03 December 2005

Movie #4

Fight Club. Enough things have been said about this movie that I don't need to say them here.

My review is short.

Incredible sound. Excellent visuals. Most important film of the 90s. Maybe the most important of our generation.

People that focus on Tyler Durden's delirium miss the point of this film.

Go watch it again and look at it as:

a) a black comedy
b) satire
c) social commentary
d) the end (death) of gender association

Movie #3

To Live. Before he made movies like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, Zhang Yimou was making some of the most incredible dramas in the history of Chinese cinema. My top 100 list reads like his discography. Another moving and tragic story, 'To Live is about the details and the minuta of "tiny" Chinese people.

Spanning three decades in the lives of a Chinese couple, played by Ge You and Gong Li, 'To Live' is about as tragic as anything I've ever seen. While the Cultural Revolution affected every family in China, it doesn't make watching this sort of misery any easier. However, between the beats of tragedy the viewer finds uplifting moment, so strong, that you fall in love with these frail, very real characters.

The movie opens with Ge You playing at a game of dice in a tea house against a local merchant. But losing time and again, the nobleman Ge You signs over his home and what remains of his wealth to the gambling house to cover the debt. Upon returning home, penniless, he must deal with his wife and daughter leaving him as well. Grief-stricken, Ge You looks for work doing anything (excellent Juxtaposition of class), but is recruited to join the national army to fight in the ensuing revolution. He is gone for several years and does not return until his daughter is five years old.

When he does return "home", he finds his wife and daughter selling hot water in the middle of the night for pennies. In this powerful scene, Ge You witnesses his daughter working alongside her mother and you just about melt. She's unable to speak (stricken dumb from an extremely cold winter), but her smile punches you in the head and then in the stomach. Marvelous direction. The characters are so rich. I think this honesty is what makes Zhang's work so poignant.

If there's a more gripping moment in the movie than this, well... I can't say.

Later, the couple gives birth to a second child. A boy. As the events of the cultural revolution change their lives, we see many changes in both Gong Li and Ge You (who deserved every nomination he got at Cannes). And every kind of misery that you can imagine befalling these people for the next 20 years fills the screen. As soon as life gets good again, misery follows. I wish I could talk about some of the details, but when the noodle scene happens, you'll cry through the laughter.

I realize this movie may not be for everyone. But if you like rich characters and excellent acting, I can't recommend a stronger film. Raise the Red Lantern (another Yimou masterpiece), while great, has nothing on this film.

And while this comment may have no place in a movie review, Gong Li is the most beautiful woman in the world and her range of facial expressions puts any American actress to shame.

02 December 2005

Movie #2

Deerhunter. I didn't get around to seeing this movie until I was 24. I don't know why I waited so long, but I never would have guessed in a million years it was about what it was about. And oh my god, is this a fantastic film.

First off, let me just say that its always in movies like this that you see people who later become superstars. Christopher Walken was just getting started, Streep was really good, but not a superstar yet, and DeNiro was just starting to show the world why he's the best American actor.

The movie details the lives of five characters, but specifically the three who go off to Vietnam. Set primarily in a small mining town in Pennsylvannia, the details of everyday life here are hardened to a fine point and what Cimino does with the direction is... just ... that damn good!

The opening hour is set up. And plot point one... well... it sort of never happens. This isn't that kind of movie. And once they get to Vietnam, events transpire that you can't predict. You never see anything coming, as scene after scene grips you and twists you.

The screenshot above is from my favorite scene in any movie, ever. Just prior to this shot, Michael Vronsky (deNiro) and Stanley Stosh are arguing over Stanley's irresponsibility; namely, his inability to bring his own boots. Everyone is always helping Stanley out of a jam and Michael lets it be known that he's "had it." The arguement climaxes with an incredible quote:
Michael: You see this? This is this. This ain't something else. This is this.
This scene is so important to the movie and is so subtle... god... you will never see anything like this again. Not even Van Sant does scenes like this. This really is what makes the character so strong and sets him apart from other "tough" guys in less realistic war dramas.

I'm not going to rave anymore about this film. There are literally dozens of fans sites dedicated this film's greatness. But, for my money, there are few movies with characters this rich and events this dramatic that you can watch for 3 hours and not want to get up for a pee break.

Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai comes to mind.

Hell, the movie opens with a 40 minute long wedding and you're not bored by it.

Go rent... no... no.... buy this movie.

01 December 2005

Movie #1

Shanghai Triad. Zhang Yimou is easily my favorite director and this movie is just so good, every second is an experience unlike anything else in American cinema (mostly because its not an American movie).

Filmed almost entirely on a small island off the coast of Taiwan, Shanghai Triad is a breathtaking film about Mobster Tang and his Lieutenants hiding out during a gang war, while the true villains of the story emerge in the most unlikely of places. With all but two characters as villains, finding someone to outright hate is difficult. The story is that rich. Yimou makes everyone shine with his skill at color, variation, and versimilitude.

The beautiful Gong Li and the very talented Li Baotian star, but the most impressive performance comes from the two children during the final chilling moments of the movie. If you don't feel dirty at the finish of this film, you need to find out where your soul went.

I can't say enough about what makes this movie rock. You just have to see it for yourself.