Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Home Movies: March @ In Review Online

Since this blog is about as lifeless as a wet noodle, it seems appropriate to point out that I have become a contributor to an up-and-coming online magazine: In Review Online.

Check out my DVD picks for this month here: Home Movies: March

In Review Online delivers weekly content on new music and new films along with special features every Tuesday. I'll be giving my monthly picks for DVD releases on the last Tuesday of every month as well as making other contributions. The site is chock-full of content, and I would recommend checking it out and subscribing to the weekly e-mail detailing what is new on the site.

Here's what is in this week's issue, magically cut-and-pasted from the e-mail I got today:

THE WEEK IN REVIEW #30 [March 31st, 2009]

Issue includes...

Home Movies: March [Feature by Kathie Smith]

Film Reviews:
• Gigantic (2009) dir. Matt Aselton [Review by Sam C. Mac]
• Sunshine Cleaning (2009) dir. Christine Jeffs [Review by Sam C. Mac]
• Fantasia (1940) dir. Various [Review by Hayden Wright]

Music Reviews:
• Mastodon - Cracke the Skye (2009) [Review by Jordan Cronk]
Amadou & Mariam - Welcome to Mali (2009) [Review by Chris Nowling]
Dan Deacon - Bromst (2009) [Review by James O'Malley]

...and more (click above)

Seeing as I am inconsistent at best in offering a weekly synopsis of DVD releases, I'll send you to In Review Online to see my picks for the month. In the meantime I will try and come up with some other banter for Kathie Smith central.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

MSPIFF website is up!

Now that Spider Baby is over and I needn't remind you that you missed it, I give you another short-attention span post.

MSPIFF rumblings have started, and low and behold, you wouldn't guess what website I happened upon by Googlish chance! That's right! The 27th Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival website is up and sort of running. Not much activity at this point, but under films you do get a sneak peak at what might (or might not) be play during the Fest. Initial reactions? Bring on Three Monkeys!

The Minneapolis St Paul Film Festival runs from April 16 - 30. Until then, if you want to test your stamina for five films in one day, check out the Beyond Borders Film Festival starting Thursday at the Parkway.

Thanks to Bobak Ha'Eri for the photo from last year's MSPIFF.

Monday, March 23, 2009

SPIDER BABY @ the Turf Club

Tonight! Monday, March 23 at 10:30.

For those of you that have been around town for five years or so, you may remember a group showing films at the University under the moniker Trash Film Debauchery. The titles almost always lived up to the name. The Debauchery has graduated and moved from campus to bar, and tonight they present Jack Hill's Spider Baby or The Maddest Story Ever Told (1968) at the Turf Club in St Paul.
"In a dilapidated rural mansion, the last generation of the degenerate, inbred Merrye family lives with the inherited curse of a disease that causes them to mentally regress from the age of 10 or so on as they physically develop. The family chauffeur looks out for them and covers up their indiscretions. Trouble comes when greedy distant relatives and their lawyer arrive to dispossess the family of its home."
I can't imagine a better place to show this film, allowing views to indulge in a beer or two and to be a little more rowdy than one might be in a theater. Movie is free. Beer is not.

Keep track of Trash Film Debauchery's schedule on MySpace or become a fan on Facebook.
The Turf Club is located at 1601 University Avenue in St Paul.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ishiro Honda's MATANGO (1963)

The kaiju eiga has taken many different shapes and forms. King Kong may have been the original giant monster movie, but Japanese filmmakers embraced this genre giving life to rubber suits and miniature cities. The stereotype of the Japanese monster movie may be pure camp, but it was Ishiro Honda that set a very serious tone in 1954 with Godzilla. Infused with a social commentary, Godzilla spoke to Japan's fear of the atomic bomb and uneasiness toward the future.

Honda was drafted three times into the Imperial Army and served between 1938 and 1946. He not only witnessed the firebombings in Tokyo, but he was also a prisoner of war in China and visited the destruction of Hiroshima in shortly after the bombings. After he returned to Tokyo he found work as assistant director to his neighbor and friend Akira Kurosawa at Toho studios. Once he was promoted to director, he made two documentaries and six feature films before making Godzilla. Honda had questioned the ethics of war in previous films, but it was with Godzilla that he found a voice for articulating post-War anxiety, and more specifically the anxiety towards a world living with the destructive power of the atomic bomb.

