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Head of State (2003)
Written, directed and starring the Rock....Chris Rock
In this film, the Vice President, who's the front-runner candidate for office in a coming election, often dispenses with below campaign sound bite at whatever opportunity he gets:
"I have been the Vice President for 8 years. I am a war veteran. And I'm the cousin of Sharon Stone. God bless America...and no place else."
With lines like these, what's not to like about Head of State?
Here's the premise of the film. Both the the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate of a "losing" party died when their planes crashed into each other (don't ask). With the election just weeks away, the party decided to intentionally look for a "loser" replacement candidate; one who will lose at a pegged percentage (not too much, not too little), and yet is capable of winning some "leverage" points for the next round of election. And they found Chris Rock. Enough said.
Pardon the cliché, but Head of State has to be seen to be believed. Hell, just its opening credits alone are LOL already. If you asked me, I would think this flick's mixed bag of humour (from no-holds barred low brow to smart insightful attacks on American electoral politics) worked only because it has been delivered the only way someone as comic-attuned as Chris Rock knew how. The business of making people laugh is a tough one. And IMO, Chris Rock is one of the best in the business.
Can you imagine a fluffier, more convoluted Bulworth crossed with the crude but often logical sensibilities of South Park - The movie? If yes, proceed to imagine lines hurled at you that's as zingy as a Kevin Smith vehicle (both the good and the really bad ones) and blatant slapstick's as throwaway LOL as those Airplane/ Naked Gun movies? Ladies and germs, if you can imagine all that, congrats! Because that is Head of State for you, nutshell cracked wide open. But whether you will swallow the nuts or not (I always chew first, then swallow), will depend largely on your threshold and expectation already.
We need not reminders that we all live in ludicrous times now, do we? So why not accord some of that time laughing at it all, relishing in the enjoyment of a film as ludicrously conceived as this one? Personally, I look upon Head of State as a brilliant political comedy. Its charm actually lies in its greater interest in comedy than politics. I am delighted to see this film juggle sly political wish fulfilment with the conscious play-it-up for laughs. Sometimes, strictly for laughs. So yes, I am won over and willingly lap this flick up.
Make no mistake, Head of State is a hit and miss movie. But its hits far exceed its misses. In fact, its hit rate is almost comparable to (and arguably higher than) the raunch-assisted Scary Movie. Its (sporadic) intelligence however, far surpasses the entire Waymon Bros output combined.
Hmm....its plain to see that the manic sinnerman love this movie. I have not been this entertained in very long time. Hence I shall willingly dispense you all this flick recommendation. If one pop this title into a player at any random night, I do think it will provide willing folks with an antidote release from the blues of a hellish school/work day prior. So people, go hunt for the Head of State now (pun unintended).
My word is out. God bless America....and no place else!
Mar adentro (2004)
Swirling emotions in a sea of grey.
A friend of mine asked: "Doesn't one have to be pro-euthanasia in order to like this movie? Is it a mistake of the movie to infer most quadriplegics want to end their lives?" Interesting questions.
As far as I can see (correct me if I'm wrong), there is only one quadriplegic who wanted to end his life in The Sea Inside. Think Ramón Sampedro addressed this in the movie as well. It is he who wants to die. It is he who is fighting for his right to decide his death. He is speaking for himself and not other quadriplegics. Though his pioneering work, depending on one's perspective, may prove beneficial or damaging to quadriplegics down the road, his primary objective is a personal one. But one thing this movie does (my opinion anyway), is that it forces us the viewers to ask ourselves the inferring questions my friend so succinctly put forth.
After my first viewing of The Sea Inside, I walked home in a conflicted blur. I struggled to reconcile with this exasperating notion; why would Ramón want to die? Given the love, care and sacrifices so unconditionally showered on Ramón by the people surrounding him, why would he doggedly cling on to his hurtful decision? Then, on my second viewing, a shared thought between Ramón and the lawyer lady entered my consciousness. It threw up a telling observation: "...total dependency comes at the expense of intimacy." Most human beings crave for such an intimacy. Of course, how much we value such "needs", depends largely on the individual.
As a person with a familial-biased sensibility, I empathised strongly with the caregivers in this movie. Why can't Javier consider the sacrifice and the love from his family and friends? Is he blind to it all? I would think not. The miracle of The Sea Inside therefore, is its insightful depiction of a very humanistic tug of war. When we are faced with the guardianship of a sane but incapacitated loved one, whom has expressed a calm, conscious and rational intent to die, what then is the right thing to do? Is caring for and keeping this loved one alive, against his or her will, a pious gesture? Does it show up the worth of our love? Or does it merely soothe our "selfish" fears of irreplaceable loss? With so much understanding accorded to caregivers, wouldn't their invalid charges, by submitting themselves to the total dependency of others for survival, also be an overlooked act of sacrifice? Rhetorical or not, how much is "dignity" worth to an individual? Is living (or dying) with dignity a privilege or a right? If we really care and love a person, should we also respect their eventual decisions in life (as in death)? A torrent of questions the movie might have asked, answers to which, I'm in no position to provide.
In our eagerness to intellectually demarcate the merits of pro-life or pro-choice, we run the risk of ignoring a sea of grey that's engulfing the people most intimately affected, the caregivers and the ones they care for. The Sea Inside hence attempted to present the delicate yet complex relationship dynamics between them. Intuitively, this film understands one thing; that the nature of "sacrifice" is never one-sided. In this tug of war, we should endeavour not to win arguments, but to intently observe and hopefully determine, who is the "stronger" party to make that sacrifice.
The Sea Inside is a sobering film. It opened my eyes to things I don't wanna see. And for that, I am grateful.
Tian xia wu zei (2004)
The myriad ways of peeling an egg.
I've been a huge fan of Feng Xiao Gang this last couple of years and loved every single film he made with Ge You.
