Tuesday, October 31, 2006

October Archives #2

October 31st Log

1953 / 1958, Jacques Tati, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

I decided to end the month with a double-billing of two more Jacques Tati classics! Tati is one of the very greatest comedians in the history of film. A master of visual comedy that rates alongside the legendary figures of the silent cinema (Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd). Tati was an artist in every sense. A perfectionist who controlled every detail without compromise. As such, Tati only made six features, but his place in film history is to me one of the very greatest filmmakers of all-time. Like Keaton and Chaplin, Tati began on the stage and like them both Tati was known for playing the same character in his films- Mr. Hulot a charming, everyday yet simpleminded character who seems oblivious of the world around him, which is becoming more and more congested, mad, and device-obsessed. It is his naive mindset that turns the world around him from madness into absolute chaos, and this is where Tati’s comic brilliance is developed. Just from a psychical standpoint Tati’s Mr Hulot looks as if he is living in a world he doesn’t belong in. He looks and especially moves unlike anyone else, as he is always leaning forward on an angle with his trademark hat, pipe, umbrella, and flood pants. In Tati’s world, modern technology and proficient devices ultimately prove to be useless and ineffective. He prefers a life of individuality and one that doesn’t seem hurried to meet everyone’s wants. Above all, Tati supports the hopeful qualities of life and how modernized technology changes can affect the goodness of human connection. Visually, Tati rates as one of the very great masters of composition and space. His films contain very little dialogue (or dialogue that is muffled and dwarfed by sound). Tati’s expression is captured through his masterful use of visual composition and use of sound. Characters, and even the emotional state of characters, are defined by the complex depth of visual compositions (including clothes, posture, behavior, backgrounds, and environment). Tati’s films are specifically concerned with the limits of the visual composition. In a way, Tati’s visuals distant the viewer toward the role of the observant, which ultimately has a more effective emotional connection with the film. His films express visually detailed worlds that are unlike our own yet because we can see, hear and feel it from a distance, the result is essentially an emotionally involving and universal reflection of our own world. After writing and starring in some comedies in the 1930s and 40s, Tati made his directorial debut with 1949’s Jour de Fete. While Jour de Fete is definitive Tati in style and themes, it was his second film (1953’s Mr Hulot’s Holiday) that introduced the world to his beloved Mr. Hulot character. The film was a worldwide success and even earned Tati an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing. His third film (1958’s Mon Oncle) may be his most fully celebrated and endearing comic masterworks. A quintessentially observant visual comedy, Mon Oncle is a satire of humanities modernized obsession. It may be the funniest of all his films, but to me his greatest masterpiece was his next film, 1967’s Playtime. Tati’s cinema blends charming and inventive visual gags, social satire, and a mastery of emotional expression through visual composition and sound. He stands as one of the worlds all-time greatest and most artistically expressive comedians. Both available on Criterion DVD, Mr Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle are highly recommended for all audiences!

October 30th Log

1980, Akira Kurosawa, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Akira Kurosawa’s 1980 epci samirai film was made with what was (at the time) the largest budget in Japanese film history. In order to secure such a massive budget, Toho Studios gained funding from 20th Century Fox (at the encouragment of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola). I’ve seen this film a couple times, and while there is plenty to admire I believe Kagemusha to be one of Kurosawa’s weakest and most dated films. This was Kurosawa’s third film in color (behind Derusu Uzara and Dodes'ka-den) and his narrative vision changed over the transition. Themetically Kurosawa always remained similar (with a focus on humanity and nature, aging, war, power, etc). Kagemusha also recalls a trademark theme of power and the contrast of illusion and reality. His color films are made in a more dream-like state and Kagemusha is no exception. Ultimatly Kurosawa’s vision is distant and duller then his psychologically complex films of feudal Japan. Kurosawa can tend to be preachy at times, but the biggest problem with this film may be an inconsistency that never captures the epci scale it strives for. The images are very often vivid and profound, byt they seemed distant and sporadic causing a surpringly uninteresting film. Certainly not a bad film, but Kagemusha is forgettable among Kurosawa’s filmography (especially since he followed it up with perhaps his greatest achivement, 1985’s Ran).

October 29th Log

2005, Barry W. Blaustein, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The Ringer is a good film, but one that is also a mixed bag. A personal project for the Farrelly Brothers (who co-produced- but did not write or direct the film- and gave the Special Olympics full approval for the films release), The Ringer is sweet and charming but nit as often funny or original as the Farrelly’s films usually are. The heart is in the right place here, which doesn’t use Special Olympics as a source of exploitation or cheap laughs, and you do have to admire the intentions which is above all a film that respects the mentally challenged as equals. The strength is that the film does not present this urge in a way that is condescending, but rather compassionate and genuine. The problem is that the script (written by Ricky Blitt) is relatively all to familiar and the early setup of the story is rather uninspiring. The performances are fine, and help keep an emotional attachment to the characters. All in all, despite the script, The Ringer is a film to admire.

October 28th Log

1952, Nicholas Ray, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

"Sometimes people who are never alone are the loneliest." In many ways, Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground is atwo-part film (particularly visually), with the first half being quintessential film noir (urban atmosphere, dark shadows, violence) and the second half becomes almost a romance in the snowy and wintry countryside. Ray's direction is flawless and the films imagery is both poetic and beautiful despite the simplistic filmmaking approach. Adding to Ray'sabsorbing atmosphere and humane characterization is Bernard Herrmann's wonderful musical score, and outstanding performances by Robert Ryan, Ida Lupino, andWard Bond. Ray is such a brilliant craftsman, and On Dangerous Ground rates among his most overlooked films that has only improved over time (even Ray himself said hewas not happy with this film when it was released). It's pretty remarkable discovering the depth, beauty, and vision within this film and repeat viewings only heighten the impact. Ultimately, On Dangerous Ground is a psychological examination of morality, loneliness, depression whichfeatures powerful and poetic images of environment. A rare display of noir from a highly skillful and bold filmmaker.

2001, Takashi Miike, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

The Happiness of the Katakuris is made by cult Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, who stands as a modern day master of horror and atmosphere. Here is one of his most unique, original, and ultimately best films. The Happiness of the Katakuris blends elements of his quintessential violent horror (Audition, Ichi the Killer) with some truly absurd humor and singing. Yes, this is a musical comedy horror!! The energy and imagination is incredibly absorbing.Miike pretty much throws everything he can think of at the audience and the film just strangely has you smiling the entire time simply because of how oddly clever and refreshingly unique everything is. There is some warmth and care hidden within this film, but above all it is good cinematic fun. The Happiness of the Katakuris is a rare film in every sense!

October 27th Log

2006, Sofia Coppola, United States / France / Japan

1st Viewing, Theater

Marie Antoinette is very representative of Sofia Coppola’s cinematic style and themes. This is her third film and each of them have equally dealt with young woman trapped in a foreign world of isolation, loneliness, and boredom. While her other features were (at least to me) self-conscious and dull attempts of recreating Michelangelo Antonioni or Wong Kar-Wai, Marie Antoinette is a wonderful personal expression of an artist. Here Coppola captures the poetic expression of her imagery and sounds in a spirit that evokes the groundbreaking American pioneers of the 1970s (such as her father Francis Ford Coppola, or more specifically Terrence Malick). While not breaking cinematic grounds with this film, Coppola isn’t conforming within any boundaries either, and the result is an epic film of artistic achievement with a free and personal vision. Really to my surprise, I loved this film in every way. I think because above all, it is one of feeling. Coppola is less interested in ideas (be it political, historical, or psychological). Her interest is in mood, in gestures, tones, themes, and sensibilities. Those looking for intellectual or historic depth may be left disappointed, because this is a film at its best when playful and silly. That is not to say the film is without meaning and importance (or focus). The film distances the viewer from the past and period drama through modern effects (such as the unexpectedly non-distracting new wave music, or the removable of language accents), Coppola ultimately captures an emotional truth. At its core this modernized approach expresses the playful spirit of a young woman’s emotional and physical state. A dreamlike world of being entrapped into an unfamiliar environment of loneliness, and the longing for teenage freedom and possession (as well as rebellion). Often dialogue is never needed here. Through dazzling visuals, set designs, costumes, and makeup Marie Antoinette pitch-perfectly evokes this emotional expression (of which is clearly very personal to Coppola as a filmmaker, who can certainly make some parallels). Based on a sympathetic biography of Maria Antoinette, Coppola is deeply compassionate towards her. Ultimately this is a film of Coppola’s key expression, which is that of a lonely, imprisoned girl who retreats to her own private world of imagination but is destroyed by the uncontrollable desires within (being a young woman). Essentially Coppola is presenting this film as a dreamlike fantasy world through Marie Antoinette’s own imagination as she grows from a teenager to a woman. This is why Coppola films the final moments of Maria Antoinette as she does. While on a narrative level it may be flawed, I find her ending perfectly fitting and the final shot a beautifully expressive and essential image that defines the emotional and physical state the character. With her third film, Sofia Coppola has made a masterpiece!

