Saturday, July 15, 2006

Early July Archives

Early July Log

Here is a quick summary of the films I’ve been watching the last couple weeks. John Cassavetes and Preston Sturges are the Filmmakers of the Month so I’ve rewatched some of their finest films (including Sturges’ Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Sullivans Travels and The Lady Eve; and Cassavetes Faces, Shadows, A Woman Under the Influence, and Husbands). I also saw the TCM original documentary Edge of Outside on the 5th, which featured a strong discussion on Cassavetes impact in American independent cinema. Earlier this month I also rewatched a couple personal favorites including Punch-Drunk Love, Amelie, and My Sassy Girl.

Aside from the films I’ve rewatched here are some new films I’ve recently seen:

2004, Jae-young Kwak, South Korea / Hong Kong

1st Viewing, DVD

After watching My Sassy Girl, I decided to watch this film. Though it never really establishes itself as such (outside of the obvious references) this film is essentially a prequel to My Sassy Girl. Jae-young Kwak really made a great film with 2001’s My Sassy Girl and he tries to build on that here. The film pretty much has everything as it shifts tone from comedy to romance to melodrama to action and back to melodrama. It is charming, mostly because of the presence of Jeon Ji Hyun, and fans of My Sassy Girl will be satisfied. Overall it’s not quite as clever and probably longer then necessary, but Jeon Ji Hyun really makes it enjoyable and you gotta love that scene in the rain.

1978, Barbet Schroeder, France
1st Viewing, DVD

This new release from Criterion is an excellent documentary. Extremely insightful, meaningful, and well made by veteran filmmaker Barbet Schroeder. Schroeder removes the opinionated narration from the film and as a result the meanings and questions of the film emerge on a deeper philosophical level. Essentially this film raises all kinds of questions to think about, such as the very meaning or definition of a what is a person? Of if an animal has rights?. With each unanswerable question, another deeper one arises within it. This is a very thought-provoking and involving film. And of course, how can you not love Koko. Without an ounce of manipulation, the film pulls you into Koko simply because she has a great screen presence (and she probably knows it).

1st Viewing, DVD

I had seen Harold Lloyd’s Saftey Last! Before so I knew he was a great comedian, but his other features were new to me so this box set was a real treat to discover. Lloyd may not be the poetic master of visual comedy like Buster Keaton, but for straight up laughs he rivals anyone. I think he work slid a bit in originality and freshness when the talkies came around, but he still made some good films (or even great films as in the case of his fittingly titled first talkie Feet First- on Vol 2). Volume’s 1 and 2 are great. Volume One contains maybe his greatest masterpieces with Safety Last (1923) and Girl Shy (1924), as well as Why Worry (1923). Volume Two contains the Keaton-esque Americana slapstick Kid Brother (1927), as well as his beloved The Freshman (1925). Volume 3 lacked the great films of the previous discs, but still had plenty of enjoyable stuff, most notably his last silent film Speedy (1928).

1950, Alfred Hitchcock, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

I’ve owned this Alfred Hitchcock DVD for some time (as it came in one of the sets), but delayed in watching it. Made just after Hitchcock’s highly underrated and forgotten Under Capricorn, Stage Fright marked the beginning of Hitchcock’s richest decade. The film has showcases his mastery of deception, most notably in the way he can deceive the audience.

2006, Alejandro Agresti, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

I love the 2000 South Korean original this is based on (Il Mare). The Lake House is more plot driven, misacted, and contrived, but overall is a nice and refreshingly romantic Hollywood remake. I’m never a real big fan of remaking films, but Il Mare is setup as solid Hollywood remake material and for the most part the film delivers. Aside from some obvious culture changes and additional focus on subplots, the film stays pretty true to the original except for the ending. I prefer the ending of Il Mare simply because I think it is more essential to the emotional core of the film. The Lake House ends with the traditional happy closure, where as Il Mare’s ending was very hopeful yet ultimately much more ambiguous and open. The Lake House is still something different for Hollywood. Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves are good, but they seem a bit out of place in comparison to the much more likable Jeon Ji Hyun and Lee Jung-Jae. The film does have some beautiful locations and architecture and in a very respectful way pays homage to the original film (by naming a key restaurant Il Mare).

1924, Mauritz Stiller, Sweden
1st Viewing, DVD

Based on a popular Swedish novel by Selma Lagerlof, Mauritz Stiller’s epic saga is probably a bit longer then desired at 183 minutes. The film has some wonderful moments and a very impressive overall visual look. It is also interesting to see Garbo on the verge of stardom, which see credited to her good friend Stiller. Garbo doesn’t give the most important or most compelling performance of the film but she would go on to become a screen legend in many ways.

1997, Manoel de Oliveria, Portugal
1st Viewing, DVD

Voyage to the Beginning of the World is a deeply thoughtful film of memory and culture. Manoel de Oliveria has been around since the silent era, but this is the first I’ve seen. I plan on seeing more of his work over the next couple weeks. This film seems to be a very personal one to the director, who seems to be reflecting his own memories and nostalgia through the character, played by the legendary Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni. Of course playing the director’s alter ego is something Mastroianni did for Fellini. Mastroianni died several months after shooting and this ultimately became his last film on screen.

1959, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, United States
1st Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Plenty of Tennessee Williams adult themes with this film, including a plot that involves a lobotomy. The performances and direction from Joseph L. Mankiewicz is campy yet oddly engaging. Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift don’t always work for me, but alongside Katharine Hepburn they do a fine job here. The set design (notably Hepburn’s garden) are quite impressive.

1919, Mauritz Stiller, Sweden

1st Viewing, DVD

This is the second Swedish silent film from Mauritz Stiller that I’ve seen this week. The previous (Saga of Gosta Berling) was a bit mixed with me, but I loved this film. Both are adapted from major Swedish novels by Selma Lagerlof. This film is told in five acts. It’s a deeply moving story telling the tale of a young woman who is haunted by the death of her sister and who’s innocence has her fall in love. Ultimately she is in love with the wrong man and the tragic result reaches it’s climax when she is used as a human shield. The film ends with a beautiful final image. Stiller gives the film dazzling visual imagination and camera movement reminiscent of F.W. Murnau, and Mary Johnson is a radiant presence as the innocent Elsalill. I have not seen many Swedish silent films, but this has to be among the greatest achievements of the era. A masterpiece!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A2P Cinema Blog Welcome

Welcome to the A2P Cinema – Breath of Life Blog.

This blog will feature daily/weekly/monthly logs and topics of films and filmmakers.