microcosmos. france, 1996. Fantastic, incredible cinematography. There’s no plot – it’s just 24 hours in a French field, shot at the scale of an insect. This is a film of beautiful, mind-blowing images, and the insects themselves are full of many all-too-human surprises.
banff mountain film festival. I saw several films: eiger b.a.s.e., cannibals and crampons, white trax and more.
le salaire de la peur (wages of fear). france, 1953. A very tight thriller, with even surprises to keep a modern filmgoer interested. The plot: drifters in a South American town take a job moving nitroglycerin by truck to an oil fire. If the truck is bumped, they’ll be blown sky-high. The start is quite slow, but once they get in the trucks the tension never lets up. Remarkable considering its age.
barbarella. usa, 1968. Yes, it’s camp. But it still feels to exploitative for my tastes, and I can understand why the one woman in the audience left after a few minutes.
himalaya: l’enfance d’un chef. uk / france / switzerland / nepal, 1999. Beautiful images, and a straightforward plot.
8 mile. usa, 2002.
repo man. usa, 1984.
the execution of wanda-jean. usa, 2002.
american movie. usa, 2001. A remarkably sympathetic documentary, with a mildly scathing view of American life mixed in for good measure.
bowling for columbine. usa, 2002. Quite entertaining, more than a little deceitful, and generally on-the-money. It even had a shot of my ex-girlfriend’s home, which was (inaccurately) labelled as a slum.
manhunter. usa, 1986.
punch-drunk love. usa, 2002. Good, sometimes great, but a little uneven. I’m still not sure what to make of it.
chinatown. usa, 1974.
spirited away. japan, 2002. First-rate, and much easier to absorb than princess mononoke was.
donnie darko. usa, 2001.
e v o. canada, 2002. AWFUL!! Stay far, far away. The worst film that I have ever seen, and that’s quite an accomplishment. Film school wankery at its worst, claiming scientific greatness and depth with visual daring, and failing on all counts. The world’s cheesiest special effects (palette- rotated blowjobs and porn, anyone?), pretentious text that the filmmaker clearly didn’t understand, and a few minutes of Richard Dawkins (the only redeeming feature, and clearly over the head of the filmmaker). Honestly, this will never make it to theatres or video, so no one else will have to suffer through the shit. Just feel sorry for me okay? And never, ever, bother with experimental film poetry.
dracula: pages from a virgin’s diary. canada, 2002. Excellent. Spectacular visuals, and the marriage of ballet and surreal cinema is perfect.
the trial of henry kissinger. uk, 2002.
after jenin. 2002.
seeing is believing: handicams and the news. canada, 2002.
lilya-4-ever. sweden, 2001. Lukas Moodysson’s together and fucking åmal were brilliant films, amongst the best I’ve seen during the last year. This one pales by comparison, but is still a strong contender. My largest criticism is that it doesn’t make a strong statement beyond nihilism. There’s a faint thread of “this could be happening in your everyday life; do something to stop it”, but it’s faint and uncertain.
fix: the story of an addicted city. canada, 2002. Marvellous.
view from the summit. canada, 2002.
a tree without roots. bangladesh, 2002.
hellhouse. usa, 2002.
waking life. usa, 2001. First rate.
vernon, florida. usa, 1981.
magnolia. usa, 2000.
about a boy. usa, 2002.
treed murray. canada, 2001.
lumumba. france, 2000.
lolita. uk, 1962.
blue crush. usa, 2002.
once upon a time in china 2. china, 1992.
red sorghum. china, 1987.
nikogarsnja zemlja (no man’s land). bosnia-herzegovina / slovenia, 2001. An intriguing film. In tone, this film is a much lighter-hearted look at the Serbian powderkeg than cabaret balkan was. But the message of the film is equally bleak: there is little solution to the mess that they’ve got themselves into, regardless of the good (or bad) intentions of the UN, the media, and the international community. There are some hilarious portrayals of different nations’ attitudes in here: the French peacekeepers who start every conversation with “Vous parlez français?”, without meeting a single french-speaker; the central role of a psychotic design of American-made mine; the British twit in command. A worthwhile film, if somewhat unhappy.
ulee’s gold. usa, 1997. I’d heard good things about this film, but I wasn’t honestly very impressed. It’s a slow drama starring Peter Fonda, who tries to help his family back from the brink of disaster after his son is arrested. Overall, it felt too much like a retiree’s fairytale: the old grandfather saves the day, everyone comes around and understands his passions, and no problem is too great. The way that the oldest grand-daughter changes is completely implausible, and the quick conversion to beekeeping was too easy as well. Nevertheless, the film does avoid some of the classic pitfalls of the genre, and would definitely make a good recommendation for any filmviewer who dislikes the more violent and unhappy cinema made these days.
amores perros. mexico, 2000. A truly excellent film. Violent, unhappy, etc. etc., but it has the potential to really make you think. This is a story of three sides of Mexico, and it’s also a narrative on the risks of love. The first part shows us the violent, crazy life of the hopeless lower classes, where tragedy is caused by love of money, and love unreturned. The second (and weakest) short story tells us about the upper classes, where the biggest risk to love is accidental destruction and self-love. The final (and strongest) segment follows a homeless man, and speaks of the risks of love destroyed by our own actions. I found this third part to be the most moving and human of the narratives, and it closes the film with a hopeful note. The movie is gripping in its violence and tragedy, but offers enough themes and depth to warrant contemplation after the fact.
