Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Cave

While Word Cup football fever took hold of the entire nation in the summer of 2018, youth football team The Wild Boars became trapped, along with their coach, in the Tham Luang Cave Chang Rai province. News of the boy’s plight attracted worldwide media attention as cave diving experts flew in to Thailand to plan the rescue of the teenagers and their mentor from deep inside the flooded network.
The story had it all. The drama of a ticking clock - the next rain downfall expected to destroy the rescue operation, bureaucratic red-tape hindering potential rescuers armed with industrial pumps, the kindness of local people pitching together for a common good. A media circus brooding like a wake of vultures as the events tragically unfolded.
Human tragedy often invokes the kind of innate human goodwill that the mainstream media will have us believe doesn’t exist. Yet, in this case the media had it all handed to them in a silver-plated betel-nut spittoon. Adventure, quest, resolution.
And yes, a Happy Ending. The Cave has a hands on Thai-style Happy Ending. Against all odds the boys and their coach are safely evacuated from cavernous depths (while sedated with ketamine) by the team of international experts and diving crew. After two weeks of meditation, acute hunger and outstanding boredom a blinding ray of light and hope flickers strapped to a diver’s hardhat. The boys are rescued one by one in one of the most complex rescue events in modern history.
Predictably the rush to dramatize the rescue event was almost as feverish as the rescue event itself. Tom Waller’s The Cave film was released in Thai theaters this week. The film, based on a script written chiefly by Don Linder, boasts a huge ensemble cast documenting the cave rescue operation with enough authenticity to put this film in a category of docu-drama or event reconstruction (a genre I just invented) rather than straight out narrative film. This is completely fine if one is hoping to learn how the rescue operation was, against all odds, accomplished. 

Followers of the rule of thumb that art should surprise us, confound expectations, challenge belief structures, will no doubt concede that The Cave had no such lofty aspirations to exploit the factual events in exchange for entertainment. The Cave tells a story from beginning to end in the most honest and straight-forward film-making fashion possible. It is linear, logical, and edited tightly to fit our ever-decreasing attention spans. Employing local talent The Cave keeps Thailand films relevant and showcases a range of talents deployed and ready for action for future productions. 

The Cave is the first feature length adaptation of the rescue event and possibly the final word. There is no central protagonist in this fly-on-the-wall docu-drama affair although Belgian diver Jim Warney comes close to that role. Cinematography by Wade Muller is slick and a film score by Oliver Lliboutry builds tension. A handful of extras are a little shaky on delivering  but overall the film is grand and  accomplished. The narrative is informative, and sometimes heart-warming. Essentially this first to market film of  the cave rescue is a  reconstruction of a wonderful story of human kindness and worth checking out if the escape grabbed your attention. 

The film is out in Thai cinemas now.  
Listen to the audio review of The Cave on This Strange Life podcast HERE.         

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Tale of Two Cities

"ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is a return to classic form."

I wanted to believe it.

I arrived in good faith, even smuggled some cans of celebratory Cheers into the cinema, and as those micro-sports cars whizzed around the Hollywood Hills all seemed well. Bikini-hippie-babes roller-skate along streets dazzling with post-LSD charm, but what, apart from 1969 nostalgia is really happening? Forty minutes into the film Leo sits down next to a young girl actress on a Western film set. He's reading a paperback novel. "What's the story about?" the eight year-old asks the jaded actor. Sitting in the fifth row I'd been asking myself that very same question.

Where is the story?  What is this about?  Which character should I be rooting for, and more importantly why

This is pure indulgence my friends, and without much in the way of narrative pay-off Quentin’s epic wanders elegantly all over tinsel town with no real sense of direction. We have little choice but to follow this tale like a dirty old man stalking an exotic woman around a decadent beach-side town. While the characters we meet are entertaining, the backdrop amazing, and the dialog razor-sharp, are we over-dosing on this trip? Shot by shot a masterwork in cinematography, casting, set-design, yet requires editing to be true to film format. A filmmaker has many aims - to have the audience's mind make cuts as the film plays isn't one of them. The narrative leans on an old technique to be fair. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD's form takes the shape of the picaresque novel - a Spanish literary technique developed by Cervantes in 1554 – a roguish yet appealing hero (or heroes in this blockbuster’s case) of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society. Events unfold without a necessary narrative consequence and one wonders if this would have been better formatted as a television series. We are eventually brought to the Manson punch-line without ever having ever gotten to know the real motivation behind the event in the first place. Is this intentional? Probably so. Is it wise? Perhaps not.   

JOKER on the other hand is layer upon layer of narrative clues. Gotham City is experiencing a garbage strike and the rats have turned super. How about that for a set-up? When the garbage workers go on strike a city is really on it's knees. How socially and politically unstable have we become when we can’t even figure out refuse disposal? Our city is the equivalent of the angry teenager who’d rather play Far Cry than take out the trash. 

