Sunday, November 29, 2015

Lackluster End to Daniel Craig's Bondiverse

Spectre (2015) - Mendes
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So everything in Daniel Craig's Bondiverse comes together to a close with this forth installment. And everythings lagging - script, visceral action sequences, a great villain, even a spectacular opening usually associated with this franchise. Sure, Day of the Dead celebration sequences in Mexico that opens up Spectre looks like a gazillion dollars (or more) but it lacks the energy. Beautiful settings in Rome, Austria, Tangier shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema (Let the Right One In, Her, Interstellar) wasted. They decided to make a character study out of Craig's Bond from its inception in Casino Royal. They knew that deeper they dig, the franchise is going to be short-lived. Unfortunately, this is the most lack-luster film of the series. It has that by-the-book kind of feeling and unbelievably stupid plotholes everywhere. Monica Bellucci is completely wasted, so as Christoph Weitz for the most part. Lea Seydoux is all right, but her part is not so (her name is Dr. Swann forgodssake). Bond doesn't seem to have any scruples banging the daughter of the man who tortured Vespar Lind whose death catapulted this whole supposed journey.

It's still an entertaining ride to a degree. Since they put an exclamation mark on Craig's Bond era, where do we go from here? The much publicized Black Bond (Idris Elba) taking the barton? Or female double o agent? Would it start with a clean slate, creating another alternate Bondiniverse? Craig had some beautiful moments with the well worn character struggling at being an outdated tool in a changing society (in Casino Royal and Skyfall). I wished their would be a plot line involving the Middle-east, reflecting the current mess we are in without inciting Hollywood's racist caricatures in the past. I mourn this chapter of the franchise.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Que Viva Eisenstein!

Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015) - Greenaway
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Greenaway depicts Eisenstein's unsuccessful stint in Guanajuato, Mexico, famous for its mummies in El Museo De Las Momias which were featured in the opening sequence of Herzog's Nosferatu. For wide-eyed, clownish Soviet filmmaker (Elmer Bäck) of such films as Battleship Potemkin and October (Ten Days that Shook the World), who just had a bad experience in Hollywood, is seen driving down to Mexico with his small crew, while Upton Sinclair and uncle Lenin bankrolling the money for his Mexican project, Que Viva Mexico! Enamored by his colorful surroundings and swooned by his handsome Mexican guide- a religious scholar and ostensively a family man, Palomino (Luis Alberti), Eisenstein's not too subtly repressed homosexuality come to the fore and distract him from working, at all.

With series of wordy exchanges about politics, death and sex in a whirlwind of spinning visuals (actors in front of projections, seemlessly looping the tracking shot, 360 degree panning shots, etc.- almost fit for 3D at times), Greenaway makes it clear that the film is not about Eisenstein as a filmmaker but a 33-year old virgin (but married) discovering sensuality for the first time. And this being Greenaway film, a full frontal is given and sex acts are graphic. There must be tons of Greenaway's dense stylistic innovations I'm missing with the initial viewing here, but I feel Eisenstein in Guanajuato is a lesser Greenaway, failing at holding attention of the viewers in a relatively short running time (105 min).

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Jimmy P.:Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian (2013) - Desplechin
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Jimmy P is an odd movie. Even though it lets us know that it's a true story and takes place in the U.S. 1948, it wears its cultural, racial, political contexts very thinly- not actively ignores their importance but rather, it is seemingly uninterested in them. What's left is two leisurely hours of Jimmy Picard (Hulking, understated Benicio Del Toro), a somewhat shellshocked WWII veteran Indian from Montana and Georges (always great Mathieu Amalric), an enthusiastic anthropologist/therapist of an unknown European origin. They meet in Topeka, Kansas, where the veteran hospital is located. It is slowly revealed that Jimmy has some repressed sexual issues with women and suffering from a guilty conscience of abandoning many women in his life. Georges also has a bit of a back story and seems to have a complicated love relationship with a sophisticated married lady friend (Gina McKee). But it's mostly about Jimmy and Georges talking. As the title suggests, it's a psychotherapy session of a Plains Indian so his constant headache and seeing blinding bursts of white spots would go away. But its literal presentation is never clinical nor fairytale like. The performances, nuanced and subtle, make the characters and interactions human. Jimmy P is not a gripping drama and you never quite get too close enough to the characters, but there is a sense of peace and tranquility to the film that I really dig. Great directors don't need to have their signature 'style' or whatever. They can tackle any subject and should be able to produce something that is completely different from one another. Desplechin surprises me in that respect. And I respect that.

