Sunday, November 28, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Dir: David Yates

A lot of noise about how this is "the best one yet," but it's really pretty similar to HP6. Which is absolutely fine. I had a good time. There are some interesting added moments I suppose, but the comedy bits are hit or miss, and these really could have been used more. Considering that they broke up the book, I was expecting a bit more of these interesting "movie-only" scenes. The acting hierarchy is pretty much the same as well. Of course, there's also the whole "Three Brothers" sequence, which I'm glad they added, but I'm not sure if that particular style of animation was the right choice. Oh well, enough nitpicking for now. If you've already seen the trailer, you've got a pretty good idea of what you're getting into.

Black Girl

La noire de...(Black Girl), 1966
Dir: Ousmane Sembene

I saw this like two weeks ago, and as you've might have guessed, the holiday and laziness have sort pushed off writing reviews of anything. But I was also put off by some Harvard dill-holes stroking each others dicks as I was leaving the theater. Seriously: shut-up. Just 'cause you're talking loud enough for everyone to hear your pompous opinion doesn't make it valid. It makes you a fucking loudmouth, and probably one of the very people that this film is trying to make the viewer aware of. Anyway, it has given me time to think about about this, as it is the only film of recent viewing which is actually worth thinking about. In hindsight, it may seem like an obvious statement for a black African director to make a film about race relations, but the racism that is explored is specifically about obviousness, and the lack of awareness that some people have with it in this (relatively) modern age.

The French New Wave comparisons are probably a little over blown, but you can tell where people are coming from (language being the most glaring one). The structure of the film is broken up into three parts (present-past-present) and in doing so tries to elaborate on the difficulty that Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop) has once she leaves Sengal with the French family that she works for the south of France. She has an idea about what her job is (which is to be a nanny for the children), but once back in France, the family (particularly "Madame") sees fit to stick her with a bunch of other remedial task, and makes a show of using her in front of guests. She becomes bitter and apathetic very quickly in her voice-over monologues (another New Wave device that might have been handled a little better).

When it shifts back to Dakar, before the the move, it centers on Diouana's search for work and a relationship that will be cut short when she decides to leave with her newly found employers. The scene in the bedroom with the frustrated guy is very Breathless (1959), just to throw out another comparison (though I'm sure I'm not the first to do so). It really is the most interesting part of the film, very restless and almost optimistic, as compared to the bracketed sequences in the Riviera, which are apathetic and, to a point, angry. That is the whole point of the film as I see it though. This family thinks that they are helping Diouana, giving her a chance. But in France they cage her, and "put her in her place," seemingly without even realizing it. It is a racism that is barely talked about but is probably the kind that is still most prevalent today: the ennui, the complete intellectual stalemate of being a society boring enough to be racist.

The ending is the most demonstrative thing that I could have expected, and the film loses any of the nice subtlety that it had. Diouana's apathy and anger turn into depression pretty quickly and then everything snowballs in her mind. Luckily, the very end has a redeeming scene where the "Monsieur" is forced to walk through the slums of Dakar looking for Diouana's family, and is followed, to his unease, by a little boy with a native wooden mask on. It hits the spot pretty good. The overall tragedy of Diouana is really about the African, where colonialism put him and how, even in "setting" them free, they are still seen as lesser souls in the eyes of modernity.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Shadows, 1959
Dir: John Cassavetes

This is really good except for the production value. I mean, some thesis films are made better than this. But, I guess that is sort of the DIY tone Cassavetes was going for, and considering this is the birth of American independent cinema, you have it give it that. That most of the film works is because of the "restless 50s" New York atmosphere. I guess you could call it "Beat" or whatever, but at least there's no poetry readings. One of the characters even scoffs at the Beat scene, and even Jazz, though he pretty much is a Beat, not to mention a proto-hipster, and the entire soundtrack is a jazz sax solo.

The film follows three siblings. Hugh (Hugh Hurd), the oldest, is having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that his singing career might be dying, and he is embarrassed to be a show host, such as introducing "girly lines." Ben (Ben Carruthers) is the misfit, wanders around the city with his buddies hitting on girls and what-not, basically being directionless. Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), the youngest, is only 20 and is keen to be seen as seen sharp and educated, but also passionate and spontaneous. Hugh is full black, while his two younger siblings are mulatto, with Lelia being especially light-skinned, and can pretty much get away with "passing."

