Martin Campbell's telling of Ian Flemming's Casino Royale is brilliant. Casino, the first of the Bond stories, shows us how Bond becomes a double O. 007's story is revealed in layers, with the unrefined character played precisely by Daniel Craig, who is seen through most of the movie covered in cuts and scabs. Craig is infinitely more believable to me as a killer than the prettier Bonds. He's not the perfect, dapper gentleman of Bonds past. He's real and human, and that's why he comes off well. You get the sense that he's both vulnerable yet edgy -- like a crude diamond waiting to be cut and polished. By the end, you see him transformed into the ruthless spy with a sophisticated facade that is genuinely Bond.
The stunning Eva Green, who you might have seen in Bertolucci's Dreamers is easily the best Bond girl to grace a Fleming title. It's mesmerizing to watch this French actress onscreen and she delivers what many Bond girls of the past have lacked -- depth. She helps to give meaning to the spy with a license to kill -- who we are expected to follow through the series of stories to come. We understand after this film what shaped Bond's character and what makes killing in cold blood come easily to him.
There's a lot to like about this Bond. The action is delivered sparingly but executed intelligently. One thing I liked was the emphasis on the physical stunts. The opening scene is a Parkour chase that's less beautiful than we see usually in parkour videos, but works to great effect because it's crude and realistic. But, if you've seen Banlieue 13 (District B13) you'll notice that Casino pays homage to David Belle's opening Parkour sequence by having Bond's target launch himself through a high horizontal window. But if you are looking for car chases, rest assured that there is a great one in the first third that involves airports, gasoline, and a nano bomb.
But what I liked most of this film is that it is dark and gritty, and because of that it does justice to the story and characters. I've heard some people compare Casino to Batman Begins for it's place in resurrecting a story that had been left for dead. I think that's a pretty decent comparison. The realism of Casino is well-received. I don't want to see a spy story that sugar coats the action. The fight scenes here have a little more likeness to Scorsese than the Roger Moore Bonds I'd seen growing up. OK, maybe Scorsese might be a stretch, but really, it's got the texture and realism this story needs.
Let me sum it up for you: darker, edgier,with fewer gadgets, more realism, better acting, and bad-assed action. If you've ever loved watching Bond, and can go into this one with an open mind, you won't be dissatisified. Just leave your bias for Connery or Dalton behind.
The show was a series of installations of the surreal sets from the film. Many of the installations were interactive pieces, including: a Stephane TV set with a camera you could act in front of and a rope and pulley you could tug to make Stephane's eyes open and close; a piano that composed a mosaic of video clips as you press keys; and a door peephole that shows Stephane walking up the steps to Stephanie's apartment. Fun stuff. You can see more photos on flickr when you click the image above.
The movie, as well, is an enjoyable experience. If you enjoyed the surreal world of Michel Gondry in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you'll probably dig this one too. Without Charlie Kaufman, Science is not as rich of a story as Eternal Sunshine, but the visual imagery is a delight.
Everyone once in a while, someone at work posts a poll asking questions like, "What's your favorite _______?" Why do I get involved in these things? It's like making Sophie's Choice. So instead of sifting through my long term memory to figure out what my favorite movies and actors are, I've just looked at my Netflix ratings to see what my wife and I rated 5 stars. I threw a couple more movies I'd seen pre-Netflix. I'm sure I've missed lots of others that I'd rate 5 stars. Here goes:
* 8 1/2 (1963)
* All the Real Girls (2003)
* American Splendor (2003)
* Bad Education (2004) La Mala Educación
* Bladerunner (1982)
* Breathless (1960) À bout de souffle
* Brokeback Mountain (2005)
* Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
* Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
* Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
* Jules and Jim (1961) Jules et Jim
* Lost in Translation (2003)
* Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)
* Moonstruck (1987)
* North by Northwest (1959)
* The Princess Bride (1987)
* Shakespeare in Love (1998)
* The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
* Sophie's Choice (1982)
* To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Actors (I'd see nearly anything these people are in.)
