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Archive for the ‘author James Clark’ Category

hateful-8-1

© 2016 by James Clark

      The Hateful Eight (2015) is suffused with such a dazzling and challenging vein of cinematic bounty as to momentarily stop us in our tracks when setting out to convey it in all its bushwhacker severity. Tarantino’s work here is indeed a delicious entertainment; but it is also a cornucopia wherein very little is in fact what it seems to be.

Proceeding on that premise, we’ll tap the film’s vital signs by way of two scenes seemingly miles apart. The first has to do with a factor eclipsed here by the movie’s more disconcerting virtues, namely, that of our host’s comedic genius. In the wake of our accompanying four characters on a stagecoach ride through a snowbound Wyoming countryside a few years after the official end of the Civil War—a quartet revealing themselves therewith to be steeped in murderous violence of various kinds—they reach a stopover point just as a blizzard hits. That ride had been marked by a bounty hunter, John Ruth, having handcuffed to himself his prisoner, Daisy Domergue, en route to the regional hangman, repeatedly smashing her face and head while the bloodied captive persistently referred to another bounty hunter on board, Major Marquis Warren, as a nigger who should not be in the coach, and defiantly ridiculed her captor. His penchant for beating up Daisy, notwithstanding, Ruth, as his name rather quaintly telegrams, is a mainstream, rather doctrinal, John Locke liberal (referring to Warren as “Black fella”), whose well-known (to Warren, for instance) nickname, “The Hangman,” pertains to his eschewing the “dead” part of the “wanted dead or alive” prescription. Warren’s three frozen corpses on the stage’s roof declare that he is all for the “dead” clause. His referring to himself as “a servant of the Court” introduces a touch of chivalry which might be lingering in his kindly eyes and resonant voice. Daisy, a Southern girl, to judge from her accent, blows a nostril full of snot in Warren’s direction and spits on his letter from Abraham Lincoln which has left Ruth deeply touched (“That gets me”). In smashing her for that latter impudence, he brings both of them crashing outward into the snow. When he catches up with her and his letter, Warren spits on Daisy, smashes her and then she remarks, “That nigger like to bust my jaw… Is that the way niggers treat their ladies?” A fourth member of the party, the son of a notorious leader of a rebel, post-War vigilante gang, “Mannix’s Marauders,” enters into a heated quarrel with Warren—each citing lurid, well-known details of slaughter perpetrated by the other, with firmly anti-slaver Ruth siding with the dishonourably discharged Black fella and putative friend of Lincoln. (more…)

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youth-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

      There are many breathtaking turns in the film, Youth (2015). The one which I can’t forget transpires during the protagonist’s conducting one of his musical compositions in a concert by request of Queen Elizabeth. A beautiful young soprano is singing and body and soul, wrapped up in a scarlet gown, are somehow so right. The conductor regards her excellence and there flashes before him a moment we saw sometime before, his wife’s corpse propped upon the window of her hospital room as he was heedlessly regaling her with their superior depths and heroic sacrifices as compared with the actions of young people in general and their daughter in particular. The lovely mouth of the both sexy and angelic professional singer becomes briefly superimposed (by means of the quick cut) upon the loyal retainer’s grotesque maw.

Its palpable harshness and incisiveness are all the more stunning in view of the film’s wanton discharge of the composer/ conductor’s paltry range of perception in all the actions which preceded that shock, actions taking place at an exclusive Swiss spa. Paolo Sorrentino, the body and soul bringing to us this puzzling treasure had, in his previous coup, The Great Beauty (2013), dished out (among other virtues) a pleasing reprise of Federico Fellini’s spotlighting Italian-Miracle oligarchs at self-indulgent play. Especially impressive in that venerable motif was the unfailing well-rounded inclusion of self-injury and confrontation of an elusive verve amidst expensive and pretentious diversions. This time, however, we are notably in the domain of clockwork mechanisms, ticking along without serious need to question the exercise. Verve’s elusiveness is indeed salient in the presumably bracing mountain air being breathed by the guests. But unlike the films based in Italy, a Vichy-like denial of outrage has come to stay. (more…)

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american-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      Here we go, into a New Year (we definitely won’t call it the Year of the Ram or the Sheep or the Goat); and here we go kicking up a notch our not setting great store by “spoilers.” Anton Corbijn’s The American (2010) could be mistaken to be primarily a “suspense thriller” and judged as such. An American go-getter, Jack by name, has come upon some quality control issues in his career of murdering highly placed government and corporate trouble-making functionaries (like spies, expensive underachievers and other irritants and embarrassments) and his contemptuous and unforgiving manager salts him away in Italy and gives him the (low-key) assignment of producing a special gun which in fact is slated to dispose of him. A skirmish in that climax shows him dodging that bullet but being shot dead anyway.

