Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Hard Candy

Hard Candy
Madonna's new album, Hard Candy, is out now. The cover photo and font look terrible, and it's certainly not one of Madonna's best albums.

The full track-listing is: Candy Shop, Four Minutes, Give It 2 Me, Heartbeat, Miles Away, She's Not Me, Incredible, Beat Goes On, Dance 2night, Spanish Lessons, Devil Wouldn't Recognize You, and Voices. An additional track, Ring My Bell, was included on the Japanese edition.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Inside Out, Outside In

Inside Out Outside In
Middle-Earth
Soak
Action!
Voodoo Girls
Happy Berry
Gallery VER, Bangkok, hosted a short season of indie films by Thunska Pansittivorakul and Panu Aree from 18th to 20th April. The event, Inside Out, Outside In, featured a complete retrospective of both directors.

Panu Aree's first film, Once Upon A Time, is a compilation of home movie footage of his family at an amusement park, and was edited by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. His other films are: Destiny, Postcards From Kaosan Road, In Between, The Magic Water, Stills, Parallel, The Lost Highway, and Silent Lights.

Thunska's excellent Middle-Earth originally screened at the 11th Thai Short Film & Video Festival, and his recent films Soak and Action! were screened at the 5th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival.

Thunska's early short films are:

Private Life
(Thunska's first film: he drives to the beach with his boyfriend, but they never make it and can't find the time or place to be alone with each other)

Lovesickness (aka Just A Life II)
(a man in his studio apartment, with only a goldfish for company; he treats it obsessively as a partner: feeding it rice, washing it with soap, and ejaculating into its water)

...For Shiw Ping 28/12/97
(faces filmed in negative, and footage of a rainstorm: Thunska's memories of his relationship with Ping in 1997)

Sigh
(two men have sex, with the images filtered by double-exposures, rapid editing, and low resolution)

Chemistry
(a man narrates his formative sexual experiences in voice-over)

Life Show
(a young actor is interviewed about his illicit sex-life, with nudity and smoking censored in the style of Thai TV)

After Shock
(a man masturbating in a boat; made for the Ministry of Culture in response to the 2004 tsunami)

Unseen Bangkok
(a split-screen film: a nude hustler discusses his clients, and a covert recording of a man taking a shower)

Endless Story
(a slideshow of Thunska's personal and graphic snapshots)

Vous Vous Souviens De Moi?
(a short story about a robot who cannot feel love, narrated over images of a nude man in an apartment)

Out Of Control
(a group of boys playing on a beach)

You Are Where I Belong To
(Thunska filming people he meets in Japan, as he tries to forget his ex-boyfriend)

Thunska's feature-length documentaries Voodoo Girls and Happy Berry (and the short sequel Happy Berry: Oops I Did It Again; all featuring frank discussions between groups of Thai youngsters), and his music video Blinded Spot (for Soundlanding) were also screened.

The Asphalt Jungle

The Asphalt Jungle
The Asphalt Jungle, directed by John Huston, is a heist film starring Sterling Hayden. As in so many subsequent heist films, a gang of expert criminals is assembled to plan and execute the perfect robbery. Naturally, the execution doesn't quite go according to plan: a combination of coincidences and double-crossings ensure that crime does not pay (as dictated by the American film censors, of course).

While in later films it's often the chief of police who's revealed to be the most corrupt character, in The Asphalt Jungle it seems that every character except the chief is corrupt. In fact, the police commissioner makes an earnest speech about the necessity of law enforcement, which is out of place alongside the film's otherwise gritty dialogue.

This is Huston's third Film Noir, after The Maltese Falcon and Key Largo. Those two earlier films had Noir plots, though they were both rather stagey (confined to unatmospheric interiors, with characters who are entertaining rather than menacing). The Asphalt Jungle, on the other hand, is more stylistically and emotionally Noirish. It's full of dark shadows, and the equally dark plot offers no redemption for any of the characters.

There's a notable pre-stardom cameo from Marilyn Monroe, though Sterling Hayden in the hardboiled lead role gives the film's greatest performance. He would later star in Kubrick's The Killing, a film whose plot owes a great deal to The Asphalt Jungle.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Syndromes & A Century
(Thailand's Edition)

Syndromes & A Century: Thailand's Edition
postcard
Following the Thai censorship of his film Syndromes & A Century, Apichatpong Weerasethakul has agreed to present a censored version of the film (Thailand's Edition) for Thai audiences. It will be screened at Paragon Cineplex, starting today (preceded by a panel discussion with Apichatpong at 6pm), for the next fortnight.

Silent leader footage will be projected in place of the censored scenes, to draw attention to the censorship of the film. In a stroke of genius, each ticket comes with a free Syndromes & A Century postcard, which features photographs of the censored scenes and links to youtube.com where the censored footage can be seen, thus making a mockery of the censor's decision.

Infamously, Ladda Tangsupachai, the director of the Ministry of Culture's Cultural Surveillance Department, once said: "Nobody goes to see films by Apichatpong. Thai people want to see comedy. We like a laugh."