* Cary Grant
* Natalie Wood
* Catherine Deneuve
* John Cusack
* Kate Winslet
* Patricia Clarkson
* Johnny Depp
* Nicholas Cage
* Zooey Deschanel
* Ben Stiller
* Frances McDormand
And the countless others who inspire me that I've forgotten. Oh, well. Enough time wasted.
Ang Lee has become for me the eminent cinematic storyteller of tragic, forbidden love. I don't know if any onther liiving movie director has the mastery of this genre that Lee has. But more than the genre, he just has an incredible ability to understand and communicate the pathos of a story, that which makes it essential for the telling.
People who have lifestyles outside of what is conservatively accepted in society have always found ways to live their lives as they are, but not always openly. Such is the case with Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal), two cowboys who find themselves thrown together, herding sheep in Wyoming in 1963. They fall in love. Brokeback Mountain is a "Romeo Juliet" film for our time. At its base, it's a story of love and loss that is universally true. It's ever more watchable in our time because we are so painfully aware that the kind of fear that comes with being an outsider persists even today.
This story, as many other Ang Lee directed movies is so much more than the simple descriptions people have given it. Brokeback Mountain is not just the gay cowboy film, just as Sense and Sensibility cannot be described as merely an Austen period film or Crouching Tiger another Hong Kong martial arts film. What Brokeback is, is a very intimate and empathetic exploration of characters and the depth of their emotions. Each time Lee takes on a tragic love story, he allows the characters to be examined closely and with a tenderness of care that suggests that he truly understands the nature of their being. In this case, its the nature of love, loss, and fear.
I can't really say much more about Brokeback other than to say that it "gets" what love is about. It gets the potential pain of love, the weight of it. I came away from this movie satisfied by having my heart ripped out, not wanting to talk to anyone about what I just saw. In so many ways, this movie, with its quiet, lingering and ultimately profoundly moving story wanted me to just leave the theater quietly and alone. To be alone with the feelings of loneliness that accompanied these characters. There aren't too many movies that have had that effect on me.
Every year around this time I take a few days off to go to the movies and see as many films as I can. Yesterday was the best day of those I took off. I saw Michael Haneke's psychological thriller, Cache (Hidden) in the morning and Woody Allen's Match Point in the evening.
It was somehow approporiate that I chose to watch these two in one day. Both might be put in the thriller genre. But after seeing Cache, and finding myself with all the anxious fans at the New York opening of Match Point I was having some pretty high expectations. I would have felt much better if I had seen these movies in reverse order, because Cache really brings the goods where Match Point fails to completely satisfy.
Cache was perhaps the most eerie and thrilling movie I've seen in a long time. The story strings along and feeds us miniscule bits of a puzzle to keep us engaged until we're ready to burst. Its resolution is sudden, and the relief of knowing how things end is as subtle as suddenly exploding a balloon in a room full of sleeping babies. But even with that clean resolving moment, he still takes the time to screw with our heads a little more. I can imagine the pleasure it must give someone to twist audiences' emotions with stories like these and hear the gasps and sighs at screenings. I would just love it if it were me who was the screenwriter or director. Brilliant, brilliant film. I won't say much more because I don't want to give away anything about techniques or plot.
Match Point, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment. Sure, it was an entertaining movie, but trading New York's Upper East Side for London's analog of well-appointed flats and the mansions of its well-to-do didn't do much for me. At one point I began to wonder what the difference was and, being who I am (not a member of the Upper East Side gentry) I found myself wondering why the hell I was supposed to find the life of bored privileged folks so interesting. But the story really isn't about the privileged folks as much as it is about the poorer chaps making it into their salons, be it Woody in Allen's past films or Chris in this film, an Irish tennis player who makes his way up in the world from a poor past. The story about Chris' change of luck, the thread in this yarn, makes for an interesting story telling device. He's a tennis pro who's good, but can't really make it. Somehow his luck changes and we see how things get better and better for him. Toward the end, we wonder if his luck can go on despite his blundering attempts to control his fate, and if he can get away with it all. It's clever and fun to watch. But it's not really much of a different story for Allen.
