Kill Bill: Vol. 2

Yet another in my orgy of movie postings, I saw Kill Bill 2 last night. Very good. A somewhat different feel from Vol. 1: less campy, less bloody (though still, pretty damn bloody), more intense. Excellent cinematography. QT is the ultimate cult-film aficionado who was granted three wishes by a genie, and he has made the most of those wishes. He even appears to be using different kids of film stock to evoke different moods (or digital post-processing to create the same effects): black and white segments, which are memorable for the brilliantly lit tight shots of Uma Thurman and David Carradine showing the geological surface of his face and the subtler imperfections on hers; muddy-colored segments located in Barstow CA, that made me wonder whether he had unearthed some 1970s-era film stock, and super-grainy blown-out footage from Pai Mei’s temple, evoking cheap Hong Kong action flicks.

Some movies leave you with the sense that some establishing scenes, which would have helped make sense of the plot, were left on the cutting-room floor. Not with QT. This movie is all about how we got to where we are. So before The Bride can punch her way out of a coffin, we break to a flashback, a story that would stand on its own, to explain how she came to be able to do this. And this is tightly linked to another flashback story that answers another niggling question.

It was interesting to be made aware, with those pitiless close shots, of the tiny wrinkles now appearing on Uma Thurman’s face. Even teenage celebrities are getting obligatory plastic surgery these days, and some women a generation older than Thurman can no longer frown from all the botox paralyzing their faces. And it was interesting to consider that this increasingly inhuman standard of beauty must be influencing the way movies are made: a lot of actresses probably would refuse to put their features under the audience’s loupe, or would insist that the laugh lines be photoshopped away. Some actresses probably couldn’t be cast for a role like this at all, because they are physically incapable of the facial gestures required. It seems ridiculous to say that Thurman deserves respect for putting herself on display in this way, but the way things are headed, perhaps she does.

The Seagull’s Laugh

Saw The Seagull’s Laugh a little while ago. Noteworthy if for no other reason than being the first Icelandic movie I’ve ever seen, it’s interesting as a weird little slice into life in a postwar Icelandic village, and the study of a mythologically witchlike character (appropriately named Freyja) and her machinations. In fact, I suspect there are a lot of mythological references that I’m just not catching (there’s something about Freyja’s red hair pinned to the wall that seems especially freighted with symbolism).

Robot Stories

Robot Stories was a special AFS showing at the Arbor, and I’m glad I caught it. A tetralogy of related shorts that dealt with serious science-fiction questions, questions of the edges of what is humanity. These are rarely addressed in SF movies–in AI the last time I saw, though perhaps less successfully because of the Spielbergian cruft.

The second of the four in this film was out of place and the weakest of the lot; the others looked at how we relate to machines, and at what point machines become people. Or people become machines. And a host of related questions, many of which have been taken up many times in SF literature, but which a good movie shows in a new perspective. If your consciousness is downloaded to a computer shortly before you die–and continues to be aware, present, and involved in the world–are you dead? And if you had a spouse, are the two of you still married? And if you are, is that a good thing? This movie evoked these questions in me, in some cases with a single silent shot.

Of Freaks and Men

Gwen picked out Of Freaks and Men to rent the other day. I usually don’t blog renters, but this is worth a mention.

It’s a strange movie, occupying a quiet space somewhere between David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch–there was a lot about this movie that reminded me of Dead Man: the lush black-and-white cinematography, the understated violence, the lumbering pace, and Putilov’s suit. Except this is Russian. A lot of class-struggle satire that would probably be more acutely relevant to someone who had lived through communism.


Gwen surprised me by being as interested in seeing Hellboy as I was, so we made yesterday a double-feature day.

It was fun–visually interesting, with entertaining and baroque villains (I especially liked the wind-up Nazi). Ron Perlman is a good actor with a habit of taking on roles in movies that otherwise probably couldn’t attract his level of talent, and this movie is the better for it.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

As part of her day of hookey, Gwen and I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Charlie Kaufman has really outdone himself, managing to combine PKD-style mindfucks with a really poignant story.

One exchange was especially memorable, and relevant beyond the scope of the movie

Clementine: This is it, Joel. It’s going to be gone soon.
Joel: I know.
Clementine: What do we do?
Joel: Enjoy it.

The whole movie is wonderful.