Monday, November 16, 2015

An Impressive Debut of a Turkish Woman Filmmaker, Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Mustang (2015) - Ergüven
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The school's out for the Summer, but for the 5 luminous protagonist orphan sisters, the indignity of being virgin brides in a 'wife factory' has just begun. After some innocent water splashing horseplay with the boys on the beach, they become prisoners in their own home. It was a neighbor woman in (in the girls' own words) "shit colored traditional garb" who informed their grandmother that they were acting indecently with the boys. The panicked grandmother locks them up in the house but still shields them from their brutish uncle's fury who is even more conservative. You see, according to Lale (Günes Sensoy) the youngest of the sisters who narrates the film, Istanbul might be about 'a thousand miles away', but the small coastal town they live in is about a thousand years backwards in terms of women's rights.

First, the older three, Sonay, Selma and Ece, are milled over to the hospital to see if their hymens are intact. The metal grates go up over the windows and the girls' possessions which might lead them in to perversion (a TV, phones, colorful clothes, books) are locked away. Shit colored formless dresses, cooking and cleaning lessons follow, and the girls are bored to death.

But this imprisonment provides some sun soaked, blissful playtime among girls and give them opportunities to get out of those dresses and lounge in their colorful underwear. They also sneak out every chance they get. They even end up hitching a ride to see a soccer game (for the women-only spectators game of course) and appear on TV screen to their grandma's horror.

They are hurriedly trained and clothed into arranged marriages. After the two eldest get married off- Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan) to the love of her life (by threatening to scream in front of the family guests), more resigned-to-fate Selma (Tugba Sungroglu) to some stranger, whom she 'will grow to love', it's Lale who starts seeing the indignity of the whole situation. It's only matter of time that it will be Nu (Doga Zeynep Doguslu) and her turn. Before it's too late, they need to escape!

Mustang is not as politically pointy as Jafar Panahi's Offside and doesn't point finger directly at the traditions in some Middle Eastern regions per se, but things are pretty obvious how absurd the situation is. First time director Deniz Gamze Ergüven has the light touch even when things get dark. And it gets very dark at times. The film thematically and spiritually shares lot in common with Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides (which was also a debut film by a young female director).

The third act seems to lose its organic feeling and magic of the first 2/3rds but that's only a minor quibble. It's a beautifully realized film about being a young female in a very conservative society. It's also good to see beautiful Elit Iscan of Hayat Var (My Only Sunshine) making an appearance as Ece, the defiant middle child. She hasn't aged a bit!

Mustang is the French Submission to the 2016 Academy Awards. It hits US theaters on November 20th, 2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Casanova Vs Dracula

Història del la meva mort
(2013) - Serra
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Casanova (Vicenç Altaió) is getting old. His forever powdered wig and face can't hide his aging vessel. But he's still obsessed with food, sex and defecating. He is now also contemplating death and afterlife. He takes off from his stuffy, opulent mansion to the countryside with his faithful servant, Pompeu (Lluís Serrat). Staying in the cottage of an old river raft operator with his melancholic daughter and her two scrumptious young servant girls, Casanova and Pompeu try to win over hearts. Thrown in the mix much late in the film is a bearded Dracula (Eliseu Huertas) who screams in agony whenever he takes a life (or turns one into a vampire).

