Saturday, May 31, 2008

DVD releases for May 27

Late. As usual.

Come Drink With Me (1966) directed by King Hu
Finally. Come Drink With Me arrives with the original soundtrack, respectable subtitles and beautiful widescreen Shaw Scope. Between Come Drink With Me and Touch of Zen and Dragon Inn few directors gave so much to the genre of swordplay films than King Hu. Come Drink With Me Kong release a few years ago by set the standard on the tavern brawl that has been repeated, parodied and imitated in hundreds of films. This was also Chen Pei-pei's first big role, and, at age 20, made her something of a superstar. It's a thrilling film that stands the test of time. Dragon Dynasty has been kind enough to include the special features that were included in the remastered HongIVL. (It was one of IVL's first re-releases of the Shaw's catalog, and they made sure to include good special features.) It includes a commentary from Chen Pei-pei and Bey Logan (who is currently responsible for TWC/Dragon Dynasty's smart choices), interviews with Tsui Hark (greatly influence by King Hu), actress Cheng Pei-pei, actor YuehHua and Bey Logan. (Not a fan of the cover that Dragon Dynasty has come up with - as if Cheng Pei-pei has just gotten up from a tussle in bed.)

Cassandra's Dream (2007) directed by Woody Allen
Cassandra's Dream was released shortly after Sidney Lumet's very very similar Before the Devil Knows Your Dead last year and it mostly got ignored. It's too bad, because the Woody Allen film is the better of the two in so many ways: the story and pacing is about as tight as it gets and the acting is above and beyond. Colin Farrell's performance was totally overlooked as one of the best of the year. Really.

The Violin (2005) directed by Francisco Vargas
The Violin is now available to the common folk. Subscribers to Film Movement, an indie DVD club of sorts, receive DVD releases almost three month ahead of street date. (Personally, I love getting a random DVD every month and would recommend anyone interested to subscribe.) The Walker screened this film as part of their Cinemateca series last November.
Heroes of the East (1979) directed by Lau Kar Leung
Another cornerstone of the Shaw's catalog known in dub-land as Shaolin Challenges Ninja. Action star Gordon Liu and director Lau Kar Leung are a team to be reckoned with in this film and the many others they did together.

The Thief of Bagdad (1940) directed by Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, and Tim Whelan
Your two-disc Criterion fantasy classic release of the week. Fans will love the special features on the set.

Noriko's Dinner Table (2005) directed by Sion Sono
At first glance Noriko's Dinner Table may seem like just another odd violent exploitation film from Japan, but anyone who has seen other films by Sono (Suicide Club and Exte) know that his films fall firmly outside of the box. This release is out of nowhere (by Tidepoint/Facets?) and I am tempted pick up simply to support the studios efforts. Check out Tom Mes' review here. Check out trailer here.

The Walker (2007) directed by Paul Schrader
This should be a list of recommendations, but it is also my civic duty to steer people away from films that I have been unfortunate enough to see. Do not be seduced by the cast and credentials of this film. It. Is. Terrible.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Tarsem's THE FALL

I'm not very good at horn tootin', but you can check out my review of The Fall, out this week in the Twin Cities, in Friday's Star Tribune or this week's VitaMN or online via link below. The opening sequence has still stuck with me a month later - a truly beautiful cinematic moment.

Star Tribune: The Fall movie review.
The Fall's official website.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Remember this film? I do. Part of the catalogue that satiated my appetite for horror films as a youngster, Happy Birthday to Me was at the very least memorable because the lead psychopath, Virginia, was played by Mellisa Sue Anderson (aka Mary Ingalls!)

Hopefully, for the sake of my friends, my day will go a little better than Virginia's.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


The Case of the Grinning Cat opens with a a whimsical "public action" in Paris where people congregate with their umbrellas in an outdoor area and open and close their umbrellas at a predetermined time. It's a simple event that is neither protest or celebration, but a show of collective ability. In the eyes of veteran French leftists, it probably seems silly. But not to Chris Marker, who finds something charming about this and other recent public gatherings and demonstrations from a generation that, in his own words, had been written off as being apolitical. The resurgence in political demonstrations in Paris is something that Marker finds hope in, even if it is cautious hope. The Case of the Grinning Cat ends up being a postscript to Marker's previous film (and similarly titled) A Grin Without a Cat (1977) that was made at the end of an era as a sort of eulogy to the Left (with a capital "L".)

The recent essay cum investigation cum video from Chris Marker, who was 85 the year it was released in 2004, encapsulates the post-9/11 Parisian collective unconscious as in takes place under the benevolent omniscience of a grinning cat. The cat under investigation (signed "M. Chat", or Mr. Cat) is a street art character that began showing up in Paris (on buildings, in the subway, on bridges, even on trees) in 2001. Like the Catbus in Miyazaki's Totoro, Paris' M. Chat is instantly likable as an image and a playful character, sometime adorned with wings or an olive branch in its mouth or simply bounding from one rooftop to another. (Here's a great example of M. Chat found in Sarajevo.) M. Chat's appearance coincides with a wave of public demonstrations in Paris starting with protests against extreme right-wing candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002, and marching on from protests against the war in Iraq to demonstrations for those who have lost their lives to AIDS.

