Sunday, December 30, 2007
Letters from Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood, 2006)
After a pretty weak and predictable first half, the film begins to pick up, boasting of a great hari kiri grenade scene, but aside from a few notable scenes, the film is pretty formulaic, showing the absurdity of war, and the equality of each side, which is nothing new at this point.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (Jake Kasdan, 2007)
Potentially the worst film I've ever seen. If Anchorman is a feature length SNL skit, then Walk Hard is a feature length Mad TV skit.
Friday, December 21, 2007
O Lucky Man! (Lindsay Anderson, 1973)
A brilliant three hour epic musical/surrealistic satire of capitalism. Malcolm McDowell is a joy to watch as Travis Mick as he travels through Europe, obsessed with greed and trying to get ahead anyway he can. The film implies that humans are slaves to capitalism and the resulting poverty leads to crime and the ills of the world, all while maintaining a comical and even whimsical tone.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Fando y Lis (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1968)
Apparently this film was based on a one page script and Jodorowsky's memory of a stageplay. It follows Fando and his paraplegic girlfriend Lis on their bizarre surrealistic odyssey as they search for the city of Tar. I found the imagery and expressive sound effects to be very fascinating, but the editing was rather clumsy at times. Fando and Lis reminded me of Easy Rider in several instances as it employs the flash forward alternating scene transition technique. Also the amazing acid trip sequence in Easy Rider seemed similar to the cemetery montage in Fando in Lis, leaving me to wonder if this film was an influence on the other or whether it is just coincidence.
Here are the two cemetery scenes:
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Friday, December 14, 2007
Ballad of a Soldier (Grigori Chukhrai, 1959)
Ballad of a soldier is a simple tale about a 19 year old hero during WWII who trades his medal in for a chance to take leave and see his mother. On his return trip home he meets and touches the lives of several civilians he meets along the way and even manages to fall in love. My major problem with the film is Alyosha is basically perfect in every way. So much so that he seems more like a caricature than an actual human being. Never-the-less the the film is an enjoyable attempt at individualizing the soldier and humanizing war. After following the path of this young man for several days and seeing his kind youthful spirit, his death which we are foretold of in the opening scene becomes much more tragic rather than just another statistic. The climactic scene when he hugs his mother is very moving. The editing is a little rough in spots, but the shot compositions and overall cinematography are lovely.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
The Color of Pomegranates (Sergei Parajanov, 1968)
The Color of Pomegranates is less of a film, than it is a visual arts piece, or perhaps a physically realized poem, which was Parajanov's intent. It's very unorthodox in nature, as it is a biography of the Armenian troubadour Sayat Nova told through the context of the poet's own imagination, only using the narration of his his poetry rather than any dialogue, and with a completely static camera. I found the film to be fascinating in it's bold approach and an eye opening account of ancient Armenian culture. The film is obviously gorgeous to look at a well, but hard to follow with all of the convoluted expressionism. It definitely deserves another look, as a lot of it was admittedly over my head.
Steamroller and Violin (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1961)
A delightful short film about a seven year old boy from a wealthy family who plays the violin. Tarkovsky employs the ole "opposites attract" chestnut as the boy befriends a blue collar steamroller and becomes the envy of the children in the neighborhood until the two are forced to part ways due to circumstances beyond their control. This was Tarkovsky's graduate film and certainly lacks the dream-like style of his future efforts, but still remains an impressive piece foreshadowing things to come with rain and water motifs, along with the reflections (mirrors) in the puddles. The camera work, lighting, and shot selections are expertly chosen as well. The film obviously is a product of it's time and culture, as the themes of communism and the optimism of rebuilding a better Russia are less than subtle. An eye catching shot and perhaps the most poignant moment in the film comes when an old building in the foreground comes crumbling down after being struck by a wrecking ball, only to reveal a taller more beautiful building glistening in the sunlight.
La Blogothèque and The Take Away Shows team published live videos shot in Brooklyn, New York for each of the tracks off of Beirut's latest album The Flying Club Cup.
view them here.