So what about the first FXG pic with Andy Lau? Let's just say that, what took me three friggin' movies and the same number of years to experience on a emotional roller-coaster CRASH that is the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I got it in one sitting with this movie. Andy will made a fine king in Middle Earth.
Forgive me for being cryptic here, for I am still in shock myself. Cryptology is a defence mechanism. OK, at least AWWT was over before I had time to register what a stupendous achievement this film has become for me (personally).
So do I like the movie, you might ask? OK, scratch that, try asking me why this ex-LOTR geek no longer haunts the cyberspace, raving about Frodo and gang like he used to, "pre-coronation ceremony"? Then perhaps, just perhaps, you may have an inkling of an idea of how I feel for this movie. Maybe not. Ack! Inarticulation is my friggin' curse. Even that last sentence was stolen somewhere online.
OK, enough comparisons and useless ramblings. Right here, right now, I shall resolve to erase every single shred of memory I have of this movie, and go back to being a loyal FXG slash Ge You fan. I shall forget ever having seen this movie and not revisit it again. This first user comment here shall hence be, my last in this thread. The Sinnerman shall not break this promise! So now my good people, I'm glad this commentary piece confused the hell outta you. Its your turn now to go watch it. Enjoy. Or not.
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
Listen to the music of the night, let your heart soar, let it take flight.
From the start go, I was already mesmerised by the rapturous opening sequence of this film. It boasts of the best B&W to colour transition I have ever seen on film! Now imagine the bursting of a thousand light bulbs adorning a fallen chandelier. Witness the rising "Mexican wave" of said fixture from the ground zero of a dilapidated, colour-drained building to its rightful place on the ceiling. As it rises, behold the ascending explosion of Technicolor splashes and crystal clear sheen shrink wrapping whatever it touches. We are witnessing the glorious restoration of a previously grainy architectural shell into an opulently regal music hall. Throughout this sequence, the familiar strains of the Phantom's theme reverberates across the hall, pounding my ears and thumping my chest. The place now screams with a pregnant zest and swims in breathtaking grandeur. My senses are filled to the brim and my blood pumper must have required resuscitation from the jolts of those bursting lightbulbs. Aaaaarrrrggghhh!! Its so beautiful!!! The show is about to begin!!!!
Absorbing the awe-inspiring sights and sound of this one above transformation sequence alone is already enough to torch my heart to cinders. But like the best musicals out there, the beauty of Phantom also lies in its amazing ability to generate waves after tidal waves of wildly abandoned joys and heedlessly sensuous emotions. I marvel at its tenacious will and entrancing powers to sustain this high. And it accomplished this through its arresting visuals, its heart stopping song and dance set pieces, plus the most expressive of instruments known to men, the voices.
Though the rawness of their vocals is apparent, especially for viewers more accustomed to the Crawford/ Brightman set, the troupe of courageous actors in this movie adaptation (notably Emmy Rossum, Gerard Butler and Patrick Wilson) used their voices to convey their feelings with wide-eyed sincerity and piercing honesty. They imbued their admittedly archetypical roles without regard for vanity or self-consciousness. In so doing, they have broken through the threshold set upon them and crossed into the point of no return. By singing their hearts out and fearlessly pouring out their souls, they opened my receptivity floodgates for the irrational and sucked me into their world. And this is a world where broad narrative strokes serves a purpose and the beauty of simple emotions is embraced. This is a world of the musicals where love reign supreme, where its allure is so addictively insular, advocates like me willingly lock myself in. So damned shall be those, who disagree and nitpick. The Phantom is immune to their callous one-liners.
My final few words
Spectacularly choreographed, sumptuously scored, immaculately filmed and lucidly acted, Phantom of the Opera has kidnapped my wild invested imaginings and ran with it. This counts as one of my most sensational cinematic experience this year. Unforgettable! Now excuse me while I join in the queue for yet another screening, for I so wanna plunge back into the escapist paradise of that unabashedly love-soaked opera-house. I so wanna get back to that roof-top scene where the kaleidoscopic shades of love blossom and wither in the space of a melodic verse. Now all I ask of you, is to understand that this film has an indelible Sinnerman stamp of approval. It's not worth much of course, but so are the words of my detractors. It will be best if you go see the movie and decide for yourself.
Aaaaaaaarrrrgggghhhhhh! I love love love this movie!!!!
The Polar Express (2004)
Of Condoleeza Rice and very short men...
Saw The Polar Express a few weeks back. Below some rambling thoughts then.
The Santa in this flick had a magnetic glow about him. He reminded me of Hitler. The elves resembled his mind controlled sex slaves. The way these red coloured minions assembled in a square, pregnant in anticipation of the old man's coming, is very touching. I sat riveted in my seat, completely spellbound by the most arousing rendition of "Santa Claus is coming to town" ever. So when Santa's well endowed figure sauntered into view, when he made his momentous entry, I experienced a near orgasmic euphoria. This is especially so after the pleasure delaying 5 minutes to midnight, which were suspended for like three hours (I did not bring my watch). Why couldn't Santa come any sooner? What's with the time paradox plaguing our desire for immediate gratification (to bask in Santa's presence that is). Guess he does work in mysterious ways then.
If you asked me, The Polar Express should also have been re-configured for screening into those literally "rollercoaster" theatres found in theme parks. Would have had oodles of fun letting my spine get severed by those rocky jerky seats. I BELIEVE I can take the pain, since my eyes were already cocked by its wildly dizzying visuals. And guess what, I think people who read deep into this flick might be on to something too. I hope someone can psychoanalyse on what motivates the millions of height-challenged ugly people and their fascination with red costumes. And why the insect-like, collective fixation with an old and overweight white man, also dressed in red? Does size really matter? Is red the new black? So many questions, so little time. Where is Carl Jung when we need him?
