Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

Soi Cheang's ACCIDENT (2009)

(The dust and the blister packs on my recent DVDs is a telltale sign: I spend too much time in the theater and not enough in the comfort of my own home. In an attempt to catch up, I'll be posting some thoughts on these movies as time allows.)

Soi Cheang takes a step back from his Cat III wanderings in the blistering Dog Bite Dog and the ridiculous Shamo to tackle a far more commercially viable vehicle with Accident. Under Johnny To's wing as producer, Accident is a well made film that never takes the extra step to challenge the audience, unless you include the unbelievable circumstances that we are asked to swallow right up to the big finale. But in some respects, the over-the-top contrivances feed the movie's themes and ultimately the central character's paranoia that there is no such thing as an accident.

The opening sequence sets the stage and presents a progression of events that fall as as neatly as a line of dominoes, resulting in the bizarre death of a triad member. Through precision and timing, the film subtly reveals that this is no normal chain of events. On a tight busy street, a woman gets a flat tire a flies into distress mode, causing the gentleman behind her to take an alternate route. Not so coincidentally, he passes a truck that sloshes water on the driver as a large banner falls on the windshield of his car. Irritated, the driver jumps out of the car, yanks the banner down from where it is attached. A wire snaps from above, a window shatters, and a shower of broken broken glass pummel the man, killing him. The woman with the flat, the old man driving the truck, the man in charge of the banner and a calm observer of the eventual death are the discrete masterminds behind the assassination masquerading as a mishap.

Louis Koo plays, Brains, the leader of the pack with Stanley Fung, Lam Suet, and Michelle Ye filling out this foursome of unlikely guns for hire. Although each member no doubt has their own talent to bring to the team, it's Brain's and his need for perfection that gives them the knack for successfully pulling off the impossible. But Stanley Fung's aging character seems to be losing his edge to either typical forgetfulness or some form of dementia. This new weak link intersects with a new job that goes terribly awry. Brains, a sweaty mess of obsession and paranoia, is secretly convinced that the accident within the accident is...well, no accident. He connects their client with a mysterious banker who may or may not have ties to his past and the untimely death of his girlfriend.

Watching the story unfold is only surprising in the measure of control Cheang uses to direct Koo down a gently declining slope of mania. Great pains are taken to show, not tell, just how tweeky our hero is as he barely keeps a handle on his rationality. Koo is responsible for quietly carrying the film, with the rest of the cast, including Richie Ren who plays the banker, barely the get the screentime to perform. Invited to a half a dozen film festivals, Accident may usher in a new era for Soi Cheang. Although fully satisfying on one level, Accident disappoints only because Cheang has set people up to expect the unexpected, even if it is an overworked mess such as Dog Bites Dog or a horror head-scratcher such as the fantastically titled Horror Hotline: Big Head Monster.

Watch the trailer for Accident here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Blood, sweat, but no tears: The One Year Anniversary of the Trylon Microcinema

This month the Trylon microcinema celebrates one year of successfully bringing a shit load of repertory cinema to the Twin Cities, 50 seats at a time. Last July the Trylon christened itself with a month of sold-out Buster Keaton films, replete with live musical accompaniment. This year we are bringing back the 'great stone face' to celebrate with three screenings of his go-for-broke masterpiece The General: two at the Trylon Wednesday at 7:00 and 9:00pm and one at the Heights Thursday at 7:30pm. All three screening will be accompanied by Dreamland Faces. (If you are planning to go to one of the screenings at the Trylon, plan ahead. Tickets are selling fast! Overflow: head to the Heights on Thursday.)

Despite the common theory that people don't go to movie theaters anymore, that rep cinema doesn't matter and that film is dead, the Trylon is proof positive that people still enjoy the communal experience of watching a movie with total strangers from 35mm. To paraphrase an adage used by Barry Kryshka, fearless leader and founder of the Trylon and Take Up Productions: you can drink at home but people are still going to go to bars. If movie theaters were bars, I would have a problem. A film, be it Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders or Steven Spielberg's Jaws, is always going to be more fun and more engaging to me in a theatrical setting. And it seems I'm not alone. How else do you explain four packed shows of Ghostbusters? Although the Trylon only operates Friday through Sunday for now, there has been much to relish over the past year: from Cronenberg to Capra, Hitchcock to Harryhausen, Johnny Depp to Bill Murray, Buster Keaton to Steven Spielberg and Powell/Pressburger to Godard.

Built from the ground up in an unassuming space in an even more unassuming building in South Minneapolis, the Trylon is outfitted with 50 rocker seats and a 20-foot screen. Although that may sound modest by most standards, the Trylon is also rigged with two Century Model SA 35mm projectors, one of the best digital set-ups in the city and a Sensurround sound system. Seeing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas from 35mm (2.85 widescreen!) at the Trylon was a revelation: intimate and overpowering. Likewise was the amazing picture of It Came Beneath the Sea from Blu-ray, or the decibel induced hum of those spaceships in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or the colors from the pristine print of The Red Shoes, fresh from the Film Forum.

