Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Attack of the rock and roll polar bear?

The Shemps are playing this extravaganza and then one more show after that and POOF! We become a new band. Same members, different group. Weird, huh? So goes the wacky antics of rock and roll. I'm excited to play with my old pals The Candy Snatchers. They're named after an obscure 70's exploitation film and have often been called the most dangerous band alive. In their heyday sets included breaking glass, flying fish, nudity and full throttle, balls out punk rock and roll. They've just recorded a new album and what I've heard so far is awesome, very Stooges inspired.

Candy Snatchers video here.

The Shemps live video here.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

It's the OCD

List of movies seen in 2008 (in no particular order, and not including repeat viewings)
  1. Gangster V.I.P.
  2. Robinson's Crusoe
  3. Import Export
  4. Betelnut Beauty
  5. Kuro Neko
  6. Woman on the Beach
  7. 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days
  8. Flash Point
  9. Power of Kangwon Province
  10. The Silence Before Bach
  11. Sad Vacation
  12. Orochi
  13. Red Handkerchief
  14. Catch Us if you Can
  15. Quai des Orfevres
  16. Searchers 2.0
  17. Violent Saturday
  18. Withnail and I
  19. Jinsei Gekijo: Hishakaku to Kiratsune (A Tale of Two Yakuza)
  20. Lives of Others
  21. Plains Wanderer
  22. Hanyeo (The Housemaid)
  23. Mr. Cinema
  24. Dog Days
  25. Death Proof
  26. Planet Terror
  27. Heitai Yakuza (Hoodlum Soldier )
  28. Cocksucker Blues
  29. La Ley de Herodes (Herod's Law)
  30. Hula Girls
  31. Wakeful Nights
  32. Jar City
  33. Ballast
  34. Xing Xing, Yue Liang, Tai Yang (Sun, Moon and Star)
  35. Gentleman Killer
  36. The Mad Fox
  37. Battle in Heaven
  38. Fugitive from the Past
  39. Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji
  40. Tokyo Chorus
  41. Divergence
  42. Green Fish
  43. I Was Born But...
  44. Passing Fancy
  45. Secret Sunshine
  46. Oasis
  47. The Man Who Left His Will on Film
  48. Roughneck (Arakure)
  49. Fighter
  50. Let the Right One In
  51. Speed Racer
  52. Eye in the Sky
  53. Accuracy of Death
  54. A Gentle Breeze in the Village
  55. Adrift in Tokyo
  56. Fine, Totally Fine
  57. Dainipponjin
  58. Mourning Forest
  59. Company
  60. Sakuran
  61. Sukiyaki Western Django
  62. Mother of Tears
  63. Machine Girl
  64. The Rebel
  65. The Kon Ichikawa Story (A Filmful Life)
  66. Pitfall
  67. Coyote
  68. I Shot Jessie James
  69. Out of Bounds
  70. Nothing Else Matters
  71. Klass
  72. The Fix
  73. Cactus
  74. Mad Detective
  75. Gummi Chocolate Pine
  76. Female Demon Ohyaku
  77. Violent Streets
  78. There Was a Father
  79. Cash Calls Hell
  80. Dororo
  81. Death Sentence
  82. Shootout at Lokhandwala
  83. Kala
  84. Onimasa
  85. Perfect Blue
  86. Black Test Car
  87. M (Lee Myung Se not Fritz Lang)
  88. Age of Assassins
  89. Black River
  90. Isabella
  91. Tenchu
  92. Untamed
  93. The Inugami Family (1976)
  94. Murder of the Inugami Clan (2006)
  95. Kisaragi
  96. Odd Obsession
  97. Gemini
  98. Chocolate
  99. The Human Condition part 1
  100. Mr. Untouchable
  101. Pusher
  102. The Band's Visit
  103. Cloverfield
  104. Pusher 2
  105. Pusher 3
  106. Graveyard of Honor (New Graveyard of Honor - Takashi Miike)
  107. Yellow Handkerchief
  108. Great World of Sound
  109. Onna Kyuketsuki (Lady Vampire)
  110. Death Row Woman
  111. What We Do is Secret
  112. Dracula Saga
  113. Who's Camus Anyway?

Guns are for sissies!

When Ryo introduced Gangster V.I.P. (Burai Yori Daikanbu) last night she mentioned that the print was not as in good condition as the other films in the series had been. Although we've been blessed with near pristine presentations so far, this print turned out to better than she implied. While the color was a little faded, it didn't impede the cinematic bravura director Toshio Masuda injected into the yakuza potboiler formula. The first ten minutes alone were a super high for a retro action addict like myself. A b & w montage flashback tells the sad sack back-story of orphan Goro (played by Nikkatsu superstar Tetsuya Watari - and I swear he was called Goro in Velvet Hustler, plus the protagonist of Branded to Kill is named Goro) then segues into color and a high-pitched action sequence that includes gun play, face-offs and a tandem flip over a banister. Masuda deftly sets a moody tone, peppering the requisite melodrama of the script with terse action. Masuda's craftsmanship is exemplified by kinetic camera work and vibrant staging, as he delivers a serious action flick that retains a sense of humor. While the nature of the genre might seem a little cheesy today, this one still boasts its fair share of cool, playing up the tropes without degenerating into self-parody. It's about a bad-ass coming to terms with his tender side. Watari's Goro character is like the tin man from the Wizard of Oz - he's got a rough exterior but doesn't realize just what a softie he is and that he really does have a heart after all. The ending follows the noir paradigm but allows room for sequels. In fact this was the first of the Burai series. View the trailer here.

