Monday, December 31, 2007

#2 Living director--Paul Thomas Anderson

Now it’s getting tough. Anderson is without a doubt the most promising American director working in films today and whose There Will Be Blood is one the most eagerly anticipated films for me in years (see earlier post a few days ago). Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love are all films I really loved. Anderson has not made a film that isn’t terrific yet.

What I like about Anderson is you can see his love of Scorsese and Altman but he uses those icons as his guide to create new, highly complex, highly intelligent and quirky films. Anderson’s writing and the performances he gets out of his actors (he’s fond of character actors which further endears me to him) are flawless.

Like four of the final top five of my favorite living directors, Anderson doesn’t make a lot of films, so when something in the vein of There Will Be Blood comes out, I’ll be there near the front row, absorbing every single second.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Two videos from Tsai Ming Liang

I'm going to try to avoid going crazy posting too much video but had to post a couple of things from Tsai Ming Liang (or Tsai Ming-Liang or as I just call him, "Tsai") since I recently posted he was my fourth favorite living director. The videos will give you more of a feel for the quirky uniqueness that is Tsai.

The scene from Goodbye Dragon Inn is typical of a Tsai scene--not a lot seems to be happening, stationary camera, extremely long take. A lot of Asian directors seem to be unafraid of the long take whereas American or Western directors are usually going to cut-cut-cut more. I personally love the long take AND the stationary camera. Enjoy!

The Wayward Cloud trailer is from the "less is more" school of trailers (unlike the vast majority of trailers out there that tell you way too much of whatever movie you are eager to see). It's short, odd and mysterious--what the film is about is anyone's guess judging by the trailer. Those are my favorite trailers. The Wayward Cloud, Tsai's previous film but not his most recent (that would be I Don't Want to Sleep Alone) is one of the stranger films of his. Set in the future where there is little to no water (unlike the early films of Tsai when water was an important element in film after film), people subsist on watermelon juice and watermelons. The film is highly erotic with a lot of kinky business on display. It's not my favorite Tsai film but I really love the trailer.

The Wayward Cloud trailer

Goodbye Dragon Inn scene

Thursday, December 27, 2007

#3 Living director--Julio Medem

The Basque director Julio Medem is the most overt romantic working in films and I’ve loved every single movie he’s made I’ve seen—Cows, The Red Squirrel, Earth, Lovers of the Arctic Circle (watch the trailer below on my first time use of video in CineRobot history!) and Sex & Lucia. Medem seems obsessed with ideas such as fate, coincidence and love. I’ll watch anything relating to destiny/coincidence but Medem tells his stories in such a lively, erotic way he makes me want to move to Spain or Finland or wherever his films are set.

I've really liked all the films of his I've seen but the one with a special place in my heart is Lovers of the Arctic Circle. He’s got a new one coming out in 2008 called Chaotic Ana and I can hardly wait to see it.

Lovers of the Arctic Circle trailer

I have video! I have video! It's a high tech day in the world of CineRobot. Enjoy the trailer for Medem's 1998 film Lovers of the Arctic Circle in its original Spanish.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

#4 Living director--Tsai Ming Liang

Tsai Ming Liang from Taiwan is another original that makes the kind of films you are either going to love or hate. It may take a few of his films before you decide that you are enjoying what you watch but once you do—you are hooked for life.

Tsai's films are slow, utilize very little dialogue, are notorious for extremely long takes where not much action occurs but zero in on all these elements that show up over and over in a Tsai film. His films are some of the most lovingly shot and crafted you will see on screen. His recent films such as What Time Is It There?, Goodbye Dragon Inn and The Wayward Cloud are like color photographs that sometimes move—so buried in their character’s stillness. I’ve waited eagerly for each new Tsai film for well over a decade and even though he’s an acquired taste, he’s easily in my top five favorite living directors.

I would start with the earliest Tsai films you can find (Rebels of the Neon God, Vive L’Amour, The Hole etc etc), as they all star his alter ego Kang Sheng Lee and it’s basically the same character in different phases of his life (sort of). If you start with the recent ones, you can follow the story of the characters but they will be out of order and there is a slight connection to each film (at least to fans of Tsai).

Countdown to There Will Be Blood

Look at that poster and what do you see? Daniel Day-Lewis. Paul Thomas Anderson. A period epic about early days of oil wildcatters set in the west, in the desert. Early word is Day-Lewis gives a blistering performance (that's a shocker!) and that Anderson has made a film that is a stark departure from anything he's done in the past.

Look at that poster again. There Will Be Blood is the most eagerly awaited film for me to see since the latest Malick movie. How much longer do I have to wait until it comes to Tulsa?

Monday, December 24, 2007

#5 Living director--David Lynch

When I was a teenager I discovered the wonderful and weird world of David Lynch through two films: Eraserhead and Blue Velvet. The latter is still one of my favorite films ever. Since then I’ve let Lynch take me down strange roads time and time again. I think he’s one of the most unique voices in American film who refuses to play by Hollywood’s rules—his most recent, the three hour epic Inland Empire, was shot on DV and is as puzzling, exhilarating and interesting as anything Lynch has ever done. I recommend pretty much every release Lynch has made, from Twin Peaks toThe Straight Story to Mulholland Drive, it’s all worth seeing as Lynch pulls the curtains back on the dangerous that lurks just below the layer of innocence. Go to and check out his daily weather reports from this American original.

Kill, Baby...Kill!

The best title for a movie I saw in 2007 deserves a review on CineRobot and that would be this 1966 Italian psycho-horror film from Mario Bava. Originally called Operation Fear, not sure what the over the top title means but it does draw your attention.