The Dreamers

Another Bernado Bertolucci movie that tries to document a pivotal moment in history and tell a story of psychosexual drama, I just don’t quite get the Dreamers. The historical setting is Paris in 1968, during student uprisings, and the characters are an American exchange student who hooks up with a brother-sister who seem joined at the hip.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t know enough about Paris in 1968 that the historical angle leaves me cold–a bunch of students marching in the streets and venerating Mao, clashes with police, etc–it’s not clear what they really thought they would achieve, if anything, or if they were just being rebellious and blowing off steam. The movie sort of muddles along for the first three quarters, occasionally punctuated by significant moments, and in the last quarter has several momentous but completely ambiguous moments that leave the audience wondering not only what is happening but why the characters did what they did. The cinematography is quite good, but the content could be condensed down to less than an hour.

The Triplets of Belleville, Destino

Saw the Triplets of Belleville along with Destino at the Dobie.

Destino is an animated short that finishes off an unfinished collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali; it has all the melting clocks and visual imagination you’d expect from a duo like that. Here in town, it’s only playing at the Dobie, but it’s worth it. Apparently the original project didn’t get beyond conceptual sketches–what we saw was all computer-generated.

The Triplets of Belleville is another animated movie, and it’s wonderful. It has no dialogue, very much like Mr Hulot’s Holiday, and in fact, it made a couple of explicit references to that. The characters are (pardon the pun) two-dimensional, but there’s so much visual and auditory inventiveness I just didn’t care. The movie rewards careful viewing, and demands a pretty good visual vocabulary to get much out of it. It also, I have to point out, was made by someone who loves bikes and bike racing, and he gets right a lot of little details that only another bike person would notice.

Turkish Star Wars in Magnificent Foleyvision!

I’m somewhat amazed at myself for having sat through this movie twice now, but last night I saw Alamo’s foleyvision production of Turkish Star Wars (op cit). The key difference this time being the English voiceovers. “Now I’ll know what that movie was actually about” I thought when I bought my ticket.

Two hours later, I was sadder, poorer, but wiser. The movie is so profoundly nonsensical that it defies comprehension in any language. This is not to criticize the translation, and I must say, the entire audience–a packed house–cheered when the translator’s name scrolled up in the Alamo’s homemade credits, which made my heart swell.

The foleyvision crew did a fine job, and took well-earned poetic license on occasion. Kudos.

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer

Yesterday, Gwen and I saw Aileen, a documentary about the eponymous woman immortalized in Monster (which I also want to see).

It is unfortunate that this story is in the hands of Nick Broomfield, the documentarist. He’s just not very good at his job. He’s clearly wrapped up in his subject, he asks leading questions and occasionally, he practically answers his own questions for the interviewee. He fails to follow up on potentially interesting points that his subjects bring up. He has too much face-time and is too much a part of the story. To some extent, this is inevitable: he made a previous documentary about Aileen Wournos, which was introduced as evidence at a hearing shown in this film, and he was deposed as a witness in it as well. Setting that aside, though, he’s still too much in the movie. Though he clearly takes a dim view of other people who exploited Wournos’ story for money (a group that included several cops who were on her case), he’s in the same boat, and we see him onscreen paying $25,000 to her onetime lawyer for the right to film her. The camera work is also shoddy (not that the camera is necessarily his hands).

But Wournos herself is the real story, and she’s plenty interesting to make the movie worth seeing. Like some other documentaries that focus on crimes, we are left unsure of what really happened. Wournos, a hooker, killed seven men in the space of one year. The first had a history of sex crimes, and her initial defense was that he had brutalized her, so she was acting in self-defense. By the time this film was being made, she had been sentenced to death, and had publicly recanted her earlier story, saying she killed all of them for the money and no other reason. When she thought she was off-camera, however, she whispered that it was her original story that was true–that each of the men she killed had brutalized her–and she just recanted to get her execution over with. She couldn’t stand being in prison anymore, and she knew she’d never get out.

Wournos was also clearly mad. She said the prison was using “sonic pressure” on her brain. That the police knew about her after her first killing, but that they let her continue to kill six more men to create a more sensational case, and that the subsequent killings were really, somehow, the fault of the cops. Despite this, she passed a psych evaluation to determine her competence a few days before her execution. The evaluation lasted all of 15 minutes. Certainly, as long as the evaluation was carefully constructed of questions like “do you know what day it is?” (ie, the kinds of questions they ask to determine whether you’ve suffered recent brain trauma) she would pass.

