December 31st Log
THE GROUND TRUTH: AFTER THE KILLING ENDS
2006, Patricia Foulkrod, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
The Ground Truth is a film that should be viewed. It is a film stronger then any yellow ribbons or “support the troops” banners because it is a film that simply listens to what the troops have to say. Documentary filmmaker Patricia Foulkrod (in her debut film), gives the soldiers the camera and shows them from the earliest recruiting process all the way through the often forgotten emotional struggle when they return. The film details both the physical and more specifically psychological injuries that haunt these soldiers. Using the camera as a means for awareness or perhaps even a confession, the soldiers express the pains that haunt their lives from both psychical and mental aspects of daily living (as well as how they have been left abandoned by those that sent them off to war). This is a heartbreaking but incredibly important documentary. I saw this film just days after reading that the US death total in Iraq has surpassed the victims of 9/11. Of course, what these “numbers“ are forgetting is those who have been scared for life in many different ways. This film gives those victims a voice and for that The Ground Truth may be the most patriotic documentary released this year.
December 29th Log
2005, Frankie E. Flowers, USA / UK / Germany / Spain
1st Viewing, DVD
Haven begins with a beautifully transcendent shot that creates a mood, atmosphere and a dreamlike sense of longing. Unfortunately the rest of the film never lives up to this opening images as first time filmmaker Frank E. Flowers creates a web narrative that he can not control. There are intertwining parallel stories at work, all of which connect in the center (ala Amores Perros), but Flowers talents with rhythm and with ensemble lack the gifts of a filmmaker like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu or especially a Robert Altman. A better comparison for Flowers is Tony Scott or Michael Bay, as he seems more focused on over-blown style, flashy editing tricks, bleached out cinematography. The film simply tries to be a thought-provoking and stylish film in the most forceful and contrived methods. Ultimately all the impact and any character connection is lost. The very presence of lovely Joy Bryant (all be it in a minimal and uselessly developed role) was enough to keep my interest throughout, and I guess for the most part this cast is strong. Orlando Bloom usually bothers me, and even though he is far from standout here, he is still better then usual. I would have like to seen more of Bryant, but Flowers seems to have little idea on his treatment of the characters except to thrown them into scenes with endless jump cuts. Flowers is a native of the Cayman Islands, so Haven may be a personal film and I applaud him for that, but I think he needs to use the “less is more” theory of filmmaking. There is really no fluid rhythm to this film. On the positive side, the scenery (and cast) is beautiful, and did I mention that Joy Bryant is in this film?
THE STORY OF FLOATING WEEDS
1934, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD
To me The Story of Floating Weeds does not rate among Ozu's greatest films (even of his prewar work), but it does mark a key movement that would later define his mastery. This film is one of the earliest to examine not only the family, but the disappointment or deconstruction of the Japanese family. This would be a theme that would become definitive throughout his career. The Story of Floating Weeds is among Ozu's more melodramatic films, yet the melodrama is presented with irony and realism through Ozu's essential focus of character over plot. Everything comes together beautifully as Ozu sets up the emotional expectations before quickly changing them again to capture a realistic emotional response and the authentic feelings and cycle of living. For that the film is successful and remains and interesting early achievement of Ozu's career.
1959, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD
I decided to make this Ozu Friday Night a double billing, since Floating Weeds is a remake of Ozu's own 1934 silent film The Story of Floating Weeds. By 1959 Ozu had converted to making color films (this marks his 3rd film in color), but he refused to fall into the conventions of CinemaScope. Ozu preferred his rare and simplistic filmmaking style. However, with Floating Weeds he did get the legendary Japanese cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa (most known for his work with the great Kenji Mizoguchi) to photograph the film. It remains one of the only post-war films not be shot by Yuuharu Atsuta and also one of the few color films in which the camera moves. Visually the film is stunning and breathtakingly rich and detailed. This remake shares some of the more soap opera melodrama and comedy mix that Ozu was more known for making in his silent films. The films story is pretty much the same, and fittingly Ozu gives this a nostalgic feel of an old-fashioned era that has passed or “floated” away. Not everything works here but there are some moments of humor and subtle poetry. It’s experimental nature (in both visual style and approach) of the Ozu and Miyagawa collaboration makes this a unique and interesting piece of Ozu ‘ s filmography.
December 28th Log
THE BLACK DAHLIA
2006, Brian De Palma, Germany / United States
1st Viewing, DVD
“I’m told that I’m very photogenic” says an aspiring young actress during a screen test. This is an interesting moment of dialogue in which director Brian De Palma uses as a source of irony and ultimately as a source of a haunting subconscious memory for the lead, police detective Bucky Bleichert (played by Josh Hartnett). Of course this terrifying subconscious memory at the conclusion of the film is certainly a trademark of many De Palma films, and The Black Dahlia, while not his finest is another stylish and moody piece of his filmography. As with any De Palma film, The Black Dahlia is loaded with style and substance. There are several parallel stories at play here and they meet at a pivotal setup sequence that is trademark De Palma style. A purely visual scene done mostly with one long fluid crane shot that film blends two crime cases together, and thus introduces the notoriously unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short. The murder remains one of LA’s most famous unsolved crimes, and this film (as well as James Ellroy’s source novel) is a fictionalized telling of it. At the backdrop of the film is a love triangle between the two detectives (and former boxers- played by Harnett and Aaron Eckhart) and the woman they love (played by Scarlett Johansson). The Black Dahlia is beautifully shot and lit by the always reliable cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. He highlights the film with vivid use of contrast lighting, shadows, and low angles that are trademark noir visuals. Adding to the visual look and feel is a beautifully recreated set of 1947 Los Angeles. The films darkest and most haunting moments come during the fictionalized black-and-white screen tests of Elizabeth Short (highlighted by an outstanding performance from Mia Kirshner alongside De Palma’s behind the scenes voice as the director). The Black Dahlia is not among De Palma’s best work and it is likely to generate plenty of negative response. It’s over the top style is typical of De Palma. But this film offers a refreshing atmosphere and setting of 1940s noir, and it is an effectively visual film with obvious film homages and references (most obvious being Paul Leni’s classic 1928 silent The Man Who Laughs). The Black Dahlia is a mystery and even if the film solves the mystery, De Palma (as he always does) focuses on the lingering memory, most specifically the image of a dead Elizabeth Short.
MY MAN GODFREY
1936, Gregory La Cava, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD
"All you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people." My Man Godfrey is a classic in every sense of the word. One of the definitive screwball comedies of American film, it remains a timeless joy. The script (which is particularly improvised) is wonderful and captures intelligent and witty dialogue, artistic depth, and of course a whole lot of zany fun. Carole Lombard, who's one of my favorite actresses of all-time, is as lovely as ever. Lombard is an incomparable actresses that displays radiant beauty, charm, and glamour with an ability to be absolutely hysterical. Here is excellent once again as Irene Bullock, a spoiled rich daughter who falls in love with the butler she hired after finding him in the city dump during a scavenger hunt game. The butler (Godfrey, played by the great William Powell) is not in for an easy task as working for the Bullock family is not an easy task. This was the first film to ever receive four acting nominations at the Academy Awards, and deservedly so as the entire cast is outstanding. Powell and Lombard are most notable, but everyone is terrific and memorable in their own way: Eugene Pallette as the Father who feels as though his losing his mind and his fortunes, Alice Brady in a hysterical role as the mother, Gail Patrick as the deceitful and sibling rival of Irene, and of course Mischa Auer as Mother Bullock's protege Carlo. My Man Godfrey just works. Everything comes together beautifully and the result is a classic and hilarious screwball comedy that is a joy to watch and rewatch. A classic!
