Archive for April, 2010

by Allan Fish

(Japan 2001 89m) DVD1/2

Aka. Bizita Q

Anyone got any vinegar?

p  Susumo Nakajima, Reiko Arakawa, Seiichiro Kobayashi  d  Takashi Miike  w  Itaru Era  ph  Hideo Yamamoto  ed  Yasushi Shimamura  m  Koji Endo

Shungiko Uchida (Keiko Yamazaki), Kenichi Endo (Kiyoshi Yamazaki), Kazushi Watanabe (visitor), Fujiko (Miki Yamazaki), Shoko Nakahara (Asako Murata), Jun Moto (Takuya Yamazaki), Ikko Suzuki (Sasaoka),

Let’s not mince words here, this is a film to truly appal just about any denomination, race, creed or age.  It is sick, disturbing, twisted, and any other adjectives you care to pluck from a handy thesaurus.  It is also the most devastating attack on contemporary society and morality that has been offered and, in future years, may come to be seen as not only Miike’s finest film, but also a surreal masterwork of 21st century cinema. 

            It centres around the middle-class and seriously dysfunctional Yamazaki family, headed by Kiyoshi, who is in the process of making a documentary on the violent and sexual urges of the youth of today.  In one of his undercover visits to a brothel, he finds his daughter there, who proceeds to seduce him.  Soon after, he is hit over the head with a brick for no apparent reason by a youth who is then invited back to Kiyoshi’s house.  Here his son Takuya takes out his frustration at being horrifically bullied at school by beating up his own mother, who in turn takes to prostituting herself.  The visitor gives each family member in turn a life lesson that will change their lives forever. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 2008 152m) DVD1/2

The agent of chaos

p  Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas  d  Christopher Nolan  w  Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan  ph  Wally Pfister  ed  Lee Smith  m  James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer  art  Nathan Crowley  cos  Lindy Hemming

Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Heath Ledger (The Joker), Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent/Two-Face), Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachel Dawes), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Cillian Murphy (The Scarecrow), Gary Oldman (Lt.James Gordon), Eric Roberts (Salvatore Maroni),

In 2005 Christopher Nolan raised the bar of superhero movies.  His Batman Begins was, by some distance, the best superhero movie yet made.  You can take all your Spider-Man movies and those execrable Superman movies with poor Christopher Reeve suffering beyond the call of duty and flush them down the khasi in comparison.  What I didn’t expect to be saying a mere 36 months down the line was that another film, its sequel no less, does to Batman Begins what that film did all its predecessors.  It rewrote the rule book, which is all the more ironic when one considers the caped crusader’s chief nemesis in the film is his most famous adversary, the one who doesn’t play by any form of rules.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 2009 78m) DVD1/2

Chelsea Girl

p  Mark Cuban, Todd Wagner, Gregory Jacobs  d  Steven Soderbergh  w  David Levien, Brian Koppelmann  ph/ed  Steven Soderbergh  m  Ross Godfrey  art  Carlos Moore

Sasha Grey (Christine/Chelsea), Chris Santos (Chris),

In between his mainstream efforts, as a way of cleansing himself from the popularity of the God-awful Ocean’s series, Steven Soderbergh likes to take an experimental turn (see the excruciating Schizopolis and Full Frontal).  For this effort, he was casting in the lead not only a porn star but a porn star to whom, as literally minutes of browsing on wikipedia can uphold, nothing is taboo.  It made me think of the attempts of other porn stars to make it in the mainstream – of Traci Lords, the late Marilyn Chambers – and of Billie Piper.  Yes, dear Billie, who after being left in Bad Wolf Bay by the 10th Timelord shed the family image to play Belle de Jour, a real-life call girl, in the truly awful The Secret Diary of a Call Girl.  Billie was game, and it was a sure bet that Sasha would be gamer, but those who knew Soderbergh’s oeuvre would know that any sex in his films is always inexplicit, and he makes this no different, with nudity so minimal that Billie outdid Sasha.  (Grey and Soderbergh both knew if you want to see Sasha fucked, you know where to look.) (more…)

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© 2010 by James Clark

There is a shocking moment, near the beginning of Il Grido (1957), which, like a lightning storm, briefly clears the air and allows a promising foothold for proceeding through its pervasive cloud. “Aldo” has been informed by “Irma” that, “One of us has drifted apart…I love you still, but not like before…Everything was fine until a few months ago.” (And, conversely, “It’s been coming for a long time.”) He finds this to be a monstrous reversal, coming from a woman he has lived with for seven years, during which they have had a daughter and awaited compliance from her husband living in Australia, and only now unobstructive due to having suddenly died. After a talk with his mother—“People have always gossiped…A pretty woman is one thing, a bad woman something else”—he confronts her on a street in their Po Valley town and slaps her face repeatedly while a crowd gathers. “And now come home!” he growls. “Now, Aldo, it’s really finished!” (more…)