OK, besides psychoanalysis, I shall attempt to tread on an even trickier issue brought up by this movie - faith. Awww, faith....this Bob Zemeckis, his film sensibilities certainly appeals to the agnostic in me. Nice.
Notice how the boy with those lifeless eyes never truly utter the word "believe" (in the "expected" context of the word anyway) to anyone; not to Hitler, not to sour mopey wrong-side-of-the-tracks boy, not to OTT train man masquerading as Tom Hanks, not even the future Condoleezza Rice! You know, that fiercely determined black girl who's always touching and hugging boys that half second longer than is comfortable? But I digress. Instead, the boy imbued the true spirit of the word (believe) into an inanimate object, a bell. What could this mean? Does it mean more by not saying out loud the one word which "Neo" espouses? Is it enough to embrace faith, ideas and all such pontificating concepts within your internal shrine? Tricky questions indeed, and not recommended for the faint of heart.
With all said and done, I have only one man to thank, Bob, for he has yet again celebrated the wonders of indecision. He may not have succeeded in soliciting that connection I got from Forrest Gump or Contact with the Polar Express, but at least he is consistent. Thank you Mr Zemeckis. Know that I was on your "train" long before this meandering thrill ride. Hopefully, you will graciously offer me that cabin top coffee strained from (thoroughly washed) socks. Can't wait for your next picture. Surprise me!
P.S. I'm seeing my ear doctor tomorrow. I can't hear them sleigh bells ringing' either. I need help.
The Incredibles (2004)
Oh Darling, nothing is beneathe me!
I love it! The most entertaining movie I have seen all year.
With equal parts action, drama, humour and pathos, this is the best Pixar product since Toy Story 2 (I have to admit I didn't like Finding Nemo or Monster Inc). What a rare gem of a movie this is! Frankly, I have not been this viscerally thrilled by an "action" movie since the first time I saw Jurassic Park in the theatres 11 years ago. 2 hours flew by right before my eyes. But the real surprise is that I found myself responding to its quiet "meandering" moments too. What a feat of digital animation! Let me regurgitate my take now once more...with feelings; I can feel my pulse beat faster whenever the boy sprints around in the movie. I can feel my throat choking with cheers whenever the Chaplinesque stunts assault the screen. I can feel my mouth touching my ears whenever I see action-editing/ "choreography" done this successfully. I can feel my gut busting whenever Brad Bird say "Darling". I can feel my strings tugged whenever I soak in the astoundingly nuanced voice performances. I can feel for the movie because it celebrates neither mediocrity or superiority. It celebrates diversity, teamwork and the exponential power of synergy. This film's values are good and deep. Me like.
Last but not least, I can feel my heart soar when the year's best lines in cinema were uttered near film's end, "I am always beneathe you, but nothing is beneathe me!!" Say cheese! Pixar and the man behind Iron Giant - now thats a winning combination! Brilliant! Go watch it if you are one of the few who have yet to do so.
The unquantifiable price of sacrifice.
Behold, a torrential spew of superlatives; "Sacrifice captivates the heart." "Sacrifice stirs the soul" "Sacrifice devastates as well as it rehabilitates"....you get my drift...
An almost mythic blend of haunting imagery, rich audio cues and astounding performances, this masterwork of introspection spins a sublime poem on the conundrums of faith, unconditional love, the nature of reality and the very meaning of sacrifice. I cannot help but be moved me truly, madly, deeply.
By the time a boy rests by a lonesome tree, I realized few films will come close to injecting me with such revelatory euphoria. The Sacrifice shall be as close a religious epiphany as this "sinner" is ever gonna get. Sigh...
Tod für fünf Stimmen (1995)
Those 5 voices in my head convinced me. This one's a classic!
Oh my, this documentary has a lingering fascination with the colourful life of one helluva kinky dude! From masochism to homo eroticism, from murder to insanity, nothing ordinary inhabits the skin of this castle dwelling Prince/ "amateur musician".
And yes, I friggin' loved it!! For all the wrong reasons, of course...
Like the disparate five voices performing Gesualdo's Midralgo masterpieces, this extremely off-kilter documentary is brimming with schizo discordance worthy of a Herzog stamp. At times godawfully serious, at others offbeat deadpan. Eventually, the film veered off the edge and into LOL looney territory. This straight talking heads docu meet Spinal Tap-like hi-jinks is so generously sprinkled with Pythonite dust, it has become a monster hybrid which only Herzog is capable of making. Yes, once again, we were all fooled by the solemn music and the narrator's earnest German accented voice. And ladies and germs, that ending? Priceless.
OK, my quips on this flick so far cannot do it justice. Herzog devotees out there, drop what you are doing right now! Go hunt it down already!
Sample below classic lines from yet another Herzogian masterpiece:
Italian Chap to a crazy woman: "What is your address? How can I contact you?"
Crazy Woman, who is a self-professed incarnate of Gesualdo's murdered wife (don't ask): "I live up in heaven. You can take a helicopter up to find me...."
The stirring undercurrent of slaughtering chickens.
The first time I knew I had seen something special in Struggle was when the illegal immigrant woman (with daughter in tow) was first stowed away in a covered truck. They were heading towards the abattoir, for one of the woman's many "jobs" to come. Sitting in one corner of the truck, I caught a glimpse of the little daughter's expression, at the way she looked at her mother. It was weirdly heartbreaking. Previously an exuberant child, her lost of innocence in that stolen moment was so palpable, I was stunned for words.
What drew me to this film was hence less its factual insights, but more its ability to hide its devastating emotions beneath seemingly stoic behavioral veneers (very Ozu-like, I must add). Being deliberately pregnant with restraint before unleashing its actual "power", Struggle gave birth to emotional transcendence.
And I so far covered only one half of this flick....