The video for "Nantes" (#1) is by far the best and most ingenious.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
City of Sadness (Hsiao-hsien Hou, 1989)
A flawless masterpiece and the most politically important film in Taiwanese history as it addresses the 1947 massacre known as the 2/28 incident. After the end of WWII Taiwan gains independence from Japan after 51 years of occupation, but a new war between the mainlanders and the Taiwanese people begins. The story of Taiwan is told through the lives of a family of brothers who are effected by the radical changes and savage violence they are surrounded by. The film contain so many individually brilliant scenes that coalesce into a perfect whole. The juxtaposition of funeral and wedding procession, Wen-ching, who is deaf while in prison, unable to hear the gun shots not reacting to their executions, street riots, a beautiful New Year's celebration scene, and my personal favorite is the family photograph taken at the end of the film. The family sits in front of an artificial backdrop while the baby looks around the room, distracted, before looking up at the camera and smiling just as it flashes. Hinomi, Wen-ching's wife sends the photograph to their family with a letter announcing his arrest three days after the photo was taken. The photo captures a false or perhaps temporary moment of happiness as chaos and tragedy cloud their lives. Fittingly, the film ends with uncertainty.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Flowers of Shanghai (Hsiao-hsien Hou, 1998)
Flowers of Shanghai is an ensemble period piece taking place in the opulent brothels, referred to as flower houses, in late 19th century China. Hou's meticulous style and pacing has never been more appropriate than it is here, as the stunning mise en scene, cinematography, fade in/out editing transitions, music, and long drifting camera master shots all mesh together perfectly to evoke a seductive mood. Hou's direction excellently balances the screen time of the many characters, alternating between the group scenes where men gamble and drink, and more intimate scenes between the courtesans and the mistresses. The men are rich and hypocritical and the women are manipulative and greedy. Some of the flower girls earn their freedom, some marry, while others die trying to distinguish the blurred lines between love, lust, and lies. The claustrophobic nature of the film is also worth noting as the film consists of only interior shots. Despite the beauty of the brothels they are much like a prison in many regards. The indentured servants are owned and bound financially to the brothel, while the gentleman callers are contractually obligated to their flower girls, while no one is free from the addiction of opium.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Good Men, Good Women (Hsiao-hsien Hou, 1995)
Good Men Good Women, is dedicated to political activists, Chiang Bi-Yu, Chung Hao-Tung, and all of the political victims of the 1950s. Rather than making a period biopic, Hou places his film in contemporary Taiwan allowing for a critique of both the old and new. The central character in the film is an actress by the name of Liang Ching (Annie Shizuka Inoh) who is starring in a biopic about Chiang Bi-Yu who left Taiwan for the mainland to join the anti-Japanese resistance during World War II, only to be arrested as Communists upon their return home. The film alternates back and forth between excerpts from the film within the film signified by black and white photography and Liang Ching struggling to overcome the pain brought on by the murder of her former criminal lover along with her drug addicted past. On top of this she begins receiving mysterious faxes that contain entries from her own diary, and is accused of infidelity with her own brother-in-law. Early on in the film Liang Ching explains through a voice-over that she feels she has become Chiang Bi-Yu and thus experiences the anxiety of two generations simultaneously. The parallels between the characters are evident as they face persecution as well as the death of their lovers, among other things. Liang Ching being haunted by her past further serves to perpetuate how events buried in the history of a nation can have far reaching consequences. Good Men, Good Women is perhaps Hou's most political, conventional, and possibly best film.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
I've seen this movie many times before, as it is one of my favorites and I consider it to be a masterpiece, so I'm not going to review it. The following was a discussion board response I made for a 1960s pop culture class a few years ago:
Besides the obvious phallic symbols and more overt references to sex, the part I found to be the most interesting is the metaphor of the attacking planes and fertilization. Hundreds of planes are sent to attack the general target of the U.S.S.R., but by an unlikely chance, only one makes it through, which happens to be just enough to end the world. This is a direct metaphor for sperm fertilizing an egg. The chances of fertilization are very slim, but the success of one sperm is all that is necessary for life to begin. The accidental nuclear attack on the Soviet Union is another way Kubrick kind of plays with the idea of an accidental pregnancy. By ironically comparing war and death with sex and birth, we are reminded that life is a cycle. Although the bomb is detonated, life will continue underground as discussed by the few privileged. With the deaths of millions, the few remaining humans will be encouraged to be even more prolific. In a way a new way of life is born from the act of "insemination"
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007)
Juno is coincidentally enough, about Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page), an offbeat yet intelligent sixteen year old girl who is faced with an unplanned pregnancy after having sex with her best friend Paulie Bleeker(Michael Cera). Writer, Diablo Cody tackles a controversial subject, without offering much to say about teenage pregnancy, adoption, or abortion. Instead Cody focuses on the hip and witty dialogue, that seems more forced and phony than anything (who talks like this?). I actually can only recall genuinely laughing at one line in reference to adoption: "You should go to China, they're giving them [babies] away like free Ipods. They shoot them out of t-shirt guns at stadiums." Cera fortunately provides comedy through his ability to transform an innocuous line of dialogue into an awkward moment of hilarity. Cody really doesn't concentrate on the two major characters themselves as much as she should either. All we really know or learn about Bleaker is that he is an awkward teenage guy who is part of the cross country team and was formerly in a band with Juno. Although Juno gets most of the screen time, she is pretty one, perhaps two dimensional herself.
After the screening there was a Q&A with director Jason Reitman and writer "Diablo Cody" if that is her real name? (It isn't). Cody continued to lose credibility with me when confronted about her past working as a stripper. Not that I have anything against that, but her reasoning was complete bullshit. She said that she was "bored and since she grew up in a conventional small town environment, needed to add excitement for writing inspiration." She was apparently discovered through the world of blogging. She also mentioned that she "hates the word "bog" due to the trendy association of it by nature, although her entire script contained an abundance of such hip and snarky word usage. I was especially annoyed by Cera's multiple uses of the word "wizard." It's obvious that Juno, is a semi autobiographical adolescent representation of the author herself, although I'm sure Cody wasn't half as "cool" as she is portrayed. An audience member brought up a good plot-hole point during the Q&A. "Juno is conveyed as intelligent and very with it, so why wouldn't she have used birth control?"
