Thursday, May 31, 2007

May 31st Log

2005, Amos Gitai, Israel / Belgium / France / Spain
1st Viewing, DVD

Free Zone opens with a long nearly 10-minute close-up shot of Natalie Portman looking out a car window crying. We soon hear the voice of the driver who tells her she has a long journey ahead. Portman’s character asks to go with and so begins the film which takes us from Jerusalem into Jordan’s free zone. The opening shot is an impressive one mostly for Portman who lets it all out. We slowly learn the mysteries of her tears as well as the back stories of these women through flashbacks (which are occasionally superimposed with the present. The converging of past and present is one of the essential aspects of the film, which also details the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts with a simple and even at times dry humor approach. Israeli director and co-writer Amos Gitai clearly loves Portman’s face, as she often leaves the camera on it with close-ups. The performances are terrific, and Hana Laszlo won the Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her powerful portrayal of Hanna, an Israeli taxi driver who is in search of a debt.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

May 29th Log

1953, Jean Renoir, France / Italy
Repeat Viewing, DVD

The Golden Coach is the first of what is now viewed as a trilogy from the great French filmmaker Jean Renoir (along with 1954s French Cancan, and 1956s Elena and Her Men). Above all the three films are connected in the way they relate the theater with life. Of course they are also connected in the nature of the style, the humanist characterizations, and the performances, all of which make them distinctly the work of Renoir. Here in his late period, Renoir uses rich and simplistic undertones of emotional and artistic mastery. The Golden Coach is absolutely effortless in its celebration of the theater, yet through Renoir’s color compositions, camera work, and the way he directs his actors, The Golden Coach emerges as a film that blends the beauty of theater and cinema. The film is essentially built around the performance of the great Italian actress Anna Magnani, and she absolutely shines. Renoir’s camera is passionately captivated with her as she completely embodies the central core of the film and in the end it is her and theater. The Golden Coach is a remarkable achievement of filmmaking that I would rate among Jean Renoir’s very best!

Monday, May 28, 2007

May 28th Log

2007, Gore Verbinski, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

Bloated mess very much in the vein of the second film, which lost the fun and magic of the charming original. Johnny Depp is a great actor and his performance in the original was the heart of the film. However as this franchise develops further with the latest two sequels, Depp is being overused with a character that has now become dull. Even so Depp remains the most likable aspect of the film (alongside some impressive special effects and set designs) as the rest of the cast is completely uninteresting and each character has there own motive that subplots begin to overwhelm any drama or charm or action that takes place. Even for brainless Hollywood blockbusters, the latest Pirates film stands as an uninspiring film.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

May 27th Log

1943, William Wellman, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

William Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident is a classic film. Unforgettably powerful upon its release in 1943, the film still holds up today. The story is simple and to the point but one that holds true and universal. Today The Ox Bow Incident may appear heavy-handed at times but this is a film that holds up because of its artistic direction and its thought-provoking impact. Through the simplicity of the story emerges a film that questions the risk of group-thinking and of human nature cynical tendencies (ignorance, blame, hate, vengeance, madness, etc). The film questions the idea of putting the law and justice in peoples hands and even asks what is justice and what does it do to individual lives? The Ox Bow Incident was a film ahead of its time and certainly one of the saddest films produced during the Hollywood Production code era. The entire cast is terrific (notably Dana Andrews and a young Anthony Quinn as the wrongly accused men), but carrying the emotional core and moral dilemma of the film is the great Henry Fonda who seems to be foreshadowing elements of his memorable role in the 1957 classic 12 Angry Men. Wellman was an acclaimed director, but one who was not well liked because of his controlling tendencies. The Ox-Bow Incident is a very theatrical film, yet Wellman gives his artistic cinematic touches highlighted by the opening and closing shots which represent the film coming to a full tragic circle (as we see the opposite shot of the cowboys riding away from the town and the dog again crossing the screen in the opposite direction). A sad and thought-provoking film, The Ox-Bow Incident is a richly layered classic.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

May 26th Log

2006, Clint Eastwood, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Letters From Iwo Jima shares many of the emotional themes and filmmaking tactics of Flags of Our Fathers (as well as the obvious fact that both are centered around the opposing sides of the 36-day battle for the island of Iwo Jima). While similar, Iwo Jima stands as the far superior film. Flags of Our Fathers was well made and well-intended but felt as though it was dull or without a heartbeat. Made on a $55 million budget Flags of Our Fathers seemed to epic-scaled for Eastwood gifts as a filmmaker. In contrast, Letters From Iwo Jima was made at $15 million, and the result is an emotionally powerful war film that his made with an intimate presence of mood and in Eastwood-fashion a sense of doom. The film is really at its best in the first hour, as we find the Japanese soldiers preparing for a battle with little hope. The films second hour is not as intimate but remains equally powerful. The battle scenes are handled with skillful direction. This is a great war film in the mode of Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One, or Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Told in a classic style, Letters From Iwo Jima ends with an image that binds the emotional core of the two films together, as we see a both a Japanese and American solider lying together on a hospital bed. With these films Eastwood and his writers question the essence of war on both sides. Letters From Iwo Jima is an extremely well made film and one of the great American war films of recent years.

2006, Guillermo del Toro , Mexico / Spain
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Directed by Mexican cult horror filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth is a childhood fantasy made for adults. It’s brutal and violent depiction of the aftermath of the Spanish civil war terrifyingly sets the backdrop of what it is fantasy full of imagination and wonder. Del Toro flawlessly blends reality and dreams, and we quickly discover that the nightmare of the story comes from the real world. Here the fantasy is developed as a means to escape the cruel reality of the world, but Pan’s Labyrinth is not a typical film of childhood innocence and ultimately the world of fantasy and reality converge in a haunting finale that is exquisitely executed by Del Toro. Pan’s Labyrinth expresses a haunting portrait of a child’s terror in a way that few films do. Ofelia (played by Ivana Baquero) handles both worlds and their villains, but as the troubles of the real world escalate and eventually converge with her imaginary creation, Ofelia must choose a decision that could impact either world. Pan’s Labyrinth is a film of terrifying cruelty, repression, and horror, yet is a film that speaks for the love of humanity. Del Toro creates a visionary film of wonder and imagination contrasted by brutality and violence while ultimately capturing the strength of human spirit and sacrifice. What is most effective is that Del Toro offers this through a film that completely original and deeply rooted with personal expression. I wouldn't call this a masterpiece, but it is a very good film and one that will solidified itself as a classic of its era.

