Friday, August 31, 2007

August 31st Log

1956, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Following a short hiatus, Early Spring is the first film Ozu made after his acclaimed 1953 Tokyo Story. Here Ozu is mostly examining the life of one man, and his job and marriage. Different from traditional Ozu, the man is a working class man (recalling his characteristically complex Kihachi films during Ozu's silent era). Above all Ozu sympathetically observes the value of life and this working man's search for meaning. Early Spring certainly rates among his most expression social statements of the Japanese work life and the focus seems to be on the younger generation of Japanese society. A generation of rebelliousness and transition into a more Westernized Japanese world. Maybe not among his very greatest masterworks, Early Spring remains a deeply detailed film and among Ozu's emotionally darkest work.

>>> More on Record of Early Spring @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

>>> The opening moments from Early Spring:

Thursday, August 30, 2007

August 30th Log

1928, Buster Keaton / Charles Reisner, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Steamboat Bill Jr is one of Buster Keaton's two or three greatest films (at least to me). It's a film that also marked the end of his independently financed silents, as the poor box office results of this and 1927's The General (now viewed by many his greatest film) forced Keaton to sign with MGM. With this change, Keaton lost the creative and artistic freedoms and it showed in much of his work following. Ultimately, Steamboat Bill Jr stands as Keaton's last great accomplishment as a Independent filmmaker. It also marks an end of the silent era. While Keaton would make two more silent films, 1927 saw the birth of sound and cinema soon and forever lost the silent era.Steamboat Bill Jr beautifully displays the essence of silent pictures: to capture emotions through visual imagery. In many ways this film is the quintessential of Keaton and of silent comedies. Keaton's usual themes are evident, as ares ome of the truly classic moments of silent comedy (most notably the legendary storm climax, which features an unforgettable sequence where the entire side of a house falls directly where Keaton is standing. He is not harmed as an open window of the house is the part that falls where Keatonis standing. Incredible!). Steamboat Bill Jr is a masterpiece! An artistic and wonderfully funny representation of a deeply skilled filmmaker who stands among the greatest in the history of cinema.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

August 28th Log

1960, Mikio Naruse, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

"I hated climbing those steps more then anything, but once I'm up, I can take whatever happens". After seeing this for the first time on Thursday I quickly planned a repeat viewing as the film has left an unforgettable mark. I've loved the Mikio Naruse films I've been fortunate enough to see thus far, but When a Woman Ascends the Stairs may be my favorite and a film I'd rate among the very greatest ever made. Keiko is absolutely one of the greatest portraits of any character in film history and the performance by Hideko Takamine is remarkable. She flawlessly captures the beautiful, delicate, proud, and heartbreaking essence of the character, a widow who supports herself as a bar hostess. She represents the traditional Japanese values more then she does the prototypical bar hostess. As she begins to "age" Keiko is torn to the progressions of marriages or of owning her own bar. Keiko is faced with resilience as she is surrounded by a world of disappointment and hopelessness. This expression is represented by the image of the vertical stairs ascending towards the bar, taking Keiko on a path alone through life. Using a smooth jazz score and 1960s Japanese night clubs settings Naruse's bleak, expressionless melodrama is centered on a woman who fights to remain true to herself within the dishonesty and inconsistency of the world around her (notably the two biggest social pressures: men and money). Through subtle and masterful performances and filmmaking, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs becomes Naruse's purest work in defining his mastery of narrative rhythm, and also the definitive work in detailing the Naruse heroine as 'Mono no aware' in the sense that through the conflicts and troubles (be it social or economical) Keiko understands and accepts what is "right" because it is something that must be (even if sad). When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is a bleak and tragic film of brutal emotional and melodrama, yet Naruse's subtle style and Takamine's expressionless performance gives the film a truthfulness that is devastatingly authentic, transcendent, and perhaps even fulfilling.

>> Here are the masterful final moments. A triumphant truthfulness emerges from the heartbreak of her hidden emotion, as Keiko accepts that she has become what she did not want as rightness:

Monday, August 27, 2007

August 27th Log

2006, Tony Goldwyn, United States
Repeat Viewing, HBO

I was not a really big fan of the 2001 Italian film The Last Kiss so my expectation for this American remake was not so high. However, here is a rare remake that surpasses it's original in every way (except for not being the original). Credit to Paul Haggis whose screenplay, under the direction of Tony Goldwyn, re-imagined the film into something that is much more moving and a whole lot more intelligent and mature. Haggis avoids the peachiness he instilled on his audiences with Crash and shows the skill he has in writing (let's not forget he also wrote Million Dollar Baby which is the best script and ultimately best film Clint Eastwood ever made). There is a great sense of characterization and the film finds the very truth of their behaviors and decisions, such as the way the young girl asks why men always leave her and say it is not her (which tells you all you need to know the guy and especially about her). The ensemble cast is all very strong (I'm unfamiliar with Rachel Bilson but she has a truthful charm, and though Zach Braff always seems dull on screen he still works as the 29 year old who is afraid of entering "the predictability" of adulthood with his pregnant girlfriend). The emotional key here is the parents of the girlfriend (outstandingly played by the always reliable Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner). In them the film finds a great balance of the relationships and painful struggle within. The Last Kiss finds a truth of human behavior in this balance and in these characters. This film was a pleasant surprise and I've renewed support for Haggis.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

August 26th Log

1977, Werner Herzog, West Germany
1st Viewing, DVD

Werner Herzog opens the film with a long shot of a man emerging out of a caged cell and into a world of “freedom”. Only the world of freedom within the grim Berlin environment proves be even more trapped. So the man decides to leave for the land of freedom, the United States and the open landscape of Wisconsin, only to discover yet another bleak world. Herzog’s film is a cynical and dark one made with his usual touch of poetic imagery, irony, and morality. Stroszek is very powerful to its tragic closing moments. I would not rate this is the class of Herzog’s best features, but it is a beautifully made and sympathetic film.

