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Thread: Oscar's Cinema Journal 2005

  1. #676
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    Gracias! I'm glad YOU like it. Johann, d'you think Vigo had any inkling as he was dying at age 29 that guys born many decades later would love his films so? I mean, he was dead when L'Atalante premiered officially, and few thought much of it and the shorts until years later. There will be film buffs born in this century who'll understand his early death was a calamity. I had never seen his first film, the short A Propos de Nice, until this year. It's an amazing piece of work, but L'Atalante remains my favorite.

    Monday Sep 26

    The term "art movie" and "art house" are misused these days to refer to commercial films outside the mainstream, often American independents or films in which a language other than English is spoken. When I've used these terms I put them under quotations because I believe the "art" designation should be used to refer to films made for entirely artistic purposes. What I consider true art movies are usually called "experimental" or "avant garde" nowadays, even though they may utilize technics and approaches that date back to the silent era.
    Today I watched Vol I of a dvd set called AVANT GARDE: EXPERIMENTAL CINEMA of the 1920s and 30s. Most are the property of Raymond Rohauer, a film collector from Los Angeles. These shorts range from entirely abstract to elliptically or obliquely narrative. Several are either based on poems or advertise themselves as poetic_the made-in-Paris films of the American Man Ray and the Russian Dimitri Kirsanoff achieve a high degree of lyricism. Most of the films in the collection reflect the movements in the fine arts in vogue during the 20s and 30s: Surrealism, Cubism, Dadaism, and representational painting. The dvd set is a region 1 release and it's available at Netflix and other rental outfits.

    MAN RAY: The Return to Reason, Emak-Bakia, L'Etoile de Mer, Les Mysteres du Chateau du De
    DIMITRI KIRSANOF: Mists of Autumn, Menilmontant.
    ORSON WELLES: The Hearts of Age
    MARCEL DUCHAMP: Anemic Cinema
    HANS RICHTER: Rhythmus 21, Ghosts before Breakfast.
    WATSON/WEBBER: Lot in Sodom
    VORKAPICH/FLOREY: The Death of a Hollywood Extra.
    VIKING EGGELING: Symphomie Diagonale
    JEAN PAINLEVE: Le Vampire
    FERNAND LEGER: Ballet Mechanique

  2. #677
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    Tue Sep 27th

    No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (USA, 2005) on PBS

  3. #678
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    Wed Sep 28th

    The Memory of a Killer aka The Alzheimer Case (Belgium/Netherlands, 2004) at Regal SoBe
    Stylish film directed by Erik Van Looy based on a novel by Jef Geeraerts. Solid "policier" involving corruption, cover-ups, multiple murders and illegal sex is brought up a notch by its attention to character detail and the award-winning perf by veteran Belgian actor Jan Decleir (Character).

  4. #679
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    Thu Sep 29th

    Lord of War (USA, 2005) at AMC CocoWalk
    The rise and fall of an Ukrainian-American arms dealer (Nicholas Cage) spanning two decades. This film, written and directed by Andrew Niccol but made possible by producer/star Cage, is built around his jocular voice-over. An action-adventure with a political agenda and a consistently satiric tone. Lord of War is earnest and entertaining, as long as it's not concerned with the protagonist's dream wife: Cage's obsession with her, the elaborate courting, the scenes of domestic life, her being "in the dark" about his arms dealing and the moral outrage that follows; it all rings false, feels borrowed, or both. When it concentrates on the globetrotting Cage and his attempts at rationalizing what he does for a living, Lord of War soars high.

    The Spiral Staircase (USA, 1946) on PAL dvd
    Chiller directed by Robert Siodmark (The Killers, Criss Cross), based on a novel by Ethel White about a killer targeting women with disabilities and afflictions. The film takes the point of view of a young woman who's been unable to speak since she witnessed her parents accidentally burn to death. I suspect the source novel is not very good. What makes The Spiral Staircase required viewing is the delicious cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca and the way Siodmark uses set, lighting, music and sound effects to make a very scary flick out of a mediocre script.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 10-02-2005 at 03:25 PM.

