Tuesday, August 15, 2006

August Archives #1

August 15th Log

2005, Woody Allen, United Kingdom / United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Match Point opens with a shot of a tennis ball going over the net and we hear a voice over narration: “The man who said "I'd rather be lucky than good" saw deeply into life. People are often afraid to realize how much of an impact luck plays. There are moments in a tennis match where the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, remains in mid-air. With a little luck, the ball goes over, and you win. Or maybe it doesn't, and you lose.” The philosophy of this opening is prominently examined throughout the film and the open shot is again reflected towards the end except that it is a shot of a ring that stands as critical evidence in a murder/burglary case. What Woody Allen does with this development is fascinatingly clever and adds another dimension to the complex philosophy of this film. I’ve seen this film quite a few times and must say it belongs mention among Annie Hall and Purple Rose of Cairo as Allen’s best work. The tone here is much more serious (and British) then Allen is known for, making Match Point at the surface unlike anything he has ever done. While it is a different, Match Point still evokes Allen auteur themes and style. Much of this recalls Crimes and Misdemeanors, as well as nods to George Stevens 1951 A Place in the Sun. However, this is a film that surpasses both of those because of the metaphysical depth as well as the sheer mastery of narrative plotting. Blending suspense and sexy eroticism, Match Point is flawlessly made in the traditions of classic genre filmmaking. The performances by the entire ensemble (Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox) is top notch and Allen’s films never lack great cinematography and music. There is certainly a cynical tone, yet Allen absorbs us into the philosophical layers of the themes and characters as well as the elegant and sophisticated atmosphere.

August 14th Log

1991, Wong Kar-Wai, Hong Kong
Repeat Viewing, DVD

"The one minute before 3pm on April the 16th, 1960, you're together with me. Because of you, I'll remember that one minute. From now on, we're friends for one minute. This is a fact you can't retreat. It's accomplished." And so begins the brilliant multi-layered film of romantic longing and loneliness. Wong Kar-Wai's 1991 Days of Being Wild is a beautiful masterpiece. Featuring Wong's usual image and sound repetition, the film examines chance, loneliness, fate, and unresolved longing of the human soul. Days of Being Wild also features Wong regulars Leslie Cheung and the beautiful Maggie Cheung, who are outstanding again. It's a film of the lives of five individuals who are connected and affected by the careless and directionless life of one (Yuddy). Each character feels incomplete and are in search of longing: Yuddy's biological mother; Su-Lizhen and Mimi's passion for the thoughtless Yuddy; the police officers fondness for Su-Lizhen; Zeb's "motherly" care for Yuddy. The film's cinematography (by the great Christopher Doyle) and poetic dialogue is a flawlessly brilliant achievement. The ending (featuring another Wong regular Tony Leung) is the type of surreal and creative touches Wong masters. It will have you scratching your head, yet smiling at the same time. Days of Being Wild is a true artistic masterpiece from an artist at the forefront of Hong Kong cinema. Wong is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers and to me this rates among his very finest achievements (perhaps only surpassed by his masterpiece In the Mood For Love). I absolutely love this film!!

August 13th Log

2005, Marcos Siega, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Pretty Persuasion is liked a forced or rushed attempt at making a High School Neil Labute film. It lacks any satirical edge and certainly the minimalism of Labute’s best work (The Shape of Things, In the Company of Men). Pretty Persuasion is not without some insight but the peachiness and “taboo” of the films message and cruelty drags as the film enters the last act. I think the films biggest problem is a lack of focus and depth for the tone and for the characters of the film. The performances however are very strong, especially by the young Evan Rachel Wood, who has already established herself as a future leading actress that will be great for a long time.

1953, Henri-Georges Clouzot, France

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1953 masterpiece Wages of Fear, is a tense adventure thriller, as well as a graphic drama with true emotional impact. The impact is generated from the film's first half, which slowly builds up the characters and their poor, dead-end town. This setup helps establish the films second half, making it that much more gut-wrenching. The script is smart and has an intellectual idea behind it, but Clouzot's ultimate goal is to keep viewers on the edge of their seat. There's very few twists or turns, as the tension builds and all the elements combine in juts the right way to create an unforgettable experience. The final scene is very disturbing and unlike almost anything that would be seen in typical, modern-day Hollywood thrillers. Wages of Fear is a French classic, and easily among the great thrillers of all-time.

August 12th Log

2006, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

Here is an appealing film for all audiences. It’s an independent film from debut filmmakers Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (who began working as music videos directors), but you have to wonder why films like this are not seen more often in the mainstream studios. Clearly audiences enjoy these types of films (the slice of life comedies with characters we can truly care about). Characters that are flawed, but are deeply human. We can relate to them in ways are that sincere and truthful. Little Miss Sunshine is essentially like a sitcom, yet this film beautifully mixes humor, drama, and a little sentiment in the most effective way. There is an underdog story here that makes it easier to admire this family. Above all it is a film that speaks of individuality (even if through suffering). Little Miss Sunshine is easy to admire and enjoy. There are plenty of laughs, feel-good warmth, and compassionate characters. This may not be a cinematic masterwork of artistic filmmaking, but it’s top-notch filmmaking as a crowd pleaser and recommended to all audiences.

1956, Douglas Sirk, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Written on the Wind opens like a Technicolor noir as we see a car racing home to a tragic death, followed by a flashback in time (which details the story leading up to that point). However, the film quickly changes in tone into a classic melodrama and ultimately the quintessential film of director Douglas Sirk (the definitive master of 1950s Hollywood melodramas). This is less a film of plot then it is of cinematic expression through imagery. The brilliance lies not so much within the dramatic elements of the narrative, but more so in the emotions captured through the visual expression of the films artistic creation and direction. Every detail within the composition is carefully and richly textured with depth and meaning. Through shadows, lighting, and especially colors, the films symbolisms and characterizations are developed. Russell Metty's (who worked with Sirk on 10 films) Technicolor cinematography is stunningly displayed with a beautiful deep focus. The performances are all very strong from the four leads, but it is Dorothy Malone who really shines in the best performance of her career. Written on the Wind is simply a masterpiece ahead of it's time. Ultimately the film is one of personal frustration and failure (most notably through sexuality). There are some flawlessly executed moments (the montage of the fathers death is especially masterful) and the film effectively end with a telling visual sequence in which we see Mitch and Lucy together and Mary Lee alone (with a contrasting shot of her father holding the oil well). Written on the Wind is a rare achievement of filmmaking at its most artistic. It remains a masterpiece and one of Sirk's most expressive and greatest films.

