Friday, September 28, 2007

Roy Andersson's YOU, THE LIVING

Remember Roy Andersson? Well, no one will blame you if you don't. Although he has made over 400 TV commercials, he has only made four features, two of which were made in the 70s. Andersson's two claims-to-fame are that Ingmar Bergman once declared that Andersson makes "the best commercials in the world", and his 2000 award winning feature Songs from the Second Floor. Andersson's new film, You, the Living (left), which played at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section, barely got a mention. I missed it myself when looking at the schedule, and only realized its existence after an interview appeared in the current issue of CinemaScope.

Some friends and I had heard about this film, ordered it from the land of contraband, Canada, and illegally screened it in downtown St Paul for a handful of good sports who attend such things. I was pretty taken with Song from the Second Floor with its absurd dark humor and its ashen aesthetics that has no warmth whatsoever. Andersson shoots his films (and his commercials for that matter) almost entirely in the studio giving them a look all their own. After Songs from a Second Floor's flash in the pan was over, Andersson went back to making commercials. At least that is the way it seemed. Andersson's commercials are no less precise (and dark) than his feature films, and makes no excuses for his success. "When I make a commercial I make it as seriously as I make a feature. I have clients who know what they will get. And I never ask for a job - I'm always asked, so I can choose and I can say no if I don't like the story or the idea or the project." (from CinemaScope interview) Andersson explains that he built his entire studio from his commercial work. If the biggest criticism about You, the Living is that it is too much like Songs from the Second Floor, that's not all bad. Let's hope it makes an appearance at the MSPIFF.

Here are some examples of Roy Andersson's commercials via You Tube:
Bayerskt Beer
Ansvar Insurance
Here are seven commercials compiled together. They include car insurance, Swedish sugar, Lotto, Social Democratic Party, Sitram cook wear, a Swedish bank, and Gigantti Home Appliance Outlet. All hilarious.

Roy Andersson's very comprehensive website here. (There is a 'teaser' for You, The Living here under 'media'.)
Interesting "documentary pilot about Roy Andersson" here (sans subtitles.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

DVD releases for September 25

Here's the list for the week. Also note that Harlots of the Caribbean, Knocked Up and Black Book came out on DVD this week, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend them.

Bug (2007) directed by William Friedkin
"Having escaped her abusive ex-husband Goss (Harry Connick Jr.), recently released from state prison, Agnes (Ashley Judd), a lonely waitress with a tragic past moves into a sleazy, run-down motel and her lesbian co-worker R.C. (Lynn Collins) introduces her to Gulf War veteran Peter (Michael Shannon), a peculiar, paranoiac drifter and they begin a tentative romance. However, things don't always seem as they appear and Agnes is about to experience a claustrophobic nightmare reality as the bugs begin to arrive. Directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist) and adapted by Trecy Letts from his hit off-Broadway play." This is one of the best films I've seen so far this year. It was marketed as a horror film, but was far more subversive than that. The two leads, Judd and Shannon, are amazing in this very intense film about paranoia and obsession.

Tekkon Kinkreet (2006) directed by Michael Arias
"From the creators of Animatrix comes this visually-stunning new anime film based on a popular Japanese manga written by Taiyo Matsumoto. In Treasure Town, where the moon smiles and young boys can fly, life can be both gentle and brutal. This is never truer than for our heroes, Black and White, two street urchins who watch over the city, doing battle with an array of old-world Yakuza and alien assassins vying to rule the decaying metropolis. Tekkon Kinkreet is a dynamic tale of brotherhood that addresses the faults of present day society, true love lost, and the kindness of the human heart." This is the release of the week for me. The two noteworthy items about this Japanese production are that it was directed by an American (albeit an American who has lived in Japan and worked in the animation industry for over 15 years) and it was animated by Studio 4°C, the geniuses behind Mind Game. It is the Mind Game-like visuals that first drew me to this release. To see what I'm talking about, check out the trailer here. (If you liked that, check out the Mind Game trailer here. It is just as amazing as it looks. If I owned a theater, I would show this.)

