Sunday, September 16, 2007

Our Movie Month

I say our, because that includes Kira, Kaylee, Inara and Zoe, collectively known as the Four Fat Felines of Frat House II. That being said, Harvey Pekar wrote a book (comics actually) that chronicled the making of American Splendor called Our Movie Year (our being Harvey, his wife Joyce and foster daughter Danielle). While I’m not making a movie of my own, I’ve seen a lot of them the past month – a lot of them really good ones that I considered writing reviews for each one I liked. However, such an activity is daunting, and my attention span is constantly being stolen by Final Fantasy, chess and the obscene amount of music I’ve downloaded the past few months that I have yet to listen to. So here are short reviews of some of those films. Obviously, I didn’t write about ALL of the movies I’ve seen (who writes reviews for films like Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and Evil Dead 3 anyway?!).

In alphabetical order:

2001: A space odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick

Forty years on, 2001 still doesn’t look dated, like many old science fiction movies. I’ve seen this twice before, the last time maybe four years ago. This time, I paid more attention to the first and fourth movements – primeval Africa and the Star Child. Hal is a delight as usual - I even named my computer after him. And he beats me at chess half the time. Maybe my old laptop is finally exhibiting evidence of sentience?

Brick (2005)
Rian Johnson


I don’t know how to begin describing this film. Films that are actually this fresh are rare; most films focus on performance, execution, photography and other production details. Brick is different. A homage to Dashiell Hammett, Brick fuses film noir language with contemporary slang to create a perplexing and equally mysterious atmosphere. You have to go all the way back to Richard Kelly’s 2002 film Donnie Darko to find a point of reference. Even then, Brick and Donnie Darko doesn’t have much in common. It’s just different. Not David Lynch-ish weird, but definitely something else. I can’t get any more specific than that. I just wish they gave Emilie de Ravin (the adorable Claire Littleton in Lost) more screen time though.

Carne trémula (Live flesh) [1997]
Pedro Almodovar

There’s nothing like Spanish melodrama to liven up a rainy Sunday morning. Sex, guns and lies – the perfect recipe. Carne trémula starts with Penelope Cruz giving birth in a bus (her only scene in the film), and ends with her adult son finding redemption after witnessing a bloody carnage in the name of love. Almodovar must have liked Cruz so much that he gave her increasingly larger roles in his later films Todo sobre mi madre and Volver. Javier Bardem (the paraplegic in Mar adentro) plays a wheelchair-bound former cop who seeks revenge, but when he finally gets it, it was not the kind that he expected.

Control (2007)
Anton Corbijn

I’ll put this up there with the best films shot in black and white. Music photographer Anton Corbijn’s directorial debut is a biographical film about Ian Curtis (1956-1980), Joy Division’s enigmatic vocalist. Beautifully photographed, Control captured the working class aura of late 1970s Scotland. In a time when the anger and shock of punk music dominated the airwaves, Joy Division focused instead on mood and atmosphere; watching Control is like listening to a Joy Division song. Listen to Atmosphere and you’ll see what I mean (which is also the closing song of the film, and an absolutely brilliant choice). The visuals are breathtaking, the performances astounding and the music just plain awesome. The only boo-boo I can think of is playing The Killers’ cover of Shadowplay during the end credits. Joy Division and The Killers? Mon dieu. My primary blog experienced a deluge of traffic since I included Control in my Bag of Death list, many of them coming from a search engine with various permutations of the search terms Control, Corbijn, torrent, download, stream. Sorry folks. Control was released in the UK last August and will be available to US viewers on October 5. Until then, don’t walk away in silence.

Fast food nation (2006)
Richard Linklater

Industry-thrashing films rarely work, and this one is no exception. The target: the fast food industry. Fast food nation is boring and incoherent, although the revelations about fast food practices are still disconcerting. Excellent performance by Catalina Sandino Moreno (Paris, je t’aime, Maria full of grace) though.

Insomnia (1997)
Erik Skjoldbjærg

I regret that I’ve already seen Christopher Nolan’s remake (set in Alaska) before I purchased this DVD. While I am a Nolan fan, I wasn’t impressed by his remake. The original is tighter, the narrative moving in bang-bang-bang shots of revelations, and many unnecessary plot devices inserted in the remake are absent. It is also less dramatic (fewer people running around chasing each other). I’m not particularly fond of detective stories (I skipped Hardy Boys and jumped straight to Stephen King when I was a kid), but I recognize a brilliant piece of detective fiction when I see/read one. And Stellan Skarsgård is waaay better than Al Pacino.

