Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Hard Boiled

Hard Boiled
YouTube viewing

The 90s were a great time to work in video retail — for me, anyway. Quentin Tarantino made being a video store clerk cool, and the store I worked in for much of the decade had a primo selection of independent and foreign cinema. Our clientele appreciated us for this.

This made me want to keep up with the current filmmakers building reputations outside the boundaries of Hollywood: Mike Leigh, Lars von Trier, Hal Hartley, Jim Jarmusch, Pedro Almodovar, just to name a few. One of the hottest directors during the decade, one championed by us film nerds, was a fella from Hong Kong named John Woo.


I admit, I jumped on the bandwagon for Woo late, after he made his American debut in 1996, with the film Broken Arrow. If you were a film nerd then, though, it was damn near impossible to avoid the buzz surrounding him.

This was partly due to the rising interest in Asian cinema in general, especially the chop-socky kind: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Michelle Yeoh were also crossing over to the Western market around this time (plus filmmakers like Ang Lee and Wong Kar-Wai, who appealed to the Film Forum/Angelika crowd).

You will always see a moment like this
in a John Woo film.

Tarantino made it clear his films owed a big debt to Asian cinema, and lo, his disciples did go forth and spread the word, from their churches of VHS and Betamax, to their customers, and the word was Cool.

Woo made high-octane crime flicks, with levels of violence that would make Sam Peckinpah gasp. Woo's films were among the first where I understood the importance of letterbox.


In those primitive days before every television was formatted in widescreen proportions, I remember hearing my video store co-workers use phrases like "aspect ratio" and "pan and scan" and "two-three-five to one" and learning from them that how you watch a home video matters, especially if it's a tape of a film by a certain kind of filmmaker, like Kubrick, or Cameron, or Woo.

Many film nerds from my generation agree that one of Woo's best is Hard Boiled, starring Chow Yun-Fat, the Robert De Niro to Woo's Martin Scorsese, a star who also crossed over to Hollywood.


In Hard Boiled (story by Woo), he's a loose cannon cop who inadvertently crosses paths with an undercover cop while investigating a smuggling ring. It's a grand guignol of blood and bodies falling in slo-mo and bullets, bullets, bullets. It's not for the faint of heart, but man, is it fun to watch!

In searching for pics for this post, I discovered that Woo wants to remake another one of his classic HK films, The Killer, for American audiences. (Lupita Nyong'o? Talk about an out-of-the-box choice!)


My fear is that Woo's brand of ultraviolence won't have any traction today, in an era where PG-13 films reap wider audiences than R-rated ones. Then again, given how crazy PG-13 films can get with the violence themselves, maybe it's not an issue anymore. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

To Be Continued

To Be Continued
seen @ Scandinavia House, New York NY

Vija recently suggested seeing a new Latvian movie (she's of Latvian descent herself) that screened in the city this week. I had absolutely zero experience with Latvian cinema, and it had been awhile since I saw a movie with the gang, so I decided to give it a try. It was Vija, Franz and Andrea who came this time.

Scandinavia House is the go-to place for Nordic culture in New York and America: that's Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland, in case you didn't know. Vija had been there before. They're currently running a series called "Nordic Oscar Contenders." (So why are they showing a Latvian film? This might explain it. Thanks to Andrea for the link!)


To Be Continued (in Latvian, the title translates to Turpinājums) is a doc that is also this year's Latvian entry in the Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film. The director, Ivars Seleckis, specializes in documentaries; you could say he's Latvia's answer to Werner Herzog, or Errol Morris.

This film spends a year following a group of first-grade kids. Why these kids in particular? The movie doesn't give much in the way of an explanation. They're bright, cute in their own ways, from good homes — both in the city and the country, but I had the impression these could have been any Latvian kids.

I focused on the culture and the educational system. It should come as no surprise that these kids are better schooled than ours, because most of the world's kids are better schooled than ours.


Extracurricular activities, with an emphasis on sports and performing arts, are emphasized: we see the kids play hockey, do martial arts, sing and dance, in addition to getting a standard education (math, science, history, etc.) in classes that don't look overcrowded, by teachers who don't look stressed or harassed.

I thought the kids were given a great deal of opportunity to express themselves in class; it wasn't a situation where Teacher dictates the lesson and the kids regurgitate it. There was more of a give-and-take at work; students were free to state opinions and preferences at the teachers' direction.

We also saw the kids' home lives, of course: one lives on a farm, one is of Russian descent, one lives with her grandma, etc. They go through their ups and downs, like kids everywhere do.


Vija and I were reminded of the Seven Up documentary series, an ongoing look at the lives of a select group of kids every seven years, begun by director Michael Apted back in 1964 (and is still going! 63 Up will come out this spring). The difference, we agreed, was that Seleckis didn't appear to make any kind of sociological statement with this film. Part of me kinda wished he had, but for what it was, Continued was okay.

UPDATE: I asked Vija to provide her insight into the film. Here she is:

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

He is legend: The Richard Matheson Blogathon!

One of the finest genre writers of the 20th century, Richard Matheson thrilled audiences worldwide with his screenplays, teleplays, novels and other writings in the fields of suspense, sci-fi/fantasy and horror. His contributions to The Twilight Zone are among the most popular in that show's history. The movies based on his work, including The Incredible Shrinking Man and The Last Man on Earth, are still watched and discussed today. And now he's the subject of this year's WSW blogathon.

I'm delighted to team up with Debbie from Moon in Gemini to bring you this one. The usual rules apply: comment here or at Debbie's blog to let us know what you wanna write about, and we'll gather up your posts, on March 9-10. Duplicates are AOK for this one! (One each.)

Matheson's literary work, his screenplays, teleplays, any movies inspired by his work, his career in general, are all fair game.

I'm going to write about the movie Duel. Debbie will write about the Amazing Stories episode "The Doll."

We got a whole bunch of banners this time, including the Kolchak one up top...






Monday, January 7, 2019

New year's links

The Christmas/New Year's week was very good. Virginia and I spent Christmas Night at another holiday dinner with friends. On New Year's Eve, she and Sandi were part of a large chorus that performs a NYE show every year.

Afterwards, a whole bunch of us rang in the new year at the same bar and grill where Virginia and I first got to really know each other a year ago (we consider it our anniversary), so NYE has taken on an added significance for me. Have I mentioned lately how lucky I am to have her in my life?

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The latest draft of the novel is done but it's not ready to go out yet. I know this for certain; it's better than it was a year ago, but it's not where it oughta be yet, so I gotta tighten it up some more.

The good news is I've got some beta readers looking it over, though I could use a few more — especially baseball fans. If anyone out there is interested, e-mail me at ratzo318@yahoo.com and let's talk.

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A brief word about Penny Marshall: Laverne and Shirley was one of my favorite sitcoms and Big was one of my favorite films growing up. I vaguely remember being a bit surprised to learn she was becoming a director, but she turned into a very successful one indeed. As a comedienne, she was enjoyable and part of my childhood; as a director, she proved to have an even more special talent that deserved to flourish more than it did. She was a trailblazer for the likes of Kathryn Bigelow, Ava DuVernay, Greta Gerwig and more. She'll be missed.

More after the jump.