Saturday, March 31, 2007

March 31st Log

1959, Kon Ichikawa, Japan
1st Viewing, DVD

One of the most brutal examinations on the horror of war, Fires on the Plain is a landmark film of Japanese cinema. Directed by Kon Ichikawa, the film is one that handles the brutality with the ease of a filmmaker with a personal vision. Fires on a Plain is less an artistically expressive or intellectual film, but is more a film that becomes thought-provoking through its depiction and overall explanation. Few films are made with such straight-forward cruelty of presenting war and yet Ichikawa still blends in a strange sense of humor. The dry sense of humor seems to distill some of the dreadful portrayal of the film, adding some additional energy to it. In its approach, Fires on the Plain could not be any more different the Ichikawa’s 1956 masterwork The Burmese Harp. Yet the two films share distinct qualities that undoubtedly connect them in historic and moral ways. Of course, both share similar themes of war and the effects of war upon Japan and Japanese soldiers. Ichikawa is one of the key figures to emerge from the postwar Japanese “humanist” era along with celebrated filmmakers such as Akira Kurosawa, Masaki Kobayashi, and Kinosuke Kinoshita. While a difficult film to “enjoy”, Fires on a Plain remains an important film of Japanese cinema history and a truly rare achievement of filmmaking.

1921, D.W. Griffith, United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

One of cinema's all-time innovative filmmakers, DW Griffith portrayals an epic, melodramatic, and haunting examination of cruelty. Griffith is easily among the most important filmmakers in cinema history, and Orphans of the Storm stands as proof of his influential creation and vision. The daring ambition and grand filmmaking style alone make this a recommendation for anyone interested in cinema and it's history. This remains one of Griffith's most suspenseful epics. And of course, the brilliant Lillian Gish is wonderful again, but she more or less steps aside here for her sister, Dorothy Gish, who gives the most notable performance. While this film may rank as minor in comparisons to Griffith's more important early work, I still believe Orphans of the Storm is a classic and unforgettable experience

Friday, March 30, 2007

March 30th Log

2007, Mira Nair, India / United States
1st Viewing, Theater

The Namesake is an enjoyable film on many different levels. It has moments of humor, intelligence, expressively metaphoric filmmaking and storytelling, but is above all an emotionally touching story of family. Richly textured the film centers around the cultural and generation gap between a wife and husband and their two children. The film begins centering around the husband and wife, who get married through an arrangement in India. The second half of the film mostly follows the development of their son as he is born and raised in America. Based on a best-selling novel, The Namesake appears to be much more familiar material for director Mira Nair. Nair previous film was a more curious experiment (the well made but dull 2004 film Vanity Fair). The Namesake is a film of family and culture, and most of all the film is one the details family and culture through changes of perspectives and identities. The performances are all very good. Kal Penn is finally given a role that can be taken seriously and he again proves to be an emerging talent. Acclaimed Bollywood veterans Irfan Khan and Tabu are also very strong as the parents. I think the film is particularly best in its less choppy first half, but the real emotional impact and revelations develop as it progresses. This is a thoughtful film. Maybe not with some minor flaws along the way, but The Namesake is one to embrace.

1962, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

An Autumn Afternoon is Ozu's final statement and in many ways one of his greatest films. Made in the year of his mothers death (whom he lived with his entire life), it is a deeply personal film of loneliness, and alcoholism and death. It's once again simplistic in approach and a film that reexamines many of his father-daughter themes used in previous films. It also contains moments that are inspirational and humorous. Really An Autumn Afternoon is the perfect final film for Ozu as he leaves his final marks on the quintessential style and themes of of his postwar work. As Ozu grew older his films became less and less focused on plot, but the emotional complexities always remain, and this is one of his richest emotional films. Above all, An Autumn Afternoon captures Ozu trademark postwar philosophy of life that change as well as sadness are both necessary and expected, and in order to be happy they should be accepted. Ozu's final images beautifully summarize both the film and his career: A drunk Shuhei (played by Ozu's definitive actor Chishu Ryu) mumbles to himself "Now I'm all alone" before the film cuts to a series of interior shots of the isolated home (representing Shuhei's emotional feeling). Then the film concludes with the final Ozu image of Shuhei alone and pouring tea before sitting down, a truly unforgettable final image that flawlessly (and incredibly simplistically) portrays the emotions of loneliness and loss. It is rather fitting that his final film is one which examines the cycle of life. Ozu died a year after this film was made, but his life remains unforgettable.

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

>>> Here are the final moments of Ozu’s final film:

Thursday, March 29, 2007

March 29th Log

2006, Brian Cook, United Kingdom / France

1st Viewing, DVD

Director Brian Cook and writer Anthony Frewin have both worked as assistants for Stanley Kubrick. This film is not at all about Kubrick but about the gay con-artist who impersonated him: Alan Conway. Conway’s story is a fascinating one perhaps mostly because both he and those he fooled seemed to know very little about Kubrick. Perhaps that is the reflection of the film, which observes the obsessive desire of fame and celebrity. It seems only fitting that the lead role of Conway be given to John Malkovich, who’s celebrity status was perfectly exploited in the wonderfully original 1999 film Being John Malkovich. This film shares some of that films themes (the fascination of being someone else or more specifically being someone famous or glamorous). However, Color Me Kubrick is far less original, funny, or even entertaining then Being John Malkovich. That is not to say this is a bad film, because it is not. Malkovich has a whole lot of freedom and fun in the role of Conway, and his performance really makes the entire film.

1956, Mikio Naruse, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Flowing is simply a perfect film. It is an ensemble film centering on the world of woman living in a geisha house (called Tsuta). The film is a parallel of life daily flow and of the crisis of the geisha house. Flowing cuts between several storylines of each woman of the geisha house. The house is rather small and confined which only heightens the flow of everyday life. Men are hardly seen, but there presence is felt in the financial burden of the geisha house (as well as the reality that the geisha house is survived to serve men (but Flowing is certainly not a film set on sensationalizing geishas in the way many films do). As is a Naruse trademark money and debt obligations becoming a critical factor. From the opening shot, Flowing becomes a film of the flow of life. Within the troubles of the geisha house lies the films emotional core, which is that of the maid, played by the great Kinuyo Tanaka. She is nicknamed Oharu (reminding viewers of her career defining role in Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1952 masterpiece Life of Oharu), and she represents the everyday daily flow of life in the most endearing and caring manner. Oharu is like the outside observer of this world, as Flowing may above all be a film which unites together two different worlds of Japanese women. Each of these women are portrayed with such depth and insight and the powerful ensemble cast of actresses (Isuzu Yamada, Hideko Takamine, Mariko Okada, Haruko Sugimura, Sumiko Kurishima, Chieko Nakakita, Natsuko Kahara) are each outstanding. Of course, Kinuyo Tanaka is standout as the maid, but she is far from alone. There is such complexity in the narrative, the emotions, the performances, and Naruse’s mise-en-scene. However, despite all the complexities and depths at hand, Flowing remains definitive of Naruse in the simplistically formal style. As the title suggest Flowing is a film that flows between characters and between spaces within the geisha house and its environment- as well as the flow the its services and its finances. As the narrative flow moves along, the film intermittently suggest the flow of the passage of time, be it through contemplative moments (the cat, the river, the neighbors in the garden) or through subtle references of passing time (such as the aging process, or advancement of modern technology). Naruse does this all with the most simplistic and masterful stroke, leaving an ambiguous sense not of sadness or inevitability, but of the path, the choices, and the flow of life. The ending is one of the great moments of Japanese cinema. A 7-minute scene of no dialogue that openly leaves the feeling of both the inevitable demise of the geisha house (of even the traditions of the geisha), as well as celebrating the culture and art of the geisha. Naruse flows the sequence by detailing the daughter alone sewing (perhaps preparing a future profession), the maiden teaching the new class of geisha (the future of the house), and the maid fluctuating in-between the two with offerings of a treat (all while being the only one aware of the future). Truly a remarkable and complex moment all done with the touch of simplicity from Naruse, it is a reflection of the entire film and of Naruse as a master. Flowing rates alongside When a Woman Ascends the Stairs as my favorite Naruse film, and it belongs mention among the very greatest ever made.

