Wednesday, July 27, 2005



Dirs: Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perrenou

Totally mesmerzing French documentary about insects in a forest. The cinematographic acheivements here rank with the best I have ever seen. Almost entirely without narration, the moviemakers allow the lives of the insects to speak for themselves. Ants, beetles, bees, snails, spiders, water bugs, etc. all face challenges analagous to human activity, yet so alien to our lives that they trigger a sense of wonder at the world. I will never view a summer rainstorm the same again after seeing the chaos it ravages on the insect kingdom.

The directors choose a series of macrocosmic establishing shots before showing off their breath- taking close up camera and sound work for each scene. Subtle, yet effective narrative is acheived as a result. The level of detail in the shots had me involuntarily exclaiming my appreciation aloud throughout the film. The pace is pleasingly brisk, making me think that there was a lot of film left in the can to keep it at a taught 1:15 (for kids?). Still, many scenes I could have watched for hours.

I did find the score lacking at times. It is classical, and especially since it was original to the film I thought it could better embody the emotion of some of the more beautiful and tender scenes (the struggles and fights were right on).

For fans of nautre films or good camera work, I rank this as a must see.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Me, You, and Everyone We Know (2005)

Written by, directed by, and starring Miranda July

I rarely laugh out loud at the movie theatre, but I did during Me, You, and Everyone We Know. And if Miranda July doesn’t put you off it in the first five minutes, you will probably end up really liking this movie. It’s mostly about two adults, Christine (played by Miranda July) and Richard (played by John Hawkes), who want their lives to be just a bit exceptional, but whose efforts end up seeming ludicrous against the dull background of everyday life. Christine is a performance artist who spends much of her day driving old people around in an ElderCab while Richard is a recently separated father of two boys who sells shoes at a department store. Of course, the two meet up and an awkward romance ensues. Besides Richard’s sons a few other children hover around the periphery of the main characters’ lives. The scenes involving these children are some of the funniest and most disturbing of the movie. A dark undercurrent, which never truly comes to the surface, is the way in which adult frustration can impact the lives of young children. All in all a good movie, which is quite accurately described in most reviews as offbeat and quirky.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Rapid Fire


Dir: Dwight H. Little (Free Willie 2: the Adventure Home; Murder at 1600; Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid)

Brandon Lee, son of Bruce, witnesses a slaying and must fight back to regain his life and freedom.

It was bad movie night in the Silva household. After the show, I do an internet hit on the movie to learn about the director and see that some folks actually like it. Actually like Brandon Lee! Listen to me, now. Brandon Lee is to Bruce Lee like Colin Hanks is to Tom Hanks. Like Liza Minelli is to Judy Garland.

The fight scenes have pauses after every move, like the actors are counting their beats. "One, arm up, two leg out, three cheesy sound effect . . ." Lots of glass gets broken, and thankfully a hair metal band was available to lay down the soundtrack. The eye candy women in the movie are singularly unattractive, even.

Highlights include: Brandon Lee without his shirt on. Brandon Lee leaning against a tree and remembering his dad who died during Tianamen Square (he is troubled, that Brandon). Brandon Lee beating up a guy in a mullet with a stick (my personal favorite part of the movie). And Brandon Lee without his shirt on. In fact, 85% of this movie features Brandon's pecks or armpits. Not that he has any pecks, mind you. But he needs freedom of motion or something when beating up Italian Americans.

I have never seen The Crow. But if this is the same guy, buy me a bottle of wine and sign me up.




Dir: Peter Bogdanovich

Super sentimental story of a deformed teenager balancing his troubled mother and growing up. Cher and Sam Elliot give fine performances, but the show is stolen by a young Eric Stoltz who is absolutley impeccable as Rocky. Having seen this movie several times, but not for quite a few years, it was fun to revisit it (although I do admit I missed the first 15 minutes or so; Michelle had it on when I walked into the room. Can I still blog it?).

The movie does a fine job with the main story, but it is the development of the sub plots that make it memorable. The mother's battles with drugs and relationships add depth and complexity to the story of Rocky. Indeed, it is rare to see this biker sub-culture so compassionately portrayed in a film, let alone alongisde another compassionate plot.