At this juncture, let me wax lyrical about the inextricable connection between Struggle and my love for the Dardenne Bros (them of Rosetta and The Son's fame), for Struggle owed similar Dardenne-ish influences in its aesthetics and cinematic rhythm. A lot of focus was given to the seemingly ritualistic and mundane work details in this movie; from the menial picking of strawberries to the conveyor belt slaughtering of poultry, from the polishing of brass ornaments to the cleaning up of rich folks' pools etc. But gnawing beneath that layer of normalcy, in those intently activity-centric scenes, laid a gulf of tumultuous emotional tension. They were screwed so tightly (knowing full well the protagonist' emotional state and struggling background), I could hardly breathe.
Struggle is amongst my most favourite films during this year's Singapore International Film Festival. If not for The Son (and the brothers behind it), I would not have been able to pick up on the nuances or entrancing vibes reverberated off Struggle's 70 odd minutes. I would never have realized a work of such poignancy had been projected on screen.
One more instance of gratitude I should attribute to those brilliant Belgium brothers already.
Gegen die Wand (2004)
Now tell me, what's with the chanteuse?
I've learnt many things from this movie.
One thing I've learnt from this movie; Men are greedy. They have this almost childish obsession for women whom they cannot/ have not slept with? The lucky scruffy dude had a hair-dresser "MILF" who's more womanly sultry than that silly junkie girl. And less PMS too. What's with that? Its hence excruciating watching a walking richard this irredeemably stupid.
Another thing I've learnt from this movie; 3 Istanbul men are not enough to take out a waifish loud mouthed woman (yes, I can hardly tolerate that suicidal troublemaker). No number of harsh dropkicks and violent stabbings will do either. I can only think of two possible causal factors for the woman's miraculous survival - either the drugs she inhaled were elixir-like good or this movie's sense of reality is watery s***-like bad.
One last thing I've learnt from this movie. Decent, kind hearted fat men have the short end of the stick. Their sole purpose of existence is to be supportive "laugh" interests, in a movie celebrating the vacuous meanderings of love. And caring, hardworking cousins live by an even shorter leash. They alone must bear the wilful ridicules for being mature and sensible (by senselessly immature losers no less).
Though mere peripheral characters, the Istanbul cousin and the Fat balding "Uncle" lit up an otherwise dark and wrongfully sympathetic movie. They are the ones who truly deserve happiness in this movie. Hence, whatever inferred empathies and screen time lavished on the losers were in my opinion, offensively misplaced.
I can't stand films showering love and understanding on people who don't love themselves. Self-destructive behaviour is only cute up to a certain point. After which, an apocalyptic rain of frogs should pelt on these sleepwalkers to friggin' wake them up!! Better still, the male lead should have been stabbed and raped in prison and suicide girl should have been raped and stabbed while in Istanbul (ok, 1 out of 2). And guess what? They die. End of story. That would have been my idea of a perfect ending.
A tenacious lady and the man who gave her wings (or hope)
To understand the genius of Werner Herzog, one need look no further than this quirky documentary.
By sheer stroke of luck, I attended a talk by Beat Presser (a photographer collaborator of Herzog's in the seminal Fitzcarraldo). The talk was entitled, "Werner At Work", where we'd see Beat's exclusive footage of Herzog during his filming sessions of Cobra Verde, Invincible and yes, Wings of Hope.
During one presentation, we saw the footage Beat shot of Herzog filming the "Wings of hope" woman. She was seen wandering around the Zoology Museum where she worked. The woman merely she strolled along the shelves of animal specimens. She's also trying her earnest best to follow the subtle nudges from the man behind the camera. In Beat's footage, those shots were actually very matter of fact. Its just the woman, trailed by Herzog, a camera man and a sound guy. But Herzog's midas touch (read: embellishment) transformed those shot footage into a re-enactment of the woman's "dream sequence' in the final take of Wings of Hope. Wow. I couldn't stop laughing.
Herzog is such a zany genius. I love the guy. Love him!!!
La meglio gioventù (2003)
The span of a lifetime in mere 360 minutes. Nice.
Man, this 6 hour Italian drama gives soap opera a very good name. Saw the film at this year's Singapore International Film Festival, whose organisers were thankfully intuitive enough to endeavour such challenging programming.
Best of youth's sprawling, epic scale depiction of love, familial ties and the strength which friendship binds, were assuredly interspersed into those 6 hours. The sweeping grandeur of its scope never overshadows the intimacy of its finely detailed characterisation. The subtle shifting of focus between characters (before unveiling the true lead character in the end) also proved to be intriguingly fruitful for the attentive audience.
The screening time hence becomes a non-issue, for it genuinely felt like a sumptuous breeze. In fact, I'm pretty sure the captivated audience on that fateful night of screening could go on for another 3 hours. Such is the allure of good story telling.
In summation, Best of youth boasts of good story, excellent performances, well placed "Godfather" references and beautiful people for the restless(if any) to ogle at. What more can a film geek (erm, me) ask for?
Fantastic movie. Go hunt for it.
Le fils (2002)
Carpentry and its myriad goodness
Revisited this film recently. Post viewing, I found myself suspended in state of bliss. Speechlessly entranced by this invaluable treasure to cinema. But an encounter with a film lover put a slight blemish in my near perfect viewing experience; this film lover lamented about The Son's 'pat' ending (as compared to the heart-wrenching Rosetta). But I beg to differ. In place of total emotional devastation, the Dardenne bros opted for a most redemptive of endings. "Pat" it may be, but grateful I am for its courage and decency.
An old woman in Yamada Yoji's Tora San Series (Ep.17) uttered these deceptively simple words, and I paraphrase:"We repent for things we have done and regret for those which we haven't." The Son speaks to those who seek forgiveness for the things they have done. Most enlightening though, it gave yet others a rare chance to not regret the things they haven't; to forgive.
