Friday, January 31, 2014

LAST TRAIN HOME - REVIEW


歸途列車 (Last Train Home)
November 29, 2009
85 min
Canada (Sichuanese Mandarin)

Directed by Fan Lixin


First informative and then insightful, Last Train Home may be one of the more realistic examinations of the modern divide in China.

Last Train Home
gives a ride-along perspective of the single largest human migration that takes place annually during Chinese New Year. It's a depiction of that transport but offers more by going smaller in scope. I was reminded of the framing of Microcosmos, a French documentary which takes place in a vibrant meadow. It is only when we get up close and personal to the individuals of that clime (all manner of insect life) that we start to understand the whole, hence the name. In the case of Last Train Home the Zhang family is our case study on behalf of some 130 million families. They are under the lens and on display for our consideration.

In something of a modern Chinese fashion the parents only see their children, Qin and Yang, but once a year. They toil away in a garment factory in Gaungzhou while their teenage daughter and young son are cared for by the grandmother in the humble village of Huilong. This rupture has especially taken a toll on Qin who is torn between the lack of her parents’ presence and the temptation of freedom all young adults crave.

Last Train Home both exemplifies and escapes the observational documentary mode. The monologues offered by Qin and her parents are clearly the answers to questions from behind the camera, sometimes you even hear the subjects repeat what they were being asked. I suspect there are more instances of such direction in the beautiful (and surely staged) shots on the train. An explosive scene between Qin and her father is devastating. Before it is over Qin breaks the fourth wall and tells the filmmakers this is the real her. It is distressing and I could not help but feel a little ashamed, and that’s just as a member of the audience. I wonder how filmmaker Lixin Fan felt, let alone the real characters onscreen.

The film concludes where it opened: in the train yard. We zoom out from the Zhang family and see they are but one drop in the sea - I began to wonder where each train would take us.

Curator's Note: Currently streaming on Netflix


★★★★½

CONTENT: brief strong language, adult situations

Monday, January 20, 2014

RECENTLY BEHELD: JANUARY 10-12, 2014

(2013)




Joshua Oppenhiemer’s documentary about the death squad leaders of yesterday is just as much a look at the troubling state of Indonesia today. What’s worse than genocide? How then could someone make a sensitizing yet impossibly entertaining film about it? It demands to be seen in order to be believed and I do mean it when I say I’ve never seen a more important film.


Curator’s Note: Currently streaming on Netflix


★★★★★


* * *


(2013)



Perhaps it’s a grave shame that my first partaking at the table of David Gordon Green is this, his latest. (Better than his previous two outings though I suppose.) You ever wondered who paints those yellow lines all along the highways, especially through those stretches of untamed parklands? This is the story of a man and a young man working a summer job doing just that. It’s the best of Paul Rudd I’ve ever seen; he and Emile Hirsch (it’s mostly their two-man show) are funny and heartfelt together in unexpected places. This is a time-out for the characters’ lives and servers as one for us from typical American films. You’ll come out of Prince Avalanche feeling you’ve gulped the fresh mountain air.


Curator’s Note: Currently streaming on Netflix


★★★★


* * *


(2013)



If the lens of Terrence Malick were more interested in exploring sex saunas and depicting demonic goat-men you might better conjure up Post Tenebras Lux. Striking exterior beauty, in 4:3 aspect ratio no less, deceivingly lulls the viewer into the journey of a Spanish couple’s descent into ugly mortality. Some will find it unbearable disturbing while others may simply feel it’s unceasingly dull. Either way, it’s challenging. Those in it for the long haul to see someone rip their own head off may do it to themselves first. Enough warnings. It has sunk its fangs in my thigh and proven a worthy bite, the dreary tale and its unforeseen sights too. In 2011 Malick won the top honors at Festival de Cannes for The Tree of Life, the following year writer/director of this film, Carlos Reygadas, won best achievement in directing for what is essential his tree of death.


Curator’s Note: Currently streaming on Netflix


★★★★½


* * *


(1988)



Imagine if David Lynch's Dune were legitimately entertaining and one will get close to fathoming the maddening spirit and achievement behind Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. This is an astounding feat for production design that feels entirely impossible to return to today. John Neville as the Baron himself is a star worth all the limelight. This commercial flop yet critically tolerated circus is replete with lunacy and an air of never ending story. Sometimes it truly felt like it would never end and sometimes I wanted nothing more.