The score is Springsteen heavy, which gives it high marks in my book. On odd thing, though; "Born in the USA" is featured near the end. That was 1984, and the action in the movie takes place in 1980. Everywhere else he shows up, the Boss is on the radio in the movie, featuring songs from "Born to Run"(1975) and "The River" (1980), which fit the time period.

TCM showes a director's cut, apparently, as Michelle swore there were new scenes (she is more familiar with the text than I). If they were new, the scenes she pointed out both detracted from the movie.

I am sure you all have seen it. If you haven't, do so.


Sunday, July 24, 2005

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

1963 Oscar Winner Best Foregin Language Film

Dir: Vittorio De Sica

Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in three short stories focusing on three different women. Apparently much beloved, I found the film much boring. I cannot indict the acting; both leads have both talent and chemistry. Loren in particular certainly jumps off the screen. And the first vignette, "Adelina of Naples" is quite pleasant and funny. But the middle, blissfully short, story "Anna of Milan" is designed to act as some indict of contemporary mores judging by the movie's title. It relies on caricature and sophmoric attacks on the moden day that I found rather silly. The final story "Mara of Rome" is better, but I cannot say that it gripped me.

The movie seems to be arguing that in the past we had strong community and family ties, but today we are cynical and materialistic, so therefore we need to embrace moderation and religion in the future. Not so sure about that myself. And no matter how well acted, I never found the stories to fit or work together in any meaningful way.

Of course, the fact that I was watching the worst transfer ever (and dubbed no less) did not help matters. There is a remastered version available, but that is not what the Netflix folks sent me. I am willing to admit that it the condition of the DVD might be clouding my judgment.

This film beat out my own beloved Umbrellas of Cherbourg for the Oscar. Now there is a romantic movie that has something to say, with beautiful European actors as well. At least for 1963, I'll take Catherine Deneuve over Sophia Loren.


Saturday, July 23, 2005

Dark Water


Dir: Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries)

Haunted apartment plagues newly separated Jennifer Connelly and her young daughter. Yet another remake of a Japanese horror film, this one was originally directed by Hideo Nakata of 'The Ring" fame. The assemblage of actors (Connelly, John C. Reilly, Tim Roth) and the up and coming director show that the fad of remaking Japanese movies is getting serious attention now.

Horror movies are hard to review. People either love them or hate them, and when they hate them they explode with hostility. But it in the end I thinkbeing scared relies upon our particular willingness to suspend disbelief at that particular moment. I will admit that I was scared, by one scene in particular. But the film is also well made beyond the scary aspects.

The trauma happens primarily to two characters, so the movie must, and does, make us care about them. Thankfully the film is not afraid to go 45 minutes or so without something scary happening at the beginning so that when it does it means something to us. Actually the film is more creepy that scary, low on the special effects and high on the psychological drama. I am tempted to label it psychoanalytic, since the horror derives from issues of parenting and abandonment. Sort of Freud made manifest and trying to kill you. The pacing as well caught my attention. Often, horror movies get repetitious with 10 minutes or so of down time between scary scenes. I feel sometimes I could set a clock to it. But things felt more random here, events came without notice, adding to the tension I felt while watching.

There are a few loose ends, some of the minor characters clearly had scenes left on the editing room floor (Tim Roth especially).

I found the ending very satisfying, indeed touching. I did not feel forced into reactions by things jumping out from behind doors and the like. There was not a monomaniacal reliance on the movie's gimmick to drive the narrative. All of these are things that to my mind makes a good horror flick. And I believe Dark Water is one of those.

I recommend it, pretty strongly.


Friday, July 22, 2005

Remember the Titans


Dir: Boaz Yakin

Denzel Washington as the first coach of an integrated high school football team in Alexandria, VA. The movie stretches the "football as military" metaphor to the limits, impacting that argument onto racial harmony throughout society. The movie is best when developing this metpahor, and Washington is one of those actors that comes off great even with trite material to work with. The contrivance of many of the film's plot points, and the presence of a nine year old girl who understands football better than I do and is able to drop Biblical references into everyday conversation (thank you Disney for succumbing to the fallacy that making kids like adults makes them better characters) prevents me from recommending the movie as a sports movie.