2006, Jake Clennell, United Kingdom
1st Viewing, DVD

The Great Happiness Space is an effective film mostly because it takes us into a world and a culture rarely seen but a world in which complicated human emotions and feelings are universally shared. The films full title is The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief and it takes us into the world of Osaka male club hosts, who’s job is to entertain their female clients by offering them their dreams in a night. The films greatest strength is that it takes us beyond the surface of this world and deep into its complicated and psychological reality. The filmmaker takes a non-judgmental approach and even though the material makes it difficult the film remains fair. Ultimately the film is presented with a reflective sense of irony in that perhaps it is the hosts who are the victims of themselves.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

August 25th Log

2007, Joe Swanberg, United States

1st Viewing, Theater

"The most massive tragedy is that nobody ever listens to each other. Everybody's in love with the wrong person and nobody hears what anybody else is saying ever... ever!" Hannah Takes the Stairs follows in the mold of a new American Independent filmmaking movement sparked by the brilliant two films by Andrew Bujalski (who co-stars in this film). Of course Bujalski's friend Joe Swanberg has also been a pioneer of this new Cassavetes-esque movement (or what is being referred to as ‘Mumblecore’) as Hannah Takes the Stairs marks his third feature. The film is a plotless character study that reflects on generation truths about love and communication, or more specifically miscommunication. The film centers around Hannah and her relationship struggles. After breaking up with her boyfriend (played by indie filmmaker Mark Duplass) she finds herself back into a similarly unloving relationship with her co-worker (Bujalski), and we realize she has a stronger connection with the other co-worker. As Hannah, Greta Gerwig is excellent. Her performance is simple and it completely rings true. We understand her, not because the film goes to great detail about the character, but because Gerwig's performance is so genuine. I would not put this on the level of Bujalski's films (Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation), but Hannah Takes the Stairs is similarly observant in the awkward situations and conversations of a generations complicated relationships, feelings, and communication.

2007, Joe Carnahan, United States, France, United Kingdom
1st Viewing, DVD

Smokin' Aces is so consumed with it's style and is a film that is not nearly as clever as it believes or strives to be. It simply is ineffective and comes across as nothing more then a third-rate Tarantino knockoff. Except for maybe a brief appearance by Jason Bateman, the ensemble cast is forgettable and the style is overbearing. I did not like this film.

Friday, August 24, 2007

August 24th Log

1930, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
1st Viewing, DVD

That Night’s Wife is a unique film from Ozu in that it is a suspenseful crime thriller, yet it stands among one of his most interesting silent films in the way it emerges into a definitely Ozu film. The simple story centers around an artist who steals money and is chased down by a police detective. When the detective arrives at his home, he is held at gun point by the artists wife. The film is reminiscent of a Hollywood thriller, but the emotional and visual core is purely Ozu, particularly the way the film is concentrates in family and social troubles, as the penniless artists robs the money to pay for medicine for his sick daughter. That Night’s Wife takes place almost entirely within the apartment, and the mood is effectively established as tense and claustrophobic. What truly makes the film definitive Ozu is the rhythm, captured by lyrical visual patterns. Here Ozu uses expressive tracking shots as visual patterns, as well as a specific use of hand expressions to heighten the atmosphere and suspense. Ozu flawlessly edits the visual patterns and motifs resulting in a film that is at once tense, stunning, and poetic. That Night’s Wife is likely to be forgotten among Ozu’s more emotionally-driven silent films, but it remains a truly fascinating work from the master.

>>> More on That Night’s Wife @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

>>> A clip from from That Night’s Wife:

2006, David Lynch, France / Poland / United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

I had to give this film another viewing. Not so much to unravel it’s mysterious, because David Lynch does not necessarily create the film as a form of narrative explanation but rather a bizarre journey into a dreamworld of vast possibilities beyond rational interpretation. Narratives are not cohesive and time frame overlap. The film is perhaps many things, but I think at the core is the subconscious state of Nikki, most specifically her struggle with art (which is role playing). This is heightened by an unbelievably complex performance from Laura Dern, who is masterfully working on multiple levels. The glorious beauty (beautiful to me at least) of the film fully emerges in its ending, which leaves the viewer into a state of almost spiritual transcendence as all the mysteries seemed contained within the final closeup of Dern’s face, and a final exhale of “sweet”, followed by an incredible dance credit sequence to Nina Simone’s Sinnerman. This film has a spell on me and I expect yet another viewing will be coming soon…

Thursday, August 23, 2007

August 23rd Log

2007, Zoe Cassavetes, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Broken English marks the debut feature from writer-director Zoe Cassavetes, daughter of pioneer filmmaker John Cassavetes. The results are a mix as the film is successful in many ways it uses conventional romantic comedy elements within a character driven narrative. I think I applaud Cassavetes for this film. It is not overly challenging and it does seem as though she lacks total control or freedom over the film, yet it is a solid debut from a young filmmaker worth watching. I like the way she captures the essential tone and emotion of the film in the opening and this is heightened by a terrific lead performance by Parker Posey. Always underappreciated, here Posey is given a complex character that is the emotional soul of the entire film. It also wonderful to a talented supporting cast including Justin Theroux, Melvil Poupaud, Peter Bogdanovich, and the director’s mother Gena Rowlands. The film ends with an ambiguous and fully satisfying moment.