Ten Canoes (2006) directed by Rolf de Heer, Peter Djigirr
"As narrator David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu sets up the story, we watch a group of tribesmen led by elder Minygululu (Peter Minygululu) set out on an expedition to gather bark for canoe building and collect the precious eggs of the magpie geese. It has become clear to Minygululu that his younger brother Dayindi is infatuated with the youngest of his three wives, and Minygululu wants to be sure Dayindi doesn't do something he'll regret later on. To teach his brother a lesson, Minygululu shares with him a long story about Ridjimiraril, a warrior who finds his brother Yeeralparil has become a rival for the affections of his bride. However, while Minygululu's story caries a clear message for his brother, it also goes on long enough with enough twists, turns and digressions that it gives Dayindi little opportunity to get into mischief during the trip." Huge critical acclaim for this film. A not-to-be-missed film that most of us missed when it made it through town during the International Film Festival.

The Hand (1981) directed by Oliver Stone
"Jon Lansdale (Michael Caine) is a comic book artist who loses his right hand in a car accident. The hand was not found at the scene of the accident, but it soon returns by itself to follow Jon around, and murder those who anger him." Wow. A film from my youth. Have I mentioned that I rented every film in the horror section at my local video store when I was a kid? Well, this was one of them and I remember it well. What I wasn't aware of until now was that it was directed by Oliver Stone. What a hoot. This film was silly when I was 13, and I'm sure it hasn't gotten any better. Prepare not to be scared!

Cinema 16: European Short Films
I love DVDs like this. A version of this came out in the UK a couple years back, but this one includes more films, most notably Run Wrakes amazing Rabbit. Some of these shorts are available elsewhere, and others not. Everyone will see a familiar name on the list of film directors. Here's the list: The Man Without a Head - Juan Solanas (France), Wasp - Andrea Arnold (United Kingdom); Doodlebug - Christopher Nolan (United Kingdom), World of Glory - Roy Andersson (Sweden), Je T'aime John Wayne - Toby MacDonald (United Kingdom), Gasman - Lynne Ramsay (Scotland), Jabberwocky - Jan Svankmajer (Czech Republic), Fierrot Le Pou - Matthieu Kassovitz (France), Rabbit - Run Wrake (United Kingdom), Copy Shop - Virgil Widrich (Austria), Boy and Bicycle - Ridley Scott (United Kingdom), Nocturne - Lars Von Trier (Denmark), Before Dawn - Balint Kenyers (Hungary), Election Night - Anders Thomas Jensen (Denmark), Six Shooter - Martin McDonagh (Ireland), The Opening Day of Close-Up - Nanni Moretti (Italy).

Suspiria (1977), The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) , Opera (1987), Cat O' Nine Tails (1971)
Four Dario Argento films newly out on DVD this week from Blue Underground. The Stendhal Syndrome (starring Asia) and Cat O' Nine Tails seem to have been previously unavailable on DVD and the other two boast '2 disc special editions' that may or may not be very special. I don't think of Blue Underground, who handles cult horror and the like, as a particularly good DVD label, but who knows. (Above links go to Blue Underground and each one has original previews plus more info.)

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972) directed by Philip Kaufman
"The two most famous bandits, Jesse James and Cole Younger join forces in the most daring bank robbery in the history of the West!" Well, this is a timely release with a little local flair. I will not attest to the quality, but the popularity of filmic adaptations regarding Jesse James will probably explode faster than you can say 'Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.'

Friday, September 21, 2007


A new Southland Tales trailer has hit the web and I'm even more encouraged by what I see. All signs point towards a deftness in humor, intelligence and craft. Although I will still hold out for a director's (Cannes) cut of the film, I'm starting to think the film will benefit from the cuts and changes Kelly was forced make.

Check out the trailer here in various formats.

Southland Tales is scheduled to open on November 9.