Although science fiction was a staple for Honda after Godzilla, he did just as many stock-in-trade drama, action, and comedic films. The 50s and 60s were creatively fertile times for film in Japan. Studios were giving directors more freedom than ever before in order to reclaim audiences stolen by television. Matango was born from this era that seemed to allow Honda to dig deep into his bag of surreal doomsday metaphors. Slapped with the English title Attack of the Mushroom People and dubbed for US consumption, Matango was hardly seen as the thoughtful film that it was.

Seven hapless Tokyoites, five men and two women, set out in a seaworthy sailboat for a weekend excursion. The seven compose a social cross-cut and a nice microcosm: a level-headed captain, a horny sailor, a wealthy executive, a carefree writer, an earnest college professor, a naive young college clerk, and a woman-of-the-world singer. An oncoming storm and the group's misguided decision not to return home quickly turns their outing into a huge (but inevitable) reversal of fortune. With their boat destroyed and barely staying afloat, they drift toward an island promising food, fresh water and perhaps a rescue.

To their surprise the island seems deserted, despite another ship that seems to have washed ashore. Although the flora is in abundance—including massive mushrooms—the fauna is nonexistent. Even birds avoid the island at the shoreline. As one might expect, there is a secret locked inside those mushrooms, and a fate for the people who decide to eat them that questions humanities position at the top of the food chain. The mushrooms not only have a predictable hallucinatory effect but also physically alters all who eat them. With little to eat on the island but the mushrooms, most are unable to resist the temptation. The radiation laced mushroom sends one famished survivor into a drug induced fantasy of dancing girls only to be jarred to reality by the fact that he would soon be a mushroom.

You don't have to look much further than "Lost" to know the social critiques that surface on a deserted island. Humans are savages at heart and will turn on each other in order to survive. Matango works with these motifs, but also takes a more ecological approach. The frenzied finale that has an entire forest of mushrooms coming to life, sends our last surviving hero fleeing to an ill-repaired boat to escape. Although he makes it back to Japan, his fate is to wile away his days locked in a psyche ward above the neon lights of Tokyo. As he ponders the life outside his window, he concludes that a life as a mushroom on an island would be more fulfilling than a life as a human in Tokyo. Little does he know that he is about to find out what it is like to live as a mushroom in Tokyo, and it doesn't look so good. With rapid industrialization sweeping the country, Matango freely critiques its dehumanizing effects. Matango may be slightly dated but it is one of Ishiro Honda's most layered and strange films.

Say what you will about Media Blaster's Tokyo Shock label, but this DVD offers up some impressive extras: a commentary from lead actor Akira Kubo (an engaging conversation that is more about his career than the film itself); an interview with special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano (I think he is Al Milgrom's long lost Japanese brother, seriously); a reading from the author of the story played along with re-edited images of the film; and a rad, but no doubt You Tube accessible, trailer.

Matango was released a few years ago on DVD by Media Blasters.
Watch a trailer for the film here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

DVD releases for March 17

Stellar. Just look at those first three images.

Travels with Hiroshi Shimizu: Eclipse Series 13
Eclipse has outdone themselves. Hiroshi Shimizu, friend and collaborator with Yasujiro Ozu, is virtually unknown in the West. The opportunity to see him films (with subtitles) will add another dimension to an era canonized by Ozu, Mizoguchi and Naruse. There are four titles included in the set: Japanese Girls at the Harbor (1933), Mr. Thank You (1936), The Masseurs and a Woman (1938) and Ornamental Hairpin (1941). Crazy guy Katsuhiro Ishii (Funky Forest) just made an adaptation of Shimizu's The Masseurs and a Woman. All reports were that the adaption was very faithful to the original, and I'm glad I can actually make that assessment myself! Buy this set and support the efforts of Eclipse. I will gladly add this set to the stacks of to-be-watched. Check out Dave Kern's rundown of the set here.