Friday, May 25, 2007

May 25th Log

2007, Adrienne Shelly, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

If only life were as easy as pie.” Watching Waitress it is difficult not to think about the tragic death of director, writer, and actress Adrienne Shelly, who was murdered in November 2006. Shelly is most known as an actress, but Waitress is her third feature film as a director. I have not seen her other films, but this one was really enjoyable and quite moving. Shelly depicts most of the characters (most specifically the men) as exaggerated, but it effectively works with the tone and narrative of the film. Waitress is really a sweet and charming film, with moments of humor, inspiration, and compassion, notably for women in tough marriages or relationships. Kerri Russell shines in the lead as a waitress who uses her talented pie making as an escape and a dream away from her cruel husband, who she discovers has unexpectedly made her pregnant. Cheryl Hines and Shelly are also quite good as her coworkers, and Russell and Nathan Fillion (as the nervous doctor) have some strong chemistry together. Waitress is a charming and sweet film that easily wins over its audience.

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. More specifically the film deals with the duties of life, but this is handled in such a simplistic grace in the hands of Ozu, as much of the emotional core is hidden underneath the surface (as is the presence of war) 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.

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

>>> Here is a clip from There Was A Father:

Thursday, May 24, 2007

May 24th Log

2006, Steven Soderbergh
1st Viewing, DVD

The Good German is a well made experimental film. What Steven Soderbergh and his talented cast and crew make is a film with interest as an experiment, which is ultimately a dull film. Really the idea and the sheer technical magic of the filmmaking and performances are something to enjoy, as is the nostalgic romanticism of the Hollywood studios days. Soderbergh shot the film as if it were made by a major Hollywood studio in 1945. He shot the film in a studio using the classic equipment and shooting techniques of the studio days (single shot by shot takes; bright backlighting; and boom microphones). Of course it is also easy to see the marketing direction of the film, which seems very much to be in Casablanca mode (just look at the poster!). The Good German also features a star-studded cast with two of my personal favorites (Cate Blanchett and George Clooney) leading the way. Blanchett is my favorite actress and I don’t think I’m being biased when I say she is terrific again here. This was one of three major highly acclaimed “Oscar-buzz” films Cate Blanchett starred in at the end of 2006, and while she was fine in all of them The Good German may have been her best performance of that year. Blanchett's accent combined with the way in which Soderbergh lights her face, easily brings to mind the legendary German born Hollywood star Marlene Dietrich. Soderbergh gives the film his own sensibility (as well as a post-Production Code/Rated R film) through the editing which mixes together the stories of the three characters (played by George Clooney, Tobey Maguire, and Cate Blanchett). In this sense the film is a blending together of two eras of filmmaking, and while an interesting and perhaps bold experiment it fails through a lack heart. Clooney is a great and versatile actor, but here he seems so artificially posed under Soderbergh’s direction (much in the way he was in Soderbergh’s other failed “experiment” Solaris). It all looks good but lacks the magic of its intentions.

1962, Jean Renoir, France
1st Viewing, DVD

The Elusive Corporal was the last theatrical film Jean Renoir directed. Adapted from a novel by Jacques Perret, many considered this film to be a World War Two Prisoner of War remake of his internationally acclaimed 1937 masterpiece The Grand Illusion (often citied among the greatest films in French cinema history). Here the great humanist master again centers around the characters of his film, resulting in an intelligent and sophisticated film that is both funny and compassionate in its emphasize on the pointlessness of war. This is a very light-hearted and comic war-themed film, yet in trademark Renoir fashion there is an irony that makes it a thoughtful and even a sad film underneath the surface. Not one of Renoir’s best, The Elusive Corporal is still a great film with an outstanding lead performance by Jean-Pierre Cassel as the French Corporal trying to escape from the Germans.

1954, Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

I plan on watching this film again on Monday and will comment more at that time. This is another one of the landmark masterworks that I must reflect upon and immediately revisit and continue to revisit. Kenji Mizoguchi is one of the worlds all-time greatest filmmakers and one first viewing of this beautifully newly released Criterion DVD (for the first time on DVD!) I can only say this is a masterwork that I would rate alongside Life of Oharu as his finest that I’ve seen. The initial viewing left me speechless to describe but perhaps after a repeat viewing on Monday, I can elaborate more thoughts.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

May 23rd Log

2007, Hal Hartley, United States / Germany
1st Viewing, DVD

Ten years after his most highly acclaimed film (Henry Fool), New York indie filmmaker Hal Hartley follows up with this sequel Fay Grim. I’m not sure how necessary this sequel is, and I need to revisit Henry Fool again soon, because I think even if Fay Grim stands on its own it can be much more appreciated in connection with the original. Here the tone has changed and Hartley makes a film that takes itself seriously only somewhat at times. The films strength comes from its pitch-perfect casting which easily blends with Hartley’s sensibilities and style as director and writer. Of course Parker Posey carries the film and again proves why she is one of the very best actresses in independent American filmmaking (if only she could get some respect from mainstream studios). Posey understands the irony and the compassion of the character, right from the open still shots of paranoia to the final close-up look that captures the face of American who is mystified by the happenings of the world. Shot in digital video in four different countries (United States, France, Turkey, and Germany) Fay Grim is a film that reflects upon America’s global situation and its paranoia (heightened by the endless use of slanted camera angels). It is this but it is also a rather funny and enjoyable film, utilizing Hartley’s deadpan comedy and dialogue as well as Posey’s terrific performance. Fay Grim is a bizarre film, but one Hartley’s fans will truly appreciate.

2007, Alan Berliner, United States
1st Viewing, HBO

Writer, producer, editor, director and subject Alan Berliner’s documentary is neurotic and self-absorbed, but I guess that is the intentions since he is trying to put the audience in a position to understand his mind and his world. He is an insomniac (living and in someways embodying New York), who gets most or his work done at night, while others are asleep. The documentary is certainly entertaining, mostly because of all the old footage and sounds Berliner uses. One of the things he does in the late hours of night is collect and organize all sorts of “stuff”, such as archived film footage, personal and lost family home movies, newspaper images, and most interestingly a file cabinet of sound effects (each drawer is labeled with a sound and when it opens the sound plays). The film is entertaining and interesting and unique and bold of Berliner (and his wife) to complete. Wide Awake is not a great film, but it is engaging and fascinating to see all the clips and footage Berliner incorporates (including the wonderfully moody musical score from That Uncertain Feeling, directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch).

