Monday, February 4, 2013

Romanzo Criminale aka Crime Novel: Italy finally responds to Godfather

Romanzo Criminale: Anyone that enjoys thick, cast heavy crime dramas bordering on soap operas that occasionally leaves you a bit confused as to who that guy was and who do they work for again sort of fare will find that this film is worth giving almost three hours of an evening too.
While I do feel there is a lot of subtext and history I didn't get through the bare bones subtitles and lack of Italy in my academic background (and no, 20 hours of Assassin's Creed 2 didn't help), my enjoyment of this film is sufficient enough for me to recommend it.
Not necessarily as boisterous as the bakers dozen Young and Dangerous films from Hong Kong, or regal and decade spanning epic as the Godfather trilogy, or as intensive a character portrait as Once Upon a Time in Americathis film does manage to strum many of the same chords while also standing on the shoulders of Italian political and social history through the 70's & 80's, much of that new to me making the ride all the richer. I couldn't get to Wikipedia quickly enough afterward to decipher some key points of the film's narrative.
And if you're like me and you like a sprawling crime epic with some fantastical twists, I recommend heading to Chinatown and tracking down the Japanese film trilogy adaptation of a manga of the same name called 20th Century Boys (it's delightful) and sprang to mind a few times during Romanzo Criminale, perhaps just from the way the adult dramas sit so squarely on the alliances and commitments made between lost boy children long ago.

