Sunday, June 27, 2004


Zatoichi is not just any Samurai movie. The blind swordsman of the title is the archetype of the wandering ronin; a masterless warrior of remarkable skill, with his own curious humour and honour which cuts like glass. The character has been filmed and refilmed, and has even been played by the ubiquitous Rutger Hauer in a clunky but un-lousy flick entitled Blind Fury. None of these versions, however, was helmed by or starred the unequalled Takeshi Kitano, who is both a stylish and quirky director and a master performer whose stone face conveys by the merest tic depths and complexities of emotion which many Hollywood thespians would struggle to communicate with a megaphone. Also, no other version has the tap-dancing.

Zatoichi is a martial arts movie; the hero’s prowess is frequently tested, and the fights are savage, exciting, and skillful. The sense of violence expressed through the weapons and the powerfully kinetic filming of combat pushed Broog to the edge of his reclining couch and occasionally induced him to duck. At the same time, however, this picture has a richness of culture, friendship, and trauma, which goes beyond the bloody staples of the Teppan Western and feeds the soul. It is further enlivened by a subtle, melancholic wit, and by the inexplicable but undeniably enjoyable presence of The Stripes as extremely rhythmical peasants. Convuluted, overlong, and occasionally bizarre, Zatoichi is not easy, but it is brilliant, and the star’s performance alone is worth the watching. It is also an excellent educational piece on the virtues of pacifism (few) and the value of forgiveness (small-to-non-existent). Broog’s offspring will be required to view it, and there will be questions afterward.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Bad Education

Broog’s mighty intellect is far beyond the single identity state which produces the human experience known as ‘taste’. Where tiny human psyches are so limited as to dismiss some movies because they do not suit the persona of the audient, Broog’s endless cogitative apparatus is open to all experiences. To put it more succinctly, your puny mind consumes only cheese, whereas Broog’s can eat anything from chicken with chocolate to bicycle tyres served with a light sauce de potassium. Dishes which would cause your aesthetic tongue to explode are judged by Broog to be merely piquant.

It is thus galling to Broog to have to admit that, although he can see that the work of the human Almodovar is fascinating, deviant, stimulating, and fraught with rich and varied textures of emotion and self, he simply does not “get it”. Perhaps this is in the nature of the oeuvre; confusion and misperception, desire and obsession are the staples of Almodovar’s cineasm - and Bad Education is very much a true child of this curious parent. The colours glow, the characters sizzle, the narrative grips, and Broog paid attention, rapt, to every minute - the more remarkable since there are probably a few too many, and the story takes time out every so often to retrench and offer another gristly lump of exposition. Exhausting, intriguing, yet finally unenlightening, Bad Education bristles with talent, but leaves Broog wanting to bite someone savagely with his primary offensive mandibles.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Save The Green Planet

The vast majority of human audiovisual efforts are like well-programmed Stepford Wives; curiously constructed artificial things with a great deal of expensive wrapping to distract attention from the sad truth that they aren’t as special as they appear. Beneath the cinematographic Versace of cgi and cablecam there is a plain, false thing struggling to find a way into your heart. Mainstream modern cinema endlessly repeats and remakes in the wistful hope of recapturing the good old days, but actually just re-iterates a string of failed marriages and tawdry one-nighters, so that we are confronted with The (new) Italian Job and endless variations on Charlie’s Angels and James Bond. Even the self-aware mugging of the later Schwarzenegger films has become jaded, and asides to camera feel as hackneyed as the square-jawed original.

And then there are things like Save The Green Planet. Gleefully insane, turbulent, terrifying, and funny, this movie may appear to lack sophistication, but it throbs with a delinquent, furious energy which nearly fried Broog’s eyeballs against the back of his head. By turns a serial killer/detective story, a science fiction pastiche, and a stark expression of political anger, this picture twists its way through the grotesque and the sympathetic to a conclusion which brings it all down around your eyebrows. It is impossible to tell from minute to minute whether the next sequence will bring blood-curdling physical pain or gut-wrenching comedy; strap yourself to your chair and trust, trust, trust. Broog can guarantee that you will reach the end of the picture - assuming you survive - with the feeling that you’ve Seen Something.

Kill Bill (vol. 2)

When Broog reviewed the first volume of this Char Siu Bunfight, he laughingly speculated that director-writer Tarantino might have retained all the story for the second. Once again Broog is reminded that making jokes about bad decisions in the film industry is a sure way to put your lower motile appendage firmly into your nutritional intake. Volume 2 is an emotionless scramble through the past to a present scarcely more fulfilling, in which Uma Thurman’s hyperviolent Bride pursues the object of her love/hate to the ends of the Earth - in this case, a nice house in Mexico. Once again, there are any number of “ooooh” moments utterly abstracted from the painstaking build-up which makes them worthwhile. And once again, the human Thurman gets her ass kicked and comes back to win out over odds which look more and more as if they were always in her favour. Having been starved of the usual Tarantino chatter in Volume 1, we are deluged with off-topic ramblings and abnormally flat trivia in Volume 2. If the core of the first movie was the effervescent villainy of the magnificent Lucy Liu, the heart of this one is Michael Madsen’s broken-down, self-hating trailer-trash killer, waiting to die a deserved death. A weird requiem to the first half, Kill Bill (vol. 2) confounds expectations by being drab, depressing, and overly discursive. By the end, Broog was so depressed that even stomping on a small, unarmed planet in a nearby solar system was not enough to relieve his ennui.

