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Thread: Musings on Cinema

  1. #16
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    Thanks. Chelsea and Dylan are watching Maleficent right now. I stayed home watching the National Spelling Bee and San Antonio vs. OKC.

    The Best Film of 2014 (or, my favorite 2014 release so far)

    There was a time when a film’s theatrical receipts were a clear indication of how many people had seen it. Since the 80s, one had to also consider home video purchases and rentals. Nowadays, VOD and other streaming outlets make a film’s popularity even more difficult to gauge. My favorite 2014 film so far is Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo, which won Best First Film at Cannes (Camera d’Or) and London in 2013 and recently concluded its very limited theatrical run with a box office take of only $38,461. However, I have no idea how many members of US distributor Film Movement have purchased the DVD or watched it streaming since its release last month, and I wonder how many non-members will watch it when it becomes available for general purchase in September. Perhaps it is too soon to lament the dearth of viewers, because maybe a lot of film lovers will access the film directly through the distributor. Another indicator of popularity is the number of IMdb users that post a rating. So far, Ilo Ilo has been rated by 1210 users, but only 99 of them are from the US. The previous Camera d’Or winner, Las Acacias, was one of my very favorite films of 2012 and went virtually unseen. I plan to make sure I watch the recent Camera d'Or winner, since it seems I am guaranteed to fall in love with it. Here’s Film Movement page for Ilo Ilo. You can watch the trailer there.
    http://www.filmmovement.com/filmcata...chandiseID=346

    Interestingly, this English-language trailer made by the distributor begins with a text that reads "Singapore 1997" when in fact the film is set in 1998. Naturally many English-language critics have adopted the mistake in their reviews even though there is at least one very clear and specific temporal marker in the film (an insert shot of a letter typewritten by one of the principals). Cognitive psychologists use the term "inattentional blindness" to refer to the phenomena of not being conscious of seeing something that is smack in front of us, usually because we don't expect it to be there and/or because we are attending to only part of what is available for perception (coming up, more about this phenomena as it pertains our understanding of narratives in audiovisual media).
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 05-29-2014 at 11:43 PM.

  2. #17
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    I'm confused about ILO ILO because it showed at a small cinema in NYC a month before Cannes. It was after I left following New Directors though so I missed it. It's now come to San Francisco but only at a rather remote theater the 4-Star on Clement Street (where there are a lot of Chinese people). Don't see what's so exciting about a mistake of one year in the critics' description of the time-frame, and it might have been more interesting to hear why you so much like the film, but I always appreciate your corrections of my errors in reviews. The NYTinmes has a apiece on the "burden of first-film success" felt by Anthony Chen.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-31-2014 at 01:02 PM.

  3. #18
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    Chen's minimalism seems to have appealed to most, though not all (I read all thirteen reviews at IMDB). For being a first time director and using a first time cinematographer, neither intruded into the story line according to those reviewers who felt the low-key acting style added to the film's realism. Chen appears to have captured the hearts of the Cannes jury and yours as well, Oscar. Thanks for bringing it up and I look forward to catching it later this year when it becomes available. Chris has the luxury of going to see it in a theater. Not so here.
    Colige suspectos semper habitos

  4. #19
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    Ilo Ilo is having in an extended but very limited distribution common to outstanding foreign-language films that don't have a recognizable actor, or director (this is Anthony Chen's debut) or a strong genre hook. Films like this one show at several regional film festivals for a few months, before playing at a couple of art cinemas in major markets, and then travel to second markets such as Honolulu and D.C., where the film is still scheduled to open at month's end. I would not be surprised if the only theater where you can watch it today is the 4-Star on Clement Street (it makes sense as CK tells us that Chinese Americans are well represented in that neighborhood (the film is mostly in Mandarin and English, with a smattering of Tagalog). I hope you fellas decide to watch it. What we have here is a family melodrama that is deeply satisfying and engaging because it creates a perfect balance between psychological characterization and the socioeconomic and cultural context of its historical moment, and because all the characters are sympathetic even when they are being petty, arrogant, or mean. It is easy to identify with flawed but well-meaning and striving characters. Also, all the principals resonate as representatives of certain types of people while achieving, mostly through performance, shadings and nuances that mark them as unique individuals. I think the film is too rich in incident to call it minimalist, but this is a relative term. I guess that nothing truly extraordinary happens in the plot, and that the acting (and other aspects) are modest enough never to detract from the task of telling a story well. I have not read many reviews of Ilo Ilo but I would immediately distrust anyone who says this movie is not recommended.