2004, Richard Linklater, United States
Repeat Viewing, HBO

What a gorgeous film this is! As brilliant as Before Sunrise is (and I believe it to be be an absolute masterpiece) Before Sunset is equal- if not better- in every way! I love these films! Much like the first film, it's such a simplistic approach yet reaches depths and complexities of endless philosophical and romantic themes. Ultimately everything centers around the connection or longing of two human souls. While together both films are wonderful, Before Sunset is really a sequel that stands on it's own. What this film does is it takes a second chance at fate. Richard Linklater's direction is fabulous. Once again he features long, elaborate tracking shots as the couple move throughout the backdrop of the city (this time the location is beautiful Paris, which captures an absorbing and breathtaking atmosphere). Ethan Hawke and especially the radiant Julie Delpy deserve equal credit to Linklater, not only for the wonderful recreation of the characters (Jesse and Celine 9 years later), but also for co-writing the brilliant dialogue. They each inhabit their roles to such perfection it's truly a joy to watch. Their conversations are full of intelligence as it displays both humor and heartache in reflecting upon the past 9 years. Time has passed, their lives have changed, even their perspective of life of changed (perhaps more cynical and less hopefully romantic?), yet the true feelings and longing within their soul remains and it is equally painful and beautiful. This is particularly expressed in one of the films most revealing and unforgettable sequences on the tour boat. Every moment of Before Sunset works, as it arrives to it's emotional (and again, very open) ending. There are several interpretations as to what will happen with Jesse and Celine, but much of it relates to an early sequence at Jesse's book singing in which he compared the cynic to the romantic. However you see the film at it's conclusion it's a very thought-provoking and brilliant ending that carries a variety of human emotions: sadness, regret, anger, excitement, and remembrance (highlighted by the wonderful Nina Simone singing 'Just In Time'). Before Sunset is a lovely, poetic, touching, funny, philosophical, and romantic masterpiece that recalls the beauty of the glorious French New Wave. Comparisons aside however, this is easily one of the most PERFECT films ever made. I love it so much!!!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

May 22nd Log

2006, Roger Michell, United Kingdom
1st Viewing, DVD

Venus is a film driven by it’s performances. While the entire cast is strong including newcomer Jodie Whittaker, and Vanessa Redgrave in her brief appearances, Venus is a film centered around Peter O'Toole. Here O’Toole is given a performance that seems to be like a swan song of sorts in that not only is it an Oscar-friendly performance, but also one that could very well be self reflected. Venus opens with a transcendent shot of waves on the beach before quickly returning into the reality of the world, which is of an old man who is nearing death. The acting is all top notch and O'Toole and Whittaker have the strong chemistry that is required to make the film enjoyable. It an enjoyable one, and sometimes touching, notably in the way O'Toole and his friends (played by Leslie Phillips and Richard Griffiths) attempt to face death with a sense of acceptance and elegance.

1956, Jean Renoir, France / Italy
Repeat Viewing, DVD

The final part of what critics (and later Renoir agreed) consider a loose trilogy from Jean Renoir, Elena and Her Men is one of his most under-appreciated works. Though clearly different in settings, each of the three films (The Golden Coach; French Cancan; and Elena and Her Men share distinct characteristics, style, and an exploration on themes of class, politics, and love. They are colorful, fast-paced, and light-hearted in tone yet deeply rich and revealing underneath the surface. Renoir simply creates films unlike anyone else of his time and his influence today remains undeniable (certainly a filmmaker like Robert Altman among others owe a debt to Renoir). With Elena and Her Men Renoir’s politics appear well under the surface of what is a romantic farce. Ingrid Bergman proves more then capable of performing in French, and she is a joy here. Bergman starred in the film at a time when she still faced backlash from those who criticized her for leaving Hollywood for an affair with Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini. However after completing Elena and Her Men, Bergman returned to Hollywood and ultimately won her second Academy Award (for 1956’s Anastasia). Elena and Her Men is a delightful film that focuses less on the plot details then it does on the characters, colors, and compositions, highlighted by wonderful performances and some terrific moments.

Monday, May 21, 2007

May 21st Log

2006, Sang-il Lee, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

Hula Girls uses all the formula most typical of inspiring sport genre films, of a group of underdogs (of which includes the teacher) that bond together to defy the odds and learn lessons in the process. The film tells the fictionalized true story of the 1965 opening of Japan's first "theme park”: a Hawaiian-themed tourist centre in Joban (Northeast Japan). Though predictable Hula Girls is an undeniably fun family film for all ages. It does not take the formula to new inventive depths, yet is such a pleasure to watch. In Japan, Hula Girls was a box office and critical smash upon its 2006 release and it has the crowd-pleasing universal appeal to reach a wide audience in the West. Both touching and sweet, Hula Girls is a treat.

1952, Anthony Mann, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

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

Sunday, May 20, 2007

May 20th Log

2006, Darren Aronofsky, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Darren Aronofsky gained a large fan base after his first two features (Pi and Requiem for a Dream). Now after six highly anticipated years comes the release of his third film, The Fountain. Whether or not all of his fans will appreciate this is questionable, but there is no denying the daring artistic achievement of his ambition. Not as flashy as his previous features, The Fountain is to me Aronofsky’s finest film. It is an unforgettable cinematic journey of originality almost completely unseen in contemporary American film- let alone from a mainstream Hollywood studio. The Fountain is made with an epic vision. Told in three separate non-linear narratives the film begins a bit confusing, but as it settles everything actually becomes much more cohesive then you would anticipate from such a largely scaled narrative. Taking place over three time periods (16th century, modern 21st century, and futuristic 26th century) the film becomes an awe-inspiring, metaphysical journey for eternal life- as we follow one man’s eternal struggle to save the woman he loves. Blending elements of science-fiction, romance, and melodrama (as well as incorporating spiritual aspects of all religions- notably Buddhism) The Fountain becomes a deeply philosophical, and spiritual study of enduring love, eternal life, and death. In The Fountain we are taken on an exploration of death rarely shown in film. Aronofsky explores the philosophical depths of eternal life (both physically and spiritually). In all three stories, Thomas (played by Hugh Jackman) sees death as a disease or as something to be conquered (be it as a warrior, a scientist, or an astronaut). What Thomas misses is the love that is in the moment. Through Rachel Weisz (his real life wife) Aronofsky captures grace or “awe” in death, of which she accepts rather then fears. Through her transcends the profound spiritual message of the film. A film that is a profoundly unforgettable journey and a remarkable achievement of filmmaking all around (be it in the direction; performances; visual style and special effects; or the beautifully composed musical score). Many will be turned off by the seemingly “pretentious” techniques of Aronofsky’s filmmaking, but I found myself fully engrossed in what is a cinematic experience. A bold accomplishment to celebrate and embrace on many levels. I can understand this film not appealing to mass audiences, but I applaud a major studio like Warner Brothers for giving a mainstream audience an opportunity to see it, because even if opinions vary, The Fountain is a film that deserves to be seen. I will certainly cherish the film as a masterpiece!

