Sunday, October 1, 2006

September Archives #2

September 30th Log

1953, Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

I have seen this film several times and will continue to revisit it often. To me it is Kenji Mizoguchi’s masterpiece (alongside The Life of Oharu). Of course, many of Mizoguchi’s films remain inaccessible and to date I’ve only seen seven of them. Hopefully more will become available over time, especially if there are anywhere near the level of Ugetsu. From what I‘ve seen, this appears to be the quintessential postwar Mizoguchi film in style and themes. A period film that centers around four characters (two married couples) who each travel separate paths. Mizoguchi’s films always seem to be leading the characters on journeys. They are also deeply compassionate for the females and Ugetsu is no exception as the men follow a selfish path of greed, power, and lust leaving their wives suffering. Mizoguchi’s other themetic trademark is the connection of art and nature and this is captured throughout the film and even as early as the opening titles which display as paintings overtop images of nature. Mizoguchi masterfully controls the haunting atmosphere with a gracefully flowing camera. The camera is static but always moving in a way that feels as though it is floating through the air. Mizoguchi style is one of elegant mastery and it beautifully blends with his absorbing narrative flow. Mizoguchi is one of the great masters of postwar Japanese cinema (a class that includes Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, and Akira Kurosawa) and Ugetsu is one of his finest filmmaking achievements.

2006, Mary Harron, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

As she did with her 1996 indie film I Shot Andy Warhol, filmmaker Mary Harron looks to capture the pop-culture feminist by going against all the standard boundaries of bio filmmaking. The Notorious Bettie Page is a film that should be applauded for its boldness, but most of all it should be applauded for it’s unforceful depth. The film finds a complexity and ambitiousness within the character as well as an insightful look into censorship and sexual identity. Gretchen Mol gives a top notch performance as Bettie Page. If it’s not forgotten when all the “buzz” hits for the fall and winter releases, Mol could definitely earn some Oscar consideration here. Together with Harron and co-screenwriter Guinevere Turner, Mol gives a compassionate and seriously honest and convincing portrayal of one of America's most famous sex symbols. You get the feeling that she was most comfortable when in front of a camera and this is expressed in Mols performance as well as Harron’s wonderfully controlled visuals (which blend black and white with dazzling color). As a narrative-flowing film The Notorious Bettie Page is flawed, but as one of complex layers and thought-provoking ideas this stands as a very good film. It’s definitely a more accessible film that Harron’s Valerie Solanas biopic I Shot Andy Warhol, and The Notorious Bettie Page is a film that deserves a wide audience.

September 29th Log

2006, Michel Gondry, France
1st Viewing, Theater

The Science of Sleep is such a bizarre film that some audiences may be easily turned off. Others might be disappointed that it’s not on the masterpiece level of Michel Gondry’s previous feature Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless. However, to me the film is a wondrous joy of endless imagination and romantic fantasy. This is Gondry’s first film as the sole writer-director (his previous collaborations were with acclaim screenwriter Charlie Kaufman). I found this film so charming and full of imagination that it won me every way step of the way. The two leads are absolutely outstanding and when on screen together the films sparkles with appeal. There has never been a question that Gael Garcia Bernal is a brilliant actor, but Charlotte Gainsbourg is a revelation here. Gainsbourg radiates energy and charm as Stephanie, Bernal’s neighbor and love interest. The film is magical in its portrayal of dreams and reality, as well as the combination of the two. Gondry’s influence roots stem from the French poetic fantasy realism of the 1930s, and ultimately The Science of Sleep is a romantic fantasy about innocence, longing, imagination, as well as an inner struggle with life and love. The film is certainly surreal, but with a tone of light-heartedness. At once, bizarre, beautiful, funny, and romantic The Science of the Sleep is a lovely film with loveable performances from Bernal and Gainsbourg. Anyone who has seen Gondry’s music videos from Bjork knows his imaginative vision, but this film (without Bjork or Kaufman) proves him to be a unique talent.

