Sunday, October 30, 2011

RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS: EDITION #11: PART 2: OLDER FILMS: "ASHES OF TIME REDUX", "BATTLE ROYALE", "SENSO," 'THIS SPORTING LIFE," "DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT," AND MORE!

Whew! I watched a lot of film this week. Without a computer to write my typical blogs and screenplays, I really didn't have a lot of time to write, so I watched anything and everything I could. I'm glad I did, although some are better than others. These are all the older films that I watched in that times. Some came out a couple years a ago, some came out a while ago, and even one that did both. ("Ashes of Time": Original & Redux) Anyway,  on to the reviews!

ASHES OF TIME: REDUX (1996 original, 2008 Redux edition) Director: Wong Kar-Wai

2 1/2 STARS

I don't normally like to quote from other reviews, but Roger Ebert's review of "Ashes of Time," which Wong Kar-Wai originally made in 1994, but he considered unfinished until now, after he's done some reediting, and the "Redux," added to the title, he notes looking up Manohla Dargis's, a reviewer for the New York Times, plot description in her review. The review reads as follows: "See, there's this swordsmen...". Apparently, with the exception of a few words describing Tony Leung's character, that is all she wrote. I understand this review, completely. Wong Kar-Wai, is an inventive, and bold filmmaker. Of his films, I've seen "2046," "Chungking Express," and "In the Mood for Love," which recently won the 10th Anniversay Muriel Award, an Award I admire for, among other things, awarding belated Best Picture Awards every year, for films that came out ten years, 25 years and 50 years ago. Personally, I haven't liked anything I've seen of his yet, and "Ashes of Time," is no exception. He's skillful, and a talented director, who's really good at showing amazing imagery, and maybe I'm missing something, but half the time I can't even figure out what his films are about, this one especially. His films are beautiful, but they seem to lack.... They just seem to lack... something. Each of his films it's something different, in this case, narrative and a character that I can understand and identify with. There's a swordsmen, who's hired by a few people, a wife and her husband, and I think they're trying to kill each other, and I think there's a twin in there somewhere. If "Ashes of Time," were a collection of paintings, I'd put it on display in an art gallery. As a movie, it's spellbinding to look at, I just wish I knew, what exactly was I looking at?

BATTLE ROYALE (2001) Director: Kinji Fukasaku

1 1/2 STARS

Who exactly is this film for? Is it for Columbine-like masterminds who get their wet dream fantasies realized? Is it, for pissed-off teachers, who have similar Columbine-like fantasies about the no good, badly-behaved students? No, this doesn't feel like this. This feels like the kid who gets picked on, watches way too much professional wrestling, and wishes it were real, and that if The Rock doesn't beat the bully's ass, maybe the slutty girl who gave him chlamydia might. These thoughts kept occurring to me as I watched "Battle Royale," a movie about teenagers killing each other. Why, because it's the future, and the youth are out of control, so every year, a randomly-selected ninth grade grade gets put on an island, and forced to fight until there's only one survivor. If you throw in the stipulation that the survivor gets a title shot at Wrestlemania, you have yourselves a very entertaining and unpredictable little pay-per-view. As a movie, this is violence for the sake of violence. Granted, we kinda get to know some of the students who are placed in this horrific situation, as well as the oddly calm former teacher of theirs who acts as a game overseer, but this is a movie that's just some bizarre disturbing nightmare fantasy of somebody who I really don't particularly want to know. It's well-made and apparently well-thought out, it kinda looked to me one of those preposterous '80s movies like "Red Dawn," or something by it's look, but even if we accept this premise, there's over forty students involved, and apparently there's a couple that were supposed to care about, and some backstory about one involving a father's suicide, and some flashbacks to a basketball game and some things get said that might have otherwise been unsaid, but since everybody is going to die at the end, I couldn't understand why I would even care about such things. The backstory's too light for me to care about, and even if I did, it's still just a pile of soon-to-be-dead teenagers. This film has some cult popularity around the world, including in the states, and a sequel was even made, but I'm not sure I particularly want to know anybody who's a devoted fan of the film.

