Friday, February 28, 2014

THE WIND RISES - VIDEO REVIEW

The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ)
July 20, 2013 (Japan)
November 8, 2013 (Los Angeles)
February 28, 2014 (Wide Release)
126 min
Japan (Japanese)

Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazki


Thursday, February 20, 2014

RECENTLY BEHELD: JANUARY 20-26, 2014

(2013)



Third time in a month’s time and more charming still. Of all the 2013 films this may be the one I will be revisiting the most. I find “pure cinema” captured in American Hustle, both an ode/homage to American crime films and a culmination of Russell’s canon up to this point. The character quirks (e.g. look for everytime Christian Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld takes off his glasses) lend themselves not just to a drinking game but indicators as to when the facade is bare and allegiances are changing. Yes, this may be the most underrated overrated film of quite some time.


★★★★★


Curator’s Note: Currently in theaters


* * *


(2013)


I mean and all the praise and condemnation that comes with calling The Secret Life of Walter Mitty essentially a 2-hour Super Bowl commercial. While it’s nicely shot and flashily cut (like any number of creativity-igniting and life-inspiring Staff Picks on Vimeo) it truly is the most egregious assault of product placement I ever seen in a movie. Life Magazine & Conan O'Brien Present American Airlines, Honda, Sony, eHarmony, Cinnabon & Papa John's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is Forrest Gump-lite during its best moments and even then has only half the heart and hardly any the tact.


★★


* * *


(1963)


Jean Luc Godard’s portrait of a screenwriter and his wife during the intimate production of an artsy adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey embodies the French New Wave while riding it for all it’s worth. Filmmakers are gods, including the legendary German filmmaker Fritz Lang who plays himself here. Godard breaks film grammar to write his own visual poem. It’s an ode to the clashing of the creative process, the infidelity of mankind and the beauty of the female body. Are those three not eternally entangled?


★★★★★


* * *


(2014)


Somber scenes of a couple attending to their young daughter in the cancer ward is juxtaposed with their initial meeting and consequent relationship in Belgium’s Oscar-nominated The Broken Circle Breakdown. I knew nothing of the bluegrass music scene in this country and the movie is a fabulous introduction to that. After Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens make sweaty love they make sweet music together, all before the remorse they’re met with down life’s road. These two bare-all performances share the spotlight in this surprisingly philosophical yet distractingly political ballad of joy and sorrow.


★★★★½


Curator’s Note: Currently in select theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime


* * *


(1948)


What could have been a serious contender with the great neo-realist movement in Europe around the same time is marred by a narration (from producer Mark Hellinger no less) that dulls and sillies The Naked City. There’s an astonishing wealth of footage of 1940s New York here. In the very least it has that going for it. It could have had real class, it could have been a documentary contender, it could have been something, instead of a bum film, which is what it is.


★★½


Curator’s Note: Currently streaming on Hulu Plus


* * *


(2014)


This Netflix original documentary is about presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s experience, and that of his abundant family, during both Presidential campaigns. Documentarian Greg Wheatley imbedded himself with the Romneys for some 6 years to give us something that’s a mere 94 minutes in the taking. It’s remarkable refined yet refreshingly raw, a necessary look at the man behind the headlines.


★★★★


Curator’s Note: Currently streaming on Netflix


* * *


Seen any of these films? 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.

Updated 2/21/14

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

RECENTLY BEHELD: JANUARY 13-19, 2014

(2013)




After 2011’s tremendously realistic A Separation, winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi continues the trend with what is essentially a thematic sequel. Farhadi left Iran for a few years to live in France and direct this picture about an Iranian finalizing his divorce with a French woman. The most remarkable part about these two films are the careful way the cards are held and the tactful way they are placed on the table. They are essentially domestic dramas but they work just as well as true mysteries.

★★★★½


* * *


(2013)



Matthew McConaughey turns in the best work of his career in this equally mental and physical portrayal of a man dying from AIDS. His Ron Woodroof is a Texan electrician, a rodeo cowboy and an ill-mannered homophobic product of the mid ‘80s. His foil is a transexual named Rayon, an equally transformative and transcendent performance by Jared Leto. Together this unlikely pair tell the FDA where to stick it as they strive to find themselves a cure. It suffers from hitting the “based on a true story” bases, but that’s so infrequently a problem with powerhouse performances like these two.


★★★★½


* * *


(2008)


A lawn-lounging man spies a woman undressing in his binoculars and the rest is history… or future… or I don’t know. The way this “everyman” named Héctor is pulled right out of normalcy and into the thick of a high-concept thriller is pure Hitchcockian. Divided into three distinct parts, Timecrime’s cause and effect are overlapped in what becomes a bewildering, predictable yet puzzling film. Together with Primer and Looper we have a formidable trident of great time-travel movies of the 21st Century! I only wish I could go back in time and see this film sooner.


