Friday, June 29, 2007
The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)
Members of high society engage in a lavish party and become imprisoned in a room due to their own lack of willpower to leave. An absurdly hilarious satire of the bourgeoise.
The Naked City (Jules Dassin, 1948)
The Naked City is a fairly formulaic noir drama in which veteran detective, Lt. Dan Muldoon played by the delightful Barry Fitzgerald and his young up and coming partner attempt to solve a relatively bromidic murder. The film begins with a voice over caveat, warning the audience that the film we are about to watch is atypically gritty, as it was shot entirely on location rather than in the studio. The narration continues throughout the film, and I found it to be detrimental. The narrator overtly draws attention to the reflexivity of the film, and even has one way conversations with the characters, which I found to be pretty corny. On the positive side, the exterior on location cinematography is fabulous and captures a semi documentary look at New York city during the late 1940s. The city itself is arguably the most interesting character in the story. The highlight of the film is the riveting final chase scene that ends on the Williamsburg Bridge and accentuates it's most endearing qualities.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
The Hole (Ming-liang Tsai, 1998)
As the sounds from the television news tell us, an epidemic has spread through Tapei resulting in regions of the city being quarantined. The city is mostly abandoned, but a few stubborn residents remain. Among those choosing not to evacuate is a man who owns a small grocery store that is rarely shopped. He spends most of his time getting drunk and being infatuated with a stray cat. The woman who lives below him, has also chosen not to leave. The pipes above her leak, flooding her apartment and she hires a plumber to correct the problem. The plumber leaves a hole in between the man and woman's apartment without ever fixing it, and we are left to view their interactions, often leading to comedic results while still exploring alienation, loneliness, and despair in an eerily apocalyptic atmosphere. Aside from the fantastic conceptual plot and set design, the sound design is incredible also worth mentioning. The constant sound of rain and dripping/running water haunts the soundtrack along with ambient city noise, along with a few victims screams. Ming-liang Tsai oddly enough sporadically inserts several song and dance numbers throughout the film in the form of daydreams, showing off his versatility as a director. These sequences set to the music of Grace Chang, are the antithesis of Tsai's usual work with lavish costuming, more rapid cutting, and quick camera movements, as well as lighting effects, but are arguably the best part of the film, and included in the excellent and quite memorable conclusion.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (Chan-wook Park, 2006)
I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK is an imaginative romantic comedy about two mental patients trying to find a meaning for existence. Young-goon thinks she is a Cyborg who must avenge and rescue her grandmother who was taken away to a sanitarium as well. Il-sun is a young mischievous thief diagnosed as an anti-social schizophrenic who is unable to feel guilt or sympathy. We also are introduced to some supporting quirky patients along the way. As the film progresses, the two main characters go through their respective character arcs and predictabley discover that love is what makes life worth living. Predictability aside, the story is still more unique than most. The visuals were of course the finest attribute and it was a nice change of pace seeing Chan-wook Park direct a film of this nature; bringing his kinetic camera work, and eye catching mise en scéne to the table.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970)
Michael Wadleigh's 3 hour cinematic chronicle of the legendary three day New York music festival in 1969 filled with sex, drugs, and of course plenty of rock n' roll, beautifully captures the spirit of the 1960s youth counter-culture. For a fan of music history, this is an absolute must see as it presents rare chances to experience or relive performances from musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Ritchie Havens, Sha-Na-Na, Crosby Stills & Nash, John Sebastian, Country Joe McDonald, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and others. The film is very thorough; collecting interviews from all perspective's including the promoters, kids attending the concert, musicians, the media, the police, and the townspeople. The film begins with the construction of the stage, goes onto the invasion of the small town (over 300,000 in attendance), takes us through the rain, the music, the hippy shenanigans, the drug use, the quest for peace and love, and eventually ends with Jimi Hendrix's iconic performance and the conclusion of the festival. The filmmakers use helicopter shots to show the traffic jams and overall enormous scope of the festival. The camera work and cinematography is impressive throughout, as the filmmakers create some tastefully artistic imagery. One specific scene that comes to mind is the dancing silhouettes against the dark blue sky. The cameras also interact with the stage lighting to create some interesting images. The splitscreen editing and multiple soundtracks which can come across as somewhat tacky when used improperly was somewhat innovative at the time and I thought worked very well for this film. Martin Scorsese actually was one of the editors for this documentary and the film won an Oscar for best documentary feature in 1970.
