Tuesday, July 29, 2008

No, I Won't Shut Up About Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Here's a rarity for you: a short post. Well I've struck some blog gold and wanted to share. Michael Guillen of The Evening Class is hosting a Kiyoshi Kurosawa blogathon. There's more great reading about a great filmmaker there than I can even begin to talk about. (You may even find a reference to my own humble Kurosawa post from months past.) If you don't know shit about Kurosawa, here's your chance to learn. If you do know shit about Kurosawa, then write a damn blog post!

So go to Le Video (or your local equivalent), get a stack of Kurosawa flicks, put on your Face Eyes, and sit in your Body Chair dammit.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

12 Reasons Not to End Your Life (Just Yet)

It would seem I've been chosen by Scott of He Shot Cyrus to blow your fucking minds. I hope that's cool. Specifically, Lazy Eye Theatre is hosting the 12 Movies Meme, in which some of us internet jerks pretend we have some place to show great movies besides our stupid apartments. The idea is that if Diablo Cody can do it, then actual, real human beings who know things about movies can probably do it even better.

So the rules are basically:
1) Pick 12 movies
2) Explain yo' damn self
3) Pick 5 more people to carry on your wretched torch

By now pretty much every non-famous person's blog that I read has already been nominated, so I'm just going to skip that last part. Or how about this: if you're reading this, have a blog, and haven't been nominated, I nominate YOU. Get to work!

On to my selections. You'll notice that only 7 of the 12 are Asian (and one set in Asia, I guess). I feel that I've shown considerable restraint here. You, collectively, should be proud of me.

Night 1: Consumerism Is Kind of Rad?

Dawn of the Dead / Chopping Mall
Do you like consumerism? Well you probably shouldn't! But don't take my word for it. Just watch these two horrifying cautionary tales.

Night 2: Lock and Loll!

Linda Linda Linda / Wild Zero
In Japan, Rock and Roll still means something.

Night 3: Eastern Westerns

Exiled / Sukiyaki Western Django
What happens when people from Asia make westerns? Let's find out together! Hugs!

Night 4: Everyone Loves... Homoeroticism!

Dead Ringers / Gozu
Do you think that it is bad for a man to give another man kisses, or do you agree that it is okay?

Night 5: Remember When Exploitation Didn't Have Anything to Do With Tarantino? Neither Do I!

Lady Snowblood / Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS
Ironically (not really), Tarantino is actually mentioned on that Lady Snowblood poster. Fuck that! What this world needs is a real grindhouse double feature.

Night 6: Girls I Am Pretend-Married To

Chungking Express / Lost in Translation
In case you're confused, the girls I'm referring to are Faye Wong and Scarlett Johansson. I'm actually pretend-married to Tony Leung as well, although he did recently get married for real (not to me).

So... what do you guys think? Would this be a successful near-week of movie watching glory? I'm inclined to think so. If anyone has a spare theater lying around, let me know and we'll find out for sure.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dark Meat

(Note: this post will probably be full of spoilers, but judging by the box office numbers everyone on the goddam planet has seen this movie at least once by now, so I guess it doesn't matter.)

I just got out of The Dark Knight, and I wanted to get something written down while I'm still floating in a haze of big budget wonder. I have a bad habit of convincing myself I didn't actually like a movie if given enough time to think about it, so I figure the sooner the better. But don't be surprised if I end up hating it by the end of this post. But right now? Totally don't hate it. Think it's pretty rad, in fact. Most people seem to agree. I haven't read any reviews or anything yet (reading reviews before seeing movies is totally lame, and I will stand by that until I die), but right now Dark Knight is #1 on IMDB by a fairly substantial margin. These numbers are early, and will clearly dip once more people actually see the damn thing, but even still: that is crazy. You people love this movie more than any other movie. And by "you people" of course I mean people who actually go to IMDB and rate a movie after watching it. But I guess your opinion matters? I mean, I'm typing this into a text box on a screen so it will be posted to a fake internet idea called a "blog," so I guess I'm not really one to talk.

Some initial thoughts, in the form of a numbered list:

1) I heard two things about this movie before seeing it. (a) That it's a more "realistic" Batman movie, and (b) that it's "very dark." Neither of these things are accurate. Realistic? Certainly, there are a number of different ideas of what might constitute realism--De Sica this is not, I get that. But dammit people, when I see the batmobile (a largish vehicle, keep in mind) leap into the air like a goddam animal to intercept a bazooka shot, "realism" isn't the term that comes to mind. Not that I'm complaining--let me make that clear. These types of ridiculous feats are, in my mind, totally acceptable and necessary in the realm of Gotham. I feed on them, if you must know. But realism? The only explanation I can come up with is that people accidentally wandered into Up the Yangtze or something by mistake, and thought it was Dark Knight. ("Man, Christian Bale really is a master of accents! His mandarin is terrific!")

