Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Bread and Tulips" (2000, Dir: Silvio Soldini)

Enjoyable film with immensely likeable lead perfs by Licia Maglietta and Bruno Ganz, but more than a little cliche. Pacing in parts is clumsy, but all in all its a pleasant feel-good movie.

Grade: C+

Saturday, April 25, 2009

"Suzhou River" (2000, Dir: Ye Lou)

Stylistically and structurally audacious, well-acted by the leads Jia and Zhou, incredibly well-shot and quite moving. Definitely worth a look for fans of Lou, Wong and other contemporary Chinese directors.

Grade: A

"An Affair of Love" (1999, Dir: Frédéric Fonteyne)

Very touching and extremely well-acted. Sometimes it borders on being too smart for its own good (and the production is more than a little glossy) but somehow, despite the psychobabble, it manages to tap in to something tender and deeply human.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Mother Joan of the Angels" (1961, Dir: Jerzy Kawalerowicz)

Good acting, stunning images, nice use of symbolism... but there's something missing. It just didn't grip me, and some of the esoteric scene transitions and the lack of straightforwardness seemed less like artistic daring and more like clumsy filmmaking.

Grade: B-

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Salò" (1975, Dir: Pier Paolo Pasolini)

A nasty, nasty, nasty masterpiece.

Grade: A+

Friday, April 17, 2009

"Fear and Trembling" (2003, Dir: Alain Corneau)

Moderately funny culture clash/office drama that is fun to watch but never really impacts the audience in any way other than to cause an errant giggle here and there. Sylvie Testud is an excellent actress and she certainly helps to better the material here, but one can't help but think that a talent such as hers is somewhat wasted in a fluffy film like this. Her winning the Cesar for this performance (which did happen) would be akin to Kate Winslet winning for "The Holiday" - both are material-transcending but limited performances by two major talents. Pic deserves some credit, at least, for making a film about mind-numbing office work into something at least mildly entertaining. Techs look TV movie-esque, and I'm pretty sure this was shot on a set.

Grade: C

"Ghosts of Mississippi" (1996, Dir: Rob Reiner)

Grade: F

"Smoke Signals" (1998, Dir: Chris Eyre)

Grade: C-

"Murderous Maids" (2000, Dir: Jean-Pierre Denis)

Grade: B+

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"In the Mood for Love" (2000, Dir: Kar Wai Wong)

I enjoyed the acting by the two leads and the gorgeous imagery (and, oh gosh, the costumes) - but the message could have been incredibly affecting had it been delivered with a bit more mystique and emotional power. The use of "play-acting" as a story device was a weird choice that didn't really work, and that one musical motif is beautiful but using it about 10,000 approaches overkill. I like Wong's work, but in terms of his films about love, loss and longing, I think "Happy Together" is this film's superior in every way.

Grade: B-

"The Forest for the Trees" (2003, Dir: Maren Ade)

Grade: A-

"The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" (2006, Dir: Mamoru Hosoda)

Grade: A

Memo to Joe - you'll love this!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Secret Sunshine" (2007, Dir: Chang-dong Lee)

Why is this listed as a comedy/romance on IMDb? There are elements of both, but if I had to categorize this it'd be put squarely in the 'heavy drama' category.

In any case, the story is powerfully sincere and the lead actress Do-yeon Jeon (who won Best Actress at Cannes) is amazing. She's required to portray myriad changes in her character's world outlook and personality, and it is thanks to her that the central arc never feels choppy. Supporting actor Kang-ho Song is sweet but the way he plays his character leaves his encounters with other actors prone to a sort of emotional blocking. The film itself is earnest but a bit bloated, fat could have been trimmed (especially from the third act). Worth seeing.

Grade: B

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Still Life" (2006, Dir: Zhang Ke Jia)

Director Jia tries to reconcile pretentious art-house quirk (spaceships? wtf?) with a kind of lackadaisical navel gazing that he tries to pass off as "meditation" and "contemplation" in this soporific exercise. Trying to create an impression of emotional heft when there is really none to be found, Jia manages only to create an insular, sprawling bore of a film that, if it ever succeeds, does so on the credit of its stunning Yangtze River scenery and lead actress Tao Zhao's likeable performance (the nonpro supporting actors are atrocious). How did this win at Venice? And why did LAFCA join in the circle jerk? One of the few pluses in this film (aside from Zhao and the entrancing landscape sequences) is the abundance of muscular, shirtless Asian men. However, seeing them only reminded me of how I would rather be watching porn than a slow, boring, pointless film such as this one. Potentially interesting as a snapshot of the contemporary Chinese lower-class, but that's about it.

Grade: D

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Four Minutes" (2006, Dir: Chris Kraus)

Very, very well-acted, but awkwardly paced, incredibly derivative and filled with some of the most atrociously cliche situations and dialogue. Still, the stunning ending and the electric perf by Hannah Herzsprung - who makes every line of crummy dialogue sound real and spontaneous - makes this worth a look. The film as a whole is occasionally embarrassing (for sheer obvious cheesiness!) but entertaining thanks to the performances of Herzsprung and Monica Bleibtreu.

Grade: C-

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Lilya 4-Ever" (2002, Dir: Lukas Moodysson)

Harrowing, powerful and consistently compelling with magnificent performances, especially by the luminous Oksana Akinshina in the lead and the touching Artyom Bogucharsky in support. Films overall impact is blunted slightly by some late-in-the-film dream sequences that are obtrusive and incongruous. Ending could have left more to audience imagination than it already does. Still, a truly worthwhile watch.

Grade: A-