Friday, October 18, 2019

DO NOT LOOK FOR ME ON TWITTER


I don't feel like capitulating to their bullshit. 
I will keep the blog.
But that's it, that's all, I don't want anymore online exposure. 
I don't believe in it.
It serves no positive function. 
I prefer to continue writing. 
I consider DESTINY BECKONS my finest work. 
Most of it is not available online, and never will be.
Got my wife, got my family, got my art.
I'm all good.
Much obliged!


Monday, October 14, 2019

"RIGHT ONE" RIGHT ON



          Q: What do you get when you cross a story about a boy being bullied with a story about young love, plus a third one about real life as a vampire?
          A: You get Swedish triple threat Let the Right One In (2008).
          Thorough, detailed, subtle, complex, this highly original and satisfying film is so terrific, it was re-made in America as Let Me In (2010), starring Chloe Grace Moretz. But it's nowhere near as good at all. First because it's a ripoff, and second because the original has the writer of the novel also writing the screenplay. Plus the casting is off. More on that in a moment.
          Upshot: Twelve year-old Oskar (Hedebrant) gets picked on by three kids at school. At the apartment complex where he lives with his mother, sometimes Oskar fantasizes about fighting back. One night when he thinks he's alone he finds the new neighbor kid from the next apartment watching him. This kid, Eli (Leandersson), also twelve, is full of all sorts of surprises, one them being related to gender. And this is why Moretz is a poor choice for the re-make. Lina Leandersson, on the other hand, is the perfect choice, to some extent due to at that time slightly more androgynous facial features crucial to the role.
          So whereas Let the Right One In has cinematic teeth, Let Me In merely bites.
          For most of the movie the viewer knows more than most of the characters. For example, that they're in a vampire story. A fact, by the way, explicitly revealed in all the marketing. It is, however, a vampire movie which shows no fangs, nor any bats, and not one castle. There is an unexplained supernatural element, yes, yet nothing to do with crucifixes or garlic.
          Eli has a guardian, Hakan (Ragnar), whose grim task it is to procure fresh human blood so that Eli can eat. These scenes comprise a big chunk of the film's considerable charm. Largely this is due to the innovative clinical approach taken, but also because of the difficulty Hakan finds in accomplishing his goal without getting accidentally interrupted.
          Contrasted against this graphic aspect, the pure clean innocence of the smitten youngsters who experience isolation for different reasons. As they grow closer, Eli counsels Oskar that when the bullies try to hit him, he must hit back harder than he ever dared. And if after that they still don't stop, then she'll step in and help.
          "I can," she assures.
          Quiet, simple, dark, and beautiful, Let the Right One In is a polished little gem of a movie in a class by itself.


LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
Starring Kare Hedebrant,
Lina Leandersson,
Per Ragnar,
Peter Carlberg,
Ika Nord
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Based on th novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Runtime 114 minutes


