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Au Hazard Balthazar
A Man Escaped
Once Upon a Time in the West
The Godfather (I & II)
2001: A Space Odyssey
Le Mepris (Contempt)
Gone With the Wind
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Natural Born Killers
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
The Seventh Seal
Fanny and Alexander
Sansho the Baliff
The Thin Red Line
Come and See
Where's Poppa? (1970)
Well rounded social critique ... and very funny!
I have to give credit to someone like Carl Reiner who can reinforce powerful social issues with some of the blackest comedy I have ever seen (Dr. Strangelove has nothing on this one). In this movie Reiner manages to add in touches of humor to a movie loaded with statements on ageism, racism, the American military complex, and urban decay. There's also a scene where a man in a gorilla suit is
(begin SPOILERS) taken in by police after he is forced to rape a woman who he later finds out is a male police office but drops the charges when the officer sends the rapist flowers (end SPOILERS). Not even the Farrelly Brothers could come this close.
Where's Poppa? is essentially about a lawyer's (George Siegel) difficulty in caring for his own mother in his own house after he promises his dying father to never put her in a home. Ruth Gordon, as the mother, conveys to us that she is virtually .no absolutely impossible to live with. This is conveyed as the movie shows Siegel's descent into madness not only at work, but in his personal life as well. He becomes the very epitome of Grace under pressure since his whole life has become consumed with taking care of his mother's life, rather than his own. So when George Siegel informs Gordon to be nice under threats of personal violence (I'm gonna punch your f*ckin' heart out) we as the audience understand without considering elder abuse. Anyone who is a caregiver should immediately relate, anyone who has never had the opportunity to assist the aged would immediately cringe. This is the success of movie, appreciating the film's themes without devaluing it as bad taste. Personally, I was amazed at how Reiner could drive so many themes across, and do it so effectively. In another movie there would be some sort of reconciliation between the mother and the son. Personally, I was glad he not only took the easier route, but the more realistic one.
How would you like it if Someone Tore Down Your Church?
I would classify this movie as being Herzog's most mainstream (which I know isn't saying that much), but still, for a movie that takes place in possibly the most minimalist setting (a stretch of land on the Australian outback littered with the remains of drilling for minerals) I found it absolutely engrossing. This is the movie: A group of aborigines refuse to budge from a small strip of land when a mining company wants to occupy it for drilling purposes; their reason: `This is the land where the green ants dream'. When one of the aborigines is asked why they will not budge even after offered a lucrative settlement, he responds, `How would you like it if someone drove a bulldozer over your church.' Immediately I knew this movie would work. It is a very good film, possibly one of the most finely put together movies I can think of. Rather than being an all and out movie that puts down imperialism, civilization, and national need to exploit resources.it raises some interesting questions about ownership and the present destruction of ancient civilizations. My one fault with the movie is that you know when Herzog is setting things up for an awe-inspired moment, and it does get a little dry toward the end, but still a grand achievement.
Sans soleil (1983)
Better than Postcards
This is one of these self-indulgent movies where the main objective is for the artist to draw the audience into his world under the assumption that there's a mutual agreement that what we observe may appear too distant and unreachable to us. It's kind of like if your mother-in-law came back from visiting Europe and she starts showing you all of her pictures for 2 hours. Chris Marker isn't so crude, however, I always felt that when one is experiencing the culture of a distant land the medium of film was never the choice way to experience it. Rather, the exploration of different cultures when traveling must be experienced within the moment, rather than taking the moment with a camera and experiencing it at home. This is where Sans Soleil becomes a success or a failure in the eyes of the audience: do we live in the moment close to the same way the filmmaker does? This is something only you can answer when watching it. Personally, It was all over the map for me (no pun intended), I think the traveler has the gift of reading people and of showing how their culture has become a mirror for their lives.
