DOING THE POOTMOOTOO THING
Well, Jack's Cafe regular Jessie said the 100 movie review thing was a good
idea. But she wasn't convinced I could come up with a hundred movies that
are Pootmootoo "neat". Of course, I could. Coming up with the movies
is the easy part. I mean I can reel off a lot of them right now from top of my head.
KUNG FU RASCALS
KING OF BEGGARS
TWILIGHT'S LAST GLEAMING
HEAD (with the Monkees)
GODS AND MONSTERS
BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR
ASHES OF TIME
THE BIG BLUE
THE AMERICAN WAY
QUATERMASS AND THE PIT
THE GAMERA TRILOGY
PATLABOR 1 & 2
THE THING (From Another World)
CHINESE GHOST STORY 2
CAST A DEADLY SPELL
CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO
THE HAUNTING (The original of course)
and more than 8 Studio Ghibli movies like TOTORO, POM POKO, TOMBSTONE FOR
FIREFLIES, LAPUTA and PORCO ROSSO
And the dozens of titles already covered in past installments.
And I would've thought of dozens more well before I got through this lot.
But I'm guessing that even before I got this far I would have bored everyone
silly. Well, that's Kink's argument. He says that this sort of thing isn't
what blogs are for. Well, what are blogs for? I thought they were for
anything. He agrees they are, but that doesn't mean anyone will hang round
to appreciate it. He says blogs are for a different purpose. Blogs have a
different mindset. What mindset? I asked. He said go check out other
blogs and work it out for yourself. Oh, great.
The View From Mt Pootmootoo
Here we are at the Temple of the Rubber-Suit Monster, within the clouds atop Mt Pootmootoo, hidden somewhere in the sea of suburbia. This is a journal of casual thoughts and comments regarding speculative, innovative & fantastic film and the post-modern cinematic condition.
Thursday, March 27, 2003
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
5. CAMEL WARS (1997)
Kevin Hasseem made his name with a series of tampon commercials and two
Mariah Carey music clips which were banned from MTV. So it was surprising
that for his first feature he would go back to his native Saudi Arabia. And
then make a film like this. Set in 1991 in the Kuwaiti desert during the
Gulf War this is the tale of a group of camels caught up in the conflict
between Iraqi soldiers and allied troops. Yes, the camels talk but there
are no special effects. We see normal camels, walking, running, sitting,
spitting, chewing cud, but we hear the voices of the camels as they talk to
each other. And this is where the film becomes special. For these camels
talk about the trials and tribulations of life, of love and suffering, war
and peace. And the philosophising of these desert animals is as much about
the human as the camel condition. And it's told with the delicacy of a
multic-coloured snowflake. The intricacies of narrative, the overwhelming
sense of sartorial examination through camel eyes. The remarkable imagery
of hump and sand. I felt I was a camel. That I was going on the journey
Oh who am I kidding?
I should've listened to the cafe mob from the beginning. Francher said this
hundred movie review thing was a crap idea. He told me not to do it. It
was a waste of space. Kink pretty much said the same. He asked what was
the point? Who's it for? Hampton was supportive. But he always is and he
had that blank smile thing going on. Ya know. When you try to talk about
the Tarkovsky film STALKER and as you go on about the details with the
kibble in the pool he, like so many others, gives you that blank smile and
nods. The rest of the Jack's Cafe crowd didn't say a thing.
But I did like the camels. I thought they were dudes.
Camels or no camels, what will be the future of this blog?
Sunday, March 23, 2003
4. EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959)
A brilliant and highly respected surgeon is kidnapping young women and
removing their faces seeking to repair his own beloved daughter's
disfigurement. LesYeux sans visage; doesn't it sound even better in French?