When the Bad Guy Wins: Arrivederci Amore, Ciao

Rented Arrivederci Amore, Ciao aka "The Goodbye Kiss" and while there were many cinematographic elements I rather liked, clever gimmicks as they might've been, at the end of this I felt empty and a little cold. Perhaps because there were enough hooks in the narrative to successfully get me to empathize with the anti-hero protagonist Giorgio who appeared intermittently remorseful about his terrorist bombing gone bad.
However any hints towards remorse or compassion were really just there to demonstrate how utterly ruthless, self-centered, and boundlessly determined the protagonist actually is.
At times I couldn't help but feel the film deliberately echoed aspects of Brian DePalma's version of Scarface, if only to afford another mirror to help reflect the shape of the protagonist's character. In Scarface, Tony has a moral thread that contributes, or is a catalyst event to trigger, his ultimate downfall. He won't kill women or children, ok, so he's not a bad guy, other than his drug use, his ability to fuck over friends, and his incestuous preoccupation with his admittedly hot sister. Arrivederci's "hero" Giorgio makes a point of describing through inner monologue voice-over how much he enjoys overpowering a woman, both fiscally and physically. To indicate a failing for the hero, both films depict the protagonists effectively executing their so called best friends. Tony shoots his right hand man in the gut because Manny scored with Tony's sister. Never mind that Tony wouldn't even be rich & powerful if Manny hadn't wrangled those early deals. Ditto for Giorgio, though we don't appreciate that it's his best pal being executed until later. At least Tony had the balls to face Manny when he pulled the trigger. Giorgio gets a shave and hair cut from his best mate, then shoots the poor SOB through the back of the head when the guy turns away to fetch them each a fresh round of South American alligator beer.
The film puts the protagonist Giorgio through a few prat falls as well, which helps to further invoke feelings of empathy, or at least pity. They're not unlike the beat downs the hero of RocknRolla gets along the way, fallibility for the hero that makes him human, just like you or me. Same tricks that endear Indiana Jones or Officer John McClane over your run of the mill sorts of action heroes with general movie going audiences. Giorgio's coerced and scarred by a corrupt cop. He's beaten down by Armenian thugs, and you know how those cats love beating down poor ex-revolutionaries. He's tormented by a jealous and insecure fiance (if he were gay instead of a killer she could have been described as a "beard"). He's shot at by disgruntled mercenaries and fugitives. He's trapped under a half ton of man meat in a tiny food court bathroom.
The film tries to tell you that Giorgio's not a bad guy, he's just a victim of circumstance, right? A mislead idealist maybe. He tried to warn the cop about to stumble on their bomb before it blew. He stopped the snipers from killing the bystander bag lady. He split the proceeds of the robbery 50 / 50 with the corrupt cop. He bought the fiance a stellar flat with a double door fridge and a hot tub in the john. He had sweet accommodations for the otherwise doomed lobsters in his restaurant.
And then the film plays on this, reverses on audience expectation like a snake whipping back to bite the handler, through some really powerful and revealing beats. Giorgio whacked his best friend and compatriot to get a passport to France. He headbutts a dancing coke whore for questioning his unsanctioned cut from her paycheck. He lets a pair of mercenaries stroll away giggling merrily with a screaming Spanish female hostage, presumably to skin and eat her after stuffing her first.
He kills the former prison cellmate that declared Giorgio a one true friend so as not to have to share the upcoming robbery take. He kills an innocent bank guard for no real reason, then picks the dead man's pockets for a wallet and ogles a photograph that he pulls from it we don't get to see and are left to imagine. Could be the dead guard's wife, or newborn baby, or pet chinchilla, we'll never know, except that the thought of this dead man never returning to that which had been loved and / or would be missed by gave Giorgio a bit of an evident stiffy, as did his slow and deliberate disposal of his victims into the bog.
He watches, lies too, showers, dresses up, then stands and watches some more  as a woman he has poisoned suffers for hours and dies. A woman he could have continued to manipulate, could have poisoned then later rescued like some sadist prince charming, could have simply let go of and not bothered again like most break ups go. No, because in case you haven't picked up on this after two hours of filmic portrayal, ol' Giorgio is somewhat of a sociopath of an American Psycho magnitude. And at the dead girl's funeral, he maintains a facade of remorse and regret while his voice over inner monologue describes his victory. And as the camera pans across the dead woman's best friends and parents, you can see that they all know he's to blame, yet are powerless to do anything. In the tone of his narration, you can here how their seething glares only heighten his elation as he brags that his wreath is the largest on the grave site, his triumphant glow evident in his voice yet hidden from view as he pops open an umbrella and disappears into the crowd, his goal from day one of the film.
Just occurred to me the only times we hear Giorgio's inner monologue through voice over is when he's pleased with himself, effectively, when he's most willing to share with us who he actually is beneath the facade. A rare thing, and extremely telling. But I digress.
The film paints a multifaceted portrayal of a very evil person. The end outcome does bear some of the same speaking points as Doctor Horrible as both depict the dire consequences of selfish choices and self-centered ambitions; however, Doctor Horrible at the end of the piece has regret for how he achieved his goals, and a viewer can still empathize with him for his loss of love and nemesis. Giorgio, on the other hand, wraps up with such absolute clarity as to appear smugly gloating at each and any point during the film the viewer felt sympathy or empathy for Giorgio. Doctor Horrible had a goal yet evolves through his narrative, his prat falls, his encounters. Giorgio, for all his misadventures, really just drives forward doing anything he needs to do and wearing any face he needs to wear and screwing (over) anyone he needs to screw / kill / betray / poison / electrocute / shoot / beat with a table leg / bribe / feed lobster too / leave with cannibal rapist snipers to get his freedom back that he'd lost once upon a time when his bomb blew up a cop.
You might argue that his first misdeed lead to a cascade of consequences that made Giorgio into the monster he exits the film as, that his unrequited love for the shoe lady he black mails into being his love slave lead to his cruel disregard for all subsequent women in the film, or that the corrupt cop had that execution coming, or that a broken arm warrants betrayal and mall restroom theft. Maybe, and while I would hope a person would learn to be a better person from mistakes and failures, I could appreciate that Giorgio instead learned to be a better actor,  to better guise himself as a member of a society he preys on, and might have once felt oppressed or even victimized by. That said, I do thing Giorgio at base made the choice to put himself first at all costs, and that is what makes him seriously dangerous, and the ending of the film very cold and empty for me.
Tony yelled, "Take a look at the Bad Guy!" and died. Giorgio said nothing out loud, just opened his umbrella over the body of his freshly buried victim and disappeared into the crowd.
A good film for film students and arm chair critics like myself to dissect, I think. Not sure I'd recommend it much to anyone else, though.

The Cove: The New Red Dead Sea

Ever mistaken Charlie the Tuna for a Dolphin? Apparently a village in Japan does. And by the way, guess what's almost as full of high concentrations of mercury as dolphin meat... Yup, tuna, but that's obvious. Did you know vaccinations have it too? Epic fail, FCC.
So, if you're feelings of blood lust and want of vengeance over the utterly reprehensible and wholeheartedly, cavalierly reckless way our elected international powers and authorities treat nature have begun to flag or wan, rent / download this documentary stat! Just remember watching this and Shark Water in the same evening might lead an irrepressible urge to take action and oppose the slings and arrows of industrialist profiteering enterprises.
Other words, these two films together might entice you lot to want to join a mercenary crew of able bodied, trained, aptly qualified, and environmentally conscience folks to  start forcibly shutting these wasteful assholes down, since clearly held hands, bake offs, and clever t-shirts aren't doing the trick.
Maybe it is time to set things right, cause we're bringing a baby into this and frankly, if Bacon doesn't get to live in a world with whales, dolphins, and sharks, in the words of Russel Peters, "Somebody gonna get a-hurt real bad." And I don't mean by me lifting a finger. If our world continues to trend towards melting and polluted, we're all screwed.

