Friday, January 5, 2007

January 5th Log

2006, Alfonso Cuaron, United Kingdom / United States
1st Viewing, Theater

With his sixth feature, Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron has ascended to the level of a master. Cuaron continues to prove his vast visionary skills with a variety of versatile films. Cuaron makes genre films that thrive creatively when working against genre conventions. Children of Men is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking, right from the very opening frame (a gritty shot of shocked and sadden faces looking up at a TV screen). Just a few shots later, a lengthy tracking shot (one of many) leads to a shocking explosion. In these opening moments, Cuaron has quickly established an intense tone, a dazzling visual style, and a bleak futuristic atmosphere. The setting is England 2027, and we see a world that has collapsed in chaos. Humanity is in danger of being extinct and the violence extends throughout the entire globe (transcending race, class, religion, and even nationality). Children of Men presents this futuristic world with richly textured details, and without overtly explaining everything that is happening. Cuaron trusts the viewer and trusts in imagination, and this is where his visual creativity becomes most expressive. Cuaron’s control over composition and space is breathtaking. There are shots that simply develop into perfect compositions as Cuaron’s long tracking shots reveal expressive framing. Some of the shots in this film seem impossible (the SUV terrorist scene, giving birth, finding the crying baby, and of course the moving shot of Clive Owen and Claire-Hope Ashitey carrying the baby through a group of war-torn soldiers that become frozen in a brief moment of hope and humanity). Cuaron keeps the significance of technology as the backdrop, but always makes it’s existence evident (including it’s evolution, which has seemingly progressed despite the demise of the world around it). If the film has any weak moment it is perhaps the battle scenes in the last act, but more so because it lacks the richness and imagination of the previous moments. Either way, the technical craftsmanship of these scenes are no less remarkable. Cuaron has made a masterpiece of art and mainstream filmmaking. There are multiple layers at work in this sc-fi world of realism. The film is formed with ideas and images that are not so far from reflecting contemporary society. By transcending genre standards, Cuaron has made a thought-provoking creation of a potential nightmare of the 21st century. He does this intelligently and without force, while leaving a compassionate hope for humanity and the future (look at the name of the boat in the end and hope is also expressed through the sound over the end credits). Children of Men is a powerful film, but above all you have to admire the visual presence in the filmmaking. I still think Y Tu Mama Tambein is my favorite Cuaron film, but this is his most remarkably heart-pounding and breathtaking.

2006, Matthew O'Callaghan, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Curious George is good old-fashioned plain and simple animated filmmaking. Highlighted by a cheery and bright animation that perfectly captures the essence of the original source artwork. The real strength of the film comes from the loveable charm of George. George is so adorable that you can’t help but be drawn into this world, no matter what age you are. Adding to the simplicity and tenderness is the music of Jack Johnson, who’s lyrics seem to reflect the general moral of the film (which is that you learn by experience). Above all Curious George is a smart film and a whole lot of fun to watch. It is a refreshing animated film in an era loaded with overtly pop-cultured referencing animation films (such as Shrek).

1942, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

There Was A Father is one of only two films Ozu made during the war, yet ironically this may be his most peaceful and quiet film. Just about every film Ozu has made is simplistic in approach, but this may actually be his most simplistic film. There is no direct reference to the war, but rather a deeply sympathetic father-son relationship (in contrast to his more traditional father-daughter relationship) which details the importance of the parent and the separation of family. I'm not sure if the camera ever even moves, and there are some definitive Ozu pillow shots. Ozu regular Chishu Ryu, who starred in almost all of his films, gives yet another brilliant subtle performance. This was really the film that showcased Ryu as a great leading actor and it remains one of his pivotal performances for Ozu. There Was a Father is a moving film that really defines the essence of what Ozu portrays on a philosophical level. Even in the saddest moments of his work, there is always a sense of peace and comfort. Because of this, I hope to continue this weekly trend of an Ozu film on Friday night…

- More on There Was A Father @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE


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