>> Here is a scene from Flowing:

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

March 28th Log

2007, Anthony Minghella, United Kingdom / United States

1st Viewing, Theater

Breaking and Entering is a film full of metaphors. The title itself is a metaphor not necessarily for burglary (which is a part of the film), but more a metaphor for human emotions as well as the barriers of class and ethnicity. Anthony Minghella has also been a fine craftsman as a filmmaker and he almost always gets great performances form his cast. Such is the case here with Minghella’s sixth feature film. There are definitely some contrived elements at work here but somehow it works to great effect, probably because of the skillful direction of Minghella and the performances of his cast. There is an intelligence to Breaking and Entering that make it so absorbing as a film. The revelation is a supporting character played by Vera Farmiga (who recently had a breakout role in Martin Scorsese’s award-winning The Departed). Here Farmiga plays a prostitute and though she is only on screen a couple times, her character breeds some real insight and intellect to the themes and emotions. It is a film in which characters are lost or lying with each other and she offers straight up honesty (by saying she she’ll offer anything you want… except talk, because talking is lying). She flips out on Jude Law for giving her perfume as a gift ("Do you think I like to smell like this? Men are incredible!”). Farmiga and this character really give this film something special, but it is only briefly. The film remains effective if somewhat artificial throughout. Jude Law is solid in the lead role as is Juliette Binoche.

2006, Alfonso Cuaron, United Kingdom / United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

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

>> I decided to push back the repeat viewing of Mikio Naruse’s Flowing for Thursday Night…

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

March 27th Log

1945, David Lean, United Kingdom

Repeat Viewing, DVD

I love this film beyond description!! British filmmaker David Lean is a master of adapting books and plays into cinematic masterpiece. His 1946 film, Brief Encounter is no exception. It's a breathtakingly poetic meditation of longing, guilt, chance, and love. Brief Encounter is a film that is simple and conventional, but yet rare and inventive. Through metaphoric visual motifs (the passing trains, the local onlookers) and shadowy lighting, Brief Encounter emerges as an expressionistic film of poetry. This is truly effortless in every aspect of filmmaking. The technical direction, the incredible acting, the profound voice narration and dialogue, the glorious black and white cinematography, and the sweeping musical score are all without flaw. It's a film that dares the viewer to dream, through it's powerful nonlinear structure, romantic longing, and visual and emotional atmosphere. It's an incredibly moving film of touching and heartbreaking romance, and emotional involvement. There are so many emotional levels on which this film can be observed through the character of Laura. Laura is presented through a lyrical vision of detail by Lean. The entire film is through her state-of-mind. She is completely self-absorbed and longing for something more in her life. When chance (or perhaps fate) enter (through a piece of coal steam from a passing train), Laura finds romance that is inevitability doomed. Through Lean’s stunning photography, his use of shadows and lighting, and subtle camera techniques, Brief Encounter expresses a doomed love affair between two lost souls that find themselves trapped within the conformity of a society. While the ending leaves hope ("Thank you for coming back to me"), the ambiguous tone remains, and the film leaves reflective thoughts that perhaps Laura’s yearning is for fantasy, and the tragedy is that she desired this fantasy amongst the reality of the real world. This is simply one of the most moving films I've ever experienced. Brief Encounter is both unforgiving and sad, but yet is lovely at the same time. To me there is something almost peaceful and maybe even spiritual about this film in the way it feels so full of loneliness, yearning, sadness, and beauty all at once. On a narrative and stylistic level, the film is a masterpiece. On a poetic, dreamlike, and emotional level, Brief Encounter stands as one of my all-time favorite films. So perfect in every way!!

2002, Yoji Yamada, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

With a career that spans 45 years (and counting) Yoji Yamada is one of the most respected and beloved living Japanese filmmakers today. After beginning as a co-writer for Nomura Yoshitaro’s atmospheric 1961 film Zero Focus, Yamada directed his first feature film Strangers Upstairs. He has since directed over 60 features, and has another film currently in production. His next film will be the final part of his ‘Samurai Trilogy’, which began with the internationally acclaimed Twilight Samurai (in 2002), and was followed up with Hidden Blade in 2004. It is with these recent Samurai films that Yamada has gained attention with Western audiences. However, in Japan Yamada Is well known for his Tora-san series, which spanned 26 years and included 48 films. The Tora-san series is one of the worlds longest film series of all-time and it remains beloved in Japan. The longevity of the success was a major financial support for Shochiko Company and gave Yamada more creative freedom. With this freedom, Yamada would occasionally make his own more personal films outside of the series. This is where you can find his greatest work. 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. While not his finest work, Twilight Samurai is very representative of Yamada’s work. He keeps the violence of this samurai film minimal and gives the stylistic feel of the film a simplistic touch. Little camera movements, long wide shots are used to give this film a sense of romance instead of violence. The camera simply lets the performance of veteran actor Hiroyuki Sanada take over. The subtle style make this film more complex with repeat viewings and Yamada finely crafts the final duel sequence by using Akira Kurosawa as his influence.

Monday, March 26, 2007

March 26th Log

1956, Mikio Naruse, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

Well I’ll only comment briefly and reserve more thoughts for when I watch this again on Wednesday night. I have immediately scheduled to watch the film again simply because my initial reaction is that Flowing is one of the greatest films I have ever seen. I had a similar reaction to Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs earlier this month and I rate Flowing as an equal masterwork alongside the greatest achievements of Naruse (Floating Clouds would be another film on that list). Flowing is simply a perfect film. It is an ensemble film centering on the world of woman living in a geisha house. The film is a parallel of life daily flow and of the crisis of the geisha house. As is a Naruse trademark money and debt obligations becoming a critical factor. From the opening shot, Flowing becomes a film of the flow of life. Within the troubles of the geisha house lies the films emotional core, which is that of the maid, played by the great Kinuyo Tanaka. She is nicknamed Oharu (a clear reference to her career defining role in Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1952 masterpiece Life of Oharu), and she represents the everyday daily flow of life in the most endearing and caring manner. There is so much more that I love about this film and really will never truly capture with words. I plan on watching this again on Wednesday night and will probably further articulate some of my glowing thoughts on this masterpiece.

1969, Hideo Gosha, Japan
1st Viewing, DVD

Hideo Gosha is often overlooked as a great filmmaker but he is responsible for some notable films of Japanese cinema. His 7th feature, 1969’s Goyokin stands as a Japanese landmark simply because it was the countries first feature film shot in Panavision. The film showcases this from the opening frame, a wide shot of a scenic mountainside. This continues throughout the film which uses landscapes of forests, villages, seasides, and colorful visuals to great heights. Goyokin is a samurai film made very much in the conventions of the genre. Gosha gives the film a complex depth and involvement through his crafty filmmaking. After a stunning opening sequence, the film takes some time to develop but this is done mostly within the conventions of the genre. It builds tension through setup before quickly flashing the lively fight sequences. The layers of the story really evolve as the film progresses, centering on a samurai (Magobei) who choose to abandon his clan after they slaughter a small village in order to collect gold and pay taxes. Looking to rid the guilt Magobei protects the remaining survivor of the massacre and seeks to stop the clan from repeating the massacre. Tatsuya Nakadai gives a strong lead performance as the conflicted samurai and Ruriko Asaoka is also strong in the role of the woman he protects. No masterpiece, Goyokin is top-notch samurai filmmaking with some serious emotional layers and crafty filmmaking. It has plenty of swordfights, but is far from bloodfest more common of samurai films. Still this remains a really good film from a talented filmmaker. I still prefer Gosha’s 1965 film Sword of the Beast, but Goyokin is among the better samurai films I’ve seen and is essential viewing for fans of the genre.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

March 25th Log

2006, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan
1st Viewing, DVD

I can understand your feelings, but this is how I see it. If after living his whole life, your father left you nothing but hate, it would be unbearably sad.” Hirokazu Kore-eda may be the best filmmaker of contemporary Japanese cinema. With his fifth feature film (not including several of the documentaries he has made), Kore-eda gives us a unique perspective of the samurai film. Here the Bushido code of seeking honor through revenge is re-imagined with a charming and peaceful film. Set in the early 18th century, the story centers around a young Samurai (Soza) who has moved into a poor village to fulfill his fathers final request to avenge his death. Soza wants to avenge his fathers request and ultimately financially secure his family, yet he does not process the fighting skills of a samurai. Above all Kore-eda is making a film of anti-violence and the endless cycle that comes through violence. Hana is a humanist samurai film. One of gentle compassion, and humor. The result is a beautiful and charming film to celebrate and embrace. This is quite a departure not only of the genre, but for Kore-eda, whose previous films dealt with philosophical expressions of death and memory. Of course, his trademarks are still evident, most notably in the compassion and celebration of the human spirit. Hana also captures Kore-eda’s stylistic sense of expression with sounds and visuals (most particularly the use of close-ups of hands and feet). On a narrative level the film has some flaws or some un-evenness. However, this never really effects the gentle charm of the film and maybe only heightens it. While Soza remains the focal point of the film, Kore-eda begins to establish his relationship with the villagers and at times the film goes into different directions with some of the characters. Kore-eda keeps the tone smooth through the film and we really begin to engage ourselves with these characters and the small little details of their lives. I found the film to be highly engaging because you truly care for these characters (each wonderfully played by the entire ensemble cast). Kore-eda has made a samurai film that is about peace and about community. It speaks of humanity and is full of humor and energy. Though light-hearted and gentle, I found Kore-eda’s film to be one that connects on a deeply spiritual level of peace and togetherness. Perhaps not on the level of his greatest works (After Life, Maborosi, Nobody Knows), Hana is another great film from a highly original filmmaker.