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Uzak (no 88)

by Allan Fish

(Turkey 2002 110m) DVD1/2

Aka. Distant

Snow on the Bosphorus

p  Nuri Bilge Ceylan  d/w  Nuri Bilge Ceylan  ph  Nuri Bilge Ceylan  ed  Eyhan Ergürsel  art  Ebru Yapici

Muzaffer Ozdemir (Mahmut), Emin Toprak (Yusuf), Zuhal Gencer Erkaya (Nazan), Nazan Kirilmis (lover), Feridun Koc (janitor), Fatma Ceylan (mother),

It had been twenty years since Yilmaz Güney’s Yol.  Two decades in the wilderness for Turkish cinema, at least through the eyes of the west.  There were rumours of greatness in the seventies, not just from Güney but from Ertem Egilmez’s Hababam Sinifi, Kartal Tibet’s Tosin Pasa and Zeki Okten’s The Herd.  But who could see them now?  Out of that western indifference came the reaction to Ceylan’s film at Cannes in 2003.  He was a new name, but those in the know recognised his cinema. 

            It’s winter in Istanbul where we find Mahmut, a solitary, fussy middle-aged man, working as a freelance photographer.  Into his world he gets a visitor, Yusuf, his younger cousin, from his old home town, who has come here to find work after the local business that employed over a thousand locals shut down due to a financial recession.  He expects to only be there a week, but he ends up staying much longer, much to the chagrin of his host.  Reluctantly, however, he agrees to let Yusuf come with him on a work trip, photographing the exteriors and interiors of mosques. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Thailand 2002 122m) DVD1/2

Aka. Sud sanaeha

Search for a health certificate

p  Charles de Meaux, Eric Chan  d/w  Apichatpong Weerasethakul  ph  Sayombhu Mukdeeprom  ed  Lee Chatametikool  art  Akekarat Homlaor

Kanokporn Tongaram (Roong), Min Oo (Min), Jenjira Jansuda (Orn), Kanitpat Kremkij, Jaruwan Techastiern, Sa-gnad Chaiyapan,

Think of Thailand on the screen and what does the average person think of?  Old Siam, with Yul Brynner meditating aloud on ‘A Puzzlement’?  Leo DiCaprio miscast in one of Danny Boyle’s low-spots?  Nicole Kidman languishing in the Bangkok Hilton?  Or of what have become demoralising clichés in the western subconscious, of naughty Bangkok whose very name seems to speak of sex, and of dangerous Chaing-Mai, and endless pale beaches stretching off into the horizon.  Out of this comes Apichatpong Weerasethakul, with a name as long as his films (he’s known as Joe to his friends).  He’s a meditative, transcendent film-maker in the Buddhist sense of the world.  In his films, many will be bored, others, if I might borrow Yul Brynner’s phrase, deep in puzzlement.  Yet they are unique and, if nothing else, indicative of a forthright cinematic voice that may drag his nation’s film industry to the level which the Korean cinema now currently holds in the western consciousness.

            Blissfully Yours, whose very title seems to evoke paradise, is essentially set around just three people.  Min is a quiet, almost childish, verging on the self-absorbed, young man who has the left the political turbulence of Burma behind to find work in Thailand but is unable to get the necessary health certificate to stay there.  He’s handicapped a bit by a strange, unnamed rash-like skin problem.  Roong is a young factory worker who Min takes out for a picnic to get away from the blues of her time and motion sweathouse existence and is trying to get him a health certificate.  To this end, she enlists the help of Orn, a middle-aged woman, grieved by the loss of her child, who, unable to persuade her husband to have another child, is sleeping around with a man from her husband’s office.  One afternoon, in the middle of illicit sex with said lover, Orn finds herself in the locale or Roong and Min out on their picnic, and their paradise is interrupted. (more…)

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Standing – Robert Mulligan, William Wyler, George Cukor, Robert Wise, Jean-Claude Carrière and Serge Silverman.   Sitting – Billy Wilder, George Stevens, Luis Buñuel, Alfred Hitchcock and Rouben Mamoulian. (Photo from 1972, posted at John Greco’s blogsite Watching Shadows on the Wall.)

Note:  This is the second entry in an ongoing series of bloggers who have really made a difference, raising the bar for quality and productivity on the cultural front.

by Sam Juliano

     Everyone has their own special niche.  Floridian John Greco, who lived most of his life in and around New York City has amassed an enviable collection of photographs of yesteryear, when movies premiered in red-carpeted palaces, and with it an incredible memory of the times he was an active participant during cultural upheaval.  At his two blogsites, the widely popular Twenty Four Frames and the newer Watching Shadows on the Wall, Greco has made film history a central focus, unearthing rare photographs (like the priceless one that heads this piece) across the entire cultural spectrum, and covering films that were released in the 60’s and 70’s, but never caught on with the public.  An avid movie goer since the late 60’s, Greco continues to this very day to maintain a torrid pace at theatres for the current fare, while negotiating the DVD front for a continuing examination of classic cinema.

