Sunday, December 19, 2010

No Gummo

Winter's Bone (2010) - Granik
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Wow, not one false note: from its acting, script to HD cinematography. It's not the authenticity of what the people of the Ozarks are like that I loved, since I have only a blurry notion and won't pretend here that I know and understand, yet these poverty stricken, meth ravaged, unfathomably tough characters ring so true to me.

Jennifer Lawrence is Ree, a 17 year old girl who needs to take care of two younger siblings and sick mother in the absence of her unseen meths 'cooker' father. It turns out daddy's out of jail and a bail bondsman and other people are after him. If he doesn't make the court date, they will take the house. It is widely suspected that local bigwig family might have killed her dad for some old grudges. Unflinching against all the poverty and violence around her, resilient and resourceful Ree is a revelation. John Hawks shines (second best performance in the film) as Teardrop, Ree's scary uncle, and aging but well fitting Sheryl Lee also makes an appearance.

Debra Granik's depiction of the Ozarks is never patronizing nor sentimental. Winter's Bone is filled with the lives of the locals in great detail and presented with great care, nothing seems out of place. Definitely one of the year's better films for me if not the best.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bird Flu

Black Swan (2010) - Aronofsky
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It's one of those 'it's all in her head' films. Relax. I haven't blown anything. If you've seen the trailer, you know what's coming. What's commendable here is that Aronofsky reached the comfortable point as a skilled filmmaker that his audience doesn't feel cheated watching his films. Since The Wrestler, he's smart enough to contextualize his actors to fit his projects. All the actors shine (Barbara Hersh as a protective mother, Vincent Cassel as a sleazy ballet instructor, Mila Kunis as seductive rival). Here, once again, Natalie Portman plays a young woman on the verge of going to pieces as she always does. But she doesn't come across as a cry baby. Like Polanski using Mia Farrow's waifish quality fully in Rosemary's Baby, Aronofsky takes advantage of Portman's girlish fragility to 11. Black Swan is way over the top (not that his films were ever subtle) in saint/whore dichotomy with bombastic Swan Lake score. But it fits with visceral visuals creating internal chaos in the character.

Matthew Libatique's dizzing, grainy 16mm/HD camerawork matches perfectly with woman losing her shit theme. Hugely entertaining, this is by far Aronofsky's best film.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Spoilt Milk

La Teta Asustada/The Milk of Sorrow (2009) - Llosa
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Sullen Fausta (luminous Magaly Solier) has the 'milk of sorrow' illness: offsprings of the rape victims during the civil war are said to be borne without souls. So afraid of being violated, she had shoved up a potato in her vagina. After her mother dies, she needs to come up with the money for the funeral (she lives in a shanty town on the hillside of Lima) and to take the body to her old village. She starts working as a maid for a rich pianist who wants her to sing with the promise of pearls.

It's really hard not to compare this to Claudia Llosa's previous effort, Madeinusa. Even though it's far better than most of the films I've seen this year, The Milk of Sorrow was underwhelming. Although it's beautifully photographed, it's not literal enough in that South American literary magical realism way. It boils down to a young girl getting over her fear of the world and finding wisdom in gardening- which isn't too interesting of a subject. For some reason, the 14 yr old heroine in Madeinusa seemed a lot more mature and interesting than Fausta in Sorrow. But don't get me wrong, Solier, with her trembling girlish voice and time-transcending face, is something of an enigma still. This will definitely end up on my top ten list of the year.

Llosa's Madeinusa review

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hong Kong, My Love

Chinese Box (1997) - Wang
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Wayne Wang's love letter to Hong Kong coincides with the 1997 handover of HK to China from the British rule. Jeremy Irons is John, a Brit journalist who never figured out the place where everyone speaks nothing but money. Gong Li is Vivian, a successful business woman who can't get out of the shadows of her past and Maggie Cheung is Jean, a young woman with a scarred face who can't get over her first love. Thanks to Jean-Claude Carrière's nuanced, mature script, the three are not merely stand-ins for the dying Empire/end of the era, old generation bound by tradition and bitter new generation. He captures the year of uncertainty in a specific place/specific political climate like a time capsule. Shot mostly hand-held by Vilko Filac, regular of Emir Kustrica's, HK has never been this intimate or beautiful. Ruben Blades steals the show as a serenading roommate of John. Jared Harris as a straight-faced, forgetful former high school sweetheart of Jean is also memorable. I like this a lot.