Sweet Movie (1974)
We Have a Winner! (SPOILERS)
Here it is, I have finally seen a movie that I can set a new standard for. A movie that would have not affected my opinion of it, no matter where it began or ended, a movie loaded with subtext but no cohesive development, a movie that
dare I say does not even deserve the honor of being called one! A movie where about 20 minutes through it, I had to exclaim, `We have a winner!' `For what?' you may ask. `Why,' I would say, `The title for Worst film ever!!!' This is a movie where the only intent is to disgust, and frankly, I deserve a gold medal for sitting through this one. Sweet Movie, more or less follows this outline: A woman wins the title of `Miss Virginity' and is whisked away to Niagara Falls by John Vernon. John Vernon exposes his gold platted penis to her (and our) horror and escapes in a suitcase to the Eiffel tower where she makes love to a rock star, gets a love cramp, and eventually boards a ship of yahoos who vomit, defecate, and urinate for our pleasure while a woman kills a sailor from the Battleship Potemkin (yes, that Battleship Potemkin) in a vat of sugar. Then a lot of people get arrested, and the movie ends. Throughout this film there is a lot of discussion about Russian politics, sexual proletarianism, there's stock footage, at least one historical quote, and that's about the extent of it. I think if they were going to make a point, then the least they could do was not make the surface material too distracting. I'll never make the mistake of watching another one of Makavejev's movies. This man should be barred from making another movie
Don't Look Now (1973)
The metaphysical and the skeptical
Don't Look Now gets typecast as a horror film even though the movie has a few sparse elements of a horror film (some blood, gore, murder, grotesques), nevertheless they are so incredibly effective that that's what tends to stay with people long after they see it. The whole movie is conveyed in the title: `Don't Look Now', a warning. It implies something that is in someone's sight but not in your own, the most significant aspect being the danger that awaits the husband, but that which he cannot see. In this movie the husband and wife are both psychic but one is more willing to accept it than the other. The movie enforces this notion through their different reactions to a traumatic experience. For the wife, she lights candles in the church after she meets the two women (I doubt John Edwards could have such a positive effect). I like how the movie utilizes its primary theme about the metaphysical elements that we posses, and accept though the sheer willingness to accept, or deny through skepticism. One of my favorite scenes in the film, and its one that a lot of people miss, is the scene where Donald and Julie are walking at night and Julie get scared by a rat, and he utters something long the lines of `I've been here before'. Deja-Vu, and yet he goes off, and doesn't give it a second thought. This film is also one of the most effective examples of location and the story going hand-in-hand, similar to Kubrick's `The Shining'. I had The Third Man's Vienna in mind when I saw this film because the labyrinth-like atmosphere of Vienna reminded me so much of Venice in this movie. Roeg got this right.
Cinematic Magic Realism
I found this movie at the library the other day and I had to rent it after being aware for the longest time that it's the highest film on the Sight & Sound list that I have not seen yet. After seeing it, can I say that it deserves its honor?
I would say so, it's the polar opposite of modern film and that gets my interest since it reveals so much that cinema has gained and lost in 75 years. It tells a simple story while getting the most out of my reaction
as opposed to movies that utilize technology, over character and story development, even though this is a movie that has time to be showy and flashy with its beautiful city sequences. After seeing Abel Gance's Napoleon, a film from the same era, I would consider this movie on par for its technical angle, which I think is half the selling point for the critic's circles. It employs a magic realism that you will not find in any modern film today, a movie where you don't care if it takes them a minute to travel from the forest to the city
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
I kept expecting Joel and the robots from MST3K
I was satisfied under the circumstances since the main reason why I saw it was so I could see Geena Davis kick some serious ass (and in short hair no less). Unfortunately, this movie made me laugh unnecessarily, like...
- when she kills a dear with her bare hands...no kiddin'
- the scene where the old drunk gets murdered by said dear
- when she and Samuel L. Jackson outrun a giant fireball....not once, but twice in fact!
- when Jackson dons a golfing suit
- when both Davis and Jackson come back from the dead.....whooooooooooo (ghost sounds)
- when nice guy David Morse decides to do..."the torture thing"
- the scene where she can cook....like a CIA agent!
- a naked Samuel L. Jackson gets rescued by Davis...I don't know why its so funny, he just has this "oh my knight in shining armor" look in his eyes.
- that kid....that annnnoyyyyying kid!!!!
BTW, did anyone notice the reference to a CIA conspiracy to blow up the WTC and blame it on Muslims so they could get funding..... That's the most serious part of the whole film...unfortunately, it's in this movie.