1948, Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger, United Kingdom
Repeat Viewing, DVD

The Red Shoes is perhaps the most celebrated film from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The film is widely celebrated by filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese. In typical Powell-Pressburger fashion, The Red Shoes is a glorious Technicolor extravaganza that blends the art of dance, music, and cinema. Their films often have the look and feel of a fantasy with artificial sets and bold colors yet they manage to contrast a psychological and social reality within these artificial worlds. The film is simple as it centers around A young ballerina (played by Moira Shearer) who is torn between the composer in lover with her menacing impresario who is determined to make her a star dancer. She is forced to choose not only between dance and music, but between art and life, or ballet and love. The red shoes ballet takes the center core of the film, yet it is far from the only highlight, as Powell and Pressburger have created a visually stunning blending of art. The film becomes a celebration of art and of the joy of living. Magical and transcendent the film defines the beauty that makes Powell and Pressburgers films so endlessly watchable and magical. As is just about every Powell and Pressburger film, The Red Shoes is truly one of the essential films of British cinema.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

August 21st Log

2007, Scott Frank, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Following a successful screenwriting career (which notably includes two Elmore Leonard adaptations- Get Shorty and Out of Sight) Scott Frank makes his directorial debut with The Lookout. Much like his most likable screenplays, Frank’s film is of the slick crime genre, centering on a former high school hockey star who suffered brain damage in a car accident. As Chris Pratt, Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a strong performance, easily making you feel compassionate for his emotional and psychological state. In a supporting role, Jeff Daniels gives an equally sincere performance as Gordon-Levitt’s blind friend and roommate. Frank structures the film simply, building sympathy for the two characters and the struggles of their daily routine. It is easily to connect emotionally because Gordon-Levitt and Daniels give convincing performances, most importantly without over doing anything. The second half of the film is more of Frank’s familiar crime genre territory, complete with betrayal and twists. This half of the film is effective but mostly because the first half pulls you in and creates a grim mood of despair and psychological struggle.

2007, James Foley, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

James Foley is a underrated director. One that has succeeded within the Hollywood system with a vast range of genre films. As such, Perfect Stranger is a surprising disappointment from Foley. I don’t know if some control or decisions were out of his hand, but with this film Foley seems to get trapped in the Hollywood formula. Perfect Stranger is watchable, but mostly as mindless convention. Yes, Halle Berry is gorgeous and I think she is a fine actress, but film is mostly a mess. The script has a cynical edge and the film attempts to create a mood of sexiness, yet ultimately Perfect Stranger is contrived and rather silly. As the film progresses you learn more about each character and there lies, knowing the film the film is leading to all sorts of twists. In the end, the film reveals it’s phoniness with a weak final twist(s). There are much worse films then this, but Foley has proven he is better then this all too typical “thriller”.

Monday, August 20, 2007

August 20th Log

1944, Michael Powell /Emeric Pressburger, United Kingdom
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Continuing the month of Powell/Pressburger films with one of the duos very finest... A Canterbury Tale begins with a prologue of pilgrims in 14th century Britain and then within a seamless cut (from a bird to a plane) it jumps 600s years to a parallel time of Britain- the nearing end of World War 2. So begins a strange and wonderful masterpiece from the great Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, easily among the greatest filmmakersin all of British film history. A Canterbury Tale is nearly void of plot yet it flows with a poetically fascinating narrative ease. Not a moment is dull and a rich beauty emerges from the dream-like state of the film. War is present and felt, but combat is never shown as war is rather presented almost asa meditative reflection. Breathtaking scenery, witty humor, unusual characters, and a mysterious "glue man" all exist inthis wondrous world that seems to be equally authentic and yet unlike anything else. But of course that combination is very common in Powell and Pressbuger films, and A Canterbury Tale perfectly represents the spirit of their Archers Production. With repeat viewings the smaller details (notably the humor within the dialogue) became much more apparent. But above all it is the sheer magical way Powell and Pressburger captivate the viewer into this world with a plot is that is completely non-existent. The narrative just flows with such ease and because it's not tied down to plot the wonder and even the poetic beauty begin to emerge. What a lovely performance by Sheila Sim as the 'Land Girl' Alison Smith. A Canterbury Tale is such a unique, and special film. It is one of their very best films (in the class of A Matter of Life and Death) and among the greatest of British cinema. A masterpiece!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

August 19th Log

2007, Paul Greengrass, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

The Bourne trilogy completes with this final installment which is a non-stop adrenaline thrill ride that proves the series has not lost it’s momentum. In Bourne Supremacy talented director Paul Greengrass takes us on an action filled ride that is not dissimilar to the previous film, Bourne Supremacy (also directed by Greengrass). His preference for quick editing and constant hand-held camera photography fits well with the material. Essentially this film is working strongly within genre conventions, yet Greengrass tries to excel beyond conventions in the filmmaking. Successful or not, the film sure is exciting, and (as in the previous Bourne film) features some of the most intense chase sequences of it’s kind. I really don’t think the camera is ever steady or not moving, and the action follows suit as it never lets up. Here we find Jason Bourne, effectively and confidently played by Matt Damon, in a continuous search to discover who he is and as he gets closer more is revealed and the more trouble he finds himself into. In the end he finds himself back at the beginning and it seems a fitting conclusion to the series. I think all three Bourne films are successful in their own way and if there is a difference between them it probably lies in the adrenaline filled action, which seems to increase with each film.