Read my previous post on Southland Tales here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Philips commissioned Wong Kar Wai to do a short film to promote their new Ambilight Aurea TV, and the result is a ten minute short film, There Is Only One Sun, that is a spin off 2046. Remember when 2046 was going to be a sci-fi film with Bjork, Wong Fei, and Tony Leung? Well, maybe this was what Wong was thinking about.

(If you have a bad ass internet connection - worthy of owning a Philips Aurea - it will probably look better on the crazy Philips flash website HERE.)

Thanks to Kung Fu Cult Cinema for the scoop. You should check out their website.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

DVD releases for September 18

Zoo (2007) directed by Robinson Devor
"In the predawn hours of July 2, 2005, a dying man was dropped off at a rural emergency room in the Pacific Northwest. A surveillance camera captured the license plate of the car that deposited the man at the hospital. This led detectives to a nearby horse farm, where they found hundreds of hours of videotape of men from all over the world having sex with Arabian stallions. The man's cause of death was a perforated colon. Although this incident made headlines and the tabloid news, Zoo is the complete antithesis of what you expect." With the early critical aclaim that this controversial documentary was getting, I thought it would get more of a theatrical run, but it looks like it didn't make it beyond LA, New York and a handful of festivals. Here's just an example of what was being said: "a breathtakingly original nonfiction work" (Variety), "generally terrific, and deserves to find an audience, by whatever means" (indieWire), "haunting rather than shocking, and tender beyond reason" (Cinema Scope).

Death Proof (2006) directed by Quentin Taratino
"Quentin Tarantino indulges his inner fanboy by paying homage to his favorite B-movies in Death Proof. Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) stalks beautiful women with his deadly vintage car, but when he picks a trio of tough girls (Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, and Zoe Bell), he learns they aren’t such easy prey. As with any Tarantino film, there are plenty of nods to pop culture. Most of the scenes are deliberately short on plot development, the dialogue comes thick and fast throughout, and the film stock is often cleverly manipulated to perfectly replicate the B-movie aesthetic. Death Proof was originally released as part of the Grindhouse double feature with Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror." I will gladly watch the far superior second half of Grindhouse again. I can't help but think that Death Proof would have done so much better as a stand alone movie. Tarantino defies my skepticism and totally won me over with this film.

Boss of It All (2006) directed by Lars von Trier
"The owner of an IT firm wants to sell up. The trouble is that when he started his firm he invented a nonexistent company president to hide behind when unpopular steps needed taking. When potential purchasers insist on negotiating with the "Boss" face to face the owner has to take on a failed actor to play the part. The actor suddenly discovers he is a pawn in a game that goes on to sorely test his (lack of) moral fibre." This film played once the MSPIFF earlier this year to a sold out crowd. At this point I'm not sure what people expect when they go to a Lars von Trier film, but overall people seemed to be disappointed in this film if not simply luke warm. I guess people miss the standard von Tier provocation.

The Valet (2006) directed by Francis Weber
"Pierre Levasseur, an important CEO, is photographed with his lover, Elena, a world-famous model. In an attempt to salvage his marriage, he tries to convince his wife that Elena is not his lover, but that of François Pignon, a valet who was passing by and ended up on the photograph. To make his story believable, Levasseur then has to convince Pignon and Elena to move in together and to pretend to be a couple. Things get more complicated when this creates tensions between Pignon and his former flatmate Richard and his love interest Émilie, and when Levasseur's wife discovers the truth and decides to play games with her husband." Yet another film that screened at MSPIFF and also had a run at the local Landmark Theater. It is a French comedy and you get what you expect.

The Camden 28 (2006) directed by Anthony Giacchino
"How far would you go to stop a war? The Camden 28 recalls a 1971 raid on a Camden, New Jersey, draft board office by 'Catholic Left' activists protesting the Vietnam War and its effects on urban America. Arrested on-site in a clearly planned sting, the protesters included four Catholic priests, a Lutheran minister and 23 others. The Camden 28 were a far cry from bomb-planting Weathermen or even fist-waving militants. But the very difference—their religious motives—may well have made them more dangerous opponents in the eyes of the Nixon administration. A growing Catholic and religious opposition to the war could not be dismissed as extremist to mainstream America, so they had to be brought down." This documentary has played on PBS and has also had various screenings around the US.

