Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952) aka To Live

Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952)
Rating: 10

"I can't afford to hate people. I don't have that kind of time."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Vital (Shinya Tsukamoto, 2004)

Vital (Shinya Tsukamoto, 2004)
Rating: 9.2

Tsukamoto’s film Vital could almost be interpreted as a Freudian exploration of the unconscious and conscious self that unfolds through the life of the protagonist. After getting into a car accident and suffering amnesia, Hiroshi Takagi attempts to reclaim an identity and find his “real self”, as he refers to it. Before the accident Hiroshi rebelled against his parent’s pressuring him to become a doctor, but following the accident he decides to study medicine of his own accord and goes on to excel, and even finish at the top of his class. This conflict brings into question how surroundings and social conditions influence human choices as opposed to choices made free from outside interference or apprehensions almost transcendentally or naturally. I emphasize Freudian unconscious thought because of the short scene that was within a sequence of scenes showing Hiroshi’s ascent through medical school. In the scene A professor is lecturing about the unconscious in front of a blackboard with “Freud” written on it. We next cut to Hiroshi sitting at his desk, intently listening, as the camera slowly zooms in on him conveying his interest in the subject.
In relation to unconscious thought, Hiroshi begins having fantasies about his girlfriend Ryôko, who died in the car accident, which he describes as being more than just dreams or memories. As his memory returns gradually, he realizes he is dissecting the cadaver of Ryôko in his lab. Hiroshi becomes more conflicted between the reality of confronting his dead girlfriend on a daily basis on the dissection table and meeting with her in his unconscious thoughts. On one hand his lab instructor is telling him to “trust his eyes, the truth is there to see”, while on the other he asks himself “what is my consciousness?” In one of his fantasies he tells Ryôko,“This is the real me, I’m going to stay here.” Tsukamoto helps us distinguish events from the present and this fantasy world through mis en scéne. The fantasy sequences are usually brightly lit exterior daytime locations such as the beach or jungle. Conversely, the scenes taking place during present time mostly consist of blue tinted lighting filters as well as constant rainfall, low-key lighting, and are for the most part interior night shots, until the end. After the burial of Ryôko, we see Hiroshi standing outside in what appears to be Spring weather. Birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and we see lush greenery. Next the scene cuts to Hiroshi’s point of view and the camera tilts up until we see trees against the blue skyline. Perhaps this scene represents the end of Hiroshi’s internal conflict with the rainy season over as well as medical school, and Ryôko now buried. Perhaps the setting leaves an ambiguity to his decision to move on with “reality” or seek refuge in his unconscious world.
Tsukamoto’s usually deals with invasions of the body and especially the idea that destruction breeds rebirth and Vital is no exception. Hiroshi almost becomes a new person after the fatal accident and Ryôko becomes reborn in his mind as well. He literally invades his girlfriend’s body through dissection in order to reclaim his past while also forging a new identity. However, the director chooses to show us Hiroshi’s artistic renderings of Ryôko’s organs more rather than exposing her insides which is another way he separates “reality” and the perception of reality. More importantly, I think Tsukamoto is addressing the infringement of society into our individual choices. People are deprived of complete clarity and freedom from outside pressures and Tsukamoto perhaps is saying that we each have “real self” and natural fate that is redirected and/or never fulfilled.

Manderlay (Lars von Trier, 2005)

Manderlay (Lars von Trier, 2005)
Rating: 7.1

Belle et la bête, La (Jean Cocteau, 1946)

Belle et la bête, La (Jean Cocteau, 1946)
Rating: 9.8

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992)

Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992)
Rating: 9.4

"That's right. I've killed women and children. I've killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I'm here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did to Ned. "

"All right, I'm coming out. Any man I see out there, I'm gonna shoot him. Any sumbitch takes a shot at me, I'm not only gonna kill him, but I'm gonna kill his wife, all his friends, and burn his damn house down. "

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Animal Crackers (Victor Heerman, 1930)

Animal Crackers (Victor Heerman, 1930)
Rating: 9.6
Capt. Spaulding: [to Mrs. Rittenhouse and Mrs. Whitehead] Let's get married.
Mrs. Whitehead: All of us?
Capt. Spaulding: All of us.
Mrs. Whitehead: Why, that's bigamy.
Capt. Spaulding: Yes, and it's big of me too.
I'm sick of these conventional marriages. One woman and one man was good enough for your grandmother, but who wants to marry your grandmother? Nobody, not even your grandfather.

