dir: Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund
What a fantastic, fiery, raucous flick. Brazilian cinema has come into its own and is now its own exportable genre because of City of God. I’m sure they were making films for decades before this, but this flick blew a lot of people away and made them start noticing a great kind of cinema from a previously unheard region.
Since then, the Brazilian flicks that have been appearing at my local arthouse cinema and on the shelves of my local vid store are all united by common threads: they’re based on true stories, they centre around crime and poverty, and they’re about larger than life characters living in cities so extreme as to almost seem like science fiction. But they exist. They’re real. The slum called City of God, or Cidade de Deus in their native Portuguese tongue, is a real place. They didn’t have to build sets, hire extras and dress them in costumes, or make anything up.
Of course this isn’t a documentary, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a pretty real film about a real life lived by millions in the most prosperous country in Latin America.
dir: John Woo
For my money, by my reckoning, there has never been a finer gun action film than Hard Boiled. Chow Yun Fat has never been cooler, and John Woo, after making the move to Hollywood, never came close to replicating the majesty, the carnage/artistry, the sheer awesomeness that is this film.
I know, my praise is over the top, completely over the top. Many might watch it and see nothing but a routine actioner, with some pretty dire dialogue. But the great thing about not having to justify any of my worthless opinions to anyone on this planet is that I don’t have to justify any of my worthless opinions to anyone on this or any other planet.
Although, if that was strictly the case, then the very act itself of writing a review of a film would be, by my definition, pointless. All I would arrogantly need to do is bellow “I hated it, and I don’t have to tell you why, Good Night and Good Luck, and in the immortal words of Edward R. Murrow, Go Fuck Yourselves!”
And no-one wants to read that. Except maybe masochists who like being abused by the written word. Kinda like those people who voluntarily read those Dan Brown books that are still pretty big at the moment.
At least people are still reading books, I guess. But this review isn’t about literature and high art. This is about something that happened, at a crucial juncture of time, space and matter, in the early part of the 90s, to change action films forever.
dir: Yves Robert
These two films are really one big film, in the same way that Jean de Florette and Manon de Sources are really one long film. In common with those other flicks, these are also set in the same area of France, being Provence. More intimately, they also share the same author, being Marcel Pagnol.
In this instance, these movies are based on Pagnol’s own life in the early part of the 20th century, in Marseilles and the hills nearby. As such, since real life rarely has the dramatic consistency and neatness of well-written drama, these flicks have a very different dynamic to the masterpieces that start with Jean de Florette. They share the same lush visuals, having been filmed in the same region, but completely different stories, themes, ideas and resolutions.
In some ways, enjoyable ways, My Father’s Glory is one of the truly most bourgeois films ever committed to celluloid. It focuses on the low-key meanderings of a family from 1900 onwards, seen through the eyes of the eldest son Marcel (Julien Ciamaca). That shouldn’t be seen as a criticism, just a description of the time, the place and the family involved.
The patriarch of the family, Joseph (Phillipe Caubere) is a school teacher, and mostly a decent and humble man. He’s not much of a drinker, gambler or wifebeater, which is just lovely. His wife Augustine (Nathalie Roussell) is happy to devote herself to doting on him and their ever-expanding family. She wears frilly outfits and makes enough food to serve an army and never complains about anything, ever, the blessed saint.
dir: Hayao Miyazaki
The great difficulty in reviewing one of Miyazaki’s animated movies, compared to just watching them, is that the temptation to reel off superlative after superlative usually proves too great for the humble reviewer. Also, Miyazaki is revered to such a degree as the reincarnated Japanese alternate reality Walt Disney that everything he touches is tainted with greatness in the eyes of reviewers, humble or not.
The high praise makes latecomers come to his films with an insane level of expectation, which usually results in bewilderment when they see something like this, Princess Mononoke or My Neighbour Totoro which are different but simpler stories than what they could have expected.
Well, I’m neither a worshipper nor much of a reviewer, so it’s as easy for me to reel off expletives and superlatives as it is to watch one of his flicks and to sit there, thrilled out of my goddamn mind.
Spirited Away is a singularly beautiful experience, as similar as his other films (plucky female characters triumphing over adversity with hard work and intelligence), and as resolutely different from anything else in existence. The story mixes recognisable story dynamics with quintessentially Japanese story-telling (which doesn’t resemble at all the usual ‘hero’s journey’ Campbellian crap at all) and presents it all within the production of the
most beautifully simple and complex animation not reliant on thousands of computer geeks working in concert.
dir: Elia Kazan
It’s a bloody shame that possessing too much knowledge makes it impossible to just talk about a great film and call it a great film. Either that, or you can put it down to arrogance, pretentiousness, or affected hipsterism. Whichever and whatever combination thereof that I’m afflicted with, I’m too aware of the history behind this picture to be able to blithely review it like it’s just any film.