1935, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Continuing with my recent trend of Yasujiro Ozu films on Friday night I decided to rewatch one of his earliest masterworks, 1935’s An Inn in Tokyo. An Inn in Tokyo is Ozu's last and perhaps greatest silent film. The film is very reminiscent of the later Italian Neorealist films of the 1940s (notably Vittorio De Sica's masterpiece The Bicycle Thief) as well Ozu's 1933 film Passing Fancy) in it's simplistic yet powerful examination of the human condition amongst the struggles of the Depression (in this case pre-war Japan). Using a decaying Japanese environment as the visual surrounding, Ozu captures the very essence of human struggle, centering around a poor widowed father with two sons as well as a friend who is a widowed mother with a sick child. Faced with a moral conflict the man must make a decision that could effect his family. Equally beautiful and heartbreaking An Inn in Tokyo is a masterpiece. For more details as well as images on the film please visit A2P Cinema’s Yasujiro Ozu website ( here:

September 28th Log

2005, Yamada Yoji, Japan
1st Viewing, DVD

This is the second film of Yamada Yoji’s ‘Samurai Trilogy’ (which began with the acclaimed 2002 film Twilight Samurai). Like Twilight Samurai, Yamada expresses themes of love, friendship, honor, betrayal. Also Yamada distances the film from the violence instead capturing a simplistic realism. His focus is above all on the inner psychological battle. This approach leads to a more emotionally felt climax of battle. Yamada has been making films for nearly 50 years (many of which are part of the Tora-san series, which is beloved in Japan and has spanned 26 years and included 48 films). Yamada is master storyteller who’s films are heart-warming, beautiful, and deeply affectionate. Yamada’s films blend melodrama, romance, and longing with such a sense of simplistic, creative, and sensitive methods to make his films so emotionally involving and timeless. The Hidden Blade has an old-fashioned look and feel in recreating a 19th Century Japan of chaos upon embracing to the West. It is this historic connection that lies in the metaphoric core of the film. I put this film alongside Twilight Samurai as a great work that is not Yamada’s very best but remains a beautifully constructed narrative and emotionally involving epic. I look forward to Yamada’s continuation of this series.

September 27th Log

1973, Victor Erice, Spain
Repeat Viewing, DVD

“Once upon a time in a certain time and place,” this title card begins after the opening titles of Victor Erice 1973 film Sprit of the Beehive, a masterpiece that stands among the very greatest achievements ever made. I had seen this once before a couple months ago, but the recent Criterion release gave an opportunity for another (and future) viewings. The opening title card represents one of the great aspects of the film. Though time is significant in both history and setting (the 1940s- post civil war Spain) as well as the release of the film, there is a transcendence and universal emotion that makes it timeless. Sprit of the Beehive is a film that goes against the standard guidelines of traditional narrative and becomes a cinematic experience. A journey to capture the rhythm of a moment and the essence of the characters inner feelings and emotions. The imagery of the film is among the most breathtaking ever shown on film. The film is able to tell its story and feelings through images (the beautiful use of yellow lighting, symbolic imagery, detailed and precise expressive compositions). Through a collection of images life and cinema connect to create a magical world of beauty and poetry. The earliest core of The Sprit of the Beehive lies in the images of James Whales 1931 classic Frankenstein (particularly the scene with the little girls picking flowers). Everything is shown through the eyes of a child as the film becomes a journey of growth and life experience and of childhood memories. The heart and soul of the film is that of the child’s gaze of cinema profoundly lasting images. It is the discovery of cinema and how one experiences and reacts to cinematic images. By placing the eyes on the Don Jose mannequin (a figure similarly created like Frankenstein), Ana is discovering a vision and a spirit within herself, one of imagination, and above all a spirit of faith. Ultimately The Spirit of the Beehive unlocks the door to dreams and endless imagination as dreams and reality become the emotional essence. Though he made some shorts prior this is Erice’s first feature length film. Since it’s 1972, Erice has only made two other features (1983’s El Sur and 1992’s The Sun of the Quince Tree). He has also made a couple shorts recently including the outstanding segment he made in the Ten Minutes Older series. Despite his small body of work, Erice stands as one of Spanish cinemas most acclaimed filmmakers and The Spirit of the Beehive stands as a landmark achievement. A lyrical film of feeling and atmosphere through visual images, this is a poetic masterpiece of cinema to celebrate and among my all-time favorite films.

