Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Great Scenes # 51: L'Eclisse (1962)

Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

This scene is best seen after you've seen the entire film. It's the final scene in the beautiful love story L'Eclisse which is basically a montage of every place the two lovers of the film has been in throughout the film. Only devoid of the presence of the couple. It's a rather long scene but after seeing the film, you are overwhelmed with the desire to see them again. You never do. It is a beautifully realized, poetic way to end a film. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (5/19/13 - 5/25/13)

The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann) **1/2 - Director Baz Luhrmann is a filmmaker whose style I both admire and hate in almost equal portions. There are moments in nearly all the films I've seen of his which I like and which I find irritating. Unfortunately for this film, the irritating parts won out. I've just read the F. Scott Fitzgerald book and this film simply ratches up the lavish decadence described in the book in a way, way, way too stylistic way. So stylistic that the substance within the book was lost. Now, this type of thing would be forgiven if Luhrmann had taken it either a few steps further and made into an over-the-top melodramatic musical but he wanted to have it both ways and ultimately it felt half-assed. The production design and costume design are pretty to look at and the actors try their best. Not completely horrible but falls short.

The Navigator (Buster Keaton/Donald Crisp) ***1/2 - Two spoiled rich young adults find themselves adrift at sea after they accidentally board a vessel targeted for sabotage. It's not my favorite Keaton film but it's still a pretty great picture featuring some great Buster Keaton brand of physical comedy, stunts and gags (the one involving a scary looking painting was particularly hysterical) and of course exquisite filmmaking.

Fast & Furious 6 (Justin Lin) **1/2 - I actually dreaded watching this after disliking Fast Five. But I decided, what the hell, give it a try. And to my surprise, I found myself liking this one quite a bit more. The film is ridiculous, dumb, silly and stupid and it knows it. But what it lacks for logic and substance, it makes up for in extremely well-shot and edited action sequences (where you actually know what's going on, what are the stakes, etc.) I felt the plot in this one is a bit better because it has a more interesting villain and the car chases, fights and crashes are a bit more engaging and exciting. I mean, who WOULDN'T wanna see Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano kick each other's asses? Right? Still not a fan of this series but this time, at least I could see the appeal.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (5/12/13 - 5/18/13)

Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette) **** - I didn't know much about this film going in. I've heard of it. I knew of its reputation. I knew it was gonna be kind of a strange film. I'm glad I didn't know because part of the joy of this film is letting its strange narrative structure to unfold before your eyes. What goes on is alternately confounding, disturbing, shocking, surprising and even hilarious. The three-hour running may be intimidating and indeed as the film progresses, you may feel that the film is going off the rails but believe me when I say that the final 20 minutes that it all builds up to and it all comes together, it is pure cinematic joy. An astounding piece of work.

Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey) *** - I had a mini-Ray Harryhausen marathon today to commemorate his recent passing. I know I've seen these films, or at least part of these part of these films when I was younger. Now it's time I review them with adult, critical eyes. Jason and the Argonauts is undeniably a fun adventure and the skeleton fight-scene, courtesy of the aforementioned Harryhausen, is a highlight as well as the giant moving bronze statue. The acting is so-so but you don't watch these for the acting anyway.

Clash of the Titans (Desmond Davis) ***1/2 - Now this one I enjoyed quite a bit more. Maggie Smith and Laurence Olivier are part of the cast so you KNOW the acting department is well taken-cared of. And watching this really highlights how lame the 2010 remake is. Sure, the CGI effects look more polished and "realistic" but Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation still is more fun to watch especially if it's on the small screen. I mean, the Medusa in this one is far more effective than the CGI Medusa. There's also a lot more story, depth, character and imagination in there as well. Hell, Bubo the Owl alone kicks most CGI character's asses.

Star Trek: Into Darkness (J.J. Abrams) ***1/2 - I intentionally avoided spoilers and trailers for this movie so color me surprised. As it turns out, the second film from the Abrams-verse alternate Star Trek timeline is actually a pseudo-remake of (SPOILER ALERT!!!) Wrath of Khan. Although it does not follow the exact same story, the story beats and structure of the film felt familiar. It also helps that Benedict Cumberbatch delivers an outstanding performance as the main villain. He is absolutely riveting when he's on screen. That, coupled with an extremely well-crafted and exciting action picture makes this film probably my favorite summer movie so far.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Listology # 26: Top 10 Films of 2011

10. Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)
Korean films tend to show up frequently in my lists. This is yet another one. This time, it's from Lee Chang-dong, another great Korean director. This is a compelling, beautiful drama about an elderly woman who takes up a poetry writing class and at the same time having to deal with both a diagnosis  of impending dementia and an unspeakable crime committed by her ungrateful grandson. It seems like overwhelming downer of a film but the result is something so beautiful...and dare I say, POETIC. It features a comeback performance from Korean actress Yeong Jeong-hee who coaxed out of retirement by the director to make this film.
9. Shame (Steve McQueen)
Sex addiction is a subject matter that's not too often tackled in cinema. British director Steve McQueen tackles the tricky, racy subject head-on reuniting with his Hunger star Michael Fassbender and creates this stunningly crafted and acted film about a young, handsome, relatively successful man in NYC afflicted with sex addiction. Michael Fassbender is fantastic and so is Carey Mulligan as his differently damaged younger sister.

8. Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn)
Carey Mulligan also stars in my next entry. This time, it's about a stunt driver for movies who moonlights as a getaway driver from criminals. It's a nice, hard-edged pulpy little genre flick that harkens back to some of the classic adult thrillers from the '70s as well as some European/French crime films of the '60s. Ryan Gosling is terrific but Albert Brooks steals the show as the main villain.

7. We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay)

This is the most recent entry to this top 10 list, having seen it just last week. I was surprised at how much I absolutely loved this film. I have to admit that I've been hesitant to see it despite the critical praise it received because of the upsetting subject matter of a school massacre and I feel I have enough of that in real life. But it's not like that at all. Instead what we have is sort of a hybrid of both a horror film and a character study of woman who has to deal with an apparently sociopathic child. Tilda Swinton is magnificent as is the actors who play her son in different ages especially Ezra Miller.

6. 13 Assassins (Takashi Miike)
I love samurai movies. But I'm not the biggest fan of director Takashi Miike so I was cautiously optimistic with this one but it blew me away. The plot is simple: An psychotic son of a ruling lord has wrecked havoc in a village and 13 samurais/assassins are hired to kill him. It's packed with action and the fact that it reminds me so much of the great samurai films from the 50's and '60's brings a joy to my heart. Is it as great as Seven Samurai? No. But it's damn close and it's good enough for a place in the top 10.

5. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)

The great Iranian filmmaker travels to France to make a (mostly) French film about a man and a woman who meet and talk. Are they a couple? Are they gonna be a couple? Were they a couple? Are these two alternate realities or flashbacks/flash-forwards? The film never answers these questions but we're left with a superbly acted and thought-provoking piece of cinema. It's sort of like Before Sunrise with older people.

4. Pina (Wim Wenders)

I'm not the biggest fan of 3D but there are two films in this list that I would HIGHLY recommend that you see in 3D. This is the first one. I don't claim to be the most cultured guy in the world. But you don't have to be a fan of modern dance to be enraptured, mesmerized and fascinated by this beautiful documentary on the life of the late, great artist, dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch. Director Wim Wenders uses the 3D technology to cinematically capture every dimension and nuance of the art of dance. It's the most superb mash-up of cinema, stage and dance. It is a wonder to behold.
3. Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
This is the other film that I highly recommend that you see in 3D. I recently re-watched this in 2D. It did not diminish the magic of the film, not one bit. Martin Scorsese's first film geared towards younger people is, as critics rightly pointed, probably the most personal and the most Scorsese-esque film in a long, long time despite the absence of bloodshed and violence. It tells the story of an orphaned boy who uncovers a secret left by his dead father. It's also a beautiful love letter to film and the art of film. Knowing what I know about Marty, this film is like glimpse into his heart and soul and of course the heart and soul of any person who loves film.

2. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
Like Korea, Iran has had films pop up on my list as of late. This intense, thought-provoking domestic drama from Iran deservedly brokethrough the mainstream and swept through awards season that year and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It's unusual because the Academy very rarely awards Asian/Middle-Eastern films. At first, this film seems to be about a couple wanting to separate but something happens which escalates a series of events which complicate things. Though it passed the stringent Iranian censors, this film manages to comment on Iranian society very subtly. A truly great piece of work.

1. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
As I sat in the theater when the credits rolled for The Tree of Life, I was stunned, speechless, confused, baffled, moved, etc. All sorts of feelings were rolling in my head. There are so many things I wanna say about this film. All I know is that I witnessed something truly special and purely cinematic in its artistry and language and story, even. It moved me spiritually and affected me deeply and made me think about big questions of life, love, death, the existence of God, our relationship to the universe, etc. Beyond that, the jaw-dropping cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki and the great performances of the cast simply elevates this film into the stratosphere. As much as I love this film, I can completely understand how some people may HATE it. However, if there's one thing we can agree upon, this film is destined to be talked about for a long, long time. That for me is a mark of a great film.

Runners-Up: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (David Yates); Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen); Mysteries of Lisbon (Raoul Ruiz); Super 8 (J.J. Abrams); Rango (Gore Verbinski).






Sunday, May 12, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (5/5/13 - 5/12/13)

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay) ***1/2 - I'm surprised how much I love this film. Well, I guess I shouldn't since Lynne Ramsay is one of the most interesting, compelling filmmakers working today. The subject matter of the film, about the mother of a teenaged boy who go on a mass killing spree in his school, kept me away from it in a long while. The film, beautifully shot by Seamus McGarvey, is far less sensationalistic than its apparente subject matter suggests. It's introspective, haunting and lyrical but also filled with tension and horror(thanks to the non-linear structure). Great performances by Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller (one of the best young actors out there today).

