Sunday, June 17, 2012

Lonely Death

In den Tag Hinein/The Days Between (2001) - Speth
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Twenty-something Lynn (Sabine Timoteo) works as a dancer at a disco and at a college cafeteria. She stays between her professional swimmer boyfriend's apartment and her brother's house. Neither place gives her any warmth. Things change when she meets Kenji, a Japanese student studying German. Their drunken night exchanges (them not completely understanding each other) give us a bit of insight to their lonely lives.

Maria Speth's The Days Between has everything I look for in a film. She obviously is heavily influenced by wayward youth cinema of WKW and Tsai, but her sensibilities are still very much European. There is nothing cute or sentimental about The Days Between. It has more in common with Eric Zonca's Dreamlife of Angels (which is featured as Lynn and Kenji go see the film). Speth's less concerned about solid storytelling which keeps her apart from Andrea Arnold or Lynne Ramsay even. Lynn's indecisiveness and going with the flow attitude rings much truer than any film about youth romance. Even though she is rebellious, she is still bound by tradition, family and most of all, herself. There is no sense of irony or glibness about the film. The ending surprised me and deeply affected me. Timoteo is lovely. Her long black hair with uneven bangs are the look to die for. I can't advocate this film enough around here. An amazing film.

Challenged Finnish Punk

The Punk Syndrome (2012) - Passi, Kärkkäinen
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Pertti, Toni, Kari and Sami can really put on a great show. They are the members of very popular punk group in Finland, Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (Pertti Kurikka's Name Day). As Kari sings in his guttural voice about the greatness of coffee, their shared disgust for pedicure, politicians and living in group homes, it's hard to resist but to rock out to their catchy tunes. But it's extra hard for these kick ass punk rockers to keep everything together, for they are mentally challenged. They have to, among other things, concentrate on not missing the cue to start playing, watch out for falling pants, try not to soil themselves on stage and remember  taking back their instruments after the show.

They all have very distinctive personalities, so they collide more often than not. Pertti is the composer and lyricist, guitarist and has a peculiar tendency to closely examine people's clothes (for seams). He knows how the babies are made. Emotionally volatile Kari is in love and wants to marry his long time girlfriend. Bossy Sami is deeply involved in politics and living in the same group home as Kari. They get on each other's nerves. Young Toni wants to move out of his parents' and vie for beautiful Liisa's affection in a group home. 

Punk Syndrome presents Pertti Kurikka's Name Day just as they are. Directors J-P Passi and Jukka Karrkkainen wisely decide not to jump in and explain things for us. It's a great slice of life doc about these strong personalities, as they struggle to keep it together everyday. We see their blemishes and shortcomings as well as their genuine love for the music and their all too humanness. Ironically, punk is a fitting music for these outsiders who wants to be accepted and loved. And they rock!



For tickets and more information, please check Silverdoc website.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Coltrane's "I Want to Talk About You"

I recently broke down and got a small turntable for the first time. I've been foraging people's garbage for old records ever since, like an old Chinese lady collecting soda cans in the middle of the night. I got this rare record by John Coltrane which was put out posthumously. On one side it's 17 minute live version of one my favorite things of all time, My Favorite Things. But what wowed me was his rendition of I Want to Talk About You, taken from Live at Birdland record. Listening to the last 3 minute solo by Coltrane is one of the most thrilling experience I've had in a while.

I took some pictures of the record:

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selflessness - inside cover

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2012

A famous Chinese political dissident artist, rapes in the military, battered reporters in Tijuana narco-war zone, a crimes against humanity trial in Cambodia, child soldiers in Sub-Saharan Africa are few of the subjects in this year's Human Rights Watch Film Festival which will be held at Film Society of Lincoln Center in NYC, 6/14-28. These films are real eye openers, shedding a light on the injustices either hidden or neglected all over the world.
Here are previews for five outstanding documentaries I was able to see:

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry | Screens June 15th, 7:00pm at FSLC
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Engrossing portrait of a fiercely political artist in the internet age. AWW became famous denouncing Beijing Olympics as the party propaganda even though he designed 'Bird's Nest' stadium for the games. Well regarded and very popular among young people as the beacon of free speech fight/representative of everyman, AWW's confrontational works has won him no friends at the ruling party. He was assaulted and hospitalized by police and arrested and has been detained and tortured until recently. AWW embodies the paradoxical nature of communist/capitalist China.