     While Greco makes no secret that his favorite genre is “film noir” and has reviewed virtually every major entry at Twenty Four Frames, he is still as diversified as any blogger-critic out there, and his background in film is extraordinarily comprehensive.  A patron of the old Video Shack and RKO Video Store on 49th Street in Manhattan, where all the action was from the mid 7o’s well in the 80’s, Greco has admitted he dropped more money than he’d like to remember in those days when Betamax tapes had better quality than their VHS counterparts, while simultaneously collecting music CDs during the glory days of rock. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Taiwan/Malaysia 2006 115m) DVD1/2

Aka. Hei yan quan

Have mattress will travel

p  Bruno Pésery, Vincent Wang  d/w  Tsai Ming-Liang  ph  Liao Pen-Jung, Tsai Ming-Liang  ed  Chen Sheng-Chang  art  Lee Tian Jue, Gan Siong-King

Lee Kang-Sheng (Kang-Shiao/man in coma), Chen Shiang-Chyi (Chyi, the waitress), Norman Atun (Rawang), Chua Pearlly (waitress’ boss), Liew Lee-Lin (tea maker), Leonard Tee (light seller), Chan Rong-Sin (estate agent),

I have a problem with Tsai Ming-Liang.  Not personally, I’m sure he’s a very personable and engaging fellow.  No, it’s with his cinema.  I know I’m not alone here, but nor will be anyone who rises on their haunches to denounce me as a philistine.  Don’t get me wrong, those people who decry that his films are boring are missing the point entirely.  Yet, though his films are never tedious, sometimes the point of them is somewhat murky and, if the plots are never the point as much as mood and character, placement and lighting composition, they can be impenetrable beasts.  He’s a modern brand of director, beloved by the intelligentsia for those very qualities and he’s not alone; one can easily add the likes of Claire Denis and Apichatpong Weerasethakul to that list.  Both of those directors are represented by a single film in the list, so it’s only fair Tsai gets his moment in the sun, and as with the other two, the choice may not be the first that would come to the minds of his followers.  No The River, no Goodbye Dragon Inn, no Vive l’Amour, no What Time is it There?, no The Wayward Cloud with its watermelon excess, all essential viewing for fans, but films that left me unmoved.  I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone does move you, while leaving you wondering about the enigma that lies at the heart of its plot.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 2001 83m) DVD1/2

Aka. Brève traversée

No double beds

p  Jean-Pierre Guérin  d/w  Catherine Breillat  ph  Eric Gautier  ed  Pascale Chavance  m  Patrick Chevalier, Marc Filipi, D’Julz  art  Frédérique Belvaux

Sarah Pratt (Alice), Gilles Guillain (Thomas),

It’s a scene familiar to thousands of schoolchildren on trips with their teachers, the overnight channel ferry back to Blighty.  It may be from the Oostende, Zeebrugge, Dieppe, Calais or wherever, but it’s a place filled with a mixture of melancholy over a trip now finished and of liberation, for what teen doesn’t want to enjoy himself on his or her last night of freedom? 

            So here we have the premise, a return home on a trusty P&O from France to Portsmouth one unsettled night.  There are two central protagonists; one, Thomas, is a 16 year old still carrying the passport he had as a kid and making his way to England, the other, Alice, is a thirty-something English photographer returning home it seems after an escape from an eight year old marriage.  Both are lonely, both killing time before they disembark the following morning.  They meet in the café on board and end up occupying the same table.  There they talk, take a detour in the duty free shop, then make their way to their respective cabins to change for the night and they head off to the bar.  After a couple of neat brandies, the reticent Alice opens up and Thomas tries to play it cool, but it’s apparent he fancies his older companion and desires awaken which, after a brief tiff, result in retiring to her cabin to have sex.  (more…)

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                   Keir Dullea, Matt Servitto, and Marsha Mason<br> in <i>I Never Sang for My Father</i><br> (© Suzi Sadler)

                        Keir Dullea, Matt Savitto and Marsha Mason

by Sam Juliano

      When the film version of Robert Anderson’s stage play I Never Sang For My Father opened in the first year of the seventies, the response was muted but respectful.  The Broadway show’s director Gilbert Cates, was on board to helm the screen version, and he was seen by many as an unimaginative and cautious director who would do little to open up the claustrophobic confines of the material.  As it turned out Cates didn’t demonstrate any particular cinematic propensity, despite the advantage of film in utilizing exteriors and drmatic flashbacks, but his two lead actors were so electrifying, that today this film has built a rather impassioned and deserved cult reputation, despite studio indifference that has blocked a legitimate American DVD release.  An excellent widescreen German print, however, with the title Kein Lied Fur Meinen Vater, has been mastered in region 2 and is presently available.  But what Melvyn Douglas and Gene Hackman did (Pauline Kael said at the time they fueled ‘bargain basement dramatury to suprisingly powerful effect) to peel away the surfaces of their troubled characters was setting the bar too high for subsequent stage productions, where that level of artistry could never be even approached, much less equaled. (more…)

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