Too Goddamn Beautiful

La Piscine/Swimming Pool (1969) - Deray
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It's sunny French Riviera. Jean-Paul (Alain Delon) and Marie (Romy Schneider) are staying in a beautiful summer villa with a fancy swimming pool. They are stunning looking couple. In fact, everything in this movie is fucking beautiful. They have sex, fool around, everything is hunky dory until their friend Harry shows up with his 18 year old daughter, Penelope (Jane Birkin). Tension rises. The couple's fragile relationship is being tested. It's Harry's off hand remarks over dinner or snack near the pool that carries venom for both Jean-Paul and Marie. You see, Marie was Harry's mistress once.

Romy Schneider is radiant in this, much more compelling than lanky, flat chested Jane Birkin's non character whom she is supposed to be jealous of.

There are no real dangerous games or seductions playing out in Swimming Pool. Even though it resembles Delon's better known Plein soleil a little, with his darker side coming out, it's not really a simple morality play. The film is a little too simple on the character's psychology and its pacing is slow but the leads are so damn pretty.

Sour Grapes

Les Rasins de Mort/Grapes of Death (1978) - Rollin
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Soft focus, inept sound, snail's pace, horrendous continuity, bad make up...I should've hated this. But for some reason, I didn't. Jean Rollin might not be the cinema's most celebrated poet of death, but there is something very unsettling about his films. In Grapes of Death, female characters are only there to be naked, beheaded or impaled and only the beer guzzling, uni-browed peasants survive the vineyard pesticide induced zombie attacks (well, not really). I wouldn't call that exactly a social commentary. Still something very macabre about the whole thing. I'd like to see more of his stuff, maybe better ones than this though.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Daddy Issues in Mumbai

That Girl in Yellow Boots (2010) - Kashyap
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Co-writer/star Kalki Koechlin plays Ruth, a young English girl in India looking for her Indian dad who left her long time ago. Even though she draws attention (with her being white) everywhere she goes, Ruth is flirty enough to get by and her Hindi isn't too bad either. She saves up money by giving her clients handjobs at a massage parlor, to track down her dad in the gigantic mumbai bureaucratic system. But she's just a daddy's little girl deep inside, yearning for that unconditional love. She doesn't even put out for her frustrated no-good junky Indian boyfriend who accuses her of being an emotionless bitch. Yes, it's pretty melodramatic as the plot unfolds.

Petite, bucktoothed (one of her clients describe her as a cross between Bugs Bunny and Julia Roberts) Koechlin shines as a resourceful girl who looks like an ordinary suburban teenager when she's not made up and acting all tough. Her dancing alone in distraught at the disco after the fateful meeting is almost as poignant as Lavant's in Beau Travail.

If anything, Girl with the Yellow Boots should to get attention for its wide angle Chris Doyle-lite cinematography. In DP Rajeev Ravi's hands, Mumbai looks just as colorful, moody and irresistible as Hong Kong.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Poor Man's Hitchcock

Hi, Mom! (1970) - De Palma
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Brian De Palma's take on fame and upper class in the backdrop of sleazy New York in the 70s is hilarious romp. Young De Niro plays Jon, an aspiring pornographer pitching his idea for peeping with a long lens on the inhabitants of a highrise across the street. He then takes advantage of a ditsy lonely girl after spying on her for a while. Then there is a experimental theater group doing an interactive piece called 'Be Black Baby' where well intentioned rich white patrons go through some horrendous ordeal- putting on black faces and getting physically assaulted, only to rave it as life-changing experience.

Maniacally spastic and energetic in its playfulness, this might be my favorite De Palma.

All Dogs Go To Heaven

Plague Dogs (1982) - Rosen
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A black retriever named Rowf and a fox terrier, Snitter escape from a top secret laboratory in a mountainous English town by the lake. After many water endurance test where many fellow lab dogs drown, Rowf has issues with water. Snitter has been subjected to brain surgery and has a hole in his skull and also has a lousy luck with humans (his masters die). To avoid starvation, they stalk sheep with the help of a snarky fox named Todd. The body count rises. The towns people are after them, the labcoats are after them. Soon the Defense Ministry is called in with paratroopers to smoke the dogs out and destroy them for fear of them carrying bubonic plague.

No less devastating than Rosen's Watership Down, Plague Dogs is nevertheless beautifully drawn animation with a strong anti-animal lab testing message. The ending will break your heart.

The Lamest. Motorcycle Gang. Ever.