The decency of this movie transcends artistic merits. I've learnt things from it that I would have normally taken a lifetime to accrue. Through it, I gained an understanding on the value of repentance and the mutually redemptive powers of forgiveness. Such sublime wisdom cushioned my walk home that night after the film's screening. And I thought to myself, if I succeed in becoming a better human being, I would forever be indebted to this movie. If not, to parrot Ebert, that shall be degree to which I have room to grow.
Tai yang wu zhi (2003)
Total eclipse of a possible masterpiece
One line in this meandering film struck a resonant chord.
If I didn't recall wrongly, its something about learning to forgive oneself for the lies one said. Guess I've told way too many lies in this life to have been struck so forcefully by words so sudden (words uttered from a clinically depressed film character no less)....
That said, I really really hated this film, for IMO, it had genuine potential to be a masterpiece. But ultimately, it failed utterly, painfully, miserably. Huge disappointment this was for me, on account of the fact that there were admittedly many parts which transcended this bad movie. But its failures (most glaringly the excessive piling of meta 101 onto the screen and the lack of intuitive editing vision), left so huge a gaping hole, there's no way the gaps could have been filled, no matter how forgiving I'm prepared to be.
This is the worst film I have seen this year. Or is this yet another lie? Hmm....
The warmth of a cigarette on a bleak cold morning.
Uzak illustrates the destructive impact a cauldron of ill feelings like loneliness, anger, guilt and despair can infect and imprison its sufferers. And intuitively, it suggests that when we feel down, more often than not, we'll drag others down with us too. The two male leads' artless yet affecting performances hence astounded me. They became the film's perfect instruments to play its piercing mournful tunes. This exquisite character thesis is one of the best cinematic depiction of male pattern depression I have ever seen.
Wisely, director Nuri Bilge Ceylan gave this pensive film the time and breathing space it needed. The sustained silence and intent focus on the facial and body language of the characters (example that "ending" on the bench), clearly demonstrated the assured confidence of the man behind the camera. It trusted the audience' ability to observe, to empathise, without the "shaping" intrusion of music. I so respond to that.
I have heard of people who compared Uzak with Lost in Translation. Intriguing comparison, for while Sophia Coppola attempted to flesh out her film's characters' internal struggles, she merely succeeded in further clouding them. My problem with the two main LIT characters is this; one character spoke too little and another, too much (and I shan't say which is which). I found their existence in that alien neon coloured universe very obtuse, and extremely distracting. Truth be told, Sophia may never know how to articulate that sense of internalized angst as lucidly as what Ceylan has accomplished with Uzak.
But thats just me.
Say Hi to E.T. for me, dear Aileen.
"Charlize" gave me a headache.
I think it might be due to my staring at the way she stared at peeps (with those eyes opened real wide). It was creepy. Compounding that, her non-stop yakking about police conspiracies and the lack of hair care products in state prisons also increased my churning paranoia. Is there no justice left for serial killing, lesbian serial murderers? Not even in the land of the free? Can't anyone see she did what she did out of self defense? When will Jeb be President?
All that said, I must say I admire Aileen's endurance. All those years bravely absorbing the police-booby-trapped radio waves from within her prison cell must have seriously damaged her hair (if not her brain). I hence convulsed in tears whenever I chanced upon her frequent combings throughout this movie. Combing unmanageable hair is the most tragic thing a woman can do....but I digressed.
If you asked me, I would say all these talks about Aileen being a crazy witch-rhyming person is sorely unfounded. In my book, a death-row serving, conspiracies-spouting, brain cells stir fried, and follicularly challenged woman, cannot be that insane. In my other book, a woman who espoused hopes of meeting Christ on a spaceship (don't ask) and who wished for an execution after years of pretending she's innocent, don't sound that crazy to me. So what's the point of the dubious film maker? To prove otherwise? Poor man. But nice try, very nice.
Aileen Wuornos was a woman who lived one life and destroyed many. What an extraordinary human being. I hence hope she'll find peace as she ascend to, in her own words, "that mothership in Independence Day". While she's up there, I hope she'll stare less often. Last but not least, I hope she will come back in her next life as a tapeworm. If she does, I will gladly host her.
Disclaimer: This post is written under the influence of radio waves transmitting from my laptop screen.
So what are we really searching for?
European films are more daring in challenging the "promised land".
Voyages presented a intriguingly woven tapestry, showcasing a cross section of the Jewish diaspora, most of them trying to come to terms with their holocaust-afflicted past.
Some were curious to see Auschwitz one last time (and wouldn't mind jumping onto a tour bus and heading down that same funereal path). Some were simply trying to find the loved ones they lost. The older ones shown varying degrees of accepting their painful experiences while the younger ones seemed forced by their elders to confront and perpetuate this seemingly irreconciliable history.
This film also obliterated the myth of the promised land. It shows a modern Israel where Yiddish is no longer a common language (as a result of mass immigration?) Most importantly, by focusing on elderly characters who have survived the traumas of WWII and endured a heavily "burdened" life, this film shed light on the differences in perspectives one may gain with age. Unlike high profile types like Natalie Portman, who reportedly declared she too would wanna move over to Israel as "a show of solidarity", the old woman in the end of this film just didn't see it that way. Without political intents, she just wanted to find a long lost cousin. That her fate in this "foreign" land turned out to be an uncertainty further punctuates the "point" of this film.
Voyages attempted to convey to us that there is no such thing as a "promised land". Most importantly, the Holocaust, however painful it had been, should be put behind us. Whatever short time we have left (or will have, depending on our age) might be better spent regaining or sustaining the love we have for those whom we really care for. However painful one's past might have been, one should best reconcile with such entangled chains and try to live the rest of one's life simply (without clinging onto too many "false" hopes - as the old woman in the last segment came to realize.)
While American Jews like Portman and Spielberg are politicising the grand aims of Israel or the intensive documentation of Holocaust survivors (both with questionable political agenda), this courageous film appealed for all to "let go" of their past wounds and present dogma and live the rest of our lives without baggages. Yesterday, you were sandwiched on a train to a concentration camp. Today, you took a tour bus down that same path for commemoration. Tomorrow, you may just be staring into a piece of wooden plywood, six feet under. Most important thing before tomorrow, is hence to just live for today.
