Friday, December 28, 2007

Best of 2007: Music

Because this is what we do at the end of the year...

To be accurate, this should be titled 'Favorites of 2007: Music' because I am hardly an authority on the amazing amount of music available. However both my bank account and local library attest to the fact that I try my best. Here are my favorites of 2007, in alphabetical order:

  • All Hour Cymbals (Yeasayer) As cheeky as the title and the name may be, the music is a different story. Yeasayer music is eclectic without being schizophrenic, and sophisticated without being convoluted. The only criticism that I could possibly come up with is how conventional some of the songs sound through totally unconventional means, and that is a feat within itself.
  • Andorra (Caribou) Andorra is a total throw back to wall-of-sound psychedelic pop of the 60s that is catchy, melodious and beautiful. Dan Snaith's previous projects, as Caribou and Manitoba, have not come close to the brilliance achieved here. Listening to this CD makes me want to dance around barefoot with flowers in my hair.
  • Bambi’s Dilemma (Melt Banana) Melt Banana has turned a corner on Bambi's Dilemma transforming their sonic mazes that spiral around and make your head spin into delicate head throbbing punk perfection. Just when they seem on the verge of slipping into an actual pop-like melody, they hit you with some mad frenetic madness. Sound like an oxymoron? Just download "Cracked Plaster Cast" and the 44 second "Lock the Head" and you will see just what I'm talking about.
  • Friend Opportunity (Deerhoof) More than any other CD in this list, I could pop in Friend Opportunity at anytime and be satisfied. The first track, "The Perfect Me," is a kinetic barn burner that is enough to get anyone moving right out of the gate. Friend Opportunity is punk pop at its best. The biggest disappointment was that Deerhoof, who will often make two passes to the Twin Cities in a tour, only chose to play a show at the stuffy McGuire Theater at the Walker.
  • In Advance of the Broken Arm (Marnie Stern) The title says it all: screw it! let's go! With her fretboard tapping and 80s metal guitar sound, Marnie Stern is definitely throwing caution to the wind. This is some very unassuming rock and roll that doesn't even have marketing in mind. The album is quirky, to say the least, and if it wasn't for her amazing guitar playing, I wonder how this music would come off. Without a doubt this is one of the most unique albums of the year, and I love it.
  • LP (Holy Fuck) LP has the unfair advantage that I only recently bought it and I am hopelessly addicted to it. It is such a great combination of electronic and no nonsense rocking out. I'm dying for these guys to come to town. Let's hope they open for Super Furry Animals in February at First Ave. Check out some of the videos on their MySpace page. From the dreamy "Milkshake" and "Lovely Allen" to the pulsing "Super Inuit" and "Safari," I love this album from start to finish.
  • Mirrored (Battles) Mirrored is hard to peg down as far as a genre. Sure it's 'math rock' and if I weren't so stoopid, there are probably some pretty amazing things happening rhythmically. With ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier and three other guys who play anything else that plugs in, this guys mash it up pretty good. It's multi-layered, it's experimental, it's electronic, and it's rock, all in a very well crafted package.
  • Natural (Mekons) God love the Mekons and every facet of their shape-shifting musical genres. In many ways, this might be the Mekons' most mainstream album yet. There is something bright and shiny about this dark themed album. Natural reminds me of the best of The Handsome Family...except better because it's the Mekons.
  • Rainbow (Boris & Michio Kurihara) Michio Kurihara does something to slow Boris down a little bit. Not that Boris was fast without him, but there is something a little more reflective about Rainbow. For those who are getting a warm and fuzzy feeling about this combo, the quartet had no trouble nearly blowing my eardrums out at the Triple Rock this fall. That being said, this album is full of nuance and variation.
  • Strawberry Jam (Animal Collective) This was a difficult one because I really got burnt out on Strawberry Jam, which I blame on myself and Radio K, who obviously adored "Peacebone" as much as I did. There is a mania here that this album conveys. Who knew that music so peculiar could be so engaging. Although some won't agree, Strawberry Jam upstages Panda Bear's Person Pitch.
  • The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams (Me’shell Ndegeocello) Me'shell's last few releases have left me cold, but I was blown away by this album. The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams combines the best of what Me'shell is known for: her jazz and funk and hypnotic spoken word. Definitely one of the most overlooked albums of the year.
Honorable Mentions: Dark Star (White Magic), Kala (M.I.A.), Person Pitch (Panda Bear), Proof of Youth (The Go Team), Teardrop Sweetheart (Misha), The Third Hand (RJD2), Triple Rock (Dosh), Widow City (Fiery Furnaces), With Lasers (Bonde de Role), Yesterday's Universe (Yesterday's New Quintet).

Shows - My favorite shows obviously coordinate with some of my favorite albums.I'd be remiss not to mention Radiohead's serious smackdown to the music industry. I bought In Rainbows for 5 quid when it was first made available, and although it is not one of my faves, I was more than glad to put up money for their effort. Granted, Radiohead could probably do anything they want and be successful, but this has to be a huge wake up call to the suits. The more the industry pisses and moans about illegal downloads or copyright infringement, the more artists and fans are going to take control.

Although I thought the City Pages Year in Music issue was lame with a capital L, I loved the Twin Cities Rock Atlas. Check it out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Anniversary to Blog

Woop-tee-doo. I've had a blog for a year. At 148 posts, there are no records for quantity being set and, I assure you dear reader, I will always strive for better quality. Over the last year I have learned how hard it can be to watch as many movies as possible, be engaged in the local scene of music, art and performance, maintain a personal life, work 40 hours a week and still have time to sit down and write my reflections, be they banal or profound. In a perfect world, someone would pay me for the watching and writing part, but I'm afraid banality doesn't get much respect these days. So until I get more profound and more original, I will settle for my happy-go-lucky job as a lumper. In the meantime, I've decided to sift out the chaff and focus on film postings only (with an occasional impulsive T-wolves posting here and there.) Although I like other stuff, film is my unapologetic passion.