Sure, it’s a film like any other. Although, it won a bunch of Academy awards, and it contains one of the greatest performances by Marlon Brando that you’ll ever see. And it casts a mournful eye over the waterfront upon which it is set, and the cowardice, greed and cruelty that conspires to render good men either dead or useless at the hands of a corrupt union.
And it’s directed by a man who made some great films, like this, Streetcar Named Desire, A Face in the Crowd, Splendor in the Grass, and Gentleman’s Agreement; films which I’m sure all the kids of today are big fans of and love to hear quoted in the latest emo and rap songs illegally downloaded onto their iPods.
But Elia Kazan also named names during the Communist witch hunt era, lending credibility and legitimacy to a process that should never have possessed a skerrick of either, and continued to work and live a happy, productive life after condemning others to blacklisting and misery.
dir: Bob Fosse
The film is not about Lenny Kravitz; it’s not about Lenny from The Simpsons. It is about the Lenny who lords over all other Lennys; the Lenny who took on the Establishment and lost. Lenny Bruce was doing his part for free speech and revealing American society’s hypocrisy back when the majority of American comics were still doing mother in law jokes and that gag about “I just flew in from Chicago, and boy are my arms tired”.
dir: Fabian Bielinsky
Of all the films about grifters, con artists, and other tricksters trying to separate honest and dishonest folk from their hard-earned cash, Nine Queens ranks as one of my favourites, my absolute favourites.
Films about scams are amongst the most enjoyable and disposable of films. They’re enjoyable because the wool being pulled over the eyes of characters onscreen is often also being pulled over our eyes as well. And it can be enjoyable or aggravating, but I usually find it interesting.
But once you know the score, what the scam is and its end result, watching them again is often fruitless. And since they tend to be about energy and momentum, there isn’t the level of characterisation or narrative depth that might bring you back a second time. Nine Queens is a bit better than that.
dir: Andrei Tarkovsky
On the back of my last Tarkovsky review, which was ye oldie Russkie version of Solaris, which I didn’t like, I watched the next film in his catalogue, which was the semi-auto-partly biographical Mirror.
And I was pretty impressed. The funniest thing is that I could just as easily say the same kinds of things I said in the Solaris review, but here those points are positives and enhance the film, such as it is.
As to what exactly the film is about, I’ve got close to fuck-all idea. Honestly, it’s about everything and nothing at the same time. It’s a tribute to his father and mother and a dreamlike, nostalgic re-rendering of Tarkovsky’s childhood and adulthood and there’s some Spanish people in there and the conflict between a husband who abandons his family after the war who is then young and being trained incompetently in the war and then the mother is someone’s girlfriend instead and and and…
I’ve got no idea. Tarkovky’s father’s poetry makes some appearances, and he was a famous and respected writer in his time, so maybe its purpose (since it’s dedicated to him) is to honour him. Tarkvosky’s younger sister Marina has stated on the record that Tarkovsky used many snaps from the family photo albums to summon up much of the incredible imagery and scenes in this non-linear, multi-dimensional, chaotically coherent film.
Although Mirror is the far more appropriate and poetic title, it could just as easily have been called Tarkovsky: Shit I Remember from My Childhood.
dir: Peter Jackson
I don't think that there's been a film quite like it, to be honest, realised on such a scale, and so lovingly. Such attention to detail, such awe-inspiring design and creativity, I almost cannot believe that such a film was
allowed to be made in the current culture of big budget film making, where the shoddy special effect is king, and inspiration and inventiveness are as alien as the concept of personal hygiene is amongst users of public transport.
Having not read any of the works of JRR Tolkien, I could potentially be at a disadvantage in discussing the source material and its transition to the big screen. What I am qualified to mention is that it is patently obvious that Tolkien has been ripped off by nearly every fantasy writer and filmmaker for the last sixty years. And perhaps they can be accused of interfering with his desiccated remains in a truly unwholesome manner in the pursuit of financial gain or sex with strange women. The same accusation cannot, I feel, be leveled at Peter Jackson, who has approached the characters and the story with such an obvious love for the source material, and an exhausting amount of dedication and creativity that more than justifies the entire venture, despite the staggering amount of merchandising.