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Scorsese Makes Another Masterpiece
Scorsese is without a doubt one of the greatest living, if not the best, American film directors. His filmography is beyond compare in terms of its consistency of quality and diversity of genres covered. With Hugo, he has made one of his most personal films, as it deals with a young boy who discovers and falls in love with cinema. What sets Hugo apart from other family films from the likes of Pixar and Disney is that it does not resort to cloying pop culture references, and it respects the intelligence of both children and adults.
Most significantly, Hugo is in the end a love letter to film, to the wonder and awe that the first films and filmmakers felt as they created moving images. Scorsese is saying that this love for the film medium has been steadily depleted with the advancement of technology, but ironically, Scorsese is using the latest cinematic technology (3D), and using it to comment upon film history.
The homage scene of silent films at the end of Hugo left the audience in tears, and Hugo is, without a doubt, one of Scorsese's top five films.
Human Nature (2001)
A Freudian Comedy
Freud stated that all human behavior is determined by primal instincts, such as sex and hunger.
Kaufman and Gondry's Human Nature brilliantly explores this notion, and it is a blast to watch.
This is one of the funniest, most intelligent films I have ever seen about human relationships...if Woody Allen and Salvador Dali ever collaborated on a film, it would look something like Human Nature.
What makes this film so brilliant is that it explores so many intelligent themes, such as American versus French culture, the battle of the sexes, the survival instinct, the dangers of repression and the resultant outbreak of the Id, and yet is able to sustain a lighthearted, surreal sense of humor throughout it all.
I believe that the reason this film was not so well-received was because Being John Malkovich was so well-received, that expectations were exceedingly high for Kaufman's follow up film, Human Nature. When Human Nature turned out to be a vastly different film from Being John Malkovich, the critics predictably were not satisfied with the film.
Michel Gondry, the director of Human Nature, is a true original, and all of his subsequent films, Eternal Sunshine, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, and the Science of Sleep, are also brilliant.
But for me, Human Nature is his best film so far, because it is able to balance the drama and the comedy without one overwhelming the other, as in Eternal Sunshine.
Inland Empire (2006)
A Film That Haunts You Forever
When I first saw Inland Empire at the American Film Institute Festival back in 2006, I was initially disappointed with the film.
At the time, I felt like it was a pale imitation of Mulholland Drive, which I still consider to by Lynch's masterpiece. Whereas Mulholland Drive was able to anchor its non-linear structure to a coherent narrative, Inland Empire seemed to be nothing more than a random set of scenes strung together arbitrarily. Blue Velvet also dealt with similar themes as Inland Empire, and also had a stronger narrative flow.
And, to be completely honest, I had a huge headache after watching Inland Empire, and by the time the third hour started, and the prostitutes started shouting incoherently at each other on some Eastern European street, I was getting annoyed and frustrated with the film.
At the same time, I couldn't get Inland Empire out of my mind for days, and even months, after watching it. Certain scenes from the film would pop into my mind as I was going about my daily life. It was like the film was haunting me.
Then, the more I thought about the film, the more it made sense to me, and I started to connect certain scenes together, and appreciate the stream of conscious approach Lynch took in making the film.
Now, I consider Inland Empire to be a masterpiece, and Lynch's second best film behind Mulholland Drive. To draw another parallel, Inland Empire is Lynch's Casino, and Mulholland Drive is his Goodfellas.
What Lynch is doing with Inland Empire is trying to recreate as accurately as possible the dream state into a narrative form, but whereas his earlier films flirted with the non-linear realm of the subconscious, they were still anchored by straightforward linear narratives.
With Inland Empire, Lynch abandons all narrative conventions, and in the process invents a new form of cinema--cinema as dream state.
Whatever you do, do not try to make logical sense of this movie, because that is not its point.
Just experience it, and don't over analyze it. See how it makes you FEEL.
Lynch is a genius, that is all I can say.