2003, Takeshi Kitano, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

The popular Japanese director/writer/actor Takeshi "Beat" Kitano returns to more familiar genre (if that's what you want to call this) with his latest film Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman. Many of Kitano's elements are here: violence, irony, sentiment, unique sound and editing techniques, slapstick humor (ala Buster Keaton), and of course blood. However, here the exaggerated spurts of blood are shown in a graceful and poetic style. Kitano made the blood CGI, which makes it look fake, but it's intentionally done as if to give it a life of its own. Kitano also features his usual dead-pan acting approach which results in some pretty humorous moments. Akira Kurosawa as well as the American westerns he influenced, certainly are referenced numerous times throughout. The film wraps up with the type of odd, exciting and clever conclusion you'd expect from Kitano. A musical song and dance sequence that's both head-scratching and absolutely joyous…. In fact, I absolutely love the ending (even more so on this my second viewing of the film)!!

2005, Yamada Yoji, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

This is the second film of Yamada Yoji's 'Samurai Trilogy' (which began with the acclaimed 2002 film Twilight Samurai). Like Twilight Samurai, Yamada expresses themes of love, friendship, honor, betrayal. Also Yamada distances the film from the violence instead capturing a simplistic realism. His focus is above all on the inner psychological battle. This approach leads to a more emotionally felt climax of battle. Yamada has been making films for nearly 50 years (many of which are part of the Tora-san series, which is beloved in Japan and has spanned 26 years and included 48 films). Yamada is 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. The Hidden Blade has an old-fashioned look and feel in recreating a 19th Century Japan of chaos upon embracing to the West. It is this historic connection that lies in the metaphoric core of the film. I put this film alongside Twilight Samurai as a great work that is not Yamada's very best but remains a beautifully constructed narrative and emotionally involving epic. I look forward to Yamada's continuation of this series.

Friday, March 23, 2007

March 23rd Log

1941, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family is one of the few upper-class family films Ozu made but it very much captures the essence of what he would later master in his gendai-geki films. This film marks Ozu's earliest transition into his stage of postwar masterpiece. Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family is the first of two films Ozu made during the war (this film was made after Ozu spent two years fighting China in the Sino-Japanese war). Ozu's personal experience certainly reflect in the film but this also stands as a key transition from his early work and his postwar films, as Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family captures various elements of each era. Again at the center of the family lies the separation of family which is caused by the untimely death of the father. The film recalls Ozu's postwar films Tokyo Story (in it's tensions between generations) and End of the Summer (in in the deconstruction of the family), but also reveals some of his early work as the family begins to suffer with financial difficulties. This film displays early traces of Ozu's mastery with visual expression and composition, as it marked his first collaboration with cinematographer Atsuta Yuharu (who he worked with on almost every film afterwards). This film also was the first box office success in Japan for Ozu who would soon become known as "The most Japanese of all directors", which at the time made his films nearly inaccessible to those outside of Japan.

>> More on Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

>>> Here is a scene from The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family:

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

March 21st Log

1972, Elaine May, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The Heartbreak Kid is a film destined to be compared with Mike Nichols The Graduate, which was made five years prior. This is a comedy but one with the tone of a tragic satire. The strength of the film lies in the intelligence of the material and director Elaine May does not treat the characters as cartoons, or the narrative as compromising closure. The film ends with an ambitious note and one that reflects the early portion of the film. As a comedy The Heartbreak Kid is effective. What ties it in emotionally is that though May does not present the lead Lenny Cantrow (played by Charles Grodin) with sympathy early on, as his cruel and selfish treatment of his newlywed wife makes him difficult to like. However, as the film progresses, his desperation towards the “girl he dreams of” (played by Cybill Shepherd) actually begins to build some twisted sense of compassion for him as he tries to win over the approval of her resisting father. Grodin gives a strong performance as does Jeannie Berlin as his new wife, and especially terrific is Eddie Albert as the father. The highlight of the film comes in the scene when Lenny decides to “put all his cards out on the table” for the father. Shot with one-long master shot it is a scene that is brilliantly written, directed, and performed (both by Grodin and Grodin in dialogue, as well as the reactions of those not speaking). This scene has the comic wit and filmmaking reminiscent of the master of comedic satire Preston Sturges. The Heartbreak Kid never quite reaches the level of Sturges, but it comes very close. Intelligent and unflinching, The Heartbreak Kid still holds it’s satirical bite today. This film is currently in post-production of a remake directed by the Farrelly Brothers.

1951, Robert Bresson, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest is in many ways cinema in it's most pure form. Through Bresson's simplistic filmmaking approach of minimal techniques (including non-professional actors, and very little dialogue and music). Also, Bresson uses off-screen sounds and unique narrative approach to heighten the emotional response. The result becomes an incredibly moving connection with the lead character (a young priest played by Claude Laydu) and an emotionally challenging and thought-provoking expression of life. There are such endless and complex depths of human psychology, as Diary Of examines themes of faith, and isolation. Of course, one Bresson's definitive themes is that of human suffering and cruelty, and here it is presented through the cynical and distrustful villagers. The final shot of the film (an isolated cross within the frame) symbolizes much of the films overall themes and ultimately becomes an unsettling and deeply transcending reflection of living. This is Bresson's forth film, and represents the poetic master at his most personal and simplistic. Diary of a Country Priest is an unforgettable achievement from a rare visionary of cinematic language. The tone of Bresson’s films are depressing, cold films of suffering yet it is through suffering and sadness that his films ultimately reflect the beauty of living. The endings of his films are without joy and full of sadness (particularly his masterpieces Mouchette and Au hasard Balthazar), yet indescribably Bresson’s vision leaves us with a feeling of the beauty of living. It certainly can be argued, but Bresson’s films leave me with a sense of hope and of optimism, and of transcendence. It is a sad yet beautiful experience. Indeed, “All is grace!”

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

March 20th Log

2006, Joey Lauren Adams, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Come Early Morning is very familiar territory yet the film manages to be a highly engaging one. Mostly this is because of the terrific performances, highlighted by the underrated Ashley Judd. Judd has always been a favorite of mine, but she has never really lived up to the potential of her incredible lead performance in the underseen 1993 gem Ruby Paradise. I’d say Judd gave one of the great careen performances of the decade in Ruby Paradise but unfortunately she has never really been given a quality lead role since. Until now, Judd shows what she can do when given a character to work with, as she again proves here under the compassionate direction of actress turned debut writer-director Joey Lauren Adams. Adams shows some real trust in the actors and the performances give this film its charm. While there is nothing inventive about the writing of the film, Adams seems to be telling a story that is both personal and caring. Aiding both Adams direction and the performances is the beautiful photography. If ever you need a cinematographer to create a mood of a southern town, Tim Orr (who is the collaborator on all the David Gordon Green films) always makes a great choice. Adams has made a strong debut and has finally given Judd the depth of a role that she can really excel with. Hopefully we will see more of Judd as well as more of Adams as a director.

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.