Corbijn could not in truth care less what you think to be the thrills quotient of that eventuation. As a cog in the movie industry he has to cover his ass with a Hollywood star (George Clooney), some attractive women (nude or otherwise) and some attractive cinematography. In this artisanal web, he quite closely occupies the same boat as Jack, where one wrong step spells death (of some kind). The pragmatic underbelly of our helmsman’s craft is exceptionally bathed in epiphantic atmosphere. That disclosure constitutes the heart of the film, an adjunct of endeavor pretending (for the sake of the market) to stand by a beginning, a middle and an end, but in fact offering depths and real, not vicarious, shocks to ponder for a lifetime. (more…)

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flight-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      One of the great attractions of Paris is the Musee d’Orsay, an art museum and a former railway station smack in the heart of the City’s fabulousness and specializing in France’s gift to transformation, namely, Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. There the visitor—though he or she may never assimilate it as such—comes into a close encounter with a planet that resembles Earth but also comprises a bedrock of kinetic grace and communion (a Christmas morning fantasy of sorts) which our blue planet’s atmosphere would snuff out in a trice. Or would it?

Someone or some committee there, taking as a starting point the blissfulness of the collection, contrived (in the early years of the new century and new millennium) a union between the museum’s expressivity—and money—and the world’s front-line auteurs who would make what they could, in film form, of the possibilities of the world of untrammelled ecstasy on their walls (and, in a wider sense, their sculptures and industrial design of the late 19th and early 20th centuries). The first filmmaker recruited for such a venture could not have been a more promising choice, namely Hou Hsiao Hsien, proving, in pictures like Goodbye South, Goodbye, Millennium Mambo and Three Times, that visually, sonically and dramatically pregnant surges enliven the spirit of the refulgence of the work of Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Cezanne et al.

Whereas the tableaux in Paris are all about the magic of everything coming up roses, the motion pictures (as such) of Hou tend to determine that hell is other people. In the film resulting from this collision of sorts, namely, Flight of the Red Balloon (2007), our protagonist, Suzanne, a designer of puppet shows, comes to us as a pronounced subscriber to a career of manufacturing facsimiles of sentient creatures in contradistinction to a wider life of trench warfare. “The sea is rough!” she cries out melodramatically, during our first meeting her rehearsing the bearable vicissitudes of the puppet scenario. A near brawl with a deadbeat renter, along with anxieties about an adolescent daughter living with her divorced father in Brussels and, Musee d’Orsay notwithstanding, in no hurry to ever see Paris again and a Banana Republic latest sputtering flame adamantly living in Montreal, eventually spill over to the precincts of the museum of note, emitting a song, “Chin-chin,” more Surrealist than Impressionist, on the subject of a disappointed woman sinking into alcoholism. Evincing the excitement the commission knew they could count on from Hou, we have this dark plunge surrounded by and interacted with players (major and minor) in the City of Light having fallen under that spell of beatitude and goodwill served up (but not exclusively) by the genius of the d’Orsay deposit and often approximated at Christmas. That cornucopia constitutes the Yuletide presence of this out of season mystery. Here we have, in the language of the heart if not the specific register, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, Scrooge’s nephew and his wife and friends, as having attained to not only overcoming resentments but having also put into play an idiom of easy, undemonstrative affection—a Christmas gift like no other. (more…)

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three-times-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      A film like Three Times (2005) comes to us as an exquisite joy and an excruciating horror. Hou Hsiao Hsien has conjured there an arresting exploration of the volatility of human presence; and with the exception of a few filmic gourmands happy to absorb the flavors and happy to stay satisfied therewith, his effort has gone unnoticed. As I proceed to illuminate the workings of this adventure, there is, over and above a metaphorical lighting of a candle, the difficult business of such a dearth of fresh air snuffing out its efficacy. Therefore, the film’s telescoping of three eras (situated, in order: 1966, 1911 and 2005) draws attention to a long and virtually frozen engagement.

