Friday, July 29, 2011


Gerry (2002) - Van Sant
If a film starts with Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel, you know that shit's gonna go down and someone will die. It sets the tone. That's what happens in Gerry, but very slowly. We follow Casey Affleck and Matt Damon through a desert hiking trail and where they soon get lost. They totally gerried their directions. At first, with uneven visuals (mainly long takes but not the usual Harris Savides style), minimal dialogue and annoying moody score, I had a hard time getting into it. Once it settles in with the desert vistas and monotonous trekking, I was totally sold on its hypnotic nature. There is a funny ten minute marooned-on-the-rock scene that ends in totally ridiculous way.

Gerry is not an incisive character study, nor huffy survival tale, nor reflection on today's wayward youth. Van Sant keeps things deliberately obscure. It's challenging. Two characters are totally interchangeable. There is nothing really going on. Yet I couldn't keep my eyes off the screen. It's an interesting experiment that is only possible in cinematic terms. I liked it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Uncle Boonmee Choice Cuts

Watched it again recently since it's out on DVD. Sublime. Got some screengrabs:


Uncle Boonmee Review

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Interview


The Future (2011) - July
A couple of weeks ago, I was having brunch with my wife at this German place we know. Some waitstaff's ipod mix was playing through the speakers and a familiar song caught our attention. It was 'Where the Streets Have No Name' by U2. Then it occurred to us that the song was 25 years old. 25 YEARS OLD! Where has all the time gone?!

'Time' is the subject of The Future, the second feature by artist/author/filmmaker, Miranda July. Filled with anxiety of getting nowhere while getting old, it's decidedly sadder and darker than her previous film, Me You and Everyone We Know.

Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) are thirty something, self absorbed modern couple going through their early midlife crises. Unmarried and childless, they are stuck in jobs they hate (Sophie works at a dance center for children and Jason, an over the phone computer tech support). Their decision to adopt a long haired, injured cat named Paw-Paw (who narrates the film in a scratchy, high-pitched voice- by July) pushes them into existential crises. This rash decision was based upon the prior knowledge that Paw-Paw has only six months to live. It's a short term commitment- something tangible: they would love and care for the cat for his remaining time here on earth, then they would move on with their lives. But at the shelter clinic, they are informed that with lots of love and proper care, Paw-Paw might live for up to 5 years!

To have the cat fully recovered from his injury at the shelter, they are given a month of freedom- so to speak, to do whatever they want, before they commit to the daunting pet ownership. For Sophie, it's creating 30 new dances and put them on youtube. For Jason, it's surrendering himself to fate. They quit their respective jobs and even quit internet which they are married to. The film turns darker when artistically frustrated Sophie starts having an affair with an older man. It culminates to her confessing to Jason. But he can't take the harsh truth, so he literally stops time- it's one of the tricks the couple practices.

July again tackles the internet age human interactions through seemingly normal characters with their abnormal lives. As usual, she does her delicate balancing act where her quirkiness could easily turn uncomfortable at a moment's notice but never tips over. More so than in Me You and Everyone We Know, the characters in The Future are emotionally transparent, exposing their vulnerability out in the open. They are as terrified of the ominous, uncertain future just as the children often are.

Being a thirty-something, semi-professional myself, the film hit me very hard. It makes me contemplate on how the technology (wide use of internet, cell phones and game consoles, all happened in our twenties) could be a contributing factor for our generation being trapped in a perpetual arrested development. The Future is funny and poignant in its depiction of adult angst, but I can't shake off the sadness I feel after watching it. 

After making an appearance in the Berlin, Sundance and SXSW film festivals earlier this year, The Future opens on July 29th in the US, followed by a UK opening in November.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Horseman of the apocalypse

To beat the 104 degree heat and unbelievable boredom, me and crew were at it again.
Can a youtube clip scarier than death? Apparently so.

I gotta thank the crew again:
Brandon for Nicolas Cage impression, David for mindblowing lighting set-up and Asuan(?) for your emotional support.

What we need is some kickass soundtracks.

