June 29, 2007

Kill Me Again (Dahl, 1988)

The first film in Dahl's loose trilogy of modern noir, Kill Me Again is minor noir to be sure, but it is far more intelligent than it might initially seem, predominantly due to Dahl's acute awareness and playful manipulation of noir conventions. It is quite obvious that Dahl has a love for the genre, and though the plot is nothing new, at times quite threadbare, the enjoyably absurd internal logic and lack of pretension are quite refreshing. The cast is uniformly game, with an able Kilmer as the put-upon private eye, but it is Whalley (then Whalley-Kilmer) who steals the show as the hard-boiled femme fatale. Further evidence that the Midwestern United States is aptly suited to film noir.

June 28, 2007

Wes Anderson's "The Darjeeling Limited" To Open 45th New York Film Festival

The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced today an interesting quartet of films that will be playing at this years New York Film Festival. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Wes Anderson's latest comedy The Darjeeling Limited will open the 45th NYFF. I have attended the festival for the past three years, and unlike many festivals, which tend to open with good albeit less challenging films, the NYFF always seems to reserve the opening-night slot for something special. Previous opening-night films at the fest include Mystic River, Good Night, and Good Luck, and most recently The Queen. Commenting on Anderson's film, Richard Pena, president of the NYFF selection committee said, "It represents a big step for Wes. I hate to use the word 'matured,' but the humor and whimsy he uses is sharper, better focused and used more effectively."

The selection committee also announced that Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men, a sensation at this years Cannes Film Festival, will be the festival's Centerpiece film, and that Cannes Palme D'Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, and Secret Sunshine (winner of the best actress award at Cannes) will also be featured. The full lineup will be announced in early August, and the festival will run from Sept. 28 to Oct. 14.

Shinoda's "Silence" On DVD

Masahiro Shinoda's 1971 film Silence is coming to DVD on the Masters of Cinema label, the British equivalent of the Criterion Collection. No definitive release date has been set, but it is slated for 2007. This is incredible news for me, as I have been seeking out this film for some time now. There is a Japanese DVD available, but with the Masters of Cinema DVD we can expect a pristine audio/visual presentation and a wealth of supplemental material. For those of you unfamiliar with the film, it is about two 17th century Portuguese missionaries who travel to Japan and witness the widespread persecution Christianity. Silence was nominated for the Palm D'Or at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival. Shinoda's body of work includes some real masterpieces (Assassination, Double Suicide, Under The Blossoming Cherry Trees), and he is deserving of far more recognition than he is given. Yet, like many Japanese New Wave filmmakers, his films are sorely underrepresented on DVD in the West, so any opportunity to catch one of his films should be taken advantage of. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, this is another great reason to invest in a region free DVD player.

Interestingly, Martin Scorsese has long expressed a desire to do a film based on the Shusaku Endo novel that also served as the basis for Shinoda's film. He has written an adaptation with Gangs of New York scribe Jay Cocks, and as of now, the film is set to go into production sometime in 2008. At the very least, if Scorsese's film ever gets off the ground, hopefully it will engender more interest in this film. And it will certainly be interesting to see how different Scorsese's take on the material will be.

Silence (Chinmoku) @ IMDb
Masters of Cinema Series Website
Silence (1966 novel by Shusaku Endo) @ Wikipedia

Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" Trailer In HD

The cinema of David Cronenberg has always fascinated me. There is a boldness and a wholly anomalous sensibility to his films that continues to strike a chord with me. The trailer for his latest film, Eastern Promises, has just recently been released, and again, I am fascinated.

According to IMDb, the film "follows the mysterious and ruthless Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), who is tied to one of London's most notorious organized crime families. His carefully maintained existence is jarred when he crosses paths with Anna (Naomi Watts), an innocent midwife trying to right a wrong, who accidentally uncovers potential evidence against the family. Now Nikolai must put into motion a harrowing chain of murder, deceit, and retribution."