But the racial themes deserve some attention. If it is the case, as I believe, that the two most important events for civil rights in the US between WWII and '64 were the integration of the military and professional baseball, then this movie artfully combines those two ideas. By treating a team integerated against its will literally as a military unit, cohesion is sped up far beyond the pace that the rest of the world is willing to proceed. The unstated hypothesis here is that racial hatred is essentially a matter of misunderstanding, and that when forced to work together intolerance will be put aside for the greater good.

Of course, the story is much deeper than that, but the movie did make me think more about that issue. As a result, the film was watchable, and Denzel is always worth the price of admission.


Asian Cinema Review

(A draft of this post was published before I finished it. Sorry 'bout that. And I've been working on this in fits and starts for eva. Yikes, I suck at blogging regularly. Props to Marcus!)

This blog? Best. Idea. Ever. One of the things I look forward to is the generation of individualized film rankings. For example, what is a "good movie" for Marcus compared to Paul? How might they comparatively rank a particular film? Our blog blurb says that there are 10,000 films produced every year and this blog might winnow it down some--but the reviews will probably still outpace any of our attempts to actually watch everything. So, I'd like to introduce my own ranking system vis-a-vis a smattering of Asian films (and yes, virtually everything good in the film world is happening in Asia). Most of these films is of the fightin' variety, just to provide some thematic unity.

I will be using a 5 star ranking system. 4 stars doesn't provide enough evaluative force. And I'll start with a film most people have seen:

5-star. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Beautiful cinematography, bold special effects that accentuate rather than dominate the film, great dialogue (in Mandarin and English, actually), a nice story, and someone dies in the end. In my mind, this is the standard bearer to which all other films in this genre must match up against.

4-star. I would suggest that Hero fits the bill for a 4-star movie. Complicated, multi-threaded story that is doing something quite unique narratively compounded by some great imagery and use of color.

The Vertical Ray of the Sun is a 4 star movie that most people haven't seen but should. This is one of the more visually stunning movies you will see; capturing Vietnam's colors better than probably any other post-Vietnam war film. The nice thing about this film is that nothing comes out the end like it should--we are initially led to believe there are romantic relationships that will shock us, but the film instead surprises us with the complexities of human relationships. Sorry, can't say more.

The Twilight Samurai is actually more of an anti-Samurai film. Seibei Iguchi isn't particularly interested in being a samurai, but he is, and he happens to be a damn good one (specializing in the 'short sword style'). If you don't like samurai movies, but like the idea of feud Japan, then this is the film for you. Very little fighting (and even less shown on-screen) and very much a story of human drama.


The Scent of Green Papaya is a sensitive portrayal of a young Mui--a servant girl in 1950s Vietnam. Not as visually stunning as The Vertical Ray of the Sun, there is a lot more aural pleasure in this film (not including soundtrack, which TVROTS is the clear winner here.)

Musa the Warrior is a Zhang Zi-Yi film (she of CTHD, House of Flying Daggers, and virtually everything else that comes out of A-S-I-A). Sort of a "poor person's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," but worth seeing for the cinematography and a couple of great fight scenes.

The Returner is Terminator-cum-Asia. You can totally see this as a summer blockbuster in Japan. A solid if conventional storyline accentuated by some delightful special effects.

A Better Tomorrow I & II signal Chow Yun-Fat's arrival on the film-making scene, but little more. I guess these could be considered the Hong Kong Scarface.


The Duel is a buddy film gone samurai. A "Hong Kong-style flick," this film is like a Jackie Chan flick gone native: eye candy only.

Purple Butterfly contains approximately 8.2 words of dialogue. A moving film that provides lots of emotional lost on a Western audience...I hope you can finish the film, because I could not. Too many sad goodbyes in train stations, too many quivering lips and forlorn stares. Clearly a "good film" that this movie-goer couldn't stand.


