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10/10
Sublime return to Cinema and the Source
22 November 2014
Its not often I am moved enough to write a review for a film. This is not because of a hardening of my heart but rather because of the lack of 'cinema' and 'film' out there, and the subsequent plethora of 'movies' and pernicious 'entertainment'. Of around the 250 'films' I see a year maybe one catches my heart and tugs it to such an extent that I cannot but write something about it. Accordingly, it is not I who is doing the writing, but the film that writes through me, through its power, its force, and its essence. The Cave of the Yellow Dog is one such film, and having just been mesmerized by it I cannot believe it has taken me almost a decade to discover it, but, from the other perspective, I am overjoyed that I did finally discover it. Perhaps the reason for my discovering it is that I am in Kazakhstan teaching (and learning!), and was curious as to the cinema around the region. The other reason is that I am in the energy capital of the country Atyrau, a washed out hole of a town, infected by the rape of the earth and the desire for greed by ignorant oilers and the like, most of whom come from the west, North America, and Europe, and are the complete and utter antithesis of the Mongol family being filmed in TCOTYD. In spite of Atyrau's status as the new Houston, it is possibly the most cobbled together hotchpotch of buildings and roads that I have ever seen in a life thus far of travelling and thinking. 'Spiritually unsympathetic' to coin a phrase by the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky comes to mind, and that's being generous. The earth around the city is to all intents and purposes dead. Nothing grows on it; it is, after all a huge building site, primed for construction as the barrels roll out and the money rolls in. The water table has been plumbed to the point of surface saturation whenever it rains; the great Ural river has been infected with the disease of man, which he calls progress. It is all rather bleak and grim. And then you have the great glass castles of the oilers themselves: monuments to the fallen: Tengizchevron, Mobil, Exxon and all the others; ignorant violators who have clubbed together to do this place over. The pain of the earth is tangible, it's blood being sucked by these vampiric monstrous outsiders, all rationalising their actions in terms of bringing 'civilization' to an otherwise 'backward' place. And so, to The Cave of the Yellow Dog which reminded me - re-mind-ed the great self that is not 'me' but the great souled 'I', that man is a perversion of the human: man is the human minus the humus, the soil, the land. I need not go into statistics of soil degradation, of deforestation, of the deliberate desiccation of the soul for the sake of pathetic costumes, and pitiful masks… for the sake of cosmetic appearances. What The Cave of the Yellow Dog has as a film is depth, but it is a lightness of depth, not a profundity, and it is this lightness that drew me in from the very first scene. The simplicity of it all (yet within a deep complexity) of a family eking out a harmonious existence on the great Mongolian steppe, is overwhelming.

There is within this film a searing soulfulness: these are not children being exploited for making movies; these are simply children being filmed as they are. It is wonderful. The animals, as they are, the family as they are, the land, as it is. Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! And that is to say nothing of all the beautiful things that are made by loving hands and not machines: their clothes, their furniture, their yurt itself.

The family play themselves, the word play itself being operative here, as there is no work, no toil or coarse superfluous labour as we have come to know it in the west, but simply endeavor, and the play of song and dance. Everything done here is essential, and of the essence. The music, too, is quite sublime and will draw you out of your manufactured identity into a wider more spacious self that you perhaps never knew was there.

Words cannot do it justice. It is a film, like the great steppe itself, which cannot be explicated, but can only be lived, or at the next best, watched with an open heart. It made me think of how people have lost their way as human beings living with the earth and not against it, and how, in the west, the hand-made has also become a commodity, like time and space, like being and experience itself. The photography and the land is exquisite; the patience of the people involved evident, but then patience is no big deal when you are one with the land. In Atyrau, sadly, there is no one-ness, little harmony left, as the new younger and more seduced civilization enters the sauna of need, greed, and fear, all the while sucking the life right out of them.