Comparing the experiences
While Match Point was entertaining, Cache felt ground breaking. Watch these two in succession and you immediately feel the difference in story telling. Both have aspects of a thriller. Allen's focusses more on the external aspects of Chris' life -- getting us comfortable with his rise and establishment with a certain way of life. Cache focusses on getting us inside the terrorized mind of Georges. This is how these two films differ completely. In Allen an externalized experience of Chris we are to watch passively, roaming from room to room and being force-fed the story. Hanecke gives us just enough insight into Georges mind to get our minds ticking and to build just enough anxiety in us that we want the story to move faster. But he is measured in his distribution of it.
Somehow I compared the pacing and technique that Hanecke and Allen use of stringing us along and keeping us anxious before the moment of resolution to the experience watching Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility. Hanecke and Lee do it much more effectively than Allen. If you've seen Sense and Sensibility, you might remember that moment of relief when Emma Thompson starts crying at the moment that Hugh Grant's character admits to having held his affection for her. It's a release built up by the trick of leading us on and wanting. In thrillers, the trick is giving us enough rope to hang ourselves with -- to keep us wanting a resolution so we don't crawl out of our skin with anticipation.
Another element of Cache that is done right is it's use of still and seemingly uneventful long shots. What's missing in much of American movie making is the act of NOT doing so much with every bit of film, but utilizing quiet, still moments like this. I'm talking about what graphic designers call white space. Professional speakers also utilize a similar tool by using dramatic pauses for effect. Ang Lee gets it, and Brokeback Mountain uses this white space a lot. Indie film makers use it a lot. Hanecke got it perfectly in Cache. The effectiveness of stopping the action of a scene and letting it keep going in the viewers mind is incredibly effective story telling. It allows an intensity of experience that cannot be spoken. But while so many films insult us by telling us what we're supposed to feel or doing the same with music, thrillers have a knack for doing so by doing very little. The Blair Witch Project is an example of this. In the case of Cache it allows us to imagine ourselves experience psychological terror vicariously without doing very much stating of the obvious.
I saw the Broadway version of Rent in 1998. My wife had brought me to see the opera La Boheme at Lincoln Center the year prior. She's a big fan of that opera. I was interested in seeing Rent because I liked the story of La Boehe and of course I had read about all the hype. But I'm not a particularly huge fan of musicals. I went out of curiosity and left a huge fan of the story and the music. Not exactly a Rent-Head, but someone who would listen to the soundtrack over and over until the words and each intonation and phrasing was embedded in memory.
So with this soundtrack imprinted on my mind, I was wondering how much I would like or dislike Christopher Columbus' 2005 cinematic version of Jonathan Larson's play. I had read reviews in Time Out NY and on a few web sites and it seemed like quite a few people were bitching that the movie didn't translate as well on film, that the song order was re-arranged a little, that the cast members -- 90% of whom were from the original Broadway cast -- were too old. So I went without having high expectations.
I came out of the theater pleased. When I read movie critics, over and over I say to myself, why don't these people just try to enjoy movies as they are instead of poring over the intellectual minutae. So much of the discussion about movies sounds like academics (the criticism of movies, that is) rather than providing a description of the experience. I guess if you're really that heady, it can be difficult to get past intellectual aspects of film, it's structure, directing, etc., etc. I know. I do that too. But at the end of the day, I go to the movies to be immersed in a story, to be inspired, to live vicariously through characters I grow to love and hate on screen. And that's what I did with Rent.
The movie really transported me back to the theater production, where I grew to love that soundtrack. The film does not really break any new ground with the material, but honors the play by simply bringing it to the city streets where the scenes really do come to life. They do get the grunginess of late 80's East Village right -- that's one of it's strengths. They get the setting right on-screen, and to a large extent, this is the biggest change in the translation to film. New York City gets to be a prominent actor. And that was really a treat, to see the story come alive in that way.
OK there are other changes, like some small reordering and modification of songs. But a lot more can be told with less in movies. Perhaps the biggest thing that I wasn't expecting is that some of the singing parts were actually spoken. Somehow I wanted to hear all of that sung as well.