2006, Sofia Coppola, Japan / France / United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Marie Antoinette is very representative of Sofia Coppola’s cinematic style and themes. I love this film in every way. I think because above all, it is one of feeling. Coppola is less interested in ideas (be it political, historical, or psychological). Her interest is in mood, in gestures, tones, themes, and sensibilities. Those looking for intellectual or historic depth may be left disappointed, because this is a film at its best when playful and silly. That is not to say the film is without meaning and importance (or focus). The film distances the viewer from the past and period drama through modern effects (such as the unexpectedly non-distracting new wave music, or the removable of language accents), Coppola ultimately captures an emotional truth. At its core this modernized approach expresses the playful spirit of a young woman’s emotional and physical state. A dreamlike world of being entrapped into an unfamiliar environment of loneliness, and the longing for teenage freedom and possession (as well as rebellion). Often dialogue is never needed here. Through dazzling visuals, set designs, costumes, and makeup Marie Antoinette pitch-perfectly evokes this emotional expression. Based on a sympathetic biography of Maria Antoinette, Coppola is deeply compassionate towards her. Ultimately this is a film of Coppola’s key expression, which is that of a lonely, imprisoned girl who retreats to her own private world of imagination but is destroyed by the uncontrollable desires within (being a young woman). Coppola opens and closes the film with two distinct shots of masterful expression. A truly great filmmaking achievement!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

August 18th Log

2006, Gary Winick, United States
Repeat Viewing, Movie Under the Stars

Another summer night screening under the stars at a local park… Far more faithful and imaginative then the 1973 animated version of the classic children’s tale, this adaptation does not disappoint any age group. The story is a rightful classic on universal themes of friendship, life, prejudice, sacrifice and ignorance. This film succeeds where the animated version failed in that it never pushes the content with forced sentiment (though it certainly does not completely avoid sentiment). The result is a charming and compassionate film that takes on the magical qualities of its original source. There are so many valuable lessons to this film and it is one that should be endeared by all ages. The voice-over work of the animals is strong for the most part (though I imagine there are better options for Charlotte then Julia Roberts). Steve Buscemi may be a bit type-cast as Templeton the Rat, but he is memorable. Dakota Fanning doesn’t always work for me, but she gives Fern just the right children-like charm without the overstuffed “cuteness”. Charlotte's Web is a wonderful tale and this film is a surprisingly wonderful adaptation of it. If Charlotte were to capture the qualities of this film on her web with one word my suggestion would be: sweet. This is a very good family film!

Friday, August 17, 2007

August 17th Log

2007, Julian Jarrold, United Kingdom / United States / Ireland
1st Viewing, Theater

Miramax is still looking to find the Oscar success they gained with 1998’s Shakespeare in Love using the similar formula for J.M. Barrie (Finding Neverland) and now the great Jane Austin. While not bad films, they both the charming imagination that made Shakespeare in Love such a success. One thing that film did was not take itself too seriously or fall into the clichés of the standard bio picture. I am a very big fan of Jane Austin as a person and an especially an author, but I don’t think I’m just being a fan when I say it is unjust to simplify her work with something such as event A equals event B, which tends to be a common occurrence in traditional Hollywood biography films, and ultimately that is what this becomes. We are told this film is a loosely taken by what inspired Austin’s masterpieces yet the film is completely uninspiring and unimaginative, lacking any sense of warmth, or clever wit common in Austin’s work. The film tries desperately to make obvious references to each of Austin’s beloved novels, taking characters, events, and even dialogue directly from them all (especially Pride & Prejudice, perhaps her most beloved novel). The film has it’s moments (such as the opening scene at least up until the forced line “That girl needs a husband”, as well as the discussion of Tom Jones, or Austin’s witty insight into irony). Despite some arguments against her in pre-production, I like Anne Hathaway as Austin and she does a fine job. Hathaway has a star quality in both her presence and intelligence. She seems to understand stardom (her wise selection in films roles stands as evidence) and for that I imagine she will be around for quite some time. Becoming Jane is entertaining enough, but the film lacks the Austin touch, instead feeling forced and overly melodramatic more so then witty or charming.

2006, Spike Lee, United States

Repeat Viewing, HBO

"Let's keep the real bad guys off the streets" says Denzel Washington near the end of the film, which seems to be making political statements with the standard conventions of genre filmmaking. With his latest film, The Inside Man, Spike Lee is doing something much different then he has ever done: a standard Hollywood genre heist film. While Inside Man is full of conventions and standard cliches it remains top-notch genre filmmaking. Lee manages to gives genre standards some complexities and the result is a deeply involving and rewarding film from start to finish. The film is not packed with an overload of twists (particularly towards the final act) as would be expected with this type of heist film. Lee structures the film with skill, also blending in some non-linear flashbacks to keep the audience thinking and interpreting their own conclusions. The film manages to be both fully engaging and entertaining while Lee still is able to subtly express his more traditional political and human elements all without ever losing focus or control of the direction. Inside Man is beautifully made and shot and also features some interesting music and outstanding dialogue and performances by the star-studded cast (lead by Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Jodie Foster). Denzel is especially good in a Bogart-esque detective role (clothes, hat, and tough fast-talking dialogue included!) Maybe not on the masterpiece of its filmmakers greatest work (Do the Right Thing, 25th Hour), but Inside Man is an excellent film on many different levels.

1931, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Tokyo Chorus is a wonderful introduction of Ozu during the silent era. Thematically you can certainly see that Ozu later built upon what he developed early on here, and stylistically there is clearly a more Hollywood influenced approach. The film is tragic yet deeply hopeful at the same time. One of the key examinations of the film is the contrast between urban and suburban living, but ultimately this is a film of parenthood in it's very essence. The film is remarkably moving particularly in the way Ozu captures (without sentiment) the childrens acceptance and understanding of their fathers work simply as a means to provide them with food. There are some remarkable images and sequences within this film that are very memorable and Ozu blends his definitive mix of humor and bittersweet sadness. Above all, Tokyo Chorus displays the early depicts of a poetic master.