This film exudes profound goodness. I love it.
The Village (2004)
How the breeze stirs the trees....
"They can smell you
You may run from sorrow as we have.
Sorrow will find you.
It can smell you."
(Below take contains spoilers and readers are advised to skip it before watching the movie)
If I'm to be geeky about it, The Village (which interestingly, has an idiot), is like a Dogville crossed with The Weather Underground. Its also spirited by the poignancy of Since Otar Left and the emotional abandonment of Magnolia. Bursting at the seams with Tarkovsky's aesthetics, the camera throughout assuredly pans and glides. It played on and danced on the wonders of lights. Particularly orgasmic to note, is the placement of people in most interior shots (the last scene comes to mind). Treating the actors like part of the art direction, these `organic props' helped immeasurably in articulating the symbolic gist of any scene with uncanny power.
In addition, there is a telling similarity between the character Lucius and Mr M Night - both exhibited quiet strength and admirable fearlessness. For under the hawk eyes of fanboys, he dared weave into the movie, a most familiar Hitchcockian device one that's reminiscent of `Psycho'. No, its not the plot twists in the end. It's the shifting of our focus from one obvious protagonist to another, midway through the film.
In so doing, M Night not only risked losing his audience, he managed a casting coup. He discovered and ambitiously set loose, a brilliant actress of equal parts translucent beauty and awe-inspiring emotional range. The sheer intensity of her presence burns up the screen. This character, Ivy Elizabeth Walker, exudes such Herzogian hallmarks like tenacity, passion, vulnerability and intuition, she singularly transcended The Village's Matrix-like illogic and its arguable plotting grumbles. Bryce Dallas Howard watch out for this name. For from forth the loins of her ugly father (Ron), a star is born. I so love her right now. Love her!!!!!!
I am trying to make sense of the critical carpet bombings so far. And I can only conclude that The Village may have indeed spit `critical' conventions in the face. Hidden beneathe its Hollywood trappings, I do opine that The Village embraced the elemental purity of love, hope and human desires. It also explored such grand issues as the nature of our humanity, the impact of societal conditioning and the shifting definition of evil and/or insanity.
Depending on the sides we take in the the film taste spectrum, I presume my aforesaid pontifications may have already caused some massive retchings, approving nods, or neither extremes. But if you ask me, it matters not. What's important is for most to understand (and hopefully respect), that our love or hate for The Village (as do all other films) are made with at least some personal basis.
So who am I kidding? Of all that's been said so far, and the many facets of this movie I may wanna touch on in future, I am first and foremost mesmerized by the power of love between Lucius and Ivy. `Sometimes, we don't do things we want to do, so that others won't know we wanna do them."
To the hopelessly romantic, the Village is a masterpiece. It is the most romantic film I have seen in recent memory. And if others cannot or don't wanna deal with that, its fine by me.
"Baby Sleep, gently sleep
Life is long and love is deep
Time will be sweet for thee
All the world to see
Time to look about and know
All the shadows come and go
How the breeze stirs the trees "
The Weather Underground (2002)
The calm after the storm, and the myriad lessons drawn.
A friend of mine wrote:
"I have a very sparse knowledge of (The Weather Underground's) particular historical context. My interest here is more in terms of how the film was put together, what the archival footage and interviews with former Weathermen members NOW reveals to us about their sentiments, their motivations, their actions."
My sentiments exactly. Like the above well put thought piece, I foresee others more eloquent than myself will lavish raves (or rants) on The Weather Underground. Love it or hate it, you decide. That said, I shall post here, my expanded take.
There is an incredibly balanced portrayal of these people in The Weather Underground. Though objectivity is arguably frown upon in documentaries, this film worked for me. For it allowed me to understand the information presented (Yes, I am just as ignorant about 60s/70s American history) and it helped me in making my own conclusion.
This documentary shed interesting light on its subjects. The Weathermen failed in their radical movement. However turbulent that time and place might have been, the corresponding violence initiated by this splinter group did not contribute as much to the winding down of the Vietnam War, as did the natural progression of other events. Ironically, the continual pacifistic action from "the rest" arguably effected more of a shift in that period's socio politics (albeit gradually) than these radicals could ever accomplish.
One telling line from Mark Rudd, one of the movement's members said:
"I cherished my hate as a badge of moral superiority"
Therein lies the danger.
When smart, idealistic (more often than not, good intentioned as well) individuals share this belief that they stand on a higher moral ground, that they have a greater, grander purpose in their "calling", they'd willingly go to any lengths in pursuit of their causes. As a result, as one other interviewee put it, extreme violent actions would be considered. Ordinary human lives would ultimately become dispensable. Ergo, the seeds for terrorism has been planted. Mass Murderers are borne out of this ideological conceit.
This cinematic thesis also suggested the generalised "hippie" movement of the 60's/ 70's slapped the faces of the Left real hard. It torn apart the fabric of the nation. Its unachieveable idealism when intermingled with the "violent" dynamics of that turbulent period (Vietnam, Drugs, Hedonism, Multiple Assassinations of Cult of Personalities, Watergate etc) brought about disenchantment and despair. As a result, the pendulum swung and many people ran towards the Right for comfort, denial, escapism and a combination of these mixed feelings.... It gave us Olivia Newton John, Rambo, Ronald Reagan and Jane Fonda - The 80's (yikes).
I am actually quite glad the film ended on an optimistic note. These arguably misguided Weathermen brought with them enormous personal baggages all these years. Yet throughout this film, they were candid about their ideology and reflective about their frailties. Contrary to our natural expectations, these "failures" did not become jaded human beings. They moved on from this checkered past. They continued living their lives. One of them even won Jeopardy (Don't ask).
