Sunday, September 26, 2010

Poetry, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Of Gods and Men (New York Film Festival)

Yesterday I shouldered one of my largest film loads ever on the second day of the 48th New York Film Festival. It was completely exhausting to say the least. It's not exactly the ideal way to analyze a film, as each film affects the perception of the film after it, and it can be hard to have an equal attention span and open mind for each film.

My first day here (I will return in a couple weeks) was distinctly a Cannes one. I saw three award winners and thus three films of the Official Competition.

The first film I saw was "Poetry," directed by Lee Chang-dong, winner of Best Screenplay at that festival. The best thing about this movie was definitely its lead performance by Jeong-hee Yoon, who I had doubts about in the beginning but who settled very well into the part. She is the nicely costumed Mija, an Alzheimer's patient who's taken on her grandson from his bizarrely absent mother and who has a job assisting a disabled man (who wants sex from her). She also makes time for a poetry class, where she is taught such rudimentary and naïve "wisdom" about the art that I wonder if Chang-dong is doing a slight satire.

While she is observing apples "for the first time," her grandson is feverishly meeting with his friends. She wonders what this is about, as she plays a very inactive role in his life. She soon is plunged straight in, when one of the kids' fathers brings her to a meeting where a bomb is dropped: her grandson was a participant in a gang rape, which lead to the victim committing suicide (which is shown at the beginning of the film). Mija is aghast, but, disturbingly enough, none of the fathers are, who just see it as something to take care of. Mija is the only person to even think about attending the services of the girl and is made by the group to go talk to the mother to reach a settlement ("woman to woman," they say).

The film has a score of problems with it, notably the fact that it's way too long. The film lingers on poetry readings that bring up an interesting thought but have only a minor significance in the plot and could have been slightly cut down. Also able to be cut would be the "Up in the Air"-style, "What is you happiest moment?" monologues, which again serve a very small purpose and one could give the important info in a much-less time-consuming way.

My other big complaint is a lack of resolution. I'm not referring to the ending, which is nicely symmetrical, if a little muddled. I'm talking about the way that the film barely penetrates the psyche of Mija's grandson. He's a disappointingly basic character, relegated to his vessels of television and computer, which may well be the point. But I'm pretty sure I would have liked a little more into him. However, I will give Chang-dong plaudits for leaving Mija (moderately) underexposed (other than as a karaoke singer and as one who apparently attracted the attention of men with her smile). C+

My next screening was Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," which garnered the Palme d'Or and also much high praise. Based on a novel called "A Man Who Can Recall His Past Lives," Weerasethakul dives into the story that he tipped off in "Tropical Malady." Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar, well played) is losing his life to a kidney sickness, spending his last days at his farm with his nephew Tong (Sakda Kawebuadee, who's in other of Weerasethakul's films) and sister-in-law Jen (Jenjira Pongpas). His wife makes an appearance in regular ghost form, as does his son Boonsong, who tramples up the porch steps with his eyes red and in a bizarre costume. Why, you may ask? He's a monkey ghost, having sought them with his camera and then mated with one.

The film is soporific and impenetrable at times, though that's common for a Weerasethakul movie. They require for one to control their "monkey mind," and that can be hard. However, the films also click, and "Boonmee" does. I liked the scenes involving the catfish, the conversation Boonmee has with his wife, and the walk through the fields Boonmee and Jen take with a taste of honey. And even if the film can get a little insufferable, it is nicely shot, sound designed, and set-pieced.

I give Weersethakul the benefit of the doubt in most cases, but the ending, which can be understood on a certain level, and where Joe makes another of his scathing critiques of the profane eroding the sacred, found me very disappointed. I know Joe, and I know he can reach far. "Tropical Malady" and "Syndromes and a Century," however they were flawed, definitely did this (even if they ended similarly abruptly). Even the short that this film was sort of based off of, "A Letter to Uncle Boonmee," is more ambitious. I'm selling the film a little short, though. The ending has some validation to it, and the film that precedes it is good. But if it had taken 20 more minutes to explore something more, it would have been more of the home run that everyone had said it was (though maybe not). It definitely says something about my perception of the film that I was hesitant to buy a T-shirt after the screening. However, I will see this film again (as other critics have done), as that definitely helped with "Tropical Malady." B-

However, I was much more captivated by it than by Xavier Beauvois' Gran Prix winner "Of Gods and Men," which unfortunately came at the end of this long day, when I was not ready for it. I liked the first shots and the last shot, and the cinematography throughout. However, everything else I found extremely dull, perhaps due to the erratic editing. It's so much a "Sony Pictures Classic" that it seems like Michael Barker and Tom Bernard oversaw the production. One thing that must be said about the film is that it is very thought-provoking. However, the thoughts it provokes have nothing to do with the film.

