Tuesday, July 31, 2007

July 31st Log

2007, Werner Herzog, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

After making several acclaimed documentaries, the great German auteur Werner Herzog returns to fictional filmmaking with Rescue Dawn (his first since 2001’s Invincible). Among the most evident themes of Herzog’s films is that of human obsession or madness, and the chaos of nature. Almost as a parallel to Herzog himself perhaps, the leading characters of his films are often ambitious and determined characters that are driven by destiny or personal desire. Here Herzog returns to one of his favorite subjects, Dieter Dengler. In 1997, Herzog made the brilliant documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Rescue Dawn is a fictionalized retelling of the story. While probably the most commercial and widely accessible film of Herzog’s career, Rescue Dawn re-imagines the essence of his themes, particularly that of man versus nature or more specifically the jungle. Through wonderful storytelling and pacing as well as flashes of poetic imagery Herzog has created a mainstream action survival film that remains rooted in the definitive core of Herzog’s artistry. The film handles some moments questionably (notably the politics and exaggerated Laotian soldiers), yet Herzog’s focus is the battle with the jungle and the landscapes and the mental state of the characters. Less haunting then Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Rescue Dawn is a gripping film with absorbing storytelling.

2007, Edgar Wright, United Kingdom / France

1st Viewing, DVD

After the critical and box office success of Shaun of the Dead, writers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg reteam for the action comedy Hot Fuzz. Much like Shaun of the Dead was an embracing spoof, Hot Fuzz takes on the Hollywood action films, specifically the buddy action films. Pegg plays an overworking police officer who is transferred from London to a small town where he finds himself stuck in a place without crime and with a partner who’s only interest in police work is imagining he’s in a Hollywood action film (such as Bad Boys 2 or Point Break). The film has a lot of fun working in and around the clichés, capturing the fun and the silliness of Hollywood action. The film is very clever and Wright has a sharp and clever visual eye as well as comic timing with editing, making this a great comedy for both it’s witty dialogue and visuals. The cast is lead by Shaun of the Dead leads Pegg and Nick Frost, and also features some acclaimed British actors (Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Timothy Dalton). There are also a couple clever cameo performances including Steve Coogan, Peter Jackson and in a hilarious early scene Cate Blanchett as Pegg’s girlfriend in London. Much in the way Shaun of the Dead was, Hot Fuzz is intelligent and funny and sincere. The film embraces what we love and love to hate about Hollywood action films.


09.29.1912 - 07.30.2007

The same night the film world lost Ingmar Bergman, it also lost another one of the greatest living filmmakers: Michelangelo Antonioni, perhaps the greatest Italian filmmaker in the history of cinema, who died Monday night at the age of 94.

Truly a sad day… For Bergman is the filmmaker that open my eyes to world cinema, and Antonioni is the one whom inspires me to want to be a filmmaker. I listed Antonioni at #19 on my list of the top filmmakers. Here is what I wrote last year:

Very much like Federico Fellini, the earliest filmmaking development of Michelangelo Antonioni is in Italian Neorealism, where he began making documentary shorts about the working class. However, also like Fellini, Antonioni quickly abandoned the traditional sense of Neorealism (an era marked by Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, and Luchino Visconti) in favor of his more abstract cinema. As a result, Antonioni is perhaps (to me anyway) the greatest expressionist and visual master in the history of Italian cinema. Antonioni’s films are less narrative conventions then they are experimentations of cinematic narrative. While Neorealism used social environments to define humanity and character, Antonioni uses environment and character in a mysterious and simplistic form of psychological expression. Antonioni’s concern is focused on the actual environment itself, just as much as it is with the characters of the environment. It is the environment that is a reflection of the characters and the emotional significance is an expression of the psychological state of mind of the characters. Antonioni’s particular fascination is modern architecture to convey the emotional state of his characters- which is generally distant, alienated, and lonely. It is this visually expressive examination of loneliness and alienation that Antonioni particularly masters. Especially in the way it is captured through environment. As such, landscapes and spaces become most prominent and memorable in all his work. This may be most evident in Antonioni’s richest period (1960s- notably his loose trilogy which begins with his most acclaimed film L’Avventura and concludes with his masterpiece L’Eclisse). Made in 1962 L’Eclisse is Antonioni at the peak of his artistic mastery, notably the incredible final montage sequence which captures his quintessential representation of space and landscape as a form of expression (as we see the films world through the backdrop, absent of it's characters). To me the film stands as one of the very great achievements of visual expressionism ever put on film and the final montage is a perfectly executed display in cinema at it's purest artistic form (images and sounds). Because of his reliance on environment as an expression of emotion, few filmmakers depend on their visual imagery more then Antonioni (at least since the invention of sound). As a result, many of his films and expression are done with silence- or as a “feeling”. That is where the narrative key of his films lie, as above all Antonioni is a filmmaker who searches for the feelings within human beings that live in a world where feelings are hidden inside. Images express feelings more effectively then dialogue, particularly the feelings that are most prominent in Antonioni’s films (loneliness, discomfort, sorrow). Antonioni finds the most expressive cinematic feelings through a lack of communication or in loneliness. Through his visual expression (as well as a gift with sound expression), Antonioni’s films reveal complex depths and psychological levels. As a purely artist filmmaker, Antonioni is without question one of the greatest of all-time!

Monday, July 30, 2007

July 30th Log

1989, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

Rikyu marked Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Teshigahara’s return to fiction filmmaking after a 17 year hiatus. The film is based on the life of the legendary tea master Sen-no Rikyu, the film becomes one that is more a meditative experience, one that takes you into its world through visuals and pacing. Teshigahara openly embraced his preference for cinematography as the visuals of this film are once again striking and the camera framing and angels equally unusual and fascinating. Above all the film is one that speaks of culture, and art through a peaceful and simple yet philosophical depth. Though the film lacks the hypnotic movement of Teshigahara’s greatest films, I found the film to be an absorbing one made by a truly great filmmaker.

1947, Anatole Litvak, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The Long Night is a film noir structured through several layers of flashbacks. It opens with the death of a man and holdup of the killer in the house. The man is Joe Adams (played by the great Henry Fonda) and we are quickly taken into his thoughts. Through flashbacks (and sometimes more flashbacks within them), we slowly discover the events leading to the murder, as well as those that are involved with Joe (including the sweet young girl he loves, the showgirl who loves him, and the man who is also connected to these woman). The cast is very strong, with Fonda leading the way. Vincent Price gives his usually strong presence and Barbara Bel Geddes is memorable in her very first screen appearance. The film is directed by Anatole Litvak, who was known for excessive takes and a perfectionist approach. The Long Night is beautifully expressive in the way it uses shadows and lighting to heighten emotion and expression. The film is a remake of Marcel Carne’s acclaimed 1939 film Le Jour se leve, and it captures much of the visual look and feeling of the French poetic realism from the 1930s.

INGMAR BERGMAN (1918-2007)

07.14.1918 - 07.30.2007

Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, perhaps the worlds greatest living filmmaker, died today at the age of 89 years old.

Bergman’s career is impossible to define or discuss in a couple sentences. He leaves behind one of the most remarkable bodies of work in the history of cinema, a filmography that includes over 30 films in a span of nearly 60 years. I had Bergman listed at #5 on my Top 122 filmmakers list last from last year. Here is what I wrote:

