Archive | Movies RSS feed for this section

Who Was Yukio Mishima Really?

16 Jan
Persona by  Naoki Inose (translated by Hiroaki Sato )

Persona by Naoki Inose (translated by Hiroaki Sato )

Okay, what I know about Japanese writer and intellectual Yukio Mishima I gleaned from Paul Schrader’s 1985 film, Mishima.

Which makes the appearance of this prodigious biography Persona by (the first in English in 40 years) quite inviting.Mishma, Nobel nominated and prolific—Confessions of a Mask and The Temple of the Golden Pavilion are two of his more well known novels.He is most well known for his public self-disembowelment and decapitation in downtown Tokyo in 1970. Born Kimitake Hiraoka he became a martial arts devotee who was a flamboyant traditionalist and an obsessed patriot

Publisher Stone Bridge Press reports Naoki Inose and English translator Hiroaki Sato working from primary sources and material unavailable to other biographers and through interviews, social and psychological analysis, “and close reading of novels and essays…removed the mask that Mishima so artfully created to disguise his true self.”

The ever reliable Michael Ortofor opines

Mishima’s life, and his many interests (he also traveled extensively, acted in film, and was active in the production of his many plays) make for fascinating reading, and Persona is a riveting account. Yet it’s still hard not to feel that only the surface has been scratched here. Most of the work remains undiscussed and while one gets a good sense of hyperactive Mishima’s many accomplishments there’s much more one would want to know in greater detail. Nevertheless, this is a very fine and readable biography.

And oddly, in the this pay as you go world, Schrader’s homage is available on YouTube, here:

Currently reading The Paris Review

Essential Ephemera

27 Aug

I’d be surprised if anyone demurred from my assertion that songs, movies and fiction are all sparkling facets of the same jewel.This is especially the case as fiction continues to be a rich vein of storytelling for filmmakers. In my recent and soon to be published chat with Ron Rash (The Cove) he related that his novel Serena was being adapted for film with Jennifer Lawrence in the title role. Lawrence’s portrayal of a teen ager strapped with the heavy burden of caring for her mother and two younger sibling in the (dare I say, hard-scrabble)Ozarks is an indelible one. Oddly, I don’t recall that co-star John Hawkes received much attention for his edgy performance as her lethally dangerous uncle. All of which I was reminded of, as I serendipitously came across a movie entitled Outlaw Country with Hawkes playing a Nashville gangster, Tarzan Larkin. Once again Hawkes features a hair trigger volatility (in one scene he head butts a lesser crime boss not once but twice , in a meeting of the local gangster confederacy). Hawkes does easy going sociopathy quite well and apparently he figures in upcoming (but as yet untitled)Elmore Leonard film.

Ry Cooder, guitarist,film score composer, ethnomusicologist,producer and writer (LA Stories)strikes again with a recording just in time for the up coming silly season conventionally referred to as the 2012 Presidential election campaign. Based on Cooder’s previous recording Pull Up some Dust and Sit Downit’s no surprise that his latest effort, Election Special continues to sound alarm bells for our imperiled republic.

Election Special by Ryland Cooder

And It Stoned Me

18 Jun

Power of the Dog by Don WInslow

After I read Don Winslow’s novel The Power of the Dog a few summers ago I believed that I would never read as plausible an account of the War on Drugs and it complicit malefactors (the CIA, Drug Cartels, The Catholic Church, various agencies of the Mexican government, FARC et al). Since that book Winslow has published a number of novels and even been assigned to fabricate a Trevanian novel (Satori), which made no sense to me. But then Robert Parker was once asked to complete a Raymond Chandler novel and now Ace Atkins has written a Robert Parker/Spenser novel. I mention this because Winslow’s name will be bantered about in the coming entertainment news cycle (as well as on book pages)as Oliver Stone’s adaption of Winslow’s novel Savages makes its way to the once and future silver screen.

And, of course, as info-entertainment conglomerates become increasingly adept at synergizing/monetizing, it makes sense that Don Winslow has concurrently (with Stone’s flick) published a new opus, a prequel to Savages, entitled, Kings of Cool. The prequel is necessary for obvious reasons and may in fact touch off a new narrative trend in the genre world —especially for writers who never intended to create sequels/series—the allure of monetization possibilities weighing in heavily against other, uh, considerations.

The Kings of Cool by Don Winslow

Janet Maslin raises an interesting point about Stone’s film adaptation — can a movie sustain “Mr. Winslow’s heavenly understatement” without drowning in the violence of drug warfare? Whatever she means by “heavenly understatement’ it would be a shame if the film Savages was just another excuse for sanguinary mayhem

Winslow’s Savages and Kings of Cool are both written in a briskly paced, elliptical style that is particularly adaptable to cinema— lots of quick cuts and bloody mayhem (by now we all know that Mexican drug cartels (which are a necessary component of any LA crime story)means prodigious body counts as well as a Red Sea of gore. Which is not to say that Winslow’s recent fiction is not gripping—just that I found his magnum opus,The Power of The Dog, singularly entertaining. And given that it seemed to have escaped major review attention you may want to pick up a copy and read it for yourself.