The Case of the Grinning Cat is a lighthearted investigation that is fully aware of the contradictions present in contemporary society. The irony that the anti-Le Pen sentiment allowed for the re-election of Jacques Chirac is not lost on Marker. As a matter of fact, not much is lost on Marker as he goes from demonstration to demonstration finding things that encourage him and amuse him as he contemplates his thoughts through narrator GĂ©rard Rinaldi. Although it is heartening to see young people passionately demonstrating against war, he is quick to point out also that equally passionate crowds gather "to watch eleven billionaires kick a ball." The Case of the Grinning Cat, originally made for television, shows Marker at his best: intelligent, playful, curious, sincere and unassuming - this is his gift to the audience as he leads us through whatever random social or philosophical association comes up between protests and images of M. Chat. Describing Marker's films never fails in sounding like an aimless documentary with no context. Quite the opposite, the context is the launching point from which thought and ideas can take off. And in this case, the context is this short period of time from late 2001 to 2004 in which M. Chat graces the streets of Paris along side a not-so ambivalent population. For those who have never seen a Marker film, the result is mesmerizing.

The Case of the Grinning Cat was recently released on DVD by Icarus Films through the Wexner Center where they are hosting a Chris Marker store. (I like living in a world where there is a Chris Marker store. I want that t-shirt.) There are intertitles and occasional conversations in French that are not directly translated , and although I doubt that I really missed much, it would have been nice to have some subtitles. The DVD opens with the very silly Leila Attacks and contains six of Marker's short films that go along with the animal theme: Cat Listening to Music, An Owl is an Owl is an Owl, Zoo Piece, Bullfight in Okinawa, Slon Tango, and Three Cheers for the Whale.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sydney Pollack R.I.P.

It would really be hard to come up with a more well respect and well connected actor and director working in Hollywood. Looking at his career is somewhat mind-boggling in respect to the actors and people he worked with for over forty years. He was an award winning director who also seemed perfectly at home in front of the camera. His role in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, a film I love, is fantastic. And he obviously had a pretty good sense of humor, making a pre-show cell phone commercial that was actually funny.

Sydney Pollack, a fellow Hoosier born in the same town as I, was 73. He died from cancer.

NYT obituary.
IMDB stats.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Three cheers for ASHES OF TIME REDUX

Sure, there is lots to talk about when it comes to screenings that happened last week at Cannes, but I am most interested in the swoony swordplay film from 1994. I haven't even seen it yet and I like it. The reports, paltry as they seem, are in on Wong Kar Wai's reworking of Ashes of Time and I am very encouraged. As it sounds, Ashes of Time Redux is less of a redux than a resurrection. From prints that would put Robert Rodriguez's faux-weathered Planet Terror to shame, as Wong explained to the Guardian's Xan Brooks, "the film has been pieced together from various old and rotting copies, using the waterlogged negatives he rescued from a bankrupt Hong Kong laboratory and augmenting it with footage dredged up from distributors in San Francisco's Chinatown district." (Although it doesn't explain the deplorable pan-scan of the existing DVDs of Ashes of Time, it would explain the poor quality and why there has not been better versions.)

Changes to the original include a new running time that clocks in 5 minutes shorter (from 98 to 93 minutes) and a "rearranged" score by Wu Tong including cello solos by Yo-Yo Ma. The content change seems minimal, with Lee Marshall of Screen Daily attributing the different running time mostly to credits. (He also claims that a water scene with Brigitte Lin looks new, but there was a water scene in the original, as I recall, the fight between Yin and Yang, but whatever.) I'm curious about the changes to the score, simply because I love Frankie Chan's original score so much. Is it a different score? Or is it just rerecorded? Or just rearranged with a little Yo-Yo Ma. I don't really get it, but I'm sure I will find out soon enough.

For me the biggest and best news is that Wong did not really rework this film. I was plagued by the idea that the film I knew and loved was not the film he wanted to make after all. Fortunately, it seems that Wong has simply taken this opportunity (to wash the bad taste of My Blueberry Nights from his palette?) to remaster Ashes of Time. All accounts say that fans of the film (that's me) will be thrilled, and those perplexed the first time, may still be perplexed. On the flip side maybe Ashes never found its audience to begin with and I may find more kindred spirits for swoony swordplay films. Sony has picked Redux up for US distribution. I look forward to the many theater screenings.