  5. #680
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    Further discussion on Huckabees:

    Originally posted by oscar jubis
    My suggestion is not to regard the philosophical battle abstractly but to see it only as it relates to Albert and Tommy. Their dissatisfaction with the state of things creates polar tendencies within them: narcissism (Tommy's violence, Albert's inflated self-regard) and disengagement vs. altruism and engagement. In my opinion, the "existential dicks" and Huppert's nihilist are primarily plot devices and conduits. They make it possible for the film to dig into Albert and Brad's pasts, serve as a way to get Tommy and Albert together, and facilitate getting inside their heads (not unlike the portal in Kaufman's Being John Malkovich).
    I watched the film again this weekend, and I do appreciate it more every time I see it. I think my approach now is to stop analyzing the philosophical underpinnings of the story at some point...for instance, I could argue that an "existentialist" self-analysis by Brad and his girlfriend would only lead them to reinforce their own self images and approach to life. But that wouldn't be nearly as fun for the filmmakers, so I'll stop there. I do like the overall philosophical message though, which seems to be that yes, everything is interconnected, but yes, there also is much pain and suffering that forms a large part of human existence. So, an approach to life should acknowledge both aspects (life=interconnectedness + nihilism), but American society at this point seems to be in full disregard of this. Is that the point of the film? Whew, I'm tired...

    I Heart Huckabees is no Nashville. We might have to wait a while for another film like it. It's not a perfect movie like Before Sunset. It's not neat and its puzzle doesn't fit together the way Eternal Sunshine does. But it's more daring and ambitious than anything made in the USA in 2004. Even though not completely successful, even if Russell hasn't quite made his masterpiece, I Heart Huckabees achieves enough to merit inclusion into a list of best films of 2004. At the minimum, Russell deserves credit for creating a narrative full of good-natured humor that asks the right questions. Of course, this is only my subjective opinion.
    I agree that it's more daring (and ambitious, yes) than almost anything else made in the USA in 2004, but unfortunately that doesn't say much anymore. My point in bringing up Nashville is that it is, in my mind, the most effective film I've seen to view through a microscope, so to speak, America, its society and its people. At the same time, it remains a beautifully poetic film in its structure and storyline. Before Sunrise and Eternal Sunshine, while perhaps "perfect" films, are more personal in nature and don't take on subject matters of such wide scope.

  6. #681
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    Originally posted by JustaFied
    I watched the film again this weekend, and I do appreciate it more every time I see it.
    Because of the novel premise and dense plot, it seems to require more than one viewing to appreciate in full. I wish the crits who didn't like it would watch it and review it again.

    the overall philosophical message though, which seems to be that yes, everything is interconnected, but yes, there also is much pain and suffering that forms a large part of human existence. So, an approach to life should acknowledge both aspects (life=interconnectedness + nihilism), but American society at this point seems to be in full disregard of this. Is that the point of the film?
    Yes, that's the overall philosophical message. And there are lots of other kinds of messages or ideas "underneath". Stuff about the hipocrisy of corporate environmentalism, how we can be our own worst enemies (betraying oneself), the ulterior motives behing the altruism of activists, etc.

    My point in bringing up Nashville is that it is, in my mind, the most effective film I've seen to view through a microscope, so to speak, America, its society and its people.
    Any other films that do or attempt to do that? How about Magnolia and American Beauty? I guess Dogville doesn't count because it's a period film.

  7. #682
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    Friday Sep. 30th

    For a Fistful of Dollars (Italy, 1964) at Florida Intern. U.
    Plenty of new releases but I couldn't pass on a public screening of the first collaboration between director Sergio Leone and composer Ernio Morricone. It brought fame to Clint Eastwood, Leone's fourth choice for principal role. Not the first spaghetti western, just the first to receive international distribution. For a Fistful of Dollars represents a giant leap in the realistic depiction of violence in movies. It's unbelievably sadistic compared to anything released up to that point, with three torture scenes and gleeful laughter accompanying every kill, except for Eastwood, who's implacably cool throghout. The plot was lifted off Kurosawa's Yojimbo. Leone was taking the first steps towards a very personal style that gained him a large following, particularly among the young.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 10-03-2005 at 06:51 PM.

  8. #683
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    3rd Quarter Report

    During the months of July, August and September, I watched a total of 162 films, more than the 144 of the first quarter and 134 of the second. The reason is that 35 of them are shorts. I've been making a point to dedicate more time to short films which I've always neglected. I've seen some amazing ones this year, including Vigo's A Propos de Nice, Man Ray's L' Etoile de Mer, the Iranian The House is Black, and others recently released as compilations on dvd.
    Of the 127 features I watched, 38 were theatrical screenings, 22 were broadcast on TV (most on Turner Classics Movies) and the rest on video.
    I'm looking forward to the last quarter. There's are several events of interest in the city including a Chilean series, an Italian series, a traveling Third World festival (I think it's called Global Initiative), and the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival (not a great fest but there's always something to discover that's not likely to get distribution).

