Off the beaten path

I’ve seen so little at theaters–aside from some kidcentric dreck–and even my home viewing is more infrequent (and obvious, mostly releases everyone else has seen and commented on). I know you’ve missed me, and have had to console yourselves with Arnab and Chris’ respective updates on films Luc Besson produced, or John keeping us abreast of Jerry Lewis’ excellence, or Russian gangsters’ redirections to strange and new cyberlands. Well, rest easy. I’m back. And rather than sticking to stuff you’ve seen or are likely to, a couple of recs for interesting if imperfect films.
Continue reading Off the beaten path

Lust, Caution

In retrospect, this suspenseful melodrama is preposterous to the extreme. Still, I savored every moment. First, it’s an exquisitely crafted work of cinematic art (though it never strives to be anything other than a romantic thriller). Just watch the first four or five minutes as Ang Lee moves the camera with dexterity and precision to dramatically enliven a game of mahjong (the editing by Tim Squyres and the photography by Rodrigo Prieto are exemplary throughout). Wikipedia tells me mahjong involves skill, strategy, and calculation, as well as a certain degree of chance, which makes the game a perfect metaphor for the film’s central character: a young, idealistic woman (Wei Tang) who goes undercover for a resistance cell to seduce and trap a Chinese official (Tony Leung) collaborating with the Japanese government during Japan’s occupation of China in the late-thirties and early-forties. Continue reading Lust, Caution

bow wow wow

year of the dog is very good. probably the weakest of white’s major films but still very good. it treads more on chuck and buck territory than on that of the good girl (the other two major films–the others seem like films he writes to be able to make these films) and doesn’t evoke either the discomfort of the former or the existential melancholy of the latter, but shares with both its comic generosity and refusal to judge or even take up predictable positions on the idiosyncrasies of its characters. as you may remember from the ads, this is about a woman who has few human relationships and all but falls apart when her dog suddenly dies. i’m not going to say too much more about the plot at this point except to note that, among other things, it functions as an antidote to the world view of films such as notes on a scandal which cannot imagine the single, sexually inactive woman as anything but a sociopath in waiting. the protagonist here too engages in some fairly questionable behaviour, but its source is located elsewhere, in an over-abundance of love, not the lack of it.
Continue reading bow wow wow


Just a quick note; this film isn’t out yet, but it did well at Sundance, and got a distributor, and you should keep your eyes peeled for it at festivals or art-houses. It’s called Once and it’s set in Dublin, and it’s remarkably well acted by Irish singer Glenn Hansard of the Frames and Markéta Irglová, a Czech singer. The music can sometimes go on a bit too long (they play songs for each other in real time), but it’s remarkably well acted and written, with an ending neither sappy nor crushing. And a small plug as well. The Frames’ new album is just out, called The Cost, and is much more available than this movie is currently. I think most people here except Arnab would enjoy it.

Life Aquatic

So I reacquainted myself with Steve Zissou last night–Kris hadn’t seen the film. I had, and felt positive but less enthusiastic … it felt that first time through a bit scattered, familiar in tone and some of its technical and thematic peccadilloes, but somehow less cohesive than my favorite Wes Anderson films. I think it’s worth re-assessing, however. I found myself struck by the expanded range and nuance of Anderson’s style and concerns, and I was even more thunderstruck by the emotional wallop of the last scene. Continue reading Life Aquatic

starship troopers, films about the military

i thought about putting this in the “fascist insect” thread:

last night, for lack of something better to do, i watched starship troopers for the second time (ondemand will be the end of me). i’d first watched it when it was first out on dvd/vhs and while i think i’d enjoyed it then i really enjoyed it a lot more this time around. perhaps because i wasn’t entirely sure the first time if it was satire or not. (michael will now remind me that this was made by the same person who made robocop.) this time i was struck by two things: 1) how this is like a negative of full metal jacket–where kubrick analyzes what the military does to the self by going deep into how it dehumanizes and regimentizes (is that a word?) the world, verhoeven sticks with the surfaces, the military’s ideology of itself; 2) how this now seems so eerily prescient of the war on terror.