Stewart Kirby writes for
THE INDEPENDENT


Monday, October 7, 2019

"JOKER" ACTOR ACES ROLE



          Joaquin Phoenix proves himself yet again the real acting deal.
          Sometimes one actor's portrayal of a character is sufficient reason to watch a film. This is one of those times.
          If only it hadn't been so hyperly hyped. Industry decision-makers wrongly think overhyping forces "a too big to fail" situation. They hyped Aquaman for a full year before it rightly tanked the opening weekend. What they need to do is underhype, so they don't create a "too big to succeed."
          That said, the story never really needed to have anything to do with a comic book villain. In fact, it would be better served as a film about a mentally ill person, and let that suffice without having anything to do with Batman at all. Reason being: Infantilization? We don't need no stinkin' infantilization.
          Ah, but then if there's no built-in market, it's only a work of art. Kind of like Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1982), the main movie on the coattails of which Joker blithely rides.
          Upshot: Back in the early-'80s, Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), clown, gets picked on. He lives with his mom, he's skinny, he wants to be funny, but isn't. The most interesting thing about him is a mental condition where he laughs uncontrollably in stressful situations. After living out a scene from the Charles Bronson movie Death Wish (1974), in full post-work makeup, Fleck finds himself a Guy Fawkes-like figure, an inspiration to the majority poor tired of the deplorable privileged. Meanwhile, all Fleck really wants is to be funny and loved as a guest on his favorite TV show.
          While the lead portrayal absolutely excels, the story overall leaves much to be desired. For example, no talk show--especially one that's supposed to be "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson"--has ever, would ever, could ever do anything like what we're intended to accept in Joker. Also, at this time there weren't always cameras everywhere recording everything for there to be a video sent to fake Johnny, so no, we can't accept that the show would randomly display Fleck flailing at a club. That's a dumb and distracting mistake, and it's not the only one in the movie.
          Yet in spite of all that, Phoenix's unforgettable performance rises beyond the otherwise forgettable occasion. He's in every scene. And he's highly watchable because he lost 45 pounds and all of his sanity for the role. In terms of interior life onscreen, wow, what a lesson in the art of acting. Talk about being to one's insane role committed, J.P.'s so right up there at Heath Ledger's Joker-level, why, it's positively crazy.
          Could this Fleck guy ever possibly become Batman's arch-nemesis? Nope, no way. Nothing about this character allows for his ever masterminding a crime. Nor is there any of the "indiscriminate violence" which audiences may wrongly expect. Probably that was just a marketing ploy.
          But hey, it's still an interesting movie.


JOKER
Starring Joaquin Phoenix,
Robert De Niro,
Zazie Beetz,
Francis Conroy
Directed by Todd Phillips
Written by Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Based on characters created by Bob Kane
Runtime 122 minutes


Monday, September 30, 2019

"NOSFERATU" INFECTIOUS




          F.W. Murnau's 1922 German Expressionist vision of Dracula casts an indelible portrait of the vampire.
          Featuring the enigmatic Max Schreck as Count Orlok, Nosferatu excels in spite of Murnau's inability to secure the rights to Bram Stoker's novel.
          Murnau's "Symphony of Horror," with a screenplay freely adapted by Henrik Galeen, concerns the Great Plague of Wisborg in 1838--or rather, its cause: Nosferatu, a pestilential Son of Belial with "a name like the sound of the death bird at midnight."
          Industrious young real estate agent Hutter believes he stands to make a healthy commission delivering in person papers drawn up for the Transylvanian Count's purchase of a "handsome, deserted house" in Wisborg. Hutter's boss, Knock--who acts like the character Renfield in the novel--pointedly neglects to mention that he's sending Hutter on an errand to a highly unusual client with long claws, rat-like teeth, and an appetite for human blood obtained directly from the source. Like a juice-box.
          Hutter has a wife, Ellen, whose neck the Count immediately covets. She, meanwhile, has a mystical connection through sleep and dream with Hutter and the Count far away in the Carpathians.
          In 1922, black and white was not exactly black and white. It was actually common practice to use a colored filter over the camera lens. A blue filter, for example, indicates outdoor nighttime shots. Particularly in the restored Kino edition, astoundingly clean and clear frames repeatedly please the eye.
          This is because it's Expressionist. Due to WWI, German filmmakers were cut off from the world in terms of the still-emerging art and the business associated with it. The striking visuals--stylized sets, unconventional camera angles, and exceptional use of shadows--plus extreme subject matter (such as vampires) speaking to the present and the eternal in the higher language of the figurative, still provide the stock for the cinematic soup of the world.
          Werner Herzog re-made the classic in 1979 with Klaus Kinski as Orlok, and in most ways it's the better version. That same year, Stephen King's made-for-TV 'Salem's Lot was filmed in Ferndale, California, with a non-vocal vampire looking like a dead-ringer for Orlok. (For that matter, so does Freddy Kruger in silhouette, who also operates in the dream realm.)
          Another goodie is Shadow of the Vampire (2000), which stars John Malkovich as Murnau and Willem Dafoe as, not the actor Max Schreck, but as an actual vampire that Murnau was somehow able to procure.
          The first vampire movie got it right. The Count is supposed to be repellent. That's in keeping with the novel, and that's what works best. Not a suave dude, but a repugnant figure. Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, and Gary Oldman all bring their own fantastic interpretation, but it is Max Schreck who casts the longest vampire shadow.
          Seek Nosferatu wherever fine films are found--and preferably do so by train.