December 27th Log
THE HISTORY BOYS
2006, Nicholas Hytner, United Kingdom
1st Viewing, Theater
“The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.” Alan Bennett adapted the script to his own play and the strength of The History Boys lies in the screenplay. Particularly the witty dialogue and the intelligent contents of script. This is really a refreshingly unique film. Clearly the theater eliminates the overall cinematic presence and feel, but the exciting dialogue and outstanding cast make this a lively and insightful film. The entire cast is made up of the same actors as the stage play and there understanding of both the dialogue and the depth of characters is very evident on screen. All the boys are terrific in there individual roles, as is the headmaster (played by Clive Merrison) and the new young instructor (played by standout performance from Stephen Campbell Moore). However Richard Griffiths’ performance is the most critcal, and his Hector character lies at the heart of the film. In him, The History Boys examines the very nature of education. Hector believes that all knowledge (even pointless knowledge) is valuable, and this is a belief countered by the new instructor and the boys. The film deals with this and with other issues of individuality with an equally cynical yet compassionate and honest force. Nicholas Hytner is an experienced director with theatrical material (The Crucible, The Madness of King George) and even though his style lacks any cinematic style or technique, The History Boys is carried by a strong cast and an outstanding script. “Pass it on.”
THE DESCENT: ORIGINAL UNCUT VERSION
2005, Neil Marshall, United Kingdom
1st Viewing, DVD
The Descent (a huge critcal and box office success in Britain) is for the most part a highly effective horror film. The key to good horror filmmaking is the ability to capture atmosphere, and also the ability to play with rhythm. For the most part, The Descent does an effective job at both, particularly with atmosphere. You really get the sense of a cold, dark, and trapped in world inside the caves. The rhythm is effective mostly in the first half when the psychological elements is built in the characters (notably the women who has just lost her husband and daughter in a tragic accident). The second half becomes a more gruesome but ultimately more cliched and tedious. Overall the film is a thrilling one that really builds in tension and atmosphere. Though the film fades a bit as it progresses, the ending is excellent, as it is left ambitious for viewers interpretation (it was edited upon release in American theaters- this dvd was of the original uncut British release). I personally do think the film ends with an interpretation that can be viewed both hopeful and hopeless (spoiler warning: after waking from hallucinations, Sarah is doomed, but she has finally found closure in her daughters death). Even for it’s cliches, The Descent is a pretty crafty film. One that takes us into an unknown world of terror and fright, but it is also a film with characters at the center of this world. Some of the subplots and formulaic horror tactics weigh the film down a bit, but The Descent is a thrilling ride.
KICKING AND SCREAMING
1995, Noah Baumbach, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD
In his feature filmmaking debut Noah Baumbach (at the age of 25 years) wrote and directed this little hidden gem from 1995, Kicking and Screaming. The film has been given life on DVD thanks in part to both the success of Baumbach independent hit The Squid and the Whale, as well as Criterion Collections outstanding release. This is a wonderful film that seems to recall the college wit and sophistication of Whit Stillman’s 1990 masterpiece Metropolitan. This is a film that defines a generation. It is an extremely funny film with endlessly quotable lines of dialogue. There are so many little quirks and moments that I can imagine only getting better with repeat viewings. What makes this film really special is the remarkable way in which Baumbach handles his characters (as well as the entire ensemble cast- Josh Hamilton, Jason Wiles, Olivia dab, Eric Stilts, Carlos Jabot, Elliott Gould, Parker Posey, Cara Boone, and Chris Iceman, who also starred in Metropolitan). The tone of this film is very much similar to that of Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale in that it has moments that are funny, touching, authentic and heartbreaking all within the same moment. There is a truth and philosophy to this film that really leaves a touching mark. Throughout the film Baumbach uses flashback scenes from one of the films young couples first moments together. This technique is an unconventional one that seems out of place at first, but really grows as the film progresses and it concludes with a heartbreaking feeling of emotional longing and loss.
December 26th Log
GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933
1933, Mervyn LeRoy, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
Gold Diggers of 1933 may be the quintessential Busby Berkeley musical. It deserves mention among the very greatest films of its kind. A film that transcended audiences of the depression era to a world of beauty, extravagance, and magical escapism. Though Berkeley did not direct this feature, his presence is undoubtedly obvious in the choreography of both the dancing and the camera movements. Released just a couple moths after Berkeley’s acclaimed hit 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933 features Berkeley at his peak. Here he is given complete freedom from Warner Brothers, and the result is some of the most dazzling and memorable musical numbers in film history (be it the opening sequence with Ginger Rogers singing, ‘We’re in the Money'; or the flirtatious 'Pettin' in the Park'; or the brilliantly compassionate, powerful, and skillfully made closing sequence 'Forgotten Man'). The images of these musical sequences are breathtaking to behold and marvel upon. The film has a pitch-perfect tone throughout. There are moments of witty humor, and risque Pre-Code sexiness, but there is also a sense of realism for the depression. Through this depression, a unity and bond is formatted for these girls, as the film captures a richness in the characters relationships. Above all, Gold Diggers of 1933 shares a light-hearted tone which is executed with the most precise technical vision. Equally playful, sexy, witty, and charming the performances are terrific by the entire cast (Ruby Keeler as innocent Polly, Joan Blondell as bright Carol, Aline MacMahon as the innovative Trixie, Ginger Rogers as flirty Fay, Dick Powell as the songwriter, and Ned Sparks as the producer). Gold Diggers of 1933 is a combination of surrealism and realism, ultimately resulting in a film of magical escapism. This is one of the true classics of Hollywood cinema and the height of Busby Berkeley’s artistry.
1974, Peter Watkins, Norway / Sweden
1st Viewing, DVD
“Munch seeks mystery in everything he sees. He sees the world in wave-lines, trees, shorelines, female hair, trembling bodies. Like no other Norwegian painter, Munch aims at making our innermost tremble.” This is the first film I have seen from British filmmaker Peter Watkins but it has immediately inspired me to seek out more of his work. Using a visual style that works perfectly with Munch’s art (through colors and editing) the film becomes an atmospheric journey to reflect upon and think about. Watkins uses narration (his own) and a combination of documentary and reenacted drama with non-professional actors. Through minimal and improvised dialogue, dulled color, and elegant editing techniques, Watkins presents a biography film that is both mysterious and precise in it’s portrait of a frustrated artist. The film details Munch’s family and relationships that ultimately inspired or influence his art. However, nothing here is detailed in a traditional bio-epic formula, as the nonlinear narrative blends the past with present. At 174 minutes in length, Edvard Munich is a film of layered depths (including one of social individuality), which reaches it’s visual peak during the masterfully executed montage sequence of imagery in the finale, hauntingly concluding over the end credits. Watkins has made a film that is a deeply personal one of subtexts and haunting meanings and mysteries. It is a masterpiece achievement of filmmaking and a fascinating examination of the creation process of art through the life of one of the most influential and unique artists to ever live.