August 11th Log

2006, Adam McKay, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

Using the same director (Adam McKay) and star (Will Ferrell) of Anchorman, Talladega Nights shares many of the same qualities. If you like the previous film, chances are you’ll like this one as well. Again the film uses endlessly silly comedy with characters that are arrogant, obnoxious, and dumb, yet it is funny because of the exaggerated sarcasm. Much like news anchors in Anchorman, Talladega Nights uses Nascar racing as a parody for the comedy. As ridiculous as much of it is you still have to admire the cleverness and of course the chemistry and energy of the performances. Ferrell makes a great comedic team with John C. Reilly as both are extremely gifted improv comedians. The film also has a very strong supporting cast (most notably Sacha Baron Cohen as the hilarious French racing champion and rival to Ferrell). Also making a nice appearance is the terrific Amy Adams, who manages to shine in the little depth she is given (as Ferrell’s assistant).Talladega Nights is the kind of comedy that doesn’t require much of it’s audience but at the same time it doesn’t discredit those looking to have a fun time. I don’t think this has quite as many laughs as McKay and Ferrell’s Anchorman, but I’d say it is just as entertaining overall.

2006, Spike Lee, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

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

August 10th Log

2001, Brian Helgeland, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The version I watched of this 2001 film is the extended one, which runs almost 15 minutes longer then the original theatrical version. To date, this stands as the only version of the film I’ve seen so I can not really make any comparisons. Anyway, this is a whole lot of fun. The playful tone is set from the start as during the opening titles we are shown a medieval setting with modernized twists (a crowd singing “We Rock You” in unison). The technique of modern music and tone is refreshing and gives the film a wide range of appeal without ever felling gimmicky. It also works with the film parallels to the world of medieval and modern sports, but above all it works to parallel the human spirit, which this film very vividly celebrates. There is really a lot to admire about this film, be it the refreshing originality, youthful energy, and outstanding characters. Lead by Heath Ledger (who proves here he was a talented actor well before his terrific performance in Brokeback Mountain), A Knight’s Tale features a cast of characters that is irresistibly likable. Each is given equal time to shine in the supporting roles, but Paul Bettany is especially solid as the writer/gambler named Chaucer. If there was a flaw with the cast I must say I found Shannyn Sossamon a bit dull (although she is cute, something just seemed a little off to make the romance as magical or charming as it could have been). However, this is really a deeply entertaining film throughout. A strong mix of comedy, adventure, action, and romance. Those looking for historic accuracies may not be happy, but anyone looking for a fun time or more importantly looking for accuracies of the human spirit will enjoy every moment of this film (and will probably even get up and start dancing along when David Bowie kicks in with “Golden Years”).

August 9th Log

2006, Woody Allen, United Kingdom / United States

1st Viewing, Theater

Woody Allen follows up one his very best films (Match Point) with this light-hearted comedy. The setting is once again London and again Scarlett Johansson stars, but the tone is much different then the serious philosophy of Match Point. Is the film flawed? Probably. Is it anything different then we’ve seen from Woody Allen? No. Is it effective? Absolutely! Especially for those who have admired Allen’s films. There is nothing new here (he seems to be borrowing from many of his own movies- notably Manhattan Murder Mystery, Broadway Danny Rose, and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion). However there really is a whole lot of laughs and charm that make it an unmistakably endearing film. The chemistry amongst the cast is pitch-perfect. Woody Allen gives one of his best screen performances and he shines with Johansson in a way he did with Mia Farrow and Diane Keaton. Together they have such a likable comic connection, and Johansson carries a stunning presence of beauty with the littlest of effort (here she plays a much different role then the femme fatale of Match Point, yet is just as sexy). There are certainly little flaws and holes to this film that give it the impression Allen whipped it up in no time. However, the intention of the film is laid back fun (Allen even steers clear of making overt references to European cinema) and mostly relies on the witty chemistry among the cast. For this Scoop works and is nowhere near being among Allen’s worst comedies (of which I’d consider to be Hollywood Ending). Scoop will probably annoy those who don’t like Allen, but fans of his films will appreciate this for what it is.

2006, Rian Johnson, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

The film is pretty much a straight forward neo-noir detective film, but the setting is a suburban High School. Rather then used as a gimmick, this gives the film a new post-modern and refreshing perspective on the detective genre that has rarely been seen. Not only seen, but in the case of this film, heard- as the use of dialogue fits the unique and modernized setting. All kinds of catch phrases are used here and even if they are difficult to comprehend at times it all flows within the well executed plot of the film. Brick is a film that could easily become contrived, yet credit to first-time filmmaker Rian Johnson (who wrote and directed) as well as his talented cast of young actors: lead by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who follows ups his outstanding performance in last years Mysterious Skin with another terrific performance as Brendan, a student looking to discover the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend. The supporting cast is also well represented and they do a fine job (Lukas Haas as “The Pin”, Nora Zehetner in the femme fatale role, Matt O'Leary as Brendan friend, and always sexy Meagan Good as Kara). There is no sense of consequence, doom, or shadowy visuals that are most evident in the quintessential noirs, but this film is well made and daring to be original. Obvious comparisons can be made to its influences (most notably The Maltese Falcon), Brick is made with respect and intelligence. It’s a refreshing film that oozes with coolness. It is the type of film that can easily capture a generation of cult status with it’s unique use of dialogue and of the detective genre. The title is one of the many unusual catch-phrases of the film and perhaps it’s meaning can be referred to as “The stuff dreams are not made of.”

August 8th Log

2006, Richard Linklater, United States

1st Viewing, Theater

The great American filmmaker Richard Linklater takes his most trademark elements of slacker youth into a complex and ambitious future world based on Philip Dick’s novel. The novel takes place in 1991 (it was published in 1977), but Linklater’s film is set in California “seven years from now”. Taking combinations of neo-noir, science fiction, and Linklater's usual liberal-minded and free youthful approach, A Scanner Darkly becomes a deeply fascinating, bizarre, and thought-provoking cinematic experience. It is a film that challenges the audience with it’s intelligence, ambition, depth, and wide range of tones and genres. Ultimately the film centers on the very essence of reality and identity, as well as dreams and memories or human connections and personal truth. The films mood is captured through the use of animation (which is the same effects used on Linklater’s 2001 film Waking Life). Here the animation is more controlled and focused on the characters rather then psychological ideas. The animation adds an extra layer of depth but so does the outstanding musical score provided by Graham Reynolds. And of course, Linkater’s dialogue is always evident and here he has a cast of well-known actors delivering (Keanu Reeves gives one of his very best performances in this film). A Scanner Darkly is also a political film but one in which the filmmakers leave for intellectual and spiritual thought rather then judgment. Linklater is a filmmaker I greatly admire. He’s had success working in-between both the Hollywood mainstream and the personal independents, as well as finding a middle ground. I do believe Linklater reached his peak with the 2004 masterpiece Before Sunset, which to me is among the most perfect films ever made!! Linklater may never top that film, but he is capable of making great films and A Scanner Darkly is certainly that. This is a film I look forward to viewing again in the near future and one first viewing I rate it among the best films I’ve seen in 2006.