We were unsure what really happened, but we speculated anyhow. Wournos had a shockingly awful upbringing–her mother running away at 6 months, losing her virginity at 9, having a child at the age of 13 (probably by a pederast), her father dying, her grandfather throwing her out of the house, and her living in the Michigan woods until she hitchhiked down to Florida at 16. It is not hard to imagine this putting a person in a fragile state of sanity. And it is not hard to believe that she really was brutalized by the first man she killed. Perhaps that’s what pushed her over the edge.

After this, we needed something to clear our heads out, so we rented The Magic Christian, the sixties anti-war/anti-capitalism/anti-authority semi-linear hippy freakout starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr.

My Architect

Saw My Architect last night with Gwen and a bunch of her co-workers. This is a documentary about the architect Louis Kahn by his son.

Kahn’s family life was complex, to put it gently. He was married and had two mistresses, and had one child by each of the ladies in his life–the filmmaker’s mother was the second of his mistresses, and to this day entertains the fantasy that he would have left his wife to live with her. Apparently all of the women knew of each other, but (unsurprisingly) had nothing to do with each other. Kahn’s cousin (who was interviewed in the film) disbelieved that the filmmaker could be Kahn’s son, since Kahn didn’t have a son, legitimately–apparently he wasn’t in on the whole story, though almost everyone else was.

The filmmaker didn’t know his father very well, since Kahn was rarely around–not only did he have a legit family, he apparently spent most of his time either at the office or travelling. So the movie is not just to document Kahn’s life: it’s a more personal project for the filmmaker to learn about his father, and inevitably, it winds up being a little self-regarding as a result.

Despite this, and despite the fact that it drags in spots, it’s a fascinating movie. Interviews with other leading architects of his generation (I.M. Pei, Philip Johnson, etc) give us the sense that Kahn was “an architect’s architect” even though he had far fewer completed commissions than his peers. Kahn’s work is interesting to learn about: his schtick was monumental architecture. Some of his buildings are just plain ugly. Others, like the Salk Library, are beautiful but don’t seem to work well on a human scale–in that sense, they are monumental, but formalized, abstract, and not entirely functional.

At the end of the movie, however, we see Kahn’s last big project, which wasn’t completed until a decade after his death in 1974: the parliament and capital complex for Bangladesh. It is enormous, sprawling, and wonderful. A deliberative chamber is like a giant cylinder capped by a skylight, with a constellation of lights underneath. There is little to distract the eye, and it is easy to imagine being in that room removes you from petty everyday concerns and subconsciously reminds you of the importance of what happens there. The filmmaker interviews the Bangladeshi architect Shamsul Wares, who openly cries at what Kahn did for Bangladesh: by giving them this building, he says, Kahn gave them the institutions for democracy. Putting Kahn’s legacy in human terms as well as academic terms.

The Cooler

Saw The Cooler with Gwen yesterday. Good movie. William H. Macy has made a good career out of playing the nice-guy schnook, and he does so here in a role that has a little more meat than those roles usually do. Alec Baldwin is perfect as the tough-guy casino operator who is, in his own way, more pathetic than his schnook employee.

The story is a little disjointed–the interlude with the long-lost son is just sort of plunked down without really fitting in, and some of the backstory is never filled in–but it mixes the fantastic and hard-bitten reality in a way that I like, and kept me guessing how it would turn out until the end (which you might say is more because of my suspension of disbelief than anything else).

The movie is about gambling and luck: Macy’s character Bernie Lootz has such impossibly bad luck that any table in a casino he walks past instantly starts losing, making him an asset to the casino that employs him.

After the movie we threw some trout and veggies on the grill. I’ve never been much of a gambler in the customary sense, but I think barbecuing is where I give vent to my gambling urge: there’s always an element of chance with a grill, and every time a meal turns out well, I feel like I’ve beaten the odds.

Tokyo Godfathers

Catching up on some belated blogging here, I saw Tokyo Godfathers with Jenny a few days ago. Enjoyable, good animation that mixed traditional flat drawing with rotoscoped backgrounds. Very schmaltzy story with an overload of astonishing coincidences (“….Dad??”) that (as Jenny points out) seems to be a sendup of coincidence-laden Japanese dramas.

Alamo double-header

Took in two oddball events at the Alamo this weekend.