And it sounds like an opportunity for a bit of gore, but little of such is
actually shown. The skill of director Georges Franju for suggestion creates
images in the mind so visceral you almost remember seeing gruesome horrors
never made visual. Also, the film is so seductive, so sensual, so smooth on
the senses you are almost hypnotised to follow through the darkness in the
doctor's mansion and his own tormented mind. Perhaps stylistically inspired
by Jean Cocteau's poetic cinema the film knows how to linger and even touch
on moments of expressionism (like when the doctor's innocent daughter,
wearing a wax mask, wanders through the mansion like a ghost), but this
works all the more for the stark realism that also surrounds the admittedly
outlandish premise. Hauntingly beautiful, disturbingly cruel, this perfect
balance of dreamery and verisimilitude makes this film one the best examples
of its kind.
Friday, March 21, 2003
3. PROJECT X (1967)
Produced and directed by el-cheapo showman William Castle this film is a
rather neat example of using style to replace money. It's an attempt to
make a world scale futuristic spy thriller without a budget and they largely
get away with it. A secret agent returning from a mission in a bad country
looses his memory. They give him the mind of a contemporary bank robber
(with props and related characters) and then analyze his dreams for the
truth. All the futuristic spy adventure stuff is depicted via a dream state
that allows narrative tools you just couldn't get away with any other way.
For instance, two heroes sneaking via scuba into a enemy base is depicted by
animation (by Hanna-Barbara's company). And there are other imaginative
visual tricks. The look of the film and the characters might be light and
slight but the ideas run fast and are cool, at least cooler than you'd
expect. So what if it looks real cheap, it's still neat.
2. THE MIRACLE AT MORGAN'S CREEK (1944)
Betty Hutton is the sweet but naive Trudy Kockenlocker and she gets pregnant
to an unknown soldier boy. Eddie Bracken is Norval Jones and he pretends to
be the father and the strife that follows for this poor lad builds up to
such ludicrous proportions you're forced to take the ride with him to the
top and over. In 1944 the subject of illegitimacy would be very
controversial in any straight subject. But writer/director Preston Sturges
turns it into one of the most wacky satires of little America. At first
you may wonder what the hype is all about but, trust me, by the time you get
to the end you'll see why this is considered one of the fastest and wittiest
comedies made. This film builds up to a mania of quick set up gags that
poke fun at almost every American institution and keeps on going even into
Hitler's own boardroom. Its influence on Bug Bunny and his brethren is most
OVERHEARD AT JACK'S CAFE
KINK: Watched War of the Worlds last night on DVD. The picture was so
sharp and clear.
HAMPTON: You mean you can see the wires on the war machines so sharp and
KINK: Man, they look like ten inch cables. Never really noticed them as a
kid watching them on TV.
HAMPTON: Couldn't see them cause of a mixture of child's self delusion,
fuzzy TV screen and aging film stock.
KINK: But now restored and on digital, you can see every bit of model
HAMPTON: Would sort of ruin for ya, wouldn't it?
KINK: Oh contraire. Seeing the wires makes it even better. Now, the more
artificial it is the more fun it is.
HAMPTON: What? As a kid the fun was that it looked so real, but as an
adult the fun is that it looks so fake?
KINK: Close. Experiencing the same fun you did as a child means to see the
illusion and recall how it felt so real as a child. You see, you can't go
back. You never can. But to see it now is not to re-experience the film
but to see a postcard that reminds you of the experience.
HAMPTON: Of course, there is a way to go back.
HAMPTON: Watch Independence Day instead.
KINK: Don't get me started.
Thursday, March 20, 2003
The High Monk has decided that the wallpaper in the meditation room needs
changing. Currently it's all groovy images of that classic Gamera of '60s &
'70s. Sensei found some new super groovy paper with dynamic images of the
new and more sleek '90s Gamera. I must admit, sad as it would be to lose
the ol' Gamera, the new Gamera stuff is pretty darn cool. And one can't
stop change. But Sensei says that if you change one thing then all things
in the universe are also altered. Thus, if he's going to change one room
then he might as well change them all. This on going renovation of the
whole temple has inspired me to consider my impermanence and so my journal
is going to change along with it.
With that said...
LAUNCHING A NEW PROJECT FOR MT POOTMOOTOO!