Civilization is a slaughterhouse, but here on the great steppe, in the cave of the yellow dog, civilization is nothing; and it is this nothingness if attended to sensitively and intelligently enough that will bend your soul back into shape.
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Brainstorm (1983)
Dead Zone of the Uncanny
15 December 2012
This is not so much a review as it is an observation of some co-incidences relating to this film and Bertrand Tavernier's 'La Mort en Direct' (1980). I would be surprised if Trumbull had not seen Tavernier's effort as both films do seem to share a common fixation on death and the brain. Anyway, to get to the point, both lead actresses, Wood in Brainstorm and Romy Schneider in La Mort en Direct died in the year they made their last films, at the same age of 43, rather unexpectedly it has to be said. I find all this goes quite beyond 'coincidence' and delves into the realm of what Freud called the 'uncanny'. The fact that both films are about the nature of consciousness (in some small way) and death further provokes the mystery. It could be said that there was something of a self-fulfilling prophesy going on.... maybe. At any rate, the mere thought is capable perhaps of shiver-deliverance.....
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Hunger (2008)
1/10
Contrived, Clichéd & Just Disappointing
18 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Steve McQueen, the artist cum film director (Tom Horn will be turning in his grave) sadly understands little of what cinema is about. He is, after all, an 'artist' (note the inverted commas) and not a filmmaker. What we have here in Hunger, if not a sensationalist portrayal of actual events and another example of profiting from what is ostensibly a tragic series of circumstances, is at very best a resorting to, once again, stark visceral imaging to which the viewer is, contrary to the 'freedom of choice' that Sands himself invoked by his decision to starve himself, coerced into aggressively. This is to say nothing of the apparent sympathetic tenor which the film sustains towards a terrorist outfit that has destroyed the lives of many innocent people and their families.

With regard to the producer's credo that this film 'provides a timely exploration of what happens when body and mind are pushed to the uttermost limit' I saw absolutely no 'exploration' of the sort, other than an infantile book-ending of sentimentalism framed around a story of Sands' childhood that in all probability never existed. Oh, and something of a vanity project centred around Fassbender's own starvation diet. This ridiculous explanandum is just another example of the convoluted rhetoric used time and again to justify a piece of work that cannot shine for itself without first being panel-beaten onto a plane for all to see.

Such forceful emotive evocations are typical of artists who pander to their audience's pity which (and to echo the Margaret Thatcher quote used by McQueen) is the most basic of human emotions. It would appear, then, that McQueen has allowed his emotions to get the better of him, a dangerous thing when dealing with such overtly political topics.

The pivotal 22 minute talkie-bit-in-the-middle includes a 17 and half minute take for which the rationale seems at best unsure. Maybe this, again, is something of the vain McQueen popping up, wanting to lick his balls because he can. The whole scene, consequently, is artificial, and wholly unnatural in terms of interaction and dialogue (in fact, it is a contrived duologue). Furthermore, the whole film smacks of convention from start to finish: man imprisoned for his ideals, man beaten up by prison guards, (cheesy silences, cheesier dialogues), slow death of man, man's life flashes before his eyes. End Credits. How many more times do we need to be inflicted with the same tripe and tedious linearity? Have you artists no imagination? Though he might know what constitutes a picture, it is clear that McQueen is not a filmmaker, indeed he freely admits this. If this is the case, then he would be wise to steer clear of such subjects which require not just the imaginative eye of the artist but a factual re-presentation of the reality of the situation, whilst avoiding at all costs the clichéd and puerile fly-on-the-finger shots, or somehow trying to make a sh*t-circle look curiously cosmic. But McQueen has proved he is still a child at heart. Whether artist or filmmaker, McQueen has a responsibility here, not just to a man's life and his ideals but to those lives that were touched (or, as the case may be, sledge-hammered) by the movement he was connected with.
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8/10
A Whisky of a Film!
18 November 2012
Fantastic!

The innocence, and imagination... The corruption.... the sacrifice.. The New Mexican backdrops...

In some ways TMWFTE does share similarities with Tarkovsky's 'Solaris', but, stylistically, it is a world apart...

Roeg's film seems altogether more heart-full (less cerebral), more loving... Nevertheless, they both share a similar theme, that is, to stir the mind and to move the soul...