A Solaris (2002) review from a Tarkovsky fan
I can't think of another person who admires Andrei Tarkovsky more than I. For me, he was a seer, a poet, a true artist. When I think of truly gifted filmmakers, I only think of two: Tarkovsky and Bergman, and in my opinion, Tarkovsky has ... no ... equal. When I heard that they were making another film version of Solaris, I could not even articulate my disdain. How can they take a perfectly good film, albeit, with limited special effects, by the greatest filmmaker of all time, and turn it into a Hollywood remake. Imagine Ivan's Childhood remade by Steven Spielberg, or Stalker as conceived by David Fincher. In essence, I believe that good films should never be remade, only bad ones... I could only conceive of Solaris as directed by Soderbergh, if he actually had the decency to make his own film, rather than remake the Tarkovsky version. I became more receptive before the release of Solaris when I understood that Soderbergh came across the story only through the Tarkovsky version, but by utilizing the plot structure through the original book by Stanislaw Lem. Why should I have disdain, I thought, it wasn't Tarkovsky's idea in the first place. Today, Soderbergh's film was released in my area, and I approached it without any preconceived emotions. This is what I thought:
What results from Steven Soderbergh's Solaris is not necessarily a story, but really, a thought-provoking character that analyzes our drive for what's missing from our lives, no matter how closely it can be replicated. Is space travel a way of exploring worlds, or is it a way for us to "create mirrors" as one scientist states in the movie. Will we find anything that fills our need, or tells us more about ourselves? Solaris analyzes these questions. The thing that I admire about this version of Solaris is that it presents itself without fanfare, or action sequences, or unnecessary special effects. It may be classified as a science fiction film, but it's far from any Hollywood science fiction film you could conceive of. It's a very minimalist film, as demonstrated by the sequences where scientist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) roams the corridors of the spaceship that he journeys to in the film. The sea of the planet that the ship orbits around takes memories and creates replicas of lost wives, brothers, friends, etc... Why it does this is never really explained. Sometimes the experience gives us more than any need from us to explain it. When a group of astronauts journeys to Mars in Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, only to discover their lost relatives, they can only conceive that, without skepticism, that they've been sent to heaven. It's hard to let go of the past once it's been returned to us, since everyone has something, or someone, that's so precious to us, but has been lost. So, for an initial reaction, I give my highest praise to Soderbergh and Cameron for making a film that flies in the face of the Hollywood excess I thought it would become. I give praise to this film, not from the standpoint of a Tarkovsky fan, but as a seeker.
The Grey Zone (2001)
Are you ready to Die?
I don't think any of us are "ready to die". Once you lose your life, you really have nothing left. To put it bluntly, almost all of us, out of reaction, will do anything to stay alive. A few weeks ago I saw a movie called "The Grey Zone" about Jewish prisoners in concentration camps who were used by the Nazis to do their dirty deeds, in exchange for a few more months of life. In one harrowing scene, the Jewish workers lead fellow Jews, just off the trains, to the gas chamber. The workers' job was to deceive their fellow Jews into thinking that they were being disinfected, and even though we don't see the action as the gassings take place, we hear the clamoring against the walls...And that's the point. These people sacrificed their very dignity, even for just a few more months of life. Who truly knows what's beyond our very existence. Although I'm one to believe that there is life after death, I don't think the afterlife is any more enlightening...
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
The cinematic equivalent of Finnegans Wake
Mulholland Drive is the cinematic equivalent of Finnegans Wake, not just because Lynch created a film that transcends most typical cinematic conventions, but because he seems to have created an entirely new genre all to itself. Mulholland Drive is a puzzle within a puzzle, it has no plot, no beginning, no end, no overall theme, no structure. And yet it has enough structure for any person to have a rough idea of what's going on, granted if one looked closer. It's as if, and you know this can be taken literally, Lynch took his entire television series, cut random reels, put them in a box, and randomly edited one reel with the next. A lot of people have a problem with Mulholland Drive for the very fact that it was intended for T.V. According to their logic, how can you praise a film that came from a television series, when it never premiered on...well...television. I say, why not? The Hollywood of Mulholland Drive seems to have more in common with their criticisms then they would care to admit. In Lynch's movie, the film industry turns out careless bubble gum entertainment, while the industry itself is controlled by a closed society where all of the artistic decisions are pre-arranged, and sometimes by coercive means. If only more artists could learn from Lynch's example. No wonder Mulholland drive never made it to television, it's too good for a medium where every other show involves a court case, a "reality theme", or family foibles. I say why a court drama? Why not a film about the context of their dreams? In essence, Lynch hasn't created a film about film, Mulholland Drive...is film itself.
