Monday, January 28, 2013

Devil or Saint

Hors Satan (2011) - Dumont
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Carl Dreyer's The Day of Wrath might be the spiritual ancestor to both Silent Light and Hors Satan. In fact, there are a lot of similarities in this and Reygardas' film - sumptuous cinematography, stunning rural landscapes and resurrection. But Dumont's film strips down its religious undertones and goes for something more interesting and ambiguous. Not that there is no beauty in showing religious faith, but it's helluva more interesting if the protagonist might as well be a devil!

Hors Satan tells a story of a sad faced interloper (David Dewaele) who builds a strong bond with a gothy teenage girl (Alexandra Lemâtre) in rural Northern France. It seems that the stranger does everything the girl asks him to. Only thing he doesn't grant her is her sexual advances (we find out why later on in one violent/funny encounter). He seems to be capable of violent acts and also possessing healing powers. The nature once again plays a big part in Dumont's film- lonely, windswept coastal Northern French town is as much a character as the sad faced people who inhabit it. There is something primal/animistic about Hors Satan: Dewaele's satan/saint often prays facing the expansive nature in front of him, kneeling down with one hand cupping the other. There are also some obvious Tarkovsky influences, especially with fire and water and a German shepherd.

Dewaele and Lemâtre are endearing in their quiet ways. I find the ending very touching, much more so than Breaking the Waves or Silent Light. I can't wait to see Dumont's new film, Camille Claudel, 1915.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

God is an Alien?

God Told Me to (1975) - Cohen
Larry Cohen (The Black Caesar, It's Alive!) directs this gritty, low budget cop procedural/Sci-fi that plays out like a good X-Files episode. It starts with a young maniac with a rifle on the top of the water tower in New York, plucking off unsuspecting pedestrians. When a tough NY cop Peter Nicolas (Tony Lo Bianco), catches up with him, the young man tells him that god told him to do it before jumping off to his death. After series of mass murders, with all perpetrators having some connections with a long haired androgynous young man, religious Peter finds himself deep in the rabbit hole involving alien abductions, virgin births and his unknown past.
The civic unrest ensues after Peter drops the bomb to the press about the perpetrators' famous words. But the film doesn't let its religious implications bog down from going forward. It is very much a self-contained NY movie too. All the verité style location shooting is brimming with raw energy that equals Dog Day Afternoon. Many of the recognizable NY b-movie actors also make appearances. The film is truly bizarre in every aspect and earns a place in my collection as one of the classics.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Back Again

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) - Jackson
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First off, I couldn't find the picture of massive amount of 35mm film cans that contained one release print of the Hobbit. I really wanted to post that instead of the one above. 48 fps- the way of the future eh Jackson? So I put on my 3D glasses expecting to be passively entertained for 3 hours. The way of the future my ass, The Hobbit looks like a Masterpiece Theater from the 80s. I don't know what the big hoopla's about. Ten years ago, video technology was all about emulating that 'film look'. Now Jackson wants to go back to TV soap quality of yesteryears? Thanks to familiar themes and music and likable Martin Freeman as Bilbo, I somewhat settled down watching that irritating imagery. Then it turns out The Hobbit follows the exactly the same path of The Fellowship of the Ring: Leaving home, a big battle underground somewhere, that nasty golum and acceptance in being tiny. It was fresh ten years ago. The magic is gone. Ethereal virginal babe is gone. Boromir gone. Too much musty manliness. I nodded off couple times somewhere in between. Too fucking long. Two more of this in the works? Really? No thanks. I'll probably be dragged into seeing the other two come Christmas time, I'm sure.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Top 20 Discoveries 2012

These are the choice cuts from the films I've seen in 2012 in no particular order

*click on the titles for full reviews

City of Pirates (1983) - Ruiz
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My first introduction to Raul Ruiz. Surrealistic and scatterbrained. Can't quite get my grip on him. Or you are not supposed to. I gave in to strange stories and visuals with my second Ruiz film 'Three Cowns and a Sailor'. But at the end it's City of Pirates which stuck with me more. More Ruiz please!