(Above is the new poster for Ashes of Time Redux. Below is the beautiful Japanese one-sheet giveaway that I have.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

DVD releases for May 20

The Delirious Fictions of William Klein
Forget the best DVD pick of the week, this set may be the best DVD pick of the year. The set includes Klein's fiction films, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966), Mr. Freedom (1969), and The Model Couple (1977). Here's what Michael Chaiken said about Klein in the most recent Film Comment: "American friend of the nouvelle vague, his 20-plus films cluttered with the detritus of modern life, expat photographer William Klein is the wayward child of Charlie Chaplin and cartoonist George Price. Whether filming Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria, models on the runways of Paris, or Muhammad Ali in Zaire, his subjects seem to exist in a hyper reality. His three fiction films are unabashedly caustic satires of a society that's been eclipsed by its own mass-mediated self-image." This is the ninth set from Eclipse, Criterion's eco-line.

The Flock (2007) directed by Andrew Lau
Andrew Lau is a respected filmmaker in Hong Kong, but his English language debut, The Flock, got seriously shafted for some reason. Of course the most obvious reason for this is that it sucks. Lau may be responsible for the Infernal Affairs trilogy, but let us not forget he is also responsible for The Wesley's Mysterious File (thank your lucky stars if you haven't seen this clunker.) The Flock stars Richard Gere, Claire Danes and Avril Lavigne.

The Willow Tree (2005) directed by Majid Majidi
If you are interested in this film and you live in the Twin Cities, you should go see it tonight at the Oak Street. Wait a minute, it's already too late for that. Nevermind, here 'tis on DVD.

A Dirty Carnival (2006) directed by Yu Ha
Now here's a recent Korean film that I fully intended on picking up when it came out in Korea. It's just as well that I didn't, because now it is available domestically and I can just rent it! Glowing reviews of this film claim it to be one of the best, if not the best, Korean gangster films out there. A Dirty Carnival is Yu Ha's forth film, and I have only seen his previous film The Spirit of Jeet Kune Jo (aka Once Upon a Time in High School.) I have been off Korean films for a while and would like to find one that would reinvigorate my excitement for South Korean films. Maybe A Dirty Carnival will be that film.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


The Wachowski Brothers have lost their minds. Or maybe, if filmmaking is at its best reductive, they are more clever than I think. Perhaps making intelligent films was their only means to get to something like Speed Racer, that is devoid of any complexity unless you try to untangle the hundreds of people working on the visual effects. If expecting more from Andy and Larry Wachowski is a crime, then throw me in jail and let me think about what I have done. I certainly don't see the Wachowski's as autuers (they pretty much sunk that ship with The Matrix Revulsions, I mean Revolutions), but there was a time, around 1999, when they were like Gen X sons of God. And for good reason. They had made a smart film that seemed to touch on our adulthood cynicism and our need for some kind of optimism. If that wasn't enough, The Marix was undeniably creative and cool.

Those days seem to be over. The Speed Racer in question is already an adaptation of an adaptation with plenty of material available for rehashing. Now, I'm no fan of the original anime, Japanese or American, so I'm not even going to go there. What Speed Racer attempts to do for the fans is provide some nostalgia with a mod 60s sci-fi look while also bringing something new to the franchise with a live action rework bolstered by a load of impressive special effects. Speed Racer uses visuals as Fox News uses banners, with information sliding from left to right, right to left, bottom to top, and top to bottom. The car races are meant to be the visual show-stoppers, and while they have a great look to them, the candy colored streaks spin and fly so fast it would be easy to confuse portions of the car races for trippy light shows. The screen shots look much better because you actually get a chance to look at the amazing detail; in the film it all flies by way too fast.

The cast saves this film from the pits of eye-candy doldrums. John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Emile Hirsch are actually quite good as their respective characters. But it is Christina Ricci as Trixie who seems right at home playing a sparkling caricature. Overall the huge cast is interesting with many familiar faces making appearances. I was also keen on seeing how the world's favorite Korean pop star would make out in his first English language film. Rain's part as Taejo Togokhan is pretty one-dimensional and relatively small, but his English seemed natural as a non-native speaker and he definitely had the best "wooooo!" in the winner's circle.

Because of the visual pizazz, it might be easy to miss or overlook how flat the story is. The film was either aimed at a very young audience or it was totally unwilling to give viewers any benefit of the doubt. Reviewing why the Grand Prix was so important to Speed or spelling out "the truth" about Racer X through flashbacks just seemed unnecessarily redundant, not to mention how banal and predictable every single development in the story is. I couldn't help thinking how much my six-year-old nephew would love Speed Racer. And I'm sure there are many scenes that both he and I would laugh at together, but there would be even more scenes that he would roar at while I would be wishing we were watching High School Musical for the millionth time. Speed Racer is the perfect example of just how pedestrian a flashy summer movie can be.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Unfortunately, the preface for Lost in Beijing is always going to be the weary tale of censorship. Once again the Film Bureau acts as a promotional tool for the film industry. Censorship in China is coming very close to seeming like a joke as directors and producers get censored and banned over and over again. Of course it is no joke for the individuals involved and the over bearing bureaucracy that they have to face to work in their home country. Lost in Beijing's story starts at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival when director Li Yu and producer Fang Li screened the film without making the cuts that the Chinese Film Bureau insisted upon. I'm sure the Film Bureau was already pissed, but when the film was released in China late last year (with cuts) extra footage leaked online and that was it for Lost in Beijing. The Film Bureau (aka SARFT State Administration of Radio Film and TV) also had the arsenal of a recent notice banning pornographic films (those that contain "rape, prostitution, and explicit sex") from competing in festivals. Lost in Beijing was pulled from screens and producer Fang Li (also 'banned' for Luo Ye's Summer Palace) was slapped with a two year ban.