1934, Norman McLeod, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

I have only seen a couple W.C. Fields comedies, but It’s a Gift is often considered among his most acclaimed. This is a pretty funny film, held together mostly by the gifted comedic presence of Fields. Even at 70 minutes, I think the film works better as sequences then as a whole. However there are some truly wonderful comedic moments (none more then the forever memorable Carl LaFong insurance man sequence). Director Norman McLeod was one of the most respected comedy directors of the era (most known for his work with the legendary comedians The Marx Brothers). It’s a Gift was voted among the AFI’s Funniest 100 Movies (#58) and you can certainly see the appeal that Fields has, particularly in the verbal delivery of the comedy. I still need to see more Fields films but his Harry Bissonette is one to remember even if only for it’s hilarious sequences as opposed to a narrative whole.

August 7th Log

2000, Olivier Assayas, France / Switzerland
1st Viewing, DVD

Usually known for his smaller-scaled, original indie films, Olivier Assayas directs this sweeping period epic based off a source novel. The film is a beautifully crafted one in which Assayas seems to have found something deeply personal within the story and his passion is evident on screen. The film is rich with depth and texture, and the 3-hour running time never feels too long. One of Assayas great skills as a filmmaker is his use of sounds (notably off-screen, like the great French master Robert Bresson) and the impact is evident again here. Like many of the great New Wave filmmakers of the 1960s, Assayas began in the French film critic magazine Cahiers du cinema. Today he is one of French cinemas finest filmmakers. Les Destinees displays Assayas versatile gifts as an artist. This is a sweeping film that slowly builds and absorbs the viewer into it’s story (which centers around the life of Jean, a Protestant pastor who leaves his wife and moves to Switzerland for a simpler life with a younger woman. However, longing, fate, and guilt leave Jean emotionally torn). Nothing is rushed or forced and all the emotion is expressed with the most subtle approach, which ultimately results in a more affecting result. Assayas also has a wonderful ability at making his films energetic and fresh, and even with Les Destinees (a slowly absorbing period epic), he again brings out a refreshing sense of energy. This is also aided by the stunning presence of Emmanuelle Beart who plays the young woman Jean falls in love with. Les Destinees is a deeply absorbing and unique film from Assayas, who is one of the most intriguing filmmakers of contemporary French cinema.

August 6th Log

1974, Francis Ford Coppola, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Part of Turner Classic Movies ‘Summer Under the Stars’ Month in which they feature a new star each day. Today was Robert Duvall and on the schedule was one of the great American films of the 1970s, The Conversation. Borrowing a bit from Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 masterpiece Blowup, Francis Ford Coppola makes what may be his finest achievement as a filmmaker. The Conversation was made in-between the first two Godfather films, but as far as I’m concerned it equals and in many respects surpasses those legendary films. The Conversation is so technically flawless and deeply involving from it’s masterful opening sequence through it’s tense climax and into the beautiful final shots. The film is a complex character study and a superbly intense thriller that never shifts it’s focus and tone. It’s simply a masterfully crafted film. The music and sound perfect capture and heighten the emotional connection with the film (while obviously playing a crucial factor in it’s success). And of course the performance of Gene Hackman as the memorable Harry Caul is one of the great performances in American film. The Conversation is an essential classic of American cinema from one of the great innovators of the groundbreaking 1970s.

August 5th Log

2006, Michael Mann, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

With the feature film, Michael Mann takes the Miami Vice television series (a show he co-created and produced) into a new level. For starters it takes place in a different time period, one that lives within a world of globalization. Mann also stretches the ambition and that both improves and slightly affects the result of the film. I really liked this film, but if there is a flaw it is that is tied down to the plot (which is sometimes confusing- particularly in the beginning of the film). However, when everything begins to settle the film becomes much more involving and really it becomes much more of a definitive Michael Mann movie. Mann is at his best when working in genre and creating feeling, and atmosphere through his use of location (generally the city at night). Miami Vice really begins to settle in with the emergence of legendary Chinese actress Gong Li (who seems to be making a regular transition into Hollywood these days). Gong is a beautiful screen presence and her scenes with Colin Farrell captured a blend of energy, sexiness, and style that give Mann such a commanding atmospheric ability. The visual style (hand held cameras, close-ups, jumpy editing, scenes on rooftops) are also Mann trademarks that become evident. As are the characters: rebellious men working by their own rules, and the women who represent a chance of change and possibility for a “simpler” life. All the elements that have defined Mann as a great filmmaker, become evident again here in Miami Vice. I would not include it among Mann’s greatest genre achievements simply because it doesn’t express the feeling of place and time as effortlessly as Heat or Collateral. Yet this is a very good and exceptionally made film from a filmmaker with obvious gifts.

2005, Mark Waters, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

This film just didn’t work for me. I’ll always embrace a film that tries to recapture the old-fashioned joy of star-driven films but this was just a mess. I generally really like Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo, and I think they are certainly capable of carrying this film, yet this is a very forgettable film. The formulaic nature of the script (as well as the one-dimensional characters and over use of montages) just made the whole experience a bit dull and dried out. This film has been made many times before. Fans of Witherspoon and Ruffalo will probably enjoy the film for the most part, as they do a capable job in the star-driven romantic roles. Maybe it takes a certain mood, but this film just left me bored and uninterested to see it again.

1943, Henri-Georges Clouzot, France

Repeat Viewing, DVD

This month I will be watching (or rewatching) many of the films from Henri-Georges Clouzot. Today I began by watching the film that brought Clouzot attention, 1943’s Le Corbeau (The Raven), which is his second feature. Made during the German occupation of France the film was inaccurately viewed as anti-French after the liberation and Clouzot was banned from work for a couple years. Clouzot didn’t make another film until 1947’s crime thriller Quai des Orfevres. His ban from filmmaking after Le Corbeau marked one of the many misunderstandings Clouzot faced (he was often unfairly classified with the tag ‘The French Hitchcock’, which certainly is a compliment but also unjust since he is clearly an original artists of his own). Clouzot was a master of atmosphere and mood and Le Corbeau displays his wonderful ability with contrasting lightness and darkness. Though the term became classified much later, Le Corbeau would certainly classify as a film noir and it definitely has a cruel and sarcastic edge that defines Clouzot’s work. Beautifully made, Le Corbeau is not Clouzot’s greatest masterwork, yet this is a deep absorbing thriller with a mood and philosophical depth that makes repeat viewings more exciting.

