It’s nice to hear George Bancroft for once, but the sound recording and mix is so primitive, and the visual style seems to be suffering alongside it. It looks more like a standard early 1930’s Hollywood movie than a follow-up to Sternberg’s brilliant silents. Fay Wray has some bad line reads, but weirder, there’s a shot early on where one guy in a conversation is hidden behind a column, as if nobody knew where the camera was located. But it gets better as it goes on, so either it was shot in sequence with the crew learning on the job, or more likely, I was adjusting myself to its quirks, starting to forgive the sound mix and focus on story and shadows instead.

Has a lot in common with Underworld – in each, Bancroft is a tough criminal whose girl falls for someone else. Bancroft goes to prison, and at the last minute he drops his hold upon the girl, wishes the other guy luck and goes to his death laughing.

Sternberg’s first musical number is a success, starring Theresa Harris:

Fay, just off Von Stroheim’s The Wedding March, is in love with boring Bob (boring Richard Arlen of Wings and The Four Feathers). She’s got a good voice, but her dialogue has no flow, as if she’s still learning to speak. Seems like most of the movie takes place in the prison (a nice, simple set for the monstrous talkie camera) after some early scenes in an apartment and a racially integrated nightclub. T-Bolt is briefly introduced to his cellmates, but only a few stand out, such as Bad Al Friedberg, the meanest guy in the joint until Bancroft showed up. George finally gets to back up his tough talk when Bad Al snatches a guard’s gun and the warden (timid old Tully Marshall, one of the professors in Ball of Fire) lets T-Bolt handle the situation. In return, T. gets a pet dog, because audiences can’t be expected to relate to a hard-ass criminal unless he’s kind to dogs, at least. I’m glad the movie kept the dog out of the execution chamber in the final scene. Anyway, his men frame Bob, who is sent to the same prison, and on execution day George plans to grab Bob through the bars and crush his skull, but has a last minute change of heart after a candid chat and seeing Bob and Fay marry in prison, admits the frame job instead.

T-Bolt, left, with Bob:

The convicts have a singing group – my favorite use of sound was the choral backdrops to prison dialogue. The setting gives Sternberg plenty of opportunity to aim noirish shadow-bars across the scenes (online I’ve seen this labeled a proto-noir) Movie was co-written (with Sternberg) by Joseph “All About Eve” Mankiewicz and his brother Herman, who worked on Citizen Kane.

Watching at my usual slow pace. Ten months to watch thirteen episodes, oh my. At this point I’m probably willing to agree with people who’ve been saying this is the best show ever on television. Still one season to go.

New directors: Anthony Hemingway, who also worked on The Corner, steps up from being a longtime assistant director, David Platt (a Law & Order guy), Jim McKay (R.E.M.’s Tourfilm) and TV’s Seith Mann.

Low body count this season. Careers after death: Fruit, shot in the head in the first episode – Brandon Fobbs, who went on to appear in an Uwe Boll movie. Tyrell Baker (Little Kevin) starred in The Barbershop Chronicles, which is not a sequel to Barbershop. Cyrus Farmer (tough kid Michael’s stepdad), also of Oz, appeared in a Notorious B.I.G. bio-pic. And J.D. Williams (personable drug dealer Bodie Broadus, a regular since season 1), was in a short-lived show called The Kill Point.

Returning directors Ed Bianchi (now working on an alternate-reality King David miniseries), Steve Shill (whose Beyonce movie did pretty well) and Timothy Van Patten (of Master Ninja) are joined by Elodie Keene (two TV movies starring Linda Hamilton), Thomas J. Wright (Millennium, Firefly, a Hulk Hogan movie), Daniel Attias (Stephen King’s Silver Bullet), Rob Bailey (CSI), Ernest R. Dickerson (The V Word, Juice, cinematographer on Do The Right Thing) and series co-creator/producer Robert F. Colesberry (also first a.d. on Warhol’s Bad) who died six months after season two ended.

I briefly mentioned why I’d give a crap about TV episodes’ directors in my season one write-up – I started watching the show after reading an online fight over it. An auteurist extremist (heh) watched one late-season episode and wrote a tirade accusing the episode’s director (not the writer, not the series creator) of being homophobic and called the show “the most awful racist drek I have seen in years.” My favorite part: “The show, like a lot of current American TV, has deliberately bad exposition. This is designed to make you watch all 54 previous hours of the series, so you can figure out what the heck is going on.” This started a hundred-message discussion culminating in the dramatic exit of the list’s founder, and got me interested enough to finally watch the show which everyone but those two guys were passionately defending.

