Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Flaming Lips: The Fearless Freaks (Bradley Beesley, 2005)

The Flaming Lips: The Fearless Freaks (Bradley Beesley, 2005)
Rating: 4.8

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

Le Salaire de la peur (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953) aka The Wages of Fear

The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953)
Rating: 9.3

I'm Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)

I'm Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)
Rating: 9.9

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)

Away From Her (Sarah Polley, 2006)
Rating: 5.9

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

Nostalghia (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1983)

Nostalgia (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1983)
Rating: 9.0

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

Tini zabutykh predkiv (Sergei Parajanov, 1964) aka Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

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.

Hei yan quan (Ming-liang Tsai, 2006) aka I Don't Want To Sleep Alone

I Don't Want To Sleep Alone (Ming-liang Tsai, 2006)
Rating: 8.3

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)

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.

Tianqiao bu jianle (Ming-liang Tsai, 2002) aka The Skywalk is Gone

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 Savages (Tamara Jenkins, 2007)
Rating: 7.1

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)
Rating: 7.4

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)

No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
Rating: 9.8

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

Le Voyage du ballon rouge (Hsiao-hsien Hou, 2007)

The Flight of the Red Balloon (Hsiao-hsien Hou, 2007)
Rating: 8.3

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."

Taxidermia (György Pálfi, 2006)

Taxidermia (György Pálfi, 2006)
Rating: 7.6

Thursday, November 08, 2007

46-okunen no koi (Takashi Miike, 2006) aka Big Bang Love, Juvenile A

Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (Takashi Miike, 2006)
Rating: 7.8

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

Tian bian yi duo yun (Ming-liang Tsai, 2005) aka The Wayward Cloud

The Wayward Cloud (Ming-liang Tsai, 2005)
Rating: 9.5

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

Kimyô na sâkasu (Sion Sono, 2005) aka Strange Circus

Strange Circus (Sion Sono, 2005)
Rating: 7.1

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) aka The Severed Heads

La Cravate (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1957)
Rating: 4.5

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.

Samehada otoko to momojiri onna (Katsuhito Ishii, 1998) aka Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl

Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl (Katsuhito
Ishii, 1998)

Rating: 7.2

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.

Roman Polanksi Shorts

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
Rating: 9.0

If... (Lindsay Anderson, 1968)

If... (Lindsay Anderson, 1968)
Rating: 8.3

Like a British, socially relevant, and more shocking version of Animal House.

Regarde la mer (François Ozon, 1997) aka See the Sea

See the Sea (François Ozon, 1997)
Rating: 7.7

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)

Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)
Rating: 9.6

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

Milyang (Chang-dong Lee, 2007) aka Secret Sunshine

Secret Sunshine(Chang-dong Lee, 2007)
Rating: 9.5

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)

Southland Tales (Richard Kelly, 2007)
Rating: 5.5

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.