1962, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

An Autumn Afternoon is Ozu's final statement and in many ways one of his greatest films. Made in the year of his mothers death (whom he lived with his entire life), it is a deeply personal film of loneliness, and alcoholism and death. It's once again simplistic in approach and a film that reexamines many of his father-daughter themes used in previous films. It also contains moments that are inspirational and humorous. Really An Autumn Afternoon is the perfect final film for Ozu as he leaves his final marks on the quintessential style and themes of of his postwar work. As Ozu grew older his films became less and less focused on plot, but the emotional complexities always remain, and this is one of his richest emotional films. Above all, An Autumn Afternoon captures Ozu trademark postwar philosophy of life that change as well as sadness are both necessary and expected, and in order to be happy they should be accepted. Ozu's final images beautifully summarize both the film and his career: A drunk Shuhei (played by Ozu's definitive actor Chishu Ryu) mumbles to himself "Now I'm all alone" before the film cuts to a series of interior shots of the isolated home (representing Shuhei's emotional feeling). Then the film concludes with the final Ozu image of Shuhei alone and pouring tea before sitting down, a truly unforgettable final image that flawlessly (and incredibly simplistically) portrays the emotions of loneliness and loss. It is rather fitting that his final film is one which examines the cycle of life. Ozu died a year after this film was made, but his life remains unforgettable.

October 26th Log

1949, Jacques Tati, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Jacques Tati’s first feature film was originally shot in both black and white and color, with the intention to be the first French feature film in color. Problems with the technology restricted the release to black-and-white. In 1995 the film was restored to color as Tati’s intention by his daughter. The result is a magical film full of Tati’s trademark expression and visual mastery of compositions. Tati’s later masterpieces would develop from this style and themes here, which again are almost without plot but rather full of observations. Many of the comedic gags come from Tati’s previous short film (1947’s School For Postmen), which also starred Tati as Francois the postman. The expression use of color is definitive in the way Tati captures the emotional essence of the film (which is to establish a small town dull and colorless existence suddenly spring to vivid life with the arrival of a carnival, only to return back as the carnival pulls away). Few filmmakers in the history of cinema are equal to Tati mastery of visual compositions and sounds, which is why he rates among the most unique and important artists in the history of filmmaking. He perfectly controls and details how sounds, colors, and space react within the imagery. Jour De Fete is the earliest representation of his genius and a film that defines how remarkably important and ahead of his time he was. While paralleling a postwar French society, Tati examines a postal worker desire (after watching a newsreel) to deliver mail in the fast-paced, high technology American style. In Tati’s world, modern technology and proficient devices ultimately prove to be useless and ineffective. He prefers a life of individuality and one that doesn’t seem hurried to meet everyone’s wants. Above all, Tati supports the hopeful qualities of life and how modernized technology changes can affect the goodness of human connection. This is all captured in Tati’s key observing character established throughout the film (an old lady with a cane and goat who moves throughout the village shares her thoughts and opinions). Tati would develop the themes and expressions of this film on funnier and more artistic levels, but Jour De Fete stands as a great early introduction to one of cinema’s most gifted filmmakers.

1940, Joseph Santley, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

After gaining attention from audiences with her stunning supporting performance in Howard Hawks great 1939 film Only Angels Have Wings (which starred Cary Grant and Jean Arthur), Rita Hayworth was on the verge of stardom. This 1940 film helped propel that stardom a bit further (though it really wasn’t until Columbia Pictures lent her to Warner Brothers for 1941’s Strawberry Blonde that made Hayworth a true star). Columbia Pictures screen goddess of the 1940’s, Hayworth is not at her most memorable here, but it is a joy to see the early development of her terrific career. Hayworth is most remembered for her good-bad girl roles (such as Gilda, Affair in Trinidad, and Lady From Shanghai), but she began as a dancer and some of her finest performances have come in musicals. Here Hayworth is only given a minor moment of dance as the stage is mostly set for Tony Martin’s singing. Much of the plot of this film is rather silly, but as a star-driven vehicle this has plenty of charm. Hayworth is stunning and there are enough little laughs throughout. While not the most significance of films, Music In My Heart is a film that speaks of true love as the conquering strength. Hayworth is one of my all-time favorite actresses, so I may be biased in saying this is a highly enjoyable film.

1949, George Cukor, United States

Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy starred in 9 films together over a span of 25 years (of which they also shared an off-screen relationship). Most of them are fine films, but to me the one that stands out as truly great is Adam's Rib (their 6th film together). This is smartest and funniest Hepburn and Tracy collaboration and as in all their films together, the chemistry shines. Adam's Rib is a classic "battle of the sexes" comedy in which Hepburn plays a lawyer who is happily married to a District Attorney (played by Tracy). They eventually find themselves battling on opposite sides of a high-profile marriage case. Adam's Rib is directed by George Cukor, who always managed to get great performances from his stars. Cukor especially workedwell with leading ladies, and most particularly Hepburn, whom he directed on a total of 10 films. Adam's Rib presents generally equal sympathy for both sides of this "battle of the sexes", but it does appear Cukor slightly favors Hepburn. Either way, Adam's Rib is magical and truly funny from start to finish. This is a classic and the best collaboration of one of film history's most memorable on-screen duos.

October 25th Log

1974, Billy Wilder, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Based on the original play by Ben Hecht (who is cleverly mentioned in a funny line of dialogue here) and made into several well known features (includes Howard Hawks classic screwball comedy His Girl Friday), The Front Page is one of the last films made by the great Billy Wilder. Most of the dialogue is rewritten by Wilder (one of the great screenwriter of film history), but most of the story remains. The material is well-suited for Wilder’s darkly cynical taste, a world that newspaper reporter inhabit themselves with. The film doesn’t always work, particularly in the middle, but Wilder’s sparkling dialogue keeps things going along at a highly entertaining and witty pace. And of course, with Wilder the ending is always classic, as again just as we think he has gone soft, Wilder hits the audience with his trademark cynical punchline to end the film. Another reason the film stays enjoyable throughout is the energetic chemistry of the cast, lead by the great duo of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, who have starred in over ten films together (including Wilder’s 1966 The Fortune Cookie). Matthau seems to especially be having fun in the more exaggerated role of the editor of the paper Walter Burns. Also making an appearance in one of her youngest roles is Susan Sarandon as Lemmon’s fiance Peggy Grant. Not quite the masterful level of Hawks film or even among Wilder’s greatest films, The Front Page is still a pretty good film.

2002, Todd Haynes, United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Todd Haynes 2002 film, Far From Heaven, is bold and involving. There is no question about the influences here: the 1950s Technicolor melodramas by Douglas Sirk (most notably All That Heaven Allows). Aside from capturing the look, emotions, sounds, feelings, and period details of the era, Haynes is essentially making the film has if it were the 1950s. What results is a work that that is not only deeply respectful of it's inspirations, but also gives more complex examination and in many ways is perhaps more authentic and more important, and more powerful. Todd Haynes has made a 1950s film without holding back the restrictions those films did at the time. Julianne Moore's performance is amazing. It's as if Moore (and the viewer) lose themselves in the character. Everything we see becomes and feels real. The supporting cast is equally wonderful, lead by the always reliable Dennis Quaid and Patricia Clarkson. This is a film of human feelings and behavior. It is a love story of two lost souls who relationship is doomed by a society and behavior of ignorance and hatred. The films greatest strength lies in the beautiful photography. The colors are so refreshing and it's as if they help tell the story without feeling staged. From the opening crane shot through the fall leaves, Far From Heaven is a flawless film of visual imagery. Every detail is finely designs from colors, locations, sets, and costumes. But above all this is a film of masterful compositions, which (like the themes of the film) hold endless layers and depth beneath the surface. There is such richness and patterned texture within every frame of the composition, which captured the expression of the film (often without the need of dialogue). This is filmmaking at it's most visually complex and artistic. The emotional style may seem a bit too melodramatic and dated to some viewers. However, those that appreciate the glorious cinematography, fine detailed sets and costumes, haunting score, and flawless directing and acting, will see it for what it is: A completely respectful, authentic and sometimes painful look at what life was really like back in "the good old days" that in so many ways really weren't all that great! Bottom line: a masterpiece film that will hit on all visual and emotion levels.