The Great Dictator (1940)
Although I haven't seen it yet, I know that Chaplin is a genius, and only someone of his talent would take on this daring subject matter--a comedy about Hitler. All great satire is based on going out on an edge. Also, all great comedy deals with the other side--pathos. This film seems like it will skirt both sides. Like Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, The Great Dictator deals with history through the distorted lens of satire. The only way to deal with the horrors of this world is by laughing at it. And hopefully, through laughter, we can learn to view the world in a new light. Another film that does this that comes to my mind is Emir Kusturica's Underground, and Fando And Lis. So, let me watch the film first.
Obviously a hoax, but interesting nevertheless
You have to be completely gullible to think that this "documentary" was authentic, as the interviewees are obviously actors, and there are scenes where artificial lighting was obviously used, as in the scenes in the "haunted" house where Night supposedly used to live in. Also, Night isn't much of an actor himself, as you can tell by the interviews conducted with him that he was, well, acting. Then, at the end of the film, the Kahn has a corny coda where we hear Night leaving him a phone message pleading to him not to show this movie because, "the public won't believe a thing he shows", then he proceeds to interview people about their experiences with the supernatural. This is an obvious attempt to dupe the viewer into thinking that what they had just seen was the real thing.
With the said, the movie itself was well-made, and does raise some interesting questions about the nature of documentaries. When you think about it, a documentary is no more a portrayal of the truth as a work of ficiton is, as all documentaries are essentially depicting the truth as viewed by the filmmaker himself. Thus, Kahn's frantic search for supernatural connections in Night's life's are in reality nothing more than his attempt to salvage a project which was falling apart. In a way, all docs are like this, in the sense that the filmmaker starts out with an initial purpose and slant, and then the doc takes on a life of its own.
There's an interesting scene where Kahn is hanging out with Night, and Night gets angry at him because he keep trying to find an "angle" for his movie. Night suggests that not every movie has to have an angle, an interesting commentary on the nature of documentary film-making. Of course, the whole movie is a hoax anyways.
But for me, the most damning evidence of the inauthenticity of the movie were the scenes in Night's old house. If you ever shot a movie on film, which this doc was shot on, you know that when you shoot in dark rooms with boarded up windows, there's not enough lighting for the film to pick up any images. However, somehow Kahn was able to get pristine footage of a darkened room, despite the fact that all the windows are boarded up and there are no sources of sunlight.
Sci-Fi Channel and Kahn should just fess up and admit that Buried Secrets is a publicity stunt, albeit a well-made and perceptive one, to cash in on The Village. I mean, there are commercials for The Village during every break! In a way, this doc is offensive on that it is cashing in on the present craze in belief in the supernatural, and I wonder how those on the other side will react to this after Night and Kahn eventually pass away and enter the other side.
But, that's life, I suppose.
The Last Samurai (2003)
The White Samurai
First off, let me state that I am Asian, so I am writing about The Last Samurai from the perspective of an Asian viewer.
This could have been a great, classic epic about the clash between the East and the West, but the last twenty minutes of the film ruin everything that the filmmakers worked so hard at. Although I won't give away the end of the film, all I will say is that the film finally succumbs to Hollywood conventions which it worked so hard to avoid prior to that point. What I will say is that the last two scenes of the film are racist to the extreme in that the White man triumphs over his Asian comrades in the most blatantly offensive manner! Just watch the film, and you will see what I mean.
However, prior to the offensive conclusion of the film, The Last Samurai is for the most part a thoughtful and respectful film about Japanese culture and history. Also, Edward Zwick did a great job of developing the characters of the lead Samurai and the Cruise character. Their relationship was endlessly fascinating and enlightening. Also, the battle scenes were among the best that I have ever seen, almost up there, but not quite, with the master himself, Kurosawa.
But I must admit that I am tired of seeing films about the White man who meets the noble savages, and learns to appreciate and eventually assimilate their ways (Dances With Wolves, Last of the Mohicans, The Thin Red Line, Zwick's own film Glory, and the list goes on...). I guess that this is a standard convention because Caucasian audiences need a lead character which they can identify with. But, as an Asian viewer, I find this filmic device rather offensive, because if I want to understand another culture, I want to view it through the lens of the culture itself, not through the eyes of a colonizing force from outside the culture.