Encounters of the Spooky Kind

Gosh, I haven't done any filming in years. Bored out of my mind, me and some kids decided to make use of the new HD video camera at work.
It's shot on SONY PMW-F3L XD CAM with an 18mm Zeiss Prime.

I have to thank these brave souls who made this sacrilege possible:

Eric the horse whisperer
David for his mesmerizing performance
Asuan for lighting, btw, how do you spell your name?


Insidious (2010) - Wan
Director James Wan (Saw) delivers some really effective scares in this Poltergeist + Nightmare on Elm Street mash-up. Wan takes his time to gear up the suspense and it pays off nicely. The visual is pure 80s Argento, with red dominating the color palette. At time's Insidious feels like a Tom Waits music video and has no weight to it since the devil's appearance and demeanor (with hula music and all) has no strong reference points from anywhere other than some shaky urban legend tabloid stories. The ending almost ruins the good fun, but it still is much better than other recent horror films.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Haru's Journey

Haru's Journey (2010) - Kobayashi
Tadao (screen legend Tatsuya Nakadai) is very upset. He's first seen storming out of the house by the sea in a small fishing village in Hokkaido, with his granddaughter Haru (Eri Tokunaga) trailing behind with his cane. She apologizes profusely but he is adamant. It is finally clear after they are on the train what their argument was about: Haru's job at the school cafeteria is no more since the school is permanently closed. She wants to go to Tokyo to get a job, and therefore Tadao will need to find some way to support himself alone. He is begrudgingly on his way to ask his siblings whom he hasn't seen for ages, if they could take him in. So starts Haru's Journey, a moving, beautiful film by Masahiro Kobayashi (Bashing, Rebirth).

Haru's Journey is a road movie. Our odd couple travel by train from place to place, relying on Tadao's worn address book, from one of Tadao's siblings after another. But there are no prospects of them accepting his proposal. They have their own problems and Tadao's insolence is not helping. It becomes clear that quiet Haru's been taking care of the old man all this time. Their money is running low and Tadao's lame leg does not help the matter.

The film can be seen as an updated version of Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story, but instead of older parents asking children for help in the industrialized post-war Japan that amplified the widening generation gap and breakdown of the tradition, Haru's Journey touches upon the two of the most pressing issues in contemporary Japanese society- growing number of elderly population and the crippling recession. Since it being a Kobayashi film, there are no archetypes in Haru's Journey nor any moral grandstanding. Tadao is not an old saintly man contemplating about changing times but rather a stubborn, uneducated, selfish man who throws tantrums from time to time. Haru, whose mother ended her own life, is a deeply wounded girl, about to venture out to the world on her own. Every character in the film is three dimensional and has redeeming qualities. And there are no perfect answers to the life's complications and not one person is wiser than the other.

As the tearful reunion between Haru and her father and his new wife gives Haru and Tadao a glimmer of hope in attaining a real family, but they realize that they can't just intrude on someone else's lives. For better or worse, they only got each other until the end.

Nakadai is nothing short of a revelation as a stubborn old man with no regrets. With his commanding presence and vulnerable gaze, the film showcases his great range. Eri Tokunaga is also remarkable as the withdrawn nineteen year old country girl whose resilience is the bedrock of the film. Kobayashi skillfully punches in for close ups of these two faces which convey so much feelings, in critical moments. The strong support cast include Chikage Awashima as Tadao's kindly older sister and Teruyuki Kagawa as Haru's equally wounded, understanding father. Haru's Journey is a quietly affecting modern day masterpiece that will break your heart many times over.

Haru's Journey plays part of Japan Cuts 2011, July 20th 7pm. For tickets and info, please visit JAPAN CUTS 2011 website.

Trashy Fun

Tabloid (2010) - Morris
Errol Morris's examination of the nature of tabloids turns out to be the funniest film I've seen in years. He tells a crazy story that happened in Britain, 1977 involving a beautiful all around American girl Joyce McKinney. From her side of the story, it makes McKinney a hopeless romantic- love at first sight, but her man goes to Britain for a mission (he is a Mormon), she goes after him with some friends, kidnaps him and ties him to a bed and have sex with him to de-brainwash him. The Scotland Yard sees it differently and puts her in jail. British tabloids see it differently as well dig up some of her sordid past including bunch of nudie and s&m pics of her.