Dodes'ka-Den (1970) directed by Akira Kurosawa
I have been thinking a lot about Dodes'ka-Den lately. After seeing Oshima's Burial of the Sun last year, I was convinced it was one of the most apocalyptic depictions of post-War Japan I had ever seen. Until I remembered Dodes'ka-Den, but barely remembered. It has to be over 10 years since I've seen it. Perfect timing: a remastered DVD with a very cool cover. Comparisons aside, Dodes'ka-Den is an interesting film all on its own. Kurosawa had just been canned from the production of Tora! Tora! Tora! and Dodes'ka-Den was Kurosawa's attempt at resurrecting his career. Meanwhile films were out, TV was in. Due to the state of the film industry, Kurosawa started his own production company along with Masaki Kobayashi, Kon Ichikawa and Keisuke Kinoshita called the four of Clubs. Dodes'ka-Den was the first and only film for the failed production company. It was also Kurosawa's first color film and made uncharacteristically quick (one month versus two years for his previous film, Red Beard.) No one is going to say that Dodes'ka-Den is Kurosawa's best film, but it shows an adventurous side to a master filmmaker whose career was starting to wane.

The F.W. Murnau Collection - Nosferatu (1922), Faust (1926), The Last Laugh (1924), Tartuffe (1925), The Haunted Castle (1921), The Finances of the Grand Duke (1924)
This set is notable for the inclusion of a brand new version of Faust, The Haunted Castle and The Finances of the Grand Duke (all available separately) with the other three simply throw-ins previously available from Kino. Faust was originally released to different markets in seven different versions. Is this new one the best one? I have no idea, but it purports to be from Murnau's own stash.

Yella (2007) directed by Christian Petzold
I missed this German film at last years MSPIFF despite an insider tip that it was a film not to be missed. Yella may be one of New Yorker's last obligations for domestic release.

Elegy (2008) directed by Isabel Coixet
The best part of cataloging DVD releases is realizing how many films I missed in the theater. This is one that I probably should have set aside my misgivings and seen. Check out the Japanese website (the only one still functioning) through the link above.

Punisher: War Zone (2008) directed by Lexi Alexander
This is one where my misgivings probably saved me from seeing a terrible movie.

And for all you vampires-in-love fans, released on Saturday because it is so special:
(2008) directed by Catherine Hardwicke

Monday, March 16, 2009

Zack Snyder's WATCHMEN

Weighing in on Watchmen is like flicking a turd in the ocean: no one's really going to notice, but it certainly adds to the general pollution. So be it. Just let me say my peace. By in large, Watchman has been unfairly dismissed and there are a couple points I feel compelled to assert as a humble fanboy and an even more humble critic.

First, Zack Snyder's Watchmen is faithful in spirit to the graphic novel. The comic is a text of grand postulation and complex parable that is just as relevant in 1985 as it is now. Omissions were minor, and the film did its best to stay true to the essence of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's creation. The novel draws conclusions, but they are by no means definitive or absolute; the film is bravely willing to stick with that. The characters are brilliantly conceived from page to screen, especially Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan.

Second, we are dealing with a very unlevel pop culture playing field. I bet for every critic who disliked Watchmen, you wold find a critic who loved Batman Begins. For months the trailer has been telling us that film is take from "the most celebrated graphic novel of all time." Those unfamiliar with Watchmen immediately made the super geek association—how else could something be so celebrated yet unknown—and those familiar with Watchmen simply wondered who said it was the most celebrated graphic novel of all time. Batman is easy. Batman is available through so many machinations it makes my head spin. It is a huge, huge franchise whose hero is always a hero. Watchmen is not so easy. There is nothing iconic to a mass audience and the 'heroes' are unredemptive at best. I found people being way to generous to Batman Begins and way to unforgiving to Watchmen.

After more than a week thinking about Watchman, having general water-cooler conversations about the film and revisiting the comic, I've warmed up to the film to the point where I am considering screenwriter David Hayter's plea to see the film again. The film's major blunder, in my opinion, was the overpowering music montages. The overtly kitschy choices were not only nauseating, but totally wrong. (Hire a friggin' composer for what you spent on the rights for those songs, dude.)

