Wednesday, August 3, 2016

KNIGHT OF CUPS(directed by Terrence Malick) Isn't My Cup of Tea.




I have some sound advice for Terrence Malick. Get rid of actors(who stand around clueless), voice-over narration(that sounds constipated), and script(if that's what it is). And get rid of classical music, which is overly solemn and structured for Malick's informal joyrides. Just go for travelogue and show us some pretty pictures. KNIGHT OF CUPS works only on that level. Major characters, such as they exist, serve as little more than bored tour-guides for Malick's wandering notions. Everyone else is either eye-candy, exotica, or dubious distraction, though some are presented as if poised on the edge of epiphany. It's like a film made by someone with a cosmic case of attention deficit disorder.
Stylistically, this latest Malick monstrosity is a decisive improvement over horrors such as THE NEW WORLD and TREE OF LIFE. The camera-work is nimbler, fine-tuned to minute shifts of action and attention. TREE OF LIFE, which looked like the most expensive home movie(or youtube video)ever made, couldn't reconcile the monumental with the momentary, no more than Einstein could unify the theory of stars with that of subatomic particles.
Visually, KNIGHT OF CUPS would have at least made a decent hipster travelogue minus the story and characters. But there is something like a story and something like characters. Neither made it clear why we should care. Malick is now at a point where he thinks it might be of profound social, philosophical, and spiritual significance if he filmed himself scratching his ass. He now makes arthouse porn.

Rating: 2/5

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

POINT BREAK(directed by Ericson Core and written by Kurt Wimmer) Is Retarded



This could have been an interesting adventure about the extremes of masculinity, courage, and megalomania. The themes of action, spirit, and danger are all there. Immortality through dares on mortality. And there are some spectacular moments, especially in the sea and on cliffs. But the lack of character development deflates the tragic dimension, the only thing that can redeem a movie like this. Some of the action scenes are beyond ludicrous; they 'jump the shark', making the feats more fantastic than dangerous. And the damn tattoos. Maybe getting more than one tattoo should be a capital crime. Enough already.

Rating: 1/5

PIRATES OF SILICON VALLEY Is Silly Fun



It lacks the finesse and polish of a top production feature like SOCIAL NETWORK. It is one of those cheapie TV productions. The acting is uneven. The story isn't entirely convincing. But the low-budget amateurism has charm and captures the nervy-nerdy spirit of a tale of ne'er-do-well garage geeks chasing after and realizing their dreams by fits and starts of luck, talent, and vision. It works on the level of romp and has fun with the material. While Fincher's movie and Danny Boyle's STEVE JOBS are technically more impressive and feature better acting, they are overloaded with seriousness and relevance, whereas PIRATES OF SILICON VALLEY gets into the spirit of geek egotism. If John Hughes had made a movie about high-tech world, it might have been something like this.

Rating: 2/5

BOILER ROOM(directed by Ben Younger) Is a Memorable Movie



BOILER ROOM features some Jews acting like Italians acting like Negroes. It has wall-to-wall Rap music, which drove me crazy, but it suits the material which is about young men without culture, compass, or meaning. It has some familiar stuff, like father-son drama, but it's done so well that formula almost rises to the level of art(though maybe that too is a con).

Smart successful Jews make it to Harvard and Yale and go directly to Wall Street. The smart-but-not-smart-enough and driven-but-not-disciplined enough Jews must find other routes to fortune and success. These Jews must go 'Soprano' and 'goomba', traipsing the thin line between legality and illegality. BOILER ROOM effectively shows the underbelly of this kind of enterprise. Illegitimate superficially passing itself as legitimate. But given recent revelations about Wall Street, maybe BOILER ROOM is just a grubbier expose of what goes on in the legitimate world too.