From the looks of it, Cronenberg has once again abandoned the overt, visceral surrealism of his earlier forays into "body horror" in favor of a more psychological, realistic approach. This, along with the return of Mortensen, lends to the feeling that Eastern Promises will be an interesting companion piece to A History of Violence.

High Definition Trailer @ Yahoo! (Quicktime)

June 27, 2007

Local Hero (Forsyth, 1983)

Forsyth’s film is an unassuming, heartwarming treasure possessed with a certain indescribable, intangible, though unquestionably palpable magic that radiates from every single frame. Forsyth demonstrates skillful restraint in his handling of the material, which never lapses into overt sentimentality and never falls victim to its own quirkiness, and the film is a joy precisely because of Forsyth's ability to capture the subtle, introspective rhythms of life that so few films capture. IMDb listing. Expanded thoughts coming soon...

June 26, 2007

The Ten Best Films Of 2005

1.   Café Lumière (Hsiao-hsien Hou, Japan/Taiwan)
2.   Caché (Michael Haneke, France/Austria/Germany/Italy)
3.   The New World (Terrence Malick, United States)
4.   The Intruder (Claire Denis, France)
5.   Tony Takitani (Jun Ichikawa, Japan)
6.   Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand, France, Germany, Italy)
7.   Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Koreeda, Japan)
8.   A History Of Violence (David Cronenberg, Germany/United States)
9.   Last Days (Gus Van Sant, United States)
10. Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, United States, France)

*list based on U.S. theatrical release date

June 21, 2007

First Trailer For "Margot At The Wedding"

My introduction to Noah Baumbach's directorial work came at the 2005 New York Film Festival, where his film The Squid and the Whale became not only one of my favorite films at the festival, but also one of my favorite films of that year. I have been anticipating his follow up ever since, and today Moviefone has posted the exclusive first look at his next film, Margot at the Wedding. The cast is quite interesting, with Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, an unusually restrained Jack Black, and John Turturro. And the involvement of cinematographer and Gus Van Sant favorite Harris Savides (Gerry) guarantees a beautiful looking film. It seems that Baumbach has fashioned another intelligent, low-key look at familial dysfunction. The film is set for a limited release on October 12.

Margot at the Wedding Trailer @ Moviefone

June 20, 2007

Real Life (Brooks, 1979)

Brooks's debut feature solidifies my burgeoning belief that his directorial work represents some of the most intelligent, most sophisticated, and of course funniest, American comedy in existence. In Real Life, he plays a filmmaker named Albert Brooks, who sets out to film a "real" family over the course of an entire year. His belief is that the human drama of everyday life will make for a more truthful and exciting film than anything Hollywood could produce.

The result of (both) Brooks's efforts is a prescient and delightfully reflexive examination of the hypocrisies intrinsic to filming so-called "reality," and serves as evidence that Brooks's trademark wit was fully formed from the outset. Inspired by "An American Family," the 1973 PBS show considered the first reality TV show, Real Life is to a certain extent parody, though it is parody of a more insightful, ambitious form. If for nothing else, see this film for the "Ettnauer 226XL," quite simply one of the most ingenious comedic devices of all time.

Brief Impressions: Stormy Monday (Figgis, 1988)

Figgis's jazzy riff on the crime film is wonderful to behold. Roger Deakins captures the rain-soaked, neon tinged Newcastle milieu beautifully, with his work here reminiscent of the French Cinéma du look movement of the 80's (Diva, Subway). Yet, Figgis's minimalist neo-noir lacks narrative substance and ends up relying too heavily on mood to sustain itself. The most fascinating element of the film, the ambitious and commendable effort made by Figgis to convey much of the narrative in purely visual terms, is also responsible for the film's disjointedness and for the distinct aftertaste of superficiality. IMDb listing.

Oshii's "The Sky Crawlers" In 2008

Mamoru Oshii, director of the landmark anime film Ghost In The Shell, has a new anime in the works. Set for release in Japan in 2008, the feature, titled The Sky Crawlers, is based on best-selling Japanese author Hiroshi Mori's five-part novel of the same name, which Oshii called "a work that should be made into a movie for young people now."