Real life stories are nuttier than fiction. Morris lets his subject tell their stories without much interruption. Conveniently, all the records and photos are missing from both sides, the truth lost in the middle somewhere.

Then there is a Korean connection involving cloned dogs named Boogers one to five. The tabloid story doesn't get any weirder than this.

In the age of Newscorp scandal and sensationalized murder trials, Joyce McKinney story seems fun and innocent. Morris is on top of his game and has never been any more entertaining than this. Will definitely end up in my top ten of 2011.

My Errol Morris Interview

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Global Recession

Sketches of Kaitan City (2010) - Kamakiri
A young shipyard worker takes pride in his work. You can see it in his face when one of the gigantic ships he worked on is being launched to sea. There is almost a childlike glee in him. Then the news of the company restructuring and the layoffs hit the airwaves. It's all down hill from there in the northern port city of Kaitan, where the soul crushing effects of economic downturn are the only things gloomier than its unforgiving wintry weather. Kazuyoshi Kamakiri's Sketches of Kaitan City is a relentlessly bleak film.

This Altman-esque, episodic film chronicles five very distinctive and loosely connected stories based on the shorts by novelist Yasushi Sato, set around a joyless new year's eve: the aforementioned shipyard worker and his sister take the city tram up to the overlook to watch the first sunrise of the year, only to find out that they don't have enough money for both for the lift down, an elderly woman refuses to move while the city tries to demolish her shack and make way for a new shopping mall, then her cat runs away, an operator of the shaggy city planetarium doesn't know how reconnect with his unresponsive teenage son and suspects his bar hostess wife is up to no good and, an abusive gas supply business owner beats his wife, who in turn, beats their son and an old trolly conductor meets his estranged Tokyoite son at his wife's grave.

With its handheld camerawork and minimal music, Sketches of Kaitan City resembles strongly of the neo-neo realism of the Dardenne brothers' films but without their sense of hope. That's just the thing. All the stories are equally strong and performances, very good. You feel their pain and suffering. But Kamakiri's documentary style filmmaking is too distant and dispassionate to be appreciated. It is problematic for a nearly three hour film where the only character that gives the audience a glimmer of hope is the pregnant cat, that there will be adorable kittens in the near future. Well, if you were jobless, homeless, beaten and isolated, what good would the kittens do?

Sketches of Kaitan City will be screening as part of Japan Cuts 2011 on Tuesday July 19th 6:30pm You can find out more information at Japan Cuts 2011 website

Friday, July 15, 2011

Headless Limbless Companion

Torso (2010) - Yamasaki
One might wonder that whether we need yet another film about a blow up sex doll, especially one coming from the long time Hirokazu Kore-Eda's cinematographer Yutaka Yamasaki. Not that Kore-Eda's approach in Air Doll was in any way sensationalistic, but Yamasaki's Torso is neither an over the top titillating sex comedy nor a whimsical fantasy about an inanimate semen receptacle coming to life. It's rather a quiet character study deeply rooted in realism.

Hiroko (Makiko Watanabe) is a thirty something office worker and by all account, a cold fish. She seems quite satisfied with her single woman status. Her interactions with people including her younger half-sister Mina (Love Exposure's Sakura Ando) are curt and distant. She declines invitations to the night outings by the men-hungry coworkers at the office. With no makeup and her scant wardrobe in shambles, she doesn't seem to try very hard even though she's not unnoticeable- with her black rimmed glasses and her hair tightly held back, she can pass as a sexy librarian. But she has a secret: every night, she inflates her male blowup torso, takes bath and snuggles up in bed with it. As the film progresses, we realize that this inflatable object is more than just a sex toy.

The tension rises when Mina moves in to Hiroko's tiny apartment after a fight with her abusive boyfriend Jiro (with whom Hiroko has a history with) and declares that she is pregnant. Forever a pesky little sister, Mina accuses her introverted older sister of ruining her life by introducing the womanizing brut to her. There is a strong sibling rivalry and complicated family dynamics at play. Their mother favors Mina and hates Hiroko for all her late husband's misdeeds. "When people die, they all become saints," mother replies, effectively cutting off Hiroko's reason for hating her dead stepfather and not showing up at his funeral. 