This story is interesting enough that I myself couldn't help recounting it, but ultimately it detracts from what is a very solid film for a director that seems to have found her stride. Li Yu started her career with the daring but painfully low budget Fish and Elephant. I got quite a bit of notice internationally and even had a screening here in the Twin Cities. Li took her modest success to make a more assured second feature Dam Street which made the rounds with the Global Lens series last year. Where Dam Street felt like a film I had seen before, Lost in Beijing seems wholly original.

The story, although not worth talking up, is at the very least interesting enough to build a good space for the characters. Focusing on two couples, one young and poor the other middle-aged and wealthy, whose lives become physically and emotionally entangled. Lin Dong, played by the highly underrated Tony Leung Ka Fai (the lesser known Tony), owns a massage parlor where men come to socialize get foot massages and probably more. Lin represents a generation of urban Chinese entrepreneurs who flourished under the economic changes by Deng Xiaoping. He maintains a sort of belief system of a traditional Chinese man, but also rewards his success by living lavishly. Lin's wife, played by the beautiful and matronly Elaine Jin, practices a form of traditional Chinese medicine called cupping. Although she is the perfect companion to Lin, the spark of their marriage, if there ever was one, is long gone.

Young husband and wife An Kun and Liu Ping Guo couldn't be more opposite. Very much in love but living from paycheck to paycheck in their small apartment. Part of the mass migration from country to city, they have come to Beijing in search of more opportunity. Carefree and cynical they carry on day to day with few goals or aspirations. Ping Guo works in Lin's massage parlor strictly giving foot massages. Knowing that her boss and most her clients like her because she is young and beautiful, she keeps her marriage a secret a work. An Kun works as a glass cleaner on the skyscrapers that that dot the Beijing landscape. One day after Ping Guo has had too much to drink, Lin takes advantage of her and has sex with her. Each person will, as a result, deal with the consequences of this tryst in their own very individual way.

In an article that Peter Hessler wrote for the New Yorker a few months back about the boom of the driving industry, he poignantly explained how 'rapid change' has become an empty buzz phrase to describe China, but it does nothing to describe the sort of creative adaptability that the people in China have had to learn. The world as it is today may not be the world that is it tomorrow. Lost in Beijing is certainly not this first Chinese film to have this as an underlying psychological theme, but it does so in a way that is neither heavy handed nor overly sentimental. The relationships in this story are as convoluted as the emotions that they are forced to deal with. Without a doubt, this is Ping Guo's story. (She is also the namesake of the Chinese tile of the film, Ping Guo, which also means apple.) She is the mean from which the others react and expose themselves as not only adaptive but conflicted. Fan Bing-Bing plays Ping Guo innocent without being stupid, and with maturity mixed with a very human amount of self-doubt.

What really makes this film shine are the amazing street scenes of Beijing. Working with cinematographer Yu Wang, who worked on Luo Ye's Suzhou River and Purple Butterfly as well as Zhang Yang's Quitting, Li Yu weaves together some brilliant tracking shot of the characters with unobtrusive documentary footage of the city. After triumphantly stealing the Mercedes emblem from the front of Lin's car, An Kun bikes away without a care in the world, and the tracking shot makes him seem like he's floating. The shots of the new construction and the new city contrasted with the old city exists as a context that the characters inhabit without subtext or judgement. And contrary to what censors may say, I think it makes Beijing look beautiful. It is the bright exterior that dominates the film that lightens what could have been a very oppressive film.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

DVD releases for May 13

If it weren't bad enough that Raiders of the Lost Ark is going to be an unavoidable topic in about a week, we are also blessed with special edition DVDs of everything and anything Raiders oriented. You will have to research those yourself. Others I am more than willing to point out:

Frontier(s) (2007) directed by Xavier Gens
The streets of Paris are in chaos. Amongst the riots are five friends attempting to leave the city with a bag full of cash obtained by dubious means. The group separates and promise to meat up somewhere in the frontiers. Unfortunately the quaint little inn they chose is run by a family of inbred Nazis who have a taste for human flesh. Sound familiar? It is pretty easy to rattle off a half dozen films that have a very similar premise. Gens is after something a little more interesting even if it is buried under a fair amount of gratuitous violence than most will find distasteful. Frontier(s) was originally in the lineup for the 2007 Horrorfest that toured various cities, but due to rating problems of some sort, the film was pulled. A theatrical release was promised after the rating issue was worked out, but that never happened. Second best is a good horror film at home on DVD. It is touted as the unrated director's cut, but I don't think anything else existed. Frontier(s) is not for the faint of heart, but for those interesting in another take on a familiar genre should check this out. There are some heart-racing moments and the grand finale is just over-the-top stylized craziness.