Psychomania (1973) - Sharp
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The devil (frog god) worshiping motorcycle gang, 'The Living Dead' roams the English countryside, wrecking bloodless, Monty Python skit resembling havoc- cruising through supermarket and terrorizing old ladies by ripping off sideview mirrors and breaking windshieldsof their cars. Their leader, a suave young man believes, with the approval from his ghost channeling medium mother, that they will come back as invincible after they kill themselves. All the members follow his suit in very comical ways and leaving dry corpses everywhere (they just fall down), but our heroine Abby is still undecided because she loves life!

Not hokey enough to be a cult classic and bike stunts are pretty lame. There is a disclaimer about the film's original negative being lost that they had to transfer from 'the best available sources'. Picture quality wasn't too bad though. And the film is chuckleworthy.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tony Chestnut (see the movie to get the joke!)

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly (1970) - Francis
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The children, Sonny and Girly dressed in English school uniforms find homeless people in the park and bring them home, to Mumsy and Nanny, to make them family playmates. When their playmates break the rules, they send them to the angels. This nursery rhyme filled, giggly family slowly disintegrates when they bring home a new feisty friend.

Part Teorema and part Wicker Man, Mumsy and Co, features some of the most delicious dialog and bewitching Vanessa Howard as Girly who can sing Siamese National Anthem. Another great Brit class satire borne out of the clash of the traditional family values of the war generation and 60s free love/anti anything generation. Great fun.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ideal vs. Normal Relationship

Alle Anderen/Everyone Else (2009) - Ade
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A young, not unattractive professional German couple, Chris (Lars Eidinger)- an architect, Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr), a music promoter, is vacationing in Sunny, picturesque (but testy) Sardinia. Chris is somewhat timid and full of self doubt, Gitti more assertive but needy. Ups and downs and tensions between them are pretty obvious, so as their physical intimacy. It becomes apparent that their relationship is not quite typical/ideal when they run into Chris's successful macho colleague and his nice pregnant wife. Things go a little volatile, as their unconventional (in other words, real) relationship gets tested. Simple in its aesthetics (heavily dependent upon two leads' actings) and brutally honest in its depiction, this 'relationship drama' rings very true to me. Very refreshing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hope Down South

South of the Border (2009) - Stone
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Oliver Stone tours Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Ecuador and Cuba, hobnobbing with 'evil' dictators- playing soccer with Morales in Bolivia, cracking a sexist joke at Kirchner in Argentina, etc. This is by far the best Stone film I've seen. He narrates the film but the narration and his presence are very unobtrusive. The film lays out these countries' tumultuous histories. South America, after years of American imperialism and devastating measures from IMF, is finally getting back on its feet and there seems to be genuine solidarity. Curiously Nicaragua is missing from Stone's itinerary.

Since the US is not a superpower anymore and still tangled in the Middle East, is there a hope for Africa?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

20 Minutes of Bliss: Claire Denis Interview

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Whether it's about a disco dancing French legionnaire, underworld organ trafficking or vampires, Claire Denis's enigmatic films have been enrapturing cinephiles around the world since her debut feature Chocolat (1988). With her thrilling new film White Material opening statewide on November 19th, and the retrospective- No Fear: The Films of Claire Denis at IFC starting this week, I sat down with Denis for a brief interview. She was very personable and gracious, offering long and thoughtful responses.

It's been 22 years since Chocolat and more than 10 years since Beau Travail, what prompted you to shoot a film in Africa again?


A while ago, Isabelle (Huppert) mentioned if I would be interested in adapting Doris Lessing's book The Grass is Singing. The book is set in South Africa right after the WWII. It's about Lessing's British ex-pat parents trying their hands in farming which they were terrible at. But even though it's a great book, there were two reasons why I didn't want to do it. First, the book already had a big influence on me making Chocolat. Secondly, I didn't want to do a period film. I don't like the typical nostalgic notion of colonial era- beautiful landscapes, exotic animals, heat, et cetera. I also didn't think it would be fair to show a colonial South Africa after all they've been through- 50 years of apartheid and election of the president Mandela and all. I wanted to make a film about 'now'.

White Material seems like a whole another world though. It feels timeless, not attached to any time period.


But it's not the 30s anymore. Surely you noticed the Chinese motorbike! (laughs). Those motorbikes are everywhere in Cameroon. Then there are those old beat up trucks, but it's mainly because they are poor. I would say the film is set somewhere in the last 10 years or so.

Has it changed a lot since Chocolat, shooting in Cameroon?


