Saturday, November 12, 2011
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Friday, May 13, 2011
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Monday, January 31, 2011
Sunday, December 19, 2010
I’ve often said (likely to myself…) that one of the most interesting and powerful emotions that can be explored through film is regret or disappointment. Indeed, some of the most powerful scenes in film history deal not with love or death or joy but rather with disappointment. Just think of Setsuko Hara’s Noriko in “Tokyo Story” admitting that life is indeed “disappointing” or Benjamin Braddock’s smile fading away in the bus at the end of “The Graduate”. I think the poignancy of these scenes, much like the final moments of “The Samurai I Loved” is due to the fact that feelings of regret and disappointment are absolutely universal in a way that a traumatic death, rapturous joy or even unrequited love simply are not. There’s therefore a far better chance that viewers will connect specifically with the disappointments of a character than they will with a scenes of heartbreaking death, incredible joy, or boundless romance.
Beyond its denouement, “The Samurai I Loved” is also notable for its gorgeous cinematography and the work of Shomegero Ichikawa andYoshino Kimura as the adult versions of Bunshiro and Fuko (though the actors playing the teenaged roles aren’t bad either) whose restrained performances do much to add to the emotional impact of Mitsuo Kurotsuchi’s film.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Masayuki Suo's “Shalle we Dance” is a respectable though underwhelming rom com that benefits greatly from the work of its stellar cast.
On his way home on the train from work, salaryman Shohei Sugiyama spies a beautiful ballroom dance instructor looking out from the window of her dance school. Spontaneously, Sugiyama decides to sign up for a class, only to find out that his classes will be given by a different instructor. Afraid to admit his real reasons for joining, Sugiyama ploughs ahead and begins to actually enjoy the experience. His newfound passion, however, is highly shameful for a conservative man like himself, forcing him to go to great lengths to hide his hobby from his coworkers and family.
The idea of a Japanese rom com can seem puzzling seeing as how the Japanese aren’t exactly known for displays of affection, emotion, and passion. Director Suo acknowledges as much in the opening frames of “Shall we Dance” as the narrator conveys the stigma surrounding dancing in a buttoned up society like Japan. In "Shall we Dance", ballroom dancing works both as a means of escape for Sugiyama from his restrictive lifestyle as well as a metaphor for the rigidity of modern Japan which, even as it blows away the rest of the world with some of its weirdness, remains a fairly restrictive society. Despite its social commentary, however, “Shall we Dance” stays light and breezy, relying mostly on its underlying premise to provide the laughs and introducing a variety of absurd supporting characters to provide some comic relief when the novelty of watching Sugiyama awkwardly stumble around the dance floor wears off.
Although “Shall we Dance” has its moments, its character development (the cornerstone of any rom com) feels surprisingly shallow for a film that lasts close over two hours. The tense relationship between Sugiyama and his wife gets far too little screen time and too much time is spent developing peripheral characters or watching said characters participate in various dance routines. As a result, the conclusion feels rushed as do the denouements of the various romantic intrigues that unfold throughout the film. Despite its faults the film is saved in large part due to fantastic casting, most notably the starring role of the always excellent Koji Yakusho as Sugiyama.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Directed by Liliani Cavani
Liliani Cavani's take on Patricia Highsmith's popular sociopath Tom Ripley is way less fun than it should be, a tame and rarely interesting film that wastes the potential of Highsmith's character.
() is back, this time in Italy where he is playing his trade as an art dealer/criminal and living in a vast but incredibly tacky villa with his wife Luisa. After being insulted by his neighbour Jonathan Trevanny (), Malkovich decides to recruit the poor chap to perform a hit for gangster Reeves (Ray Winstone). After performing the hit, Trevanny falls deeper and deeper in with Reeves and Ripley, even as Ripley tries to keep the coming fallout from the gang war out of his (villa’s) backyard.
“” reminded me a lot of “The Tailor of Panama”. Not that the two stories are similar—they aren’t in the least bit—but rather in that the film adaptations of both are rather boring. I’m not sure what it is about the adaptation of thrillers but many of them seem to translate poorly to the big screen. It may be that building the type of suspense that novelists like Highsmith are famous for is easier over novel than it is in a 90-100 minute film. Regardless, “Ripley’s Game” left me feeling fairly cold, much like Ripley himself, just without the murderous tendencies.
