Sunday, May 27, 2007
Never On Sunday (Jules Dassin, 1960)
American intellectual tries to refine a whore, arrogantly proclaiming his way of life and understanding of the world to be superior to Illia's carefree happiness. Not a particularly original story, the onslaught of song and dance numbers gets old, and Dassin's character and his acting are both incredibly obnoxious. Melina Mercouri as Illia however is charming and deservingly won best the actress award at Cannes and was nominated for an Oscar as well.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Memories of Matsuko (Tetsuya Nakashima, 2006)
Memories of Matsuko is a colorful and vibrant musical tragicomedy that tells the story of a women who is taunted by a cruel life. After losing her job for taking the blame for a crime she didn't commit, Matsuko loses her job becomes an outcast from her family. Tragically she has to resort to a life of prostitution, a series of abusive relationships which lead her to murder and eventually prison. Her death comes as somewhat of a blessing as she is reunited with her lost loved ones whom she had severed ties with her long ago and leaves the world that was once so brutal towards her. The ending includes a Magnoliaesque singing sequence where we see the individual shots of the different characters Matsuko touched throughout her life singing a song together. The film is not in the least bit subtle, and the score is overly sentimental for my taste, but it is still unique in many regards. It is enmeshed with several music video-type sequences as well as Disney-like animation and worth a watch.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Tom Tykwer, 2006)
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is a whimsical, yet surrealistic and dark fairytale with narration provided by John Hurt who might be remembered for his expert narration abilities from Lars von Trier's Dogville and Manderlay. Director Tom Tykwer reminds us that he is one of the finest visual auteurs working in cinema today as he provides provacative eye candy and an excitingly kinetic style. The story is imaginative and was adapted from the best-selling novel by Patrick Süskind as it follows the life of a young man with superhuman olfactory senses who become obsessed with capturing the world's most beautiful scents. I remained somewhat enthralled with the narrative until the ending which was truly one of the most absurd and downright incoherent things I've ever witnessed. However it is unforgettable and technically impressive, as I'd venture to guess we see the largest mass orgy ever recorded to celluloid which prompted me to recall the great crane shot from Gone With the Wind with the mass of wounded soldiers scattered across the ground. The other thing that bothered me in this film was Dustin Hoffman's pathetic Italian accent. I'm a Hoffman fan, and he was a good addition to the cast, simply to provide a name for box office draw if nothing else, but for future reference I hope he avoids period pieces and foreign roles. Being a fan of Tykwer, I don't want to place the blame on him for my complaints with the films conclusion as he stays loyal the novel and it really seems like a minor quibble as I think the technical and artistic merits of the film outweigh the cons. It's just too bad I couldn't have viewed this with Smell-O-Vision.
Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, 2006)
I watched this for the second time tonight, and it seemed to resonate with me even more on the second go round. Gosling's much talked about performance is fantastic as is the soundtrack (much of which is performed by Broken Social Scene). I was impressed the most with Shareeka Epps performance the first time I saw this film in theaters, and after a second screening I find it absolutely disgraceful that she didn't receive an Oscar nomination, especially over Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine. In all honesty I found her performance to be just as convincing if not more so than Goslings. I wasn't a huge fan of all the handheld camerawork being used, but it remained consistent and worked well enough. Fleck also does an excellent job of delivering his message without overstating anything and coming across as pretentious as there is a real naturalness and realism to the situations and characters spliced with a few touching bittersweet scenes and subtle moments of humor. I'm kind of ashamed to admit that it took me a second viewing to jump start an interest in raving about a film that has been getting positive feedback for almost a year no. Not that I didn't appreciate it before, however it's just all the more clear how great a film Half Nelson really is.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Apocalypto (Mel Gibson, 2006)
Despite being a unique visionary experience in that the film is in the Maya language and revolves entirely around the Mayan culture, Apocalypto is overwrought with clichés and is ultimately an action/adventure drama and is framed as such. The beginning consists of several lighthearted comic scenes that deconstruct the stoic Indian stereotypes, while the ending results in the birth of Jaguar Paw's son and a sort of an anti Deus ex machina, as the white man arrives complicating matters and marking the beginning of the end for the Mayans. The moment we are introduced to our protagonist's father, it becomes quite obvious that he will meet his demise at some point by the hands of an excessively villainous foe as the hero watches on in slow motion. In between Gibson provides us with thrilling chase scenes, gripping violence, and an arsenal of jungle creatures used as defense mechanisms (see Jaguar, snake, beehive, and poisonous frog for examples). The historical inaccuracies and implausibility of a lot of the scenarios are inexcusable in my opinion, especially when the filmmakers have gone to all the trouble of authenticating the intricacies of the culture. I thought the makeup, costuming, art direction, setting, cinematography and camerawork were all exceptional. There were a few scenes reminiscent of Herzog's Aguirre: the Wrath of God as the captives are marched to the slave auction, however these moments were too brief and few. The sacrifice scene along with the waterfall jumping scene were also pretty spectacular.As for what Gibson is trying to say, I'm not completely sure. The decadent sacrifice and slave auction scenes seemed to suggest that greed and selfishness were the causes of war and violence against humanity, but does he really expect us to see the Christians arriving in the end as saviors? The film really is visually stunning, even engrossing at times, and it still manages to provide some uniqueness in all it's mundanity.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Benny's Video (Michael Haneke, 1992)