The Princess Blade. Netflix's summary: "It's the era after the apocalypse, and Yuki, a female assassin (Yumiko Shaku), is stunned to discover that her mother's murderer is her gang's leader. When she confronts him, she's forced to go on the lam, and the only person willing to help her is a former terrorist with whom she eventually falls in love. But can he keep her safe? Can she save herself?" This is clearly the setup for a winner.

The Ice Storm


Dir: Ang Lee

Michelle picked out and recommended and urged this movie.

Sexual frustration in the 1970's. And those two clauses shine out from this brilliant movie. The way that the early 70's are captured in both cultural references and social sensibilities is very fun. Check out the used book scene; this movie embodies a New England psychoanalyitc chic leftism that is dead on.

But the sexual themes dominate the movie going experience. Three different sets of characters are caught in the loosening of inhibitions indicative of that period to the point of going through sex because one is suppoed to, as a social statement, not from genuine feeling or even desire.

Brutal yet honest film. Christina Ricci gives the best performance I have seen from her (which is not saying much at all). All of the actors exhibit a cold detachment that does justice to the title and resonates with my own lived experience, and I would wager almost all others as well. Good script, but it is character development that drives this movie. Lee's direction is sparse and his score appropriatley Asian and detached.

BTW, I have only experienced one ice storm in my life. In Arizona. Go figure.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Cool Hand Luke


Dir: Stuart Rosenberg (Murder Inc., Drowning Pool, Amityville Horror)

Man against The Man story with Paul Newman on a chain chang fighting the powers that be to preserve his manhood and dignity. Well tread thematic material, but great for the same reason that cliches become cliches; because they seem so true.

I had the opportunity to revisit this movie after many years. It was a favorite of mine from teenagehood, and has not dimished at all over these many years since. An entertaining blend of comedy and drama, with the American archetype of the cowboy doing right regardless of the lawless (or overly lawed) country that he finds himself in once again delivering the goods.

Riddled with famous scenes, such as the egg eating contest, sweet Lucille, and the mirrored sunglasses of the eyeless boss, this movie is worth watching just for the pop culture references. But it is also in that conversation of human spirit movies with the Great Escape, Papillon, Bridge on the River Kwai, and The Sand Pebbles, one of those movies that makes you want to accept martyrdom for principle. And, of course, the signature line from Cool Hand Luke "What we have here is a failure to communicate" would be used throughout the protests of the Vietnam War.

I recommend it highly. And George Kennedy is one of the best character actors of his time.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

2005 Oscar Winner Best Picture

Dir: Clint Eastwood

Tight movie. Not a word spoken that does not have narrative import, not one symbol referenced that does not explode with meaning somewhere in the text. Each character drawn deeply enough, each plot point a necessary progression to realize the vision of the writer and director.

Indeed, this movie is a tremendous example of the kinds of movies that I like best. Get me to care about a set of characters and then put them into situations that move me. Make me think and feel. Hollywood movies have always been strongest when they tell simple stories well; their demonstration of the human condition is what compels us to them. Far too often, films resort to tricks or quirks or sleight of hand or knee-jerk convention breaking to distract us from the lack of true emotional resonance in the story. Such red herring movies are cute and fun when done well, and unwatchable when mediocre. Telling a movie backwards is clever, but it takes an artists' eye to illuminate how we live our lives in new ways.

A movie like this, when done mediocre, is merely forgettable. But a movie of this ilk, one where the craft of story telling is moving and deft, is the height of the medium. The sort of movie that stands the test of time.

Is Million Dollar Baby that good? I am not sure. That is a question that time alone can answer. I do know that it was the best movie from 2005 that I have seen. I do know that the script was marvelous, better written than Sideways. And I do know that even though I knew the ending before watching, I was moved strongly.


Monday, July 18, 2005

The Grey Zone


Dir: Tim Blake Nelson

Absolutely unrelenting Holocaust drama adapted from Nelson's play. While the recent trend in Nazi movies is to find some compassion or triumph of the human spirit amidst the horror (Schindler's List, The Piano, and of course Life is Beautiful), in this narrative the totality of evil in the setting forces a situational ethics that destroys the humanity of everyone involved.