Malkovich’s Ripley is probably truer to Highsmith’s original character than say, Dennis Hopper’s was in “”, but it isn’t any more interesting, that’s for sure. The rest of the cast didn’t do it for me either. Dougray Scott’s dramatic turn as the cancer stricken family man Jonathan Trevanny clashed harshly with Malkovich’s low key, effeminate Ripley. The best casting move in “Ripley’s Game” was picking Ray Winstone for the role of Reeves, Ripley’s hapless partner in crime. If there had been more of Winstone and less of Malkovich, Scott, and basically everyone else it might have been a better film. Or maybe it would have just been more like “”, which would have been fine with me.
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Pawel Pawlikowski's makes magic on a small budget in "My Summer of Love", a riveting, tense and exceptionally well acted story of friendship and deception, both of others and oneself.
Working class Mona meets Tamsin, a spoiled daughter from a wealthy family, by chance over summer vacation. The two girls, neither of whom is particularly stable, embark on a passionate relationship that threatens to swallow them both. Meanwhile, Mona’s brother Phil, recently released from prison, claims to have found Good appears to have turned his life around, leading a worship group from inside his old pub.
When a movie is referred to as “hypnotic” (as “My Summer of Love” boasts on the DVD cover) I rarely expect to actually be riveted to such an extent. Much to my surprise, however, I found myself quite literally hypnotized by Pawlikowski’sfilm. Indeed, I made the poor decision of starting the film right before I should have headed to bed and was immediately riveted, so much so that I literally had to force myself to quit watching an hour past my usual bed time. “My Summer of Love’s” Svengali like grip is due to a number of factors, but cief among them is the tight direction of Pawlikowski who masterfully builds up tension between Mona and Tamsin, as well as the acting of Emily Blunt and Nathalie Press which is fantastic throughout.
Although at its core “My Summer of Love” is about the twisted relationship between Mona and Tamsin, the religious “rebirth” of Mona’s brother Phil is also an important underlying theme. In this regard, “My Summer of Love” seems to take a rather cynical view of religion (in this case a sort of revivalist Christianity). I can understand where Helen Cross, the author of "My Summer of Love" was coming from in her vision of Christianity as a religion riddled with hypocrisy and her portrayal of Phil’s “followers” is not entirely inaccurate, unfortunately. But Cross is no doubt attacking the fringe here, painting a picture of insincere and immature believers whose “faith” is little more than an attempt to escape the difficulties of their past lives. I thought it was a bit of an ugly and unfair portrayal of Christianity but discerning viewers should be able to come to their own conclusions about Cross's treatment of this subject.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Miki’s “Adrift in ” takes an odd premise and makes it work thanks to breezy humor and the charisma of its two male leads.
Fumiya (Jo Odagiri) is a university student woefully behind on some debts owed to local loan shark Fukuhara (). Seemingly without reason, however, Fukuhara promises to forgive Fumiya’s debts if he’ll take a walk with him through Tokyo to the city’s main police station where he plans to turn himself in.
I'd heard plenty of good things about "Adrift in Tokyo" while it was doing the tour of the festival circuit a few years ago and came away quite satisfied with Miki's offering. "Adrift in Tokyo" hits viewers with a of absurd situational humor, some of which works, some of which doesn’t but I found myself laughing out loud at a lot of Miki’s sly gags enough that I gladly overlooked the set pieces that didn't work so well. Any film that tries to throw so much comedic material at its audience is bound to be hit or miss anyways and “Adrift in Tokyo” hits more often that it misses overall and for that, I salute it.
“Adrift in Tokyo ” tries to work at a deeper level as well, reflecting on loss, loneliness, and the importance of family and it does so quite well, mostly because it doesn’t try to go too deep or detract from its comedic raison d'être. There are nevertheless still some poignant moments and Miki’s choice to take a ponderous approach to exploring some weightier themes goes over very well, keeping the proceedings light but still tinged with a wee bit of melancholy. The rapport built between Odagiri and Miura is also surprisingly believable, giving the absurd opening premise some much needed credibility as the film moves forward, even though the father/son motif of their relationship is pushed a bit too far by Miki.
The Tokyo Fumiya and Fukuhara drift around in is, of course, a defining aspect of Miki’s film. Rather than showing the bright lights and big skyscrapers of Shinjuku or Ginza Miki sends his characters walking through the back alleys and tree lined side streets of ’s mega-city. The uniqueness and charm of Tokyo comes through quite well but for audiences who only know the city through movies, it’s a welcome change and an introduction to another side of the city that isn’t seen as often.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Directed by Guillaume Canet
Gauillaume Canet’s “” is a complex, suspenseful and deservedly acclaimed work which serves as an A to Z exposé on what a great thriller should look like.