Monday, September 23, 2019

"NINTH GATE" ENTRANCES



          From the director of Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby comes this Gothic thriller about "book detective" Dean Corso's well-paid job to track down and determine the authenticity of The Nine Gates of the Shadow Kingdom, a book supposedly authored by the Devil for the purpose of conjuring same.
          While the book on which the film is based, Arturo Perez-Reverte's The Club Dumas, is absolutely fantastic, Roman Polanski's high-quality movie excludes the central aspect of the novel involving the works of Alexandre Dumas altogether. Also the story is told from the perspective of the character Boris Balkan.
          The film has Balkan, but it's not told from his perspective. Played terrifically by Frank Langella (excellent as Dracula in 1979), Balkan heads his self-titled book publishing company, gives lectures on witchcraft through the ages in his spare time, and sends Johnny Depp as Corso on a job he can't turn down because the money is just too good.
          Among the many entrancing aspects of the film is the music by one of the best composers in the business, on par with Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Bernard Herrmann, the great Wojciech Kilar, whose prior work includes Bram Stoker's Dracula.
          Featuring Lena Olin (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) as the femme fatale widow, and Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigner as the mysterious and beautiful stranger with green eyes who keeps popping up around Corso.
          A little bit Eyes Wide Shut-ish in some key respects, The Ninth Gate features Illuminati-type masked rituals. Remaining intentionally vague to preserve the experience, suffice to say Gate also has a unique vision related to the subject matter which puts the film on par with Murnau's seminal Faust (1926).
          This film is so well done, some have wondered whether the book, reputedly published in 1666 (it's a 1999 film), isn't actually real. It isn't. But partly this misconception may be due to the highly authentic-looking illustrations in the book depicting elements of a greater puzzle also to be understood as the unfolding map of a perilous journey to obtain boundless knowledge, power, and treasure afforded the worthy recipient by the Devil.
          It's a feather in the cap for all involved, classy, polished, and satisfyingly entertaining from the first moment of the film to the last.
          Available wherever fine films are found.



Monday, September 16, 2019

"AMERICAN PSYCHO" FLAWED MASTERPIECE




          Nine years after the publication of Bret Easton Ellis' banned book comes this blackly comic wry satire featuring one of the best performances by one of film's finest actors.
          Christian Bale stars as Patrick Bateman, an investment banker at the firm of Pierce and Pierce. Just as Bateman's name suggests Norman Bates from Psycho, so too does the name of the firm broadly hint at the investment banker's homicidal interests.
          What makes American Psycho (2000) a masterpiece is tying together rapacious hollow greed, white male privilege, empty consumerism, and wounded narcissism with mental imbalance and murder. That, plus a razor-sharp dead-on performance by Bale.
          However, the ending falls apart like over-boiled chicken. Falls apart so bad, it's enough to drive a person crazy.
          The story wouldn't have any of the impact if Bateman was a plumber. But this is a movie with something to say. Which also seems to be pretty much why the book got banned.
          So many great images, so many great moments. Bale captures Bateman's lifeless eyes just right. Everything he does is selfish, everything he says, artificial. He has no tastes of his own, but rather only rattles off critiques from other sources used like weapons against people in lieu of conversation.
          He's not really human, he's not really there, and he's not really different from any of the others.
          When the story starts (set in 1987), we have no way of knowing whether Bateman has killed anyone yet. We see him kill a transient here, a prostitute there. He tells us in Voice Over all about the designer toiletries he uses and various lotions he applies to keep his skin soft.
          Then we see another guy at the firm who has the same haircut as Bateman, and wears the same style suit and eyeglasses, but whose business card is just a little bit better than Bateman's.
          Big mistake for that guy.
          And ultimately a big mistake for the filmmaker. Writer-director Mary Harron in an interview with Charlie Rose admitted she made a mistake with the film's ending by creating too much ambiguity. This ambiguity is the film's fatal flaw. The viewer is left wondering if Bateman ever even killed anyone. Was it all merely his violent imagination or delusions?
          Well, no. And that's where Harron regrets the ambiguity. Patrick Bateman definitely does commit the murders. (Except maybe for a few, not to quibble.) Yet the film makes a better double-feature with Wall Street or The Wolf of Wall Street than Psycho. This is because, even though Bateman quotes serial killer Ed Gein, the real-life inspiration for Robert Bloch's novel later to become the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, that fact is in service of the larger issues concerning who and what gets called success.
          Also starring Josh Lucas as one of Bateman's silky Pierce and Pierce frenemies, Jared Leto as the guy whose business card is better than Bateman's, Reese Witherspoon as Bateman's clueless fiancĂ©e, and Willem Dafoe as the friendly neighborhood detective who would like to ask Mr. Bateman a few questions.