August 2nd Log

1999, Paul Thomas Anderson, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

I lost my gun today when I left you and I'm the laughingstock of a lot of people. I wanted to tell you. I wanted you to know and it's on my mind. And it makes me look like a fool. And I feel like a fool. And you asked that we should say things - that we should say what we're thinking and not lie about things. Well, I can tell you that, this, that I lost my gun today - and I am not a good cop. And I'm looked down at. And I know that. And I'm scared that once you find that out you may not like me” says Officer Jim Kurring (played by John C Reilly) in a moment that defines not only one of the many emotional layers of the film, but also the essence of it’s filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s one of the many beautiful moments of a masterpiece that remains among my personal favorites and a film I’ve revisit frequently. Some films have a transcendent power and beauty to connect on a deeply personal level and Magnolia as well as Anderson’s followup Punch-Drunk Love, would certainly classify as such films to me. Without question an all-time favorite!!!

August 1st Log

1992, Peter Jackson, New Zealand
1st Viewing, DVD

Before being the reigning master of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking (as he is today with such modern classics as Lord of the Rings and King Kong) Peter Jackson made some bizarre, low-budget independent gore films in his native New Zealand. The film starts off as an adventure (with early nods to Jackson’s beloved King Kong) before shifting into a romance and the turning into a horror gore fest of blood, guts, and anything you can think of. This is actually where the film gets most enjoyable simply because of the exaggeration of it all. Jackson captures a blend of George Romero zombie gore with a simple plot and love story (while also throwing in some little film homages such as King Kong and Psycho). The film is made with such a playful exaggeration and a wonderful sense of energy to keep the viewer highly entertained no matter how disgusting the content. Really the sense of silly fun is made very obvious to the viewer and the result is an inventive and energetic film that has the likeable cult-quality of Jackson‘s first film (Bad Taste).

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

July Archives

July 31st Log

1940, Preston Sturges, United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

I end the month of Preston Sturges films with one of his most underrated classic, Christmas in July. His second film as writer-direction, Christmas in July is quintessential Sturges in every way. A scathing comedic satire with endlessly hilarious dialogue and a bitter blend of tragedy and comedy. Sturges truly was an artistic years ahead of his time and his films remain fresh as ever and even shocking today. With Christmas in July Sturges displays his trademark characterization of the American dream, the cruel world of capitalism, and the essence of the depression era. Sturges mastery of dialogue and chaotic social satire make for a truly classic comedy. The cast, especially Sturges usual supporting actors (William Demarest being the most obvious) are wonderful as ever. A great film from one of American cinema most inventive filmmakers. Unfortunately and rather strangely, this remains unavailable in Region-1 DVD but was released in the United Kingdom as a Region-2, More reason film fans should seek out multi-region DVD players!

July 30th Log

2004, Cate Shortland, Australia

1st Viewing, DVD

Somersault caused massive buzz in the world of cinema when it swept the Australian Academy Awards winning a record 13 awards. Such acclaim makes the film tough to live up to it’s expectations when released throughout the world, and perhaps that explains it’s mix opinions in the United States. Awards in general should never been taken too seriously and those without high expectations will likely enjoy this film. While no masterpiece, Somersault does posses a subtle beauty. It‘s an absorbing character study of a young woman (Heidi) who appears innocent and impulsive and her decisions result in difficult consequences (including a fight with her mother which forces her to leave home). Sexuality lies at the center of the film, yet writer-director Cate Shortland (in her feature film debut) uses it neither as eroticism or pornography, but rather focuses on the emotional truth of Heidi. The film does seem to loose track of it’s tone and direction at times, but it is effective overall, especially when concentrated on Heidi (excellently played by Abbie Cornish, who we’ll probably be seeing much more of in the future).

1944, Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger, Britain

Repeat Viewing, DVD

I just watched this for the first time earlier in the week but had to give it another viewing as soon as possible. This film is a real treat all around! Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger at their peak is as good as you can get and I’d rate this alongside their greatest masterwork A Matter of Life and Death. With a repeat viewing the smaller details (notably the humor within the dialogue) became much more apparent. But above all it is the sheer magical way Powell and Pressburger captivate the viewer into this world with a plot is that is completely non-existent. The narrative just flows with such ease and because it’s not tied down to plot the wonder and even the poetic beauty begin to emerge. What a lovely performance by Sheila Sim as the ‘Land Girl’ Alison Smith. This is such a unique, and special film.

1992, Ron Fricke, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Baraka is a series of imagery filmed throughout the globe and shot on vibrant 70mm film. The film touches on a variety of subjects (faith, war, humanity, nature) yet it never quite reaches the mark it seems determined to setout for. The music doesn’t always work and though this doesn’t emerge into the poetic collection of seamlessly imagery that Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi did, Baraka has plenty going for it. Ron Fricke is a cinematographer as well as a director and his eye for photography is mesmerizing here. The film travels throughout the world and its greatest strength is it’s celebration of worldly cultures, traditions, and beliefs. There are some breathtakingly stunning transitions and cuts between shots and even if it doesn’t quite come together with the ease it strives for, Baraka remains an absorbing journey of images.

July 29th Log

1993, Wim Wenders, Germany

1st Viewing, DVD

Despite using the same actors and characters, Wim Wenders Faraway, So Close! is less a sequel (to his 1987 masterpiece Wings of Desire) then it is a re-imagining. A reimagining of Wenders home city of Berlin. Made three years after the Berlin wall came down, which happened three years after Wenders Wings of Desire. The film represents a reimagining of Berlin at another time in history, a time which has been changed forever. The film begins with an iris-in of a sweeping tracking shot of Berlin leading to the angel statue that overlooks the city. Though lacking the black and white (as well as color) composition mastery of the legendary Henri Alekan (who worked with Wenders on Wings of Desire), this film again displays beautiful cinematography in which the camera feels as if it is flying in the air like an angel. Also effectively used again is the use of voice-over narration to represent the inner thoughts of the people throughout the film. Faraway, So Close! Is a wonderful film of longing, of change, identity, and of reflection. It may not reach the poetic beauty of Wings of Desire, yet it remains an outstanding personal film from Wenders. The film ends with a remarkable final tracking shot that concludes with a fitting iris-out.