Master Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman is sometimes unfairly considered as pretentious, boring, or arty, but to classify him as such is to seriously underrate him as an artist. Bergman is without question one of the most original filmmakers in the history of cinema. An artist with a truly personal vision that speaks to the very nature of film as an art form. Bergman’s films are all very autobiographical in the way of a truly great artist. You see a piece of him yet even more amazingly you can find something of yourself not in the sense that you are looking at yourself, but more a cinematic reflection about yourself. It can be a truly captivating experience and Bergman’s passion for cinema as an art form keeps the timeless beauty of films (it also explains the reason he stands among the most respected filmmakers among fellow directors). The pure imagination and beauty of Bergman’s originality and captivating visual style can very often be forgotten by the complex emotional depth they carry. Though Bergman’s personal presence is felt with every film, the versatility should not be overlooked as well. While Bergman is well known for his bleak portraits of death and faith he has shown his ability to master dark comedy (Smiles of a Summer Night), human psychology (Persona), martial relationship (Scenes of a Marriage), and magical celebration of the importance of a human life (Fanny and Alexander). Of course those are just a couple examples. Bergman has made over 50 feature films in a career that spanned from 1945 to his final film, 2003’s Saraband. Bergman may not be the greatest or most important and influential filmmaker, but very few are more personal and original and Bergman may have made more “great” films then any other filmmaker in the history of cinema (at least of what I have personally seen). Bergman was well known for using the same small crew (of course most notable is his masterful collaboration with the great cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who embodied the visual style of Bergman’s films) as well as the same actors (Liv Ullmann, Harriet Andersson, Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin). It is this team of collaborators that have been critical to the longevity and greatness of his career. Bergman began in the theater and many of his films represent his theatrical roots. Particularly his earliest films as he began to discover the boundaries of film language. His earliest work beginning with 1945’s Crisis is not as emotionally and visually complex or rich and display his early roots of theater, melodrama, and comedy. Bergman’s early mastery developed in the beginning of the 1950s, with Summer with Monika in 1952 and Sawdust and Tinsel in 1953. Perhaps the earliest film to put Bergman on the international level was his 1955 comic masterpiece Smiles of a Summer Night. The film won a special award at Cannes for it’s ‘Poetic Humor’. However it was his next two releases (both from 1957) that cemented Bergman’s reputation among the world’s greatest filmmakers: The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries. Both films still stand among his most memorable and certainly draw back to the central ideas and imagery Bergman would use as a master filmmaker throughout the remainder of his career. With The Seventh Seal, Bergman examined the very meaning of life and the existence (or absence of God). The visual style of the film is quintessentially symbolic with a contrasted use of lighting and shadows, and the emotional mood is bleak, but Bergman also blends a bit of dark comedy that traces back to his earlier films. Wild Strawberries continues with a similar theme as the film opens with a dream sequence in which a man sees the nearing of death and is ultimately haunted by the questions of the significance of his life. It is here that Bergman established the central themes he would expand upon with his later masterpieces. The early 1960s began with Bergman’s loose “Faith Trilogy” (Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence), three films that seek significant spiritual ideals in a world where humanity has no defining purpose and there are many resistances to connection. This is where his relationship grew with his cinematographer (Sven Nykvist) and Bergman’s visual style made him one of the most unique masters of world cinema. It is also where Bergman and Nykvist established one of the trademark visuals: capturing the human face. No filmmaker in the history of cinema has captured the very essence and expression of the human face as masterfully as Bergman. In 1966, Bergman made a psychological masterwork that stands as one of filmmaking greatest artistic achievements. It is a film that captures the self-conscious mystery of film and of the human mind. Persona is Bergman’s most complex film and depicts the very essence of his visual genius. It’s a film of multiple depths and layers but is ultimately a film, and one in which the very progression of watching and making films is examined as equally as the characters. Bergman’s films after Persona (all starring Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow- Hour of the Wolf, Shame, The Passion of Anna) were depressing and frightening films of nightmares, apocalyptic war, and mental chaos. In the 1970s Bergman made some of his most emotionally powerful and painful films (Scenes From a Marriage, Autumn Sonata, and perhaps his greatest film Cries and Whispers). Cries and Whispers marks Bergman at the peak of his visual and emotional mastery and expresses the essential themes of his filmmaking (notably the meaning of a life in the face of death). In 1982 Bergman made his richest and most personal film Fanny and Alexander (as both a three hour theatrical version and a 5-hour television version). It was to be his last film (though he made several more for television and did make a return with 2003’s Saraband before officially retiring). Bergman’s films have a very theatrical approach on an emotional level, yet the truest mastery of his films come from the dazzling force of his images, as well as the haunting moments of silence. Often the combination of images and silence define Bergman’s narrative in a way that is truly unique from any other artist in filmmaking. Bergman is one of the greatest visionaries of filmmaking. An artist that took the very nature of the medium to new heights and expressions. He explored challenging subjects of filmmaking, of himself, of life, of death, of God, and maybe more then anything else of ourselves.

>> Bergman may have cinemas most impressive filmography so nearly all his films are recommended, but here are my personal 10 favorites:
PERSONA (1966)
SHAME (1968)
SILENCE (1963)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

July 29th Log

1969, Ken Loach, United Kingdom

1st Viewing, DVD

Ken Loach’s brilliant 1969 film Kes takes the viewer into the realism of it’s world, reflecting social and psychological meaning of life. The film centers around Billy Casper, a fifteen year old boy who is approaching adulthood and the conformity of a bleak working-class environment that consumes him. In Kes, young kestrel that he adopts and trains, Casper finds an individuality that gives him freedom and hope amongst the conformity and the authoritive figures of school and home (notably his older brother). Using mostly non-professional actors, and real locations, Loach fully absorbs us into the film with a documentary-like filmmaking style. Through this style we are view Casper emergence toward a depressing world of working-class conformity, contrasted by the openness and freedom of the natural landscapes shared in the moments he spends training Kes. Simplistic yet undeniably moving, Kes is a film of transcendent and philosophical emotional depths, made without an ounce of sentiment. This is Loach’s first theatrical film and it remains his most deservedly acclaimed film. Kes is an essential work. One of the truly great humanist films of British cinema.

2007, Joel Schumacher, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Jim Carrey revises his animal protection role of Ace Ventura. Ok not really, but he does play a dog catcher in his second film with director Joel Schumacher (who directed Carrey in 1995’s Batman Forever). The film opens with a contrived sequence in which a dog supposedly creates the fate of Carrey’s connection to a Book called Number 23. Carry becomes obsessed with the book, believing it to be him, and the film blends reality with fiction all as Carrey’s character does voice-over throughout. Virginia Madsen again gets type-cast as the supportive wife dealing with Carrey’s obsession and paranoia of the number 23 and it’s connections to evil. The film has some fine points, but Carrey’s performance does not fit, and neither does the way the film handles the multiple narrative layers. It eventually becomes to much to handle and it seems as if there is no possible way the film can have a conclusive ending yet it poorly does tack one on.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

July 28th Log

2007, David Silverman, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

The long-awaited Simpsons movie finally arrives!!! The film opens with Homer telling the audience we are suckers for paying something we can watch for free on television. This sets the tone for the entire film, which is essentially an hour and half long version of a great Simpsons episode. If you are a fan of The Simpsons, you will love this. As far as I’m concerned The Simpsons is the best and most important television show in the history of television. I found the film to be non-stop laughs. The focus is primarily on The Simpson family, leaving some of the many great supporting characters as minor parts, but nearly everyone from the show makes an appearance at some point. The film effectively defines each character of the Simpsons, a timeless and universal family living in a timeless and universal American town (Springfield): Marge as the busy and nervous but patient mother/wife; Bart the juvenile troublemaker son; Lisa the politically conscious yet hopefully romantic daughter; Maggie the quiet, skilled, and easily influenced baby that unnoticingly gets the family out of jams; and of course Homer, the often lazy, thoughtless father/husband who is always causing problems for the family and the town yet is lovable for his equal flashes of reliability and values. The Simpsons Movie draws out each of these Simpson traits so perfectly while displaying the films trademark witty and hilarious comedy with touching family values. Always politically aware, The Simpsons Movie captures the shows importance as a social icon. Here the movie uses a narrative plot to center itself around two essentials of The Simpsons: politics and religion. While the show (as well as this movie) has always had fun taking its clever little shots at religion and the church, ultimately The Simpsons supports the importance of faith and spirituality within the family. This is where the quintessential morality of the show lies, and the movie absolutely captures this in a non-stop laughs film that celebrates the beauty and timelessness of American televisions greatest show.

Friday, July 27, 2007

July 27th Log

2007, Philip Groning, France / Switzerland / Germany
1st Viewing, DVD

Into Great Silence is a spiritual experience captured through the contemplative imagery and still silence of ritual. The film was meditatively shot by German filmmaker Philip Groning, who spent six months filming Carthusian monks in a French monastery. The film runs 169 minutes, is essentially without dialogue or a straight narrative, yet it’s beauty lies in the awe-inspiring silence and spiritual journey the film takes you. The film transcends specific religion, instead capturing human devotion and drive at it’s most simple and pure. Through stunning photography, use of lighting and sounds Groning creates a slowly inspirational film of peace and transcendence. Into Great Silence is challenging yet undeniably absorbing to experience.

1934, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

A Mother Should Be Loved is more melodramatic material then Ozu’s best work. The story centers around two brothers that are alienated after the older one secretly discovers their widowed mother is really his stepmother. The film is missing the first and last reels (a lot of which are titles), which detailed the joyful routines of family life with the mother, two sons, and the father, who dies of a heart attack. What survives centers around the central story of the two sons. Made during the death of Ozu’s father, A Mother Should Be Loved takes a look into the separation of the family, a theme he would continue to develop throughout his postwar masterpieces. This film is more plot driven and overall not as powerful as his greatest work, but it is an interesting film to see the early developments of his themes and style.