Directing and production design help to cover some of the flaws in the script, but only barely. Bleeker's room reflects his immaturity and ineptness to raise a child as we see his outer space wallpaper, toy robots, and racecar bed. He is also a slacker, as we see him going to cross country practice late on several occasions, or running behind the rest of the pack. Later in the film after he learns of Juno's true affection for him, we see him win a race, actually breaking the school record, and then continuing to run up stairs upon completion of the race as if not even winded. The Loring's (the adoptive parents played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) home is impeccably clean and yuppi. There is a great little montage of them adjusting small details in preparation for their audition with Juno and her father. Juno's room is covered in graphic art, and a hamburger shaped telephone. Unfortunately, the magic of subtltey is ruined when Juno calls unnecessarily attention to the phone. Speaking of unnecessary, the voice over narration is sporadic throughout and offers no insight.
The film does manage to offer a few redeeming termite moments such as the scene where the step-mom defends her step-daughter after a condescending comment from a radiologist. I also thought the Japanese comic book about a pregnant teenage superhero was cute, and the reversal of expectation with the roles of Bateman and Garner turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Bateman's character is perhaps the most interesting in the film. Formerly in a band, he has sacrificed his art and his freedom for his marriage with a controlling wife, and career as a commercial jingle composer. One subtle touch I enjoyed was when Garner is painting the babies room, while wearing/ruining an Alice and Chains t-shirt, that obviously belongs to Bateman. I also enjoyed the soundtrack as I am a fan of The Moldy Peaches, Kimya Dawson, and Belle and Sebastian, however I felt the music didn't always accommodate the scene properly. For instance one of my favorite songs, "Piazza, New York Catcher's" lyrics just have no place in the film. Other than matching the folky acoustic tone setup from the previous songs, it just doesn't fit. At least Reitman's Thank You For Smoking had something worth while to say, Juno however is mostly just throw away, but will probably be lauded by the general public. I just hope it doesn't go as far as to being a dark horse original screenplay nominee.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
Sunrise, begins as with a very dark, almost noir-esque tone. German expressionistic influences obviously play a major role in this, as the film features low key lighting, a lot of shadows, angular camera set ups and set arrangements. Technically the film is incredile, with it's extremely mobile camerawork, frenetic overlapping dissolve editing, and foley sound effects. I use the term noir because the genre stemmed from German expressionism, but also because of the story itself. Our main character is a farmer with a wife and child, who is having an affair with a vacationing women from the city. The woman is clearly the femme fatale, as she attempts to coax the man into murdering his wife, by making it look like a boating accident. Upon failing to follow through with the murder plot, the film takes a drastic change of tone. The man begs for forgiveness realizing how much he truly loves his wife. She eventually forgives him and they travel through the city, attending a wedding, carnival, dancehall, and getting photographs. There are also many moments of humor throughout the film, including a drunken pig that gets loose in the ballroom and a man desperately trying to keep his date's shoulder straps from falling, among others. These comic moments seem a little unbalanced with the tone of the film at the beginning and end, however I think they could have worked better with a tragic ending rather than happy one, as the best tragedies always make one laugh first. It has been the subject of question, as to whether or not the ending was a concession Murnau made to Americanize his film, whether it was the choice of the studio, or his own. I don't know if this is just my pessimism leaking out, but I personally think the film would have worked better with a tragic ending.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Café Lumière (Hsiao-hsien Hou, 2003)
As the opening credit informs us, Hou made this film for the centenary of Yasujiro Ozu's birth. The two artist's have very different backgrounds and approaches to filmmaking; Hou shooting independently financed films on location, and Ozu coming from the stringent Japanse studio system. Despite these differences, both filmmakers share the commonalities of portraying everyday human emotion. For this particular film, Hou experiments by working under similar conditions as Ozu. He strays from his homeland of Taiwan and makes a budgeted film under a studio in Japan. Ozu's influence in Café Lumière is apparent as Hou explores family values, social criticisms, and most importantly traditionalism vs. modernity. Despite the slight adaptation, Hou incorporates many of his stylistic traits, including long static takes, claustrophobic framings, as well as obstructed and sometimes off-screen action. The film follows Yoko, played by Japanese pop idol Yo Hitoto, as she struggles to connect with people. She even remains distant with her family and friends. This is most overt when we see Yoko on her cell phone, disconnected from reality in a sense, which occurs in close to a dozen instances. Later we discover that Yoko is pregnant and adopted, although not all at once. The biological father of her child has moved to Thailand, however local bookstore owner Hajime (Tadanobu Asano) who records train sounds in his spare time, becomes a potential replacement as he forges a meaningful relationship with Yoko. The film captures the beautiful moments of solitude in everyday life, as Yoko stares out the train window, lost in her reflections, taking in the sights and sounds, yet the Hou also emphasizes the essential human need for relationships; familial and otherwise.
