Saturday, February 28, 2015

Joyless Rebellion

Buzzard (2014) - Potrykus
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BAMcinématek at the BAM Rose Cinemas will present a special advance screening of Joel Potrykus' Buzzard on March 4th, followed by a Q&A with the director and screenings of his previous two films, Coyote and Ape. Please visit BAM website for tickets.
Joel Potrykus reconfirms his reputation as a 'real deal' in American indie scene with searingly funny and original Buzzard, the conclusion of his animal trilogy after Coyote and Ape, again, starring his muse, the incomparable Joshua Burge, as an angry social miscreant.

Enter the world of Marty Jackitansky (Burge) - a $9.50/hr indefinite temp at a mortgage company in Grand Rapids, MI. When he's not procrastinating at being an office drone, his life at home consists of TV dinners, corn chips, mountain dew, heavy metal music, video games and horror movies. He subsists his living by precariously screwing the system in small ways - ordering unnecessary office supplies at the job and returning them for cash, calling complaint hotline off of the frozen pizza boxes for more free food or coupons and cashing in undeliverable checks.

Welcome to the unglamorous life of the 99 percent in America. Comparing Buzzard to Office Space would be too easy, but from this angle, Buzzard is more like no budget, fantasy/political subtext free Fight Club. There is no joy or rebellious spirit in Marty's actions. No internal grandiose rhetoric. Deeply contemptuous of all people, he is just a class-A asshole and possesses no redeeming quality whatsoever. And there is danger in his unusually large bug eyes- he is building a Freddy Kruger style slasher out of his nintendo glove with real blades sticking out.

After cashing in the company's undeliverable checks, Marty's paranoia sets in. He abandons his messy apartment for fear of swat team kicking in the door any minute. So he crashes at his total tool-of-the-system co-worker Derek (played adroitly by director Potrykus)'s coveted 'party-zone' A.K.A. the basement of his disabled dad's house. Derek is as much of a man-child as Marty: they argue, goof around (Jedi Knight vs Freddy), play video games and eat hot pockets and corn chips together. But things get sour after Marty finds out that Derek unwittingly might have ratted him out. After physically hurting Derek, Marty runs away to Detroit with $200 from the checks he cashed in his pocket.

Joshua Burge's unfiltered portrayal of a ne'er-do-well is funny and chilling at the same time. With his unusual mug, Burge stands out no matter where he goes, against the film's 'normal people' who possess no distinctive characteristics. It's pretty brilliant that Marty's choice of place to escape his ugly reality is none other than Detroit, not quite the promised land where one would want to escape to. The uncut, 20 dollar plate of spaghetti sequence in a luxurious hotel room is a legend in the making. In one minute Marty feels happy running down the underpopulated streets of Detroit thinking that he got off scot-free from his petty crimes, then the next he finds himself still trapped in the miserable thing called reality.

Raw and ugly, yet mesmerizing, Buzzard is a one of a kind film that you can't shake off easily. As the country's economical climate recycles the past, Buzzard shares the dispirited spirit of the slackers of the Generation X of the 90s.

opens nationwide on March 6th.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I'm Not a Real Person Yet

Frances Ha (2014) - Baumbach
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I am more than mildly surprised by Noah Baumbach's acute observations of 20 somethings giromance movie Frances Ha. No less impressive is Greta Gerwig's performance as Frances, a young woman with a case of post-college blues. At 27, while painfully aware of time passing and her aimlessness, Frances hops around overpriced New York apartments filled with equally underachieving, too-clever-for-their-own-good 20-somethings with their parents' money. There is no visible obligatory character arc Frances has to reach. Her goofy, girl-next-dormroom persona stays put throughout. "I'm not a real person yet," she replies in one of the conversations. It's an easy justification/defense mechanism of the man-child, but also the truth. Things get a bit real: her roommate/best friend Sophie moves in with her boyfriend. She doesn't get the dance company job where she dances as an apprentice. And she doesn't have money to pay for a Chinatown apartment she shares with two hipster boys.

After a blissful, yet way too cozy Christmas break back home in Sacramento, things hit a sour note. After insisting to crash at one of her friend's apartment, it becomes apparent, whether she realizes it or not, that her goofy antics are not that fetching to anyone anymore. But instead of getting her shit together, out on a whim, she takes up on the opportunity of staying in an apartment of acquaintances in Paris for a weekend, just before an interview for a job at the dance company that she may or may not get, blowing money on plane tickets.

