Don’t Look Up (a k a “Ghost Actress”)

Dir: Hideo Nakata
Got around to watching this after having friends tape it off the Sundance Channel last year,
during their “Japanese Horror” week, where I was able to tape “Cure” and “Spiral” as well. “Don’t Look Up,” given the absolute straight-to-landfill title of “Ghost Actress” for some reason, is Hideo Nakata’s first film and the one that presumably got him the gig to make the original “Ring” film.
At a very speedy 75 minutes, it’s more like an extended TV episode than a movie, but there are plenty of chilliing moments here, almost from the beginning, when the mysterious outtakes of an old movie turn up superimposed on recent footage shot at a studio. These initial scenes, when the crew watch the dailies in silence, are very effective. The look of terror in the actresses eyes when she glimpses something awful offscreen shocked even me. The movie deserved to have a script that fleshed out the characters a bit more, and music that matched its mood of creeping menace. Instead there’s some terrible cod-reggae that pops up in all the wrong parts.
The parallels between this film and Ring are certainly there in the mysterious footage and the slow unconvering of the truth as well as the subtle way that Nakata has history double over on itself. Much more could have been made with theme of acting and identity, and of the film that’s actually being shot, the story which seems to be about supressing the horror of the Second World War. The ghost is particularly frightening, especially because it doesn’t give you all the goods at once. At first it looks harmless, then the more we see it, the more we want to look away. That’s good–most filmmakers would give you the money shot immediately.
On a greater level, the reason why Japanese horror is so effective is that it really is about death. American horror isn’t about death in any tangible sense, just artifice and actors exiting the screen in spectacular ways. The recent Cabin Fever was awful because it couldn’t even begin to look at disease and death in any real way.
Anyway, the film so freaked out Jessica, who takes these ghost stories so seriously that she can’t even say the word (she says “G” instead), that she refused to speak to me about it afterwards.


Dir: Olivier Assayas
Certainly one of the strangest films I’ve seen this year,
I caught this in Pasadena at the Laemmle, sure that it will never come to Santa Barbara. What starts out as a chilly tale of big business quickly turns into something broader in scheme. This isn’t a film about pawns caught in capitalism’s game, this film is capitalism itself. It’s a relentless blurring of identity until characters get reduced to units to be fucked or killed. Connie Nielson plays Diane, who at the beginning of the film, drugs her coworker, an event that allows her to take her place in a multinational corporation that is shuttling back and forth between Tokyo and Paris to buy shares in an anime company specializing in porn cartoons and 3-D CG porn. There’s Hervé (Charles Berling), who Diane may be involved with, and a subordinate, Elise (Chloe Sevigny), who hates her guts. Then there’s the American representatives, one of whom is Gina Gershon. There’s a secret website called “The Hellfire Club” that offers live snuff feeds for a price.
About halfway through I kind of gave up on the plot and, like giving up on trying to pick out notes and melody in a wash of feedback, just let the movie roll over me. (Soundtrack is by Sonic Youth, and I’m glad I saw this in the theater, as the effective sound levels are something that would get me evicted.)
The film is intentionally hard to listen to, hard to watch, and hard to follow. Here and there you start to pick up on clues that Assayas has left. Why so many shots of credit card machines? Why a scene similar to the hotel scene in Assayas’ own “Irma Vep”–and why does Diane’s costume in that scene return as a PVC Emma Peel suit? (Emma Peel–Avengers…wasn’t one of the episodes in which she nearly got tortured to death called the Hellfire Club? And wasn’t the Hellfire Club a front for the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in the XMen comic book…and didn’t Storm get captured by them? And doesn’t a character at the end of the movie request a victim dress up like Storm? And by making all these connections, does that make me closer to an understanding, or does that make me a sad, sad man?)
Nobody has any background or connection to anybody or anything. Though the movie teems with lascivious sex, there’s barely any to be had, and nothing to come of it in terms of humanity.
“demonlover” alludes to the website, but also to the multi-phallused and tentacled demons of Japanese porn anime, able to send out their tendrils to fill every orifice of their young nubile victims. Tattoo “21st Century Capitalism” across the demon’s chest and you have a rough and ready metaphor of the film.
Following up, there’s a short essay over at The Film Journal on the film that brings up an interesting point regarding video games and the scene in which Nielson fights Gershon (a “level boss” in videogame terms). That the film is one big video game is suggested, and reminded me of my friend’s worry that in fact The Matrix Revolutions will end with this po-mo joke (they wouldn’t be so blatant or so bold, methinks, but the trailer for that film looks like the makers are cashing in their chips for a full-on Death Star like battle to the death).
In a later conversation with Jon, I added that those critics who think the whole thing is a videogame fall into the same apathetic trap as the teenager at the end–that nobody is worth caring about because they’re on the computer screen.