1954, Anthony Mann, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

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

Saturday, May 19, 2007

May 19th Log

2007, D.J. Caruso, United States

1st Viewing, Theater

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

1969, Jean-Pierre Melville, France / Italy
1st Viewing, DVD

Army of Shadows opens with a stunning sequence. A long shot in which we see German soldiers marching down the Champs Elysees. It is a symbolic moment and one which sets the tone for what it one of the most controversial yet critically acclaimed films in the history of French cinema. Completed in 1969, Army of Shadows did not see and American theatrical release until 2006, and now it gets a magnificent DVD treatment with the release of Criterion Collection outstanding 2-disc set. The film is an upsetting one to watch, but remarkable for its masterful direction and performances. Jean-Pierre Melville adapted the film from Joseph Kessel’s novel, and ultimately made a deeply personal and haunting film about the French Resistance. Army of Shadows was made in-between Melville’s most famous works (Le Samourai and The Red Circle), and the though this is a war film, you can certainly recognize his uses of the gangster filmmaking style. Melville skillfully shifts from still moments to sudden contrasts of action and violence signified again by the camera work of which includes fluid tracking movement. Above all Army of Shadows uses a minimalist style in the way Melville uses visual framing, and off-screen sounds as devices for subtle symbolic expression. Heightening this are the minimal performances capturing the tone of tragedy over melodrama and silent gestures over dialogue. The entire cast is excellent, with the always terrific Simone Signoret being an especially memorable. Film comes full circle ending with tragic and unhopeful title cards, and a final shot of the Champs Elysees that recalls the disturbing opening image of the film.

Friday, May 18, 2007

May 18th Log

1948, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Though Ozu regarded this film as a failure, it remains among his most emotionally impacting films. Made just two years after the war and during the American occupation, A Hen in the Wind may be the most violent and disturbing film Ozu ever made. However, early traces of his postwar mastery style become evident (notably including compositions, and editing). A Hen in the Wind was the last film Ozu made without co-writer Kogo Noda. Fighting restrictions from the American occupation of Japan, Ozu poetically captures a postwar Japan that is equally tragic and hopeful. Perhaps the driving force of the films heavy emotional impact is from the performance of the great Kinuyo Tanaka, here playing a mother that must turn to prostitution in order to pay medical bills for her sick child, while her husband is away at war. The final images are particularly moving as after we see the couple embrace, Ozu follows with a serious of expressive shots concluding with a similar image that opened the film (there are slight poetic differences between the two).

>>> More on A Hen in the Wind @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

>>> Here is a clip from A Hen in the Wind:

Thursday, May 17, 2007

May 17th Log

1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot, France
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Another film from the great French auteur Henri-Georges Clouzot, but this film may be less his then it is legendary painter Pablo Picasso’s. The film opens with a prologue and a beautiful profile image of Picasso sitting down. He quickly arises and begins to paint as the camera closely captures, thus beginning an unusual cinematic exploration into the mind of a unique artist. The prologue shows Picasso as he begins to paint but the film camera essentially becomes Picasso hand throughout. It may not be a film for everyone, but it can be viewed on various levels: as an examination into the mind or motive of the artist, as well as a study into the artist, and even into the very techniques of painting. As a film The Mystery of Picasso is truly rare. Clouzot simply goes into the very essence of the painter and the film becomes equally unique and even suspenseful in that we await the final results of the paintings. Clouzot mixes the pacing through different methods of presenting the art (sometimes with Picasso’s hands, other times with jump cuts, and at one point a with a change in the films aspect ratio to widescreen). In all there are twenty paintings here and the work is fascinating to view and/or study. This film is a wonderful journey into art and the discovery of the artist. You won’t see anything else quite like it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

May 16th Log

2006, Karen Moncrieff, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

From beginning to end, The Dead Girl is a bleak film. It is structured in five segments: The Stranger, The Sister, The Wife, The Mother, and The Dead Girl. Each segment is inter-connected in relation to the dead girl, whose brutally beaten dead body is discovered in a field. This is the second feature film directed by actress Karen Moncrieff. Moncrieff details each characters psychological and emotional relationship to the dead girl and how each of them are connected through tragedy and depression. These connections come through the emotional state of the characters, which keeps the film from becoming contrived. Moncrieff also connects the segments visually notably in the camerawork and framing from cinematographer Michael Grady (there are many shots with an empty space or dividing wall between characters, heightening the emotional and psychical expression). Moncrieff gets outstanding performances from the ensemble cast and each segment features a particularly strong female performance (be it Toni Collette, Rose Byrne, Mary Beth Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Kerry Washington, or Brittany Murphy as the dead girl). Especially good is Kerry Washington as the dead girls roommate and best friend. The Dead Girl is a depressing film but one that it sensitive and insightful of its subject and its characters. The film avoids plot devices and shock value.

2003, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, United States
Repeat Viewing, Encore

"The earth turned to bring us closer, it spun on itself and within us, and finally joined us together in this dream." Talented Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu follows up his brilliant debut, Amores Perros, with another (and in fact better) masterful, authentic, and emotionally thought provoking examination of guilt, redemption, death, and the darkness of human nature. In many ways 21 Grams is very similar to Amores Perros (which was also written by Guillermo Arriaga), particularly in structure and style. Both follow an intertwining, non-linear narrative which centers around an automobile accident. 21 Grams is structured like a puzzle. It's nothing new or inventive, nor does the film rely on its existence, but it certainly strengthens a greater connection with the lead characters. And when you cast Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro, and Charlotte Gainsbourg, you get exactly what's expected: incredible performances!! All four are flawless (especially Del Toro) and the audience can sympathize with each, despite their flaws or mistakes as human beings. 21 Grams greatest strength may lie in its final theme. For all it's sad, dark, disturbing, tragic, and heart-breaking moments, ultimately is a sympathetic message of hope that will remain in your mind and can leave a positive impact on your perspective of living. Inarritu is a gifted young filmmaker, and (as in his debut film) his optimistic view of life emerges through the dreariness of the film's mood. We all will die, but will the 21 grams we lose be passed on to those who outlive us? An undeniably powerful film you definitely will not forget upon experiencing! "How much did 21 Grams weigh?"

