Wednesday, February 28, 2007

More favorites

Here’s some other films I saw in 2006 for the first time and loved although they are older releases. Of the nine, only one is American and it was made in 1963. As I said in yesterday’s post regarding the great Mexican trifecta in 2006—American directors need to make better films!

Laputa: Castle In the Sky (Japan, 1986)—I watched this brilliant Hayao Miyazaki anime film two times in 2006. One word review: magical. This has all the Miyazaki staples—flying contraptions, good v. evil, kids on adventures and just so many other elements. This might be my favorite Miyazaki film and that’s saying something considering his past.

Charade (USA, 1963)—Completely beguiling film with star studded cast: Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and Walter Matthau. Paris looks romantic and beautiful as this delivers twists and turns and is a joy from the first frame to the last. Perfect.

City of God (Brazil, 2002)—This is an intense coming of age film set in Rio De Janeiro where childhood friends take alternate paths as they grow up. Violent, vibrant and energetic as all get out, City of God puts an interesting spin on the crime film with its setting and characters.

The Bird People In China (2003, Japan)—This was a surprise from gonzo Japanese director Takeshi Miike. BPIC is a bit of a madcap comedy early on in a remote village in China that then slows into a meditative, lush look at rural life. Tender, beautiful, funny and a welcome departure for Miike.

Tony Takitani (Japan, 2004)—Enjoyable, brief, dreamlike film based on a short story by Haruki Murakami (read his stuff!) about a man who spends most of his life alone until he meets a special woman w/ an odd addiction. Quirky and hypnotic look at longing and loneliness.

Hands Off the Loot (France, 1954)—I was absolutely blown away by this ’54 French gangster film from director Jacques Becker. I’m stunned I never saw it, as it’s one of the best gangster films I’ve ever seen! What I love about is it is subtle and understated as it follows the weary struggle of an aging gangster trying to save his partner and loot in the Paris underworld. Amazing!

Schultze Gets the Blues (Germany, 2003)—Sweet as heck film about a laid off German worker who loves the polka and playing his accordion. One night Schultze hears zydeco music on the radio and his world is turned upside down. Schultze is a man of few words but he’s so honest and innocent, just like this film.

Best of Youth (2004, Italy)—I’ll save the best for last. This is a nearly six hour epic family drama that traces the lives of two brothers as they go from youth to middle age. This covers every facet of life—love, marriage, fatherhood, heartbreak, political history etc. The last hour+ is flat out magical and even after 6 hours I didn’t want it to end.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tops in '06

Okay, February is over and I haven’t written my top ten for 2006! That’s not good. So, here goes. These are in alphabetical order—although if I had to pick a top film, it would be either Babel or Pan’s Labrynth.

Babel—Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s 3rd film is another non-linear downer but I was mesmerized from the get go. No one is making more emotionally ambitious films than this talented Mexican filmmaker. This has multiple stories bouncing back and forth, most of them heartbreaking.

Borat—Anything that makes me laugh this much has to be among my favorites. I have been a fan for years and years and this didn’t disappoint. Cohen is absolutely fearless and carries the torch for Andy Kaufman style hi-jinks.

Children of Men—Dystopian future world where women can’t have babies and England is a police state? Count me in! Another Mexican filmmaker here—American directors better step up to the plate.

Pan’s Labrynth—3rd Mexican film. I saw this months ago and I’m still haunted by it. It’s got this dual story line set in fascist Spain and in a young girl’s fantasy world and both are as vivid creations as you’ll see all year. I wish Guillermo Del Toro would stick to this kind of stuff rather than the comic book adaptations like Hellboy.

Stranger Than Fiction—I really enjoyed this comedy/drama that has a guy who starts to hear a voice and it changes his life. It’s funny, quirky, romantic and smart. What more do you want from a film like this?