As for the darkness? Well, I guess it was. But I wanted dark dark. I wanted nightmares. I wanted (more) disturbing imagery. I wanted death and decay and unstoppable moral corruption. Here's my real dilemma: I wanted something that, these days, no major studio is going to give me. I wanted an R rating! Box office suicide, I know. I don't care. Just imagine what could have been...

(While I'm thinking about it, has everybody seen Batman Dead End? Back before Nolan took the helm, it was the closest we had to a good Batman movie for several years. If you haven't seen it, DON'T read the description. Just watch it. And turn the lights out.)

2) Maggie Gyllenhaal is one-thousand percent better than Katie Holmes. Katie Holmes is bullshit.

3) I almost tried to convince myself that I didn't like Heath Ledger as the Joker, just to be able to argue with people--but I really did. He was great. I was, I'll admit, a little worried the first time he gave his "how I got these scars" speech. My vision clouded with rage at the notion of the Joker having such a cliché origin story. But thankfully it was a fakeout, and the Nolans left him exactly how he should be: a rootless agent of pure chaos. I mean, he's still no Cesar Romero... but I can't fault him for that.

4) Much better than the earlier film (which I still liked). I tend to get bored with Batman Begins about an hour in, but with Dark Knight it was exactly the opposite: an hour in is when it really started to get good. Actually, let me be more specific. (Also, spoiler alert.) I really started to enjoy it the second Maggie Gyllenhaal exploded. Not because I didn't like her, obviously. It was just a total surprise. Not the fact that she was going to explode, but how she exploded. Mid-fucking-word! Right in the middle of her teary goodbye! Needless to say, I was the only one in the (totally sold-out) theater laughing uproariously at that point. And from there everything just got better. The Joker dressing like a nurse and blowing up hospitals, civilians at each other's throats, Batman beating up cops, and so on. Oh, and also...

5) Two-Face actually looks kind of creepy, instead of just dumb. And they did away with the whole "disfigured by acid" story, which is hell of passé nowadays. Straight up gasoline and fire. That's realism for you!

6) Am I the only person on Earth who is tired of Morgan Freeman? I don't care about him anymore. I will surely go to hell for saying this, but is there not one other non-threatening african-american actor out there that can be cast in these kinds of roles?

7) The politics of the movie are a little shady, which I guess comes with the territory. We get a lot of double-talk about the cost of justice and freedom and all that, but basically Bruce Wayne is a rich white man who tells everybody what to believe, and we are (more or less) supposed to consider this is a good thing. It's no 300 or anything mind you--there are dashes of ambiguity here and there. But still.

8) Speaking of Zack Snyder: the Watchmen trailer played before the movie. Naturally I had already seen it about 400,000 times online, but it was interesting to see the audience's reaction. Will this movie be worthwhile? Probably not. It basically just looks like they gave Snyder a green screen and a camera with the "slow motion" button taped down again. (I'm pretty sure that's how cameras work.) But surprisingly, the trailer was actually kind of... cool? I guess we'll find out next year.

(Now that I've finished writing this I don't feel like reading it over, so kindly ignore any crazy spelling mistakes or endless rambling sentences. I've just opened a bottle of wine and I don't really feel up to proof reading.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fire Walk With Me

I realize I'm a little late to the party for this one, but I recently finished watching the entire Twin Peaks series for the first time. I know! Inexcusable! Where have I been? In my defense, when the show originally aired I was a scant 6 years old, living TV-less and ignorant in the mountains of Northern California. The closest I had were my weekly excursions to the neighbor's house to watch The Simpsons, at my mother's insistence. And all I knew about David Lynch was that I thought Elephant Man was scary and Dune was boring. (My feelings haven't changed drastically in either case.) Yet here was this incredible television phenomenon, exploding right under my one-track pre-pubescent nose. In the following years I heard a lot about it, naturally, though I never went any further than just making a mental note to watch it at some point in the future.

So it pretty much just stagnated on my "to-watch" list, perpetually getting bumped down in favor of something more immediately rewarding. What a fool I was! Oh Past-Keith, you great slippery twat! What the hell were you thinking? Didn't you know that Twin Peaks is amazing?!