Lost in Beijing (2007) directed by Li Yu
From the director of Fish and Elephant and Dam Street, comes her best film yet. A modern homage to Beijing. Keep you eyes glued to this blog for a full review very very soon.

Stray Bullet (1960) directed by Yu Hyun-Mok
Finding titles like this in the new release bin makes combing through all the crap totally worth it. In the words of the fine folks at "Yu Hyun-mok is remembered today as one of the three master filmmakers from Korea who debuted in the 1950s (together with Kim Ki-young and Shin Sang-ok), and as the creator of Obaltan (Stray Bullet) 1961, which has repeatedly been voted the best Korean film of all time in local critics' polls. Passionately committed to making and teaching film throughout his career, Yu took a decidedly intellectual approach to cinema which at times left him out of favor in an industry dominated by Korea's military government and commercially-oriented producers. Although often described as Korea's foremost practitioner of cinematic realism, a closer look at his work reveals an eclectic mix of styles and approaches that defy easy definition."

Steal a Pencil for Me (2007) directed by Michele Ohayon
A documentary about an unusual story of a husband, wife and the husbands girlfriend ending up in the same concentration camp. The lovers (that would be husband and girlfriend) sustain themselves through the ordeal with the letters they wrote to each other.

Demon Pond (2005) directed by Takashi Miike
You just never know when another movie from Takashi Miike that you have never heard of is going to show up. A quick search on the film shows that I should have heard about it and that it might be better than I first expected. It looks like Demon Pond is a stage play directed by Miike in 2005. This is a video document of the play. Demon Pond is apparently based on an old Shochiku movie.

La Chinoise (1968) and Le Gai Savoir (1969) directed by Jean-Luc Godard
I was under the impression that these two films were already available on DVD because I know I have seen them and I'm pretty sure not in the theater. Anyway. Perhaps all the nostalgia for May 1968 demanded new releases.

The Master (1980) directed by Tony Liu
Another Shaw Brothers release. And one I have not seen. Check out the trailer here.

The Lovers (1959) The Fire Within (1963) directed by Louis Malle
Two Criterion releases for us all to swoon over.

Youth Without Youth (2007) directed by Francis Ford Coppola
I just can't say this film looked very good, but I feel guilty for judging it without seeing it. On the other hand, do I really want to spend two hours on a film I'm not interested in? Someone tell me this film is worth watching and I will watch it.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

David Mamet's REDBELT

David Mamet's new film comes on the heels of his recent "election season essay" in the Village Voice entitled "Why I am no longer a 'brain-dead liberal'." It is an interesting confession that has incited quite a discussion in the 500 plus comments. Although I really don't think a directors political outlook should have any baring on the work he or she produces, I couldn't help thinking about his comments while watching Redbelt. I was sure his new cynical world order was about to play out before my eyes, and, nothing new here, but I was wrong.

Redbelt is what you would expect from a David Mamet film with sharp dialog and a scenario that you can feel is about to spin out of control. Mike Terry is a well known and well respected Jiu Jitsu instructor with very high principles, but ideals and honor don't pay the bills. His school is struggling financially, but he seems to have found a kindred spirit in Sammy, a police officer pursuing his black belt. Two chance meetings, one with a lawyer and one with a movie star, send Mike and Sammy down a road with fewer and fewer options. Mike's mantra as an instructor is that "There is always an escape; you just have to find it.' This is the exact problem he faces, a situation with no escape. As one might expect, he has to decide whether or not to sacrifice his code of honor to restore order to his life.

On the surface Redbelt is a fight movie, balancing both the intellectual art of fighting with the corrupt business of fighting. The fights are brutally physical without being gratuitous. But once you step back from the action, the films underlying complexity reveals itself. Mamet has a way of scripting small talk, especially between two people who know each other, that is totally unique. It's the best of what you might find on stage and what you might find on screen and what you might overhear in a public place. Conversations between two people you don't know generally don't make any sense, and Mamet is willing to let that ride in this film quite a bit. Lines are dropped and sometimes never picked up again, but there are also lines and actions that are integral to where the film is going. Refreshingly engaging, the cleverest thing about Redbelt is that it is deceptively simple. The building expectation of a big twist or a final metaphorical punch may be a smart device, but it ultimately makes the adrenaline driven ending a let down.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Mike) and Emily Mortimer are fantastic as the two subdued and quirky heroes. Ricky Jay and Joe Mantegna play Mamet bit parts but they are bit parts that I love, and these two guys can deliver his dialog like no others. I hesitate to read into the film too much, but it is certainly possible with the movie business aspects that are worked into this story. More than anything, my dissatisfaction with the ending makes me want to think that there is more than meets the eye. Instead of digressing, I will drop my brain-dead liberal over analyzing, and accept that Mamet has delivers a Rocky moment where we pump our fist into the air and wipe the tear from our eye.

