Wednesday, January 31, 2007

January 31st Log

1947, Edmund Goulding, United States
Repeat Vieiwng, DVD

Lead by a fascinating performance (and very different role then he was known for) from Tyrone Power, Nightmare Alley is a gritty and energetic film noir. Power plays a classic "doomed" noir character. Nightmare Alley is a rare film that suffered through struggles with Fox Studio, which refused to release the film and battled with the films producer (George Jessel). This has since proven to be a film ahead of it's time. Power's performance is truly special in the darkest and most complex role of his career and the film effectively plays with his star status. The film is directed by Edmund Goulding, who was known for much more sophisticated and elegant dramas, but this may very well be his finest achievement. Nightmare Alley is a difficult film to explain, but there is just something about it that is unforgettable. "I was born for it."

2005, Joe Wright, United Kingdom / United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

I decided to close out my month of Jane Austen adaptations with what it my personal favorite cinematic adaptation of her finest work: 2005's Pride and Prejudice. I have seen this film many times and I will continue to revisit it often as it warms my heart with joy. I love every little detail of this story and these characters, and from the beautiful opening moment Joe Wright brings them alive through a dazzlingly stylish and energetic cinematic style. The filmmaking is masterful, the performances lovely, and the story enriching and romantic. A masterpiece on levels of literature, and of film. This is more and more becoming a modern-day classic and personal favorite!!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

ARCHIVED POSTS – Returning Soon

The A2P Cinema Blog is undergoing some changes ... For the moment some archived posts have been lost. I was able to back them up and will hopefully be reposting them as well as current posts in the very near future.

Please check back soon!!

January 30th Log

2006, Heidi Ewing / Rachel Grady, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

You think you know America? You think you know your own country? I got to tell you, you don’t.” Jesus Camp is a film that takes you out your community or lifestyle and into a country that is divided in ideals. This to me is the most moving effect of the film, in that it makes you aware of ignorance (be it your own or others) by presenting a country that is completely alienated in beliefs. Jesus Camp may be the scariest film of the year! Ultimately the film examines the influences adults reflect onto children, but Jesus Camp also looks further into a divided subculture of America- the Evangelical Christians. A movement that is determined to educate it’s beliefs (which include combining religion with politics) and pass (or perhaps brainwash?) them towards the future generation. The film is open in a way that lets the viewer take it how they may. I believe the filmmakers do not exploit the subject with their own judgment, but are rather curious. Documentary filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady give the film a strong visual presence to alongside the stirring emotions. They instill many open visual metaphors including a symbolic ending in a car wash, which is capped off by a haunting closing shot that could be interrupted in several different meanings. This final moment is a reflection of the filmmakers approach of openness and discovery, something the subjects of the film avoid. This is a film that certainly leaves a lasting mark, and even a loss for words. Jesus Camp is a chilling film that very well can have you looking or thinking of the country in a different perspective.

2006, Phillip Noyce, UK / France / South Africa / USA

1st Viewing, DVD

Catch a Fire is based on the true story of a South African man who suddenly becomes a terrorist against apartheid after he is wrongly accused and tortured for a bombing attack. The film is well made, acted, and certainly well intended. You have to wonder if the political significance would have been more effective 15 years ago, but Catch a Fire seems to have more on the agenda then just the apartheid of South Africa. Directed by capable veteran filmmaker Phillip Noyce, Catch a Fire is a solid thriller and does have some moving emotional moments of family drama. Politically Noyce and writer Shawn Slovo seem to be examining apartheid South Africa as a reflection of some of the current conditions of the world. Derek Luke (a talented young actor) gives a fine performance as Patrick Chamusso (who we later see at the end of the film), and Tim Robbins gives a terrific performance as a determined cop who realizes he is fighting a losing battle. Catch a Fire is fitting docudrama-like territory for Noyce who is at his most skilled with this type of film. I wouldn’t say this is his best work, but Catch a Fire is intelligent and well intended filmmaking.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

January 28th Log

2006, Ronnie Yu, China / Hong Kong, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Jet Li’s Fearless is said to be the action stars last martial arts film, and in many ways it represents a definitive farewell. Essentially the film is (like it is for Li’s character) a reflective one, as it tells the story of Huo Yanjia, the founder of Shanghai’s Jing Wu Men martial arts school. There are typically graceful moments of martial arts fighting (choreographed by world renown Yuen Wo Ping), but Fearless offers an unexpected level of dramatic force as well as a beautifully lyrical tone. This emotional tone reaches it’s melodramatic peak in the final climax. Of course the primary focus of the film is Li’s farewell to a genre that made him an international star.

2000, Stephen Frears, United Kingdom / United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” This opening moment of dialogue quickly establishes the intelligent and enjoyable tone of what it ultimately a likable romantic comedy. The film succeeds mostly through smart writing of characters, or relationships, and of settings. Stephen Frears heightens the emotion by giving the Chicago surroundings and the large musical influences a sense of atmosphere and feeling. John Cusak, who co-wrote the screenplay from Nick Hornby’s book, gives a strong lead performance and he is aided by some wonderful supporting roles. Especially terrific is Jack Black’s hilarious turn as his musically snobby friend and co-worker. This is a definitive role for Black who is hysterical and of course full of comic energy. You can’t help thinking about Woody Allen in both style and substance with this film, yet Frears and the cast always remain fresh and original.

1995, Ang Lee, United States / United Kingdom

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Sense and Sensibility is the first novel written by Jane Austen. Here it gets adapted by celebrated British actress Emma Thompson (who won the Best Screenplay Oscar and was nominated for her leading performance). Like all of Austen’s work, there is a warm peacefulness to these characters that easily becoming absorbing and enriching. You want to see and know more about each and every one of them and this is in part because they are so well developed under Thompson’s script, Ang Lee’s direction, and terrific performances. After reaching international success with his previous two Taiwan hits (The Wedding Banquet, and Eat Drink Man Woman), this was Lee’s first English language film. On the surface, lee would seem an odd choice to direct, but he proves the universal nature and spirituality of Austen, and of course his own life in Taiwan can probably draw many similarities to the social life of 19th-Century Britain. Sense and Sensibility is a social satire and a family drama, but above all it is a love story. The film examines life and love, or more specifically class and marriage. Lee shoots the film with long takes and through visual compositions and space, he heightens the undercurrent expression of contrasting entering and exiting as a theme. This is particularly captured through the use of doorways and windows in the frame. The entire cast is terrific, with Emma and Kate Winslet most notably shining (each respectively playing the roles of the “sense” and the “sensibility”). There is plenty of British wit at play and Lee adds his own knowledge to expand the universal expression of the themes of love and family.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