  9. #684
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    Sat October 1st

    Tim Burton's Corpse Bride at AMC CocoWalk

    Magnificent Obsession (USA, 1954) on TCM
    Lamentable how the term melodrama has become synonymous with "mawkish tearjerker" because the genre has produced a ton of outstanding pictures. Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows, Tarnished Angels) became a master director of melodramas during the 1950s.
    Magnificent Obsession concerns the transformation of a callous rich man (Rock Hudson) into a person of high moral values through the magic of true love and the desire to make amends. If this sounds corny to you, do stay away. Sirk's attention to color, composition, production design and the nuances of performance are readily apparent.

  10. #685
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    Sun October 2nd

    Viridiana (Spain, 1961) on TCM
    Luis Bunuel returned to his native Spain after many years working in Mexico and brought along Silvia Pinal. He cast the blonde Mexican as the titular would-be nun. Before taking her final vows, Viridiana is encouraged by her superiors to visit the uncle who's financed her education since her parents died. They've never actually met. Her uncle Don Jaime (Fernando Rey) is struck by how much she resembles her aunt, who died in her wedding dress on honeymoon night 30 years ago. His obsession with the corpse bride is beyond belief. At his insistence, our heroine agrees hesitantly to wear the white dress. Don Jaime, aided by his complaint maid, drugs her. The next morning, to keep her from returning to the convent as scheduled, he tells Viridiana that he raped her. Don Jaime reconsiders and tells her the truth, that he was able to resist temptation. Upon arriving at the convent, Viridiana receives the news that Don Jaime hung himself in despair. She returns to live in her uncle's large estate, turning it into a shelter for the homeless, against the wishes of her machista cousin Jorge who's come to visit with a lover in tow. The second part of the film concerns Jorge's attempts to seduce both the maid and Viridiana, and the latter's futile efforts to civilize the whores, beggars, drunks, thiefs and tramps who now live in the decaying estate.
    Viridiana is a great movie. A harrowing, comedic, grotesque, and yes, surrealist yarn hiding a powerful political allegory. Immediately upon release, the dictatorial Spanish government caught on, burning any prints they could find, but not before a couple had made their way to Paris.

  11. #686
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    Mon Oct 3rd
    Grizzly Man (2005) at Regal SoBe

  12. #687
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    Tue Oct 4th

    The Village (USA, 2004) dvd
    I would not complain about the ponderous, humorless, shopworn horror-flick cliches if there was more substance to the social parable behind the whole project. Mr. Shyamalan is a victim of his own commercial success. Who is going to tell him to stop wasting his filmmaking skills on his own subpar scripts? Nobody! Not as long as the films make money. This one gets real silly towards the end, when I could no longer give Shyamalan the benefit of the doubt, and I could no longer suspend disbelief. The Village took two hours to accomplish what any episode of "The Twilight Zone" achieved in less than 30 minutes.

  13. #688
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    Wed Oct 5th

    Oliver! (UK, 1968) vhs
    I was 7 years old when I watched Oliver! for the first time. Other than animated films like Dumbo and Pinocchio, it was the first movie to totally blow me away. It received 11 Oscar noms and won five: Best Film, Best Director for Carol Reed (The third Man, Odd Man Out), Best Art Direction, Best Music and Best Sound. Oliver! is the screen adaptation of a musical by Lionel Bart, who penned amazing songs like "You've Got To Pick a Pocket or Two" and "Reviewing the Situation". The cast is uniformly excellent: Ron Moody (Fagin), Mark Lester (Oliver), Jack Wild (The Artful Dodger), and Oliver Reed (Bill Sikes).
    My kids also love Oliver!, especially Dylan (12), who wanted to watch it again before taking on Polanski's new version. Polanski has to contend with the memories many filmgoers have of Carol Reed's Oscar winning version. How can I not be prejudiced against the actors in Polanski's film when the cast of Oliver! inhabited their roles with such verve and aplomb. Who'd want to play Bill Sikes after watching Oliver Reed's performance?
    Oliver! is not everything Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist can be, but it's genuinely sad, joyous, tragic, romantic and scary. I wonder if Polanski can find an angle not covered by David Lean's earnest version and Reed's wonderful musical version of the great novel.