Rating: 3/5

WALL STREET(directed by Oliver Stone) Still Entertains and Delivers



What is one to make of Oliver Stone? Usually, the problem is Hollywood entertainers fall flat on their faces as wanna-be artists. They work well with formula but get lost outside it. Stone is the opposite. He is best in artistic mode and falls flat with formula. Stone's villains are usually the best since Stone cannot endorse their positions. Yet, he's too much of an artist to simply present them as monsters. Also, the egotistical side of Stone makes him, at least subconsciously, identify with power-hungry men. So, the character of Gordon Gekko is glorious in WALL STREET. He's a crook, a real shark. But we admire his instincts, insights, talents, and ruthlessness. There is magnificence in his greed. It isn't just hunger for money but a passion for life. That said, he is a man of no scruples; he has no vision beyond the self. He is scum.

One could argue that the portrayal of Gekko is too sensational, especially with handsome Michael Douglas in the role. Good or bad, he is the star like Hannibal Lecter is in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. He is above conventional morality, beyond good and evil. Still, anyone with moral sense should see him as Mr. Sleaze.

Stone succeeds with Gekko because he is artist enough to see him from all angles. Where Stone falters(in this movie and in others) is when he deals with the Good Guys, the representatives of Labor. Stone goes formula and gives us trite speechifying about the Common Man. It's like Stone is on auto-pilot doing assembly line screenwriting. It is by rote than wrote.

Rating: 3/5

A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY(directed by Edward Yang) Is Maybe Summit of Taiwanese Cinema


Slow-going at times but a carefully observant socio-cultural diagnosis of the unsure direction of youth in conflict with family, peers, and authority. Like a doctor's stethoscope, Yang's creative senses attunes us to the heartbeat of history so often drowned out by distractions and hyperbole. 

Rating: 5/5

THE MISSOURI BREAKS(directed by Arthur Penn) Wind.



Chigurh of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN may be scarier, but Brando's role as Grand Inquisitor is surely more perverse. Not sure that's a good thing but a singular performance: eccentric, wily, indulgent, lazy, funny, vicious. This movie sort of has 'good guys' and 'bad guys'. As an Anti-Western, the 'good' or 'gooder' guys are petty outlaws while the 'bad' or 'badder' guys are ruling figures of the frontier community. Kind of Sam Fuller Western on dope. Confused, not very convincing, and ugly at times but one of a kind story that guts the Western and pulls out the entrails.

Rating: 3/5 

LA CHIENNE(directed by Jean Renoir) Is a True Classic



LA CHIENNE shows Renoir's ability to blend mundane with murder without betraying the spirit of either. A remarkable film, one of the first talkies, along with Fritz Lang's M, to illustrate that cinema can stand tall and equal with the established and esteemed arts. It justifiably made Renoir's name as a top contender and a talent to watch. An artist who veers into extremities of experience without losing sight of what makes us human as both limitation and saving grace.

Rating: 5/5

Monday, August 1, 2016

COMING HOME(directed by Zhang Yimou from Novel by Geling Yan)



Moviegoers should be familiar with films about the physical and emotional torment caused by the terrible upheavals of the Mao Era. Think of FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE, BLUE KITE, TO LIVE, and SUNFLOWER. Less examined, at least to my knowledge, is the aspect of psychological trauma, the effects of which can be radical beyond the political, social, and personal. The loss of sanity itself. On the intimate scale, it is more terrifying to lose sanity in a sane world than to retain sanity in an insane one. Mao era was an insane period, but many people still managed to preserve a modicum of sanity. Even amidst the ideological fervor, most people at least retained the basic sense of time and reality. They could be driven to do terrible things, but at least they knew what they did and why. In a world gone insane, even Red Guards, rabid and murderous as they were, knew what day of the month it was.
Despite their political madness, they still had psychological sanity.