It is a film that demands a return of the viewer every few years... if only to allow the viewer to distill what has occurred in the interim (not in the film per se but in your brain, in your body, in your world). In other words, it is a film that drips into you (if you let it), like a good whisky into a barrel. Let it ferment then, let it become, then return to it, and taste it!
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1/10
The Dark (and Silent) Side of Science
18 November 2012
Both Le Monde du Silence and Le Monde Sans Soleil are remarkable documents of the underwater world. At this time, during the fifties, very little was known about coral reefs, sea creatures, and the sheer profusion of life beneath the ocean's surface. Cousteau and his crew go a long way (indeed dedicated their lives) to allowing us a glimpse of this fascinating world. Yet, there are scenes in both films which seem to pride themselves upon this human mastery over other creatures, and the destruction of their habitat. Whether sledge hammering at coral walls, or tormenting fish by enclosing them within a glass box, or dispersing chemicals in the sea as 'harmless waste', or simply killing a wide variety of creatures in the least humane way possible (appal to appeal), all in the name of learning, there comes a point when I simply switch off and think to myself: Were scientists really that dumb in the fifties? How can anyone watch this and think Cousteau (and his cronies) great pioneers of 'knowing' (science)? Of course, not all scientists were that dumb. But there are always exceptions. Recently, we could see this, at least televisually, with the Australian 'tormentor of beasts' Steve Irwin who, when his karmic credit finally ran out, was stung to death by a manta ray he was attempting to toy with for the sake of his Channel 5 program.

It's curious, more than slightly ironic, that the following year the best documentary award was handed to Jerome Hill for his moving portrait of the Alsatian polymath Albert Schweitzer. Cousteau, irrespective of how he popularised the underwater world (I shall not enumerate the crimes that have been carried out under the pretext of 'scientific endeavour'), would have done well to have been acquainted with Schweitzer's work, and above all the 'ethics' that Schweitzer extolled. "A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives." When science (and exploration) 'shrinks' from ethics, when it just becomes an excuse to gain more knowledge and 'better understanding' (does understanding even come in degrees?) that will invariably rationalise post-factum the deeds we have done, it has already debased itself and become the way forward for a race of people who have lost their entitlement to the nomenclature 'human'.
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The Bridge (I) (2006)
1/10
Tasteless and Insensitive Tripe
18 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The Bridge is a 2006 documentary film by Eric Steel that purports to tell the stories of a handful of individuals who committed suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge in 2004. The film was inspired by an article entitled 'Jumpers', which was written by Tad Friend and appeared in The New Yorker magazine in 2003. The documentary caused significant controversy when Eric Steel revealed that he had tricked the Golden Gate Bridge committee into allowing him to film the bridge for months during which he captured 23 of 24 known suicides which took place there. In his permit application to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Steel said he intended 'to capture the powerful, spectacular intersection of monument and nature that takes place every day at the Golden Gate Bridge'.

Do not be fooled by the vacuous comments that have opened this film. This film is not about 'suicide' nor is it about 'painting a three-dimensional portrait of each jumpers last moments' (don't make me laugh) (see Gus van Sant's Last Days for a more evocative depiction of this). It is, rather, another hollow 'documentary' that has caused significant controversy with its apparent profiting from suicide.

Using stop-motion photography with multiple cameras pointed at a notorious suicide spot on the bridge, an American Beauty soundscore, and some disillusioned Goth rocker's swan-song as a wraparound intended to increase suspense (excuse the pun), this vapid attempt at film-making has nothing whatsoever to do with 'objectivity' as one commenter stated, nor with the grimy reality that lies at the core of these somewhat final actions.

As to 'lucid and enlightening insights' delivered by 'well-spoken and competent individuals' (according to reviews on IMDb) what we have in effect are carefully prepared scripts that convey a lack of authenticity. One also gets the feeling that some of the interviewees, relatives of the deceased, are too distracted by the camera and the thought of being in a film to concern themselves too deeply with the rather sensitive point in question. The tragedy with this 'documentary' was not in 'not helping these people from jumping' as some people have argued, but in profiting from it in such a shallow and insensitive manner. Admittedly, the director thought it might prove an excellent springboard with the delicate subject matter into the world of film and, as he was quoted saying: a career in movies.

'Documentaries' like this are unbalanced, tainted (forget the 'objectivity' of our lead commenter - suicide has nothing to do with being objective, nor for that matter with stop-motion photography or kitschy slushy disco-pop), and cosmeticized to such a degree (look no further than the poster) that it loses any real value of the bare-bone realities of suicide before the opening credits have even appeared. What we have in effect then is a trashy take on 'suicide' that tries its best to wow audiences in the most over-simplistic and dumbed down fashion and which revels in these 'joyous jumps' (I can almost hear the camera crew saying 'just one more and we've got a wrap') and sensational faces of death which represent, as one of the few commentors that made any sense on this subject said, the 'money shots' in what is surely a grubbier film than any porno.