Three Penny Opera (1931) directed by G.W. Pabst
"The sly melodies of composer Kurt Weill and the daring of dramatist Bertolt Brecht come together on-screen under the direction of German auteur G. W. Pabst (Pandora's Box) in this classic adaptation of the Weimar-era theatrical sensation. Set in the impoverished back alleys of Victorian London, The Threepenny Opera follows underworld antihero Mackie Messer (a.k.a. Mack the Knife) as he tries to woo Polly Peachum and elude the authorities. With its palpable evocation of corruption and dread, set to Weill's irresistible score, The Threepenny Opera remains a benchmark of early sound cinema. It is presented here in both its celebrated German and rare French versions." Anytime there is a chance to see a film of this era either presented on the big screen of on a Criterion DVD it is worth checking out.

Cult pick of the week:
Severance (2006) directed by Christopher Smith
"When the president of a high-profile international-arms supplier takes his six best employees to an Eastern European mountain retreat as a means of rewarding them for all of their hard work, their team-building getaway turns into a life-or-death game of kill or be killed. Palisade Defense isn't just the leading supplier of weaponry for the war on terror, it's a company that truly cares about its employees. When the Palisade Defense's European sales division exceeds expectations, the president decides that his dedicated employees deserve a relaxing, corporate team-building retreat. The trip takes a turn for the worst, however, when a deadly enemy infiltrates the retreat with the singular goal of ensuring that no one gets out alive." Battle Royale with more laughs?

Monday, September 17, 2007


Tian Zhuangzhuang made a name for himself with his 1993 film The Blue Kite. The attention had less to do with any certain departure for Tian than the Chinese government's trend of banning films in the early 90s, catapulting many Fifth Generation Mainland Chinese directors to international arthouse fame. Since then Zhang Yimou (whose films Ju Dou and To Live were banned) has moved on to become the Mainland's son of heaven director, and Chen Kaige (whose Farewell My Concubine was banned) has gone from feel good (Together 2002) to train wreck (The Promise 2005). The ban on The Blue Kite initially left Tian Zhuangzhuang defeated as the authorities accused him of submitting a false script and then of smuggling the film out of the country for a screening at Cannes. Restrictions on Tian slowly loosened, first allowing him to work as a producer and finally finding him back at the helm with his amazing remake of the classic Chinese film Springtime in a Small Town. Any criticism that Tian was playing it safe makes the false assumption that he had an agenda to provoke all along. Tian's most recent film The Go Master adds another film to his resume that proves him to be a expert storyteller and, above all, a craftsman of the screen.

The Go Master tells the story of Wu Qingyuan, father of the modern Go game. Born in China, Wu moved to Japan at a young age to pursue a natural talent for the ancient game of Go. His match against Honinbo Shusai in 1933 ushered in a new era for Go as Wu broke the pattern of opening moves and introduced the "Shin Fuseki" by placing his third move in the center of the board. I will be the first to admit, this is all a little above me. The rules of Go are deceptively simply, because the game itself is mind-bendingly complex. (A 19 x 19 gameboard yields theoretic game possibilities in numbers I don't even understand.) The point being that it takes a special person to master such a game. Wu Qingyuan was not only one of those special people, but was also caught in very special historic circumstances. At the height of his fame, Japan was already engaged in an aggressive campaign into China and on the brink of declaring war. Wu's life in Japan not only meant dealing with strong anti-Chinese sentiment and the residual knowledge that Japan, his host country, was invading China, his home country, but also dealing with the relentless fire-bombing from US forces.