It follows monks in Algeria as their religious routine is disrupted by terrorists. The monks are headed by Christian (Lambert Wilson), who takes long walks in plain clothes and who's actively against fleeing the monastery. We also have bearded Luc (Michael Lonsdale), who's the doctor of the monastery and whose amount of patients steadily increases as the film goes on and the attackers persist, and Christophe (Olivier Rabourdin), who just wants to leave. Also there's Amedee (Jaques Herlin), who looks like Mike Leigh and plays as the film's constant comic relief, much to my annoyance.

There's a lot of chanting, a lot of roundtable discussions, and a lot of nice camera spreads. That's what I picked up, as, like what happened with "Salt," I disconnected myself. The film probably deserves another look from me, but I'm not exactly looking forward to seeing it again, in its 120 minutes of repetitive boredom (save at the beginning). And with that line, I probably disqualify myself. C

Disclaimer: As Peter Sciretta of /film said, there will be people who like this film a lot.

I will be back for more festival coverage in two weeks, with reviews of "Film Socialisme," "Meek's Cutoff," and the world premiering "Old Cats." I hope a "festival discovery" will be made there, because there weren't really any yesterday.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Interview with Ariel Schulman, co-director of "Catfish"

Schulman (second from left) (src)

"Catfish" opened in New York City on September 17 and it will expand to more cities.

Flick Pick Monster: What is the significance of the title “Catfish”?

Ariel Schulman: The reason for the title becomes clear at the end of the movie. I don't want to give it away here, but I will say it's significance to the story came as a total surprise to me. I’ve never heard the word catfish used in this way.

FPM: What was it about Nev’s and Megan’s communications that made you want to make this film?

AS: It was actually Nev’s relationship with Megan’s little sister Abby that made me want to start filming. She was 8 and totally inspired by his photography, inspired enough to paint from his photos every night and send them to him. And the paintings were good[;] that's plenty of reasoning to start making what I thought would be a short film.

FPM: What would you say to those who say that the film was made-up?

AS: We’re not smart enough to make all this up.

FPM: Reader Cristina Acuna asks: Why film any of it to begin with? Why is nothing private anymore?

AS: It's my brothers life and he is my muse, I love watching him and filming him. I'd tell Cristina Acuna that there is in fact plenty of private footage she will never see.

FPM: Was the reason that you collaborated with Henry Joost that you were his art director? Describe this partnership.

AS: I was Henry’s art director on “New York Export: Opus Jazz.” We trade off roles depending on the project. We’re like ham and eggs, perfect together. But sometimes you just want two helpings of eggs.

FPM: What was “Jerry Ruis, Shall We Do This?,” your short film with Joshua Safdie? You were also his art director on “Daddy Longlegs” and on others of his films, as well as an actor in “The Adventures of Slaters’s Friend.” Do you think you will make another film with him?

AS: “Jerry Ruis” is a crazy short Safdie and I made in my mom’s apartment. He's my oldest friend in the world. We used to direct a lot of shorts together when I was a member of Red Bucket Films, before Henry and I started Supermarché. Safdie and I are writing a sequel called "John Gotti's Maserati.”

FPM: Do you prefer being a director or an art director?

AS: Being a director takes a lot of guts. Being an art director allows me to work creatively on other peoples movies. And to buy cool props that I get to keep.

FPM: Who are the biggest influences on your filmmaking?

AS: Woody Allen, Werner Herzog, Roman Polanski, and Josh Safdie.

FPM: What do you think your next project will be? Are you open to doing another documentary?