Monday, March 19, 2007

March 19th Log

1954, Anthony Mann, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The Far Country does not quite reach the mastery level of Anthony Mann’s previous psychological westerns starring James Stewart (notably his greatest masterworks The Naked Spur and bend of the River- both of which were co-written by Bordon Chase, who also wrote The Far Country). The Far Country marked the sixth of eight films Mann with Stewart. Each of them share distinct qualities visually, emotionally, and thematically. Stewart again plays the role of the loner anti-hero, but this role may be the darkest of all. As Jeff Webster, Stewart plays a self-interested man that trusts no one and is not looking to gain any new friends outside of the only man he trusts (played by the always terrific Walter Brennan). Mann again presents many layers of psychological depth with the corruption of greed lying at the center. Mann began making low-budget noirs in the 1940s and while these films are much more personal, The Far Country captures some elements of noir within the genre of a western adventure. Above all, Mann presents his psychological and philosophical world through atmosphere and landscape, here using the hills of Canada as the backdrop. For The Far Country, Mann uses the great cinematographer William H. Daniels, whom he collaborated with on the wonderful black-and-white classic Winchester ’73. Daniels Technicolor cinematography presents a stunning landscape which beautifully works as the background for Mann’s controlling direction of frame. The Far Country builds a compelling mood and the performances only heighten the impact. Stewart and Brennan are terrific as usual and especially standout is John McIntire as the corrupt Sheriff Gannon.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

March 18th Log

1952, Anthony Mann, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

That kind can't change. When an apple's rotten, there's nothing you can do except throw it away or it will spoil the whole barrel…. Well, there's a difference between men and apples.” After the success of the classic 1950 film Winchester ’73, Anthony Mann re-collaborated with screenwriter Borden Chase and lead actor James Stewart for this 1952 film, which was shot in Technicolor. Of course, this marked the second of eight films Mann made with Stewart (five of which were westerns). While I think their next collaboration, 1953’s The Naked Spur, was their greatest masterpiece, Bend of the River deserves mention among Mann and Stewart’s finest achievements. As such it belongs mention among the very best American westerns ever made. Many of the psychological and obsessive characteristic traits of the Mann westerns are evident here and Stewart once again gives an incredibly complex performance to heighten the depth of the emotion layers. At the core of the film is greed and the destruction that is caused through greedy desire. The film observes this among other complex psychological elements, notably through it’s lead character: Glyn McLyntock (played by Stewart), a mysterious man with a troubled past that he is trying to forget as he helps guide a group of settlers looking for new farming life in open hills of Oregon. Throughout the film McLyntock seems to be convincing himself he has changed and his criminal past is behind him. He wonders or hopes the framers will accept and appreciate him, but he hesitates to tell them of his past. Through flawless performance, characterization and directing, Mann pours on the psychological depths as well as the overall mood and landscape of the atmosphere. Mann has complete control over the direction and he creates a film that is emotionally layered, while also a very thrilling one of action and humor. Bend of the River is beautifully paced and Stewart’s performance is aided by a strong supporting cast (notably Arthur Kennedy as the other troubled gunman, and Julia Adams as the woman who wins his heart). Bend of the River is best in its psychological examination of a mans struggle with himself and his past. Yet this film does have a plenty of pure excitement, suspense, and adventure to offer. A highly recommended classic of American filmmaking.

1999, Paul Thomas Anderson, United States

Repeat Viewing, Independent Film Channel

When I saw this was coming on the Independent Film Channel I decided to start watching… and of course I ended up watching the entire film! How can I not? Magnolia is such an engrossing film, and by the end you are left with no idea that its running time is over three hours long, because it feels as though it flies by. This is undoubtedly one of my personal all-time favorite films from a filmmaker I consider the best in contemporary American film. PT Anderson was a close friend of Robert Altman, who hired him as assistant director on the set of Prairie Home Companion. The influence of Altman is obvious and perhaps working with him on that film became as moment of the passing torch. Magnolia is a brilliant film that only gets better with repeat viewings, and as Anderson’s career emerges it’s importance and status as a landmark will increase. After four incredible feature films, Anderson’s auteur significance has already become evident. Each of his four films stand apart yet there is a cinematic distinct style and narrative themes that seem to strongly connect each of them to the filmmaker, which at its most basic core is family or human relationships and loneliness. Within the loneliness and human relationship is Anderson’s use of compositions, colors, camera work, metaphoric objects and sound to express the emotions and feelings of the film and more importantly of the characters. Another prominent factor of his films are uncontrollable forces within them that are connected with coincidence and chance, and of course this is most obvious in the weather in Magnolia. But the greatest uncontrollable force that is evident in every Anderson film is the past, which is often the cause of loneliness or of failed human relationships. As such Anderson’s characters disregard or lie about the past, and even in some cases will form new relationships, new families, or even new names and identities. Anderson’s films examine the importance of the past as a form of determining the future. Centering on individuality, insecurity, loneliness, and substitute families, the human relationships struggle with the past and it’s affect on the future. I think one of the great gifts of Anderson as a filmmaker is his ability to risk the narrative structure of the film without conforming to boundaries. He captures the essence of human emotions and behavior and presents it in a way that is both real and yet unlike anything we’ve seen or even expect to see in a film. His films can be equally sad, funny, exciting, and hopeful at the same time. Magnolia closes with a moment full of hope as Claudia smiles into the camera just as it cuts to black and the closing credits. Magnolia is a masterpiece and one that I view differently every time I see it, which I hope will continue to be many more times throughout my lifetime.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

March 17th Log

1956, Kon Ichikawa, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

The Burmese Harp has just been released to DVD through Criterion Collection. It is one of the celebrated classics of Japanese cinema that I have been unable to see until today. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to see this film because it truly is a powerful one. This is the type of film that is moving and important. It has the power to inspire and to deeply resonant in the memory of the viewer. Made in 1956 the film deals with serious issues of pacifism and of life and death. The film is based on a novel by Michio Takeyama, and tells the story of a solider (Mizushima) who after World War 2 chooses to remain alone as a monk so he can bury the dead. Mizushima has been transcended spiritually towards enlightenment. Painful or lonely as it may be Mizushima is on a personal journey. He has gained a greater sense of meaning through the horror of war that he witnessed. The Burmese Harp expresses this through the haunting aftermath of war. The film also details this connection of the human soul with nature as we see dead bodies of soldiers throughout the peaceful contrast of the environment. The film closes with a title card reading: "In Burma, soil is red, so are rocks", which heightens the expression of soul and nature as a tragic one in the face of war. Today some moments may be deemed sentimental but only in the slightest. Kon Ichikawa has made a film that stands as an important one of the time, but its themes of peace and humanity deserve to be embraced on a universal level. There are so many powerful moments to this film (the soldiers singing as Mizushima plays the harp alone in the Buddha statute; Mizushima playing the harp for his friends; Mizushima’s goodbye letter). I still have yet to see most of Kon Ichikawa’s films, but The Burmese Harp was the film that earned him recognition throughout his native Japan and throughout the world (it won two awards at the Venice Film Festival). I plan of seeing his 1959 film, Fires on the Plain sometime next week. The Burmese Harp will be one of the films added to the website I am planning on launching in the near future- Floating Masters.

1968, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Sometimes everything seems like a dream. It is not my dream but someone else's that I have to participate in. What happens when the one who dreamt us wakes up and feels ashamed?" Shame is a film unlike any other Ingmar Bergman film, yet deeply remains a Bergman film. Gone are the symbolic images and searching for meaning, existence, and a seemingly absent God. Shame is a film detailing the horrific effects war can have on the human mind and soul. The film starts rather quietly as we observe a couple, the Rosenberg's (played to perfection by Bergman regulars Liv Ullman and Max Von Sydow), living a simple and happy life. However, as the war moves closer towards them, we begin to see the betrayal and evil of mankind. The film takes place at an unknown country and the reasons for the war are not specified. What results is an eerie yet universal story. The second half of the film is particularly powerful as we see the pain and aftermath of the war. It is at this point that the couple must chose between love and survival. Bergman closes the film with consistent fades, silence, and horrific images of the depths and destruction of war without ever being heavy-handed or manipulative. Bergman is truly a master, and the undeniable power of his genius will connect with those who experience his films. Shame is yet another of his many masterpieces.