SENSO (1954) Director: Luchino Visconti

4 STARS

In the 1860s, Austria has invaded and occupied Italy. The percentage of Americans that would've known that until I wrote this is low, and that's unfortunate. (Me included, didn't know that either.) "Senso," Luchino Visconti's operatic love story between an Italian Countess (Alida Valli) and an Austrian Soldier, (Farley Granger), is a beautiful melodramatic operatic film filled with lavish costumes, and a lucious city of Venice. Planned as the most expesive movie ever made, complete with American superstar actors, "Senso," works best if it's thought of as an over-the-top big budget Hollywood blockbuster, "Gone with the Wind," type. The film begins in an opera house and stays there. The Countess is blinded by her love of Franz (Granger), so much so that she eventually betrays her family to be with him. The movie had been reworked and reedited, depending on which country it was showing in, when it was originally released (The film was originally titled "Livia," in America, the Countess's name.), and the ending was originally cut from the Italian version, and Visconti had to shoot a different one. Now, Criterion has his original version completely in tact. It's only the second Visconti film I've after "Death in Venice," which i didn't exactly care much for. This movie is better, and is very similar to his aristocratic "The Leopard," which came out a few years later. Personally, I think the movie is more hit-and-miss, but it's a very rare example of a classic Hollywood-style film made in Italy. I think it's best scene comes at the end after the movie, the one that was cut earlier, when there's a sharp character change that the Countess doesn't see coming. Soap Opera, yes, but, isn't all doomed love?

THIS SPORTING LIFE (1963) Director: Lindsay Anderson

4 1/2 STARS

"This Sporting Life," is often described as a "kitchen sink drama",  and I think that's a good definition. Richard Harris plays Frank Machin, a rugby player who got violently repressed emotions. He's a drinker, he's a brawler, and he's determined to succeed. He even injures one of his own teammates during a game, in an attempt to get more playing and showoff in front of the scouts. He rents a room from a young widow (Rachel Roberts), who he's in love with, and thinks she should love him. She's got kids to watch, which she does a haphazard job at, and she's still in a constant state of grief. When he gets the professional contract, he becomes even more possessive and impulsive. When Margaret(Roberts) finally breaks down and gives in to his advances, the scene almost comes close to coming off as a rape. The film isn't exactly a plot-driven film, it's more episodic in nature, more like real-life, which is the correct emotion for this work. It's a fascinating character piece that reminds me of many of the American youth movements films that came after it. This is also, the first Lindsay Anderson film I've ever seen, and I'm certainly looking forward to watching more of them. Few films have such a keen sense of realism, that's instantly memorable. The two lead performances, both of which earned Oscar Nominations are just as key. This doesn't just feel like two movie people, this feels like dozens of houses next store to us, somewhere next to where Willie Loman is trying to sleep.

DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT (2007) Director: Julia Loktev

5 STARS

She, (Luisa Williams) is a suicide bomber, and it's the last two days before she's goes out into the middle of Times Square, ready to blow. She's American, but her accent is non-descript, we never know her name, and we don't know why she is doing what she's preparing to do. "Day Night Day Night," kept me on the edge of my seat the entire film. It's similar to a few others movies that have come out in recent years, like "The Terrorist," which was based on an actual incident. I think an interesting comparison film might be "Maria Full of Grace," where a Colombian teenager, makes a dangerous choice to be a drug mule. That movie starred Catalina Sandino Moreno, a then-unknown, in an Oscar-nominated performance, but we also got to learn a lot about her in the film. What I've just told you about Luisa Williams's part in "Day Night Day Night," is all that we learn, and that makes it even more chilling. She seems to be a teenager. In one scene, where she's preparing the bomb in a bathroom, she overhears a conversation between other girls. It's unrelated to anything else that's happening. They have no idea what's in this girl's backpack. They don't realize she's there. This movie is made with the bare minimum. We see the hotel room she's staying at. She gets mysterious phone calls from people, telling them not to go out in front of the window, and asking her what she wants to eat, before they practice, get her passports and finds clothes that fit her. This is the first feature-length film by Julia Loktev, and it's a near-masterpiece. It's intense and claustrophobic, even when it's in the middle of a busy day in Times Square, filled with people, all stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for the light to turn. It's Hitchcock who once said, that a bomb under the table blowing up is surprise, while a bomb that's under the table that doesn't, is suspense. "Day Night Day Night," is pure suspense.