Currently reading Land of the Blind by Jess Walter (Harper Perennial)

Intruders in the Dust

24 Feb

Though hidden in plain sight, many of the shameful episodes in the history of the country that its citizens believe to be “the best and greatest nation” in the history of the world go unheeded. Even me, myself and I, a student of history and reader of William Appleman Williams and mentored by Howard Zinn was only dimly aware of the United States’s egregious activities in the newly “liberated” Philipines following the Spanish American Cuban war. A quick examination of the bibliography of Gregg Jones’s Honor in the Dust Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream(New American Library) makes it clear there is a substantial record of America’s imperialist adventure in the former Spanish Colony. And as far as I know none of this bad news makes it into the history texts offered in public schools.

Even so, the publication of Honor in the Dust might have gone unnoticed by me, had I not had the benefit of seeing John Sayles’s eye opening film Amigo which presents a snapshot of US armed forces in the Phillipines circa 1900 (think Vietnam, 60 years later.

Additionally, I had a lengthy conversation with John Sayles about his riveting novel A Moment in The Sun (MCSweeney’s).Set in post Reconstruction America, one of the 4 narrative threads in Sayles’s novel deals with the US occupation of the Philipines and the Filipino resistance.

The publisher’s inept description, “Honor in the Dust brilliantly captures an era brimming with American optimism and confidence as the nation expanded its influence abroad.” is convenient if not vague way of expressing the racism and exceptionalism rife in the ruling classes that sponsored acts of belligerence routinely visited upon our Caribbean Basin neighbors (Hence the proverb found in the Spanish speaking Americas, “So close to the United States, so far from God”) On the other, I’d bet the copy writer for this bit of piffle did not in fact read the book. A Boston Globe review does better:

Gregg Jones opens “Honor in the Dust’’ with a prologue describing the harsh treatment of Philippine rebel Joveniano Ealdama at the hands of American interrogators. He was subjected to what is now called waterboarding but was in November of 1900 known as the “water cure’’ or the “water torture,’’ and Jones leaves no doubt that it was widely considered to be torture…

…Jones, a journalist, has produced a deeply researched, well-written addition to the crowded shelves of histories about the Spanish-American War and the William McKinley-Theodore Roosevelt era in international affairs

Currently reading Schmidt Steps Back by Louis Begley (Knopf)

Triple Dutch

31 Jan

If Elmore “Dutch” Leonard has ever written a bad story I have not read it—and I have read many, if not most, of his 40 or so published works.Which is not to say that some aren’t better than others but I don’t recall ever having finished a book by Leonard and feeling unsatisfied. And so it is with his latest opus, Raylon (William Morrow).

Those of you who are Leonard fans or are simply alert, should know that the FX series Justified (now in its 3rd season) is based on the Raylan Givens character first encountered in Leonard’s story ” Fire in the Hole” and his novel Riding the Rap. While it is uncharacteristic Dutch to resort to sequels, he has done so occasionally — Be Cool following Get Shorty and Road Dogs reprising bank robber Jack Foley from Out of Sight. In past this eschewing of series/sequels was deliberate, as optioning films rights to a story includes all iterations of the characters involved. Mama Leonard clearly did not raise a fool.

In Raylan , the Kentucky born Assistant US Marshall Givens hunts down the perpetrators of an organ stealing scheme, is assigned to body guard a cold blooded coal mine company official and tracks down a young poker playing Butler University coed who lost the twenty thousand dollars she won betting on Duke in the NCAA championship, playing in a high stakes game— who may or may not be involved in a bank robbing ring. That’s a pretty good threefer.

Naturally weird losers and felons abound:

Delroy Lewis was a member of a biker club one time called pages, all black guys, least fifty of ’emit black leather, the ace of spades painted on their yellow helmets…Delroy rode with the gang four times, got filthy dirty riding ass-end of the pack and quit the Spades.

He owned a cocktail lounge on New Center Road called the Cooz Club that featured chicks writhing bare naked on a pole that rose from a narrows strip of stage back of the bar. They’d get up there in their heels, eyes dreamy, out of focus and the guys at the bar would bet on which chick would fall off, side bets on hitting the bartender or not. He made drinks looking over his shoulder. Once Delroy had the idea, he turned the bare naked ladies into bank robbin’ chicks and was doing just fine til…

No surprise, Delroy does not come to a good end but the how of it amuses and entertains.

Elmore Leonard’s work, as mentioned above, has been adapted to a fair number of movies but in Justified he has found a simpatico group of filmmakers (Raylan is dedicated to producer Graham Yost and actor Tim Oliphant) and stands with Steve Soderbergh’s Out of Sight as exemplars of fine American cinema narratives.

Currently reading Raylan by Elmore Leonard (William Morrow)

Ever Hear of the Philippine American War?

