Tuesday, October 30, 2007

20-16 favorite living directors

I sat down and thought about it for 30 minutes and these are the 20 directors I came up without thinking too much about it. What’s hard about this is there are going to be some long-time favorites of mine left off simply because they’ve stopped making good movies. They’d easily make a list of 20 favorite directors of all-time AND are living but fail to make the cut. I know, it’s complicated but that’s the way it is. Those directors should just start making better films!

20/ Ki Duk Kim. I’m starting off with two wild cards, one from South Korea and the other from Thailand. I’m putting them in because they both made one of my favorite films in years and I am really anxious to see what they do next. Kim’s 3-Iron (2004) is a slow moving, quirky romance that blew me away in its assured directness. His Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter….and Spring (2003) is also a beautiful and well thought out film. Kim’s early films are mostly a collection of intense genre pictures such as The Isle and Bad Guy, which makes what he’s done with his last two films I’ve seen pretty amazing.

19/ Pen Ek Ratanaruang. Ratanaruang is on here for one reason: Last Life in the Universe! I saw this in 2003 and it’s one of my favorite films this decade. Like a lot of my favorite Asian filmmakers, this is a slow, dreamy, beautifully shot (Christopher Doyle, probably the most artful cinematographer working in films today was the DP), romantic as hell and with doses of violence tossed in. I just love this movie enough that if Ratanaruang can come close to this I’ll be a fan for a long time.

18/ Takeshi Kitano. “Beat” (his nickname in Japan) is kind of an interesting guy who has dabbled in yakuza (his most known genre), broad comedy (Getting Any?), tragic drama and even swordplay (Zatoichi). His non-linear, high-art crime film Hana-Bi (Fireworks, from 1997) will make you reconsider what a crime film can be stuffed with as it unfolds and twists in time.

17/ Lukas Moodysson. This Swede is not afraid to tackle harsh subjects that will leave you either depressed or glad you are alive. Moodysson has captured youthful angst, anxiety, sadness and desperation in films such as Show Me Love, Together (a film I really, really love) and Lilya-4-Ever. I haven’t seen anything he’s done since Lilya-4-Ever as I just haven’t been in the mood for something to hurt me like his films do. I think Moodysson is one of those filmmakers you either love or hate—something a lot of my favorites probably share in common as you see the list unfold. I love Moodysson but then again, I’m not afraid of suffering when I watch movies. Movies are supposed to make you feel whether it is happiness, fear or heartache. Moodysson will bruise your heart with his raw films.

16/ James Cameron. This might be the weirdest and most surprising director on here but I love seeing a James Cameron movie! His films are just pure adrenalin and spectacle. Early films such as The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss and Terminator 2 are some of my favorites over a 7 year span from 1984-91. Since then he’s made two not as good (you know, some film called Titanic) but he’s got this out there sci-fi 3D movie he’s filming now called Avatar that I’m dreaming of watching. His best films are in the science fiction realm and this one another step into the future with cutting edge technology. I can hardly wait.

Numbers 15-11 soon…

Sunday, October 28, 2007

We Own the Night

There are some filmmakers who love the 1970s and there are some who worship the ‘70s. Put James Gray firmly in the category of falling to his knees in reverence. We Own the Night is Gray in vintage ‘70s flavored cinema and I must confess, I’m right there with him with his passion for that era in films. Why not—it was an incredible decade of telling stories before the blockbuster mentality of the 1980s crushed the spirit of those times. Damn Spielberg and Lucas!

Back to We Own the Night. Gray’s third feature stars Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg as two very different brothers in 1980s Brooklyn. One’s a cop with a rising star (just like their dad played by Robert Duvall) and the other is a club manager who is getting involved with people up to no good. The wayward son will have to make a choice in which direction to go in his life—toward the straight and narrow or the illegal of the Russian mob.

This is the second feature of Gray’s that had Phoenix/Wahlberg in the leads. The Yards (2000) was the first. The story of We Own the Night, it’s meditation on family, crime and choices, are all the themes he keeps returning too. His first film, Little Odessa (1994) had some of the same elements as well.

I got to see Little Odessa with Gray in attendance in 1995 in Seattle and he was extremely energetic in his appreciation of the tone, atmosphere and attitude of films from the ‘70s. I remember him saying that it was the biggest inspiration for him as a filmmaker. With each of his films I think of that night and am kind of comforted by Gray’s inability to move on from that terrific decade. He stubbornly hangs onto the same themes, the same style and keeps trying to make films that feel more like 1976 than 2006.

We Own the Night is no different in that regard. Although set in the 1980s—this is a 1970s kind of film. Unfortunately, the film is lessoned by some plot holes and some behavior of the characters that is highly unbelievable. Criminals do things in We Own the Night I don’t think they would ever dream of doing—all in the guise of moving the plot forward. For a filmmaker who prides himself on a level of ‘70s “authenticity”, not being genuine with the actions of characters is a serious affront to my absorbing the story.