  5. #20
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    Perhaps it is too soon to lament the dearth of viewers. . .
    I'd say so. Some great foreign films are never screened in the US at all and never reviewed here and don't make it onto a US DVD. The success of an arthouse film is not to be measured in dollar returns. With this press and a DVD plenty will eventually see it and this is only Anthony Chen's first film. We should be happy that this got made, was in Directors' Fortnight at Cannes, and won the Camera d'Or, no less. Sometimes the Camera d'Or is enough. But ILIO ILO has done way better than that in winning critical accolades all over, including a Meticritic 87.

    When it was in NYC in April it played at two important venues, Lincoln Center (Elinor Bunin Theater) and Cinema Village and I would have seen it at Cinema Village if I'd been in NYC two or three days more. I will not see it at the 4-Star because I'm leaving for NYC in a couple days and the 4-Star is way far from where I live here. Besides I"m out of time to see any film in a theater before I go. This happens sometimes, as I missed WE ARE THE BEST a couple times, but I might catch it in NYC this time, it's at the Angelika.

    ILO ILO was seen in Paris in Sept. 2013 and got very good reviews (Allocine 3.9) though while LES INROCUPTIBLES liked it pretty well, the harder to please CAHERS DU CINEMA was unimpressed. They said its strong point was its statements about class differences but they were a bit crude. This looks true but the trailer makes me interested in seeing it. However that I'm a bit skeptical about adoring it is because of reports like the following from Cannes in HOLLYWOOD REPORTER:
    Finely acted and minutely observed, Ilo Ilo certainly has the texture of real life. The performances feel authentic, the emotional shadings agreeably nuanced. It may be damning Chen’s film with faint praise to observe that it also captures the bittersweet banality of middle-class family life with almost numbing accuracy. But faint praise is probably the most honest response to a low-key exercise in domestic navel-gazing that blurs the line between subtle understatement and tasteful tedium.
    --Stephen Dalton, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
    "Tasteful tedium": ouch!

    This is the kind of story Howard Schumann is particularly interested in and it'll be interesting to see what he says if he reviews it.

  6. #21
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    I admire you both for being able to get out to all of these multitudes of films. The scope needed to comment on modern cinema with teeth requires getting out the door to the cinema screenings. :)
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  7. #22
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    The Best Film of the Czech New Wave?

    A group of Czech and Slovakian critics and filmmakers chose Frantisek Vlacil’s MARKETA LAZAROVA (1967) as the best Czech film ever made. It is a product of the Czech New Wave we’ve discussed at filmleaf primarily in connection with Johann attending a retrospective titled Bohemian Gothic. A decade ago, I posted my selection of a dozen recommended films from this brief but productive film movement, as follows:
    CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS (Jiri Menzel)
    LARKS ON A STRING (Menzel)
    THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET (Jan Kadar)
    DAISIES (Vera Chytilova)
    ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE (Chytilova)
    LOVES OF A BLONDE (Milos Forman)
    FIREMAN'S BALL (Forman)
    BLACK PETER (Forman)
    THE REPORT ON THE PARTY AND THE GUESTS (Jan Nemec)
    DIAMONDS OF THE NIGHT (Jan Nemec)
    THE JOKE (Jaromil Jires)

