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La virgen de los sicarios (2000)
Daring, this movie's got cajones!
I'll put in my 2 cents on this flick for what its worth, not that it matters much but it is interesting to see the wide extremes of opinions here. I'm quite oblivious to the situation in Colombia today. I've heard about the casual violence and the kidnappings through news media. As an outsider, I found the film to be some sort of a modern masterpiece. The use of digital video was odd but I felt somewhat closer to the locale. The screenplay was incisive, witty and at the same time displayed the depths of the human condition. Some have noted that the acting of the young boys to be bad and unrealistic. True, they are not thespians by trade but I thought they displayed their reactions and emotions toward the writer very well. If I was in their shoes I would have been taken in by this writer as well. Why not? He is providing me with what I need and at the same time showing me the compassion and wisdom that is lacking around me. I believe wholeheartedly that this is Mr. Schroeder's most personal work. Why else would one risk his life filming it in Colombia? I've seen some of his other works and none come close to this. The irony of this film is that the cinematography shows Colombia to be beautiful beyond words. It makes me want to visit. Maybe I'll be like the writer in the film and go there to die after I have done everything I wanted to in my life. This is an excellent companion piece to 'Maria Full of Grace.' Both films are two of the best to come out of this decade.
Dekalog: Dekalog, trzy (1989)
Emotionally, psychologically, spiritually satisfying piece of filmmaking.
Seven years ago, Kieslowski's "Red" played in the local art theater in the dead of winter. I had wanted to watch it for some time. However, I was such a busy man at the time (trying to survive through med school) and plus the roads were in terrible condition for driving due to the snow. So I reluctantly took a pass on it and caught it on video a few months afterwards. Quite simply, it was one of the most jaw-droppingly extraordinary experience I had watching a movie. I still haven't quite recovered from it. On retrospect, it was one of the three best movies I had seen out of the 1990's, and I certainly have seen a lot of good ones. And thus my lifelong regret of not catching it on the big screen. I knew about "Decalogue" shortly thereafter but being a made for Polish TV movie that came out in the 1980's, I knew I didn't have a prayer in being able to watch this in my lifetime let alone catch it in the big screen.
And now the redemption. There must be a God who felt badly about my missed opportunity the first time around. "Decalogue Part 3" sneaked into the local art theater today and I dropped everything to go watch it. Knowing the essence of Kieslowski and being his fan certainly helps in viewing this work. While I'm not a fan of all of his works ("Blue" and "White" left me wanting something more and this is where "Red" did its part), when the man was on his game, he simply had no comparable peer in his field. "Decalogue Part 3" lasts about 1 hour but it conveyed to me a lifetime of sorrow, pain, missed opportunity, forgiveness, regret... The Polish scenery also perfectly captured this mood as well. I may just have to visit Poland one of these days to just take it all in. Also, I guess the film conveys man's need for religion and that probably is the basis for the whole Decalogue series, each one focussing on God's particular commandment. Wow! As big a reaction I had for "Red" only this time it was in a movie theater and not in my small apartment room. The scenes with the protagonists and the shaver was particularly heartbreaking, the one with the Christmas carol singers gave me a warm feeling. This movie replaced the documentary "Streetwise" as my favorite film of the 1980's. If you ever get a chance to see this, especially in the big screen, don't even hesitate. You may regret it for the rest of your life.
Pancho Villa (1972)
Not one of the better westerns.
The genre of westerns fell on hard times during the 1970's after its flourish in the 1960's. Still, there was a handful of good westerns in the seventies. Unfortunately, this isn't one of them. There is essentially no plot here. It seems that the movie's sole function was to cash in on the rising popularity for Telly Savalas at the time. Naturally, with very little to work with, he simply chews up the scenery. I'll be the first to admit that Telly was one of the coolest and charismatic actors ever to make his presence on the screen. I'll even go as far as to call him an "icon" of the seventies. Still, there is really no excuse for this garbage. The actors seem to know what they got themselves wrapped into as evidenced by their "ridiculous" performances. The scene with Chuck Connors and the fly "buzzing" around him has got to go down as cinema's most appallingly bad and incompetent sequence. One simply has to see it to believe it! If you treated the whole movie as one long bad joke, then you might feel a little better at the end of the film. You may even come away with a grin. Just don't expect much from this movie. On the plus side, I truly enjoyed the last sequence with Savalas on the caboose of the train fading out of the screen with the soundtrack in the background of Telly belting out the theme song. Truly astonishing! For me, it negated the pain and suffering I had endured through the length of the movie. For others, it may not be enough.
Chun gwong cha sit (1997)
A showcase that will generate strong emotions either way.
