Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hiroshima Mon Amour

Hiroshima Mon Amour, 1959
Dir: Alain Resnais

There are some big ups and big downs in this film. The fact that it was initially supposed to be a documentary about Hiroshima is pretty apparent. The beginning is kind of unbearable; my mind couldn't latch on to anything, even with all the images of mutilated Hiroshima residents. Then the "story" starts, of a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) in town who has a one night stand with a Japanese man (Eiji Okada), and then they talk a whole bunch. She says "no" a lot, and he says "I want you to stay in Hiroshima." Oh yeah, like more than 3 times.

I will admit that this film has plenty of power, with beautiful and incredibly profound scenes but it's overshadowed by the fact that the whole thing is one big monologue. Both characters feel such compassion and their feelings are so complex and confusing, and yet they know exactly how to explain it. It's like they're both poets but the novelty wears thin after the first few minutes. I actually think this reminds me a lot of something Wong Kar-Wai would do. With the exception of the tedious and overlong dialogue, it's very much done in a similar tone of pacing. I really enjoyed the visuals though. Some of it is rather stagey, but it actually works. And the slow tracking shots in and out of subjects with the voice-over actually kind of reminded me of Terrence Malick (so maybe he was a Resnais fan).

The performances, in my opinion, really aren't that fantastic. There's a lot of over-acting, and Riva's flashback freak-outs are really annoying. All that being said, this is probably something that I will want to go back to eventually, 'cause like I said there are some great moments in it and it seems like a film that I might change my mind about at some point.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Inside Job

Inside Job, 2010
Dir: Charles Ferguson

The best part about this doc is definitely the interviews with financial industry advocates, whether they start to stumble over their own hypocrisies, or they just get arrogantly indignant. It has a hard time staying objective ("You can't be serious..."), but I suppose it's kind of hard to with this subject. It goes after the entire financial industry culture of amorlism, prostitutes and drugs (stuff everyone already knows about), to the moralistic posers in Washington that support them using garbled language, and then even college business professors who teach reckless economics (which is really interesting). Learning exactly how the financial industry ballooned over the last 30 years was pretty enlightening too. They have nothing to sell you but the hope that you might profit from their "expertise," but they only deepen their own pockets at your expense.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Film Unfnished

A Film Unfinished, 2010
Dir: Yael Hersonski

I've been going to documentaries lately 'cause I'm kind of avoiding going to see some of the fiction films coming out (so maybe I should see The Social Network (2010) asap; true story I hear). They just all look kind of awful. I only read a blurb about this film (not a review) and decided it seemed kind of interesting. And in the end, it is kind of interesting, but pretty annoying as well. The footage being looked at in the doc of the unfinished film, "Das Ghetto," was a film made by the SS in 1942 to portray life in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw. A lot of the film has to do with the differences of rich Jews (those who cooperate) and poor, starving Jews (those who don't obviously). And for many years these film were taken as fact, for some strange reason. Anyone one who knew anything about the Nazi propaganda machine knows that they were obsessed with cinema (Geobbels doing) and the way they could use it (the flight of Fritz Lang and many other frightened Weimar directors; or even the accumulation of star writer Thea von Harbou and star actor Emil Jennings to use for their own ends). That the Nazi's could use propaganda scenes for their own insidious version of the future doesn't seem that enlightening, or "eye-opening." I suppose the reasons that I found the film most frustrating is how the film was constructed. Hersonski has her own voice-over going a lot of the time, and I'm just not into it. Also, they have voice actors come in and read diaries and what not of people in the the ghetto or involved with it (like SS officers) over the footage. And lastly, they show people who survived the ghetto watching the clips and giving their own quips about what happened. This sentimental slant kind of ruins the power of the images that are being seen. I know what they are, and I know they are awful. Let the images speak for themselves. So in the end, I kind of just wish I could be given the footage of the unfinished film and watch that, because a lot of it is pretty powerful stuff.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Last Train Home

归途列车 (Last Train Home), 2009
Dir: Lixin Fan

It is pretty remarkable how themes can reassert themselves in a particular people, especially negative ones that are known, have been talked about openly, and then still nothing is done to change it. The cinema of a region seems to be no different. There are so many people in Asia that individuality can be a complex thing, particularity in a place like China. Last Train Home, at first, doesn't seem to be about this struggle. It seems to be more a documentary only concerned with the grand sweep of the huge movement of people that takes place every Chinese New Year, when the nation's 130 million migrant workers go home for the only time that year. The first shot (if I remember correctly) is just of this giant moving mass of people in a train station, fighting, pushing, trying to get on to trains that really don't have enough room for all of them. Fan must have thought however that a more personal level was needed to connect with all audiences, and the introduction of one migrant working couple, on their way home to their rural home to celebrate, comes pretty early. Not everything is so cozy at home though because their two kids, especially the older daughter, has more of a bond with the grandmother who is with them all year long than the parents who only come home once a year. The parents at first seemed pretty boring, if not also tragically stuck in their economic plight. They only have one thing to say to their kids which is "Study hard. Stay in school." Although this is basically the only thing they say, it is overbearing for the daughter who feels trapped in school and is dying to go off to work like the rest of her friends, which is her parents' worst fear. So, of course, she does it. The family dynamic is blown apart at a second gathering, as the daughter, trying to assert her independence, claims that the parents never really cared for them and even says "fuck," after which the usually placid father erupts, smacking her in the face and throwing her to the ground screaming "We've tolerated you!" It gets pretty intense. After this the daughter moves to a bigger city and get a job waiting at night club, and the last we see of her is dancing away on her night off, getting lost in the strobe lights. The parents continue to work until the mother finally decides that she has to go home; the grandmother won't live forever and they can't let what happened to their daughter happen to their son. And that is kind of how the film ends, with the mother on her way back home, separated for the first time in her life from her husband. Like I said before, this is the film within the film, which shows "the largest human migration on earth." Fan capture's everything beautifully, and the results are sad, haunting, and yet pretty inevitable if you have watched even a small amount of Asian cinema. Life is still disappointing for many people in East Asia.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Town

The Town, 2010
Dir: Ben Affleck

So it was beyond me to completely ignore this Beantown flick once the "great" reviews started coming out, and I couldn't just call my brother on the phone and yell, "I'm puttin' this whole town in my rear-view!" So you watch the film, and it's completely understandable why people are so impressed (though the great camerawork raves seem a bit bloated; it does get caught in that floaty, shaky, I-can't-see-what-the-fuck-is-happening nonsense that modern action films like to equate with a visceral experience). Affleck is putting a stamp on Hollywood with his own films that will let him continue to work as a director. The closest thing that I could think of while watching it was Michael Mann. Like Mann, Affleck likes to reveal character through action, but he also can't help but throw in some "actor's moments," and I wasn't that surprised that he wrote the most for himself. And in that respect, he's sort of like a less sentimental (or vomit-inducing) Clint Eastwood, which I'm sure the studios will try to mold him into. All of the action is cool, you know, and learning the mechanization of Boston bank robbing (even in movie terms) was interesting, but that's just trimming. The characters are poorly written, and there's nothing Rebecca Hall can do about the fact that her's is unidimensional. There's some good acting in it (Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively in a Marisa Tomei sort of role, Jon Hamm braking free from Don Draper), but this happens in spite of the script. Ben Affleck seems to know his way around with a camera now (the look of the film is pretty intentional), but given the Oscar, we'd expect he'd know his way around with a pen as well.