The Bridge is not a documentary, nor does it even approach the accolade of film, rather it is just another example of puerile ideas exploited to further careers in what these people think is cinema, but is in effect, just another dirty little business intent on making money by whatever means possible.
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Yella (2007)
6/10
The Consequences of Love
18 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Yella is something of an amalgam of Carnival of Souls, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and Jacob's Ladder. These derivatives notwithstanding, Yella shows flashes of genius in its compositional elements - it is a very quiet film for instance, very serenely composed as the underlying score of Beethoven's piano sonata suggests, and certainly not a waste of time. My summation is that as the eponymous heroine is dying she experiences the reverie of life, and, as in a dream, things become mixed up, hence here, the new guy Philip is in fact the old guy who kills her by driving his Landrover off the bridge. Note the physical resemblance between the two for a start. If you watch the film there are many residual effects like this: the bourgeois family for example represents her dreamlike aspiration of a future taking real form; she imagines a possible world for her as it might have happened in those few fleeting moments as the life goes out of her. There is a definite dreamlike, lackadaisical quality about the whole thing. Another film that springs to mind, which resonates on some level, is Paolo Sorrentino's exercise in style, Le Conseguenze dell'Amore. In some ironic way, this title would not be out of place for Yella.
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Skyfall (2012)
3/10
Enough already! Kill the Buddha!
17 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Skyfall.

Or should that be Scuffle? From the frenetic opening sequence I thought to myself, oh no, not again, not quantum of solace all over… Admittedly, it wasn't quite as terrible as QOS - there was a fine title sequence and something of a storyline here, but the fast, 5 frames a second, explosion-filled, 'most-is-more' juvenility was still ever-present, a philosophy that is symptomatic of today's economic and metaphysical decline. Furthermore, Daniel Craig, bless him, is completely devoid of any quality whatsoever to the point that where towards the end standing at the head of the pass of Glencoe in a typically misty morning, he utters dispiritedly, plagiarising both Terminator and The Dark Knight Rises (both of whom had some feeling in it), 'There's a storm coming..'. As blank as a blank cheque.

No, Daniel, there is no storm coming. What is coming is the usual third act of explosions and gunfire and dead bodies and hesitations and more gunfire, and a helicopter and more hesitations and of course the cliché just-in-time-finishing-off-the-baddie. What is wrong with these baddies? Have they not seen any action films before? Have they lived a life completely devoid of cinema and DVDs? Do they not realise that he who hesitates is doomed, and that he who hesitates not once but three times is even more doomed? But no, obviously not. It's just an insult, plain and simple, and completely negates any intelligence that you had hitherto invested in the typically dastardly Bond baddie. It's pathetic. It might be entertaining for a 12 year old… and then it dawns on me, most grown ups who are lauding this are 12 year olds.

For someone who has been showered with accolades in the past several weeks for being the 'best Bond' in the 'best Bond film ever', Craig is not even man enough to say, 'C'mon, c'mon, surely not.' He just sits there, all dolled up like he just fell out of an action man box and smiles. He is terrible as Bond and the fact that many critics laud him as the best is indicative of their invertebrate status as human beings and the confined boxes they operate within (their fear of standing up and kicking against the pricks). OK, so Casino Royale and Craig's entrance to the Bond franchise was a fine piece of work (thanks for the most part to the gentle pacing, the bubbling menace from Mads Mikkelson's 'Le Chiffre' character, and some outstanding set-pieces). There was also, like in so many cases of artistic endeavor, a fair bit of beginner's luck involved on the part of Craig in his alternative view of the chauvinistic spy.

No such luck in Skyfall. It is simply cliché after cliché in a monumental two and a half hour grand cliché, eventually ending up with Albert Finney (who looks as if he's just been dug out from Rannoch Moor itself) telling the baddies before blowing them away with his sawn-off shotgun, 'Welcome to Scotland'. OK, I smiled, maybe even chuckled, but only because of the berserker spirit we Scots have in the depths of our hearts. Our backbone (once upon a time) stood upright. Where is the backbone of these film critics who ordinarily despair at such cliché-ridden acts of violence and such facile 'most-is-more' enactings? Suddenly, when watching Skyfall, they become blind and deaf, clutching onto their careers for dear life lest they lose their jobs, their livelihood, for daring to question the work of such monumental status-men. To be sure, Scuffle is not without its moments - I can think of two - but in a film that is almost three hours long, surely this is not good enough.