Friday, March 16, 2007

March 16th Log

1953, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Widely considered among the greatest films in the history of Japanese cinema, Ozu’s 1953 Tokyo Story stands as a true masterpiece of filmmaking. Tokyo Story is a reflective film about morals, selfishness, and youth's treatment (or mistreatment) of the elderly. But it's also a deeply moving love story, while never being manipulative or over-sentimental as Ozu achieves the most moving emotions through his trademark simplistic style. The film's final moments and images represent the power of love, and the need for human connection in a way that is unforgettably sad - captured through Ozu's transcendent cinematic language and of course Setsuko Hara's stunning performance. Every single shot is beautifully and expressively composed and Tokyo Story may feature Ozu's most prominent use of his defining "pillow shots". At the core this is a film of the inevitability of life changing and the transcient acceptance of this inevitability. This is expressed in both the changes of a postwar Japanese society and more specifically of the family. By presenting these daily life cycles and changes through generations of a family, Ozu has created a film that is widely universal and transcendent. It is the ordinary routines that can hide the sadness of life, but it is the willingness to accept sadness and change as part of the life cycle. Life does goes on and Tokyo Story understands and accepts this as something that must be. Ultimately the film captures this in the end as the family has been destroyed and we come back full circle to where it began. Tokyo Story is one of the most moving films ever made. It understandings and complexities of human emotion and behavior is flawless and under the minimalist direction of Ozu’s style as well as the superb performances by his cast, Tokyo Story emerges as one of the truly great film achievements in the history of world cinema. A classic film to cherish and to revisit.

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

>>> Here is a scene from Tokyo Story. This clip shows the star entrance given to Setsuko Hara, who plays the compassionate daughter-in-law Noriko. Notice the flawlessly detailed use of space and pattern within the visual composition:

1973, Charles A. Nichols / Iwao Takamoto, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

I’m planning on viewing next weeks DVD release of Charlotte’s Web and first decided to check out this 1973 animated version. Surprisingly this is a rather disappointing adaptation of the beloved classic in that it has little imagination as it tied down by forced musical bits. The story is a rightful classic on universal themes of friendship, life, prejudice, and ignorance but this film seems to tack on a bit too much sentiment and content that easily dates it. The voice work is solid by the well known cast (most notably Henry Gibson as Wilbur and Debbie Reynolds as Charlotte). This could be a decent film for children and it certainly is not a horrible film simply because the story is a timeless one. This film has opportunities to be much better with a film that is more faithful or trusting in the original source. I am hoping the 2006 version captures this a bit better.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

March 15th Log

1977, Woody Allen, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Woody Allen's 1977 Annie Hall contains come of the most memorable comic moments in American film history. It's a film that broke rules and stretched the boundaries of screen writing. There really are no rules, and for this the film is as fresh as ever! Annie Hall is also so refreshing because it displays a brilliance in cinematic ambition, creativity, and exploration. The film has moments of truly unique and ultimately hilarious comedy: taking characters back in time to stand in the room with their past, split screens, educator Marshall McLuhan suddenly appearing to defend himself against a know-it-all critic, animation, and even people in the street randomly commenting on the film. Annie Hall also contains profound dramatic elements, as it showed the pain of romantic longing unlike most similar genre films before it. The performances are all good, even Allen. He's generally not a great actor and can get annoying at times, but this is definitely his best performance. Much of the humor may be considered snobbish, but to me, it never fails. This is the essential Woody Allen film in detailing a humorous yet insightful look at relationships. Not only human relationships, but also relationships with a city. Here New York becomes a reflection of the character and of the filmmaker (this expression is hilariously heightened by the contrast of Alvy’s visits in LA). Annie Hall is a genuinely clever, hilarious and memorable masterpiece that easily ranks among American cinema's greatest comedies.

1952, Otto Preminger, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Directed by one of the greatest master filmmakers of noir, Otto Preminger, Angel Face stands among the most intense noirs ever made. A blend of melodrama and even some of the courtroom drama of Preminger’s 1959 masterpiece Anatomy of a Murder, this film is trademark Preminger. Every detail is stylized under his classic noir direction, which includes his unconventionally constant camera movement. The casting here is perfection. Robert Mitchum gives a defining performance in his traditionally understated acting style which works pitch-perfect with the films most radiant presence, Jean Simmons in one of the greatest femme fatale performances. Her fragile innocence flawlessly captures the film sexual undertones and sense of doom as her presence radiates both seduction and evil. Her performance is heightened alongside Mitchum in both an emotional and physical manner. Mitchum physical presence and subtle acting contrasts that of Simmons frightening innocence, and ultimately he becomes unraveled under her complex psyche and emotional web. This sense of doom undercuts the entire film straight to the ending sequence that is the work of absolute mastery filmmaking and acting. The ending to this film deserves mention among the very greatest in the history of noir an Preminger adds a haunting touch to the very final image. Angel Face is top-notch filmmaking. It is a film of subtle complex yet complex layers both on emotional and visual levels. The performances are outstanding (and that includes the supporting roles, like that of the always great Leon Ames), but of course it is Mitchum and especially Simmons that are most memorable. The ending alone puts this film among the great masterpieces of 1950s noir, as Angel Face marks yet another classic film from Otto Preminger.

2006, Matthew O’Callaghan, United States
Repeat Viewing, HBO

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

March 14th Log

2006, Martin Campbell, US / UK / Germany / Czech Republic

1st Viewing, DVD

Quite the body count you’re racking up”. This is a moment of dialogue told to James Bond nearly 40 minutes into the latest addition to the Bon series. It is a revealing line for a film that might be the most brutally violent Bond film yet. With a new actor (Daniel Craig) playing the lead the series undergoes a much needed re-imagining. Craig seems to be the right choice for this tougher Bond, and director Martin Campbell (who directed the 1995 Bond film GoldenEye) creates a nice sense of action without going overboard. Obviously with a Bond film you need to suspend disbelief, and this offers everything you’d expect: action, suspense, cold-blooded killers, and sexy women. The ambition level seems to be even higher here, as early as the opening sequence- a bloody sequence shot entirely in black and white. The film thrives in the second half with the arrival of Eva Green (who was last remembered as the French cinephile in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers). Green is stunning here and see is given a classic Bond-girl entrance (nearly an hour into the film she arrives by telling Bond “I’m the money”). This sequence with Green on the train may be the films peak, but it remains sparkling whenever she is on-screen. Beautiful, intelligent, and independent Green is a rarity for Bond. She has him under her spell and he is willing to give up everything and settle down for a life with her. Of course, Casino Royale pulls us back in (with many different twists and turns) and leaves no notion of the series ending, as the film closes with a clear indication the Bond series has a whole new start and it is here to stay. I’m not the biggest Bond fan, but I did like this very much. I wouldn’t say it is even the best of the Bond films, but Casino Royale seems to understand it’s place among the Bond series in a way that is ambitious breaking new ground yet remaining respectful. For that and for the casting of Daniel Craig and especially Eva Green, Casino Royale makes for great entertainment.

1952, Mikio Naruse, Japan
Repeat Viewing, 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 sweetness by 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. Mother is 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 a feeling 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 of the 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 clip from Mother. Notice the end of the clip just before it fades into the family eating together, Kinuyo Tanaka pushes her hair back. This gesture is captured again in the beautiful final shot of the film:

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

March 13th Log

2006, Nancy Meyers, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

The Holiday is the fourth feature written and directed by Nancy Meyers and it suffers what her previous two suffered from. Forced writing that seem to paint everything including the characters and comedy as black or white. Her obvious love for old-fashioned Studio days Hollywood is evident in her work, and she makes many references and homages here, but her writing lacks either the wit or the charm of her influences. What can often save a film of this mold is the star power and chemistry of the cast (as it does so very often with the great stars of the studio era). Here the cast is for the most part a very likable one (while Cameron Diaz is a bit boring, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and Jack Black present solid star-power). However with the exception of Black, who gives the film its only burst of real energy and humor, most of the performances are not very memorable (and in the case of Diaz occasionally annoying). Besides Black, most of the fun in the film is seeing and hearing all the many film references and homges (including seeing a dvd of Punch-Drunk Love pulled out from a shelf of DVDs!!). Of course this also backfires on the film as all it had me wanting was to watch those great films again. So Meyers is making parallels with her character and Barbara Stanwyck from The Lady Eve, but that Preston Sturges is hilarious from beginning to end, while The Holiday had me wondering when it’s overlong 2+ hour running time was going to end. It finally did at a point that may be the most forced of the entire film. This film is not as bad as I may have made it seem, but I expected it to be a little more enjoyable. There is a point in the film when Winslet asks an old screenwriter if Hollywood as glorious as they say back in day and he replies by telling her it was better. While there are some films suggesting otherwise, I do think films like The Holiday are not bad but just further proof that the romantic comedy genre or true star-power are indeed faded from Hollywood years past.