AN IDEAL HUSBAND
1999, Oliver Parker, United Kingdom / United States
1st Viewing, DVD
An Ideal Husband is a film who’s biggest charms and qualities come from an incredible cast. The film is based off an Oscar Wilde play and the theatrical settings and filmmaking arise from its original source. The cast (Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore, Jeremy Northam) radiates with chemistry and wit. Each performer plays their individual role with equal conviction and likeability, which really heightens the entire enjoyment of the film. Aiding in this enjoyment is the overall light-hearted tone and dry humor, which works nicely alongside some of the more dramatic or moral elements of the film. I never tire of watching Cate Blanchett so perhaps I’m biased, but An Ideal Husband is an appealing film. If you like the cast as much as I do, you’ll probably have fun watching it.
December 24th Log
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
1946, Frank Capra, United States
Repeat Viewing, NBC
"I want to live again!" What more can be said about about this beloved classic that hasn't already been said, except that it's worthy of all it's praise and recognition. It's A Wonderful Life is a magical and joyous film of love, hope, and humanity. It's often viewed as a Christmas film, and while that's fine, to say it's only that would be greatly undermining the film of it's brilliance. Ultimately, this is a film of life, and of living and breathing. Everything life has to offer: love, loss, joy, pain, sadness, depression, passion, hope, loneliness, etc. For all it's warm and happy moments, It's A Wonderful Life is actually a very dark film. As a result it was not well received upon it's release in 1946. Audiences weren't familiar with a dark, even disturbing and sad film from Frank Capra or James Stewart. However, time has proven this to be a truly masterful film of universal themes and emotions that everyone can relate with and enjoy. It's a film that's been replayed, referenced and spoofed countless times, yet like a fine wine, has only benefited with age. In many ways, this is the quintessential film of Capra's usual themes. It's an American classic in every sense of the word. As is it's unforgettable star, James Stewart. Stewart has given American cinema some of the most memorable and likable performances in film history. His portrayal of George Bailey is no exception. Through Stewart's convincing performance we see an everyday man struggling and dealing with everyday complications of life. It's not hard to sympathize with Bailey, and Stewart makes it even easier. There are so many great moments throughout this film, but few (in the history of cinema in fact) are as touching and assuring as the final moments. At worst, this film will tug at your heart, and best it'll change your life! A brilliant film. A Sad yet hopeful and joyous experience. It's A Wonderful Life is an undeniable landmark in American cinema history!
December 23rd Log
CENTER STAGE aka ACTRESS
1992, Stanley Kwan, Hong Kong
1st Viewing, DVD
Wow!! What an incredible film this is. One of the most original and ambitious biography films ever made and a film that undoubtedly belongs mention among the very greatest of Hong Kong cinema. Using a free flowing non-linear narrative structure the film intertwines real footage of it’s subject (Chinese star Ruan Ling-yu, who became one of the most famous actresses of Shanghai cinema during the 1930s before she tragically committed suicide at the age of 25), with recreated scenes of her films and her life, as well as interviews with director Stanley Kwan, his crew, and star Maggie Cheung (who open the film by asking: “Isn't she just a replica of me?"). As Ling-yu, Maggie Cheung is a dream. She gives one of the cinemas most remarkably beautiful and complex performances. She flawlessly captures the hidden sadness and complexity of this character in a way that is (like it’s star) graceful, classy, glamorous. The narrative is non-linear in time and flashes back and forth throughout Ling-yu’s career, life and death, but the primary focus is the years leading towards her suicide. The film essentially stands as both a tribute to Ling-yu and as a reflection on her life and influence. By expressing multiple feelings and points of view, this biography film becomes more an ambitious reflection of Ling-yu. By recreating period details, the film becomes a mysterious and curious exploration into the past through the present. Kwan’s film delves into philosophical depths and unanswerable questions that leave a though-provoking impact. Center Stage is a dazzling film. A remarkable cinematic achievement that is a homage to 1930s Shanghai cinema, and to Ruan Ling-yu. Quite simply a masterpiece on every level of filmmaking!
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
2006, Jonathan Dayton / Valerie Faris, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD
Here is an appealing film for all audiences. It's an independent film from debut filmmakers Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (who began working as music videos directors), but you have to wonder why films like this are not seen more often in the mainstream studios. Clearly audiences enjoy these types of films (the slice of life comedies with characters we can truly care about). Characters that are flawed, but are deeply human. We can relate to them in ways are that sincere and truthful. Little Miss Sunshine is essentially like a sitcom, yet this film beautifully mixes humor, drama, and a little sentiment in the most effective way. There is an underdog story here that makes it easier to admire this family. Above all it is a film that speaks of individuality (even if through suffering). Little Miss Sunshine is easy to admire and enjoy. There are plenty of laughs, feel-good warmth, and compassionate characters. This may not be a cinematic masterwork of artistic filmmaking, but it's top-notch filmmaking as a crowd pleaser and recommended to all audiences.
December 22nd Log
ROMANCE & CIGARETTES
2006, John Turturro, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
“When a women bends over, a man sees a jelly doughnut. Her brain expands. His explodes”... and so begins one of the most wild and exciting films I’ve seen this year: John Turturro’s Romance & Cigarettes! The film is a mess and you know what, it actually embraces this mess in a way that becomes a strength. This is a film without limits and pretty much without plot and that is where the joy and free spirit of its energy develops from. Really this is a simple film and even through all it’s craziness, the simple moments are the ones that stand out. The film is a musical and Turturro seems most comfortable as a director in capturing the dramatic essence of the characters through musical numbers. Turturro is a gifted actor and this marks his third feature as a director. I’ve yet to see his previous films, but seeing this has sparked my interest to seek them out. Romance & Cigarettes was produced by Turturro’s friends the Coen brothers, and though this is clearly Turturro’s film, you can still see some of the chaotic humor and originality of the Coens work. As crude as some of the humor or characters are here, Romance & Cigarettes still does have heart (beautifully captured in the lyrical closing shot), and it is easy to like these characters (even for there flaws). The performances are outstanding by the entire cast of talented actors (James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Steve Buscemi, Mandy Moore, Christopher Walken, Bobby Canavale, Mary-Louise Parker, Aida Turturro). They all are great whether singing, dancing, or talking, but Winslet is especially the standout. Winslet absolutely steals the show as the seductive (or rather raunchy) mistress Tula. The only misfortune is that we don’t get enough of her wonderfully watchable performance. Romance & Cigarettes has plenty of flaws and will most likely have plenty of negative responses from audiences or critics. I can understand negative reactions, yet my feeling for the film remains a highly positive one. I found the film to be a crazy, crude, yet heartfelt and passionate ride. A unique film worth celebrating!