All in, their humanity shone through.
The Weathermen fought Da Man, and lost. Their strategies might not have been better thought out. Their continuous radical activities might have played into the hands of sophisticated government spin doctors. They might have lost steam due to gradually realising their movement's futility. Yes, their follies were explored abundantly in this movie. But their thoughts and actions were guided by the confusion of those turbulent times (however ironic this last sentence might have sounded). All in, their hearts were in the right place.
On the other hand, if we look beyond the talking heads and read between the lines, we would realise that the questions raised in The Weather Underground are just as relevant today. About 50000 American Soldiers died in the Vietnam War, millions more Vietnamese perished. Who holds more destructive powers? The Weathermen or their "enemy"? Who then were the mass murderers? Look at Iraq today, Afghanistan the day before and Bosnia before that.
Who then are the mass murderers?
In closing, I guess all should know that History is written by the victors. This cinematic document about the "losers" is hence IMO, a most important piece of work. It demands a wider audience and need be accorded higher archival priority than something as insidiously engineered and time wasting as The Fog of War.
For we have much more to learn from this Oscar losing flick.
Depuis qu'Otar est parti... (2003)
A Tale of Three Women
I have always professed a weakness for films about fathers and sons, or more broadly, those which can make me weep. Since Otar Left did none of the above.
No matter, as the layers of truths revealed in Since Otar Left astounded me. For instance, this film understood middle-aged daughters. To a certain degree, they are jealous of the perceived greater affection their mothers have for sons. (I have seen such mindsets in my relations). This self-doubtful disgruntlement may not degrade their love, but it imprisons them all the same. Sadly, by the time a person (man or woman) reaches middle-age, a dogmatic mind invariably sets in. Reconciliation on above regretful things is hence, no longer an easy thing.
Swinging from the pivot of middle age lies two extremes of womanhood, youth and old age. Throughout, the grandmother displayed surprising power and tenacity. Her resolve to find her son and her acceptance of what she found, speaks volume about the steely strengths stored in those whom we'd often think too weak. The young granddaughter is idealistic, quiet but undeniably seething with latent anger. Blessed with uncanny intuition, she sees her spirits slowly sucked dry by the failure of the system and the heavy baggage of her family. Her ambitious decisiveness in breaking free from her chains, is symbolic and uplifting. It helped the film to end on a genuinely hopeful note.
On another level, there's a running theme in films I particularly respond to; the telling of "lies". "So what if we know (about the lies told)?" "So what if we don't know?" Goodbye Lenin attempted to essay this morality conundrum with a son hiding from his mother, the fall of a socio-political system. By shading its arguable propaganda with the sensitivity of familial love and stunning piety, that film dispensed a balmy mix of warmth and sincerity. Thus heartening tears were shed by this sentimental sod.
That said, it is now my opinion that the "tearless" Since Otar Left embraced so much more of above tricky theme. By film's end, it delivered something which only the greatest films do; invaluable human lessons. We may have been told lies or are guilty of telling them. But if we take the time to unravel the "truths" behind them, the lies may no longer matter. For sometimes, the purity of good intentions may suffice.
Hence IMO, to hail Since Otar Left as a life affirming masterpiece is highly justifiable. In a mere 100 odd minutes, it dethreaded the complex tapestry of the human heart and distilled life's essence into basic building blocks like trust, hope, kinship and unconditional love. It exudes goodness of heart and truthfulness of emotions. This effortlessly cathartic film shall receive the Sinnerman's stamp of approval till my saliva-laced ink run dry.
In closing, I think films like Since Otar Left cement my faith in a most purposeful of religions; cinema. For bit by bit, they shape my being and nourish my spiritual hunger. All in, they fuel my desire to chase for life's meanings. Hopefully, when this search is over, I will be found.
Ae Fond Kiss... (2004)
A measure of realness.
The Mother. I shall devote most of this post just talking about her.
Nondescript during her first few appearances, she fits the bill of a stereotypical Asian immigrant mom. And thats about it. But to assume just that will also mean that we have not seen enough Ken Loach movies. For it takes but one stolen moment of familial conflict for the woman to sense her troubled son's pain. And like balm over raw open wounds, she unleashes her outbursts of maternal affection. Its easy to understand why the son breaks down there and then. I would too. A mother's intuition is uncanny. To see it approximated so closely on screen, this movie demands my gratitude.
I love the other characters in this great film too - the father, the son's two very different sisters, his best friend and even the white "outsider" love interest. Each character is so well defined, their inter-relationship dynamics so genuine and heartfelt, they deserve my devoting paragraphs each respectively just to shower my compliments. But I shan't do that. I will only be repeating myself.
Hence, this much I shall say; there's something in a Ken Loach film which gets to me each and everytime - the characters. More specifically, I am floored by their measures of realness. They are individuals guided by distinct codes of conduct. Their values explain their actions and exposes their strengths and frailties. Ultimately, these "real" people earn my empathy. There are no saints or sinners in Ken Loach's film universe. Instead, I see human beings relating with each other simply, truly, sometimes madly, but always deeply.
Ae Fond Kiss is one of the best films of the year. Check it.
A Toxic Brew
For folks not familiar with the story of Macbeth (erm, me), this Bollywood adaptation most certainly make an interesting introduction. Questions abound for well-read folks or Shakespeare nuts; Was the film faithful to its source? Or was it bursting with invention? Is it just me or does anyone agree that the spiralling descent of this story gave off some pretty foul and nasty vibes?
Maqbool's eerie, unnerving, frustrating and extremely feel bad elements all seem to crescendo into an oppressing tumult of feelings. There's also a foreboding sense of omnipresent evil in this flick's universe. An evil which takes corporeal form (instigating bitches), or not (Maqbool's own weakness of mind). An evil which plants seeds of doubts in our main man, fans his darkest desires and ultimately, pushing him towards his inevitable fall from grace. Gosh, negative energies premeate every inch of this doom enshrouded yarn....its very suffocating.