October 24th Log

2006, Gil Kenan, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

When Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis are involved you know you are in for some great adventure, storytelling, and special effects. For the most part this digitally animated film delivers, but I was still left a little disappointed. I think the films problem is that it gears so much for it’s childhood audience that it leaves less of an impact on adults (something that isn’t very common from Spielberg). Not to say the film is unintelligent, but I think the second half rushes along so much that the wonder and imagination (as well as the transition from childhood to puberty) that the film establishes early on, quickly losses track during the final climatic moments after they enter the house, as the film seems more interested in dazzling audiences with spooky visual effects and sounds. The film is really at it’s best early on when dealing with the growth of adolescence and the sense of fairy-tale mystery and innocence of the children curiosity with the house. It is these opening moments that are reminiscent of the joyous imagination of Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki, but his films never leave focus on the artistic world of the characters (even in the most thrilling and adventurous moments). As I said, such is usually the case with Spielberg and Zemeckis who most often do not sacrifice effects for storytelling (but then again they are only the producers of this film, which obviously was a box office hit). Monster House is well made and the animation is very impressive. This is a good film for adults and children, but adults may be left with less interest towards the final act.

2006, Jared Hess, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Jared Hess scored a big and wildly growing cult following with his 2004 debut Napoleon Dynamite. Here Hess blends his style with writer-comedian Mike White and Jack Black for a film that isn’t quite as funny as Hess debut, but is still very entertaining. Much of Hess’ oddball dry humor is again evident in Nacho Libre as well the sensible compassion both he and White have shown in their films. One of the charm this film is lacking that makes Napoleon Dynamite a more watchable film on repeat viewings is the characters. Here they are much more tied down to plot, where as Napoleon Dynamite’s lack of plot gave the characters a freer and untimely funnier depth. But of course, Jack Black is terrific and seemingly having lots of fun in the lead role. He always brings such a comedic energy and even when overdone (such as here) it still works. Nacho Libre has some conventions about that that don’t always work, but overall it’s entertaining, and as enjoyable as Black is I think the side characters of Hess’s film again shine brightest (even if not given as much freedom).

2001, Todd Field, United States
Repeat Viewing, Independent Film Channel

In preparing for the soon to be released Little Children (which features perhaps the best trailer I’ve seen all year), I decided to rewatch Todd Field’s acclaimed debut drama, 2001’s In the Bedroom. The film is moving on many levels (both in terms of filmmaking and emotional impact) and leaves the viewer with much to ponder and remember. Field presents the film in a mysterious emotional way through rhythmic pace and symbolic imagery. What it ultimately effects is the final moments which raises thought-provoking ideas upon the entire film (while also completely shifting the tone of the film without an ounce of forced melodrama). There are moments that are calm, and quite while exhilarating within a flash. In the Bedroom is essentially divided into a multiple character-study and the deteriorating grief of tragedy they are living with. This is the rhythmic flow that Field has so excellently created with this film. Of course one of the keys of the dramatic force is undeniably in the reliance of the performances, which are top-notch all the way. Field’s background began in acting and his sensible understanding of the dramatic performance is evident when watching him director these actors (Tom Wilkinson is particularly outstanding, especially in the previous mentioned conclusion of the film). This is really only the first time I’ve seen this film since it’s 2001 release, and I must say it left me with a greater impact. I like the enigmatic sense of direction Field gives this otherwise straight-forward drama (which examines depths of tragic loss, grief, and anger). In the Bedroom is a powerful film and a great feature filmmaking debut.

October 23rd Log

2006, Kevin Macdonald, United Kingdom
1st Viewing, Theater

The Last King of Scotland begins with a young Scottish doctor looking for adventure, who decides to spin a globe to decide where he will go. After first landing on Canada, he spins again and lands on the more exotic“ Uganda. So begins the film, which is said to be based on a true story and adapted from a novel by Giles Foden. This opening moment presents a key metaphoric message of the film, which ultimately uses the main character (Nicholas Garrigan, played by James McAvoy) as a metaphor. Films with metaphoric use of characters can often be forced, but this films strength is the wonderful intelligence it conveys. Using the terrifying real life figure of the evil, brutal, yet personally charming Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (played with brilliance by Forest Whitaker), the film blends the fictional character who represents a symbol of Western imperialism. A key moment comes when Amin tells Nicholas he has come to Africa to “play the savior white man”. It is this subtle understanding of ignorance and power that make The Last King of Scotland an intelligent and effective film (the script is co-written by Peter Morgan, who also wrote the highly insightful script of The Queen). Aided by a cast of solid performances (including the always under appreciated Kerry Washington- who needs to start getting some major roles in films!) The Last King of Scotland is a very well made film, particularly for it’s meaningful examinations underneath the surface of the story.

2006, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, Thailand / Netherlands / Hong Kong

1st Viewing, DVD

Thai filmmaker Pen-Ek Ratanaruang re-teams with his Last Life in the Universe cinematographer Christopher Doyle in this disappointing. After showing some promising talent in his previous 2003 film (Last Life in the Universe) and even the charming 2001 comedy Transistor Love Story, Ratanaruang’s sixth feature film proves to be the work of an amateur. Invisible Waves is a highly disappointing film that will most likely get much more praise then it deserves. Using elements of film noir and the gangster genre, Invisible Waves is essentially poor storytelling disguised as art. One of the films biggest problems is the dull dialogue, which ultimately effects both the performances and the overall tone of the film. Doyle’s photography is undeniably gorgeous but the images are conveyed by a hollow film. Never is there any sense of connection of even disconnection with this film. No emotional involvement, or atmospheric feeling, the film is simply artificial both emotionally and visually. While I’ve criticized much Invisible Waves, I must admit it does have it’s qualities on a stylistic level. I just think the film is a disappointment because of the potential and the filmmakers involved. If you’re interested in Thai cinema, my suggestion is starting elsewhere, like Ratanaruang’s previous films or even more so I’d say to check out the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady, Blissfully Yours), who is yet to disappoint.

October 21st Log

2006, Stephen Frears, United Kingdom / France / Italy
1st Viewing, Theater

Directed by versatile director Stephen Frears The Queen is a film that succeeds on many levels. Obviously the performance of the always reliable Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II is the driving center of the film. She is absolutely terrific and will undoubtedly be remembered during the awards season (I will go on record as saying she is a lock for at least an Oscar nomination as Best Actress). However, not to be overlooked is the wonderful script of this film (written by Peter Morgan), which delves into many insightful levels ranging from psychological, social, and political. The film uses archive events surrounding the death of Princess Diana as the new Prime Minister Tony Blair (solidly played by Michael Sheen) uses the mass media to mourn the “people’s princess”. Blair’s modernized methods contrast those of the royal family, who’s values are held much differently (and ultimately they lose the support of a grieving county). It is this generation divide that lies at the center of this film, which succeeds mostly in its impartial views. Blair is essentially left feeling sympathetic (or is it guilty) for the Queen, and even though she is forced to conform against her will, she never lets her belief and values change (even if her country has). The film examinations a new era of “global modernized”, and a society imprisoned or obsessed with celebrities and tabloids. The performances effortlessly capture the emotional essence and they deserve to be highly applauded, but the intelligence and awareness of the material, makes this an important and honest film.