ALL THE KINGS MEN
2006, Steve Zaillian, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
Steven Zaillian’s latest adaptation of All the King’s Men is more a revisiting of the source novel (written by Robert Penn Warren) then it is a remake of Robert Rossen’s 1949 film (which won the Academy Award for Best Picture). Which is the more faithful adaptation is probably left for those more familiar with the source novel. One thing I do know is that Rossen’s films is one that is not effected by a remake since today it stands as a rather dated film. However Rossen’s 1949 film still stands superior to this well made but ultimately uninspiring film. This is surprising coming from a director like Zaillian who’s previous two efforts (Searching for Bobby Fischer and A Civil Action) were strengthened by their inspiriting heart. Where this film fails is in passion and most of all a sense of mood (be it time or place). Any passion found in the film comes from the performances, which are strong by an incredible ensemble cast (Sean Penn, Jude Law, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins). As talented as these actors are, only Sean Penn seems to feed life into the film and it is mostly in the first half (when he’s making his speeches). All the King’s Men is a political film, and the filmmakers clearly make parallels with modern politics. Weighed down by some subplots the film just never really works with any great effect (except only in brief moments- which are usually generated from Penn’s performance). Maybe a repeat viewing will improve my opinions or emotional reaction, because the film is well made and well acted.
A HEN IN THE WIND
1948, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD
Though Ozu regarded this film as a failure, it remains among his most emotionally impacting films. Made just two years after the war and during the American occupation, A Hen in the Wind may be the most violent and disturbing film Ozu ever made. However, early traces of his postwar mastery style become evident (notably including compositions, and editing). Fighting restrictions from the American occupation of Japan, Ozu poetically captures a postwar Japan that is equally tragic and hopeful. The final images are particularly moving as after we see the couple embrace, Ozu follows with a serious of expressive shots concluding with a similar image that opened the film (there are slight poetic differences between the two). The closing image of Ozu’s films are always beautiful and this image is among his most graceful ever. A Hen in the Wind is an unforgettably moving film experience from a master filmmaker.
December 21st Log
2006, Sylvester Stallone, United States
1st Viewing, Theater
Sylvester Stallone continues his beloved Rocky franchise for the sixth and most likely final time. While the latest, titled Rocky Balboa, lacks some of the pure excitement of the previous films and also feeds heavily off there existence, it actually still becomes a fitting ending for the series. Capturing a sense of nostalgia, Rocky Balboa is shares most of it’s similarities with the original 1976 film (directed by John G. Avildsen). We again see Rocky in a mental state of loneliness but now at a much older age. The maturity of the film may be it’s greatest strength. Stallone gives this film a greater sense of character development then any other Rocky outside the original (and best) Rocky film. Adding to the maturity and character development is the relationship Rocky shares with a neighbor and her son. There is a sense of sincerity and nostalgia that really holds the emotional impact of the film. The fight sequences are presented in much more realistic terms then any other Rocky film. Rocky Balboa is a pleasant surprise and a great final farewell to an iconic figure in film history, one that not only represents the spirit of his home city, but also is a universal reflection of the human strength and spirit. Perhaps that is overstating this film impact, but either way Rocky Balboa is a good film. Beginning with chants of fans screaming his name, and ending with his image dissolving from the screen, Rocky Balboa makes a fitting and nostalgic final statement for this successful franchise.
December 20th Log
THE WICKER MAN
2006, Neil Labute, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
I am a fan of Robin Hardy’s 1973 British original film The Wicker Man, and was upset to hear it was being remade by Warner Brothers. However, when I heard Neil Labute was attached to write and direct the interest of the film increased. On the surface Labute (know for his independent films of relationships) would seem an odd choice to direct a mainstream horror film. But that is only if you consider The Wicker Man a horror, which it essentially is not. It is a mysterious examination of sexual and religious repression. Now that seems to fit Labute thematic nature and despite what the promotions of the film would have you believe, that is what Labute is aiming for with this film. Wisely, Labute makes this a revision more so then a remake of the classic original, only borrowing the general storyline. Labute focuses more on the sexual aspect then the spiritual and what makes this such an intriguing film is to see how he incorporates this into a film that finds a familiarity with its filmmaker. Using visual symbols and references, Labute creates an unique world seemingly dominated by women. Those familiar with the original film will have a whole lot more of the mystery figured out and the ending leaves a far less haunting and powerful impact. Yet, this film does work mostly on the interesting way Labute blends his themes and humor into the film. I would certainly recommend the original well ahead of this, but Labute’s The Wicker is a worthy remake.
MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND
2006, Ivan Reitman, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
My Super Ex-Girlfriend is weighed down by cliches and predictability, but there are some qualities that keep the film watchable. Mostly the performances by Luke Wilson and Uma Thurman. Wilson is particularly strong, as most of the laughs come from his verbal and facial reactions to his neurotic girlfriend (played by Thurman), who also happens to be a superhero. The concept to this is a pretty funny one, but the most clever moments may be those shown for the promotional advertisements and previews. The supporting characters add the most formula (notably Wilson’s “shallow” best friend), and Anna Faris tends to bother me as a comedic actress. The film does display some nifty special-effects, which are presented in a campy and non-showoffy style. Ivan Reitman is a veteran in comedy and while My Super Ex-Girlfriend (Ghostbusters, Twins, Dave) may have potential to be better, it also could have been a lot worse. Easily forgettable, but mostly enjoyable.
December 19th Log
THE LADY IN THE WATER
2006, M Night Shyamalan, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD
I must admit, as with watching most of M Night’s films, this improves upon repeat viewing. I had a similar reaction to The Village, which I think I understood the depth of it’s vision upon a repeat viewing. With Lady in the Water it is even more so, and I would even say M Night has improved upon his previous film with this release. Really aside from Signs, I would say I admire each of his five features from the Sixth Sense to this. Lady in the Water is a unique film and one that understandably can easily be misunderstood. These misunderstanding get heightened with an overflow and harsh critics who attack the films flaws. But lets be fair, this is a film with an auteurist vision behind it and is certainly more original then the critics want to give it credit for. Strangely, but actually quite effectively The Lady in the Water film blends graceful imagination with a forced sense of manipulation in a way that has defined M Night Shyamalan as a filmmaker. For this, the film reflects Shyamalan's strengths and weaknesses as a filmmaker. A contrived mess, yet Shyamalan is a skilled filmmaker and he makes his films with a personal vision and I do applaud the ambition and overall intentions of this latest work. He's making a fairy tale on film, and one that truly speaks from his own heart as a filmmaker. Really if the audience can let the “fairy-tale” story take over, Lady in the Water can be a magical film Shyamalan's own performance here is less distracting and certainly better then those of his previous films, and Paul Giamatti and the rest of the cast are fine mostly under the photographer of Christopher Doyle who enhances the visuals appearance of the film. Doyle is perhaps the worlds leading cinematographer in contemporary cinema and while this pales in comparison to his finest work, it certainly does add a rich beauty to the film. Of course, Shyamalan also has a way of moving the camera (notably through wide angels) and even when it boarders on being overdone, it remains effective- which is maybe the best way to describe the films as a whole.
THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI
1947, Orson Welles, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD
"I told you... you know nothing about wickedness". As strange as it is, The Lady From Shanghai remains a truly great film. The film is packed with Orson Welles' usual cinematic visual style and editing techniques. Initially, TheLady From Shanghai (much like Welles' Touch Of Evil, which I believe is his greatest film) was not well received with American audiences. However, it was praised in Europe and with time has grown appreciation as one of Welles most notable works. Rita Hayworth, who in real life had just divorced Welles prior to shooting the film, gives an absolutely memorable performance as the controlling and seductive Elsa Bannister. Hayworth is one of (if not the) most gorgeous actresses to ever grace the screen, and here she gives one of her finest dramatic performances in the femme fatale role. Orson Welles stars as Michael O'Hara, a man who desperately wants to believe and love Elsa, yet ultimately is a victim of falling into corruption. Elsa (perceived) innocence, beauty, and charm easily has Michael falling for her. In terms of cinematic technique, thereare some great visual sequences, but the climax is truly fascinating. Perhaps influenced by a scene from Charlie Chaplin's brilliant 1928 film The Circus, Welles uses a fun of mirrors fro the films final moments. It's a deeply effective scene in portraying the films deceptive themes and capturing emotions (both visually and physically). the LadyFrom Shanghai is a film that requires several viewings to fully appreciate. It's multi-themed, and unique film noir (and at times even slapstick) style may not connect immediately. However, this is great filmmaking (every shot is finely detailed and composed), and features the incomparable RitaHayworth at her most seductive (and blonde). To me, this is one of Welles' best films.
December 18th Log
1984, Brian De Palma, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
Certainly not his best film, Body Double may still be the one that best describes Brian De Palma as a filmmaker. A visionary who is highly stylized and without regard of his own critics. Body Double is a sleazy exploitation in style and substance, but when not taken very seriously you begin to appreciate what De Palma is able to accomplish here. The Alfred Hitchcock “homes” are so downright blatant that it pretty much becomes stealing (Vertigo and Rear Window seem most “homaged” this time around). In a strange and kind of fascinating way, De Palma has become his own auteur from this thievery. Those familiar with the films of the master (that being Hitchcock) will figure out any of the mystery in this film, but De Palma skillfully captures some of Hitchcock’s ability with suspenseful filmmaking and reeling in the audience. Body Double is at it’s best in it’s most subtle moments, but is more quintessential De Palma when over the top, erotic, and heavily stylish.
2005, Jean-Marc Vallee, Canada
1st Viewing, DVD
C.R.A.Z.Y. is the kind of film that you can easily admire and sympathize with. It’s stylish visuals and energy make it the kind of film audiences admire in a universal way. A French Canadian film from Quebec, this film tells the story of an outsider searching for his identity while growing up under disapproval of his Catholic family (his mother and his Patsy Cline-loving father). Michel Cote is terrific as the father, and Marc-Andre Groudin gives a vibrant performance as the lead. With his 4th feature, filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee took over 10 years to write the script and the passion is very evident in the emotional core of the details and characters. Equally entertaining, and powerful C.R.A.Z.Y. is a film about family relationships, and personal or spiritual identity. Music is also an important factor for the films style and the characters. The soundtrack is loaded with many memorable classics. The title of the film is meaningful and cleverly fitting in multiple aspects (it’s meaning is confirmed in the films ending). C.R.A.Z.Y. is the type of film that will and can find a wide audience.
December 15th Log
THE RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS 7
1980, John Sayles, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
Made on a limited budget The Return of the Secaucus 7 is the debut feature film written and directed by John Sayles. The influence on 1983’s Oscar-nominated film The Big Chill is quite obvious, but there is little doubt that The Return of the Secaucus 7 is the superior film- mostly for it’s trademark Sayles warmth, intelligence, and honesty. Nothing about this feels artificial, and you grow a bond with these characters (played by mostly non-professional actors at the time, including Sayles himself in a minor role). The film perfectly captures these characters at a moment of their lives that reflects some of the past, but ultimately has changed with time and age. The character depth may not be the depth of Sayles greatest films, but the overall tone of the film and the performances really make this such an appealing and compassionate film. The filmmaking has it’s technical and stylistic flaws, yet the approach is such a low-keyed one of warmth that everything is done with honesty and heart. You really have to admire the cast and what Sayles accomplishes here. In the most un-forceful way, The Return of the Secaucus 7 is a groundbreaking film of American Independent cinema from one of the pioneers of the movement.
WORLD TRADE CENTER
2006, Oliver Stone, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD
Oliver Stone films do not always work for me. On the surface, World Trade Center would seem quite unique for most of his previous (more cynical work) yet this ultimately shares what Stone captured in many of his most memorable films. There is a big-budget quality to this film that looks to recapture the nostalgia of American tradition and celebrate the epics of the past. Stone holds back on the political views but doesn’t let up with the sentiment. However, nothing ever feels forced and the power and uplifting spirit of the film is incredibly effective. Really this is a film that should be embraced. This is easily the type of film that could have been cynical or political, but rather becomes a positive film of the human resolve and generosity. These types of films were much more common in the days of Frank Capra so it is actually refreshing when films are made like this today. Stone keeps his tendency of over-stylization minimal, instead focusing on the tragedy, the survivors, and their families. From the opening we understand this will be a true life event from the survivors perspective and that is actually what we get (we see the attacks and the survival effort strictly from the perspective of them and the families). The film also does a really nice job of capturing the moment and really giving the sense that everything we see actually occurred. World Trade Center is a real tearjerker. A film that will leave you with tears of equal sadness and joy. I’d say this rates among the best films Oliver Stone has ever made.
DAYS OF YOUTH
1929, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
1st Viewing, DVD
Days of Youth is the earliest surviving feature film from Ozu (he made seven prior films that have since been lost). It’s a remarkable film to watch just to see how Ozu has grown as a filmmaker. His earliest work shares his love and influence of Hollywood comedies and perhaps few films express this more prominently then Days of Youth. Aside from the direct visual references (poster of Seventh Heaven and Claire Bow, or even a character that evokes physical similarities to Harold Lloyd), Days of Youth also shares the spirit of these Hollywood influences (most particularly the light-hearted romantic comedies of Ernst Lubitsch). Of course, Harold Lloyd’s influence is evident and Ozu does reveal his early gifts as a visual comedian of sight gags (particularly in the second half of the film at the ski slopes). One of the joys of watching this film is just to observe how Ozu’s trademark style and themes had not yet developed in his earliest features. While underneath the surface you can discover some of the roots, this film heavily contrasts his most familiar and memorable masterworks. The opening shots are something you’d never see in Ozu’s postwar films, as Days of Youth opens with a circular-motion pan of a series of shots establishing the exterior environment and setting. His trademark “pillow shots” are shown here as point of view shots, and there are far more close-ups, tracking shots, and fades. This film lacks the pure mastery of visual space, composition, and patterns of Ozu’s best films, but you can still find some definitive visual motifs (notably a brief shot of a train, and repetitive images of smoke pipes). Above all, Days of Youth is an enjoyable and charming comedy that blends itself as a buddy comedy, a slapstick comedy, and a romantic/love triangle comedy. At the core is a friendship that is shared during “the days of youth”. This may be a minor film from Ozu, but it is a wonderful joy to watch both for the entertaining appeal of the film and the earliest surviving work from one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live.
