Archives For Can’t Stop Marathon

Honestly, I don’t have much at all to say about this film, so I’ll keep it relatively brief. Watching Olympia I could see the talent behind the camera. Leni Riefenstahl, lover her or hate her, knew what she was doing. Olympia is impressive on two technical fronts. The first is in how much it resembles modern sports coverage, which is remarkable because this film covers the Olympics of 1936! The second is that in may of the events, Riefenstahl forgoes standard sports highlight coverage in favour of showing off the human form and the beautiful feats it is capable of accomplishing. These sequences are definitely quite beautiful to watch, in particular the diving sequence at the very end of the three and a half hour, two-part film.

But honestly, as well made as it is, it’s basically three and a half hours of Olympic highlights made for those who wanted to re-live the games or who couldn’t catch them on a television set. Just as I wouldn’t care to pick up a set of highlight footage from a modern Olympics, I don’t really care all that much to see the highlights of the 1936 Berlin Olympiad. There are a couple cool notes, like the fact that Canada won some medals, and that the US and Germany won lots of medals, and that Hitler got really excited during some of the track events. But other than that, it was kind of just like watching two weeks of Olympics coverage condensed down to under four hours, with only some of the beauty left over and none of the suspense.

The last note is about the context of the film. Riefenstahl, no matter how much she claimed otherwise, was a part of the Nazi machine. Without understanding the historical context, Olympia is a fairly simple highlight reel that gives more than its fair share of time to covering the other countries competing, especially the US. But within a historical context, Olympia is a film with a mission that was made within the Nazi propaganda apparatus and was used at the time to show off the glory and “peacefulness” of a Germany under the Third Reich. Leni Riefenstahl would have been aware of this, and this is extremely troubling. While it isn’t as inherently despicable as her clear propaganda film, Triumph of the Will, and while it can be viewed as a perfectly okay movie to watch without that context, I do still think it’s important to note.

It’s difficult to properly review a film of such elusive nature as Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique. Every time I think I’ve grasped a bit of it, it all just slips through my fingers. There’s a shape to the film, though its progression is quite shapeless. Images appear and reappear or don’t reappear. There are scenes that would seem to make no sense only to make sense with a certain perspective or in the context of other scenes in different parts of the film. The Double Life of Veronique is the kind of film that I am sure requires a second viewing to really wrap your arms around, but at the same time I doubt whether anyone could ever wrap their arms around it too tightly. Click to read more

We all love Pierce Brosnan. He’s a handsome, charming man. He was a really good James Bond, and starred in one excellent Bond movie. He was the asshole boyfriend in Mrs. Doubtfire. Basically, Pierce Brosnan has earned an unlimited supply of goodwill from myself and most others, which is why I find it odd that when The Matador was released I actually avoided it. What can I say? It’s just looked bad. Now, after watching the film for the first time, I am happy to report that I will never again doubt the promise of a mustachioed Pierce Brosnan.

The Matador tells the story of a high-priced assassin in a stort of midlife existential crisis who intrudes on the life of an amiable business man trying to close a deal in Mexico. There is a little bit more to the story, and a little bit of mystery manufactured through some non-linear structure, but mostly it’s pretty straightforward. Pierce Brosnan is Julian, the assassin, and Greg Kinnear is Danny, the man who becomes his friend.

The pleasure of The Matador comes from two places. The first is the writing. It’s a real cracking script. Wonderful dialogue and a black sense of humour that keeps the film light on its feet, even when it threatens to get bogged down by some more serious subject matter. The second great pleasure comes from watching Brosnan deliver what has got to be his best performance ever. We already know the man has charm to spare, but here he puts all of into a brilliantly funny and wild character. He’s a womanizing drunk assassin with practically no filter. He intrudes on Danny’s life but is so charming as to make that intrusion fluctuate constantly from slightly annoying to totally endearing. And Brosnan nails it all perfectly. He’s a joy to watch on screen.

I wouldn’t say that The Matador is a great film. It’s a little bit too simple, and that non-linear construction is slightly cheap. If you want a great film about assassins you can look to In Bruges. But if it’s not a great film, it’s at least great fun. I enjoyed the heck out of The Matador. I just had a great time with it, and with Brosnan and Kinnear. It’s probably the most fun I’ve had with a movie in quite a while, in fact. For that reason alone I can easily recommend The Matador to just about anyone.

I am not a big fan of anime. I find a lot of it is derivative in style and annoying in convolution. There are a few I have enjoyed—the work of Hayao Miyazaki comes to mind. Five Centimeters Per Second stands tall right alongside those great works in Japanese animation, and if I may be so bold, it bests most of them as well. This marathon has had some extreme highs and lows. I hated Werckmeister Harmonies and then adored Time of the Gypsies. In my last review I crapped all over High Strung, and now I’m going to spew nothing but overflowing praise for Five Centimeters Per Second.