>>> More on Tokyo Chorus @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

>>> A clip from Tokyo Chorus:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

August 16th Log

1960, Michael Powell, United Kingdom

Repeat Viewing, DVD

All this month I have been watching or rewatching the films from the great British filmmaking team Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The Powell-Pressburger team ended in 1957, and shortly afterwards Powell would go on to direct the Peeping Tom. Peeping Tom is not a film for everyone. It's a disturbing film which was highly controversial upon it's release in 1960. Dealing with the uneasy subject of a psychopath who draws in women with his film camera and then records their death. Sadly, this films backlash all but ended the career of one of Britain's greatest filmmaker's Michael Powell. Powell's direction is flawless, and alone is reason enough to see the film. Right from the brilliant opening shot perspective through the lens, Peeping Tom's breathtaking photography is established. Even if the film is difficult to watch at times, it still is fascinating and hard to look away. More so then a slasher film, Peeping Tom is ultimately a character study of psychotic behavior. The images may not be as disturbing for today's standards, but Peeping Tom's impact and daring filmmaking make it an unforgettable classic from an unforgettable filmmaker.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

August 15th Log

2006, David Lynch, France / Poland / United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Inland Empire marks David Lynch’s first digital video feature and it very well may be his most experimental film since his masterful 1977 debut Eraserhead. At an uncompromising three hours long and without a conventional plot, Lynch’s surrealistic epic will undoubtedly divide audiences. However, fans of the director or those aware of what to expect will appreciate what appears to be a definitive Lynch film as a reflection of his art. The film goes beyond rational interpretation instead becoming a bizarre journey into a subconscious dreamworld of vast possibilities to interrupt. These possibilities are more to be experienced then they are interpreted. Inland Empire rejects a single or even a cohesive narrative, instead overlapping several timeframes and narratives. At once Inland Empire is a film within a dream within a film, reflecting on a woman’s role in Hollywood, a murder mystery, an underground world, and several love affairs. Ultimately the film becomes a meditative exploration deep into the psyche and confused subconscious of its character. Playing an actress, an abused wife, and a prostitute Laura Dern gives an unforgettable performance that honestly belongs mention among the very greatest. Dern is brilliantly working on various levels as she intensely pushes through the complicated and terrifying hallucinations and dreams (or nightmares) of Lynch’s vision and of her own mind. Stylistically, Lynch expresses the film through his trademark use of scattered sounds and visuals (notably the expressionistic use of lighting, the obscure close-ups, and the carefully positioned color patterns). Heightened by Dern’s sweeping performance, Inland Empire is a surrealistic film that challenges and struggles with you. So much so that in the end all you are left is admiration, and the one thought that is perfectly captured in the final shot (before a wonderfully strange closing credit group dance sequence to Nina Simone's Sinnerman)… sweet indeed!!

>>> I have added this film to the ongoing list of

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

August 14th Log

2007, Nimrod Antal, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

After reaching wide acclaim with his international hit debut feature Kontroll, Nimrod Antal returned to America to direct his next film in Hollywood. Vacancy opens with a impressively stylish title sequence before taking us into the car of its lead characters: a troubled married couple who fight with each other about everything. After they experience car problems, they are forced to spend the night at a hotel, which ends up being a place where snuff films are made of those who stay in the rooms. The film is intended to keep you uncomfortable and while it does succeed in that respect, overall Vacancy is nothing more then formulaic. The script is weighed down by the obvious clichés and where as Alfred Hitchcock mastered suspense through minimal techniques, Vacancy piles it on. Like most of these Hollywood thrillers, Vacancy is flawed by its script, particularly in the final act. On the positive side, Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson are convincing as the troubled married couple who attempt to survive and unsurprisingly end their divorce plans. This is definitely not a bad film, especially in the more effectively absorbing first half.

Monday, August 13, 2007

August 13th Log

1962, Blake Edwards, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Days of Wine and Roses opens with a beautiful title sequence (heightened by a terrific Academy Award winning song) that sets the tone for the entire film- roses underneath the surface of water. This opening sequence establishes such a feeling, a drowning. Here are two souls deeply in love and happy together, yet they are slowly drowning themselves. Days of Wine and Roses is quite a change of pace for Blake Edwards in terms of emotional tone, yet the impact remains effective and here is a film that still holds true today. It’s examination into a perfect married couples alcoholism may not be a striking today, yet at it’s emotional core, the power of this film remains honest and heartbreaking. The reason for this may be not only because of Edwards skillful and clever direction, but most of all the incredible lead performances from Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. The film leaves on a heartbreaking final note, as Remick admits to unwillingly give in to her own selfishness, and Lemmon watches her walk away from him and her daughter (with the blinking presence of a nearby Bar sign flashing). I think I prefer a couple Edwards films over this, but I can’t deny the powerful mark it leaves. Truly a film in which the viewer is absorbed as though drowning in it, Days of Wine and Roses is beautifully made, brilliantly performed, and emotionally powerful filmmaking.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