>>> More on A Mother Should Be Loved @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

>>> The opening moments from the surviving print of A Mother Should Be Loved:

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

July 25th Log

2007, David Fincher, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

After a five year hiatus from filmmaking, with Zodiac David Fincher returns to the serial killer mystery thriller genre that resulted in his best film (to me anyway) Seven, which was made in 1995. Here however, Fincher is working with a true story (based off the books by Robert Graysmith, which detail the facts about the still unsolved case of the Zodiac killings in San Francisco during the 1960s and 1970s). As such, Fincher treats the subject with far with an approach that is less philosophical and thrilling then Seven, instead focusing more on the investigation. In other words, Zodiac is less stylized then Seven instead aiming for realism, while still remaining an effective genre suspense film. Those familiar with the facts, details, and history of the case are likely not to be surprised by everything that unfolds. What pushes the film beyond the level of a simple crime detective film is that Zodiac is ultimately more centered around the key characters obsession with case and how the obsession consumes their lives. It is here that the film grasps it’s emotional humanity and Fincher along with screenwriter James Vanderbilt never lose focus of this element, even at a lengthy 158 minute running time. As the final title cards indicate, the case remains unsolved and Robert Graysmith’s obsession with the case remains. It is this obsession that makes the film most haunting. I think this is Fincher’s best film since Seven.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

July 24th Log

2007, Gregg Kavet / Andy Robin, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

When not taken too seriously Live Free or Die is an enjoyable crime comedy. Set in a small town in New Hampshire the film is aimed as a quirky low-brow comedy. The quirkiness works because of the dialogue and the performances. It is the type of film that could get tiring quickly, but the performances are strong and the dialogue witty enough to keep the film enjoyable throughout the 92 minutes. Written and directed by debut feature filmmakers Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin (former writers/editors of the hit show Seinfeld), the film tells the “legend” of local town criminal John "Rugged" Rudgate. Essentially Rugged is only a want-to-be criminal and if he’s guilty of any crime it is his perceived image and phony reputation. As played by Aaron Stanford, Rugged’s boastful criminal shtick comes across funny and Paul Schneider gives a hilarious performance as his clueless friend. The supporting cast also share in the laughs and I can never tiring of seeing Zooey Deschanel, who (though underused again) is radiant as always. It is especially great to see the All the Real Girls duo of Schneider and Deschanel together again (here playing arguing brother and sister- once again with great screen chemistry). The film lacks challenging depth or insight, but I don’t think it aims for much more then it delivers. Sit back and let the performances and dialogue win you over, and Live or Die Free can be a really fun and funny film.

1984, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

What Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Teshigahara is doing with this film is taking you into the artistry more so then the artist (influential Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi). Using fluid camera work and hypnotic sound and music, Teshigahara creates a lyrical and at times haunting mood that allows the viewer to be completely absorbed within Gaudi’s work. Teshigahara and his cinematographers and editors are controlling and detailing what is shown yet they craft the film together in a way that does not intrude and allows the film to be a rare experience. Heightening this is the films preference of mostly avoiding voice-over, instead using occasional subtitles. This film is a wondrous one of discovery because Teshigahara allows us to discover Gaudi work by taken the viewer into the world of it as can only be seen through cinema. The film ends with a final reflective thought from Antonio Gaudi, "Everything comes out of the Great Book of Nature; anything created by human beings is already in there."

Monday, July 23, 2007

July 23rd Log

2001, Jeong Jae-eun, South Korea
1st Viewing, DVD

What a beautiful and perfect film this is! Take Care of My Cat opens with a group of five young friends celebrating their graduation. Within a moment we are taken out of this joyful celebration of youth and into the world of early adulthood. A world that grows far more complex and ultimately begins to divide friendship. Take Care of My Cat is an emotionally captivating film that takes on many layers despite being made with a master touch of simplicity. What could have been forceful or melodrama, becomes something beautiful and natural through the minimalist approach by Jeong Jae-eun in his debut feature film. The emotions, expressions, and layers of the film are not explained, but rather they speak for themselves in a way that recalls the mastery of Yasujiro Ozu. The film is simplistic in that it does not rely on plot, yet there is a complexly structure depth to the film that allows the viewer to reflect upon and appreciate afterwards. We understand these characters experiences and we share in their humanity. The performances by the five women are each excellent, but it is Bae Doo-Na that is especially great. As Tae-hee, Bae finds herself alone and alienated from love and from family, always drifting into private thought. It is her friends that give her the connection and support she needs and Tae-hee struggles to reunite two of the friends that are drifting from each other (Hae-joo, an ambitious career-woman who’s moved to Seoul and Ji-young, a depressed orphan living in a broken down shack with her grandparents). Within the lives of these five woman is the cat Tee Tee who was found in an alley by Ji-young. Tee Tee moves through the hands of each character, becoming a reflection of their lives. Another minimalist expression of the film is the recurring use of cell phones and text messages, which serve to attempt to connect the friendship as it slowly drifts further apart. The cinematography of Take Care of My Cat is extraordinary, specifically in the way (without being forcefully “pretty”) it captures beauty and sadness in the most authentic manner. Take Care of My Cat is just a lovely film. I can not praise it enough except to say it is perfect and one of my favorite films!

1932, Howard Hawks, United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Made at the innovative peak of the gangster genre and prior to the enforcement of the Studio Production Code, Scarface stands as one of the most impressive and certainly most influential genre films ever made. Directed by the brilliant Howard Hawks, Scarface is a landmark masterpiece. Scarface is a film that is completely indecisive in it's view of violence, as it brutally displays violence yet also absorbs and entertains with humor. Hawks rates among the most versatile filmmakers in Hollywood. Whether Hawks is working with Screwball Comedies, Westerns, or even Gangster films, they were never overly stylized yet each contained a depth and expression that made Hawks one of the true masters of filmmaking. Scarface is a film of dark brutality that manages to be both funny and disturbing. The film also uses several inventive cinematic techniques, including the use of sound and visual imagery (sometimes off-screen) as metaphors. Paul Muni is fantastic as Tony Camonte, in presenting the a frightening and viciouscharacter in a way that is equally humorous. Scarface is an absolute masterpiece film and remains a deeply influential and unforgettable achievement in film history.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

July 22nd Log

2007, David Yates, United Kingdom / United States
1st Viewing, Theater

To me, the Harry Potter series may have reached at cinematic peak with the third film (Prisoner of Azkaban). However, the series continued to be interesting in the fourth installment Goblet of Fire, as many critical changes emerged (including their growth into adolescence). As the series goes each film grows darker, and such is the case with the fifth film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix directed by David Yates. This does not have the imagination of the third film (Prisoner of Azkaban), but like the fourth film, Order of the Phoenix observes us growing up with Harry, Hermione, and Ron. We are not taken into their world as quickly with this film but it eventually picks up through the outstanding production design. Much of the special effects and magic wizardry is put aside here as the Hogwarts School is taken over by a new instructor (played by Imelda Staunton). As such we are taken into a darker side of Harry’s mind, as Lord Voldemort’s haunting presence reigns. The cast of veterans (including Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, and Brendan Gleeson) are given much less to work with here, but everyone does a fine job. Ultimately Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix does not quite stand out as memorable as the previous two films of the series, yet it continues to intrigue as Harry’s growth and loss of childhood emerges.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

July 21st Log

2007, Oliver Assayas / Frederic Auburtin / Gerard Depardieu / Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet / Joel Coen / Ethan Coen / Isabel Coixet / Wes Craven / Alfonso Cuaron / Christopher Doyle / Richard LaGravenese / Vincenzo Natali / Alexander Payne / Bruno Podalydes / Walter Salles / Daniela Thomas / Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa / Tom Twyker / Gus Van Sant
1st Viewing, Theater

Paris je t’aime is film featuring 18 vignettes, each from a different acclaimed director, and each a different location of Paris. Each film is a different story of love set within the city of love. Like most of these films, some segments work better then others. As a whole this is a mediocre film (one that sounds better then it results into), but it is never boring. The film is interesting to see how each director envisions the story and how in most cases they incorporate their trademark styles within segments. I enjoyed nearly ever directors segment (except perhaps the one by Gurinder Chadha). Those that stood out to me were by the Coen Brothers, Sylvain Chomet, Alfonso Cuaron, Gerard Depardieu / Frederic Auburtin, and I think the very best segment belongs to Wes Craven. The segments that took a humorous approach seem to work best (Coen brothers hilarious Tati-esque comedy starring Steve Buscemi, and Chomet’s funny love story involving two mime’s). However, Craven’s segment best defines the films core, while combining romance and witty humor with a perfect pitch, as the story takes place at the cemetery of Oscar Wilde (starring the always charming Emily Mortimer, Rufus Sewell, and Alexander Payne as Wilde). Cuaron captures his preference for the long take with a clever one shot tracking conversation between Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier. Depardieu and Auburtin recall the great John Cassavetes with the casting of Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara in their simplistic segment. Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a terrific performance in the Oliver Assayas segment. Tom Tykwer’s segment stars Natalie Portman and probably could have been a feature film, as it is seen as a fast-forward flashback of an entire relationship. World renowned cinematographer Christopher Doyle provides his trademark visuals and sexy Chinese style in a very strange segment. Gus Van Sant’s segment details a Frenchman who believes he has found a soul mate in a man he sees at first sight. Oliver Schmitz’s segment gives us a tragic love story. Alexander Payne closes the film with a unique American tourist in Paris segment. Paris je t’aime ends with an epilogue of sorts that try to connect the segments, but this film never really feel like a whole. As a whole film, Paris je t’aime in certainly watchable, but les then half of the segments stand out, with Wes Craven’s being the highlight.