The story chronicles concentration camp prisoners who, in various ways, contributed to the deaths of other inmates either through cooperation or defiance. An exceptionally nuanced study of complicity, the movie highlights both the inevitability (defensibility?) of selfishness and the convulted ways that they define evil so as to demarcate between themselves and the Nazis. You could abolutely show this movie to an ethics class, if you wanted them all sobbing and slack jawed for two weeks that is.

In fact, the movie is quite overwhelming. I just watched it with Michelle (in MI now, BTW). It is hard for both of us to even talk about it until it can be digested. A punishing movie to view. Perhaps I will blog more about it after some time.

I am very facinated to hear what it might say to others about complicity with evil, at the macro and micro levels. If anyone out there watches it, I urge tracking me down to discuss it. In IFC's rotation now.


Sunday, July 17, 2005

Double Indemnity


Dir: Billy Wilder

There are a handful of movies that stir genuine love within me. Double Indemnity is not just a movie I enjoy or understand or appreciate or find interesting. I love it. Every time it is on the television I watch it, indeed I am excited all day when I see it is on that night. When I expose people to new movies, I show them this one first. There is a burning in my chest when the time comes. I never tire of it, I always take something from it. It is a perfect movie, one that fufills all of my desires for a movie watching experience.

I fall in love with Barbara Stanwyck every single time. Her Phyllis is the quintessential femme fatale, there is no screen woman who better uses her sexuality to twist men to her evil will. And what a performance. The sublte variations of her face when she lets her true self show are so powerful that I squirm in my seat. Her sexuality comes from conversation not cleavage; she controls every situation and that power dooms men. I have so much fun falling for her along with the other men in the movie.

I want to be like Fred MacMurray every single time. He is so savvy, so understated with his confidence, always observing, always planning, always delivering the perfect retort. All except for Phyllis of course. But Walter Neff's one weakness makes him all the more emulable, gives him a humanity that shows one crack of light in the stone wall facade. His masculinity is thrilling, he is the kind of man that young boys dream about being when they play detective in the neighborhood park.

I marvel at Edward G. Robinson every single time. His performace is informed by dozens of B gangster pictures that gives him the ability to perfectly deliver these A list lines with punch.

I stand in awe at the writing of Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder every single time. Every single line in the whole damn movie is a gem, American poetry simultaneoulsy possesing the beauty of clever wordplay and the humour of exaggerated coolness. It is spellbinding, sexy, silly, and always sparkling.

I have seen this movie 30 times, easy. Every single time I love it. When I first got serious about movies in high school, I came upon it early. It formed my aesthetic then and only ripens after repeated viewings now. I am so pleased that it comes into my life every 6 months or so.


Saturday, July 16, 2005



Dir: Richard Brooks (Key Largo, Blackboard Jungle, In Cold Blood)

Heist film with Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn. While there are distinct moments of tension, the film lacks the hyper cleverness of the latter day caper movie (Ocean's 11, Usual Suspects, Reservoir Dogs, Heat, etc.). Seems like one of those movies that opened the door for a way of telling a story that others have fully walked through.

Decent; very watchable for those into these kinds of fast paced bankrobbing flicks.


Fanny and Alexander (Theatrical Version)

1982 Oscar Winner Best Foreign Language Film

Dir: Ingmar Bergman

Absolutely brilliant examination of a family in transition after the death of the title characters' father. The mother remarries, and the children end up in a world filled with austerity and coldness. Semi auto-biographical, Fanny and Alexander is a monumental achievment in observation of familial relationships.

The movie feels very much like a play or novel, as all of Bergman's stuff that I have seen does. The prose is dense, philosophical, and psychologically complex. The themes are grand, with unflinching examinations of religion, death, art, fidelity and love, and raising children. This movie is a lot like watching a Dostoevsky novel or Checkov play being faithfully put on the screen. This is a truncated version of a five hour Swedish television mini-series that is no doubt well worth your time.

I have now seen five Bergman films, including the Seventh Seal and the Trilogy of Faith, and his movies get even better in my mind after reflection. The intelligence of his movies is rivaled only by Kubrick, and his unrelenting examination of these big themes leave lasting impressions. I am ready to elevate him into the "greatest director of all time" discussion, and will actively seek out more of his movies.