I will be suggesting a film on average of one a day that is of a Pootmootoo
nature and I think worth seeing for one reason or another. I certainly hope
that if you've seen a film I mention that you express your opinion in
Regardless, I'll do this till ... well, till I stop (likely not before I get
to a hundred).
So let's begin...
1. DREAM CHILD (1985)
Voyaging to America to celebrate Lewis Carol's centenary an aging Alice
Hargreaves, the inspiration for Alice, is forced to face memories and fears
and her time as a child with Carol. There are four narratives to this
remarkable Dennis Potter screenplay; bitter Alice on the ship, young Alice
and her relationship with Reverend Charles Dodgson (played by Ian Holm),
storybook Alice facing the characters in Wonderland and then those same
characters, now distorted to reveal darker truths, face an old woman who
tells fellows like the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter just what she thinks.
This is no children's tale but an exploration of childhood, Lewis Carol and
the place of innocence. It's a unique experience and rewarding. It's also
a highlight in the career of Jim Henson and his crew. Beautifully made,
very intelligent and very touching, the darkness and the delight will haunt
you for time to come.
Friday, March 14, 2003
Yes, Hong Kong's answer to the gory comic zombie flick. And it ain't half
bad for what it is. Basically, it's a Peter Jackson tribute. Oh, not to
the outstanding top-of-the-field film director who made FELLOWSHIP OF THE
RING and THE TWO TOWERS, but that rad schlockmiester who made BAD TASTE
(1987) and BRAIN DEAD (1992) and happens to be the same guy. But though the
style of gore and the humour is by the hands of those who loved BRAIN DEAD
(known as DEAD/ALIVE in the US) this is also a light-hearted (though heavy
blooded) tip of the hat to those Spanish/Italian jobs and especially George
A Romero. That BIO-ZOMBIE is set in a Hong Kong style shopping mall makes
it immediately identifiable with Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979). And a
rather sympathetic zombie (the most likeable person in the film and meant to
be so) is a mix of Jackson's zombie family and that loveable zombie from DAY
OF THE DEAD (1985). What's a Hong Kong touch? A zombie soccer team
complete with ball. BIO-ZOMBIE is a semi-crude run around with half
assed-jokes, half-assed characters and pretty half-assed make-up and blood
effects. But it's in that energetic Hong Kong kind'a way so it's rather
fun. What's interesting is how much they know what they're doing. They let
slip how slick and stylish they can be and there are a few very clever
visual gags derived from it and some emotional effective touches of
controlled style. But when the zombies come a marchin' then they deliberate
crude things down. The classic zombie flicks are from a different time of
filmmaking, even when they're no that old. Zombie flicks were low budget,
virtual no-budget flicks, which was part of their charm. Yep, there's no
mega-slick effects action in BIO-ZOMBIE like you saw in RESIDENT EVIL
(2002). But there is a link. Stylish, flashy and tight RESIDENT EVIL is
based on the cult video game. BIO-ZOMBIE isn't, but our heroes know all
about video games and the references abound. Entertainingly the traditional
zombie horror flick cliches pop up, but when they do the relevant gaming
icons pop up to let you know that's just the way it has to be played. When
the surviving characters decide what must be their course of action the film
lets you know it what you do in those zombie games. Those games just like
"Resident Evil" based on movies like Romero's LIVING DEAD trilogy and those
rotting zombie and shotgun ballets by Lucio Fulci. Fully aware of what it
is BIO-ZOMBIE is funny, squishy and with a heck of a body count. It's a
clever-silly flick made up of unlovable humans, loveable zombie, hairy
moments, brains across walls, bad jokes and touching scenes, and one nice
not like all the others endings. If you like early Jackson, if you like
early Raimi, if you liked Dan O'Bannon's RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985),
then this is one to add to your viewing. It's quite nice indeed. If you're
not into that, well, then maybe forget about it. But then maybe not. This
has been a big Hong Kong hit, partially because it stars the Benicio Del
Toro of Asia, but also as this is a HK comedy about zombie movies and zombie
movie video games. Yes, it is like RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD but it's also
a bit like ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. There is a touch of the
Asian mainstream appeal. So maybe you might want to check it out. Or you
can do what most people did with Raimi and Jackson. Wait till they grew up
and made real movies.