December 14th Log
2005, Ang Lee, United States
Repeat Vieiwng, DVD
Brokeback Mountain is film as equally heartbreaking as it is sincere. It is one of the great love stories of American film, but it is also one of social relevance in its exploration of tolerance. Brokeback Mountain is a socially conscious film, but one that is never preachy and as a result deeply moving. There are complex layers of emotions and social environments in that the film captures a love story that is destroyed by a society of intolerance and expectations. The tragedy of the film is that the relationship is doomed because of social environment. In a society supposedly created for equality, freedom, and compassion, the film expresses the heartbreaking contradiction of a relationship that could have been together forever, but ultimately is separated and destroyed. The film captures an internal struggle of a man (Ennis) who is fighting against his own true feelings because of a self-inflicted “embarrassment” caused by a society of conformity (it is only at his own “private” brokeback mountain where his feelings are open). The film is at it’s most powerful when detailing this internal struggle against society and it is heightened by an incredible performance from Heath Ledger. It is particularly effective in the final moments of the film when Ennis realizes his deepest feelings for Jack (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), only now he is alone (as captured in the beautiful final shot- which peers out of Ennis trailer window to a lonely world). Brokeback Mountain is a collaborative masterpiece. Everyone involved, be it Ang Lee’s compassionate direction of Diana Ossana and James Schamus’ script, Rodrigo Prieto’s breathtaking John Ford-esque use of scenery and landscapes, Gustavo Santaolalla’s emotionally inspiring musical score, and the outstanding performances by the entire cast. The love story here is sadly divided amongst audiences who simply view it as a “gay cowboy movie”. In its essence Brokeback Mountain is an incredibly universal story of love, as well as our own buried feelings amongst the conformity of society. We all have our own personal “brokeback mountain” and that is what makes this such a heartbreaking film.
December 13th Log
FUR: AN IMAGINARY PORTRAIT OF DIANE ARBUS
2006, Steven Shainberg, United States
1st Viewing, Theater
The subtitle to the film is 'An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus’, and the opening title cards of the film further reflect that what is presented here is imagined and not biographical events of Diane Arbus’ life. Substituting facts for myths, director Steven Shainberg is paying tribute to a unique and fascinatingly mysterious artist (most known for her photographs- which are never shown during the film- of unusual “freakish” subjects). Nicole Kidman, who seems to be reworking elements of her quiet and repressed character from 2004’s Birth, successfully captures the innocence of this character. The core of the film centers around the relationship Arbus grows with her neighbor, a man born with a disorder that covers his entire body with hair (played by Robert Downer Jr, and looking awfully similar to The Beast in Jean Cocteau’s 1946 classic Beauty and the Beast). It is through this relationship that Arbus discovers her artistic vision, or at least lets it outside the confines of her conventional life as a mother and husbands assistant. As a whole the film has moments that seem to lack the passion of others, but you do have to applaud the intentions presented here. As he did with his previous feature (2002’s Secretary), Shainberg captures a moody atmosphere of curiosity and sexuality. He also again highlights the film with beautifully composed imagery, set designs, and 50s period costumes. Of course, also like his previous film Fur is an unconventional love story of two unique people who are made for other. I think Secretary worked better in that particular regard and probably even as a whole, but Fur is still a well made and excellently performed film.
THANK GOD HE MET LIZZIE aka THE WEDDING PARTY
1997, Cherie Nowlan, Australia
1st Viewing, DVD
I’ve gradually been trying to catch up with all the films Cate Blanchett has starred in. Here is one of her earliest performances and really one that helped propel her career (she won an Australian Film Institute Best Supporting Actress award). Blanchett really is excellent here, but her character (Lizzie) is given limited depth to work with beyond what is at the surface. However, she does best with it and really works well alongside the lead of the film, Guy (played by Richard Roxburgh). The romance between them is a bittersweet one. You get the sense Guy and Lizzie are growing a loving relationship (as opposed to being in one), maybe even out of avoiding loneliness. The film does not examine this with the complex depth it could but there is an effective look into the relationships. Really the primary narrative of the film centers around Guy’s memories, or more specifically his previous relationship with Jenny (wonderfully played by Frances O'Connor). The cast is very good and the film blends charming bittersweet romance with comedy, while also leaving for thought and interpretation of these relationships. The American title was changed to The Wedding Party, but the original title (Thank God He Met Lizzie) is far more meaningful. It certainly provokes more thought and in many ways can be viewed as ironic because it is in meeting Lizzie that Guy realizes he was most happy with Jenny.
December 12th Log
THEY WERE EXPENDABLE
1945, John Ford, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
I left some Ford films out last month, so I’m still catching up. Made in 1945, They Were Expendable was made at a time when John Ford would begin to emerge into a more deeply personal filmmaker. In trademark Ford fashion, this film oozes with personal expression while still remaining an epic adventure of Hollywood Studio filmmaking. Detailing all the quintessential Fordian themes (duty, honor, leadership), but here they are presented in a way that feels deeply personal to Ford (both cynical yet hopeful). Of course, They Were Expendable has simple and quiet moments (like all Ford films) they are absolutely magical (most particularly the scene when Donna Reed shares an evening of dinner with John Wayne and his crew). The film also captures elements of humor, traditions (singing and dancing), and spirituality, all of which are often featured in Ford films. They Were Expendable is beautifully directed, shot (including some use of lighting and shadows which proves Ford’s German-expressionism influence), and acted. Watching more of John Wayne’s films has made me understand why he such a legendary figure in American film history. He expresses a lot of depth and emotion in the slightest of effort. They Were Expendable ends on a sad note (retreating from the Philippines), yet leaves with respect and optimism (highlighted by a title card quoting General MacArthur). They Were Expendable is a film that is made with an excellent narrative and personal skill of filmmaking.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA
2006, David Frankel, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD
I remember being won over by the charming performances of this film when I saw it in the theaters over the summer and a repeat viewing further refreshed the overall enjoyments. The performances really set the tone for the film with the key word being f-u-n! The entire cast seems to be having a whole lot of fun in these roles and they take the audience along for the ride. Of course, Meryl Streep is particularly having fun in a devilish over-the-top role that she is absolutely terrific in (she will probably receive a 14th Academy Award nomination). Streep gives the standout performance, but she is not alone. I found Anne Hathaway to be quite charming in the lead role and Emily Blunt nearly steals the show as Streep’s bitter assistant. I can’t really say everything works, but The Devil Wears Prada succeeds as adorable and fun entertainment. The film seems to be channeling a bit of Funny Face (starring Audrey Hepburn), but mostly in its star-powered spirit. Overall it is a refreshingly enjoyable film that succeeds on intended levels.