Friday, May 9, 2008


(The Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival is long over, but there are still a number of films from MSPIFF that I was struck by and plan on putting forth at least two cents on them, as time allows.)

Faced with the question of what were some of the best films that I saw at the festival, the film at the forefront of my mind was Beaufort. It had the advantage of being in the later days of the festival, and it was the final film I saw that left a lasting impression. With only the ambiguous synopsis in the catalog to go on, Beaufort caught me completely off guard.

Taking place in the Israeli occupied encampment at the historic Beaufort Castle, Lebanon, the film chronicles the waning days before the Israeli Defense Forces' (IDF) eventual evacuation in 2000. The Israeli forces captured Beaufort in 1982 during the Lebanon War and maintained it as a base for observation. Their abandonment of the fort may have been politically inevitable, but Hezbollah was also doing everything to make it appear as though it was not a complacent departure. In return, the IDF left little but rubble, blowing up structures they had put in place as well as damaging the historical castle that is nearly a century old. Adapted from the novel by the same name, author Ron Leshem also had a hand in the screenplay.

is a war movie for the 21st century with little glory and no heroes. Isolated from the historical context, the film is more of a psychological horror movie with it's slow pace and unexpected moments. The claustrophobic cavernous bunkers in which the soldiers live are contrasted with the danger of the bright open vistas they are supposed to patrol, leaving little space for the viewer to feel comfortable. Beaufort throws you into an environment that seems like an atypical military scenario with men making men's decisions, and some of them men quietly dissenting. But it very quickly pulls you out of the narrative stereotypes and presents you with something much more human: a commander who must be sure of himself, not because he is, but because that is his job; a highly trained officer who goes against his better judgement and ends up dying because of it; and a soldier who is simply too scared to do what is necessary.

The situation, as it is portrayed in the film (because I really don't know otherwise), is impossible for the remaining troops left at Beaufort. The pullout seems all but certain, but it is still a rumor that the soldiers can't allow themselves to believe. Hezbollah is also well aware that the Israelis are soon to abandon the fort and increase the shelling and psychological pressure on the troops and the government. Meanwhile, the politics of admitting that you want to abandon whatever the original mission was at Beaufort is not so easy for those wielding the power. The soldiers who are caught in the middle are only increasingly aware of their pointlessness and, for some, their failure. (Sound familiar?)

It's no mistake that the film starts with an altruistic defusing of a bomb and ends with an narcissistic detonation. Beaufort is endlessly complex, open to overarching analogies and the realization of human contradictions. Completely riveting, it would be a shame if Beaufort doesn't see a theatrical release.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

DVD releases for May 6 and more

Three weeks of catch-up, just because:

May 6
I'm Not There (2007) directed by Todd Haynes
If you haven't seen this movie, just rent it already. If you have, I hope you would agree it is worth watching again. Todd Haynes has taken the biopic and turned it upside down. The performances are fantastic and the pacing is as unusual as it is perfect.

Teeth (2007) directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein
If you missed the midnight screening of this film at the Uptown, here is your chance to check out what will no doubt be some sort of cult hit.

Helvetica (2007) directed by Gary Hustwit
Get geeky with this documentary on a font.

Spider Lilies (2007) directed by Zero Chou
A mediocre lesbian film from Taiwan. I have a hard time saying this film is good, but it is not bad. Good performances from the two leads.

April 29
The Red Balloon (1956) directed by Albert Lamorisse
The more important issue here is to see Hou Hsiao Hsien's amazing Flight of the Red Balloon now playing at the Lagoon. This is the original which Hou took inspiration from and references many times in his film.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) directed by Julian Schnabel
This is really a beautiful film and Mathieu Amairic is great in the lead role. The Diving Bell is a very visual film that would translate better to the large screen, but is more than worth watching at home.

King Corn (2007) directed by Aaron Woolf
This documentary has played around, I think even making appearances on PBS. Nonetheless, it's an important doc for anyone who eats food and anyone interested in the politics of food.

Nanking (2007) directed by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman
I missed this documentary during its short run, and am glad I can finally get a chance to see it on DVD. Being the China-o-phile that I am, I'm more than aware of this divisive point in history and have been to the chilling Nanjing Massacre Memorial.

