Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: November 2021

Friday

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November 2021

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Classic Film: Point Blank

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

There’s an inherent beauty in the way that film offers such an enclosed, finite glimpse into its subject’s lives. Sequels aside, audiences aren’t invited to the happily-ever-after. In most cases, the three-act structure is all you get.

John Boorman’s iconic 1967 thriller Point Blank deploys a non-linear structure, showcasing its lead’s death in the opening scene. Walker (Lee Marvin) is betrayed pulling a heist on Alcatraz Island by his partner Reese (John Vernon) and wife Lynne (Sharon Acker), left to bleed out in the prison only four years removed from its active operations. The narrative is anchored by Walker’s pursuit of his share of the job, putting him at odds with Reese’s shadier associates.

On the surface, the film largely plays out like a revenge thriller, but vengeance isn’t the primary focus for either Boorman or Marvin. Instead, their focus lies pretty solely with the deconstruction of Walker’s psyche. Walker moves with determination back and forth between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but the layers quickly unravel behind the broken man.

Marvin, who played a key role in adapting the film from the Richard Stark’s 1962 novel The Hunter, delivers a deceptively subtle performance, keeping his cards close to his chest. For a man with one of Hollywood’s most distinct voices, Walker doesn’t speak all that often. Instead, Boorman utilizes Johnny Mandel’s chilling score to supply much of the perpetually heightened dramatic tension.

What’s particularly remarkable about Boorman’s work is the way that he essentially introduces a fourth act into the equation that lingers in the audience’s mind long after the credits roll. The non-linear structure doesn’t just toss the traditional notion of narrative out the window, it practically laughs at the idea that one would want to put the pieces of the puzzle back together. Beyond that, Point Blank stresses the unimportance of doing so.

One could spend hours deliberating over whether Walker truly died in the opening act, but film isn’t really about those kinds of answers. A conventional thriller within the genre might care more about definitive conclusions, satisfied with its role as mere entertainment. Such is the realm where Point Blank separates itself from its peers.

Walker wanted his work to mean something. Boorman and Marvin operated with the very same intentions, a thoroughly tantalizing production. Featuring stunning cinematography that highlights an anxious 60s LA, Point Blank is the kind of film that’s hard to get out of your head. Walker isn’t particularly likable, but his frantic grasps at purpose are far more meaningful than your typical revenge fare. A definitive entry in the genre.

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Tuesday

16

November 2021

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DOC NYC: Come Back Anytime

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Even before the pandemic upended the entire world, the digital age transformed the very nature of what it means to be a community. For all the ways the internet had brought people together, especially the marginalized, it’s hard to understate the value of a friendly face in one’s own neighborhood. The documentary Come Back Anytime centers its narrative on the sheer power of a simple bowl of ramen to bring people together.

Masamoto Ueda is a self-taught chef who’s operated a small ramen shop, Bizentei, in Japan for more than forty years. While culinary trends change rapidly over the years, Masamoto, affectionately called Master by his regulars, has kept his recipe steady over the decades, a style that reminds his customers of traditional Tokyo street ramen. After only a few minutes, it’s easy to see the appeal of Bizentei, where customers can eat at the counter barely a foot away from where Masamoto prepared their meal, a gentle old man with a warm spirit.

Director John Daschbach does a fabulous job communicating taste through his visual medium. Ueda and his customers expertly break down what sets Bizentei’s menu from other ramen shops. It’s pretty impossible not to look at the food without getting hungry, but you also learn a great deal about the art of fine ramen.

Of course, there’s more to the story than just stellar soup. Ueda has fostered a community over his decades running Bizentei, a place where regulars not only come to eat, but to laugh and share in each other’s company. Over the course of the film, customers share the ways that Ueda has helped them along the way, often inviting them for foraging trips to the mountains, or simply offering a place for them to cry when times are tough.

Daschbach crafts a compelling case for the nature of legacy. Ueda has never been concerned with building a ramen empire or even handing over the reins once he gets too old for the work. Instead, he’s pretty purely fixed on the moment, providing for his family and his community. It’s pretty refreshing to see a director present his material for what it is, a beloved restaurant that someday won’t be there anymore. The world won’t end when Ueda retires, but Daschbach eloquently communicates the impact he’s made on his little slice of the word. Nothing lasts forever.

The film does stretch itself a bit thin to achieve a feature-length runtime. Daschbach does not need 82 minutes to make his points, increasingly relying on scenes outside Bizentei in the third act with diminishing results. Ueda is a fascinating subject who’s open and generous in his interviews, providing a well-rounded sense of the man by the time the credits roll.

As the pandemic has fractured our own sense of community, Come Back Anytime is a strong testament to the power of simple connection. Food culture often finds itself caught up in the latest fad, or the most photographic presentations. There’s a reason people can eat at a place like Bizentei multiple times a week for twenty years. A true master can let his craft speak for itself.

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