January 27th Log

2006, Pedro Almodovar, Spain
Repeat Viewing, Theater

"There are so many widows". Volver opens with a stunning shot of a cemetery where we see women cleaning the graves of their husbands. Such is the world of this film, and such is the world of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. Almodovar is one of the most beloved filmmakers in all the world. He has been making films for over 30 years, but he is currently at the peak of his artistry and he stands as one of the most consistently reliable filmmakers in contemporary cinema. To me, Volver joins his previous two features (Bad Education and Talk To Her) as his best films to date. The opening moment is reflective of the entire film, which is essentially about the connection of life and of death. Volver translates as "to return" and Almodovar expresses this theme through visuals, surrealism, and characterization. Using metaphoric imagery of windmills that embrace the towns chaotic winds, Almodovar's visuals emphasize the theme of cycles (both of the dead and the undead). Volver is a film of womanhood and the importance and the need to for women to stay close emotionally, physically and spiritually. Even against the harshest winds and their own personal disagreements these women need each other. Of course, Almodovar handles them each with such care, compassion, and complexity that you easily fall in love with these women, who are in a world seemingly absent of men. The entire cast is exceptional, including Almodovar's trademark muses (Carmen Maura, Penelope Cruz, and Chus Lampreave). Cruz is especially brilliant in the role and performance of her career. She embraces the depth and inner essence of Raimunda with a performance that is captivating, funny, and strong yet fragile. Almodovar has such a mastery over the actresses and the visual details of the film that Volver becomes a cinematic blend of dark humor, and melodrama. His inventive storytelling is so dazzling that Almodovar magically transport the viewer into its vibrant combination of surrealism, neo-realism, and melodrama. The filmmaking is so alive and fresh with cinematic intelligence and creativity, and the characters and performance are so loveable. Volver is a masterful display of women's beauty, strength, spirit, growth, sensitivity, and togetherness.

1989, Cameron Crowe, United States
Repeat Viewing, Encore

Lead by the talented screenwriting of Cameron Crowe, Say Anything is one of my favorite scripts of all-time. Gone are the typical cliches you'd find in most teen movies, this film is about real people with real emotions and problems that are difficult to fix. The film centers around three maincharacters: Lloyd (a kickboxer "the sport of the future") who falls in love with Diane (determined, smart student), who has an open relationship with her caring Father. Basically the films focuses around the relationship of Diane and Lloyd, and Diane's wiliness to "say anything" to her father, who in turn has many hidden secrets he's never revealed to Diane. Say Anything also has some of the most romantically beautiful scenes of all-time (be it a teen movie or not). And of course the simple yet perfectly touched ending leaves the film with a feeling of romantic hope and redemption. This is an honest, touching movie that proves a film can be both sensitive and brilliant: a combination Hollywood rarely finds when dealing with teenage adolescence. This is the directorial debut of Crowe and while he’s made some really good films since, I don’t think he has ever topped Say Anything… There is something so lovable and perfect about this film that it stands among the truly great works of it’s generation!!

1994, John Dahl, United States
Repeat Viewing, Encore

"Anyone check you for a heartbeat recently?" The Last Seduction is a modern day film noir that fans of the classic genre will absolutely love. It's got all the elements (sexy femme fatale, betrayal, dishonesty, unpredictability, twists, psychology, etc), yet this film still manages to remain smart, fresh, exciting, and even original. Of course, it also has many freedoms that noirs of 1940's did not get through the Production Code of the Hollywood studios. The Last Seduction wraps the audience inside it's atmosphere from the very first moment and never let's up. As does Linda Fiorentino's astonishing performance. Much like gorgeous yet chilling Barbara Stanwyck in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (the all-time great femme fatale), Fiorentino's motives are selfish and evil. She's a quick thinker and easily manipulates men with her beauty. The Last Seduction is a rather cynical film, yet it's made with almost an ironic sense of humor. What results is an absolute fun experience which can be seen through several perspectives upon repeat viewings. The Last Seduction is a highly recommended, sexy, and fun modernized cinema throw back to the classic noir genre.

Friday, January 26, 2007

January 26th Log

1952, Otto Preminger, United States

1st 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.

1957, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Tokyo Twilight is again reminiscent of Ozu's quintessential post-war themes and minimalist style that made him one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time. At the center of all Ozu's post-war films is the unavoidable sadness of life caused through change. This is again evident here but in a much darker way then any other Ozu film. From the grim opening shots of the film, Tokyo Twilight establishes it's dark tone. Themes of marriage, isolation, and parent/child communication (or lack there of) are again expressed through Ozu's masterful cinematic language and trademark visual compositions and cast. Tokyo Twilight carries a pessimism and despair with issues of death, abortion, and adultery that make it Ozu's darkest film. Fittingly Tokyo Twilight is the last black and white film Ozu made before moving to color with his 1958 film Equinox Flower. Ozu-regulars Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara are once again outstanding as the single father and elder sister, and the film features a fine performance from Ineko Arima, who was starring in her first film for Ozu (he would cast her again in his next film). As usual Hara is especially terrific, here as the sister who's emotions are torn. Under Ozu direction, Hara has such an ability at capturing the most complex emotions through the smallest of gestures. Tokyo Twilight is a masterpiece achievement from one of the very greatest filmmakers in the world of cinema. To me this rates among the best films Ozu ever made.

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

Thursday, January 25, 2007

January 25th Log

2006, Laurie Collyer, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

SherryBaby is a film that both thrives and succeeds on its outstanding lead performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal has proven her abilities in previous independent features (most notably in Secretary or Happy Endings), but this performance may be her finest to date. She completely carries the film as a young women released from prison who is trying to survive the everyday world and reclaim the love of her daughter who has been taken care of by her brother and sister-in-law. Her love for her daughter is her motivation to stay clean, but as the character develops we understand her selfishness and need for attention. Through Gyllenhaal’s remarkable performance, the character becomes one of sympathy even for her flaws. Aiding the emotional core of the film is a well developed supporting cast, most notably Brad William Henke as her brother. There is a deeply strong bound between the two and this connection grows more powerful as the film progresses. This is the feature debut of writer-director Laurie Collyer and she gets great performances from her strong characters. Of course, Gyllenhaal is at the center of it all and you can’t help be moved by her convincing performance. If the film is flawed it is in the forceful moments of clichéd background devices (particularly the sexual abuse of her father). However, the performances work and Gyllenhaal has a complex appeal over this character that the emotional result is very effective.