Party 7 (2000) directed by Katsuhito Ishii
This is Ishii's second film after Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl. Ishii went on to make Taste of Tea and Funky Forest. Ishii is one of the most original directors out there, but unfortunately, compared to his other films, Party 7 is a bomb. It's wild and crazy and flashy, but it makes absolutely no sense. It's pretty clear, now that I watch the trailer again, that this was the precursor to Funky Forest, but Party 7 is a complete mess. For the fans only.

April 22
Silent Ozu: I Was Born, But... (1932), Passing Fancy (1933), Tokyo Chorus (1931)
An invaluable collection from those gosh darn Eclipse people.

Flash Point (2007) directed by Wilson Yip
Wilson Yip is where the Hong Kong action is, and when he is teamed up with Donnie Yen, the movies don't get any more kinetic. If low on brains, but high on action sounds good to you, check this out along with SPL (aka Kill Zone.)

Romulus, My Father (2007) directed by Richard Roxburgh
Remember the 2008 MSPIFF? Well, you could have avoided the crowds by simply renting this Australian drama. More to the point, if you missed it, you can check it out on DVD

The Exquisite Short Films of Kihachiro Kawamoto (1968-79) and The Book of the Dead (2005)
I'm really excited about these two. Stop action puppets from Japan? Sign me up. (Wanna come over and watch an unsubtitled version of Legend of the Sacred Stone?) Check out an interview with Kawamoto on Midnight Eye here.

Intimate Confession of a Chinese Courtesan (1972) directed by Chor Yuen
One of the most infamous Shaw Brothers films is now available here in the US. Don't let the lesbian intrigue of this film fool you, there is plenty of martial arts action to balance out the brothel drama. A Shaw masterpiece.

Also: The Savages, Charlie Wilson's War, The Orphanage

My double dare of the week: watch Cloverfield on your iPod.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Believer: March/April 08

The reasons to shop at your local independent bookstore are endless, but I'm not going to stand on my self-righteous soapbox and preach about this today. But it fills me with joy that I can walk into Micawbers and Hans can say, "Hey, I think I have something you might be interested in." In this case, he offered up the current issue of The Believer - "The 2008 Film Issue." I merely took a brief look at the contents before adding it to my stack of purchases.

The Believer is a bi-monthly magazine put out by the hip brainiacs at McSweeny who put out the Quarterly Concern periodical and Wolphin DVD. I had bought The Believer a couple times when they first started up, and I felt pretty lukewarm about the content. I hadn't really revisited the magazine, so maybe I have been missing out. Judging from this film issue, that is the case. The contents is really just amazing, ranging from the obscure to the mind-blowing with a lot of hipness in the mix. Although I write this before diving beyond the headlines, I get excited just thinking about it. Here's the highlight on my first browse:

Werner Herzog in conversation with Errol Morris
I know I'm a geek by describing this as mind-blowing, but there is a death match in the Herzog-Morris combination that I never imagined. Two of the most thoughtful filmmakers alive who seem completely different, yet...not really. I'm reading this first. (Now I'm regretting not seeing Encounters at the End of the World.)

Interview with Todd Haynes
I'm still a little baffled by I'm Not There. Don't get me wrong, I love love love the film, but I just can't wrap my mind around Haynes process or how to even start to dissect this movie. There is something really brilliant about I'm Not There that I have yet to be able to put into words. (I'm Not There Comes out on DVD this week, by the way.)

Interview with Vladimir
Some in the Twin Cities may remember Vladimir from when she brought her brand of cinema via View-master to the Walker's Women With Vision a couple years ago.

Creative Accounting: Independent Feature Film
Okay, I know this sounds stupid, but your gonna have to trust me when I say that this is interesting. The Believer has publish a condensed budget (full budget runs 80+ pages) for an anonymous, but very real, independent film. It is a crazy document.

"Anna Karina and the American Night" by Michael Atkinson
Atkinson talks movie love.

"On the Road" by Chuck Klosterman
Cool guy Klosterman takes on the road movie.

R. Emmet Sweeney on Opera Jawa
Screening May 11 and 17 at the Walker.

There's more, but I would rather read than write. Talk a look at the contents here with some of the full articles available online.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Cannes, the other film festival

It's time to stop dwelling on the life I live here in MSP and start living vicariously through people who get to travel to France in the middle of May. The MSPIFF was pretty awesome, but there is this another festival gearing up that everyone always gets in a twitter about, so I guess I better too. The line up for Festival de Cannes was announced a week ago, and what do ya' know: Clint Eastwood is remaking The Changeling! No, I'm just kidding. (Apparently his Changeling has nothing to do with THE Changeling, but that was my first thought when I saw the list.)