Tian Zhuangzhuang organically roles out facts and scenes from Wu's life, never being too literal or melodramatic with the material, but also assuming that one would understand the historical significance of the time and place. Much of the film exudes the aesthetics of Go: patient, meditative, quiet and graceful. Chang Chen's performance lends his character a frailness that conveys Wu's mental and physical delicacy portrayed in the film. The languid pace, minimal dialogue and concise compositions of The Go Master are more reminiscent of the direction of contemporary Taiwanese auteurs than Fifth Generation Mainland directors. If his Mainland colleagues are guilty of excess, Tian may be guilty of restraint. The tone is set with the opening shot that briefly shows actor Chang Chen and the real Wu Qingyuan engaged in a casual chat, as if Tian wants to point out, this is the actor, this is the man and here is story. It's simplicity may be its one downfall. For all it's beauty and elegance, The Go Master never ascends beyond its biopic expectations. But that is assuming that it needs to.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


History has proven, time and time again, that if you spend loads of money on a movie, they will come, even if it has "bad" written all over it. As a movie-goer, I am proof positive of this. To my defense, I have been hearing about Dragon Wars (aka D-War) since it went into production over two years ago. The reports were not about the quality of the production, but the quantity. Slated as the biggest Korean production ever and topping out at $75 million, rumor has it that D-War will be a make it or break it investment for its distribution company Showbox. When it opened in Korea at the beginning of August, the film drew record crowds. Although business has slowed, it currently holds the fifth place in highest grossing South Korean film at around $52 million. Dragon Wars is destined to do poorly in the US. No press screenings, no publicity, no reviews. But curiosity got the best of me and I plunked down my six bucks.

Unfortunately the news is not good. The story is so paper thin it almost doesn't exist. Built around a legend about a good dragon against a bad dragon and a girl who is born every 500 years that the dragons vie for. Saying that the acting is bad would mean giving it consideration it doesn't deserve. Of course, that is also assuming there is a decent script for the actors to work from. Although it is a Korean production, it is, for all intents and purposes, an English language film that relies on B-list American actors...and Robert Forester. So forget about the characters and forget about the story; this is nothing new in a monster movie, because the main attraction is, well, the monsters. But even the monsters are disappointing in Dragon Wars. There is a cool scene where the bad dragon snakes up a skyscraper, but that is really grasping for straws if someone is looking for a reason to watch this movie. The CGI is pretty unimpressive given the amount of money that went into it. In my opinion, the stars of Dragon Wars are the "dawdlers" in their cute little helmet hats. They are part of the bad dragons army, or something, and they carry a double barreled cannon thingy on their backs. They stomp around causing a fair amount of destruction. I would like to ride a dawdler to work.

It is hard not to make fun of this movie and the fact that I watched it. There is really nothing good to say about this movie. As the credits began to roll, I slunked out of the theater, embarrassed that I had sat through the entire thing. I'm giving up on senseless action least until the new Resident Evil comes out next week.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

DVD releases for September 11

I know I have said it before, but there is just too much crud that comes out on DVD. Sometimes I dread looking through the new release schedule because it is so depressing. Because I am bitter and lazy, I give you a shortened list:

Away From Her (2006) directed by Sarah Polley
"Away From Her stars Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie as a couple whose marriage is tested when Christie's character begins to suffer from Alzheimer's and moves into a nursing home, where she loses virtually all memory of her husband and begins to develop a romance with another nursing home resident." Sarah Polley's directorial debut won rave reviews from everyone, and I mean everyone. Polley is better known as an actress, but in films that are usually just below the surface of the mainstream (My Life Without Me, The Weight of Water, Go). Her work with directors like Michael Winterbottom, Atom Egoyan, Wim Wenders, and Hal Hartley (some of the most interesting directors alive) no doubt gave her some of the confidence evident in this film.

Triad Election (2006) directed by Johnny To
"In Triad Election, overeducated racketeer Jimmy (pop star Louis Koo) only wants to go legit, but his past haunts his future. He’s running for Chairman of Hong Kong’s oldest, most fearsome triad and is the favored candidate of the mainland Chinese who align themselves with stability and affluence for Hong Kong, whatever the cost." Johnny To's sequel got more screen-time here in the US than the first Election, which is a shame. Election and Triad Election (aka Election 2) are both solid films and stand on their own. And after multiple viewings of both, I would be hard pressed to call one better than the other (although most say Triad Election is the better of the two.) However, the two of them together are nothing short of a powerhouse as they build to an uncompromising crescendo. Triad Election is more brutal, but it is also the smarter of the two. For fans of Hong Kong films and gangster films, Triad Election is not to be missed.

