Viewing recap (1990s-2010s)
Continuing my recap of films watched over the last few months. Several of the new films listed below just missed out on my upcoming top 20 of 2013. Ratings are from 1-10, with 10 the highest score possible.
Fireworks (Hana-bi) (1997)
Overpraised Japanese gangster film, directed by and starring Takeshi Kitano. Love the colorful poster (above), and there are moments of visual beauty during the film. The strongest thing about it could be the piano score.
About how a gangster can be both gentle and brutal, depending on the situation at hand. The stand-out scene is when he wears the cop outfit and attempts to rob a bank.
Unfortunately I found the film so slow-paced, that I had to use the fast-forward button more than once.
Considered among the best Iranian films. Plays around with the concept of documentary and fiction. Interesting how it makes the unemployed guy feel better to play someone else, I wonder if actors have that experience?
I’m not quite sure what the director’s standpoint is, it seems ambiguous. Maybe that unemployment is the root cause of crime. If the prank is turned into art, is it still a prank to be frowned at, if the people who are pranked agree to reenact the scenario? An original and thought-provoking film.
Beau Travail (1999)
Directed by Claire Denis. A bit pretentious, yet the early sequence with the soldiers on the boat is quite hypnotizing, with the opera music, because you are not sure what is going to happen next.
The actual war situation that’s going on, or whatever it is they are training for, is very vague, or you could say subtle if you were being nice.
From what I could tell, the theme is about military discipline vs. uncontrollable emotions.
I couldn’t explain the plot to you because there isn’t really one, each scene gives us fragments of information about the characters.
Favorite quote: “There must be a chip in Sentain’s armor. We all have a trash can deep within, that’s my theory”
71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994)
Directed by Michael Haneke. A collection of stories, set in Austria. Most of the characters are lonely or lacking something in their lives. The juxtaposition of violent news and everyday life is quite jarring, and there's probably social commentary going on, about how the media affects us. For example how comics are placed next to porno, when the kid is browsing. The multi-story approach is similar to Haneke's Code Unknown (2000).
La Promesse (1996)
A film by Dardenne’s I wanted to catch up on. You could label it a coming-of-age drama. Feels like watching real life, in a corner of society you would not normally see. The boy wants to hang out with his friends, but he has an obligation as an apprentice at an auto repair garage, and his dad asks him to help with his illegal operation. In some ways it’s a normal childhood(go-carting, night out singing), and in other ways it is not.
I felt I had seen the plot play out before in other movies, so that’s why I’m hesitant with giving it a higher rating.
Lock stock and two smoking barrels (1998)
Not a big fan of gangster films, but has well-written, quotable dialogue, and I did want to see how/if they managed to find the money they owed.
Favorite quote: “You must be Eddie, JD’s son. – You must be Harry, sorry didn’t know your father. Never mind son, you just might meet him if you carry on like that”
Has warmth and charm, but a little too predictable
Fav quote: “She waltzes to her own tune”
The Piano Teacher (2001)
It is well-made and well-acted, but very dark. Probably my least favorite Haneke film so far, although tough to actually “like” this film in the traditional sense of the word.
Fav quote: "I have no feeling, and if I did, my intellect wouldn’t allow it to take control of me."
I just don’t see what all the fuss is about. Hardly any story, but strong performance from Penélope Cruz. As Doccortex said in his review, the film does "avoid classification in any of the tired old genre slots"
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and Two Days (2007)
Powerful Romanian drama, which won prize at Cannes. Nothing really happens the first 15 minutes. I decided to stick with. You have to wait 30 minutes before the story reveals what it is about.
For me, the film is about a girl willing to help others, but the burden of it is too much to handle.
Il divo (2008)
Loved the inventive opening, but I didn’t manage to finish the rest. Sadly didn’t hold my attention. Maybe Italians will get more out of it than I did.
The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
Argentinian crime thriller. Won Oscar for best foreign language film. An intriguing, if somewhat messy story, with flashbacks mixed with contemporary scenes. They did a good job of making the characters look older and younger. I managed to understand it better on rewatch. Beautiful piano score.