There is a funny beach getaway scene involving ecstatic Hiroko and her headless, limbless boyfriend in a Speedo that ends in skinny dipping. It's the first time we see her smile and giggle like a little schoolgirl. She seems to find the situation just as hilarious as the viewers do.

In Torso, there are no huge confrontations or public embarrassments to speak of. It is inevitable that Mina's snooping in the small apartment would result in finding out her sister's little secret. Would that be a big deal? Would it be less embarrassing if it was a dildo?

Yamasaki handles what could easily have been a sordid material with subtlety and maturity. Fortunately, in his hands, the inflatable object remains to be the inflatable object and never takes over the film as a centerpiece. It is Hiroko's emotional support system, a symbol of comfort against hurtful things. But she can't stay in her comfort zone forever. Torso is an astute observation on the state of arrested development, aided by hand-held, natural photography and pitch perfect acting by Watanabe and Ando.

Torso will be screening as part of Japan Cuts 2011 on Sunday, July 17th You can find out more information at Japan Cuts 2011 website

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I Can be Funny Too: Errol Morris Interview

I'm not a big fan of roundtable interviews. It's not as intimate as one-on-ones and you have to share the short given time with other interviewers. But when an opportunity comes along to interview Errol Morris, one of the most revered American documentary filmmakers, in the week of the release of his uproarious new film, Tabloid, who am I to say no?

Luckily, the time slot I was given was at the end of the day with only two other journalists so I was able to slip in fair amount of questions. Even after repeated interviews, Morris appeared to be chatty and generous in his answers about the film, the state of modern journalism and a new narrative project with This American Life's Ira Glass while showing a bit of his 'funny' side as well. Here are the excerpts from the interview:

[All the questions are mine, otherwise marked with *]

Even though Tabloid is being regarded as aesthetically different from your previous films, I still see it very much as an 'Errol Morris' film. In a way there are a lot of similarities in Fred Leuchter [Mr. Death], Robert McNamara in The Fog of War and Joyce McKinney. Was it that self-delusional, ironical aspect of her story what attracted you to do this film?

Yeah. Maybe in part, I think.

Did the Mormons give you any trouble making this film?

No. Mercifully.

You are not expecting a backlash from them after the release?

We were showing the movie in Salt Lake City and people there seem to love it! I think Joyce might have liked it more if the movie was more antagonistic to the Mormon Church. But as you know, it's an element of the story, not THE story.  

The tabloid culture seems a lot different now than in the 70s with the decline of serious journalism in general, many newspapers going under, the popularity of the reality TV and now The News of the World scandal. What's your take on it?

Things have clearly gotten worse. The News of the World story is not so much of a tabloid story. I mean there are elements of that kind of story in my movie where people no longer care about the facts or the representation of reality or truth. The News of the World story cranks it up a couple of steps further and shows that they not only don't care about the truth, but they don't care about anything at all. It's all lies and manipulation, crimes, hacking into people's phones and playing games with people's lives. With Joyce you can say 'ok she is not a completely innocent victim of the tabloids, she is a participant at least on some level that she sought some kind of fame or notoriety and she got it.' But you take the parents of the girl who got abducted and killed, they didn't seek any fame or attention. And the police were trying to decide whether the girl was alive or dead and the tabloid was fiddling around with the evidence? That's different. That's really truly screwed up version of journalism.

*One good thing that came about was that they shut the paper down.

No, it's not clear if anything is going to happen to the Newscorp. Some low level workers who were dependent on the paper got the blame but at this point, I'm not sure what it means over all.

Do you see Tabloid as your own response to your previous, more 'serious' films?

The Standard Operating Procedure wasn't particularly well received. The reviews were all over the place. I felt that the movie was misjudged by many people. Whether I went loony-toons in it or not, I felt the movie was never really appreciated. It didn't do particularly well at the box office either. And I thought it was good time to do this [Tabloid] because I consider myself as a funny person and this is a funny movie. So people can't quite say ERROL = NOT FUNNY because of The Fog of War and Standard Operating Procedure. So in a way I wanted to do this movie as a way of saying, "FUCK YOU I AM FUNNY!"

