Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

It is movies like this that make me want to have kids so I can take them to see such fun. Clever, fast-paced, funny, smart, strange. What else could a person want in a movie like this?

Wallace and Gromit have been on my periphery for awhile now but I'd never seen anything of theirs until now. I wouldn't mind seeing more after enjoying this craziness. No more of the fancy Pixar computer shite, you know what I'm saying. Give me more claymation!

This looked fantastic in HD - my first movie on my new TV.

Directed by Nick Park
2005
Cinemax HD

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Killer of Sheep

This is one of the best independent American films of the last thirty years. Hell, it is simply one of the best American films of the last thirty years period.

The film is gorgeous. It is perfectly paced. It is perfect. I can't think of one thing I'd want to change about it. My favorite film from 2000, David Gordon Green's George Washington seems like crap in comparsion. The scenes of kids at play remind me a lot of Green's film and were clearly an influence on George Washington.

Fortunately, there was no accidental death in this film. That would have made me quite upset because I had become so caught up in the story of each character. I love the first half of George Washington so much that it feels almost like a copout that Green felt like he had to add a major plot point of an accidental death rather than just letting his characters be. Charles Burnett wisely didn't muck up this film with needless padded drama.

The film is centered on Stan, a slaughterhouse worker, and his family as he tries to make ends meet in Watts. But it isn't just about him - the film weaves in and out of the lives of many of the neighborhood residents. Don't expect major drama. Simply expect a film of quiet brilliance.

As I was watching the film (especially the parts of kids at play like the one pictured above of kids jumping from one rooftop to another), I felt like the kids in that scene in 400 Blows - watching in complete awe.

This is one of those films that left me breathless and on a high when I left the theater. Off the top of my head, the last movie that made me feel quite so delirious with movie joy was this one. When this comes out on DVD, I must own it.

This is the first official release of this film. Burnett has directed a few other films. This was his first but I haven't seen any of them. 1990's To Sleep With Anger is supposed to be very good. I should check it out.

Directed by Charles Burnett
1977
IFC Center

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Based on the true story of Sophie Scholl, a college student who was executed for distributing anti Nazi leaflets at her university, this film weaves court documents and sworn testimony into its excellent script. Scholl has a few chances to save her skin but refuses to back down from her convictions. This was another recent pleasant surprise because for some reason, I thought this would be too mannered for my tastes but it was actually quite good. Well-acted, well-paced.

Directed by Marc Rothemund
2005, Year of U.S. Release: 2006
IFC Channel

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Time to Leave

I wasn't expecting big things from this film but I was still unimpressed. I like Ozon's films quite a bit and have seen almost all of them since his first few which roughly coincided with my move to New York in '97. This film was okay, I suppose but it just didn't seem to go anywhere. At only 80 minutes, it didn't really have enough time to go anywhere.

The film is about a young successful fashion photographer who finds out that he only has a short time to live due to terminal cancer. As usual with Ozon's films, this one looks great. And I liked a lot of aspects of the film especially the way the main character took pictures of everyone when he was seeing them for the last time. I also found it interesting that he didn't tell most of his friends and loved ones that he was dying. But the subplot of a waitress asking him to impregnate her was ludicrous and a huge detriment to the whole film. The flashbacks to the photographer's childhood didn't move me either and I feel like they should have.

Directed by François Ozon
2005, Year of U.S. Release: 2006
DVD

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Road to Guantanamo

I was very pleasantly surprised by this movie. I had read fairly mixed reviews so I shied away when it came out last year.

This reminded of Touching the Void in that it mixes interviews with amazing re-enactments of the events described. Winterbottom also deftly weaves in new footage into the mix. The film is about three young British Muslims who traveled to Pakistan for a wedding in October 2001. Foolishy, they decide to travel into Afghanistan just to check out what was going on.

As soon as they arrived in Afghanistan, they got swept up in the American invasion. They end up in the fun environs of Guantanamo. The film brilliantly depicts the absurdity and the degradation of the whole damn thing. It is one thing to read about the treatment at Guantanamo but an entirely different thing to see a filmed recreation of it. This is a very good, enlightening, and quite depressing film.

Directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross
2006
Starz Cinema

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Dr. Akagi

This was the second and final film I saw as part of the Imamura retrospective at BAM. I have now seen four Imamura films and need to see more. I saw 1997's The Eel and 2001's Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (about, among other things, a woman who gushes a fountain of water upon having an orgasm) when they were released but hadn't delved deeper until now. After seeing 1979's Vengeance is Mine the week before, I made sure to at least see one more. This is the one I saw.

This film is set on a Japanese island during the waning days of World War II. Dr. Akagi travels all around the island in his white suit and hat making housecalls. He is quite obsessed with curing hepatitis and his diagnosis for every patient is that they have the disease.

He is focused on his job. A young woman becomes focused on him. The escaped Dutch POW adds to the intrigue. And, of course, nothing really happens until the very end when during a fishing expedition, Dr. Akagi's admirer goes for an underwater ride tethered to a whale which prompts her to be stripped naked only to resurface and watch the beautiful mushroom cloud of Hiroshima in the romantic waters with her beloved Dr. Akagi.

In tone and excellent soundtrack choices, Imamura's films remind me a little of the films of Aki Kaurismäki (Leningrad Cowboys Go America, The Man Without a Past, I Hired a Contract Killer).

Directed by Shohei Imamura
1998
BAM

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Vengeance is Mine

I saw this movie two months ago but haven't gotten around to writing about it until now. I'm a little annoyed at myself about that because I really liked this film and now I can't quite remember everything about it.