Being flip is fun, but I really wouldn't be doing this if I didn't take it seriously. Soooo, here are a few goals pour moi in 2008:
  • Raise the quality while maintaining quantity. I have no intentions on posting every day unless I win the lottery and really can quit my job. Although I am happy with an average of 2.76 posts a week, I am unsatisfied with the average lameness of the posts. My intentions are to write more reviews and actual content, with the news items taking a back seat.
  • Connect with people interested in a Twin Cities film website. As much as I can appreciate how easy (and cheap) blogs are, the time is ripe for a new resource for Twin Cities film. The local film editor for the City Pages was fired, and the dailies work with a skeleton staff and impossible deadlines. Often the best way to keep track of what is going on is to simply visit the individual websites of the non-chain cinema houses. But that's not easy. (Case and point, I went to the Heights yesterday to see Juno, and just happened to notice that the 1927 silent film Chicago accompanied by organ will be playing Thursday. Is this going to get any press? I doubt it.) The Twin Cities has a pretty amazing film community out there, and some pretty cool things going on here. The working equation for me is getting more people to the cool films, and in return getting more cool films.
  • Attract more readers. For those that do read this blog, thank you. It's not meant to be a vacuum and I am glad to hear that people do occasionally read it. Hopefully writing more original content will attract more people, but I am not afraid to ask readers to do a little pimping for me: if you read something you like or think is interesting or stupid, pass it along to people you think might enjoy it.
Probably the best news, for me, is that after a year, I'm not even close to being burnt out. I only wish I had more time. And as much as I would like to mull all of this over a little bit more, I have a movie to watch. Cheers to your 2008.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays from SWEENEY TODD

Sweeney Todd may not be my favorite film of the year, but there is something about a little misanthropy around the holidays that makes me happy. The best thing about the pessimistic and bloody Sweeney Todd is that it opened Christmas weekend. Sweeney Todd may very well be the darkest film ever made with the average tone being a dark grey. Sure, it's a musical and the murder has a lighter tone than, say, the Saw series, but even at the hand of Burton, Sweeney Todd is bluntly grim. The theme at the heart of this film is undeniably dire: we all deserve to die.

"Now we all deserve to die
Tell you why, Mrs. Lovett, tell you why.
Because the lives of the wicked should be made brief
For the rest of us death will be a relief
We all deserve to die."

If you are feeling a little gloomy around the Holidays, Sweeney Todd may just cheery you up a little bit. Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Worst team ever?

The Worst Team Ever. That was the title of a front page article in the Star Tribune today. Well, that just makes wins that much sweeter. The Timberwolves win against the Pacers 131 to 118 was one of the funnest games I've ever watched. Just look at the stats: both Jefferson (29 points, 13 rebounds) and Telfair (27 points, 11 assists) with double doubles, Walker with 23 points, Gomes 16, Smith and Green with 12, and Brewer with 10. The Pacers outscored the Wolves 40 to 20 in the first quarter, but the Wolves came back in the second quarter to outscore the Pacers 40 to 15.

Sure, the T-wolves are the worst team in the NBA with only 4 wins and 21 loses, but you just never know what is going to happen. Near wins don't count, but a win against Phoenix does count. I'll be the first person to admit that it gets pretty depressing watching them lose so many near wins. But in the end who cares. Although it is hard to think about guys making millions as underdogs, it is fun to cheer for the underdog. Perhaps there will be good news out of a poor season for the Timberwolves: nice picks in the draft or maybe someone will lose their job? You just never know.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Gift Geekin' 2007

Forget DVD releases. Instead, I give you the ultimate Christmas list for the DVD dork in your life:

Samsung BD-UP5000
If you have deep pockets and big love, give the gift of no more guessing: Samsung's dual Blu-Ray/ HD player. Early reports are not bad on this machine. Despite market predictions, the Blu-Ray/HD battle will not be decided this holiday season. And honestly who knows when it will be decided. Logic points to Blu-Ray becoming the dominant format, which is far superior by the numbers. Of course we all know how logic works in "market" situations.... Best option for the time being might be Samsung's player. Of course for the price ($1000) you could get two players for the respective formats, but DVD dorks generally have too many DVD players already. My plan, short of having this player under the tree, is to bank on Blu-Ray as a means to get a PS3. Even if Blu-Ray goes sour, I'll still be able to play NBA Live and Stranglehold.

Blade Runner: Five Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition
Sure there are a lot of cool box sets out there but this has to be the the ultimate in DVD geekiness. I just saw the new cut (or is it the old cut?) of Blade Runner in the theater and I was really blown away. Granted my memory of the original cut is foggy and I'm sure I watched it on VHS, probably cropped and on a crappy TV, so it is no wonder why it seemed like a totally new experience. The five DVDs in this set might be a little excessive (four different cuts of the film and a load of extra stuff), but all the crud you get with this set is nothing but DVD collector's goodness: cool numbered edition briefcase, replica spinner car, origami unicorn figurine, photos, some sort of film clip, and a letter from Ridley Scott. And the actual content of the DVDs is worthy of ownership. Honestly, it is a pretty good deal at $55. I've paid a lot more for a lot less. I would love to have this.

Twin Peaks - The Definitive Gold Box Edition
Here it is. Season one and season two and the pilot, all together for the first time ever. I've already cried about how much I want this set. There was a time when I really didn't care about season two and was pretty happy just have season one and a weird bootleggish version of the pilot. But I've changed my mind and would actually like an excuse to what the entire thing over again. Supposedly each episode was re-mastered and now contains surround sound and has loads of new supplemental material. Sounds good to me.

TV Shows
I am convinced that the availability of television shows on DVD is more complete that the availability of films on DVD. There are so many TV show box sets and box sets of box sets that I can't keep track. If that special someone has a special TV show, the DVD set is a shoe-in.

Naruse Volume One (Masters of Cinema) and Mikio Naruse Collection (BFI)
Given the exchange rate, receiving a UK R2 DVD is like gold. And these Naruse films are more than worthy of the import price. These two collections contain six films that have been, for all intents and purposes, unavailable to the average mortal. Although Criterion released Woman Ascends the Stairs with some prospect that they might release more of Naruse's films, who wants to wait. All I have to say is that I might get hit by a bus tomorrow and life is much better after seeing these films. Japanese film fan or just plain ol' film fan, these films are invaluable. Naruse Volume One from The Masters of Cinema contains Repast (1951), Sound of the Mountain (1954) and Flowing (1956). The Mikio Naruse Collection from BFI contains Late Chrysanthemums (1954), Floating Clouds (1955) and Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960). Region free, PAL compatible DVD player required.

Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934
Because not every DVD collector is a philistine, here is an important archive of early American film. Released by the National Film Preservation Foundation, the set includes over twelve hours of material: four feature films and 44 documentaries, cartoons, newsreels, serial episodes and public service announcements "exploring social issues from the period 1900 to 1934." You can be assured that these films are presented in the best quality possible. The more I read about this set, the more interesting it seems. Just some of the topics tackled in the collection are abortion, unionization, interracial marriage, the rights of women, immigration, workplace safety, homelessness, public education and predatory lending practices. If you don't receive this from Santa, supposedly copies are being to sent to all "state libraries" although I'm not sure exactly when or exactly where.