The Departed—Although this is a bit convoluted (not nearly as much as the Hong Kong original), this is the Martin Scorsese that I love: criminals, murder, gritty violence, cops, f-words, etc. Great cast, great ending, great filmmaker who still loves movies and it shows every time out.

The Descent—This film with a group of athletic women going down in a remote cave, getting lost and then encountering some nasties my favorite horror film of the year. It turns into a friggin’ bloodbath and I loved it for that.

The Fountain—Highly pretentious, ambitious, nonsensical, visually dazzling, wildly romantic film that I loved (and wanted to hate) but sometimes damn it, I just want to see an American director who has the guts to make such an out there picture. This had no chance to be a hit but it’s got some thrilling filmmaking in it so I forgive the ponderous elements.

The Proposition—An Australian western that goes all Peckinpah and Biblical on us thanks to Nick Cave and cohorts. This has more flies per character than you are likely to see in a film. Violent, gritty and takes no prisoners. We need more westerns!

United 93—White knuckle gripping and very well made as the story juggles every conceivable element from the doomed 9/11 flight.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Yi Yi

Yi Yi (2000) is Taiwanese director Edward Yang's seventh film, but his first to be released in the U.S., so unless you are able to attend a decent film festival, watching this on DVD will be your first chance to see one of his movies. And what a great movie Yi Yi (A One and A Two) is. The film is a subtle, profound, simple work of beauty that I loved!

Almost three hours long, Yi Yi attempts to capture every conceivable moment of living in a Taipei family: weddings, funerals, births, loves, loss, romance, murder and suicide. Every joy and pain of being a human being is woven into the narrative and casts a magical spell in its slow, steady pace by Yang.

Yi Yi tells the story of a single middle class family in Taipei by using multigenerational stories to show all facets of life. There is a curious and precocious 8 year-old boy named Yang Yang, a quiet high school daughter named Ting Ting and the father, NJ, is suffering from a mid life crisis. The story weaves mainly around these three and Yi Yi captures the complications of being in a family in a complete arc.

This is filmmaking at its most heartfelt and honest and I can't stress strongly enough how good Yi Yi is. In this day and age of wham bam visuals and rapid fire editing, Yi Yi has a patience that is refreshing and should be done in more movies. There should be a revolt against the cut-cut-cut short attention span idea of filmmaking!!! Why is it that so many Asian directors understand this and so many directors from other countries do not? Yang uses many effective long takes that make it possible to really get into the characters hearts and minds.

I said Yi Yi has a slowness to it but it is not slow. The three hours go by in a blaze because it is so engrossing and well done. Yi Yi isn’t in a hurry, it just goes onward, as life does. Yang won best director at Cannes for Yi Yi and it was well deserved. Yi Yi will make you love, cry, feel, laugh, and think as you watch it and it is highly, highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


All I need to say about this is: David Cronenberg. If that makes you think that Videodrome (1982) will be something off the beaten path then you know what to expect. Cronenberg likes the strange and out-there in his films—Crash (not the Crash from a few years ago but the ‘90s Crash about car wrecks and sex!), Dead Ringers—among many others that will freak you out. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

Videodrome stars James Woods as a TV exec named Max who stumbles across a hardcore s/m satellite feed called Videodrome. The signal is so real that it might be a snuff film but he still wants it to air on his channel that shows a lot of soft-core porn. Max meets a woman named Nickie (Debbie Harry, in her first acting role) who is into s/m and who also sees the video and gets drawn into its dangerous world.

I don't want to say much on the plot, as it would spoil some of the twists or turns into weirdness that develop. I really enjoyed Videodrome as it excels as what is a fantasy/reality horror film but also pushes buttons regarding issues such as the power of TV in the world and how it is connected to sex and violence in our lives.

One of Cronenberg's main obsessions seems to be the application of technology in our daily existence. In Videodrome, technology is literally inserted into the human body where it forces total control over the person's life. In one of Cronenberg's most recent films, eXistenZ (1998), some of the same themes cropped up. Both films use startling images of technology, as it becomes a part of the human body. Those ideas creeping up today in this world of machines is not much of a surprise but to have them so graphically expressed in '82 by Cronenberg is downright chillingly visionary.