Brother Number One | Screens June 19th, 8:45pm, 20th, 4pm, 21st, 6:30pm at FSLC
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In Brother Number One, a Kiwi athlete, Rob Hamill, gets a rare opportunity to speak as a witness at the war crime trial against one of the Pol Pot's henchmen, now a born again Christian, Commander Duch. In 1978, Hamill's older brother was captured by Khmer Rouge when his sail boat went off course, accused of spying, sent to the infamous S-21 Prison camp in Cambodia. There he was tortured and killed along with the countless others. An unofficial death toll under Pol Pot regime is estimated at 2 million. Filled with first hand interviews, testimonies, the documentary is a gut wrenching experience to say the least.




Reportero | Screens June June 21st, 4pm, 22nd, 9:30pm, 23rd, 3:30pm at FSLC
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In Mexico's narco-traffic war, the horrendous acts of violence are inflicted on the criminals and ordinary citizens alike. Kidnappings, drive-by shootings and beheadings are common occurrences. It's no exception for the journalists. A Tijuana based weekly Zeta have been running independently without influences from the government or corporations for the last 30 years. Then as they start reporting on drug-wars, they've become a target as well. These are truly brave individuals.



The Invisible War | Screens June 18th, 8:45pm, 20th, 6:30pm at FSLC
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The Invisible war tells the staggering number of rapes and the systematic coverup in the US military. The governments pathetic response in the training video is "Hey, wait 'til she is sober." What's more heartbreaking is most of the service woman featured in Invisible War were true believers of military system, thinking they could serve the country best being soldiers, but fell victim to forever masculine culture.



Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare | Screens June 24th, 25th, 6:30, 27th, 4pm at FSLC
escapefireAnother searing doc about American Healthcare. Yes we need to change our eating habits, yes it should be 'health' care not 'disease' care. Yes the system is still totally screwed up. Pay per visit system means shorter visit time and less doctor/patient face time. There is no money in being primary care physician. Escape Fire spells out the obvious problems for us. It's also about time someone crystalizing that healthcare is a human rights issue. Oddly, the recent Public Option debate in the Healthcare Overhaul is absent in this documentary.



For tickets and more information, please visit Human Rights Watch Film Festival website

Monday, June 11, 2012

Coco & Igor

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009) - Kounen
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Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) debuts The Rites of Spring in Paris, 1913. The production (choreographed by Nijinsky) is very avant-garde. The reception is so terrible, by the end, there is a riot in the theater. Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) is there in awe of its dissonance. For her as a strong, independent, 20th century woman, his music is the way of the future, well fit for her sensibility. 7 years later, she, still in mourning her boyfriend's death, invites Stravinsky and his family (sick wife and 4 kids) to her estate outside Paris. Unbeknownst to him, she is the sole supporter of the entire season of his production.

Kounen paints a very complex picture in two artists whose feeling and respect weren't totally mutual. In the eyes of Stravinsky's wife and many others, Chanel was a collector of people, adulteress and a cold hearted bitch. For the composer, she was an object of desire, a mere 'shop keeper', not an artist of equal status.

The soundtrack is great, so as dark, sumptuous cinematography and production design. Mouglalis's dark, slim elegance is quite magnetic. Mikkelsen's tortured genius has a real weight and depth. Kounen paints the artists as tragic figures, as misunderstood geniuses and lonely souls. It's much better than fluffy fairy tale that was Coco Before Chanel.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Alien Prequal

Prometheus (2012) - Scott
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Making a prequel/sequel out of a horror movie is always a flimsy proposition. Alien, perhaps Ridley Scott's second best in his spotty filmography, was a no nonsense, tight sci-fi horror which was, if anything, atmospheric and thrilling. Prometheus then, is just an upscale version of the franchise, explaining pointlessly, the origins of that HR Giger backdrop of the original, at the expanse of the actors who are wasted here (especially Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce). There are inevitable plotholes, unexplained motivations, shoddy deaths. What Prometheus has though, are a gorgeous production design, Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba.