First of all, Five Centimeters Per Second is beautiful to look at. It’s got some of the very best animation I’ve ever seen. It’s right up there with the incredible animated spots in Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler. I still don’t consider myself a fan of the anime style of character design. Characters all tend to look alike, and sometimes I actually confused the male characters with the female ones when only their faces were shown. But other than that niggling issues, Five Centimeters Per Second looks spectacular, with amazing colours, incredibly detailed and emotive backgrounds, and impressive “camera moves” that are incredibly difficult to achieve in the field of traditional animation.

The structure of the film is equally beautiful. In effect, Five Centimeters Per Second is a sixty-minute film comprised of three short films. Each short takes a jump in time, but follows the same overall story and characters. In the first we see a young boy travelling by train to meet his girlfriend in another city. The second film shows that same boy, now in his last year of high school, yearning for that girl and being yearned for by another girl who goes to his school. The third short shows the boy, now a man, having let his life become defined by his dream of being with the girl, now a woman about to be married. Through loose connective tissue, director Makoto Shinkai crafts a tender look at young, unrequited love; a story that builds on itself until it becomes overwhelmingly emotional.

That’s the most impressive achievement of the film. Where at first the story feels like the characters are investing more emotion in each other than the audience is in them, by exploring the various facets of their love for each other, the film becomes truly insightful. I don’t want to say much more about the film other than that if you haven’t seen it you must seek it out as soon as possible. It’s one of the most simple yet densely nuanced films about young love that I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the most remarkably beautiful animated films I’ve seen, and that’s true on a number of levels. But seriously, stop reading this and go find Five Centimeters Per Second. You owe it to yourself to watch this movie.

There are times in every movie lover’s life when one must suffer undue punishment. Earlier in this marathon I was forced to endure the travesty of art house cinema, known as Werckmeister Harmonies. Yet, through all my hatred of that film, I was still able to recognize some good qualities, mostly in the technical areas. In other words, there are some redeeming qualities to be found even in the worst films. Or so I thought. Enter: High Strung.

High Strung, directed (sic) by Roger Nygard and co-written and starring Steve Oedekerk, is a travesty from top to bottom. It’s a one joke movie, the one joke is terrible, the acting is insufferable, the filmmaking is about as objectively bad as you can get, and the parade of cameos only brings up the question “how did a pile of shit this huge manage to attract this kind of talent?” I will never know the answer to that question, and honestly, I don’t think any answer would satisfy me. High Strung is unavailable for purchase on DVD, and while I would normally consider that a bad thing, if it means that less people will accidentally watch it, I can only support this absence.

There isn’t really a story in High Strung. It basically works as a dramatized stand-up comedy routine devised by people who are either completely braindead or simply have no understanding of what constitutes comedy. I’d imagine it’s some sort of combination of the two. Though I enjoy the silliness of Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, High Strung is solid proof that Oedekerk should never ever be allowed to act. He plays his character as though he’s doing stand-up, but when your stand-up can be negatively compared in terms of obnoxiousness to Dane Cook, you know you have a problem.

The film is basically Oedekerk walking around his hour, complaining to the camera about everything that annoys him. The joke is that EVERYTHING annoys him, and worse, everything annoys him to a ridiculous degree. High Strung is the equivalent of watching an internet troll go off on a rant for 90 minutes. And not in a good way. Oedekerk may hate everything around him, but while watching him, all I could hope was for him to die a horrible death. Such annoyance is rare, but High Strung reaches those heights of irritation and then some.

Of course, all of this might work if any of the humour was carefully crafted into resembling jokes or gags. Nope. Not at all. It’s literally just one rant after another, all about things that people already complain about, and with absolutely no added insight that might have at least given the film a satirical edge.

The fact of the matter is, there is nothing redeeming about High Strung. If I could find away to wipe the film’s existence from history, I would. It deserves to be buried in the annals of film history, never to resurface. Actually, it doesn’t deserve to be called a film, because that would put it alongside such comparative masterpieces as Baby Geniuses and Epic Movie. I may have had to sit through the agony of it, but nobody else deserves to suffer such a fate as watching High Strung.

I really do hate that I have to do this. A small indie that got no proper distribution and actually found financial success through exposure from internet piracy is not the kind of film that deserves a negative review. It’s impressive enough that the film got made and completed, why should I tear it down? It’s already the underdog. But the simple truth is, Ink, despite its ambition, is not a good movie.

The film involves some weird dream world and a lot of weird sci-fi/fantasy elements. There is a potentially emotional drama at the core of it, but there are also a lot of special effects and fight scenes. The problem is that none of it actually connects. The drama would be involving had it been written well. It might be easier to connect to the characters if the acting was any good. The special effects would be impressive as more than just examples of low-budget ingenuity if only the film had a good visual style.