AS: Truth is stranger than fiction; I'll make documentaries for the rest of my life. But for my next feature film, Joost and I are writing a narrative thriller. I'm also working on publishing a book of the Catfish correspondence.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Tillman Story

"The Tillman Story" is dubiously structured and relatively indecisive until about the final 30 or 45 minutes, where it grew on me. It started to get on track at this point, going into the story from the right angle. It tries many things out. It starts with going into the action from the media POV, where we see Pat Tillman change from being a football star to a soldier and get killed in battle apparently by an ambush where he took the fire in order to save his fellow soldiers. For this deed, he earned the Silver Star.

But, a couple of weeks later, the real truth breaks and it sends a hurricane the way of the Tillman household: Tillman was accidentally killed by friendly fire. It at first seems like it would lessen Tillman's stature, but instead, it calls into question the previous report and everything around it. Tillman's mother and father soon start digging through the case files, and what they see is much to prove that what was originally said was patently false and "unbelievable."

This story seems interesting from the onset, but Amir Bar-Lev doesn't do the best job with it, going from the media POV and the search back to survey Tillman's entire life. Doing this among other things makes this a pretty standard and (actually at some point) below average "purpose-driven" documentary, one of those ones where everyone is seething with anger in every interview. There will definitely be people who respond to this film, but having seen enough of these sorts of documentaries, I'm not one of them.

The fact that the last 45 minutes changed my opinion in the way that they did is quite good. Here, we hear the events described in real time and witness a 2007 trial that happens over a certain P4 document that states that he was killed by his comrades. To be sure, it isn't an entirely successful finish, if you factor the pissed-off talking heads, the slapped-on last image, and the ironic but still very off-putting credits song (much like the one to conclude "Restrepo"), but it definitely helped. When I came out of the theater, I was still not crazy about the film, but I was having a harder time finding problems with it. B-

Friday, September 17, 2010

Valhalla Rising

Nicolas Winding Refn's "Valhalla Rising" is better than his "Bronson"; however, considering that that film was abysmally awful, that's not much of a compliment. It was panned by Lou Lemenick as "visually striking, but portentous and pretentious." I'd have to completely agree. I also have to agree with IMDb message board posters, many of whom called this film "boring." This film is as much the slog as the voyage to the "Holy Land" characters take. These are crusaders who speak in (as Lemenick said) "portentous" dialogue written by someone (as my friend said) who has only a rudimentary knowledge of religion. That "someone" in question would be Refn and Roy Jacobson. Refn (to my friend's knowledge) apparently said in a Film Comment article that he knew very little about theism. Oh, and look: one of his next projects is "Only God Forgives"! Does that mean that we have another naïve film to look forward to? I think so.

The premise of this film convinced me that Refn would make a good follow-up to his disaster. It starts in the times of the Crusades as we take up with One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen), who is let out of his cage only to travel and, in at times repulsively violent scenes intended to represent masculinity verging on the animal, to fight other people to the death in fights with bets placed on them. He eventually, while traveling, breaks out of his line with the help of a razor-sharp blade and goes off with a boy named Are (Maarten Stevenson). He then meets up with the crusaders, who are off to Jerusalem, as usual. But, of course, the journey seems more like the one to Hell.

I may be able to understand it on some level, but the film's second half (or, more correctly, final half of chapters) is extremely underwhelming and really kind of meaningless. To be sure, we have some very nicely colored and composed cinematography by Morten Søborg, who is Refn's regular photographer (though he was spared the tragedy of working on "Bronson"). This can get repetitive, yes, but it's a definite saving grace. Add to that that I admired a couple of the selections on the score by Peter Kyed and PeterPeter. Also, a later line of dialogue by Are: "If you think he's wrong, why are you following him?" This refers to some random guy who's been trailing behind One-Eye and Are (who interprets One-Eye's facial gestures and mind-waves and translates them into speech, as One-Eye doesn't talk). This guy has been informed that he will die soon and he is against it. Are spouts that line of dialogue, which, if I really wanted to be harsh, I could construe as another instance of Refn's low theological knowledge. OK, now that I think of it, maybe I will be. It is an interesting line, but it is on second thought a bit obvious.

There is one indecipherable passage so vapid it borders on (as people such as my friend have said) "music-video." It involves a stacking stones for no particular reason and isolated instances of people writhing and being attacked and/or raped in mud. It was lost on me, like much of this film apparently was. This film feels to me like Malick's "The New World" gone incredibly awry.