The Curious Release of the Week:

A Few Days in September (2006) directed by Santiago Amigorena
"It's ten days before 9/11 and Elliot, a CIA agent holding top secret information on the immediate future of the world, has gone missing. Irene, a French agent, must follow the trail from Paris to Venice in a race against time." Sure, it is about the days leading up to September 11th, but it takes place in France and Italy. It stars Juliette Binoche, John Turturro and Nick Nolte. A quick perusal of various reviews reveals a mixture of positive and negative. Variety called it "visually engaging but narratively schizo" and Opus over at Twitch said A Few Days in September "resembles a dysfunctional family comedy than anything that smacks of international intrigue". Not very persuasive reviews for checking out this film. This is Santiago Amigorena's first feature, but has more than 20 films to his name as screenwriter (including a personal favorite Tokyo Eyes.)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Review LOFT

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's two most recent films, Loft (2005) and Retribution (2006), were both released last month on DVD in Hong Kong. I have been a fan of Kurosawa's films since seeing Cure in the late 90s and I snatched up these two new ones as soon as they were released. Although Kurosawa's career is full of highs and lows, working in TV, straight to video and major theatrical releases, I am a defender of his work to a fault. Cure, Kairo and Bright Future still stand out as three of the most enigmatic contemporary films out there, as they subtly riff off genre standards and transform into explorations of our postmodern psyche. Because I have such a profound respect for these films, it is easier for me to forgive Kurosawa for his shortcomings. Unfortunately, I am going to have to lump Loft in with the head-scratchers, that in the end, despite some great filmmaking, fails to live up to almost any expectations you might have.

Loft starts out convincingly creepy enough. Reiko is a writer, stuck at her keyboard in her small apartment, chain smoking, laboriously typing, and occasionally dropping to the floor in a coughing fit that produces something close to chunky tar. Soon enough it becomes clear that Reiko is a young successful writer who is having her first case of writers block. Her passive aggressive editor, who demands that he will not take anymore excuses for her lack of productivity, finds her a large quiet house in the country that becomes the fateful loft. From there the plot spirals out of control, involving mummies, murder, ghosts and love. We forget about the chunky tar because we have moved on to other elements in the story that are just as random and unexplained.

Reiko realizes that the building next door is an old university lab where an archaeologist nurtures an unnatural obsession with a female mummy he just pulled up from a nearby lake. When things start going in a completely illogical direction, I try to make the best of it and look at allegorical metaphors for the absurdity. The archaeologist asks Reiko to keep his beloved mummy in her house for "just a couple of days." She agrees and proceeds to keep it in her bedroom. I spend some time mulling over what this mummy might symbolize between all the various parties as the film continues to elude all logic. Out of nowhere the two main characters start madly digging up an imaginary grave and proclaiming their undying love for one another, and as the film careens even further out of control, I throw in the towel. It's is just as well, because the love story turns into a murder mystery and then turns back into a horror film for the grand finale.

Kurosawa himself admits he was experimenting with multiple genres, and realized early on that it was not being accepted because of this. I couldn't help but think about Sino Sono's Suicide Club, where he seemed to use his experience in softcore porn to formulate the arbitrary story. One thing generally led to another in Suicide Circle, even if it was wacky, but in Loft, Kurosawa seems to start the story only to just discard it and start over with the same characters and setting, over and over again. I don't mind having the rug pulled out from underneath me, but this was just going to far.