1935, Mark Sandrich, United States
Repeat Vieiwng, DVD

These films are intoxicating! There is nothing really that complex here yet they have such a magical appeal that they become timeless and even in a way perfect. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are among the most legendary screen couples in cinema. And in the genre of musicals, they may be the definitive duo of all-time. Together they starred in 10 films (9 as top billing), each elegant and entertaining in their own way. However, to me, 1935's Top Hat, which remains the embodiment of their collaboration. There are moments of pure glamour and class and charming humor and wit. But above all their are moments to never be forgotten. Some of the most legendary and memorable musical sequences in film history (of course most notably, "Dancing Cheek to Cheek"). Top Hat, like most great musicals, has an undeniable magical force. Forget the storyline or plot, which may be a bit silly, this is beautiful and grand escapism. This is the 3rd collaboration of Astaire and Rogers (or Rogers and Astaire- which ever you prefer!), but it will forever remain the quintessential film of their partnership.

September 26th Log

2001, Song Hae-sung, South Korea

1st Viewing, DVD

Failan is a great film! Essentially it is a love story with two characters who never actually physically meet each other. However, emotionally there is a connection and it is through tragedy that this connection is discovered by both of them. They are two lonely souls who’s longing is what keeps them going, even if they are not even aware of it. Failan has a few plot driven and melodramatic moments, but this is a beautifully bittersweet film. The film is broken into two non-linear narrative parts with the first following the lead actor Kangjae (played by Choi Min-sik, who is well regarded for his terrific performances in Oldboy and Im Kwon-taek’s Chihwaseon). Kangjae is a low-level gangster and we get a background into his violent lifestyle and the situation he gets into with his boss. Then the film shifts back to Failan, who has left China in search of her aunt after her parents died. It is from this moment on that the film truly shines, particularly because of the radiance of Cecilia Cheung as Failan. She is a dream in this film, and her performance is the heartbreaking soul of the film. I’ve seen Cheung in some more recent films (The Promise, One Night in Mongkok), and I admired her, but she is absolutely unforgettable here in the most simplistic possible way. I really love this film. Even for all its sadness and tragedy, there is sweat romance that makes it such a lovely film. This is capped off flawlessly in the films final image, which leaves the viewer and the characters with a sense of connection, redemption, and magical transcendence. Failan belongs mention among the greatest Korean film of the decade!!

2006, Nicole Holofcener, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

I saw this in the theater when it was out, but wanted to give it another viewing on DVD. I was a huge fan of Nicole Holofcener previous film, 2001’s Lovely & Amazing, and while I think Friends With Money is an inferior work, I still can’t deny many of it’s outstanding qualities. While on a smaller scale, the best qualities of this film are the same as they were film Lovely & Amazing, notably great dialogue, strong performances, and an honest and caring development of characters. Characters that are flawed and human. Once again, Holofcener effortlessly flows through the lives of the ensemble with charm, and intelligence, focusing on four lifelong friends, their husbands, and lifestyle (notably their career). At the center of it all is (as the title would suggest) money, and how it can impact lives. Jennifer Aniston gets lucky by being handed the character that really drives the emotional core of the film, and she ultimately gives perhaps her most complex and best performance to date.

2005, Dario Argento, Italy / Spain

1st Viewing, DVD

Yes I do like Hitchcock very much, and that may be why for the most part I like this film. Really with this film, Italian filmmaker Dario Argento (a master of horror in his own right) is in a light and playful homage mode here. With direct references throughout (including visual, verbal, and of course the title of the film), Argento isn’t trying to break any grounds here. Arengto is known for his ambitious and stylistic filmmaking and even though some of that is evident here you still get the feeling that Arengto is just laying back. While Do You Like Hitchcock lacks the artistic visionary style of Arengto greatest work, it is entertaining and an insightful examination into his own themetic and stylistic parallels with the great master of suspense. Like Hitchcock, one of Argento’s key themes is voyeurism, and he also has a detailed control of visual sets, lighting, colors, and design. There are far greater Argento films out there, but he has also made worse films. If you are a fan of Argento or even Hitchcock, this film does have an appeal.