I am, however, not an unbiased fan. I met Barry at the Oak Street and subsequently got to know him while he was running films at the Parkway. Barry's idea of opening a theater emerged slowly and magically before my eyes. The Trylon is an organization that is powered by an enthusiastic volunteer staff and I happen to be one of them. Sometimes I'm a advisory board member, sometimes projection booth monkey, sometimes fancy soda supplier, sometimes film dork hang-about and sometimes the person who tries to keep up with Terry Blue's movie consumption simply for the sake of conversation. Regardless of what I'm doing there, I'm honored to be a part of the Trylon and am always inspired in my fellow volunteers and our resilient audience. Congratulations Trylon! Let's do it for another year!

The man and his machines.

The Trylon media buzz has died down, but here are links to some of the various articles and accolades showered on our little microcinema:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lee Chang-dong's POETRY

Yet another film that I look forward to seeing, hopefully sooner rather than later, is Lee Chang-dong's Poetry. Published with In Review Online's "You Can't Stop Wat's Coming - Most Anticipated Films of 2010," here's why:

The renaissance in South Korean film over the past 15 years has jettisoned the likes of Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, Kim Ki-duk and even Hong Sang-so onto the international stage. Meanwhile, somewhat behind the scenes, Lee Chang-dong has quietly been honing his craft of dramatic realism through socio-political commentary—Green Fish (1997) and Peppermint Candy (2000)—and more recently with subtle acts of melodrama—Oasis (2007) and Secret Sunshine (2007). Lee’s penchant for outcasts is only matched by his understanding of the cruel and mysterious world that molds these ordinary people into misconstrued personae non gratae. Secret Sunshine is a character driven tour de force that rested heavily on the shoulders of lead actors Song Kang-ho and Jeon Do-yeon (who won Best Actress at Cannes) that flew well under the radar, especially in the US where it remains undistributed. This year’s Poetry, about an aging woman who turns to art in order to come to grips with her own mortality, seems like anything but a slide for Lee. Already picked up by Kino for the US, Poetry won Best Screenplay at Cannes in what some call a consolation prize for not getting the Palme d’Or it deserved.

Check out the trailer for Poetry here on Wildgrounds.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Best of far.

Although one is to assume that the best is yet to come, especially in fly-over land, here's eight that have resonated with me (alphabetically):

Alamar directed by Pedro González-Rubio (MSPIFF)

Cold Weather directed by Aaron Katz (Sound Unseen International Duluth)

Exit Through the Gift Shop directed by Banksy (Uptown Theater)

I Am Love directed by Luca Guadagnino (MSPIFF)

October Country directed by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher (Sound Unseen International Duluth)

Petition—The Court of the Compaintant directed by Zhao Liang (Walker Art Center)

Putty Hill directed by Matthew Porterfield (Sound Unseen International Duluth)

Shutter Island directed by Martin Scorsese (St Anthony Main)

And to give credit where credit is due, films from last year that me no saw 'til this year:

Home directed by Ursula Meier (MSPIFF)

Inferno directed by Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea (MSPIFF)

Police, Adjective directed by Corneliu Porumboiu (Lagoon Theater)

And finally some repertory Discoveries:

Detective Brenner Series: Come, Sweet Death (2000), Silentium (2004), The Bone Man (2009) directed by Wolfgang Murnberger (St Anthony Main)

Marguerite Duras Films: Destroy, She Said (1969), Nathalie Granger (1972), India Song (1975) (Walker Art Center)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) directed by F.W. Murnau (The Heights Theater)

Seven Intellectual in a Bamboo Forest (2003-2007) directed by Yang Fudong (Walker Art Center)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Home Movies - Eclipse 21: Oshima’s Outlaw Sixties

The only DVD release that mattered in May was the Eclipse 5-disc "Oshima's Outlaw Sixties," but, to be more accurate, it was also the only release I could actually muster any hot air about. Also released in May was a smattering of exciting Blu-rays—four from Chaplin (City Lights, The Gold Rush, The Great Dictator and Modern Times), Rock 'n' Roll High School, The Magnificent Seven Collection and Criterion's By Brakhage—and a number of what-the-hell-took-so-long new release DVDs—Tetro, Tokyo Sonata, 9 Songs, Treeless Mountain and Institute Benjamenta. But all those films pale in comparison to the five Oshima films contained in the Eclipse set. Although Oshima's films recently toured the continent in a full retrospective (that included the Twin Cities stop at the Walker in the fall of 2008), savoring every scene of those films in a one time screening was nearly torture, especially with the brain-bending Japanese Summer: Double Suicide, which, up until two months ago, was unavailable anywhere with English subtitles. Five of the hardest films to find are included in "Oshima's Outlaw Sixties" and it starts to fill the huge availability gap in the US for Oshima. Shortly after this release, Criterion announced it would be releasing Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence in September. Great news, but I am still waiting for the announced release of the Oshima masterpiece Boy. Until then, there will be lots to enjoy.

Being late is the name of my game. Consider this my pick for May, as I start working on June, which is bountiful in fantastic releases.