Children of Paradise (Marcel Carné, 1945)
A beautiful romantic epic blooming from the tradition of occupied French poetic realism, Children of Paradise follows the intersecting paths of love and lust between Garance (Arletty) and four men for whom she is the object of desire. Although the film is set in 19th century Paris, the film allegorizes occupied France and employs fantastic camera work, lavish set decor as well as wardrobe. The film is full of richly distinct and intriguing characters, including Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault), the dreamer and popular pantomime artisté, who believes anything is possible. At one point he remarks that "dreams and life are the same thing." Frédérick (Pierre Brasseur) begins as an unemployed actor/ladies man, who eventually evolves into the most popular and beloved actor in the nation. Thirdly, there is the lonely, pessimistic, murderous, thief, Pierre-François Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand). Playing a foil to lover of life, Baptiste, Lacenaire decrees his disdain for humanity and most importantly illustrates the similarities between comedy and tragedy. Just before the climax Lacenaire warns "The plots are the same, however the distinctions lie in the character's class, however there are instances where all men are equal." The last love interest of Garance is Édouard, Count de Montray, a rich and jealous man who comments that the plays of Shakespeare are dull and bestial and best suited for the lower classes; "Today one comes not for the plays, but for the actors." There are several other characters of interest including Jericho the ragman, and Nathalie who falls in love with Baptiste and eventually mothers his child, despite his love for Garance. The film contains several acts of violence, however Carné makes use of elliptical editing to deny the spectator from seeing such acts, much in the same manner the Coen's do most recently in No Country For Old Men. Children of Paradise has much to explore, historically, philosophically, cinematically, etc., however I did have a minor qualm with the film that is very subjective and not so much a factor on my feelings towards it overall. I just found Garance to be a completely unlikable and unsympathetic character. Moreover I didn't find her to be the least bit attractive, in fact I was repulsed by her looks as well as her characters personality, but it seems that the filmmakers urge us to embrace Baptiste and Garance's infidelity.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The Flaming Lips: The Fearless Freaks (Bradley Beesley, 2005)
Although I'm a fan of The Flaming Lips and own ten of their albums, I consider myself to be more casual than devout. I love music, but in general I'm not one to get caught up in celebritism or the so called "religiousness" of rock n' roll and can't fathom the insane fans who dress up and travel the country attending each and every show, nor am I really all that interested in the personal lives of celebrities. Unfortunately this film is best suited for the latter of the two degrees of fanhood. For the most part I found the film to be typical and boring music documentary fair, with extensive use of talking heads, album art, and archived concert footage, along with snippets from the music videos also directed by Bradley Beesley, which are the only things the film has to offer visually. The film also resorts to the mundane and derivative practice of having the musicians explain their uninteresting back stories about how the met, how the band formed as well as a namedropping session of major influences like Zappa and The Who. On top of this there are a couple of fairly corny scripted voice overs by the filmmaker himself. On the positive side I enjoyed the super 8 home video footage along with a few ideas presented by Wayne Coyne that were sort of grazed over such as his description of a nostalgic utopia consisting of hanging out with friends, listening to records, and smoking pot as well as his realization following his father's passing that death isn't romantic. Beesley also presents are very human portrait of the band from the love and support of their families, their humble upbringings, blue collar work ethic (Wayne worked at Long John Silvers for eleven years), and personal battles. The most intense and emotional sequence in the film takes place as Steven shoots up heroin while explaining his battle with drugs for the last five years. Friends and other band members describe their concerns and fears of the very real possibility of his sudden death. It's apparent the progression of The Flaming Lips from album to album is something to appreciate and they offer something unique and worth while in terms of sound and live performances, but when all is said and done their story is not interesting or poignant enough to captivate the general public's attention and the filmmaker doesn't present anything profound enough for cinephiles to take away from it, rather it's simply an enjoyable film for the more serious fan.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
I'm Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)