The Experimental Image World of Shuji Terayama
Giving the gift of a Japanese DVD is just downright generous. Giving the gift of a Japanese box set is love. Giving the gift of a Japanese box set of obscure films is brilliant.

Post War Kurosawa Box - No Regrets for Our Youth, One Wonderful Sunday, Scandal, The Idiot, I Live in Fear
This set doesn't come out until January 15th, but it is the perfect gift for any fan of Japanese film. I would be more than happy to unwrap an IOU for this set containing some pretty rare and rarely-seen Kurosawa films.

Mega-movie collections: United Artists 90th Anniversary Prestige Collection and New Line Cinema 40th Anniversary Collection
If you just can't make up your mind, and you are truly dealing with the obsessive collector, either one of these collections would be fine. Seriously, check out the shots of the UA set. Wow. 90 films and 110 DVDs. God forbid I ever win the lottery. The New Line collection is a more modest 17 films on 17 DVDs, but also very nice. If you are wondering, I would prefer the UA set. Thanks. XO

Friday, December 14, 2007


Remember back in 1998 when a director named Andrew Lau made a movie called Storm Riders that was supposed to save Hong Kong film? In retrospect, I don't know if Storm Riders followed through on that promise, but it did usher in a new era of special effects and it also proved that Hong Kong films could do honest battle with Hollywood films at the domestic box office. Of course the success of Storm Riders was partially due to the popularity of the comic book it was based on by Ma Wing Shing. Asian Media Access brought Storm Riders to the big screen in the Twin Cities more than a few times, and I'm pretty sure I saw it every time. It stars pretty boys Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok in the two lead roles as Wind and Cloud, with Sonny Chiba, Kristy Yeung and Shu Qi in supporting roles. Although it seems a bit dated now, I am still fond of this movie.

Now Danny and Oxide Pang are signing on to bring the Storm Riders back in a sequel that is sure to rival the original. The Pang Brothers have hit these shores with their English language debut The Messengers, and have just wrapped up a remake of their own film Bangkok Dangerous due out next year and starring Nicolas Cage. Look also for the remake of their hit horror film The Eye next year. The Pangs have a boat-load of style in their back pocket, and while I haven't loved every film they have made, I feel Storm Riders is in good hands. As much as I long to see Aaron's pretty face and Ekin's flowing hair, neither has been confirmed in the sequel. The Pangs will start shooting Storm Riders II later this year and will hit screens hopefully around the time I am in Hong Kong for the 2009 Hong Kong International Film Festival.

Monday, December 10, 2007

ERGO PROXY, thoughts and musings

Ergo Proxy is one of the first anime series that I've finished in a long long while. The last one I finished was probably Last Exile or Paranoia Agent. Finishing a series is the first and ultimate sign of approval. I've had more than a few false starts where I get about 2-3 episodes into a series and just forget about it (Gilgamesh, Noir, Witch Hunter Robin, Texhnolyze, Haibane-Renmei, Rahxephon and so on and so forth.) This probably has more to do with my ADD than the actual quality of the shows, because now that I think about these shows they were all intriguing, to say the least. Thankfully, testing the water of an anime series has gotten a little more practical with the vast inventories of on-line movie rental services, and one of the sole reasons I subscribe to GreenCine. Ergo Proxy was one of the series that I slowly worked through over the past few months and although the ending was ultimately a let down, it was overall a pretty rewarding series.

Ergo Proxy is 23 episodes that ultimately feels short by the time you get to end. Ergo Proxy takes place sometime in the future in Romdo, a domed city that protects it's peaceful civilians from the ambiguous dangers of the lawless lands outside. Robots, called AutoReivs, facilitate the civilians as secretary, protectors, and companions. Re-l Mayer works as an inspector for the Civilian Intelligence Office. Although she seems totally competent at her job, Re-l is also treated very differently from everyone else due to the fact that she is the granddaughter of the leader of Romdo. Re-l is in charge of Vincent Law, a recent immigrant in Rondo who works on AutoReivs. Things have started to go a little haywire in the nirvana of Romdo: the Cognito virus is infecting AutoReivs giving them more human traits and self-awareness and a demon monster, called a Proxy, is on the lose in Romdo disrupting the citizens. Vincent Law seems tied to the mysteries of the Proxy and Re-l Mayer is tied to Vincent. As Vincent flees the city to the outer world, Re-l decides to follow him in attempt to uncover the secrets of the Proxy and Vincent and Romdo.

One of the things that drew me into the series was the narrative ambiguity. The above synopsis might help you through the first couple episodes, but after that you are on your own. Each episode simply opens new doors to new questions with few concrete answers. The set-up and main narrative thread of Ergo Proxy is common enough with familiar sci-fi components, but where the narrative arch is heading stays pretty foggy right up to the end. In many ways, this is Ergo Proxy's driving force: the enigma, wrapped in a riddle, shrouded in mystery. With the exception of one throw-away episode in the middle somewhere, every episode is rich and engaging, balancing the action with the dramatic yarn. The deliberate pacing was perfect, until the last two episodes which feel forced. This is probably where Ergo fails. The attempt to draw literal conclusions to the previous 22 episodes and to tie up loose ends all at once feels obligatory and, in the end, unnecessary.

I'm willing to give pretty high marks to many aspects of Ergo. Graphically, Ergo Proxy is nothing short of stunning. The dark blue-grey palette and realistic drawing is reminiscent of other anime but even darker. A lot of work obviously went into this production to make it visually captivating. I could never get tired of the images on the screen. The characters are far more interesting than your average anime. Re-l and Vincent are both caught in circumstances that seem to push their characters into adulthood. With Vincent, there is a graphic change in him from the first few episodes as a trivial self-conscious boy to his transformation as a more defined young man. Even man-child doctor Daedalus and authoritarian Rual turn out to be a more complex characters than expected. And how brilliant is Radiohead's Paranoid Android as an ending theme?