Thursday, March 13, 2003
THE TWO THOMPSONS
The Terry Gilliam film FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS is certainly not for
everyone as the very mixed reviews and its box office failure clearly
showed. It's probably my favourite film of 1998. More than just a
surprisingly loyal adaptation of Hunter S Thompson's book it is a study of
the man himself. And frankly, anything by Hunter S Thompson is really about
him. It's about how he sees it. How he saw desert racing outside of Las
Vegas or how he saw the 1972 presidential election. Sure, it's not accurate
to the facts. He's a professional bullshitter. But he uses his brand of
bullshit to reveal relative truths. He turns reality into a fantasy land of
paranoia and sub-cultural secrets. He's a socio-political illusionist. He
also can be quite funny in bizarre though cutting ways. But as I said, his
writing is about him, so any films of his work have to be about him. And
Hunter S Thompson as social commentator is inseparable from his personality.
His way of thinking needs to be shown and in film that means showing what it
is to be Hunter S Thompson. Johnny Depp did a freakish and almost
frightening madman running about seeing the world in mutant form. It was a
very good merging of the Gilliamesque and Depp's natural loopiness. How
much was it a loyal Thompson is only guessed at by knowing that Depp did
study the real man. Well, it could be accurate, it could be not. I don't
know Thompson as a person (either in interview or video or anything other
than his own writing) but I was intrigued and most bemused by this crazy man
running around the American desert seeing the weirdest of shit.
But I now know that Depp's Thompson must be close to the real thing. FEAR &
LOATHING is not the first film to depict Hunter S. In 1980 there was WHERE
THE BUFFALO ROAM which I've finally gotten to see (outside of the US this
film is rare as anything) which is about certain episodic events in
Thompson's journalist career before and after FEAR & LOATHING (with
exception of one scene in a car with Thompson aka Raoul Duke, Carl Lazlo aka
Dr Gonzo and a petrified hitchhiker - it would be interesting to compare the
two). BUFFALO ROAM features Bill Murray as Thompson. Freaky to see that
either Depp or Murray could easily played the man in either film. The
similarity of their performance is uncanny in manner of movement and speech
(the subtle differences are things are things unique to the mannerisms of
Murray and Depp respectively). They both portray Hunter S as if they went
to the same class. Which I'm guessing they did. That class being the
madman journo himself. Thompson appears in FEAR & LOATHING while he's
credited as "executive consultant" on BUFFALO ROAM.
And many aspects of the two films are so similar in attitude, that being
about Thompson, that it is hard to not look at the films as companion pieces
to each other. Especially as both films really don't have a plot but are
loosely linked events in the half-true life of a libertarian writer high on
all sorts of freaky shit. But despite the fascinating similarities they end
up as rather different films. Well, in my eyes, at any rate. WHERE THE
BUFFALO ROAMS is trying to be a "legit" film out to depict and explore the
writings and mindset of the Hunter S with all the social and political
commentary that entails. But it's made at the time of Murray's CADDYSHACK
and MEATBALLS, so it tries to be a politically scathing version of those.
Meaning, a wacky, crazy Bill Murray runs around straight and square people
making them lose it by his in-the-face nuttiness. Bill Murray does that
sort of thing well and as Hunter Thompson he does it even better. But the
film fails generally as you only get the buzz when Murray is on top of
things. The surrounding characters are played straight in a straight world,
the insanity is only seen through the words of Murray's Thompson either in
dialogue or voice over. And on the occasion a character is played
satirically then it comes across as wacky American comedy of the 1980 era.
You are continually pulled in then out of the needed mindset and this makes
it hard to lock onto this portrait of the man. And as this film is intended
as a portrait (more so that FEAR & LOATHING) then it isn't quite good
enough. Regardless, it's interesting and entreating and quite clever in
enough parts to be worthy of remembrance and it is one of those performances
that shows there's more to Bill Murray than a smug wise-cracker.
FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS takes a different approach, a braver one. The
whole film is through the eyes of the quasi-fictional Thompson. We see it
as he sees it. We see him as he sees himself. We see the voluntary descent
into a drug fueled madness. While BUFFALO ROAM is quirky, FEAR & LOATHING
goes beyond quirkiness and into the realm of dislocated reality. I can
understand why people can hate it or be left intellectually cold by it. If
you don't let go and allow your mind to go down the twisty water slide then
you may well no get it. The mistake BUFFALO ROAM made was to keep to the
rules of film. The movie is smart enough to have a scene where Thompson
addresses some students and one has the guts to ask if he makes it up,
especially about his lawyer friend Carl Lazlo (and Lazlo does slowly get
depicted more and more as a fantasy character as the film progresses to it's
non-climax). FEAR & LOATHING just lets rip the insanity, and never lets up,
of a bullshitting drug using journo who seems can't write any other way and
obviously enjoys the kudos he receives writing that way. FEAR & LOATHING
brings home the bacon cause it operates as fantasy and uses the tropes to
get the meaning across. It's a fantasy film of how a drugged out but
insightful man sees the decadence and corruption of modern American society
as mutants and monsters. And as a fantasy film it gets closer to the
reality than it's less than fantasy counter-piece can do.
Though FEAR & LOATHING might be under-appreciated, it's not by all. At the
same time that I finally saw WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM Criterion release a
souped up DVD edition of Gilliam's cult become classic. Check the details
And for the fun of it, here is a French site for FEAR & LOATHING.
Of note, WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM was produced and directed by Art Linson who
only directed one other film (WILD LIFE, 1984) before dedicating himself to
being a producer. He produced some interesting films including FIGHT CLUB
which was probably my favourite film of 1999.
Monday, March 10, 2003
Romance. The real thing. Deep, painful, inconsolable romance. Seems to be
the domain of Asian film. They allow their cinema to be wrapped in it,
engulfed by it. Their romantic cinema is romance at it's most
Shakespearean. They have not lost romance like so much cineflicker has. It
isn't artificial to them. It isn't illusion. But then that's because they
understand the artifice of the romance. The allure of it. They
understand romance as trickster, betrayer, maker of fools, maker of dying
hearts. They are not afraid to embrace the hurt of romance. They've taken
what French cinema has aspired to and made it their own in dark streets,
filthy hotels, bars of blue neon and spilt spirits. Wong Kar-Wai more than
any other contributed a new aesthetic to romance in astonishing works like
DAYS OF BEING WILD (1991), CHUNKING EXPRESS (1994 - my favourite film of the
nineties), FALLEN ANGELS (1995) and IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000). Even his
period sword epic ASHES OF TIMES (1994) centres around the sheer tragedy of
love. Through these themes, perhaps because of them, he is, in my personal
taste, the most exciting director working today.
But that certainly doesn't mean there aren't other movie makers who are
fresh with cinematic sensation and innovative filmic narrative out there. I
had mentioned the Pang Brothers and their tragic gangster noir BANGKOK
DANGEROUS (1999) before. Even Yoshimitsu Morita's KITCHEN (1989 - based on
the pop-cult novel by Mahoko Yoshimoto) is dressed as a light comedy becomes
by it's end a deeply resonating work on true love and the pain of heartfelt
romance. Even when some of these have happy endings, it doesn't mean we're
in for a feel good movie experience.