2001, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, France / Germany
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Since I am rewatching all the Jane Austen adaptations this month, I decided to include some films that have been inspired by Austen. Among them is this loveable French film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet. While not a direct adaptation, Amelie shares the spirit and charm of Austen’s Emma, though through the imagination of Jeunet. The result is a film of pure and joyous charm. Maybe too much charm for some tastes, but I can’t resist how appealing this film is. Every second of Amelie leaves a smile on my face. Jeunet creates a visionary fantasy-world of beauty, wit, and humor that is sure to win the hearts of many viewers. As will the lead performance by Audrey Tautou, who plays Amelie, a thoughtful, lonely dreamer who wants to help others. Amelie also longs for love, and when she meets Nino she becomes shy and afraid. This is a very funny movie that everyone can both relate to and enjoy. While the story is smart, funny, and heart-warming, it's matched by the beautiful visuals, and color of the film. A gem all-around! It's wonderful films like this which explain why I love, loving movies! It's just such a true joy to watch, and easily rates among the most irresistibly charming and endearing ever made.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Academy Awards Pool -- presented by A2P Cinema

Yes it's still a month away, but just a reminder to all those who wish to participate.... As is the annual tradition, we will once again be having an Academy Awards Pool. Here are the details:

Sunday February 25th 2007 . 8pm

$5.00 (Limit 1 Pool entry per person)

Saturday February 24th 2007 . 10pm


2006... Brad Fisher . Crash
2005... Eric Medlin . Million Dollar Baby
2004... Sally Martin . The Return of the King
2003... Brad Fisher . Chicago
2002... Sally Martin . A Beautiful Mind
2001... Ray "Lightning" Medlin . Gladiator
2000... Sally Martin . American Beauty
1999... Eric Medlin . Shakespeare In Love

>>> If you enter, please be sure to get the entry fee into one of the A2P Cinema pool collectors (Eric Medlin, Sally Martin, or RE Medlin) before the deadline.Now in our 9th year, this annual pool has grown in interest each year. Last year we had a record of 20 participants. I’d like to try to increase that number even higher this year, so please feel free to spread the word!!

Also, remember that a webpage listing everyone’s picks will be setup online so you can track where you stand as the event takes place (this page will not be uploaded online until all ballots are received).

Good luck to all those who participate. Enjoy the ceremony… A reflection and celebration of the 2006 year in American cinema, and another moment in film history!

If you have any questions, comments or concerns regarding the pool, please email me: Thanks!

January 24th Log

2006, Kirby Dick, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

You really have to applaud any film that chooses to examine and ultimately criticize the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a “secret” group of raters that serve what they consider to be “the best interest of American parents and the filmmaker”. Kirby Dick’s documentary film delves deeper into the mindset of the crazy system with a film that is entertaining and yet equally infuriating and important. The film is at it’s best when discussing the unusual tendencies of the MPAA system (such as a preference for violence over sex, and hetero over homo sex). There are some great interviews with filmmakers sharing their frustrating experiences with the ratings system. This Film is Not Yet Rated is less effective when Dick involves a private detective to investigate and reveal the members of the MPAA. This is less intriguing filmmaking, yet I like Dick’s intention, which is strictly to stick it to the MPAA in any way he can. Because of this, the investigation portion works, but the film should mostly be seen for it’s more insightful and interrogating aspect.

1947, Preston Sturges, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

While not the masterpiece of the prime of Preston Sturges or Harold Lloyd’s career, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock marks a fitting statement for them both. It is especially significant for Lloyd who was enticed out of a 10-year retirement by Sturges to revisit Lloyd’s beloved character from his classic silent comedy The Freshman. Sturges wrote the film for Lloyd to return to acting and in many ways it is a reflection on his career, and more specifically from the perspective of an older man. The film blends trademark Lloyd humor with a sense of compassionate and regret. This marked Sturges first directed film outside Paramount Studios, where he was named ‘Prince of Paramount’ and became Hollywood’s first writer-director of the sound era. His run at Paramount is one of the most remarkable in the history of filmmaking and paved the way for comedy, but Sturges did make some memorable films outside of Paramount. Though competed in 1947, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock was unfortunately never released until 1950 and that version was heavily edited by producer Howard Hawks. Sturges original vision has since been restored and with it a film with some magic and beauty that make it a memorable farewell for Harold Lloyd’s career.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

January 23rd Log

1998, George Miller, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

What a wildly exciting and inventive film this is. Babe Pig in the City is the sequel to the Oscar winning 1995 hit Babe. Where this film shines and perhaps even surpasses the original is in the visionary inventiveness of its filmmaker, George Miller. Miller, who co-wrote and produced the original film took over the directing duties of this sequel and the result is a darker and more dazzlingly world of imagination and metaphoric visuals. The tone of the film is clearly a bleaker one then the sentimental original, yet it remains equally inspiring and far more visually stunning. Through wondrous visuals, Miller gives the imagery of the film a blend of surrealism and neo-noir city landscapes. As a complete narrative, I’m not sure if this sequel comes together as focused as the original film, but I think that intentionally works well with Miller’s more abstract world. Overall Babe Pig in the City is just a magical as the original and is the more visionary work even if flawed. Either way, this is a treat fro all ages. This is the kind of fantasy film that lifts you up and takes you into another world of magical and surreal imagery and adventure. A world that is bizarre yet strangely reflective of our own world.

1967, Robert Bresson, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Now available on a beautiful new Criterion Collection DVD... Mouchette is one of the most heartbreaking films ever made! Mouchette is a film of indescribable sadness and graceful filmmaking. Few filmmakers capture the reality of life and human existence as masterfully or poetically as Robert Bresson. Bresson rates among the greatest visionaries of film and to me, this is his greatest film (or at least along with Au Hasard Balthazar). Bresson's films are so simple yet so incredibly involving emotionally. There are so many unforgettable images, sounds, and moments within Mouchette but particularly the opening (close-ups) and closing scenes (suicide) which rate among the finest and most powerful and beautiful displays of filmmaking evermade. Also, the performances, each non-professional (a Bresson trademark), are outstanding, particularly by Nadine Nortier. Nortier plays Mouchette, a young woman who's alienated and in search of connection yet struggles to live and is bound to give up the suffering of existence. The ending is heartbreaking, yet through the sadness of the tragedy lies a hope and redemption for Mouchette. This film is unbelievably beautiful and powerful. It simply must be experienced. Mouchette is a masterpiece of artistic filmmaking and one of the truly great achievements of cinema. Even in the saddest moments of Bresson’s cinema, “all is grace.”

Monday, January 22, 2007

January 22nd Log

1934, Ray Enright / Busby Berkeley, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Dames is a flawed and plot-wise is a silly film, yet it leaves a remarkable impact simply because of the Busby Berkeley Musical numbers that highlight the final act of the film. As such Dames starts off slow, but finishes with a bang. A Dazzling bang of three musical set pieces directed and choreographed from the surreal mind of Berkeley, and his visionary kaleidoscope imagery ("The Girl at the Ironing Board", “I Only Have Eyes For You”, and “Dames”). Obviously “Dames” is a quintessential Berkley number in style and theme, yet the most impressive moment of the film is “I Only Have Eyes For You”, a dreamlike sequence where all the images transform into that of Ruby Keeler. This is one of the most remarkable and definitive sequences Berkeley ever made and it elevates this film to magical heights. The Berkeley musical sequences really strengthen the quality of the film, but there is also some charm from the little bits of silly humor (the hiccup “medicine”; the sleeping bodyguard with a gun; etc), and of course the chemistry amongst the cast. Many of these actors have collaborated before (in most cases on other Berkeley musicals) and the connection shows up on screen. Of course Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell make a great romantic team, as this is on of seven films they made together. Really this is a very minor film among the classic Berkeley musicals, but the “I Only Have Eyes For You” sequence is a special one indeed.