1966, Ida Lupino, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

After establishing herself as the first major woman director in Hollywood in the early 1950s (with excellently made noirs like Hitch-Hiker, Outrage and her final film 1953’s The Bigamist), actress Ida Lupino turned her directorial efforts to television (where she also did much of her acting as well). In 1966, Lupino returned once more to direct her final feature film, The Trouble With Angels. The film does have a television feel and perhaps lacks the stylish noir of Lupino early features. However, The Trouble With Angels is an absolutely fun film. Featuring a nearly all female cast, the film relies heavily on the charm of the actresses then it does on its plot (which centers around two trouble making students at an all-girls Catholic Academy run by Reverend Mother Superior and her Sister nuns). The film has fun with the little quirks of each nun (the art teacher is especially comical). Rosalind Russell gives a an excellently dry humored performance as the Reverend Mother. The chemistry among the cast really carries the film and as it progresses it becomes a moving film (particularly in the relationship of Russell and the lively young girl, played by Hayley Mills). This is a very enjoyable film.

2007, Ray Lawrence, Australia
1st Viewing, DVD

Ray Lawrence follows up his highly acclaimed 2001 film Lantana with his third feature Jindabyne. Lantana drew comparisons to Robert Altman in the way it intertwined narratives, and Lawrence again makes an Altman connection here, as Jindabyne is adapted from a short story by Raymond Carver (So Much Water So Close to Home", which was one of the stories within Altman’s sprawling epic Short Cuts. In this film Carver’s short story is given more attention as Lawrence extends it out as a feature. Lacking the effortless shifts of mood of Altman’s film, Lawrence still captures a feeling of atmosphere. Lawrence shifts the setting to Australia and also adds an element of race relations to the story. The film is essentially a powerful drama, but Lawrence crafts the film like a thriller, further emphasizing an atmospheric feeling. The performances are exceptional, with Laura Linney’s incredible performance being particularly powerful. The film has several complex layers of human relationships and it really finds an authentic note in the way it captures how we communicate (or perhaps more fittingly how we fail to communicate by hiding or avoiding true feelings). Jindabyne does not work as effectively as Lantana, but Linney’s performance elevates the film, and Lawrence does a fine job bringing the story together.

Friday, July 20, 2007

July 20th Log

1951, Billy Wilder, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

How'd you like to make a thousand dollars a day, Mr. Boot? I'm a thousand-dollar-a-day newspaperman. You can have me for nothing.” The critical and box office success of his masterpiece 1950 film Sunset Blvd. gave Billy Wilder the complete freedom for his next film, and the result is an even darker film that examines American culture in a way that no film ever had before. Even today, Ace in the Hole is cold, bitter, and cynical yet fascinating in it’s anticipation of American media frenzy. The film looks at influence, chaos, and harm caused by a media circus, as well as an American culture always looking for individual profits. After the film failed at the box office, producers changed the title to The Big Carnival, but the original title is more defining of the films bitter and cynical edge. Kirk Douglas gives one of his greatest performances in one of his most demanding roles, playing Chuck Tatum- a cynical newspaper man who is forced in a moral dilemma of a human life and a news story of a lifetime. Jan Sterling gives a brilliant performance as the victim’s greedy wife, who decides to go along with Tatum’s story. Ace in the Hole is a masterful study of American culture and media. Featuring Wilder’s trademark dialogue (including occasional moments of cynical humor), and of course a brilliant final shot. Ace in the Hole is a bold, scathing social scrutiny and one of the essential films of Hollywood cinema by one of Hollywood’s essential filmmakers.

1929, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

Repeat 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.

>>> More on Days of Youth @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

>>> Here is a clip from Days of Youth:

Thursday, July 19, 2007

July 19th Log

1935, William A. Seiter, United States
1st Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Roberta is the third of ten films Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred in together. It was made in-between two of my favorites Astaire-Rogers films (The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat). Perhaps more then anything the lovely duo moves aside a bit here for the romance between Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott. Of course, Astaire and Rogers still have their moments, notably the "Lovely to Look At" song and dance number that closes the film. Astaire may have had better dancing partners then Rogers, who really preferred dramatic acting, but the tow of them have a special chemistry that is magical on screen and so beautiful to watch. Here Rogers, has a whole lot of fun doing an accent, and both of them have some funny one-liners. I also loved the little homage to “The Continental” dance they did in The Gay Divorcee (as it is referenced and gestured by Rogers her in “I Won't Dance”. Not the best Rogers and Astaire film, mostly because they let Irene Dunne take the spotlight, but Roberta remains yet another charming film from one of the truly greatest on-screen duos in film history.

2007, Mennan Yapo, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

I did not really like this film. Sandra Bullock continues to prove her boring mediocrity with yet another boring, formulaic film. There are worse films then this (particularly in this genre) but this one is still pretty ridiculous (capped off by a forced final shot).

2007, Antoine Fuqua, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

For mindless pure action filmmaking, Shooter works. At times the film almost becomes a parody of itself and the genre, but the film is well executed and crafted as a purely genre film. When Shooter is not taking itself seriously the film works on these levels. This is Antoine Fuqua’s fifth feature since breaking out in 2001 with Training Day (it is his 8th film overall). Mark Wahlberg does of fine job of carrying the film. The film is packed with high-testosterone action and thinly-clothed women (notably an overacting Kate Mara).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

July 17th Log

2007, Satoshi Kon, Japan
1st Viewing, DVD

It’s the Greatest Show time!” This is the dialogue that opens the film and indeed it sets the tone for what is a truly inventive and mind-bending trip to experience. The film is based off the futuristic science fiction novel from author Yasutaka Tsutsui and is directed by Japanese anime master filmmaker Satoshi Kon. Paprika further examines Kon’s deep fascination with blending dreams, reality, and cinema into a collective one. Here, in what is his fourth feature film, Kon takes his favorite themes to their most ambitious and mind-bending heights. Continuing on his collective social insanity themes reflected in his excellent min-series Paranoid Agent, Kon delves into thought-provoking issues of terrorism, lost innocence, and machine conformity- all within a global human society. The story centers around a psychiatric lab that uses an invented machine to analyze dreams and nightmares. When the machine is stolen, the head therapist’s alter-ego (Paprika, a young “movie star” hero of the dream world) and one of her clients find themselves trapped inside a nightmarish blend of dream, illusions, reality, and even cinema. The thief is taken over human dreams with a haunting world that becomes a mass parade of celebrating victims. Paprika is truly a hypnotizing film with a dazzling visual imagination and thought-provoking wonder. I do not think Paprika is Kon’s very best film (to me that would be Millennium Actress), but it is his most ambitious work and is definitely a mystifying trip to experience.

1999, Alexandre Ala, France

1st Viewing, DVD

French filmmaker Alexandre Aja generated all kinds of international buzz in 2003 with his much discussed NC-17 rated horror High Tension. The buzz resulted in his arrival to Hollywood with The Hills Have Eyes. I did not like The Hills Have Eyes and I have yet to see High Tension, so for me, Aja was not the direct motive to seek out Furia, which is his debut film. I think the interest for me was the desire to seek out more films starring Marion Cotillard, who’s career in both France and America has interested me for some time (and she is on the verge of breakout stardom with her career-defining performance in La Vie En Rose, which should gain her some Oscar buzz at years end). The setting is a futuristic world in which oppression has restricted individuality. The film centers itself around two rebellious artists (Marion Cotillard and Stanislas Merhar) that fall in love. Cotillard proves her capable presence even with a mysterious and distant character. The film shifts it’s mood at times, but Aja’s does a very good job of capturing the doomed atmospheric tone that remains over the entire film (concluding with a bleak, yet determiningly hopeful final moments). Maybe I should finally check out High Tension.