If you have a short term memory, this might actually be a good movie. There are truly scary moments and great images that lingered with me long after the movie was over. There is also a great use of white noise that conveys the oppression of open space and 'silence.' Unfortunately none of this helps in connecting the dots that Kurosawa seemed so careful to point out in this film. This may be one film I am unwilling to defend.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

A new look for Fall

My Blog has a new look for Fall. What this really means is that I got tired of editing the html to add or change something. I'll be modifying this basic format into something that is flashy and exciting for everyone. Thanks for looking and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

DVD releases for September 4

Considering that the top selling DVDs this week are all TV shows (The Office, Prison Break, Desperate Housewives, Nip Tuck, and Robot Chicken) I am horribly out of the loop. I like TV shows, I just don't have a TV. Someday, the sun will shine down upon me and I will have a TV and maybe even cable. Until then, I will stick to recommending films.

Out this week:

Ping Pong (2003) directed by Fumihiko Masuri
I cannot recommend this movie more. Forget about that ding dong movie Balls of Fury, this film has a heart of gold. Sure, we don't really consider Ping Pong a sport here on this side of the Pacific, but that is not the case everywhere. Ping Pong gets my vote for the best sports film made. Now you will have to see it in order to counter that statement. I first saw this film roughly three years ago via Hong Kong DVD and have since been trying to push it on everyone I know. This is Masuri's first film. Based on popular manga Ping Pong Club, the film stars some of Japan's most popular young stars: Yosuke Kubozuka, Arata and Shido Nakamura. (My boyfriend from Hong Kong, Sam Lee, also stars.) The matches are nothing short of exhilarating and the tender friendship portrayed between the two leads is enough to soften the most jaded of viewers. Please please check it out.

Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and Night on Earth (1991) Criterion
I love Stranger Than Paradise. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about Night on Earth. Nonetheless, Criterion has decided to both of these Jim Jarmusch films out on DVD with nice supplements and no doubt an excellent transfer. The Night on Earth DVD has a commentary by the director of photography and sound editor and a Q and A with Jim Jarmusch, but the real story is the extras on the Stranger Than Paradise DVD: Permanent Vacation (1980, 75 minutes), Jarmusch's first full-length feature, presented in a new, restored high-definition digital transfer supervised by the director; Kino '84: Jim Jarmusch: a 1984 German television program featuring interviews with cast and crew from Stranger Than Paradise and Permanent Vacation; Some Days in January, 1984, a behind-the-scenes Super-8 film by Tom Jarmusch; A booklet featuring Jarmusch's 1984 "Some Notes on Stranger Than Paradise," Geoff Andrew and J. Hoberman on Stranger Than Paradise, and Luc Sante on Permanent Vacation. Pretty cool.

City of Violence (2006) directed by Ryoo Seung-wan
This Korean film got mixed reviews so I passed on buying it when it came out in Korea. I'm glad to see it is being released here, so I can simply go rent it and see for myself. Supposedly this film is a return to the raw action that Ryoo so brilliantly caught on film in Die Bad, and away from his more conventional, crowd pleasing films like Crying Fist and Arahan - which to me is a good thing. I'm a sucker for action-for-action's sake, even if it means sacrificing a nuanced narrative. Ryoo has signed on action superstar Jeong Du-hong for the lead role. I'm ready!

The Wind that Breaks the Barley (2006) directed by Ken Loach
This was the granddaddy prize winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, and that alone is a pretty good reason to rent this DVD (although I admit that I am having a hard time getting very motivated to watch this film.) It had a brief run here in the Cities without much fanfare, save the good reviews.

Francois Ozon: A Curtain Raiser and Other Shorts
Okay, this is kind of a head scratcher. I didn't realize that Francois Ozon warranted a release of his short films, but I'm curious. Ozon is an interesting director that is a bit of a shape-shifter tackling mysteries (Swimming Pool, See by the Sea), musicals (8 Women), and dramas (Time to Leave, Under the Sand). I'm sure his short films are just as eclectic in theme.