The film never really harps on about the race thing, though of course the main dilemma involves Lelia's ability to naively pass and then be found out, and then the two brothers reactions (or lack there of) to help her cope. Cassavetes isn't just interested in one thing though; we see this in three different parties in the film: a crazy "beat" party where Ben is looking bored, a "literary" party where Lelia "comes of age," and then the party at their apartment where there are mostly black people talkin' about black people problems, Hugh at the forefront. The way it bounces around and never really settles on anyone makes it way ahead of its time, and good.

If the acting has a problem, its that the improvisational style (which Cassavetes insisted on) seems a bit stunted at times; like all these kids and amateur actors know darn well that they are being filmed and that they had better throw some slang and jargon in. This experimental acting style is supposed to flow with the structure of the the film (like jazz I guess). Ben, of course, is the most interesting character to me. At the end he hasn't progressed one bit, though after having some drinks and getting into a fight with his buddies, he vows never to do it again. One of them (the buddies) sort sums up one Ben's arc (or "straight line" maybe) as they nurse their wounds, "We went out on the town and had a ball. If you get beat up, you get beat up. We still had a ball." That's sort of what the film is: mostly a mess but still effective. Defintely a sign of things to come for Cassavetes.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


藪の中の黒猫 (Kuroneko), 1968
Dir: Kaneto Shindo

I'll describe the strange way (actually not so strange, but whatever) in which I came to see this, because if I knew exactly what it was before going to see it, I might not have gone (that being said, I'm still kind of glad I did). Again, there wasn't much going on at the theaters (normal or artsy-fartsy) that I was really interested in going to see (or at least that I thought I wanted to see. I can psyche myself out of going to see anything). However, the last listing for Kendall was this, and I noticed it was from 1968, so obviously I was like, "Japanese classic. That's worth it." What I didn't know when I sat down in the theater is that it was directed by Shindo, who also directed Onibaba (1964), and that it is basically the same type of film, except this time instead of hanging out in reed beds, Shindo heads to a bamboo forest.

Not only does he change location, but he moves on from a woman just pretending to be a demon to actual fucking demons. This is the big leagues. And not just any demons, but evil cat demons who have sworn an oath to the God of Evil to drink the blood of all samurai in revenge for what happened to them (Revenge fantasy?!? Calling Tarantino...). Don’t get me wrong, ghost cats seem like they could be interesting (I guess?) but the mythology and folklore elements are all sort of lost on me due to the silly (if not simplistic) morality complex and just the fact that Shindo just seems to tell the same story over and over again. It would be reductive to call this a rehash of Onibaba but the similarities are staggering.

I’ll give Shindo some credit because he really does manage to make all his movies look really good. It’s kind of fitting then, I guess, that this film is at its best when Shindo decides to focus less on exposition or any dialogue for that matter, and tries to make the film one extended montage. For at least 15 minutes or so, he manages to collide a series of images which repeat the routine of the daughter-in-law, played by Kiwako Taichi. We see her confront samurais, lead them through a forest, and then seduce them once they arrive at the demons secluded place before ripping out their throats in demon mode. It’s a bit repetitive and probably exhausting for the viewer looking for some “J-horror” but represents Shindo at his sharpest. He manages to repeat this exercise but still produce new images. Sure, from a pure narrative standpoint, it’s easy to “get,” but it is one of the few times he is not chiefly concerned with progressing the story. It’s the film’s most self-consciously artistic sequence, and also one of its best.

I’m not saying that the content here is completely boring, in fact, towards the end it actually becomes a little poignant. The encounters the hero has with the ghost version of his wife is heartbreaking despite the fact that it shouldn’t be. It’s weird, I get the impression that Shindo wanted to tell a story about losing loved ones and, based on sequences like the one I mentioned, he would have nailed it. Unfortunately, there’s an excess of the folklore stuff, which really just reinforces the silliest and most negative stereotypes of the genre. The whole bit at the end with the giant cat arm is redonkulous (though I'm sure those looking for standard, exaggerated horror stuff might like it. They might also be into the aerial ghoul dances and the smaurai/ghost duels). It’s really a shame too since it comes off the heels of by far the most emotionally resonant stretch in the entire movie. Oh well, some good stuff here. I think cinema fans and just plain old horror fans could both enjoy this.