There are avid Refn fans, and I open myself up to possibly enjoying other films by him. From what I've seen, though, I'm one of his detractors. C-

Sunday, September 12, 2010

NYFF 2010, Flick Pick Monster Style

Here's what I'll be seeing at NYFF. I start off my festival madness (at least for me; I have never shouldered 3 films in a day before) with a day of Cannes 2010 award winners. First, I'm seeing the Best Screenplay winner, (1) Lee Chang Dong's "Poetry". I've never seen a Chang-Dong film, although I've heard much about him. Some say that this film was screwed over both at Cannes (by not winning the Palme d'Or, i.e. the award for the best picture of the festival) and by the committee to select the Best Foreign Film candidate for Korea, which reportedly chose a much lesser film they thought would have a better chance at winning the Oscar.

This film will be followed with a screening of a very important film, (2) Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives", which won the Palme D'or. I like "Joe"'s (his American nickname) films, especially "Tropical Malady." This film sounds amazing, reportedly his best and the transcendent film at Cannes 2010. Hopefully I'll be able to get a Weerasethakul sighting, as he's supposed to be at the festival. After that, it's (3) Xavier Beauvois' "Of Gods and Men", winner of the Grand Prix (second place). To be honest, I'm really just interested in this film because of the award, but I want to see it nonetheless.

Later on in the festival, I will catch (4) Jean-Luc Godard's "Film Socialisme", as it seems like somewhat of an invaluable experience to see a Godard film in the NYFF setting (even though I'm not the biggest Godard fan); also because this is his reportedly his swan song. It played Un Certain Regard at Cannes, leaving critics puzzled, though that can only be expected from a film of this type, a "visual essay." Soon after, I will experience a complete 180* turn with (5) Kelly Reichardt's "Meek's Cutoff", which played Venice and is said to be a must-see. I liked "Wendy and Lucy," and I think this will be much better. She'll also apparently be attending, so I hope to see her there. To finish off that day, and my festival experience, I will catch the World Premiere of (6) Sebastian Silva's "Old Cats", meaning I will at least be at one of this year's NYFF WPs (the others being Michael Epstein's "LennonNYC," as well as David Fincher's "The Social Network," which I probably should be at, but then again, I will be able to see it a week later in theaters for much less money). Re: "Old Cats", I've never seen Silva's "The Maid," but I'm excited nonetheless, since I've heard that film is very good. It's going to be a very interesting NYFF for me.

Anyone gonna be at the festival? If so, what are you seeing?

Friday, September 10, 2010

I'm Still Here

Though sometimes it's unclear, I'm pretty sure that the Joaquin Phoenix film "I'm Still Here" is manufactured and untrue. The drama betwixt Phoenix and one of his assistants, Antony Langdon, as well as the scenes with Ben Stiller, P. Diddy, and Edward James Olmos (among others), aren't particularly convincing. Stiller's believable only if one interprets that he retaliated by poking fun at Phoenix during the Oscars. But, sadly, for all we know, the film could have in fact have been shot after the fact and spliced together to make us believe it happened in this way.

This film shows Phoenix (who, as people said, turned from an actor into a musician to apparently show the real Joaquin) from his homes in LA to NY to performances in Miami and back again, swearing like a mad dog, pot smoking and bouncing off the walls from drug abuse, rapping lyrics constantly to his "caretaker," berating his assistant for selling stories to the press about him being a phony, laughing hysterically with director Casey Affleck (which is actually pretty funny), talking to Affleck about stupid things, etc. In the first 3/4, it's entertaining but sloppily put together, while in the final quarter, it's finely made (and a little affecting) but then kinda plodding. A reverse.