there was a sequel, right? do we find out what they do with the brain bug? if you don’t want to talk about starship troopers maybe we can talk more generally/specifically about the military film as genre or about other military films.


watched this last night on a friend’s recommendation. this is a low-profile bombay movie from a few years ago that is set mostly at a university in a smaller indian city (allahabad). there are no major stars in this but it is a wonderful little film. actually, it is like two films: the first half is a spot-on profile of the criminalized politics at pretty much any indian university, with a nicely observed and detailed love-story woven in; the second half becomes a little more formulaic but is still rousing stuff–the finale, which is set against the backdrop of the maha kumbh mela in allahabad (millions of people descend on the town for this festival that occurs every 12 years,) is not as exciting as the netflix dvd sleeve makes it out to be but is still very good. it is very well shot as well–very atmospheric (the credits sequence in particular is one of the best i’ve seen anywhere in years). and the performances are all amazing. as non-hindi speakers you guys will miss out on most of the nuances of dialect and accent (and how they further detail the characters) but i think you’ll like it very much anyway. this is more solidly in the bombay tradition than something like “company” but don’t let that stop you. now i need to find out more about this director.

one note, if you do decide to see it: in the subtitles you’ll see the two student-leaders constantly being referred to by their hangers-on as “boss”. the literal word being used is “bhai” or “(elder) brother” (as in the kitano film), and i don’t know why they didn’t use that.

David Gordon Green

I was just going to pipe up that “Undertow,” a Southern gothic about boys (including an excellent Jamie Bell) threatened and chased by a nasty death-dealing uncle (Josh Lucas, who resembles John Bruns with a handlebar moustache), isn’t so great.

It has an outstanding credit sequence: Bell and a young woman share a tender moment, then the film flips forward and we see him outside her window, throwing a rock through it. Then he’s chased by her gun-wielding, gun-firing father, and the film deploys all kinds of tricks stolen from ‘seventies genre flicks … and it’s just thrilling to watch, as narrative and as a flashy play of technique.

Once the film starts it slows to a crawl, but even that’s okay: watching Bell in the family dynamics with his father (Dermot Mulroney) and his brother (some very cute frail thin kid, who looks like a little Mark Mauer) — it’s odd, touching, surreal… quite wonderful.

It all goes kind of to hell when Uncle shows up. Continue reading David Gordon Green


When I first watched this film in the cinema, I admired the Kubrickian grandeur of Harris Savides’ cinematography and Kevin Thompson’s production design, and I found the dramatic narrative to be compelling if, at times, farfetched. In the end, I drove away from the cineplex ambivalent about its merits and confused by the filmmakers’ unwillingness to provide “proper” narrative closure. In an earlier post on this blog I even suggested Birth to contain moments best defined as ludicrous. But I popped the DVD in the other night and found myself even more glued to the screen—more compelled to watch the actions unfold without the need to define them. I found myself held captive by the taut, sexually menacing and ominous atmosphere (shades of Pinter?). Perhaps I was too caught up in solving the film’s many mysteries the first time around. Continue reading Birth

i like huckabees

just finished watching. why did this get savaged by so many people? i thought it was pretty good. in fact until the 1 hour 10 minute mark i thought it was really, really good. then it got stupid for a while, but the last 10 minutes were pretty good again. it is a genuinely quirky film, one that comes by its quirks honestly, through asking questions it sincerely means (even if the answers don’t end up being very interesting)–unlike, say, via formal whiz-bangery like so much charlie kaufman. (actually this film reminded me of my favorite kaufman written film, “human nature”.) and some really good performances too: jason schwartzmann (looking like someone shrank luke wilson) and mark wahlberg in particular.

anyone else seen it? i recommend it.