I'm not a Bob Dylan buff, in fact I don't know much about the man at all, but don't get me wrong I love his music, but I don't have any biased feelings one way or another and I can't comment on much of the accuracy, (from what I hear the film uses a lot of actual documented quotes from Dylan, however the film is not concerned with the the chronological order of major events in Dylan's life. Instead Hayne's avant-garde anti-biopic masterpiece seeks to reveal through six different actors each representing one of his personalities, Dylan's mystique, what he stood for, and what he meant to the world. Dylan's legendary bigger than life persona serves as the springboard for perhaps the biggest budget, semi "mainstream" experimental film ever made and how fitting it is as his poetic lyrics and anti establishment attitude coincide with the unconventional visual poem style filmmaking, letting Dylan's words and actions create who he is, rather than constructing secondhand phony reenactments of actual events to mislead the viewer. The film is very fragmented and dreamlike, reflecting Dylan's anti-nature sentiments, stating that "dreams are the most natural thing there is because of the lack of interferences." Haynes also raises interesting philosophical questions about "personality" and "self." Aren't we as humans more multi dimensional and entitled to more complex portrayals of our lives through art and entertainment mediums? After watching I'm Not There it will be difficult for me to ever look at a biopic in the same way, let alone film. I cannot forget to comment on the great job the actors, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Ben Whishaw, and Cate Blanchett did on their portrayals of Dylan's famed personas. Bale and Blanchett are especially good at recreating his mannerisms, but Blanchett especially steals the show. She captures the very essence of Dylan, as I was completely taken in by her performance.; neither gender nor her star persona became a distraction. She should be a lock for the Oscar.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Away From Her (Sarah Polley, 2006)
This pseudo pretentious bore-fest uses overly sentimental music and superficial dialogue to convey a man's suffering as he deals with the institutionalization of his wife due to Alzheimer's. An interesting subject, but in my opinion too stale and stagey.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Nostalgia (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1983)
A very challenging, yet gorgeous film. The cinematography and landscapes are incredible. Tarkovsky's water, faith, and stray dogs motifs are present, but this film was a bit more convoluted than his other films for me personally and probably warrants another viewing, so I don't have much to say. Dialogue between the main characters asked "what is faith?" and "what is madness?" I found the juxtaposition of these ideas and comparisons blurring the distinctions between them to be fascinating, and it definitely seems to be one of the major points of the film. I also enjoyed the desaturated film stock used to convey triggered Andrei's moments of nostalgic flashbacks.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (Sergei Parajanov, 1964)
Parajanov's jawdroppingly gorgeous Russian period drama puts Doctor Zhivago to shame Rich in style and culture, the story almost becomes secondary, although still very touching as we follow Ivan through his life as he is haunted by the death of his loved ones. Parajanov's compositions are exquisite, ranging from flames or flowers in the foreground, POV shots peaking through cracks, sunlight radiating through the treetops, and even angular framings conjuring the montage directors stylistics. The film also employs new wave influenced editing techniques at times. The colors are vibrant in the lush and beautiful woodland setting during winter and spring. Most significant is the incredibly kinetic floating camera movements, in the same vein as Mikhail Kalatozov's films. Parajanov gives us mesmerizing 360 degree movements, free flowing dolly and crane shots at varying speeds, and much more. This film is a truly magical cinematic experience.
I Don't Want To Sleep Alone (Ming-liang Tsai, 2006)
Kang-sheng Lee makes his eighth appearance as the focal character in a Ming-liang Tsai film (Rebels of the Neon God, Vive L'Amour, The River, What Time Is It There?, Hole, The Skywalk is Gone, and The Wayward Cloud), more impoverished and ailing than ever. The film is set in the director's native city Kuala Lumpur, depicted as filthy and run-down. Homeless and sickly Lee is taken in and nourished back to health by Rawang as they share a flea ridden mattress along with sexual tension. Lee also plays an entirely separate paralyzed character who is cared for by a coffee shop waitress (Shiang-chyi Chen). After forest fires cause a haze to cover the city, resulting in citizens having to wear gas masks or handkerchiefs to prevent inhaling the fog, Chyi and Lee struggle to make love, coughing and wheezing at each other, as it breathing becomes more and more strenuous.
"An act of kindness amidst a thousand sorrows."
Le Ballon rouge (Albert Lamorisse, 1956)
A poetic and playful game of cat and mouse, the red balloon develops a life of it's own taking the shape of a character. Blocked and framed to perfection. The Red Balloon is a work of art that could only be created through the magic of filmmaking.
The Skywalk is Gone (Ming-liang Tsai, 2002)
A short film bridging the gap between What Time Is It There? and The Wayward Cloud follows Chyi (Shiang-chyi Chen) upon her return to Taipai as she searches for the watch salesman, Hsaio-kang (Kang-sheng Lee). Due to the destruction of the overpass she is unable to find him, and he is auditioning for pornographic films. Tsai explores the city streets, filled with people under umbrellas to escape the heat that has left the river dry resulting in water rationing. Tsai's familiar stylistic traits and themes of alienation return as characters converse with each other through barriers. (Chyi talking to the traffic cop as he only half listens to her through a median is filmed through the window of a building. During Lee's audition, the man sits outdoors and gives orders from off screen, while Lee undresses inside.)