The ending does explain the mystery, so in the end it’s just another crime story, although a very emotionally involving one.
Several inspired dialogue scenes, about different kinds of idiots, and how you can give everything up except your passion.
A Single Man (2009)
By debuting director Tom Ford.
It’s atmospheric, and has good framing, lighting, costumes, set design, acting and so on. The depressed gay main character (Colin Firth) doesn’t really change, and is stuck in nostalgia.
The most moving scenes are when he thinks back to his days with Matthew Goode character. Perhaps the weakest parts of the movie are the scenes with Julianne Moore, which to me are unnecessary padding.
After Lucia (2012)
Mexican drama which won Un Certain Regard award at Cannes. Might be too slow-paced for some viewers. If you are a fan of the films of Michael Haneke, this could be your cup of tea.
The last 45 minutes of the film were the most memorable. Spoilers: The birthday cake scene, when her bullying classmates force feed her with a prank cake was the stand-out scene. Wow that was a cruel birthday surprise. Heartbreaking how she acts like nothing has happened, when her father ask how her day was. It’s astonishing the teenagers are so hateful, and don’t appear to realize it’s wrong. No idea why she goes on that bus trip with the other teenagers, since she doesn’t like any of them. The final scene is unforgettable.
The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)
The movie had me for the first hour, but the last hour lacked something, and was sadly not as gripping.
Ender’s Game (2013)
On the way to the space station, they cut out violent act towards a kid, presumably to make the screenplay a bit more kids friendly.
The battle near the end is suspenseful, but overall, not a particularly memorable adaptation.
“Why did they come?” “Water” was a simple explanation, while the book never was that concrete. Read the novel instead.
The World’s End (2013)
I liked the idea, but surprisingly I didn’t think it was funny. Too similar to the first two movies. Nice soundtrack, but ultimately a disappointing third part of the trilogy. It felt sort of like The Hangover with British actors.
As Serious Film wrote in his review, it does offer social commentary: “The World's End grapples with some weighty issues from the erasing of cultural identity by encroaching corporate hegemony, to the dangers of getting lost in nostalgic thinking.”
The Way Way Back (2013)
Entertaining coming of age story. It feels quite 80s, Sam Rockwell is the stand-out performance. I didn’t believe Steve Carell’s character would behave that way, though.
Only God Forgives (2013)
The backgrounds and colors look beautiful, even if the story of revenge has been done 100 times before. It's ok, not as bad as the reviews suggest. From the soundtrack, I like Tur Kue Kwam Fun by P.R.O.U.D, and Wanna Fight by Cliff Martinez.
The Grandmaster (2013)
Muddled, yet beautiful film from acclaimed director Wong Kar Wei.
The cake breaking scene and turning on lantern were stand-outs. For me, his style is better when the story is minimalistic and more personal. This film was trying too hard to appeal to a worldwide audience, and the fight sequences were for me too similar to The Matrix trilogy.
I didn’t like the transition from scene to scene, which at times felt disjointed. I can give an example, suddenly the main character is crying, but there is hardly any build-up of the events leading up to this, so tough to have any emotional connection. Other scenes end very abruptly, using title cards to explain the cut scene presumably. I struggled to care about the characters, never get to know them properly.
For all its ambition and visual style, it ultimately was a bore, and my least favorite Wong Kar Wei film to date. Yes, I even prefer My Blueberry Nights over The Grandmaster. I’ve read the film was edited down and was originally much longer, so many that explains things.
Favorite quote: “In life, ability isn’t everything. Some thrive in light, others in shadows. The times make us what we are.”
Like Someone in Love (2012)
Partly about people not respecting your boundaries. Also about how lonely old people could be. Not quite as interesting as the director’s last film Certified Copy (2010)
Favorite quote: “When you know you will be lied to, it’s better not to ask. That’s what experience teaches us”
I Wish (2011)
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. As with his acclaimed previous film Nobody Knows (2004), we see the world though the eye's of kids. An uneven, overlong, but essentially heart-warming drama, that makes you nostalgic for childhood. The storytelling, or lack thereof, made the first hour not easy to make heads or tails of. (Or maybe it was just me who found the different perspectives tricky to follow. It helped reading Roger Ebert's review afterwards to clear up what was going on) If you stick with it, the trip the kids go on during the last 40 minutes of the film was the best part. The last 5-10 minutes seemed unnecessary. Good performances by the child actors.