The film is a claustrophobic, low-budget tale of a single deadly night in a remote village as a doctor arrives at sunset to perform an autopsy on a woman who has leapt to her death at the start of the film. The village is lost in a paralyzing haze of superstition and believes they are under a powerful and deadly curse. Anyone who sees this se
ven-year-old girl named Melissa will soon die a mysterious and painful death.

As the night goes on the village slips further and further into frenzy as Melissa appears, people die and everyone gets more frantic and paranoid. The doctor, normally a believer in the rationality of science and medicine, will join into the unhinged fray and question his own sanity as the events begin to take a toll on him and another woman who he attempts to protect.

Although Kill, Baby…Kill! is a low budget b-film, it is highly atmospheric; garishly lit with splashes of color everywhere all over the village; ther
e’s a lot going on in Kill, Baby…Kill!, that make it just a standard horror film from the era. Bava uses dramatic extreme zooms that I love to see in films like this—a few times he zooms in and back out in one take in the span of a few seconds. He likes it so much he’ll do it again and again in the film.

Another favorite moment in the film is a shot at the end that is incredible and straight out of the Vertigo guidebook of a spiral staircase (see the below still taken from that shot). Bava doesn’t show just a person fleeing down a spiral staircase—the camera actually spins around and around creating this “maximum” spiral effect that is worth seeing the entire film for. As I saw this shot, I thought, “Whoa!” and rewound the DVD to watch it a second time—something I rarely do.

Bava is a legend in the area of Italian horror films—Black Sabbath, Blood and Black Lace andTwitch of the Death Nerve (more great titles!) are some of the other films he’s known for. I haven’t seen those last two but am planning on watching in the upcoming weeks since I enjoyed Kill, Baby…Kill! as much as I did.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

How quickly can things change in the span of a generation. In the late 1980s, America and Afghanistan were bonded by the covert battle between the Mujah Hadeen and the Soviet occupiers (they did the fighting, we did the supplying of arms). Without U.S. support, the "freedom fighters" would likely have lost more lives over a much longer fight that may or may not have ended in jubilation. When the Russians pulled out, so did U.S. interest in the region and twenty years later we’ve got the misguided, mismanaged Iraqi War as this generation’s Vietnam War staring us all right in the face.

Charlie Wilson’s War is the story of the covert effort of a few people in government, a few concerned citizens and a small group of CIA agents who built the framework of economic support and weaponry backbone of the Mujah Hadeen so they could repel the Russians. While the film likely uses a lot of shortcuts and simplifications to tell the story (I have a hard time believing it was this easy), it does it in such a quick witted, pleasing way, it makes a tale about covert war look almost fun (although it omits the sting of the aftermath of the Taliban/Osama Bin Laden/ongoing boondoggle to our own imagination).

Charlie Wilson’s War is the latest film to combine a political element to the current state of influx and war in the Middle East. Where the other films failed because they were too dour, self-serious and preachy (Lions For Lambs anyone?), this one attempts to resist those elements. Charlie Wilson’s War has a message to deliver if you want to think about it for a second or two, it just doesn’t browbeat you over the skull with it, unlike those earlier films in the past year.

Another difference between those earlier releases—Charlie Wilson’s War has got stars like Tom Hanks sipping whiskey with topless strippers in a hot tub, Julia Roberts slowly emerging out of a pool in a bikini and more one liners than you normally expect in a politically centered movie. Those things can’t hurt its entertainment factor.

Everyone knows I’m a huge Philip Seymour Hoffman fan and watching him in this is a must for fans of his. Practically every line he delivers in this is a clipped, blunt one liner that shows evidence of the man’s unbelievable comic timing. If he’s in the scene, he’s taking it away from Hanks/Roberts. While those are two of the most charismatic actors of the last 20 years, Hoffman has as much screen presence as they do. His robust mustache doesn’t hurt (take that Titus Welliver!).

Amy Adams, coming off her star making turn in Enchanted, also is winning as Wilson’s loyal assistant, picking up the pieces of the debris and fallout of his personal life. Wilson has his flaws—women, booze and the possibility of even a little bit of cocaine use (this was the ‘80s after all)—but Adams is the one steadfast person in Wilson’s ultimately lonely life.

Charlie Wilson’s War, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Mike Nichols, was a bit of a surprise. Its subtle political message, full of barbs and one-liners, was appreciated, as I couldn’t stand the idea of another heavy dose of lecture from filmmakers. Letting the audience draw their own conclusions is always the right tact for a film to take as I like to think I’m smart enough to connect the dots and figure out the message for myself.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Start thinking of your top 5

I'm pondering my updated, newly released 2008 version of the "Top5" so start thinking about yours. Although, mine might have 3 returnees because I have such good taste, ha.

Titus Welliver's mustache

Sorry, long layoff. Blame an ice storm, an illness, the death of a good friend, laziness, being busy—that should cover it.

So I watched Gone Baby Gone recently and thought it was pretty good. I was awestruck by one thing though: Titus Welliver’s mustache! It’s the best film facial hair I’ve seen since Daniel Day-Lewis grew a glorious handlebar as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York in 2002.

Welliver, who also has proved he can grow a great beard in HBO’s Deadwood, worked his mustache to his advantage in scene after scene. I was mesmerized by Welliver’s mustache so whoever decided he should grow it was dead on right as it aided his character in a rough and tumble Boston neighborhood.

I had a hard time finding a photo of Welliver alone with the mustache so this one of him in a group will have to do. Well done, sir, well done!