Archive for May, 2010



**** ½


By Bob Clark


When you get right down to it, good episodic-drama has very little to do with storytelling as an ends to itself. The best long-form multi-part narratives all certainly manage to tell satisfying tales with their own beginnings, middles and ends, surely enough, but simply telling those tales is never really the raison d’artre for the most compelling case histories of the medium. Episodic narrative has less to do with traditional storytelling, and more to do with providing variations on a theme, and the best examples tend to be the ones which provide the widest possible array of different variations on their particular premise while also wrapping them up in some kind of emotionally rewarding framework. Whether it be Boccaccio and Chaucer (who provided countless variations upon the themes of medieval, baudy love within the storytelling frame-tales of The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales), filmmaker George Lucas (whose repetition of visuals, dialogue and set-pieces throughout the Star Wars series turned those films into a space-opera full of its own cinematic leit-motifs) or cartoonist Chuck Jones (who provided Wile E. Coyote countless of Rube Goldberg-esque methods for how not to catch a Road Runner) storytellers depend upon patterns and variation to keep their enterprises fresh and engaging.



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by Allan Fish

(Denmark/France 2009 104m) DVD1/2

Paradise nuked

p  Meta Louise Foldager  d/w  Lars Von Trier  ph  Anthony Dod Mantle  ed  Anders Refn  art  Karl Juliusson

Willem Dafoe (husband), Charlotte Gainsbourg (wife),

Aside from the mild divertissement of The Boss of It All, Lars Von Trier had been quiet since Manderlay.  The criticism he received for that film, verging on savage vitriol, cannot help but have contributed to the depression into which he sank.  Antichrist is a return to the no-holds-barred filmmaking of Breaking the Waves and The Idiots, films to tear audiences in half and split critics so cleanly down the middle as to seem like Toshiro Mifune had sliced them asunder with his katana.  One look at the poster, at the opening credits, fills one with foreboding.  Some might compare it to The Blair Witch Project and there are similarities, but it’s the structure of the final ‘T’ in the title that illuminates most, formed as it is by an Egyptian ankh; life and death instantly seen to be in the balance.

            A married couple are plunged into despair when, whilst they make love, their small son is killed when he plummets to his death climbing guilelessly out of a window.  The husband comes to terms with it in time, helped by rationalising the event through his being a trained therapist, but his wife winds up spending over a month in hospital.  They return home, but quickly decide to go to a woodland shack which they call Eden and to which the wife had gone with their son the previous summer with the intent of finally finishing a thesis that in the end remained unfinished.  Once there, the husband tries to help his wife, but she quickly descends into alarming madness and sheer sadism.  (more…)

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    This week’s Monday Morning Diary will become the Tuesday Morning Diary, as per usual practice when we have a three-day ‘holiday’ weekend stateside.  While a number of folks head down the shore, others opt to barbeque at home for the Memorial Day breather, while still others (like Yours Truly) will be taking the family into Manhattan on Sunday.  In any case, it always seems appropriate to count Monday as part of the weekend, with Tuesday the proper time to unwind and “come clean.”  Best Wishes to all for a wonderful time today and tomorrow, and for those living in the U.K., Ireland, India and Australia, please permit this indulgence.  Obviously then, the date for this week’s Tuesday Morning Diary will be June 1.

     The new ‘Guess the Pic’ (below) looks like a humdinger!

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Guess the Pic

From Mr Lyre: “Look, a black cat!”

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by Allan Fish

(France 2002 90m) DVD1/2

Aka. Friday Night

At times like this we need to be charitable

p  Bruno Pesery  d  Claire Denis  w  Emmanuele Bernheim, Claire Denis  novel  Emmanuele Bernheim  ph  Agnes Godard  ed  Nelly Quettier  m  Dickon Hinchliffe  art  Katia Wyszkop 

Valerie Lemercier (Laure), Vincent Lindon (Jean),

To those au fait with the oeuvre of Claire Denis, they may have turned to the directors list at the back and be amazed that there was only one of her films listed in the main body of this book.  And perhaps they would be even more amazed at the film chosen.  To them, it would be like only including one Hitchcock and including Marnie, a perfectly satisfactory work but by no means one of the master’s touchstones.  Where is Beau Travail, where is The Intruder, where is 35 Shots of Rum?  The truth is that, though they’re admirable enough in their way, they leave me cold.  I know I’m in the minority, but Denis too often leaves me cold.  Maybe that’s why I like Vendredi Soir; it’s anything but cold.  It’s a slow burner, like one of those old Calor Gas heaters.  It takes its time, but then out of nothing you realise you’ve stopped shivering.