The thing is, I've known plenty of girls like Frances and I can't help myself rooting for her to succeed, whatever that might mean. Gerwig's adorable with her catoonishly big smile and manly works and her 'undate-ableness' and all her small quirks. Frances Ha is a chatty movie but never expository, focused yet universal and a visual marvel featuring unassuming streets of New York in black and white. Baumbach gets extra points for aping Modern Love sequence from Leo Carax' Mauvais Sang.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Self Motivated

Nightcrawler (2014) - Gilroy
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Jake Gyllenhaal shines in his sleaziest role ever, as an ambulance chasing videographer, Louis Bloom who won't stop at anything to get the most vile, violent footage of car wrecks, home invasion, multiple homicides, etc and selling it to the highest bidder. He has no social skills but always doles out scripted, online course-learned speeches when dealing with other people. The thing is, in real life, we all know these kind of individuals. They are not quite right as they have no moral scruples in their actions. There is something missing in their eyes. What's disturbing about Nightcrawler is that Bloom becomes very successful in what he sets out to do. He tampers with crime scenes to get a better angle, gets rid of competitions, blackmails a like minded shock tv station manager, and withhold information from the law to get the next exclusives. He's a total posterboy of 'pulling up your bootstraps' crowd.

It's Hollywood scriptwriter Dan Gilroy(and brother of Tony Gilroy)'s first film. He pulls all the stops with Nightcrawler - shot beautifully by PT Anderson regular Robert Elswit, stars his wife Rene Russo along with Gyllenhaal who also produced and music by seasoned composer, James Newton Howard. The worst of all is the score which doesn't match the film at all and sticks out like a sore thumb. I'm just angry that Nightcrawler won the Best First Film at Indie Spirit Awards over She's Lost Control. Really? This well polished film by Hollywood insider is considered indie? It's pretty disgusting.

Eri Yamamoto Trio at Arthur's Tavern

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Out on a whim, we decided to brave the snow and go to the West Village, and look for a live jazz club. It's been a very long time that we went to see a live jazz since Augie's on 108th Steet closed. We found a small hole in the wall place, Arthur's Tavern, where we saw Eri Yamamoto's trio. The setting couldn't have been more perfect: that acrid smell of old pub- of creaky, dusty wood, liquor and urine all mixed in. Christmas, Easter decorations and balloons from yesteryears still adorned the walls, including big brass "NO DANCING" sign and the sight of falling snow through the front window. Old husky bartendress from Macedonia poured me Knob Creek, instead of Hennessy, realized her mistake and didn't charge me for the drink. The waitress is late because of the snow. She's coming from Jersey, she explained. We got there early, settled in up front, not expecting much. The trio started arriving, also late because of the snowstorm. But they were pleased that there are so many of us showed up.

Eri Yamamoto Trio last night was Eri on the piano, Arthur (didn't get the gentleman's last name) on bass and Ikuo Takeuchi on drums, playing all original composition by Yamamoto. It was exactly what we were looking for in a night like that. And we were glad we finally found a place for live jazz after all those years of yearning.

Yamamoto and company are fine musicians. And her compositions are beautiful. For more of Yamamoto's music and info, please visit

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Film Comment Selects 2015 Preview

Film Comment Selects, Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual film series that showcases the best films from all corners of the world selected by folks at Film Comment magazine, marks the arrival of spring for New York cinephiles in otherwise dreadful February/March movie season.

This year's selections are as diverse as ever; the series blasts off with Mark Hartely's hilarious doc Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films with some of Cannon's greatest hits as the sidebar selections, includes Larry Clark's Kids part deux- The Smell of Us (skater kids in Paris, this time), the late Mike Nichols tribute to his underrated, underseen The Fortune, Philippe Garrel's rarely screened elegy Un ange passe, a special screening of the original preview cut of Joe Dante's Gremlins (featuring five additional minutes!), as well as many festival favorites- Shinya Tsukamoto's remake of Fires on the Plain, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead's Spring, Tetsuya Nakashima's The World of Kanako and Christian Petzold's new film Phoenix. The series also shed a six-film spotlight on autobiographical Danish auteur Nils Malmros.

I was able to sample films below from the series lineup. The Film Comment Selects runs 2/20 - 3/5. For more information and tickets, please visit FSLC website

THE SMELL OF US - Larry Clark
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It's been 20 years since Larry Clark made Kids. Now in his 70s, Clark hasn't changed his tune one bit. The setting now is in Paris and young skaters and hustlers are now armed with iphones to memorialize their sexual escapades. But everything else is pretty much the same. Even though there are a lot of skins and explicit shots, the impact is far less shocking to anyone in this internet age.

The thin story centers around Mat/pacman (Lukas Ionesco), a San Sebastian-esque beauty who is 'only gay for cash'. Everyone is in love with him, including his best buddy JP/Babyface and only visible girl in the group, Marie. There are a lot of flabby, monstrous old men/women lusting for young flesh in this film, including cameo from Clark himself as a drunk homeless man they call Rockstar (yeah right).

