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Born Into Brothels (2004, Zana Briski, Ross Kaufman)
From Russia With Love (1963, Terrence Young)
My first classic Bond film. What fun it is, beginning to end. I enjoyed it thoroughly and look forward to my next, because Sam Mendes’ film is right around the corner!
Taste of Cherry (1997, Abbas Kiarostami)
This is a movie that if you haven’t already seen or heard about MUST go into it with no knowledge of the plot. That will help make a large portion of it mysterious and compelling, and satisfyingly so. So with that disclaimer I will say it is a simple film about suicide.
A guy (Homayoun Ershadi) wants to employ someone to make sure he has successfully overdosed on sleeping pills and fill the grave he sleeps in. Sounds simple enough, aight? Well, most of the people he coerces to do this task are religious and feel a moral obligation to do no such thing. Some walk away thinking he is a man trying to buy a blowjob, some walk away after hearing him out, some refuse and begin to indulge him with their theories on why he should live.
We never find out why this person cruising around for a gravedigger wants to end it all, but he is determined to do just that. When he finally finds someone that complies to this task, that person tells him why he shouldn’t do it and his personal experience with suicide. The employer doesn’t say a word to tell this man to keep that to himself, but is firmly planted in carrying this out. In a great stretch of film, he begins to rush to find the man who agreed to do this. I thought he was having an epiphany when he was only adding on another thing to double check that he has offed himself. It is cold, but I respect how Abbas Kiarostami treats all of it.
Gerry (2002, Gus Van Sant)
I admired this movie more than I liked it at the beginning of October when I saw it, but it has grown on and haunted me. Also with the recent loss of masterful cinematographer Harris Savides, I feel this film is due credit as a gorgeous, moving account of friendship. Van Sant, who shamelessly shows his fandom for a certain somebody who’s last name rhymes with “car”, redefines bromance here. Gerry (Matt Damon) and Gerry (Casey Affleck) never become angered with each other during their ordeal when they get lost in the desert after straying from the park path. Their friendship is expressed through total devotion, which even leads to (SPOOOILER) killing out of mercy. It is absorbing but frustrating, because it doesn’t much benefit anyone in the long run. But the images linger and become more thoughtful when my feelings come together upon reflection. Good stuff, it is.
Kill List (2012, Ben Wheatley)
I don’t watch a lot of horror films, but damn this is a scary film. It starts as a domestic drama, then a hitman movie (a REALLY f’d up one), then a straight up terror ride, then melds all three and ends with something that makes no sense to me. As nonsensical as I see it, I was strongly taken aback by it. The whole thing is skillful filmmaking, using sound, images, and the actors to build tension and create a disturbing energy. Take a moment when they watch a videotape with something unspeakable on it. We see nothing on it but hear faint squeals slowly growing louder and Neil Maskell’s face contorting into disgust and crying. With just this, we want to see whoever responsible die horribly. For 90 something minutes, I was taken to some of the darkest places film can offer. To a certain extent, I live for this.
Close-Up (1990, Abbas Kiarostami)
A man pretends to be a famous director and becomes happy and feels important for a time. It isn’t so much identity crisis or mental illness, but a fed up loneliness that makes him say “I’ll run with this”. He is caught on his bluff and most of the film deals with the aftermath and recounts on how this fraud earned everyone’s trust. By the end of this entertaining, compelling film, I felt a smile come to my face that the person had given one hell of a performance despite being a sneaky liar.
Lucky Star (1929, Frank Borzage)
The Deep Blue Sea (2012, Terrence Davies)
A painfully beautiful account of the loneliest, deepest depths of misery. It is truly moving, and Rachel Weisz by far gives her most affecting, heart-wrenching performance.
Oslo, August 31st (2012, Joachim Trier)
This isn’t a sad movie. The tragedy has already occurred long ago. Nothing is left of the main character, or nothing is left for him in Oslo, his home town. Either way, he won’t be leaving. There isn’t a conflict because the knot in your stomach is certainly correct: he will get back on drugs. This accepted, the film still is emotionally impactful. We are sympathetic for this guy because he is a ghost moving from one thing to another, having minimal impact or lasting impressions. Director Joachim Trier effectively makes the world feel smaller, inopportune, and hopeless for this recovering heroin addict. He is played by Anders Danielsen Lie, a strong contender for my favorite performance of the year. Not to insult his looks (the guy is handsome), but his appearance looks like someone caught in the age leap. He looks both like a youthful seventeen year old and a wobbly adult.