Once upon a time, Ridley Scott was a visual and tonal lyricist. There were duelists in the Napoleonic era who duel each other throughout their entire life without any explanation. There were unicorns in slow-mo. He even took away silly (debatable) narration of Dekkard from Blade Runner. That man is dead now. Prometheus was entertaining and pretty enough, but nowhere as great as his older stuff.

Friday, June 8, 2012

KAFFNY 2012: The LA Riots, 20 Years Later

As a part of the festival, KAFFNY revisits the 1992 LA riots which was sparked by acquittal of 4 police officers in the police brutality case of Rodney King. It cost 53 lives and a billion dollars in property damage. As the rioters looted and torched the South Central while police were busy guarding Beverly Hills and other rich neighborhoods, it was Korean American businesses that took the brunt of destruction. As it was the case last year with documentary filmmaker Dai sil Kim-Gibson Retrospective, KAFFNY devotes a part of the festival to present Korean American experiences that are more socially relevant, giving it extra weight and importance. Building upon the last year's presentation of Kim-Gibson' documentaries Sa-i-gu (4/29) and Wet Sand and a panel discussion that included the prominent African American filmmaker Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep), this year's program consists of documentaries from the 2nd generation Korean Americans' point of view.
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It includes: Pokdong (The Riots), a personal documentary directed by Alex Ko, touching upon his parents' experience as a hard working, small time business owners whose American Dream was shattered when their video store was burned down in the riot. In a very short period of time, Ko manages to capture the whole spectrum of the first-hand immigrant experience without ever trivializing it.

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Then there is Clash of Colors: LA Riots of 1992, directed by David Kim, a former vice president of the Korean Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, who had been working on closely with various community organizations as well as the Los Angeles Mayor's Office trying to find ways to improve the relations between the African American community and the Korean American community in response to the alleged Black/Korean conflict that had been widely reported by the Los Angeles as well as national media during the years leading up to the riots. In it, Kim points out the media hyperbole in conveniently made up tensions between the two communities, when the real problem was deep seeded in years of economic inequality and neglect in the South Central. Thorough in its examination of race relations and apt reflections, like Kim-Gibson's docs, Clash of Colors gives a voice to the silent, largely untold Korean American communities' side of the story in the riot.

The program also includes music video from the 90s, "I Got My Mind Made Up", The LA Riots: Reflections on Our Future and clips from ongoing doc project Scenes from LAR20 by non other than the KAFFNY founder Dae Hoon Kim and Ho Sik Kim, with community activist and TV show host Kathy Choi.

Click here for Dai-sil Kim Gibson Retro at KAFFNY 2011

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Invisible Dreams

Oh, Woe is Me/Hellas Pour Moi (1993) - Godard
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I can't decide which Godard films have more beautiful images, as I go through his catalog. Oh, Woe is Me is certainly stunning, but proves to be one of the most inscrutable. Godard seems to suggest that there are limits to the image/film portraying the truth (and faith in god). As one character says, "I'm still touched by words." The film is in book chapters, its characters constantly talking about the existence of god in the modern world and representation of the truth. He ties the idea of faithlessness in the modern world with the limits of the imagery (now I think I understand better about nature images in his films). Then there is light/darkness dichotomy. In a stunning sequence, he closes the lens iris on a portrait shot of a beautiful model from overly exposed to complete black gradually, against undulating lake backdrop. The body gets easily overshadowed by darkness, but our spirit? "The night is for everyone, therefore more democratic," one character says in the beginning of the film. For everyone because they can hide their sins in darkness. God switches bodies with Simon (Gerard Depardieu) to be with Simon's beautiful, redhead school teacher wife, Rachel (Laurence Masliah). Is he pretending to be god or is it all her dream? Contemplative, invigorating, enthralling...just what the doctor ordered. This needs a definite rewatch or two.