1959, Otto Preminger, United States

Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Anatomy of a Murder is not only one of (if not the!) greatest courtroom films ever made, it's also among the truly greatest films of all-time, period! There's just so much to love about this film. It's a film that was years ahead of it's time and remains fresh, and exciting today. Otto Preminger's direction is simply put, flawless. Even at 160 minutes, there is not a moment wasted (from the legendary Saul Bass' wonderful opening title design sequence through the "poetic justice", final shot of the high heel). There are many factors that Anatomy of a Murder such an engaging film, but none more then the jazz score of the genius Duke Ellington. Ellington is, to me, the greatest musical composer/songwriter of the 20th Century, and here he makes his landmark statement in cinema, with one of the most absorbingly beautiful scores in film history. The always brilliant James Stewart gives yet another memorable performance, as does George C Scott in the role of the prosecuting attorney. Together they display a fascinating display of intelligence, depth, chemistry, and alot of humor. There are some unforgettable, fast, and witty verbal exchanges that capture a comedic, an authentic, and a dramatic emotional response. Anatomy of a Murder often gets forgotten among the greatest films in American cinema, however it's timelessness and brilliance has proven it's certainly worthy of such recognition! Preminger was one of the pioneer filmmakers that put an end to the Studio Production Code and ultimately paved the way for the revolutionary young filmmakers who emerged in the 1960s and 70s. Anatomy of a Murder is one of the key films in Preminger’s fight to defeat the Production Code system. Indeed this film is “poetic justice for all”

1946, Charles Vidor, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Turner Classic Movies followed up Anatomy of a Murder with another one of my all-time favorite studio classics, 1946’s Gilda starring one the most naturally beautiful actresses to ever grace the screen. Though it comes almost 20 minutes into the film, Rita Hayworth's first appearance on screen remains the embodiment of both the film and her wonderful career. It's a moment that is quite simple, but deeply effective in portraying one of cinema's most memorable screen beauties. The flirtatious look, beautiful smile, and of course gorgeous hair display everything we need to know about Gilda the character and Hayworth the "Love Goddess." There's never been and will never be another like her, and Gilda stands as one of her defining performances. It's easyto forget, but this film does have more qualities aside from Hayworth's energy and presence. The black and white cinematography is lusciously shot. Lighting and shadows are symbolically used throughout as a technique in paralleling good and evil. Director Charles Vidor finely directs a strong script, which actually involves heavy sexual undertones (both heterosexual and bisexual). Obviously Production Code limitations prevented the film from going as far as it could have. However, Gilda remains an effective melodramatic film noir romance that examines an unusual love and hate connection. But the undeniable force of the film is that of Hayworth's glamorous and unforgettable performance as the good bad girl. "Put the Blame on Mame!"

October 20th Log

2004, Yvan Attal, France
1st Viewing, DVD

“I know all.” Says the wife to her husband. It is said in a sarcastic tone that would seem to be joking (at least that is what her husband assumes). However, this moment reveals something more and it is one of the key elements of the film: the feelings we hide within. Of course the film is not concerned solely on this, because like human relationships it is much more complicated and complex. Happily Ever After is like director/actor Yvan Attal’s feature debut (My Wife Is an Actress) in its themes of marriage and sensitivities of human relationships. Again Attal recalls Woody Allen, but in a more realist style. Happily Ever After has some charming moments, most of which arise whenever Charlotte Gainsbourg graces the screen (she again plays the wife to her real-life husband Attal). Gainsbourg has recently become one of my favorite actresses and she is radiant once more here. The films title is an ironic one, but the film does not leave closure and is ultimately left open for cynical and possible even hopeful conclusions. I think the couple is in love, but they are also hiding their feelings and are longing for something else. As a whole, Happily Ever After may not be a flawless film, but in the moments it works, the film soars. Notably in the two scenes Gainsbourg shares with Johnny Depp (one without dialogue in a record store, and another dreamy moment in the films final sequence).

1949, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

It is Friday night so that could only mean one thing… Ozu, Ozu, Ozu!!! This is a tradition I started last month, and I think it will be one that I continue for a very long time. For this Friday I scheduled the film that is arguably Ozu’s most definitive masterpiece of the postwar era: 1949’s Late Spring. I have seen this film many times and will continue to revisit it throughout my lifetime, which it has deeply impacted. The film is so incredibly sad yet there is a peacefulness to it that makes it such a wonderful hopeful and beautiful film to me. Stylistically the film is nearly unparallel in terms of visual expression through compositions and space. The most simplistic and methods are applied, yet the films evolves into complex depths that few films can capture. Ozu is a master poet, a filmmaker with the most unique and definitive filmmaking style. His simplicity extends throughout the film and into the performances which I’d rate among the most emotionally effective in the history of cinema. Take the moving scene at the Noh play. This may be one of the single greatest moments in terms of performance in film, and it is expressed with the most subtle gestures and movements and without a single word of dialogue. You see everything in Setsuko Hara’s movements and when she drops her head, your heart breaks alongside hers. There is so much I could say about this film. I love it so much and would undoubtedly consider it among the most perfect films ever made!!

October 19th Log

1944, Vincente Minnelli, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Ah, Meet Me in St. Louis!! To me, one of the richest and loveliest films in all of American cinema! Vincente Minnelli's classic is an impossible film to resist... for anyone! Really, it's hard to imagine anyone with a beating heart not finding something to enjoy. It's such a charming film that everyone can relate to and cherish. It's a film that is getting better with age. A truly classic and warm-hearted tale of family and loved ones. Judy Garland shines in perhaps her greatest screen performance. The musical numbers rate among the most memorable of all-time (featuring such classics as "The Trolley Song," "The Boy Next Door," "Skip To My Lou", and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"). Also, this is one of the earlier films which incorporate the musical sequences into the films narrative. While the plot line is thin, Meet Me In St Louis remains effective through rich characterization, beautiful music, great performances, and Minnelli's mastery of visual compositions, spaces, and colors. It's a beautiful film of the joys, and heartbreaks that can separate or disrupt, but ultimately reunite a family. There are countless scenes of wonder, laughter, and even sadness. The ending is perfect, and absolutely touching. Meet Me In St Louis is one of Hollywood's greatest musicals. A heartwarming, classic film for all to enjoy!

2002, Guillermo del Toro, United States / Germany
1st Viewing, DVD

As with most sequels, Blade 2 packs on a whole lot more action and twists. The 1998 feature was actually pretty good film and for the most part this one is equal and in many aspects better. Cinematically Blade 2 is a superior film and that may have something to do with it’s far more talented filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who’s experience with genre fans have established a cult following. Del Toro does his best with a script (notably the poor dialogue) that is flawed and tedious. There is plenty of action, recalling many of the dazzling effects and choreographed fight sequences of the post-Matrix era. However, it was the original Blade film that came out a year prior to The Matrix so this series holds it’s own historic relevance). At the center of the films theme is an examination of fatherhood or more specifically powerful figures (and trusting in them). In the sequel Blade finds himself joining sides with the enemy in order to destroy a new breed of “vampires” that are destroying the world. They are almost a mix of vampire and zombie, which works well within the imagination of Del Toro, who’s filmography is most renowned for horror. Above all, Del Toro gives this series an exciting cinematic style through cinematography, settings, editing, and sound. I can’t say I enjoyed every element of this film, but Blade 2 is a successful Marvel comic adaptation that succeeds on all of the levels of solid genre filmmaking.

October 18th Log

1994, Lodge H. Kerrigan, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Clean, Shaven is the debut feature film from Lodge Kerrigan. Like his 2004 film Keane, Clean Shaven is a film an emotionally involving one. The film centers around two main characters: a man suffering a mental illness who returns home and goes in search of his daughter, and a detective who is investing a murder. Eventually the two narratives intertwine and the film leaves the audience assuming the man is the murder throughout the film, but ultimately is never conclusive and left open for interpretation. Certainly doubt arises in both the detective and the specifically the audience in the final moments. Through experimental techniques and low-budget filmmaking this is a unique and at times very disturbing film (particularly for it’s notorious finger nail cutting scene). Rather then developing the story through plot details, the filmmaker focuses on the emotional level of the lead character (outstanding performed by Peter Greene) to progress the story (which is above all the relationship of a father and daughter, also very much like Kerrigan’s Keane). The other key device is progressing the story through the prominent and conscious use of sound in connection with specific images. Clean, Shaven is an deeply involving, strange, and unsettling film.

2005, Keith Beauchamp, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till is a film that holds a value for its importance and passionate filmmaking. Keith Beauchamp is a filmmaker determined to find justice and even though it has been over 50 years his 2005 documentary is moving closer to the goal. In fact, the facts and evidence found during the making of this film was enough to reopen the case. Through archive footage, eyewitness, and an emotionally touching interview with Till’s mother Mamie Till, the film details both the tragedy and ultimately the revolutionary impact. The specifically film becomes a reflection of the strength and will of Till’s mother who’s interview is the emotional core of this film. The film and Beauchamp’s resolve is a tribute to Emmett Louis Till and his families impact and importance in the American civil rights movement. However, closure has not been secured until there is some kind of justice. The march moves on.