2005, Gurinder Chadha, United Kingdom / United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Bride and Prejudice is a film that has alot of potential to be a great comedy. However, much of the potential is diminished by director Gurinder Chadha's focus on the stereotypes of characterization and cheap laughs. The film is (as the title suggests) a take off Jane Austin's beloved novel Pride & Prejudice, which deals with themes of marriage and class. That general concepts works as a good balance with this film, which deals with marriage and class themes of the Indian culture in contemporary UK. At times the film shines, mostly because of the very presence of Aishwarya Rai. Rai is easily among the most beautiful actresses to grace the screen, and while she is well known and loved in Indian cinema, she has the potential for superstardom in America. Bride & Prejudice is another attempt (like Chadha's superior Bend it Like Beckham) at blending western audiences with “Bollywood” films and here they present a very western take on a Bollywood film (with extravagant musical custom and set pieces, yet in English dialogue and a much shorter length of under 2 hours). There is some fun here and plenty of energy, but much of it feels forced and the male lead is extremely dull and uninteresting. Bollywood purists probably won't like this a bit, but it is recommended for those unfamiliar or looking to get a slight idea of what they are like. It's also recommended for fans of Rai, who may not be at her very best here (go see Taal or Devdas), but she is certainly glamorous and stunning once again.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

January 21st Log

1962, Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy / France
Repeat Vieiwng, DVD

"You're right. Let's make a decision." "I already have. I'm leaving." L'Eclisse is the third and final film of Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni's loose trilogy (following L'Avventura and La Notte). To me it's the finest of the trilogy, and to me Antonioni's greatest cinematic achievement (in fact, I'd rate this among the VERY greatest films of all-time!!!). Much like the previous films of the trilogy (or just about any Antonioni film), L'Eclisse is less focused on plot then it is on themes and visual atmosphere. That is where the greatest beauty of L'Eclisse lies, in the breathtakingly detailed visual imagery and atmosphere. Using little dialogue, and a Rome settingas the canvas, Antonioni poetically views his quintessential examinations of isolation, loneliness, and disconnection. L'Eclisse is a quiet and sad film with a depressing tone of human detachment and alienation. Yet it remains a work of art for the sheer skill in which Antonioni presents it, as well as his definitive actress of the 1960s, Monica Vitti, who gives perhaps her greatest performance here. More then story this is a film of emotional state and it is flawlessly captured through Antonioni's visual imagery. Notice the way he uses space and landscape as a form of expression. It is quite captivating and absolutely remarkable. The final montage moment of the film is a stunning and powerful sequence of master filmmaking as it recaptures the imagesthat we previously seen and felt within the viewers subconscious. Here we see the films world through the backdrop, absent of it's characters. Perfectly executed display in cinema at it's purest artistic form (images and sounds). L'Eclisse, like most of Antonioni's work, may not be for everyone, but to me it rates among the very greatest achievements of Italian cinema. This truly is a personal favorite and a film I have and will continue to revisit!!

Friday, January 19, 2007

January 19th Log

2003, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran / Japan / France
1st Viewing, DVD

Sort of continuing with the Ozu Friday theme, I also decided to watch the great Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s experimental film Five. The film was made as a tribute celebrating 100 years since Ozu’s birth. The film is indeed a mystery, and is certainly not for everyone. Many viewers will despise this film and even those who actually admire it, will still feel moments of boredom. In fact, the DVD I purchased online (it is only available in France at the moment) included an interview with Kiarostami in which he seems to openly accept and welcome the boredom of watching five long takes. This is undoubtedly an experimental film and is not really any direct Ozu influence. However, the original title of the film is Five Long Takes Dedicated to Yasujiro Ozu, so you can’t help but at least think of Ozu as you watch these shots. In that sense thoughts of Ozu, his filmmaking, and his images do spring to mind, but Kiarostami’s greatest similarity with the Japanese master is in the simplest form of filmmaking. You have to admire the thought behind these five simple yet strangely complex (or perhaps ironic) shots. Shot on digital video you also have to wonder (as with many Kiarostami) the role he plays as a director. This is always one of the most fascinating elements of Kiarostami as a filmmaker. He is always stretching and searching the boundaries of the director. Does he manipulate or direct these five shots? For example, how many takes were needed to get the driftwood to break apart in the way that it does? These are the questions that arise when watching this film, assuming you can make it through. Boredom will set in, yet there is also something hypnotic about these five shots and most specifically the experimental approach of Kiarostami’s vision. Five is far from a masterpiece, but it is a very interesting work on certain levels.

1934, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

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

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

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

January 17th Log

1999, Patricia Rozema, United Kingdom
1st Viewing, DVD

Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park is given a lively but ultimately mediocre adaptation with this 1999 film from Canadian Patricia Rozema. Rozema stays faithful to the film in theme and subtext, yet re-imagines the essence of the lead character Fanny Price. As played by Frances O'Connor, Fanny is a much stronger and free-spirited heroine then that of what may be most common to Austen purists (certainly much more so then that of BBC’s Mansfield Park mini-series). What Rozema has done is both modernize and essentially personalize the heroine. You have to applaud the personal vision of the filmmakers adaptation, yet ultimately context of Austen’s emotional story is lost, most notably in relation to Fanny’s relationships with the other characters. The story is a beautifully rich and detailed one in the Austen tradition and (even if from a different vision) this film does a decent job of portraying its many layers (particularly heightening the examination of social class and poverty). Rozema gives the film a lively atmosphere through some cinematic techniques such as hand-held cameras and of course the montage “reflective pause” of the characters towards the end of the story, which was a good example of the re-imagining of Austen’s writing. Mansfield Park is to me a flawed film but worthy as a filmmakers personal retelling of a classic story.

1953, Vincente Minnelli, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

I absolutely adore this film!! The Band Wagon is a film that leaves me speechless with joy. Alongside Singin' In The Rain, this is my favorite American musical. Vincente Minnelli was a master of the genre and he is responsible for some of the greatest musicals in film history, but this is his greatest achievement and rates among the very best films ever made. It's cinematic joy and art. With The Band Wagon, Minnelli is contrasting or combining real-life and film (as many of the characters and situations were almost biographical reflections of real-life, including Fred Astaire's "washed-up" movie career), as well as film and ballet with theater. The Band Wagon also examines art (ie Faust) vs entertainment (ie musical comedy). Among other gifts, Minnelli excels with vivid image details and use of color within the composition. Here through his glorious vision and outstanding direction this film does not contain one frame that doesn't work in capturing humor, beauty, intelligence, and excitement. Not go without mentioning is the performances of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse… WOW. Probably the two greatest dancers in film history (and two of my favorite actors), and together they light up the screen. Charisse is particularly radiant with her stunning beauty, grace, and of course legs! There is some remarkable dialogue, moments and musical numbers (most notably the grand "A Shine on Your Shoes", the charmingly funny "Triplets", and especially the breathtakingly sexy and dazzling closing noir-esque jazz sequence "Girl Hunt Ballet"). The Band Wagon just works in all aspects of filmmaking. Through a collaboration of talents (Minnelli's direction, Astaire and Charisse's performances, Betty Comden and Adolph Green's screenplay, Michael Kidd's choreography, and Arthur Schwartz music) The Band Wagon becomes a collective masterpiece. It's a musical comedy that is a joy to watch, but perhaps the greatest asset is the richness and depth within the images, sounds and emotions of the film. Repeat viewings are even more enjoyable and give the film a timelessness. The Band Wagon is simply an amazing film. Pure magic and absolutely unforgettable!! Not only one of the greatest comedies or musicals, but one of the very greatest films ever made. "That's Entertainment!"