1969, Gene Saks, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

The film was made in 1969 and it has a very 1969 look and feel to it. The film has some nice one-liners and a charming energy thanks to a likable cast (especially Walter Matthau). This film also “introduced“ audiences to Goldie Hawn, which won her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Hawn does have some fine onscreen charisma but her performance here is really nothing that special and at times a bit annoying. Really the characters of the film are never that likable despite the likable cast (which also includes the great Ingrid Bergman, who at 54 is still radiant on screen). Cactus Flower is based off a stage play and the film and direction is much more theatrical then cinematic. This marked director Gene Saks (a successful Broadway director) third film (the other two were Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple), all of which were adapted from a play, and Cactus Flower may be the weakest of the three. There are some funny one-liners and when not taken too seriously the film can be fun.

July 28th Log

1940, Preston Sturges, United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

The Great McGinty is the directorial debut of Preston Sturges, who not only became one of the most innovative comedians in Hollywood history, he was also the earliest writer to direct his own films since the invention of sound. After several of his scripts were not being made properly Sturges decided to become a director and his four year run at Paramount Studios from 1940-1944 resulted in some of the greatest comedies in Hollywood history. The Great McGinty may be the weakest of the eight Paramount films, but that is still not a discredit to what is a very good comedy. At it’s core, The Great McGinty captures the essence of Sturges: witty dialogue, great supporting characters, a sexual tension (this is captured as early as the opening scene), and cynical political and social themes. Sturges is always questioning “The American Dream”. In his films the optimists who work hard and are honest often get lost within the “real world” of American society and this is definitely represented in The Great McGinty. The film truly captures Sturges mastery of blending tragedy and comedy together as one. The Great McGinty may be Sturges most cynical film. It’s beautifully paced and of course written and in his first film Sturges proves to be a skilled visual storyteller as well (an aspect that often gets overlooked in his films). Not Sturges best, but certainly not one to miss.

1982, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden / France / Germany

Repeat Viewing, DVD

The wonderful Criterion Collection set offers both the theatrical (188-minutes) and television (312-minutes) versions of Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece Fanny and Alexander. The 312-minute version is certainly an investment of time, but absolutely worth the experience and is ultimately the more definitive version of the film. Tonight I rewatched the theatrical version which is a masterwork in it’s own right. Almost every Bergman film has his personal statement and autobiographical element, yet Fanny and Alexander stands as his most personal film of all. It’s rich with texture and visual style and ultimately becomes a magical affirmation of the value of a human life. It’s also an extraordinary family film and veers toward the direction of Bergman’s bleak themes of faith and death. This mix makes it equally mythical and haunting. To me it stands as one of the great achievements of film and even if Bergman made more significant artistic achievements, Fanny and Alexander is to me one of his very best (perhaps only surpassed by Cries and Whispers and Persona).

July 26th Log

2003, Toshiaka Toyoda, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

Earlier this week I watched Toshiaka Toyoda’s Blue Spring and felt it showed promise of a talented filmmaker who needed to mature. Well his next film, 9 Souls is just that and proves Toyoda’s is ready to join the likes of Hirokazu Koreeda and Kiyoshi Kurosawa among the future of Japanese cinema. The film works with several narratives (9 characters or as the films title suggest 9 different souls) and also works within several genre boundaries. Following the story of nine escaped prisoner who escape and search for hidden money. When they discover there is no money the characters separate. The film never looses control as Toyoda controls the distinctiveness of each individual character and how they are both alike and different. There is a sense of irony and surrealism. There is also a sense of sadness and this is particularly captured as the film changes in tone when the characters begin to go their separate way and ultimately face their inner struggle and doomed fate. 9 Souls is a quirky yet engaging and even thought-provoking film.

2005, Joe Dante, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

The underrated Joe Dante delivers to me the best film I’ve yet to see in the Masters of Horror series (but then again I’ve only seen a total of three). Dante is a very gifted filmmaker who uses the for of mainstream entertainment to make personal and very often political films with hidden agendas. Such is the case once again here, except that the message is not necessarily hidden. The result is forceful and it’s partial political views will likely divide audiences. However, you have to admire the originality and even more so the ambition of Dante vision here. Using a zombie-film as his platform, Dante makes a satire horror film that draws parallel with the state of America under the current administration. The story centers around dead American soldiers, who return from the dead as zombies and are determined vote in the presidential election to end the veil of war. Dante makes some insightful little homages to George Romero that will please fans of the genre, and while he both filmmakers use the zombies as a metaphor for political and social issues, Dante does so with a much heavy-hand as well as far less gore. The result is not on the level of Romero, but still an exciting and thought-provoking film.

July 25th Log

1944, Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger, Britain

1st Viewing, DVD

A Canterbury Tale begins with a prologue of pilgrims in 14th century Britain and then within a seamless cut (from a bird to a plane) it jumps 600s years to a parallel time of Britain- the nearing end of World War 2. So begins a strange and wonderful masterpiece from the great Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, easily among the greatest filmmakers in all of British film history. A Canterbury Tale is nearly void of plot yet it flows with a poetically fascinating narrative ease. Not a moment is dull and a rich beauty emerges from the dream-like state of the film. War is present and felt, but combat is never shown as war is rather presented almost as a meditative reflection. Breathtaking scenery, witty humor, unusual characters, and a mysterious “glue man” all exist in this wondrous world that seems to be equally authentic and yet unlike anything else. But of course that combination is very common in Powell and Pressbuger films, and A Canterbury Tale perfectly represents the spirit of their Archers Production. It is one of their very best films (in the class of A Matter of Life and Death) and among the greatest of British cinema. A masterpiece!

2001, Manoel de Oliveira, France / Portugual

1st Viewing, DVD

This is now the third film I’ve seen from legendary Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira who has been making films since 1930. Of what I have seen, I think this 2001 film has to be my favorite thus far. I’m Going Home is a masterpiece achievement. The story is done in such a new and unique from what is to be expected. A famous French actor (who we see at work in the opening) learns that his wife, his daughter, and his son-in-law have all died tragically in an auto accident. He is left to care for his grandson. Rather then relying on the conventions of sorrow or a heart-warming relationship, Oliveira shifts the tone and focus to one that is much simpler and gentler. Ultimately Oliveira makes this a deeply personal film portrait of an artist who is nearing the end of his life and who suppresses grief by continuing with his everyday routines. The film is beautiful shot using lovely Paris locations. As with his other films that I saw, Oliveira uses long patent takes sometimes in which the camera does not even move. Personal studies of culture and art as well as the aging process seems to be at the heart of Oliveira later films and this may be the most definitive and accessible example.