The Dead this season: D’Angelo Barksdale (Larry Gilliard Jr.) moved on to The Machinist and Brad Anderson’s Fear Itself episode and some new Patrick Swayze show. Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer) was in Flags of Our Fathers, Broken Flowers, starred in Anderson’s Sounds Like, and is in a new vampire show. Stolen-goods warehouser George Glekas (Teddy Cañez) shows up in Law & Order from time to time. People who probably won’t be back (serving long prison terms or witness-protection): Nick Sobotka (Pablo “Liev’s brother” Schreiber) was in J. Demme’s Manchurian Candidate remake and Stuart Gordon’s Fear Itself episode (and should consider being Ben Affleck’s stand-in if he runs out of work). Ziggy Sobotka (James Ransone) was in Inside Man and Generation Kill. Dealer White Mike (Brook Yeaton) is actually The Wire’s props guy who worked with John Waters back in the day. Greek drug man Eton (Lev Gorn) played a dealer in Keane with at least two other Wire actors, and russian muscle guy Serge (Chris Ashworth) was 25th-billed in Terminator: Salvation.

I’d be here all week if I attempted a plot description. Season 2 was slow going at the start, pulling the team back together, but it got rolling towards a great/depressing ending, which should lead naturally right into another season. I wonder if there was no guarantee of a second season after #1, but after #2 a third was a sure thing.

Ah, I was right when I watched Scars of the Sun and assumed that it wasn’t Miike’s primary focus of 2006. This movie (AKA 4.6 Billion Years of Love) is where all the innovation went. After all, the man himself called this his masterpiece.

Opens with a clapboard, a guy reading poetry about light and the past and the five senses, an older fellow telling a kid about homoerotic rites of manhood, then suddenly Masanobu Ando is doing a frenetic dance against a white background. Later there are intertitles, crazy sets, unusual CGI, and an animated segment of someone frying on the electric fence.

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Masanobu Ando also starred in Kids Return, played a villain in Battle Royale:
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Once you unlock the story from all the craziness, it’s about two guys sent to prison together – tattooed tough-guy Kazuki (Ando) and weak, sensitive, gay Ariyoshi. K likes A and looks after him, but doesn’t quite warm to his sexual affections. Both are frustrated, yearning for escape (symbolized by their long conversation in an imaginary outdoor field in front of a pyramid and a space shuttle).

Ryuhei Matsuda (Ariyoshi) is the guy on the poster of Oshima’s Gohatto and the star of Nightmare Detective:
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At the end it turns into a whodunit, as Ariyoshi is suspected of strangling Kazuki to death. He’s caught in the act, and tells everyone he did it but nobody believes him capable so the investigation continues.

Warden Takatsu is Ryo Ishibashi, star of Audition, recently seen in Suicide Circle:
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But it’s not the kind of whodunit where the audience participates and could possibly guess the culprit. We’re just left to wonder “Did Ariyoshi kill him, and how?” because the other inmates don’t get much to say until after the investigation is underway. I figured Kazuki could’ve let A. kill him, a la In the Realm of the Senses, but no – it was giant Tsuchiya who works in the infirmary and regularly summons A.’s co-worker from laundry duty for sexual liasons. Even Tsuchiya didn’t think he could take Kazuki – he attacked him as a way to commit suicide, and when K. let himself die, T. took his own life a couple days (hours?) later.

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Sounds like kind of a sad story, but the filmmaking is so invigorating there’s no time to be bummed out.

D. Kalat from TCM (?):

For a film whose premise is a homoerotic romance set in a prison, Miike has studiously avoided the obvious, the cheap, and the cliché. The prison itself is not so much a set as an abstraction—the architect appears to have run out of ink and paper before he got around to designing the usual attributes of a prison: cells, bars, walls.

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Tom Mes:

There is a lot of meditation in Big Bang Love, Juvenile A too. It’s perhaps one of Miike’s most meditative films ever. Oddly, on the one hand, because it was produced by Hisao Maki, responsible for Silver, Family and several other of the most thick-headed turkeys in Miike’s career. Not so oddly, on the other, because it was scripted by the great Masa Nakamura, writer of Dead or Alive 2, The Bird People in China, Young Thugs: Nostalgia and several other of the very finest films in that same career. The big bang of the title is also the clash between the two furthest extremes in Miike’s filmography and the spectacle of its scattering stardust is one to behold.

Yes, but is it any good? This is a Takashi Miike film. It will make you wonder, curse, marvel, tremble, scratch your head, grow bored, and awaken rudely. Celebrate it.

White kid with single parent is kicked out of his expensive prep school for disciplinary reasons and finds himself at public school, where he wants desperately to be popular so he takes to doing semi-illegal things and ends the movie a hero. Meanwhile, an adult and semi-father-figure to the kid expresses his depression and disconnection by hanging out at the pool behind his house and looking sad. Prison is involved, the school bully is fought then befriended, Cat Stevens songs are heard… but enough about Rushmore, I’m supposed to be writing about Charlie Bartlett! I don’t really want to, though – I wanna write about House and Wavelength and Fantomas instead, so I’ll keep this short.