1971, Jacques Tati, France / Italy
Repeat Viewing, DVD

After nearly going bankrupt on the making of his masterpiece 1967’s Playtime (which took over 10 years to make and suffered through a critical backlash), Jacques Tati had to conform against his perfectionist intentions in order to get another film financed. With Playtime, Tati wanted to put less of a focus on his trademark Hulot character. However, for financing reasons, Tati was forced to compromise. Trafic is a more conventional and less creative follow-up to Playtime, but still has the elegant and perhaps even more cynical personal touch of it’s filmmaker. The film follows Hulot on a trip from Paris to an auto show in Amsterdam. Of course on the way many comic and crazy develop and the film expresses Tati’s satirical themes of a chaotic society of everyday human behavior and obsessions. Through a masterful use of sound and visual expression (highlighted by Tati’s beautiful choreographed gags and compositions), Trafic becomes a wondrous and reflective comedy from a true genius of filmmaking. Even when not at the peak of creative freedom, a beautiful and hilarious little masterpiece emerges. The smallest details and subtle personal expressions within the layers of the film make repeat viewings even more enjoyable. This marked the last film made with the Hulot character, and Tati made only one more feature film (Parade in 1974). Despite only six feature films to his credit, to me Tati stands as one of cinemas very greatest filmmakers ever, and all of his films deserved to be embraced!!

October 17th Log

2001, Yvan Attal, France

1st Viewing, DVD

This is the feature directorial debut of actor Yvan Attal and any comparisons to Woody Allen is certainly justified in more ways then one. However, that is certainly not to discredit My Wife is an Actress as a film lacking in originality, but the true strength lies in it’s delightful cast and energetic chemistry. The film centers around Attal’s character who is obsessively jealous over his wife’s (played by the irresistible Charlotte Gainsbourg) career, most notably her love scenes (with other actors, such as Terrence Stamp). There is a realist sense of these characters and their lives that make this an appealing romantic comedy. Attal and Gainsbourg are real life husband and wife and the connection definitely is captured on screen. Perhaps the film even works as a reflection of Attal’s own personal absurd psychological state and his relationship with Gainsbourg (even the characters of the film are only referred to as Yvan and Charlotte). This, as well as Yvan’s depressive anxiety, insecurity, and obsessive behavior are undoubtedly reminiscent of Woody Allen’s own later-ego director-actor persona of his films. In thematic characterizations, and style (including the films wonderful jazz score), My Wife is an Actress has the feel of an Allen film made in France. The appeal of Gainsbourg is hat attracted me to see this film. Seeing her charming radiance in Science of Sleep encouraged me to seek out her previous films. She has a truly great presence on screen. While it may be difficult to view this film as romantic, it does capture a sense of humanity and relationships that is strangely romantic and essential. This is not a film for everyone, but I found it to be surprisingly sweet and charming from the beautiful opening titles (featuring old film star stills and jazz music) to the lovely final shot (a freeze frame reminiscent of something out of a 1960s Jean-Luc Godard film).

2006, Paul Weitz, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

I’m a very big fan of director Paul Weitz previous film, the highly underrated In Good Company and was disappointed I didn’t get a chance to see his latest film, American Dreamz, in the theater. Here Weitz is going for a more scathing satire on American politics and the media pop culture icon known as American Idol. It certainly doesn’t hide its aim and while a bit overbearing in message, the overall result of the film remains equally funny and enjoyable. In the end, the film takes a more light-hearted approach while still keeping a cynical edge. The material here is fairly familiar territory but the intelligent filmmaking and endearing performances help keep the film fresh and exciting throughout. I’m definitely a fan of Many Moore and Dennis Quaid and they are again solid here alongside a talented cast (Hugh Grant, Willem Dadoes, Marcia Gay Harden, and the underused combination of John Chow and Judy Greer). American Dreamz is not in the class of Network, a masterpiece satire of American media culture, but it is a good film.

October 16th Log

1999, Takashi Miike, Japan / South Korea
Repeat Viewing, DVD

I saw this film for the first time nearly a year ago and since I think I’ve seen it at least three more times. Audition begins as a calm and quiet story of a lonely widow father that resembles the work of the great Yasujiro Ozu... then the telephone rings and instantly the tone turns into on of a surreal display of horror and torture. I think there is a fine line to how successful these films can be, but Audition is masterful achievement in filmmaking and has inspired countless inspirations throughout the world (most of which are far inferior exploitation shock films). Directed by cult Japanese horror master, Takashi Miike, Audition is a masterpiece of genre filmmaking. Through Miike's atmospheric visuals (including beautifully composed cinematography, long static takes, color symbolism, etc) Audition becomes a blend of reality and dreams (or perhaps nightmares). There are plenty of shocks, twists, and uneasy gore here, yet what makes Audition so brilliant is the psychological and philosophical depth of Miike's visual atmosphere. The film has such an elegant innocence to it yet is contrasted by the terrifying chaos of the second half (expressed in a hauntingly composed shot where as the telephone rings the camera jerks and we are shown a close-up of a smile). This is perfectly captured through Miike's narrative structure and the memorable and very convincing performance of Eihi Shiina (as Asami). Ryo Ishibashi is also very good as Aoyama a lonely widow father who finally decides to move past his wife's death and find another woman. However, Aoyama is doomed the moment he calls Asami back and it is not for anything he has done, but rather because of Asami's inner-struggle with a haunting past. Ultimately, Audition is a film that examines a psychotic rebellion against the conforming role of woman within the Japanese culture. Surreal, absorbing, gruesome, terrifying, and mysterious Audition remains an unforgettable film and I believe Miike's greatest achievement as a filmmaker.

Monday, October 16, 2006

October Archives #3

October 15th Log

2003, Jim Jarmusch, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Coffee and Cigarettes is not one of Jim Jarmusch’s most significant or original works. It’s really a rather minor piece of his wonderful filmography (which is highlighted by my three favorite Jarmusch films: Dead Man, Stranger Than Paradise, and Mystery Train). As an all-out fun cinematic experience and offbeat style and humor this is trademark Jarmusch. A film without plot or conventions with a focus on little details that happen in-between plot structure. Using his tradition minimalist approach, Coffee and Cigarettes is essentially twelve different short films each similar in content (discussion over Coffee and Cigarettes!!). The result is surprisingly very entertaining. Obviously some skits are better then others, but all the actors are great to watch, and many have been in Jarmusch's other films (Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi, Rza, Roberto Benigni, etc). The segment with Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan is a riot, but I simply can’t resist the Cate Blanchett ‘Cousins’ segment. I’m absolutely in love with Cate Blanchett!! She is my favorite actress today and easily among my favorites ever, and here she gives such a simplistic masterful performance as both herself and her envious cousin (Australian accent and all!). What a joy to watch and it gets better and better on repeat viewings. In fact after the film was done, I watched the ‘Cousins’ segment again. Cate is the best!!! That segment really makes this so much more valuable and watchable to me. Coffee and Cigarettes is a enjoyable if uneven film. I’d recommend almost any other Jarmusch film over this, but fans of Cate Blanchett MUST see her shine in a twelve minute segment of pure gold!!

1985, Jean-Luc Godard, France

1st Viewing, DVD

It has been awhile since I’ve watched or rewatched a Jean-Luc Godard film and the recent DVD release of Hail Mary gave me an opportunity to see a new film from the master auteur. As do most films of this nature, controversy followed it’s release. However, as is usually the case the controversy seems to be generated from those who have not seen the film. Hail Mary is a reimagining and one that is truly felt with a deep compassion and beauty. Made in 1985, well after his more playful New Wave era, Godard incorporates his visionary cinematic style, which is always exploring the boundaries of cinematic narrative. Like Martin Scorsese with The Last Temptation of Christ Godard’s film is an attempt to give strip the mythical aspects and humanize Mary. This is a film of different tones (even one that incorporates some humor), and it is also one that can be interpreted in different ways (with a controversial view likely the lest of the possibilities). Godard’s films from the 1980s are often dismissed, but this stands as another profound work from a truly iconic filmmaker in cinema history.