Favorite quote: "There is room in this world for wasteful things. Imagine if everything had meaning, you'd choke."
Being Flynn (2012)
Based on the memoir Another Night In Bullshit City by playwright and poet Nick Flynn. I like films about writers, so gave it a chance, despite the director's last movie was the awful Little Fockers (2010).
I didn’t gravitate towards the grim, lowlife characters and despite the filmmakers best efforts, they never became real to me. I could tell early on I wouldn't like it, and was hardly about writing at all. Way too much unnecessary profanity. I don't think the book translates to film very well.
Liberal Arts (2012)
The structure of the story is not groundbreaking. The main reason to watch are the conversations and dialogue. I just love the way they talk in this movie.
The East (2013)
The first 20 minutes are good. Once it got to the location of the East group, I felt movie lost its way for a while. The sign language scene didn’t make sense.
I didn’t quite believe they would trust Brit Marling character, who they hardly knew.
The middle part is wannabe Fight Club, especially the pranks. The confession in the car, and the bullet scene were the most powerful moments to me.
Pretty good, but I wouldn't call it best of the year.
She’s easy to root for. About how tricky it is finding a new partner when you are over 50, and have lots of baggage from a past relationship.
Good performances, but there’s a feeling I’ve seen this story play out in other recent movies.
Both sad and uplifting. Love the song Gloria by Umberto Tozzi
Child’s Pose (2013)
Romanian drama that won Silver Bear at 2013 Berlin Film Festival. The last 15 minutes are impactful, the rest of the film is not quite as powerful as it should have been, but well-acted. An interesting conflict of a controlling mother and grown son, he is in trouble and doesn’t want to be helped by her. Both of them are stubborn and are unwilling to change their ways. An incident forces them to come together.
Why the son distances himself from his mother, and doesn’t love her, is unclear, perhaps because she is too domineering.
Fruitvale Station (2013)
I knew nothing of the true story beforehand. I really didn’t know what to rate this film. I liked it, didn’t love it. Has some great performances, especially Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer. I expected it to have more conflict. In fact the first hour I was waiting for something to happen, it takes its time introducing us to the characters. A lot happens the last 30 minutes.
The storytelling does feel manipulative at times(the dog scene especially). The director wants us to feel an injustice at the end, and gives us scenes so we should care about the main character.
Although actual mobile phone footage is inconclusive about what occurred at Fruitvale Station, I actually felt Mehserle who committed the crime was a victim. Granted he shouldn’t have had his gun out, but it seemed to be an accident.
To me the story could have elaborated a bit more on the police officer and his feelings. We get so much detail about Oscar Grant, that it feels unbalanced to have nothing about Officer Johannes Mehserle’s life. It’s like the screenplay is biased and only lets us see one side of the story, and disregards Johannes Mehserle’s emotions, and leaves out the 6-day trial that followed. Apparently the director Coogler disregarded witness testimony stating that before shooting Grant, Mehserle announced “Get back, I’m gonna tase him.” It has been suggested that the witness was covering for a fellow cop. Pirone was asked if he had mentioned the Taser account to investigators in the days after the shooting. Pirone said he couldn't recall doing so.
The film goes for an emotional response, rather than an intellectual one. If you read about the case afterwards, you’ll get the full story. It should find an audience, but if you are turned off by blatantly manipulative filmmaking, you should avoid Fruitvale Station.
As Serious Film wrote in his review: it doesn’t have any great insight, but what it achieves is making us feel. In a world where one appalling news story blurs into another, watching this film is a potent reminder at how each one of these stories represents an immense toll in human suffering to the community.
Have you seen any of these films? Agree or disagree? Any favorites? As always, comments are welcome