Monday, December 31, 2007

Taxi Driver - Reaction

A movie about a lonely man in a lonely city. The focus of the movie is on a haunted, somewhat crazy Vietnam vet who has trouble connecting with people. He complains much about the dirtiness of city (in multiple senses of the word) until he eventually explodes, causing bloody violence.

I found the movie generally slow. Perhaps the first five minutes, which have a lot of tension through music and cutting, gave me the wrong expectation of the rest of the film. Watching the movie was interesting as a study of a famous film, but it didn't excite me much.

Has Robert De Niro's famous "You talkin' to me?" line.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Runaway Jury - Reaction

A breathless thriller, more about jury tampering and cons than anything having to do with the law itself. Brisk and entertaining, it's well plotted, skillfully acted (with multiple big name stars), nicely cut, and smoothly shot. In short, it delivers what it intended.

The movie doesn't make much of a statement about law or justice.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Driving Miss Daisy - Reaction

Enthralling and affecting. Although one might think an unhurried movie solely about a growing relationship between two people might be boring, I found I couldn't rip my eyes from it for the last hour. The movie deals with aging, prejudice, and friendship at a very personal level. Beautifully done, it rightly won the best picture Academy Award and Golden Globe. Because the poignant, intimate story takes central stage, I only realized in retrospect how great the acting was and how good the cinematography was. The latter includes many pleasant scenes of Atlanta.

I like the musical theme, though it generally only appears at the beginning and the end. It matches the feel of the movie well.

The only thing I didn't understand is why the Jewish son married a Christian. It's not discussed. Nevertheless, this didn't bother me much.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas) - Reaction


A well done telling of the timeless tale of two opposing groups of soldiers fraternizing on the front lines: in this case, the Scots/French and the Germans during Christmas in World War I. In this case, the men bond over singing, playing soccer, drinking, praying, and arguing about the nationality of a cat. Similar to all such tales, it's sentimental (though not overly so), about finding humanity and nobility in the hardest of situations. (The horror of the setting was most conveyed to me by the single scene of no-man's-land covered with graves and crosses.) The film has a magical feel, much like most Christmas stories.

Screened in the basement of a club in San Francisco. (No tag seems appropriate.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Killer of Sheep - Reaction

A boring, black and white, low budget film from the 1970s with little dialog and no apparent plot. I thus found it hard to follow. If I were in a theater, I'd have walked. At home, I left it on in the background. The soundtrack is rather pleasant.

From listening to the commentary track and reading reviews, I can see and understand why critics appreciate this film: it's a realistic portrayal of the life of an African-American family in a poor neighborhood (apparently in Los Angeles). Nevertheless, it's not for me.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Children of Men - Reaction

A pretty decent movie, more to be watched for its setting and its cinematography than for its plot or its characters.

Children of Men portrays a dystopian vision of a world in which women stopped given birth, people lost hope for the future, civil unrest arose, countries became xenophobic and closed their borders, terrorists and police states appeared, and, in short, everything's gone to hell. Yet, the world Children of Men reveals, with no new capital investments or technologies, feels close enough to the modern world--simply aged and run-down--that it hits home as (uncomfortably?) plausible.

The movie conveys this world through great attention to detail. For instance, old newspaper headlines appear throughout the film, especially in one shot of a room where the walls are covered with them. IMDB collected a list of these headlines (scroll down). Although I couldn't read most of these headlines while watching the film, I cite this as an example of the movie's meticulous nature.

Indeed, the Washington Post reported that the director, Alfonso Cuaron, said,

"Chivo [the cinematographer] used to say all the time, 'We cannot afford one single frame without a comment on the state of things.' The story of this movie is just the coat hanger. What's important is the fabric that you're going to hang."

However, while I found the setting--the fabric--interesting, I'm surprised they didn't seem to hang a message on it. Although the film strongly involves repression of immigrants, it doesn't make much of a statement about it.

The quote is also unintentionally revealing about what they didn't pay attention to. I thought the plot lacked cohesion. I also thought the acting was pretty poor. Only the main character was decent, and that's because he's a man of few words.

In addition to deserving commendation for its setting, the movie the movie also exhibits some extraordinary cinematography. For instance, near the end of the movie is an impressive seven minute long continuous shot action scene, encompassing a tunnel, two city blocks, and multiple levels inside a building. It includes gunfights, major explosions, deaths, and many extras. It's amazing they got it to work fairly well. The blood on the lens is a nice touch, likely unplanned. (How many takes would they film in an attempt to get the scene?) There are other technically sophisticated, difficult, and long takes elsewhere in the movie as well; I focus on this one merely because it stood out more for me.

Although it's definitely an action movie, there wasn't as much action as I expected. In retrospect, I realize there was a lot of action, as the scenes cited above support, but it's just that the action isn't flashy. The hero is reluctant. He has no amazing abilities. All the action and the world feel of desperation, nothing like action in, say, the style of James Bond.

Incidentally, I learned from reading reviews two features I never consciously noticed while watching the film: one, the hero never carries a gun; two, there are no close-ups.

Spoiler: it'd be interesting in a number of ways if the movie ended as Kee sat waiting for the boat.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Koyaanisqatsi (Life Out of Balance) - Reaction

An experimental film with no actors and no dialog, only images of man-made constructs and nature, all accompanied by music by Philip Glass. The simple music, slightly new age, sounds mostly synthesized and feels modern for the 80s.

At first, I didn't get the hang of the movie. I started to enjoy it more with the sped-up scenes of nature (e.g., clouds) and the man-made scenes: the series of buildings being detonated, and the sped-up recordings of cars driving, people walking, and items being assembled in a factory.

Most people think the movie is strongly pro-environment ("hippie"). Yet, I didn't get that same reaction. I didn't feel as if the world was out of balance. Indeed, I saw parallels between nature and mankind in the visuals of cloud flow, waves, and traffic when played at the appropriate speed. Likewise, one might think dams, with their dramatic differences from one side to the other, would demonstrate the world's imbalance. Yet, I saw the majesty in them. There's a certain appeal to their size, scope, and design.

I felt only two parts may have had a strong political or economic statement behind them: one was the scenes of rubbish and abandoned buildings; the other was the slow motion street scenes, mostly of sad, alienated people. Those two scenes hit hard on the "what are we doing to the earth" front.

Perhaps my general lack of a negative reaction to the contrasts presented was natural--the director says he didn't have strong intentions about how people should react to the film. I felt this neutrality most clearly in images of the sky reflected in the glass windows of skyscrapers. I couldn't determine what message I was supposed get. The director, in describing the film's agnosticism, said the film is about "awesome beauty, terrible beauty, or the beauty of the beast."

In the ultimate scene, a rocket climbs for the heavens. Then it explodes violently. The pieces descend, flaming, like a fallen angel. Interpret it as you will.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Grand Hotel - Reaction

A slow, black and white movie from 1932 about some events that happen in a hotel. The events are almost like separate stories. It's hard to call the movie boring because the characters and situations are interesting, yet somehow the film didn't hold my interest. There's not much forward movement, and no cohesive plot that you can feel propelling the action.

The movie is framed by someone saying nothing ever happen at the Grand Hotel, a statement neither true nor philosophically insightful.

There's a great prologue ("Nothing Ever Happens") in the special features section of DVD. It's too bad it's not part of the movie itself--it has songs and is cut much faster than the movie. (It kept my interest.)