Tuesday, January 31, 2006


1984 seemed to be an experimental year for big blockbusters. Genre-mashing droll comedy with spooks and scares made Ghost Busters a runaway success. Likewise, Steven Spielberg merged much more broad humour in his first go at a sequel, namely Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But nothing was more exotic that David Lynch's blend of science fiction and, uh, well, David Lynch. Based on Frank Herbert's novel, an insanely popular blend of science fiction, theological mythology and court politics. Too loosely based, it would seem, as it alienated fans of the novel and just plain confused everyone else. It is in some circles, still considered one of the grandest big-budget turkeys ever released to wide audiences (circles who probably haven't seen the more recent Battlefield Earth).

But there are a few of us out there that just plain love this movie. The absolutely monstrous set design and vivid costumes are nearly unrivaled even today. There are no 'aliens' in this universe, only extremely modified humans. Witness the fetoeus-like space navigators in which the only thing left 'human' is their eyes and fold space while floating in a cloud of the narcotic known as the Spice Melange. Then there are the 1000 meter or so worms on Arrakis (aka Dune) which the local tribes use for transportation. This is not your run-of-the-mill sci-fi, but something else entirely. There just seems to more weight or dignity than your average laser shoot-em-up. The plot is too dense to go into, but involves ownership rights over the key planet in the universe, source of the life-extending drug, "The Spice." But quickly shifts gears to a large political coup, then to the religious awakening of a prophisized Messiah and mobilization and uprising of the indiginous population under their new leader from the desert.

To further amp up the dream-like feeling, Lynch played with voice-over in an interesting way. Characters voice their key thoughts to drive the bulk of the exposition and information required to navigate the universe some 8000 years from now. And what an international cast he has assembled here. Many folks who would go on to his TV showTwin Peaks, (Kyle MacLachlan, Eraserhead's Jack Nance, Everett McGill), but also Max von Sydow, Patrick Stewart, Brad Dourif, young and gorgeous Virginia Madsen, Sean Young (who starred in one of the very few films in the same league as this, Blade Runner), Dean Stockwell (who would Cameo is Lynch's 1986 masterpiece, Blue Velvet), Das Boot captain Jürgen Prochnow, screen legend José Ferrer, "I, Claudius" matron Siân Phillips, pop star Sting, and academy award winner Linda Hunt. Whew.

Like the drug which everyone breathes on Arrakis, this movie achieves a surreal cinematic high where plot eschews 'making sense' for images of ritual, religion, sex, love, betrayal, hate, violence and occasionally transcendence.

Screening Note: The version being shown here is actually not endorsed in any way by David Lynch. It is a longer edit from the studio which includes a sketch/voice-over/history-lesson of the Universe leading up to the year 10000. This version aired on Television (cropped from the original Todd AO vision scope to 4:3 TV ratio, and commercial ridden) quite a lot in the eighties and nineties. But it has now been restored with a new 5.1 soundtrack and the original aspect ratio in a pristine print.

Screening Note 2 (slight time change): Come out at 8pm for drinks. Due to the long (2.5 hour) runtime, there will be no trailers, just the film, hopefully starting at 8:15pm (I'll hold off if needed though).

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

KBT Presents: SHA PO LANG (aka SPL)

Sha Po Lang, or SPL for short, is a welcome throw-back to the heady days of Hong Kong Action Cinema emerging onto the world scene. It is a pleasure to see the big old melodrama, prominently used in John Woo's The Killer and Hard Boiled as well as Ringo Lam's City on Fire, back in full form. Even better, director Wilson Yip marries that classic melodrama to more sophisticated camera work, faster action choreography and a stunning visual palette. All of this adds up to the best film shown in this years Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness Program and the best Hong Kong cop action-thriller since Andrew Lau’s Infernal Affairs.

Sha, Po and Lang are three Chinese constellations which represent destruction, conflict and greed. Those qualities set up the Leone-esque show-down between the Good, The Bad, and the Corrupt. An investigative taskforce of the Hong Police Department are at war with underworld gang boss Wang Po (played to maximum effect by long-time veteran Sammo Hung). The head of the taskforce, Inspector Chan (Simon Yam) is Godfather to a child who lost her parents in an incident involving the gang. He is being forced into retirement because of health problems, and has his team turning to illegal methods such as evidence planting and video tape alteration to get a conviction to stick on Po. It seems in the past, Po keeps getting his lawyers to beat whatever charges they lay. Things get complicated as the new Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) comes to take over the team, which is now waist deep in serious lies. The cops are doing corrupt things in the hopes of achieving a good end, but Ma has had a rough past, and is playing things by the book these days. This brings a fair bit of tension into the police dynamic of the film, with a lot of tough-guy chest thumping and male bonding.

The bulk of the film takes place on a Father’s Day in the late 1990s, and the melodrama is amped up by phone calls and meetings and phone calls between the police officers (as well as Wang Po) with their children in between action sequences. Yip is not afraid to walk the line of questionable taste by bringing children and babies into the high-stakes war between the cops and gangsters.

But where SPL really shines is in the action sequences. There are not that many of them, and they don't come until after the 45 minute mark (barring a couple teases), but they are so fine. Yen and newcomer Jing Wu tear up the screen in a knife/baton fight that absolutely begs to be rewound and re-watched over and over again. It’s lightning fast and done in long, coherent takes (something which is often lacking in action cinema, even in Asian martial arts flicks, these days). But the capital kicker sequence involves icons Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung (both of whom have worked as fight choreographers in the past, and adlib a good chunk of this fight). These two masters tear an upscale bar apart in a visceral fight scene which involves martial arts, grapples, fist fighting and maybe a WWE move or two.
SPL is slick and stylish, uncompromisingly nihilistic with little humour, excepting a very nice gag involving Po’s cellular ringtone and the occasional Sammo Hung act of extreme coolness. For fans of the genre SPL is an absolute MUST SEE -- In fact, it is a milestone.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

KBT Presents: 2046

Welcome to the 1st screening of 2006 and the overall 50th KBT Screening. An exotic jewel of a film, namely Wong Kar Wai's "2046" will mark the occasion. Released in a very limited way in North America in 2005 it was certainly one of the prettiest films of last year. Every single frame in this film drips with a lush density which screams artistry and attention to the most minute detail.

2046 is somewhat of a sequel to the equally sumptuous In The Mood For Love, but knowledge of the original is not necessary to enjoy this film. In that film, set in a highly stylized version 1960s Hong Kong, neighbours Chow Mo-Wan and Su Li-Zhen find out their spouses are having an affair with one another. Even though there is a strong and undeniable attraction between Mo-Wan and Li-Zhen, they refuse to have an affair to lower themselves to the levels of their cheating spouses. That film ends with Mo-Wan leaving to become a writer of science fiction novels. 2046 follows Mo-Wan who is a more hard-boiled version of his former shy self, but deeply scarred on the inside. He bounces from several relationships with woman played by gorgeous and acclaimed Chinese actresses, Faye Wong, Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li. In parallel to this, are scenes from Mo Wan's novel, set in the year 2046, which feature a Japanese man falling in love with an android on train returning from a mysterious colony/state-of-being. If that sounds complex and confusing, well it is to some degree. Wong Kar Wai's films are as much about mood as they are about narrative, and the collapsing house of cards that this film presents onscreen is a bold, if often esoteric, attempt to visualize Mo Wan's wounded psyche. Oh what a gorgeous collapse it is.

Come out Tuesday (Jan 10) at 8:00 pm for a glass of wine before the 8:30 showtime.