Anything that could be said in real favor of the film, anything to make it a success, is put to rest by the fact that it's possibly fake. For example, I am tempted to say that it gives new perspective to the interview that Phoenix gave Letterman (which is shown almost in full-length in the film). This is because Phoenix is really disappointed when he comes into the interview, since he's just basically been told he's not as worthy as he thought he was. But if this was all crap, then what? Then any significance or perspective imbued in that meaning doesn't really matter, right? If it's real, that's one thing. But if not... Phoenix is somewhat convincing in these moments if he's pulling an act, though, so that this doesn't seem as prescient while watching, not as it does when thinking back on it, when some memories diminish and other thoughts triumph. I started to have my doubts about my doubts as the film came into its last quarter, which is perhaps a success of Affleck and Phoenix if they want to try to trick you into thinking it's a documentary. But I'm having my doubts about my doubts about my doubts. I don't think it's real, for realz.

This review has been like the critical equivalent of Phoenix's beard (like the film was the cinematic equivalent, although that may just be giving validity where it's not due). Sorry for the Phoenix-esque ramble. Here's a concise word: it's entertaining then plodding, never perfect but at least till a certain point you want it to continue, which is not how it is towards the end, where it starts getting repetitive. The film's too long, just like the beard. C

Soul Kitchen

"Soul Kitchen" has passages with one image in front of the other without much meaning. It is for the most part narratively incoherent, utterly disjointed, cliched, ended like a storybook (however appealingly), as well as (seemingly) condensed. These things sabotage its chances of success. The film is (as my friend and others said) endearing, and this is a factor that saves it somewhat, but it doesn't make it a good film. I understand director Fatih Akin's choice to make something other than "The Edge of Heaven," i.e. a comedy instead of a drama, and in theory it seems like it might work, but, assuming this is how an Akin comedy would look like, I think if he wants to partake in successful ventures, he should go back to what he was doing.

This film is about Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos). He has a food establishment known as "Soul Kitchen." He serves food people want, which isn't quality food, but comfort food. He doesn't particularly like this food he serves, but he needs money. He's very into music, as evidenced by the film's soundtrack, which continues pretty much nonstop throughout the film. He has a girlfriend, named Nadine (Pheline Roggan), who goes to China and wants him to come, too, although Zinos feels tied to his restaurant and will not leave. He also has a imprisoned brother, Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu), who tries to convince Zinos to give him a job to "go through the motions" (not very responsible guy, we are to assume), alongside the waitress who starts to become the object of Illias' affection, Lucia (Anna Bederke). There's also Thomas Neumann (Wotan Wilke Möhring), who Zinos was in 4th grade with and who schemes to pry Soul Kitchen away from Zinos.

Zinos goes to a dinner with his girlfriend at a high-end restaurant where the chef, Shayn (Birol Ünel) has a breakdown when one of the customers complains about the food and is fired. Zinos makes him his chef afterwards, which pisses off his customers, as they don't want fancy food: THEY WANT THEIR PIZZA! So, Zinos instead finds a new crowd, musicians and hipsters, who will eat up just about everything, including pricey, rich stuff.

This is a disastrously structured film, and there's no way around that. That's the great inhibitor, although there are others as well (cliches being one). It was dashed off, not just (as IMDb user BOUF says) "fast-paced." I direct your attention to this dialogue, which occurs when Zinos is taking a smoke and Shayn is standing up on a high ledge, just having been fired:

Zinos: "Your food was great!"
Shayn: "Do you have a job for me?"

There's no evidence in the film to say that Shayn has ever even heard of Zinos. So what the freak? It sounds like the beginning and end of an exchange with the middle cut out of it. Why wouldn't one just finish the scene? Scheduling issues? This is completely amateurish, obviously constructed this way to expediently advance the plot of the film. Akin should be above this. And it's sad that he isn't. For this among other things, "Soul Kitchen" is a misfire. C

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


There is little incentive to viewing the multi-doc adaptation of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's "Freakonomics," although the list of contributing documentarians may make you think otherwise: Alex Gibney, Morgan Spurlock, Eugene Jarecki, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, and Seth Gordon, who've done some very good documentaries over the past decade. However, their works here all are problematic in some way or another, and they serve as more proof that very rarely do omnibus films produce essential works of a director (one example, much disputed, is Bong Joon-Ho's "Shaking Tokyo" in the film "Tokyo," which I consider the director's best work to date, though I haven't seen "Memories of Murder"). Despite the fact that each segment illuminates thought-provoking subject matter, they are flawed showings from everyone involved.

