Sunday, November 30, 2014

Time, The Revelator

Boyhood (2014) - Linklater
 photo 2f58ce67-7e82-43a3-a830-0d74ecbc5784_zps8df81857.jpg
Before Sunrise, that perennial hit, the milestone of a generation, didn't hit me even though I was still in college when it came out. I thought it was too precious of a subject to be portrayed right and that there was no way to show young adult's romance without being pretentious. I thought the movie brought out/added to the worst traits in precautious, sensitive young men: a false sense of self confidence and self-righteousness. Linklater was the proto-hipster. I shunned him and his movies forever (ok, I watched Before Sunset, Waking Life and some others over the years).

I don't know why, but I gave Boyhood a go. Maybe because I wanted to prove me right the point I have been espousing for years that there is absolutely no salvageable profundity in movies about suburban white boy's life. Maybe I just got up too early after having all that thanksgiving food and booze and wanted to watch something. Maybe I thought I could place a safe distance to be objective because the subject is about childhood not adulthood. But Boyhood touched me to no end. There is nothing much going on in the film. It charts a Texan boy Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his nuclear family for about ten years until he goes off to college. Linklater plays with time- the great revelator and equalizer, more expressively here than his 'Before' series. At first it plays out like a stripped down, down to earth version of the childhood segment of Tree of Life (which was by far the best part of that film). There are a lot of moments that are just as magical as Jessica Chastain spinning off the ground: a little talk in the car where dead beat dad, Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke) tells Mason about the blue whale as a proof that magic exists, or forever frazzled mom (Patricia Arquette)'s existential musing when Mason leaves for college, or the Mason talking with the girl he just met about the moments seizing you instead of the other way around.

Linklater chugged along consistently sticking to his gentle street philosophizing without a care in the world: no one really knows the big answers in life. I finally see his guilelessness in his films. Whether he observes life with the help of his famous actor friends, he is honestly portraying characters with what life throws at them. Seeing a boy growing up and forming his opinions and minds while acknowledging the time zipping him by is really something. Boyhood is a culmination of everything he's done before and it's marvelous. Still, Linklater's optimism is still very much American and it annoys me sometimes for a fact that we never see Mason cry or having a real tragedy in life. But I also understand it's called Boyhood, not Boyz 'n' da Hood. It is about celebration of growing up and unseen possibilities. Tragedies come later. They can wait.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Getting on the Bus

The We and The I (2012) - Gondry
 photo c866172e-fa55-4e6b-916f-ffe45e1de549_zpsb3584d89.jpg
Michel Gondry did a 2 year workshop with teenagers from the Bronx for The We and The I, a one-day-in-the-life-of-real-innercity-teens on screen. It's a unique social experiment that is rarely seen in American cinema. Kids talk like themselves, loud and obnoxious, oblivious to their surroundings. No one in the film is made-up, snapshot-ready pretty. And all of it takes place inside a public bus.

It's the last day of the school before the summer recess, and about 30 High School kids gets on the MTA bus to go home. They bully people out of their seat, gossip incessantly, furiously texting into their blackberries, exchange funny youtube videos, make guest lists for parties, flirt and fight. There is a hierarchy even in seating arrangement inside the bus. Asshole bullies all the way in the back, then cluster of other cliques scattered through out. There are gay kids, popular girls, artistic kids who always draw in their sketchbooks, musicians and so on. As they intermingle with each other, playing unending musical chairs, the ever mobile camera jumps from one chat to another. This overlapping cacophony of interactions are like old Altman movies but given that it's a confined, noisy space, you don't really get to grasp everything they say. There are some Gondry moments but he keeps his visual gags to a minimum (for comic relief), only accompanying only small portions of kid's recounting their many stories and anecdotes.

Things become a little more coherent as kids get off (or kicked out) at their destinations or middle of the road. The rhythm kind of settles and the meat of the story emerges: Teresa and Michael, once a couple but not anymore, she not attending school at the moment and he the part of asshole/bully clique. Without sentimentalizing, Gondry observes their insecurities and misunderstandings and finds gems in the rough. Much more real than Laurent Cantet's The Class, partly because the absence adults save for the no non-sense, tough as a nail bus driver, The We and The I is a one of a kind, beautiful observation that's all about kids.