March 12th Log

1955, Anthony Mann, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Anthony Mann is such a great filmmaker. He develops complex characters and emotions of psychological depths all confined within an expressively atmospheric landscape. The Man From Laramie is the last of his “psychological westerns” he made with James Stewart. Together they made five such westerns. In each of these films lies a destruction of the family core and also an obsession that is driven by revenge. This is again the case with The Man From Laramie as we find James Stewart playing the man from Laramie who enters the town of Coronado in order to seek revenge from the persona responsible for selling guns to the Apaches which lead to his brothers murder. Stewart’s arrival in this town is met with some restraint and eventually tension grows within and around the family that runs the town. I don’t know if I’d put this in the class of The Naked Spur, but Mann has made another great film. Using on site New Mexico locations as the Technicolor/CinemaScope backdrop Mann creates a deeply layered film of character emotions. Stewart is brilliant again as the lonely, mysterious, and determined outsider. He is aided by a strong supporting cast (Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp, and Cathy O'Donnell). The Man From Laramie is traditionally constructed, classic filmmaking from a master of the western. All of these Mann and Stewart westerns have a timelessness quality to them and I look forward to viewing them again.

1954, Mikio Naruse, Japan

Repeat Vieiwng, DVD

I have been on such a Naruse kick these last couple months and had to watch this again. Sound of the Mountain is Mikio Naruse’s adaptation of the beloved novel by Yasunari Kawabata, who was the first Japanese author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Though dealing more with a middle-class Japanese family (as opposed to the lower class of most of his post-war work), the story and themes are very typical of a Naruse film (here it is especially true of his 1951 Repast, which featured the same actors- Setsuko Hara and Ken Uehara in a troubled marital relationship). Sound of a Mountain opens with a typical Naruse shot of establishing the city before quickly transitioning into the suburban home. This transition of traveling from work (city/Tokyo) to the Kamakura suburb (a garden-filled and seemingly closed-in home of innocence) is one of the underlying expressions of the film. Naruse presents a pitch-perfect rhythmic flow of repetitive everyday life and the tone is always striking with emotional force. Naruse establishes space, constructs the space with feeling and tension, and then breaks it all into separate emotional layers. The film has a constant poetic touch, yet it is subtly hidden amongst the realist emotions detailed both on and under the surface. These emotions are authentic in that they evoke a complexity, unpredictability, and spirituality that is truthful of human behavior. Helping capture this, are terrifically restrained emotional performances by the cast (of course Hara is especially wonderful in her typically radiant beauty and delicateness). The husband and wife failing relationship is expressed through their lack of affection for each other, which is contrasted by the deep understanding and connection shared by the daughter and her father-in-law. This emotional dilemma reaches an philosophical level. Naruse has a more literary style then the transcendent grace of filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. However, Naruse proves an equal master of cinematic space and environment. This is best captured in the final scene of the film, a beautiful sequence of mastery achievement. Shot among an expressive garden environment, Naruse composes the scene with subtle camera movement, framing, as well as open space to represent the freedom of the emotional relationship. There is a precise sense of longing and separation that reflects the rich emotional layers of the entire film. The scene is a truly sad moment, but one which perfectly completes the film and does so with a stroke of masterful filmmaking and performances. Sound of a Mountain may not be the most significant or visionary work of Naruse career, but to me it is one of his most moving and among my personal favorites!

Monday, March 12, 2007

FLOATING MASTERS -- coming soon

Coming Soon, the A2P Cinema Network will be adding a new website to go alongside the many ongoing sites (Main Site, Blog, Ozu-san, etc) as well as other future sites (Breath of Life Pictures, Three Colors).

The site will be called FLOATING MASTERS and it will be dedicated entirely to the films and more specifically filmmakers of Japanese cinema. This has been a site I have slowly been compiling whenever I get some time and it is still in the construction phase.

I hope to launch the website soon, complete with a database (plus photos and maybe video clips) of the master filmmakers and films of Japanese cinema. If you have any ideas, suggestions, or would like to contribute in any way, please let me know. I will keep everyone informed on a launch date. Thank you!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

March 11th Log

2006, Clark Johnson, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

The Sentinel is an average if typical secret service thriller. The film begins with some nice setup and introduction sequences as we see Michael Douglas, an agent that saved Ronald Reagan from being assassinated. We soon learn that he is having an affair with the first lady and this eventually leads to him being setup for a plot to assassinate the current President. Kiefer Sutherland plays the detective in charge of the investigation and he has a past friendship with Douglas that has since been destroyed. Eva Longoria plays Sutherland’s partner and she also has a friendship with Douglas. Of course we know he is being setup and if you’ve seen enough thrillers, you will probably know pretty quickly who it is. The film losses some of the intelligence it began with during the climatic final act. However, Sutherland and Douglas provide strong performances and Television veteran director Clark Johnson has experience working with this type of material to keep the film from falling apart. The kind of film that is entertaining and involving, but quickly forgettable.

1953, Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Of the films I've been fortunate enough to seen, I'd say Ugetsu (alongside alongside The Life of Oharu) is Japanese master filmaker Kenji Mizoguchi's greatest masterpiece. From what I've seen, this appears to be the quintessential postwar Mizoguchi film in style and themes. A period film that centers around four characters (two married couples) who each travel separate paths. Mizoguchi's films always seem to be leading the characters on journeys. They are also deeply compassionate for the females and Ugetsu is no exception as the men follow a selfish path of greed, power, and lust leaving their wives suffering. Mizoguchi's other themetic trademark is the connection of art and nature and this is captured throughout the film and even as early as the opening titles which display as paintings overtop images of nature. Mizoguchi masterfully controls the haunting atmosphere with a gracefully flowing camera. The camera is static but always moving in a way that feels as though it is floating through the air. Mizoguchi style is one of elegant mastery and it beautifully blends with his absorbing narrative flow. Mizoguchi is one of the great masters of postwar Japanese cinema (a class that includes Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, and Akira Kurosawa) and Ugetsu is one of his finest filmmaking achievements.

>>> Here is a scene from Ugetsu. This is one of the most outstanding moments of the film, as Genjuro returns home from his journey:

Saturday, March 10, 2007

March 10th Log

2007, Bong Joon-ho, South Korea
1st Viewing, Theater

If the government says so, we have to accept it. What can we do?” The Host was one of the biggest box office hits from Korea last year, and now it gets a wide United States release. The film is sure to pick up some pretty decent box office and fans here as there is certainly a lot of appeal. The Host is essentially a family drama but with a strong mix of comedy, suspense, and political satire. It is a monster movie and the monster is the most impressive aspect of the film. However, the monster here is a metaphoric one for the films true enemy, which is the government. The United States government seems to be a specific target as the film is based on a true event in which a US military scientist ordered the disposal of a toxic chemical into the sewer system leading into the Han River. A similar scene to this event opens the film before it moves into it’s thrilling open moments of anticipation for the arrival of the monster. The scene when the monster is released may be the very best of the film and from there The Host delves more into its family drama as three siblings and their father go on a rescue mission to save one of the siblings daughter. The performances are a bit over the top (even by the monster) but the blend of genres make this a truly exciting monster movie with plenty of humor, suspense, political satire and mass paranoia. Supposedly the rights of this film were sold for a remake in the United States, but it would have to be an entirely different film. This one is rooted by its culture.

1953, Anthony Mann, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The Glenn Miller Story is directed by Anthony Mann. He made the film in-between his expressionistic westerns and again re-team with star James Stewart. The result is less personally expressive, but still classic old-fashioned 1950s cinema, and ultimately a box office smash. The film used both its star power (James Stewart and June Allyson) as well as the popularity of Glenn Miller and his music to its advantage. The Glenn Miller Story begins with the standard biography format that was frequently made in Hollywood for the big musicians. However, this one has a little bit more to offer mostly because of Mann’s direction and control of a Technicolor frame, but especially because of Stewart’s remarkable performance. Here with Mann (whom he made eight films with), Stewart gives this character a darker psychological side that was rare for this film in the 1950s. There seems to be more emotional and mental complexity here and much of that is because of the depth of Stewart’s performance. Of course the real entertainment of the film is the music (including appearances by Louis Armstrong, Ben Pollack, and Arvell Shaw). Miller was one of the key innovators in creating the big band sound of jazz and though his music was rather conservative it stands the test of time wonderfully. Above all, this film is a tribute to the artist and it is done so with a genuinely caring and well made film.

