Recent Mood

Just a brief recommendation:

I rewatched Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” recently, it’s always been a favorite, a dreamy mood piece that showcases Coppola’s skill in weaving together both melancholy and humor in a subtle, simple style. I see it as mature and distinct in its portrayal of the two strangers’ connection. The pace is relaxed and the palette is muted and soft, much like the characters, I think.

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I like that although Coppola does show pieces of the Tokyo life and culture, and the city landscape remains as the backdrop for many scenes, the focus is on the two visiting strangers and the subtle intimacy that grows between them during their stay in confusing (to them), chaotic Tokyo.

And the bittersweet ending (for those who have already seen it….?):

To Be Seen in 2014

“The Double” (2013) dir. Richard Ayoade

Recently screened at Sundance 2014, this second feature film by Richard Ayoade, based on a Dostoevsky novel of the same name, centers on the nightmare of losing one’s identity to a ‘double’ or, in the words of the novel, a doppelgänger.

So far, it has been getting a lot of praise regarding the charming mix of surrealist paranoia and dark humor, and Ayoade’s growing talent as a new director. It will be released in theaters in late spring.

“12 O’clock Boys” (2014) dir. Lotfy Nathan

And this very new film (which is released today!) by Lotfy Nathan is about a group of dirt-bikers in Baltimore who like to perform stunts on the city streets. The film seems to center on the tough, young Pug wanting to soon join the dirt-bikers, whom he sees as heroes. From what I read about it, Nathan neither romanticizes them nor antagonizes them, but portrays them from various angles and from how Pug sees and admires them to do them justice in this visually stunning doc.

So far, I only know of screenings for it in Pasadena but keep an eye out for its release in your area soon.

Revisiting Romanian New Wave

“Dupa Dealuri”

(Beyond the Hills)

dir. Cristian Mungiu (2012)

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Two young women, who grew up in the same orphanage, are reunited at one’s home monastery but discover that their relationship is being torn by their conflicting desires and attachments. Their situation becomes chaotic when the monastery’s nuns and priest try to help the two friends.

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In case you aren’t already acquainted with this filmmaker’s style (director of ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days’), Mungiu seems to really like stories about characters caught in a desperate act, pushed into a corner by old societal pressures and failing institutions. This film examines the failures of both church and state, and, also, the divide between them as a parallel to Voichita and Alina’s strained relationship.

The awkward tension between Voichita’s new identity as nun and past life is noticed by Alina when she fails to communicate what she really wants and seems to simply echo what she has been taught at the monastery. The nuns misunderstand Alina and her acts of anguish and desperation. Only Alina, who also stands out in wardrobe, is expressing herself honestly and bluntly to the point that it shocks the other characters. The failures in expression and understanding are purposeful in this brilliant screenplay.

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I love Mungiu’s directing and the precise cinematography of this film. The only real ‘cues’ to what a character is thinking is the camera angle and focus, such as when Voichita watches the priest and nuns pray over Alina and she stands out as observer (above).

The story ends in a confusion of judgment, I thought. There is no ‘good’ character, everyone is guilty of something connected to the ending, but no one is an antagonist, either.

I’ll close with a quote from Mungiu from an interview in FilmComment: “My responsibility is to present the situation and [let] the audience interpret it. I don’t think cinema should pre-interpret things for people. It is important that the story triggers the audience’s desire to meditate upon values and on their own position on the situation I have presented. Ideally, this is what cinema should be about.”

—–

 

Discovering Shane Carruth

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UPSTREAM COLOR (2013) dir. by Shane Carruth

Definitely a new favorite director & writer of mine. WOW, Carruth. Consistently gorgeous, distinct cinematography and a bizarre, fresh story.

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Almost the entire film is quick, 3-4 second shots, lots of cuts and variations on camera angles in the same scene. Very montage-like, and dreamy, especially with the soft, muted colors and lighting that add a calming effect (?) to the film even during the most eerie scenes.