Dog Soldiers (2002) directed by Neil Marshall
This is a better than average horror film from the director who brought us The Descent.This is a reissue of a movie that didn't get much press outside of cult circles. I remember Box Office Video got it when it first came out and some arse-hole stole it and it was already out of print.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More sun, more fun, more Movies and Music in NE

Summer's not over yet; there are more movies and music this month in NE Minneapolis' Holland Neighborhood. Located in the basin amphitheater next to Edison School on 22nd Avenue NE and Quincy Street NE, there will be a band and a movie every Tuesday night in September. Music starts at 7:00pm and movie at dusk. Check out the line up:
If you haven't seen these movies, it is time to stop hanging your head in shame and come to Nordeast and check 'em out.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Review HALLOWEEN (2007)

I think everyone's reaction to the news that Rob Zombie was remaking Halloween was the same: Why? For fans, the question of why was followed by a Rob Zombie benefit of the doubt. While House of 10,000 Corpses may have been little more than cult schlock horror chop shop, Zombie's sophomore effort, The Devil's Rejects, was a masterpiece of flashback filmmaking that was brutal, funny and, most importantly, entertaining. Assuming that Zombie had made a personal breakthrough that he would carry forward to his remake of Halloween would be, as it turns out, far from a foregone conclusion.

Zombie rejected the idea that this was a remake of Halloween, but more of a re-imagining of the story of Micheal Myer's. What that really means is a large chunk of the film is devoted to Micheal as a child. We see Micheal's family life, which is an off-shoot of the Firefly family portrayed in Rejects and Corpses, and the momentum that builds to the murders he committed as a child. Young Micheal gets committed to Smith's Grove Sanitarium permanently after he kills a nurse with a fork; Dr Loomis sees the long road ahead of him and Micheal's mother ends her life out of despair. Flash forward fifteen years later; Micheal is seven feet tall, silent and completely wacked out. From this point, the plot follows the original as Micheal break outs and heads back to Haddenfield to find his baby sister.

It's been a while since I saw the original, but my childhood was filled with a new VHS machine and renting every movie in the horror section at least once. I'm sure I saw Halloween at least five times. The brilliance about John Carpenter's original was that you didn't know anything about Micheal Meyer's. He was the mythical boogyman, that embodied 'creepy' in the way he looked in that mask and mechanic's suit, the way he walked almost robot-like and the way he didn't say a damn thing. The oversimplified psychological cause-and-effect set up in the first half of the film with Micheal as the rageful animal torturing child is trite and insulting. While Zombie obviously was interested in exploring story of Micheal as a child, the depiction is completely superficial, never tapping too deeply into the boys character. The connection between young Micheal and the adult Micheal is something that is never forged in a believable way. When the screen flashes 'Fifteen Years Later,' it is almost like the start of a different movie.

The second half is the remake portion of the film, where parts of the script (as I remember it) are exactly the same. It is a little more graphic and there are major parts that are different, but this is the portion where you get what you expect. Adult Micheal is played by a huge man that towers over everyone and physically looks part of an individual who has unbelievable strength. He searches out Lori with amazing success, killing her friend along the way. The stalking and lead up to the final chase is, at the very least, suspenseful. Much to the credit of the original, this is the bit that actually works, as long as you don't mind knowing what is going to happen.

Unfortunately, the film as a whole is a mess. The brief moments of comic relief are not funny, and the scenes that were laugh-out loud funny were unintentionally so. When young Micheal puts on the mask that would become his signature mask, it is so large on his head he looks like the Micheal Myers Mini-Me, replete with clown costume. Zombie's use of seventies classics in The Devil's Rejects was spot-on perfect, right down to the amazing "Freebird" finale, but most of the music in Halloween simply doesn't work. Rush's "Tom Sawyer" opens up right after Micheal's brutal break from the sanitarium and it couldn't get more incongruous. If it were a parody and Micheal had more of a strut to his walk, this song might have been really cool.

To say that I was disappointed with Halloween would be a huge understatement. The trailer looked promising and it was being publicized heavily online (despite the fact that there were no press screenings.) My fellow movie goers were ready to leave before the film was over. I don't like leaving early, believing that every film deserves a fair shake from beginning to end, but in retrospect, it was truly walk-out-early bad. For those who are lucky enough to have never walked in, skip it and rent The Devil's Rejects.