Videodrome is a bizarre mind bender with fantasy and reality merging in a world of thought control, technology, sex, violence, TV, paranoia and philosophical cults. Very recommended if you want to step out of the mainstream into the darkness of the wilds and let Cronenberg lead the way. Long live the new flesh!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Viva Mexico!

I need to see a few films before I compile my best of 2006, as I need to see The Queen, Letters From Iwo Jima and The Lives of Others. If you notice the high scores of three of the films I saw in January you might notice the connection of three of them—a Mexican director. Those films—Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth and Babel will all by going for spaces in the my top 10 of ’06.

I loved those three films so much it will be hard to rank them against each other. Maybe I should give the trio a tie for the top spot and say Mexico wins? Take what you think are the three best directors from each country in the world and compare them with Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Alfonso Cuaron and it will be a serious battle between what country wins. These gentlemen are making great, challenging works of art that can be thought of as best in the world after their last three films were released.

The most surprising in this group of three has to be del Toro for Pan’s Labyrinth. While I’ve enjoyed some of del Toro’s past films (Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone), nothing quite readied me for Pan’s Labyrinth and its blend of history, fantasy and brutality. Pan’s Labyrinth is breathtaking as you watch it but its most important quality is the fact you can’t stop yourself from thinking about it weeks after you’ve seen it. I know I haven’t as it creeps back into my mind from time to time.

The least surprising is Inarritu, and his latest partnership with writer Guillermo Arriaga, in Babel. I highly enjoyed Inarritu’s first two films, Amores Perros and 21 Grams, but the duo have gone all epic on us. Babel is set in multiple continents, has multiple story lines, uses multiple languages and has a non-linear framework that challenges you to think deeply about what you are witnessing. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to write that last part of the sentence about a director making films today. Babel maybe a lot of things, and you may either love it or hate it, but I found it gut wrenching, invigorating and highly artistic (pay attention to all the various film stocks/techniques Inarritu uses as he moves from setting to setting).

Children of Men is the kind of film that I’m an easy mark to enjoy. If it’s about a dystopian future world I’m gonna be into it. I’ve loved stories like this since I was a teenager and discovering science fiction. I was not expecting the film to be as good as it was as I watched incredulous from the middle of the theatre. Cuaron’s film is so controlled, grey, oppressive and dark as ideas, dialog and action fly by at such a pace that I am certain this will go down as one of the all-time dystopian films in a few years. It’s that good.

How to choose the best of these three thrillingly different and wonderful movies? Maybe I won’t be able to and I’ll declare Mexico and movie lovers the true winner? Viva Mexico!

Friday, February 02, 2007

January movies

Here's the list of movies I saw in January. I'm also including my rating for said film. I do a 1-5 rating, 1 being terrible and 5 being perfect. For the record, I don't generally give out a 5 the first time I see a really, really good movie. What may turn into a 5 after a couple of viewings usually starts off w/ a 4 or 4.5.

Georgy Girl--1966--England--3
The Devil Wears Prada--2006--USA--3
Black Peter--1963--Czech Republic--3
The Fireman's Ball--1967--Czech Republic--5!
Children of Men--2006--USA--4
Casino Royale--2006--USA--3.5
Seven Men From Now--1956--USA--3.5
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot--1974--USA--3.5
Streets of Fire--1984--USA--3
Good Morning, Night--2003--Italy--3
The Family Stone--2005--USA--2
The Curse of the Golden Flower--2006--China--3
Pan's Labrynthe--2006--Mexico--4
Old Joy--2006--USA--3.5
Shadow Magic--2001--China--3.5
The Last King of Scotland--2006--Scotland--3.5
Blue Velvet--1986--USA--5!