August 12th Log

1941, Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger, United Kingdom
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger make up one of the greatest writer-director teams in the history of cinema. Together they made 19 feature films under there trademark ‘Archers’ name. 49th Parallel is the first film the British duo made together and it ultimately was the first of two films Powell and Pressburger were nominated for Best Picture (The Red Shoes being the other). Pressburger won the Academy Award for best Screenplay with this film. The 49th Parallel is a good and important film, but one I would not consider among the best from Powell and Pressburger. Today it stands a bit more dated in its propaganda slant, but the Powell-Pressburger magic gives it something to hold on to. They have a way of making films that bring out the pure imagination of cinema and filmmaking. The performances are a bit overdone (specifically from Laurence Olivier), but this is exciting and extravagant filmmaking, which can be viewed as propaganda but also has a twisted sense of sympathy for the Nazi enemy. 49th Parallel features some of there trademark ‘artificial realism’. They are filmmakers that create universes and somehow that seems to make the whole idea of this film more intriguing as wartime propaganda, or as a thriller. Powell and Pressburger just know how to make a film and though they would later go onto to make far superior work, 49th Parallel is well worth viewing.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

August 11th Log

1989, Steve Kloves, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The Fabulous Baker Boys is an excellent and seemingly forgotten film. Opening with a moody jazz number over atmospheric images of Seattle night the film is an impressively visual work. The lighting and fluid camera movement is provided by acclaimed cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (most known for his excellent collaborations with Martin Scorsese). However, the beauty of cinematography is heightened by the skillful acting and most especially direction from Steve Kloves. In his directorial debut, Kloves effectively uses the strong performances within the visual patterns and mood of the film to create the drama and the subtle doses of humor. The cast is terrific. Real life brothers Beau and Jeff Bridges have a natural chemistry and Michelle Pfeiffer provides the sexy star power. As Susie Diamond, Pfeiffer is given a true star entrance here and she gives perhaps the best performance of her impressive career (also providing a great singing voice). The Fabulous Baker Boys wonderfully draws out the depth of each character (and there individual loneliness) through mood and visual compositions, and like the performances of the cast, nothing is overstated. The film is one that observes the presence of change and ultimately of handling change. After 31 years together, Susie Diamond represents change for the brothers. Beautifully performed, shot, scored and directed The Fabulous Baker Boys is an absorbing work that should not be overlooked.

2007, D.J. Caruso, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

I saw this in the theater a while back, but decided to give it another viewing on DVD. Alfred Hitchcock’s films continuously get remade in all sorts of forms, even if indirectly. Disturbia is not a direct remake, but certainly one that uses the basic premise of the 1954 masterpiece Rear Window. Here the film is transformed into a new age of technology and through young suburban teenagers. While nowhere close to the level of Hitchcock’s masterwork, Disturbia is actually pretty effective. At least for the first two thirds of the film, as the last portion resorts to the unsuspenseful “scare” tactics including sudden bursts of loud noise. What makes Hitchcock such as master is that he never needs to resort to such tactics, and instead he played with the minds of the characters and the audience. I guess it is unfair to compare this film to one of the greatest in the history of American film, so for the most part Disturbia is effective. There is a sexual tension to the film that might have been more fully developed (rather then implied) had it been rated R, but clearly this is marketed more for a teenage crowd- notably for the many young fans of rising star Shia LaBeouf. LaBeouf like the rest of the cast is not bad, but the best performances come from the supporting roles (Carrie Ann Moss as the mother, David Morse as the villain, and newcomer Sarah Roemer as the beautiful new neighbor/love interest). Surprisingly, it is Roemer that stands out most memorable. Above all the film is entertaining and gripping most of the way, before losing track in the finale.

Friday, August 10, 2007

August 10th Log

1933, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

I FINALLY got to see this Ozu film (all be it on a poor quality DVD)!! Woman of Tokyo is one of Ozu's most emotionally powerful and bleakest films. The story centers around Chikako (played by Yoshiko Okada), a poor woman living with her brother Ryoichi (Ureo Egawa). Chikako supports her brother through his schooling by working as an office typist during the day and secretly as a prostitute at night. When her secret becomes known through gossip, Ryoichi becomes angry and ashamed of Chikako, despite her self sacrifice of supporting him financially. Many have compared this to the films of Kenji Mizoguchi, and while the observation is justified, Woman of Tokyo is essential Ozu in it's style. The beauty of the film is the way Ozu brings it together visually. While there are not as many of his trademark "pillow shots" seen in his later work, here Ozu uses visual patterns to bring the film together on a rhythmic level. Objects (such as socks, teapots, lamp posts, clocks, sinks) become pivotal motifs in the patterns and transitions of scenes, which ultimately create the rhythm of the film. A socially aware examination in Ozu's definitive theme of family separation, as well as an emotionally tragic and compassionate melodrama, Woman of Tokyo leaves it's mark an incredibly powerful work from a master filmmaker.

>>> More on Woman of Tokyo @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

>>> The opening moments from Woman of Tokyo:

1987, Fred Dekker, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

The Monster Squad was a childhood favorite of mine when I was 11 years old. Perhaps its nostalgia, but watching this again it remains a good film to me. Silliness and plot holes aside, there is a fun appeal to this film that makes it still entertaining. Like a blend of The Goonies and Ghostbusters for preteens, The Monster Squad cleverly plays with genres while also recreating some of the classic monster icons (Dracula, Mummy, Wolfman, and of course Frankenstein's Monster). The film is a whole lot of fun even for its goofiness. The Monster Squad can now finally be celebrated on a 2-disc Special Edition DVD, as the films cult fanbase petitioned for the DVD release.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