It is kind of annoying how it announces itself as "the most important film event in the world," but even more annoyingly, it is probably true. Like it or not, Cannes is the buzz machine for cinema snobs like myself, full of films hot off the editing decks by some of the best directors out there. This year is no different than any other year and there is a lot I'm excited about, even if I do have to wait a couple years to see most of these films. It is really great to see not only Eric Khoo in the line-up of films in competition, but also new-comer from the Philippines Brillante Mendoza (who's Slingshot just screened at MSPIFF.) Aside from Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time Redux, the thing that had me jumping up and down is a new film from Lucretia Martel, her first in four years. (Here's hoping that the Walker can get her here either for Cinemateca or Women With Vision.) I'll save the comments from the peanut gallery for later, but for now, here's the full list:

Nuri Bilge Ceylan - Three Monkeys (Turkey-France-Italy)
Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne - Le Silence De Lorna (Belgium-France-Italy-Germany)
Arnaud Desplechin - A Christmas Story (France)
Clint Eastwood - Changeling (US)
Atom Egoyan - Adoration (Canada)
Ari Folman - Waltz With Bashir (Israel-France-Germany)
Philippe Garrel - La Frontiere De L'Aube (France)
Matteo Garrone - Gomorra (Italy)
Charlie Kaufman - Synecdoche, New York (US)
Eric Khoo - My Magic (Singapore)
Lucretia Martel - La Mujer Sin Cabeza (Argentina-Spain)
Brillante Mendoza - Serbis (The Philippines)
Kornel Mondruczo - Delta (Hungary-Germany)
Walter Salles & Daniela Thomas - Linha De Passe (Brazil)
Paolo Sorrentino - Il Divo (Italy)
Pablo Trapero - Leonera (Argentina-South Korea)
Wim Wenders - The Palermo Shooting (Germany-Italy)
Jia Zhangke - 24 City (China)
Steven Soderbergh - Che (US-Spain-France) -- one four-hour competion title comprised of Guerrilla and The Argentine

Out of competition
Steven Spielberg - Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (US)
Mark Osborne and John Stevenson - Kung Fu Panda (US)
Ji-Woon Kim - The Good, The Bad, The Weird (South Korean)
Woody Allen - Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Spain-US)

Special screenings
Marina Zenovich - Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (US)
Wong Kar-wai - Ashes Of Time Redux (Hong Kong-China-Taiwan)
Daniel Leconte - C'est Dur D'etre Aime Par Des Cons (France)
Marco Tullio Giordana - Sangue Pazzo (Italy-France)
Terence Davies - Of Time And The City (UK)

Midnight Screenings
Emir Kusturica - Maradona (Spain)
Jennifer Lynch - Surveillance (US)
Hong-Jin Na - The Chaser (South Korea)

Special Jury President's screening
Alison Thompson - The Third Wave (US)

Main Jury
Sean Penn, president
Sergio Castellitto
Natalie Portman
Alfonso Cuaron
Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Alexandra Maria Lara
Rachid Bouchareb

Thursday, May 1, 2008


I passed on the closing night gala and the communal celebratory high-five with Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World and swanky par-tay at the 7 Sushi Ultra-lounge (ultra-lounges make me break out in hives) for one last screening at St Anthony Main. The documentary Lynch was no doubt the less cinematic offering, but a much needed low-key experience. Assuming Encounters at the End of the World will open here at a later time, I think I made the right choice.

Lynch is the first installment of the massive amount footage shot during the making of Inland Empire. (Lynch 2 is available on the invaluable special features disc of the Inland Empire DVD set, and rumor has it that there is enough footage for a few more installments.) There is sort of a mystery surrounding who actually shot the footage, but as the documentary proves with the candidness we get from the man himself, the director, simply credited as "blackANDwhite," was someone very close. Scenes that elude to the fact that it might be Lynch himself are probably just aimed at the fact that it doesn't matter who directed the film: this is the David Lynch show.

There may not be too much here that is ground breaking, or even very illuminating to a Lynch fan, but it is undeniably fascinating. When David Lynch lets loose on a yarn, whether it is about bloated cows or the streets of Philadelphia or transcendental meditation, it is captivating. Never a showboat, Lynch earnestly offers up stories that seem as fascinating to him as they are to the listener. Watching him work is no different, offering a glimpse into his mysterious creative process. The documentary captures him not only working on Inland Empire and various aspects of the film, but also on paintings, sculptures and photos. Sometimes you really have no idea what he is doing, but it doesn't matter. Watching him work on the decorative finish to a floor for what I assume is Inland Empire is pretty amazing. You can see what his subconscious process, or 'catching the big fish,' is all about: he seems totally sure and convicted about what he's doing with little idea of what exactly it is.

The style of the documentary is somewhat distracting, using multiple types of stock to shoot one session, or the black and white interludes of a passing landscape, or shots of Lynch that have him cropped partially out of the frame. Lynch may not be the revealing documentary some expect, but it is certainly another piece of the compelling puzzle. Watching Lynch be Lynch is what this doc is all about.