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

January 16th Log

2006, Jason Matzner, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Though Dreamland has little new to offer in terms of characterization and storyline the film is strengthen by its beautiful execution. As the title would suggest, the film has the look and feel of a dream. This is a film of feeling and of atmosphere. Dreamland suffers a bit during the last half when it instills a message and wraps up all the subplots. The opening has such a poetic and moody quality that is absolutely absorbing. I was easily taken into this lyrical world and these sincere characters as the film progressed. The final act is somewhat like a soap opera and cliched, yet first-time filmmaker Jason Matzner’s treatment of Tom Willett script is compassionate, and the first half of the film soars so high that you can easily forgive any minor flaws. There are some strong performances by the cast. Most notable is the lead performance by Agnes Bruckner, a young actress I have seen a lot of this year (The Woods and Haven being the other two big roles she had). Dreamland ahs an absorbing musical score and stunning photography and landscapes to match the dreaminess of the story, the characters, and the town. This film has the mood and beauty of a poem, and despite a forgivably flawed last act, Dreamland is an impressive filmmaking achievement.

Monday, January 15, 2007

January 15th Log

1996, Douglas McGrath, United Kingdom / United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Continuing with my month of Jane Austen adaptations is Douglas McGrath’s charming update of Emma. Most of the charm comes from a radiant performance by the wonderful Gwyneth Paltrow. However, McGrath gives the film a liveliness that makes it funny, romantic, and assessable for all generations and audiences. Really one of the great qualities of Austen is the universal nature of her stories, characters, and themes that transcend period details and become equally worthy modern tales and emotions. Emma is Austen at her most light-hearted and fun. The visual, of which include soothing colors and impressive sets give the film a magical tone. Of course casting the magical spell is Paltrow’s lovely performance. This is an adaptation that focuses on it’s characters and the performances help contribute to the success of that focus. Paltrow is especially terrific and she really gives one of the most under-appreciated performances of the decade.

Friday, January 12, 2007

January 12th Log

2006, Richard Eyre, United Kingdom
1st Viewing, Theater

Notes on a Scandal is a film this unflinching in it's pursuit of dramatic force. This both helps and hurts the film. It works in favor of the star Judi Dench who under the direction of acclaimed theatrical director Richard Eyre, can let her performance fly. She does and for the most part, Dench does so quite effectively as a bitter woman with two aggressive sides of personality. I love Cate Blanchett and she is terrific as always in a very difficult role. Blanchett can be convincing as anything, but she does evoke a presence that makes her a bit unsuitable for this role, simple because this character is weak and unintelligent, two characteristics that embody the complete opposite of Blanchett. As a said, it is a difficult role for her in this sense, but she does a solid job especially with her chemistry amongst the rest of the cast, be it her husband (Bill Nighy), the student she is having an affair with (Andrew Simpson), or her friendships and her duels with Dench. Sparks especially fly when this two battle it out as the film takes predictable dramatic turns. The film is very theatrical and as such often overdone. Adding to this is a heavy-handed score by the usually reliable (though sometimes forceful) composer Philip Glass. I like Cate Blanchett to much not to enjoy the film, but this does have it's good and poor qualities.

1932, Jack Conway, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Red Headed Woman is featured as part of Turner Classic Movies 3-film ‘Forbidden Hollywood’ collection, which celebrates three notorious films of the Pre-Code era. From the opening image, Red Headed Woman is all about Jean Harlow. The film opens with a series of montage shots of Harlow changing, beginning with the opening shot of Harlow asking “So gentlemen prefers, do they?” Though she was well known as a platinum blonde goddess, Red Headed Woman stands as a tailor-made Harlow role, as a fast-talking, determined, gold-digger who uses her good looks as her ticket to high society. Harlow shines in every possible way here, and it is her biting comedy and sexually aggressive behavior that makes Red Headed Woman such a wonderfully appealing Pre-Code film. There are plenty of weak plot points here, but the film is funny, sexy, and entertaining throughout. Harlow gives the entire film a sexual tension and energy that makes it a definitive Pre-Code work.

1959, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

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

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

Thursday, January 11, 2007

January 11th Log

2005, Francois Ozon, France
1st Viewing, DVD

Time To Leave opens with a shot of a young boy alone on the beach. This shot is a dream or a memory and it is reflective of a film that is most expressive and poetic in its handling of memories. Directed by the always interesting and versatile French filmmaker Francois Ozon, Time To Leave delves into similar themes of dealing with death, much like his greatest masterpiece- 2000’s Under the Sand). The story centers around a gay photographer (Romain, played by Melvil Poupaud) who learns he has cancer and will die in a matter of months. Romain deals with this by alienating himself from everyone and telling no one except his grandmother (played by legendary actress Jeanne Moreau). The films greatest and most moving relationship is the one of Romain and his fragile sister (played by Louise-Anne Hippeau). The scene at the park where they talk on the phone is truly a touching one. This relationship is heightened through Romain’s memories with his sister, which are repetitive throughout the film. Ozon’s direction is wonderful even when the plot boarders on being contrived, as Romain is given a chance to find redemption and leave his legacy. Time To Leave ends with a simple and powerful moment. This is a striking moving and poetic film from one of the most interesting filmmakers in contemporary French cinema.

2006, Brian Taylor / Mark Neveldine, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Crank is a straight up, no holds bar action film. It’s strength is that it doesn’t hide from what it is and even embraces itself as a non-stop and often ridiculous action film. The basic premise is a setup to be nothing more then non-stop action (A professional hitman gets injected with a poison that will kill him if his heart rate drops). It is like Speed, except the bus is replaced with the protagonist’s veins. Jason Statham, most know for his similarly action-esque roles in The Transporter films, is effectively casted and keeps the film entertaining. The filmmakers attempt to add all types of stylish techniques (freeze frames, split screens, cool effects of the blood pumping to the heart, etc, etc) which does work with the material but occasionally becomes annoying. Overall Crank is entertaining as a completely male, adrenalin-driven action film.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

January 10th Log

2005, Takashi Miike, Japan
1st Viewing, DVD

The Great Yokai War is a fascinating film in its over-the-top wackiness. The fact that it is completely over-the-top is what the film embraces and really what makes it so strangely charming. The film comes from Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, who is one of the masters of horror filmmaking and at the forefront of the Asian Shock cinema movement. Miike works at a feverish pace, usually releasing two or three films per year, and though usually working within genre he always find ways to make different types of films. Miike has openly stated his interest in working outside the horror genre and this family-orientated fantasy film seems to establish such a statement. Sharing the strangely inventiveness of his family horror film, The Great Yokai War combines elements of genres (fantasy, adventure, comedy, horror). The imagery of the film is truly bizarre (of puppets, ghosts, giant monsters, animation, CGI). Miike always excels with establishing an atmosphere and here it is one of unusual splendor, imaginative spectacle, and dark humor. While maybe a bit all for younger children, The Great Yokai War is a highly entertaining family film. The film very much evokes the work of the great Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki in its themes of environment, technology, and age, as well as the sheer wonder and inspirational spirit.