Friday, February 16, 2007

George Washington (David Gordon Green, 2000)

George Washington (David Gordon Green, 2000)
Rating: 9.5

"I just wish I had my own tropical island, I wish...I wish I was... I could go to China, I wish I could go out of The States...I wish I had my own planet, I wish I...I wish there were 200 of me, man...I wish I could just sit around with computers and just brainstorm all day man. I wish I was born again...I wish I could get saved and get my life through Christ...then maybe he can forgive me for what I did...Man, I just wish there was just one belief."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hana and Alice (Shunji Iwai, 2004)

Hana and Alice (Shunji Iwai, 2004)
Rating: 6.9

Referential Meaning:
Best friends, Hana and Alice, enter high school and develop a crush on a boy named Miyamoto. After the boy is knocked unconscious from walking into a wall, Hana manages to convince him that he has amnesia and she is in fact his girlfriend. The farce continues as Hana’s lies become more complex. She convinces Alice to act as Miyamoto’s ex-girlfriend in order to keep up her charade. Things are complicated even more when Miyamoto and Alice begin to have feelings for each other which jeopardizes the girl’s friendship. Realizing the importance of their friendship, the two girls set aside their differences; Miyamoto comes to this conclusion as well and stays with Hana.

Explicit Meaning:
Two Best Friends, cope with adolescence, high school, hormones, becoming more independent, and developing their own distinct personalities. At the beginning of the film, Hana and Alice are almost inseparable, but once they start high school, they begin to grow apart. Hana begins spending her Miyamoto and the story club, while Alice has sitar classes and modeling auditions on her mind. During a scene when Alice calls Hana to come to an audition with her, Hana responds by telling her that “she can’t...We are grown up...not, not glued together, but still friends.” Alice faces the adult world not only in terms of pursuing a modeling career, but also in that she is neglected by her single mother and rarely sees her father. Her home is covered in filth, her mother is constantly seeing men, and Alice does the cooking it seems. In one scene her mother even explains to her “date” that Alice is the neighbor girl rather than admitting that she is her daughter.

Implicit Meaning:
Memory is subjective. Miyamoto’s relationships with Hana and Alice almost rely entirely upon the lies Hana convinces him to believe. In actuality, Miyamoto didn’t even remember Hana’s name even though he met her in the story club earlier. Alice and her father shared a similar experience. Alice vividly remembers the day at the beach when they played cards and the wind blew them away, while her father has absolutely no recollection of this cherished memory of hers. Towards the end of the film, Hana is reminded of a time in her past when she was a recluse, until she began ballet with Alice. The photographs of the ballet girls trigger the fond memories of her friendship with Alice.

Symptomatic Meaning:
There is no such thing as perfection. Although Hana and Alice appear normal, things are revealed about them throughout showing otherwise. Alice’s family life is in shambles, while Hana weaves a web of lies to get her way. Despite all of the lies and deception, Hana and Miyamoto end up staying together, and Hana and Alice it seems will remain best friends. During the final sequence Alice performs a beautiful ballet dance and makes the cover of a magazine. The film ends with the two girls laughing as they discover Alice has a noticeably large pimple on her nose in the photo.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Flags of Our Fathers (Clint Eastwood, 2006)