About 12 episodes into Ergo Proxy, I was convinced that I would give this a second viewing. Unfortunately that enthusiasm wained as I got into the last disc and the story got a little too heavy-handed for my taste. Although much could be gained from a second viewing, I'm going to have to put it on the back burner while I attempt to finish up the first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and start 2nd GIG, and also watch Solid State Society...more on this later.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I'm just 1 in 3,000

Maybe not something to be proud of, but I am one of the 3,000 people in the US that Brian DePalma's misguided new film Redacted over it's opening weekend. To be fair, the film opened on a mere 15 screens, and attending the film went against all common sense given the subject matter and the scathing reviews. (Hmm. It's a holiday weekend. Should I go see Beowolf or Redacted? Bill O'Reilly said I shouldn't go to that Redacted movie...) Needless to say, it was an empty theater that I arrived to on a Saturday afternoon in Edina. I was feeling pretty self conscious about the fact that I was going to be alone watching a movie about soldiers raping a young girl when someone else finally came in and sat down during the previews.

As much as I would like to champion that the film was undeservedly panned and, as a result, under-attended, I simply can't do it. Redacted is an ill-conceived film that I can only assume DePalma made because he couldn't help himself. And while I can't defend the film on that basis alone, I can certainly sympathize with his intentions. Who hasn't had that moment of disbelief or anger when reading the paper or listening to the news that people aren't more upset about what is going on. DePalma has probably had many of those moments and this film was what he decided to do about it. Late in Redacted there is a dramatized video blogger venting her rage about the individuals characterized in the film, about the war in Iraq, and about the general complacency in the US regarding the war. This is the scene where DePalma's voice comes through loud and clear.

When the film was over, my fellow theater mate and I struck up a conversation. There is no enjoying a film like this, and we both agreed upon that. Much like me, he felt compelled to see the film simply because everyone was telling him not to. He was dumbfounded that this film was panned and Enchanted was given high ratings. No doubt. To keep it in perspective, as flawed as Redacted is, I found it a much less painful experience than this year's mega-hit Transformers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

DVD releases for November 27 + December 4

Highlights from last week and this week:

November 27

Drunken Angel Criterion (1948) directed by Akira Kurosawa
"In this powerful early noir from the great Akira Kurosawa, Toshiro Mifune bursts onto the screen as a volatile, tubercular criminal who strikes up an unlikely relationship with Takashi Shimura's jaded physician. Set in and around the muddy swamps and back alleys of postwar Tokyo, Drunken Angel is an evocative, moody snapshot of a treacherous time and place, featuring one of the director's most memorably violent climaxes."
Kurosawa's period samurai films were my knee-jerk favorites for a long time. But as I have matured to the ripe old age that I am, I have come to love his contemporary films much much more: Stray Dog, High and Low, The Bad Sleep Well, Scandal, The Idiot, Ikiru and this amazing film. As with Kurosawa's best films, Drunken Angel is a dark vision of humanity. Most, including Kurosawa himself, site this film as a turning point in his career where he starts to assert his own style. It was also the first film in the legendary partnership between Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Not to be missed.

Paprika (2006) directed by Satoshi Kon
"Techno-geek Kosaku Tokita invented the DC Mini to allow therapists to enter a patient's dreams and explore his unconscious, but an evil cabal uses the Mini to create a mass nightmare that causes multiple suicides. Psychotherapist Atsuko Chiba uses her alter-identity, "dream detective" Paprika, to intervene. Entering the nightmare, she witness a bizarre parade of appliances, toys, and kitsch objects: All of her intelligence and imagination are needed to escape this nightmare and its perpetrators. As he did in Millennium Actress and Paranoia Agent, Kon effortlessly carries the audience between reality and fantasy, confirming his reputation as one of the most talented and interesting directors working in animation today."
I would second that last line. Paranoia Agent was nothing short of brilliant in my book, and where Millennium Actress revels in a feature by-the-book narrative, Paprika swings past Paranoia Agent and fully embraces the more typical turn-the-world-upside-down anime narrative. The animation is fantastic and the story is giddy goofy.

Dragon Tiger Gate (2006) directed by Wilson Yip
"SPL collaborators Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip join forces once again for this high-energy adaptation of Wong Yuk-Ling's popular manga Dragon and Tiger Heroes. The Dragon Tiger Gate is a Hong Kong martial arts dojo co-founded by the descendents of Dragon and Tiger. Separated as children, Tiger fights for the cause of good and Dragon goes to work for fearsome drug smuggler Ma Kun. Tiger gets into a scrap with Ma Kun's gang and ends up in possession of the Lousha Plaque - a sacred icon of immense value to the powerful criminals. As Tiger attempts to lure Dragon away from the dark side, the pair is forced to work together for the first time in years in order to defeat formidable Lousha Gang leader Shibumi, whose penchant for one-on-one fights sets the stage for an explosive climax."
I resisted the temptation to buy this DVD when it came out in Hong Kong due to reports that it was worse than Yip's previous film SPL (and unlike most, I wasn't terribly impressed with SPL.) Plus I really have a problem with the hair that Donnie Yen, Nic Tse and Shawn Yue are all sporting. Nonetheless, action fans take note, the fights are sure to be some of the best you will see in film today. And I'm not talking about fast editing manuvers, I'm talking one-shot wonders. Donnie Yen is on a revival of sorts, not only as an actor but also as action director. This guy can still move like nobody's business.

Take 'em or leave 'em DVDs of interest: Waitress, Vitus, Skin Walkers and The Namesake

December 4

Exiled (2006) directed by Johnnie To
"It's 1998, and the Portuguese colony of Macau, a city along the Southern coast of China, is about to be handed over to Chinese authorities under a long-standing agreement. As the people of Macau ponder how their new leaders will deal with the criminal underground that's long been part of the city's support system, a pair of hit men from Hong Kong arrive in town to execute a gangster who has turned his back on the syndicate to make a new life for his wife and children. While the Chinese syndicate want to be sure he doesn't share anything he learned while in their employ, two strong-arm men also arrive in Macau, determined to see to the former gangster's safety. Starring Nick Cheung, Simon Yam and Francis Ng, Exiled received its world premiere at the 2006 Venice Film Festival."
It's too bad this film didn't get a theatrical release here (for selfish reasons, of course.) This is one of my favorite this year. I did not resist buying this one when it came out in HK early this year, and fans of To's The Mission should not miss this film. Although Exiled is not the sequal to The Mission that it was rumored to be, it is similar beyond casting. This is Johnnie To at his best.