    Now almost all of these films are available on DVD for purchase or rental. (A superb box set titled "Pearls of the Czech New Wave" was released on the Eclipse Series label). I did not know of Vlacil or Marketa Lazarova until its 2013 release on the Criterion label. A significantly shorter version of the 165-minute film, based on a high-brow novel by Vladislav Vancura that combines archaic Czech and modernist techniques, was apparently released briefly in NYC in 1974 and quickly forgotten. I think it is most definitely a masterpiece, perhaps the best film of the Czech New Wave, and I plan to seek out other films by Vlacil, particularly the two that are also set in the "dark ages". Marketa Lazarova is a medieval epic, its cinematography and editing are highly stylized, called “avant garde”, but it is most definitely a narrative work that aims to recreate medieval life in Bohemia with great feeling and authenticity. The singular experience of watching it is, perhaps, comparable to watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, a film mentioned in connection with Vlacil's, but one I have not seen in a long time.
    Here is a trailer edited by a fan of the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEo-6NBa6Qo

    "Marketa Lazarová sweeps us up in a sort of rapture before we even get our feet on the ground. František Vláčil directs with a symphonic variation of tone and pace, moving with assurance from the frenetic to the contemplative, the horrific to the erotic. This may not be a film for everyone. It calls for stamina and for surrender to the wonder of vision and hearing, even when the way remains obscure and seems a bit dangerous. It forces us to rediscover the power of image and sound—and what happens when you bring them together."
    Tom Gunning (Excerpt from Criterion essay)

  8. #23
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    City Symphony: Alberto Cavalcanti's NOTHING BUT TIME

    The "city symphony film" is a genre that produced some of the most beloved masterpieces of the late silent era: Manhatta, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, Man with a Movie Camera, A propos de Nice, Sao Paulo: A Metropolitan Symphony, Skyscraper Symphony, etc. These films combine the desire to document or create a record of the functioning of the modern city with experimental or avant-garde techniques, with (poetic) editing based on patterns that create rhymes or correspondences between shots.

    Like several of these films, Nothing but Time aims to cover a 24-hour span in the life of a big city, Paris in this case. Although most city symphony films show people from all classes, Nothing but Time is primarily concerned with the suffering of the poor masses typically ignored by romantic notions of the city. The film opens with a sunny shot of a smart quarter with the Eiffel Tower looking regal in the background, then white vertical wipes obscure the view as if it was being painted over. Cut to a title card: "this is not a depiction of the fashionable and elegant life..." Cut to a shot of elegantly attired young women walking down the ample staircase of a palazzo which comes to a freeze-frame, thus becoming a photograph tore up by a hand that enters the frame from the right. Cut to a title card: "...but of the everyday life of the humble, the downtrodden,..." A late model automobile driven by a uniformed chauffer dissolves into a ragged horse buggy, baskets full of ripe, fresh produce gives way to shots of cans overflowing with rotting trash. Perhaps the most famous scene in Nothing but Time shows a close up of a steak being sliced by a man dining at a posh restaurant, then an iris opens on the plate (a frame-within-the frame) to show slaughterhouse scenes like the ones in Franju's Blood of the Beasts but Cavalcanti is consistently innovative throughout. There are also tremendously emotional scenes that show a frail old woman struggling to walk up a slick and narrow cobblestone path, and a prostitute failing to drum up business. This magnificent 46-minute film is included in the Avant Garde 3 DVD set from Kino International.

    Alberto Cavalcanti was Brazilian and made films in France, Italy, and Brazil but had his greatest success in England (Dead of Night, Went the Day Well?, They Made Me a Fugitive).
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 06-11-2014 at 01:04 AM.

  9. #24
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    Off the Beaten Path: Ann Hui's A SIMPLE LIFE

    This multiple-award winning family drama from Hong Kong had a limited US release in 2012 and totally escaped my notice until a friend asked me to watch it with him. I see now that the reviews were very good, but somehow I failed to notice (Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars and called it "one of the best films of 2012"). There are so many good new films to watch every year that one just cannot keep up, especially since I dedicate a lot of time to older films (as you can figure from my posts). A Simple Life has been available on DVD and BR since 2013 (very reasonably priced). Perhaps the premise of the film makes it seem boring, or difficult to market. It is, after all, about an old woman without family of her own, who has worked as a maid for a single family for 60 years, and must retire after suffering a stroke and goes to a nursing home, and about the people she meets there, and how the family she served, especially a middle-aged filmmaker, support her and continue to care for her. The acting is magnificent (Deannie Yip won Best Actress at Venice and other places), the pace is unhurried but lively, the tone can be mournful at times, but there is always humor and good cheer lurking around.