2005, Steven Spielberg, United States
Repeat Viewing, Comcast Cable

The more I watch The World of the Worlds the more I realize what a good and perhaps great film it truly is. Steven Spielberg is working with an enormous budget and with it he creates some dazzling visuals effects, and technical mastery. Yet no matter what the budget or ambition of the film, Spielberg is always about capturing the emotional core of the family. This is again as evident as ever here and even though Spielberg is known for being heavy-handed with emotions it is always effective. Being a big star (and tabloid machine) Tom Cruise often gets overlooked as a great actor. I think he gives an outstanding performance here and the emotional center of the film really relies on him to be convincing. I don’t know if this is among the masterpieces of Spielberg’s career (AI, Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List) but I would rate this among his second tier of “great” films.

July 24th Log

2001, Toshiaki Toyoda, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

With his fourth feature film (and the first I’ve seen to date) Toshiaki Toyoda proves to be one of the more talented young filmmakers in contemporary Japanese cinema (a group that may currently be led by Hirokazu Koreeda and Kiyoshi Kurosawa). One of the better aspects of this film is that it never goes to far over the top as many films of this kind (violent and alienated youth) have recently. Toyoda uses some “cool” techniques and sequences, but wisely never goes to far from losing the emotional or intellectual connection with the film. You can see that a talented filmmaker is behind this, yet I still believe it to be lacking a mature voice and perhaps Toyoda’s future films will capture this. Blue Spring is stylish over-the-top violence (with a mix of humor), and though it never goes too far to the effect of being a bad film, there is nothing really original here. It’s a film that never sets itself apart from it’s contemporaries and as a result is quickly forgettable, but overall displays promise from a gifted young filmmaker. I look forward to seeing more of Toyoda’s films.

July 23rd Log

2005, Lasse Hallstram, United States/Germany

1st Viewing, DVD

In all his films (both those in his native Sweden and in Hollywood), Lasse Hallstrom has never been shy of piling up the sentiment. However, very often the it can be very effective (notably in My Life as a Dog and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape). With his 2005 film An Unfinished Life the result is again an effectively involving emotional story of sentiment. The film, which was shelved by Miramax for a couple years, begins with an image of a bear that stands as a metaphor for the characters and story. We see the bear as a parallel throughout the film and ultimately it represents the past guilt and forgiveness of the characters. The cast is outstanding and the big name stars (Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lopez, Josh Lucas) deliver very solid performances. The scenery is beautiful as the film is set in Wyoming but was actually shot in Canada (British Columbia). An Unfinished Life represents the best of Hallstram’s films, which feature movingly sentimental human stories among the naturally beautiful locations and scenery. There is nothing new, groundbreaking, or even unpredictable here, yet it all works.

July 22nd Log

2006, M Night Shyamalan, United States

1st Viewing, Theater

Strangely, but actually quite effectively The Lady in the Water film blends graceful imagination with a forced sense of manipulation in a way that has defined M Night Shyamalan as a filmmaker. For this, the film reflects Shyamalan’s strengths and weaknesses as a filmmaker. A contrived mess, yet Shyamalan is a skilled filmmaker and he makes his films with a personal vision and I do applaud the ambition and overall intentions of this latest work. He’s making a fairy tale on film, and one that truly speaks from his own heart as a filmmaker. I think the film is a deeply flawed one and its entire focus is plot-driven. Many will likely be disappointed and while I conclude the film is not Shyamalan’s best, I do admit a willingness to let the film absorb it’s fairy-tale world, and for this I can not say I think this is Shyamalan’s worst film either. The added humor here misses the mark mostly because Shyamalan’s dialogue is dull and the characters are draw out with the most obvious of cliches. Shyamalan also gives himself another key performance and while it is better then his previous roles it still feels out of place. However, Paul Giamatti and the rest of the cast are fine mostly under the photographer of Christopher Doyle who enhances the visuals appearance of the film. Doyle is perhaps the worlds leading cinematographer in contemporary cinema and while this pales in comparison to his finest work, it certainly does add a rich beauty to the film. Of course, Shyamalan also has a way of moving the camera (notably through wide angels) and even when it boarders on being overdone, it remains effective- which is maybe the best way to describe the films as a whole.

1947, Douglas Sirk, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

A few years after moving to Hollywood and years before becoming the master of expressionistic melodramas, Douglas Sirk made a genre-blending 1947 mystery thriller, Lured. A mix of film noir, crime, romance and even a dose of melodrama the film never reaches the mastery of mise-en-scene artistry like his great color melodramas of the 1950s. However, the film is at times fascinating and a intelligent film in both it’s psychological depths as well as it’s unpredictability and hints of Sirk’s control with expressive lighting and compositions. The film sets the tone from the opening title sequence as a flashlight moves from the city streets to walls that displays the title, cast and crew. Then the film quickly sets of two parallels narratives (detectives trying to solve the mystery of the “poet killer” and a hall dancer and her friend). Soon enough the two narratives collide and the multiple genres begin to set in. Lucille Ball shows a great presence on the film screen and of course she would go on to become one of the most legendary stars of television. Sirk has made better films but Lured shows his earliest developments of Hollywood filmmaking prior to becoming a master of expressionist art.

July 21st Log

1973, Sam Peckinpah, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is probably my favorite Sam Peckinpah film (at least of what I have seen to date). The film begins with a prologue of Garret’s death before backwards as the film centers on Billy the Kid’s final days. This version is the restored original Peckinpah cut (which includes 15 additional minutes). Peckinpah’s trademark raw emotion, violence, tough guy masculinity, and avant-garde editing are clearly evident in the film. The performances are all very good but the emotional connection of the leads is distant. Peckinpah makes the line between good and evil unclear or non-existent. The supporting characters are especially good (most notably from Slim Pickens, Jason Robards, and Katy Jurado). This film represents Peckinpah at the peak of his skills and it marks his most passionate and somber film. This is heightened by the music of Bob Dylan (who also gives a key performance as Alias... “Alias what? Alias anything you please”).