Monday, November 12, 2007
The Savages (Tamara Jenkins, 2007)
The production design is even more depressing than the narrative that covers midlife crisis, anxiety, aging, and death, but incredible performances from Philip Bosco, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Laura Linney overshadow this. I haven't had the pleasure of seeing Hoffman in a film since the abysmal MI3 and before that Capote, so it was quite refreshing to be reminded of the magnificence he brings to the table. John Savage (Hoffman) and his younger sister, Wendy Savage (Linney) are suddenly forced to care for their ailing father (Bosco), and rekindle their relationship with him, while they battle their own private problems as well. The film has several genuinely funny, and even more sad scenes, but unfortunately suffers from being too self-aware and too quick to overtly point out it's own subtleties, and subtextual meanings. After hitting on some great points about the apathetic mourning rituals of humanity and the retirement homes feed upon the guilt of loved ones and target this weakness as a selling point after Wendy becomes fixated on upgrading her father's nursing home, Hoffman goes into a monologue about just that, reiterating what has already been suggested. The same sort of thing happens again later after we are beaten over the head with Wendy's pathetic and clearly underachieving love life as she dates an older, married man with very little hair and even less real feeling other than lust towards her. In an argument between the two of them, Wendy points all of this out and even goes as far as revealing the symbolism of her withering ficus tree that Larry forgot to take care of while she was away. The film is however not without a few great scenes. After a doctor recommends their father watch old films to trigger memories, Hoffman shows The Jazz Singer to an audience at the nursing home, only to be met with scowls from the African Americans in attendance. My favorite scene in the film is a heated argument between the two siblings as the father sits in the car and listens to them talk about him as if he doesn't even exist. The look on his face says so much with so little, and then in a moment of shear brilliance he turns off his hearing aid. With the omission of the scenes I've mentioned, The Savages would have had the potential to be a pretty good film, but instead it is just another decent, yet ultimately forgettable indie dramedy.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Chacun son cinéma ou Ce petit coup au coeur quand la lumière s'éteint et que le film commence (2007)
To Each His Cinema (2007)
Open-air Cinema (Raymond Depardon)
One Fine Day (Takeshi Kitano)*
Three Minutes (Theo Angelopoulos)
In the Dark (Andrei Konchalovsky)
Diary of a Moviegoer (Nanni Moretti)
The Electric Princess House (Hsiao-hsien Hou)*
Darkness (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
Anna (Alejandro González Iñárritu)**
Movie Night (Yimou Zhang)*
Le Dibbouk de Haifa (Amos Gitai)
The Lady Bug (Jane Campion)
Artaud Double Bill (Atom Egoyan)*
The Foundary (Aki Kaurismäki)
Upsurge (Olivier Assayas)*
47 Years Later (Youssef Chahine)
It's A Dream (Ming-liang Tsai)*
Occupations (Lars von Trier)*
The Gift (Raoul Ruiz)
Cinéma de Boulevard (Claude Lelouch)*
First Kiss (Gus Van Sant)
Cinéma Erotique (Roman Polanski)
No Translation Needed (Michael Cimino)
At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World (David Cronenberg)
I Travelled 9000 km To Give It To You (Kar Wai Wong)*
Where Is My Romeo (Abbas Kiarostami)*
The Last Dating Show (Bille August)
Awkward (Elia Suleiman)
Sole Meeting (Manoel de Oliveira)
A 8 944 km de Cannes (Walter Salles)
War In Peace (Wim Wenders)*
Zhanxiou Village (Kaige Chen)*
Happy Ending (Ken Loach)
Absurda (David Lynch)
World Cinema (Joel and Ethan Coen)
No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
Rebounding from a couple of less than stellar efforts, Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, which I myself have no interest in watching, the Coen brothers deliver a film that cojures up the best elements of Blood Simple and Fargo, while managing to create a completely nihilistic and original film experience in the process. As Scott Foundas of the Village Voice states "in terms of filmmaking and storytelling craft, it is a work destined to be studied in film schools for generations to come." The Coen's once again assert themselves as not only the most capable contemporary American directors working today, but among the best in the world and in the history of cinema. No Country For Old Men, wears the veil of the western, the noir, and modern crime drama, yet reconstructs each genre to become it's own unique monster. The Coen's knack for writing dialogue specific to a distinct time and place is once again evident here. Defying all convention, the Coens timelapse past significant action sequences involving the main characters. However the film is not without suspense, in fact far from it. Not concerned with morality, principles, karma, etc., the film lingers on the madness of the world; the horrible and unexplainable things that happen, like murdering a man with a pressurized cattle gun. Out-of-work Vietnam vet Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) discovers a bag containing $2 million dollars while hunting antelope. Javier Bardem plays homicidal psychopath Anton Chigurh, who is perhaps the most fascinating on-screen character since Bill the Butcher and hunts Moss. Tommy Lee Jones plays sheriff, Ed Bell, who yearns for the days of the old west where good and evil was more black and white and less irrational. "In the end, everyone in No Country for Old Men is both hunter and hunted, members of some endangered species trying to forestall their extinction."
Friday, November 09, 2007
The Flight of the Red Balloon (Hsiao-hsien Hou, 2007)
Hou homages Albert Lamorisse's short film The Red Balloon while simultaneously exploring Paris, and adapting Félix Vallotton's painting Le ballon ou coin de parc avec enfant jouant au ballon (1899) to celluloid in this meditative glance at a broken home. As Suzanne's (Juliette Binoche) life becomes more chaotic, (characterized by her messy home) while balancing her divorce with her husband, problems with tenants, her job (narrating puppet shows), and spending time with her son Simon as well as her daughter living in Brussels, she hires a Nanny, named Song, a student of cinema from Beijing, to look after Simon, who is enchanted by a red balloon that haunts his imagination.