Flags of Our Fathers (Clint Eastwood, 2006)
Rating: 6.1

The film could have been so much better...the overall concept was decent and Eastwood's directing wasn't a problem, but the screen play was pretty dumbed down, especially the last 30 minutes or so when they tacked on some piece of shit tidy voice over narrated melodramatic ending.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Stroszek (Werner Herzog, 1977)

Stroszek (Werner Herzog, 1977)
Rating: 10

"We have a 10-80 out here, a truck on fire, we have a man on the lift. We are unable to find the switch to turn the lift off, can't stop the dancing chickens. "

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A (Tatsuya Mori, 1998)

A (Tatsuya Mori, 1998)
Rating: 8.1

Mori Tatsuya’s documentary film A (1999) attempts to convey a fairly objective portrayal of a handful of members belonging to the Aum Shinrikyo sect. Most of the focus is directed on the Public Relations Department Chief, Mr. Araki. The religion itself is really more of a secondary issue in the film, whereas the filmmaker’s real intentions are to illustrate how these members are sincere human beings. The technical style develops this personal connection with Mr. Araki and the others from the start by using mostly handheld tight closeup shots and at times we even feel like voyeurs violating their privacy. In one scene in particular Tatsuya follows Araki into a room where he is praying and obviously emotional distraught. There are also a lot of moments when the filmmaker keeps the camera focused on the group member’s faces for longer than extended durations allowing their facial expressions to reveal emotional reactions to questions.
Montages of their living spaces are shown throughout. During these montages we see the filthy conditions in which they were living in as well the Aum propaganda. These montages included a lot of skewed and canted angled shots that seemed to coincide with the disorganization of the group itself during these troubled times as well as their messy housing. The propaganda and posters of Asahara loom in the backgrounds of shots throughout the film as well perhaps insinuating that these members of Aum are victims of control by fear and manipulation.
The Japanese society demonizes the group members and the media antagonizes them. Several scenes show the media’s deceptive attempts at getting footage of the group. I can recall numerous shots of crowds of cameras and reporters waiting outside the groups quarters. The media is usually shown to us from a distance. In one instance the camera films them from an upstairs window of the Aum facilities, and in another we see a powerful diagnol shot reminiscent of Eisenstein, in which a mass of cameras are pointed like guns and fill much of the composition of the frame. In another voyeuristic scene we witness police badgering the Aum members which eventually escalates into an arrest. The camera is right in the middle of this incident and implies how unjustly Aum is being treated for their leaders misdeeds. Also during this scene, we hear nondiegetic music for the first time in the film
By showing the media as conniving vultures looking to exploit the Aum members and make them look foolish, the filmmaker in turn portrays himself as more of a trustworthy philanthropist. He includes a series of scenes where we learn he shares the video of the police confrontation with the court in order to preserve the human rights of the arrested member. Mori Tatsuya gives the Aum members a forum in which they can express their feelings and have a chance to be understood without having their words misconstrued by a bias media. His intent however is not to glorify or even support the religion. Instead he tries to show us the naive, confused, and perhaps misguided members trying to live an honest life while dealing with the scrutiny of a conformist society that is unaccepting of their differences

Horse Feathers (Norman Z. McLeod, 1932)

