Sunday, February 18, 2007

Blocks & Cine-Ketchup (Pt. 2)

  • For the second time in two weeks,
  • Republicans senators halted progress on a nonbinding resolution opposing Bush's recent decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.

  • As the latter link/newsstory notes, "Republicans blasted the Democratic leadership for refusing to allow a vote on an alternative that ruled out any reduction in money for troops in the field." This now comes down to funding a war that the President has kept funding issues diverted from for six years.

    Another day to remember, another example of Republican democracy at work -- remember next election, and be sure to vote.

    Cine-Ketchup, Part 2:

    * 51 Birch Street (2005) - "When it comes to your parents, maybe ignorance is bliss," director Doug Block says at one point amid the revelations of his parent's past in the documentary 51 Birch St. This is, literally, the real-life version of The Bridges of Madison County: Doug and his two sisters, while helping their father clear out the Port Washington, NY suburban family home after his remarrying a mere three months after their mother's death (and over 50 years of marriage between the parents), find their mother's extensive diaries, and therein a doorway to her most personal secrets and the reality of their married life. Cinematically, this works quite well, with the nonintrusive but effective score by Machine Head a real plus (so few documentaries use music well). Block does a solid job with the film, which builds to a conclusion that may or may not work for viewers (I didn't find it dishonest, per se, as some have), arriving at some measure of peace with his dead mother (via a dialogue with her best friend: "What a relief for someone to really know us...") and his father (one on one), but I must say I find Tara Wray's Manhattan, Kansas (2006) the more powerful and memorable recent film of this type (to be reviewed later this week).

    * Antares (2005) - This Austrian/German feature is narratively structured like Mystery Train, Go!, Crash, etc. and a bit like Closer: in a single city apartment complex, the lives of three couples intersect in unexpected ways, each linked to one another by various (or a single) 'collision' point -- literally, in the case of the framing moment, punctuated by an unexpected car accident. These lives all cross orbits amid their respective struggles with loneliness, the core theme of the film, and the manner in which director Götz Spielmann orchestrates these narratives is surprisingly engaging and affecting. Eva (Petra Morzé) is a nurse, wife and mother juggling a superficially "happy" home life with a torrid affair with a visiting businessman (their first sexual encounter is very explicit, as it must be to convey her passion and sexual satisfaction from these furtive hotel-room couplings); a restless young woman working as a check-out girl in a local market is consumed by suspicion and jealousy & convinced her fiance Marco (Dennis Cubic) is cheating on her -- and he is, with: a recently divorced woman whose abusive ex refuses to let go, bullying and threatening her (and, eventually, others) as his barely-repressed rage and libido simmers dangerously to a boiling point.

    The contrasting behaviors of these couples is the meat of the film: Eva's family listens to Schubert and life seems to revolve around their loving affection for their teenage daughter; the dysfunctional dynamic between Marco and his girlfriend, Marco and his lover -- the former pretending to be pregnant, the latter with a young son relegated to being ignored when Marco shows up for fleeting fuckfests, and a pawn between mother and abusive father when troubled Dad shows up. Spielmann deftly juxtaposes and interlocks these turbulent lives, staging their moments of juncture with convincing versimilitude, culminating in the final act's satisfying (for the audience, not the characters) coda. Eschewing melodrama but not drama, the rhythms of daily lives are succinctly portrayed, as are the sudden eruptions and displacements that shake them. This is a truly adult film, sadly overlooked; note that the explicit sex scenes between Eva and her lover (onscreen fellatio, copulation, cunnilingus) may be problematic for some US viewers.

    * Colma: The Musical (2006) - Writer/lyricist/composer H.P. Mendoza's ode to being 18, just out of high school, and negotiating the treacherous limbo between teenager and adult in a multi-ethnic cultural limbo sans coherent roadmaps or rites-of-passage is a bracing and engaging musical. Colma is a real city, with more dead residents than living: it's San Francisco's graveyard suburb, a genuine 'dead end' for some, which is the crux of the film. From its opening number, this is fueled by & focused on its two male characters, Billy (Jake Moreno), a amiable but callow aspiring thespian enjoying an immediate measure of success (in regional theater) that goes to his head, and Rodel (Mendoza), a profoundly unhappy gay poet living with his repressive single father (his brother is in prison) and tied to but feeling imprisoned by friends and place. Their closest mutual friend is Maribel (L.A. Renigen), loyal friend and party girl eager to stretch her wings; she is introduced as an equal player but soon relegated to the sidelines, never becoming a fully-fleshed character in and of herself. This isn't so much a shortcoming of the film as a fact: the bonds and tensions between Rodel and Billy, some articulated/dramatized, others not, are the real meat of the story. Mendoza's Rodel steals the show from his first number: prowling toward the audience singing "Colma Stays," with his body coiled, his face registering all the rage and sorrow he bottles up (and subsequently dispenses only via his caustic digs), Mendoza/Rodel is the most compelling presence on the screen.

    Mendoza is the best new musical talent I've seen translated to film since John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and Bruce Arntson and Coke Sam's Existo, with a couple of standout (but not showstopping) numbers packing real power -- the quietest numbers, truth to tell (Rodel and Maribel/the dancers in the graveyard and "Crazy Like Me" are memorable). The musical elements are tightly integrated, character driven and/or propel the narrative, and all but a couple (the bar "Cupid" number seemed contrived to me) resonate, moving with naturalistic style and grace. Director Richard Wong used Colma, CA locations throughout and canny but judicious use of split-and-multiple screens reflects a sharp directorial intelligence at work; at one point, understated staging punctuated with a perfectly timed intrusion of split-screen works wonders. Rodel's situation (as a gay teen outed by a vengeful ex, beaten by his father and thereafter shuttling from floor to floor in friend's rooms) is familiar (My So-Called Life, anyone?) and sympathetic but never played for easy melodrama or pathos: Rodel (as a character) and Mendoza (as an actor/singer) see to that.

    This music has really stayed with me -- prompting me at last to
  • visit the Colma: The Musical website and buy the soundtrack CD. Check it out!
  • And, if you get the chance, check out this film!

    Have a great Sunday...

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