The Mysterious Object At Noon (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2000)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's debut film is a experimental documentary hybrid in which a film crew travels the Thailand countryside interviewing the Siamese villagers and getting them to contribute to a surreal game of "exquisite corpse" where a narrative is constructed and continued by each participant. The resulting fictional story which in turn is acted out and blended in with documentary footage of the storytellers, is interesting, however I don't think it's the highlight of the film itself. The most intriguing part for me was the images of the people and their environment. Thailand is such a foreign land to me, I found myself engaged with the way of life. In one scene a group of teenage boys interacts with elephants, another scene shows the busy streets of Bangkok, and the film eventually ends when the film stock runs out, as a group of kids play soccer. The story begins with a woman who sells tuna with her husband from the back of a van, and ends with a group of school children who abruptly and anticlimactically decide to kill off all of the characters. An amateur theater troupe gives a performance, an elderly woman adds her two cents, and two deaf girls contribute using sign language as well.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
As Tears Go By (Kar Wai Wong, 1988)
Kar Wai Wong's first feature film is a pretty run of the mill and predictable gangster film, with an overabundance of slow shutter speed sequences, slow motion, and a pretty awful soundtrack that makes it feel all the more 80s (ewww), but it does show flashes of his unique visual style which he would later fine tune.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Monday, June 18, 2007
Night on Earth (Jim Jarmusch, 1991)
Night on Earth was written, produced, and directed by Jarmusch and it consists of five separate plot lines taking place simultaneously in five different cities (LA, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki) with dialogue in five different languages(English, French, Finnish, Italian, and German). The script is brilliant as the film is almost entirely dialogue driven. Despite the lack of major plot points, I was engrossed in the naturalistic conversations between the diverse group of interesting characters. Jarmusch's odd pairing of drivers and customers is entertaining in itself. In the first story a high society casting agent (Gena Rowland) decides to slum it in a taxi rather than wait for a limo. Her driver Corky (Winona Ryder), is a tomgirl and aspiring mechanic. Corky turns down an offer to be a movie star, remaining true to herself, insisting that she has everything planned and things are going perfect for her. The New York story, which is my personal favorite, pairs a young African American man who goes by the name of YoYo with an immigrant and former circus clowen from East Germany named Helmut who can barely drive a car and has no clue how to get around the city. YoYo ends up driving the cab and later catches his sister-in-law (Rosie Perez) whoring the streets. The Paris segment includes an African immigrant from the Ivory Coast with a blind woman and continues to emphasize that stereotyping and making assumptions about people is of course ignorant. Roberto Benigni is the star of the hilarious Rome segment. After picking up a catholic priest, Benigni proceeds to confess his sexual misadventures with pumpkins, a sheep, and his brother's wife in what is basically a monologue. The final episode in Helsinki includes a group of drunken factory workers who trade tales of misfortune with the driver. Although minimalist, the concept is original, the film is genuinely hilarious, and it puts Kevin Smith's much discussed dialogue driven films to shame. My only complaint would have to be the ridiculously cheesy font during the opening credits.
Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys (Michael Haneke, 2000)
Haneke once again brilliantly composes a complex story examining the everyday alienation and difficulty people have communicating with one another. Haneke commonly critiques the bourgeoisie in his films, and Code Unknown in no exception as there is some interesting interplay between characters involving race and class issues.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)
Ace in the Hole seems as fresh today as it did in the 50s as it explores the evils of the media and how it breeds greed, lies, and corruption. Kirk Douglas is fabulous as the scheming alcoholic news reporter who stumbles upon a big story while driving through a small town. After discovering a man is trapped inside a cave, he delays the rescue to benefit his career, while bribing the sheriff, Lorraine , the victim's wife, and others along the way. The site of the accident attracts an evergrowing crowd of observers, and eventually a carnival even pays Lorraine to setup nearby. The film contains many instances of exploitation and manipulation that left me aghast, but the ominous pounding of the drill digging through the cave juxtaposed with the revelry of the carnival outside just after Leroy's death is in my opinion the most detestable.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
A unique visual and aural cinematic experience unlike anything I've seen before. Tropical Malady is basically split into two parts, each telling the same story in a different manner. The first half is more of a "conventional" love story, although I use that word loosely, as two men, Keng, a soldier, and Tong, a countryboy, become enchanted with one another even though it is hinted at that Tong is interested in women. The second half, although still not unrelated from the first half, is a folklore tale about Tong taking on the form of a mythic shape shifting shaman trapped in the body of a tiger who haunts travelers as they venture through the jungle. The entire second half contains no dialogue at all until the final scenes. It is a relentlessly visceral descent into the inner workings of human desire and the pursuit of love. The lush imagery of the soldier tracking the tiger through the forest is carefully paced as the jungle ambiance infects the soundtrack. The final moments are spellbinding in this unforgettable film.