★★★★


* * *


(2011)


Ben Wheatley’s hitman parable is a slow march from a contemporary British crime film into the hellish realms of horror. Naturalistically handled and unnervingly delivered, Kill List is bound to make some viewers upset if not downright queasy. For my money it’s an earnest commentary on the circle of violence and the toll it can take on a man’s soul, even if that man doesn’t take stock in spiritual matters.


★★★★½

My full review
Curator’s Note: Currently streaming on Netflix

* * *


(2014)


Geoffrey Rush plays an art auctioneer, appraiser and private collector who becomes swept up in the mysterious allure of an agoraphobic client. It’s a novel idea for a thriller and is frequently as artful as the works on display. I could listen to Rush auction paintings all day, but the the twists and turns in The Best Offer fail to sell the bigger picture.


★★★

* * *


(2013)


At last, a blockbuster adaptation of the crucially historical Japanese story that nobody was asking for! Keanu Reeves somberly wanders his way through this fantastical world of demons, though the all-star Japanese cast surrounding him deserves more recognition. There’s many stunning practical sets and (set) pieces, but the lengthy adventure is numbed by the dry performances amidst other computerized denizens. It’s far too easy to not care for a single ronin, let alone 47 of them. Mad props to sticking to the legend’s total bummer of an ending though!


★★


* * *


(2013)


A second viewing of this remarkable ensemble verified all I felt during the first. David O. Russell’s film is certainly a tribute to classic American crime films but you don’t have as refined a project as this without years of working up to it. The jukebox soundtrack practically makes it a musical, the cast and camera dance it away.


★★★★½


Curator’s Note: Currently in theaters


* * *


(2013)


This Oscar-nominated documentary portraits Ushio and Noriko, immigrant artists from Japan who met and married in New York where they have been living humbly for decades. He boxes the canvas with paint-dipped gloves; her comic-styled artwork serves to chronicle their backstory. The result is a lovely piece on passion, for each other and their creations. Very strong directorial debut for Zachary Heinzerling.


★★★★


Curator’s Note: Currently streaming on Netflix


* * *


(1973)


François Truffaut both directs and plays the director in this film about the making of a film. All hell breaks loose for the cast and crew. They say don’t work with children or animals. The scene where they attempt to direct a cat is proof of this. But it’s nothing compared to working with humans. It would all, and perhaps only, amount to a relatable farce if it weren’t for the inspired montages of showing the joys and the spoils of filmmaking. Terrifically bookended, Day for Night achieves a rank and order among the best the medium has to offer about its own process, successes and sorrows.


★★★★★


* * *

(1996)


Maggie Cheung plays herself, a Chinese actress, and is cast to the play the titular role in remake of the classic serial Les Vampires. She’s lost in translation and yet the focus of much of the fuss revolving around the production. From the visionary though difficult to director (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud) to the down-to-earth costume designer (played by Nathalie Richard), both of whom attempt to woo Maggie are each met with polite indifference. It’s an odd, artsy and far from figured out production; the movie they’re making is too.


★★★★

(1960)


Fellini’s episodic epic is tied to a paparazzo named Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), his women and his misadventures with them. “The sweet life” the title refers to is both depicted and ironically countered in this glorious and wild romp through contemporary Rome. Carnal appetites are satisfied at night so that intellectual quandaries can be addressed by the morning. The wide black-and-white Totalscope gives the film an immense feeling from the opening image (a helicopter towing a Christus) but the film spends most of its time following a wandering Marcello and his intimate conversations.


★★★★★


* * *


(1945)


This Hitchcock mystery is a silly one and its central romance as eye-rollingly shallow as they come, but the director proves he can elevate any material by materializing whatever the camera calls for. Highlights include a Dali-designed dream sequence and the now famous uses of the subjective shot that are both flashy and called for. It doesn’t hurt when the star-crossed physiatrists of this story are played by Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck - they can fuss over each other all they want so long as we can drool over them.


★★★★½


* * *

(1946)


It may not be among the first of Hitchcock’s films that come up when discussing the director but it is every bit one of his best. Ingrid Bergman returns to play the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy who is used by the U.S. government to infiltrate a powerful affiliate in Rio de Janeiro. Her allegiances are only second to a love triangle whose are points are filled by Cary Grant and Claude Rains. The film is thematically and technically mirrored in a way that could only be pulled off by the master of suspense himself.


★★★★★

* * *

Seen any of these films? 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.