            It’s a cold night in Paris and Laure is getting ready to leave her apartment for the final time after packing everything up prior to moving in with her partner, François.  She gets into her car and begins the journey, but a public transport strike is playing havoc on the roads and the traffic jam goes into gridlock.  Rain is in the air, it’s chilly outside, and stationery cars offer their doors to pedestrians wandering around outside.  Reticent at first, Laure opens her doors to a forty-something man called Jean, and they drive along at a funereal pace gradually becoming more relaxed in each other’s company.  (more…)

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By Marc Bauer

The greatest beauty in filmmaking also happens to be one of its most terrible tragedies. Outside of the world of serial films, movies exist in a universe created entirely unto themselves. When you watch a film, you are glimpsing a window into a world created solely for that film. In many instances, the films exist in the same world we are a living; but the films that soar and take us away, those are films that are created so thoroughly that we are totally enveloped in the universe in which they exist. The nuances of the world, the subtleties that make it different from what we are familiar with, are what make it truly magical. It is sad that we only get a visa to these worlds of wonder for a few hours, and then they are gone.  What did the camera leave unanswered? What was down that alleyway there? These worlds are so rich and inviting, you want more time to explore.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet doesn’t work like most directors. He has created a contextual fabric from which he wends all his tales. There is something in his mise-en-scene that he carries between his films. (Let us discount Alien Resurrection from the oeuvre I’m discussing, as he was only the director here.) From film to film, there is certainly an air that carries about. If Amelie were to walk past Clapet’s Butcher Shop, you would not bat an eye; if One and Crank were to appear in Micmacs, again it would seem totally on the level. Is returning to the well a good or a bad thing? In the case of Jeunet, and his newest, Micmacs a Tire Larigot, it is entirely welcome. (more…)

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10 (no 52)

by Allan Fish

(Iran 2002 93m) DVD1/2

Dashboard drama

p  Abbas Kiarostami  d/w  Abbas Kiarostami  ph  Abbas Kiarostami  ed  Vahid Gazi, Abbas Kiarostami, Bahman Kiarostami  m  Howard Blake

Mania Akbari (driver), Amin Maher (Amin), Roya Arabshahi, Katayoun Taleidzadeh, Amene Moradi, Mandana Sharbaf, Kamran Idi,

2002 saw two incredible experiments in cinematic form.  The first, Sokurov’s Russian Ark, took it to one extreme by recording the entire film onto hard disk in one unbroken take through the halls and corridors of St Petersburg’s Hermitage museum.  The other could not have been more different while at the same time so much a kindred spirit film, for both reduced cinematic minimalism to an extreme.  10 was hardly Abbas Kiarostami’s first experiment on those lines, as his earlier works Close Up, The Wind Will Carry Us and A Taste of Cherry were minimalist in themselves, but compared to 10 they are like the cinema of John Woo.  The 10 in the title refers to the number of journeys made by a young female taxi driver in present day Tehran over a two day period.  That in itself would be minimalist enough, one might think, were it not for the fact that the entire film was shot from two dashboard video cameras looking at the driver and passenger seat, fixed completely on them, aside from one brief shot facing frontwards. 

            The famous critic Roger Ebert said of Kiarostami’s work that “no ordinary moviegoer, whether Iranian or American, can be expected to relate to his films.  They exist for film festivals, film critics and film classes.”  On one level I can see where he’s coming from, but frankly that statement is insultingly dismissive.  While I agree that Kiarostami took it one step too far in his next film, Five, which I found about as entertaining as watching the polar ice caps melt, 10 is about something and, in its way, is riveting cinema.  Furthermore, Mr Ebert’s comment shows a certain self-righteousness and presumption that cannot be healthy.  How can any western commentator know what an Iranian audience can get from a film, or indeed any audience but his own, the popcorn crunching masses of the heart of America? (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 2004 80m) DVD1/2

Strangers in the night part deux

p  Anne Walker McBay  d  Richard Linklater  w  Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke  ph  Lee Daniel  ed  Sandra Adair  m  Julie Delpy, Nina Simone, Glover Gill  art  Baptiste Glaymann

Ethan Hawke (Jesse), Julie Delpy (Céline), Vernon Dobtcheff (publisher agent),

When I first saw Before Sunrise, Richard Linklater’s dreamy romance centring round a chance encounter in Vienna, I was the same age as the protagonists.  Jesse was the American guy bumming around Europe on a discount rail card and Céline was a Sorbonne student returning from Hungary to Paris after visiting family.  It would have been easy to fall for the finger-of-fate-twisting schematics of Linklater’s film, its inherent simplicity and its charming leads.  A film based on the notion of seizing the night, as it were, and letting tomorrow worry for itself.  It didn’t make me fall for it, however. 