Monday, July 16, 2007

July 16th Log

1933, Alfred E. Green, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Turner Classic Movies celebrated the birthday of Barbara Stanwyck tonight, so I had to check out this endlessly watchable film that really made her a star: 1933's Baby Face. In 1934 Hollywood established a "Production Code" which added new censorship laws to films. However in the early1930's, just before the code was enforced, films openly contained startling content. 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 toclimb the corporate ladder. Stanwyck's range, energy, charm, and beauty will have you forgetting (like the film itself) the moral issues involved. The film does get a bit serious towards the end, but ultimately, Baby Face is just a joyous film to experience. No message, and certainly no rules.... just alot of fun!

1952, Mikio Naruse, Japan

Repeat Vieiwng, DVD

Mother was a film that Mikio Naruse considered his“happiest film” and it remains a beloved Japanese classic. The film is a touching one of bittersweet melodrama, but in trademark Naruse fashion, it is made with a minimalist touch and without sentiment. The screenplay was written by Yoko Mizuki, who based the story off of an essay written by a teenager about her mother. As such the film takes on the view of the teenager (played with delicate sweetnessby Kyoko Kagawa) in what is her tribute to her mother, a widow of three children that she struggles to support. Poverty forces the mother to make a sacrifice in order for her family to live a future life of happiness. Motheris a film that is constantly alternating between sadness and happiness. While the family is left with illness and poverty the film reveals hope through moments of joy (such as the town festivals or the visit day at the park and on the rides). Through it all the mother perceives and this is captured with subtle perfection by the great Kinuyo Tanaka. As seen through the eyes of her daughter, the film observes afeeling of understanding and knowing that there will always be a divide and a desire to connect the child and the parent. Mother is presented with a sense ofthe everyday life of this lower class family (emotionally, physically, and spiritually). We see the struggles to maintain life, but we also see the joys it has to offer. This is best expressed in Naruse’s masterfully poetic and touching final moments. Heightened by a lyrical voice-over and remarkable performances from Tanaka and Kagawa, Mother ends with a feeling of beautiful optimism and compassionate humanity.

>> Here is a scene from Mother (Okasan):

Sunday, July 15, 2007


by A2P Cinema

I will update the list as I see new films. The entire list is avaliable for download HERE

Image credits:
Cover- Days of Heaven (1978); Night of the Hunter (1955); Sherlock Jr (1924); Punch Drunk Love (2002); Leave Her To Heaven (1945); Trouble in Paradise (1932); My Man Godfrey (1936); Edward Scissorhands (1990); Meshes of the Afternoon (1943); Pinocchio (1940); McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971); Killer of Sheep (1977); Way Down East (1920); Woman Under the Influence (1974).

2000s Banner- All the Real Girls (2003)

1990s Banner- Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

1980s Banner- After Hours (1985)

1970s Banner- Harold and Maude (1971)

1960s Banner- One Two Three (1961)

1950s Banner- Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

1940s Banner- Gilda (1946)

1930s Banner- Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

1920s Banner- Greed (1924)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

June 14th Log

1984, Ivan Reitman, United States
Repeat Viewing, Summer Under the Stars

I got to see this as a special “summer under the stars” screening in a nearby park. Ghostbusters is one of those enjoyable films that never really gets old and can be enjoyed by all ages. The films charm and timelessness really comes from Bill Murray performance. As Dr. Peter Venkman, he is the heart and soul of the film, endlessly delivering his trademark sarcasm and dry humor. The rest of the cast is fine, but Murray absolutely steals the show in every moment he appears. There are some nifty special effects but the films only flaw may be the scenes the filmmakers use to showoff their big-budgeted effects (notably in the towards the climax). Yet this takes us on such an enjoyable ride and is very well paced by director Ivan Reitman.

2006, David Frankel, United States
Repeat Viewing, HBO

The Devil Wears Prada is a film with its flaws and narrative cliches, but above all it is a film about fun. This is already the 3rd time I’ve viewed this film since its release last summer. The appeal begins and ends with the cast that is driven around star-powered performances. Of course Meryl Streep is undoubtedly one of the real true “stars” of Hollywood today and this film uses her persona to its advantage (particularly in her long-building introduction scene). Maybe not the most significant performance of her acclaimed career, but Streep is clearly having fun her in the glamorized diva role. This film is far from being all about Streep. Anne Hathaway is a talented actress that I imagine will have a very long-lasting career. Maybe not the type of iconic career of Streep, but Hathaway will be around for a very long time. In the supporting role Emily Blunt is a scene stealer as the neurotic assistant, and Stanley Tucci and Adrian Grenier also provide good performances. The entire cast is wonderful, giving this film a sense of old studio Hollywood star-power appeal. The comedy has a perfectly-toned biting edge that makes the whole film a blast to watch and rewatch.

Friday, July 13, 2007

July 13th Log

2007, Brad Bird, United States

1st Viewing, Theater

Pixar is quite probably the most reliable and proficient company currently working in Hollywood. They have produced eight feature films since breaking grounds with 1995’s Toy Story. Each of their releases have been good to excellent and the steady production and success leads to inevitable comparisons. I have loved or liked every Pixar film to date, and to me Ratatouille rates just behind Monsters, Inc and The Incredibles as the studios finest. Of course the film is cowritten and directed by the wonderfully talented Brad Bird. This is Bird’s third feature film and his second for Pixar (he directed The Incredibles in 2004). I don’t know if there is a better animation filmmaker working in American cinema today. Here Bird gives us a film that is incredibly imaginative, morally centered, cleverly ironic, and highly entertaining. Bird has the subtle touch of a poet and he gives his film both a dazzling visual depth, and a touching emotional heart that you can deeply feel. There is also some surreal and dreamlike qualities that make this a truly rare experience and one that can be equally enjoyed by children and adults (be it from the clever irony of the idea, the magical beauty of the animation, or the simplicity of the films messages). You can feel and more importantly smell this film and it’s appreciation and importance of food. The voices and characters are all terrific, but it is Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O’Toole) that steals the show as the cynical food critic known as “The Grim Eater” (the moment when he bites into the food and returns to his childhood is a beautifully poetic and transcend moment of gold!). Ratatouille is a great, great film that I hope to revisit very soon. I can imagine after repeat viewings, this could move into the class of Monsters, Inc as my very favorite Pixar film!

2004, Shunji Iwai, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

Hana and Alice is the fifth feature film I have seen from Shunji Iwai, one of the most celebrated filmmakers of contemporary Japanese cinema. While I wouldn’t consider this a masterpiece, I think I enjoyed this one more then the other Iwai’s films I’ve seen. His visuals are always effective and Iwai has a simplistic approach in which most of the emotions and expressions are hidden underneath the surface of the film. Hana and Alice is no exception, and the real strength of the film comes out of the characters. Iwai presents them in a way that you understand and deeply connect with their friendship (heightened by terrific performances from Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi).

1960, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

In Late Autumn Ozu shifts his most common relationship (father-daughter) into a relationship of a widowed woman (brilliantly played by Setsuko Hara) who is looking to remarry, and her daughter whom is offended that her mother would want to remarry. The mother is also pushing marriage onto her daughter (as do her best friend and three middle-age men who all wanted to marry her mother), yet she insists she is fine without a husband. Late Autumn certainly recalls Ozu's definitive 1949 masterpiece Late Spring, yet it is a bit more of a gentle, lighthearted comedy that still plays on many of Ozu's traditional themes and complex emotions. Ozu's use of composition acts as another character in the film and captures most of the expression and emotions of the film (most notably in the masterful use of color). Ultimately with Late Autumn Ozu captures the essence of life's simplicity and humans tendency to complicate it. At the core of all of Ozu's postwar films is the unavoidable sadness of life caused by change. The ending captures this in a perfectly bittersweet way as we see Akiko alone. She is sad that her daughter has left, yet is smiling as she accepts this sadness and is happy for her daughter. But again we wonder if they've conformed their simple life of happiness to fulfill the 'obligations' of life. Simple, humorous, warm, and deeply touching, Late Autumn is another masterpiece from one of cinema's true masters of filmmaking.