Dir: Michael Mann
I picked up the two-disc DVD of this at the rental store,
and made the boneheaded mistake of watching the original, clumsily edited version, completely oblivious to the fact that the other disc contained the remastered director’s cut. And after two hours of “Manhunter” I wasn’t going to watch it again.
A lot of critics regard this film highly, and like to drag it out in reference when they want to go on about how much they didn’t like “Hannibal” or whatever. And I can’t really say too much not having seen the director’s cut, but here Mann plays the serial killer genre as a straight police procedural, with much focus on the job of the profiler, played here by William Petersen, who often pounds his fist and addresses windows or televisions, vowing that he’ll find the killer before he does it again. Showing a profiler coming to conclusions in his head, showing the thought process itself, is difficult, but Mann does it well in a scene with Petersen and two television monitors. The music here is all wrong, either naff Yamaha DX-7 wanking or blaring “hard rock” stupidity.
I didn’t feel particularly gripped by the film, and the ending really fell apart in the editing room. But who knows what the director’s cut was like?
Brian Cox was okay as Hannibal Lecter, but maybe a bit too “normal”. He felt more like an imprisoned mafioso than a cannibal serial killer.

24 Season 2 (Eps. 13-24)

Creators: Robert Cochran, Joel Surnow
We rattled through the end of this series on a marathon Saturday evening,
where Jessica was so agitated by the end of episode 20 that she made me push on with the final four, ending somewhere around 4:30 in the a.m. It’s to 24’s credit that we remained awake up until the end, in a suspense-filled equivalent of a dinner-time espresso fix. Unable to go to sleep, too agitated.
Despite some of the more unbelievable twists and turns, I think the second season was better–it slowly built its tension along the way, whereas the first dipped in the middle, all the more remarkable with how it got away with some of the hoariest cliches of the thriller genre (how many people gave up (or didn’t) vital info just before snuffing it: “the man’s name is…is…urrrrgh!”)
What is most fascinating is how the writers and producers incorporated so much from post-9-11 America, then spun so much of it on its head. (Especially when Jack Bauer in essense becomes a suicide bomber to save the world, and while doing so engages in a cell phone convo that can’t help bring back the stories of the various victims on the four airliners). And President Palmer continues his role as the Bizarro President, acting shocked, shocked that an oil businessman would start a world war in order to increase his profits. (In the bonus materials, actor Dennis Haysbert interprets his role as a mix of Carter, Clinton and Colin Powell, and suggests his honorable and honest prez is a “suggestion of how it can be done.” Are you listening, Bush?
In this sense, 24 has caught up with the world and mirrors it, while Hollywood still appears to be lollygagging about, endlessly repeating the easy lies and simplistic morals of years past.
Season Three, which appears to be about biological warfare, may be equally unnerving. But I wonder, how long can they keep it up?

Notebook on Cities and Clothes

Dir: Wim Wenders
This is Wenders’ little-seen documentary on designer Yohji Yamamoto,
and I watched it in two parts because it simply wasn’t that compelling. The documentary was very derivative of Chris Marker’s musings on video and film, but without Marker’s eye for story or depth or his knack for arresting images. Part of the reason is Yamamoto as a subject. His fashion isn’t that interesting (as most of that season’s line is black and filmed in muddy pre-DV video, there’s not much to see), and most of his interviews seem conducted at the end of a full day of work, where the subject is exhausted. Yamamoto mumbles a lot, and Wenders tries to make it more cinematic by playing with video and film (this was one of Wenders’ first times to use a portable video camera). Half the film is about Wenders questions about film/video vs. reality, but I didn’t feel he got to any major points on it. I feel more that Wenders started making a doc on Yamamoto and found that it wasn’t really enough, that the subject was too elusive. All the time the film reminded me of Marker’s A.K., his documentary on Akira Kurosawa and the making of “Ran”, which uses similar techniques, and also muses a lot on memory and truth, but still offers a lot of insight into Kurosawa’s talent and methods.