Friday, July 08, 2005

W.C. Fields: Six Short Films

Dir: Various

Criterion compilation of six early Fields shorts. I am a big fan, and seeing them in this order shows the ingenuity of the 30's Fields as a comedian. The Marx Brothers and him (and no one else from the period) are in the same conversation comedically. But the MB's were a comedy of precision and careful construction, having perfected routines for months on stage before they filmed them. Fields' stuff, I think, is more surreal and off the cuff. Not that it is haphazard, but WC likes to throw ideas at the wall, use non sequitors and play around with conventions more than the MB's. Fields is to my mind a precursor of Monty Python or The Young Ones, British in that sense of you never know what is going to happen, where one purposely subverts our expectations in a way that demarcates the hip from the square.

'The Pool Sharks": 1915 Silent feature. Shows off Fields' physical comedy (which is brilliant), but suffers from the same faults as all silent comedies in my opinion. Very broad, incredibly dated; there are only so many times I can watch someone fall down and think its funny. Actually, zero times. Some camera tricks that no doubt were cool way back when.

"The Golf Specialist": One of his best with a tremendous sequence on the 1st tee. Very Marx Brother's-esque, a lesson is well coreographed physical comedy. But only showing flashes of his unique style yet to come.

"The Fatal Glass of Beer": Here it is, the masterpiece. Self refential as a film in ways that I have not seen before this piece, there is an uncertainty about what is going to happen than builds comedic tension unlike almost anything else. Commitment to the joke through repetition all over the place. It is difficult to find jokes even today that rythymically go beyond three iterations, and this short goes into the teens on several.

"The Dentist", "The Pharmacist", "The Barber Shop": Fields in his element, each exhibits the essentials of the Fields persona (selfish, cruel, cavalier, egotistical) and some truly bizarre moments. See especially the once censored part of "The Dentist" with some sexually suggestive physical comedy that would have a hard time being on television even today (well, at noon at least).

Essential viewing for students of comedy. But even the wizards at Criterion could not completely restore the audio on several of the pieces.


Sunday, July 03, 2005

Hoop Dreams

From the "Slipped Through the Cracks" File:


Dir: Steve James

Four year documentary following the high school basketball careers of two inner city Chicago boys.

A true gem, if only for the incredible fortune of the the filmmakers to have unknowingly chosen two 14 year olds to whom so many interesting, tragic, and hopeful things would later happen. And yet, nothing that happens seems particularly extraordinary either. The stories could easily stand in for scores of kids in scores of cities with minor variations.

What lingers with me is the juxtaposition of lofty dreams of the NBA with the stifling threat of failure in the inner city. When all around is poverty, violence and dependence, when the only way out seems to be basketball, even promises of riches and universities can only offer so much hope and solace, provide so much insentive to really believe. Thinking of how many NBA players went through the same obstacles has increased my respect for them.

Not the tightest narrative I have ever seen. Chracters fade into the background at times (why is it almost an hour between references to Gates's daughter?), others return in contrived ways. Out of nowhere major events like families breaking up drop that were no doubt brewing well before we found out about them. Foreshadowing would have greatly helped the story development, as would have more focus. But these are errors of ambition, trying to include too many elements of these fascinating strories, and you never yell at a player for a hustle foul.

Filmed with love and compassion. A monumental work that stretches the limits of how real life stories can be told. Any sports fan must reckon with it.

War of the Worlds

I thought would post the first contemporary film of the thread.

Just got back from War of the Worlds...a rather spectacular film (in the spectacle sense). The specials effects were expectantly amazing and the story was quite poignant. During the film, I couldn't help but feel that many of the images (the aliens, their vehicles) were derivative and many of the fundamental, motivational questions (why are the aliens invading? where are they from? why did we never notice large vehicles underground?--Ebert's review covers many of these questions) go unanswered . But on the drive home, I came to the conclusion that these choices might be deliberate, thus adding to the brilliance of the film.

Unlike so many other alien invasion disaster films that follow the story of those directly battling the aliens (Independence Day), this film centers on a single father and his two children as they flee from the aliens. From that perspective, we would not know why the aliens attacked, etc. As a result, it enables us to focus on the intimate, human side of the tragedy (I could not help but think of that "What would you do" song about 9-11, Marcus, you'll like that connection. As you would imagine, there some clear allusions to 9-11, such as the initial incomprehension by individuals who experienced the event).