Czech Dream (2004) directed by Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda
"Two students from the Czech Film Academy commission a leading advertising agency to organize a huge campaign for the opening of a new supermarket named Czech Dream. The supermarket however does not exist and is not meant to. The advertising campaign includes radio and television ads, posters, flyers with photos of fake Czech Dream products, a promotional song, an internet site, and ads in newspapers and magazines. Will people believe in it and show up for the grand opening?"
Hey, it is really good to see this film come out on DVD. This played at the MSPIFF in 2005 and although I missed it, everyone I know who went and saw it, loved it. It also got some good press locally. I am thankful that it didn't just disappear resulting in me forgetting about it.

Drama/Mex (2006) directed by Gerardo Naranjo
"Two interlaced stories unfold over the course of the same long, hot day in the once lush and now decadent resort town of Acapulco. The first involves the beautiful and cool Fernanda, who is forced to deal with the sudden emergence of her ex-lover, Chino. Her boyfriend, Gonzalo, must now compete with the intense sexual tension Fernanda and Chino share. The second story concerns Jamie, an office worker with hidden indiscretions, attempting suicide in a beachfront hotel-until a precocious and equally dishonest teenage girl disrupts his plan. They will all converge in a stark and harrowing portrayal of moral ambiguity."
I'll admit to missing this film twice. Once in a screening at the Walker and a week long run at the Parkway.

Mikogami Trilogy directed by Kazuo Ikehiro
The Trail of Blood (1972): Rival gangs are at war with one another, ravaging the countryside and slaughtering anyone who defies them. Unfortunately for them, they messed with the wrong guy. When Jokichi, a famed wandering yakuza soldier, tries to go straight, he quickly learns that you only leave the Underworld by getting sent to Hell! The Fearless Avenger (1972): Thirsting for revenge, Jokichi rashy attempts to assassinate the evil Chogoro, but ends up being captured by Yakuza. His life is spared by Boss Juzaburo, in order that the harmony of an important commemoration not be further disturbed. Though now even more of an outcast, Jokichi is asked by another Yakuza boss, Umezo, to guard Oyuki, the wayward daughter of Juzaburo. The tragic consequences of this assignment will lead him into a deadly trap and a final confrontation with Chogoro. Slaughter in the Snow (1973): Jokichi's success in getting revenge has resulted in a hefty price being put on his head, and it's only a matter of time before he runs into Kobunji, master of the throwing knife, who, while he really likes Jokichi, has his professional reputation to uphold."
Another very interesting release from Animeigo.

The Killer Snakes (1975) directed by Gwai Chi Hung
"Fear slithers straight up your spine in this notorious Shaw Brothers shocker from the director of The Boxer’s Omen! Mocked and abused by everyone around him, a meek young man lives near a haven for reptiles and, upon discovering a wounded snake one night, discovers that he has a unique psychic bond with his cold-blooded neighbors. Impoverished and sexually frustrated, he’s soon pushed to the breaking point by those around him and vows to unleash his fury in a perverse, delirious attack of scaly serpents like nothing you’ve ever seen!"
I have seen this film, and it is only slightly less silly than the Shaw's Oily Maniac. Gwai Chi Hung was a productive director for the Shaw Brothers with action hits The Teahouse, The Lady Professional, and Big Brother Cheng as well as camped up horror films Bewitched, Corpse Mania, Hex After Hex, and Ghost Eyes. You won't get scared watching The Killer Snakes, but you will have a boat-load of fun.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Gong Li returns to Hollywood

Gong Li has been confirmed for Mikael Hafstrom's new film Shanghai. Hafstrom was responsible for this summer's effective but pretty mediocre hit 1408 with John Cusack. It seems that Cusack will play the lead in Shanghai with Gong Li as the mysterious love interest. Shanghai will be a period piece that takes place in Japanese-occupied Shanghai shortly before the US's entry into World War II. As far as I can tell, Shanghai looks to be a sort of espionage/mystery/thriller. The script was written by Hossein Amini who also wrote The Four Feathers.

Gong Li most recent film was Zhang Yimou's visually stunning Curse of the Golden Flower (right), but she has made a handful of appearances in Hollywood films ranging from the worst, Memoirs of a Geisha, to the best, Miami Vice, with Hannibal Rising somewhere in between. Back in the day, when Gong Li was the leading lady for Zhang Yimou, and star of the Chinese art house film circuit, see was quoted in saying that Hollywood offers of playing dumbed down female roles did not interest her. That was well over ten years ago that I read that interview, and while things have no doubt changed for her, I wouldn't say she has sold out by any means. Although I am not sure about the pairing with John Cusack, I look forward to seeing Gong Li in this film.

Shanghai is slated to shoot in 2008 and to be released sometime in 2009.

Monday, November 26, 2007


It's amazing what 18 months can do for an unfinished film. Richard Kelly called Southland Tales "a work in progress" when it screened at Cannes in 2006. Had Southland Tales been a resounding critical success, Kelly probably would have found another phrase to describe his new film. As it was, it was met with audience snobbery and critical damning for it's pop-culture audacity and its overwhelming ambition. Kelly, faced with a battle with the studio, probably spent much of the time since wrangling about running times and budgets. As little as three months ago, in a smattering of interviews that seem to surround ComicCom in San Diego, Kelly was happy as a clam with his finished product. With some added CGI and a paired down running time, Kelly seemed convinced that he had worked Southland into a better film.

Unfortunately, I think the studio gave up on this film after its disastrous performance at Cannes. Did anyone see a trailer for this film in the theater? Not me. Or how about any pre-release press? Nope. Even the website, which had huge potential given the nature of the film, still has pages that say 'coming soon'...not. If it hadn't been for like-minded people posting on various sites and blogs, I wouldn't have heard the news that this film was finally coming out. What can only be seen as a weird last ditch effort to promote this film, there was a full page ad in our "alternative" weekly City Pages on opening week. (I have never seen a full page movie ad in the City Pages.) Most who should have known about this film, the so-called target audience, didn't even know what the hell I was talking about when I said Southland Tales. (Over Thanksgiving, a friend said "Oh, the Donnie Darko guy's new film..." At least he was on the right track.) A mere week and a half after opening, Southland has been pushed out of Landmark's Lagoon Theater to make way for Margot at the Wedding on two screens, and dumped at the Block E Theaters. (Although it is not listed in the newspaper.) If it makes it through next weekend, I will be surprised.