Friday, March 9, 2007

March 9th Log

2006, Terry Gilliam, Canada / United Kingdom
1st Viewing, DVD

After losing control in post production on the 2005 film The Brothers Grimm, Terry Gilliam sought to make a project solely on his own creative terms. The result is a mixed bag that will very likely divide audiences. The personal and passionate aspect behind the film is certainly one you have to admire. The DVD opens with an introduction from Terry Gilliam who warns us that we may or may not like what we are about to see, but he encourages the viewer to treat this film as though in the perspective of an 8-year child who is innocent, and imaginative, and free of corruption or prejudice. I don’t know if the introduction was necessary, as it seems a bit forced, but I guess Gilliam is defending any critics of his film. Tideland is the type of film you’d expect if you’re a Gilliam fan: creepy, unsettling, and hallucinating. It certainly creates a world through Gilliams trademark visuals and tiled camerawork (the ugliness of the interior shots are contrasted by the beauty of the exterior location). With heavy references to Alice in Wonderland, Tideland is a film that takes us into another universe through the mind of a child. For the most part it captures interest (particularly because of a terrific lead performance by the young Jodelle Ferland), but at times it seems to drag and lack any emotional connection. The ending leaves for interpretation and possible hope for the young girl, while also leaving the idea that this world will never escape her thoughts. I’m not so sure how much interest I have in visiting the film again, but I applaud what Gilliam has done with his vision.

1937, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

What Did the Lady Forget is a joy of a film from Ozu. His earliest influence as a filmmaker was from the West and while this is evident in much of his earliest silent films it may be most prominent in this early talkie. The film is a social satire of the upper class and it even mixes in elements of screwball comedy. The great German-American filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch (known for his "Lubitsch touch') seems to be an influence here. Ultimately this is Ozu at his most lighthearted and charming. This film does not express the human condition as powerfully as his previous film (his first talkie The Only Son). What Did the Lady Forget is a wonderful comedy highlight by terrific performances. This may not be the most significant film Ozu made, but it is among his most endlessly watchable and endearing comedies.

>> More on What Did the Lady Forget? @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

>>> A scene from What Did the Lady Forget?:

Thursday, March 8, 2007

March 8th Log

2006, Richard Linklater, United Kingdom / United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Fast Food Nation is an ambitious and thought-provoking film that leaves the viewer with different levels of emotion. It starts off a bit slow, but it builds up facts about the fecal-matter inside the hamburger meat before exploding into a gutsy and enraging look at a country consumed by a corporate world. Politically the film speaks openly and honestly without attacking any of the characters. The enemy here is the system and the machines, and Fast Food Nation is unflinching and angry in its social messages. The film really excels through the second half, particularly beginning with a trademark Richard Linklater moment with Ethan Hawke. By the end, the film raises so much thought and questions to ponder long afterwards, including what is probably the most unforgettable part of the film as we are taken through a tour of the “kill” area leading into a heartbreaking close-up of Catalina Sandino Moreno (the beautiful actress from Maria Full of Grace). Fast Food Nation then leaves us with a bleak after thought as we see the corporate cycle leading us back to the beginning (expressed with a freeze frame shot that connects with the films opening image). While the ending moments are unforgettable, the films most powerful scene may be that of a heard of cows refusing to move at the chance of being set free. Always a terrific filmmaker, Richard Linklater has made a highly ambitious film that takes us through all the aspects (both big and most especially the small usually ignored) of exactly how the fast food is served. It is a film that listens and sympathizes with everyone involved in this corporate process, through wonderfully detailed characters and intelligently written material. Fast Food Nation is a film that takes a look at a nation under a system machine, but it does so with humanity and with important, thought-provoking questions.

2005, Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan / China / France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

The films of Tsai Ming-liang leave me speechless. He is absolutely one of my favorite filmmakers in the world today. I believe all seven of his feature films to be masterpieces, particularly his last two films (Goodbye Dragon Inn and What Time Is It There). His latest film (a follow-up to What Time Is It There and his short film The Skywalk Is Gone), The Wayward Cloud is not quite a masterpiece, but it remains another wonderful film from a visionary filmmaker. The Wayward Cloud is a film that manages to recall the work of Michelangelo Antonioni, Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati, as well as a blend of old Hollywood musicals. This film finds Shiang-chyi (Chen Shiang-chyi) returning home from Paris where she re-meets the former watch seller Hsiao-kang (Lee Kang-sheng) and the two begin a relationship. Hsiao-kang is no longer selling watches, but he is now an actor in porno films. Tsai's obsession with water continues, as now Taiwan is suffering through a water drought and the government is encouraging people to use watermelon as a substitute. Tsai visual style is evident from the start, as are his reoccurring themes of loneliness, alienation, and lack of communication or connection. Also evident is Tsai's quintessential use of static camera work, extended takes, visual symbolism and slapstick humor, and little very dialogue. As with his brilliant 1998 film Hole, Tsai blends in extravagant, colorful, and strange but beautiful musical sequences to capture some of the internal emotions and thoughts of the characters. The Wayward Cloud may be Tsai's most disturbing film, capped off by an uncomfortable final shot. Many will disregard the film or misjudge it as pornographic, yet this film is far less about pornography then it is about human feelings. Tsai uses the pornography and sex to capture the themes of loneliness, disconnected love, and sexual frustration between the two leads. This may be my least favorite film among Tsai's many masterworks, but the Wayward Cloud is a complex, thought-provoking and quiet work of art from one of cinema's greatest visionary filmmakers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

March 7th Log

1971, Robert Altman, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

McCabe & Mrs. Miller begins with the sound of a strong wind over a logo for Warner Brothers studio, who produced what is undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made under a major Hollywood studio. Directed and co-written by maverick filmmaker Robert Altman, McCabe & Mrs Miller is perhaps his finest masterwork. A fascinating work of artistic perfection. This is a film that feels real and honest yet it's dreamlike atmosphere is unlike any other film. The film flows like a dream right through to the powerfully moving ending in the snow. The visual atmosphere is truly astonishing. The great cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, beautifully captures a muddy, grainy and stained overall look to the film with some of the most remarkable imagery in the history of filmmaking. Julie Christie gives an excellent performance as Mrs. Miller, the prostitute who agrees to join McCabe in his goal of running a casino / brothel. Warren Beatty is also wonderful as John McCabe. Theirs fabulous chemistry amongst Beatty and Christie, who collaborated in a total of three films together during the 1970s (with McCabe & Mrs. Miller being the first). Among other things, Altman is the master of poetic realism, and McCabe & Mrs. Miller is no exception (of course, Altman's patent overlapping dialogue perfectly adds to the effect). The script seems improvised, and the characters and settings disregard the cliches of most Hollywood westerns, while oddly still using the general premise of the cliches. The strength really lies with the ambiance and atmosphere that Altman creates. The background sounds (be it the wind or overlapping dialogue) and particularly the haunting music of Leonard Cohen add to the mood of the film with beautiful, poetic, and gloomy songs. Featuring three of Cohen’s most beautifully written songs/poems (The Stranger Song, Sisters of Mercy, and Winter Lady) the lyrics seamlessly flow like a lyrical backdrop to the films emotions, characters, and mood. Ultimately McCabe & Mrs. Miller examines issues of capitalism and business, of love, and of death. To me, this is simply a flawless film in every aspect of artistic filmmaking. Altman relies on the small details and imperfections of the characters or images and the result is a film that is perfect in every way. I just love watching the innovation and beauty of this masterpiece. It's one of America's greatest films, in one of American cinemas most influential decades, by one of America's master filmmakers.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

March 6th Log

1953, Anthony Mann, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

If you’re going to murder me Howie, don’t try to make it look like something else.” The Naked Spur is a masterpiece. Having began making low-budget noirs early in his career, Anthony Mann’s crossover to the Western genre provided a darker and more psychological aspect rarely seen. Using breathtaking landscapes (here mountains and rivers), Mann reduces the epic scale of the film to the psychological mindset of the characters within. The Naked Spur represents the mastery Mann has with a frame as the stunning visual landscapes are set to the backdrop to some intense psychological conflict. James Stewart plays against type as an anti-hero bounty hunter who’s greed and determined revenge of the past becomes an obsession. The depths Mann presents with these characters reach the heights of philosophical examination and the performances are very good by the cast (Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker, and Millard Mitchell). Stewart is especially great here in his third of eight collaborations with Mann (five of which are westerns). The Naked Spur absorbs the viewer from the opening scene and never lets up. The climactic shootout at the end is the touch of a master. Mann is in full control of the atmosphere, settings, and space resulting in a sequence that is truly brilliant and clever filmmaking. The Naked Spur is one of the purest works of psychological cinema and deserves to be mentioned among the very greatest achievements of American westerns.