ABC Africa (Abbas Kiarostami, 2001)
Asked by the UN International Fund for Economic Development (IFAD) to make a film documenting the plight of millions of Ugandan orphans ravaged by the recent civil war and the scourge of AIDS as well as malaria Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami delivers a visual poem that serves as a testament to the spirit of the African people. Rather than bombarding us with constant images of death and despair, we see the positive efforts being made by the community to combat the dismal circumstances. Kiarstami interviews an Austrian couple who has adopted an abandoned African child, and highlights the efforts of members of Uganda Women's Effort to Save orphans (UWESCO) Children and other villagers happily sing, dance, and perform their native music for the camera. The most powerful yet heartbreaking images are seen during the visit to the AIDS treatment center, which is in poor condition and obviously lacks proper resources and economic benefit. The camera pans through the hospital showing dying children as well as adults and ends with the haunting scene where a dead child is wrapped in a few blankets, put on a makeshift stretched made from a cardboard box and then wheeled off on a bicycle. After a while I felt the film became a bit repetitive, and I would have preferred higher production value as opposed to the handheld digital cameras (although I understand aesthetics was not a priority).
Thursday, June 14, 2007
All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999)
Agrado: Well, as I was saying, it costs a lot to be authentic, ma'am. And one can't be stingy with these things because you are more authentic the more you resemble what you've dreamed of being.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977)
Burnett's thesis film at UCLA which is was declared a national treasure by Congress in 1990 is a response to the widely popular blaxploitation films of the era. Burnett's film made on a shoestring budget, using nonprofessionals preaches naturalism and familiarity as opposed to escapism as we see Stan battle depression and insomnia as he works in a slaughterhouse to support his family. Killer of Sheep captures a portrait of a specific time and place in history like the famous Italian neorealist films that came before it as well as the American underground filmmakers among others who embraced this aesthetic style. In my opinion the African American art films such as this, The Cool World, and Nothing But a Man comprise a core group of truly unique and original American neorealist films. The sequences of children playing and fighting in the streets, throwing dirt clods, riding bikes, and building forts are so natural and nostalgic. The fantastic soundtrack consisting of jazz, blues, soul, and popular classics including music from Louis Armstrong, Raul Robeson, Scott Joplin, and Dinah Washington, serves mostly an ironic function as we see in the scene where children play among the rubble of dilapidated buildings and "What is America To Me?" plays on the soundtrack. Sometimes the music functions more literally, as in the scene where Stan and his wife dance to "This Bitter Earth" before Stan declines his wife's sexual advances. The slaughterhouse scenes, where we see sheep herded to their brutal deaths alludes to the lack of control humanity has over our own circumstances. Burnett effectively conveys the everyday comedy and hardships people face, as well as family relationships and their longing for a brighter future in Watts, Los Angeles, California, in the 1970s.
"You're about as tasteless as a carrot."
-"Daddy, what makes it rain?"
-"Why, It's the devil beating his wife."
Monday, June 11, 2007
Haze (Shinya Tsukamoto, 2005)
J-horror and Shinya Tsukamoto puts the American horror genre to shame once again, as we are reminded that the most terrifying thing of all is the human psyche. Haze is only about 50 minutes in length, but remains incessantly relentless. The film begins with a man (Tsukamoto) who has awaken to find himself trapped in a small, confined space and completely oblivious as to how he got into this predicament. As he attempts to frantically escape, he discovers a maze of dead ends, traps, and mutilated body parts. Tsukamoto creates an amazing sense of claustrophobia through the use of very low-key lighting and rapid soviet montage style editing, as well as frequent close-ups and extreme close-ups. The soundscape also plays a crucial role in intensifying the atmosphere. In one excrutiating scene, we see Tsukamoto's teeth clamped down on and scraping against a rusty pipe. While attempting his escape, the man meets a woman. They have a brief conversation about the need to escape and not give up, even though imprisonment isn't much more glamorous than the life they led before. The final minutes of the film reveal the man and the woman lying on a kitchen floor bleeding from stab wounds; seemingly a failed double suicide attempt. The prison becomes better understood as a representation of their internal battle with depression, or perhaps even purgatory. They agree to go on living and escape the metaphorical prison, while simultaneously regaining consciousness. The film concludes with a sequence of shots showing the couple growing old and living a full life together.
