finally caught up with me, and today was almost a failure. I’d had six films on
the docket. But after the two and a half hours of Drawing Restraint 9, I
had to have a break, preferably where I could see the sun. Unfortunately the
casualty was Tsotsi. At least the asparagus and crab soup I had was
missing that flick wouldn’t be a big deal, in part because I’d booked time in
the media library to catch up with April Snow. (The movie, not the
Jarvis St. hooker.) But the film before that ran long and my time was given to
someone else, which left me down two films out of six. Teh suck, as the kids
tomorrow is the last day; I fly out at 9AM on Saturday. Only a few things are
really catching my eye for the afternoon, so I may crash some public
screenings. The Pusher series is being run again, so maybe I can at least grab
the first film.
For those still with me, though, just look at what follows. How many other places are you likely to find coverage of a middling Pierce Brosnan flick contrasted with words devoted to Matthew Barney’s art film juggernaut? None. Period.
The Matador A few
films like this always find their way into the festival. That is, harmless,
entertaining flicks that don’t really have that festival spirit. The
Matador is more fun than most thanks to some game work from Pierce
Brosnan, but it’s marred by director Richard Shepard’s inability to do anything
truly unexpected with his story or characters.
is Julian Noble, a career assassin who’s lately realized that his life doesn’t
add up to much. On the job for more than 20 years, Julian might once have been
a stylish young turk, but as his work isolated him from society the guy
just…froze. Now at the end of the road, his dirty moustache and flinty eyes
mask an anonymous life free of personal relationships and even a home.
Noble meets family man Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) he latches on like a remora
to a nurse shark. Danny’s everyday life and perfect wife (Hope Davis) sound
pretty damn good to a guy with a black book full of useless numbers. They forge
a bond in Mexico City which eventually brings Noble back around to Danny’s
house in the middle of the night six months later.
it’s simply being free of Bond’s shackles or the idea of creating a Bizarro-Bond,
Brosnan is obviously having a good time walking in Julian Noble’s shoes. He
cracks bad jokes, gets drunk, chats up any female over 12 and generally makes a
complete and total mess of himself. Watching him do so was a good way to pass
the time, if only because he’s yet another actor I’ve been hoping would find
something on which to hang a little bit of talent. (Or determination, with
which Brosnan is far more liberally blessed.)
Kinnear is mostly just a goofy, slightly desperate guy teetering on the edge of
a midlife crisis, Hope Davis lights up her few scenes, especially when paired
with Brosnan. All the same, Shepard manages to waste the appearance of Philip
Baker Hall, which is more than a minor sin.
Kinnear’s performance, Shepard’s story is constantly on the verge of going
somewhere interesting, but never quite makes the trip. He feints in expected
directions, but then doesn’t push his characters at all. Does an illicit life
steeped in blood and deception ever reclaim Noble? Not really, because he
eventually does the right thing. Richard Shepard must be Catholic. I had to
pause and think for a few minutes to even remember how the film ended, just
because there was nothing there really worth committing to grey matter. And
that’s not just festival fatigue talking.
Drawing Restraint 9
Barney achieved no small notoriety in 2002 with the completion of his five film
cycle. But before Cremaster came the multi-part Drawing Restraint series
of artistic forms. Begun in 1987, the latest installment is this lengthy film,
in which ritual and biology intertwine.
refers to the means by which strength is developed through resistance. But what
resistance is needed, and what sort of strength is the result? Drawing
Restraint 9 explores cycles of material and use; whaling is associated
with human relations; byproducts both facilitate the next hunt and ritually
decay; and consumption of a catch becomes a way for us to return to the sea.
some vague sketch of a narrative, but it’s almost a tease, or a false
impression to keep an audience watching. An enormous procession winds through a
refinery complex, pulling an oil tanker which is spouting floral blue fronds as
if from the blowhole of a whale. Two Guests, played by Matthew Barney and
Bjork, are ferried to the Japanese whaler Nisshin Maru. There a large mold is
being filled with whale-based jelly, and the guests are fitted with lavish
costumes in preparation for a tea ceremony. During the ceremony, the ship’s
history is explained, and the chamber abruptly floods. The guests’ ritual
begins in earnest, and they find themselves returning to the sea. Knives are
involved. As the guests find new forms, the mold is uncovered, and promptly
rejects its forced shape in favor of a more natural arrangement.
contrast to the elaborate language of Cremaster, this film is surprisingly
straightforward. Barney’s imagery is derived from a few primary sources:
nautical and whaling practices, traditional Japanese folk tales and ceremonies,
and the inevitable force of modern industry. And his interest in a sort of
harvested or cultivated biology continues unabated.
images, as ever, are gorgeous. The elemental language of the film requires a
compositional elegance which is manifest in every frame. And because a large
portion of the film was photographed on a boat, there is a balance between
Barney’s surgically composed studio work and a more natural, almost rhythmic
composition at sea.
rhythmic and primordial elements are heightened by Bjork’s widely varied score.