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

May 15th Log

1989, Hayao Miyazaki, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorite filmmakers (be it of animated films or otherwise). Each of his films hold a special quality, as they capture such a wondrous artistic beauty and vision of imagination. Perhaps his most underrated film is 1989's Kiki’s Delivery Service. Kiki’s Delivery Service is rather minor in terms of artistic and technical depth of Miyazaki’s films, but the sheer childlike cuteness and warmth of the film is irresistible and deeply entertaining. In terms of style and approach it recalls much of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, which was released in the US the same year. The story is simple in following a young girl (who’s a witch) dealing with living under her own responsibility. It's also a film about finding yourself (and that includes being a witch or young girl), and finding your gifts (which may include flying- a Miyazaki trademark!). The focus is obviously for children, but it’s intelligent, and the themes are so universal that all audiences can enjoy it. It also has a timeless quality to it's story and surroundings. Aside from the lovely visuals and wonderful characters, the films greatest strength lies within it's simplicity. Miyazaki is not focused on plot as much as he is with the simple experiences of living, and Kiki's Delivery Service displays it with sheer truth, magic, and beauty.

2006, Peyton Reed, United States
Repeat Viewing, HBO

I like Peyton Reed's films. The Break-Up is his third theatrical release and it shares some similarities with his previous (and best) film Down With Love, in it's themes of living and relationships, as well as in it's wacky comedic style and tone. Reed creates a strong visual presence that expresses some of the films emotional conflicts. The film is strange and occasionally neurotic and sad, and while not everything flows as one, The Breakup is a delightful quirky comedy. Even if it doesn't always work, Vince Vaughn (who collaborated on the writing) is charismatic enough to keep it funny and endearing. Vaughn is best when in improv mode and he again displays his comedic gifts here. Aniston conveys a much less interesting charm, but she is aided nicely alongside Vaughn. Jon Brion composed the musical score, but his versatile talents are highly underused and the music is much less memorable and complex then Brion's masterful previous work (I Heart Huckabees, Eternal Sunshine, Punch Drunk Love). The Breakup is a refreshing yet really a rather sad romantic comedy that does offer audiences something new. Reed is a gifted filmmaker, and The Breakup is an intelligent film.

1932, Jen Renoir, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Jean Renoir was a filmmaker far ahead of his time. One of the great humanist filmmakers, his films capture the essence of human behavior through inventive visuals and complex character depth over plot development. Everything is handled with effortless ease, blending humor and energy of the characterizations with the complexity of the dialogue and visual style. One of Renoir’s quintessential films is the 1932 masterpiece Boudu Saved from Drowning. Here Renoir masterfully changes tones while adding some innovative visual techniques. The film is timeless, mostly because of it’s wonderful lead character Boudu. The film is at once funny and compassionate, and sad and poetic. Boudu Saved from Drowning is a simplistic masterpiece achievement from one of cinema’s most influential filmmakers.

Monday, May 14, 2007

May 14th Log

1956, Stanley Kubrick, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

"I often thought that the gangster and the artist are the same in the eyes of the masses. They are admired and hero-worshiped but there is always present the underlying wish to see them
destroyed at the peak of their growth
." While often forgotten among the great Stanley Kubrick's artistic masterworks, The Killing is absolutely one of his most finely crafted films. The Killing is certainly one of Kubrick's most endlessly watchable films and one of the very greatest noirs of cinema. Using a brilliantly created and critical overlapping and non-linear structure, The Killing is flawlessly inventive and incredibly absorbing. The viewer is left at the edge of their seat in anticipation from the very opening frame at the horse track through the great final shot of the heists' doomed fate. Everything just comes together so beautifully and perfectly and the viewer is left blown away. As expected with a Kubrick film, every image is stunning and beautiful composed in black and white photography. Also, the dialogue and performances are outstanding, but most notable is Sterling Hayden as the heist leader Johnny Clay and of course Marie Windsor as the manipulative femme fatale wife of Elisha Cook's vulnerable George. The Killing is truly a perfectly executed film noir that which has only grown in influence and impact since it's release. Though this is just the 3rd feature film from Kubrick, it remains among his most engaging and influential, and beautifully represents his genius vision. A must see!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

May 12th Log

1931, Jean Renoir, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Jean Renoir's La Chienne is a landmark in French film history. While not his first (or even greatest) film, this remains an important early from one of cinema' most influential filmmakers. Renoir's depiction of human behavior and morality is brilliantly executed. Using symbolic imagery and engaging cinematic technique, Renoir captures a rare visionary atmosphere of human and social divide. Quite simply put, Le Chienne is a monumental achievement in cinema. If for nothing else because it introduced one of the truly greatest filmmakers of all-time. Renoir's impact still stands today, and Le Chienne is a film to experience and never forget!

1959, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

By 1959 Ozu had converted to making color films, but he refused to fall into the conventions of CinemaScope. Ozu preferred his rare and simplistic filmmaking style. However, with Floating Weeds he did get the legendary Japanese cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa (most known for his work with the great Kenji Mizoguchi) to photograph the film. It remains one of the only post-war films not be shot by Yuuharu Atsuta and also one of the few color films in which the camera moves. Visually the film is stunning and breathtakingly rich and detailed. Floating Weeds is a remake of Ozu's 1934 silent film A Story of Floating Weeds. While the storyline is alike, the biggest difference between the film lies in the tone. Both films handle the melodrama in different ways. Floating Weeds is a compassionate at times visually masterful film. Not everything works here but there are some moments of humor and subtle poetry.

