Sunday, January 27, 2008
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007)
A truly beautiful film to look at with a painterly touch as the cinematography seems to reflect the impressionist art movement. Much of the camerawork is a blurred first person perspective of the one eyed protagonist who suffers from "locked-in" syndrome following a sudden stroke. The flashy editing effects compliment the stylistic camera work, although I was confused by the occasional and seemingly nonsensical jump-cuts. The film is based on a moving true story, and it succeeds for the most part, however I was disappointed when the film abruptly cut away from an emotional sequence. Perhaps that was the point, but I didn't want to be taken out of those moments.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)
Very few directors utilize the film medium in such a way Apichatpong Weerasethakul does. Of course Tarkovsky comes to mind, and perhaps a handful of others, but there is something about eliciting feelings and recreating dreams and memories that I find more engaging than narrative filmmaking. Syndromes and a Century is an exploration of memory and reflection for the director himself as well as the audience. The film is divided into two parts. As the Apichatpong explains, the first part recollects his parent's courtship. However this pretext isn't necessary for enjoying and understanding the film. To simplify things it's about different lives intersecting, and triggering memories and emotions through everyday seemingly innocuous events.
The first half of the film takes place at a small clinic where newly hired Dr. Nohng falls in love with another doctor. His confession of love to her sparks the story of her past love with an orchid expert. We are also introduced to a dentist who befriends a monk. As they get to know one another we discover the dentist is also a singer, while the monk once dreamed of being a DJ. In a touching scene the dentist asks the monk if he is the reincarnation of his brother who died when he was 8 years old. The dentist feels responsible for his death and wants a chance to apologize. The dentist offers the monk a toy horse that belonged to the his brother, however the monk explains that he was not a human and his past life so therefor cannot be his brother. So the dentist offers him his new album instead.
The setting and space evokes a certain warm emotion, as we see the sunshine beaming through open windows, lush greenery, and the comforting sounds of chirping birds. Occasionally the camera strays from the characters entirely and we are left with images of an open field or an eclipse. In the first half of the film the camera is mostly static with few very minimal movements in contrast to the second half of the film which includes a much more mobile camera reflecting the transition into a more modern environment. The second half of the film includes the same characters we met in the first half, and in fact some of the same events reoccur almost verbatim, except for the fact that the sequence of shots as well as the setting has changed, which in turns affects the relationships the characters have with one another. The setting becomes a large Metropolitan hospital with a much colder feel to it as machinery and the white walls replace the colorful palette created by the greenery and sunlight.
The environment is much more impersonal. This is most overt when the dentist and the monk reenact their meeting. Instead of forming a close bond, their is only awkward silence as the dentist performs his tasks. Only phrases like "open your mouth" and "rinse" are spoken between the two, leaving a sad emptiness when reflecting upon their relationship in the first half. Similarly Dr. Nohg never pursues the female doctor as they both have lovers already. The reflections the film triggers is the magic of it in my opinion. Syndromes and a Century is a film about memory that creates memories for the viewer to recall and compare these fractured scenes, making for a very cerebral experience.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Monday, January 21, 2008
I Stand Alone (Gaspar Noé, 1998)
I Stand Alone continues from where the nameless butcher left off in Noe's short film Carne. He is now 50 years old, bankrupt, separated from his mentally challenged daughter, and completely unhappy with his life. His despair and confusion is expressed to us through his nihilistic monologues and anger filled violent fantasies. Unfortunately I find the editing and stylization of the film to detract from the social issued being addressed and the realistic nature of the butcher's suffering. I also didn't like the opening of the film which looked like a power point presentation summarizing the prequel. The final 20 minutes and most memorable part of the film is preceded by a 30 second title card warning the audience that this is their last chance to abandon the film. I suppose Noé wants his films to be associated with a sort of shock gimmick, using the nameless butcher/common man's story as and incestuous relationship as a means to convey a universal statement about creating one's own personal morality and justice.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971)
Although I'm sure during the time this film was made it wasn't as tired and played out as it seems today with the barrage of television crime dramas and dozens of police thrillers released every year. The story itself is pretty unengaging, as it follows a fairly insignificant drug bust. The film also is pretty racist, and especially portrays African Americans in a negative light without any sort of redeeming qualities. Obviously the car chase sequence is great, and there are a few impressive shot setups and rack focuses and zooms, but I suppose I was just too dissatisfied with the story and the characters. The direction and on location setting of the streets of New York are enjoyable, but it's basically like a sequel to The Naked City, which I personally prefer.
