shen done him wrong: day six

day six opens with a second visit to the realm of the spaghetti eastern with takashi miike's sukiyaki western django (2007).

miike, one of world cinema's most provocative and prolific filmmakers, never met a genre he didn't like. in this case, i fear he may like the genre too much. two rival factions have set upon a village in search of lost treasure. a mysterious stranger rides into town and finds himself in the middle of an ever-escalating war. gunfights, swordfights, showdowns and revenge. if it sounds stock that's because it pretty much is. it falters because it fails to commit. it is neither the audacious button-pushing that he is notorious for nor the more mannered traditionalism he employed to such great effect in the excellent 13 assassins (2010). it exists in a limbo that equates to mostly uninspired pastiche, which you are tipped to from the opening bell. it begins with a bizarre and distracting cameo from quentin tarantino, the great motormouthed god of all things slapped together from other things. it is very much like one of his films in that the most fun in it is playing spot-the-reference. it's not that it's poorly made. it is technically accomplished and obviously demonstrates a knowledge of both eastern and western genre films. it's watchable, just not highly entertaining. file it under another instance of a director having previously set the bar too high for himself. it could be that his sensibilities are too grim to generate something that is supposed to be fun. it comes off as alternately camp and smug instead of the thrill ride that we were treated to earlier in the week with the good, the bad, the weird (2008). it just lacks that certain something. he could have ventured a lot farther in either direction and it would have made for a much more satisfying film.

making up for this slight disappointment, i received an early christmas present in the form of vadim jean's hogfather (2006).

this is the bbc adaptation of the twentieth novel in terry pratchett's discworld series and i must say, they nailed it. it's hogswatch on discworld, equivalent to our christmas. the hogfather, equivalent to our santa claus, has gone missing and death has resolved to take his place to ensure that people continue believing in him. in the meantime, death's granddaughter, susan, has gone to investigate the disappearance and uncovers the existence of several new gods and other fantastic beings that have been loosed upon the world because of a surplus of belief, now that the hogfather isn't around to believe in. the plot to assassinate the hogfather is foiled, hogswatch is saved and the sun rises another day. at it's heart, it's a very thoughtful and playful take on the old saw "if there wasn't a god we would have created one". it pokes gentle fun at humanity's need to believe in something other than itself and asks a fair amount of weighty questions, however cleverly disguised they may be, my favorite being death's pivotal observation about human beings - "do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom?" it is a ringing indictment delivered in a manner that still allows us to feel good about our inherent silliness. it's a perfect balance of absurdity, philosophy and holiday cheer. thanks to shen, i believe i have found a new tradition for christmas viewing. the presence of michelle dockery's perfect alabaster neck doesn't exactly hurt, either. hog bless us, everyone.

we close the show with a trip through jim henson's labyrinth (1986).

how things have changed since i saw this in 1986. jennifer connelly plays sarah, a girl on the verge of adulthood who unwittingly invokes the goblin king, asking him to take her pesky, wailing infant baby brother away. she soon realizes her mistake and enters into a fantasy realm where she has thirteen hours to solve the goblin king's labyrinth before he turns her brother into a goblin and keeps him forever. i remember liking this a great deal when i originally saw it. in retrospect, i had no idea how italian this was at the time. the bad sound sync, the synthesizers, the budding adolescent sexuality, the owl - it's like jim henson watched nothing michele soavi movies in the time between the dark crystal (1982) and this. translation: i like it now, but for distinctly different reasons, probably reasons henson didn't intend. i think that's probably the case for everyone, though. it has left the world of kid's movies behind. i am honestly surprised it was ever marketed that way at all.

don't act like you don't know what i am talking about. with david bowie's spandex-highlighted wang nudging her gently through his maze and escher-like castle, how could she do anything but come out a woman on the other side. it is so prominently featured that i cannot imagine it was an accident. it should have its own separate credit. goodbye childhood, indeed. when you consider this film as an solitary artifact it is an interesting, if a bit confusing, product of its time. it doesn't make sense very often, as it is prone to re-write its own rules as it goes. when you consider this film as the missing link between the muppet show and suspiria (1977) everything falls into place, that place just happens to be through the looking glass.

this week has flown by. it hardly seems possible, but tomorrow we reach the end of the road.

we're not the only ones.

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