I have a lot more thoughts on the film, but what struck me most was how this film comports with Spielberg's other alien films. Spielberg promised to never do a film with aliens as the bad guys. Some rather compelling readings of Spielberg's opus suggest that his alien films, in fact most of his films, ruminate on relationships with estranged parents (most notably a father-figure; Spielberg himself was raised only by his mother), where the alien functions as a surrogate paternal figure (ET is the obvious example). War of the Worlds, however, reverses these roles. Before the aliens attack, the mother leaves the kids with the deadbeat dad so she and her new husband can visit her parents in Boston. When the aliens attack, they flee and head to Boston. I find it interesting that the mother is both absent during the moment of unprecedented tragedy, yet is the object of the narrative drive. So many of Spielberg's diagetic choices seemingly feminize the aliens. Although this is typical of many aliens-as-bad guys (or gals), given the larger narrative context, I think Spielberg has really presented a surprisingly complex film that challenges a simple feminist read (but why is it that all bad aliens are wet and slimy and good ones dry?)

Rambled on too long. Good film, go see, will talk more then.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

In a Year with 13 Moons

This is nice to see. The blog has been up for just a couple of days, and already two posts and a comment. Big fan of the Three Colors Triology. I think I am most partial to Red. You all should check out his other stuff, most notable the Decalogue which has 10 stories, each one related to one of the Ten Commandments.

Last night, I watched Ranier Werner Fassbinder's In a Year with 13 Moons to review for the website. Fassbinder is considered one of the leading figures in the German New Wave movement, along with Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and the director of "Tin Drum" (cant remember his name--Volker Schoffender?). He died of an overdose in 1982; he was only in his early 4os, but he completed over 40 films. I never saw a Fassbinder film before, but his reputation is quite deserving.

This film is one of his most personal; he wrote, directed, shot, and edited this film right after his long-time lover killed himself. The film follows a woman named Elvira (formerly named Erwin) as she attempts to find purpose in life after she made a rash decision to have a sex change operation. Erwin became Elvira because a man once glibbly said that he would fall in love with Erwin if one he were a woman. The story is quite heart-wrenching. It really raises some interesting questions, not about sexuality, but the complex nature of emotion as informing decision-making.

Fassbinder adored the works of Douglas Sirk, so most of his films have a very melodramatic flare (watching a melodrama in German, I must admit, is quite disorienting). As opposed to American melodrama where the melodrama plays out in the performances of the characters, I was struck by the melodramatic cinematography. If anything, this film is beautiful (mirrors were a dominant motif-somewhat cliche, but it was done so well).

Back to the dissertation...or at least the theater.


1981 Oscar Winner Best Foregin Language Film

Dir: Istvan Szabo (Being Julia)

You all are joining me half way through watching the foregin film Oscar winners, so bear with me.

Hungarian film about a German actor whose ambition moves him from devotee of Worker's Theater to staging propaganda plays for the Third Reich. Yet another entry in Oscar's love affair with European films exploring their own complicity with the Nazis. And one of the best.

Mephisto refers to Goethe's Mephistophiles, the best role of the thespian in question. If I were more up on my Faust I could unpack the specifics of the sell your soul allegory going on, but the depth of the movie's philsopophical points require more careful study than an inital viewing. Indeed, much of the film's strength lies in several very interesting scenes exploring the connection between art and politics and the individual reasons why otherwise regular people would become connected with a murderous totalitarian state.

Klaus Brandaur's acting is superb. His character is very complicated, using the Nazi's for career advancement while at the same time supportive of the German left, in a interracial relationship, and a firm believer in art as universal embodiement of the human spritit. To see him balance those beliefs against the Nazi edicts of racial and cultural purity in the name of national unity is very intersting. In particular, the movie's juxtaposition of communist theater with Nazi theater (they both seek to motivate the audience to political action) warrants further reflection.

Thought provoking, in particular for those interested in aesthetics.