>>> More on Floating Weeds @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

>>> Here is a clip from the opening moments of Floating Weeds:

Friday, May 11, 2007

May 11th Log

2007, Mike White, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

After writing some successful scripts (including School of Rock, which is a film I absolutely love!), Year of the Dog marks the directorial debut of Mike White. The film is a “quirky” comedy, but more then anything it could be regarded as an unsettling comedy. The technical direction of the film (center framing, and individual close-ups) is a bit distant despite White’s collaboration with talented cinematographer Tim Orr (most know for his outstanding work alongside David Gordon Green). The films greatest strength lies in the genuine lead performance of Molly Shannon, who alongside White’ script never treats the character as mockery or disrespect. Above all the film embraces outcasts and individuality in a way that is both disturbing and touching. Though she is convinced otherwise by her family (an overprotected, suburban sister-in-law and brother) and coworkers (including her friend who endlessly pushes relationships upon her), Peggy finds her own freedom and happiness within herself. Year of the Dog is a film that at once is unsettling and inspirational.

1997, David Mamet, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Pulitzer Prize winning Playwright David Mamet is a brilliant screenwriter! The dialogue of all his films are completely fresh, and have a rare quality. The Spanish Prisoner is no exception. Every word spoken is outstanding. Sure, it's a bit unique from anything else, in cinema, but it certainly captivates my attention. The Spanish Prisoner, like Mamet's greatest masterpiece House of Games, resembles the work of Alfred Hitchcock in it's psychological games it plays with the both the audience and characters of the film. We're never really sure what's going on, and when we think we do, we soon discover we're wrong. The film is constantly questioning who and what can be trusted. The end my leave some holes or flaws, but the strength of the film lies in the setup. The Spanish Prisoner is an overall highly enjoyable and interesting display of intrigue, and top notch Mamet-esque dialogue, as well as many of his usual ensemble cast members (including Ricky Jay and his wife/muse Rebecca Pidgeon.

>>> For the first time in awhile I did not watch an Ozu film this Friday, but I will be watching Floating Weeds on Saturday night.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

May 10th Log

2007, Marc Lawrence, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Music and Lyrics opens as a music video straight out of the 80s with a catchy song ‘Pops Goes My Heart’. It’s a funny parody video and sets the tone for what it is surprising witty and charming romantic comedy. Drew Barrymore And Hugh Grant have been in a fair share of these genre films, but they really do excel in them. Barrymore is especially likable in just about everything, and she is wonderful alongside Grant here. Grant is given the meatier role and his makes use of it with his typical insightful comic timing. While perhaps not inventive in any way, the film really has charm and laughs. The music and lyrics as a metaphor for relationships is evident in the theme, but really only subtly applied giving the film an intelligent and unforced quality. It doesn’t resort to cheap laughs at the expense of its characters. You genuinely like the people in the film in a way that is reminiscent of old-fashioned Hollywood romance and comedy.

1951, Jean Renoir, France / India / United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Jean Renoir's 1951 The River is a film of incredible grace and beauty. This is Renoir's first color film (shot in glorious Technicolor), and it also marks one of his earliest English-language film. The River captures the essence and delicateness of humanity with utter perfection. Shot entirely on location in India, Renoir makes the film with insight, respect, and authenticity. The River displays the truth of human emotions, and through the films imagery and narration, a reflection of living and culture. The river in many ways symbolically represents the cycle of living and a connection of life for the films characters. Also, like theriver, the film beautifully flows. Renoir rates among the most important filmmakers of cinema, and though The River may not quite be in the class of his landmark achievements (Grand Illusion, Rules of the Game), it remains among his greatest films. A film that captures the beauty and reality of human emotions and life, as well as culture.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

May 9th Log

2007, Susannah Grant, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Catch and Release is a film that tries to portray reality and for the most part is effective. However, the film is driven by its plot which is ultimately a little unbelievable and contrived. When centered around the characters the film is much more enjoyable. Jennifer Garner plays the lead (a young widow recovering from the death of her finance just days before their wedding). Garner isn’t bad but she a bit dull. The films charm almost entirely comes from the performance of Kevin Smith (yes director Kevin Smith!). He did not direct or write, but he absolutely steals every scene he is in. Smith is a funny guy but there is also something genuine about him that makes him so likeable (here as the wisecracking friend and roommate). The film always centers around the existence of the departed yet it never fully captures his existence (even as a backdrop). Catch and Release is not a bad film at all, but it is flawed. Susannah Grant has written some screenplays (In Her Shoes, Erin Brockovich), and this marks her directorial debut. The think the problems develop in the script, and while the film is somewhat dull it remains watchable.

2007, Michael Lehmann, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Thank you for turning me into a societal cliche” This moment of dialogue seems to just about sum up the film, which at almost ever turn resorts the characters into social and culture clichés. It gets to a point that becomes irritating and even downright disrespectful to borderline racist in some instances. A sense of humor is one thing, but cultural stereotypes is simply not funny, it is embarrassing. Ironically Because I Said So opens with a sweet montage of various cultures over generations. The most unfortunate aspect of the film is that Mandy Moore gives a strong performance. I have always like her as an actress and here she give another fine performance, but you only wish it was for a better film. Hopefully she will start selecting her roles more wisely in the future because films like this are wasting her talent. The same could be said about Diane Keaton, who posses strong chemistry alongside Moore, but her character is so overplayed it comes across more sad then it does charming.

Monday, May 7, 2007

May 7th Log

1939, Jean Renoir, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

French master filmmaker Jean Renoir is among the mostimportant and influential filmmakers in history. His 1939 film Rules of the Game is often considered among the tengreatest films of all-time. That should be enough reason foranyone, especially those who appreciate cinema and it's history, to at least see this film. Though I think it's lost alittle (very little) impact over the years, and don't think it's Renoir's best work (that would be Grand Illusion), it's still a fascinating film to experience and a landmark of cinema. In fact, I'd probably say this film is flawless in all aspects of filmmaking. The inventive cinematography, perfect blend of comedy and drama, and bold French society social commentary remain brilliant. Ultimately the film observes a man who chooses to defy high-class societies standards (or rules of the game) through love and the result is a failing and tragic one. Renoir's style has, and still is influencing some of cinema's great filmmakers (Francois Truffuat, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Paul Thomas Anderson, among many others), and Rules of the Game has been referenced, homaged, or imitated in someform or another. The Rules of the Game is a masterpiece of film history from a master filmmaker of human emotions and morality. Anyone interested in films, absolutely must experience this classic once. "That's become rare."