Yes. I think it's modern in a way other parts of Africa are modernized. But in rural farming areas, in French countryside even, everyday life is not so easy. It's not because the modernity is coming slowly, but because of the economical hardships. When I was making Chocolat, we were pretty much blind to the economic crises in Africa. Now we all live in the global recession, we see the blow is twice as hard there.

The famed French author Marie Ndiaye co-wrote the script with you. Can you tell me the process?

I've been admiring her work since her very first book (*Quant au Riche Avenir, written when she was only 17). We've been corresponding for a while because we both were intrigued by each other's work. When Isabelle told me about the project, naturally I contacted Marie. We took a trip to a coffee plantation in Ghana together to see what it's like. Since she had never written a film script before, she didn't have any bad inhibition that comes with the pitfalls of bad scriptwriting. She was very open. It was great.

The White Material seems much more narrative driven than your previous films. Do you feel that way?

Yes. After The Intruder (2004), I was driven by the idea of doing something not too mysterious but more concrete. Both this film and 35 Shots of Rum are very straightforward. The idea of heart transplant in The Intruder was both naïve and abstract in a way. Just like the old man in the film, it made me think of my own mortality. Then during editing that film, my producer (Humbert Balsan) died. I actually thought that it would be my last film and I would die myself. I wasn't afraid, but I felt that I'd never be able to make a film like that twice. It was a real turning point for me.

Wow, I didn't know about that.


But I'm sure it's not uncommon that other filmmakers feel like that too sometimes, that the film they are making right now would be their last. It was Isabelle and others who encouraged me to make films again. I did dedicate 35 Shots of Rum to Humbert.

One thing that struck me in the White Material was the son character, Manuel (played memorably by Nicolas Duvauchelle). He is a country-less product of the white colonialists who are losing power. He's described as 'half baked'. Tell me if I'm reading it too deep, but is there a parallel between Manuel and recent violent upheaval in French society?


Oh no. For me and Marie, it was much more concrete and simple. As a mother you don't want your son to be 'soft'. I was like that when I was that age. I would've rather laid on the couch and sleep all day. I think it's more conventional 'mother wanting her son to be a man'.

White Material Review
Chocolat Review

Interview at twitch

The Retrospective- No Fear: Films of Claire Denis at IFC Center runs November 10th - 18th

White Material opens limited in the U.S. this Friday, the 19th, with more cities to follow

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Post-College Blues

Tiny Furniture (2010) - Dunham
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Winner of this year's SXSW Jury Award, at a glance, Tiny Furniture could fit neatly into the typical post-college subgenre that has been a staple in American indies for the last two decades, except it doesn't. Thanks to director/actor Lena Dunham.

Aura(Lena Dunham), a recent graduate from some liberal art college in Midwest with her useless film theory degree and a dying hamster comes back home, to the Manhattan loft, inhabited by her successful photo artist mother Siri (Laurie Simmons, Dunham's real mom) and her high school prodigy, prettier sister Nadine (Grace Dunham, her real sister). Only thing she has to show for her college education is a youtube clip of herself in an unflattering performance art (she already has 375 hits on it!). She is completely stumped at life after college with no job prospects, no ambition and no boyfriend. Only thing that is left for Aura to do is to overstay her welcome in the house and get into trouble.

Even though it has all the slacker genre trappings- affluent white family, sibling rivalry, obligated party scenes, snappy one-liners, Tiny Furniture rises above all the pre-conceived notion of being just another white privileged college kid movie. It's Dunham's guileless characterization of Aura that comes off as real, funny and endearing.

Tightly executed on Canon 7D in controlled static shots by a talented cinematographer Jody Lipes (Afterschool, Wild Combination and director of NY Export: Opus Jazz), the movie fortunately lacks any hand-held camera movement or meandering shots usually associated with indie HD filmmaking.

With Dunham's acute observation and embodiment of romantic humiliation and post-college confusion, Tiny Furniture is an intriguing mixture of autobiographical filmmaking and performance art. I'm looking forward to see what she will come up with next.

Review at twitch

Friday, October 29, 2010

Kashmir

Harud/Autumn (2010) - Bashir
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Kashmir, a hotbed of India-Pakistan territory dispute is the subject of Harud (Autumn). A young man, Rafiq (Shahnawaz Bhat), is seen trying to cross the border over to Pakistan only to be captured and returned to his home, to his parents. The village is under watchful eyes of heavily armed occupying Indian Soldiers. Rafiq's brother is one of the thousands of young men who have gone missing since the military insurgence. His mother is still hopeful that her older son will turn up some day and attends rallies by APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons). His father, a traffic cop, having seen a lot of violence, is deteriorating fast due to post-traumatic stress disorder. Rafiq sleepwalks through the day with his friends who are dreaming about escaping from Kashmir. The jobs are scarce for young people and the news of cell phones arriving in town is quite possibly the most exciting thing they ever heard in quite some time.