Monday, March 5, 2007

March 5th Log

1950, Anthony Mann, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

This month I will be watching many of the films from Anthony Mann, a director mostly known for his noirs and most of all his westerns. I’ve yet to see any of the Mann westerns so I’ll plan to watch as many as I can this month. Of course when you talk about Anthony Mann you have to begin with his collaborative films starring the great James Stewart. Together they made eight films together (five of which were westerns). The first was the first film I choose to watch, 1950’s Winchester ‘73. After making low-budget noirs during the 1940s, Winchester ’73 also marked Mann’s first western, a genre he is known most celebrated for. Having not seen the other westerns yet I can’t compare this, but Winchester ’73 is a terrific achievement, most notably on the levels of it’s directing and acting. What makes the film so fascinating is the psychological aspect set amongst the vibrant pace. Mann has complete control of the craft with his direction that reaches masterful heights at the tense personal climax shootout. Adding to the psychological elements of the films mood is an outstanding lead performance by Stewart, who driven revenge reaches obsessive heights. Mann uses the coveted Winchester gun to set the narrative pace and in many ways as the point of focus in the films progression, yet it is only a backdrop to the psychological conflicts of the characters. Aided by a great supporting cast (Shelley Winters, Millard Mitchell, Dan Duryea, Will Geer among others) and stunning photography, Winchester ’73 is a great achievement of filmmaking. I look forward to seeing more of Mann’s work in this genre.

2005, David Jacobson, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Down in the Valley is a well written and excellently performed film. While not a groundbreaking achievement of anything new, the film is a revision of the western set in contemporary California (the San Fernando Valley, which perfectly plays out as the backdrop of the landscape and emotional themes). Edward Norton (who co-produced the film) gives an outstanding performance as Harlan, a drifter cowboy who grows a relationship with a young girl (played by the talented Evan Rachel Wood) and her younger brother (Rory Culkin). Harlan’s lost and imaginary values contrast with the harsh reality of the world. Down in the Valley begins to fade towards the end and results is an uninspiring climax, but the films first half reaches depths of poetic beauty in a way reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s Badlands. Norton is an actor I’ve considered a bit overrated, but he has given some powerful performances, and I think this deserves mention among his finest. The last half hour losses the steam and pace a bit, but the first half is effective enough to enjoy the film. It seems to have a lot to say but is never forcing any message. Down in the valley went almost completely unnoticed both in the theaters and on dvd, and that is unfortunate because it is a good film with the capabilities of gaining wide audience appeal.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

March 4th Log

1960, Mikio Naruse, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

"I hated climbing those steps more then anything, but once I was up, I would take each day as it came". 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:

2005, Lasse Hallstrom, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Though a completely different film Casanova reminded me very much of the old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers romantic comedies. Casanova is far less iconic not quite as witty and charming overall, yet it shares the spirit of those films. The plot is rather silly and the tone is lighthearted fun and much like Top Hat for instance the comedic romance and chaos follows from mistaken identities. It is really one of the cliched techniques of romantic comedy, but when done right the formula and flaws can easily be forgotten. The key is either sharp dialogue or star power performances and strong chemistry. Casanova succeeds mostly because of the chemistry of the cast as well as the strong performances. Like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in Top Hat, we see Heath Ledger and Sienna Miller at each others throats early on, yet it is clear there is a connection and this is established through the chemistry of the performances. Ledger is especially good in a role that shows his versatility after his powerful performance in Brokeback Mountain. The supporting cast is memorable with a notably rare goofy performance by Jeremy Irons, and a surprisingly very funny Oliver Platt. Casanova is the kind of film that can be a delight if you allow it to be. Nit picking at flaws takes away from the silly playfulness of the films intentions. Enjoy this for what it is and you can discover the funny and intelligent performances and writing.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

March 3rd Log

2005, Terrence Malick, United States
Repeat Viewing, HBO

The New World is a breathtaking masterpiece. A visionary film of feeling and transcendence. I think Days of Heaven may be my favorite Terrence Malick film, but The New World is close and it might be his most ambitious, and most quintessential work. Really the film is (to me) perfection. I’m simply blown away at the masterpiece Malick has made. His style of editing and compositions are poetic, and even if occasionally sporadic there is an incredibly meaningful detail and expression within each and every shot and cut. Perhaps most remarkable is the way Malick tells the emotions and story simply through imagery and sounds. Malick's films are always beautiful on a visual level, but above all the film is an experience in that the sounds and music become an essentially connection of the imagery. The use of sound in this film is among the very greatest in the history of filmmaking. To see this film is to experience it, and to experience it is to cherish it. This is a film I will continue to revisit throughout my lifetime. A masterpiece!

2006, David Frankel, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

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.

2006, Michael Mayer, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Flicka is the sophomore feature film by Michael Mayer. His debut (A Home at the End of the World) was a similar novel adaptation in that it was a good film in moments but ultimately never stayed with the characters with the depth that is required on an emotional level. Flicka does have its qualities, but it leaves the viewer with a feeling that the director and writers lack any passion in telling the story, resorting to dull and predictable elements. Alison Lohman (playing the rebellious teen who grows a bound with the “wild” horse) gives a strong performance, but the rest of the cast is given little depth to work with. Lohman is given Mary Pickford-esque treatment here, as she is playing the teenager despite her real age approaching 30. Flicka has its dull moments, but perhaps the flaw could be viewed as a positive in that this film does have an old-fashioned warmth to it. It is a film with a strong belief of morals and traditions and it has a familiar yet genuine way of going about them.

Friday, March 2, 2007

March 2nd Log

1933, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
1st Viewing, DVD

Dragnet Girl was the most recent Ozu DVD release from Panorama. It was a real treat getting to this is film for the very first time. Dragnet Girl is a rare look at a more stylistic filmmaker at least in terms of the flashy methods he went about his techniques. Ozu has said he barely remembers ever making the film, but you get the sense that the entire cast and crew had a blast making it. This is Ozu’s third and last film in the gangster genre (Walk Cheerfully and That Night’s Wife being the others), and the influence of his love for old Hollywood films are very evident in style and substance. While Dragnet Girl may not be the most complex or definitive work of Ozu’s remarkable career, it does mark a rare glimpse at his early Hollywood influences as well as his own roots that would develop into a master (certainly his use of visual objects as a form of emotional expression is evident here). As a genre film, Dragnet Girl is incredibly thrilling. It is unfortunate the musical score of the film has been lost as a jazzy score could certainly flow within the cool tone and atmosphere of the films nightclub/pool room/boxing gym. Cool is really a great word to describe this film and most specifically the lead performance by the great Kinuyo Tanaka. She is terrific here as the tough moll with a strong heart and moral character. Tanaka starred in several of Ozu’s early silent films, but she became most remembered for her many collaborations with Kenji Mizoguchi, before she became the first woman director in Japanese cinema. Dragnet Girl is stylish and pulp filmmaking at it’s best. While Ozu would go on to make more significant work in both the sound and silent eras, Dragnet Girl remains irresistibly inviting. Loaded with sweeping style (tracking shots, expressionistic lighting) Dragnet Girl is an effective mix of suspense, comedy, and melodrama within the conventions of a genre film. It is fun because this is a rare look at Ozu in an uncharacteristically “busy” mode of filmmaking, yet the perfect rhythm, master control of visual storytelling, and trademark visual motifs still make Dragnet Girl notably Ozu. Not his greatest silent work, but this is definitely a great one.

>> More on Dragnet Girl @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

>>> The opening shots from Dragnet Girl:

1945, Otto Preminger, United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Fallen Angel is a masterfully made film noir. Otto Preminger rates among the very greatest of noir filmmakers, and this is perhaps his most overlooked achievement. While not his finest film, Fallen Angel displays the visual and emotional depths and technical skill Preminger has. The noir compositions, shadows, lightning, framing, and backgrounds create a fascinating dark world of desperation, fear, and isolation. The long takes, and elegant camera movements add to the emotion and atmosphere of the film. The performances are solid, with Eric Stanton (played by Dana Andrews) as the drifter who falls for the desperate yet confident waitress, Stella (Linda Darnell) of the small town. The best performance however, may be from Alice Faye, who plays the lonely woman that Stanton marries in order to collect an inheritance and run off with Stella. Fallen Angel is a brilliant display in noir filmmaking from a master noir filmmaker. I personally prefer Preminger's noir's with Gene Tierney (Laura, Whirlpool, Where the Sidewalk Ends), but this still does belong mention among his great achievements.