"Suzanne’s puppetry can be seen as linked to the puppetry of the red balloon (which, like the camera, moves as often gracefully as it does unnaturally) and Song’s explanation that, at least in her short film, a man who will be digitally erased later controls the movement of the balloon. These forms of control (Simon too seeks control, playing videogames, using Song’s camera, and is a pinball junkie) contrasts with Hou’s loose and easy style, as well as a narrative structure that, feels built out of a much larger filmed story that has been purposefully whittled down and elided to result in, for Pialat, long snatches of intensity, and in Hou’s case mostly the languorous moments between intensity, the everyday moments."
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (Takashi Miike, 2006)
Miike's unpredictability continues in this meditative, homoerotic, Brechtian prison mystery. The allegoric symbols of the pyramid, representing to path to heaven and Ariyoshi's faith in an afterlife, the rocket, which represents Kazuki's faith in science and the path to space rather than heaven, and the butterfly, symbolizing metamorphosis. The choice between heaven and space is interesting because it results in hell to be life on Earth.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
The Wayward Cloud (Ming-liang Tsai, 2005)
Tsai utilizes and expands upon all of the profoundly unique aspects of the sequel What Time Is It There, as well as the rest of his oeuvre. The cinematography is the finest I've seen in a Ming-liang Tsai film. The water motif returns, along with musical numbers, comedy, alienation, while the innocence has been exchanged for pornographic sequences, as former street vendor, Kang-sheng Lee, now stars in adult films and is reunites with Shiang-chyi Chen.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Strange Circus (Sion Sono, 2005)
Beautiful production design and cinematography. The first 30 minutes are gripping, but loses momentum in the second act, and takes a turn I wasn't particularly pleased with. Nonetheless a pretty sick and twisted, yet interesting story.
Monday, November 05, 2007
La Cravate (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1957)
This mime adaptation of a Thomas Mann story about a man who falls in love with a woman who makes her living selling severed heads was far too expressionistic and intentionally artificial for me to truly enjoy.
Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl (Katsuhito
The films of Japanese director, Katsuhito Ishii are never short on originality and peculiarities. Although, the premise of Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl seems like a fairly straight forward action thriller on the surface, Ishii transforms it in to a fun, quirky, oddly paced, and unpredictably cut adventure that no other director would have conceived the same way.
Usmiech zebiczny (1957) aka Toothful Smile
Morderstwo (1957) aka A Murderer
Rozbijemy zabawe... (1957) aka Break Up the Dance
"According to Roman Polanski's autobiography, the film was a stunt which nearly got him thrown out of Lodz film school; Polanski had organized a group of real thugs to break up the school dance and as a result some students were actually beaten up." It all seems staged to me though.
Lampa (1959) aka The Lamp
Morderstwo (1957) aka A Murderer
Rozbijemy zabawe... (1957) aka Break Up the Dance
"According to Roman Polanski's autobiography, the film was a stunt which nearly got him thrown out of Lodz film school; Polanski had organized a group of real thugs to break up the school dance and as a result some students were actually beaten up." It all seems staged to me though.
Lampa (1959) aka The Lamp
See the Sea (François Ozon, 1997)
With a runtime of only 52 minutes, Ozon tells a poetic yet unsettling story that leaves you wanting more.
Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)
An incredibly written and directed horror masterpiece. The cast is fantastic and includes Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, and Ruth Gordon who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress. The film is just as psychologically chilling as Repulsion and I love Polanski's shot choice and lens selections as well as the ambiguity of the story.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Secret Sunshine(Chang-dong Lee, 2007)
Writer/director Chang-dong Lee's Secret Sunshine is an emotionally wrecking and complex character study about a woman who moves to her late husband's hometown with her son to begin a new life, only to find more tragedy. The first quarter of the film introduces us to the characters through exposition and captures our hearts with comic relief provided by Jong Chan (Kang-ho Song: The Host, Memories of Murder, JSA, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and Lady Vengeance) as well as the adorable interplay between mother and son. Unexpectedly the film takes a sharp turn in a different direction after Sin-ae's (Do-yeon Jeon) son Jun is kidnapped and murdered by his teacher. As her family ridicules her claiming "death follows her" and neighbors try to console her, Sin-ae turns to religion for remedy at the suggestion of the local pharmacist. The second half of the film focuses on her post traumatic recovery, as she convinces herself that religion has cured her pain. Interestingly enough the film begins to play out like a evangelical Christian propaganda piece, although we soon find that it's more of a critical indictment as the religious followers are exposed as elitist hypocrites who explain away life's horrors with "the word of God." Different characters use religion as a crutch for different purposes. Sin-ae turns to religion to repress her pain, Jong Chan sees this as an opportunity to impress her and begins attending church, while the murderer seeks God for forgiveness for his sins. Do-yeon Jeon's performance is brilliant throughout as she portrays a woman experiencing intense post traumatic turmoil. She was well deserving of the Best Actress Award she received at Cannes.