October 13th Log

1944, Lewis Allen, United States
1st Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

In honor of Friday the 13th, Turner Classic Movies was featuring some classic ghost films and I decided to check out 1944’s The Uninvited. The film is definetly a dated one, but I must admit then general mood and eeriness was involving. The film opens with a beautiful tracking overhead shot of waves crashing against rocks, which sets the tone in both setting and atmosphere. The mood is heightened by an effective (even if slightly overdone) musical score by Victor Young as well as glorious black and white cinematography and set designs. This is nothing more then a thrilling studio “ghost story”, but everything does work effectively. The cast is highlighted by Ray Milland, who won an Academy Award the following year for his outstanding performance in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend. The other notable casting is a young and beautiful Gail Russell in her breakout performance. Russell soon became a rising star, but the spotlight proved to be overwhelming and she became an alcoholic who tragically died of a heart attack at the age of 36. The Uninvited is a film worth seeing. While inferior to similarly toned films like The Haunting or Rebecca, it does have its sophisticated studio qualities that make it a very appealing film.

1936, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

This weeks Friday Ozu film: 1936’s The Only Son. Ozu's first talkie film was made well after the development of sound and in many ways the emotions of the film are expressed like that of a silent film (which is mostly through images over dialogue). This is one of Ozu's most melodramatic films and thematically it is very definitive of his most well known family relationships (in this case mother and son). The Only Son is an incredibly moving and bittersweet film as Ozu again details the inevitable disappointment of life and his general philosophy of acceptance towards it. The film does leave hope and certainly you can see that the Mother has great reason to be proud of her son. Yet in Ozu fashion the Mother and Son hold back their feelings. The mother is very proud of her son, but she is still left sad and possibly regretful only because she is concerned that her son is not happy. The Only Son is an early Ozu masterpiece and among his most emotionally involving. The Only Son captures much of the mastery of simplistic and poetic visual composition, as well as an effective use of "pillow-shots", and also a beautiful homage to the 1933 German film Lover Divine. Powerful and insightful Ozu's transition into the sound era stands as an unforgettable achievement.

October 12th Log

2006, Takashi Yamazaki, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

Always was a box office and critical success in Japan (winning 13 Japanese Academy Awards), and you can certainly see the wide appeal. I’m not sure if its success will make the transition into the West, but there is universal interest here. In both time (1958) and setting (Tokyo, Japan) Always is a film that recalls the work of Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, who to me is easily one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live. Ultimately Always is a whole lot more sentimental and melodramatic then Ozu, but some of his spirit is reminiscent here. Especially in the way the film captures childhood. The children of the film are presented in a similar way that Ozu expressed them (notably in one of the bratty child’s desire for a television, reminding us of Ozu’s Good Morning). Above all, this film takes the general spirit of Ozu’s family films (especially the basic storyline of his 1947 film The Record of a Tenement Gentleman) and mixes an overall nostalgic look at Japan in a recovery transition from the postwar era. This is captured in glorious set designs and stunning colors and the overall positive mood and feel is heightened in the symbol of Japan’s recovery with shots of the Tokyo Tower being built and completed throughout the film. Always is an inspiring and moving film, with rich characters and beautiful visuals. The performances are a bit overdone and dramatic, as is some of the films sentiment. Yet Always is a refreshing film. One that pays tribute to a master and tribute to the postwar recovery of a Japanese society. It is an uplifting crowd pleaser with themes and emotions that are universal and timeless. The final moments detail one of the many positive reflections of the film: the sunset will ALWAYS be beautiful. This film may not be a masterpiece and is undoubtedly sentimental and nostalgic, yet it is done with a positive thoughtfulness which makes it endearing.

2005, Andre Techine, France
1st Viewing, DVD

The latest film from Andre Techine is highlighted by the reuniting of two of France’s biggest stars: Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu. Together they have collaborated by seven films but this is their first since 1988’s Strange Place for an Encounter. Certainly not the best of their collaborations or the best film from it’s filmmaker, Andre Techine who’s made great films like Wild Reeds (1994) and My Favorite Season (1993). The film is a bit loaded with politics, culture, sex, and religion, but at the core is a story of love (and love loss and possibility of reuniting love). Changing Times is also a film about two souls trying to reunite the past with the unknown future, and it is here that Techine incorporates his metaphoric views into cultures, generations, and sexualities). I can’t say this film really worked all that much for me, but I think when viewed on a more simplistic level it holds more emotional value. The real charm of the film comes from the power of the lead performances.

October 11th Log

2005, Jay Duplass, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Puffy Chair was a Netflix recommendation (it is also distributed by Netflix). I wasn’t sure what to expect and the opening scene left me doubts, but I have to admit this film won me over. I’m not really even sure what it is, but something about these characters was absorbing. Not so much cinematically refreshing or original, but these characters and their performances easily pulled me into the simplistic narrative full of complicated and authentic human emotions. The tone of the film is driven through the performances, which are absolutely wonderful. The film centers around three main characters: a young couple struggling to commit with each other and the man’s younger brother who they pickup on a road trip to visit their father for his birthday. This is the feature debut of Jay Duplass and his brother Mark wrote and stars in the film. He is terrific, as was the performance of Kathryn Aselton, a beautiful presence who I hope to see more of in future films. The cast works so well together here that the film becomes really appealing and authentic in a John Cassavetes kind of way (though that comparison may be unfair because this is working on a much lower level then Cassavetes groundbreaking mastery). Anyway, I just really enjoyed this film for the way it captures these characters and the performances.

1967, Jacques Tati, France

Repeat Viewing, DVD

This month I’m planning on rewatching many of the films from the great Jacques Tati. A filmmaker of such unique and original artistic and comedy abilities. His films are simply a joy to watch over and over again. I decided to start with Playtime and film I just watched last month when it was re-issued on a new Criterion Collection DVD. Playtime is Tati’s most complex, most original, most quintessential, and ultimately his greatest achievement as a filmmaker. This is just one of those films I love to watch because it is so expressive and inventive. Free of plot the film becomes a masterpiece of artistic expression through compositions and sounds (both Tati trademarks as a filmmaker). It is one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen while also being one of the most artistically dazzling and creative. I love this film and rate it among the very greatest achievements in the history of film.

2006, Frank Coraci, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

The previews for this one left me with big doubts, but I went to see Click when it was in the theater. To my pleasant surprise, I found the film to be excellent and almost the complete opposite of what I thought. I really admire Adam Sandler as a great leading actor, and not just for his amazing performance as Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love. I’ve enjoyed just about every film he is in (with Mr Deeds being an exception) and Sandler is usually the reason the film is good. He’s a big star with a leading man presence, but there is also something mysterious and deeper about him (Paul Thomas Anderson found this perfectly in casting Sandler as Barry Egan). While nowhere near the level of Punch-Drunk Love, Click is among Sandler’s best comedies. In many ways (most notably the It’s a Wonderful Life-esque storyline), Click is Frank Capra reborn. Sentimental and inspiring, yet also dark and moralistic. The film is funny, but there is a sense of story here that you wouldn’t expect from the advertisements. It is a fantasy with strong messages of our obsession with modernization and above all is a message of family. One with a deeply impacting and authentic emotional feeling, captured through Sandler's sensibilities as an actor. He doesn’t often get the credit he deserves and though critics will continually dismiss his films, Click is a film to embrace as far as I’m concerned.

October 10th Log

2006, Martin Scorsese, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

“They want me to find me... Good luck with that” This is a revealing moment of dialogue that comes more then halfway through this thrilling Martin Scorsese gangster film. The line captures one of the films essential themes, which is finding who you are. And perhaps even Scorsese is finding who he is as a filmmaker in the sense that he seems to be returning to the more traditional roots that his fans love so much. Ironically the film is a remake of a Scorsese-influenced Hong Kong action film (2002 Infernal Affairs starring Tony Leung and Andy Lau). With the exception of some cultural differences and location (here the city of Boston) not much has changed (I’d like to revisit the original film again just to see some of the similarities and differences). Overall I think Scorsese has topped the original film simply in the overall flow of the narrative, which is far more involving and suspenseful. In a word it is intense! It’s Scorsese so you know he is not going to hold back his own ambivalent views of violence and brutality on screen, and with The Departed he seems even less focused on a sense of morality. Obviously there is lots of blood, montage editing sequences, and a trademark use of Rolling Stones ‘Gimme Shelter’, which have become Scorsese’s trademarks of the genre. Not to go without mentioning here are the incredible performances. I’m not so sure Leonardo DiCaprio worked for Scorsese in Gangs of New York, but with this and their previous collaboration (The Aviator) they prove to be one of the great actors-director duos in film. The rest of the cast is extremely strong as well, highlighted by a memorable performance from Jack Nicholson, who is creepy as ever in the role of mob boss Frank Costello. The film is thrilling from beginning to end, capped off by a fitting final shot (take note of the contents in the grocery bag!!) of a rat walking from right to left of the frame. Even if this isn’t in the class of his very best, Scorsese’s mastery is always present and The Departed seems to be a film made for his fans. It is a film about finding yourself and perhaps Scorsese can relate as a filmmaker who finds himself returning to the crime thriller films his fans so deeply admire.