September 23rd Log

2001, Kim Ki-duk, South Korea
1st Viewing, DVD

This 2001 film from acclaimed Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk suffers many of the problems I have with this his films. In fact, this may be the my least favorite Kim film to date, and with the exception of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring, I have had problems with every other Kim film I’ve seen. There is no denying he is a gifted filmmaker and I applaud his ambitious vision (I loved the idea behind his 2004 film 3-Iron). His film, and Bad Guy is no exception leave an emotional impact. But at the expense of what? Twisted shock and violence? If anything I think Bad Guy suffers where Kim’s other films suffer with me, and that it’s a lack of focus usually caused by a forced sense of violence. Ultimately there is a disconnect and a film that seems unsure of it’s emotional tone and atmosphere. By the final act, Bad Guy becomes a surrealistic fantasy romance and the cruelty is dealt with compassion. Kim’s films are uneasy to watch and though I’ve found his work to be overrated I continue to explore every film he makes simply because I do believe him to be a talented filmmaker. He has proven this to be true in moments of his films, but to me Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring remains his one great film.

2006, Frank Marshall, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

It took me awhile to see it, but here is one of the surprises of the year. I really enjoyed this film. Eight Below fully succeeds in everything it strives for: Compelling drama, exciting adventure, and uplifting inspiration. The film is sort of broken into two parts. The first half follows a dog-sled team and their guide (played by Paul Walker) on a search to help a scientist (Bruce Greenwood) find a meteorite in Antarctica. The second half follows Walker’s inner-struggle to get back to the dogs who were left alone. Neither half is ineffective, but the opening is certainly more exciting and entertaining. Disney has had great success working in this genre (animal adventures) and Eight Below is no exception. The actors do a great job (even Paul Walker) without ever hamming-it-up. And of course, the dogs steal the show. The films captures the great human and dog relationship in a way that is both touching and uplifting. Eight Below is a highly entertaining film.

September 22nd Log

2006, David Slade, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Feeding off the recent interest and success of torture in film, Hard Candy piles on a social message about pedophiles. Using an idea that similarly recalls the climax of Takashi Miike’s 1999 masterpiece Audition, Hard Candy is a mess of a film that seems has disguised itself as some form of in-depth and important character study. The characters of this film are ridiculously developed and the further the film goes the more contrived and lees interesting it becomes. Audition was a masterwork because it told a social message with the confines of the genre through atmosphere and mood without ever “forcing” it’s social message on the viewer. Hard Candy is so forceful and unbearably watchable that I grew more and more annoyed and just wanted the film to end. It just never worked for me. I’m sure this will find an audience that will praise its strong social intentions or it’s intellectual depth, but to me it’s nothing more then artificial, dull exploitation.

2002, Andrew Bujalski, United States
Repeat Viewing, Sundance Channel

When I saw that this film was coming on the Sundance Channel I decided to change my DVD watching plans. Though I’ve seen Funny Ha Ha a few times before, there is something so irresistibly attractive about it. To me, it’s strangely a perfect film. Using a minimal budget, natural lighting, improvisational dialogue, and a non-professional cast of actors, Funny Ha Ha recalls the realism of maverick Indie filmmaker John Cassavetes. Writer-director Andrew Bujalski (who also plays a supporting role in the cast) captures a generation in the purest of ways, detailing the relationships, misunderstandings, conversations, and awkward meetings of a “slacker” generation (ala the films of Richard Linklater). The characters are so well developed they become intoxicating. The cast is great, but of course it is Kate Dollenmayer who is the soul of this film as Marnie. In the most unassuming manner, Dollenmayer is so incredibly lovable and charming here that the film ultimately becomes a joy from beginning to it’s sudden and ambitious end. This is one of the greatest American indie films of the decade!!

