end we learn that there in Mario's murder lies the beginning of the war, the film, being overall finicky, cannot have this as camp or sly, but is actually rather lame - those who swoon in a post-post-colonialist way or whatever are out of their depths.)

Carlotto Cotta was by far the most powerful presence in the film his cheeky, soulful and sexy gaze anchor the film whenever he is on screen, yet he can not possibly structure the affair, a really missed one.

Salome's Last Dance

Salome framed by its author
For a film made on a shoe string budget, one learns one too many a lesson; my favorite is the conception concerning the Baptist's voice coming up from his dungeon: with fumes and a greenish light coming out of a Carpenter film, this demonstrated how the latter should profit from this for his metaphysics and his camp.

There is a lot too appreciate here, in the Ruskin sense of the word; do not be fooled by either the budget or the fart side of the scale, this is a very, very shrewd and sly reading of Wilde: his Salome and this Salome open up the new category of camp repression, with the film deliciously showing us that an author can be terribly indifferent to his work (especially when eager to amass all the boyish charm of a golden ass in his palm), a peculiar brand of catholic believer, Saint Oscar (Guy Fawkes Night is a great touch for this matter), that England is a brothel or only a brothel would have the courage to stage the banned play while at the same time entertain by its cast the imagination of its maker - and this is valid also for us: we are strangely moved in the end after all this extravagance.

Even if at some point Wilde exclaims that he should not bother his imagination with the proceedings implying that it is a sin and a hubris to pass imagination through a trial (sic), and with this and other witticisms and intuitions Ken Russell's framing device makes Oscar Wilde a character escaping from his play into the brutal rebuttal of the public and its mores as voiced by Glenda Jackson's Lady/Herodias "it was not murder, but a banana slip!"(Watch how one of Russell's signature modes, the camp, exaggerated close-up of Jackson's exclaiming the phrase echoes the one in the beginning just before the show starts on Wilde's champagne glass.)

In the feverish, camp theater of his mind, Salome, impish (great acting by the half blind, puckish Imogen Millais-Scott), precocious, looking so much like her mother (Herodias AND Lady Wilde??), she is the author's stand in - or is it he hers, as the Bosie/Baptist reversal also implies (and is so blandly delivered in the end)? The murder/ banana slip line surely reaches into what last century was called Wilde's self-destructive element but also Russell's wild comment on himself. Through this kind of fictional biography Russell's intuitive violence reaches after even the pivotal Wildean witticism "all bad poetry is sincere" and, somehow, poses it on its head. We are strangely moved in the end.

Cesare deve morire

Pirandello in the age of biopolitics
The film struck a queer tone that was hard to pin down at first: modest but deceptively so, economic in its time and almost elliptic but yet not quite so, with chunks of life jumping into the rehearsals in an amateur, tongue in cheek, failed way - was this the point? What were the directors trying to do with this film? For as a paradigm of condemning power or exposing with the jarring effect art has the discontents of power this does not work.

So what to do with this film? I think the Taviani bros knowingly or not took Six Characters in Search of an Author and turned it into some kind of Six Sentenced Men in Search of an Other, taking Pirandello's theatricality and sophistry and by pushing it to the extreme, to an alienating, subversive context, this would turn the black glove inside out stark white like in the superb cinematography.

It is as if Pirandello and Brecht meet: we have the right amount of what was once called 'alienation' and the Pirandellian both sides of the argument, but this is unworkable. It makes irony or simplicity forced and in the very end the "discovery of art that turns the room into a prison" makes for sloppy humanism instead of pungent, elusive and political irony. In a perpetual state of emergency, when remembering the pure, ideological category of - ah! - life before, or after, or now, this turns you into a bad actor and not simply an amateur one as the film showcases.

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