My first speech ever for a Wedding

June 19, 2010
Alex & David get Hitched on June 19, 2010
My friends Alex and David were wed this past Saturday. I stood as tall as I could next to David, quite honored to be his best man and get to carry & present the rings.
I agonized over the speech they trustingly / bravely asked me to write for one of the toasting lulls between courses of a quite fabulous dinner prepared by caterers I couldn't recommend higher. I'll post more pictures from the event shortly on my Flickr account.
For now though, I'd like to share with you my speech from the event. I can't explain how much different it is to write and perform a speech, to maintain character or personae if you will, in a room of close friends and family, versus an amphitheater of complete strangers you'll never need worry about encountering again at subsequent holiday meals. I have no idea how Steve Colbert does it, frankly. When a joke landed, my voice would pitch shift into a mixed, almost panicked giggle-squeal, a mix of relief that the joke didn't bomb and shock as I'd so expected it would.
Here is the speech, please enjoy as though you were there; though as with any live comedy, might help for you to have some wine or a cocktail first.
Before I start I’d like to afford a disclaimer of sorts:
I’m not an orator. I didn’t even know the word “orator” until yesterday when I heard it on MTV Cribs. I’ve certainly never given a speech at a wedding before. I hope you’ll forgive that I’ve turned to some famous speeches for inspiration; although seeing as how we’re in Canada, you probably won’t recognize any of ‘em anyway, which case, please applaud my wondrous way with words at your leisure.
Four score and seven years ago... Two men met and fell audaciously, inexplicably into what you white people call love. Upon this province; contrived from utter honesty, and thereby dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
They have a dream. Where all peoples gay or straight, rich or poor, interesting or boring, Prada or Tiffany’s, might live and play together with respect and appreciation and cross your heart twenty four hour support.
It would be fatal for this company to overlook or underestimate the urgency and significance of this moment. These many years of playful courting will not pass until there is an invigorating summer of commitment and matrimony! Two thousand and ten is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hoped a couple needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening when the sun also rises over a marriage ready to contend with much more than business as usual.
The marvellous new energy that has engulfed this couple must not lead us to feel neglected or cast aside. A new entity shall result from this union, and new terms must be drafted to contend with the resulting manifestation, wrought not from distrust or exclusion, but instead from a desire to uniformly love, respect, and moreover too include the lot of us into a collective body made far greater now as a whole than might be predicted summed up from all these wonderful collective parts.
We need only remain patient, arms outstretched, and if needed, raised up high to carry, to support, and most of all to willingly embrace this nearly unquantifiable miracle manifesting here before us. We are the village raising cheer to a union long in the making. They cannot walk alone, and frankly, I don’t think a one of us intended to let them. We all here now become family and we all now cheer this entity that is of two individuals yet stands merged into something far, far more.
I have a dream that my child will one day live in a situation where he is not judged by the orientation of his preferences, but by the strength of his character. I have a dream that his character will be in no small part shaped though the bountiful influences of these fine two individuals making such a brave commitment this very day.
I have a dream that someday those that preferred Madonna and those that preferred Cher might be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the bar with. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our collective into a beautiful symphony of family.
Let wedding bells ring! And when this happens, when we allow wedding bells ring – when we let it ring for every moment these two men impact our lives and their union makes those impacts all the more meaningful, we speed towards a day when everyone on of us, gay and straight, liberal and conservative, naive and jaded, consumerist and thrifty, sleepless and well rested, pink - blue and green, will be able to hold hands and sing in the words of the old night club spiritual, “You spin me round like a record baby. Right round. Round. Round. Right round.”
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of loneliness, indifference, and apathy no matter his dispensation. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our primordial forbearers confront continue to perplex so many a fine folk these dates in chat forums and on talk shows, that of what is the true meaning of matrimony, of commitment, of union. The answer dwells within this very personification of love felt and declared; that the union of these two individuals comes not from the generosity of the state, but from the will of nature itself.
Ask not what your marriage can do for you. Ask instead what you can do for your marriage.
And so say we all.
While delivering the speech, I added an improvised clarification denoting when I was speaking to the couple specifically, or to everyone else, letting them know that a part pertained to them or that they were being held accountable for something in the speech.  Those small asides came from parts unknown yet seemed to work well for setting a cadence to and punching up the speech. Seriously, as though the famous people I'd plagiarized / mashed-up were giving me helpful nudges in the right direction to better deliver the speech with modest asides, so simple yet so affective.
Hope you enjoyed it, and I would like to give a shout of thanks out to Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy for their contributions to this speech, and my fine friends Alex and David for challenging me to stand up for them, and I wish them all the happiness in their marriage that I've found in all of mine. And yes, that is a Saddle Tramps joke, but I mean it all the same.
Good luck boys, you finally did it, and we're all very proud!

