Wednesday, April 28, 2010


We preserve our traditions. The fire we warm ourselves around, the meals we eat, the stories we tell, the holidays we observe. These things are a part of us, not just out of ritual familiarity. We cling to the familiar to restore our spirits, to remind us where we've been and chart paths to where we're going. And every so often we welcome guests to our table, their stories become our own, and at least for a moment they become family. Tradition is to be protected, but, more crucially, it's to be shared.

Since the 1997 changeover, Johnnie To has been something of a standard-bearer for old-school Hong Kong cinema. Though the man has refined his mastery across several genres, from the gangster epics many associate with HK cinema through wacky romantic comedy to elegaic fantasy, the Johnnie To/Milky Way Image brand remains an unassailable mark of quality. Watching the Milky Way regulars - veteran actors including Anthony Wong, Lam Suet, Lam Ka-Tung, and Simon Yam - stepping into the frame of the latest Johnnie To opus is like watching Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band take the stage for another show; we've seen them in other contexts, but there's history happening here again, and we sit back to watch where they (and we) are going next.

VENGEANCE has many of the familiar tropes of To's gangster cinema - many of the cast have returned, this time breaking bread, hanging out, and spreading carnage across Hong Kong and Macau. But standing tall in their midst is French singer Johnny Hallyday, playing a bereaved Parisian in Macao to investigate and avenge the gangland attack on his daughter's family. Though his arrangement with the hitmen he enlists to assist him in his quest is a financial one, they quickly find themselves personally invested in his mission, and something familiar and new clicks inside us as the men become family. Hallyday is a unique presence, playing a blue-eyed soul we haven't seen in To's cinema (most notably, he brings the fragile and dissolving memory that is crucial to a particular strain of his country's cinema). Though To's regulars have plenty of space to riff with and solo against one another, Hallyday's clearly a simpatico spirit, holding his own as the lead of the film and his place among the band. Hallyday is clearly, gloriously a brother, and his final duet with Yam just seals the deal.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Two women live with two children (the relationships are never clear). One of the children, the title character, is faintly disturbed. A radio broadcasts updates to the chase of two young murderers across France by the authorities. The piano lessons continue.

If Rod Serling, upon seeing LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, brought Alain Resnais to the States to make a TWILIGHT ZONE episode, the result might have resembled NATHALIE GRANGER, a slow-burning non-drama from French New Wave mainstay Marguerite Duras. As in her finest work, the well-realized setting (here a suburban house) quickly turns into a place of dream and nightmare. The house seems positioned right on a borderline between straight society and a fog-shrouded neitherworld. The hallways and rooms inside the house seem to stretch on into eternity, and mirrors invariably lead to other places. When Gerard Depardieu's comically desperate washing machine salesman slips in, he transitions from odd man out to sole representative of sanity. His quiet confrontation with the true soul of the house at the film's quiet, otherworldly climax is one of Duras' finest set pieces (if she can be considered an author of set pieces).

Perhaps the mirrors in the film reflect outward - a review I read of the film on IMDB praises the film's bucolic beauty and tranquility. This reviewer seems to have missed the horror movie seen and reviewed here by your proprietor, but it's clearly the same film. I wonder what you would see in it. And what NATHALIE GRANGER would see in you.

Monday, April 12, 2010


An 11-minute extra to the in-itself robust and sublime animated adventure JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS, THE SPECTRE is a short feature lovingly presented as a lurid, 70s-grindhouse superhero miniature. Gary Cole is just dandy in the voice of Jim Corrigan, a hard-boiled detective with a keen sense of justice and a dangerously otherworldly alter ego. Adapting screenwriter Steve Niles finds plenty of space for his horror film obsessions, and yet his story is faithful to the comic book stories that made the character famous (indeed, notorious), preserving Corrigan's haunted mystique and the Spectre's vicious-yet-cartoonish sense of justice. And director Joaquim dos Santos serves it all up with the meticulously distressed look of a 35mm film print that's rolled more than once in Times Square, or some lost fragment of the Earth-2 HEAVY METAL.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

RIP John Hicklenton

Your proprietor is dismayed and saddened to read of the death of comics artist John Hicklenton.

Hicklenton's work on the British strip Nemesis the Warlock was a revelation, bringing a gloriously gothpunk spirit to a character already entrenched in khaos. Hicklenton had been diagnosed with MS in 2000, and fought the disease as boldly as he flaunted artistic conventions.

Thanks, John.

Friday, April 2, 2010


The movie shows the signs of being made in haste - your proprietor wasn't surprised to hear that Team Cusack (including actor/producer John Cusack and director Steve Pink) was brought in and given loose rein on the film in exchange for turning it around quickly. But the production's a little smarter than it's being given credit for, and the story of three run-down guys in their 40s (and an isolated young nephew) given a second chance thanks to the title machine gives some very funny actors roles that they seemed born for - Rob Corddry's obnoxia, which never quite fit his correspondent duties on THE DAILY SHOW, is given a particularly strong launching pad here.

But it's a perfect project for Cusack. In Adam he finds a burned-out character haunted by his compromises and squandered potential (viewers of 2012 might find this role an apt one). In addition to referencing his previous work (its time period the era of SAY ANYTHING, its 80s nostalgia mirroring that of GROSSE POINTE BLANK), the film restores Cusack to his most comfortable habitat. Throughout his career Cusack's been at his best when paired with an equally solid actress for romantic comedy, and there's real joy in watching both Cusack and Adam rediscover and reinhabit their charm opposite Lizzy Caplan (warm and confident as a young 80s music journalist who offers Adam a tantalizing second chance). Though the material's not quite as sharp as that offered Skye/Cusack or Cusack/Driver, Cusack and Caplan mine it for a grace that raises the stakes of the comic mayhem surrounding it, allowing HOT TUB TIME MACHINE to succeed on more than 80s nostalgia and sex jokes (both of which are executed with winning energy).

I laughed a lot.