2006, Robert Altman, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

I saw this twice in the theater and decided to give it another viewing. The film is such a joy and one of the most entertaining of the year to me. Seeing it on DVD is a different experience. Robert Altman’s films (and this one is no exception) take on different levels in theater because all the small little hidden details (as well as what he refers to as the “happy mistakes”) are revealed. A Prairie Home Companion is another film full of detail. With Altman, the camera is always moving (or zooming) and here he fills the frame with details in every movement (this is even heighten by a sense of 360 degree space through the many mirrors and reflections throughout the film). A Prairie Home Companion is a film full of metaphors and maybe even the use of reflections could be viewed as a metaphor for life (or a radio shows) reflection. Ultimately this is a film of death or dying but it is presented in a way that is deeply personal and positive. Death can be something to celebrate when life has been long and fulfilled. A Prairie Home Companion celebrates this and celebrates the joy of living a full life. This may not be the most important or artistic film Altman has made, but he seems the perfect fit to collaborate with Garrison Keillor, who shows a strong screen presence. The cast works beautifully within the Altman-esque style with the most notable being Altman regular Lily Tomlin. Even in themes of death and dying, A Prairie Home Companion is Altman in light-hearted mode. A joy of a film that leaves a smile on my face from beginning to end. This is among my favorite films of the year!

October 7th Log

2006, Michel Gondry, France
Repeat Viewing, Theater

I had to give this another viewing, and just as I thought, the joys and wondrous imagination grew even stronger then my initial viewing. Narrative speaking The Science of Sleep is fairly simple but Michel Gondry (expanding on a basic premise from one of his own early short films) gives it such an appealing and extravagantly mind-blowing touch that is (like dreams and perhaps even reality) equally messy and charming. With repeat viewings the smaller joys of the film reveal such as these two souls (fittingly names Stephane and Stephanie) share as Gael García Bernal’s character calls them “Parallel Synchronized Randomness”. And of course Stephane’s cardboard TV set of his dreams which lead a passage into his real world and his memories. I really can’t overstate how lovely these lead performances are. Bernal continually proves to be one of the most interesting actors of modern cinema, and Charlotte Gainsbourg is an absolute revelation. It is not so much the romantic chemistry amongst the two, because there really isn’t much of a romantic connection. It is more a chemistry of two people’s chaotic mix of emotions and sensitivities that make relationships so complicated and complex. Through Gondry’s vision the film captures this beautifully with a sense of innocence, longing, and doubt, as well as hope and letdown. The Science of Sleep is a wonderful examination and combination of reality and dreams from a highly imaginative filmmaker. This is one of my favorite films of the year!

1969, Marcel Ophuls, France / West Germany / Switzerland

1st Viewing, DVD

As so famously observed by Woody Allen in his comic masterpiece Annie Hall, Marcel Ophuls (son of the master filmmaker Max Ophuls) The Sorrow and the Pity can be an exhausting cinematic experience. That is not to discredit the film on a level of achievement, as it’s A truly great filmmaking documentary of cinema. However, at 4+ hours the film can be a tiring experience, especially considering the film subject matter (The Nazi occupation of France). The DVD is broken into two discs but I decided a first viewing of this film should be of the entire length straight through so I decided to watch both parts. Obviously the film covers a lot of ground (the filmmakers were working with over 70 hours of archive footage), but Ophuls seems content to focus on the smaller towns and residents of France (notably the city of Clermont-Ferrand), which ultimately reflect the entire nation. Both the present and the past are vividly detailed through the archive footage as well as the insightful interviews (of which include the surviving citizens, and also German fighters). The second half of the film delves more into the political aspects and how France dealt with the occupation. Employing several cinematic techniques (including an effective use of freeze frames), Ophuls presents the material with little force but an emotionally involving message of morality. Above all the film is a landmark achievement in historic documentation on film. The value of the historic importance of this film can’t be overlooked.

October 6th Log

1970, Eric Rohmer, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Ok, a repeat viewing of this has me convinced it is Eric Rohmer’s greatest film (or at least my favorite). Claire’s Knee is just a lovely film. Rohmer’s films can have an intoxicating effect (then again they can often work in the completely opposite direction for others). This is the fifth film of his ‘Six Moral Tales’ series. It’s probably Rohmer’s most beautifully structured film yet in the most simplistic nature. Situations and ironies develop before the plot does. There is no judgment placed on the characters but we discover psychological result of their decisions. Rohmer fascinated with moral irony and philosophical knowledge and the emotions of his film is expressed without the use of many stylized techniques but rather in the pacing and in the placement of camera framing. At the center of this film is a philosophical examination of human desire. Desire on several romantic levels (be it passionate, sexual, or obsessive desire) and it all derives from the seductive perfection of a young woman’s knee. Rohmer is a unique filmmaker even in comparisons to his French New Wave peers. His films are not for everyone, but if you like one chances are you’ll like many of them. Claire’s Knee is Rohmer at his peak and to me it is his loveliest film and greatest achievement as a filmmaker.

2006, Brett Ratner, United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

I saw this in the theater and decided to give it another viewing on a smaller medium (DVD). A second viewing left me with pretty much the same feelings, which is that I enjoyed the film even if it does not stand up to the first two films of the series. To me, X-Men 2: United is one of the very greatest comic book film adaptations ever so a follow-up is almost automatically a challenge. Add that to the fact that the series is now being helmed by Brett “party-boy” Ratner. However, to my surprise Ratner does not destroy the series and actually makes a pretty good final film (at least it better be the final film!). I think it’s because the X-Men story is to good to destroy. The Last Stand does dumb the series down more so the Bryan Singer and his co-screenwriters did. Here the script is the films biggest flaw as the characters are developed with less depth and a whole lot more cheesy one-liners. Also the social message of the film comes across in a much more forceful and political way in this film where as Singer skillfully blended the social elements, with the emotional depth of the characters and story, as well as the action and special effects. Above the X-men series is a film that speaks of tolerance, and it is this that holds the entire series together. Cinematically these films are very well made and highly entertaining blockbusters. The Last Stand may be the weakest link of the film series, yet it ends while the X-men comic series still remains among the top of comic-book adaptations in film. Hopefully the studio will release this and not shame the series with a fourth film.

1961, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

As this weeks Friday Ozu film, I decide to rewatch The End of Summer, which he made a year before his 1962 masterpiece An Autumn Afternoon, which was his last film before his death. While to me this perhaps not among his very greatest work, The End of Summer rates with Ozu's most emotionally complex, challenging, and ultimately darkest films. As common with Ozu, this is a family study. Here he's examining three separate generations of a family and the relationships within them. The family is presented in such a richly textured examination and the films is able to capture the authentic feeling of "ordinary" living. There are no heroes or villains, only human beings and as is the case with Ozu the separation and miscommunication of the family results from the inevitable changed caused by a death or marriage, and both are again studied here. Simplistic, yet a deeply thought-provoking film that (like all Ozu's films) require repeat viewings to fully absorb the emotional and visual depth. The End of Summer was one of the very few films Ozu made outside Shochiku Studio, so with the exception of his co-writing collaborator Kogo Noda, much of the crew here is unique from his trademark postwar films. I think there is some evidence of this that shows up in both visual and emotional tone of the film. In it’s portrayal of richly detailed family relationships The End of Summer is quintessential Ozu. Yet there is also a level that is unique, particularly in feeling. I can’t quite define it yet, but I will continue to explore this film.

October 5th Log

1993, Tran Anh Hung, Vietnam / France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Tran Anh Hung's feature filmmaking debut is an astonishing achievement. Simple yet incredibly complex and absorbingly beautiful and poetic. Simply put, it's a work of art that embodies the pureness of cinema: capturing emotions through images and sound. The imagery and color of The Scent of Green Papaya is breathtaking. Each shot is stunningly composed of rich, textured colors and the camera gracefully flows throughout each shot. The film is told in two parts: First1951, and then 10 years later. The story follows a poor young girl who, due to financial reasons, is sent away from her family to be a servant to a middle-class family. It's an extremely simple storyline structured with such elegance. Even for it's simplistic approach the film gradually builds in emotions and depth within each frame. There's an endless amount of themes and examinations but the film always remains with the story of the young girl (played with perfection by Lu Man San as the young girl and Tran Nu Yen-khe as the young women). The Scent of Green Papaya quietly absorbs the viewer into it's atmosphere and becomes a film of feeling (one in which we are not told but shown). We see everyday household chores, and the small pleasures of life. It's also a political film, despite politics and the Vietnam war being nothing but a backdrop. Ultimately this is also a film of respect. To respect each and everyone (and everything) with equal compassion. The ending is as beautiful and touching as a film can be . The Scent of Green Papaya is simply an indescribably brilliant film. Such a hopeful, beautiful and artistic masterpiece. I love this film!