*You've collaborated with Philip Glass and Danny Elfman in the past...

Yes and I will work with both of them again. Philip and I did 3 features together and then we did a short project for IBM for its hundredth anniversary, it's on youtube. It's about a half an hour film and he did an original score for it (search: IBM Centennial Film: They Were There - People who changed the way the world works). I love Philip's music and I'd love to work with him again. I'm planning on one with Ira Glass as it was reported in This American Life. It's a narrative feature about the first cryogenic freezer, which is kind of a tabloid story. Either Danny or Philip will do the music. They both are great and they seem to tolerate me. (Laughs). John Kusiak did the soundtrack for Tabloid and he did a fantastic job.

Are you nervous that it's coming out the same week as the last Harry Potter movie?

I'll just have to face it down.

How are the Boogers [Joyce's dogs] doing?

I think they are doing fine. One of the Boogers was at the screening yesterday in a matching sequin dress with Joyce.

So that means there is really a future for successful human cloning, perhaps?

The clones would be very convenient for the screening appearances and interviews. (laughs)

*So Joyce is coming for the screening tonight too?

We certainly invited her. I get the feeling she will show up at the LA screenings too.

*So her not being happy with the movie and appearing at the screenings uninvited are...

We really had a good time the other day at the screening. She was funny, unlike when I was editing the film for the last six months. She was threatening and talking about suing me and all that. Is it all an act? We don't know. One word that comes to mind in dealing with Joyce McKinney is 'Kevlar'.

IFC Films will open Tabloid in theaters on July 15.

My thanks to Taiyo Okamoto from COOL Magazine and Adam Schartoff from filmwax for their camaraderie during the interview.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Long Live VHS!

Videodrome (1983) - Cronenberg
Long gone are the days of magnetic tapes. Today, it's all about shapeless, formless streaming video. And there is nothing physical about the technology anymore. It might be false and frivolous on my part to be nostalgic about a finite format, but hey, I spent my formative years in the 80s, so I am a product of that silly decade. I can be emotional about seeing a disheveled rubics cube with a couple of its tiles missing in a pitbull's mouth, if I want to. But David Cronenberg shows what was there back then- a subversive filmmaking. I can't think of any recent film or filmmaker that is as daring as Videodrome.

I saw Videodrome as a horny teenager, not grasping its implications about the physical manifestations of watching sex and violence in the media. Seeing it now, it's an electrifying experience. Casting the 80's sex kitten Deborah Harry in a s&m loving TV personality role is pure genius. James Woods has never been better since or prior to as a sleazy public TV show programmer.

One could see a strong correlation with Videodrome and Cronenberg's later, Burroughs adaptation of Naked Lunch. But I think I'd prefer media induced hallucination over drug induced one anytime. The film definitely becomes my favorite Cronenberg.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

*Psychedelic Indie Nerd Glam

Ringing in Their Ears (2011) - Irie
The film starts out with Noko, a lead singer of Japanese metafunk band Shinsei Kamattechan, on stage, singing while holding a laptop in front of him. With fans' comments flying across the live streaming images of the concert in the background, Noko sings off key, accompanied by childish pop melodies and loud guitar. His voice is awkward and powerful at the same time. Unlike the group's less than rock star attire and cheerful sound, their lyrics are often dark and borderline weird.

Yu Irie, who graced last year's NYAFF with a pair of sleeper hits, 8000 Miles and 8000 Miles 2 about Japanese wannabe rappers and the suburban ennui, comes back this year with a decidedly mature film, Ringing in Their Ears, featuring aforementioned, Shinsei Kamattechan.