The film is divided up into different sections that may or may not corollate to the book's chapters (I haven't read it). There's an introduction involving buying a house (which I agree with my friends was "intriguing"), and then sections like "Parenting," "Cheating," "Cause and Effect," and plain old "Incentives." The film leads off a section with an aside delivered by the authors, directed by Gordon, and annoyingly scored. These include topics that are (as my friend said) "interesting," but produce uninteresting results.

This is the problem also with Spurlock's segment (written with Jeremy Chilnick and entitled "A Roshonda By Any Other Name"), about the differences between the names of white and black people and whether they have any effect on the perception of the people monikered with them. This leads to shallow and somewhat tongue-in-cheek dramatic reenactments (or maybe just examples, though I'm pretty sure Spurlock says the incidents in question actually happened). This sort of tone is Spurlock's weapon-of-choice, and by way of virtue his films are extremely magnetic and watchable (due also to his accessible, conversational narration), despite having some not particularly well-done sections. He also has a trademark of overloading on graphics, which here sometimes work and sometimes are confusing and anachronistic on a basic level. He runs into trouble by not exploring the things he brings up with enough clarity, and slapping a storybook ending on at the end. I remember being somewhat unimpressed by it.

This is followed by Gibney's "Pure Corruption" (written with Peter Bull) about cheating in the "village-like" sumo wrestling industry, incentives to cheat in general, and the flawed police system in Japan. Probably this was the most profound of the bunch, but it also was complex and extremely expository, and didn't keep my attention the entire time, partially because it had the problem of white subtitles (which bothered my friend as well as I), which has plagued many a film (basically the main reason "Valentino: The Last Emperor" was so soporific). I also had somewhat of a subliminal urge for it to end, perhaps because of the endless-seeming red numbers that wash over the screen.

Then, Eugene Jarecki's misguided "It's Not Always A Wonderful Life" which uses a pretty-much-unnecessary narrator to relay what the economist says over and over again. Which begs the question: why not just have the economist narrate it? It also makes fundamental misuse of the plot of "It's A Wonderful Life," in which a good person, NOT a bad person, decides to see their life without them in it. Anyways, that aside, this doc is about how crime went down in the Nineties and how that was connected to abortion and Nicolae Ceaucescu's death. This film uses extremely useless and distracting graphics, which sometimes rush through the screen for short periods. I may have shut myself off a little from it, but (as my friend said of all of these films) it definitely wasn't a success on any level other than the intellectual. It seems sort of truncated, too, although it may just be that Jarecki turned in a smaller film.

Finally, we roll around to Ewing and Grady's, whose blandly titled "Can A Ninth Grader Be Bribed to Succeed?" seems to succeed itself but ultimately isn't quite on the mark. It follows two kids to see if the incentive would work, somewhat simplistically painting the bad against the good (although the one that does succeed seems well explored). It follows to a murky conclusion, manufactures a standard sort of documentary suspense, and drops off (at least I think) somewhat strangely at the end. Still, it marshals graphics to better purpose than some of the others.

As my friend (who hadn't read the book) thought and Warble2850 of IMDb confirms, it would be better to just read the text that the film is based off of instead of seeing the film, which Warble2850 implies is somewhat of an adjunct. Skimming through the pages of the book on the internet, I would have to agree, as the topics are more or less the same. "Freakonomics"' full title is "Freakonomics: The Movie" which makes no attempt to hide its blatant agenda of reaming the same people who bought the book for more money (or to attract people who want to see the movie and not have to read the book). Even so, adaptations can produce good results. However, that's not the case with "Freakonomics." C

Sunday, September 5, 2010


"Lebanon" is admirably inflicting, but as a result it is also repetitive, (as Scott Tobias et al. said) heavy-handed, and poorly paced. Add to that it being so abruptly and disappointingly ended that I cried out in the theater. This is in no way "Waltz With Bashir," although it tells of its subject in what may seem like a better way. Whereas "Bashir" was built on surrealism, this film is grounded (almost entirely) in realism. The film sort of follows Schmulik (Yoav Donat), who represents the director, Samuel Maoz. He gets assigned into the "Rhino" tank on the first day of the First Lebanon War to be a gunman, along with high-strung Assi (Itay Tiran), complaining Hertzel (Oshri Cohen), and nervous driver Yigal (Michael Moshonov). There may be another, but my memory fails me.