Snyder had an impossible task in front of him and I truly think he made the most of it. If you spend a week with the complete graphic novel, it will still seem like not enough time. The film crams most of that into 2 hours and 40 minutes. Inevitably, statements like "Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts" translate better to a reader than a viewer. Watchmen has a life of its own, and Snyder obviously did not want to tinker with that. Perhaps that was his biggest mistake, to not give the film a life of its own. Be it good or bad, it is chained to the graphic novel.

Watchmen has not done the business that its makers had hoped (hence the open letter to pretty please go see it again.) Watchmen was supposed to be a bigger, better and smarter film than Snyder's previous chest-beating 300. I would say, without hesitation, that Watchmen is heads and shoulders above 300, but this is apparently not what people want. Race to Witch Mountain is the new king of the hill, as Watchmen drops to number two (just ahead of Last House on the Left Redux.) God knows, no one is going to stop adapting comic books anymore than they are going to stop remaking horror films, but I'll take Rorschach over Batman and Dr. Manhattan over King Leonidas any day of the week.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Life is full of interesting juxtapositions. In a world where days off work means at least two movies, I unwittingly create some interesting comparisons: sometimes they meld (Wendy and Lucy vs Lake Tahoe) and sometimes they clash (Watchmen vs Treeless Mountain.) Last Saturday was a case of beautiful extremes: classic tragedy in the form of Anthony Minghella's production of Madama Butterfly at my local multiplex to modern whimsy in the form of Agnès Varda takes on Agnès Varda in the Beaches of Agnès at the Walker Art Center.

First, I acknowledge that my secret is out: I love going to the opera in the movie theater. I swear it is turning me into an opera junkie. Maybe I'm like a trained monkey and everything on the big screen is interesting. I would like to think it is more than that. Making the opera more accessible to people like me (not necessarily an opera fan) has opened a door to a whole new world. (Before anyone starts barking, I do patronize the MN Opera, and I would be the first to believe that ticket sales are up for the MN Opera partially because of the popularity of the Met's live broadcasts.) Some might call it the great dumbing down of opera, but I love showing up at the theater at noon on a Saturday in my tennis shoes and my baseball hat to see some of the best opera productions in the world in HD for 22 dollars.

For those who think I have slipped in my Italian bathtub and hit my head, I'm talking about the Metropolitan Opera's live digital broadcasts sent to movie theaters across the globe. In its third season of live HD broadcasts, the numbers are staggering: broadcasting in 31 countries in over 850 theaters, with over one million people attending live broadcasts this season. Locally there are a dozen or so theaters that offer the broadcasts, Roseville and Block E being my hubs.

Saturday was Anthony Minghella's production of Puccini's much loved Madama Butterfly. It was the only opera that Minghella, collaborating with his wife Carolyn Chao. The production is amazingly sparse and utilizes forms of Bunraku theater including a puppet that plays the son of Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San. (Bunraku theater was also what Masuhiro Shinoda used for his 1969 film Double Suicide.) Apparently the puppet got more press than the singers when the production premiered, but it is easy to see why. The puppet is so amazingly animated it took on a life of its own.

The story is admittedly one of oppression, chauvinism and extreme tragedy - all common operatic motifs. It is hard to look beyond the politically incorrectness of the narrative to the beauty of the music and the singing. (Pinkerton got some hisses at the ovation.) At the turn of the century, it probably would have carried a sense of the exotic along with the overall pathos. For what it is worth, the opera is a women's opera is the sense that the beefy role is that of Cio-Cio-San, our mistress in distress. The male roles in Butterfly are placid despite some final emoting from Pinkerton.

The overall feel of any opera, sparse or not, tragic or not, is one of grandeur. Madama Butterfly is no different, dealing with love, life and death, quintessentially and archetypally. Take away the archetype and The Beaches of Agnès may not be that different. In a different time and different place and much much different tone, Agnès Varda's self-portrait at 80 years old is no less enchanting.

I'll call her the Grandmother of the New Wave because everyone else does, and it does indeed give her life some frame of reference. Before the swaggers and the philosophical tit-for-tat disputes ever surfaced in the nouvelle vague, Agnès Varda made her first film in 1954, La Pointe Courte, exploring many of the techniques and themes later exploited by the New Wave. She married director Jacques Demy and they had this boisterous creative life together. If Varda's films are experimental, so is her life: continually exploring and expanding her creative impulses.