20 Oct

I am trying to recall if there is another artist like filmmaker-novelist John Sayles—it may be a failure of cultural literacy, I can’t think of one. Maybe you can answer that. Anyway, my second conversation with Sayles is available over at the Millions.

As befits Sayles’s accomplishments our chat is lengthy including some banter about a whole host of peripheral topics (Robert Altman, Tom Cruise, Howard Zinn, gaps in American history etc). And as one might expect there is a fair share of verbiage about his new novel A Moment in The Sun and his latest feature film Amigo

Making films like Amigo requires both bravery and faith that there is an audience for films without special affects, glorification of blood and gore and superfluous sexual scenes and subtitles (in this case half the film is spoken in one of the Philippines’s 113 languages [Tagalog?]) And then there is the story set in the Philippines in 1900 with American troops garrisoned in the countryside.Fast forward to mid 20th century Vietnam and you see the same story reenacted. But then again who knew?

Currently reading The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell (Putnam)

We Need to Talk About Lionel

13 May

With her seventh novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver received the attention and accolades that her talent warranted. Two well-received novels The Post-Birthday World (2007), and finalist for the National Book Award So Much for That (2010) have followed but given it’s harrowing subject and pitch perfect prose her novel about a deeply disturbed boy and his mother’s (in)ability to deal with her child’s problems, will be a big part of for what she is remembered.

Here is Shriver on We Need to Talk about Kevin:

… I wanted to tell a particular story, and I wanted that story to be real and plausible and specifically not an explanation for all these other shootings. In fact, when I was doing the research for the book and reading about all the real shootings— which is why I was able to put together that whole list as you read in the book— the news of these shootings coming in constitutes the events in the book, but I really got my fill of that kind of research much earlier on than I would have expected. And it was not that there wasn’t more material. In fact, the amount of material is infinite and horribly redundant. It was that it wasn’t going to help me. It wasn’t going to help me at all except in those little respects where I could fill in the details of Pearl, Mississippi on Jim Lehrer News Hour. But it was not going to make my story up for me. It was not going to give to me my characters. It was not going to tell a tale that reflected the thematic concerns I had, which have to with motherhood. So in many ways, I threw it all away [laughs]. I have a stack of printouts from the Internet. But I never referred to it. I could have used that research to put together some kind of Frankensteinian composite for a family and incident that was somehow representative. That was not my ambition.

Now comes Lynne Ramsay’s film, We Need to Talk About Kevin with the magnificent Tillda Swinton in the leading role. The film is currently screening at the Cannes Film Fest.

Stay tuned.

True Wit

23 Dec

Being subjected to a barrage of narratives (mostly by choice)— a Finnish homicide detective and his precariously pregnant American wife (Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson ) , the recent conduct of the US affairs in Afghanistan (Obama’s Wars), a professional thief’s hard life (Andrew Vacchs’s The Weight), a race horse story (Lords of Misrule) a retelling of a biblical story (Joseph Roth’s Job) and the unrelenting news bulletins examining the championship aspirations of the local professional sports teams (Celtics, Patriots and, yea, those Red Sox) left me distracted. Thus, I opted for the guilty pleasure of an early afternoon matinee at my local art house cinema, a short cigar’s walk from my abode.

The Coen Brothers new version of True Grit was playing and to my surprise there were only a handful of people sharing the commodious theater with me. This was, of course, a pleasure though I did become self -conscious when I realized that I was the only person laughing at the foibles and diction of Rooster, Hattie and LaBouef and Ned Pepper in this well told, well presented story. If the blizzard of positive reviews and pitch perfectly executed and edited trailer have not impressed you I fear you are a hard case whom I will not convince. Besides its not my job.

I am curious if anyone has read a negative critique or has a bad word to say about what I think is a close-to-perfection cinematic narrative. Let me know.

One thing, occasionally the subject of the demise of that most American of stories, the Western is revisited, especially with the release of a new one. Wrongheadedly, I think. Granted the Fifties and Sixties saw mostly mediocre formulaic star vehicles, but since the vintage 1969 original True Grit, there has been McCabe and Mrs Miller, Little Big Man, The Wild Bunch, Geronimo, Silverado and, of course, the epic Lonesome Dove.

Demise? What demise?

Bridges to Somewhere

8 Dec

There are manifold reasons to enthusiastically anticipate the holiday release of the Coen Brothers iteration of Charles Portis’s story True Grit. The Coen Bros sure handed cinematic treatment would be one. The story that under-appreciated novelist Portis created, another(reason). a splendid cast including Jeff Bridges reprising the role of Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn initially played by John Wayne in the 1969 Henry Hathaway version

One (mainly me) would hope that as the Coen Brothers breath some new life into
the most American of all narrative forms, the Western, a by product of their effort will be to gain Charles Portis (“The author has become well known for not being well known”) a wider audience. In addition to True Grit, Norwood, and Dog of the South
are splendidly entertaining.