Ms .45 (1981)
The two sides of sexism.
A film like Ms. 45 has the words "exploitation flick" written all over it; just look at the plot: a deaf woman named Thana comes home from work, is raped not once, but twice by two different attackers, and kills the second rapist with his own hand gun. A premise like this is not east to accept, but still, what results is one of the most effective exploitation films I have seen. Interestingly, from the time she kills her first attacker to the end of the film, what follows is a slow process where she becomes disillusioned with men in general (with the exception of a dog, by coincidence the only male character she spares). She later goes on to kill several men as a reaction to the crime, including an entire street gang, a pimp, a sheik (!), and a guy who's only crime is trying to get her attention. The movie's main theme seems to analyze the implications of male heterosexism. Thana's handicap is symbolic of a greater problem, it could be the glass ceiling, sexism, cultural misogyny, etc... The movie also shows that male sexual abuse not only hurts the victim, but also those innocent men, whose only crime is being classified in a group with too many Bob Packwoods, Bill Clintons, and yes, Billy Bob Thorntons..... The movie also follows one reversal with another reversal, particularly in the movie's most haunting moment where Thana is taken into company by a male suicidal divorcee. He has a long monologue in which he laments his former wife's infidelity, but acknowledges his joy when he kills her cat. The divorcee is horrified when Thana tries to kill him with her gun in a botched attempt, but removes the gun from her hand and finishes the job himself. This is one of the most shocking scenes I have ever witnessed in a film. It clearly analyzes the self-hatred, and self-loathing that many people have, finding it difficult to reconcile past demons, while dealing with those stereotypes that people associate with a group. But despite Ms. 45's brilliant structure, there were some problems I had with the film. Its comical moments come off as being way too inappropriate, particularly in light of the film's subject matter, but still, this is a hard film to shake.
The Truth About Jane (2000)
The gay experience
I managed to see this Lifetime movie dealing with teenage homosexuality. I am a huge fan of movies dealing with homosexuality but I think this movie painted an unrealistic picture of what many gay teens have to deal with. Unlike Jane's parents, most parents of gay kids will not attend PFLAG meetings, will not have friends that they know are gay, and will not stand side by side with their kids as they deal with their children's attraction for people of the same sex. In a way I think it devalues how tortuous it is for a kid dealing with a person's coming out process in their life when almost the majority of coming out experiences are downright bad. Still, it's hard to dislike Stockard Channing, and I think she did well under the circumstances that the script presented, and I think a film like this must be seen in the context of how television is just beginning to make movies that address homosexuality. In that way, I give this film credit for at least addressing some of the difficulties of coming out.
The superlative analysis of infidelity
I read Milan Kundera's book when I was about 12 but have since forgotten it. Nevertheless, I decided to given Kaufman's cinematic adaptation of the book a try since I've heard so much good from it. In short, I find little wrong with this film. I like how the movie utilizes the characters more than the plot itself, primarily because I miss movies that emphasize character development over spectacle. In terms of analyzing the characters I think we see how tradition and antiquity (represented by Sabina's hat) are the things we cling to in order to achieve some degree of continuity in life. Still, there are moments in which you have to reach outside of the characters. For instance, to analyze Tomas' infidelity, the historical context of the movie must be emphasized since the antitypical symbol of infidelity in the film is the demonstrations of protest against the communist takeover of Hungary in 1968. This is also one of those rare movies where the melding of docudrama and romance works perfectly. I'm glad that I've seen this film, I can't say if it achieves the same greatness as The Right Stuff (how many movies do?), but still, a great film.
Sing when your losing! Spoilers.
