The Greencine Five, Part I: Curse of the Golden Flower, Phantom India, Twin Peaks, I’m Not Afraid, They Came Back

I have a home office, but I don’t have cable. The experiment is working out quite well. To keep the TV in use, I upped my Greencine subscription from 3 DVDs at a time to 5. The first batch of DVDs arrived by Friday, and today the last of them are watched. Below are reviews, from the most recently watched to the first viewed.

To Kill a King, Queen, or Prince

A Hamletian epic of faithlessness and betrayal, Curse of the Golden Flower centers around the Chrysanthemum Festival of the late Tang Dynasty. The style shifts through the movie from the lush beauty of House of Flying Daggers to the dead beauty of the Godfather Saga. Some of costumes and choreography are reminiscent of 300. Sadly, Zhang Ziyi does not make an appearence, though Man Li is not a poor substitute.

Orientalism in its truest form

1969’s Phantom India (Disk 1), by Marxist / Cultural Relativist / French documentarian Louise Mille, is perhaps the least explanatory film possible about that country at that time. Yet its hypnotic qualities cannot be denied. From the theosophist dance academy to the Right Communists, the two themes are that a western mind absolutely cannot understand the east and that a Maoist revolution would be for the best. The best line (paraphrased): “After becoming nearly extinct decades ago, the tradition has regained popularity. Thus it is dead. What was once living now is folklore.”

The owls are not what they seem

It is impossible to describe Twin Peaks (Season 2, Disk 1) without mentioning LOST. Both are mystery-shows set in remote locations that take a deep plunge into mythology their second time around. From Bob to Dharma, Twin Peaks’ influences on ABC’s hit show are clear. But equally clear is what Twin Peaks did wrong that LOST did right: character development. The people of Twin Peaks are weird people in a weird environment. The magic of the Lostaways and Others, however, is that they were normals before they got to the island. Everyone who ever visited Twin Peaks was always weird.

Looking up and down

Kidnapping movies have never been so good. The sub-genre, which is so cliche that Ransom (1996) feels like the “scenes we forgot to shoot the first time around” to Ransom (1956), is given new life by I’m Not Scared (Io non ho paura). The coming-of-age drama is likewise hackneyed, and likewise revived, by this story of a southern Italian boy who finds another his age down a well. The two boys — one lost in comic books, the other in cotard delusion — behave in the irrational, non-introspective way of all youth.

Not brain-eating. Just slightly disoriented.

If I’m Not Scared shows how kidnapping movies can be done right, They Came Back (Les Revenants) demonstrates that they can be done… differently. While traditional zombies are slow-moving and flesh-devouring, and the hip new zombies of 28 Days Later are fast-moving and flesh-devouring, the undead of this French drama are slightly agitated by generally easy to get along with. Focusing on three zombie-human love stories (a father and son, a young couple, and an elderly couple), They Came Back is a moving metaphor for any sickness that hollows out one who depends on you. Like Phantom India this film is French, and it’s worth seeing for its ethnography alone: the French declare zombies to be internally displaced persons in keeping with UN treaties, Zombie worker protection laws make the undead a protected class, and zombie sleeping medicine (their sluggishness prevents them from being tired for long) is created by an American researcher