Southland Tales (Richard Kelly, 2007)
After hearing this film was the the most poorly recieved screening at Cannes in the history of the festival, I knew I had to see it. I saw Southland Tales at the AFI film festival. The experience itself was much better than the film as the director along with members of the cast were in attendance and it was my first real experience with big name stars since I've moved to Hollywood. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Sean William Scott were all sitting in the row directly behind me. Also in attendance were Bai Ling, Will Sasso, and Kevin Smith who I took a photo of with my friend Mike. The film itself is an ambitious attempt at creating a political sci-fi apocalyptic satirical comedy with a cast boasting of the aforementioned celebrities above along with Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake, Cheri Oteri, Jon Lovitz, John Larroquette, Amy Poehler, Janeane Garofalo, Wallace Shawn, Wood Harris, Eli Roth, and several other familiar faces. Despite the overwhelming cast, the film fails in many regards. The budget obviously wasn't substantial enough to support all of the things Kelly had in mind, as most of the special FX seem poorly conceived. The story is so ridiculous and performed in an over the top manner that it can't be taken seriously, yet the comedy isn't original nor funny enough to succeed. Like Donnie Darko before it, Southland Tales tries to convey itself as more important and thought provoking than it actually is, but to the film's credit it at least attempted to do something unique, the music of Moby, and some other song selections were enjoyable, and there was a fantastic little music video within the movie where Justin Timberlake lip synchs to "All the Things That I Have Done" by The Killers. The film is strange, but I felt it was just poorly written and lacked focused more than it was confusing. I wasn't thrilled with the cinematography either.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Mad Love (Karl Freund, 1935)
A pretty interesting, however farfetched tale starring one of my favorite and one of the more fascinating actors, Peter Lorre in his American film debut. Directed by Karl Freund, the renowned cinematographer known for his work on Metropolis, M, and many more, creates a chilling expressionistic atmosphere. The mise en scene, cinematography, and camera work is sensational. Only drawbacks are the subpar supporting acting and bits of slapstick comedy that don't seem to fit the mood.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (Jonathan Liebesman, 2006)
A very lazily written hodgepodge of the original and the remake. It comes as no surprise that Michael Bay produced this piece of shit. The whole premise of being a prequel is basically canceled out after the first 20 minutes of the film as we are given the entire exposition and halfassed back story of leather face and his family mostly through montage. The whole marketing for the concept is to show and and why the killing spree began to in the first place, but really there is no motivation for the madness, which was ultimately the biggest disappointment for me. Despite having a unique opportunity to explore the characters motivations, emotions, personalities, etc. and make them fascinating and complex, the filmmakers settle for run-of-the mill one dimensional drivel. It's embarrassing how predictable the film is. Even the bad remake at least made Leatherface multi dimensional. Since the film elected focus purely on the horrific violence and suspense rather than the characters, I expected some intense and gruesome scenes, but in fact there was really only a moment of two that delivered the goods for me. Perhaps this is due to an increased desensitization after watching the Saw movies, but I suppose that's also a testament to Saw's superiority.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Private Fears in Public Places (Alain Resnais, 2006)
Based on Alan Ayckbourn's stage play Private Fears in Public Places is an uninteresting character study that offers nothing new as it's basically just another ensemble piece that loosely connects a group of people through hard to swallow coincidence. Even worse, the film is excessively talky, and I found the sets and lighting, as well as the acting to be overly stagey and artificial. The use of the falling snow as a transition between scenes is also rather phony and becomes redundant. The film is all too melodramatic and not so subtle, commenting on solitude, alienation, relationships, the guise of religion, etc. At times it felt like I was watching a television movie you'd see on the Lifetime channel, which is why I'm usually not fond of stage plays converted to film.
Saw IV (Darren Lynn Bousman, 2007)
Bad acting, and even worse dialogue aside, Saw IV delivers in terms of box office reception as well as entertainment satisfaction. I've never valued the series as a great achievement in cinema, but like I've said before I can't stop watching it. Saw IV is by far the best film in the series since the original. The twists are actually pretty brilliant as are the traps as always. The flashbacks became a bit tiresome, but it was nice to learn more about Jigsaw's character. I suppose my biggest complaint would have to be the improbability of all of the film's events taking place within a 90 minute time period. The visual effects are pretty incredible, but the sound design is what really sells the cringe worthy gore in all of the films for me. I was also pretty impressed with an editing technique used throughout the film, that I really can't recall seeing before where different scenes in separate locations sort of overlap each other seamlessly through transition. It's difficult to explain, but for instance there is a scene in which Jigsaw turns around and is staring in the direction of his ex girlfriend, however it appears as if he has somehow teleported to the scene in which the detective is interrogating her, and then he slowly fades away.