Lately I've felt drawn to long violent epics dealing with crime (Once Upon a Time in America, The Godfather, Goodfellas). Even though I don't think Scarface holds up to those movies I still think it succeeds at a level where the Howard Hawks movie didn't. I can't think of another person who could of played this role better than Al Pacino, and yes, that does include Paul Muni. I don't think it's a coincidence that the filmmakers chose the same person who played Michael Corleone. Both characters are bad, use violence for personal gain, and are incredibly human. Maybe it strays away in the famous final scene when Tony Montana is riddled by a swarm of bullets, not to mention the scene where a stoned-out Pacino inhales a mountain of cocaine on his desk. Still, Tony Montana is one of those characters that stays with you despite the fact that he's a monster that would kill a person at the drop of a hat, and drop the hat himself. The violence in Scarface is not there to entertain, but as a way to reinforce the self-destruction of Montana; so when it does get to that point where you see a crowd of people overwhelm Montana's mansion, you know that there's no way he's going to get out of this one. I'm not really use to seeing DePalma's work outside of his well-known thriller movies like Dressed to Kill and Sisters. Still, He's a master at building up suspense.
The Filth and the Fury (2000)
Never mind the sex pistols...
The Sex Pistols were not the greatest Punk Band (how many albums did they release?.....exactly!) still they did have the knack to develop an unusually obsessive cult following in the midst of political chaos in the 70's as well as influencing so many bands which followed. I give credit to a documentary like this one. It's not so much a history of punk, or the band for that matter, as it is a character study. The movie keeps it at the level of the band. When the band gets together, the movie begins, when it ends, it's over... The movie also is stunning for its incorporating Richard III during interviews. I'd never thought that a movie which appears do disjointed on the surface could work so well. And, you have to give credit to a songwriter who can make antichrist rhyme with anarchist.
Corky + Violet 4-Ever (SPOILERS)
Bound is one of those movies where right after you see it for the first time you want to see it again, and again. It's definitely one of the best films ever made and the single best piece of contemporary film noir since Miller's Crossing. It also manages to do a lot while having very little on the production angle (more than half of it is filmed in a room). I also like the mind games that everyone plays in the movie. You can just feel Joe Pantoliano's heart sink when he discovers that the money's missing, he's absolutely amazing in this film. For some reason I think of Bogart from Treasure of the Sierra Madre when I see his performance, he's so vile and so tightly-wound.
With a film like Bound, where the action keeps the story going, you also have to look at the value of the relationship between Coky and Violet. A lot of people think that you can't have a girly character like the one Jennifer Tilly played, fall in love with the more masculine, butch lesbian that Gina Gershon played. For me, I can't think of a more perfect relationship.(SPOILERS) In a sense, each character has escaped her own prospective trap. Corky was an ex-con who just came out of prison. Likewise, Violet, by the end of the film, escaped her role as a gangster's girlfriend. They both knew what it was like to be trapped, to be 'bound' by some negative, external factor. I also love how Corky is played. This is absolutely the coolest character I have ever seen in a movie, you can't help but love her. I mean, how can you not like a movie in which the stereotypical lesbians dupe the stereotypical gangsters? That's why I love Bound.
Everything turns to fiction...
The movie poster for Todd Solondz' Storytelling shows a group of miniatures staring up a big, red, rectangular book bearing the title of the movie; which is interesting, because during the movie the audience that I went to see Storytelling with was staring up at a huge red rectangle on the screen for more than a minute (a means to hide an explicit sex scene in the movie). The MPAA's decision to tell Solondz to blot out the scene was their way of telling him that the scene was too vulgar and explicit to be seen. In all fairness, I think it only drives the themes of Solondz' movie further: that the intention of art will result in a reaction that doesn't fit the purpose. In the first segment of Storytelling, a student, in a creative writing class, is raped by the teacher. She writes an account of the rape and reads it to her class. Her story falls on deaf ears. "But it did happen!" she cries out! "It doesn't matter," the teacher states, "once you put it down on paper, everything turns to fiction." And that's the point of the movie. Once you put ideas on paper, celluloid, or what have you, the reaction of the audience will be unforgiving. Hey, what do you expect from a movie where Schindler's List and American Beauty (here, it's American Scooby) get their just deserts. Also, Solondz has an interesting way in which he paints young people. The kid in Storytelling, the most supremely annoying character in the movie, is Solondz' way of painting the worst of critics: extremely privileged, naive, shady, having considerable smarts, the mind of a child, and having no degree of emotion. How does he react to his housekeeper, telling him about her grandson's execution? "Maybe it was for the best!" Interestingly, it is this scene that leads up to the movie's wicked conclusion. Storytelling is a great film; it's like the literary equivalent of Mulholland Drive, just as laconic, but less ambiguous.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Crowe rises above genre, the movie doesn't. Spoilers.