December 11th Log
PRIDE & PREJUDICE
2005, Joe Wright, United Kingdom / France
Repeat Viewing, HBO
I saw this was playing on HBO tonight and had to give it yet another viewing (probably my 5th or 6th)â€¦ Joe Wright’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel is as rich in cinematic style and detail as it is in themes and emotions. There are so many beautiful moments full of humor and energy. The cast (lead by a vibrant performance from Keira Knightley and a subtle Donald Sutherland) is outstanding and each character is full of depth. It is the opening few shots (highlighted by a dazzling tracking shot through the Bennett household) that set the tone and mood. In these opening shots you immediately want to be apart of this family. This is such a lovely film in so many ways and I look forward to Wright’s future work as a filmmaker!!! For more thoughts on the film, visit the A2P Cinema site HERE
December 8th Log
2006, Bryan Barber, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
Completely over-the-top (both emotionally and especially visually) but still pretty likeable thanks mostly to some convincingly charming performances by the leads (Andre 3000 and Big Boi of the hip hop band OutKast). I’m a fan of OutKast and the songs here will definitely please those who enjoy their music. The musical numbers are a bit too showy as are some of the special effects and overall camera movement and editing. The films story losses track during the violent final act, but I still think you have to dig what OutKast is doing here. The film is enjoyable in a fun and flashy way, and while praise is always thrown towards period stage musicals (ie Chicago), Idlewild will probably not get the credit it deserves.
FLAVOR OF GREEN TEA OVER RICE
1952, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD
With Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice, Ozu uses his traditional simplistic filmmaking methods with a blend of some complex camera work including detailed tracking shots. Overall the film is absolutely breathtaking on a visual level a different from the standard Ozu style. The emotional connection is also evident as here Ozu presents the relationship of a middle-aged husband and wife who are losing interest in their arranged marriage. The film is certainly among Ozu's most light-hearted films and still contains much of the subtle sad melodrama he was accustomed for. The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice is a touching and hopeful film of the strength and revival of love. Here Ozu slightly alteres his traditional postwar style while keeping the lasting emotional depth and themes, and ultimately the result remains as universal as his greatest masterworks.
December 7th Log
2004, David Gordon Green, United States
Repeat Viewing, Sundance Channel
"Can I carve my name in your face?" Even with just 3 films tohis credit and only 29 years of age, I believe David Gordon Green is a genius filmmaker. He's certainly one of my two favorite young American filmmakers (along with PT Anderson). While Undertow may not be as brilliant as his previous masterwork (All the Real Girls) or perhaps even has much ashis poetic debut film (George Washington), it remains a truly incredible work by a gifted artist. Undertow is certainly Green's most narrative-based film. He's working within genre, but rather then conveying cliches, Green takes a genre formula into a style very few can capture. Really, Green's films have such a unique and distinctive quality. While they obviously take placein the south, his films have a timeless and placeless-ness to it. Even though Undertow is his most conventional narrative film, story (as always with Green) is overshadowed by atmosphere and mood. And that's where the strength of Undertow lies, it's mood. Undertow, again like all Green's work, flawlessly captures emotions, movements and dialogue of life. Also Green (along with his usual cinematographer Tim Orr) has a visual style that is beautifully poetic, not in a pretentious way, but a way that is both authentic and surreal. Even for it's straight conventions, Undertow is like no other film. Sure it'svery obvious and easy to see the comparisons with the brilliant1955 masterpiece Night of the Hunter, but as that film was (and still is!), Undertow has a beauty and rarity of it's own. There are several depths and examinations, most notably being a film of faith and innocence of youth, and the loss of each. The films final moments are left open and are mysterious and magical, while ultimately leaving a message of hope. The performances (especially by the young Jamie Bell) are outstanding, and Philip Glass' haunting score adds to the films mood. Maybe I just love David Gordon Green's films too much, but I found this film to be wonderful, particularly the second half. It's unpredictable, absorbing, poetic, and absolutely lovely! Green's films simply have a captivating spell and leave such beauty, joy, and hope upon experiencing. Undertow is no exception, and is highly recommend to fans of it's brilliant filmmaker!
December 6th Log
1939, George Cukor, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
Holiday is a wonderful film of star-power, great chemistry, romance, and humor. The strength of the film lies it’s its spirit, which is one that speaks of love against conformity. A film of individuality and jut living. Of course this spirit is captured by the great Cary Grant who gives such a fun performance as the freethinking Johnny Case. Holiday is directed by George Cukor who was hired by Columbia Pictures after production on Gone With the Wind was delayed (of course Cukor ended up being fired from Gone With the Wind and then became available for The Women). Cukor is a great director, who has a very theatrical style which perfectly suits Holiday since it is based off a Broadway play. Cukor also always gets great performances from his cast and this is the second of three films he would make with the duo of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Of course, Cukor loved working with Hepburn (they made ten films together). All this chemistry amongst the cast is evident in this beautifully acted and shot film. The charm and humor of the film is effortlessly achieved. Holiday is light-hearted in nature, but also a film that speaks of deeply meaningful issues of individuality. This film holds true value today as much as it did in 1938.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
1968, Sergio Leone, United States / Italy
Repeat Viewing, DVD
Sergio Leone's sprawling "spaghetti western" epic Once Upon a Time In the West will certainly absorb the viewer from the very opening credits. A sequence which lasts over10 minutes and features very (if any) little dialogue. Like Leone's other epic westerns, Once Upon a Time In the West is a cinematic treat packed with originality and styleto generate a truly fun experience. Leone's typical extended takes, and extreme close-ups are evident throughout. The strength of the films lies in the glorious use of wide-screen cinematography. Also, Leone's clever techniques and tension building setups a nothing short of masterful. There are some really fascinating moments that are a joy to watch. Leone is also a master at dealing with irony and this film is no exception. The performances are all strong, and it's particularly interesting seeing the legendary Henry Fonda play against the normal as a villain. And of course the beautiful presence of the stunning Claudia Cardinale. Not to go without mentioning is the brilliant and critical music score of Ennio Moricone, which adds to the films tone and ultimately keeps it together. It definitely ranks among the all-time best scores in cinema history. Once Upon a Time In the West is just such a fun film to watch. Leone is a brilliant filmmaker who relies more on emotional feeling then historical accuracy. What results is an absolute epic pleasure! This is perhaps Leone greatest achievement as a filmmaker and an incomparable masterpiece of it's kind.
December 5th Log
1970, Bernardo Bertolucci, France / Italy / West Germany
Repeat Viewing, DVD
Bernardo Bertolucci's greatest film is finally available on DVD this week. Simply as an examination of cinema's style and technical aspects, Bertolucci's The Conformist is a masterpiece. It's impossible to fully describe the depth and beauty of the legendary Vittorio Storaro's cinematography within this film. Storaro truly is one of cinemas greatest cinematographers, and The Conformist may represent his finest work. The simplest of details (be it shadows, colors, snow, leaves) are created with such beauty. What results is an absolutely hypnotizing and unforgettable experience of stunning and poetic imagery. Also, the musical score is exceptional and perfectly blends with the films visual atmosphere. The performances are fine, but it's the presence of the gorgeous Dominique Sanda that's unforgettable. She possesses a rare, quite performance in which her expression and movements alone capture an emotional connection with the audience. With The Conformist, Storaro and Bertolucci have created an absolute work of art. Style may over take substance a bit in this film, but it's both a joy and privilege to experience!