I take the liberty to do some grumbling because Southland Tales deserves to better than it ultimately will do. By the looks of it, with poor reviews and non-existent marketing, it is doomed to do nothing short of bombing. If Richard Kelly is guilty of anything, it is being too ambitious. Southland Tales tries to do too much. Within the first ten minutes I was struck with two thoughts: first was a conspiracy theory that Southland hit a little too close to home and that government forces and black helicopters had some hand in quashing its release; the second was that I would have to see the film again. It is easy to say that a successful film should be able to tell/show you exactly what you need to know in one viewing. But what happens when the images and information are so compelling and dense that a second viewing becomes compulsory? Southland Tales is a six part story. The first three parts, Two Roads Diverge, Fingerprints, The Mechanicals, are told in graphic novels (recently re-released in one volume) and the last three parts, Temptation Waits, Memory Gospel, Wave of Mutilation, are told in the film. The opening scenes attempt to provide a very complicated backstory that is important to the richness of the narrative but not entirely necessary for the movie experience. Despite the fact that I had read the graphic novels, I was still scrambling to assimilate information as images, text and narration erupted from the screen.

The absurdly long cast of characters provide the foundation of Southland Tales. Undeniably one of the biggest characters in the film is Los Angeles, California: the epicenter of our celebrity culture and Southland's heart and soul. Malibu worthy Krysta Now, played with conviction and candor by Sarah Michelle Gellar, is the girl-next-door porn star who has a reality TV show and enough merchandising to make Disney's head spin. She also has a 'hit single' titled Teen Horniness is Not a Crime. Cheeky. Krysta is both an inconsequential dumb blond and prophetess with the future of the world in her hands. Gellar's character is the anchor of Southland Tales, and it is no surprise that she had a hand in developing Krysta Now with Richard Kelly. Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson plays Boxer Santaros, an actor with right-wing political ties. He's married to the daughter of the Republican candidate for president, but Boxer has amnesia and has fallen under the care of oracle/sex kitten Krysta Now. Johnson cuts the perfect physique of the iconic American man: buff, brown and beautiful. Boxer also seems to be something of a messiah, the relevance of which is hinged on the events leading up to his amnesia. Justin Timberlake and Sean William Scott round out the cast by playing an interconnected trio. Timberlake plays Pilot Abilene, a scarred Iraq War veteran who is the product of a mysterious experimental military drug. Pilot Abilene is our narrator and a demented voice of reason, as he monitors the Santa Monica pier in his gun tower. Scott plays Ronald and Roland Taverner, twin brothers, one a police office and the other a Neo-Marxist. (If the duality of the brothers seems a little too ironic, you are right.) Scott is great as the understandably confused and fragile radical. While these five might constitute the main characters, there's another dozen that have equal importance: Nora Dunn and Cheri Oteri play the Neo-Marxist duo of Cyndi Pinziki and Zora Carmichaels; John Lovitz is Bart Bookman, sent to foil the Neo-Marxist (or is he?); Mandy Moore is Madeline Frost Santaros, Boxer's wife; Holmes Osborn plays presidential candidate Bobby Frost; Miranda Richardson is the evil matriarch, who works for the government and is married to Bobby; Wallace Shawn is the weird new-age scientist Baron Von Westphalen, a decendant of Hitler who holds the key to a new alternate energy; and there are also a host of bit parts played by Bai Ling, Kevin Smith, and Christopher Lambert.

Still with me? A conventional synopsis of the film would send you to the door. The story, as interesting as it is, is confusing and complicated. (Visit Wiki for a dry but thorough rundown of the plot.) Take every A-list issue in the US Today, and imagine it as an engaging and sad fairy tale with the stars. Richard Kelly takes pop culture and mocks it and embraces it in one fell swoop. At the heart of the film is a standout musical number that couldn't be more ironic or perfect. Justin Timberlake as Pilot Abilene performs The Killers' All These Things I've Done replete with dancing girls and arcade. Put a scar on pretty boy Justin Timberlake's face and have him lip-sync a rock song and you have a distilled representation of the Iraq War through the rose colored glasses of American culture. The brilliance of this scene (and many others) is that, for all its superficial glamour, it still possesses a genuine emotive force. Maybe I'm a sucker for this slight of hand, or maybe Kelly has a knack for weaving something beautiful out of something empty and artificial. Or maybe it is a little of both.

And let us not forget the real sci-fi moment of the film where the ice cream truck hovers in the air like a spaceship. The illuminated ice cream truck is our escape route from the darkness, be it comedy or melodrama, in the film.

At it's best Southland Tales is a hipster doomsday wonder world that any Gen-Xer (or Y or Z) could appreciate. At it's worst Southland is an undeniable mess that stuffs way too many ideas and information into what seems a very short 2 hours and 20 minutes. Each of the six parts could have easily satisfied a full length film. Instead we get three abbreviated graphic novels and a very very dense film. Suggestions of parring down the scope of the project are legitimate but ultimately unfair when the essence of the film is the culmination of its vastness and its resemblance with our endless number of modern day contradictions. "El Paso and Abilene, Texas have fallen victim to simultaneous nuclear attacks on July 4, 2005—a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions which sends America into World War 3. The GOP's overwhelming victory in the 2006 elections upgrades the Patriot Act into new agency known as US-IDENT, a Big Brother surveillance agency under the guise of a national security think-tank. America not only shuts its borders to all other nations, but also requires visa for interstate travel." The future is now, and Southland Tales reiterates this over and over again. If we open our eyes, the unimaginable is happening, likening the world we live in to something akin to science fiction. How do we react? How about an interpretive end-of-the-world dance by Krysta Now and Boxer Santaros—a scene that is equal parts sugar and sincerity. This is how the world ends.

Personally I enjoyed Southland Tales immensely, and while I am aware of its faults, critics seem to be ignoring its strengths. The criticisms being hurled at Southland since day one are a bit unfair. In the end, maybe the tongue-in-cheek post-modern Americana analogies that Kelly dishes out is not for everyone; too low-brow for the Canes audience, and too high-brow for the average movie-goer. Beyond the overly ambitious 'shortcomings', Southland Tales is funny, poignant, lavish, moving, clever, and totally riveting. See it while you can, and may it live on with cult status.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

LE GRAND CHEF gives BEOWULF the smackdown

I always like a story of home-grown films giving Hollywood films the good ol' what-for. That is exactly what happened in South Korea when foodie drama Le Grand Chef fed Beowulf to the dogs. The defeat was maybe not so dramatic, but still after playing for three weeks Le Grand Chef relegated Beowulf to number two on its opening weekend. Chef is based on a popular Korean comic and stars the ever interesting Im Won-hee, as well as Kim Kang-woo, Kim Sang-ho and Lee Ha-na. This film looks to please fans of Iron Chef or Top Chef or any other cooking show. The trailer profiles some amazing food prep, that might send some vegitarians to the door, but will have Korean food lovers drooling. Kings anyone?