Dr. Sketchy in April at the Wallflower

Miss Molotov at Dr Sketchy
The model for this tribal theme is the fire dancer and multi-faceted performer
See the rest of the drawings from that night over here.

Bitch Slap!

Women are evil & this proves it. Well, OK, not really, just in this narrative construction.
An inconsistent, yet fairly lovable scatter-shot narrative that’s effectively an homage to Russ Meyer’s boobsploitation replete with stilted dialogue, posturing, cat fights, and the wanton emasculation of men good and bad. A lot of nods to cinematic stylings Tarantino has crafted, or aped, depending on your personal vantage. Bikini Bandits also come to mind, though I think I preferred the original BB shorts to this, and this over later, longer BB fare, when they started to take the notion of making money from the lowest common denominator more seriously, unfortunately.
If an absurd and over the top yet deliciously independent homage to legendary schlock coupled with the star power of Kevin Sorbo cameos, wet t-shirt cat fights, a Cinemax / USA Up All Night keep it above the waistline sunshine Katy Perry “I Kissed A Girl” make out session, end credits laid over dancing rump shakers to an Eagles of Death Metal score, and fight scenes choreographed by Zoe Bell from Death Proof keeps your universal remote in hand, give this one some rent sometime.
If at no point did the above paragraph draw your interest or bemusement, please give this a pass.

REC 2:

Can’t describe the delight I felt tracking a subtitled copy of this down. And then I watched it.
While I don’t feel devastated by what I watched last night, I don’t feel great about it either. Sure, it’s congruent to the first one, and demonstrates an admirable reuse of the same space, low budget filmmakers take note. However, somewhere along the way it pushed me out, pretty much in step with the exposition and reveals of the how and why things had gone to hell in this sequestered suburban walkup.
Felt sort of like a second date with a scrumptious parcel where you discover the secret of how they keep their slim figure and that they really can only discuss one piece of classic literature and refuse to let the conversation drift away to regard any others.
Remember the rant the film savvy Jamie Kennedy went on about in Scream 2, almost breaking the fourth wall like a Deadpool rant to inform the audience about what to expect from a sequel to a successful horror film? This one reminded me of that rant, perhaps the creators took heed that advice or expectations, I’m not sure.
[SPOILERS] What I do know is that the exorcism / possession angle for explaining fluid-transmitted zombie action pulled me out of the experience a bit. True, the end of the first film pointed towards a patient zero that was also a Linda Blair type, however having a soldier priest as one of the key protagonists in this installment really changed the tone, and I’m not sure I ever fully got back on board with the narrative after that reveal.
Doesn’t have the empathetic characters the first one did, though does have some great cameos of zombified versions of characters from the first one, most notably the bald fireman with the sledgehammer.
I liked that 2 has multiple camera vantage points, and wish this aspect had been explored more. Of course the designer in me began to see co-operative gameplay mechanics and IP potential with the SWAT guys, reporters, and thrill-seeker kids with their rocket propelled blow-up love dolls.  Speaking of, what happens to the two kids the SWAT thugs locked into a bedroom and abandoned? Will they thwart the Big Evil in the inevitable REC3? Will REC3 elect to go outside and play or remain indoors shying away from sunlight’s harmful rays?
And will the North American version made for the subtitle adverse get a sequel? If so, I have to wonder if, like Ring 2, the makers will take Quarantine 2 into a completely different direction that doesn’t implicate the Vatican of harvesting biological weapons out of the flammable blood of possessed little girls.
Summation, an adequate yet somewhat dissatisfying sequel that could still lead to a dynamic and exciting final chapter down the line. Some great moments, fun editing and storytelling techniques, and an excellent zombie kill with a bottle rocket, worth seeing really just for that bit.