Pretty good movie… kid becomes the psychotherapist of his whole school, prescribing drugs he gets from his own analyst after finding out you can get high off Ritalin. His dad is not dead but in prison, Charlie ashamed doesn’t walk to talk about/to him. RD Jr. is like a dull cross between Bill Murray in Rushmore and the principal in Ferris Bueller, but a good and sympathetic character. Hope Davis is actually better than Downey as Charlie’s crazy/spacey mother. Charlie has a crush on the principal’s daughter, and consults one kid into attempted suicide before he’s caught. Principal is fired (and ends up with a happier job as a teacher) after students (only slightly provoked by Charlie) trash the school as a protest against cameras in the student lounge.

Jonathan Rosenbaum compares it not to Rushmore but to Pump Up The Volume and Mumford. “Charlie Bartlett might not be as bold as its predecessor. Yet given how politically gutless most teen movies have become, it may provoke audiences as much as [Pump Up The Volume] did 18 years ago. I’ve lost count of the number of times its opening has been delayed since I first saw it last July, so clearly it has somebody worried that its defiant spirit will cut into its profitability—which is entirely to its credit.”

Not very Herzogian – the great man doesn’t interject any commentary of his own, letting his narrator (journalist Michael Goldsmith) do all the leading and interviewing, and not cutting away when Goldsmith follows up interview subjects’ stories of being imprisoned and tortured for years by order of Central African Republic dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa with Goldsmith’s own oft-repeated story (“you know, I was imprisoned for a month myself”). Gives the feeling that it is the journalist’s film and Herzog is a director-for-hire, which is probably not true. The movie does, after all, end with a caged monkey smoking a cigarette, which isn’t a typical way to end a journalistic interview-doc. And it opens with Herzog himself reading a letter from Goldsmith over beautiful, otherworldly shots of migrating crabs. It’s just the bulk of the film in between those animal bookends that seems kind of typical.

Bokassa, fallen dictator:
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Bokassa himself seems sadly typical – a military leader of an African country who took over the government, becoming more corrupt, horrible and bizarre as his rule progressed. We talk with a couple of his (many) wives and some kids, including one who was involved in a fraud/mistaken-identity comedy which led to her having a sister with the same name who got married on the same day as her.

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Goldsmith survived torture and imprisonment in Central Africa, and returned safely from Liberia (where he had gone missing at the time of this film’s completion), only to die of a hemorrhage in late ’90, shortly before the film premiered.

Fascinating movie. I think Katy liked it too, though we were both a bit upset after she vetoed my triple-feature short-doc selection at the last damned minute.

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Won best screenplay at Cannes, nominated for the golden palm. I was startled to recognize the lead guy from Werckmeister Harmonies as the German bookshop owner. Didn’t notice that his aunt Tunde in Werckmeister played Mrs. Straub, through I knew she looked familiar so I should’ve figured that out.

Well shot, edited, scored, etc., with no real attention-grabbing technical aspects. VERY well written and acted – focus here is on story and character. One of those interweaving-narratives things, but not annoyingly so. Emotional human story, multilayered, examining freedom and moral decisions and parent/child relationships, but subtly. When Ayten is spit upon by her former comrades as she abandons their cause in prison to go home with her girlfriend’s mother, there’s just that moment to think about later, not a whole conversation about the relative importance of family, love, freedom and politics. It’s a moral tale.

Prostitute Yeter Öztürk is estranged mother to young rebel Ayten. Ali Aksu is father to German professor Nejat. Susanne Staub is mother to student Lotte. The parents are all widow(er)s, the kids all unattached, until Ayten, in hiding after a political rally gone bad, stays with Lotte and they fall in love. Ali “rescues” Yeter from her prostitute life, but later he drunkenly strikes her, she dies and he goes to prison. Nejat disowns his father and moves from Germany back to Turkey, settling in Istanbul to find Ayten, tell her about her mother’s death and offer to fund her studies. Those two never connect, even though Lotte (and eventually her mother) stays with Nejat. All of the characters end up staying with each other, and not counting Ali’s attempted ownership of Yeter, it’s all out of love, compassion, generosity. Ali is the worst of the six, but he’s not a monster, and the film ends with Nejat (and us) going to Ali’s hometown to reconcile with him as Lotte’s mother Susanne works on forming a bond with her murdered daughter’s lover Ayten. Ayten is abandoning her rebel cause, which has good values at heart but also had an obsession with guns and violent protest that indirectly led to Lotte’s death, so you feel that Ayten is doing the better, more human thing by leaving, that by living her life (with or without new mother-figure Susanne) and holding onto her values she can do far more good than she could imprisoned in solidarity. Ends on such a spiritual high that it made my face hurt from wanting to cry. A beautiful movie, rivaling Paranoid Park as the best thing I’ve seen in theaters this year.