Friday, November 23, 2007

THE EYE remake

I saw the preview for the US remake of the Pang Brother's The Eye last night before The Mist. The remake stars Jessica Alba in Angelica Lee's role as the blind woman who receives an eye transplant that has some pretty creepy consequences. The original Eye was amongst a smattering of high profile Hong Kong horror films that came out around 2002 (Visible Secret 1 an 2, Inner Senses, Going Home) that had a fair amount of success. It's a well made film that I found very enjoyable. I even own the DVD. Time will only tell if Jessica Alba can make the US remake profitable. The bigger question is whether it will be any good. From the trailer, it seems to riff directly off the Hong Kong original, but without the Pang Brother niche for visual style. I am also not convinced Jessica Alba can act. It was shear desperation on an international flight that I watched the Fantastic Four, and I haven't seen any of her other films since. On a positive note, Parker Posey has a supporting role. Who doesn't want to see Parker in a horror movie? The Eye opens in February.

Check out The Eye trailer HERE
Check out the US trailer for the original HERE

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

DVD releases for November 20

Rescue Dawn (2006) directed by Werner Herzog
"Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog returns to direct his first feature since 2001's Invincible with this dramatic action film inspired by his own 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly and detailing the escape efforts of a German-American pilot who was taken as a prisoner-of-war after being shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War. When U.S. fighter pilot Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) escaped death after being shot down over one of the most intense front lines in the Vietnam War, his troubles were only beginning. Subsequently taken captive by the enemy and forced to endure a harrowing stint in a Vietnamese prison camp, Dengler and his fellow captives stage a death-defying escape that would later inspire one of German's most accomplished directors to capture the remarkable tale on camera."
* I can not tell a lie; I was a little disappointed in how conventional this film was. It is pretty incredible that Herzog would follow up the wild The Wild Blue Yonder with this. Nonetheless, it is worth a look, and Christian Bale is pretty amazing. Rent it with Little Dieter.

Helvetica (2007) directed by Gary Hustwit
"Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type. Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day."
* If you just read the above synopsis, and this seems like your thing, you will love this film. This screened to a sold out audience of helvetica-loving geeks at the Walker. (Also, check out the nice website through the link above. You can order the DVD that includes a 'I hate Helvetica' and 'I love Helvetica' button. Very clever.)

Manufactured Landscapes (2006) directed by Jennifer Biachwal
"Manufactured Landscapes s the striking new documentary on the world and work of renowned artist Edward Burtynsky. Internationally acclaimed for his large-scale photographs of 'manufactured landscapes'—quarries, recycling yards, factories, mines and dams—Burtynsky creates stunningly beautiful art from civilization’s materials and debris. The film follows him through China, as he shoots the evidence and effects of that country’s massive industrial revolution. With breathtaking sequences, such as the opening tracking shot through an almost endless factory, the filmmakers also extend the narratives of Burtynsky’s photographs, allowing us to meditate on our impact on the planet and witness both the epicenters of industrial endeavor and the dumping grounds of its waste."
* Similar to Workingman's Death and Our Daily Bread, Manufactured Landscapes is full of some of the most captivating scenes you will see on screen. This doc is incredibly well shot. The opening shot that pans down an enormous manufacturing factory for miles is amazing. The film is inspired by Edward Burtynsky's photographs and documents his process, but unfortunately Burtynsky's narration does nothing for the film.
Ghosts of Cite Soleil

In Between Days (2005) directed by So Yong Kim
"Upon learning that the object of her affections only has eyes for an Americanized Korean girl, a recently arrived teenage Korean immigrant is forced to journey inward to ponder her outsider status in director So Yong Kim's melancholy tale of acceptance and isolation. Aimie is a stranger in a strange land, and her only connection to the new world that surrounds her is her best friend, Tran. Eager to take their relationship to the next level but frightened at the prospect of losing her only friend, Aimie keeps her growing feelings to herself even as Tran shows increasing signs of affection for another, more Americanized Korean girl."
* This screened at this year's Women With Vision at the Walker. It's a hugely understated film but worth the time investment. I just found out that this film loosely fits into the new (now dead?) genre of film called "mumblecore." More info on this in the current issue of Film Comment.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991) directed by George Hickenlooper and Eleanor Coppola
"An intimate look at the making of Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 classic Apocalypse Now, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse combines the usual documentary interviews with outtakes from the film and rare documentary footage, some shot on the set by Eleanor Coppola. Not long after the arrival of Francis Ford Coppola and crew in the Philippines, the shooting schedule begins spiraling out of control; the film's cost has soon far surpassed the original budget, with the ending still unwritten. As the problems mount, from lead Martin Sheen's heart attack to the disappearance of several helicopters needed for a scene (because they went to fight in a nearby war), the making of the film begins to frighteningly resemble its subject -- an unending tale of madness and obsession in the jungle."
* This docu
mentary without a doubt, rivals the film itself. Everyone who has seen Apocalypse Now has to see this documentary. It is absolutely fascinating. The DVD includes a commentary with Francis and Eleanor, as well as Eleanor's new documentary, CODA: Thirty Years Later, about the shooting of Coppola's new film Youth Without Youth.

Monsieur Hire (1989) directed by Patrice Leconte
"Lonely and shy bachelor Monsieur Hire, suspected in the murder of a girl, secretly watches his young, attractive neighbor Alice through the window. Once, when lightning flashes during a thunderstorm, she notices his face in the window and comes to him to find out what he is after. Adapting George Simenon's novel, Patrice Leconte emphasized the psychological drama rather than the detective story and created a film about loneliness and voyeurism; his cold precision is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock or Fritz Lang. The low-key acting and moody soundtrack add a lot, but it's the director who deserves the most accolades, as he manages, with only glances and gestures, to achieve a degree of eroticism that other films fail to reach even through explicit sex scenes."
* A sentimental pick for me. Newly out on DVD, this film played at the theater I worked at in Kansas City. I remember liking it...but it was 18 years ago.