I first saw this film in its initial theatrical release in 1997. I sat by myself in a packed theater and when it was over, I just kept sitting there waiting for everyone to file out. I was rocked emotionally big time from what I had seen. I needed to recover...keep my emotion in check...keep it from being a public display. Clearly, there has never been another director who has communicated to me on a more emotional level than Wong Kar-Wai. Vittorio De Sica is the only other director whom I can think of that comes even close. However, not everyone shared in my rapture with the film as evidenced by my experience years later when I tried to show some folks the film on video. Either they couldn't get by the opening sequence of the "shockingly ribald" sex scene or past the first thiry minutes of "constant bickering."
The film's strengths are derived from its tremendous sense of mood and atmosphere. I found Doyle's camerawork to be lyrical and elegiac. He utilizes color, monochrome, shades of brown and blue to maximum effect. Its as if he is able to visualize the tone and mood which are only able to be described perfectly with words. This is quite frankly a brilliant achievement. How about the acting? Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung, two of Hong Kong's finest and bravest actors, hold nothing back in this film. They literally strip themselves bare right down to their spiritual core and lay their vulnerabilities on the table for the whole world to see. They don't so much as act their roles as they more or less live them. This is the career best ever performance from Cheung. Just look at his eyes as he turns around to look at the fading Leung as Cheung is being driven off by his new found "friends." Those eyes conveyed sadness, apathy, self-pity, and jealousy...all in a single glance!
Ultimately, the film is about the transience of physical passion, possessive love, loneliness, as well as about being trapped in our daily existence. These characters are trapped in Buenos Aires, far away from their home in Hong Kong. They went there to get away and start over but left to their own devices, they have progressed no further than the starting point. Iguazu falls would have been a nice destination(level) point, but sadly, not many of us get to reach that "level" (both literally and figuratively) with our fellow mankind in our lifetime. In the end, we mostly cry away our tears as we are forced to look at our own failures. Lai couldn't cry away his sorrow and pain with Chang at the lighthouse, but he may have gotten some redemption at the Iguazu falls.
This is a beautiful and at the same time painful treatise on man's longing to be loved, protected, and secure as well as on man's desire to be free from himself and his own devices, and ultimately on man's alienation from the world which he lives in. While "Happy Together" is technically not quite on par with Wong's "Chungking Express", it is philosophically as deep as his "Ashes of Time", and is on a similar emotional playing field with his "In the Mood For Love."
Top Ten of 2001? Perhaps. #28 in Top 250? Not even close.
This film is this year's cinematic sensation among the French and most of Europe. The reception here in the States seems to be along those lines for the time being. We'll have to wait and see for the long-term effects of this movie. There are a few things I want to comment on.
First off, I came out of the theater being amused at this film for the same reason I had for "Chungking Express." Two films are very similar in content, tone, and style. I was afraid that this movie would be too "French" for me to connect with. My past viewing experience with the 1961 film "Last Year At Marienbad" comes to mind, which was utterly frustrating and even torturous for me. It almost made me give up on French cinema altogether. Boy am I ever glad that I didn't, for French cinema is, in my opinion, among the world's best. This movie shows you the highlights of the French film craft. It is an in your face display of "stop at nothing embrace for life, love, and the world around us." I laughed most of the way. I found the gimmick with Amelie's father's statuette to be especially funny. I would just love to have lunch with Audrey Tautou. Not since the one and only Jeanne Moreau has an actress pefectly captured the essence of feminine charm. I liked the film's hyper-kinetic type execution and direction as well.
Having said all this, I do agree that the film is very good. Is it one of this year's best? Maybe. The year is almost over and currently, it is safely placed in my year's top ten best list. However, I am a bit perplexed to find that it is currently (as I am writing this) #28!! in the top 250 list among the IMDB users. It is not even close! As a matter of fact, it is the only French movie in the Top 100. How can this be? Our IMDB users must not have seen many French movies. Where are the great works of Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, Agnes Varda...even Truffaut and Tanner...the list goes on and on. What can I say? I'm shell-shocked!!!
Watch it for the acting and the charismatic presence of Hackman, DeVito, and Lindo.
This movie delivered the goods as much as it intended to. It is a slightly above average caper film (only because the cast takes a mediocre screenplay and breathes some excitement and life into it) that gives you a fairly enjoyable two hours in the movie theater. While it isn't as good as the similarly themed "The Score" and "Sexy Beast" released earlier this year, it still has the incomparable Gene Hackman, who hasn't lost one bit of his acting genius from his peak during the 70's when he played these types of tough and gritty roles regularly. Add to the mix Danny DeVito and Delroy Lindo and you get more than enough acting firepower to sizzle up the screen. As for the plot, who cares? I was more than satisfied just watching these veterans strut their stuff.