24 Season 2 (Eps 1-12)

Dir: Robert Cochran, Joel Surnow
Well, I guess Jessica’s gone 24 mad, insisting that we get the new series on DVD as soon as it appeared in the shops.
This is a story “ripped from today’s headlines” as they like to say, with L.A. threatened by a nuke and terrorists of a certain Arabian shade (where last time they were Serbs). If Season One was about family and responsibility, Season Two is all about our Constitution and our laws and when or if to break them. Certainly, the show thinks about this more than the Bush administration, which feels no need to mull over this question–it knows no doubt when it comes to this. As usual the scenes with President Palmer have a strange sci-fi ring to them–nothing of what he or his advisors say feel anywhere near what must go on at Chimpy McCokespoon’s White House. Will Palmer finally get duped by his scheming wife? One hopes not.
Although Jack’s daughter Kim gets into trouble only 20 minutes into the first show, it is nice to see that she’s learned to trust nobody and lamp them properly with a tire iron instead of getting caught. Not as much stupidity this time around and very few hostage takings (because, you could say, all of Los Angeles is essentially a hostage this time around).
Season One’s initial jolt wore off by episode 9 or so, this season the suspense is ramping up, also nice to see. We’re also sad to see that George Mason is marked for death, as he became one of our favorite characters; his line delivery is quite sharp and cynical.
I suppose we’ll be finished with this soon enough. Then I can get on to something else (possibly sitting down to finally watch The Sopranos).

A backlog of film fun

As mentioned on the front page, I’ve been moving everything over to a new provider and server. I’ve still been writing, but not posting, wanting to wait until things are settled. The reviews above are from early September up to the date of this entry. That should explain watching 24 Season Two when it first came out (September 9).

Odyssey – Homer (Stanley Lombardo, trans.)

Hackett Publishing, 1999
After the stories of shipwrecks and survival in Leslie’s book, I decided to complete my Homer duology and do the Odyssey.
It’s another fantastic translation by Lombardo, and brings the poem alive.
Knowing about the poem and actually reading it (for the first time, unlike the Iliad) are two different things, obviously. All the juicy, famous bits (Circe, Lotus Eaters, Cyclops, etc.) that have been passed down to us through art at literature are actually taken care of quickly, with the Lotus Eaters getting so short a mention I kept waiting for them to come back. For me, a lot of this surprise comes from reading Joyce’s Ulysses (10 years ago, blimey), who devotes a whole chapter (“Wandering Rocks”) to an option that Odyssius doesn’t even take. (I wonder how different my reading of Joyce would have been if I had read this first, despite using three navigational supplements alongside it.)
Such a different work than the straightforward Iliad, here full of time-shifts, false narratives, flashbacks. Disguises and tests of loyalty.
In a discussion the other night, my friend DJ mentioned that one of the book’s themes is hospitality, which indeed strikes me as correct. How to treat guests, and how to act when you are a guest is an idea returned to over and over, from the Oxen of the Sun and Circe back to Odyssius’s return, where his ill-treatment at the hands of the beggars makes his revenge much sweeter–though incredibly delayed.
My favorite moment, very personal, is the brief episode with the dog Argus, who waits twenty lonely, abused years for his master’s return, and is the only being that recognizes him in disguise. Once he has seen his master enter his home, the dog gives up the ghost. Homer handles this with great economy and emotion and little melodrama.
Like the Iliad, the epic ends in an unexpected place, with Odyssius about to go out again into battle, but called back suddenly by the gods. Don’t you think you’ve had enough of that, the gods ask, rhetorically.

Edge of the Known World: Dancer Peggy Baker sets out for uncharted territory

“I never expected I would be dancing solo. I expected I would just be dancing with companies. I had no idea that this would grab me by the roots. One project moves me in unexpected directions, and from there the next project arises.”

Dancer, choreographer, and teacher Peggy Baker still expresses amazement at her career and where she now finds herself, despite being someone who has never settled for anything less than what she wants.

She also has never let–and is still not letting–age determine what she can do. At 51, Baker–past member of the Lar Lubovitch Company, original member of the White Oak Project, and now solo performer–is pushing the boundaries and expanding the repertoire for mature dancers. She will be performing as part of the UCSB Dance Department Faculty Concert on October 10.

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Where Have You Been?

Well, I ain’t been to London to visit the queen, I tell ya that. Actually, I’ve been busy writing as usual, but also switching providers (then servers). At the end of September, I was furiously trying to get some writing in on a Friday, trying to make deadline, and that’s exactly when my email went down for the fourth time in a month, all due to my former provider, who shall remain nameless.
I need stable email to do my job, and after another visit to their online help service, where the befuddled tech support guy apologized but said “It’s a big problem, lots of people have been complaining.” It was then I called my good friend Jeff and had him remind me of the success with his most recent provider (who shall also remain nameless in this traditional period, just because I don’t want to jinx it.) So I moved.
Moving was a bit of a hassle, primarily because I didn’t have a whole day to devote to it, and so had to do a little bit here and there. Meanwhile, all my blogs backed up. You will probably see a whole bunch of entries soon. I just sorted out Blogger too, so hopefully everything will be ready soon.
Moving providers also hopefully means I can do a bit more complex web design, including putting up all my writing in a searchable and updatable database, and updating and reconstructing the Konishi discography. Stay tuned.