  14. #689
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    Thu. October 6th

    Tomorrow We Move (France, 2004) dvd
    The latest from writer/director Chantal Ackerman (La Captive, Jeanne Dielman, Night and Day) went straight to video. Perhaps a so-called "critic's film", given that the ratings from IMdb users are very low and all reviews from critics I found on the web are decidedly positive. Charlotte (Sylvie Testud) is a writer of erotic pulp. When her father dies, her ditzy mom (Aurore Clement), a piano teacher, moves into her apartment. Soon thereafter, they decide they need a bigger place and put the apartment for sale while looking for a suitable replacement. In the process, they come into contact with a variety of people who seem to develop instant familiarity, even intimacy with the efervescent duo. The film is full of music, witty farce, and screwball situations. The tone is reminiscent of Resnais operetta-like Not on the Lips. Maybe there's not enough appreciation out there for this type of inspired goofiness but I couldn't resist its good-natured charm. Cast includes Natacha Regnier, Lucas Belvaux and Elsa Zilberstein (who was absolutely breathtaking in the otherwise forgettable Modigliani).

  15. #690
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    Friday Oct 7th

    The Global Film Initiative is an organization which "promotes cross-cultural understanding through cinema by supporting and presenting acclaimed films from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East". Every year, as many as 10 films overlooked by distributors in the US are compiled into a traveling film series titled GLOBAL LENS. At the end of each touring year, the films are made available commercially through a partnership with First Run Features, either theatrically or for home video release. Basically, it's very likely you'll have a chance to watch these films I'll be reviewing even if GLOBAL LENS doesn't come to your city in 2005.
    The film I watched today is called:

    Buffalo Boy (Vietnam, 2004) at Tower Theatre

    The debut film of director Minh Nguyen-Vo, who was in attendance and happens to have a Ph. D. in Physics from UCLA. Buffalo Boy is set in 1940 in a rural area of South Vietnam that's heavily flooded for half the year. This is where 15 year old Kim lives with his parents, and a pair of water buffaloes that make farming possible. During rainy season, the animals need to taken to higher ground for pasture. It's Kim first expedition alone, because his aged father is sick. It's a perilous ordeal. Kim will run into a herdsman who knows things about his father's past he never imagined; there are conflicts with rival herdsmen, friendships forged on the trail, and the allure of the different lifestyle found inland. The film comes to include a variety of well-sketched characters but Buffalo Boy remains focused on Kim's trials and tribulations.
    Minh Nguyen-Vo successfully tackles the multiple challenges presented by shooting a period film under such environmental conditions, using non-actors, and with a limited budget. The production had to be interrupted several times due to illness and equipment failure, he explained. Buffalo Boy is an excellent coming-of-age film that transports the viewer to a remote corner of the world and provides access to a distinct, vanishing culture and people. Buffalo Boy won the top prize in the New Director's competition at the Chicago International Film Festival.

    Eros (Hong Kong/USA/Italy, 2004) on import dvd
    The Hand: The first of three shorts that comprise this omnibus film was written and directed by Wong Kar Wai and it's the reason why Eros is essential viewing. It's set in 1960s Hong Kong, during the waning years of what was known as "courtesan culture". It tracks with amazing economy several years in the relationship between a "courtesan" (Gong Li) and the young tailor's apprentice who falls in love with her. The cinematographer is WKW's frequent collaborator Christopher Doyle, so the visuals are splendid and evocative. But it's the powerful story of how the relationship between the principals mutates over the course of time what will have you salivating for WKW's next film_apparently, either a sequel to The Hand or a rethinking of it.
    Equilibrium, written and directed by Steven Soderbergh, is the second part of Eros. It's set in the US in the 1950s. Equilibrium concerns a publicity man who seeks help from a psychoanalyst to interpret a recurring dream. (Spoilers) It's clever how it turns out the session with the shrink is a dream itself, just don't ask me what the point is because I don't have an answer.
    The Dangerous Thread of Things was directed by the master Michelangelo Antonioni. Beautiful shots of gorgeous people and architecture, but it's as shallow as softcore porn.

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