In the orient, though perhaps not in Shanghai's obnoxious cityscape, they have a saying that in order to reach enlightenment, first you must kill the Buddha. Well, I say, enough already with Bond. It's all getting rather tired and weak. Kill him already. Kill the Bond.
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Katalin Varga (2009)
7/10
There are no parts...
17 November 2012
Great, atmospheric effort from Strickland. I can only imagine he had some affinity with this part of Romania whether from childhood or other. The soundtrack and some of the slow lingering shots (esp. the scene looking at child, mother and horse not moving from behind, and the forest shot) were very affecting, and reminded me of Tarkovsky (not in a bad way ;)I got to thinking of the inextricable nature of all things, of how everything (as a single glorious 'entity') was so deviously and religiously bound up that to even attempt to extract something from it was tantamount to destructuring the whole (and thus destroying its royalty). That a film can inspire me (it has to be said not single-handedly)to such ends is indicative of a deep metaphysical quality within it.There is a particular sentence that the man utters towards the end of the film that resonates deeply towards this metaphysis. I shan't explicate it, nor even repeat it, but you shall know it when you hear it.

Thanks for this Strickland, and all who were involved in and outside it (even the guy who carted the extra film stock when, presumably, you ran out ;) 'Ultimately, there are no parts at all.' Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life.
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Manhunter (1986)
9/10
The Immanent Nature of Life & The Absolute
17 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Though it appears to be a film about a serial killer and death, Manhunter is a film primarily concerned with the immanent nature of 'life' and the absolute. The symbolic allusions to eastern thinking in Manhunter are manifold. It appears to deal with the very nature of enlightenment itself. There are markers all over. It is a film peppered with clues which make the viewer as much the forensic detective as Will Graham himself. I mean, look at those gleaming white offices, that sparklingly white cell of Lecktor's, Lecktor's all-white uniform, the sedated tiger, the inflorescence that pervades to the very core of the film straight from the strangely alive opening titles; even the architecture is grounded in the complexity of curves and ethereal whiteness.

Some of the clues reveal the essence of this oriental philosophy here:

The killer distorts his face deliberately with a stocking; he pens a letter which speaks of his great 'becoming'. His home is cosmically decorated with maps of galaxies and nebulae. He is obsessed with seeing, a seeing that Mann reinforces all the more by introducing a woman who is blind. Perhaps the clues are too many in fact. There seems to be too much information that eagerly seeks the approval of Mann's hypothesis: that seeing is both the key to enlightenment and the escape from darkness.

Even the killer's death scene lays him out in the form of a butterfly, suggesting the eventual chrysalis of the killer's mind into the realm of nirvana. His becoming is realized in death. His macabre death pose is oddly peaceful and reminiscent of Jarmusch's later squashed haloed head in Dead Man.

In amongst all the talk, two key and very short dialog scenes stand out above all others:

The scene with Lecktor on the telephone, where Lecktor explains to Graham why he felt depressed after killing someone.

We don't ask for our natures, they're issued to us along with our lungs, our pancreas and everything else. Why fight it? Didn't you feel so bad because killing him felt so good, and why shouldn't it…? Lecktor asks.

And the scene just before the last act when Graham discovers how the killer knew so much about the family's home security, where he says to Jack, (Dennis Farina's character):

My heart bleeds for him as a child. Someone took a kid and manufactured a monster. At the same time as an adult he's irredeemable. He butchers whole families to pursue trivial fantasies… as an adult someone should blow the sick fu#k out of his socks….

Do you think that's a contradiction Jack? Does this kind of understanding make you uncomfortable?

As the killer achieves realization in death so too does Graham appear to achieve it in life. It is said that everyone achieves nirvana at the instant of one's death. The key, though, appears to be able to self-realize whilst still alive. Graham, with his epiphany in the hotel room, appears to do this.

Moreover, and perhaps more obviously symbolic, the film is book-ended in the oceanic space of the Pacific Ocean, and the great peace of water. It is this absolute emptiness upon the edge of which the Graham family stands at both the beginning and the end of the film. The ocean itself represents 'before birth' and 'after death'. It is, in effect, oblivion, (a symbol that Mann uses later on in 'Heat' in a pivotal scene with Robert Deniro)

Whether it is Manhunter's lighting or sound score, everything points to this oblivious and mystical aspect that underlies all life. Yet unlike many blatantly mystical films Manhunter never lingers on its symbolism, and never appears contrived. It helps that the central performances are solid and believable, whether Petersen as cop, or Noonan as killer; or the periphery characters of Graham's wife, Kim Greist, and the son, or Brian Cox as Lecktor, and Farina as the other cop. The casting agent should have got an award for assembling such a marvelous and capable team.