Death Note Vol 1
"Light Yagami is an ace student with great prospects--and he's bored out of his mind. But all that changes when he finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped by a rogue Shinigami death god. Any human whose name is written in the notebook dies, and now Light has vowed to use the power of the Death Note to rid the world of evil. But when criminals begin dropping dead, the authorities send the legendary detective L to track down the killer. With L hot on his heels, will Light lose sight of his noble goal…or his life?"
* In trying to decide what I think about the Death Note franchise, I will no doubt have to watch the anime. Hideo Nakata has signed on for the third live action film in the series, and that certainly has perked my ears up. I have to assume that this series is probably a better material for manga and anime than live action. This DVD contains the first four episodes. There will be 10 or more DVDs to follow.

The Lady Vanishes (1938) directed by Alfred Hitchcock
"In Alfred Hitchcock's most quick-witted and devilish comic thriller, the beautiful Margaret Lockwood, traveling across Europe by train, meets Dame May Whitty’s charming old spinster, who seemingly disappears into thin air. The young woman then turns investigator and finds herself drawn into a complex web of mystery and high adventure. The Lady Vanishes, now in an all-new digital transfer, remains one of the master filmmaker's purest delights."
* Yes, indeed. One of my favorite Hitchcocks. This film is whip-smart. This two disc set has all the bells and whistles.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

DVD releases for November 13

Good stuff came out this week. Here 'tis:

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
"Rainer Werner Fassbinder's controversial, fifteen-hour-plus Berlin Alexanderplatz, based on Alfred Döblin's great modernist novel, was the crowning achievement of a prolific director who, at age thirty-four, had already made forty films. Fassbinder’s immersive epic, restored in 2006 and now available on DVD in this country for the first time, follows the hulking, childlike ex-convict Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht) as he attempts to "become an honest soul" amid the corrosive urban landscape of Weimar-era Germany. With equal parts cynicism and humanity, Fassbinder details a mammoth portrait of a common man struggling to survive in a viciously uncommon time."
* This seven disc Criterion set is the kind of thing that DVD collectors dream of. Even if you are not a fan, there are enough special features to make anyone envious. While I might be a Fassbinder fan and admirer, I haven't seen a minute of this series. If I were made of money, I would buy it. Instead I will have to rent it over a weekend. Thanksgiving entertainment?

Killer of Sheep (1977) directed by Charles Burnett
"The first feature film from acclaimed independent African American filmmaker Charles Burnett, this intensely emotional drama concerns a man who makes his living at a slaughterhouse as he struggles for economic and emotional survival and tries to patch up his often strained relationship with his family. Shot on weekends over a period of several years and first shown publicly in 1977, Killer of Sheep slowly but surely began to develop a potent reputation among film enthusiasts; in 1981, it won honors at the Berlin International Film Festival and an enthusiastic reception at the Sundance Film Festival. It was added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 1990."
* Definitely one of the biggest re-release triumphs in the last ten years, seeing Killer of Sheep in the theater this past summer was an extremely memorable experience for me. It's an understated time capsule that feels just as genuine today as it probably did thirty years ago. This two disc set also features the original cut and directors cut of Burnett's My Brother's Wedding.

This is England (2006) directed by Shane Meadows
"It's 1983, and the schools are breaking up for summer. Shaun is 12 and a bit of a loner, growing up with his mum in a grim coastal town, his dad killed fighting in the Falklands War. On his way home from school where he's been tormented all day for wearing flares, he runs into a group of skinheads, who against expectations turn out to be friendly and take him under their wing. Soon Shaun discovers parties, girls and snappy dressing, and finds some role models in Woody, Milky and the rest of the gang. But when an older, overtly racist skinhead returns home from prison, the easy camaraderie of the group is broken, and Shaun is drawn into much more uncomfortable territory. Based largely on Shane Meadow's own experiences."
* I found this film extremely charming and brutally honest. Meadows resists the temptation to play out the narrative in a standard tragedy/comedy/drama, and the result is pretty unique.

Legends of the Poisonous Seductress Series: Female Demon Ohyaku (1968), Quick Draw Okatsu (1968), Okatsu the Fugitive (1969)
"Synapse Films releases the next three entries in the 'Pinky Violence Collection' originally begun by Panik House Entertainment. The three films are part of an unrelated trilogy, starring the same lead actress (Junko Miyazono) as similar, but distinctive characters, and feature many familiar Toei stock company faces among the supporting cast. They're collectively known as the Yoen dokufu-den, or Legends of the Poisonous Seductress series, and have never had any video release in the US, nor a DVD release yet in Japan."
* I'm sad that Panik House went out of business with such strong releases right out of the gate (Pinky Violence Collection). I guess that just goes to show the DVD biz ain't all that you would think. Fortunately, Synapse, an equally independent but conscientious label, has picked up the rest of Panik House's holdings. They released the awesome Horror of Malformed Men and Snake Woman's Curse last month. This series looks just as impressive as any of the other pinky releases. Who wouldn't want a Poisonous Seductress under their Christmas tree?

Paris Je T'Aime (2006) directed by Olivier Assayas, Frédéric Auburtin, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Isabelle Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Gérard Depardieu, Raymond Depardon, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravenesse, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydes, Walter Salles, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Daniela Thomas, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant
"Eighteen different directors and a slew of indie actors come together for Paris, Je T'Aime, a cinematic homage to the City of Light. Each director presents his or her own short story set in a different Parisian quarter, each one featuring a different cast of characters. The pieces vary in length, with some of them striving to tell a fully developed tale--no matter how simple the plot--while others are more abstract, content to rely on sparse dialogue and vivid imagery.
I think DVD may be the optimum viewing situation for this film. It is a step above You Tube and you can skip to the directors you are interested in or simply skip over the ones that seem lame (because some of these shorts are lame.) Not to be missed is the short by Chris Doyle and Alexander Payne. But that is just my opinion. Check it out for yourself.

Innocence (2003) directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic
"At the heart of a densely wooded forest lies a mysterious girls' boarding school, cut off from the outside world by a great wall with no door. Within, a group of youngsters aged between seven and twelve gather round a small coffin, from which emerges a new pupil, six-year-old Iris. Led by the eldest girl, Bianca, Iris is introduced to this strange yet enchanting world of lamp-lit forest paths and eerie underground passageways, where there are no adults save for some elderly servants and two melancholy young teachers. But this haven is one from which the girls are forbidden to leave; those that do are never heard from again. Haunting and bizarre, filmmaker Lucile Hadzihalovic imbues Innocence with a fairytale-like sense of menace and images of surreal beauty, creating a mesmerising and timeless evocation of childhood."
* This is an interesting film. Beautifully shot with a compelling yarn.