Leon the professional (1994)
Luc Besson

Watching a 12, maybe 14 year old Natalie Portman say “…except he’s not really my father (referring to Jean Reno). He’s my lover” will send anyone to fits of uncontrollable laughter.

Mamma Roma (1962)
Pier Paolo Pasolini

An early Pasolini film that, according to the blurb, is about Mamma Roma, a “middle-aged prostitute who attempts to extricate herself from her sordid past for the sake of her son.” Filmed in the tradition of Italian neorealism, Mamma Roma is nothing spectacular, as are films in this movement, but rather dealt with the downtrodden and the oppressed. A good Pasolini starter for those not ready for Caligula and Salo.

Match point (2005)
Woody Allen

Woody Allen movies are always a delight, and in Match point, the metaphor is tennis and the characters are in too deep the world of the British elite. While it starts off as fun, the tension thickens as the plot unravels and never lets up until the startling conclusion. I wonder why Scarlett Johansson always plays stupid-ish characters?

The prestige (2006)
Christopher Nolan

I’ve seen this before, but it’s the kind of film one would like to watch every now and then. Come to think of it, there are a lot of hints about the final revelation all throughout the movie. You just don’t notice it because you’re not watching closely.

Paris, je t’aime (2006)
Various directors

Where do I begin? At first, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about this film, but wanted to see how the pieces fit together. Well, they didn’t. But I liked a lot of them well enough that I can’t even decide which of them I like best. Is it Tuileries by the Coen brothers or Faubourg Saint-Denis? After all, Steve Buscemi and Natalie Portman are impeccable. But I also like Alexander Payne’s 14eme arrondissement and Olivier Assayas’ Quartier des Enfants Rouges. Ah, and Christopher Doyle’s Porte de Choisy, that’s really awesome. That’s what you get for hiring a cinematographer to direct. I think I'll wear out this DVD from playing over and over again.

Le violon rouge (The red violin) (1998)
Francois Girard

Not much to say. Only the gradual unraveling of the events of the auction in Montreal is particularly enjoyable, and only then because of the suspense.

Sex, lies and videotape (1989)
Steven Soderbergh

I don’t know why I bought this DVD. The only Soderbergh film I even remotely like is Traffic – most of the others are…well, I didn’t even bother to watch (Who watches films like Ocean’s Thirteen anyway?). I like James Spader though (that dweeb from the Stargate film); he’s unintentionally funny. I endured the film, though I didn’t particularly enjoy it. I just liked the videotape perversion. Or maybe I just like perverted films.

A short film about killing (1988)
Krzysztof Kieślowski

One word: dark. I haven’t seen Dekalog, but based on A short film about killing, I’m almost sure that it’s something I would definitely be on the lookout for.

Solo con tu pareja (1991)
Alfonso Cuaron

The most remarkable thing about Alfonso Cuaron’s first film is not even related to directing. It is Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography. The plot itself is tongue in cheek funny. The DVD included two short films from Cuaron and his brother Carlos (who wrote Solo con tu pareja). Both are bad.

The squid and the whale (2005)
Noah Baumbach

I thought at first, ah another one of those Dysfunctional Families kind of movie. Then I watched it and was surprised at the utter boldness of it. Some portions are so funny that I had to hit pause on the remote and wait until I’ve calmed myself enough to continue watching.

Tras el cristal (In a glass cage) [1987]
Agustín Villaronga

Think a darker and more perverse Apt Pupil. All throughout the film’s run of a little over an hour and a half, I gravitated from being on the verge of puking in fear and crying in disgust and back again.

Volver (2006)
Pedro Almodovar

In Volver, Almodovar takes on death, incest and coming home. Funny, but after all those revelations, how can you still laugh?

The next week or so, this is what’s lined up. My supply is running out. I might have to go DVD-hunting again by the end of the week.

Bande à part (Band of outsiders) [1964]
Jean-Luc Godard

Barry Lyndon (1975)
Stanley Kubrick

Delicatessen (1991)
Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Inland empire (2006)
David Lynch

Das leben der anderen (The lives of others) [2006]
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

North by northwest (1959)
Alfred Hitchcock

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