Alexandre Beck, a paediatrician vacationing with his wife and sister, is brutally assaulted, seemingly without reason, near his lake house by an unknown assailant. He awakes several days later to find out that his beloved wife was killed in the attack. Eight years after her death he is sent an anonymous e-mail containing a link to a live webcam that, inexplicably, shows his wife in real time. Alexandre begins a deadly chase to uncover the mystery, hampered at every turn by the police, a group of hired assassins, and his own family’s doubts about what he claims to have seen.
« Tell No One » does absolutely everything a good thriller should. It’s gripping, intelligent, paced extremely well, and it delivers a truly brilliant payoff to its seemingly far fetched premise. Many very good thrillers go down the drain in their final act when they can’t develop an adequate explanation for the film’s suspense but “Tell No One” takes a seemingly impossible premise and slowly answers the viewers questions as the film progresses, leading to a totally plausible yet nonetheless astounding denouement. In between, however, I wasn’t just twiddling my thumbs waiting to find out the how and the why of the film’s plot. Canet does a fantastic job of keeping the film fresh and exciting throughout its lengthy running time and keeps the proceedings immensely entertaining without resorting to any over the top plot devices. Indeed, Alexandre remains a believable victim throughout, never going on a vengeful killing spree or teaming up with a buddy to dish out some street justice, but doggedly chasing the truth like most people in his situation likely would. Canet wisely introduces enough peripheral characters that we are too busy following the action to wonder who did what to whom which makes the film’s final revelation even more surprising and, ultimately, believable.
It's a great experience for lovers of a good suspense. I recommend it highly.
Wong Kar Wai’s “Fallen Angels” is one of the director’s best known works and unquestionably part of his core oeuvre. Although I don’t feel that it measures up to his best films, it’s still a solid effort from a narrative standpoint and an absolute tour de force visually.
Leon Lei plays Wong Chi-Ming, a contract killer working in the seedy underbelly of Hong Kong, whose hits are arranged by a female handler that he never sees (Michelle Reis). Unbeknownst to him, his handler, whos is also responsible for cleaning up his squalid living space while he is out, has become interested in him after hours spent rifling through his stuff. At the same time, in a mostly unrelated parallel storyline (A recurring motif in WKW’s films) Takeshi Kaneshiro plays an excentric mute who begins an unconventional (and unilateral) romance with a jilted woman still obsessed with her former lover.
“Fallen Angels” reprises many of Wong Kar Wai’s classic themes—loneliness, urban isolation, unrequited love and the search for connections in a disappointing and cold world. Although “Fallen Angels” is much less adept than other WKW films such as “Chungking Express” or “Days of Being Wild” at exploring these themes, it doesn’t completely miss the mark either. It’s much less structured than either of the latter two films (or most of his other work, for that matter) and there’s a fair amount of throwaway scenes (particularly those involving Karen Mok), but it’s still infused with the same loneliness and melancholy that are trademarks of WKW’s core works.
Visually, however, this is no doubt Wong Kar Wai’s seminal film, the fullest realization of he and Christopher Doyle’s unique aesthetic vision. The crisp editing, neon drenched color palate and radical camera angles that came to typify Wong and Doyle’s work dominate “Fallen Angels” and the resulting sensory overload makes the films a highly polarizing, love it or hate it (or at least dislike it) experience from an aesthetic standpoint. Although I preferred the visual and audio bravura of “In the Mood for Love” or even “Happy Together”, there is no doubt that “Fallen Angels” offers a unique opportunity to see Wong and Doyle throw caution to the wind and go for broke. It also highlights Doyle’s incredible versatility with the camera and his uncanny ability to excel in diverse genres while still retaining a very distinct visual style. I recall watching “Temptress Moon”, a rather standard nineties costume melodrama, without knowing that Doyle was in charge of the cinematography and realizing, probably five minutes in, that he was behind the camera based solely on how distinctive the visual experience was.
Doyle’s collaborations with WKW remain some of the most visually fruitful in film history mostly because his visual excesses are never (or rarely) restrained by the director. It’s a collaborative approach that’s difficult to pull off but, when done well, can yield wonderful results as evidenced by Doyle and WKW’s excellent body of work together.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Tetsuya Nakashima’s tale of revenge swings for the fences with its ambitious, scandalous premise but comes up short on the delivery, offering an awkward, overly serious take on a pretty absurd subject matter.