Actually, the visual style is the first thing that had me down on the film. There is no reason for any film to look this bad, and a low budget is not an excuse. Evil Dead was made for no money, and it isn’t the most polished looking film, but it has a really nice, gritty quality to it. Ink suffers from MirrorMask syndrome. Instead of attempting to design a compelling look for the film, the director chooses to blow out the whites and give every shot an awful soft-focus effect. It’s awful and distracting.

The next problem with the film is what I’m going to call “the film student effect”. It’s non-linear, it attempts to deliver exposition through “showing” at every possible step, and maintains and ambiguity for much of the storyline. This might sound good, except that it all still feels paint-by-numbers. It’s non-linear, not because it needs to be, but because, well, why not? The bits of expository action, especially at the beginning, go on for too long and treat the audience like we would not have understood what the characters were doing had they not shown at least five or six examples. And the ambiguity? Nothing but laziness. If I still don’t understand anything about the rules of the world or why the characters are doing what they’re doing halfway through the film then we have a problem. That problem could be mitigated if the writing or the actors provided and easy entry point for me to relate, but nope, it’s all too amateurish.

Ink is not a good film. I totally understand why people would be impressed by such a low budget film have such ambition, but ambition only gets you so far. If the film does not deliver a good story with interesting characters then it’s all for nothing, really. Such is the case with Ink. I applaud writer-director Jamin Winans for getting the film made, for getting some quality effects work done, and even for embracing the underground distribution the film had to go through to get in front of an audience. But that’s really all I can do.

Pedophilia is awful and wrong and monstrous and evil and the worst, most despicable act a human being can engage in. I think most of us agree on that. The Woodsman agrees with that as well, but it also dares to ask the question, aren’t pedophiles people, too?

The Woodsman stars Kevin Bacon as Walter, a child molester, recently released from prison, attempting to adjust to a normal life and possibly cure himself. It’s a short movie, and very focused on those two things. On the one side he gets a job at a lumber yard and through that gets a girlfriend. On the other side he is seeing a psychologist and trying to work through whether there is any hope for change from within.

The film is quite powerful in the way that it doesn’t make outright judgements about the character, instead allowing Kevin Bacon and his amazing performance to breathe humanity into him. What we see in him is not a monster, but a man, drawn to young girls and prone to committing heinous crimes. He knows that what he does is wrong in the eyes of society—even though he does try to justify his actions with the classic “they want it, too”—and unlike some truly far-gone psychopaths he wants to change because he values the normalcy associated with being a part of society.

But there is one point where I think the movie fails itself a little. It’s actually quite a good scene, with some wonderful acting and a powerful realization, but it feels forced, a little too contrived for the sake of catharsis, and that undermines what the film is otherwise trying to do. In the scene, Walter is attempting to get close to a young girl after speaking to her for a little while. Through doing that he comes to understand that the girl has been touched inappropriately by her own father. The tears streaming down her face, the pain in her eyes, and her eventual submission all coalesce to finally show Walter the true results of his actions. At that point Walter might not be “cured”, but for the first time he is actually properly disgusted with himself, giving him a much stronger motivation to change.

The problem with the scene is that the entire hopeful ending of the film rides on it, but the situation itself seems too coincidental to be realistic. It feels like the hand of a screenwriter at work, finding any possible way to bring along that change within the character. As I’ve said, the scene itself, on it’s own, is very good. But in the context of the rest of the film it feels somehow wrong; the only time the film actually tries to impose a moral judgement on the character that the audience is supposed to buy into. This goes completely against the more hands-off approach of the rest of the film, and it is a lesser film for it.

All that being said, The Woodsman is still a powerful film. It has perhaps the best performance Kevin Bacon has ever delivered. It generally treats its difficult subject matter with a great degree of nuance and sophistication. It is a difficult film, no doubt. It deals with a moral grey area that most people would rather see as black and white. It gives humanity to monsters, and while that may be tough to deal with, it is great to see the film do it anyway.

Youssef Chahine’s Cairo Station is a fairly conventional film. The outcome of the plot is easily predictable right from the start. The pacing is simple and brisk. The story itself is as basic as you can get with this sort of film. Where Cairo Station is elevated into something above and beyond the stale and mediocre is in that very simplicity. The story may be nothing new, but it is also played out very well. The very definition of a good story, well told.

What is that simple story? Cairo Station is about a man named Qinawi who works at a news stand at the train station. He clearly has some sort of mental issues, as well as an extremely unhealthy obsession with Hanuma, a woman who illegally sells pop to travellers. Qinawi attempts to propose to Hanuma, but instead of fully turning him down, Hanuma let’s him carry on his fantasies to a certain degree. At the same time, she is planning on marrying another man. As you can expect, Qinawi goes a little mad and violent, but I won’t spoil anything beyond that. I’m sure you can imagine the general direction anyway.