Scary Movie Well Done

Babadook (2014) - Kent
 photo 07ebde76-dc44-4d2d-aa9a-9bbcadcb1652_zps521f4dc0.png
Babadook takes a well-worn premise, i.e.: monster under the bed/in the closet, and makes a superbly effective scary film. Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mom working at a retirement house, raising a troublesome 6 year old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). The death of Dad in a car crash 6 years ago really affected them both and Amelia is really struggling to make ends meet. Sam's fear of monsters and the thought of his mom's mortality makes him being extremely paranoid and result in increasingly violent behavior. He finds a scary children's storybook named Babadook which contains horrible drawings of Amelia commiting murders. Only he can sense this Babadook at night but soon enough, the monster haunts Amelia and scares her stiff.

What makes Babadook way above average horror is first and foremost in writing, among other things: Jennifer Kent's script is psychologically apt and plausible, therefore doesn't have to rely on CGI or easy scare to fill up the gaps in the plot. The second is superb acting. Both Davis and young Wiseman are not only perfectly cast but amazing in their roles as troubled, paranoid nuclear family. The third is the absence of overwhelming score. I mean, I can't remember any recent horror that don't rely on music to create tension? Babadook makes a case for 'less is better'. Too bad this didn't come out in Halloween.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Existential Road Trip

Jauja (2014) - Alonso
 photo dce9a72e-52ea-4444-abc3-0e0ba978c502_zpsc9cb8f6b.png
 photo 47db91b7-a8af-49b8-81a1-4bdb6edf533c_zpsa7c16741.png
 photo c24a6b26-f887-4f72-b7d3-123767f5e121_zpscdd58f9e.png
 photo 83b0111e-baca-4f56-a253-31c3b11fd93c_zpsec223779.png
 photo 479ef141-71a0-49ad-9991-329144a0bad8_zpsd6b7ba1f.png
 photo 026c0521-5a39-4787-8dd7-753e401d9905_zps96967417.png
 photo 6f8d441e-2f9a-4f6e-917e-2e114a8322a3_zpsc10d3e1a.png
 photo 9726db17-a52b-405f-a153-c367c47a028d_zps550f5864.png
Loved it! Director/writer Lisandro Alonso along with co-writer Fabian Casas's take on western genre doesn't catch (small) fire until mid-point and turns The Searchers storyline into something that resembles more of a Conrad/Herzogian, existential road trip. Static long takes and 4:3 aspect ratio with round edges betray its supposed genre and picturesque landscapes. Nevertheless, Jauja is a gorgeous, seductive trip. Alonso's formalist, minimalist approach can be challenging but it's a worthwhile trip as it morphs into something much more adventurous and rewarding. There is hardly any music in its 1 hr 50 min running time and no close-ups. Viggo Mortensen's great as skulking Danish captain (of engineering team?), lost in the new, unforgiving surroundings. Stooped and lean and anxious, he wears the burden of all European men on his weathered face. The missing daughter is a macguffin of the story then resurfaces again as something else. Is this unreachable destination, the earthly paradise called Jauja, all but a dream of a 15 year old European girl? Daring in its style and structure, Jauja is everything I look for in cinema right now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Delicious Twist

Seventh Code (2013) - Kurosawa
 photo b5df5a03-c87a-4c15-abb5-409a8518a2cb_zps4a0fb92e.jpg
I don't care if it is an hour long promotional material of some Japanese popstar. It's KK's take on the espionage thriller genre and it's delicious. A frail looking girl, Akiko (Atsuko Maeda), with a huge luggage cart with little wheels is stalking Matsunaga (Ryuhei Suzuki), in the streets of Vladivostok. He is a major dreamboat and according to her, he snubbed her after picking her up and buying lunch back in Tokyo. After being dumped on the side of the road in a burlap sack, she gets friendly with a Japanese restaurant owner with a chip on his shoulder. From there, things progress in a very different direction. Absorbing and unpredictable, it's one of those films better not knowing anything going in.