2006, Richard Glazer / Wash Westmoreland, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Quinceanera was the unanimous choice at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival winning both the Jury and Audience Awards for Best Feature Film. You can certainly see the appeal, as this is the kind of intelligent, character-driven, coming of age independent films that are always embraced at Sundance. The film centers of two parallel stories that are essentially connected: a 15-year old girl is kicked out of her house when her preacher father learns that she has becomes pregnant, not listening to the fact that her daughter swears she is a virgin. The other story centers around a troubled outcast who is gay. Both of them are related and embraced by their great great uncle. Together they become a new family. The real core of the film lies in its expression of a community under transition (both religiously and economically). Through this transition comes conflict and connection as well as redemption. It is the small, insightful details of this change that make this film most effective. Also the characters are well developed and performed giving Quinceanera are warm-hearted feel. Sometimes the film reaches for sentiment, but there are some really touching moments that understandably make this a crowd pleasing film.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

January 9th Log

2006, Feng Xizogang, China
1st Viewing, DVD

Take the basis of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a source of the adaptation, The Banquet transport the story into the work of an epic scaled Chinese opera on film. Excessive art designs, bold use of colors, and especially grand sets (including Emperor’s Palace, which was the largest set ever built in China). Directed by Feng Xizogang, The Banquet is the type of mainstream epics being made by his fellow Fifth Generation Chinese filmmaker, Zhang Yimou (who’s reached worldwide acclaim martial arts films Hero and House of Flying Daggers, as well as his recently released Curse of the golden Flower). Feng tries to contrast the grand-scale of the films visual surface with a much smaller emotional level of drama. The results are mixed. The film feels a bit distanced and dull, but more so because of the length then the pace, which is intentionally slow. Through both the small details of emotion as well as the remarkable sets, the film gives a sense for reality of 10th Century Chinese history re-imagined through Hamlet. The Banquet opens with a gloriously theatrical fight sequences (choreographer by world renowned Yuen Wo-Ping). Leading the cast is China’s most internationally celebrated actress (Zhang Ziyi, who plays Empress Wan. Though this is based off Hamlet, Feng seems to center the story around Ziyi, giving her character a conflicting good and evil. Ziyi is always a beautiful presence, and though she is solid here, it is far from her most memorable performances. Above all, The Banquet is a film made with a specific approach to style and content. It has the vision of an epic opera with stylized performances, strong melodramatic tones, massive set and art designs, and graceful slow motion fight sequences. Feng tries to handle the big international stars, an equally celebrated crew, a Shakespearean adaptation, and a enormously scaled production set all while keeping the emotional core simple and focused. For the most part Feng achieves this, but he may isolate audiences looking to compare this to Zhang’s recent martial arts epics.

2002, Jake Kasdan, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

“You really care about these characters.” says the novelist to the one of his admirers (played by Colin Hanks) who asked what he thought of his story. This moment becomes a reflection of the film as the novelist is essentially describing the film we are watching. Orange County is a film written by the wonderfully talented Mike White. The film also seems to be a reflection of White, who as a writer really does care about his characters and devolps them with such a strong understanding and compassion. These characters are so likeable (and I agree with the novelist, played in one of the many cameos of the film by Kevin Kline, that the “bleeding-heart animal loving girlfriend” is my favorite- she is played by Schuyler Fisk). Besides the intelligent and compassionate character devolpment, Orange County is also really funny. This is aided by an incredible cast of really funny charcters actors (the always terrific Lily Tomlin, Catherine O'Hara, Jane Adams, John Lithgow, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis). However as great as they are (and Tomlin and Adams are especially memorable), Jack Black steals the show. He is absolutely hysterical as the lazy and stoned brother. There are some great moments to this film that I imagine get even better with repeat viewings. The film is perfectly paced by directed Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence). White’s simple yet heartfelt and seemingly personal script is the real gem of this wonderful character comedy.

Monday, January 8, 2007

January 8th Log

2005, Mitsuo Yanagimachi, Japan
1st Viewing, DVD

Who's Camus Anyway is a joy of a film for film lovers to experience. This is a film that evokes the spirit of maverick filmmaker Robert Altman from the very opening shot. In fact Altman's The Player is verbally and directly referenced in the opening shot, a nearly 7 minute shot over the opening credits that establishes the entire film: we are introduced to the many characters, get an understanding of how they are and what to expect, as well as a feeling for the films tone and setting. Once this moment cuts you've already been won over by the film and are aware of what a special film it is. The film takes place in and around a college film school and we see the early production of the students feature film. The film becomes a reflection on both this film-within-a-film as well as the entire setting of film school. Writer-director Mitsuo Yanagimachi gives as an Altman-esque view of the human interactivity both during and off production. The campus setting always seems alive with activity and life and each of these characters are so well drawn out that we understand them both as a collective group and as individuals. The director of the film in production (entitled The Bored Murderer) seems as lost at directing as he is with his girlfriend, who is constantly bothering him about marriage. His assistant is stuck in a love-hate relationship with him, while being pursued by both the cinematographer and lead actor. The film takes all these characters and complications and relations into contrast with the film that is in production. Ultimately Who's Camus Anyway intertwines the world of art and reality as if they are apart and purpose of one another (this is best expressed in the final moments when the shooting of the film is interchangeably intercut with the cast and crew). Who's Camus Anyway? is a film that is equally fun and charming (the race to the theater), and philosophical and surreal (the orchestra playing throughout the halls during a cigarette break). There is a mysterious undertone that lurks under the quirky surface of this film (and this feeling continues throughout the end credits, in which we see the cast and crew cleaning up the blood from the set).

2005, Wang Xiaoshuai, China
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Shanghai Dreams is a beautiful film. The film is really well made with themes and a simplistic style reminiscent of (at least on the surface) the great Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu in the way detailed compositions and space (through doorways and corridors) is used as an artistic expression of the filmmakers vision. This is the eighth feature film by Chinese filmmaker Wang Xiaoshuai, who received international acclaim with his award-winning 2001 film Beijing Bicycle. The film centers around the story of a family from Shanghai that was forced to move out of the big city during the 1960s in order to provide a more vast population control. The emotional core of the film lies in the troubled relationship of a father and his teenage daughter. The daughter is struggling to find an identity and roots in her town because of her fathers dreams of returning to the big city of Shanghai. He regrets his choice to move and it has haunted him and his hopes of giving his family a life of more opportunities. This desire to return and regret of his decision consumes him so much that he doesn't realize the happiness his family holds in their new home. Ultimately these hidden feelings and communication results in tragedy (perhaps the gun shots heard at the end are a metaphor for the deconstruction of the family before entering Shanghai). The film represents a deeply political expression of China, a nation that struggled to find an identity during the 1980s and many families suffered with conflict in a forced area they did not want to be in. Of course, the film implies this political metaphor as a backdrop and in the most simplistic manner. The moving tale of the family is really what makes this such a special film. As does the visual recreation of 1980s Chinese time period. The set details, and costumes give the film a feel of nostalgia and an expression of the rebel without a cause youth atmosphere. Richly layered, subtle, and beautifully created Shanghai Dreams is an incredibly moving and important film.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