Friday, January 18, 2008
Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)
Typically this sort of film wouldn't interest me, but because of the unique documentary style it was shot in along with the brilliant marketing campaign, I was intrigued, but still very skeptical. A concise pitch would most likely describe Cloverfield as "The Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla", however I think that the film is more inspired by the amateur footage collected post 9/11 as well as Paul Greengrass' United 93, among other things. The film is a unique and incredibly visceral experience as the setup is that we are literally watching a government owned footage from a single tape found at the site of the incident. We are first introduced to footage of a couple, Robert and Beth, who enjoy a romantic afternoon in Coney Island, only to be interrupted by footage from Robert's brother and his girlfriend as they plan for Rob's going away party. After a few cuts back and forth between the two different footage which show dates separated by nearly a month, we discover that the older footage is actually being recorded over, essentially acting as a sporadic flashback, serving as a brilliant bookend to the film as well as a back story and character development device. Hud, Robert's best friend, takes over the camera duties once the party begins, as he goes around collecting good look testimonies from everyone. As the mayhem begins, Hud appoints himself as the noble documenter and dutifully captures incredible first hand footage of the destruction and deaths of those around him. Hud also serves as comic relief, perhaps a little too often, with his often boneheaded statements and attempts at flirting with Marlena. Although there really isn't much to the narrative itself, and a lot of things are left ambiguous or flat out unaddressed, I found this supported the realism and immediacy of the film. I was worried the acting and the dialogue would come across as too phony, however I was pleasantly surprised, as it played out better than anticipated. although there are some lines I could have done without. The hand held digital camerawork obviously was the biggest factor in selling the reality in which such a fantastical situation was conveyed. Perhaps the most impressive part of the film is the choreography, especially with the cinematography and special effects, which I also found to work well. I wasn't as concerned with the monster, although a lot of people seemed to be preoccupied with it. I found myself more interested in the group of characters and their isolated experience. I saw the film in front of a packed house at the midnight showing at the Grauman's Chinese Mann theater, and have to say it was the most fun I've had at the movies in a long time, but the film is more than just empty entertainment and sensationalism; the monster itself could be considered an embodiment of our fear of terrorism, or the general unknown. In this modern age where everyone has access to media technology, as well as Youtube and the like, this film is very relevant. There is a great scene where people crowd around the Statue of Liberty's head and frantically take pictures with their cellphones. Most importantly it's a new way of experiencing cinema, and certainly a great way to start 2008. Granted Blair Witch did it first, but Cloverfield takes it to the next level and does it better.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Visions of Europe (Various 2004)
25 5 minute shorts from each of the 25 states of the European Union, dealing with political and social issues. Unfortunately most of the shorts are duds, although it's interesting to see films from some of the smaller, lesser known countries.
Fatih Akin (Germany segment "Die alten bösen Lieder")
Barbara Albert (Austria segment "Mars")
Sharunas Bartas (Lithuania segment "Children Lose Nothing")
This was by far my favorite. The cinematography and general feel for it reminded me of Tarkovsky's films. Maybe I'm just a sucker for children and woodland environments.
Andy Bausch (Luxemburg segment "The Language School")
Decent comedy about a pimp taking his prostitutes to language classes.
Christoffer Boe (Denmark segment "Europe Does Not Exist")
Francesca Comencini (Italy segment "Anna Lives in Marghera")
Stijn Coninx (Belgium segment "Self Portrait")
Tony Gatlif (France segment "Paris by Night")
One of several shorts dealing with refugees and aliens.
Sasa Gedeon (Czech Republic segment "Unisono")
Christos Georgiou (Cyprus segment "My Life on Tape")
Touching story about two men who were forced out of their home, but get a chance to return to visit.
Constantine Giannaris (Greece segment "Room for All")
Theo van Gogh (Netherlands segment "Euroquiz")
This was a very funny short, about a woman on a quiz show who begins revealing her alcoholism in the pregame interview and how it caused a car accident that killed her husband and child.