A BEAUTIFUL MIND is the story of how a talented man, bound by a desire to put his craft to work, attempted to defeat disability, and went on to receive praise from his contemporaries. You might think that I have successfully described the trials of the Russell Crowe character (John Nash) in the film, and how, with the help of his wife, handled schizophrenia while going on the win the Nobel Prize. The problem is, I didn't. This really isn't the plot of the movie. In fact, the plot of this film involves what went on behind the scenes of the movie.
We live in a time where Hollywood cannot even make a decent character study without placing it in some predefined genre with the intent of increasing box office revenue. I couldn't help but consider this while watching A BEAUTIFUL MIND. That's not to say I didn't feel satisfied with Russell Crowe's performance. To put it bluntly, this is some of the best acting you will ever see. Unfortunately, A BEAUTIFUL MIND becomes a psychological thriller that leads to a pithy resolution that "love conquers all".
I can only suspect that this was not the film that Ron Howard wanted to make. Don't get me wrong, I've never identified Howard as being some kind of independent spirit or unconventional filmmaker. After all, Howard did direct THE GRINCH. But here is why what went behind the scenes overshadows the story: Howard does put a lot of emphasis on character development, and I could sense his desire to give John Nash's story full emphasis with a studio pressuring him to make a thriller. As a result, the film is kind of half-baked. We become more concerned with whether John Nash is delusional or not. At least, I was.
I still recommend A BEAUTIFUL MIND. Crowe's performance is the reason to see it, along with praiseworthy performances by Ed Harris, Adam Goldberg, and Christopher Plummer. This was also one of the few times I've went to see a film where the audience applauded at the end. I can't help but praise an action star like Russell Crowe for transcending the Hollywood genre. I wish I could say the same for the movie itself.
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
D.W. Griffith: White Racist?
Let's see, after seeing Griffith's INTOLERANCE, a movie where a woman's movement is compared to religious Pharisees and reading about a movie like BROKEN BLOSSOMS, where the lead male character is referred to by a derogatory nick-name, I decided to give BIRTH OF A NATION a look. I am not even done with this film because it has sparked too much anger and disgust in me to finish it. It is the most blatantly prejudiced film I have ever seen. Many of the people who have defended this film in their user comments correctly state that even the best westerns contain some prejudices. I can even overlook INTOLERANCE's minor shortcomings in light of its brilliant 4-story structure and technical expertise. Likewise, BIRTH OF A NATION is beautifully photographed and there are some scenes that are fascinating to watch. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of a novice viewer to Griffith's work, my impression is that Griffith is way too pre-occupied in portraying blacks as racist, violent, lazy, and conspiratory in the second half. BIRTH OF A NATION not only does this, it doesn't hint (except maybe with the exception of it's opening scene), that people suffered because of slavery. Kind of biased for a film placed within the context of The Civil War. A film like this only makes me question Griffith's intent. Griffith later went on to make possibly the first interracial love story in the movies (BROKEN BLOSSOMS) possibly to make amends from my very criticism of BIRTH OF A NATION. Aside from it's technical aspects, I can only view BIRTH OF A NATION in the same way I view Leni Riefenstahl's TRIUMPH OF THE WILL: technically fascinating, but blatantly propagandist.
Regi Andrej Tarkovskij (1988)
CAUTION: Genius at Work!
Andrei Tarkovsky was a director who believed that filmmaking was defined by time. The director was more than a person who put images onto celluloid. He was a poet, a master craftsman who molded his creation to do what he saw to be fit, and removed what was excessive. If more directors followed the example of Tarkovsky than you would see more of the personal world of those who make film, but because of the studio-driven world of motion pictures, it is hard to make or to even see these movies.