I think its an intentional peaceful mood, despite the chaotic and confusing storyline, that adds a reassurance, for the audience, that it is all part of a planed, controlled cycle or, maybe, it creates the sense of a distance between the audience and the characters’ experience.

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“So much of the film is nonverbal.” -Shane Carruth (pictured below)

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The storyline is unclear at first, but everything begins to fall into place slowly, although there isn’t quite a definite explanation of what the characters are going through or what is ‘real’ or just metaphor? But I liked this. What matters is that you begin to see how things and the characters are intertwined, there is connection in cycles, sound and shared memories.

It’s on Netflix, go check it out. I’m excited to see his other film, “Primer” (2004).

Continued Thoughts (with spoilers):

Sound is a big part of the film. The sounds that attract the hosts are repetitions, cycles of random sounds, a wave-like soundtrack used to lure the hosts, much like the worm movements of the parasite. The CYCLE of the parasite and hosts is broken at the end when the parasite is removed, no longer allowed to affect the flowers and get passed on to the hijackers. The characters seem to create their own narrative after the pig farmer is killed, who isn’t even an antagonist…? But they don’t seem aware of what actually happened, just trying to take over the narrative.

Then there’s Thoreau’s “Walden”. It’s no coincidence that some of the themes in Walden are meditations on transcendence of human existence and letting oneself be immersed in nature. In the film, there is a literal fusion of the worm parasites with the human and pig characters and a transcendence of the characters’ identities and willpower as they become one and are hypnotized into becoming one. It seems that the book’s call to ‘transcendence in nature’ is tied to the ending, when the characters go back to the pig farm and take over the care of the pigs. The different bodies come together in one mind and memory. But then again, I like that there’s no ‘point to the story’ or lesson being taught, which is what Carruth tries to avoid in his films.

“Love is a Roarrr”

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Cutie and the Boxer (2013) by  Zachary Heinzerling

Recently released on Netflix (and after me putting off seeing it for so long), this film explores the 40-year marriage and artistic impacts of Ushio & Noriko Shinohara in NYC since the 70’s.

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While ‘the Boxer’, Ushio was the spotlight artist since his early work in  Japan and continuing on in NYC, I really like how Noriko, ‘Cutie’, and her art steal the show in the film. Their devotion to art is what brought them together, and it is a bittersweet relationship that forms out of their identities as ‘opposite’ artists, according to Noriko, together.

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Noriko’s art centers on her ‘Cutie’ character & Bullie, which is implied to be based on her & Ushio’s relationship. Some parts of their life story are told with an animated version of Noriko’s art works, which I like because it allows for the rough chapters of their marriage to be told in a more gentler, light-hearted way. And it is her way of telling the story.

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It is a showcase of Noriko and her stepping out in the art world, regaining her independence as artist while remaining at his side in their relationship.

I also loved the original soundtrack; it’s a sort of jazz version of traditional-sounding Japanese music…?

Despite how their relationship is presented as a bitter struggle and Noriko admitting to her regrets and resentment, it is one of my favorite love stories. The ending is so, so sweet to me. 

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Do You See What I See?

Her (2013) dir. by Spike Jonze

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Great cinematography (applause to Hoyte van Hoytema) and, WOW, how it matched the film’s predictions for the styles and technology of the near future.

Just look at how soft all the lighting is, bringing out soft, neutral-ish colors, allowing only Phoenix’s bright-red wardrobe to act as slight contrast to the muted L.A. background. Why does this matter?…->

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As I watched, I realized the ‘future’ in the film is a retro-future, based on today’s obsession with recycling the past. Every man is wearing high-waisted trousers, and the overall recycled-vintage-style is still going strong. So, the cinematography, too, is warm and nostalgic, adding to the effect of a familiar future, one where our interactions are so tied to our computer ‘operating systems’ that it is normal to walk around talking only to one’s bluetooth-like device.

