Saturday, December 25, 2010

Best movies 2010

As is often the case I get to the end of the year and have a tough time compiling a best movies list. Some movies have to sit with me for a while and, of course, I need to catch a good many that I missed throughout the year. This past year was no different and so I find it a bit easier and more entertaining to list the films in categories. The 28 films [!] are listed under each heading by preference. [If I haven't listed a movie that is making a lot of other lists it is probably because I have yet to see it].

What Dreams May Come
-The Social Network

Life is Harder Than Death
-Secret Sunshine

Where Art Thou
-The Art of The Steal
-Henri George Clouzot Inferno 
-Exit Through The Gift Shop
-Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child

Psycho Trauma
-Black Swan
-Shutter Island

The Old New Wave
-Around A Small Mountain
-Inspector Bellamy

Whose Family is This Anyway?
-The Father of My Children
-The Kid's Are All Right

Formula Ones
-The King's Speech
-The Town

Escape is Impossible
-The Ghost Writer
-The Prophet

Terror Error

Picking Up The Pieces
-Soul Kitchen
-Winter's Bone

The West Was Guns
-The Good The Bad The Weird
-True Grit

Cuts You Up

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Korean sons

Two Korean films this year dealt with Korean boys committing crimes and their guardian mother trying to deal with it. The two films were Mother by Joon-ho Bong and Poetry by Lee Chang-dong.

*Spoiler Alert*

The crimes are somewhat similar in that they deal with the death of a young woman at the hands of the boys. But the handling of the crimes by their respective guardian mothers is very different.

Mother features a rather crazy mother who is fiercely protective of her mentally unstable son. To the point that when he unwittingly kills a young woman she does everything in her power to get him released from jail and then cover up the crime. The film is a dark comedy/ drama that remains unsettling and unpredictable in every scene.

Poetry is very different in that it is a grandmother who is caring for her grandson who it turns out is part of a gang that rapes a young woman who then commits suicide. The story is more about the way the grandmother deals with her early stages of Alzheimers all the while trying to write a poem that expresses how she feels. But the issue of her grandson fits into the whole piece in that she wants to do the right thing before she is no longer able to. By the end she refuses to protect her grandson from police detectives even though there is pressure for her to do so by the fathers of the other boys involved in the crime.

What we see in both films is a [Korean] cultural obligation to protect sons. But both feature the situation from the extreme edges of the issue. One is a woman who will stop at nothing to protect her son and the other is a woman who decides doing the right thing is far more important than saving face or doing what is expected of her.

Both are very good films and worth seeing if you can. Mother is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Poetry will be released next year in the US by Kino International.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why Season's Change

Axial Tilt.

I love the sound of this:

The obliquity of the ecliptic is not a fixed quantity but changing over time in a cycle with a period of 41,000 years. It is a very slow effect known as nutation.

The obliquity of the ecliptic!

Monday, December 06, 2010


Crossplot (1969) is hardly a great movie but it is a rather fun one. Undoubtedly it is a film that helped launch Roger Moore into the Bond franchise four years later. This film - directed by veteran TV director Alvin Rakoff - plays more like a comedic Bond film with it's swinging London locale, sexual relations between Moore and his co-star Claudie Lange and the dizzy incompetence of the crooks. It's very much a film that can be lumped in with 'Casino Royale', 'Danger Diabloic' [even 'Blow Up'] and all the Connery starring Bond films as a film that inspired the Austin Powers films.

The plot almost doesn't matter. Claudie Lange plays a Hungarian model who is wanted by an underground group of criminals because she accidentally overheard of their assassination attempt on a world leader who is coming to London. Roger Moore plays an ad-exec who unwittingly comes to her rescue. With his charm and wit he manages to uncover the plot and get her to fall in love with him. The film has a fair amount of repartee between the two stars that recalls some of the humor we see in screwball comedy; along with the conceit that the two are in love with each other but they don't know it yet.

Style is really what matters here. The women wear colorful clothing, mini-skirts and have big hair while the men sport long sideburns and wear frilly shirts. These along with subplots about students rioting and an assassination attempt make the film a relic of its time. It also has a rather unique scene involving a helicopter chasing a 1920's automobile.

Is it worth buying? No. But it is worth checking out on Netflix where you can stream a somewhat below par video copy.

The trailer can be seen here.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha is visually impressive but the plot is both weak and convoluted to the point that it is hard to follow or even really care about what happens. However, stylistically it is a very interesting film.

It as though Kurosawa had imagined it as a play and then was given millions to create it as an epic, which he then decided to keep in the format of a play with a few scenes of great color, movement and light. Much of the action takes place off-screen and instead of seeing action we are told about it. When the emperor is shot we hear about it and then later the would-be assassin explains to his interlocutors how he did it and we see him shoot a tree.

Vincent Canby's New York Times review astutely notes:
Kagemusha is majestic, stately, cool, and, in many of its details, almost abstract. It appears very much to be the work of a director who, now seventy years old, is no longer concerned with the obligations of conventional drama or even with moral questions. He is, instead, contemplating history, not as something to be judged but, rather, acknowledged and, possibly, understood.
We keep being told about war but never really see it. Instead riders on horses charge around or the battle takes place just over the hill. All other times we see scene after scene take place indoors or around the various outposts. This, of course, is a stylistic choice by Kurosawa and while I have no direct facts as to why he chose to make the film this way it seems as though financing had something to do with it. After all we do know that Kurosawa had trouble getting funding after his previous two films and his disaster in trying to work in Hollywood.

However, despite this the film is still rather effective due to the prince and pauper formula about the poor thief doubling as the emperor. But too the final scene is particularly strong because of the stylistic choice, which involves showing us gunners firing from fortified positions, various battalions charging to their death and the reactions by the commanders and the [now] former emperor stand-in all powerless to the carnage they are witnessing. We never actually see the slaughter and it is made more powerful because we don’t. And then Kurosawa gives us a series of amazing final shots with bloodied horses and people dying in super slow motion.

Although Kagemusha is not a remake per se it is a film that had been made before in Japan and to my mind the earlier version is a better film. Directed in 1963 by Umetsugu Inoue it is titled Daisan no kagemusha (The Third Shadow Warrior). It's better precisely because it shows us the action all the way through and draws us into the story in a way that Kurosawa's film does not. We care about the character in Umetsugu's film because we see the challenges that the hero faces continually and wonder when and if he will be caught. In time he becomes the emperor because the people who know him to be a double all die. While in Kurosawa's film the double never escapes and is always in a role, which - granted - is part of the film's message.

Overall, Kurosawa is after bigger themes and grander statements. For an excellent overview of all these themes you can't do better than Donald Richie's chapter on the film in his book The Films of Akira Kurosawa.

I think both films should be seen because both can be enjoyed and appreciated for different reasons. Umetsugu's film can be found on eBay or on some Asian DVD websites. Kurosawa's film is available on Blu-ray from Criterion and looks great.