August 9th Log

2006, Andrew Bujalski, United States
Repeat Viewing, Sundance Channel

I would like to say whatever I want. I mean I would like to talk about real things with you… Reality would be nice to talk about, its just that we never get to that point really.” This is a revealing moment of dialogue in writer-director Andrew Bujalski’s sophomore feature film Mutual Appreciation. It is dialogue tat seems to embody the spirit of Bujalski’s filmmaking and most important the spirit of this film and its characters. Characters who endlessly talk about seemingly meaningful conversation that is ultimately dancing around the root of its intentions (with the only exception coming from the source of truth, which is getting drunk). As in his previous gem (Funny Ha Ha), Bujalski’s features an improvisational and plotless style which through characters and dialogue examines how we express (or do not express) ourselves. There is a pitch-perfect combination of humor and charm, but there is also an awkward and even frustrating feeling as we observe these characters hide or disguise there feelings from one another. There is always something lurking or hanging in the background which creates a mood of suspenseful tension and chemistry with the characters. Also like Bujalski debut Mutual Appreciation evokes a sense of reality yet is also distance and very understanding that it is a film. These characters are both like and very unlike us and this gives the film its charm as well as a timelessness. Bujalski’s again features a cast of what seems to be his close friends (including Funny Ha Ha’s lovely Kate Dollenmayer, who makes a brief but memorable scene-stealing appearance here). The film is full of highlights (of course the Dollenmayer scene is especially wonderful) right up to its abrupt and open-ended conclusion. Mutual Appreciation is a genuinely sweet and awkward romantic comedy from a filmmaker who has emerged as a contemporary John Cassavetes of filmmaking. Funny Ha Ha is a masterpiece, and Bujalski’s has followed it up with an equally brilliant feature. Maybe it is an acquired taste for some, but I love his work and will continually revisit and cherish these films! “Group hug!”

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

August 8th Log

2006, Nobuhiro Yamashita, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

I REALLY enjoyed this little film. I plan on watching it again later this month, so I will share more comments then. For now, I’ll just say it is a whole lot of fun and the always wonderful Bae Doo-na gives another fantastically simple yet complex performance as a Korean exchange student that agrees to join a Japanese high school rock band. The film grabs you from it’s opening moments and never lest go. I’ll be singing that title song in my head for awhile after this one!!! “Linda, Linda… Linda Linda Linddddaaaaa

2007, Steve Carr, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Are We Done Yet’s script is loosely based off the 1948 comedy Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, a flawed film that survived on it’s star-quality charm (with three greats: Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Melvyn Douglas). This film does not have the star-charisma of that film, nor the laughs, but the cast is likable enough to keep the film from being unwatchable. Problem is, the film had it’s success with the first film and now we get the common case of an overblown and pointless sequel. The film not only recycles what worked with it’s processor, but it seems to be recycling everything we’ve seen endless times in Hollywood family comedies (including an overuse of the “animal gone wild” jokes). Ice Cube is likable and can carry these films in a lovable cartoonish kind of way. This film is not all that bad really. If you like Are We There Yet? (which I did), you will probably enjoy most of this film. It lacks originality, but if your in the right mood and willing to accept the film for what it is, you may find yourself enjoying this family comedy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

August 7th Log

2007, Chris Rock, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Chris Rock’s second feature film as director (his first was the flawed but occasionally witty political satire Head of State) marks a distinctive move towards a new type of career, one that has equally emerged in his profession as a comedian. Here Rock takes the bold and perhaps surprising attempt at reimagining French New Wave auteur Eric Rohmer’s 1972 film Chloe in the Afternoon, the last of Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales” series. Rock reimagining Rohmer would seem an odd fit, yet at Rock’s comedic essentials lie within the core of Rohmer’s film, which is focused on marital infidelity. There differences lie in comedy sensibilities and ultimately Rohmer’s moral depth is greater drawn and ultimately a superior film. However, Rock certainly does enough to entertain and is also rather insightful and clever in the way he captures martial fiction, temptation, and African American middle-class lifestyle. The film effectively mixes Rock and Rohmer’s style while respectfully reimagining the original film. I Think I Love My Wife is not without flaws, and it closes with a questionable forced ending which clearly lacks the moral dilemma and female character development of Rohmer’s film. Rock never fails to keep the viewer interested and laughing, and he is supported by a fine cast (including the always terrific and versatile Kerry Washington, here displaying her seductive beauty as the fantasy woman). While not everything works, I applaud this film and enjoyed it on various levels.

1998, John Waters, United States
Repeat Viewing, Encore

You know you are always in for something different when it comes from John Waters, Baltimore’s independent king of gross-out shock humor. With his 1998 film Pecker he seems to draw parallels with his own filmmaking roots, and clearly he presents the “arty” world of New York in a negative light. But overall the film is a lot of fun and very funny. There are some great characters (Pecker’s sugar-obsessed little sister) and quirky moments (the colored dust that shoots across the screen) that really make this such an appealing film. Waters focus is more lighter then some of his other films, but the result is one of his funniest films to date. While I do respect his impact and originality as an independent filmmaker of American cinema, not everything Waters does works for me, but I guess that is to be expected and I guess that is what makes his originality so likeable. Pecker may be Waters at his most "mainstream" and perhaps that is a good thing, because to me it's his best film outside of his endlessly fun masterpiece 1988 Hairspray (at least of what I have seen from Waters to date).

Monday, August 6, 2007

August 6th Log

2006, Tom Tykwer, Germany / France / Spain
1st Viewing, DVD

The task of adapting Patrick Suskind's acclaimed best selling novel into a film is a challenging task because of its reliance on the sense of smell. Some filmmakers have the masterful ability to capture the sense and some thrive on such limitations (it is said that Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton, Ridley Scott, and Milos Forman all had interest in adapting this film). The film is directed and cowritten by talented German filmmaker Tom Tykwer, who reached international acclaim with his 1998 film Run Lola Run. Tykwer has since made some good films, including his last feature Heaven, which to me remains his best work. Tykwer himself is limited as a filmmaker and the result is a bold attempt that is ultimately executed poorly. Weighed down by John Hurt’s voice narration, which unoriginally reminds viewers of Lars von Trier’s Dogville, Perfume never provides the depth or insight into the tortured psyche of its character. The performances are not bad, but they fail to draw any emotional connection (or even disconnection) to it, which essentially defines the entire film. It was Kubrick himself who proclaimed the book unfilmable, but it would have been interesting to see him try.