January 7th Log

1995, Roger Michell, United Kingdom / France / United States
1st Viewing, DVD

“But as long as we could be together, nothing ever ailed me. Not a thing.” This month I plan of celebrating the cinematic adaptations of English Jane Austen. What a treat to start off with! Roger Michell's first feature is a masterful adaptation of Jane Austen’s last completed novel, Persuasion. Michell keeps this film vivid through his complexity with characters. To me, the world of Austen is a warm and comforting one, even in the sadness of moments. Persuasion is no exception. Here is a story of such human beauty and romance and these characters (especially Anne) are drawn out with such lovely and engrossing detail. The story centers around the reuniting of Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth who were engaged 8 years earlier. As always with Austen complications arise through unexpressive feelings, which are hidden (or even “persuaded”). Persuasion is a film of longing and finding the will and the courage against all adversity to follow your deepest feelings and to cherish life and love. Friends, family, and society standards easily persuade Anne, who suffers the consequences, but she is able to discover true happiness when she follows her own heart and feelings. This is what lies at the core of Austen’s wonderful story Persuasion is a film so heartbreaking at times (notably that scene at the concert) but ultimately so deeply romantic and lovely and inspiring. The cast is absolutely outstanding in every way. Be it the leads or the supporting roles, each give this film it’s heart-warming compassion and depth. A glorious adaptation of a wonderful story!

1952, Richard Fleischer, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

The Narrow Margin is an incredibly engaging crime noir thriller. There's nothing innovative here, yet this remains one of the forgotten films of it's era. The low budget and B-quality production certainly doesn't effect the overall excitement of the film. The pace is absolutely flawless and the cinematography beautifully captures the claustrophobic atmosphere of the film, which is set almost entirely on a train. Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor are two highly underrated actors and they embodied the roles of the noir. Windsor is particularly good here as the seductive prosecution witness whom McGraw must protect. Richard Fleischer handles Earl Fenton's script with style and skill. The Narrow Margin is a truly exciting film on all levels and is highly recommended to fans of noir and the pure joy old-fashioned filmmaking.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

January 6th Log

2006, Todd Field, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

Little Children begins with a series of close-up shots of porcelain dolls, which seem to be an expression of the material objects we cling towards. Such is the world of writer-director Todd Field, who follows up his outstanding debut (2001’s In the Bedroom) with a similarly (though inferior) community drama. As he did with his debut, Field presents this film with a heavy dose of symbolic visuals (some obvious, others very mysterious). Field also leaves room interpretations from the audience. He wants the viewer to discuss the possibilities and ideas of the film and the characters. Little Children does not capture the thought-provoking depth that In the Bedroom did, and though the film is occasionally contrived and even uncertain of tone, it remains engrossing. You absorb into these characters because they are so well drawn out, and they are portrayed with top-notch performances. Field began as an actor and his trust in them is evident, as everyone is terrific (of course, Kate Winslet is a specific highlight). The film is structured with several narratives that eventually intersect. There is a voice-over throughout the film, which I believe is used to create an ironic fable-atmosphere to this film of suburban boredom and lost souls search for meaning. It is a fix of melodrama, sadness, compassion, and humor that effectively tells an absorbing tale of characters and their flaws. I think I prefer the promotion trailer of Little Children (which is one of the very best I have ever seen), but this feature is a solid sophomore work from Field.

Friday, January 5, 2007

January 5th Log

2006, Alfonso Cuaron, United Kingdom / United States
1st Viewing, Theater

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. 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 (look at the name of the boat in the end and hope is also expressed through the sound over the end credits). Children of Men is a powerful film, but above all you have to admire the visual presence in the filmmaking. I still think Y Tu Mama Tambein is my favorite Cuaron film, but this is his most remarkably heart-pounding and breathtaking.

2006, Matthew O'Callaghan, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

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).

1942, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

There Was A Father is one of only two films Ozu made during the war, yet ironically this may be his most peaceful and quiet film. Just about every film Ozu has made is simplistic in approach, but this may actually be his most simplistic film. There is no direct reference to the war, but rather a deeply sympathetic father-son relationship (in contrast to his more traditional father-daughter relationship) which details the importance of the parent and the separation of family. I'm not sure if the camera ever even moves, and there are some definitive Ozu pillow shots. Ozu regular Chishu Ryu, who starred in almost all of his films, gives yet another brilliant subtle performance. This was really the film that showcased Ryu as a great leading actor and it remains one of his pivotal performances for Ozu. There Was a Father is a moving film that really defines the essence of what Ozu portrays on a philosophical level. Even in the saddest moments of his work, there is always a sense of peace and comfort. Because of this, I hope to continue this weekly trend of an Ozu film on Friday night…

- More on There Was A Father @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

Thursday, January 4, 2007

January 4th Log

2006, Kevin Smith, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Kevin Smith is a filmmaker I’ve grown to admire with his recent films. I have mixed feeling about some of his early stuff, but since Dogma, I’ve liked every film he has made. Even Jersey Girl, which I actually consider one of (if not) his best. Smith said he was retiring the Jay and Silent Bob characters with Jay and Silent Bob Strike, but the disappointing feedback from Jersey Girl may have pressured him into returning them to satisfy his many cult fans, particularly of those who embrace his first feature, 1994 Clerks. Over 10 years later, Smith has made a sequel and one both his fans and certainly he can be proud of (in fact, Smith has very openly stated this is the best film he has made). While I think I prefer Jersey Girl or Dogma as my favorite Smith film, I can see why Smith would be so proud of this film. Obviously there are personal elements to this film, and in many ways they are the same as those of Jersey Girl, which is basically to live a life you are happy with and to stop worrying about following some sort of standard of living. While Clerks was an influential and groundbreaking film in American independent cinema, Clerks 2 shows a much more mature and smarter filmmaker. Of course, he hasn’t lost his comic edge either, and Smith has always been a great writer of dialogue. Even if all the comedy doesn’t work, there are moments that are drop-dead hilarious, especially with the way Smith uses dialogue. Also, Rosario Dawson brings a shining burst of energy with a charming performance alongside many of the Smith regulars. Clerks 2 is a funny and even touching film that is not so much worried about a plot as it is expressing emotions and character development. The film ends with a beautiful final track-out zoom that seems to almost take us right back to the original Clerks film. It is a fitting ending to a rather good film.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

January 3rd Log

2006, Tommy Lee Jones, United States / France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

After watching Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia yesterday, I decided to revisit a film heavily influenced from it, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (which I’d rate among the best films I’ve seen from 2006). Tommy Lee Jones and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga owe much to Peckinpah’s film in both style and obviously theme. However, this is undoubtedly an original work and that really gets verified with repeat viewings. This is my third viewing of this film, and with each one I’ve learned more about it’s complex, and mysterious depth. Clearly the film has a theme of the human body and soul, and it’s connection with land and with death. There are also complex themes of friendship, masculinity, honor, redemption, and culture. There is an irony and sense of humor to this film that make it really special. The openness of the ending leaves for interpretation as far as Melquiades life. This is a atmospheric film of feeling, and it's beautifully captured through Chris Menges' sweeping CinemaScope photography. Jones performance as the grief-stricken Pete Perkins is flawless, and probably the finest of his career. But it is his direction that is most unforgettable here. The Three Burials is a moving, haunting, humorous, and rather poetic film experience that takes the viewer on a memorable emotional journey.