Haneke's methodical directing style depicts a boy obsessed with watching videos and making his own videos. After witnessing all of the violence in the media and particularly after videotaping a farmer killing a pig, he is inspired to commit a heinous act of his own. His parents are torn over what to do to protect their son, as each of the characters agonize over their own guilt while attempting to continue living life normally. The story itself is hauntingly plausible and Haneke executes the crucial scenes so expertly as to arouse emotion using image (both presence and absence) as well as sound manipulation.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Little Children (Todd Field, 2006)
Great performances from Jackie Earle Haley and Kate Winslett who both received Oscar nominations for their roles, however the film itself is very mediocre. The script is engaging, but it gets a little heavy handed, (see Madame Bovary book club discussion scene) a bit clichéd, (see scene where Ronnie smashes clocks and figurines following his mothers death) and even cheesy at times (see football game as well as skateboarding scene) as the film progresses. The voice over narration throughout was the worst part of all though. It was like nails on a chalkboard each time I heard it. Despite the obvious flaws, it was moderately entertaining and worth watching for the performances. There was also some nice camerawork in several scenes. I especially enjoyed the town pool sequence which made use of seamless transitions and fluid camera movement. The allusions to the children being more adult than their parents are also worth noting no matter how overt they were.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen, 1986)
This film contains everything there is to love about a Woody Allen film: adultery, misanthropy, pessimism, neurosis, atheism, opera, classical music, jazz, poetry, pseudo intellectuals, Manhattan...etc. Allen also uses some inner monologue narration, which in my opinion is often detrimental to a film, but in this case I think it worked very well as it seemed both natural and realistic while also contributing to some of the comic execution. Oddly this film has perhaps one of Allen's most hopeful endings if not the most optimistic.
"You see the whole culture. Nazis, deodorant salesmen, wrestlers, beauty contests, a talk show. Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling? But the worst are the fundamentalist preachers. Third grade con men telling the poor suckers that watch them that they speak with Jesus, and to please send in money. Money, money, money! If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."
The Mystery of Picasso (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1956)
Despite being considered a documentary, this film plays out more like a hybrid of documentary and experimental film as director, Henri-Georges Clouzot and cinematographer, Claude Renoir capture the creative genius and art of Pablo Picasso on film using stop motion cameras as well as transparent paper canvases. Aside from some conversing between the filmmakers and Picasso as they show us the process by which this film was accomplished, it mostly consists of the progressions of the paintings accompanied by music. It is a dazzling experience to see the paintings unfolding, transforming, and sometimes even being destroyed before our eyes. This film also introduces a groundbreaking new way at looking at the artforms of film and painting and bringing them together.
You Can't Take It With You (Frank Capra, 1938)
Grandpa Martin Vanderhoff: Penny, why don't you write a play about Ism-Mania?
Penny Sycamore: Ism-Mania?
Grandpa Martin Vanderhoff: Yeah, sure, you know, Communism, Faschism, Voodoo-ism, everybody's got an -ism these days.
Penny Sycamore: Oh
Penny Sycamore: I thought it was some kind of itch or something.
Grandpa Martin Vanderhoff: Well, it's just as catching. When things go a little bad nowadays, you go out, get yourself an -ism and you're in business.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
The Cranes Are Flying (Mikheil Kalatozishvili, 1957)
The Cranes Are Flying is an absolute masterpiece. Sergei Urusevsky’s mobile camerawork and photography is mesmerizingly beautiful while the narrative is astonishingly heartwrenching. I found myself in tears within the first 20 minutes, and this wasn't the last time. It's really hard for to describe in words how emotionally moving this film truly was and some of the sequences are etched in my memory, especially the scene at the trainstation as families and lovers see off the young men going to war, which I will be posting below, and the scene where Veronica discovers her home in rubble following an air raid. There are countless other scenes just as masterfully executed. This is only the second film I've seen from director, Mikheil Kalatozishvili and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky. Soy Cuba is the other and I have regarded it as one of my favorites. After seeing this film, Kalatozishvili perhaps could be my favorite director. I will be attempting to see for of his work in the near future.