And from another part of Asia is another involving and romantic and heart
breaking tale told with such narrative conviction that to call it stylish is
to distract from the intent of the director. Their style is to tell. It
all has a purpose. That purpose to capture romance. And romance at it's
edge of living isn't happy in the telling. SUZHOU RIVER (2000) is a film to
add to this genre of the serious Asian romance. It is the contemporary
equivent of the Hollywood noir of the 40s and the sombre melodrama of the
fifties. But this is film aware of film. This is film that knows it
follows in footsteps of past cinema, of Golden Hollywood and New Wave
France. But now it's on the streets of ordinary persons struggling to earn
a living in places of moving people and continual industrial and
architectural change. Suzhou River is the river of Shanghai and the lives
of the river are the weave of this story. And it feels woven, intertwining
and involving. Director Lou Ye uses a visually direct free flowing
narrative that begins with one character, moves on to another and will twist
back on itself so smoothly you'll feel you are back at the beginning but now
you see it all so differently. It's difficult to not get caught up in the
strange narrative freeform, unless you are a dull incurable (it begins with
the life of a videographer and though he is as major as other two
characters, all his tale is told through his camera) and not to naturally go
with the changing protagonists as we are told "truths", "imaginings",
"conjectures" on their lives. We are told one truth, then shown perhaps
another. We are shown reality, then shown the romance, then asked to decide
not just which one is more true, but which one is more right, which one you
wish to believe.
Yes, at first it feels like some po-mo retelling of VERTIGO, but it really
isn't at all. Sure, it knows it's following the plot of Hitchcock's
classic, it is fully aware that much of this tale as been told before (saw
an entertaining Egyptian remake of VERTIGO once) but as that tale was about
the obsession of lost love, SUZHOU RIVER is also about how the romance of it
is fundamental to our culture, our popular culture. The Esther Williams
mermaid of our dreams comes to haunt us. Along the Suzhou River it comes in
the form of a Chinese girl in a blond wig in a tank in a seedy bar. As
classic noir was often about trying to get out of the dirt and the city,
this new Asian romantic noir is about finding escape within it. As often as
the American noir hero discovers escape is an illusion, the romantic noir
hero of these films seeks, in the darkness of the city, in the darkness of
the lost soul, to find a reality in the illusion we are so wanting and
willing to manufacture. A beautiful and arresting film like SUZHOU RIVER is
the asking of the question; is there truth in the dream or is that as there
can be dreams there is some truth? SUZHOU RIVER is a truly, deeply romantic
film, regardless of all its sadness and sense of loss and guilt. It's about
coming to terms with a fundamental part of our human condition. That no
matter how painful, no matter how much it can damage us, romance is all the
meaning we have.
More about SUZHOU RIVER can be found here.
Curious about Wong Kar-Wai? Then go here.
Friday, March 07, 2003
I don't know about Asian countries in general, but I certainly get the
impression, going by recent cinema, that school life is rather tough in
South Korea. Yes, through comics, anime and film I see that schools in
Japan can be filled with trials and tribulations, but that's between the
students while teachers hang back and are rather irrelevant. But going by
Korean film most of the friction is between teacher and student. Informal
corporal punishment seems to be the norm. And I guess that adds to the
mythos surrounding the 2001 Asian hit flick VOLCANO HIGH.
Set in a near contemporary fantasy world where martial arts magic is
accepted, VOLCANO HIGH is a school for gifted students and rebellious ones,
battling and rivalry amongst individuals, groups, sporting teams and the
like is routine. Naturally, you need teachers who can deal with that. And
when they can't then you have substitute teachers who certainly can. You
can guess this is a students versus teachers flick. It's a full on
action/comedy students vs teachers flick alternating continually and evenly
between crazy mixed up characters and intense wire-work chopsocky with CGI
powerballs. And it's great to look at from first frame to last. Nice art
direction turns an ordinary highschool into a dark mansion of gray corridors
and ominous pipework. It's still a school, but it's weathered and scarred
from generations of student clashes. And it's nicely photographed
throughout with a washed out look only the best post-production
video-scrubbers can provide. It is a very good film to look at and the
fluidity of the camera never stumbles. On the visual senses the whole thing
is a whirlwind that whips by like a breeze. Audiowise, well, that'll depend
on tastes, but the drum & bass score didn't irritate me nearly as much as
such usually do. And there was a bizarre charm to hearing a Korean
The comedy is enjoyable even at it's most naff. It's a teen comedy after
all of boy meets girl and everyone then proceeds to try to beat up boy. And
our hero does comedy well, doing his best Johnny Depp 21 Jump Street
innocent look every chance he gets. But he does get beaten up a lot and he
does that well too. Indeed, his transformation from likeable dumb schmuck
to kick-ass crazy mudda and back again is to be congratulated, even when it
is assisted by video manipulation and morphing through changes in make-up.