That said, a well made film Maqbool is (or I would not feel the way I do now already).
A Rapturous Masterpiece!!!
On initial viewing, this biblically-revisionist flick is ludicrous and wickedly funny (sample here one of its many classic throwaway lines: "Deny all things electrical, for the devil can enter its filament..." Such zingers alone are worth the ticket price already.
But having seen this jangly quirk of a movie in its entirety, I can only express retrospective incredulity. Everything fell into place when the end came..... In fact, El Evangelio de las Maravillas boasts of one of the most unbelievable last scenes ever. With that scene, the entire film's focus was shifted onto one minor character. And in so doing, it took one of the most courageous stand on the issue of "faith" the world of cinema has ever attempted since Michael Tolkin's "The Rapture". The "message" was conveyed so forcefully, I burst out with a huge gasping WOW!!!
Yes, this divine work of art meditates on the synergistic meaning of faith, identity, fate and cinema (don't ask). And guess what, it completely obliterated them, re-org the pieces and presented thereafter, a whole new world of ideological possibilities. Its sentient vision and kaleidoscopic ideas were so dense and richly rewarding, it will surely take several repeated viewings to fully soak them in.
So hear me out, good people. Go hunt down and devour El Evangelio de las Maravillas. Be feverishly swept up by its ambitious reach. For this here is a rapturous feast for the willing (and dare I say, faithful). Let this film's astounding denouement awash you with a bliss most sublime.
And you heard it here first.....
Pather Panchali (1955)
A song for a long road ahead.
There is this one scene in Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali when the eruption of a conflict between Apu's family and a quarrelsome neighbour brought the film to a complete standstill (for me anyway). Those few characters' state of mind and their relationship dynamics at that point in time, was conveyed with such explosive intensity, I got gut punched drunk.
Pather Panchali boasts of suitably melodramatic yet highly intuitive performances. Its breath taking cinematography ranks alongside existential beauty this side of Malick heaven. The musical scoring, by the great Ravi Shankar, is identifiably Indian, yet universally sublime. Together, these myriad parts melded into a whole so grand in its social consciousness, so incisively intimate in its portrait of one family, I could do nothing but be slowly devoured like a most willing prey.
On 4th Oct 2003, I saw my all time favourite film, Tokyo Story. The feeling I got today from Pather Panchali, is as close as is possible from that fateful October day.
Pather Panchali is one of the best films I have ever seen. This will be a night to remember. Now on with the other two then.
About Infant Gymnastics....and then some.
Admittedly, I was hooked from start go by Werner Herzog's Stroszek. This film's weird and unpredictable rhythm intoxicated me. From its arresting images (reflections from a hanging glass bottle) to the hypnotic sounds (Chet Atkins' guitar strumming languidly along a highway), these cinematic hallmarks of the great Werner Herzog flooded Stroszek mysteriously, unobtrusively and most of all, very lovingly.
Strange enough, the kitschy surreality of this film's music (a good example will be that iced lake radar search sequence) reminds me strongly of those 70's Classic Taiwanese "Beach" Dramas. You know, the kind where a pair of arms-outstretched love birds would run in slomo towards each other via opposite ends of a sandy seashore? I know, the cultural reference may be lost to non-Chinese readers and I apologise. But yes, this flick stirs and stimulates my free associative imagination with wild and insane glee. I kid you not, people. I kid you not.
However, major credits need be given to the lucidity and forceful presence of one Bruno S.
Sample below quote.
The Bruno to Eva: "And now comes the question. All my friends waited for me, but this is my best friend....my "Black Friend"(a piano). What's going to happen to my friend when Bruno goes dead someday? Where are these things and these instruments going to end up? What's going to happen to them. Someone must answer this for me." (And then, they just stared at each other, throughout and after.....)
Above affecting sequence punctuated the bittersweet vulnerability of one Bruno S. As a simple, slightly challenged man-child, Bruno had very limited human relationships all his life. As such, he guilelessly transfers his genuine feelings onto "placebo" objects. But despite of his checkered past (years of physical abuse and institutional upbringing), this socially inadequate man ably exudes generosity, kindness and unguarded honesty. Given half a chance, he will just as likely shower his unconditional love onto those whom he cares for, namely Eva. (As was shown in one scene set to the haunting tinkles of Moonlight Sonata). All in, Bruno is thus an exceptionally good man. But will there yet be more to this Bruno than meet the eyes? I dunno....
Throughout this film, I am captivated by Bruno's earnest glow; so refreshingly tender and devoid of artifice. In reaction to his search for meaning in life, love and other myriad mysteries (like "birds confiscators" or "speed-talking" men - don't ask.), Bruno's expressive face never lies. I felt immensely privileged to share in his bliss (or despair) at any given points in time. This fascinating creature tugged at my strings more often in this movie than the combined twitches of so many affected actors out there. I friggin' love this charming dude and hence, I cannot help but root for the guy. You go, Bruno!
Like the best of Herzog's works, Stroszek boasts of many scratch head-worthy moments. (Especially considering my having seen the Enigma of "Heart of Glass".) But these pecularities only serve to propel my viewing experience into mystical realms. For buried within its seemingly artful surfaces, lies aching balms of "cinematic capsules". They will randomly burst and engulf the inclined and willing. They will seep into one's consciousness and never let you go. I hence don't think I can ever erase the wonderous memories of those stolen moments already, from "Peddling Sabine" to "Infant Gymnastics", from "Not 4, but 5" to "$32". Most infamously, how can I not mention that "Dancing Chicken"? Brilliant!
At this point, I will like to urge all to venture forth into Herzog's film universe. For if you're willing, or foolhardy enough to take that plunge, you may yet discover a film like Stroszek to be ceaselessly beautiful and effortlessly moving.