It’s like Anders (Danielsen Lie) put a gun to his head and fired long ago, and he is begging for it to connect. Such a depressed human being he is that probably wishes he would never wake up. He sees the error in each of his broken acts, but does them because, like Roger Ebert said in his review, it is in his script. If he stops moving, stops thinking elsewhere, and stops thinking about others it will all come back to his lonely self, and he will want drugs to escape that. Yes, with all this said Oslo August 31st is indeed a sad movie, but I find movies to be sad when something changes along the road to devastate a way of living. Everything has already ended for Anders, to feel sad would be worthless pity. But hey, he is not in chains. Anders can leave Oslo and get a job, but feels his destiny is in this dull, universally recognizable area. We can’t help him, and everyone around him has tried to help him. It is up to his own force of will at this point, but he appears to have never learned to master that confidence. He won’t push, but sigh and lie down. Very well then.
Roger Dodger (2002, Dylan Kidd)
Dylan Kidd’s movie is 106 minutes long, yet feels so short. The running time is reduced to a blink of an eye; a flash of brilliance. It is a masterful act of writing and acting, almost every word of it got a reaction out of me. Roger (Campbell Scott) looks like a character that should be from In the Company of Men, but he can be hurt and is rather ignorant of other’s feelings. He overwhelms people with his quick thinking, comebacks, and charming monologues about touchy subjects. He manages to turn anything into natural discussion and never stutters or trips up, but he is hopelessly outgunned by this thing called understanding. It’s as if he has prepared for every fight but when he loses pulls out a play gun, tricking us into thinking he has won the battle by not giving a shit when he is actually a pathetic fool. Scott plays it very believably, injecting the film with underlying darkness, humor, and empathy for this ultimately sad man.
A weirdly wonderful Jesse Eisenberg shows up as his teenage nephew who wants to learn how to engage a woman and keep her there, but Roger tosses this aside quickly and tries to get him laid. Roger can see through everything and everyone, which makes him one of the most ruthlessly cynical characters I’ve ever seen. In a cringe inducing moment early in the film, he verbally assaults a more mature woman out of the blue for being with a supposedly much younger man.
I don’t think this film comes down to the young and sweet Eisenberg showing that kindness and sensitivity can win women over instead of tediously chopping down their confidence, but instead it shows that everyone wants something different. There isn’t a key knowledge or significant way. Being yourself won’t always work, or may never work, but it will leave you feeling much better than walking out of a near pedophilic whorehouse. My favorite moments of dialogue are when Roger asks some women how much of a care they’d give about someone with a good sense of humor if a bulkier man came over and kicked the funny guy’s ass. Roger is clearly angry at what some people desire and the manic switches of emotions normal human beings go through rather than submission. Kidd’s film ends on a happy note, but a wise one that still stays true to the depressing core of it’s main character. It is a fascinating, nearly flawless film.
The Travelling Players (1975, Theodoros Angelopoulos)
This is easily the most challenging film I have ever seen. It was by the halfway point that I realized, shit, that this was jumping time periods! I do understand some of it after looking through synopsis’, but I am still very baffled by it at this moment. It is a movie that brings me back down to earth with “you’ll see it more clearly someday”. Still, I saw this as one stroke of mastery after another. If it is comprised of 80 shots in it’s four hours, then learn and soak in each one. As stranded in its timeline as I was, watching this acting troupe impassively wander give way to them breaking apart as a result of betrayal and inconvenience was fascinating. Ambitious, brave, and bold.
