There is no way to ignore Chris Rock -- irate man-boy, the voice a squall of gleeful outrage, the eyes bugging out in disbelief. He's so put-upon, and so happily so, that he just has to share all of it: Can you believe this?
Andrew Niccols' latest film rolls out the carpet for its supposed antihero, illegal arms dealer Yuri Orlov (played by Nicolas Cage). When Yuri first appears onscreen, he's standing on countless glistening bullets, so many of them that they gleam like a sumptuous, golden rug. He's a true Lord of War , the image says, a dirty prince who has made his fortune by peddling death.
Niccols underscores that point by following the path of one of Yuri's bullets as it slowly wends its way from a case in eastern Europe to the muzzle of a gun fired in a street shoot-out in Africa to -- zingingly fast and thrilling now, arching over the dirt streets and through a tattered house -- bang, the forehead of a nameless young African boy.
The scene is picture perfect: a magical pinkish twilight, a gentle hill, the fairy spire of the Eiffel Tower rising in the distance. Then an old Chinese man -- bedraggled, stooped under a huge basket of trash -- steps into the frame, transforming the scene into the exquisite inverse of a classical Chinese landscape painting. Instead of showing natural elements -- trees, mountains, streams, abundant space -- creating a harmonious realm for miniscule human figures, director Jia Zhangke has flipped the proportions, revealed the human cost at the core of an ersatz ideal.
The director and I are pattering away in a bizarre mélange of Thai and English, often within the same sentence. “Thai films can really have a sang son quality, that textbook preachiness, sometimes,” director Apichatpong Weerasethakul muses. “I didn't feel like papayon should be like that.”
The linguistic switch-hitting is apt, considering Weerasethakul has a penchant for rupturing boundaries in his films -- between documentary and filmic fiction in his first feature (Mysterious Object at Noon), and between politics and sexual escapism in his second (Blissfully Yours). His latest venture, Tropical Malady, opens with a tender romance between two men, before plunging into a mythic tale of a soldier hunting a shaman-turned-tiger.
Criticizing the latest Hayao Miyazaki movie feels evil, like passing up cupcakes made by children to sup on puppies. Miyazaki is, after all, the grand master of animation, gifted with an unparalleled and deeply humanistic imagination, the creator of rapturous worlds and complex heroines that Walt Disney could only dream of.