Together with The Keep and Thief (and to a certain extent, Heat), both interesting (and sinister) films in their own right, Manhunter represents Mann's trinity that explores the circuminsessional penetration of all things, enlightenment, and the darkness of ignorance.
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Ripley's Game (2002)
7/10
The Angst of Being Still-born
16 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Any profound film, book, poem, reveals its essence in its paradox. Ripley's Game is no different. It is a paradox that plays out under the guise of an ordinary film. To this end, it is a film that is enveloped by its own protagonist-antagonist, the paradox of Tom Ripley, a Veneto-dwelling American, seemingly devoid of morals and feeling, yet with all the sensualism and erudition of an epicurean sybarite.

Morricone's music, as impeccable as ever, opens the film in Berlin with a slow subtle score before embarking on the clavicembalo (harpsichord) and a beautiful aerial shot of Malkovich's little red fiat coursing through the hills of Treviso.

Ripley's Game, based on Patricia Highsmith's novel about the amoral Tom Ripley and his exploits, is a fantastically underrated film which, due to its high-art European status (it was shot on location in Germany and Italy and concerns itself with art first and foremost), was largely passed over in favour of more exciting, and faster moving films. It was a huge financial flop (costing over $30m and recouping barely a tenth of that), and in spite of opening on the big screen in Europe, went straight to DVD in the states.

The locations, notably Berlin and the Veneto, are part of the film's charms (dare I say characters in themselves) along with those of the triumvirate of Ripley (Malkovich), Reeves (Winstone), and Trevanny (Scott). The casting is marvellous here, and the three protagonists play off each other's strengths and weakness beautifully. From the very off, the uncouth philistine, Reeves (stoned and waxing as lyrically as he can of Berlin's architecture) aside the Renaissance man Ripley (calm and collected and slightly disgusted at Reeves' crassness), is an absolute joy to watch in its theatricality and Cavani's direction as they walk across the Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin's Mitte district with a view to pulling off a not-so-ambitious art heist.

It's almost as fine a scene as one a little later where Winstone's character presents Ripley with a garrotte as they walk across another of Berlin's platz's. Here, we see Malkovich living up to his philosophy as he toys with the garrotte in plain sight as if it were a scarf. 'I don't worry about being caught' he says later on in a remarkable scene in a train station bathroom, 'because I don't believe anyone is watching.' It is this total lack of paranoia which manifests itself as a detached coolness, almost palpably terrible in its calmness, that Malkovich (avowedly a man that has never felt embarrassed) carries off so well in his quiet unruffled countenance. Of all the actors who have played Ripley in their various incarnations - Delon, Damon, Hopper, Pepper - Malkovich is by far the one whom Highsmith herself would have recommended for the role. Indeed, one wonders if it is Malkovich playing Ripley or Ripley playing Malkovich such is the quiet strength of his performance.

The plot, though itself flawed, struggles a little here and there to tie (garrotte) things up, and leaves a couple of holes (emphatically, not made by bullets) here and there. But it is the plot's unconventionality, garrottes and pokers instead of guns, philosophy instead of mathematics, art instead of science, that makes the film so wonderfully watchable. It is certainly a film that, perhaps like Ripley should he ever get collared, deserves a fair trial.

Ripley at one point calls himself a 'creation' and 'a gifted improviser' when Trevanny asks him who he is. Trevanny doesn't seem to understand. He has never dreamed, never improvised, he seems completely lacking in any spontaneity to the point of pathology. Perhaps this is what leukemia does to you (Trevanny we quickly learn is dying, which explains his succumbing to Ripley's outlandish deal), but perhaps not. The final scene has Trevanny in a moment of what can only be called total spontaneity, doing (or more significantly being) something that Ripley cannot himself understand. For a brief moment, and it shows on the lips of Trevanny, the roles have been switched. The master has become the protégé, the protégé become the master. It is a turnaround of some aplomb, as the circle closes and completes itself.