1957, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Fridays this month I’ve been re-watching some of the great films from Yasujiro Ozu. This Friday was Tokyo Twilight, arguably the most pessimistic and darkest film Ozu ever made. Tokyo Twilight is again reminiscent of Ozu's quintessential post-war themes and minimalist style that made him one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time. At the center of all Ozu's post-war films is the unavoidable sadness of life caused through change. This is again evident here but in a much darker way then any other Ozu film. From the grim opening shots of the film, Tokyo Twilight establishes it's dark tone. Themes of marriage, isolation, and parent/child communication (or lack there of) are again expressed through Ozu's masterful cinematic language and trademark visual compositions and cast. Tokyo Twilight carries a pessimism and despair with issues of death, abortion, and adultery that make it Ozu's darkest film. Fittingly Tokyo Twilight is the last black and white film Ozu made before moving to color with his 1958 film Equinox Flower. Ozu-regulars Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara are once again outstanding as the single father and elder sister, and the film features a fine performance from Ineko Arima, who was starring in her first film for Ozu (he would cast her again in his next film). As usual Hara is especially terrific, here as the sister who's emotions are torn. Under Ozu direction, Hara has such an ability at capturing the most complex emotions through the smallest of gestures. Tokyo Twilight is a masterpiece achievement from one of the very greatest filmmakers in the world of cinema. To me this rates among the best films Ozu ever made.

September 21st Log

2006, Jeff Feuerzeig, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

The Devil and Daniel Johnston is an interesting and well made look into the life of cult singer/artists Daniel Johnston. The film details those that are in love his music (one even claiming he’s superior in every way to Brian Wilson) as well as his family that dealt with his depressive behavior and mental illness. Using a vast collection of footage (including old home movies and audio tapes) documentary filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig brings together a fascinating documentary that takes on several narrative levels (captured most emotionally in the touching interviews with his parents). His music is strange (and we discover motivated by his romantic longing for the ‘woman of his dreams’) and it remains relatively unknown except that it is being redone by many famous artists today. A film that takes on several layers and avoids exploiting the subject, The Devil and Daniel Johnston is an excellently made documentary.

2005, Cristi Puiuis, Romania
1st Viewing, DVD

Winner of the Un Certain Regard Award at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival this is an inventive dark comedy that is also thoughtful and sad. Even though the film stars professional actors and features a script, there is a strong sense of improvisation and documentary reality here, as the film follows Mr. Lazarescu going ambulance to ambulance as the different hospitals won’t admit him. At 154 minutes, the film is a bit too long (though not boring), but Romanian filmmaker Cristi Puiuis working on epics depths in making an absurd dark comedy, a film that also becomes a social, moral, and philosophical examination of human behavior. I can’t really say everything here works for me, but I applaud this film and can certainly see why it has won such acclaim throughout the world.

September 20th Log

2006, John Hillcoat, Australia / United Kingdom

1st Viewing, DVD

The Proposition literally begins with a bang. The story is quickly developed and simple as it may be it is truly a great one: the title pretty much sums it up: a captain captures two of three criminal brothers and makes a “proposition” with one that he will let them go if kills the oldest brother. The characters are each given a complex depth that makes the story even that much more compelling, and Australian filmmaker John Hillcoat (as well screenwriter Nick Cave) heightens the depth with a profound visual aspect. There is a terrifying sense of brutality and violence but there is also a deeply lyrical expression here. The film is packed with quick, shocking moments of brutal violence yet there are equally effective moments of calm and quiet reflection, which overall gives this film a poetic feel. The visual landscape gives the film an additional layer depth and essentially becomes another character of the film. The performances (by Ray Winstone as the captain, Emily Watson as his wife, and Guy Pearce and Danny Huston as the brothers) are each exceptional and really help give every character an interesting and involved concentration. The deep focus of characters capture the psychological elements of the film (notably guilt and betrayal). This is also a film that examines the cost of a “civilized” society. Set in the outback, The Proposition is a different kind of Western. One that is violent, yet strangely compelling and poetic.

1959, Alian Resnais, France / Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Continuing with the films of Alian Resnais, I re-watched what I believe to be his greatest masterpiece, 1959’s Hiroshima Mon Amour. Hiroshima Mon Amour is a film of such rare beauty. A breathtakingly poetic and powerful examination of time, memory, and the need of forgetting traumatic events in order to go on living. It's also a film of lost love, regret, survival and reconstruction. Hiroshima Mon Amour features an innovative nonlinear structure in which time becomes irrelevant. Like most of Resnais' films, it features flashbacks, dissolves, moments of rapid cutting, fascinating tracking shots, lyrical voice over, and several other unique cinematic techniques. Bottom line, Hiroshima Mon Amour is a masterful and even groundbreaking display of editing, and photography blended with a symbolic story and poetic dialogue, and ultimately among the greatest films ever made.