  10. #25
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    Frantisek Vlacil's Valley of the Bees

    It took Frantisek Vlacil five years to complete Marketa Lazarova, his magnum opus discussed above. He also wrote the script (with Vladimir Korner) of Valley of the Bees (1968) during this time and shot the film while Marketa was still being readied for release. Valley of the Bees is also a medieval tale in widescreen b&w that dramatizes why these are called the "dark" ages. It is set in the 1200s, centuries before the Age of Enlightment and the Protestant Reformation, and just before the Black Death, the pandemic that killed 30-60% of Europeans. Both films benefit from Vlacil's rigorous research and his expressed aim to convey, to the extent that this is possible, the authentic human experience at that moment in history. However, they differ markedly in scope. At 97 minutes, Valley of the Bees is more than one hour shorter, and lacks the novelistic sweep and level of formal experimentation of Marketa. It is, consequently, an easier film to "follow", more straightforward, and perhaps more forceful in its depiction of the struggle between religion and paganism and schisms within Christianity that would only exacerbate in the years to come. I watched Valley of the Bees in a Facets DVD that is acceptable but visibly inferior to the one released in the UK by Second Run.

  11. #26
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    Did we ever discuss Miguel Gomes' 2008 film, OUR BELOVED MONTH OF AUGUST? I rented it from Netflix and watched it. In a way I agree with Mike Hale's NY Times review, which is neutral, even critical. But I soon realized that it was unusual and adventurous and not just the documentary grabbag it looks like at first, and I liked the music and the young couple, and the final humorous dramatized credits are pretty brilliant. I still don't know why Portuguese IMDb Comment-writers call it a "master-piece" but I'd like to learn.

  12. #27
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    I don't remember if we did. Perhaps in the SFFF thread? I am a fan of this movie no doubt; I am a fan of this type of film, like Pedro Costa's, in which actual people (non-actors we may call them) play some kind of version of themselves, or dramatize their lives in ways that involve the imagination. This kind of films has a clear antecedent in Jean Rouch's Moi, un noir, in which three unemployed young men make a journey in search of work which the film documents and at times play roles they invent for themselves (I remember one calling himself Edward G. Robinson: the short, stocky Hollywood star who's most famous for his gangster characters).

    I wanted to apologize for the late reply, and for not continuing this thread. I recently agreed to teach Film Criticism and Documentary Film this fall and I am having to prepare these courses on short notice. I anticipate being extremely busy until early December; won't post as often as I like, but will continue to read your criticism here on a regular basis. I haven't even have time to watch TABU, which I own on Bluray.

  13. #28
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    No this is not in the SFIFF thread; I only saw it via Netflix a week or so ago. Thanks for commenting. Sorry you can't be online more. Good luck with the new course.

    I just posted a list of preferences for the US releases I've seen the first half of this year.

  14. #29
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    Thanks. I have a lot of fun teaching, from designing the course to guiding the post-screening discussions. It's tricky to choose which films to show that will bring forth the issues, artistic strategies, etc. you want to cover and emphasize. On the other hand, I don't know to what extent people outside academia know about the glut of professors in the humanities and the exploitative use of adjuncts, who are paid minimally and don't have any job security or benefits. Colleges and Universities are being run like corporations nowadays. It is very hard to make a living in the Humanities because institutions are choosing to use adjuncts rather than open tenure-track positions. No hard feelings toward any person or specific institution out there (I use my real name here after all). It is a systemic problem, an outgrowth of the current brand of capitalism.

  15. #30
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    Yes, I know about that, and there's a new documentary about it (I haven't seen it yet) called IVORY TOWER (Andres Rossi 2014).
    And it's really been going on for decades.

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