...engaging and discerning culture, as a way of life...

December 29, 2007

The Barbarian Invasions - 6

This is one of those films that you have to see a couple of times (I'll have to write more when I have seen it again). It is a very reflective film about life and the meaning of relationships in the midst of dying. Diagnosed with a terminal illness, Remy (Remy Girard) is reunited with his family and friends as he goes through the final stages of life and reflects on the value and meaning of his relationships. Directed by Denys Arcand (Jesus of Montreal and The Decline of the American Empire) this film is one of the few Canadian (and French-Canadian) films to win an Oscar.

December 28, 2007

"2007's best films"

Comment Magazine has posted my best films of 2007 (at the end of the article they have provided very helpful links to my blog posts about each film). All of the films I mention are currently available on DVD. I tried to pick films in many different genres so there should be something for all kinds of viewers.

Here are a few more films that will be worth checking out in theaters or when they become available on DVD.
Michael Clayton
Across the Universe
American Gangster
The Darjeeling Limited
No Country For Old Men

I am looking forward to seeing There Will Be Blood, Atonement, and Juno soon.

December 27, 2007

Interview - 6

Steve Buscemi stars and directs this remake of Theo van Gogh's (who was killed in 2004 by Islamic extremists) Dutch 2003 film of the same name. Pierre is a political newspaper journalist. Having fallen out of favor with his editor, he is assigned to interview soap opera and B-movie actress, Katya (Sienna Miller). Initially neither of them wants to be there, but eventually they start to relate and ask each other deep questions about each other. They start to reveal their vulnerabilities as people with complex lives that go deeper than their work and identities that people have given them. But as the conversation gets more personal it gets more complicated to tell whether they are being authentic, or merely playing the roles as they are use to. It is a rather minimalist film, relying exclusively on the conversation and engaging the audience on big questions about life, relationships, etc. similar to My Diner with Andre, The Big Kahuna, and Conversations with Other Women. The questions in all of these films are important, but the conclusion of Interview seems to suggests a more cynical, yet maybe more realistic, view of the potential of connecting to strangers and the power of conversations.

December 26, 2007

Great music of 2007

Here are the albums released in 2007 that I loved most.
William Fitzsimmons - Goodnight
Band of Horses - Cease to Begin
The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
The National - Boxer
Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
Kanye West - Graduation
Once - Film Soundtrack
Kings of Leon - Because of the Times
Jose Gonzalez - In Our Nature
Feist - The Remainder
Patty Griffin - Children Running Through
Sigur Ros - Hvarf-Heim
Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight
Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger
Radiohead - In Rainbows
The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
Hem - Home Again EP
Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals - Lifeline

I also got to hear some great music live which got me hooked on: Andrew Bird, The Guggenheim Grotto, Sufjan Stevens, and David Bazan. Ryan Adams and The Cardinals and Joseph Arthur and the Lonely Astronauts were also good.

December 23, 2007

Stardust - 6

Based on Neil Gaiman's book of the same name, Stardust tells a fun fairy-tale adventure story. There are two worlds, the normal England and a town called Wall, on one side of the "wall" and a fantastical magical world called Stormhold on the other side. The first scenes set up the mythology so that when we are introduced to Tristan, we know more about him than he does. He originally travels to Stormhold to retrieve a fallen star as a romantic ploy to win the heart of Victoria. But along the way he discovers that he is actually aiming to low. That he really can reach and grasp beyond his small world- for the star (which turns out to be a woman (Clare Danes). Tristan is taken in by a rogue pirate (Robert De Niro), and gets involved in a battle with a witch named Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her two sisters who want the star to gain eternal life and youth. The story is very much in the traditional fairy-tale arc, but is fun and entertaining to watch.

December 17, 2007

Rescue Dawn - 5

Director Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man) and Christian Bale team up to tell the story of a lost pilot in the early days of the Vietnam war. In a similar vein to Stalag 17, most of the film is a group of prisoners held in a camp bonding over a plan to escape to freedom. The film shows the camaraderie of the military, the psychological effects of war and imprisonment, and ends with a celebration of escape, success, and freedom (which I think is not suppose to be taken as ironic, but could be). It is an interesting and well shot film. And while taking a different approach to the Vietnam war film genre, it doesn't stand out as distinctly.

December 16, 2007

No Country For Old Men - 7

The Coen Brother's may have just made their best film. And maybe just the best film of the year. Using Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name, the story weaves together the lives of a few old men. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, The Sea Inside) is a hired killer- cleaning up the mess of the guys who sit behind the big desks and make all the deals. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is "retired" and spends his time hunting in the Texas desert. Having stumbled upon a suitcase of money he is determined to outsmart it's rightful (or wrongful?) owner. The body count rises as this cat and mouse game continues through out the film. While the film is quite violent, the Coen brothers emphasize the seriousness and tragic nature of killing rather than glorifying the carnage (It is much more Flannery O'Connor than Quentin Tarantino or David Cronenberg). But it is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who gives this narrative its spiritual, even religious, connective thread. His conversations and voice over talk of the nature of being human with the certain knowledge of our death, but with the uncertainty and mystery of it's happening and why. Despite the seriousness there are a few humorous lines, but it isn't used as comic relief, but rather show the closeness of the comedic and the tragic. What might be the most powerful aspect of the film though, is the body language of the characters and the somber and quiet visuals and pace of the film. This is an essential film for the serious film viewer.