★★★★


Seen any of these films? What did you see last week? Please feel free to share your thoughts or your own recently beheld in the comments below!




Also, see what else I've seen this year in my Letterboxd diary.

LIFE ITSELF


Today the Steve James documentary on Roger Ebert (one of my most anticipated films for the ongoing Sundance Film Festival) had its premiere at The MARC in Park City, Utah. The project was first announced on September 7th, 2012 by Ebert himself with the below Tweet:

Ebert is survived by his wife, Chaz, who has been interviewed for the publicity tour leading up to today. What if Ebert had lived to see this film? Would he have reviewed it?


Life Itself is the name of the film, taken from the name of Ebert’s autobiography/memoir published in 2011. In light of the premiere, which I am some 700 miles from, I thought the next best thing I could do would be to start reading the book itself.

This morning I read the introduction, entitled Memories. It only took until page 2 for the sincere words on the page to do something strange to my head and chest which in turn had a funny effect on my eyes. Though I’ve religiously watched At the Movies, Ebert’s television program whereon he was always the permanent fixture, it’s always been Ebert’s writing that I’ve associated most as his “voice.” He realizes in this opening that if it hadn’t been for losing his literal voice to thyroid cancer he may never have written this book:

“How can I tell you what they said? I remember them saying it. In these years after my illness, when I can no longer speak and am set aside from the daily flow, I live more in my memory and discover that a great many things are safely stored away. It all seems still to be in there somewhere.”

in there somewhere


Before beginning the first chapter proper, Ebert describes how his physical condition and some outside coaxing led him to try, utilize and ultimately embrace social media. When I first joined Twitter some four years ago there was nobody I “followed” before him. His dedication and active role to Twitter, Facebook and his blog were inspiring, especially for a “digital immigrant” of his age and condition. He ended his nearly 50-year career in film criticism. I’ve more or less seriously begun my attempt at film criticism by blogging.

“I was born inside the movie of my life.” Ebert delves and deals the details, sights sounds, smells, tastes touches, thoughts that began his life, his film, life itself. I await the expansion of this documentary later this year, but until then I’ll read the story in the man’s own words.

Friday, January 17, 2014

CINEFILE: SNUBBED 2014 - AN OSCAR TRIBUTE


The Oscar nominees were announced yesterday! In recent years one of my favorite parts about this was knowing that a tribute to films and filmmakers snubbed by the Academy would soon be incoming, specifically in a memorium cut by Nick Bosworth for JoBlo’s YouTube channel. Just 24 hours after the nominee telecast the above video went live and I immediately found some of my spurned favorites getting the recognition they deserved. I’ve said it before, there’s few better ways to honor the movies than to craft a video project like this.

Spring Breakers (2013)

From Spring Breakers to Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom the video tribute contains a wide range of films that showcase a wider palette of tastes than we could expect from the mostly white, mostly male, mostly over-the-hill members of the Academy. Surely most of these guys didn’t even see Evil Dead or Only God Forgives (also featured in the mash-up). You will also likely notice the inclusion of Blue Is the Warmest Color, while not eligible it may still not have been impossible. I will personally weigh in on my annual WILL win, SHOULD win, SHOULD be nominated list sometime next month, but I doubt you can expect me to have the self-control to be as reasonable or realistic with my opinions. That’s one thing that Bosworth’s video actually is. There’s room for some of his proposed inclusions and possible, if not entirely likely, substitutions.

What films and categories were you happy to see in “Snubbed 2014 - An Oscar Tribute”? What’s missing? Let your voice be heard in the comments below.

2014: YEAR IN PREVIEW


Last week in the MOVIECLIPS office we made two videos looking forward to the year in film we’ve only just begun. Above is our “Year in Preview” wherein we discuss some of the biggest films that will be hitting multiplexes across the country in 2014. Below we specifically list the “Top Five Most Anticipated Movies.” Last week I also wrote about my personal most anticipated films in 2014.


What film(s) are you most looking forward to this year?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

THE 86TH OSCAR NOMINATIONS



Hello, beautiful movie people! This morning the nominees for the 86th Oscars were announced. You can read them all here or you can watch this video (powered by MOVIECLIPS) where we highlight most of the categories. By clicking on any movie poster you will taken to a playlist with more video content for that specific film or person. This morning I donned a suit and tie for the occasion; here myself, Sam and Jimmy share our immediate reactions to the major nominations.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)



The biggest news here are some noticeable “snubs,” namely Inside Llewyn Davis all around (it received only two nominations: Cinematography and Sound Mixing - this is unforgivable), no Tom Hanks or Joaquin Phoenix for best actor, and a handful of would-be Oscar potential (Saving Mr. Banks, The Butler, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) getting hardly to no love at all.