The candle/bonefire lit, grainy cinematography just barely sketches out human forms and faces. Non actors in period costumes do their duties with solemnity. It might be oxymoron but Albert Serra seems to be striving for authenticity that is pure both in form and spirit in literary characters. The result is an often hilarious, leasurely paced yarn that has some really beautiful painterly moments. Història del la meva mort is an interesting experiment that strips down these well known literary archetypes to the bone and have them play it straight and lets the thin narrative reach its own internal logic's end

Friday, November 6, 2015

Gaspar Noé Succeeds in Making 3D Porn Boring with LOVE

Love (2015) - Noé
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I predicted after watching Enter the Void that Gaspar Noé and the 3D format are the perfect match. So he makes a movie in 3D here and the end result makes Void like Citizen Kane in comparison. People walked out of a Cronenberg's Crash screening I was in. But its repeated sexual act in that film had a point. Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac at least has the director's anger and cynicism, a general fuck you to the world. What does Love have? Banality. As usual, Noé mistakes banality for sincerity. And after 4 feature films, he still remains a filmmaker with nothing much to say.

Love starts with a young American film student, Murphy (Karl Glusman) living in Paris, narrating that his life has gone to shit. He lives with a young blonde girl (Klara Kristy) and their toddler named Gaspar. He recalls the good times he had with Electra (Aomi Muyok). He longs to go back to when he first fell in love with Electra who is now missing. We retrace their affairs, not chronologically. We see them engaging in graphic sexual activities for most of the movie's running time - two of them alone, threesome, orgies. Whenever they are not using their mouths for sexual act, they engage in downright laughable conversations. Right. Someone OK'd the project with such precious lines as this:

What's the meaning of life?
How come there are no movies about first love and sex? I'll make the first movie that shows the sentimentality of sex!

I understand what Noé is going for. Yes, the first love and its sex make a great impression on people's lives. But there are many other filmmakers who tackled it much more gracefully, effectively and touchingly than Noé. The characters are so banal and insufferable, you wish them to stop whatever and just disappear. Acting is uniformly horrendous. OK, Muyok is slightly better as she has some charisma. There is a hot threesome in the early part of the film but as it goes along, it becomes more and more unbearable. OK. With all his macho posturing, Noé seems squeamish about showing giant erect penis in 3D. Why else would you shoot a movie without things sticking out and shooting something off of it in 3D. But when the brief "money shot" arrives, it's so uneventful, you can easily shrug it off. One hard task Noé accomplishes with Love is that he makes a porn completely boring.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Never Known Love

Yearning (1964) - Naruse
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Reiko (Hideko Takamine) is a war widow who has devoted herself to building and managing her husband's small family grocery business. She takes care of her elderly mother-in-law and Koji (Yuzo Kayama), a young, loafing brother-in-low while keeping memories of her dead husband alive. But a brand new supermarket in the neighborhood stirs up her otherwise routine life. It prices out many of the neighbors' business and threaten Reiko's shop too. Her sisters-in-law with their well to do husbands are planning building a counter supermarket and force Reiko out. 'She's still young so she can remarry.' To complicate the matters, Koji confesses his love for her that she is the reason why he gave up schooling in Tokyo, came back home and been moping around ever since. Hurriedly married at 19 and fast widowed, Koji's talk of love stirs something inside her that she never truly experienced before.

Naruse paints the predicament of a middle aged woman in post-war Japan with great subtlety and grace. His frame within a frame shots are masterful in showing Reiko's mind state. But the real star of Yearning is of course, Takamine. With her subtle Japanese features and quiet mannerism, she embodies the classic Japanese beauty. A young widow bound by tradition and duty, her Reiko doesn't quite know how to react when faced with the declaration of love. It's a marvelous acting. The ending is quite melodramatic but all worth it for Reiko's reaction shots and a long tracking shot of her running in the backdrop of a beautiful Japanese northern town.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Smell of the Land

Long Voyage Home (1940) - Ford
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Great. John Ford's Eugene O'Neill scripted Long Voyage Home offers everything: from Lusty native ladies on a foreign shore, to war time paranoia, to Odyssean journey of its many sea men. Greg Toland's cinematography alone is worthy of admission. You can trace its visual/thematic influence on many later films such as The Last Detail to The Master. Great ensemble cast of interesting faces includes big, young John Wayne as good natured, Swedish farm boy who seems to have a hard time getting home but always ends up at the sea after 'one more drink' trap with his mates. These rugged men's camaraderie is the heart and soul of the film.