Harud, directed by a Kashmir born actor turned director Aamir Bashir, is a quiet, understated drama that acutely presents what living under siege is like. Absence of soundtrack and sparse dialog adds to the gloomy, suffocating tone of the film. It's Shahnawaz Bhat's expressionless face that speaks volumes. There is no life left in that blank stare. We see a glimpse of emotion stirring up in Rafiq when he finds his brother's still camera. He has to bear witness to what's happening in Kashmir through the lens. Bashir meticulously builds up to the film's climax which coincides with Eid (a three-day festival marking the end of Ramadan) where a lamb needs to be sacrificed.

Subtlety is both the film's strengths and weaknesses: Harud never lets up its depressive mood and Bashir keeps it from falling into sappy stereotypical situations. With its unavoidable but artfully done ending, the film is a bit underwhelming. Given the heady subject matter, a little harder, grittier filmmaking would've been more suitable to make a bigger impact.

Harud plays on November 1st (7:30PM) at SVA Theater as a part of 2010 SAIFF.

Review at twitch

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

3D Time Capsule

Cave of Fogotten Dreams (2010) - Herzog
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This History Channel funded Werner Herzog's foray into 3D filmmaking is a pretty straightforward documentary. Only it's in 3D. It is a rightful companion piece to Encounters at the End of the World where he explored otherworldly beauty of the world beneath the icy Antarctic Ocean. This time, it's the Chauvet cave of Southern France, home of the 32,000 year old cave drawings. Pristinely preserved by landslide covering up the entrance, the exquisite charcoal drawings of lively animals- lions, wooly rhinos, horses and bison had been untouched by natural elements and humans alike until the 1990s.

Just how he convinced French Cultural Ministry to give him the access for filming inside the fragile caves is a total mystery to me- another great addition to Herzog myth I'm sure. Armed with a custom made small 3D camera and with the crew of 3, he shows us under the dim, battery operated cold panel lights (because any other light will damage the delicate environment), the interior of the cave. The crystals glisten, unreal stalagmites and long extinct animal bones adorn the surroundings. But it's the drawings on uneven contour of the walls that are truly breathtaking. If it were shot traditionally, Cave of the Forgotten Dreams would still be an interesting documentary. At first, this 3D project has an air of excess but after a while, it becomes a fitting, not too obtrusive addition. With the help of Ernst Reijseger's gorgeous string arranged and choral score, Herzog lets you in the once in a lifetime experience in a truly unique way.

Whether it was because of its confounding environment or limited resources for Herzog to go all out with his usual operatic visuals- he and his crew were only allowed on 2 feet wide tracks laid upon the surface and 4 hours a day maximum shooting time in the caves, the film is much more introspective. Perhaps it's being in the presence of the transcending, awe-inspiring 30.000 year old charcoal drawings made a cerebral filmmaker like Herzog to turn spiritual? Or seeing god's face in Quaker Oats container in My Son My Son, What Have Ye Done count as earlier indication?

This little experiment (said to be the first and the last 3D film by him) confirms that Herzog does whatever he feels like, never following trend, but with astounding consistency. It fits within his body of work very smoothly. There are many Herzogian moments throughout the film to make diehard fans giggle- (un)intentionally hilarious interviews with kooky scientists and at one point, he says "mutant radioactive albino crocodiles" in his inimitable accent and it's intriguing enough to satisfy general movie going public.

Review at twitch


Related Links:

Wonderland

Reptile Cam + Crack Pipe + Soul Dancing + Wet Underpants = Bad Lieutenant
Herzog's Americana Continues...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Virtual Reality

The Image Threads (2010) - Vijay
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What better country to make a film about the internet age than India, the largest IT labor exporting country? This serene, visual contemplation on the nature of the virtual world and finding one's identity in it starts with an ironic quote: "I had a dream about reality. It was such a relief to wake up." by a Polish aphorist Stanislaw J. Lec, which sets the tone of The Image Threads.

An IT professor named Hari, 'pimping (in his own words)' the information technology laborers to the US and Europe, narrates most of the film in philosophical monologue. He sometimes engages in conversations online with a virtual persona who might be either a sultry female model or a man in a mini-skirt or both. Other times he recalls his black magic priest grandfather.