Sunday, May 6, 2007

May 6th Log

2007, Richard LaGravenese, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Every year Hollywood seems to release a film like Freedom Writers- an uplifting, based-on-true-story tale about a teacher/coach that gives the young students something hopeful. In most cases these films are formulaic and very often entertaining and well intended. Freedom Writers fits the mold, but this one is actually even a bit better. I know I was absorb into the emotional power of the film even if its storyline and filmmaking followed the typical clichés. The film begins with footage of the LA race riots before introducing the “based on a true story” aspect. The film is in fact adapted from some of the real students diaries by screenwriter and directed Richard LaGravenese (a veteran screenwriter directing his second feature film). The films use of these diary entries as well as the relatively first-time acting ensemble of the young students give Freedom Writers a quality of truth that seems fitting for the emotional involvement of the story. Though she can occasionally overplay her roles, I am a fan of Hilary Swank and she does a fine job here playing the teacher Erin Gruwell. Freedom Writers does not suffer from its formula, but there are some poor subplots (mostly involving Gruwell’s struggle with her fellow teachers and administrators). Overall I was moved and inspired by this film. It has a touching story to go alongside some of the usual Hollywood inspirational films of its kind, yet it still has something unique to offer. Freedom Writers works on every level its intends to.

1985, Martin Scorsese, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

After Hours opens (and fittingly closes) with highly stylized and sweeping tracking shot through an office building. This sets the tone for what is a film of absolute cinematic fun and energy. Director by the great Martin Scorsese, After Hours is non-stop invention and enjoyment. Really, Scorsese is working well within genre and the story couldn't be simpler. Yet After Hours stretches beyond conventions and is really like no other film (be it by Scorsese or otherwise). The film is simply follows a lonely and desperate man who decides to send an evening outside his midtown Manhattan home, with a mysterious blond. The night turns out to be much more bizarre and unpredictable then he would have expected and he spends the remainder of the film trying to return home. Ultimately, this is a dark comedy that is driven through characters. This simple narrative is made with such style and skill it's nearly impossible not to enjoy. Scorsese's camera movements are stunning but everything is beautifully composed within the narrative of the film. The visual details and atmosphere are stunning as much of the city's nightlife recalls German Expressionism of the silent era. After Hoursis endlessly watchable, and definitely an overlooked film from a master American filmmaker.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

May 5th Log

2007, Sam Raimi, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

Spider-Man 3 is being talked about for its enormous budget, which is said to be record breaking. While the film will have no problem earning its money back there is certainly a lot of pressure and a lot of studio bosses keeping a close eye on production. This being the third film of the trilogy, Sam Raimi does hold a trust with the studio but when such a large budget is at stake you know there are other hands in control. I guess this may be where the problem lies, as while Spider-Man 3 entertains, it fails to reach the brilliance of the second film of the series most of all because it fails to express a the signature stamp of its filmmaker. The second film has the probably the most freedom Raimi was given with the series and I think it explains why it stands out as the definitive Spider-Man film and certainly the most representative of its filmmaker. Here Raimi seems stuck in the subplots he develops and in an attempt to resolve them all Spider-Man 3 becomes weighed down and overlong. Spider-Man 3 tacks on the usual storylines of the previous two films and adds on some new villains in Spider-Mans way (the new Green Goblin, Sandman, Venom, and even the dark side of himself). The film does offer something in the character of the Sandman that leaves potential to connect on a deeply human level, yet the focus shifts from this potentially dark and moving emotional struggle of the character towards the big-budgeted CGI effects (which are admittedly impressive). The films finest moments (when the darkside overtakes Peter Parker) appears to be borrowed from Jerry Lewis. Raimi’s usual dark humor comes across more forced here (even J.K. Simmons as the cynic newspaper is funny yet still more artificial then the previous films). Raimi did manage to get in some of his self-homages, as again we see an amusing cameo by Bruce Campbell (this time as the waiter of a French restaurant). Overall the film does have a lot of emotional drama and romance to go along with the typical action. Perhaps it becomes overwhelming to handle it all. The second film remains the peak of the series and certainly the most definitive of Sam Raimi’s filmmaking.

1975, Stuart Copper, United Kingdom
1st Viewing, DVD

Overlord is a beautifully shot film the blends documentary and fiction into a World War Two narrative centered around a young soldiers progression from training to D-Day. The film uses real archived news footage from the war to capture a greater sense of authenticity. This is effortlessly combined with a almost dreamlike quality captured through the lens of the great cinematographer John Alcott (who is most remembered for his many collaborations with the visual master Stanley Kubrick). The film truly centers itself around the lead character Tom Beddoes (played by Brian Stirner) and we are taken on his journey through the ranks of British army and into D-Day. Director Stuart Copper gives the film a poetic feel while also attempting to keep it authentic and emotionally involving. Overlord is a very good war film and an underseen gem of a film that can now reach wider audiences thanks in part to Criterion Collections outstanding DVD treatment.

Friday, May 4, 2007

May 4th Log

2007, Gregory Hoblit, United States

1st Viewing, Theater

Fracture is directed by Gregory Hoblit, who is most known for his often-discussed 1996 thriller Primal Fear, which is remembered for its surprising twist. With his latest film Fracture, Hoblit again seems to be working in similar territory and we are effectively setup for surprises along the way. However, with this film we are quickly aware that the character (played by Anthony Hopkins- in a performance that seems to channel Hannibal Lecter) is a murder, we are simply watching to see if he will get ware with it. Fracture delivers the twists and turns, but ultimately the film losses the momentum as it develops. Hoblit and screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers have a strong background in Television and this very much plays out like a TV series. It is slick looking, and the performances really keep it absorbing. Hoblit has a history of casting high-profile lead actors and Fracture is no exception as the legendary Anthony Hopkins squaring off against recent Academy Award nominee Ryan Gosling (in the Clarice Starling role). To be fair, this is not Silence of the Lambs or even Primal Fear, and it is inferior to both films. However the performances really pack a punch and the setup is promising. To me it seemed as though the film began to coast into the trap of formula and grew a little boring after the initial development.