Horse Feathers (Norman Z. McLeod, 1932)
Rating: 9.7

Baravelli: [through speakeasy's door] Who are you?
Professor Wagstaff: I'm fine, thanks, who are you?
Baravelli: I'm fine too, but you can't come in unless you give the password.
Professor Wagstaff: Well, what is the password?
Baravelli: Aw, no. You gotta tell me. Hey, I tell what I do. I give you three guesses. It's the name of a fish.
Professor Wagstaff: Is it Mary?
Baravelli: Ha-ha. That's-a no fish.
Professor Wagstaff: She isn't? Well, she drinks like one. Let me see: Is it sturgeon?
Baravelli: Hey, you crazy. Sturgeon, he's a doctor cuts you open when-a you sick. Now I give you one more chance.
Professor Wagstaff: I got it. Haddock.
Baravelli: That's-a funny. I gotta haddock, too.
Professor Wagstaff: What do you take for a haddock?
Baravelli: Well-a, sometimes I take-a aspirin, sometimes I take-a Calamel.
Professor Wagstaff: Say, I'd walk a mile for a Calamel.
Baravelli: You mean chocolate calamel. I like that too, but you no guess it. Hey, what's-a matter, you no understand English? You can't come in here unless you say, "Swordfish." Now I'll give you one more guess.
Professor Wagstaff: ...swordfish, swordfish... I think I got it. Is it "swordfish"?
Baravelli: Hah. That's-a it. You guess it.
Professor Wagstaff: Pretty good, eh?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Monkey Business (Norman Z. McLeod, 1931)

Monkey Business (Norman Z. McLeod, 1931)

Rating: 8.3
"Afraid? Me? A man who's licked his weight in wild caterpillars? AFRAID? You bet I'm afraid! "

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Friday, February 02, 2007

Chinjeolhan geumjassi (Chan-wook Park, 2005) aka Lady Vengeneance

Lady Vengeneance (Chan-wook Park, 2005)
Rating: 7.7

Kûchû teien (Toshiaki Toyoda, 2005) aka Hanging Garden

Hanging Garden (Toshiaki Toyoda, 2005)
Rating: 8.9

Toshiaki Toyoda’s film Hanging Garden (2005) revolves around the Kyobashi family and their acquaintances. The Kyobashi family lives in an apartment within the Grand Maison housing project in a suburb of Tokyo, Japan. I would like to focus my examination of setting on the family dining area, and more specifically the dinner table. The opening shot of the film introduces us to the family home while also alluding to a false utopia by showing a slowly revolving lampshade above the dinner table with painted imagery of The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Babylon often implies a city or place of great luxury, sensuality, and often vice and corruption. The Kyobashi wears the veil of a familial paradise by enforcing a rule where everyone must tell the truth about everything, but of course each family member has their moments of corruption and secrecy.
Throughout the film the dinner table functions as a town meeting hall of sorts. This is really the only setting in which all of the family members meet together in one place. In the opening scene of the film Mana, the daugher, asks her parents how she was conceived and receives an immediate and honest response which established an expected precedent for the family to follow. However, it is soon revealed that Takashi, the father has neither been faithful, nor honest with his wife, Eriko. The second dinner table scene involves one of Takashi’s lovers who coincidentally is son, Ko’s new tutor. Unlike the opening sequence, this scene is all about lies and deceit as Mina and Takashi pretend to be meeting for the first time. The rest of the family puts on the facade of being happy, as well despite their personal troubles. The scene almost resembles a luxurious feast as Eriko, on the brink of a nervous breakdown, happily refills her husbands beer.
The revelry continues during the third and final scene at the dinner table when the family celebrates the birthdays of Mina and Eriko’s mother Sacchin. The camera slowly pans around the table like the lampshade above them and like the hanging plants in Eriko’s own garden. Eventually the false sense of reality begins to crumble and the secrets are all revealed. Mina accuses the family of putting on a “school play,” by ignoring the ugly truth and pretending to be a happy family. After this incident Takashi’s stash of magazine are found, and a picture of Mana is identified. Sacchin recognizes the Wild Monkey, which leads to her revealing Ko and Mana have both been there as well. Eriko admits to knowing about her husbands unfaithfulness here as well, but perhaps the most important revelation during this scene is Eriko’s reclusive past and awkward relationship with her mother. The mother/daughter confrontation is juxtaposed with the bright burning candles on the birthday cake and concludes with Sacchin slowly blowing out her candles while repeating “Start over, do it over.” In the beginning the setting acts as a paradise for Eriko, a sanctuary from truth and reality. By the end of the film, their “Babylon” is in ruins, but not without hope. Together as a unit after 17 years the family is still strong and has love for one another despite their faults.