I found a review that shared almost the exact sentiments as I did, so I feel I should post it: http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/content.php?contentid=3585
"Ultimately, the first half is rather stronger than the second – most of the really memorable set-pieces (the air-raid rape, Boris’ death, Veronica’s mad dash through a burning building) happen well before the 40-minute mark, and Veronica’s pining for Boris is somewhat overstretched given that we know that he’s not coming back – there’s a somewhat heavy-handed scene in a military hospital where soldiers and surgeons alike (including Boris’ father) break into a chorus of condemnation of a woman who just happens to have committed the same “crimes” (in terms of neglecting her lover) as her, thus intensifying her sense of guilt.
But on this evidence director Mikhail Kalatozov is an unjustly neglected talent – at its best, this is a thrillingly vivid piece of cinema that can more than stand comparison with other outstanding war movies made on either side of the Iron Curtain."
Tiger Beat Crush of the Week: Tatyana Samojlova
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007)
The comedy here relies mostly on the editing which works very well, but eventually gets a little tiresome. The concept itself is comical as the residents of a quaint English town end up murdering dissidents threatening their way of life and end up in a hyperviolent shoot out against supercop Nicholas Angel. My favorite touch was the Tony Scott style flashy editing techniques as mugshots of underage drinkers are being being taken. Overall Hot Fuzz was enjoyable, just not outright hilarious and ultimately not very memorable. Honestly, watching the films they are mocking/homaging/satiring (whatever you want to call it) is a lot more hilarious to me than Hot Fuzz actually was.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)
There is so much to say about this art film disguised as a murder mystery as it follows a photographer in mod London who is basically a rock star. We get to see the exciting lifestyle of the main character unfold, as women throw themselves at him in order to achieve their own personal goals. Antonioni provides us with several incredibly arousing and erotic scenes without even introducing sex into the equation. The film also briefly touches on comparisons between modernity and tradition via the antique shop juxtaposed with the decadent swingers of contemporary England in the sixties. Antonioni also explores the moral sanctity of the public vs. private realms as the photographer takes photos of a couple in the park as well as homeless men in a shelter. I also found it fascinating how Thomas describes his photographs as violent, but intends to end his book with the "peaceful" photographs of the park" which he ends up finding violence in upon further inspection. The most interesting comparison brought to our attention however, is the blurred distinctions between fantasy perceptions and reality. The enlarged photographs are compared to the abstract paintings we are introduced to earlier in the film. Thomas sees a dead body and a gunman in the photos, but whether or not this is the reality of the situation is rather ambiguous. The bookended opening and final scenes with the mime troupe's performances insinuates that the murder was all in his imagination.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Paisà (Roberto Rossellini, 1946)
Although not technically stunning and despite a few subpar voice acting performances, (since all of the dialogue was dubbed in post production) this is an incredible neorealist epic. I can't fault the film for being a product of post war Italy, with little money available and Cinecittá studios in shambles. The incredible writing earned an Academy Award nomination and more than makes up for the lackluster performances of some of the nonprofessional actors. The film explores the language barriers between the allies and the locals and how they interact with one another, and form an understanding as human beings and share a common goal of freedom. In the first story an American soldier and Italian girl who can barely understand one another form a bond and hide from German soldiers. The next story follows a drunken African American military policeman who befriends a thieving young child. In another story we see Jewish and Protestant soldiers being sheltered by Franciscan monks and finding similarities in their religious views. Contributions to the script consisted of the trio who also wrote Rome, Open City: Fellini, Rossellini, and Amidei. German, Klaus Mann, and English writer, Alfred Hayes, and several others contributed as well. Six vignettes follow the Allied invasion of Italy as they progress further from Sicily into Northern Italy. Aesthetically this film, perhaps more than any other besides Rome, Open City, has a real documentary newsreel look to it as we the cities in Rubble and tanks roaming the streets.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Sunday, May 13, 2007
The Hustler (Robert Rossen, 1961)
"Sure you got drunk. You have the best excuse in the world for losing; no trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning... that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey. You'll drop that load too when you got an excuse. All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. One of the best indoor sports, feeling sorry for yourself. A sport enjoyed by all, especially the born losers."
Sleeper (Woody Allen, 1973)
"This was Josef Stalin. He was a communist, I was not too crazy about him, had a bad mustache, lot of bad habits. This is Bela Lugosi. he was, he was the mayor of New York city for a while, you can see what it did to him there, you know. This is, uhm, this is, uh, Charles DeGaulle, he, he was a very famous French chef, had his own television show, showed you how to make souflets and omelettes and everything."
Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)
The voiceover narration in this film was absolutely agonizing and the characters and weren't that interesting to me either. The romance between the two just seemed forced, and it all just seemed a little too over the top and ridiculous for my taste. On the positive side, I enjoyed the cinematography, but overall I was disappointed.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2004)
This film utterly blew me away with delicacy. The images are the real substance, rather than the story which follows the lives of four children who have been abandoned by their mother. Their plight unfolds through Kore-eda's calculated film form consisting of the subtle repetition of detailed imagery and elliptical editing. Images are seeded at earlier points in the film and then shown to us again later in the film, and in most cases in a slightly altered state. This effect both triggers the memory of those earlier scenes and their context and also makes us aware of the evolution of the objects themselves as well as the conditions of the children. Examples include Yuki's crayon set which she uses early in the film to color a drawing of her mother. Later in the film this full set of crayons is reduced to nothing more than a few nubs. Kyoko's piano is another example. Kore-eda also uses these details to progress the story. Instead of spelling everything out, the action is dedramatized and we are left with images of unpaid bills lying around the home, the children's hair getting longer throughout, and their clothing becoming more filthy and worn as well as dripping with sweat as the seasons change. Akira's shopping sprees at the convenient store become handouts of leftovers in the back alley as their situation becomes more and more dire. The incredible performances of the children are worth noting as well. These were some of the most natural portrayals of children I've seen on film as Nobody Knows captures a touching portrait of humanity.
Monday, May 07, 2007
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953)
Story wise this is just another typical romantic comedy, but with the unforgettable backdrop of Rome, Italy, the uncanny presence of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, and the elegant execution of William Wyler, this film is an American classic. Being enamored by Audrey Hepburn, although not an original thought by any means, is completely justified. The charm and innocence of her mannerisms, and delivery is as captivating as her unmatched natural beauty. After watching A Streetcar Named Desire and Roman Holiday consecutively, I've decided, had Brando and Hepburn made a baby, it would be the most gorgeous human being to ever to live.
Peck trying to take the little girl's camera is absolutely hilarious to me.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
The Killing (Stanley Kubrick, 1956)
This film with all of it's violence and sexuality (see Coleen Gray as Fay) was far ahead of it's time. It tracks the progress of a masterfully conceived and executed horse track robbery by seven men (think Ocean's Eleven). The only complaint I have about the film is the voice over narration throughout. I think this could have been done without by either extending the film a bit as it only ran at 83 minutes or perhaps by first person narrations from each character as it tracked their role in the heist. The plot itself is thoroughly engaging. The direction and musical score were both great, as can be expected in a Kubrick film. I also really enjoyed the variety of performances, from the leading role of Johnny Clay brilliantly played by Sterling Hayden, all the way down to the minor roles of Kola Kwariani (former pro wrestler) as Maurice who is part of a fantastically choreographed fight scene. One of my favorite scenes involves pioneering African American actor James Edwards working as a parking guard and Timothy Carey as Nikki. It's a bittersweet moment as Nikki bribes the guard into letting him into the closed parking lot so he can get into position for his role in the heist. After a polite conversation between the two, Edwards offers Nikki a horseshoe for good luck for treating him so kindly, seeing as the 1950s was a time of racial tension. Nikki realizes he has to get the guard to leave him alone as time fast approaches for him to do his job, so his solution is to use a racial slur. The sequence of events and scenes that transpire during the last 15 minutes of the film are truly unforgettable, as is the final line of dialogue, "What does it matter."
Black Narcissus (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1947)
The melodrama is a little hard to take at times during this film. I also felt that some of the scenes were just too overly dramatic and coinciding with this, the score was a bit over the top. Aside from these faults the film contains some of the most gorgeous cinematography I've ever seen. It's hard to believe that the film was not actually shot in the Himalayas, rather it was shot in a studio using blown up black and white photographs that were painted over which earned cinematographer, Jack Cardiff and art director Alfred Junge Academy Awards. The setting itself plays an incredible vital role in influencing the actions of the characters. The story itself is a fascinating examination of a group of nuns battling temptations and struggle to repress their "true" identities in order to follow God's path. Religion itself is critiqued to an extent as the nuns are portrayed as obstinate and condescending towards the people they are meant to be enlightening.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (Michael Haneke, 1994)
A meticulously executed film that shows, as the title would suggest, fragmented portraits of unrelated characters in everyday situations who are interlinked by a climactic final sequence. Haneke's lingering static long takes challenge the spectator as usual. He blurs the viewer's perceptions of the characters as he commentates on society as a whole.
Asako in Ruby Shoes (Je-yong Lee, 2000)