At one point, parallels are drawn between internet virus and the Plague by a girl seductively treading around him, singing the nursery rhyme, Ring Around the Rosie. But the film's languid pace and beauty betrays the ominous subject. Shot in exotic Kerala locale, the film is nothing short of stunning- water stained walls, rusty water pipes, vegetation infused houses, ancient temples, lush jungles, dark caves, bearded yogis, beautiful girls in colorful costumes, sleek gizmos, wires, lights and wikipedia, all vying for your attention. Every frame is work of art. Director Vipin Vijay and his cinematographer Shehnard Jalal often distinguish, then blur the boundaries between the past and present, technology and nature, reality and fantasy, tangible and intangible.

Devoid of any visible narrative, The Image Thread is unlike any film I've ever seen. It is more like a visual essay than a film. To enjoy it, you have to give in to its luscious visuals to wash over you. Calming and hypnotic, it's literally the best films to meditate on.

The Image Threads plays on October 28th (7:30PM) at SVA Theater as a part of 2010 South Asian International Film Festival here in NY.

Link to SAIFF
Review at twitch

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bromance

Becket (1964) - Glenville
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King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) promotes his saxon servant, confidant, bosom buddy Becket (Richard Burton) first to Chancellor, then to Archbishop of Canterbury- a brilliant chess move to quell his foes in his mind, only to get his heart broken when Becket unexpectedly devotes himself to God, not to him.

Burton exudes his brainiac hunk charisma. But it's O'Toole's lovelorn king who is so much fun to watch, as he tears new ones everywhere he goes. Verbal ping-pong match is not as intense here as in Lion in Winter but this is a great fun movie.

Mother Superior Jumped the Gun

Matka Joanna od Aniołów/Mother Joan of the Angels (1961) - Kawalerowicz
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It's the 17th Century Poland. A young handsome priest was burned at a stake for having affair with Mother Joan at the remote convent. That the nuns there are possessed and priests there weren't able to exorcise demons out of the nuns. This is the backstory told to the new priest Joseph.

It's an eerie movie. Jerzy Kawalerowicz has very distinctive visual style with handheld camera movements, first person POVs to convey physical separation of the possessed. No tricks or special effects, no real overacting, but just unsettling in that Eastern European way. There are a lot of lovely scenes: a nun in love with dashing officer singing, tense self-flagellatings of Father Joseph and Mother Joan in a same room divided by drying habits and Father Joseph's encounter with his doppelganger rabbi- one suggesting the other that carnal desire is not from devils but humans, that there are only angels and humans.

Not a big standout Mother Joan of the Angels is, but its understated, visually interesting love story will linger in my head for a while.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Zen & Violence

NYC Japan Society's monthly film series Zen & Its Opposite: Essential (& Turbulent) Japanese Art House showcases some of the best classical films of Japanese cinema. Based on the Six Planes of Existence in Wheel of Life (Bhavacakra), the film series highlights five Planes, (excluding the Deva/God Realm, Blissful State) with five distinctive films representing each plane:

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Ashura/Demigod Realm
is represented by Kihachi Okamoto's bloody samurai epic Sword of Doom (1966). Ashura is filled with jealousy, struggle and combat stemming from being envious of Deva Realm. As Tatsuya Nakadai's merciless swordman hacks away in a violent purgatory, the film is a perfect match.

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Masaki Kobayashi
's stunning 1965 Cannes Palm d'Or winner Kwaidan is Manusya: the Human Realm plagued by passion, desire, doubt and pride.

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Tiryag-yoni a.k.a. Animal Realm is reflected in Onibaba (1964, dir. Kaneto Shindo), a gritty tale of survival and animal lust in feudal era Japan.

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Kon Ichikawa
's anti-war masterpiece Fires on the Plane (1959) represents Preta: Hungry Ghost Realm. Perhaps the most fitting one for its respective plane- the marooned Japanese soldiers in the Philippines walk the plain like zombies, slowly dying of starvation and resorting to cannibalism, looking for the salvation in something as insignificant as a distant bonfire.

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Jigoku
(1960), a theatrical, surreal depiction of Hell by the father of Japanese horror Nobuo Nakagawa is Naraka, a rebirth based on strong states of hatred cultivated in previous lives.

It's a rare opportunity to see these classic Japanese films on the big screen. This is an event not to be missed!

The Japan Society's Zen & Its Opposite: Essential (& Turbulent) Japanese Art House kicks off with Kwaidan on October 15th at 7:30 PM, and continues through February 18th, 2011. For tickets and more information please visit Japan society