1937, Jean Renoir, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

This month I will be watching and rewatching the films from the great Jean Renoir- one of the most important and influential directors of all-time. The Grand Illusion is perhaps Renoirs most celebrated films. It's also one of the very best war (or anti-war) films ever made. Through long camera takes, Renoir powerfully reveals the meaninglessness of war. The film focuses on three French soldiers in a German WW1 prison camp, and the German commander who becomes friends with them. Regardless of language, class, or cultural differences the films details the wonderful humanity amongst the characters. The beautiful final shot of the invisible border summarizes Renoir's humane theme of the film. A very simple shot that speaks of endless meanings and depths. Incredible! The title is represented by the number of illusions throughout the film (which is the "grandest" is left open): The illusion that war is good or worthy? That war will end? That national boundaries do or do not exist? Or that World War 1was the "war to end all wars"? The Grand Illusion handles WW1 the way few films do: peacefully, friendly, yet disturbing.Along with Rules Of The Game, this ranks as one of Renoir's greatest achievements, which is more then enough reason this is a must see for anyone interested in cinema.

1934, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Repeat viewings of A Story of Floating Weeds has really given me greater appreciation of it. I initially considered it one of my least favorite Ozu films, but have grown to appreciate the film as one of his pivotal achievements of his silent period. The film does mark a key movement that would later define his mastery. A Story of Floating Weeds is one of the earliest to examine not only the family, but the disappointment or deconstruction of the Japanese family. This would be a theme that would become definitive throughout his career. A Story of Floating Weeds is among Ozu's more melodramatic films, yet the melodrama is presented with irony and realism through Ozu's essential focus of character over plot. Everything comes together beautifully as Ozu sets up the emotional expectations before quickly changing them again to capture a realistic emotional response and the authentic feelings and cycle of living. For that the film is successful and remains and interesting early achievement of Ozu's career. However more then just its influence, the film embodies Ozu mastery way of taking a simple melodramatic narrative and subtly transforming it into something deeper and even more spiritual. By “floating” along the landscapes of Japan and through simple and quiet little details, Ozu transforms the film into one of feeling- a feeling that is both happy and tragic.

>>> More on A Story of Floating Weeds @ A2P Cinema's Yasujiro Ozu website HERE

>>> Here is a clip from A Story of Floating Weeds:

Thursday, May 3, 2007

May 3rd Log

1986, Robert Harmon, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Having not seen either film, I decided to rent both versions of The Hitcher and watch them back to back. First up, the 1986 original directed by Robert Harmon. I can’t really say I enjoyed this film, but it does at least have some genre qualities that make it watchable. The films greatest strength lies in the performance of Rutger Hauer, who is menacing as “the hitcher” John Ryder. There are certainly ridiculous moments at work here, but Hauer’s performance is consistently strong throughout. The opening sequences are engrossing and in fact it is really the opening scene that sets the entire story in motion). The Hitcher has earned cult status and one of the most discussed scenes is the one in which Jennifer Jason Leigh is tied in-between two trucks. The Hitcher has its qualities and is really a pretty simple horror/thriller. I think the concept of a hitcher-hiker horror film probably works more effectively in the 1960s or 70s yet you get the feeling there are some thematic undertones underneath the simple plot of the film. Perhaps that is why this has grown its cult reputation and attracted none other then Michael Bay to develop a modern-day remake.

2007, Dave Meyers, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Michael Bay seems determined to remake every popular horror/thriller ever made. His latest (as producer) is the 1986 film directed by Robert Harmon. While I can’t say the original is all that much a “classic” to me, I undoubtedly prefer it to this mess. Here Bay hires (big surprise) a music video director. From the opening title card and first shot (a rabbit getting run over) the film seems to force the issue. While the original was not a great film at least it had a sense of some imagination. These Michael Bay remakes seem to completely misunderstand and ultimately disrespect there originals by attempting to out due them as if they were never made. In the end, this version of The Hitcher is a straightforward remake with the minor changes essentially losing the impact of the original narrative. This version is simply set to throw everything at use and force the issue as if we are viewing something groundbreaking. If this film has anything positive it is that Sophia Bush is very attractive, though that hardly does the film any justice. I simply did not enjoy this at all.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

May 2nd Log

2006, Kelly Reichardt, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Old Joy is a quiet and simple film that reveals its emotional depth through feeling. The film runs just 73 minutes and really only features several scenes. However these moments are revealing through subtle dialogue and gestures. Aiding this is an undercurrent of visual beauty and environments. The story centers around two old friends who reunite on a trip in the mountains. Together they look to recapture their :old joy” and youthful spirit, yet clearly it becomes evident that this is lost. This is all expressed in the slightest of expression, including the way the film contrasts the visuals of natural landscapes and industrial environments. Director Kelly Reichardt (in her feature debut) reveals a lot through visual feeling and gestures, while keeping a tone of mystery, capped off with a sudden inconclusive final shot.

2007, Michael Apted, United Kingdom / United States

1st Viewing, Theater

Michael Apted is a filmmaker that does not hide his liberal slant. With his latest film, Amazing Grace Apted uses his liberalism with a heavy hand of guilt in an ambitious account of William Wilberforce’s passionate campaign to end slave trade in Britain. Though the film is heavy-handed in its politics it is very insightful and certainly well intended. Ioan Gruffudd gives a strong lead performance as Wilberforce, and he is aided by a solid supporting cast (notably Albert Finney as a former slave trader turned preacher, as well as a charming performance by Romola Garai as Wilberforce’s wife). The film is powerful and intelligent in both its politics and spirituality, highlighted by the use of the song Amazing Grace.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

May 1st Log

2007, Nick Cassavetes, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Alpha Dog is the fifth feature film director by Nick Cassavetes, who is the son of the great pioneer filmmaker John Cassavetes. The film never tells us it is based on real events, but clearly the “documentary” notions and the title cards (with dates, times, and witnesses) indict that we are watching a reenacted true story. The film opens with a documentary-like interview of a father discussing bad parenting and one would think the films moral conflict might center around this. Perhaps that was the films intentions, but the unevenness of the narrative never really brought this or any other emotional conflict. Ultimately the film is weighed down by its own flashy shock value and unneeded visual techniques. Granted the cast is young but I thought the performances were ineffective, even by the veterans (especially Sharon Stone)- each of whom overplays there character. There is some entertainment value here and Nick Cassavetes is capable of making better films. Here he seems unsure of what direction to take the film and what to take out, which leaves Alpha Dog feeling uneven. The film is overly ambitious and perhaps might have been better off with a more conventional genre approach.

A2P Cinema May Feature Film

Ernst Lubitsch . 1943 . United States

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