Luckily, (this) summer happened. Summer is the perfect time of year for my own personal brand of escapist hedonism. It's a time for media binges of every variety. It's a time to watch an entire television series in one sitting. Curtains drawn. Unwashed fists shoving dry Kix into grinning mouths. Demented, bleary-eyed glee. Let summer never end!

Uh... anyway. The premise, in case you're not familiar, is this: Laura Palmer, typical popular high school girl, is found dead in the sleepy northwestern town of Twin Peaks. The crime must be solved! And that's it. What most shows would base a single episode on, Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost construct an entire series around. You had better believe that these guys have wicked sack.

With the murder as its starting point the show expands outward, and soon it's clear that this wholesome little town is festering with various ancient evils, as well as plenty of regular ol' sex and drugs. It brings to mind Blue Velvet for obvious reasons, and not just because of Kyle MacLachlan's presence as Special Agent Dale Cooper. It must be said though: MacLachlan ties everything together brilliantly. When I was watching the first episode I was consumed with doubt, ready to turn it off and dismiss Twin Peaks as "one of those things." Then about 20 minutes in, "Coop" was introduced, and the show transformed into something ten times what it was. It's hard to explain, but Lynch's direction combined with MacLachlan's acting just... well, you've seen Blue Velvet. It's a very, very good thing.

And speaking of Lynch's direction, it's raging at full force here. You get the definite sense you are taking part in a David Lynch product through a good portion of the series. It's actually kind of uncanny--almost immediately, within the first shot, it's 100% clear whether or not Lynch directed the episode you're watching. Long before his credit ever pops up on the screen you can feel him behind the camera. Or not. Unfortunately, once the second season rolled around, it was usually "not." Lynch took off after completing its premiere, and was absent for most of the show's remaining life. And this is where the Twin Peaks universe takes a sharp nose dive. For most of the over-long second season, the show loses any momentum it had built up. The writing becomes ridiculous even by Lynch standards, the acting turns rancid, and the direction eeks by as just short of mediocre.

A lot of this had to do with the fact that the writers were suddenly pressured by the network jerk-offs to solve the murder of Laura Palmer. Idiots aren't fond of open-endedness, as we all know, and the fact that a mystery could begin without being neatly solved 44 minutes later was a terrible strain on their struggling attention spans. So the writers (the poor dogs) solved it. Right in the middle of the second season, they shit all over what made the show so goddam compelling in the first place. Suddenly and without warning, Twin Peaks had no premise, no direction. Each episode was more laughable than the last, and they struggled to find a reason for their core characters to even appear on screen. For the second time in my marathon run, I considered simply turning it off and forgetting the whole damn thing.

Apparently TV viewers of the time felt the same way, because ratings fell sharply and the show was canceled in the middle of the second season.

But wait! Didn't I just say something about the "over-long" second season? Yes, oh yes! Thanks to the overwhelming power of pre-internet nerd-enforced petitions, the show was revived, and David Lynch returned to hoist it out of the sickening rut it had dug for itself. Of course I didn't know any of this while I was watching it, so I was thoroughly confused when the final 6 or so episodes suddenly got good again. But they did! Oh, how they did!

Then it was really canceled. Shortly after, there was one last desperate kick of activity as a feature-length prequel was released (to much hissing and booing), and then the Twin Peaks franchise finally died for good.

I wonder how David Lynch feels about cops...

My main goal here is to stress the following point: if you haven't watched this show before, my god, do yourself a favor and queue that shit up. The influence Twin Peaks had on television, and popular media in general, is un-fucking-believable. It's impossible to imagine something like, say, The X-Files existing without Twin Peaks paving the way.

The Simpsons' (perfectly accurate) take on Twin Peaks

Speaking of which, one of David Duchovny's ealiest roles was on Twin Peaks, as Dennis "Denise" Bryson, the cross-dressing DEA agent. Without this show spotlighting his ability to play a slightly abnormal federal agent, who knows what The X-Files might have turned into. And countless other familiar faces will pop up as well: pre-SNL Molly Shannon, Billy Zane, Heather Graham, David Lynch himself, that one guy from RoboCop, Henry from Eraserhead, David Motherfucking Bowie (!?)... the list continues. Oh yeah, and one of my personal favorites: David Patrick Kelly, a.k.a. that asshole from The Warriors. You know the one--the finger pointer with the annoying voice who really shot Cyrus.

Okay, I'm gonna stop. I don't really want to go into any more detail here anyway, because even the slightest clue could totally ruin the show for one who hasn't seen it. So see it! Then we'll discuss.