            We last saw the couple standing on a platform in Vienna saying goodbye and promising to meet up in six months.  We knew they wouldn’t, or rather I assumed they wouldn’t, and in many ways there lay the problem that was, if not rectified, then at least explained by the opening sequence of the sequel.  Jesse has published a story based on that night, a fictionalised personal account, and he’s asked at a gathering whether the characters met up six months down the line.  Jesse merely replies that it depends on whether you’re a romantic or a cynic, and that was my problem in 1995, I was already somewhat cynical and the romanticism seemed somewhat precious.  Nine years on I found myself able to relate a whole lot more because cynicism gnaws at you like piranhas on a corpse.  Being cynical in your early twenties is hip, but in one’s thirties fills you with regret so your cynicism catches up with you and makes you wish for something to be hopeful about.  You find yourself longing for lost opportunities and, as such, Céline and Jesse’s fears and vanquished dreams seemed all the more real. (more…)

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by Phillip Johnston

This past Sunday, Lost ended.  If that means something to you, you may be happy to be reading about the show on a website dedicated to the very best of film and (sometimes) television; if it doesn’t mean something to you, you may be tempted to skip over this post.

I would ask you not to, for in evaluating this massive piece of storytelling that has unfolded on American TV screens in the last six years, there is a job to be done – a job I can only but begin in a short, accessible post and will try to do with a minimal amount of spoilers.  It is the magnanimous task of separating myth from character, a job accomplished to near perfection by the creative team behind Lost, but perhaps not so well by a few viewers and devotees.

When Oceanic Flight 815 crashed on a mysterious island back in 2004, viewers and castaways alike were confronted with an inexplicable place that held more than a few impenetrable mysteries.  There were polar bears on the island, a strange underground hatch, an ancient Egyptian statue with only four toes, and, most terrifying of all, a monster made of black smoke. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 2008 114m) DVD1/2

Aka. Aruitemo, Aruitemo

The name of that sumo wrestler

p  Yoshihiro Kato, Satoshi Kono, Hijiri Taguchi, Masahiro Yasuda  d/w/story  Hirokazu Kore-Eda  ph  Yutaka Yamazaki  ed  Horokazu Kore-Eda  m  Gonchichi  art  Toshihiro Isomi, Keiko Mitsumatsu

You (Chinami Kataoka), Hiroshi Abe (Ryota Yokayama), Yoshio Harada (Kyohei Yokoyama), Ryoga Hayashi (Mutsu Kataoka), Kirin Kiki (Toshiko Yokoyama), Yui Natsukawa (Yukari Yokoyama), Haruko Kato,

In an age of excess, none more so than in his native Japan, Hirokazu Kore-Eda is rather an enigma, one might even go so far as to call him an anachronism.  He’s seemingly the sole torch-bearer for the form of cinema favoured by the masterful minimalists of the old days, Ozu, and Shimizu.  His films are leisurely, sedate, compassionate, and centre around families, indeed relationships in general, and epitomise the very term humanist.  It’s over 40 years since Ozu’s passing, and though the Japanese new wave yielded masters a-plenty (Oshima, Imamura, Teshigahara, Kobayashi, Shindo, Masumura and Hani to name but seven revolutionary samurai), Kore-Eda is the one link back to the past, and if ever a film epitomised that, it’s Still Walking.

            A middle-aged brother and sister are returning separately with their respective families to the coastal town of their birth to visit their parents to commemorate the latest anniversary of a family tragedy, when their elder brother died as a child in rescuing another boy from drowning.  The surviving brother, Ryota, rather than be cherished all the more by his parents after his brother’s death, has never lived up to their expectations, while his sister, Chinami, seems oblivious to the central conflicts, only being really interested in her own husband and life.  When she goes early, Ryota and his wife and child stay the night as agreed, but while Ryota’s mother welcomes them, his father, Kyohei, a retired doctor, is as frosty as ever. (more…)

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