DESTRICTED (2006) Directors: Various

1 1/2 STARS

"Destricted," is a compilation record of seven short films, combined with the intention of demystitizing the sex and porn industry. While, it does it's purpose, most of these films are bizarre art house pieces, and sometimes they're, just plain, nauseatingly. Some are more interesting that others, but overall, and some of them, as short films might hold up slightly better than others. Frankly the only thing really worth watching this for is Larry Clark's short, "Impaled," which is part documentary, part, disturbing screwed up "Punk'd" episode, where he interviews numerous guys, who answer an ad to be a porno actor, and how most of them, get strangely shy when they're around an actual porn stars, and even more intriguing, the one that isn't. Gaspar Noe, has his usual obsessive strobe lights in "We Fuck Alone," which shows some interesting and odd masturbators, still not as disturbing as Matthew Barney's "Hoist," which opens the film movie, and shows a guy having an erotic encounter with a piece of construction equipment. The movie does it's purpose, there's nothing particularly erotic about any of these shorts, but the films is almost completely unwatchable as a whole, and some of the short are your basic arts-fartsy film school crap you see at every student showcase.

COCALERO (2007) Director: Alejandro Landes

3 STARS

Part campaign video, part documentary of the changing face of Bolivia as South America slowly but surely turns into a more Socialist Political continent, "Cocalero," documents the presidential campaign of Evo Morales, a populist candidate who became Bolivia's first indigenous President. It has the typical documenting of the troubles of the country that Morales wants to change/improve, most notably, he's become a prideful figure for former coca crop farmers, many of whom are out of work after the U.S. back attempts for the Bolivian government to eradicate the crop. The more interesting moments are the behind-the-scenes and spin room footage of the campaign, and exactly how a campaign is run in a South American country. There are some interesting comparisons that can be made with certain famed American documentaries on similar subjects. (One of those films I actually saw recently, the 50-minute documentary "Primary," which showed both John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey battling for the 1960 Wisconsin Presidential Primary [Not reviewing it here, 'cause it's a little borderline on whether it's a feature-length film, but definitely worth watching, if for nothing else, but images of JFK, sitting by the phone, waiting for polls results, and smoking a cigarette, are intriguing as time capsule material) The movie however has just enough interesting stuff to give it a positive review, and it's intriguing to see another country campaign, but, it also does lack compared to similar documentaries, so it's a mild recommendation.

HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME? (2006) Director: Bertrand Blier

2 STARS

"How Much Do You Love Me?" could've worked at some point as one of thoe Farces the Europeans are often quite good at. Somehow though, it doesn't, and I'm not quite sure why. I think it might have something to do with taking too many of the plot elements, a little too seriously. The movie begins with Francois (Bernard Campon). He's approach on the streets one night by a prostitute (Monica Bellucci). He asks her to come and live with him as his wife. Proposterous even for a prostitute, but Francois, has just won the lottery, and he doesn't know what to do with the money. (Not so preposterous now, is it?) She moves in, and not much hilarity ensues. There's some sex, some of it erotic, it's not as erotic as it could be, and some scenes are funny, but they're not as funny as they could be. Francois, ultimately wants a wife out of Daniela (Bellucci), but is that even possible. Things get somewhat more complicated (and surprisingly somewhat funy) when Daniela's pimp shows up (Gerard Depardieu) asking for money, and the return of Daniela, who's actually his wife. This movie some potential for some hilarity, but it seems to play at the wrong pace throughout the whole film. Could've been funny, ended up boring.

5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND (2007) Director: Makoto Shinkai

3 STARS

"5 Centimeters Per Second," is beautifully animated, and that's certainly the biggest appeal of this Japanese import. The movie, told in three separate vignettes, in three different time periods, follows the story of Takaki and Akari, two young friends, who for one reason or another aren't really able to come together for a romantic relationship, and in fact, they sacrifice there desire for each other, so the other can fulfill their  own dreams. The title refers to the speed at which a lotus blossom pedal falls, and the film at times seems to be going at the speed of "5 Centimeters Per Second." The animation those, is gorgeous and amazing to look at, and reallly is the centerpiece of the film. Much of the movie doesn't even have dialogue but voiceover of the characters thoughts, which slows down any traditional narrative, but it allows us to watch the animation fromone scene to another. There's a memorable scene where one of them travels many miles by train to see the other, and during a badly-timed snowstorm, the train is continually delayed after each stop, and they make an interesting choice to not visualize any of the characters thoughts per se, the nightmarish "what if"'s that were sure were going through his head, and the voiceover, and a letter he writes her while waiting become critical far more critical. The movie is kinda so-so itself; I've seen this three-part structure before done in different and better ways, but never with animation, and while the characters are kids, for the first two parts anyway, the animation and animation is very adult and very powerful. It will make people think of similar relationships and missed chances they've had in their life.
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