Couch Trip

Jun 18, 2008 at 12:00 am

The Wayward Cloud

The Wayward Cloud is, in some ways, a greatest hits collection of themes and motifs from Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming Liang's previous films: the obsession with water from Rebels of the Neon God, the comic musical interludes from The Hole, the characters from What Time is it There? reprising their roles. But this sometimes hilarious and often shocking treatise on sex and pornography takes Tsai's art to the kind of graphic highs and lows that are bound to elicit polarized responses. While it's generally a futile effort to condense a plot in a Tsai film, what little story there is focuses on porn star Hsiao-Kang and Shiang-Chyi, the protagonists from What Time is it There? and the short film The Skywalk is Gone, reuniting in a drought-ravaged Taiwan where watermelons have become the de facto food and drink. Logic is discarded immediately for a Dadaist mise-en-scène in which watermelons serve as sexual metaphors for both pleasure and reproduction. The acts of sexual ecstasy are arousing, in all their watermelons-as-vaginas glory, until the final 25 minutes, which might be the most revolting act of onscreen sexual abuse since the nine-minute rape in Irreversible. Like Paul Verhoeven subtextually scolding viewers who got off on the pool scene in Showgirls by forcing them to watch the gang-rape later on in the film, here Tsai's complicated bit of anti-pornography holds us accountable for finding pleasure in anything we saw before it, adding a disturbing meaning to what might otherwise be an incoherent ramble of a film. —John Thomason

Hiya Kids! A '50s Saturday Morning Box
Shout! Factory

Anyone needing to understand Depression-era parents should be required to watch all four discs of this set and see the kind of early children's TV they devised for their spawn. No wonder baby boomers took to rock, roll and rebellion — these shows were slow, boring airtime fillers whose underlying message appears to be "We sacrificed and did without, and we'll be damned if you have it too good."

Otherwise, what's one to make of interminable puppet shows, and creepy precursors to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood like Ding Dong School where we're forced to stay inside with an elderly teacher for a half-hour blowing bubbles in real time, talking to kids about going to the dentist and shamelessly making arts and crafts out of Kix cereal — the show's sponsor — while real fun is conceivably going on somewhere else?

Then there are lots of holdovers from Saturday movie matinees like Lassie, Flash Gordon and The Roy Rogers Show served up in the "if it was good enough for us" fashion. And since they were conceived for the big screen, they're among the most watchable things here. Most lovable is Roy Rogers, a hero who never fires a shot, simultaneously inspiring Mahatma Gandhi and Barnaby Jones (although laughing at Roy's "humorous" sidekick Pat Brady seems more like making fun of the mentally ill than anything else).

One also wonders how many stingy parents actually indulged their kids and purchased the Magic Screen that allows you to draw on your TV to help cartoon Winky Dink get through his train wreck of a show, Winky Dink and You. This set doesn't come bundled with a Magic Screen, so it's the "learning to do without what others have" experience you'll revisit.

Nowhere is the corporal punishment of children more pungent than with Captain Z-Ro, a short-tempered guy who lives up to his name by snapping at his young assistant Jet with "children should be seen not heard" curtness, even when the kid is right. Watching them assemble state-of-the-art Roger the Robot from bits of water heaters and air vents, and hearing Z-Ro's frequent admonishments like "Let me handle him and don't antagonize him," it's hard not to see the angry dad who really would rather decorate the Christmas tree alone. He's wrong a total of three times in the half-hour, no more so than when he programs Roger to "operate in places where no human can possibly exist" like Venus and Mars but then accidentally sends Roger to ... San Francisco! If you really want a signpost to the future, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle is the first masturbatory-worthy small screen siren. Sorry, Miss Francis. —Serene Dominic

Meeting Resistance
First Run Features

Somehow, Meeting Resistance lives up to its provocative tagline — "What would you do if America was invaded?" While this documentary by Steve Connors and Molly Bingham doesn't ever come out and explicitly endorse the actions of the suicide bombers and guerrilla fighters involved in attacks against American soldiers, it does run right up to the line of justification by infusing humanity onto those involved and by spelling out the many reasons why they feel compelled to continue working against what they consider to be an invasion of their country and an attack on their faith. What's most immediately striking about the people profiled by Connors and Bingham is their resolute ordinariness. Teachers, professors and laborers have been turned into militants, and their loose alliance with ex-soldiers and jihadists seems borne not of extremist affinities but instead from the basic ignominy of having one's homeland invaded. In other words, the primary point pushed by the filmmakers is that this movement is a nationalist resistance, not a battleground of faith-based ideology. That this is a radical perspective is sadly disappointing, and it's quite likely that Meeting Resistance will be seen as some sort of pro-radical sympathy piece. In fact, it's doing the job that our national media consistently fails to do: giving the dramatic events happening in Iraq a balanced human perspective. —Jason Ferguson

The Car
Universal Studios

When Gasoline prices are forcing monster SUVs off the road, it's probably a good time to revisit the bygone era when cars killed us all at once instead of slowly bleeding us dry. Time has a way of melding the familiar together, and if you're like me, you probably think that future AAMCO Transmissions spokesman James Brolin was the star of Christine, the 1983 John Carpenter movie about a killer car. But nope, it's this 1977 precursor that's actually the good one. And by good, of course, I mean deliciously bad. Brolin helms the Roy Scheider role in this Jaws-on-wheels thriller about a malevolent (and driverless) car that picks off victims like the Human Being Lawnmower but won't run people over on "hallowed ground" — which is a metaphor for compassionate conservative fundamentalists that's 30 years ahead of its time.

Most actors would vanish playing second fiddle to a souped-up Lincoln, but James Brolin as sheriff and single parent Wade Parent (as in weighed-down parent, get it?) absolutely radiates because he takes every second of this insanity with deathly seriousness. When his deputy and best friend Ronnie Cox tells him "Everybody else was killed on the street! Lauren was killed in the middle of her own living room! She was special ... why?" and "How did [the car] know where she lived?" Brolin, choking back tears, seethes, "I don't believe it, I don't accept it," and then instructs his men to keep the roadblocks up, all without busting into guffaws. Maybe they don't give Oscars for keeping a straight face while saying "The car — it's in the house!" But maybe they should. P.S.: When you can see the Car taking aim at Lauren and her living room furniture, it's champion violence straight out of a Road Runner cartoon and there's a crash scene I can swear I've seen used in every SNL skit where a flaming auto rolling off a cliff is required. P.P.S.: This digitally remastered reissue adds zero extras and even misplaces a few scenes from the previous DVD version and bits of dialogue that are on the subtitled versions. Car blimey! —Serene Dominic