The Day After Tomorrow

Wolves living in a zoo in New York heroically seize their moment to escape when the world is consumed by ice and snow. They range through a weird panorama of skyscrapers and oiltankers before tragically getting the crap kicked out of them by a bunch of college kids looking for antibiotics. Broog mentions this not because it’s the main story, but because it’s the only moment he felt any great fellowship with anyone. Wolves are cool. So usually is Jake Gyllenhaal, but here he’s busy whining about his genius father being late to take him to school, and ignoring the obvious fact that his foxy geek friend has the major girl-human-on-boy-human-mating-ritual-hotnesses for him.

Roland Emmerich makes films in which huge bad things happen because nasty small humans behave like nasty small humans, and then big, smart humans have to pick up the mess. There is, therefore, very little to surprise in this combination of Poseidon Adventure, Twister, and The Eiger Sanction. Dad does come to the rescue, but Son has proved himself a Man and been sanctified by Sexual Awakening. The hero’s best friend does Cut The Rope, and the bad Vice President does learn the Error of his Ways. Everyone’s happy except for the uncounted billions of foreign people who are turned into popsicles and never get to be rescued by Dennis Quaid.

Broog’s sympathy is with the wolves.

Harry Potter III

It is traditional that Children’s Films, while devoid of sex, should be feasts of violence, gratification, and fear, presumably mimicking the daily life of human infants. The stalwarts of the motion picture industry and the moral minds of a hundred nations have decided a fundamental truth of the human condition: that sex is an ickiness from which young souls must be shielded, whereas death and bloodshed are good healthy things to which we can all aspire. Thus, Bambi’s mother is converted into venison; Nemo’s mother and siblings are devoured by a barracuda; and faithful hounds, otters, and misunderstood timber wolves everywhere are exterminated by vengeful and greedy adults armed with elephant guns. The third Harry Potter movie bows to this venerable tradition by making the Dementors laudably shudder-worthy, recalling the bowel-loosening ringwraiths from Ralph Bakshi‘s animated Lord of the Rings, and threatening the assassination of a beautifully animated gryphon. The director’s vision is darker and more mysterious than in the earlier instalments, the characters more fleshed. Sadly, however, the picture is patchy, and the initial explanation of the key ‘Patronus’ charm is incompatible with later action. There are also some missing bits of family history which would explain just exactly what is going on, and the time-travelling antics convey a sense of certainty rather than jeopardy. Cinematically more interesting that the first two films, but finally unachieved. Broog looks forward with cautious interest to the fourth film, which will not only be derived from a book the size of a small village, but will also have to fill in the blanks left in the series arc by this adaptation. If Broog were Mike Newell, he would be looking for Alfonso Cuarón with a sharp stick.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Van Helsing

Broog, like lesser spectators of the filmic arena, views different movies differently. He watches American Beauty with horrified sympathy and guilty arousal; Star Wars with gung ho raffishness; and Talk of the Town with tense and hopeful altruism. He was, however, utterly unable to find a suitable mental filter to deal with the stinky omelette of the screen titled Van Helsing. It is not that the picture is effects-heavy, nor that the acting has more in common with the dramatic efforts of Broog’s more recently-spawned and eyeless offspring than it does with even the moderate talents displayed in movies such as The Day After Tomorrow - although the performance of the stringy Roxburgh as Dracula is notable for its allegiance to the Al Gore School of Comedy. It is not even the fact that this cinematic tapeworm is at its best when the confusion of tedious subnarratives overpowers the forlorn and runtish central plot. The moment which caused Broog actual physical pain, and which secured the human Sommers a place in the piranha tank of movie history, was a conclusion which combined the most unflinchingly mawkish moments of A Perfect Storm with visuals belonging in an 80s pop video. The final sequence features the funeral of the female protagonist and her subsequent appearance in an angelic cloud, while beneath her, Frankenstein’s Monster - her friend - rows off to Antarctica with the secret of resurrection tucked away unused and unconsidered in his glowing brain. God will no doubt forgive Sommers. Broog hews to a higher standard.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The indignities of your futile planet are many, from your flatulent gravity and nauseating spectrum to your own inexplicable taste in office wall art. Not the least of these, however, are the voracious and mindless creatures which will eat almost anything and can destroy a building in days. I refer not to human children, but to the infesting crawlers which have sought to rebell against Broog's irresistable might and consume his dwelling place. Their tiny rebellion has been crushed, however, and Broog has the ringleaders' heads mounted on tiny plaques the size of shirtbuttons on the wall of his makeshift office. If he ever discovers, however, that you humans encouraged your nefarious insecta in their wicked scheming, he will crush your world like an elephant falling on Shih Tsu, and subject each and every one of you to pain such as you have not known unless you have recently seen Van Helsing.

Broog however has clearly been infected by some mental virus, because he has begun feeling a modicum of responsibility towards his tiny readers, and wishes, if the word does not stick in his throat, to apologise for the continuing delay in the resumption of his acerbic commentary. He has it in mind to broaden his brief and offer cogent comment upon literature and possibly even the pestilential cuisine of your mudball world.

In the mean time, however, expect further of your muse's ponderings on the cinematic events of recent days shortly.