So I'll reference an e-mail that Jim sent me right after he saw it. He wrote, "I liked the peeping ex-con grandma, the weird father-in-law/ daughter-in-law sort of romance, the scenes where the murderer gets all goofy and sticks out his tongue, the haiku about the can opener."

I think his description is kind of dead-on. This film was way weird but completely endearing. I saw it the same weekend that I saw Zodiac. It was my weekend of serial killer films. However, this couldn't have been any more different than the ultra serious Fincher flick. Everytime the film got too disturbing, Imamura would throw in some Chips type soundtrack music and everything was hunky dory.

The killer is a real charmer and beds many women along the way. He kills for the hell of it. He stuffs bodies into closets and then forgets about them. And, as Jim pointed out, there's some kinky sex going on in this film as well. Highly recommended.

Directed by Shohei Imamura
1979
BAM

Monday, May 07, 2007

Offside

Jafar Panahi's films are the Iranian films that even Chris Larry would like if he gave them half a chance. His last film, 2003's Crimson Gold, is the Iranian Taxi Driver. His latest film will definitely end up high on my year-end list.

It is about a number of young women who are determined to see Iran play Bahrain in a World Cup qualifying match. Unfortunately for them, Iran forbids women from attending sporting events. So the most determined women and teenagers decide to dress as boys and attempt to sneak in. The film was actually shot during the game and the ensuing celebration in the streets.

The majority of the film takes place in a temporary holding pen (right next to an entrance gate to a section of the stadium) for all the females caught trying to watch the game as the bored soldiers watching over them. There are attempted escapes, debates about Islamic law and soccer stats, pleading by the girls for some play by play updates from the young soldiers.

What seems like just an entertaining movie is also, of course, a sly indictment on the repressive Iranian government. But who cares about that serious stuff when there are great moments of slapstick like the one in which one of the teenagers tries to elude a soldier on a trip to the bathroom in an attempt to see more of the game?

Directed by Jafar Panahi
2006, Year of U.S. Release 2007
Quad Cinemas

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Daratt

This is an excellent film. I saw it a few weeks ago but I still keep replaying parts of it in my head. It is about a teenager named Akim whose father was killed before he was born during Chad's 40 year civil war. The film begins with Akim listening to the radio with his blind grandfather. Upon hearing the news that under a government amnesty, no one will be held accountable for anything that happened during the war, Akim is told by his grandfather to find the man who killed his father and take revenge.

Akim easily finds the man, Nassara, but can't quite bring himself to kill him. So he decides to bide his time and gather courage. Nassara hires Akim to work for his bakery service and begins to take a real liking to Akim so much so that he wants to adopt Akim.

Akim is full of hatred for Nassara but slowly warms to his tasks as a baker and consequently to Nassara as a father figure. The scene where Akim takes pride in baking his first good loaf of bread is an amazing one. Akim's conflicted feelings about Nassara are fully evident in this one wordless scene. Eventually, Akim is faced with a choice. Nassara insists that Akim take him to his village to ask for permission to adopt him. However, Akim's grandfather has other ideas for Nassara and still wants him dead. The last few minutes of this film are completely nervewracking.

This reminds me of last year's Mountain Patrol in that both are foreign films that are highly entertaining, completely original, and really really good. See this movie.

Directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
2006, Year of U.S Release: 2007
BAM

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Year of the Dog

I really like the Mike White comedies (School of Rock, Chuck and Buck). His dramas (The Good Girl) and this one don't quite do it for me. Then again Orange County isn't that great and I can't imagine Nacho Libre is any good so maybe it isn't simply a comedy vs. drama split. And I don't actively dislike this film or anything.

But man, was this movie a downer. I mean, I don't mind depressing films but this one was super depressing. I just couldn't get into it. Maybe it was because it was tough to watch immediately after bowing out early yet once again in my bocce league. I guess that isn't White's fault. I probably would have been better off seeing a movie like Hot Fuzz instead. But I liked Chuck and Buck because of how funny the depressing and awkward moments were. This film just depressed me.

As Mitch pointed out, every single character in this movie seemed to be acting in their own movie - there was no cohesion. I actually think that was intentional though - to hit home just how lonely everyone is. I don't know. I just know that this movie was painful to watch. But again, maybe it was just a painful bocce loss.

Directed by Mike White
2007
Cobble Hill Cinemas

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Hot Fuzz

My apologies to Mr. Mondale but I didn't particulary care for the TV show Spaced. But I did like Shaun of the Dead a lot. And I liked this film quite a bit too. It was an all around good time at the movies. Laughs, crazy violence out of the blue, punching out old ladies, an homage to Point Break and Bad Boys II, what else is there to say?

Directed by Edgar Wright
2007
Union Square 14

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Black Book

From what I had read, this film was going to be completely over the top. I was excited for that. I loved Starship Troopers and was hoping that this would be like that but set during the Holocaust. Unfortunately, it wasn't as crazy as I was hoping.

That doesn't mean that I didn't like the film. I did. It was quite entertaining. It is a standard sort of Hollywoody type action flick but with more nudity and at least one complete gross out scene (think Carrie and what was dumped on her at the Prom but yet much more foul) that sets it apart. I liked all the performances and really liked the S.S. guy who played the good guy in The Lives of Others. And there's plenty of shoot-em-up good times action to please everybody.

The film is supposedly based on true events of a Jewish woman who fell in love with an S.S. officer during the last days of the war. There's the resistance, there's the evil German officers, there's a party for Hitler's birthday, good times, good times.

There were many moments in this film that reminded me of the Indiana Jones Nazi stuff in Raiders of the Lost Ark, as well as The Great Escape. So I guess I don't have that many complaints about this film other than I wanted complete and utter craziness and instead I got a fairly serious drama.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven
2006, U.S. Release: 2007
BAM