Trevanny's name itself seems to have inspired (or have been inspired by - the timeline is a little muddy here) the airport paperback writer and American film scholar Rodney William Whitaker whose later book and bestseller Shibumi (1979) appears under the pseudonym Trevanian and has all the hallmarks of Ripley's presence, as the following quote illustrates: "Shibumi is understanding, rather than knowledge. Eloquent silence. In demeanour, it is modesty without pudency. In art, where the spirit of shibumi takes the form of sabi, it is elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. In philosophy, where shibumi emerges as wabi, it is spiritual tranquility that is not passive; it is being without the angst of becoming. And in the personality of a man, it is…. How does one say it? Authority without domination? Something like that…" It appears that Highsmith's Ripley had cause to inspire. 'All I know is that we're in a constant state of being born.' In this disclosure of Ripley's, again in the bathroom (is not the bathroom the place of revelations?), he perhaps divulges his own bodhisattva nature, not quite Buddha yet (whose birth has by his very (un)nature finished), but on the path. He doesn't quite know why he is helping Trevanny in the farcical train scene, but perhaps this is why: to lead Trevanny to his own awakening. This eventually accomplished, (nirvana comes to most at the point of death), Ripley can return to the music, to the clavicembalo which his mistress caresses so gently, and to the art of living which characterizes the one who has achieved what Whitaker later calls Shibumi. Yet, the question remains, and here is the paradox - that within Ripley's understanding and supposed enlightenment there is an obscurity. There is a darkness, and the angst of still being constantly born.
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7/10
Well-choreographed tosh!
16 November 2012
I'm all for a brain-dead actioner like the next man, all for a little swedgin' now and then, a little Bruce Lee, a wee bit of Tony Jaa, a bit of the old Van Damme. Even, from time to time, a little John Woo.

However, Gareth Evans' film The Raid suffers from too much swedgin' (is this actually possible?), too little character development, and on top of that a plot that would make Dario Argento cringe. The Raid, in amongst all the brutality, maintains absolutely zero comic relief (an ineluctable necessity in such bone-crunching and bullet-flying scenarios), together with a narrative that is so childlike and derivative that one wonders just how short that pitch was. How this film has managed to enter the cinematic stratosphere is an indictment not just on an increasingly brain-dead youth who think of nothing of sitting through 90 minutes of (an all-male cast) grunting and beating seven bells out of one another, but on aggressive marketing campaigns, and blinkered movie critics who are clearly biased to what they consider to be promising first-time directors. There is, granted, promise in a couple of well-executed scenes (look no further than the shotgun lighting up the hallway, and some of the fight choreography) but it just drags on… and on… and on….

The elements and dynamics that made films like Ong Bak and Assault on Precinct 13 work were presented half-heartedly (if at all) in Evans' The Raid rendering it torpid and tedious towards the final act. There was not enough interest in either the storyline or the characters.

In its one-dimensional nature, The Raid kinda reminded me of the old 80s video game Kung-Fu where the hero, Tomas (!), has to scale five floors in order to recover his kidnapped spouse. At least here, in this brain-insultingly simple video game, at the end of each floor, our hero Tomas has a different monster to overcome before he can progress to the next floor. The Raid however has no such simplistic curiosities. Instead, it completely circumvents the brain altogether, and gives us just another clichéd bad-guy who at the end of the day probably just needs to get out more, and save us all the discomfort of having to sit through 90 minutes of well-choreographed tosh.

[3 months later... watched it again, this time with a little super lemon haze, and cannot believe how good this film is! Awesome....! I take it all back... Awe....suuuuuummmm. 9/10]
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Killer Joe (2011)
4/10
Mahogany spoils an otherwise fine farce.
1 July 2012
Freaky Friedkin follows up Bug with another 'huis clos' (no exit) situation in which all concerned give fine performances (esp. Hirsche), all, that is, except Matthew Mahogany who just can't seem to shake off that pretty boy image. Friedkin has been known for his output of hit'n misses, and here he might well have got a hit had he employed the idiosyncratic Michael Shannon in the title role who performed so well in Friedkin's previous outing Bug. If he had done that he may well have pulled it off. As it is, Killer Joe lacks punch and general creepiness, which is the whole idea behind Mahogany's character. Friedkin (and his casting agent)would do well to leave Mahogany to his romcoms and stripper films. In the final analysis, Killer Joe is mediocre as a farce, and that's about all...
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