Poetry (2010) - Lee
Poetry is nothing like what I expected. High melodrama for sure, but it's understated and not afraid of reflecting life's nitty-gritty, ugly, awkward details. Much thanks to Yun Jeong-hie's performance as a sixty five year old woman trying to write poetry for the first time while struggling with whatever life throws at her, everything feels real and honest.

In Vanda's Room (2000) - Costa
Colossal Youth (2006) - Costa
As far as immersive film experiences blurring fiction and documentary are concerned, there is no other filmmaker than Pedro Costa I can think of. Costa's films remind me that there are still so much beauty left in the world, even in the worst circumstances.

Tren de Sombras (1997) - Guerin
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It's Guerin's masterful use of 'cinema as an investigative tool' that I admire so much. Playful and just plain gorgeous, much more so here than his better known In the City of Silvia.

Sing a Song of Sex (1967) - Oshima
It must've been something to be part of Japanese New Wave in the 60s. Must've been a wild and crazy time to live in! Audacious, pointy and uncompromising, Sing a Song of Sex stands out even among the best JNW films.

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) - Bresson
Doesn't matter if it's a parable about Jesus. It's just a hauntingly beautiful film. Wiazemsky's sorrowful face is unforgettable.

Nouvelle Vague (1990) - Godard
Perhaps the most beautiful of all Godard films and also most romantic.

Running in Madness, Dying in Love (1969) - Wakamatsu
Another masterpiece of Japanese New Wave. Perversely tragic or tragically perverse- take your pick.

Remorques (1941) - GremillonImage
Gremillon's film is vastly different from its Hollywood counterpart in its day. I was surprised by its subtle writing and artistry. And Jean Gabin is the man.

Nostalghia (1983) - Tarkovsky
As he demonstrates time and time again, Tarkovsky's faith in humanity is demonstrated in a spectacular manner.

L'important c'est d'aimer (1975) - Zulawski
Romy Schneider gives it all in another one of Zulawski's emotional fireworks display.

Gespenster (2005) - Petzold
Perhaps the most haunting film by Petzold I've seen so far.

Our Beloved Month of August (2008) - Gomes
Whether it came about by accident or chance, I couldn't help falling for Miguel Gomes's loose, playful filmmaking.

The Red Shoes (1948) - Powell & Pressburger

Black Narcissus (1947) - Powell & Pressburger
Underneath the whole technical mastery, there is something very perverse about Powell & Pressburger films that rivals Hitchcock. But their films are much more refined, artistic and beautiful to look at.

Jai été au Bal (1989) - Blank
Dry Wood (1973) - Blank
I was delighted to have found Les Blank's music and booze filled Americana.

Le Pont des Arts (2004) - Green
Austere, sincere, bitter, funny, touching... and many more adjectives can be applied to Eugene Green's contemplation of power of art. Natasha Régnier shines as a classical singer.

Les Chanson d'Amour (2007) - Honoré
This is the film that made me reconsider watching musicals. Christophe Honoré appropriates the old into something that reflects modern world. And the result is this beautiful, touching ensemble piece.

Dustin's Top 10 Films released in 2012

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Friedkin's Southern Fried Chicken

Killer Joe (2011) - Friedkin
This is one nasty film. Impeccably dressed (in black), always professional Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a Dallas policeman who dabbles in contract killing on the side. He gets approached by a degenerate hick family to kill the ex-wife/mom for the life insurance money. But after finding out these lunkheads don't even have the advances to pay him, Joe almost walks out on them, until he sees Dottie (Juno Temple), a sweet, virginal daughter of the family, twirling around under the bright Texas sky. Creepy and scary, McConaughy is a revelation here: with his chiseled face and tall frame, he dominates the claustrophobic surroundings (half of the film takes place inside a trailer). Friedkin adapts Tracy Lett's unabashedly pulpy stage play with extreme economical precision. There is no fat to be found anywhere. And it's really funny. It plays out like an early Coen brothers film but has that extra jolt of Southern sleaze. Killer Joe fully embraces its typical white trash stereotypes and is not afraid of pushing buttons - many would find that 'fried drumstick scene' too distasteful and disturbing. But I have to say it's hugely entertaining. Like in Bug, Friedkin's previous stage adaptation, the veteran director seems to have found his calling in making a small-budget, tight psychological noir that provides actors space to exercise their craft.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Global Lens at MoMA

Global Film Initiative (GFI) and MoMA present Global Lens 2013: 10 films from developing film communities as diverse as Kazakhstan and Chile, in a traveling exhibition. From January 10th - 25th, the program holds up shop in NYC, where many of the titles are making their North American or New York premieres.