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

12:08 East Of Bucharest

12:08 East Of Bucharest
12:08 East Of Bucharest is a comedy directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, set in the small Romanian town of Vaslui. It is one of a handful of recent Romanian films to receive international critical acclaim, including Cristian Mungiu's Four Months, Three Weeks, & Two Days.

The film is divided into two distinct halves. First, we are introduced to the three central characters on a typical morning. There is a TV host, trying to book guests for his cheap talkshow; later, he pretentiously introduces the show with quotations from ancient philosophers. Then a henpecked history teacher, who drinks too much and owes everyone money. Finally, a lonely old man, who is busy buying a Father Christmas costume so he can entertain school-children. The teacher and pensioner will be the only guests on the TV host's talkshow.

The second half is taken up entirely with the talkshow, and is filmed by the TV studio's camera. The show's topic is: was there a revolution in Vaslui, or not? Anti-Communist demonstrations led to Romania's self-appointed leader Nicolae Ceausescu fleeing Bucharest by helicopter at 12:08 on 22nd December 1989. The talkshow takes place on the sixteenth anniversary of Ceausescu's downfall, and hinges on a debate about when the population of Vaslui began demonstrating.

The teacher maintains that he was part of a small group of people who shouted anti-Ceausescu slogans in the town square before 12:08, though all of the show's callers disagree with him. Defending himself against accusations that he is a liar, he repeatedly recounts what happened in the town square, adding extra information each time. The callers (including an ex-guard, with all the best lines, who exposes the show's inadequacies) all offer their own different versions of what took place. As in Rashomon, objective truth remains elusive.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Death Proof

Death Proof
Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof was originally part of Grindhouse, a double bill also featuring Planet Terror. After the lukewarm American reaction to Grindhouse, the concept was dropped for international markets, and instead the films have been released separately. The revised release pattern enabled Tarantino (who also did his own cinematography) to add almost thirty minutes to Death Proof, including much more dialogue and a lap-dancing scene which was completely cut from the Grindhouse version. After reviving other 1970s exploitation genres (Blaxploitation in Jackie Brown and 'chop socky' kung-fu in Kill Bill), Grindhouse is a natural progression, in which he uses jump-cuts and scratched prints to recreate the lurid experience of 1970s grindhouse films. Death Proof was shot entirely on location, which adds to the cheap, gritty grindhouse look.

The film has two halves, which are roughly parallel. In each segment, a quartet of women is observed at a distance by Stuntman Mike, a retired film stuntman. Mike is one of the few characters in cinema to get sexual pleasure from car crashes (the only other example that comes to mind is Crash, the JG Ballard novel and David Cronenberg film). The first half of Death Proof ends with Mike crashing into the girls' car at 200mph, killing all four of them. In the second half, after he chases the girls (in a stunningly tense though implausible sequence) they are eventually able to overtake him, leading to a (convincingly grindhouse-style) feminist revenge ending.

Death Proof (titled Thunder Bolt in a split-second jump-cut during the title sequence) is exactly what you'd expect a Tarantino car-chase film to be. It's full of witty, profane, trivial, naturalistic dialogue; it has moments of bloody, stylised violence; there are constant references to cult cinema, music, and television; there's a cool 1970s soundtrack; there's a low-angle point-of-view shot (from inside a car bonnet, rather than the usual car boot); it exists within the self-referential Tarantino universe, with name-checks for Big Kahuna Burger and Red Apple cigarettes (from Pulp Fiction) and recurring characters (from Kill Bill). There are even in-joke references to his other films: Tarantino (in a traditional cameo) repeats the "tasty beverage" line from Pulp Fiction, and Rosario Dawson's ringtone is a Bernard Herrmann composition used in Kill Bill.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

War Of The Worlds

War Of The Worlds
War Of The Worlds (a remake of the 1950s classic The War Of The Worlds) is a major disappointment. Its director (Steven Spielberg) and leading actor (Tom Cruise) are arguably the two most successful men in Hollywood, and their previous collaboration, Minority Report, was a sophisticated sci-fi thriller, though War Of The Worlds pales in comparison.

Tom Cruise gives his standard Cruise smirk and nothing more, so his character has no real development. Dakota Fanning, playing Cruise's daughter, spends the entire film screaming, in a hugely irritating performance. The plot, which is sometimes borderline illogical, sets up several possibilities that are later simply dropped. The feel-good ending is implausible.

The original version is one of the greatest science-fiction films of the 1950s, and one of only a handful of films featuring a full-scale alien invasion. (Others include Earth Vs The Flying Saucers, Independence Day, and the parodic Mars Attacks.) It is also, however, an overtly Christian film, with a quasi-Biblical narration.

Surprisingly, this religious aspect has been retained in Spielberg's remake. Spielberg's film, a blockbuster 'event movie', was released around the world, yet he still included references to "God's creatures" in the narration, turning American cultural imperialism into proselytism.