insomnia. usa, 2002.
spike & mike’s classic animation festival. usa, 2002.
ghost world. usa, 2001. This proved to be a remarkable little comedy. Usually, I avoid anything based on a comic book, but reviews were quite positive. And the risk paid off – the film take risks and really succeeds. It’s a cynical sort of comedy, but it has some real insights into the present culture of alienation, and it’s not lacking in hilarity along the way.
spider-man. usa, 2002.
l’emploi du temps (time out). france, 2000.
reservoir dogs. usa, 1992.
lawn & order. canada, 1995.
project grizzly. canada, 1996.
stranger than paradise. usa, 1984.
city of lost children. france, 1995.
the white balloon. iran, 1995.
muppets from space.
a matter of life and death. uk, 1946.
the chocolate wars. usa, 1991.
slackers. usa, 1992.
le fabuleux destin d’amélie poulain (amélie). france, 2000.
le pacte des loups (brotherhood of the wolf). france, 2000. Whoa. This is one messed-up movie, a real genre-bender. Take an 18th century wolf legend, add some eighteenth century costume drama, then toss in some kung fu, iroquois mysticism and a dash of political intrigues. The plot makes almost no sense and is completely over-the-top (just wait until you see the sword / nunchucks scene), combining traditional french martial arts like savate with some serious Hong Kong action. The film’s visuals are quite spectacular, though: also over the top and excessively arty, but this is still a refreshing change in the tired action genre. Lots of cute slow-mo water shots, dripping blood, and supertight depth-of-field. The visuals almost make it worthwhile.
mononoke bure (princess mononoke). japan, 1999. I’ve never quite understood the anime movement. At Waterloo, the second-biggest club on campus was CTRL-A, the Club That Really Likes Anime. I saw akira in high school, and thought that it was mostly just excessively violent and weird. On the other hand, my favourite television as a kid were almost all Japanese: astroboy, g-force, voltron. So, after hearing overwhelming positive reviews for this film, I gave it a shot. The artwork is gorgeous, reminding me of my childhood anime, of older Japanese painting, and even battle scenes that looked like Akira Kurosawa’s ran. Some of the best scenes are in the forest, where Hayao Miyazaki composes a beautiful still with just the slightest animation. Unfortunately, the characters are very flat and the plot just goes to hell during the final third of the movie. It devolves into an akira-style holocaust in the end, and then tacks on a happy conclusion. Maybe holocaust is a notable theme of Japanese cinema, but my tolerance in this respect is a little limited.
35 up. united kingdom, 1992. 42 up. united kingdom, 1999. These films are the latest installments in the long-running 7 up documentary series by Michael Apted. The premise is simple: take 14 children at the age of seven, film them, then come back every seven years and interview them again. The series makes for potent criticism of English class structure, as we see the upper-class children achieve their dreams easily while the lower-class children struggle with variable results. You can’t help but compare your life to the characters’ lives. A truly excellent and engaging series – I’ll have to see the earlier installments.
le temps retrouvé (time regained). france, 2001. Marcel Proust’s writing is alleged to be almost indecipherable, and this film adaptation by Raoul Ruiz is certainly not an easygoing ride. I think that I tried to hard to understand what was happening, when the true content of the film lies in its style, its visual language. There are some truly luscious set pieces in the film, with some very disconcerting, swirling visual effects mixed in. It’s a beautiful piece, but it defied my understanding, at least on the first viewing.
meet the feebles. new zealand, 1989. I can’t believe that Peter Jackson ever 1) got money to make this; 2) got to make the lord of the rings after making this! It’s a totally twisted version of the Muppets, with a heroin-addict frog who has Vietnam flashbacks, a walrus / hippo pair to substitute for Kermit and Miss Piggy, a gay troupe director who puts on a splashy Sodomy song and dance number, and every bodily fluid imaginable. Gross, yes, but still occasionally funny. The Vietnam sequence is easily the best, and some of the other scenes are worthy, but the end was just gratuitously violent. Not for the squeamish.
harold & maude. usa, 1971. A curious little darkly comic oddity. Harold is 20, nearly mute, and likes faking suicides. Maude is 79, and a bit of a manic hippie. Somehow, they fall in love. It sounds improbable, but it (almost) works in the film… I was never fully convinced, but this is a fantasy-type film, really. Although the suicide part sounds dark, it’s not really a very dark film, more comic than anything. It’s quirky, but decent.
cabaret balkan. yugoslavia, 1999. They don’t come much darker than this. I’d heard that it was dark, but the first several scenarios weren’t too bad – grim, yes, but I’d seen worse. By the end, however, the film was as bleak and unhappy as anything I’ve seen. It’s a political allegory for the state of life in Yugoslavia, told in a series of chapters. In each story, a minor incident spirals out of control into violence, and the victims of one story become the aggressors in the next. The story flows very plausibly, giving a real feel for how violence begets violence. It’s a depressing film, but very well done. One scene in particular stands out: a man and his girlfriend are being held captive by a coke addict and a young boy, and the addict begins to rape the girlfriend, while forcing her boyfriend to sing his native Macedonian anthem. It was a very powerful scene, with brilliant acting and staging.
captain corelli’s mandolin. usa, 2001. I expected it to be dreadful, and it wasn’t. The scenery is gorgeous, the script is braver than you’d expect, the accents are atrocious, and the politics are braindead. It won’t get a high recommendation, but I won’t slag it totally I either.