2005, Dan Ireland, United Kingdom

1st Viewing, Theater

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is all about the performance of Joan Plowright who ate the age of 76 years shines in every way. The film is easily comparable to Hal Ashby’s wonderful 1971 film, but the tone here is clearly different and while this film is inferior it remains very likable and charming. The film is adapted from an English novel and director Dan Ireland. The film has a weepy light-heartedness to it, but also intelligently explores Mrs Palfrey in her older age of life (as she deals with loneliness, health, and the presence of death). She meets a young street musician and aspiring writer and dispute being opposites they grow a bonding relationship. Mrs Palfrey inspires hope and identity to in the young man (who is well played by Rupert Friend- a relatively newcomer, at least in comparison to Plowright). There are some wonderful moments that capture a range of emotions, but I especially must single out Mrs. Palfrey’s favorite film (and is to me one of the most perfect films ever made and a personal favorite of all-time), David Lean’s 1946 masterpiece Brief Encounter, which ultimately becomes the film that introduces the young man to Gwendolyn.

July 20th Log

2005, Dean Parisot, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

I never saw the 1977 original film, but the 2000 remake of Fun With Dick and Jane clearly has a modern-day mindset. There are plenty of parallels to be made with the corporate world of today (with obvious references towards Eron and President George Bush). At it’s core the film is filled with satirical anger yet it’s ultimately light-hearted entertainment that is driven by it’s “star quality”. Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni make an excellent husband and wife comedic team blending their skill for physical and slapstick humor within the satire of the film. Their chemistry is excellent and makes the film all that much easier to admire. Also, Alec Baldwin seems to thrive on these arrogant CEO-types and he is again very good here. Even if you can see the ending coming, it remains effective and really pretty pleasing.

1942, Preston Sturges, United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Breaking all the rules while also using all the formulas, Preston Sturges created comedy genius for all others to follow during his four year, eight film run with Paramount Studios. Truly one of the most inventive comic filmmakers in the history of American film, Sturges 1942 masterpiece The Palm Beach Story stands among his most appealing screwball comedies and one of the very funniest of the era. There is so much personal and social expression to the film, yet ultimately it is made with such originality and hilarious force, that over analyzing it would simply diminish the beauty and cleverness of the film. Of course the Sturges dialogue is some of the very wittiest in all of cinema, but his overall mastery as a visual filmmaker gets overlooked. Seeing his films on repeat viewings, you can begin to understand that Sturges had such a beautiful way of storytelling and comedy through images as well as his genius wordplay. Sturges almost always shot scenes with a few cuts as possible, instead relying on a single “master shot” which would often go minutes without a cut. Palm Beach Story centers around two of Sturges trademarks: sex and money. Claudette Colbert and Sturges great leading man Joel McCrea (who also starred in Sullivan’s Travels and The Great Moment for Sturges) give wonderful performances, but as always with Sturges films it is the supporting cast that really carries the comedic performances (Rudy Vallee is especially great as Hackensacker, a calm and weak millionaire). The Palm Beach Story is a classic film and one of Sturges five greatest comedies.

July 19th Log

2003, Neil LaBute, United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

I have seen The Shapes of Things several times and it remains as emotionally effective with each viewing, but nothing quite like seeing it for the first time and knowing nothing about it (so for those who have not seen the film, may not want to read any further). Directed by Neil LaBute, this works like a double-billing with his 1997 film In the Company of Men. Both are equally insightful and powerful and are completely focused on character through dialogue and performances. The difference between the two is the sex, as The Shape of Things is like the women’s answer to In the Company of Men. Both films are incredibly powerful in way that is both disturbing and terrifying. Cruel films that leave an unforgettable impact. What most amazing is that they do not contain any direct violence, suspense, or horror, The Shape of Things is a film that haunts the inner emotions of the human soul and the result is a sad and disturbing yet unforgettable film experience. LaBute’s minimal style (transitions of scenes begin with music and a camera pan) is incredibly effective because he strips the film down to dialogue and performances which makes the overall emotional involvement connect and a deeper and more intimate level. Like Aaron Eckhart’s In the Company of Men performance, Rachel Weisz is absolutely brilliant here as the heartless art student who’s motives are strictly a form of her own artistic expression. The film leaves much to think about in terms of art, and human relationships and morality. The Shape of Things is an emotionally unsettling yet interesting and thought-provoking experience that certainly leaves its mark through the most simplistic of cinematic techniques. “He is a living example of people's obsession with the surface of things. The shape of them.”

1976, John Cassavetes, United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Perhaps John Cassavetes most accessible film The Killing of a Chinese Bookie still was a box office failure on it’s release and was reedited as a shorter version. In the wonderful John Cassavetes box set, Criterion Collection includes the original longer version. I have not seen the shorter version, but rewatching the original cut has me convinced it is a masterpiece. The film blends genres of crime thriller into a deeply personal and quintessential Cassavetes film of character. Essentially, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a film noir. One that builds in narrative just like any other genre film, yet in Cassavetes abandons the traditional form of Hollywood narrative into something deeper within the very essence of the character (flawlessly played by Ben Gazzara). Taken either way (be it a straight genre thriller or as a thought-provoking and personal noir) the film remains equally effective. That explains why it may very well be Cassavetes most accessible or “mainstream” masterpiece. I can not explain why it failed at the box office, but film fans are fortunate for Criterion’s revival of this outstanding film from one of American cinema truly greatest visionaries.

July 18th Log

1940, John Ford, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Made one year after his beloved (and I think dated film Stagecoach), Young Mr. Lincoln seems to be tailored-made for John Ford. As a symbol, Lincoln embodies the very values and traditions that all of Ford’s films supported and the very metaphor of Lincoln seems to hold a cloud over all his films. Ford’s films are always shot with a beautiful visual expression, but his focus is always on the story (even if told in a visually poetic matter). Ford often would use the western as a backdrop or metaphor in his mythical vision as a filmmaker, who supported the little-guy that struggles against the evils of power and greed. Underneath his “genre” westerns are Ford’s truest feelings for America and a civilized society based on morals. Young Mr. Lincoln is not a western but it may capture these essential themes in the most definitive way of all of Ford’s films. Henry Fonda gives one of the all-time great screen performances as Lincoln (maybe even surpassing his great performances in Ford’s masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath). I don’t know if I’d put this ahead of The Grapes of Wrath or The Man that Shot Liberty Valance, but I do believe Young Mr. Lincoln is one of Ford’s greatest films, and it may be the most quintessential of his mythical American themes.