>>> More on Late Autumn @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

>>> Here is a clip from the final scene of Late Autumn:

Thursday, July 12, 2007

July 12th Log

1964, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes is one of the most unique films ever made. It's a poetic, beautifully shot, erotic, haunting examination of existence and identity. Really the film is unlike any other. The photography is absolutely stunning. Deep, deep focus (the sand!!), rich details, and elegant eroticism create an atmosphere of claustrophobia and sexual undertone. Woman in the Dunes looks, feels, and moves like a strange and beautiful dream. The questionof existence and it's meaning or what's needed to truly "exist" are oddly and eerily questioned throughout. Simply put, The Woman in the Dunes is a stunning film of curiosity. It's poetic power and mysteries will captivate and intrigue. This is as unique as artistic cinema gets, and remains a must see for anyone interested in the art form.

>>> Here is a clip from Woman in the Dunes:

2007, Michael and Mark Polish, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The Astronaut Farmer is a film with well-intended inspirational storytelling about believing in yourself and in your dreams. However the script is a complete mess that moves along at a feverish pace trying to give us every possible cliché imaginable. The messages are obvious and forceful, but the biggest problem is that the film just tries to do much in so little amount of time, resulting in a film that is uneven and sloppy. This is the fourth feature form twin brothers Michael and Mark Polish. I liked their previous work and this is their first attempt at mainstream filmmaking and I guess they were aiming for a Frank Capra-esque inspirational type of film. Unfortunately I do not think they succeed. The performances are pretty good for roles the have become the typical type for the actors (both Billy Bob Thornton and Virginia Madsen as well as the character actors play the similar type of roles they have before). I guess if you can take this film lightly as a story about dreams it can have some qualities, but it never really worked for me.


THE LOVE PARADE (1929, Ernst Lubitsch)

QUEEN KELLY (1929, Erich von Stroheim)

THE CAMERAMAN (1928, Buster Keaton/Edward Sedgwick)

THE CIRCUS (1928, Charlie Chaplin)

THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928, Paul Leni)

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928, Buster Keaton/Charles Reisner)

THE WIND (1928, Victor Sjosrom)

IT (1927, Clarence Badger)

SEVEN CHANCES (1925, Buster Keaton)

GIRL SHY (1924, Sam Taylor/Fred Newmeyer)

GREED (1924, Eric von Stroheim)

THE MARRIAGE CIRCLE (1924, Ernst Lubitsch)

THE NAVIGATOR (1924, Buster Keaton/Donald Crisp)

SHERLOCK, JR. (1924, Buster Keaton)

OUR HOSPITALITY (1923, Buster Keaton/John Blystone)

SAFETY LAST! (1923, Sam Taylor/Fred Newmeyer)

WHY WORRY? (1923, Sam Taylor/Fred Newmeyer)

FOOLISH WIVES (1922, Erich von Stroheim)

NANOOK OF THE NORTH (1922, Robert Flaherty)

TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY (1922, John S. Robertson)

ACE OF HEARTS (1921, Wallace Worsely)

THE KID (1921, Charlie Chaplin)

ORPHANS OF THE STORM (1921, DW Griffith)

WAY DOWN EAST (1920, DW Griffith)

BROKEN BLOSSOMS (1919, DW Griffith)

>>> Alternate Essentials of American Cinema -- previous posts:
- 1930s

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

July 11th Log

1980, Yamada Yoji, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Yamada Yoji is one of the most respected and beloved living Japanese filmmakers today, where he is well known for the Tora-san series, which spanned 26 years and included 48 films. Yamada has gained some attention in the West with his recent “Samurai trilogy” (Love and Honor; The Hidden Blade; Twilight Samurai). His 1980 film A Distant Cry From Spring is one of his very best, perhaps to me is reviled only by Yamada’s Home From the Sea as his finest film. A master storyteller who’s films are heart-warming, beautiful, and deeply affectionate Yamada’s films blend melodrama, romance, and longing with such a sense of simplistic, creative, and sensitive methods to make his films so emotionally involving and timeless. Here is a touching story that echoes storyline elements from the Hollywood western Shane, as a mysterious stranger (Kosaku played by Ken Takakura) arrives on a farm of a young widow mother (Tamiko played by Chieko Baisho) and her son. Her generosity is repaid with his help and after leaving for some time he returns to offer help at no cost but free rent. His labor and loyalty (two definitive Yamada themes) towards the family (both as a worker and even as a father figure to the son). However, when Kosaku’s mysterious past is revealed inevitable consequences result. A Distant Cry From Spring is a touching film. Beautifully shot and excellently performed I would consider this among the best Japanese films of the 1980s.

>> A clip from A Distant Cry From Spring:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

July 10th Log

1937, Ma-Xu Weibang, China
1st Viewing, DVD

Cinema Epoch has been distributing rare Chinese classics to DVD. It has been a pleasure to view these otherwise rarely seen films (including silent classics by Sun Yu, as well as the 1948 masterpiece Spring in a Small Town). 1930s cinema was a rich period for Chinese cinema, producing many great films so it is very fortunate that Cinema Epoch is giving Western audiences opportunities to view these films. I would not put Song at Midnight in the class of some of the other Cinema Epoch releases, but there are certainly fine qualities to the film. For starters the production of the film is beautiful. The quality of the DVD image was very dark and not the greatest quality, so much I’m sure much of the experience was dismissed slightly. However what you can see is the extensive detail and highly stylized set and costume designs. The story is a loose retelling of Phantom of the Opera and itself spawned a sequel and a 1995 remake by Hong Kong filmmaker Ronny Yu. The performances are a bit overly melodramatic but fine. Ma-Xu Weibang does have an eye for memorable images even outside showing “the phantom” character (the final shot of the film is beautifully transcendent- a pan back of the couple embracing on a mountain top over the ocean. The story is very familiar today, even for Western audiences, but overall I was entertained by this film, mostly because of the impressive production.

2005, Ali Selim, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Sweet Land is a beautiful film that tells its story effectively through mood and tone. The story is simple and above it is a story of love. First time feature filmmaker Ali Selim echoes the mavericks of the 1970s in the way he tells the story. It is quiet and unconventional and unforceful in its emotions and messages. The performances carry the emotion and the visuals and sounds set the tone. Much in the way Terrence Malick does, Sweet Land treats nature and setting as an equal to the characters, and as the title suggest it is the landscape or home that binds the story together. The film is told as a flashback within a flashback and ultimatly it is the story of two different people that are brought together and who eventually grow to love each other. Selim does not give use any passionate scenes of love, and in fact the two do not even touch each other until 90 minutes into the film. Instead we grow with the characters are their relationship with each other and their “sweet land”. Terrific performances by the entire cast, but especially Elizabeth Reaser and Tim Guinee in the leads. Capped off by a beautiful final shot over the end credits, Sweet Land is heartfelt film.

Monday, July 9, 2007

July 9th Log

2007, Richard Schickel, United States
1st Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Richard Schickel is well renowed for his intimate documentaries in which he puts the subject front and center. Schickel has made countless documentaries on Hollywood legends (including Woody Allen, Elia Kazan, James Cganey, Barbara Stanwyck, Frank Capra, Gary Cooper, among others) and this most recent addition completes what can be viewed as a trilogy of sorts (followed by Scorsese on Scorsese and Eastwood on Eastwood). Here Schickel lets Spielberg do all the talking, and what we get is eharing him comment on nearly every film he has made throughout his career (a career that has made him the most commercially successful filmmaker in the history of films). There is nothing incredibly revealing or informative, Spielberg does not do commentaries on his work, so it was nice to see him comment on his films. Of course the extensive clips throughout the filmography really made for a fun viewing experience.