The night before I saw another film in the Lin Zheng Sheng series at Anthology (see below) called Robinson's Crusoe. It was not as interesting as the other one, I have to say. Still, it's great to be able to see Taiwanese films, let alone have the director present for a q & a.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sardonic Austria

Tonight I saw Import Export at the Film Comment selects series. Now, as Jonathan said, I'm one of the initiated when it comes to the films of Ulrich Seidl. This Austrian filmmaker proves that there's something in the water over there, judging by this and the work of Michael Haneke, at least. The mise en scene was gaudy on top of drab effecting a transcendent beauty that was at once deliriously absurd and engrossingly hilarious. Set pieces were incredible, including a security guard training session, a visit to a gypsy slum in Ukraine, a web-cam sex center, all of which became evocative abstractions of an unsettling reality. Indeed, Seidl's gift was to turn an often unseen truth into art. His is a disturbing yet amusing style. He leaves you uncertain as whether to take him seriously or not, though there are moments that feel decidedly sentimental (however those moments don't feel trite nor do they betray the bleak nature of the film's content).
Before the movie I introduced Jonathan, my fellow burger club member, to Burger Joint , inside the Parker Meridian hotel on 57th St. How great is that, a greasy spoon inside a 5 star hotel?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lin Zheng Sheng

I just saw Betelnut Beauty (Ai Ni Ai Wo) Part of the Lin Zheng Sheng retrospective at Anthology. The cool thing is the director is here all week so he appeared for q & a after the film. This was the first film of his I've seen. Despite some commercial intentions it was decidedly bleak. Thats' a good thing. It's about one of those bing lang xi shi and another young lost soul who fall in love. Lin's documentary foundation shows through in what is an interesting social critique without being too heavy handed. Some of it was a little silly but forgivably so. Both the leads are idols but I thought they gave good performances - here's one of the silly parts though: the cute female lead is played by pop star Xin Jie. While working at the bin lang stand she gets scouted and than later does a singing audition. On her first try she sings like a pro. Duh! It's a cool scene if you enjoy mandarin pop and can let go of incredulity. She's playing up melancholic cuteness as opposed to the spooky angle she was given in The Eye. The male lead is Zhang Zhen who I felt did his best to bely idol trappings. His character, Xiao Feng, is a somewhat likable, if dimwitted loser, with impending doom telegraphed ala film noir. Xiao Feng takes a job as a baker, the profession that director Lin held for 11 years before falling into film making. The director himself spoke about casting two idols and said, 'of course, you'll never find a baker that good looking.' There was a lurking tension, especially with the gangster bits and a gritty neo-realist/early Scorcese feel at times.

So how many films is that now? Damn, Chris was there and he stayed for the second feature! Okay so I'm up to ELEVEN now. And that's not complete since I still don't recall all that I've seen so far. Oh wait...

Kuro Neko (Black Cat) by Kaneto Shindo, the director of Onibaba. Great, theatrical spookiness - ghosts flying across shadow laden rooms, etc. - mixed in with some atmospheric naturalism. The Mizoguchi influence is there (Ugetsu) but Kaneto expresses his own voice.

Deep End I finally saw this film that I read about over twenty years ago in Cult Movies a thousand times. It was worth the wait. Oh, but that was actually last fall.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

500 FILMS!

My cool friend Marc claims to have seen 500 films last year. It helps that his life involves programming a film festival and other such wonderful sundry activities that encourage his obsessive movie watching. He knows the number is over 500 because he keeps a list of everything he's seen. And that's only counting the features he sees from start to finish, forget about the walk-outs or episodes of the Wire and Deadwood, et. al. So I'm inspired. I'm not gonna set my sights that high but I'll start a list and see how long it takes before I stop maintaining it. First I have to try to recap what I've seen this year so far. Here goes:

Woman on the Beach (new Hong Sang Soo film that has no explicit sex this time but still follows his theme that Korean men are self centered womanizing dogs).
4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days incredibly intense Romanian film that puts true grit in naturalism and is the perfect representational paradigm.
Flash Point Donnie Yen vehicle that was a fun throwback to my days at Music Palace, Rosemary, Sun Sing, etc. Looked great on the Walter Reade Screen - it was part of this years genre friendly Film Comment Selects series.
Power of Kanwon Province An earlier Hong Sang Soo film. Saw it on DVD courtesy of my co-worker and fellow fan of Asian cinema Cindi.
Silence of Bach Interesting exercise. I liked the truck driver playing Bach on harmonica.
(Straw Dogs, I don't know if second viewings count but I hadn't seen this for over a decade).

Okay, that's 6 so far. I know there's more. Ah yes...

Sad Vacation Saw this at the Tadanobu Asano series at the Freer in D.C. Speaking of Freer, the curator Tom is great. Get his book.
Orochi an early silent chanbara from 1925, part of Japan Society's dawn of animation series (although it's live action and stars Tsumasaburo Bando).
Also at Japan Society:
Red Handkerchief Part of the great Nikkatsu series that Marc engineered. Star Yujiro Ishihara sings the title song which has nothing to do with the narrative as far as I can tell.
In David Meyer's rock movies class I saw:
Catch Us if you Can featuring the Dave Clark 5 (though they never really appeared together like a normal band).
Viva Las Vegas I must have seen this Elvis vehicle before but it was surprisingly revelatory this time. Elvis and Ann Margaret changed costumes every 5 minutes. Kind of like how Etsuko Shiomi is fighting every 5 minutes in the Sister Street Fighter films which I caught bits of on late night cable this week, widescreen and in Japanese with subs. Last time I saw them was when I was in high school and they were English dubbed VHS tapes.