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.


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