According to a press release from animation studio Production I.G., "the story unfolds in another 'possible' modern age. The main characters are youngsters called 'Kildren', who are destined to live eternally in their adolescence. The Kildren are conscious that every day could be the last, because they fight a "war as entertainment" organized and operated by adults."

Along with Ghost In The Shell, Oshii is also responsible for three widely acknowledged anime masterworks: Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence, Patlabor: The Movie, and Patlabor: The Movie 2, and though this distillation of his body of work, with its pattern of original/sequel repetition, might ostensibly indicate a filmmaker lacking imagination and inspiration, this is simply not the case. Amidst the beautifully fluid animation typical of Oshii's anime lies a provocative philosophical depth, and a desire to challenge the expressive and intellectual potential of the anime form. For those unfamiliar with Oshii (or anime in general) I strongly recommend the four aforementioned films, which are widely available on DVD.

Official Website (in Japanese)
Press Release @ Production I.G.

June 18, 2007

The Trailer Compendium: Vol. 8

Upon first glance, Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing and Richard Lester's Petulia might seem to be strange bedfellows. Roeg's film is a perverse exploration of sexuality and obsession. Lester's film (for which Roeg served as cinematographer) is study of crumbling lives wrapped in a brilliant observation of 1960's America. What makes these films quite suitable companion pieces however, isn't their respective narrative contents, but rather their beautifully nonlinear narrative forms (due in large part I'm sure, to Roeg's involvement). Enjoy!

Bad Timing (1980):

Petulia (1968):

June 15, 2007

Death And The Maiden (Polanski, 1994)

Death and the Maiden functions ostensibly as a pure thriller, an exercise in sustained tension, masterfully orchestrated and compulsively watchable. The performances from Weaver, Kingsley and Wilson are altogether superb and evenly matched, and Polanski’s direction is inspired. Polanski exploits the claustrophobic nature of the source material to the utmost, staging the action in such a way as to communicate character psychology through spatial orientation within the frame.

Yet, for all its formal concision, and though the setup (three characters, one house, a single night) implies a certain inherent simplicity, the film is simultaneously a fluent, coherent discussion of subjects ranging from political repression and the limitations of justice to sexual empowerment. The brilliance of the film lies in Polanski’s ability to sustain a complex and ubiquitous thematic density that subsists beneath the narrative, without ever sacrificing the film's more basal power to enthrall.

To that effect, ultimately what fascinates most about this (quite literally) dark, exceedingly taut chamber drama, a minor masterpiece, is its psychological component. Its desire to unmask and observe an evil (embodied with nuance and disturbing ambivalence by Kingsley) that horrifies not because it is absolute, but because it is human, and perversely comprehensible.

June 14, 2007

Under The Radar: Dai-Nipponjin

Though it will probably be a good deal longer before U.S. audiences get the chance to see Dai-Nipponjin (it only recently premiered in its native Japan), if the ecstatic early word is any indication, Hitoshi Matsumoto's absurdist mockumentary, an official selection at this years Cannes Film Festival (in the Directors' Fortnight section), is a film that should be on your radar.

The plot follows a struggling, working-class man who also happens to be "an electrically charged, skyscraper-high superhero saddled with misfortune, bad press and even worse TV ratings." The film's official site is fully functional, and with a bit of digging, you can find a trailer. Although it isn't subtitled, it really communicates the odd, dry sense of humor. This is certainly something I will be following. Films like this are an especially good reason to own a region free DVD player.

Official Site

Japan Times

*"Under The Radar" is an ongoing series highlighting lesser known/lower profile films (old and new alike) that I haven't yet seen, but, based on other factors (what I have read/the talent involved, etc...), seem interesting and of merit. Hopefully, this will spark interest/awareness in these films and lead to discussion.