Her lighthearted take on life is the focus of Beaches, reminiscing with vintage footage, interviews, and staged vignettes. Whether we are seeing her in the belly of a whale or just enjoying a circus on the beach, all scenes are delightfully representative. Varda was first and foremost a lover of art. She first studied photography and found film as a way of expanding her voice. But that is not all, dressing up like a potato at an art exhibition is also a way of expanding her voice.

The Beaches of Agnès is a hard film to review, per se, because it is so personal and one would have to be stone cold not to enjoy this woman's sense of humor and vigor for life. She talks about Demy and his death, her kids, her friends, her work and everything in between. An incognito Chris Marker even makes an appearance...as a hand drawn cat. Honestly, there is really nothing to dislike here.

Operatic tragedy doesn't have too much of an emotional effect on me, but the grand splendor of opera does. In all it's sums and parts, I find opera just about as moving as anything. The fact that I'm seeing it on a movie screen doesn't shatter this at all for me. The Beaches of Agnès is no opera, but it offered something of a grounded balance to Madama Butterfly. Have them both in one day borders close to perfection. Both are powerful in their historical context, rich in their artistic valor, and completely entertaining.

The Walker's Women With Vision continues through March 21.
There are two more programs left in the Met's live broadcasts.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

DVD releases for March 10

Wow, what happened to the month of February? Oh well. The only thing you need to know about the last few weeks is that Ashes of Time Redux and I've Loved You So Long came out on DVD. You should see them. (In a slight digression: I guess Sony didn't want to capitalize on all the obsessive Wong Kar Wai fans by offering a Blu-Ray for Redux, sending those interested across the Atlantic where Artificial Eye has release a region-free Blu-Ray.)

Moving onward to today:

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) directed by Mike Leigh
I look forward to watching this one again with my better half who avoids theaters just to spite me. Sally Hawkins deservingly won the Golden Globe for her bubbly yet grounded performance of Poppy, but didn't even get a mention from our fair Oscars. Happy-Go-Lucky defies cynicism just in the same way Leigh's Naked defied optimism.

Let the Right One In (2008) directed by Tomas Alfredson
I would bet my stack of unwatched DVDs that the remake of this tender coming-of-age vampire flick isn't going to be one-tenth as good as the original. This Swedish horror film is certainly Swedish, but it is not all horror. If I had to divvy up the genres into percentages, I would say Let the Right One In is 60% coming-of-age love story, 35% horror, and 5% comedy (for the CGI cats.) Alfredson's film is an instant classic simply because it adds so much to what is something of an old-hat genre, even with Buffy and Twilight. Making a challenging horror film is one thing, but making a challenging vampire horror film seems like an oxymoron. This story about two young outsiders (yes, one is a vampire-like person) is moving and scary and visually stunning. J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves (the less-than-genius creative team behind Cloverfield) are remaking the film because they are too stupid to come up with their own ideas.

Synecdoche New York (2008) directed by Charlie Kaufman
I had pretty high expectations for Synecdoche, and although I really really liked it, overall it felt flat. The hallmark of Synecdoche is the brilliant moments that unfurl before you, one after another: the downward spiral that starts with Caden's description of pipes to his daughter; Caden's first explanation of his project to the crew; the hilarity of his wife's gimmicky art form; and so on. They all ring so true, but slightly skewed through Kaufman's lens. Even though these bits and pieces don't add up to the triumphant whole that I wanted, perhaps that is Charlie Kaufman's last laugh—nothing is as grand as it seems. A must-see for the creative types.

Shinobi No Mono 3: Resurrection (1963) directed by Kazuo Mori
This is the third in a series of eight period dramas focusing on our hero ninja, Ishikawa Goemon. The series is known for its authenticity, and although I am not learned in the ways of the ninja, I will say the action is pretty compelling. If you are really interested in the series start with the first one, as there is some continuity. (Link above is the trailer for the first in the series.)