September 19th Log

2006, Lance Weiler, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

I was fortunate enough to check out this local, independent film with an introduction, screening, and Q&A with the filmmaker Lance Weiler. Weiler is pretty well known in the indie world (especially locally) for his film The Last Broadcast (a film I've still yet to see but will seek out). Head Trauma is his follow-up film and it stays within the horror/thriller/mystery genre. Also, much of the film was shot locally. There is nothing new and inventive in terms of technique or originality as many other psychological horror thrillers come to mind when watching this (notably The Tenant). Of course when we discover a tooth buried in the floorboard Roman Polanski's The Tenant quickly comes to mind, but I'm not sure if these are directly conscious thoughts on the part of Weiler and his screenwriter. I think if anything it captures a natural sense of understanding they have within the genre. In the Q&A Weiler mentioned Stan Brakhage among his key influences (particularly in the experimental style of the films dream sequences). While Head Trauma is nothing groundbreaking, it is clear that the filmmakers are intelligent and very capable of telling a good, involving story. I also learned in the Q&A that the idea behind this story came about from a real life experience he had a couple years ago when he suffered a head injury in a car accident. The strength of the film is the ability to pull off some pretty remarkable visual and sound effect techniques with such a minimal budget (which Weiler stated was in the can at $60,000). Also worth noting is a very solid performance by the lead actor (George, played by Vince Mola). Overall this is a very well made and smart genre film.

September 17th Log

1955, Alain Resnais, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Continuing with the films from French filmmakers Alain Resnais is the 1955 masterpiece Night and Fog. Resnais began in with documentary films and this is one of his very greatest. Night and Fog is the definitive masterpiece of the horrific Holocaust. Perhaps not a film to "enjoy", but definitely one to remember. Even at just 32 minutes, Resnais' Night and Fog remains among the most unsettling films you're likely to ever see. In trademark Resnais fashion, the film uses a distinction of time through both Black and White and Color photography. This film was the first to document the Holocaust and was shocking upon it’s release and still holds theat effect today. Through Resnais' masterful skill with montage editing and poetic narration, the audience is presented a film that will linger long afterwards. Night and Fog details human crueltyand suffering at it's most shockingly brutal and cruel. It's unsettling to experience but an important landmark of filmmaking and history. As expected, the images portrayed throughout the film are horrifying acts of human cruelty, but possibly the most haunting piece of the film lies in the narration at the end, which echoes the theme of, Who is responsible?, as well as the disturbing thought that it could happen again. Once called "the greatest film of all-time" by the great French filmmaker Francois Truffaut, Night and Fog is certainly among the greatest documentaries, and a film you won't soon forget.

September 16th Log

1934, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

Last night I was able to see some early shorts from a couple master filmmakers (Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick) which showed their earliest development and tonight I saw this early Ozu silent that was recently released on dvd. Not Ozu’s first film, and not the earliest work I’ve seen from him, but it does detail some of the themes he would later master. A Mother Should Be Loved is more melodramatic material then Ozu’s best work. The story centers around two brothers that are alienated after the older one secretly discovers their widowed mother is really his stepmother. The film is missing the first and last reels (a lot of which are titles), which detailed the joyful routines of family life with the mother, two sons, and the father, who dies of a heart attack. What survives centers around the central story of the two sons. Made during the death of Ozu’s father, A Mother Should Be Loved takes a look into the separation of the family, a theme he would continue to develop throughout his postwar masterpieces. This film is more plot driven and overall not as powerful as his greatest work, but it is an interesting film to see the early developments of his themes and style.