It's all nicely done and effective. This is a high-tech film. A high-tech
It ain't perfect. There are jumps in the narrative (explained partially by
a rather long and involved deleted scene I suspect was cut for length) and
you are waiting for it all to be more than it seems to be, but if you get
over that soon enough then come climax time you'll just sit back and enjoy
the pyrotechnics and stunt work. Trust me, there's no shortage of that.
You might even risk sensory and chopsocky overload before you get to the
finale. However, with sufficient warning, and a personal taste for the stuff,
then this rollicking and violent tale of sexual and power politics between
uniformed teenagers, the search for ancient and spiritual magics in the
martial arts and ruthless teachers hell-bent on the suppression of teen free
will then you'll find this a rather wicked hoot. Frankly, it deserves to be
the cult hit it is in Asia.
If you want, you can look upon VOLCANO HIGH as a bodacious gang fight MATRIX
style parody of HARRY POTTER but do take note that it was first released in
late August of 2001.
The official site for VOLCANO HIGH is here, but be warned that it is a flash
Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Somewhere below is my reaction to James Cameron picking up the rights to
Stanislaw Lem's novel "Solaris". I think my reaction is rather telling.
But when I learned that the project would be given over to Steven Soderbergh
to write and direct I have to admit to mixing in with my general pessimism
a little bit of hope.
Soderbergh showed he's quite capable of a very intelligent treatment with
KAFKA (there's a piece about that below somewhere as well) and the sheer,
cool professionalism of OCEAN'S11 (a justified remake of an unjustified
first make) meant that SOLARIS could well be a very special achievement.
And it is. Now there are only two films like it. This one and
the original of 1973.
The first time I saw Tarkovsky's SOLARIS was a rather special time and I
remember it well. I don't just remember moments of the film clearly (after
all, I've seen it since) but I remember the experience of watching those
moments the first time. I was well aware I took these prejudices with
me to Soderbergh's version. So though I had high hopes for this new film I
knew I'd be bloody critical if it fouls up at all.
Largely it doesn't foul up. Indeed, my criticism was slight, pretty much
centred around the frequency of a certain chain of events. Otherwise this
is a thoughtful and intelligent film without pretension, other than those
unavoidable in science fiction, and without unwarranted manipulation. It is
well crafted on all fronts and superior filmmaking on most. It most
certainly is a superior science fiction film. And it is very unHollywood.
Well, more accurately, it is not of the Hollywood of the '80s and '90s.
SOLARIS takes directly from the legacy of the intellectual sombre cinema of
the late sixties and early to mid '70s. Yes, the time of Kubrick's 2001: A
SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) and Tarkovsky's own SOLARIS. Indeed, it's unavoidable
to compare Soderbergh's film with Kubrick (sequences feel like they are
deliberate pastiche - well done pastiche, I should add). SOLARIS feels like
a deliberate exploration of 2001 as a cinematic movement. A movement of
one film, unless you want to consider a movement of two films, beginning
with Kubrick's and ending with Tarkovsky's. Perhaps Soderbergh intended his
SOLARIS to be a retrospective, millennial answer to the SF high point of
cinema. Pity Soderbergh didn't have his hands on Clarke's 2010 instead,
perhaps, rather than the well meaning but failed Hollywood answer by Peter
Hyams back in '86. Sure, one could accuse Soderbergh of being a master
copier and he showed this with making a Kubrickian SOLARIS, but I don't want
to have that view. I think SOLARIS was a sincere piece of work in the
style (more sincere than Spielberg's ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, though
Spielberg may well have been kidding himself along with others. Yes,
there's a reaction to Spielberg & Kubrick somewhere below as well).