Peter Greenaway (United Kingdom segment "European Showerbath")
Miguel Hermoso (Spain segment "Our Kids")
Arvo Iho (Estonia segment "Euroflot")
Aki Kaurismäki (Finland segment "Bico")
Damjan Kozole (Slovenia segment "Europa")
Laila Pakalnina (Latvia segment "It'll Be Fine")
Kenneth Scicluna (Malta segment "The Isle")
Martin Sulík (Slovak Republic segment "The Miracle")
Malgorzata Szumowska (Poland segment "Crossroad")
My second favorite film of the bunch follows the adventures of a statue of jesus and the people who pass by it, including a man who pisses on a tree, a couple having sex in a nearby car, and 2 teenage boys who replace it with a cheerier more colorful statue, using a power drill rather than rusty nails.
Béla Tarr (Hungary segment "Prologue")
A continuous pan through a long line of haggard faces as they wait for food rations.
Jan Troell (Sweden segment "The Yellow Tag")
Teresa Villaverde (Portugal segment "Cold Wa(te)r")
Aisling Walsh (Ireland segment "Invisible State")
A Powerful monologue on the forgotten human cargo, refugees, aliens, slaves, etc. juxtaposed with moving imagery.
The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
I have enjoyed every film I've seen directed by Billy Wilder, and many people consider The Apartment to be one of his better if not his best film, so coming into this I had pretty high expectations. The film is formally and technically a great achievement, from the editing, sound, to the art direction, blocking, framing, etc. Jack Lemmon is excellent in his role and Shirley MacLaine is adorable. Unfortunately the story felt like something I've seen hundreds of times in romantic comedies and sitcom television, chalked full of stereotypical characters and familiar genre devices. Wilder brings a few tinges of darkness as usual with a suicide attempt and excessive infidelity, but nothing stood out enough for me to consider it great.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Shadows (John Cassavetes, 1959)
In interesting experiment in improvisation as this mostly unscripted film reflects the characteristics of it's jazz driven soundtrack. The film brings up some interesting questions about intellect, existentialism, romantic inclinations, and more while also exploring an interracial relationship, familial bonds, and a look at the beat generation. Due to the low budget nature of the production, the audio suffers, and there are a few questionable edits among other minor technical issues.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
All the Invisible Children (Various, 2005)
This film was made to benefit UNICEF and the World Food Program. It consists of seven shorts revolving around child protagonists and deals with different social issues. The reoccurring theme of bickering or nonexistent parents is seen throughout.
"Tanza" directed by Mehdi Chafer
A beautifully shot story about an African boy toting a machine gun with a group of other children during civil war. The unforgettable final scene takes place in a schoolhouse as Tanza plants a bomb and longs for happier times with his family and classmates. Unfortunatley the children's acting is poor, but luckily there isn't much dialogue.
"Blue Gypsy" directed by Emir Kusturica
This story follows Uros, a boy regaining his freedom from a juvenile prison, bur realizing being locked up is easier than life on the outside. Kusturica's film is a too light for my taste, as much of of the comedy is slapstick and the themes have been done to death. The cultural elements are the most interesting thing to take away from this one, although they are mostly rehashings of his more worthwhile feature films.
"Jesus Children of America" directed by Spike Lee
The most didactic of the bunch, Spike Lee's film plays out like an after school special. Rosie Perez and Andre Royo play the drug addicted, AIDS infected parents of Blanca who is also infected. They deliver good performances, however the rest of the acting is embarrassingly bad.
Bilu and João" directed by Kátia Lund
An adorable and optimistic story about a homeless boy and girl who venture through Sao Paulo with a wooden cart collecting recyclables to sell to a local shop in order to scrape by.
"Jonathan" directed by Jordan and Ridley Scott
By far the most moving and interesting piece, Ridley Scott and his daughter Jordan examine a war photographer's imagination as he is haunted by his experiences. While walking through the woods to clear his mind, the protagonist envisions himself as a child, playing a fantasy war game with his friends. The film compares the middle class bliss of friendship and camaraderie with that of the war orphans struggling for survival. I could actually see this being expanded into a feature. It works well as a short too, but ends abruptly as the narrator quotes something about "friendship multiplying good and dividing evil." Kelly Macdonald and David Thewlis star in this.
"Ciro" directed by Stefano Veneruso
Stereotypical thieving children anecdote ending with a gorgeous carousel scene.
"Song Son and Little Cat" directed by John Woo
Cliché ridden comparison of a spoiled rich child and a girl living in poverty.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Tintarella di luna (1985)
Une expérience d'hypnose télévisuelle (1995) (TV)
some hypnotist gimmick
A repulsive exercise in promoting proper use of condoms.