Charulata (Satyajit Ray) ***1/2 - A lonely housewife whose husband is a busy newspaper publisher finds love and inspiration with her husband's cousin. Though not my favorite of Satyajit Ray's films, this film still has many earmarks of his greatness. Not the least of which are the great performances of the cast that gives fresh life into the love triangle/adultery story. The ending, in particular, is beautiful and haunting.

Evil Dead (Fede Alvarez) ***- I'll say it off the top: I consider myself an Evil Dead fan. I love the original trilogy. So I was extremely suspicious and skeptical of a remake. That being said, I have to say that I really enjoyed this remake. Sure, it offers very little surprises. Sure, the bigger budget allows for a more slicker special effects and gore but part of the charm (the horror movie definition of "charm") of the original was its low-budget aesthetic. But goshdarnit, I'd be lying if I didn't say I didn't have a good time. Fede Alvarez very wisely did not try to be the original and instead simply paid tribute to it taking advantage of the bigger budget and contemporary sensibilities. It offers up an enjoyable old-fashioned horror splatter film that's gruesomely entertaining. It's also also an impeccably crafted film. Someone give Alvarez money to do something original, stat.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (4/28/13 - 5/4/13)

Shame (Steve McQueen) ***1/2 - First off, let me say I can't believe this got an NC-17. The film features some graphic sexuality and nudity but tastefully (and very masterfully and artfully, may I add) shot. The sex scenes are more sad and disturbing rather than erotic or titilating since it IS a story about a man struggling with sex addiction. Michael Fassbender gives a very naked (both physically and emotionally) performance as a handsome, successful guy afflicted with it. Carey Mulligan is also equally impressive as his equally but differently damaged sister. Both were robbed of Oscar nominations. Another winner from director Steve McQueen.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Russ Meyer) *** - This film is a mixed bag. More good than bad but still mixed. It's a tad overlong. Some scenes are edited in such a way that's a bit jarring. Some of the story threads are better than others. But still, this is worth watching just for the totally crazy batshit insane final 20-30 minutes! It's a campy, trash sexploitation piece but with more sophisticated, literate dialogue courtesy of Mr. Roger Ebert, who wrote the screenplay. Filled with eye-popping colors and beautiful design, it seems like Russ Meyer threw everything on the wall just to see what sticks. It's sometimes fun, sometimes tedious but mostly interesting. Recommended for weird moods.

Trance (Danny Boyle) **1/2 - Danny Boyle is an interesting filmmaker, kind of hit and miss with me. This one is a mixed bag. First off, the first act sets the stage for potentially intriguing and interesting twisty thriller: A heist of a valuable painting gone wrong when one of the accomplices loses his memory and the thieves enlist a hypnotist to retrieve it. The next couple of acts go from one twist and gotcha moment after another. It's these types of high-concept genre films that has twists and turns and the blurring lines of what's real and what's not and who's playing who can go off the rails pretty easily since it is a balancing act of writing, directing and editing. These elements often go off the rails until the thing doesn't make all that much sense but the performances and filmmaking are all on point and exquisite that I'm almost willing to forgive the narrative flaws and logic lapses therein.

The Party (Blake Edwards) ***1/2 - Birdie num nums! LOL. One will be LOL-ing in this wonderful Blake Edwards-Peter Sellers cinematic collaboration (their only non-Pink Panther film together). The brownface conceit aside, Sellers is wonderful as a bumbling Indian actor who gets accidentally invited to a lavish Hollywood party. Chaos ensues. I was struck by how this film felt like a Jacques Tati film (Playtime, in particular) with the way the gags, slapstick and the descent (or ascent) to chaos is structured (I looked it up and it was indeed Tati-influenced). It's terrific.

A Tale of the Wind (Joris Ivens) **** - An elderly filmmaker, Joris Ivens, the director himself, goes to China to "film the wind". This is a film which really defies classification. It's technically a documentary but it's not really exactly. There's a story arc but it's not exactly a narrative either. It's not a full-on mockumentary. I honestly didn't know what to make of it at first since it goes into all sorts of strange directions, almost dream-like at times, meta at times, both dream-like and meta at the same time. But I think it all came together and won me over in the end. A beautiful piece of work and as I found out, the last film of the director. This has got to be the perfect swan song.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Great Scenes # 50: Viridiana (1961)

Directed by Luis Bunuel
Writer-director Luis Bunuel is a well-known outspoken atheist and he has satired religion in many of his films. The greatest among them is Viridiana, a film about a very devoutly religious young woman who hesitantly accepts an invitation to visit her uncle, complications ensue when he tries to rape her. She decides to stay after he dies and open his farm to the less fortunate. Among all the films that have criticized and satirized religion, this is his best. This scene is a highlight. The beggars she invited decide to have feast in the house and they pretty much trash the place and at one point recreates Da Vinci's Last Supper. I'm actually not an atheist but this is a crazy great scene.