1942, Michael Curtiz, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Yes, I’ve seen this endless times, but it really never tires. This is one of those classic films that is absolutely worthy of every ounce of praise it receives. It’s a film that gets better with age and not just for nostalgic reasons (though that certainly has something to dot with it’s effect). Casablanca is a film where everything works. It’s Hollywood studio filmmaking at it’s most magical. Star-driven, escapist quality that you just can’t resist. Every time I see the film I moved by the ending. Ingrid Bergman was never really fond of this film (mostly because she was asked about it throughout her career), but she is unforgettably radiant. Images and of course dialogue of this film stay with you long afterwards. One of the aspects that has made this film such an endearing classic is that it is the small details that are most memorable as visual reminders whether it's those big hats, the fog, the planes, the wines glasses, there is always some sort of object that you can visually recall about the film. I can’t say this is the very best film to come out of the Hollywood studio era, but it certainly ranks among the very best. A classic and as ‘time goes by’!!

September 15th Log

2006, Tony Goldwyn, United States

1st Viewing, Theater

I was not a really big fan of the 2001 Italian film The Last Kiss so my expectation for this American remake were not so high. However, here is a rare remake that surpasses it’s original in every way (except for not being the original). Credit to Paul Haggis whose screenplay, under the direction of Tony Goldwyn, re-imagined the film into something that is much more moving and a whole lot more intelligent and mature. Haggis avoids the peachiness he instilled on his audiences with Crash last year and shows the skill he has in writing (let’s not forget he also wrote Million Dollar Baby which is the best script and ultimately best film Clint Eastwood ever made). There is a great sense of characterization and the film finds the very truth of their behaviors and decisions. The ensemble cast is all very strong (I’m unfamiliar with Rachel Bilson but she has a truthful charm, and though Zach Braff always seems dull on screen he still works as the 29 year old who is afraid of entering “the predictability” of adulthood with his pregnant girlfriend). The emotional key here is the parents of the girlfriend (outstandingly played by the always reliable Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner). In them the film finds a great balance of the relationships and painful struggle within. The Last Kiss finds a truth of human behavior in this balance and in these characters. This film was a pleasant surprise and I’ve renewed support for Haggis.

1st Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Tonight Turner Classic Movies featured the sort films of some of the greatest filmmakers. Among hem was a few early shorts from Martin Scorsese. This included the three films at made while a student at New York Film School: His first film 1963’s What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? is a 9 minute comedy of sorts. It features some of the earliest of his later mastery use of techniques (including voice-over narration, repetitive imagery, jump cuts), but above all you can see his characterization themes emerge… His next film It's Not Just You, Murray (1964, 15 min) features a mobster looking back at his life in crime. This film also uses narration and features his mother (who would play roles in many of his feature films). This short reflects his early female characterization as the mobsters blonde wife is first shown as an angelic figure. The film shows his skill with dark comedy, as well as his obvious love and influence of Hollywood gangster films from the 1930s. And of course, there is also a sequence that appears to be a direct homage straight out of Fellini’s 8 ½ ending… The last short is The Big Shave (1968, 6 min). This film was is alternately titled Viet 67’ is simplistic and features no dialogue. It shows a man shaving his face continuously until he begins to pour out blood. The film is a bit disturbing and very bloody (it was his first film shot in color which heightens the intensity). The simplistic and disturbing nature of the film urges to be examined deeper and when you see the alternate title, the film becomes a metaphoric one of the Vietnam war. Overall, these short films are not of the mastery level of Scorsese’s features, but they were a joy to get a chance to see the earliest development of his style and themes.

1st Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

After Martin Scorsese, Turner Classic Movies played the short films of the great Stanley Kubrick. I’ve seen his 13 feature films, but this was the first opportunity to see his three documentary shorts for the first time. TCM played two of them, 1951’s Day of the Fight and Flying Padre also from 1951. Clearly these films are amateurish in comparison to the masters later work, but they are very interesting to watch. Day of the Fight is a particularly good documentary and succeeds in its intentions (which is simply to document the preparations of a boxer ready for his big fight, as well as the fight itself). Stanley Kubrick began as a photographer and he shot most of his early films himself. Though a far cry from his feature films, you can definitely see Kubrick’s mastery of images. The narration of these two shorts is necessary for the content of the film, but is rather dull. These were very interesting films simply to see the earliest work of Kubrick. Thank you Turner Classic Movies!!.


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