The Smell of Us makes the word 'disaffected' even more tiresome. The kids in the film are not only rebels without a cause but brain, emotions and everything that makes interesting characters. It is too obvious that only thing left to sell is their youthful body. In this day and age, I don't think that cuts it anymore.

SHOCK VALUE: How Dan O'Bannon And Some USC Outsiders Helped Invent Modern Horror
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USC, the school responsible for incubating such Hollywood filmmakers as George Lucas, Ron Howard and Rian Johnson, was also the place to be for successful genre filmmakers in the late 60s early 70s.

USC archivist Dino Everett lovingly strings together the works of USC Film School collaborators - Dan O'Bannon, John Carpenter, Charles Adair, Terence Winkless and Alec Lorimore in this no frills anthology. Obviously these are raw, amateurish student films but there are clear evidence of seeds of what's to come in genre filmmaking being planted, especially in Adair's riveting The Demon, predating Texas Chainsaw Massacre and sharing the same spirit of Night of the Living Dead and Winkless & Lorimore's Judson's Release being a precursor to Carpenter's Halloween. I would loved to have seen Carpenter's thesis film Lady Madonna- the anthology includes some of the sound recordings of the film without the picture since the negatives of the film are said to be lost.

BYPASS - Duane Hopskins
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Duane Hopkins' Bypass is yet another great example of social realism set in British working class neighborhood. It fits somewhere between the works of Lynne Ramsay, Andrea Arnold and Shane Meadows, owing everything to, of course, Alan Clarke, Bill Douglas and early Mike Leigh. Gracefully lensed by David Proctor and beautifully acted by the principles, the film rises above other depressing, small time thugs dramas set in England.
Bypass tells a story of the Locketts. Fatherless with bedridden mom, the eldest Greg (Benjamine Dilloway), a former soccer player whose dreams are crushed by the leg injury, deals in petty theft to support the family. But when he is caught and locked up, it's a sickly younger brother, Tim (George MacKay, in a star making turn)'s turn to provide for the family, dealing with pretty much the same set of local lowlifes. Things get complicated when bill collectors and child welfare services are hounding him and his younger sister and his angelic girlfriend, Lily (Charlotte Spencer) gets pregnant.

Hopkins shows his talent for effortless pacing, change of POV and smart, economical storytelling without losing sight on the characters innate goodness and warm heart. Brooding and tense, Bypass showcases another major talent in the making in British cinema.

VOICE OVER - Cristian Jimenez
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Chilean director Cristian Jimenez's Bonsai has been on my radar for a while. His new family dramedy Voice Over is a well written, well rounded film. It tells the story of Ana (Ingrid Isensee), a pretty, thirty something, unemployed, divorced mother of two young children, dealing with life's all messiness- while taking care of her two kids who are growing up fast, she finds out that her seemingly happy parents are separating, then her bossy older sister comes back home after getting Ph.D on anthropology with her hunky French husband and a new baby in tow. A failed actress, now Ana is trying to be a voice over artist for commercials. Even though Ana is the supposed protagonist of the film, Jimenez gives equal attention to each character and makes them all shine.

I really hate familial archetypes, 'quirky' characters in American comedies. Jimenez wouldn't have any of that. They are well developed, yet far from perfect people who are trying to cope with the curve balls life throws at them. There's birth. There's death, First sign of womanhood, sibling rivalry, rusty nail in the yard, veganism, heartbreaks and forgiveness, but nothing seems far fetched or outrageous for quirk-sake. There isn't a moment in life where a smooth voiced narrator explains everything that everything will be okay, like in movies. Jimenez has a real eye and ear for life's little incongruities. The result is a rich and rewarding viewing experience.

HIGH SOCIETY - Julie Lopes-Curval
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Alice (Ana Girardot) is at a stage where she is trying to find her artistic voice. The thing is, she's from a single mother household, works at a cake shop and lives in a small town in Normandy. Knitting is her thing. After many weeks of hesitation, she asks for a recommendation letter for entering a prestigious art school in Paris from a wealthy woman in fashion industry who frequents the cake shop and has a villa in Normandy. Once she is accepted by the school, she gets involved with the woman's son Antoine (Bastien Bouillon) who quits a business school to become a photographer. He is a proto-hipster, rebelling against rich parents and living that bohemian lifestyle in Paris.

For the rest of the film, we witness the education of Alice- on finding her artistic voice, on life. Even though she loves Antoine, he involuntarily keeps reminding her the deep divide in their class differences- it's in the things he says and does nonchalantly, even innocently that hurts her.
High Society is beautifully written by Sophie Hiet and director Julie Lopes-Curval. I can't think of another movie that deals with class differences so subtly (explored in Blue is the Warmest Color but better here). Rich and poor aren't grotesquely exaggerated caricatures here. Girardot is adorable as a young woman finding out that there is a bigger world out there and that there is so much to learn and explore without compromising the sense of who she is and not forgetting where she's from. A beautiful film.

