Friday, March 30, 2007

Something the Lord Made - Reaction

A very good, heartfelt, inspiring movie about racism and African-American empowerment as told through the story of two doctors, one white, one black, who work collaboratively to develop a revolutionary surgical procedure for babies. Based on a true story. I was surprised to discover it's a made for TV movie (by HBO) -- it surpasses the quality of many movies in the theaters. In fact, the movie isn't entirely positive: it presents a nuanced view of the social structure and climate of the time, showing more complexity than most movies. Thus, it makes sense that it won multiple Emmy awards and a Peabody. Mos Def is superb.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Blackout - Reaction


A disturbing, warped, haunting, suspenseful thriller (almost a horror) about an alcoholic single father who often fails to remember events and, one morning, finds blood on his car's bumper. It's a psychological movie played by a scary lead set in a dirty house on a run-down street. One's not quite sure what's real. I found the movie traumatic. I'd give twenty hours of my life just to have not watched it. Involves issues alcoholism, children, and longing for a family life one cannot have.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief - Reaction


An excellent documentary about the Japanese phenomenon of host clubs. Women enter the club, select a male host from a menu, and pay to be entertained, "healed," and made to feel wanted through conversation, compliments, and flirtation, but generally not sex. With interviews from both clients and hosts, the film paints a spellbinding story that explores the ease with which one can fake love, whether money can buy happiness (apparently yes), and whether one can play a role so long as to become that character and lose track of oneself. It's scary how callous and manipulative the men get, as demonstrated by how they approach women on the street and how they talk to their customers to make them feel as if they have a special relationship. Yet, the women become manipulative as well, throwing around money for affection and visiting multiple host clubs.

Spoiler: Halfway through the film, it's revealed that most clients are prostitutes. One reason they continue to do it is to earn enough money to continue going to host clubs, to feel better about themselves. In effect, it's a vicious capitalist cycle. Who is exploiting whom? As each woman pays her host for his affection, in some sense the hosts are nice pimps.

Woman on the Beach - Reaction

[South Korea]

A thoroughly engaging film with tremendous acting. About a love triangle, but not the one you think it is. And even when you know the true love triangle, it doesn't turn out how you expect it. The movie feels like a study of characters; they and the story feel real, authentic. It tugs at the heartstrings. I guess I'd call it a drama, but dramas often feel too contrived, overacted, and manipulative; this was none of those. But it also has funny moments too: not funny in the traditional comic sense but funny as in the I-can't-believe-he/she-said-that sense. The setting's overcast sky and empty beach contribute well to the mood.

It might be worth watching more movies by this director, Hang Sang-soo.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The President's Last Bang - Reaction

[South Korea]

A decent action flick based on the true story of the assassination of the South Korean president in 1979. It has a vibrant, polished look, partially caused by all the ornate shiny wooden fixtures in the president's palace. The cinematography is nicely done: the framing is often consciously chosen, and many scenes have camera motion that smoothly spans multiple rooms. The latter is very cool, though sadly doesn't seem to appear in the latter half of the movie.

Although some reviewers call it "comic" or "almost satirical," I don't see it as anything more than an action flick. I only caught a little sarcasm (e.g., with the narrator at the end who nicely summarizes the consequences of the events), but what I spotted was so infrequent as to seem out of place. It's simply a fun-to-watch action movie and, like most action movies, one doesn't care much about the characters. I felt I should care more. Maybe I didn't care because I sometimes found it hard to recognize people, or because the movie was hard to follow near the end, or because the "conspirators" (quoted because there really wasn't a conspiracy) weren't very bright and didn't plan ahead.

The film originally included some real footage from that time. However, the court ruled it had to be removed. The directors chose to leave the screen blank during those segments; that's the version I watched. Later, the court rescinded its ruling.

Thematically, the movie is mostly about political hierarchies and how no one really wins in politics, especially during regime change.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Persona - Reaction


Ingmar Bergman's existential film about an actress who decides to be silent and her nurse who talks to fill up the silences. The actress refuses to act, so to speak (pun unintentional), in the theater or in the real world. The film focuses on the doctor-patient relationship and psychological transference, a la Freud. Switching psyches. Maybe the doctor is really the patient and vice versa? A deep and deeply enigmatic film open to lots of interpretation. Deals with issues of love, silence, guilt, motherhood, loneliness / estrangement / inability to reach another, and the evils people can inflict on each another. I can imagine (and know there are) countless essays written about this film.

Visually, this black and white movie feels clinical and sterile. (This is apropos to the theme as well.) The cinematographer relies heavily and rightly on close-ups of the two main actresses.

Parts of the movie feel almost experimental, especially the inexplicable opening sequence containing a crucifixion, a boy waking up, a morgue, a weird movie projector, and a boy facing a large screen showing a woman's face. A few frames appear throughout the film reminding viewers the film is an artificial construct. Many labels may be appropriate to the film: experimental, post-modern (an odd label to apply to a 1960s film), surreal, bizarre, and abstract. Don't let these labels put you off too much; it does have a plot, even if the theme and, at times, the visuals are unconventional.

This movie includes some great lines:

But you can refuse to move and be silent. Then, at least, you're not lying. You can shut yourself in, shut out the world. Then you don't have to play any roles, show any faces, make false gestures. You'd think so... but reality is diabolical. Your hiding-place isn't watertight. Life trickles in everywhere. You're forced to react. Nobody asks if it's real or not, if you're honest or a liar. That's only important at the theater, perhaps not even there.
The anxiety we carry with us, all our broken dreams, the inexplicable cruelty, the fear of death, the painful insight into our earthly condition ... have worn out our hope of a divine salvation. The cries of our faith and doubt against the darkness and the silence are terrible proof of our loneliness and fear.
I'll conclude with a great remark by John Hardy, a reviewer posting his comments on IMDB:
How this pretentious movie manages to not be pretentious at all is one of the great accomplishments of `Persona.'