American Hustle (2013)

Perhaps the gravest of the Oscar snubs was not acknowledging the gorgeous hairstyling in American Hustle: Bale's comb-over, Adam's hot mess, Cooper's curls, Lawrence's tossed salad and Renner's posh pompadour! Hustle otherwise tied with Gravity for most nominations at 10 apiece Literally every category could be scoured and once I've seen all the nominated film (yes, including all the shorts) I will weigh in on my annual WILL win, SHOULD win, SHOULD be nominated list. Expect that sometime next month.


Alone Yet Not Alone (2013)

Unfortunately, my quest to see all the nominated films will prove especially challenging this year with the likes of Alone Yet Not Alone, a film almost nobody had heard of before this morning. Matt Singer and others have since helped to shed light on the film, which sounds all the more astonishing to have actually been nominated. Surely it’s titular song (the only thing it could have possibly been nominated for) won’t be performed at the ceremony, though I cannot think of a recent telecast that did not have all the nominated songs performed. This one will be particularly tough to track down and watch (and then sit through). Otherwise a few of the foreign titles and the animated feature nominee Ernest & Celestine (itself a foreign film) will require some diligent seeking as well. I will soon be updating the “2013 Film I Want To See Before The Film Tome Awards” lists to reflect the nominees I still need to catch up with.


Finally, here’s Todd Leopold reporting on “5 Things We Learned From Oscar Nominations.” The Oscars themselves will be on Sunday, March 2nd. Plan accordingly. Expect much more coverage and preparation before then here on The Film Tome.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

RECENTLY BEHELD: JANUARY 6-9, 2014

How was your weekend? See anything good? Did you catch the Golden Globes? (Here’s the complete winners list and choice commentary from yours truly.) Here's what I beheld all last week...


(2013)



David O. Russell’s follow-up to 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook is not just his strongest film to date, it’s proof that he has risen and can hold his own against the American greats he’s being compared to (namely Scorsese and Tarantino). It’s an ensemble force that entirely cares about its characters, including career bests from Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner. Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence, who play an unlikely married couple, are fabulous too.

Curator’s Note: Currently in theaters

★★★★★

* * *


(2013)



This biopic premiered at last year’s Sundance and made very little waves from there on out. Maybe it’s because, despite being about Deep Throat’s Linda Lovelace and her short-lived career in the porn industry, it’s a rather tame and neutered telling of her highly speculated story. The film is almost a perfectly divided rise and fall story, Seyfried and Sarsgaard are re-calibrated throughout. It feels like this too was made in the ‘70s and I mean no offense by that, it channels the era well and was certainly aiming for such. In a way it feels like the direct-to-DVD sequel to Boogie Nights.

Curator’s Note: Currently streaming on Netflix

★★½

* * *


(2013)



Ralph Fiennes’ sophomore directorial effort tells of Charles Dicken’s secret mistress. She’s played by Felicity Jones, Dickens is played by Fiennes himself (who directs himself accordingly). We’ve seen many actors-turned-directors who are able to inspire their cast to great performances. Here’s another. Furthermore, this is a pristine period piece that creates the world these real-life (and really complicated) figures inhabited.

Curator’s Note: Currently in select theaters

★★★★½


* * *


(1984)



Adapted from the graphic novel of Hayao Miyazaki’s own fabrication, Nausicaä is also the animator’s second stab at feature-length filmmaking. Understanding one another (especially different tribes and factions) before we can unify and understand nature is a clear theme herein, one that would be returned to again and again. It’s as sweeping as Star Wars and along from Princess Mononoke and last year’s The Wind Rises remains as one of the more mature films in Miyazaki’s filmography.

★★★★★


* * *


(1986)



Castle in the Sky has the honor of being the first film under the Studio Ghibli name and it shot its standard high for all to see. The hand-drawn animated style on display here set both a pattern and precedent. An adventurous story is always at the forefront of this film which pushes its two young protagonists ever forward and often in peril. It’s magical motion picture making.

★★★★★


* * *

Seen any of these films? What did you see last week? Please feel free to share your thoughts or your own recently beheld in the comments below!



Also, see what else I've seen this year in my Letterboxd diary.