Doctor Zhivago (David Lean, 1965)
Despite some outstanding camera work, glossy sets, and costumes, and the brief appearance of Klaus Kinski, Doctor Zhivago is mostly a bore. It's interesting to see as the characters must adapt to the abrupt and drastic, life altering changes following the Russian Revolution, as the film aims to show the cruel and savage conditions brought about by communism. The film also explores the guilt and torment of an adulteress affair similar to A Brief Encounter. In my opinion though, a romantic epic, with such an uninteresting story, does not warrant 3 hours and and 17 minutes. I found it especially annoying that it's a story of the Russian people told from the point of view of a British director and actors, etc.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
The Host(Joon-ho Bong, 2006)
The Host is an excellent contemporary take on the monster flick containing a perfect blend of suspense, comedy, and a little satire. It touches on issues such as class status, familial bonds and how crisis reinforces or deconstructs each, government intervention and conspiracy (Agent Yellow, an anti biological chemical, which mocks U.S.’s Agent-Orange), the dehumanization of medical patience, and threats of a new virus or invasion (terrorism, SARS, bird flu, 9-11). Although the film contains several predictable and unexplained scenes, I felt it still threw an occasional curve ball and remained entertaining throughout. The filmmakers should be commended for the realistic look of the monster, as it was revealed within the first 15 minutes and we were not denied from seeing it frequently. I also really thought the final confrontation with the beast was fun to watch. It played out like a ballet as the music coincided with the monster dancing about in slow motion avoiding molotav cocktails; fittingly each of the siblings contributes to the demise of the creature.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
Friday, June 08, 2007
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Peppermint Candy (Chang-dong Lee, 2000)
Peppermint Candy is a beautiful portrait of despair following a 20 year timeline of one man's life broken into seven stages and shown in reverse chronological order. Even more unconventionally, the main character, Young-Ho commits suicide at the conclusion of the first stage. Each stage is transitioned by reverse motion images of a train track and reveals to us how this ruined man has ended up in such miserable circumstances as well as how Korean history, his surroundings, and events beyond his control influenced his decent into a life of corruption. Young-Ho is unable to overcome his guilt and embrace his first love, Sunim, because he is no longer the man she thinks he is. This is best expressed when Sunim comments on the beauty and kindness of his hands. However she is unaware of his past, particularly the interrogation scene when he is working as a cop and has feces on his hands, and the scene where he accidentally kills a young girl and his hands are soaked in her blood. Kyung-gu Sol's performance is absolutely incredible and the cinematography is lovely.
Lumiere and Company (various, 1995)
Based on an original idea by Philippe Poulet, 40 international directors were asked to make a short film using the original Lumière Brothers Cinematographe and were limited by three rules: (1) The film could be no longer than 52 seconds, (2) no synchronized sound was permitted, and (3) no more than three takes.
Jaco van Dormael
Haneke's reply to the question "Why do you film?":
"Never ask a centipede why it walks or it'll stumble."
Eureka (Shinji Aoyama, 2000)
Shinji Aoyama's artfully crafted three and a half hour+ arthouse epic traces the aftermath of a traumatic bus hijacking leaving six people dead and three survivors; two middle school siblings Naoki, Kozue, and the busdriver, Makoto. Shortly after the incident, Sawai leaves town and wanders aimlessly while the children's mother abandons them and their father dies. I should also mention that the children refuse to speak following the hijacking. Two years later, Makoto returns to the town to start a new life. At this point his wife has left him and his brother doesn't support him. With nowhere left to turn, Makoto decides to move in with the two children. Later the kid's cousin Akihiko, who also has suffered from a traumatic incident moves into their home as well. The four form a unique bond and depend on one another for support. On top of all this there is a series of murders taking place in the small town and Makoto is the primary suspect, as the murders start occurring upon his return. Although this synopsis sounds like a description for a high octane action thriller, it is instead a methodical dedramatized, suspenseless and gentle film about rediscovering life. Aoyama is known for his sporadic use of violence without much exposition leading up to it. The dialogue is minimal, but the ambient soundtrack plays an essential role in creating a hypnotically mesmerizing atmosphere much like an Antonioni film. There are a lot of long shots and long takes, and even some charming bits of comedy, despite being saturated with tragedy. The cinematography, composition, editing, and acting is all superbly done and the film is gorgeously tinted in a sepia tone.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Knocked Up (Judd Apatow, 2007)
I went into the theater expecting to discredit this film after the slew of positive reviews it had been receiving as well as my prior knowledge of the undeserved critical acclaim The 40 Year Old Virgin got, however I came out of the theater pleasantly surprised. Knocked Up is an endearing,hilarious and sometimes even raunchy film; a true rarity. What I enjoyed the most was how naturalistic all of the comedy and conversation throughout was. This wasn't a typical romantic comedy where everyone is a professional improv comic armed with an arsenal of witty and superficial dialogue. Most of the comedy does however come from the dialogue, but it seems to flow very well. The film doesn't really rely on any gags either, but rather shows the audience the joy, pain, and overall awkwardness of the situation.