On Saturday, we saw the “Show with No Name” show. This is actually a community access show (which I’ve never seen), but they saved their raunchiest, weirdest stuff for this screening, which included such lowlights as the Pamela/Tommy Lee sex tape, the Paris Hilton sex tape, and Chuck Barry pissing on his wife’s face. Plus lots of other scatalogical strangeness, capped off by a woman sending a profoundly bizarre come-on video to the object of her affection, Stevie Vai, featuring an astounding three-minute queef solo.

Saturday was a screening of Santo contra la invasión de los marcianos, presented in glorious Foleyvision [mpeg], that is, live voice-over and sound effects. The dialogue seemed to be a pretty straight translation of what (I’m guessing) the original Spanish must have been–they didn’t bother giving the movie the What’s Up, Tiger Lily? treatment, but it was funny enough on its own. After all–it’s a movie about a masked Mexican wrestler fending off a Martian invasion. What more could you want?

Bubba Ho-Tep

Saw Bubba Ho-Tep today. Best. Movie. Title. Ever. Stars Bruce Campbell, veteran of numerous horror movies, as the still-alive Elvis Presley, and Ossie Davis as the still-alive JFK. I think that’s justification enough to see it, but it’s also a damn entertaining film that is neither as camp nor frenetic as I expected, but really has a heart.

Apparently the producers have not been able to secure widespread release for this flick (go figure), so if you if you see it, consider yourself special.

Kill Bill

Saw Kill Bill yesterday. Even for Quentin Tarantino, it was fantastically violent. More blood than all his previous movies put together, plus any Sam Peckinpah movie thrown in for good measure. There’s no getting around this. And the violence is not the arm’s-length variety practiced by Jerry Bruckheimer–it’s in your face, and in many cases intimate. Like a Peckinpah or John Woo movie, the violence is where the real art of the movie is concentrated, though.

Much of the movie is set in Japan, or a Japan extracted from QT’s wet dreams, where everyone carries a sword, where 60s-style girl groups perform on stages in traditional ryotei.

All that notwithstanding, I enjoyed the movie. The story of Kill Bill reminded me of a mirror-universe version of Charlie’s Angels–an elite team of hot babes (one of them portrayed by Lucy Liu), led by a mysterious and unseen older guy. Except in this case, they’re all assassins, not crime-fighters. It also bore obvious similarities to The Bride Wore Black To their credit, Lucy Liu and Uma Thurman both speak perfectly serviceable Japanese, much better than I’ve heard from most Hollywood stars.

The Alamo, with their usual panache, led off the movie with trailers for bad ninja-chick movies of the 70s, like Wonder Women–these alone were practically worth the price of admission.

Mystic River

Saw Mystic River last night with Gwen and her old friend Sonya. The movie is based on a book, but none of us had read it, so we really didn’t know what to expect.

Every one of the main characters–this is the classic ensemble cast, there really is no protagonist–is badly damaged in some way. And there are some apparent plot holes–or at least open question–at the end of the movie. But overall it works. It’s a very hard movie, a very grim story, but it is completely absorbing. I forgot that I was sitting in a movie theater in Austin though most of it–I was just wrapped up in the movie.

Intolerable Cruelty

Just saw the latest by the Coen Brothers, Intolerable Cruelty. I’ll see any Coen Brothers movie on spec, and this one didn’t disappoint. Go see it. Love, betrayal, ass-impalings, car smashups, gunfire, and that’s just in the first five minutes–but sets the tone for the rest of the movie. As always, the brothers deliver whacky characters, snappy and occasionally erudite dialogue, funky camera angles, and a good yarn. Plus a lot of alliterative appelations. This movie, somewhat uncharacteristically for them, has an A-list cast, with certified Beautiful Persons George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Eta Beta Tomato Jones, but it is no less a movie for it.

Go see it.

Hollywood is a trans-ironic zone

I overheard someone commenting once that we need a word for something beyond irony, because so much that happens in Washington exceeds what we normally think of as ironic.

This is true, and apparently it applies to the left coast as well. I saw a trailer for an upcoming movie, Paycheck, based on a Philip K Dick story of the same name. The trailer starts off by telling us that. in the future, the basis of all busines will be reverse engineering, and that our protagonist is the best reverse engineer in the business.

Why is this trans-ironic? Well, because the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed under the Clinton administration, outlawed reverse engineering, and the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA), which runs annoying “public service announcements” before movies telling us not to pirate movies, was one of the primary forces behind that law. And here they are, glorifying the violation of it.

PKD would be amused.