1932, Rouben Mamoulian, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

In it's style, it's inventiveness, and it's cast (as well as the time period and production studio), Love Me Tonight can certainly be confused for a film from the great Ernst Lubitsch. While the comparisons are understandable, Love Me Tonight still transcends them to become a wonderful film of it's own. Featuring an outstanding cast (highlighted by Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald in the leads and Myrna Loy and Charles Ruggles in supporting roles) as well as masterful direction and absolutely lovely music, everything just works to perfection here. From the very opening scene (in which Paris comes alive to a rhythmic beat) Love Me Tonight is full of elegance, warmth, and beauty. The songs are very memorable (especially "Mimi" and "Isn't It Romantic?") and the production is never overdone. There are so many clever visual and sound techniques which set this film apart and put it well ahead of it's time. This is simply a masterpiece of filmmaking and a joyous, lively, and endearing classic of American cinema. Love Me Tonight is a beautiful film to cherish. I would undoubtedly rate this among the very best musicals of the 1930s, which places it among the greatest ever!!

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

January 2nd Log

1974, Sam Peckinpah, Mexico / United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia opens with a lyrical shot of a pregnant woman sitting by the lake under the sunrise. The tone quickly changes when the woman is asked to so see her father. Of course, this is a film directed by Sam Peckinpah, which explains the blend of brutal, disgusting, and uncompromising blend of violence with sudden moments of poetry. This was the only film Peckinpah considered his own without studio interference and it undoubtedly is his most obsessive, most personal, and most honest film. The plot is simple (the title says it all!), but Peckinpah complicates the emotions with an anti-hero trapped between good and evil amongst a brutal world that leave shim no choice. Essentially the film is about redemption for Bernie (played with an outstanding performance by Warren Oates), who finds personal meaning and respect for himself from the man who he’s been sent to find (a man who is already dead). Featuring Peckinpah’s trademark techniques (notably in the editing and the slow-motion violence), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is also a strangely poetic film (expressed best in the peaceful opening shot, and later in the closing shot- a gun barrel pointed directly at the audience). I still think I’d rate Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid as my personal favorite Peckinpah film, but if there ever was a film that defined him as a filmmaker, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia would be it. Like it or not, this is essential viewing.

2005, Thomas Bezucha, United States
Repeat Vieiwng, HBO

The Family Stone is an incredibly surprising film. What seems to be setup as a formulaic family holiday film, is ultimately a moving and equally funny feel good experience. Each character is given equal respect and depth and the audiences can both relate and react with each of them in different ways. You will deeply care for every one of the family members in their own way. Aside from the feel-good family warmth and romance of the film, there are some insightful observations here in detailing this families struggle to adjust to a potential new family member. In many ways the film examines the search for moral beliefs and individuality amongst a liberal family, who are welcoming a more conservative or anxious girlfriend (played by Sarah Jessica Parker). The characters are each likeable and often it's the smaller details of the script and of the performances that make it such. The entire ensemble is terrific with Diane Keaton especially good as the mother and Luke Wilson and Rachel McAdams as two of her five children. This is just an endless enjoyable film with moments that will make you laugh, cry, and cheer. I know that sounds cliche, but The Family Stone avoids cliches and focuses on its wonderful characters. This has more to offer then you’d expect and it ends with a fitting epilogue and nice final shot, which is effective even if the symbolism is a bit obvious.

Monday, January 1, 2007

January 1st Log

2002, Hayao Miyazaki, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

I decided to start the year off with one of my favorite films: Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away!! I absolutely love this film and repeat viewings only add to the pleasures this film brings to both cinema and life. I can’t justify my love for this film in words as I certainly rate it among the very greatest ever made (animation or otherwise). To me, this is absolutely one of the most perfect films ever made. Spirited Away is a rare film experience of creativity, imagination, thought-provoking storytelling, spiritual connection, and above all: art!

2005, Eric Khoo, Singapore
1st Viewing, DVD

I deeply applaud the minimalist nature of the filmmaking style and approach, however, ultimately this film is a bit disappointing simply because it’s emotional core is forced and often contrived. The minimalist style (featuring almost no dialogue) is presented with contradictive filmmaking. Also, director Eric Khoo weaves together three parallel stories with an uneven sense of narrative rhythm. I really like the themes and general idea behind the film, but it is made here with filmmaking that comes across rather inexperienced. There are moments of beauty and sadness as the film follows three separate stories of connection and loneliness: “Mean To Be” (which to me is the most effective of the three stories) about an old man who is alone after the death of his wife until he reads the autobiography of a deaf and blind woman; “Finding Love” which follows a lonely security guard who is in love with a woman in his building that does not know him; and “So In Love”, which follows the relationship of two teenage girls that meet online. The minimal dialogue helps express the loneliness and isolation of these stories and Be With Me is absorbing in that sense. Maybe I’m being unfair by thinking the film could have been better because (even if occasionally contrived) this film does have its moments. The “Meant To Be” story is really the one that is most involving and moving, and ultimately is the least forced.

1935, Busby Berkeley, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The Gold Diggers of 1935 is the first film Busby Berkeley made as a director. Of course Berkeley’s involvement in choreographer and musical dance sequences date back to as early as 1930. Not only his first film as lone director, The Gold Diggers of 1935 may also stand as the darkest film Berkeley was ever associated with (at least of his celebrated musicals). Though hardly a sequel, The Gold Diggers of 1935 works like a follow-up to The Gold Diggers of 1933. While an inferior film to The Gold Diggers of 1993 (which I’d rate among the very best of its kind), this film does share its dazzlingly visuals and musical designs. Trademark Berkeley production numbers highlight the film (including the Oscar-winning climax sequence ‘Lullaby of Broadway’). This film is more cynical and probably heavy-handed then Berkeley’s earlier classics (The Gold Diggers of 1933, and 42nd Street), but the extravagance we’d expect is never lost. Berkeley never loses sight of the escapist quality of his most beloved work, and leaves a hopeful and happy ending for Depression-era audiences. With The Gold Diggers of 1935 Berkeley’s blends personal expression and cynical social satire with his quintessential dazzlingly dream-like escapist cinema to form another influential classic of 1930’s American film history. His filmmaking is a lost treasure in contemporary cinema and it remains a privilege to preserve and revisit Berkeley’s landmark impact of Hollywood filmmaking.