Bjork’s ability to complement and heighten the effect of Barney’s images can
hardly be overstated. Her songs drone, chant and pound under the film. An
introductory number featuring Will Oldham is even almost sweet.
is obviously required. But once taken in — a surprisingly painless process — Drawing
Restraint 9 will hold many people fast. The memories are plentiful. Jelly
and blubber, knives and animalistic costumes. Human sashimi. Consuming and
returning to origin. A seasick child rejecting his own nature in the form of a being
drawn from the sea. An old quay, the bridge between land and sea, one cycle and
another, destroyed. A new one constructed with great ceremony out of whale product.
Returning to the sea to take from the sea. World without end.
The Wayward Cloud
Ming-liang has made several films about urban alienation and sexual
disconnection. (The River; The Hole) Yet I don’t think any of them are as odd, funny and ultimately
brutal as this latest film.
The Wayward Cloud picks up, in a way, where his previous
Time Is It There? left off. Tsai’s perpetual protagonist Hsiao-Kang has
given up his street vendor job in favor of acting in low-rent pornography. The
work has fully deadened him to physical intimacy, leading him to an unwillingly
chaste relationship with the young Shiang-Chyi, also transplanted from What
Time Is It There?
takes place in a Taipei where drought has created a state of emergency and an
unexplained proliferation of watermelons makes watermelon juice more plentiful
than water. People constantly scrounge for bottled water, and the empty bottles
stack up like corpses. No one here is able to communicate. The city seems to be
dying, and incessant media chatter stands in for all but the most basic
interaction between individuals.
assembles his film, as always, from eternal shots and unblinking montage. An
early scene between Hsiao-Kang and Shiang-Chyi takes many minutes as first one,
then the other is asleep on a swing. Meanwhile, we watch.
to make things interesting, The Wayward Cloud is a musical. The
numbers are Mandarin hits from the middle of the century, and each dance number
is filled with umbrellas, crossdressers and oversized fake genitalia. When a
populace can barely hope to express or act upon any longing or impulse, what
better means to expose their desires than a musical number?
film’s progression is like a stretched-out sine wave. Highs and lows are
provided through song and sex. As the film’s inhabitants are perpetually unable
to close the distance between each other, Tsai’s sex scenes are extended
abstract compositions and explorations of pornographic iconography, all tinged
with weird humor.
an entrancing mix of disconnection and sweetness in the sex and musical numbers.
Wayward Cloud ends with a hellish descent into murderous alienation and
sexual violence. The final act committed on screen is so aberrant that it
obliterates all hope for these people; Tsai’s fever dream becomes a
was infuriated by the conclusion. I was bewildered at first, but in retrospect,
I just have to accept that this is a different vision than I’d initially been
led to expect. Tsai’s film is devious and provocative. I’m ready to see it
derided as misogynistic and pretentious (my favorite meaningless
‘criticism’) though the male characters are no better off than the women. That
it dares to suggest the bleakest possible outcome is no reason to push away the
questions it raises about sex, what we use to represent it, and what we do in
The Great Yokai War
believe that a Takashi Miike film should not be more than 100 minutes long.
Miike is too digressive and easily distracted. As soon as he creeps up to the
two-hour mark, his movies become messy and difficult to stay awake through,
especially when watched at midnight. Such is the case with The Great
Yokai War, in which a young boy leads a group of spirits against the
force which would destroy them all.
Geddes, the Midnight Madness programmer, mentioned that in Japan, the movie was
marketed as a kids flick. And with CGI and puppet action placing the film
somewhere between Harry Potter and Nightbreed, I suppose that’s easy
enough to see. Miike’s fantasy is certainly fantastic — it’s got talking
spirits of walls and umbrellas, a one-legged smith and hateful nightmares made
of cast-off machines and captured spirits. All these Yokai are classic Japanese
personifications, and some will be familiar to enthusiasts of Miyazaki, thanks
to films like Spirited Away.
kid’s picture, the focus is justly on Tadashi, the young boy picked during his
village festival to be the Kirin Rider, fated to take up a powerful sword and
defeat evil. Of course, Tadashi is young and not quite ready to go off to
battle, and so must be convinced. As is so often the case with the modern
bildungsroman, Miike spends way too much time watching his hero dither over how
he can possibly do what must be done, instead of just getting on with it.
meantime, at least there’s all those great yokai (the spirits) and a dead sexy
Chiaki Kuriyama (Kill Bill‘s GoGo Ybari) as the evil chick bent on awakening and
installing her evil lord as ruler over just about everything.
Miike at the helm, that obviously leads to bizarre humor, some big battles and
unlikely character situations. The effects aren’t lavish by Hollywood
standards, but this is definitely the biggest and most technically accomplished
film the director has done to date.
a bit of a trial at times, as Miike has the will to explore tangents and little
yokai tricks and interactions. Some of these are fun, and others would probably
be more so to a Japanese audience who had grown up with images of these ghosts.
In some ways, though, The Great Yokai War is just too big
and unwieldy, like a Miike version of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It’s
fun and at times exactly the sort of movie I would have loved as a kid. In the
end, though, I would have sacrificed the view down those side avenues for a
clearer, more focused war between good and evil.
is it. One day left. Only a few films tomorrow: Eli Roth’s Hostel, maybe a random
pick or two, and then hopefully some Danish crime. Come back in a few hours for
the swan song. Until then, follow the directive in big letters right below this