The rest of the film involves the tank's moving forward through Lebanon to get to a "hotel" and then beyond that. The film portrays this by (as Jim Emerson said) placing the audience on the same level as the soldiers in the tank. Conceptually, this is brilliant, but it doesn't entirely translate over into the final product. One way that the film strays from making this work is how (as people on IMDb et al. said) stylized things get. A cigarette dropped on the wet floor of the tank is shown from a reflection. Also, a visual passage involving a bazooka is cribbed almost exactly from "Bashir," and however beautiful, this is also highly stylized. As Nick Davis sort of said, there are also dubious breaks in time via the editing, which de-authenticize the film more so. If you want to do a film like this, with realism, I would suggest not deviating too much.

Anyways, there are great moments in this film. The shots involving the vehicles coming down the lane between the flowers are excellent, especially the one that shows the aftermath of a "shell to the engine." I also think the shot where the tank plows through the sunflowers is awesome. I also think the oft-pictured scene with the woman who comes after the soldier is good as well (minus the part, as Jim Emerson said, where she looks into the camera, which was more evidence of the film's heavy-handed nature, although I wonder if this moment actually happened to Maoz). And I very much admire, minus Schmulik's urgent Jack Nicholson/"Cuckoo Nest"-esque shouting, the antepenultimate scene, which was extremely involving, what with the music playing and the engine having a hard time starting and the camera shaking all around.

But the film is sabotaged as if by a "Flaming Smoke" by its pacing (or as Nick Davis said, "dramatic structure"), which lacks enough real downtime (which is perhaps the point) besides an engrossing but ineffective "hard-on" story, as well as by its repetitive shots and actions, which include Schmulik's face, scope zooms, and people incessantly (as Jim Emerson noted) getting in and out of the tank. This repetition I'm sure is also intentional, but it got on my nerves. The film also has a ridiculous ending that makes one reconsider what the hell the film actually about, being preceded by a unnecessarily long shot of a guy urinating. Or, I should make clear, it seems ridiculous as you're watching it, but it could be on some level considered well-chosen, illustrating that: 1) war goes on, and 2) as my friend said, "there's a beautiful world out there" (though not entirely beautiful, due to the symbolism behind it). All into consideration, I think the film (however unintentionally) pulls the rug out from underneath to leave us with a lesser film.

"Lebanon" for me is disappointing, a narrative experiment with some great moments that doesn't go entirely right and doesn't really deserve the Golden Lion it won. Looking at the Lebanon War from this view and (as said before) transcribing Maoz's past could have worked, but Maoz squanders it with too much style and (as Nick Davis said) poor pacing. C+

Note: What was up with those subtitles? "!?" is fine once or twice, but when overused, it's distracting.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An Interview with Anurag Kashyap, director of "That Girl in Yellow Boots"

[src] courtesy of: Mayank.hc

“That Girl in Yellow Boots” makes its world premiere out-of-competition at the Venice Film Festival before playing in the Special Presentations section at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Flick Pick Monster: What inspired you to make “That Girl in Yellow Boots”?

Anurag Kashyap: A story in a newspaper about a German girl who came to India looking for her father...she is still looking, though. And yet another story that I can't talk about or it would reveal the film, which dominated the front pages of the Mumbai Mirror for sometime. The two stories affected me and kept playing in my head and I narrated them to Kalki [Koechlin], I said “I want to do this with you, but I want a woman's POV so will you write it?” and she did.

FPM: What is the significance of the yellow boots, if there indeed is any beyond being a distinguishing characteristic?

AK: The title is such because it has a connotation of a gossip. It’s not the girl in yellow boots but "That Girl…" as in when someone talks, "You know that girl who wears yellow boots, you know what she does, blah blah blah[….]” It’s at the very core of Indian morality that we can't talk about things openly and sometimes a strong individual woman, who happens to be beautiful and white, gets scrutinized a lot. It's a story of one such girl[;] yellow boots are her only distinct identity.

FPM: I’ve read that the technique of Snorricam (something I much enjoy) is given screen time in “Dev. D” and your other films. Given that the same cinematographer, Rajeev Ravi, worked on “That Girl With Yellow Boots” as well as “Dev D.,” is there any of it to be expected in the new film?