Argo (2012, Ben Affleck)
A strong contender as one of the most exciting, entertaining films of this year or any. Ben Affleck has become a master director that does a passable job on screen here but explodes with energy behind the camera. He handles all of this perfectly, and even manages to parallel comedy with dead seriousness in ways you’d never suspect. He never loses sight of what is at stake for these characters and the people based on, and I found myself on my seat rooting for them more than any other movie characters in some time. It shouldn’t completely rely on making them likable, but making the gravity of the situation more than visible. That it does. Sure, a lot is embellished, but damn if it isn’t well done.
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985, Paul Shrader)
Shrader’s film is a meditation on how everything comes together in a single moment. In that single moment, freedom is discovered, and all is content. If I understood the film correctly, it seems that Yukio Mishima, a highly praised writer in Japan turned samurai, walked on air before committing seppuku. He appeared to realize he believed in himself more than anything else, and received more of a rush of pure life when he thrust the blade into himself than any other moment in his life. All was finally complete. That doesn’t support pro suicide or lead to any political context, for this is a strongly personal film about this person and this person only and the personas he escaped into to make sense of the strange, wonderful journey that is life. It is a beautiful film in every aspect. A perfect one, I’m not sure, but a breathtaking one.
Cloud Atlas (2012, Tom Twyker, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski)
When I was lowered back to earth from the tornado of imagination, ideas, and emotions Cloud Atlas swept me with, I could only think it was a movie about our feverish search for freedom. There is so much here, beauty and pain, heartbreak and loss, that it more than once overwhelmed me. I am currently reading David Mitchell’s book this is based on, and there is a line saying something along the lines of not being able to understand what constitutes a life not lived.
I feel what I just said (being overwhelmed by the beauty, heartbreak and emotion) can be applied to many other ambitious and thought provoking films like last year’s The Tree of Life, or Mr. Nobody, or The Fountain, you name it. Those movies are weird, but Cloud Atlas almost wears that like a badge of honor. It kept me on my toes for the 170 minutes with it’s strange way of making sense of all this mess. It was made by human beings who are also confused with the material but are seriously passionate about it regardless. Any movie dealing with, well, everything automatically puts it on the grand stage, and it dances the dance quite well, but how it wants to, not how we could have ever imagined it playing out.
If you’ll allow me to be super pretentious, I wanted to show this part from Siddhartha, a book I read for my literature class. This came to mind while writing this:
“He could no longer distinguish the different voices-the merry voice from the weeping voice, the childish voice from the manly voice. They all belonged to each other: the lament of those who yearn, the laughter of the wise, the cry of indignation and the groan of the dying. They were all interwoven and interlocked, entwined in a thousand ways. And all the voices, all the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the good and evil, all of them together was the world. All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life.” (Hesse, 135-136)
It is flawed, but I cannot stop thinking about it.
Ulysses’ Gaze (1995, Theodoros Angelopoulos)
When he won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes film festival, Greek unsung master Theodoros Angelopoulos made an eyebrow raising remark of arrogance when he pretty much said he deserved the Palme D Or and walked away, leaving everyone stunned. No surprise the film got mostly shit reviews after that insult. Now that I have seen this film, I can sort of understand his frustration. Not to say this condones his childish behavior, but this is a movie you make when you’re about to fucking die.
It is a masterpiece, an epic, ambitious masterpiece. It is an adventure drama about a filmmaker (a great Harvey Keitel) trying to capture the pioneering, untainted gaze of the Manakia brothers. One of the first shots shows a Manakia brother looking through a camera as a boat sails by. He suddenly dies on the spot, like he has just witnessed something so beautiful his heart couldn’t bear it.
This will definitely sound like exaggerate, but that is a feeling I sort of got watching it. I am very, very young and have much watching to happily indulge in, but during these three hours I felt my journey was over. Like my film watching was complete and I was much different. It has changed me in some powerful way, I feel. Silly of course, but a wonderful feeling to have during a movie.
Favorite performance by an actor in a leading role: Campbell Scott in Roger Dodger
Favorite performance by an actress in a leading role: Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea
Favorite performance by an actor in a supporting role: Erland Josephson in Ulysses’ Gaze
Favorite performance by an actress in a supporting role: Isabella Rossellini in Roger Dodger
Favorite cinematography: Harris Savides for Gerry
Least favorite movies I watched: Project X, Fast Times at Ridgemont High