A middle school teacher, following the death of her young daughter, informs her class that she is quitting. Before she does, however, she lets her class know that her daughter’s murderers are in her glass and that, due to the fact that they are both protected by Japan ’s juvenile criminal code, she has taken the law into her own hand and has spiked the milk they drank earlier that morning with a deadly virus. The rest of the film follows the fallout from the teacher’s actions and the two infected students as they struggle to regain control of their lives after the incident.
I don’t have any issue with films that go for the shock factor, but there’s certainly a way to do it that demands a certain amount of tact and skill. Oftentimes films which try to shock work best if they tinge their approach with a fair amount of humor, usually of the absurdist variety, not so much to take the edge off (though it helps) but more to keep a measure of context to the far fetched nature of the plot. While watching “” I repeatedly thought of another Japanese director, Sion Sono, and couldn’t help but feel that he could have taken the subject matter of “Confessions” gone way, way further with it and still made a film that was entertaining and watchable. Confessions takes itself much too seriously which doesn’t sit well in a film that has such an absurd plot. There are certainly elements here and there in Nakashima’s film that have some promise and a teacher taking revenge on her students is probably a cathartic subplot that a number of individuals in the teaching profession might perversely take pleasure from. But the execution is lacking and despite its considerable length, “Confessions” covers surprisingly little ground.
On the plus side, the technical aspects of the film are for the most part well done and there’s an interesting, if not altogether original, camerawork that runs through “Confessions”. This goes to show, once again, that even a lacklustre film can at least be partially redeemed by attention to more technical details.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Directed by Oliver Stone
Oliver Stone’s follow up the one of the most influential films of the eighties, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" is unfortunately a rather unworthy follow up to Stone's groundbreaking essay on greed and the rot of capitalism gone crazy.
After eight long years in prison, disgraced financier Gordon Gekko returns to New York City in an attempt to reunite with his estranged daughter (Carey Mulligan). Unfortunately for Gekko, his daughter has decided to marry the risible Shia Lebeouf who plays Jake (yeah, I know it's just acting, but Mulligan actually started dating Lebeouf during shooting! Bad choice, Carey!) , an ambitious prop trader working for one of Wall Street’s biggest investment banks. Jake’s firm quickly goes south, however, when a rival financier named Bretton James (Josh Brolin) aggressively shorts its stock leading to the collapse of the firm and the suicide of its managing director who was also Jake's mentor. Jake seeks revenge with the help of Gekko, a onetime rival of James, much to the dismay of his fiancé.
Despite Michael Douglas’s return as Gordon Gekko and a premise that seems ripe for some richly deserved skewering of the financial sector, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is a pretty big disappointment. My feelings were pretty much summed up by a guy who accosted me immediately after the end of the film and exclaimed “What a waste of eight bucks!” Indeed.
Probably the biggest disappointment for fans of the original Wall Street is the minor role Douglas plays in « Money Never Sleeps » as Gordon Gekko. Douglas ’ Gekko is one of the most well known villains of American cinema, a brash, arrogant, morally bankrupt power broker responsible for such awesome quotes as “Lunch is for wimps!” Douglas is back as Gekko in “Money Never Sleeps” but he’s given far too little screen time to light it up like he did in the first instalment and that’s a major bummer, especially since most of his screen time is stolen by the rather blah Shia Leboeuf. It’s a puzzling decision on the part of the screenwriters, especially since Douglas appears to be in vintage form in the few scenes he’s given.
“Money Never Sleeps” also misses the mark in its portrayal of post housing market collapse America and the decrepit financial services industry that brought the system to its knees. The late 2000’s recession is certainly fertile ground for a “Wall Street” sequel since its causes--avarice, greed, and wild speculation--are eerily reminiscent of the anything goes 80’s that the original “Wall Street” was based on. Nevertheless, whereas “Wall Street” came to define an economic chapter in American history, “Money Never Sleeps” doesn’t feel nearly as important. Sure, there’s some decent barbs taken at the architects of the financial collapse but there’s nothing as compelling as Gordon Gekko proclaiming that “Greed is good” before dismantling a decent company just to make a quick buck. Part of the problem is that that scathing social critique of “Wall Street” never comes close to being duplicated in “Money Never Sleeps”. Stone has certainly turned down his rhetoric somewhat over the past few years. Even “W” was pretty tame. Although I dislike a lot of Stone’s earlier work for being too overtly biased in its politics, a movie like “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” would have been well served by pulling no punches. The fact that it does is what ultimately sinks “Money Never Sleeps”, though not enough Gordon Gekko is an almost equally important factor.