Basically a short film divided into three separate shorts that basically fetishize the female body. I found the first one to be quite beautiful, as the lighting flickers from pitch black to gorgeously tinted green and pink hues reflecting off of a woman who enters a room, only to meet with another beautiful woman. The second explores a the same woman laying poolside as the camera floats above her and inverts. The third shorts consists of the same woman laying half naked in a hallway playing with a kitten as the editing fades between black and her.
Living (Frans Zwartjes, 1971)
An experimental Dutch short consisting of a man exploring his new home/wife with a camera as a haunting ambient soundtrack plays. Strange, yet interesting film. I'm still unsure about how the camera did some of the things it did. It was almost like a floating yoyo.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
My Friend Ivan Lasphin (Aleksei German , 1984)
In the tradition of all the great soviet films, My Friend Ivan Lapshin boasts of remarkable cinematography; mostly long hand-held tracking shots, alternating between black and white and color (although to a lesser extent). I've always been drawn to the preoccupation Eastern European filmmakers have with nostalgia and how the camera movements reflect a sort of dreamlike recollection. This is one of the primary reason why I consider Tarkovsky to be one of my favorite directors. The narrative is an episodic recounting of the memories of a boy who lived with his father in a communal flat along with Ivan, a member of the secret police and 12 others. The film takes place after the murder of the Leningrad Soviet boss Kirov in 1934, just before the first Soviet purges. The character's optimism for the future is juxtaposed with hints of the betrayal and inhumane brutality that is to come. Despite the atrocities that occurred in the past, the narrator declares his love for these forgotten faces and moments that haunt his childhood memories. I find Russian cinema to be one of the most fascinating because it differs from other countries aesthetics in many ways and for various reasons. The history of the country and their politics, are one major factor in this, not to mention the work of the montage directors. There seems to be a preoccupation with nostalgia.
C'est arrivé près de chez vous (Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, and Benoît Poelvoorde, 1992) aka Man Bites Dog
Man Bites Dog: It Happened in Your Neighborhood (Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, and Benoît Poelvoorde, 1992)
A clever indictment of media detachment, audience obsession with violence, and how the media promotes such violence and interest in such. The film poses as a documentary as a film crew follows the brutality of a mass murderer who pontificates to the camera about architecture, music, poetry, cinema, painting, mother nature, homophobia and racism along the way. Both the filmmakers and the killer fuel each other as the killer gains a sense of power and almost god-like status in front of the camera, while he finances the film with the money he steals from his victims and even asks the crew to participate in the mayhem. The crew participates by helping Ben dispose of the victims bodies and even joining in a gang rape in one instance. The film also employs Brechtian techniques reminding us we are watching a film being made as often see the crew members. In one scene the killer urges the cameraman to zoom in and find the hiding victim, and in another great sequence the sound man is shot, resulting in brief silence before someone picks up the equipment and replaces him. Although the film is disturbing it is also quite hilarious, much like Haneke's Funny Games. The concept works brilliantly for a group of young filmmakers without any money and there is very obvious influence from the new wave filmmakers and most especially Godard. The only valid complaint from critics I slightly agree with is that the film is a bit one note.
Pas de C4 pour Daniel Daniel (1987) aka No C4 for Daniel-Daniel
short film by same filmmakers
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Thursday, January 10, 2008
There Will Be Blood (P.T. Anderson, 2007)
A brilliant character study, much in the same vein as Orson Welle's Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil. As tiresome and repetitive as it may sound, Daniel Day Lewis delivers one of the finest and most memorable performances I can recall. The score is just about as remarkable as DDL and both are more than deserving of Oscars in my opinion. Besides just being a character study, which I found fascinating enough, DDL's character is a rather obvious allegory for the ugliness of capitalism and America itself, although perhaps limited, but very relevant, when considering the accusations of oil hunting in the Middle East.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977)
I finally saw Eraserhead. It's a bizarrely hilarious and dreamlike mind-fuck with great cinematography and even more impressive sound design. The atmospheric industrial drones, rumbles, static, and hissing of the steam really drives the film. The orchestration of the room tones, background noises, and fx all mesh to create a rhythmic soundtrack that acts as score, sounding like a Black Dice album, or even Merzbow at times. Just as the images employ oneiric recall tactics, so do the sounds. Although The Elephant Man remains my favorite Lynch film, Eraserhead showcases his original visionary style and talents, and is likely his most significant work.