Tuesday, January 9, 2007

January 9th Log

2006, Feng Xizogang, China
1st Viewing, DVD

Take the basis of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a source of the adaptation, The Banquet transport the story into the work of an epic scaled Chinese opera on film. Excessive art designs, bold use of colors, and especially grand sets (including Emperor’s Palace, which was the largest set ever built in China). Directed by Feng Xizogang, The Banquet is the type of mainstream epics being made by his fellow Fifth Generation Chinese filmmaker, Zhang Yimou (who’s reached worldwide acclaim martial arts films Hero and House of Flying Daggers, as well as his recently released Curse of the golden Flower). Feng tries to contrast the grand-scale of the films visual surface with a much smaller emotional level of drama. The results are mixed. The film feels a bit distanced and dull, but more so because of the length then the pace, which is intentionally slow. Through both the small details of emotion as well as the remarkable sets, the film gives a sense for reality of 10th Century Chinese history re-imagined through Hamlet. The Banquet opens with a gloriously theatrical fight sequences (choreographer by world renowned Yuen Wo-Ping). Leading the cast is China’s most internationally celebrated actress (Zhang Ziyi, who plays Empress Wan. Though this is based off Hamlet, Feng seems to center the story around Ziyi, giving her character a conflicting good and evil. Ziyi is always a beautiful presence, and though she is solid here, it is far from her most memorable performances. Above all, The Banquet is a film made with a specific approach to style and content. It has the vision of an epic opera with stylized performances, strong melodramatic tones, massive set and art designs, and graceful slow motion fight sequences. Feng tries to handle the big international stars, an equally celebrated crew, a Shakespearean adaptation, and a enormously scaled production set all while keeping the emotional core simple and focused. For the most part Feng achieves this, but he may isolate audiences looking to compare this to Zhang’s recent martial arts epics.

2002, Jake Kasdan, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

“You really care about these characters.” says the novelist to the one of his admirers (played by Colin Hanks) who asked what he thought of his story. This moment becomes a reflection of the film as the novelist is essentially describing the film we are watching. Orange County is a film written by the wonderfully talented Mike White. The film also seems to be a reflection of White, who as a writer really does care about his characters and devolps them with such a strong understanding and compassion. These characters are so likeable (and I agree with the novelist, played in one of the many cameos of the film by Kevin Kline, that the “bleeding-heart animal loving girlfriend” is my favorite- she is played by Schuyler Fisk). Besides the intelligent and compassionate character devolpment, Orange County is also really funny. This is aided by an incredible cast of really funny charcters actors (the always terrific Lily Tomlin, Catherine O'Hara, Jane Adams, John Lithgow, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis). However as great as they are (and Tomlin and Adams are especially memorable), Jack Black steals the show. He is absolutely hysterical as the lazy and stoned brother. There are some great moments to this film that I imagine get even better with repeat viewings. The film is perfectly paced by directed Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence). White’s simple yet heartfelt and seemingly personal script is the real gem of this wonderful character comedy.


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