To celebrate the 10th year, Global Lens starts with a week-long run of Zhang Yuan's Beijing Flickers and Eduardo Nunes's Southwest; an overlooked earlier film, Life Kills Me (2007), from Chilean director Sebastián Silva (whose 2009 film The Maid was much admired); Cairo 678, a big hit at MoMA's 2011 New Directors/New Films festival, and much more. I am just stupefied by the caliber of these films. I just wish I had more time to watch all ten.

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Two city slickers, Gaveh (director Mani Haghighi) and Leila (Taraneh Alidoosti) decked with plastic bags full of money and an iphone in their luxury foreign car, set out to distribute the money in an impoverished, mountainous border area. With each poor inhabitant they meet, a new Faustian condition is devised for their handouts: They make one brother swear on the Qu'ran that he won't share his money with the other brother; posing as a vet, they throw money at a man who's about to put down his injured mule not to do it; they try to buy off a dead infant from a grieving father digging a grave, and so on. Their subjects are mostly simple, honest folks who are tested by the protagonists to sell out. But as their sardonic games play out, it's their moral ambiguity that is put to the test. This fable-like nature of the film is still very much based on reality. Biting and thought provoking, Modest Reception is another great film from Iran.

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CAIRO 678 (Egypt)

Based on real life incidents, Cairo 678 delicately interweaves the lives of three Egyptian women from different social standings, all victims of endemic sexual harassment. The film highlights the culture of shaming victims in a male dominant society. The film was accused of 'inciting violence against men and their genitalia with sharp objects'. It not only succeeds in making a point, but showing a glimpse of a rapidly changing Muslim society as well, with the help of superb performances by its leads (Bosra, Nelly Karim and Nahed El Sebai).

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Its audacious 3.66:1 ratio b&w photography accentuates the beauty of this fairy tale steeped in that unmistakable Latin American magical realism tradition. Sudoeste is quite the opposite of recent Cinema Novo, exemplified by City of God and Elite Squad.

Clarice, a girl who bears her dead mother's name gets to live the life she never got a chance to, all in one day, from childhood to old age. Every frame is exquisitely composed. Majestic horizontal space boxes in the viewer's perception, creating a fantastic netherworld. Lyrical and dreamlike, Southwest needs to be seen on the big screen.

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The film tells a simple story of a frugal elderly pensioner's sprawling quest through the Kafkaesque Indian bureaucratic system to turn off the street lights during daytime, because he deems it wasteful. Shyamal Uncle is at once a neorealist tour of a bustling urban Indian jungle and a delightful observational comedy that offers lots of laughs and charms.

Global Lens runs Jan. 10 through 25. Please visit MoMA website for tickets and times.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Metamorphose into Mediocrity

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (2012) - The Quays
I understand embracing video technology by artists have strong visual aesthetics. It's cheaper, easier, less time consuming, etc. For me, Lynch's Inland Empire was a major disappointment. His strong suit has always been painstakingly planned mise-en-scene and breathtakingly beautiful cinematography. Even more visual emphasis should be put on when we talk about the world of The Brothers Quay. Obviously, beauty of the Quay films had almost entirely relied upon the intricacy in their stop-motion animation trained craft. After their stint with a DSLR camera last year with On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets. And this time, they are taking on Kafka's The Metamorphosis. One would think this is a perfect marriage. And what a missed opportunity it is- minimal effort, muddy images, lazy realization, this version of Metamorphosis looks like a half-assed High School video project. But it's KAFKA! Even if it was just a commissioned easy money project, how can they justify the quality of this dreadful work?  How can a conscientious artist not look at their work objectively, side by side, with something marvelous like Streets of Crocodiles and say wow, this is unacceptable!

Only saving grace of this screening was music of Leoš Janáček live accompaniment by pianist Mikhail Rudy. But what a major disappointment!