The Film Which Produces Cinema's Greatest Payoff Scene
First off, do not...I repeat...do not try to impress your precious male and lady friends by putting this movie into your VHS or DVD players. They will be fast fumbling for the car keys. This is a film to be sensed alone as you contemplate your existence in this world. For maximum effect, I recommend viewing this in the wee hours of the night or during a dark rainy day. If you've never heard of Tarkovsky, this film is a good place to start to understand and experience/enjoy the genius behind this filmmaker/philosopher. Tarkovsky, like Bergman, makes films which are extremely difficult to comprehend especially if you view them only once. This shouldn't alienate serious moviegoers as they will eventually need films by these artists to keep their passion for cinema alive. One can't survive on a diet of 'Titanic' for too long.
'Solaris' has, in my opinion, cinema's greatest payoff scene. The movie chugs along for 160 minutes (I admit, it is a burdensome length and will test anybody's patience) which seems endless but this mirrors our own existence in that our lives are filled with moments of excitement and passion spread out by periods of long, seemingly endless span where we can't rationalize the present and long for those beautiful moments of the past. As we are coming to grips with this struggle...through the endless span of time...all of a sudden...the revelation. We journey with the protagonist through his joy, pain, and despair through his life...all building up to that final astonishing scene. I was literally jolted out of my seat as chills ran through my spine as I witnessed one of the most quietly horrifying and disturbing scenes in the history of cinema. The 'shock' was magnified because of the possibility that the same fate could be dealt to me and eventually to all of us. This scene is one of the five best scenes ever captured on celluloid. The fact that this Russian director was able to pull off something like this is a testament to his deep love and devotion to films and his incisive sensibility of the world in which he lived in. I am sad that he is no longer with us in this life but his works will forever capture the essence of the man. After viewing 'Solaris', why stop there? Why not move on to 'Stalker', 'Mirror', 'Nostalghia' and so forth?
L'année dernière à Marienbad (1961)
The Movie That Probably Coined The Phrase 'Artsy-Fartsy'
I checked this out because it was among the top 100 films polled by Time Out commemorating the Centenary of Cinema (which by the way is a much better list than the AFI list in my opinion) This is a very obscure piece of work that I thought had an interesting premise based on what I had read from the written descriptions of the film by the critics. However, it is a film that works better on paper than in the actual visual form. Film is difficult to follow because the director purposely juggles past, present, and future so casually that the viewer actually becomes disjointed and even exasperated. After a while, one senses that chronology really doesn't matter and this may indeed be the director's point. Unfortunately, this ultimately alienates the viewer, I think. I went from not caring about the chronology to just not caring about the story and the supposedly wounded and stiff protagonists. On retrospect, the whole premise of the male protagonist not knowing whether he actually had an affair with the female guest at the hotel the previous year is ridiculous. He literally takes the movie's 90+ minutes of running time to come to some sort of a conclusion via conversations, recollections, hypothesizing, and even playing recreational games with the woman's alleged husband! These are definitely people with too much time on their hands. These are the rich and the idle with nothing but sheer ennui to propel them forward in their existence. How much affairs can one really have as to forget about the person he or she had an affair with? I mean come on, deliver me please.
Another problem with this film is that it is way too talky for its own good. You spend most of your time reading the subtitles as the intricate tracking shots of the hotel corridors and gardens pass you buy. It would have served the viewer better if it was dubbed in English. The atmospheric and moody black and white cinematography (which turns eerie at times) is the only saving grace of this celluloid enigma. The acting is pretty dull as lines are delivered by self-effacing characters and that includes the two monotonous leads with flat affect and voice. This was the winner of 1961 Grand Prize Award at the Venice Film Festival and was considered a landmark achievement in the development of cinematic modernism. But for me, this is nothing but a meaningless drivel and your typical artsy-fartsy cinema rather than the influential masterpiece all the critics say it is. You don't believe me? Check it out and judge for yourself. Just don't come blaming me if you feel cheated out of 90 minutes of your life.
A By The Numbers Political Actioner
So this is the all-time domestic box office champ of South Korea? On viewing it, I'm not particularly surprised. However, this is not to say that it is a great film or even a good film. The movie employs explosions, double crosses, red herrings, paranoia, love and other assorted devices and themes and package them into a 2 hour suspense thriller...in other words, all the sort of things that have become a staple for a typical Hollywood big budget flick. It is evident that South Korea is slowly joining the ranks of Hong Kong, Japan, mainland China, and Iran in becoming a vital cinematic force out of Asia. This is accentuated by the release of 'Peppermint Candy' last year which raised the bar on Korean cinema to a new level. So why imitate the tired old formulas of Hollywood at this stage of the game? 'Swiri' is really no better than typical political action flicks like 'Murder At 1600' and 'Absolute Power.'