December 15, 2007

The Golden Compass - 4

Religious controversy aside (read Jeff Overstreet's good response to it), this film was less than compelling. The fantastical world that Pullman has created is somewhat intriguing but the story develops slowly and much is left unexplained (and with film you really have to work hard to show rather than just narrate facts). The Golden Compass is a gift that young Lyra gets from the head master at her school/orphanage. It allows its user to ask questions and then look into it and the truth is revealed. Lyra is invited to go to the north by Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman), and longs to go because her uncle Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) is headed there to investigate "the dust" (which is not quite the equivalent to Lucas' "Force" but has something to do with the creation of the universe the characters live in, which is a parallel one to ours). It is on this journey that the adventure begins as Lyra discovers that children are being kidnapped and she recruits the fallen bear king Iorek Byrnison to help her save her friends from having their daemon's killed. Oh yeah, everyone in this parallel universe has their soul in the form of an animal that stays with the person. What really kills this story is the final minutes of the film which feel like a trailer for the second film, the characters mine as well have looked at the camera and said, "stay tuned for the sequel in 2009 where we will attempt to save Lord Asriel from the danger he is in." The film ends up being to short with many scenes that end to quickly, which makes the plot jumpy and somewhat hard to follow. On a more positive note, the acting is done well, but the main reason to watch this film is for the CGI which is excellent.
What interests me most about this film is the metaphor that Pullman intends. I think it is more complex than any black and white controversy can speak to, because in fact, this film actually shows that in this fantasy world there is no such thing as good. There is definitely evil, but the heroine's response is not to appeal to the good, but rather a mystical pragmatism to fight off this evil oppression/authority. Truth in this world is human freedom. Any threat to this god is worth the ultimate struggle and fight, but not to the point of death- because then you have lost. In this way The Golden Compass exists in a very different world than the worlds created by Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling.

December 13, 2007

The Namesake - 5

This is a story about the conflict of cultural assimilation in America faced by immigrants to this country. This story tells of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, from India in the 1970's and transitions into the struggle of their son Gogol (Kal Penn) to discover who he is. It is through his unusual name that the film gets it title as well as the momentum to tell the story of how one's name can be an impetus to discover not only the meaning and reason for the name, but a deeper, richer story. Gogol soon discovers that his name is unusual in America and the he is named after a famous Russian author. Initially rejecting his parents and his heritage, he later regrets this when he starts to discover why his parents named him Gogol, and the love that they have for him. The story wanders most of the time but ends by resolving the inner conflict Gogol feels as he discovers that he is his father's son, and that his family is most important to him.
This film is an adaptation of the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, and while I have not read it, the book seems much more nuanced (as books can sometimes show the reader the thinking and internal emotions of characters more clearly) and thoughtful than this film could really do justice to. The film moves slowly and at times is rather disjointed. While it starts with plenty of potential it cannot sustain it for the two hours of the film.

December 05, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard - 4

Using an interesting essay from Wired Magazine by John Carlin as the basis for the plot actually makes this film more interesting. But the film sticks to it formula of explosions and death defying feats by our all-American hero, Bruce Willis- I mean, Detective John McClane. Computer hackers have attacked all of America's infrastructure on the 4th of July weekend. Their motivation? Revenge, honor, and greed. Thomas Gabriel, a former government consultant for terrorism, wants to show his old bosses how right he was by enacting a threat that he was trying to help everyone avoid. McClane is then recruited (falls in) to protect Matthew Farrell (Justin Long), a hacker who could potentially help solve the problems that are wreaking havoc. The plot hovers in the background as the action sequences just keep coming at you with many outrageous, but very cool, machines as they chase, shoot and try to destroy each other. An entertaining film, but unfortunately it avoids letting the story idea develop into a thoughtful film.

December 04, 2007

Paprika - 6

I am not an anime fan. Don't get me wrong, I like a good anime film. I just mean that compared to people who are "really" fans and own and see the vast amount of anime out there, I am sort of a newbie who hangs around listening, picking up things here and there. I've only seen most of the "famous in America" anime like that of Hayao Miyazaki and the Ghost in the Shell film series (1, 2, 3). I love how anime takes its art seriously, which also means that some of it gets ratings other than G- America cannot get that animation is not just for the kids. The artists are always trying to imagine a world and drawing the viewer in to a story (no pun intended). Paprika, a female therapist, has learned how to enter people's dreams, so when a machine that is used by therapists is stolen she must help a cop and a scientist solve the case. It makes for some eclectic and stunning visuals as the audience traverses dreams that are starting to merge together. The final showdown between good and evil is unexpected and outrageous- in a good way. The film uses the idea of dreams and reality to show how fluid and mixed up humans get about which is which. There are also allusions to the traumatic and therapeutic expressions of our mental worlds. Reality isn't what it used to be, but is still beautiful.

December 01, 2007

Paris, je t'aime - 5

This film is unusual. It is comprised of 18 short films of about 5 minutes each. Similar to Coffee and Cigarettes it is a series of short segments that has some loose connections. Each segment has it's own unique director and actors (it's a long list of well known names- Coen Brothers, Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood, etc). Each of these short films takes up the theme of trying to give the audience a glimpse of the city and ethos of Paris. The stories are diverse and the connections and meanings, in true postmodern fashion, are mostly left to the audience. While a few of the stories are about falling in love, some explore darker themes, like death and drug abuse. It is an interesting experiment in film-making.