2006, Jeff Tremaine, United States

1st Viewing, Theater

I was asked by my sister to see this. I’m sure it doesn’t matter that I have never seen anything related to or involving Jackass, including the previous feature film. Less a cinematic film of narrative then it is one of gags, this does work for everything it aims for. I can’t say this is the kind of film I love to watch, but I also can’t deny that it is effective on the level in intends to be. This may not be a film reaching for artistic value but there is still a sense of capturing a culture of sorts. There are also some wonderfully subtle homages to films (not only with appearances by filmmakers like Spike Jonze and John Waters, but also references to Waters own notoriously disgusting Pink Flamingos, or Luis Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou, as well as a musical bit that recalls Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and a final shot that is a direct reference to Buster Keaton’s famous stunt in Steamboat Bill Jr). Like this or not, you do have to admire some of the stuff these guys are doing. A combination of gross, daring, and funny lowbrow stunts and pranks. It doesn’t all work and some of the gags are so disgusting it’s unwatchable, but most of it surprising works and Jackass Number Two succeeds on it’s intended levels.

October 4th Log

2006, Jason Reitman, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

“That's the beauty of argument, if you argue correctly, you're never wrong.” I saw this film went it was in theaters, but decided to revisit it again. Directed by Jason Reitman (son of veteran Ivan Reitman) in his feature debut, Thank You For Smoking is an excellent satire that draws parallels to last years underrated Lord of War (or Alexander Payne’s debut feature Citizen Ruth) in it’s scathing examination of social and political issues. The casting seems to work perfectly here, especially Aaron Eckhart who seems to be channeling his amazing performance of In the Company of Men. Here Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, a smooth-talking spokesman for the tobacco industry. The supporting characters are just as good (Robert Duvall as the tobacco boss; Sam Elliot as the retired Marlboro Man; Katie Holmes as the seductive news reporter; Maria Bello and David Koechner as Nick’s “partners in crime”; William H Macy as the political; and of course Rob Lowe as the Hollywood agent). The film presents both the lead character (Nick) and the overall views in a way that is equal and open, which leaves for more thought-provoking ideas and less preachy messages. Everything seems to be to summed up perfectly in the final moments, and we understand that film is one that speaks of choice and individuality and that everything is not as simple as right and wrong. Thank You For Smoking is witty satire with plenty of laughs and ideas.

2005, Stuart Gordon, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The combination of playwright, screenwriter, and director David Mamet with director Stuart Gordon is one that is intriguing for several reasons. Both Chicago natives, with a background in theater, but as a film this material seems to be a change of pace for Gordon, who has a cult following for his genre horror and sci-fi work. Of course anything done by Mamet is appealing to me, and Edmond is written for the screen by Mamet and adapted from his own play. There are plenty of Mamet-esque theatrical elements to the writing here as well as a couple of the regular Mamet players. Most obviously is the lead, magnificently played by William H Macy. I think Macy is in every shot and his performance goes hand and hand with Mamet’s masterfully straight-faced dialogue. As Edmond we observe a deeply flawed character who is both racist and homophobic and after leaving his wife he begins to find an inner self which welcomes (and releases) everything he hates and fears. Edmond blends madness with the real world in a way that seems to fit Gordon’s filmmaking style. The film is brutal and unsympathetic, and you do have to applaud its honesty. This material maybe more suited for stage then cinema, but this is an interesting film with a terrific lead performance.

October 3rd Log

2006, Neil Armfield, Australia

1st Viewing, DVD

Candy is the type of film that is difficult to describe or even to enjoy, at least on a level of entertainment. It’s the kind of film that leaves you uncomfortable, but that is a credit to the power of its effect. As a film, it is well made and really well performed by Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish, who proves her breakout performance in the Australian award-winning hit Somersault was no fluke. Great chemistry highlights the film, which is above all a love story. Through the performances there is a truly felt love story that stands out above the otherwise standard drug/rehab storyline. The film is structured in three parts (Heaven, Earth, and Hell) and the film makes great use with voice-over narration. To me there greatest strength of Candy lies in the placeless and timelessness of it. It really could be anywhere and at anytime, and ultimately this is the universal result of love, which lies at the heart of the story. Selfless love is the films central theme and it is expressed in the final moments. When viewed on this perspective, I think Candy holds more lasting and more involving value simply because otherwise this subject matter is too difficult to enjoy.

2006, Lucky McKee, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Being a huge fan of actress Patricia Clarkson is the main draw of this film for me, but I’m also a fan of director Lucky McKee’s debut feature May, which I thought was a great and sadly unseen genre gem. McKee’s follow-up was equally unseen in it’s nearly non-existent theatrical run (in fact I think the film ended up going direct to video release), but the result is nowhere near the cleverness of May. Of course, that is not to say The Woods is without its qualities. McKee’s is a gifted filmmaker and he skillfully works within the genre here. He builds a mysterious and strangely creepy tension through visuals as well as the intentional dull nature of the performances. This is a different kind of role for Clarkson who is up to the challenge and the cast features a familiar face of the horror genre with Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead hero Bruce Campbell. The Woods is not all that scary but it leads up to an involving climax. McKee’s films (especially May) should find a wider audience. Unfortunately The Woods suffered through studio transition problems that delayed the releases and inevitably made it go straight to video. It’s much better then a direct-to-video-status would have you believe and I’d say it a lot better then many of the horror/thrillers getting wide (and in some cases successful) theatrical releases. The Woods is a film that genre fans will appreciate even if it is not quite the level of McKee’s underrated debut.

October 2nd Log

1990, Jane Champion, UK / New Zealand / Australia

1st Viewing, DVD

New Zealand-born Jane Champion, one of the world’s most respected and acclaimed female filmmakers, follows up her award winning 1990 film Sweetie with this film which is a 158-minute autobiography of New Zealand writer Janet Frame. Champion has found something very personal in the material and it is evident in the passionate filmmaking here, which displays several Champion trademarks including her feminist compassion, and unusual camera framing and transitions. Of course, Champion always has a great control with actors and here the performances are terrific. Following Frame through the stages of her life, all four actors find the essence of the performance in a deeply emotional way. An Angel at My Table is a beautifully made film both visually and emotionally. The film is bleak yet inspiring and one that speaks of imagination without any forced sentiments put upon the viewer. The film ends with a strong sense of hope and discovery. Like her previous film An Angel at My Table also won world-wide acclaim and accolades. Champion’s next film, 1993’s The Piano, would reach even further acclaim with awards at Cannes and from the Academy. An Angel at My Table remains among her greatest achievements. A film that is so beautifully and powerfully made the viewer feels as if they are taking the journey with the character.

October 1st Log

2005, Steve Buscemi, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Lonesome Jim is an independent film directed by cult actor Steve Buscemi, who to my surprise has made two feature films prior to this. The film tries to blend a deadpan humor with depression and while sometimes effective, overall the film drags. I think the films biggest problem lies in the screenwriting which uses lazy tactics (such as the father saying the business has been seized and there is nothing he could do about it) and cliches situations and dialogue. The fact that the film is not all that original isn’t really its flaw, but it the fact that nothing about the film is done in the effortless manner the filmmakers are striving for. There are moments in this film that shine, but lack of any emotional impact comes from the fact that the lead character Jim (played with effective subtle by Casey Affleck) isn ‘ t all that likable. As expected, the film does give Jim redemption in the films final moments, which are perhaps the best (starting with Jim’s attempt at coaching the girls basketball team to victory). The last scene (as does much of the film) brings to mind last year’s Garden State, but is still a nice touch. Overall I can’t really say I disliked this film and I’m interested in seeking out some more of Buscemi’s directorial work.

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 (ozu-san.com) here: http://www.a2pcinema.com/ozu-san/films/inntokyo.htm

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!!.