SOLARIS is a good film. It might have been a great film if a great film
called SOLARIS didn't already exist or if Soderbergh's new version was
different enough that comparisons were only valuable from an academic sense.
Not to say that the new is just a copy of the old. It isn't. There are
different emphases and some slightly different philosophical issues.
Granted that the new version tries to verbalize more of these things when
Tarkovsky's leaves more of them in the realm of the intuitive (which often
means a film will last longer in your consciousness as it has worked deeper
into your unconscious - but then that's great filmmaking). As I said,
SOLARIS is a good film and though good films aren't rare, good science
fiction films are. And for SF they are more valuable than other comparative
films are for their own genre. Good SF cinema justifies the genre and
reinforces its value to storytelling and myth, a value too easily eroded,
especially over the last twenty-five years, if not in the next twenty-five
So, despite my prejudices and a long list of compare and contrast criticisms
SOLARIS gets two big thumbs up from me. I liked it. I liked the style and
execution. I likes the intentions of the storytellers. I liked the care
ever present to make a good and worthwhile piece of thinking and feeling
cinema. I'm aware that SOLARIS has been a financial disappointment, despite
getting as many good reviews as bad (thought bad reviews actually meant
confused critics), but I think, like BLADE RUNNER, another film you can
compare and contrast it with, its time will come to be acknowledged as a
worthy film deserving to be seen, studied and appreciated. In fact, I
predict Soderbergh's SOLARIS will have the rare distinction of being a cult
movie that's a remake of a classic and a classic film that's a remake of a
cult movie. But regardless of all that and no matter what is good and
valuable and important in this remake, it will forever and deservedly remain
in the shadow of a Russian masterpiece which has transcended not just its
genre but its medium.
Hmm, think I'll have to see the original again very soon. Then I'll watch
the remake again. Then the original...
Monday, March 03, 2003
HELP ME! IT'S FRENCH
Man, I feel bad. I feel guilty. I know I should like it. I do try to like
it. But I just can't get into those so-called quirky French flicks. Okay,
okay. I do like some. I like DELICATESSEN. And I like CITY OF LOST
CHILDREN, although I don't think it entirely worked. There was something
lacking in the ending, but it had such beautiful moments. And yes, I did
like AMELIE, which was utterly charming in a deeply frivolous way. But
these film all had a lot to do with a particular guy. The first two in
unison with another quirky dude, the third on his own. Hey, I've even seen
a short film by them I thought was very cool. But when I've tried other
stuff recently. Well, I dunno. I just can't get into them. But, honestly,
I do try. Yes, I've made a point of checking out stuff that people, who are
supposed to know, tell me I should check out. First there was DOBERMANN (1997).
This is a very stylish, slickly stylish, crim movie set in an alternative
now that wants to be futuristic. It's really nice to look at and that's
somewhat seductive. But although you try to hold on it has one fatal
mistake. Fatal for me. I wanted everyone in it dead. There's a climax
where out anti-hero and heroine and being chased by a psycho cop. I wanted
them all to crash and burn and die, especially the two lovers. Sure, it was
trying to be a CLOCKWORK ORANGE for the nineties, but boy did they miss the
point. Indeed, it felt like it had no point. But hey, it's only one French
movie. So I tried another which I get repeatedly told has got to be seen. It
even had good reviews around the place. But TAXI (1998) was not at all what I
expected. I expected a fast and fun and furious car chase flick with maniac
driving that flips your brain. I had a hard time trying not to yawn all
through it. It's light, so light it floated out of the DVD player and out
the window and my concentration along with it. It was like watching one of those
naff Hong Kong action comedies but those naff Hong Kong action comedies
aren't so bad because they have action, frequent bouts of chopsocky. And
they know how to do naff. TAXI just didn't charm me or thrill me. So here
I am. Unthrilled by two French films that were meant to thrill me. I feel
like I was suppose to be thrilled. That maybe it's my fault. Hey, for
everyone's sake I'll try to blame me. I hate for people to think I'm down
on quirky French movies. I'd hate to feel guilty.