June 12, 2007

Tropical Malady (Weerasethakul, 2004)

Weerasethakul’s spellbinding magical realist fable, with its bipartite structure, counterposes a contemporary tale with a traditional Thai folktale. A love story both gentle and savage, Tropical Malady has an elusive, beautiful grace about it that makes it simultaneously difficult to grasp and tantalizing to experience. Weerasethakul renders his film with a pensive, quietly observant eye, belying the fact that there is much going on beneath the surface (the intersection of diverse forms of storytelling is particularly interesting), though part of me is inclined to believe he would prefer this work to be felt rather than analyzed.

June 11, 2007

Catch A Fire (Noyce, 2006)

A blend of the differing sensibilities Noyce brought to The Quiet American and Patriot Games, Catch a Fire deserves more attention than it has received. At times Noyce hems a bit too close to formula, to familiar tropes, and when he does the film suffers, but apart from a few noticeable missteps, this is a finely tuned, intelligent and riveting work, lying somewhere between docudrama and thriller. Noyce leans towards the latter, and the film moves with a vibrant energy and sense of urgency. The inevitable trade-off however, is that the film feels disingenuous at times, a little too simple and neat.

The film charts apartheid era freedom fighter Patrick Chamusso's transformation from apolitical man to armed activist with the appropriate brio, but we aren't given deeper insight into the complex psychological processes that must have accompanied such a transformation. This isn't to say that the film is simplistic. Credit must be given to Noyce and screenwriter Shawn Slovo, who imbue both Chamusso and the film's antagonist, played (a bit too subtly) by Tim Robbins, with moral ambiguity and human nuance. They never allow the film to become as straightforward as "Chamusso: Good, Whites: Bad." Ultimately though, this is Derek Luke's film, and his charismatic performance is good enough to counterbalance the film's weaker points. Luke immerses himself in the character of Chamusso and is able to communicate much of the character's psychology through his eyes and physical gestures. It is a forceful and commanding performance, and anchors the entire film.

Van Sant's "Acid Test"

According to Variety, Gus Van Sant will direct the film of Tom Wolfe's iconic novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Wolfe's novel documents the LSD fueled 1964 cross-country road trip of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest author/counterculture icon Ken Kesey and his friends, the Merry Pranksters. Although I have never read the novel cover to cover, I came across it numerous times throughout my undergraduate studies at NYU. It has attained iconic status as a key text in the realm of literary journalism dubbed "new journalism." It will be interesting to see how Van Sant's ethereal, semi-improvisational tonality, which has marked his masterful recent work, from the loose trilogy of Gerry, Elephant and Last Days, to his recent Cannes prize-winning Paranoid Park, reacts with Wolfe's work. This has instantly become a project to watch.

Ken Kesey & the Merry Pranksters @ Wikipedia
New Journalism @ Wikipedia

June 10, 2007

Ocean's Thirteen (Soderbergh, 2007)

A breezy, lightweight affair (the most blithe revenge film in recent memory), convoluted and lacking any real substance, with about as much in common with reality as a superhero film. Yet in spite of this, or perhaps because of this, Ocean’s Thirteen remains a slickly entertaining “surface level” piece of work for the duration of its runtime. As in the previous entries of the series, style is the substance here and Soderbergh has fun taking the film to the heights of ridiculousness. The cast is obviously in on the joke and watching Clooney and his fraternity of actors coast through the proceedings is enjoyable. And although we aren’t left with much of anything to reflect on, it is fun while it lasts. As far as summer escapism goes, a far better and more satisfying experience than Spider-Man 3.

June 8, 2007

The Trailer Compendium: Vol. 7

Peter Yates's film is a minor masterpiece of its genre, a gritty, street-level crime film filled with fantastic dialogue, and performances to match (especially Robert Mitchum). I am constantly amazed that a film as good as this one still hasn't been given a proper DVD release. A bootleg DVD exists (from a VHS source) and although the quality is poor, if you can find this film, watch it!

The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (1973):

Back From Vacation

I've just returned from my brief excursion to the south of France, so beginning today, Direct Cinema is back on track. The posts will probably start slowly, but in a couple of days, I'll be back at full strength.