Monday, September 9, 2019

"L'HOMME QUI RIT" CARVES MOVIE MARK



          Excellent production value highlights this faithful adaptation of Victor Hugo's 1869 novel.
          The title means "The Man Who Laughs"--and this is the name of the first film version of the story, from 1928, starring Conrad Veidt in the role of a traveling freak show performer whose face was horrifically carved into a huge permanent smile when he was a young boy by a so-called "doctor" of child-stealing Gypsies.
          The real name of The Man Who Laughs is Gwynplaine (Grondin). Abandoned as a child one night in a snowstorm, he saves a blind girl yet younger than himself, and the two are taken in by the gruff, bear-like Ursus (Depardieu) who travels in his tiny caravan around the countryside with a wolf for a companion as he sells potions and performs little stage productions. In the book, which provides seemingly extraneous details which help set the stage for the main storyline, it takes a long time to finally get where the story properly starts, which is with the abandonment of young Gwynplaine.
          The main thing the 2012 version gets wrong is softening Gwynplaine's disfigurement and playing up all his other attributes to the point where he basically could have been played by Johnny Depp as a sort of heartthrob-type version of the character. But the best version of the role by far is Veidt's interpretation.
          Remaining intentionally vague to preserve the experience, suffice to say Gwynplaine learns a secret about himself that changes his life, and the second half of the story takes a wildly different turn.
          One thing happens in this movie that we almost never see in any film: The events take place in England, but all of the characters speak French. In a world where comic book Norse gods owned by the Disney corporation all speak in prestige British dialect, what a welcome change to hear members of Parliament speaking French.
          The most unbelievable aspect of the story, almost unforgivably so, is Gwynplaine's inexplicable desire for a Platonic relationship with Dea (Theret). Where others despise him on sight, the beautiful young blind woman loves Gwynplaine because she sees his soul. And she's all totally into it. But no, instead Gwynplaine says, "I can never make you happy." And that's probably true, but it's not because of his face.
          Starring also Emmanuelle Seigner (aka Mrs. Roman Polanski) as a duchess interested in The Man Who Laughs. A scene in L'Homme Qui Rit calls to mind another from Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers. The former is visually and thematically in keeping with the latter because it depicts a lifeless waltz danced by the rich. For that matter, moments later we see a reference to Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete, specifically the white fluttering curtains in the castle hall.
          In particular the end of the highly literate 2012 version is faithful to Hugo's vision. This fact, coupled with the excellent look of the film, effective use of music and overall artistry, raise it to the same level of the 1928 original.
          It is worth noting that Veidt's portrayal of Gwynplaine is unforgettable, so influential it served as the inspiration for Batman-creator Bob Kane's villainous character, the Joker. Jack Nicholson plays the Joker in the 1989 Batman the same way Cesar Romero did in the mid-'60s TV show, smiling and hoo-hooing underneath a painted-on smile. What's more interesting is a frown or a scowl beneath the fake permanent smile. We do get this with the superior portrayal by Heath Ledger in his final film role. And it would appear this is repeated with the new film, Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix. But no one has ever matched the performance by Conrad Veidt.
          Note: A French version of the story filmed in 1971 does exist, but it looks and sounds like a home movie, so foolish, its only merit is in, ironically, providing the reason for derisive laughter.
          Seek the 2012 melodrama masterpiece wherever fine films are found.


L'HOMME QUI RIT
Starring Gerard Depardieu,
Marc-Andre Grondin,
Emmanuelle Seigner,
Christa Theret,
Romain Morelli,
Fanie Zanini
Directed by Jean-Pierre Ameris
Written by Jean-Pierre Ameris, Guillaume Laurant
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Runtime 95 minutes