I know that it sound like I don't like The Last Samurai, but as I stated earlier, there is much to admire in the film. But, I believe that The Last Samurai could have been a classic if the filmmakers disposed of Cruise' character entirely, and just focused on the conflict between the Samurai culture and the modernizing forces of the mainstream Japanese culture at the time. Oh, and one more quibble, is it just me, or is it extremely offensive and disrespectful when the Cruise character ends up getting romantically involved with the wife of the man whom he killed in battle? Come, on, guys, this is just wrong.
Someone hand over the Last Samurai's script to a Japanese director, and let the Japanese tell their story, please.
And Mr. Zwick, I haven't seen Courage Under Fire yet, but please, if you do another war movie, try to avoid racially charged subjects such as Black regiments during the Civil War, and Japanese samurai fighters.
A great Chinese epic
Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer's Day is a very effective epic. However, unlike epic films made in the U.S., Yang's movie is epic on a more intimate level, as it focuses on the daily life of a Chinese family during turbulent times.
There are no melodramatic scenes, everything feels authentic and honest. Of course, a film of such high quality as this is a tough sell in the U.S., hence it wasn't released here. Or if it is ever released, it will be heavily edited down.
Yang's film has allusions to Tolstoy's War and Peace, and its gangster elements are refereshingly unique compared to other gangster movies. If you get the chance to watch this four hour movie, do so by all means. I saw the entire film in one sitting without one restroom break!
Jing Ke ci Qin Wang (1998)
A grand, historical epic!
Chen Kaige's Emperor and the Assassin, if marketed correctly, could have been a massive hit in the States. But, it opened in limited release, and hardly anyone ended up watching it. What a shame, as this is a grand, lavish epic which recalls the epic spectacles of directors such as David Lean and King Vidor. Like these earlier directors, Kaige does a great job of balancing out an intimate, human story against the backgroup of grand, historic events.
The climax of the film, when the emperor confronts the assassin, is a classic!
Huo zhe (1994)
Epic Filmmaking of the Highest Calibre!
This is without a doubt Zhang Yimou's masterpiece. I saw To Live many years ago, but it is a film which still haunts my mind. What most impressed me about this film was its ability to focus on both the intimate story of a family, and the larger historic forces which surrounded this family. Also, the acting, as expected, from Gong Li, was great. This is a very emotional, sometimes difficult to watch, but ultimately rewarding film about the strength of family.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Tarantino's Masterpiece About Cereal
As if Pulp Fiction didn't confirm it, Kill Bill finally certifies Tarantino as a genius. What is a genius? Someone who possesses uncanny knowledge of his medium, and has the inborn skills to master and tranform his artform.
With Kill Bill, Tarantino references everything from grindhouse cinema, to sphaghetti Westerns, to early Brian De Palma, giallos, and even Kurosawa's Samurai movies. However, in the process of referencing these movies, what makes Tarantino so brilliant is that he reveals the artificiality of movies, thus forcing us to laugh at, instead of be repulsed by, the copious amounts of gore and bloodshed. Why? Because all the spurting limbs, beheadings, and scalpings exist in a parallel, cinematic universe totally divorced from the real world.
To prove this point, Tarantino opens with a scene of intense bloodshed, which culminates in the Bride's first victim lying in a pool of blood, and a pool of "Kaboom" cereal. The cereal, with its fake facade, and sugary coating, is the ultimate symbol of the pop-culture world of movies which Kill Bill exists in. Just like the tacky cereal, the violence and blood in Kill Bill is so over-the-top that anyone who takes it seriously is totally misguided.
So, for anyone who argues that Kill Bill is too violent, they should stop eating cereal, and leave the rest of us to indulge in our junk food!
That, I suspect, is why Kill Bill is receiving negative reviews from some highbrow critics (The New Yorker, anyone?). Instead of referencing "high" art, such as Shakespeare and James Joyce, Kill Bill references what many refer to as trash cinema. But, the true geniuses are the ones, who, like Tarantino, see the beauty in popular culture.
Kill Bill proves that Tarantino is both insane, and brilliant.
I also suspect that after Kill Bill, Tarantino may head in a completely different direction, as he may run out of things to reference, or he may start referncing his own movies.
To all the naysayers, go watch your six hour movies about rich snobs eating and killing the masses.