Milk (2008) directed by Gus Van Sant
The best part about this movie is Sean Penn's performance (heads above Mickey Rourke), but other than that it is a pretty standard, but well-timed, biopic. Paranoid Park was a better film.

Rachel Getting Married (2008) directed by Jonathan Demme
Okay, let me just get this out of the way: all the people in this movie annoyed the hell out of me, especially Anne Hathaway's character. Now that that is out of the way, this is an interesting movie about recovery and forgiveness...if you like being annoyed.

And finally two that I didn't see, but seem to offer up exactly what you might expect, or not:
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008) directed by Mark Herman
Cadillac Records (2008) directed by Darnell Martin

Monday, March 9, 2009


Separated from my viewing of Watchmen by only a few hours, Treeless Mountain is the complete antithesis of the blockbuster mentality that fuels such things as Watchmen. So Yong Kim's second feature film emits self-assurance without losing the simplicity that made her first feature, In Between Days, so unique. Kim seems to have built a clarity into her pared-down portrait of two young sisters in South Korea forced to deal with their world being turned inside out.

Using events from her own life as a launching pad, Kim tells the story the story of Jin and Bin (age 6 and 4, respectively.) Privy to their perspective of the world, we the viewers analytically understand what the girls are only able to emotionally absorb: the strain on the face of their mother, the absence of their father, or the private talk with someone out in the hallway. By the time Jin comes home from school to find her mom packing to go visit their "big aunt," the confused look on Jin's face is already tearing a hole in our heart. Their mom leaves them with their aunt, promising to return soon. The aunt is not in much better circumstances than their mom, with little incentive to care for the girls beyond the most basic of needs and discipline. Needless to say, the mother doesn't come back and the aunt can't sustain as guardian, forcing the girls to move in with their grandparents.

The fact that the camera stays focused on Jin and Bin throughout the film shapes our sympathies instead of manufacturing them. When their aunt is talking we channel a reaction through Jin's face, and tugging at the heart-strings is just the beginning. Despite the events, there is something universal in this story of childhood. I think we all have just the briefest memories of moments of understanding from our youth that we recognize on Jin's face. It may be innocence lost, but in the context of the film, it is also hope regained through acceptance. By not asking the girls to act, per se, Kim gets some of the most natural performances from these young girls, allowing their ticks and individuality to shine.

Gaining more out of less is only half the story. The subtle brilliance of Treeless Mountain is in the details. The minutia is what draws you in to an atmosphere that feels genuine: the slow deterioration of the girls clothes and appearance, the pile of liquor bottles outside their aunt's home, and the slow change of scenery from urban to rural.

The influence of Hirokazu Kore-eda's Nobody Knows is instantly recognizable, but I also found myself thinking about the young actors in Nagisa Oshima's Boy. This may be a random association on my part, but I found a similar richness in the characters of 'boy' and Jin. Kim obviously has an autobiographical bent, first taking on her adolescence in In Between Days and then receding into her childhood for Treeless Mountain. Kim herself was born in South Korea and moved to the US when she was 12. In a post-screening Q & A she re-emphasized as much, saying that she has only her own experiences to work with and she is unable to fabricate anything beyond that. But Treeless Mountain already has hints of moving outside of simple autobiography.

Treeless Mountain debuted at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and played in Minneapolis as part of the Walker's Women With Vision. It will get a wider release later this Spring.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

While I Was Away...

Priorities got the best of me, making my blog hopelessly idle. However, the world did not stop spinning, and here were a few things that deserve some yabber, albeit late and abbreviated yabber:

New Yorker Films: Au revoir! さようなら! 再见!
No way do I want to make light of this very sad news. After 43 years New Yorker Films, distributor of some of the finest films made, calls it quits. I have always appreciated New Yorker's willingness to take on films for the sake of their artistic value instead of their bottom line value. Specific to my interests was their commitment to Jia Zhang Ke (such as Still Life, left.) Xiao Wu, Platform and Unknown Pleasures were not going to get releases in their home country, so I was really at the mercy of someone picking these films up in either the UK or the US. Taking a gander at the titles of the films New Yorker represented reads like a "best of" in foreign film: Roy Andersson's Songs from the Second Floor, Clair Denis' Beau Travail, Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni's The Story of the Weeping Camel, Lynne Ramsey's Ratcatcher, Lars Von Trier's Manderlay, Tsai Ming Liang's Goodbye Dragon Inn, Hirokazu Kore-eda's After Life and Nobody Knows, Anh Hung Tran's Cyclo, Hong Sang Soo's Woman is the Future of Man and Woman on the Beach, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Amores Perros, Hou Hsiao Hsien's Three Times and Flight of the Red Ballon, Bahman Ghobadi's A Time for Drunken Horses and Turtles Can Fly and so on. Not to mention the catalogs of Werner Herzog, Pedro Almodovar, Ousmane Sembene, Zhang Yimou and Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet. I could go on, but the point is, from a film fan's standpoint, New Yorker will be missed.

Surge in Movie Ticket Sales
Depressed about the economy? Go see the Jonas Brothers: 3D Concert Experience! Or Medea Goes to Jail! Or the Watchmen! Although escapism-via-the-movie-theater is my middle name, the American people have long tossed that entertainment option to the side for some time. From within the article, "the portion of the American population that attended movies on a weekly basis dropped from around 65 percent in 1930 to about 10 percent in the 1960s, and pretty much stayed there." Wow. It's a wonder how movies make money at all. However, the slight increase (17.5 %) in sales for the year has everyone excited. I fear the onslaught of 'happy crappy movies,' but the bigger picture of more viewers is never a bad thing.

Departures wins Best Foreign Film
Departures was an upset win against Waltz With Bashir. Waltz may be the better (and more important) film, but I am glad to see this weepy melodrama win. The Oscars is all industry bullshit that is nauseating at face value, but the win for this film will give the Japanese film industry a new lease on life. After the Oscars, record crowds bombarded theaters in Japan to see the film, gaining support it may have never seen without the win, locally and internationally. Director Yojiro Takita muscled moderate domestic success with his 2001 period drama Onmyoji, but it will be nothing compared to Departures. The film focuses on Daigo, a devoted cellist in an orchestra that has just been dissolved. When he answers a classified ad for a job, simply entitled "Departures," he gets roped in to becoming a "Nokanshi" or "encoffineer," a funeral professional who prepares deceased bodies for burial and entry into the next life. Check out the new US website in the link above.

Hong Kong International Film Festival
The HKIFF program went online last week. I was THIS close to going this year, but, as fate would have it, the fragrant harbor will have to wait another year for me. If missed opportunities was a sport, I would be a professional. The program is chock-full of films that make me excited, even if I'm not attending. Although the program features some films that have either played here or will play here, it is the boatloads of films that will never ever play here that I wish I was there to see.

...Blu-Ray arrives to my house...and I am scared.
Researching Blu-Ray players ever since HD went kaput always led me down the same frightening road: having a video game console in my house. If my attentiveness to film is any indication, I have some OCD issues. Television and video games are something I have reserved to retirement, knowing that they present a potential threat to my involvement in the 'real world.' However, the deal on a PS3 a couple of weeks ago at Target was too good to pass up, and I am now a proud owner of a PS3. I have yet to test my willpower and unpack the player with the excuse that I want to find a cheap new receiver before I go digging around in the web of wires. Perusing the available Blu-Rays at the local video store and Nit-wit-flix, I am trying to stay focused...

Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow
I will not being reviewing books for this wonder blog, but I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the inspiration. When the folks at J-Film Pow-Wow posted a search for someone to review Japanese Film related books, I was interested. In doing a little research of books I would like to review, I uncovered a treasure trove. Although I didn't get the book review gig, the Pow-Wow folks offered me some motivation to throw some book reviews up on these very pages. Until then, check out the barn-burning and informative posting that goes on at the J-Film Pow-Wow.

Molding young minds into Cineastes
Teaching may not be in my future, but a friend of mine let me guest speak in his Oppositional Cinema class on the Japanese New Wave movement. I'm not sure if I won any fans, but it sure is fun to show Branded to Kill to an unexpecting audience of young adults.

Universal Noir, Women With Vision, 3D Film Festival, Italian Film Festival, and Blockbusters
Don't blame me for ignoring my blog.