I really liked the intimacy of seeing the characters up close. Particularly moving was the death scene with Collins (Jesse L. Martin) and Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia). There was just something more emotional and almost tangible about being that close to the characters that you couldn't get onstage. The Life Support group sequences were also pretty powerfully handled in the film. The "Will I lose my dignity" part always shakes me up. Seeing each member of the circle fade away effectively evoked the feeling of loss.
The criticisms of the cast I just disregarded, especially after hearing the movie soundtrack and comparing it with the original Broadway soundtrack. Sure, they're a little old to play twenty something squatters in the East Village, but I was really pleased to see and hear them all, they just sounded so good. Just suspend your disbelief, allow yourself to feel the music you'll enjoy it. There is that same depth of feeling and richness to their singing as there was in the original -- maybe more. As I sang along to the songs in my head, I couldn't imagine being satisfied with different voices. But, you probably would have to have seen the play and heard the original Broadway soundtrack to appreciate this.
Tracie Thoms was also an excellent replacement for Joanne. Her voice just sends shivers down my spine. Rosario Dawson was good too. I've read in some places that her pitch was too perfect and must have been manipulated in the soundtrack. Sure, she doesn't have the depth of the original Mimi, but I was still able to get into her songs as well. Honestly, I really wasn't able to focus on her voice too much while watching. It wasn't until I heard the tracks with headphones on my iTunes that I really could compare the two. I liked the original Mimi's singing better, but Rosario holds her own on screen.
I've gone on for paragraphs now and haven't even touched on the story, this movie's messages and how it feels to watch this slice of life today, nearly 20 years after the story (or the historical context) takes place. There are so many things going on in Rent -- love, loneliness, AIDS, drug addiction, poverty, living in America (in NYC at least) before the turn of the century. Too many for me to discuss. I wanted to focus mainly on my personal experience watching it. I'll just say that if you've seen the play, you'll enjoy it. If you haven't seen it (and you have an open mind) go see it.
Lucas Brunelle gives some tips for mounting cameras on bike or helmet for shooting bike video.
CINECYCLE is a film and video production company based in Brooklyn, NY that is working on a feature length documentary about NYC bike messengers.
Me and You and Everyone We Know is a wonderful and original feature film debut by performance artist and writer/director Miranda July. The movie tells the stories of a handful of people who are loosely interconnected, each story looking at how their character seeks to fulfill their desires (and fantasies) for connection. Visually, the movie is colorful and pace is gentle, which somehow subtly add to the build up of pleasant feelings toward these real feeling characters.
The painful desires of the main characters for connection (a father for his sons, a lonely artist for love) are perhaps the most universal themes people might connect with. The conection between the father and sons doesn't quite happen with a great resolution or release, but that in a sense made it more realistic. A lot more happens in the love story, on the other hand, and its enjoyable to watch unfold. It's an awkward courting dance that reminded me of that wonderful cop and junkie relationship in Magnolia. I haven't felt myself cheering inwardly for characters to get what they desire as much as I had for these two. These characters are innocent and worthy of getting what they desire.
The naivete of the desires of the children, on the other hand, are a bit frightening, as the realization of those desires could be quite a bit dangerous in the real world. But July somehow makes them innocent, funny and sweet. (Conservatives and folks without a liberal sense of humor be warned, story lines here include online chat, teen sexuality, and stalking among other things.) Ultimately, that naivete makes for very endearing situations and spotlights some of the younger actor's talent. The performance of the youngest character (Robby) steals the show.
What I loved most about the movie was that directness and quirkiness of the characters seemed very natural to me and made their performances sympathetic and enchanting. In the end, each of them was waiting for something to happen, and the message July is sending us seems to be that each person can be lost in their own way, but when they're open to it, wonderful things can happen. Seems like the saccharine message you might get in a feel good Hollywood film, right? But in July's hand's it's not only believable, you want it to happen and you won't be insulted if it does.
Why Macaroni? You'll know when you see it.
Un Chien andalou. France 1929. Dir Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dali. Black and white. 17 mins. Starring Lee Miller, Pierre Batcheff, Simone Mareuil, Luis Buñuel.