This is what I learned from Michal Leszczylowski's film DIRECTED BY ANDREI TARKOVSKY. Unlike Chris Marker's ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF ANDREI ARSENEVICH, the documentary doesn't go into much detail regarding Tarkovsky's unique film style. Rather, it's an example of his unique way of making movies, particularly on the set of his last film (THE SACRIFICE). Another aspect that made his style so unique is that (and this is the shocking part!) he was a director that actually knew that the audience had a spiritual need that had to be satisfied. The studio heads would cringe at the very thought of approving more projects that refer to this important need, but Tarkovsky knew it was evident.
DIRECTED BY ANDREI TARKOVSKY is more than a companion to his last film, it is an inside look at the personal world of a genius.
A real film.
Over the past several weeks I had the opportunity to see all of Claude Lanzmann's 9 1/2-hour documentary about the Holocaust. It left me cognizant of a greater tragedy in much the same way that PIXOTE opened my eyes to the humanity on the streets of South America. Like many people who have seen SHOAH I was interested in it primarily because of the degree of praise that this film has received; some critics have called it one of the most important films ever made. Well, now that I have had time to reflect on this film for the past month can I honestly say that SHOAH is one of the greatest films ever made? To answer my own question, it depends on how you look at it.
SHOAH in now way covers the entire scope of the holocaust. Instead it focuses on the people who were sent to three specific concentration camps during WWII. The film also concentrates on the people who were involved in the deportation and execution of those who arrived to the camps. Its last hour is devoted to events that occurred around the Warsaw Ghetto. The fact that this film limits its scope made me aware that this was an account that's too big to be perfectly analyzed and deciphered. It's too complex for a standard 2 hour, 4 four or even the film's 9 1/2 hour length. It's testament to the number of documentaries about the Holocaust which have come out fairly recently. But unlike those documentaries, SHOAH seems less about the Holocaust than it is about people, whether they were the commanders who intimidated the Jews, individuals who had small farms or houses near the concentration camps or even the victims themselves. These are all people who have a story to tell. SHOAH made me think out of the context of the film a lot. The fact that it told me so much about people made me wonder about the loss of the life that occurred during the 80's when the Contras fought the Sandinistas, or when Pol Pot executed his own people, or when Stalin starved his own soldiers during the War. All of these people had a story to tell but you hear very little about these tragedies that fell on their own lives. In a way, that's so unfair. Nevertheless, SHOAH comes closer than any other documentary I have seen when it comes to showing us what makes life so sacred and special.
To be fair, there are long stretches in SHOAH that are less than riveting, and moments when you question the ethics and purposes of the filmmaker. As one commenter candidly pointed out, there are times when SHOAH is more like a chore than an experience but as Claude Lanzmann orders one interviewee during the film, "We have to do it, you know it." And that's why SHOAH has to be seen: It's a real film about a real tragedy, real events, and real people.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
I'm a Hed Head!
A couple of nights ago I saw John Cameron Mitchell's screen version of his off-Broadway hit "Hedwig and the Angry Inch". It is one of the great movie experiences in this lackluster year of film. This year... it seems like nothing but sequels. Likewise, there are very few independent and foreign films I have happened to be satisfied with as well. HATAI is the first film to come out this year that I've been completely satisfied with. Interestingly, I came into the theater expecting some kind of rock music parody a la Spinal Tap. What I got was much, much more. Not only is HATAI a fun movie to watch, I think is does a great job dealing with themes like self discovery and finding wholeness within oneself. That's why the Berlin Wall plays such an important role throughout this film. The music is incredibly effective and well done. In fact, at the screening I attended, many people were singing along with the songs during the film. I really think that the music will leave just as big of a lasting impression on some audiences as the movie itself. Nevertheless, a lot of people will be scratching their heads when they see the ending. Personally, I was quite satisfied with it because it doesn't reduce Hedwig's arch-rival (Tommy Gnosis) to some kind of nemesis. Rather, in one stunning sequence in the film we see how both are similar to each other. I hope everyone on the IMDB gets at a chance to see this smart, innovative film. I appreciated it greatly.
The nostalgia, in the film's title, isn't just the physical longing for something in the past, it's the spiritual longing that so many people strive for. This shouldn't surprise an student of Tarkovsky's work since no director, possibly with the exception of Ingmar Bergman, analyzed spirituality as Tarkovsky did.