2003, Josh Pias, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

7th Street is Josh Pias’ love letter to his neighborhood- New York City’s East Village, which was once a drug infested ghetto that has since been converted to a place of upper class yuppies. The film is nostalgic in everyway as Pias makes it about his life growing up on 7th Street and the neighbors he grew up with. Ultimately Pias makes it a film about community and togetherness and he urges those of his new neighborhood to find the togetherness that made 7th Street such a wonderful place to be apart of. Pias does not neglect change, rather reflecting on its positives and negatives but above all the film captures the joy of community and cultures as a celebrated one. Even though Pias nostalgia is evident and obvious the film is a sincere one. My interest in the film was sparked by a desire to seek out more work from Linda Hattendorf, who directed the excellent 2006 documentary The Cats of Mirikitani and serves as editor on this film.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

August 5th Log

1976, Don Siegel, United States

1st Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

The Shootist is the final film of legendary star John Wayne. It is a film that stands as a wonderful tribute and swan song of an iconic figure in American film history. The film is directed by Don Siegel at his trademark skilled pace and sense of realism. Siegel keeps the action and plot minimal, instead focusing on character development, or more specifically on John Wayne. Amazingly, Wayne was not the first or even second choice for the film, but when he was offered the part it completely transformed into a definitive role and a tribute to his significant career as both an American actor and an American symbol. Of course Wayne’s health problems on the set parallel those with that of his character here. James Stewart took a small role in the film to honor his good friend, whom he previously starred alongside with in John Ford’s 1962 masterpiece The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Also, Lauren Bacall gives a terrific performance as the widow mother who runs the house that Wayne decides to spend his final days (a young Ron Howard plays her son). The Shootist is an important final tribute to an important actor. Being John Wayne’s last film, the significance of The Shootist takes on more depth and it seems even more fittingly significant as a tribute to his career and persona.

1950, John Ford, United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Rio Grande is the third and final film of John Ford’s ‘cavalry trilogy’, and it also marks one of the pivotal works into his emergence as an individual artist outside the studio. Though Rio Grande was made within the studio, Ford (as he was able to do with many of his greatest films) worked within the conventions to create his own personal vision of artists filmmaking. Rio Grande is a film that is so carefully and beautifully made and one in which the small moments truly shine. As often with Ford, who was a visual poet, the most subtle moments can be the most impacting of the film (I love the shot of John Wayne peeking into the window at his son). It is these Ford moments that capture all it’s expression through visuals alone. Of course Ford’s mastery as a storyteller is never lost, and Rio Grande has something for everyone to enjoy- action, romance, comedy, and a great cast of many Ford-regulars). This is the first of many collaborations between Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne, who would also star in Ford’s next film The Quiet Man. Rio Grande features many of Ford’s themes on honor, and courage. However, the emotional core of the film is the contrasting of patriotic duty and family responsibility. This is where the strength of the film lies and in the hands a of great filmmaker Rio Grande becomes a wonderful film. I can’t say the film is as flawless as some of Ford’s very greatest masterworks, but this remains a great film in it’s own right.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

August 1st Log

1946, Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger, United Kingdom
Repeat Viewing, DVD

What a wonderful film this is! Classic, romantic intelligent, charming, imaginative, and absolutely lovely! Made in one of the greatest years in film history and by two of British's most legendary filmmakers: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Together they collaborated on almost 20 films, and to me, this is their finest. This is really a very simplistic fantasy story, but Powell and Pressburger extend it beyond the heights of standard filmmaking and into a magical world of ambitious vision, fairy tale, and beauty. The dialogue is wonderful and the film features glorious and vibrant Technicolor cinematography (earth) contrasted with sharp black and white (heaven). There is also some fabulous performances (notably by David Niven as Peter Carter) and strikingly inventive and creative visual techniques that Powell and Pressburger explore. Some of the originally intended themes (wartime propaganda) of the film (particularly within the trial sequences) is dated, but the true core and appeal of this classic film is undeniable, as it transcends far beyond it's narrative or themes. A Matter of Life and Death is a film that has the magical power to lift the viewer and carry them away into it's emotionally involving and visually beautiful world of sheer imagination and romance. "We won. I know darling."

2006, Finn Taylor, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Writer-director Finn Taylor follows up his sleeper hit success with his third film The Darwin Awards. I did not like this film, but like Cherish I can see this being a sleeper indie success and Taylor is likely to gain a small cult following. To me The Darwin Awards problems lie in the writing, which come off as far to contrived to work as either dark satire or witty screwball comedy. The film centers around The Darwin Awards (, which “honour people who ensure the long-term survival of the human race by removing themselves from the gene pool in a sublimely idiotic fashion.” On paper this could work as a comedy, but the film is executed poorly, as it tries to blend some sort of mockumentary style within the fictional narrative. It only ends up make the film irritating and contrived for occasional cheap laughs. The film features a well known cast and the performances are not bad (the smaller roles such as those from Robin Tunney and Juliette Lewis stand out as most memorable).

A2P Cinema August Feature Film

Jeong Jae-eun . 2001 . South Korea

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