Eclipse 21: Oshima's Outlaw Sixties

Supplementing Criterion’s editions of In the Realm of the Senses and Empire of Passion, Eclipse unveils five more films from Japanese iconoclast Nagisa Oshima. “Oshima’s Outlaw Sixties” includes five of the most elusive films in Oshima’s oeuvre: Pleasures of the Flesh (1965), Violence at Noon (1966), Sing a Song of Sex (1967), Japanese Summer: Double Suicide (1967) and Three Resurrected Drunkards (1968). All exemplifies Oshima’s singular vision and uncompromising style, despite comparisons to Godard that dogged him at the time. A filmmaking outlaw throughout his entire career, Oshima pushed social, political and artistic boundaries to their quasi-commercial limits, and even that is an understatement. This was especially true for his films in the late 60s when Oshima broke away from the studio system and set out to independently make films—an anomaly in 1960s Japanese film. Establishing his own production company, his ‘Outlaw Sixties’ are symbolic to his own artistic freedom as a filmmaker irreverently tying his camera to his hand—as a samurai to his sword—and going for broke. Starting with Pleasures of the Flesh, a film masquerading as a soft-core drama, Oshima attacks social ills with fearless stylistic zeal. Pleasures is a critique of the desire for excess and the ultimate fatalism of a soulless society adopted from Western influences. Oshima often viewed his endeavors as a filmmaker as an obvious extension of rebellion and activism: an artist pushed to his limits. As a result, he found sympathy with the criminal element as an act of rebellion, propelled by a social failure rather than a lack of moral values. Deviants were ripe symbols and were the unrepentant heroes of Violence at Noon, a searing and stylish portrait of a serial rapist, and Double Suicide, a surreal noir as abstract social comedy. Both films portray the cast of social outcasts in a heroic everyman light. Rarely, screened and never released, Japanese Summer is the crown jewel of “Oshima’s Outlaw Sixties” and shows Oshima at his most audacious. The remaining two films in the set, Sing a Song of Sex and Three Resurrected Drunkards, are allegorical romps that Oshima used to voice his concerns about the treatment of the Korean minority living in Japan and were comedic preambles to his more well-known Brechtian Death by Hanging. Eclipse, in exchange for its “simple, affordable editions,” has no supplements other than the short original essays inside each case. All five films are crazed masterpieces of the moment that beg for contextualization that you will have to find elsewhere. (Easy recommendation would be Maureen Turim’s The Films of Nagisa Oshima and Oshima’s own Cinema, Cersorship and the State.) With the passing of actor Sato Kei, featured in four of these films, Eclipse’s ‘Outlaw Sixties’ is a reminder that we need to refer to Oshima as a living legend while we can.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

UNCLE BOONMEE take me away!

If there is one film that is keeping me committed to my pledge to attend the Vancouver International Film Festival, it is Apichatpong Weerasethakul's recent Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. I even love the title. In 2001 I saw Mysterious Object at Noon (2000), Weerasethakul's first feature length film, at the Walker Art Center and was struck by its calm defiance to narrative structure. A mere three years later in 2004, Weerasethakul, who insists you call him Joe as soon as he sees you struggle with his name, was in town for a dialogue with Chuck Stephens and a short, but rapturous, retrospective. (The program took place during the Walker's renovations and was part of the 'Walker Without Walls' program. The films were screened at the Bell and the dialogue took place at MCAD.) The retrospective included another screening of Mysterious Object at Noon, a rarely seen uncut version of Blissfully Yours, a short experimental film called Haunted Houses and his new film at the time Tropical Malady, which I can easily say was one of the most overwhelming cinematic experiences I've ever had. Even after repeat viewings on DVD, Tropical Malady still remains luminous in its simplistic beauty and free-form ambiguity.

Weersethakul followed up Malady with an even more complex film, Syndromes and a Century, a film that has buried within it a million micro/macro, emotional/physical moments of connections and transcendence that I have yet to fully understand. I adore Syndromes, but am still bitter about the fact that I had no opportunity to see it on the big screen. Mark my words, this will not happen with Weersethakul's new film Uncle Boonmee. Not because I'm sure it is going to play in Minneapolis, but I am committed to travel to see this film in a theater. In a chronicle of the most anticipated films of 2010 that will be featured on In Review Online, I wrote this:

In certain circles, Apichatpong Weerasethakul is already an international superstar. Crowned the director of the decade by consensus, he was in the spotlight as 2009 came to a close with his sublime masterpieces, Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century, topping many lists. As we put the last decade behind us, Weerasethakul seems poised to take on the next with Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. An expansion on a short film he made last year, Uncle Boonmee not only won the Palme d’Or at Cannes but is also enjoying some homegrown respect that has thus far eluded Weersethakul's films. After bitter battles with the Thai censors over his past films, Weerasethakul deservedly saw Uncle Boonmee pass the ratings board and open in his homeland to sold out crowds. Taking place in the northeastern Thai town of Nabua, the setting of a violent Army crackdown on communists in 1965, Uncle Boonmee is drawn from a book Weerasethakul acquired from a Buddhist monk. A film that Kong Rithdee calls “a meta-thesis on cinema and its power to create illusion,” Uncle Boonmee may also have the momentum to allow Weersethakul, who works worlds beyond the narrative modus operandi, to expand his mesmerizing spell beyond the arthouse hardcore.