1975, Steven Spielberg, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

After watching the enjoyable Spielberg on Spielberg documentary, Turner Classic Movies followed it up with one of my favorite Spielberg films, Jaws. I have seen this many times, but it really never gets old. Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film Jaws is a landmark of American film. For betters (or in some cases for worse) Jaws changed Hollywood filmmaking with the dawn of “the blockbuster”. It’s impact falls lies even more intimate then the commercial revolution of Hollywood (forever changing movies, particularly summer movies). Jaws also managed to change the way people look at the water, and that impact still remains today as well. Jaws remains as terrifying today as ever, particularly because of the unforgettable opening sequence (heightened by John Williams brilliant Bernard Hermaann-esque score, which has become an icon within itself). In Hitchcock fashion, Spielberg creates a masterful level of suspense by leaving details to the viewers imagination, which ultimately can be far more frightening and suspenseful. Jaws was Spielberg’s third feature film and really the film that gave him creative freedom and control throughout the rest of his career. I think it is a masterful film on both a technical level and emotional level, capturing Spielberg’s excellent storytelling and visual skills. There are so many memorable scenes (beit the opening, or Robert Shaw's "star" entrance via the chalkboard, the first visual appearance of the shark, or Shaw's powerful USS-Indianapolis monologue). Jaws may be formula, but it is top-notch formula in every way, and in many ways a film that propelled the formula into countless imitators. I think Spielberg may have made more definitive or personal films after this, but to me Jaws stands as one of his very greatest achievements. An iconic landmark achievement, and a masterpiece of filmmaking, Jaws remains as relevant today as it did in 1975.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

July 8th Log

1979, Shohei Imamura, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

Directed by one of the leading filmmakers of the Japanese New Wave, Shohei Imamura, Vengeance is Mine is an essential masterpiece of cinema. Vengeance is Mine opens with an overhead shot of a group of police cars escorting a captured criminal, who gives no regret for his actions and only suggest to those arresting him that they will unfairly live longer then him (and that they will continue having sex). The film is based on the true story of convicted murder Iwao Enokizu. Blending elements of fiction and documentary style filmmaking, Imamura constructs a disturbing, surreal, yet fascinating portrait of self-damaging human behavior. Imamura is never sentimental or sympathetic but instead disconnected and through visuals is often metaphorically ironic, particularly in the way Iwao and his parents faithful Christian beliefs remains evident throughout the film (even if only as a subtle subtext). The visual pace and tone of the film expresses the dark and chaotic energy of a serial killer, as Imamura heightens this through an extensive use of camera movement and sharp editing style. Iwao is a self-absorbed man with a lost inner soul, battling against his own mind. The films title suggests various layers of meanings, perhaps reflecting Iwao Christian beliefs that vengeance is with God. Expressing this further is the film masterful closing sequence as we see the family try to establish a sense of resolution by throwing Iwao’s bones from the top of a mountain, only to be disillusioned as Imamura freezes frames the images in a haunting remainder that the evil remains and that justice and vengeance are can not be thrown away… For indeed, vengeance is mine!

>>> Here is a clip of the closing sequence from Vengeance is Mine:

1944, Preston Sturges, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Preston Sturges is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. After the success of 1940’s The Great McGinty, Sturges emerged as the “Prince of Paramount” and over the course of four years (1940-1944) he wrote and directed eight of the most innovative and memorable comedies in American film history. His run at Paramount came to an end after the completion of The Great Moment, a film in which Sturges lost his creative freedom and disagreements with studio bosses forced him to leave Paramount. After he left Paramount, Sturges only made four more films over the next eleven years. The final cut (and the title) of The Great Moment is not as Sturges originally intended and the result is a film that is not the original intention of the artist. For starters, the material is unique for Sturges, as this is one of his only films adapted from a source novel and also a rare period film. Also, the tone is more serious one, but even though uneven, Sturges touch still remains evident. Ultimately it is not his finest film, and probably his less appealing film at Paramount. Sturges was attracted to the story, and in many ways you can see why. At the heart of it lies the essence of Sturges tragic comedies: a hero looking to find independence and the “American Dream” only to be denied by a society of absorbed individuals always looking to get ahead. The film attempts to end of a positive and uplifting note, but Sturges leaves the presence of tragedy underneath. I would be curious to see his original cut, but sadly it remains lost forever. What remains is a good but uneven film. Certainly not as funny as the Sturges comedies of the era, The Great Moment marks an unfortunate end of a great run of creative freedom in Hollywood for Sturges.


NINOTCHKA (1939, Ernst Lubitsch)

ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939, Howard Hawks)

THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939, Raoul Walsh)

YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939, John Ford)

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938, Micheal Curtiz)

HOLIDAY (1938, George Cukor)

THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937, Leo McCarey)


STELLA DALLAS (1937, King Vidor)

YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE (1937, Fritz Lang)

NOTHING SACRED (1937, William Wellman)

DODSWORTH (1936, William Wyler)

FURY (1936, Fritz Lang)

MY MAN GODFREY (1936, Gregory La Cava)


THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN (1935, Josef von Sternberg)

TOP HAT (1935, Mark Sandrich)

THE WEDDING NIGHT (1935, King Vidor)

THE GAY DIVORCEE (1934, Mark Sandrich)

THE SCARLET EMPRESS (1934, Josef von Sternberg)

THE THIN MAN (1934, WS Van Dyke)

TWENTIETH CENTURY (1934, Howard Hawks)

42ND STREET (1933, Lloyd Bacon)

BABY FACE (1933, Alfred Green)


DINNER AT EIGHT (1933, George Cukor)

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933, Mervyn LeRoy)

HALLELUJAH I’M A BUM! (1933, Lewis Milestone)

FREAKS (1932, Tod Browning)

LOVE ME TONIGHT (1932, Rouben Mamoulian)

SCARFACE (1932, Howard Hawks)

TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932, Ernst Lubitsch)

FRANKENSTEIN (1931, James Whale)

THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931, William A. Wellman)

TABU (1931, FW Murnau)

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930, Lewis Milestone)

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Saturday, July 7, 2007

July 7th Log

1955, Robert Aldrich, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

I’ll promise you anything you want if you just let me go.” The Big Knife opens with a tone setting opening title sequence created by the great Saul Bass, as we see the titles appear over a high angle shot of a distressed and trapped man in the dark. This man is Charles Castle, a Hollywood star actor whose career and personal life is beginning to collapse. Castle is pressed by his studio boss to sign a long-term contract, who doesn’t want to lose his heart-throb screen appeal. Castle wants to work more independently, making pictures he can be proud of. Ultimately this is the center of The Big Knife, a psychological and moral film of a man who’s life is being controlled by a higher authority. The Big Knife is played out very theatrical in terms of its soap-opera narrative and dialogue, as well as its minimal settings and action. The performances come to the center, and what a reliable cast to depend on. Jack Palance gives a powerful performance as Castle and he is aided by a wonderful supporting cast (including Ida Lupino, Shelly Winters, Wendell Corey, and Everett Sloane). Rod Steiger gives the films most memorable performance as the studio boss Stanley Hoff (he seems to be a caricature of several major studio heads of Hollywood). The Big Knife was directed and produced by Robert Aldrich, who earlier in the year completed his masterful noir Kiss Me Deadly, a truly unique, and equally cynical and personally artistic achievement. I would not put The Big Knife in the class of Kiss Me Deadly of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane as Aldrich’s finest films, but it remains an enduring one.

1937, Norman Z. McLeod, United States
1st Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Topper is a beloved classic screwball comedy that paved the way for two sequels, a Television remake, a Television series, as well as countless other film inspirations. It is completely light-hearted in nature and perhaps a bit silly, but absolutely delightful fun. Highlighting the fun of course is the sophisticated charm of Cary Grant and Constance Bennett, who unfortunately never made another film together. Here they sparkle as the high-class romantic couple that die and must do a good deed in order to make it to heaven. This was very early on in Cary Grant’s comedy career, and also before he was the top billing star he soon became. His chemistry alongside Bennett is top-notch and if the film looses any of it’s charm it is in the moments they are not are on-screen together. Roland Young received an Academy Award nomination for his role as Topper and he displays some fine psychical comedy skills (particularly in the moments Grant and Bennett “disappear”). There are also some fine special effects for the era. Overall the film is light-hearted fun even when dealing with death. Above all, you have to sit back and enjoy the charm of the actors and the magic of classic Hollywood studio. Perhaps not one of the definitive films of the era, but it is one of most widely beloved comedies of the 1930s.

2006, Frank Marshall, United States
Repeat Viewing, Encore

Eight Below is such a pleasant surprise. I really enjoyed this film once again with a repeat viewing. Eight Below fully succeeds in everything it strives for: Compelling drama, exciting adventure, and uplifting inspiration. The film is sort of broken into two parts. The first half follows a dog-sled team and their guide (played by Paul Walker) on a search to help a scientist (Bruce Greenwood) find a meteorite in Antarctica. The second half follows Walker's inner-struggle to get back to the dogs who were left alone. Neither half is ineffective, but the opening is certainly more exciting and entertaining. Disney has had great success working in this genre (animal adventures) and Eight Below is no exception. The actors do a great job (even Paul Walker) without ever hamming-it-up. And of course, the dogs steal the show. The film captures the great human and dog relationship in a way that is both touching and uplifting. Eight Below is a highly entertaining and inspiring film for all ages.