Monday, November 17, 2014

More Human than Human

Strayed (2003) - Techiné
 photo d2f05e2b-0b51-475d-a442-54744e07ea00_zps88c71645.png
 photo d2befbf8-5387-4ca7-9c62-6078b4fc2354_zps9d3b160d.png
 photo df41f715-50a9-4e66-926a-5b6a347511c5_zpse7697ee0.png
At first, this WWII drama progresses exactly the way it is supposed to be - a young pretty mother (Emmanuelle Béart) fleeing the war with her two children hooking up with a good looking, resourceful young man (Gaspard Ulliel) shacked up in a large abandoned mansion and playing family. A typical war time soap opera. Oooh la la. But Andre Techiné is a true master observer of subtle human emotions. People do unexpected things. Their actions defy their supposed roles. The intricacy of attractions between the two are much more complex than just primal or even logical. Strayed subtly, beautifully treads all these preconceived notions and have these beautiful feelings, desires and mutual understandings play out. Béart and Ulliel are superb in this.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Devil Worshipping

To the Devil, a Daughter (1976) - Sykes
 photo 1a431a56-3cd7-4341-8d4a-ab8445199462_zps82d10fe1.png
Devil's offspring is born. Oh baby!
 photo 024d6c20-6079-4c38-8363-c814d44cb082_zpsa4316323.png
It's Nastassja Kinski's turn to inHABIT the nunnery
 photo 15e455b8-f388-48b7-9391-1d8ea911905c_zps38f9cc5e.png
The baby needs to crawl back to the womb for some reason
 photo c1307fff-f3c9-4c33-89a2-3080458093c4_zps0a234e22.png
Mr. Widmark is too old for this s**t!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Killer of Dreams

Labyrinth of Dreams (1997) - Ishii
 photo 12bb03e3-38e7-4c1b-8a2a-94f08428fc7c_zps9d1df527.png
 photo 6ae4e5bb-8773-4772-9b5b-8c8b849026ec_zps9be644ac.png
 photo 0f72978a-27a1-4569-8bac-e6ea44329b84_zpsb6b220fc.png
 photo f190a403-109e-4e55-b92e-5bf0b197fb0f_zpsc8ae93cb.png
 photo 4251339b-0193-4c0f-b016-7cef98285e22_zpsde9f62dc.png
 photo 6ec3d197-6916-4c24-9ea7-6cc243f672ab_zps84830337.png
 photo ccc27df3-7782-49a5-9ba7-61ad066261fa_zps5fab778b.png
 photo e37a0645-d27b-4f83-a9df-84ab1027d90e_zps4d913864.png
 photo ac0dcdb8-34e0-4ebe-8b4a-847b1002c8d5_zps15650441.png
I am a big fan of Sogo Ishii's serial killer mood piece Angel Dust. I've always regarded Ishii as a standout amongst 90s Japanese pop auteurs not only for his visual elegance but for the innovative use of sound. And I've been long to see Labyrinth of Dreams. Soft black & white photography reminiscent of old newspaper clippings, Ishii's period piece, the film is a seductive, hypnotic experience.

There is a rumor going around bus conductors that there is a serial killer who seduces women and discard them when he gets bored with them. One such victim is recently departed Tsuyako who's been suspecting her fiancé bus driver Niitaka (Tadanobu Asano) to be that killer. Tsuyako's been telling all her thoughts in her letter to her best friend, another young bus conductor Tomiko (Rena Komine). Niitaka reemerges at Tomiko's bus company as a newly hired driver. With his good looks and mild manner, all the girls are swooned naturally. At first, Tomiko's determined to capture him and avenge her friend's death, but can't help falling for mysterious Niitaka.

Its Hitchcockian theme of suspicion and obsession and its moebius strip structure give way to lush, dreamy cinematography with sporadic, atmospheric score, Labyrinth is a perfect quiet mood piece on rainy saturday afternoon. I particularly love Ishii's used of pregnant silences and delicate shallow depth photography. Really gorgeous.