It is what is lost in COMING HOME where Gong Li's character, due to emotional duress and/or physical trauma, loses her ability to retain new memory and to recognize her husband. Viewers will find shades of MEMENTO and MULHOLLAND DR., though the similarity is somewhat jarring because it co-mingles with the humanism that the Fifth Generation Chinese Filmmakers became famous for. Generally, we associate humanism with ordinary people faced with worldly problems. COMING HOME begins in that context but lurches into something closer to psychological drama. This shift isn't entirely convincing and is even a bit gimmicky. But even if COMING HOME isn't art, it has heart in the right place. We learn that there are many meanings to the idea of 'coming home'. There is the physical journey of the husband from prison. But there is also the journey of the soul and spirit of the woman who still awaits her husband whom she no longer recognizes. She awaits his return home while he awaits her return to sanity. For her, there is the never-fading hope of his return, and for him, there's the realization that she will never return to him. But in their mutual patience and acceptance, they are reunited on a deeper level.

As horrible as the Mao years were, sanity allowed the survivors to pick up the broken pieces of their lives and start on a mending process. But for those who lost their sanity, there was no going home. This film is a fine tribute to those lives.

Rating: 3/5

REGRESSION(directed by Alejandro Amenábar) Is Too Stylish for Its Own Good



Alejandro Amenabar is a master manipulator of mood that, in his finer moments, takes us to the heart of the matter. In this, he is comparable to M. Night Shyamalan. But what worked in the enclosed unreality of THE OTHERS doesn't work here: Small Town American milieu. The characters are unconvincing, as if solemnly reverse-engineered from Hollywood cliches into realism. Instead of realism derived from reality with which the artist is familiar, we get the mere designer realism fabricated by the way of coarsening dime-a-dozen cliches about rural America and religious culture. It's like affluent people buying 'grungy' or 'worn' clothes from the fashion industry. REGRESSION suffers the same fate as PRISONERS directed by the French-Canadian Denis Villeneuve. Their vision of American Gothic is based on movies, TV, and urban legends. Likewise, no amount of hamfisted realism in THE DEER HUNTER can shrug off Cimino's ludicrous Tolstoy-Visconti treatment of material that called for intimate detail than epic scale.
If THE OTHERS worked in mode of morbid chic, REGRESSION aims at social commentary that seems off-base in a film so waxed over with style.

That said, REGRESSION is a timely movie in the age of Jackie Coakley & Haven Monahan, Emma Sulkowicz the Mattress Girl, the KKK sightings at Oberlin college, the sheer lunacy of Camps 'Rape Culture' hysteria, Black Lives Matter outrage, Putin as New Hitler, and ridiculous fear of Sharia Law taking over America. And let's not forget Americans think 25% of the population is homosexual or transsexual.
The boy in THE SIXTH SENSE says 'ghosts see what they want to see'. Well, it can happen to real individuals too. Indeed, to entire communities and even nations. Though the hysteria in REGRESSION is checked before it gets totally out of hand, we do live in a society where the media, academia, and government are in the business, even mission, to bury reality with the Narrative. And these Narratives are so pervasive and relentless that entire colleges are under the impression that white males(instead of black males) pose the main sexual threats and that most blacks are being killed by 'racist' white police officers. Among Conservatives who fear being labeled 'racist', 'antisemitic', or 'homophobic', there is the easy scapegoating of Muslims as the source of all ills.

REGRESSION is less of a film than THE EXORCIST but smarter on the theme of evil. In Blatty and Friedkin's movie, evil is obvious. He, she, or it pukes all over and looks wicked and gross. In REGRESSION, evil permeates through hearts and minds without notice. Even people who think they are pursuing justice or doing penance are caught up in the evil web that, instead of having a single source, emanates from the vanity and egotism of everyone. Evil arises from distrust but also from trust. From lack of faith but also from faith that turns everything into a matter of black and white. In other words, there is no identifiable Evil. Rather, evil is the sum of all the pieces of broken lives aspiring for escapist dreams that turn into nightmare.

It's too bad that Amenabar got excessively caught up in style(impressive as it is, especially in the hypnosis scenes that almost bear comparison with Kubrick and Kobayashi), because REGRESSION is a most relevant movie in a world where the Narrative has so many people hallucinating a faux-reality of goblins and spooks as imagined and sensationalized by the globalist media.

Rating: 2/5.