I could say a lot about how the film presents the concepts of love apart from the experience of physical bodies or how Samantha, the personalized operating system, seems to embody the idealized ‘pure’, non-prejudiced person that learns to love with Theodore, but I’m still thinking about all of it, so I hope you can see it for yourself and decide what, if anything, the film is saying.

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ALSO:

If you’re looking for a Noah Baumbach comedy, recently released on Netflix, about a young woman loving the barely-making-it-in-NYC life despite all of the awkward transitions she goes through, then

FRANCES HA (2012)

is the one for you.

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Greta Gerwig is so natural in the role of carefree Frances, and the wandering of her character through the city and the changes in her life translates onto the way that the story is narrated. It may seem aimless or inconsistent in pace, but maybe it’s because Frances doesn’t intend to ‘arrive’ or settle anywhere.

2013 Spotlight

Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” (2013) 

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So obviously, the cinematography and effects used to recreate space are the big attraction here…

I can’t remember the last time I saw a film about space or one that recreated space so well that just the physics of space movement and gravity alone were enough to have me gripping the armrests of my seat and gritting my teeth! (who knew space DEBRIS could be scarier than Jaws & zombies combined?!) It was the closest cinematic experience to living through the horror of spinning through space with Sandra Bullock’s character and getting pushed out away from Earth with her…the real monster here is isolation.

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I also saw a subtle theme of being ‘reborn’ linked together through some of the images of Sandra Bullock’s character through her attempt to survive the disaster in space:

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The fetal position that Sandra rests in once she escapes the violence space debris, the umbilical-cord-like-tube-thing to her space suit, and the ending that has her swim to the surface for her first gasp of air on Earth…whether intentional or not, there does seem to be a ‘rebirth’ of Bullock’s character after she fights the temptation to give up and uses her last shreds of hope and strength to push forward for life.

I guess a lot of people were annoyed with Bullock’s character, but I though it was easier to sympathize with her and find yourself holding your breath along with her in the film. She doesn’t start out strong and confident, unlike Clooney’s character, but instead, she is fragile and distracted by her fears and what she can’t let go of…there is nothing heroic or courageous about her, until she is forced to let go of her attachments (literally, too) and learn to use gravity to be ‘reborn’ on Earth.

Only the big screen can do it justice, go see it in theaters while you can.

What I’m looking forward to (SO MANY THESE NEXT 2 MONTHS):

1. Spike Jonze’s “Her” (2013)

Joaquin Phoenix in a weird romance set in LA? Done. I don’t want to reduce it to just that, but I’m just excited to see what Jonze is trying to say with the film…and Phoenix’s acting.

2. Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (2013)

This is going to be such a sweet film with grade-A cinematography and a story that, I feel, will resonate well with audiences:

3. Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” (2013)

I’m seeing this ASAP. I don’t even know why I still haven’t seen it. Stellar cast, and a crazy story about a freedman who gets tricked and sold into slavery…it’s going to be WOAH. Michael Fassbender can be so scary LOL

4. Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013)

Again, excited about the cast and it’s a Coen Brothers’ film! I read that it’s a story about grieving, which makes sense with the fuzzy light and sad, grayish colors of the film. bring it onnn…..

5. Calin Peter Netzer “Pozitia Copilului (Child’s Pose)” (2013)

Oh you betcha I’m plugging a new Romanian film by a filmmaker whose films, I admit, I have not yet seen or heard of, so he’s a fresh new face and will be featured at the AFI FEST IN HOLLYWOOD NEXT WEEK (heaven yea, i’ll be there!), so hooray Romanian filmmakers again!!! It was also co-written by Razvan Radulescu, who did “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”. I am so proud for the decade-strong, growing recognition of ‘new wave’ Romanian filmmakers…so proud.

And oh, how it fits into the themes that I’ve noticed Romanian filmmakers like to explore today- generational distance and conflicts, and the bleak, desperate self-preserving attitudes of the wealthy class.

AFI Fest next week has a bunch of screenings worth checking out, and its FREE! I’ll be there, and I’ll be back here after then.