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST
2006, Gore Verbinski, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
Wowing the audience with everything available (even as early as the customized Disney logo- which was pretty impressive), this Pirates of the Caribbean sequel (Dead Man’s Chest) bits off more then it can chew. This is the case of too much of something good as everything that was successful and entertaining about the original is overplayed here. Johnny Depp clearly made the first film better then it actually was and they feed off his performance much more here, but it all just doesn’t feel the same and comes across much more forceful. There are some wonderful adventurous and special effects sequences but at 150 minutes of non-stop twists and turns the entire film gets worn down. It lacks the fresh excitement of the original. Honestly, do we really need a sequel for a film that is based on an amusement park ride? Not to mention, what is really going on here? Yes there is a whole lot being thrown our way, but when think about it all, the film becomes even more tiring and considering the cliff-hanging ending it becomes even more frustrating. Is the Disney corporate machine up to its marketing tricks. We watch two and a half hours of endless action only to be left hanging in the end with a moment that mine as well of said â€˜please buy a ticket next summer to see the rest of this film’. There are definitely spurts of this film that are good, mostly once again because of Depp’s abilities. Overall though this film is overblown (even for sequel standards) and ultimately wears down the entire franchise.
December 4th Log
1931, James Whale, United States
1st Viewing, Turner Classic Movies
Waterloo Bridge premiered on Turner Classic Movies and is also part of the 2-disc set they are issuing this week titled “Forbidden Hollywood’, which features three famous films from the pre-code era. This is the second feature by the always interesting and highly underrated James Whale. It marked the first of his films with Universal Studios and after the success of this film and his next feature (Frankenstein), Universal gave him more artistic freedom (until the studio changed bosses at the end of the 1930s, which resulted in Whale’s loss of freedom as a filmmaker). In terms of Whale’s personal vision, Waterloo Bridge is minor, but as a work of it’s own, this is quite a touching film. It’s a tragic romance of a woman who hides her feelings inside because of her own self-generated shame. The result is a tragic and doomed love story that is effectively made and strong in characterization. Providing the character depth is an excellent performance from Mae Clark, who may be most remembered for getting a grapefruit thrown in her face by James Cagney in the pre-code classic Public Enemy. Clark shines here and has great on-screen chemistry with the cast (which includes a supporting role by a very young Bette Davis).
1933, Alfred E. Green, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies
Alfred E. Green's 1933 Baby Face is a prime example of the pre-code era. Packed with naughty, unapologetic issues of sexual implications, BabyFace stands as a major influence to the creation of the code. Even after heavy cuts by the studios (the film is only 71 minutes), it remains one of the most shocking films of the decade. The stunningly gorgeous Barbara Stanwyck gives a fascinating performance as the leading lady who uses men to climb the corporate ladder. Stanwyck's range, energy, charm, and beauty will have you forgetting (like the film itself)the moral issues involved. Ultimately, Baby Face is just ajoyous film to experience. No message, and certainly no rules.... just alot of fun! This is a quintessential classic of Pre-Code Hollywood and a must see for fans of American film history.
December 2nd Log
2006, Sofia Coppola, United States, France / Japan
Repeat Viewing, Theater
I had to give this another viewing on the big screen (now my 3rd). There is so much about this film I admire. I love how Sofia Coppola takes the story of Maria Antoinette and makes it her own personal expression of a young woman who is alienated and alone (as early as the opening moments when she is told “all eyes will be on you.”). Even if the history is not completely accurate, Coppola is respectful of the true emotions of her characters and themes. History buffs may not be satisfied with every detail of the film, but cinema is not exactly an art form to always please historians. Ultimately Coppola has made a film that is universal in that it also captures the truth of modern generations trapped in an 18th century dream-world. There is much to praise about this film on various levels, but I’ve yet to applaud the performances, which you really begin to appreciate on further viewings. Jason Schwartzman’s performance particularly stands out the more you see the film, but of course Kirsten Dunst gives the standout performance. Coppola perfectly casts Dunst for the essence of the expression and feeling she is trying to capture in this film. Through Coppola’s direction, Dunst is able to portray many feelings with the slightest of dialogue. I also admire the way Coppola puts great care in the opening and closing shots of the film, which stand on there own and are very revealing in defining Coppola’s expressive vision. Maria Antoinette is a masterful achievement of artistic filmmaking from a filmmaker who has emerged with her third feature film.
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON
1939, Frank Capra, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is one of Frank Capra most quintessential and classic films. Full of sentiment, and gold old-fashioned American values and beliefs, the film shines with humor, serious social importance, and of course romance. His films could be classified as simple, hopeful, and for the â€˜common man’. In just about every case, the â€˜common man’ is sincere, agreeable, small-town, inexperienced, and non-political man who must overcome against evil social issues (politics, money, and class). His films celebrate life, morality, and above all the goodness of honest decency. Capra worked in many genres, and today his films are not given enough respect and simply deemed corny or overly-sentimental. However, while Mr. Smith Goes to Washington defines all these Capra-esque details, it also evokes a darker side of Capra that is evident in some of his greater work. Above all there is a sincerity in Capra’s films that make them so endearing for a wide range of audiences. The performances are terrific by all the players, but the heart and strength of the film lies in James Stewart and Jean Arthur. Together they shine, with Stewart as the everyman and Arthur as the definitive cynic she plays so well. Featuring outstanding set designs (including an entirely accurate portrayal of the senate) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington stands among the great achievements of the 1930s. A film to celebrate and still reflect upon its relevance today.
December 1st Log
NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WINDS
1984, Hayao Miyazaki, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD
Right from the very opening frame, Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds captures an artisticworld of imagination, mystery, and wonder like no other. It continues through the entire film all the through the endcredits (a Miyazaki trademark!). Miyazaki films are truly fascinating to experience, and Nausicaa (his 2nd featurefilm) stands among the very greatest of his many accomplishments. Based off Miyazaki's epic graphic novel, this is a film of endless wonder, imagination, and depth. Thestory of the film follows a girl's battle to bring humanity and nature together with peace in a future world where human technology has destroyed the environment and civilization. As with all Miyazaki films, environmental protection and nature lie at the core theme. Here, without being forceful, Miyazaki is examining humanity's relation with nature, andthe advancement of human technology. Nausicaa simplypresents thought-provoking questions, without beingforceful or preachy to the audience, and the result is trulypowerful and insightful. The films animation is nothing short of spectacular. The creativity and of course the extreme details of Miyazaki's drawings are absolutely beautiful. Everything about this film works to artistic perfection. Miyazaki is unquestionably one of cinema's true genius filmmakers, and in many ways Nausicaa represents the quintessential film of his themes, and imagination.
1956, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD
Following a short hiatus, Early Spring is the first film Ozu made after his acclaimed 1953 Tokyo Story. Here Ozu is mostly examining the life of one man, and his job and marriage. Different from traditional Ozu, the man is a working class man (recalling his characteristically complex Kihachi films during Ozu's silent era). Above all Ozu sympathetically observes the value of life and this working man's search for meaning. Early Spring certainly rates among his most expression social statements of the Japanese work life and the focus seems to be on the younger generation of Japanese society. A generation of rebelliousness and transition into a more Westernized Japanese world. Maybe not among his very greatest masterworks, Early Spring remains a deeply detailed film and among Ozu's emotionally darkest work.