You can’t say that Three Times doesn’t effectively pinpoint a percolating, passionately pursued through the ages, not only including but especially in our time. And it leads this thrust with a rich, palpable and witty musical score. It’s 1966 and those doo-wop stalwarts, The Platters, who may be done at home, submerged by the likes of “California Dreamin’,” delivered by the archly-named, Mamas and Papas, still make waves with their tight harmonies (their Enigma Variations)—in Taiwan, in and about the peripatetic business of May, a billiard hall hostess. The TNT comprising this apparently low-key glimpse must wait a bit while we come to a moment of body language in perfect confluence with the disc’s final bat flip in watching the ball clear the fence. An admirer of May, namely, Chen, a young man on leave from military service and trying to locate her current workplace, tosses his match, on lighting his smoke, spot-on the downbeat pushing the final lyric, “eyes!” In Part 3, it’s 2005 and Hou is up to his well-established genius of limning nearly deliriously bad musical and poetic talent. The culprit, Jing (even a jingle would be a relief from what she does) is a partially blind epileptic getting up in the middle of the night, for a smoke, from a bed including her Tooth Fairy photo-guy, Zhen, picking up a fluorescent lighting panel and casting it on a dark wall setting off another crescendo in the form of photos of domestic scenes disclosing attractive women—one instance of which involving a variant of Cherner chairs. The first flash on the gallery wall comes to coincide with that split second (trailing to infinity) when Chen put his all (like Bautista) into tossing that match. The geisha, Mei, in Part 2, her options dwindling, her vocalizing to zither accompaniment being tightened to a kind of death rattle, turns it all around (for how long?) in putting her long-standing, stuffed-shirt (Gerbier-like) Army of Shadows revolutionary-client’s face towel back to perfect balance with a graceful and definitive twist of her hand. Once again, the pristine downbeat coming through stormy times. (more…)

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the-assassin-1 (1)

  © 2015 by James Clark

      Hou Hsiao Hsien is hardly a well-known name apart from a smallish corner of Asia and amongst a few film enthusiasts elsewhere. But those who do know the name and the film products carrying his name revere him for maintaining bittersweet solace, on the scale of the works of Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963). I’ve noticed, in my relatively brief tenure of linking to movies, that the culture of film production and consumption heavily favors internalizing the filmed actions to sustain various predilections remarkable for their absence of anything but fixation upon a range of the tried and true stretching back to distant eons. Extremities of time, space and emotion (and concomitant technical extremities) only serve to confirm that horse and buggy ways are the way to go.

The assumption that Hou Hsiao Hsien offers in his work somewhat off-beat, eccentric stylization to speak on behalf of quiet and fragile souls runs, I fear, into the inconvenient presence of his recent vehicles, like, Goodbye South, Goodbye (1996) and Millennium Mambo (2001), showing deft and intense rejigging of the ancient Chinese coordinating perspective of Yin and Yang. The latter-mentioned film’s graphically pinpointed ebb and flow of comprehensive verve within human sensibility is right on the money as to avant-garde endeavors (including quantum physics, disowned as such, or mordantly not) trailing back to the beginning of the twentieth century. (The former-mentioned film involves a woman named Ying who evinces considerable Yang.) On this note we must remark that many filmmakers from the mid-twentieth century on were at work on such palpable and problematic matters of consciousness, though not well recognized as such. These artists well understood that cinema was a potentially dangerous weapon in the context of the general medium’s conventionality. One of the foremost early film contrarians, Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973), produced, in 1969, near the end of his career, a film called, Army of Shadows, dealing with political intrigue during the Nazi occupation of France but at the same time dealing with righting a much larger structure of sensibility. Hou Hsiao Hsien, being as interested in survival as in pushing the envelope, though on record as being an avid fan of Godard and Truffaut, never alludes to Melville. Those red herrings stem from typical film industry flim-flam and they are most remarkable in light of his current film, The Assassin (2015), being as rooted in that French Resistance saga as in the Tang Dynasty of its narrative setting. The film’s protagonist, a lethal nemesis swayed by a princess-nun (that is, a charismatic ascetic on the order of an ISIS official), is named Yinniang. Her work with Yin and Yang is far more compelling than her day job. (more…)

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army-of-shadows-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      Jean-Pierre Melville was active in the French Resistance during World War II. That fact entails a long freight train of supposition running from laudatory to immaculate. In 1969 he brought to light a fastidious and elegant film, Army of Shadows, dealing with that subject he knew so well and, presumably, wanted to say a lot about.

One nagging disclaimer within that envisaged march of social progress at heavy cost concerns the extensive track record, up to that date, of Melville’s works ardently conveying that, far from an army, the kind of integrity absorbing him takes the form of catastrophically isolated and almost utterly ineffectual partisans of a current of power not only precluded but not even noticed. To spotlight Melville’s endeavors, as inhering in his films, being positioned within that troubled but triumphant rise of so-called social justice is, it seems to me, to allow rhetoric to strangle (a most shadowy) reckoning. The title of our film today wields the upbeat term, army, and the downbeat term, shadows. Let’s try to comprehend what our remarkable guide was up to in linking those strange bedfellows. (more…)

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