1990, Whit Stillman, United States
Repeat Viewing, Encore

Whit Stillman’s 1990 debut feature film Metropolitan is an essential achievement of American independent cinema. Here is a film that defines a generation of youth, by capturing it within the strange yet fascinating world of the New York bourgeoisie. While making plenty of references to Jane Austen, the film is essentially a modern retelling of Mansfield Park. The film centers around a group of wealthy teenagers and the middle-class young man (Tom) that joins the group (while at the same time questioning their way of life). The relatively unknown cast is excellent and each of there performances and characters are fully developed (Nick, the yuppie cynic; Charlie the philosophical theorist; and of course Audrey the Jane Austen romantic). As Audrey Carolyn Farina is particularly charming. Almost without a plot, the film takes on both a sense of realism and otherworldliness, heightened by moments of unease and wit that feel just right. Metropolitan is a simple, charming, and funny little gem of a film that centers itself on dialogue and performances. To me everything about the film works in a way that makes it a perfect little film. Cha cha cha!!

Friday, July 6, 2007

July 6th Log

2007, Olivier Dahan, France
Repeat Viewing, Theater

I saw this film at the Philadelphia Film Festival in April, and decided to give it another viewing during the current theatrical run… To watch La Vie en Rose is to watch the performance of Marion Cotillard. She completely inhabits the role and gives a lovely and worthy tribute to the beloved French singer Edith Piaf. This is the role of a lifetime and Cotillard truly gives on the very best screen performances imaginable. Besides portraying the flawless psychical aspects (including gestures, movements, posture, as well as the aging process- with the help of a fine makeup job) Cotillard captures the essence of the emotional core of the film (which is primarily Piaf’s various addictions be it her music, her love life, her drugs, or herself). Cotillard has been one of my favorite young actresses for awhile now, but she has never been given a role to shine, but this should undoubtedly change that. Her performance really can not be understated here. Besides Cotillard the films appeal lies of course in the Piaf’s music. Director and co-writer Olivier Dahan tries to give this film something different then the standard biography picture by shuffling the linear timeline of the narrative. For the most part the film is success but at nearly 2 and half hours the film becomes a little uneven (particularly in the scenes dealing with the World Boxing Championship). Of course the concert sequences are the highlight of the excitement and Dahan stages them quite effectively with the aid of strong production design and cinematography (not to mention the music and performance- which is heightened in the skillful uses of close-ups). The films opens with Piaf performing in New York near the end of her career. La Vie en Rose again is a bit uneven in dealing with Piaf earliest days of birth (it really feels disconnected from the rest of the film and Piaf’s life), but it eventually settles in under the performance of Cotillard, who plays Piaf from teen-ager to her death in 1963 at the age of 47 (though she looked much much older). The films film scene is a fitting and powerful one. La Vie en Rose may not be a masterpiece of filmmaking, but it is a wonderful tribute to a great artist, who is portrayed in a breathtaking and unforgettable lead performance.

2006, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey / France
1st Viewing, DVD

Climates is the fourth feature film from internationally acclaimed Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan. To date this is only the second film I have seen, alongside Ceylan’s previous feature Distant (2002). Ceylan is a film-festival favorite as he has won awards throughout the world for each of his films, including prizes at Cannes for Distant and for his latest film Climates. I thought Distant was an excellent film, one that portrayed absorbing visuals, profound and poetic metaphoric imagery, as well as a clever blend of humor. I thought it portrayed a strong sense of loneliness. With Climates, Ceylan once again captures this, here centered more along the failed relationships of Isa (played by Ceylan himself) and his wife Bahar (played by Ceylan’s real life wife Ebru Ceylan). You have to admire the boldness of Ceylan’s intentions, and this is very much a quiet and unambitious film. Ceylan has background as a photographer so it is not surprising the visuals of his work are again stunning. Here however, I found the imagery and atmosphere far less absorbing then in Distant and it even has me curious to revisit that film. Climate, much like Distant recalls the isolated loneliness within the landscape style reminiscent of Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni. The film is certainly not unwatchable, but it left me with a dull feeling, as the type of film seemingly made only for film festival acclaim.

1959, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Ozu's 1959 Good Morning is a loose remake of his monumental 1932 silent film I Was Born, But.... As with any Ozu film it's simplistic techniques do not discourage the complex depths and themes which result. Ultimately, Good Morning is a delightful film of contemporary Japanese society and consumerism within a suburban household, as well as an examination into communication and community. It's a comedy which is presented with satire, but it never becomes political and the calm and intelligent filmmaking from Ozu results in an equally profound and funny film (even if there are many "bodily function" jokes throughout). Ozu is one of the very greatest directors of children and the children here are outstanding (notably in their expressive vow of silence). Ozu presents the film in glorious Technicolor and it's beauty wonderfully captures the atmosphere and energy of the film, the suburbs of Japan, and the characters of the film.

>>> More on Good Morning @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

>>> Here is a clip from Good Morning:


ADAM’S RIB (1949, George Cukor)

CRISS CROSS (1949, Robert Siodmak)

THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949, Max Ophuls)

THE SET-UP (1949, Robert Wise)

THIEVES HIGHWAY (1949, Jules Dassin)

WHITE HEAT (1949, Raoul Walsh)

FORCE OF EVIL (1948, Abraham Polonsky)

FORT APACHE (1948, John Ford)

KEY LARGO (1948, John Huston)


RED RIVER (1948, Howard Hawks)

THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948, Nicholas Ray)

UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948, Preston Sturges)

FIREWORKS (1947, Kenneth Anger)

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947, Orson Welles)

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947, Edmund Goulding)

OUT OF THE PAST (1947, Jacques Tourneur)

THE BIG SLEEP (1946, Howard Hawks)

GILDA (1946, Charles Vidor)


NOTORIOUS (1946, Alfred Hitchcock)



STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946, Lewis Milestone)

THE CLOCK (1945, Vincente Minnelli)

DETOUR (1945, Edgar Ulmer)

FALLEN ANGEL (1945, Otto Preminger)

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945, John Stahl)

THE LOST WEEKEND (1945, Billy Wilder)

SCARLET STREET (1945, Fritz Lang)

AT LAND (1944, Maya Deren)

HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO (1944, Preston Sturges)

LAURA (1944, Otto Preminger)

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944, Vincente Minnelli)

THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK (1944, Preston Sturges)

MURDER MY SWEET (1944, Edward Dmytryk)

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944, Howard Hawks)

HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1943, Ernst Lubitsch)

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943, Jacques Tourneur)


THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943, William A. Wellman)

THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943, Mark Robson)

SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943, Alfred Hitchcock)

BAMBI (1942, David Hand)

CAT PEOPLE (1942, Jacques Tourneur)

THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942, Preston Sturges)

TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1942, Ernst Lubitsch)

YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942, William Seiter)

DUMBO (1941, Ben Sharpensteen)


THE LADY EVE (1941, Preston Sturges)

THE LITTLE FOXES (1941, William Wyler)

THE SHANGHAI GESTURE (1941, Josef von Sternberg)

CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940, Preston Sturges)

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940, Howard Hawks)

PINOCCHIO (1940, Ben Sharpensteen/Hamilton Luske)

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940, Ernst Lubitsch)

>>> Alternate Essentials of American Cinema -- previous posts:
- 1950s

Thursday, July 5, 2007

July 5th Log

1997, James Mangold, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Cop Land opens with a voice over looking through the city of New York and taking us across the river to the films setting of Garrison New Jersey, a small town that was basically designed and run by New York cops. The towns sheriff (Freddy Heflin), a overweight cop that was declined a job with the NYPD because of his deaf ear he got from saving a woman from drowning) seems to let things slide by in a town of little crime. Heflin is well liked, but little respected and when he begins to open his eyes towards the underground corruption of his town, he is left with a moral dilemma. Made on a small budget, Cop Land features a well-respected ensemble cast that took a considerable pay cut for the film (Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick, Michael Rapaport, Annabella Sciorra, Noah Emmerich, Cathy Moriarty, John Spencer). Writer-Director James Mangold effectively gets the most out of each performance (Stallone is especially surprising as the overweight sheriff). The film works in and out of conventions, ultimately remaining within the psychological aspect of the characters. The ending brings to mind elements of a classic western (such as Rio Bravo), and Mangold paces the film with an involving effectiveness.

James Mangold, United States

1ST Viewing, DVD

I decided to make it a double-feature of James Mangold films by watching his fifth film, 2003’s Identity. With Identity, Mangold against establishes his skill for playing with genre conventions, as he works both in and outside of them. The film is at once a mystery, thriller, horror slasher film, yet at the same time it really is not conventionally so. Sort of in the way Alfred Hitchcock mastered (though this never reaches those heights), Identity is a film that plays not only with clichés, but with the audience. Just when you think you know what to expect or when you can predict an upcoming twist, the film surprises you. The film is far from a masterpiece of any kind, but Identity is certainly effective enough to make the viewing experience an engaging one.