AK: No, there are no [snorricams] used in TGIYB. We have shot 10 % of it on 7D, though.

FPM: It is always interesting when the director of a film works on the screenplay with an actor of the film. Such examples include Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, and Richard Linklater on “Before Sunset,” to an extent Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman on the "Kill Bill" films (though they really just came up with the character together), and you and Kalki Koechlin with your new film. How was this experience?

AK: Oh, it was tough. She is not just the actor, she is also my live-in partner and she has strong [points of view]. For her to be both writer and actor and me to be the director using her and her material and [to be] the boyfriend was very intense. After [the] shoot we both needed our space. We couldn't go back to bed together after the shoot each day. It was very intense but it showed on screen.

FPM: What do you have lined up for after “That Girl in Yellow Boots”?

AK: I am next doing a tribal gangster film [entitled “Gangs of Wasseypur”] set in the state of Bihar around the coal mines. It’s a revenge story set across six decades and three generations.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The American

One can tell that director Anton Corbijn was a photographer while watching his film "The American," as he gets seduced by the look of rural Italy. Whereas in the film, Jack (George Clooney, who is pretty good, not sounding like he usually does) is ostensibly a photographer (as a cover) and really a contact killer and "craftsman," "The American" itself is ostensibly a film about a contact killer and really a showcase of architecture and landscapes, none of it studio made. These comprise a good portion of the film's shots. As said before, "The American" is somewhat of a soporific experience, with very good scenes at the beginning, middle, and end, but in between highly resembling Jim Jarmusch's "Limits of Control," complete with shots of (as Ebert said) the main character working out, "sipping Americanos in cafes," and making love to a prostitute. He also constructs a weapon and is, (as Ebert et al. said) like every man who tries to "seal himself off emotionally from the world," tortured by nightmares. Bland, somewhat poor, and (as said before) laconic writing by Rowan Joffe punctuates the film, though the trailer doesn't exactly suggest otherwise.

The film begins with a romantic encounter that turns ugly once Jack ends up having to kill off an assassin, the woman (who must have been trying to do him in), and another killer, who's car he steals. Besides a somewhat vapid opening moment of tenderness (which may very well be the point), I thought this was a well-done opening, truly startling, which seems like the teaser of a James Bond film (although it recurs later on). He then is instructed to go into Italian town Castel del Monte where he is given a job "where he doesn't even have to pull the trigger" (ingeniously) and told not to "make friends" like he did before. It involves building a gun for Mathilde (beautiful Thekla Reuten), which is a rifle that's like a machine gun and with somewhat of a silencer. He also meets a priest named Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), who tries to get Jack (a.k.a. Edward or "Mr. Butterfly," which comes from his neck tattoo) to become religious "for his own good."

He goes to a brothel periodically where he doesn't just want sex with anyone, but with Clara (Violante Placido), who pressures him into a relationship, which he gradually begins to take on. It's one of those things that starts (as said by critics) as "mechanically 'getting pleasure'" and turns into something real. As my friend said, this is one of many cliches in the film.

My friend's theory of the film is good, I think: Father Benedetto tells Jack that he's living in a hell because of his lack of love, and that he reaches (or, as my friend thinks, almost reaches) paradise at the end of the film. The landscapes are supposed to signify his emptiness. This is the best reading of the film I can think of, but it doesn't make up for my mind disconnecting and wandering.

The film is, as said before, superbly photographed by Martin Ruhe and pretty well scored by Herbert Grönemeyer (although my friend says the film would be better without one, and, at least with in how it interferes with the ending, I would agree, though I like it in other spots), and it does have a pretty satisfying ending and a good chase scene to add to the beginning. I liked certain aspects (though not all) of Clooney's work, like at the beginning, as well as how he controls his emotion so that when he betrays it (like in the chase and climax), it ends up being affecting (though this ends up being cliched with the nightmares). However, these things are not enough to keep me from feeling like I hadn't wasted 103 minutes. It is "The Limits of Control" (that level of stimulation...) with violence (...but a little more). For Corbijn, it's not as good as "Control" (not to be confused with Jarmusch's work) but better than (with a couple of exceptions) his music videos (the majority of which are crappy). C+