We Own the Night is full of some slow boiling acting (Phoenix gives an intense, full throttle performance), it’s chock full of ‘70s goodness but the plot construction annoyed me to no end! It’s a shame because there’s a good movie here but the unbelievable aspects nearly ruined all the good things. Maybe Gray’s fourth film in his tribute to the ‘70s will be the one where he puts it all together?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Have stars lost their magic?

If you happen to find yourself perusing a magazine aisle or a stand and come across the October 22 issue of The New Yorker, I suggest picking it up for a couple of great articles on film/TV. David Denby writes an interesting essay on the nature of the star making machine, the stars of the '30s-'50s versus the stars of today and just how different the media and public obsession with popular culture is from the "olden" days.

There is also a terrific profile of David Simon and his HBO television show The Wire. This show is one of the smartest, most complex, riveting, thought provoking and entertaining shows to EVER exist in the medium and will air its fifth and last season in January. The first four seasons are on DVD and it will take over your life. It's that good and deserves to be seen by anyone who wants something unbelievably good to watch!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Out of the Past

It’s autumn and a great genre for fall is the film noir (translated from the French as “black cinema”). Sometimes I really get in the mood to watch a noir. There are rules that must be followed. Of course, a noir should only be watched at night—late at night is even better than when the sun just goes down. Out of the Past (1947) is classic noir and is a wonderful example of what makes these films such fun.

Robert Mitchum plays Jeff Bailey, a small town mechanic who gets recognized by some big city tough and is forced to face his past as a private detective. Bailey gets embroiled in a series of events that has multiple people out to get him—this is a noir so you know going in that it’s not gonna be pretty for him to get out of the predicament.

For me, good noir has to have some key elements and Out of the Past has a bunch of them: beautiful black and white photography, lots of shadows and darkness in the frame, murder, manipulative dames, double crosses, trench coats, people shot in the back, hats askew on heads with cigarettes dangling from lips, seedy joints, elicit affairs, no nonsense guys who take zero guff from anyone or they will punch you in the face, following people in a cab, blackmail, double crosses on the double cross, hard boiled dialogue, frame ups, dirty cops, women getting slapped on the cheek and they usually have wonderful, lurid posters with lots of colorful details from the movie (check Out of the Past’s poster out for proof of that).

I’m of the opinion a noir movie has to be in black and white. Some films in recent years have been called noirs—Body Heat, The Last Seduction, and even the 1984 remake of this Against All Odds—but to me those aren’t “true” noirs because of two reasons: they were shot in color and they were made many years after the post WW2 epicenter of the noir heyday.

You wouldn’t call a just released boundary pushing film from France a member of the “French New Wave” or a gritty Italian film about despair and struggle “neo-realist” would you? Well, you might but you’d be wrong. The point is, those film moments happened and were great but they are over. The same should be said of a classic “noir”. A new film might be “noir-like” to me but it will never be real noir because that was the 1940s and early 1950s and those days, just like the French New Wave, Spaghetti Westerns, Italian Neo-Realism and other film movements, are done and gone.

I still enjoy the good films that come out now that ape some of the elements of classics like Out of the Past but they aren’t as good. They don’t capture the authentic, seamy behavior and love stories ripe with danger the way a taut, tense little film like Out of the Past does so effortlessly. When autumn hits and it’s late at night, I’ll veer for the 1940s when I want my dose of noir.

Slow start

I'm still in kind of a hiatus on CineRobot and in the "real" world. It's October 12 and I've only seen two movies this month! The just out Michael Clayton and Out of the Past (1947). Michael Clayton was really good. I doubt I review it (the hiatus after all!) but it's another smart, well-made George Clooney vehicle. Out of the Past was also very good and a review is coming in a few minutes on that film and noir in general. Even if I'm not seeing many films this month--I'm batting two for two in terms of high quality.

Monday, October 01, 2007

September movies

Night Passage/1966/USA/2
Grave of the Fireflies/1988/Japan/3
King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters/2007/USA/4
Gregory's Girl/1980/Scotland/3.5
Soccer Days/2003/Spain/3.5
The Grand Role/2005/France/2.5
The Sweet Lady With the Nasty Voice/2007/USA/3
10 Items Or Less/2006/USA/1!!!
Doc Hollywood/1991/USA/3.5
3:10 to Yuma/2007/USA/3.5
Eastern Promises/2007/Canada/4
The Lives of Others/2006/Germany/4
Trust the Man/2005/USA/3
Raising Arizona/1987/USA/5!!!
A Love Song For Bobby Long/2004/USA/3.5
Legend (Director's Cut)/1985/USA/3