Joker, dressed as a clown, working for a clown agency, is humiliated and beaten up by a bunch of teenage thugs while hawking for a discount store, his mother is dying, he discovers he’s adopted, his pharmaceutical drug supply is cut off and he's alienated from his pals at the clown agency. His descent is perfect in structure - a mentally sick man slowly growing more insane in a decaying city. His co-worker hands Joker a gun to protect himself, but while performing at a hospital children’s ward the gun slips out of his clown suit and he loses his job at the clown agency. Joker decides (or does he decide – is he the victim of consequence? Pay attention Quentin, pay close attention, buddy) to take out his anger through the language of the Chekhov's gun handed him by his co-worker. He executes a bunch of Wall Street thugs on the subway consequently spear-heading a social uprising. Layer upon layer of urban commentary oozes through this motion picture while setting the scene for the ultimate pay-off. It's a dark, smart, and sultry bitch of a movie.   

Not since Clockwork Orange has the anti-hero stood so tall. Phoenix knocks it out of Gotham City park with a physical performance incorporating dance, comedy, drama, pantomime, and horror. This, my friends, is a moral tale, a meditation on gun control, civic duty, the pharmaceutical industry, social welfare, moral corruption, family values. In short this film shows us how we got to where we are. Tarantino’s film does that too, but more beautifully and from a picturesque abstract distance rather than an immediate dark present. 

Watch both if you can.  


Sunday, May 26, 2019

Express Yourself

It’s a minute after midnight in the darkest heart of the neon-flickering red night zone on Soi Nana, Bangkok, Thailand. You walk inside a dimly lit bar where Jackson Pollock reproductions hang beside brass exterior wall-features, dysfunctional water pipes, and wall-mounted speakers. The waitress serves drinks in an otherworldly fashion behind a zinc-topped bar, and you move a little closer to observe what’s lurking behind the waitress's purple eye-shadow and neon pink lip-gloss. Hands larger than your own, and feet longer and narrower, and at least a size nine. Her voice is lower, much lower than anticipated, and that shoulder-hip-ratio disproportionate for your average Siamese gentlewoman. You move a little closer and order a Chang beer Lite, and as you do the barmaid makes a move both astonishing and unexpected. She smiles while liberating a singular breast from her sports bra, squeezes it, and expresses right there on the spot, squirting milk out and into an adjacent coffee mug. She laughs in an octave close to Chris Rea’s The Road to Hell, and you tell her to not do it again. She does it again, but this time offers you a sweet taste of the milk of human kindness. Transgender love milk, baby, muscle-men love it long time.  

Annie’s something of a local legend. Lactose Disciples (or LDs as they're known) pay homage to Annie’s weeping bosom the way Pilgrims worship the weeping Virgin Mary of Civitavecchia. They rub up against Annie muttering undecipherable conjurations while tying pieces of string around her wrists. Deeply superstitious locals consider Annie’s magical orbs an auspicious gift from the Gods to be revered deeply.  
In a study called “Male Lactation” Professor Patty Macadam of the Department of Anthropology at The University of Toronto noted, “Lactation has been observed in animals and humans of both sexes.” In 1992 a team of scientists captured fruit bats from a rainforest south in the Krau Game Reserve, Pahang, Malaysia. Of the 10 mature males captured, each had functional mammary glands from which small samples of milk were expressed. In nature male lactation is physiologically possible and, according to Dr. Robert Greenblatt, milk production in males can be simulated by simply letting a bat suckle on a male teat for several weeks. You stare up to the ceiling half expecting a colony of fruit bats hungrily hanging upside down.   

The phenomenon of men breastfeeding at will was explored in the 1978 book The Tender Gift by Dana Raphael and subsequently a small movement of Milkmen evolved. The Milkmen were a collective movement of single and same-sex fathers who had elected to express independent of female intervention. In the case of Annie the Weeping Bargirl hormone replacements are not to be overlooked, yet without the pills she’d probably express herself in other ways. Hungry ruling class infants have busily suckled on the bosom of peasant wet nurses since the dawn of time. Ever since the groundbreaking 1867 breakthrough of Justus von Liebig’s rudimentary infant milk formula childless men and women have produced milk for the benefit of the well-heeled lactose hungry.       

A sizable market for human milk exists online and among that consumer demographic an emerging market of bench-pressing males exist. Packed with nutrients some men consider the nutrient-rich white gold key to their success at the gym. Although adult breast milk addicts can sustain their vice frequenting sites such as, there is a theory that transgender breast milk is better suited to bodybuilders owing to a special blend of hormones produced exclusively by male to female transition. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services breast milk contains just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein to help growth. Ladyboy milk, it seems, can make you as fit as a butcher's dog (to use a well worn animal idiom), so why not get aboard and join the movement? 

And you can. As long as bench-pressing and the usual cardio-vascular work-out routines are maintained transgender milk is the perfect supplement. Man can't live by milk alone. Lift and lick is the current slogan. And why not? Life is messy, unpredictable, propelled by strange quirks and unusual ticks and drips. Nature doesn’t always deal you the hands you wanted. So adapt to what you have and milk it for all that it's worth. 

Life, is very strange.