TREE OF KNOWLEDGE - Nils Malmros *In Focus
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Nils Malmros chronicles bittersweet days of his adolescence in the 50s Danish intermediary school. Tree of Knowledge concerns a dozen kids in the same class, as they start noticing opposite sex- love at first sight, jealousy and heartbreak ensue. It is quite apparent that Malmros was doing way back then what the social realist like the Dardenne Bros are doing now. Almost documentary like, he gets full access to the lives of these youngsters and gets amazingly naturalistic performances. These episodic days of 13 year old boys and girls are mad affecting. Particularly, in the case of Elin, a tall sullen brunette from an ultra conservative household who gets ostracized because she is a prude, both by heartbroken, monstrous boys and cliquey, jealous girls. Then there is Niels-Ole (Jan Johansen), a leader and general rabble-rouser of the pack, falls hard for beautiful Maj-Brit (Lone Elliot), only to find out that our little Maj-Brit 'has been around with many boys'.

Malmros masterfully orchestrates 2 years of the lives of the group (here's looking at you Linklater!) and ends the film just as swiftly, leaving us wanting more and appreciating the fleeting nature of those precious days in equal measure.

*The series include following Malmros films: Arhus by Night, Boys, Facing the Truth, Pain of Love, Sorrow and Joy and Tree of Knowledge

NINJA III: The Domination - Firstenberg *Cannon Films Tribute
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Christie (Lucinda Dickey) is just ordinary working gal: she works for a phone company, climbing up the telephone polls in a cute jumpsuit, then changes to a neon colored leotard to teach an aerobics class. She encounters a dying ninja who just killed about a hundred LA cops along with his intended victim. His soul gets transferred to Christie and she becomes an unstoppable cop killer.

Ninja III, steeped in 80s typical cheesy settings- Patric Nagel poster, squiggly neon tubes on the wall and public phone booth in the living room, is an epitome of a Cannon b-picture ridiculousness. You just have to surrender yourself to it and it will reward you handsomely.

*Cannon Films Tribute includes the following masterpieces: 10 to Midnight, The Last American Virgin and Ninja III: The Domination

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Nature Will Take Its Course

Still the Water (2014) - Kawase
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Death and love dominate Still the Water, Kawase's tropical island set coming-of-age story. There's a lot to like- for instance, two leads are incredibly attractive. You can really take your eyes off of Jun Yoshinaga's dark, flawless face. The setting is gorgeous. Add stunning underwater sequences. I'm sold. Yoshinaga plays Kyoko, a High Schooler who's in love with a Tokyo transplant, sullen Kaito (Nijiro Murakami). Her shaman mom is dying of some illness and she has to grapple with the concept of death. Kaito is a deeply scarred by his parents splitting up and can't understand his mom's lascivious nature. He resists Kyoko's advances.

Unfortunately Kawase paints Still the Water with such broad strokes that it isn't quite affecting as it should. Yes adult life is complicated and death comes to everyone. Yes the nature will take its course whether you like it or not and old tradition will continue long after you are gone, and so on. But the long arduous sequences aren't going to make the point more poignant. The film should've been 30 minutes shorter.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

My Life in One Page Comic

Something Nicole doodled at her job (High School Art Class Teacher) at a Professional Development meeting. This is a 100 percent truthful representation of our lives. Gotta love that woman!
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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Hurting Game

La Belle Personne/The Beautiful Person (2008) - Honoré
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Juni (Léa Seydoux) is a new girl in school. She's Mathias's cousin who lost her mom not long ago. Mathias and his gang of friends are poised to set her up with saintly Otto (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet of Love Songs). She also attracts the attention of her handsome, playboy Italian class teacher Nemours (Louis Garrel). Thrown in this Shakespearean melodrama, sullen Juni needs to figure out what she wants without hurting anyone and getting hurt herself. Otto doesn't understand why for Juni, it's not love at first sight like for him. Nemours breaks off all his female relationships in pursuit of Juni. He intellectually understands that she will never fall for him, but can't stop pursuing her. After reading a love letter that was mistakenly identified as written by Nemours, Juni makes up her mind.

Seydoux's loveliness dominates most of La Belle Personne. Her downcasted eyes, her melancholic expression suggest deep mystery. No she's not a naif, unlike the observation of a cafe owner, that teenage girls are as delicate as a glass (in warning Nemours). No matter what the circumstance, she is stronger than you and she can destroy you if she wants to. She is infinitely wiser than you. She understands that love doesn't last long and if she falls for it, it might hurt her. So she resists. Honoré too understands, about fleeting nature of love and its unfairness. His love stories are always sad, but also beautiful.

My interview with Christophe Honoré
Les bien-aimes/Beloved review
Les chansons d'amour/Love Songs review