NOSTALGHIA follows the trekking of a Russian traveling through Italy along with his beautiful interpreter. His purpose for being there does not come to the viewer easily. Most of the scenes in the movie are filled with a lot of silence, and even the action that does take place, is minimal. Eventually, we come to understand that he is there to find some cultural reinforcement for his Russian background. As the film progresses, we seem to take on the role of the main character in the story, as an observer to events. Throughout his travels he becomes a witness to religious processions, theological discussions, and the rituals of a God-fearing lunatic. The lunatic, played masterfully by Erland Josephson, is looked down upon by a lot of local citizens. Apparently, in the past, he locked his family in his house for a long time, anticipating the end of the World. The movie documents his effect on the Russian traveler, and the traveler's longing to recapture his spirituality.
A lot has been said of the ten-minute unbroken sequence where the lead protagonist attempts to carry a lighted candle from one end of a pool to the other. Some see it as utterly boring. Personally, I was fascinated. In it, we see how the protagonist finally attempts to do something in order to recapture his spirituality. For the entire length of the movie he has been an observer, now he is an active participant. To be fair, his action does take the form of a ritual, not the building of a church, or water immersion, but then again, so much of spirituality is ritual. Tarkovsky correctly identifies how it's the continuity that helps us get through life, knowing that some things will never change our strong religious convictions. That's when the protagonist finally comes to realize that action must take place. It's no coincidence that this scene takes place after a demonstration given by the Erland Josephson character. It's an amazing scene. In it he gives an intelligent speech about the desolation of art. It also imparts an important question to the viewer about those who truly make a difference in the world: the observers, or the "insane", who try to take positive action on the behalf of others.
No praise of any Tarkovsky film is complete without talking about the technical angle of his work. In NOSTALGHIA Tarkovsky is proven again to be a master of beauty, carving out beautiful images into the Italian landscape. Even the indoor scenes are beautiful. NOSTALGIA is further evidence of Tarkovsky's desire to elevate film as an art. He paints well...
Faa yeung nin wa (2000)
Hong Kong claustrophobia and Maggie Cheung in that dress.....
I have never seen a love story where the two lovers hardly hold each other's hands less kiss onscreen. This as anti-Hollywood as "out of the mainstream" movies get.
The reason why I saw IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE is because I am a huge Maggie Cheung fan and she was amazing in this one. She really gave the most photogenic role from 2000 (despite the superfluous amount of praise toward Julia Roberts' work). Everything about Maggie is perfect in this movie from the way she reacts, to the way she wears her clothes, to the way she says certain things. Her romance is complemented by Tony Leung whose work is also very good. In fact, he probably has the best moment in the movie, which involves the discussion of a mistress. It is such a perfect scene I don't want to spoil it. Nor will I spoil the beautiful ending which has to be one of the best endings I have ever seen in a film.
Another interesting thing about this movie is that the movie is about THEM, it does not give unusual focus to one character. It's interesting how everything you know about these two characters is really not in the dialogue but in their faces. There are many, many close-ups in this movie, I really think this gives a claustrophobic atmosphere to their romance. This comes as no surprise since the movie does take place in Hong Kong and we get the impression that this is a place where everything is cramped and everyone knows everything about everybody else. It seems like they give as much concern to seeing each other as they are to keeping their relationship within the confines of social standards as well.
This may very well be the most atypical romance to come to the movies in a long, long time since it is the opposite of the hot, sweaty romance that so many filmgoers are use to. Nevertheless, I really liked IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE.
Irma Vep (1996)
Something to ponder when you criticize the next Adam Sandler film...
Besides the fact that Maggie Cheung is perfect eye-candy in this one(What a hottie!) I think Irma Vep deals with an interesting topic that few audiences and critics are willing to accept. It is often said that big-budget, low brow, mindless films are responsible for the decline in the quality of American movies, a topic explored in the film. Interestingly, Irma Vep also points out that certain "limited projects", reserved for small audiences, can have just as devastating of an effect on a film studio since such films not only diminish a studio's profits, but also the studio's ability to support the Independent vision of many a filmmaker. Something to ponder when you criticize the next Adam Sandler film...