2006, Andy Fickman, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

She’s the Man is clearly driven for Amanda Bynes and for that (and maybe that alone) it works. Anyone who has seen The Amanda Bynes Show on Nickelodeon knows that she has enough talent to be funny and charming. She’s got that “star” quality, especially for comedies. As a film this is flawed, but I think it’s much better then I expected. As a showcase for Bynes, She’s the Man is worthy and hopefully we’ll see a future of great comedies from her. The film is all about Bynes (who is in just about very frame), but there are some other funny characters, most notably David Cross as the Principle who just shows up doing random jobs like working in the garden or the cafeteria. I think Bynes career will be remembered for better films, but She’s the Man has some likeable guilty pleasure qualities to it.

July 17th Log

2006, Andrew Lau, South Korea

1st Viewing, DVD

Continuing with the recent trend of Korean films starring Jeon Ji-hyeon, tonight I watched Daisy. The film was released in South Korea in March of 2006. The film is directed by Hong Kong’s Andrew Lau, who is well known for his Infernal Affairs trilogy, as well as being an acclaimed cinematographer on most of his own films. Being a cinematographer, Lau’s films are often very well photographed, and that is certainly the case with Daisy, which features a prominent use of visual landscapes, cityscapes, and as the titled would suggest flowers. The film blends a non-linear that follows each of the three characters of a love triangle. Among the stylish techniques incorporated are uses of flashbacks and while it never impacts the comprehension of the narrative, it does lose a bit of originality while adding an overly sentimental element. As a result the film drags a bit. However, overall the film is good and features a nice mix of Korean romance and Hong Kong action. Of course, Jeon Ji-hyeon is the main draw, and she delivers another charming performance. She certainly has a special quality that just lights up on screen and she alone can save a film. I wouldn’t say this film needed savior from being a disaster, but it sure needed Jeon’s lively presence.

2003, Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal / France / Italy

1st Viewing, DVD

“These days almost everyone speaks English”, someone says in the film, which on the surface appears to be a critique of modern globalization. A Talking Picture was made by the world renowned Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira, whose films I only recently discovered. He’s been making films since the 1920s but this marks just the second film I’ve see (it would have been three except that Netflix unexplainably only carries a poorly dubbed DVD version of Abraham's Valley). The other Oliveira film I saw was Voyage to the Beginning of the World and I should be seeing I’m Going Home later this week. Talking Picture not quite as good as the previous Oliveira film but I can’t say that effects what is a rather involving film. I think clearly after seeing just two of his films, Oliveira’s focus (at least at this point of his career) is of cultures and cultural differences. A Talking Picture moves along at a steady pace with a strong focus on the dialogue (as you can expect from the title). The film seems to say something about the very cycle of cultural history and power and while made in a documentary like style, Oliveira seems to be using the material as scathing satire.

July 16th Log

2005, Liam Lynch, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Sarah Silverman is relatively new to me (outside seeing her in some small roles in films such as School or Rock) so seeing this was the arrival of a very talented star. I find her “ignorant and rude but cute” shtick to be quite funny. She pretty much just throws every taboo and sick joke at the audience in a way that very well could offend some people, yet the intention is obvious satire. Like her or not, she does have a charming presence and personality that is born to be on screen. Here she combines her skillful deadpan timing with a dose of backstage bits and some musical numbers. Jesus is Magic (the title is explained in her standup routine), is a very funny film and I hope to see more from Silverman in the future.

1998, John Waters, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

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

July 15th Log

2006, Bryan Singer, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

At 154 minutes, Superman Returns is probably a bit longer then it needs to be. However, Bryan Singer makes a very entertaining sequel and even if the length of the film is overdone, it never feels to long. The performances are all likable. Brandon Roth does make the mistake of trying to imitate Christopher Reeves portrayal of Clark Kent and it comes off a bit dull, but overall he does a decent job. I like Kate Bosworth (with that cute overbite) and she may be considered a miscast but I thought she gave a convincing performance. Really the films narrative focus is on her emotional dilemma as Superman returns back into her life (now that she is engaged and has a child). This is a very well made sequel to the original Superman films (I’m only counting the first two) and it certainly leaves plenty of room for another one. Overall, a highly entertaining film that is top-notch Hollywood summer fun.

1941, Repeat Viewing, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Preston Sturges is one of my feature filmmakers of July and re-watching his films have truly been a treat. To me The Lady Eve is one of his two or three greatest films, and probably overall his funniest and most romantic. Sturges truly was one of the most innovative comedians in the history of American film. He was really the first major Hollywood writer-director of the sound era. A master of comic pacing, timing, and dialogue Sturges films were far ahead of their time, which makes them as fresh as ever today. Sturges was a perfectionist, an auteur who found a way to make exactly the films he wanted without much dispute from Studio bosses (at least until the 1944 The Great Moment- which marked an end of his run as ‘Prince of Paramount’). One of the reasons Sturges worked so well in Hollywood was that he would use the Studio system formulas and conventions to his advantage and ultimately twist them into personal and artistic expressions. The Lady Eve may be the great example of this as the film plays with all the conventions and formulas of screwball comedy and romance yet is quintessential of Sturges. Of course, Sturges learned a lot from the great Ernst Lubitsch in the way he implies rather then shows us certainly details and expressions, most notably is the implications of sexual tension that was quite rare in 1941. Again, Sturges mastery is able to get through certain production code restrictions. Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda seem perfectly fit in their roles and they give incredible performances here. The Lady Eve is just a classic film in every way whether as a witty screwball comedy or a romance. It is the first Sturges film I ever saw and it remains among my favorites of all his work! “Positively the same dame.”

1991 . David Lai / Corey Yuen . Hong Kong
1st Viewing, DVD

Based on a comic book/manga, Saviour of the Souls is a standard Hong Kong action film that mixes in elements of comedy, fantasy, science-fiction, and romance. Surprisingly, the script is written by Wong Kar-Wai, who does add a little bit of his quintessential elements of romantic longing. Wong began his career writing screenplays before becoming one of the greatest artists of contemporary cinema. Saviour of the Soul is the last script WKW wrote and he still proclaims it his best (of course, he is since known not to have traditional scripts for any of his films). Outside of the most minor details it is difficult to see that is this written by WKW, especially when compared to his masterpiece Days of Being Wild, which was released the same year). A major film and music star in Hong Kong (prior to her untimely death in 2003), Anita Mui effectively plays a dual role as May and as May’s sister. Both roles are quite different (with the sister being much more over-the-top and comical) but Mui handles it pretty smoothly. Saviour of the Souls certainly has it’s flaws and silliness yet it works in a stylishly camp way. There are some fighting and choreography moments that are remarkable, and will please fans of the Hong Kong action genre.