Taking place over a week building up to Kamattechan's big concert, Irie skillfully weaves the trials and tribulations of several Chiba-ites into a funny, touching film. Kaori (Kurumi Morishita) is a struggling single mother doubling as a nightclub dancer and a cleaning person to bring up her forever-glued-to-a-laptop, kindergartener, Ryota. The boy, being a big Kamattechan fan, gets into trouble when he teaches his classmates a disturbing song, obviously influenced by the band:

I want to live/I want to die/Either way is fine, ma, ma, ma, ma
I want to fade away/I want to die/Neither way is fine, ma, ma, ma, ma

A high school senior Michiko (lovely Fumi Nikaido) clashes with her parents because she wants to be a professional shogi (Japanese chess) player instead of going to college. Then her boyfriend who'd introduced her to Kamattechan's music, leaves her for the more conventional college-bound girl. The band members, with the exception of reclusive (apparently in real life too) Noko being AWOL until the concert, play themselves as they rehearse for their big concert, while their conflicted manager (Mikito Tsurugi) hesitates to break the news that they are getting picked up by a major label and about to become a sellout.

It makes sense that Irie, who demonstrated the knack for channeling the disaffected youth in his previous efforts, is the one showcasing this Chiba based (like 8000 Miles 2), web savvy, word-of-mouth, indie rock phenom. But Ringing in Their Ears is not just another publicity tie-in or fanboy movie. It stands on its own as an affecting narrative. It just happens to have kick-ass music too. Irie's nuanced, minimalist approach is never on the nose about the issues - shut-ins, outcasts and the generation gap. He conveys all those things through likable characters and the spirit of rock'n'roll without being showy or cocky. Ringing in Their Ears will satisfy music fans and film lovers alike.

Ringing in Their Ears will be screening as part of the 10th annual New York Asian Film Festival in conjunction with Japan Cuts 2011 on Thursday, July 7th and Monday, July 11th. You can find out more information at the NYAFF website and Japan Cuts website

*Psychic indie nerd glam is the term used to describe Shinsei Kamattechan's music by good people at Please visit their page

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Korean Food Anyone?

The Recipe (2010) - Lee

The Recipe's Korean title, 'doenjang' refers to 'fermented soybean paste' which is the base of almost all Korean cooking- it is in soups, stews, marinades, condiments, side dishes... the list is endless. With such an ever-present, everyday ingredient as the subject, I thought the film would be a tongue-in-cheek, Tampopo style comedy. Director Lee Seo-goon rather takes a tear-jerking, populist approach, a la Le Grande Chef, and the result is lukewarm at best.

It starts out quite promisingly- a death row inmate's last wish to taste the same doenjang jigae (soybean stew) in a small mountain restaurant where he was caught, triggers a TV producer Choi (Ryu Seung-ryong) on a wild goose chase. The police report and eye witnesses support that it was the aroma of the stew that stopped the violent criminal in his tracks.

With the help of his always hungry police friend and a lab technician, Choi searches for the story behind that mysterious soybean paste. The story cuts back and forth between Choi's investigation and Hye-jin (Lee Yo-won), the young woman carrying a small crock pot.

Growing up surrounded by meju (square blocks of fermenting soybean) hanging from the ceiling, Hye-jin has the talent for finding the right ingredient for making the best doenjang. Orphaned early on, Hye-jin travels countryside to find the right elements for her magical paste. In a southern rural village, she meets a handsome plum wine maker and falls in love.

As a Korean food aficionado, I expected to see some mouth watering Korean food in display in The Recipe. Unfortunately, the film turns out to be less about food and more to do with its gooey melodrama that involves an unrealized lovers' pledge, a fateful car accident, tears, butterflies and a goblin.

The most interesting part of the film is the process of making doenjang. Lee tries to elevate the art of doenjang making as that of wine making. A lot of elements play the roles: the location, soil, soybeans, water, salt, yeast, pollen, clay (for the large crock pots that would house the fermenting ingredients) and of course that special individual touch. Lee shows the process faithfully, if not a little too cutesy, sterile way.

Still looking for that one good film that would satisfy my desire to see delicious Korean food parading in front of me, I walked away from The Recipe with my mouth completely dry.

The Recipe will be screening as part of the 10th annual New York Asian Film Festival on Tuesday, July 5th and Saturday, July 9th. You can find out more information at the NYAFF website