I wouldn’t say that Cairo Station is a particularly stand-out film. In a lot of ways it can be brushed off as nothing special. But what makes it really work is that Chahine enters the story through various stories that are all going on at the same time at this train station. While there really is only one major plot, the film feels alive, as though all the other characters at the station have their own little stories and lives going on that we only catch glimpses of. The world of the film feels fleshed out, and it’s one that very easy to spend time in. When Qinawi is pushed past his limits, his actions actually feel disruptive to the weird harmony of that world. It’s all quite masterfully handled.

And that’s why I liked Cairo Station. It’s masterfully handled. It’s a good story, no doubt, but it is also a well told story. It’s engaging and fun and suspenseful and all that jazz. I don’t know how much pathos I got from it. Certainly very little compared to other movies about obsession, like Vertigo, for example. Still, it’s a film I thoroughly enjoyed watching, and I’d very easily watch it again. It’s that sort of film.

The trouble with The Hole is that there just isn’t enough there. The film itself is very good, well crafted, plays with the theme of loneliness and human connection in a great, unique way, but it’s just lacking. I think what it comes down to is a sense of development in the characters. As it stands, The Hole would have made for a brilliant short subject, but as a 90 minute feature it doesn’t do enough to justify its length.

The Hole is set in Taiwan, ever so slightly in the future (December 1999!), and in world where a viral epidemic has forced the entire population to evacuate into quarantine zones. But there are a few people who decide to stay home, those are our main characters. Two people, a man and a woman, living in an apartment building that’s nearly devoid of life. It’s an incredibly lonely existence, and Tsai renders it with gritty greys and the sound of constant downpour outside.

As the film opens, a plumber comes in to check on one of the pipes in the man’s floor. He apparently discovers a problem and digs up the concrete floor, creating a hole looking down into the woman’s apartment. There is some tension created by the hole. The man occasionally pours things down it; the woman asks him to get it fixed. That’s as far as the drama and the plot go. The rest of the film is spent watching these two lonely people carrying on with their lonely lives in a lonely environment, hardly ever speaking.

The ending of the film provides a predictable, but very touching moment of catharsis. It isn’t quite enough, though. The ending is quit simple in theme and there isn’t much actual complexity to the main narrative for that theme to play off of. It’s all quite one-note. As I said, this would work much better as a short film.

Oh, but I am forgetting one thing! The musical numbers. Yes, that’s right, the musical numbers. The Hole is also a musical. The musical numbers actually do make the film more interesting. Between certain sections of the film, Tsai inserts these musical interludes, with the woman singing very American 40s-inspired tunes. The songs are actually pretty fun to listen to, and they do a really good job of framing the film, adding a greater sense of meaning for the characters.

Alas, the musical numbers can’t quite save it. The Hole is a good film, well made, with a great sense of theme, and even some depth. That doesn’t change the fact that it felt somewhat hollow, undone not by anything bad, but by length. For a film that’s only 90 minutes, it’s weird that it could still stand to lose about an hour.

Kon Ichikawa’s An Actor’s Revenge (also known as Revenge of a Kabuki Actor) is one of the more unique revenge stories I’ve seen. Unlike most in films of its kind, the main character in this one attempts to exact his revenge by manipulating the victims until they each do each other in. It’s that manipulation, that game-playing, as well as a sharp visual style, that makes An Actor’s Revenge a treat to watch.

The story is pretty simple. A famous actor, known as one of the best female impersonators in the land, attempts to take revenge on three men who wrong his family many years ago. The method of taking that revenge is where the complications lie, and it’s where all the fun is. The characters are all a lot of fun to watch, including an array of side characters, all thieves and robbers that balance out the darker tone of the main plot.

The other area in which An Actor’s Revenge excels is it’s visuals. Ichikawa brings an amazing theatrical style to the imagery of the film that feels like a stage without every feeling stage-y. I am a sucker for any solid use of anamorphic widescreen photography, but An Actor’s Revenge is way beyond solid. It’s beautiful. Stunning. The imagery is incredible. It adds a strange, almost ethereal quality to the film, with great compositions and some of the best use of colour I’ve seen, right up there with the likes of Gone With the Wind and The Red Shoes.

An Actor’s Revenge falls right into that space of a good story well told. And not only is it well told, it’s also incredibly beautiful to watch. It’s a fun film. It’s got a great dark streak. I loved watching the revenge plot play out, with all its complications and missteps. It’s the kind of film that I could probably recommend to anybody willing to watch a movie with subtitles. It’s quality entertainment.