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Archive for the ‘Film Sketches’ Category

Kabei (2008)

This past week finally gave into my Netflix suggestion and watched the film Kabei (2008) directed by, Yamada Yoji. Yamada is very well-known for the extremely long running and warmly regarded Tora-san or Otoko wa tsurai yo series which debuted in the 1960’s and ended in the mid 1990’s after 48 entries upon the death of main actor, Atsumi Kiyoshi.

This film chronicles the life of one family throughout Japan’s war with China and the United States. Through the eyes (and narration) of the family’s youngest daughter the events of her father’s incarceration for thought crimes and mother’s hard work to keep the family together are laid out in a slow and deliberate manner. Even with a standard running time of two hours each scene paints a detailed portrait of the family’s struggle.

While the story, narrative structure, costuming, and cinematography all strengthen the film, the actors who fill the space and give life to the story fall a bit short. The film required a delicate balance of sadness and repressed emotions. The script seemed to call for characters to reach the brink of sanity before pulling back and keeping their emotions tucked away. This is a challenging task, but not impossible. The interactions between Kabei, her children and Toru (Asano Tadanobu) are generally engaging and it is easy to be swept up by the narrative beats of the film.

Unfortunately, because Yamada covers so much ground through the narrative of the film specific moments, such as characters death, are given short shrift. In these scenes the actors seem to fail at imparting the proper emotion or thrust of the scene. In addition, the editing of these crucial scenes comes off almost comical through the speed of a cut or the length of time a shot remains focused on an object or person. This is a matter of personal taste, but it quickly threw this viewer out of a film depicting a relatively unique wartime experience.

I am a fan of a lot of Yamada’s work, but in key areas this film fell short and it is a shame. However, with the recent announcement that his next feature, Tokyo Kazoku, will play off similar themes to Ozu’s, Tokyo Monogatari and even incorporate the recent events of the Tohoku earthquake into the narrative, I will be very interested to see what lays ahead.

Until next time, Cheers!

The Social Network (2010)

2011/02/21 1 comment

The Social Network is a remarkable film. Directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin the film is worth all the hyperbolic phrases that can be thrown at it. It is the first film of my adult life which has an importance now, but over time will become an even more critical work of American cinema. My initial reaction was that the film could be read as a hybrid of The Paper Chase and Network. Both are strong films which have only gotten better over time. Whatever weaknesses the film may have, after a second viewing I am even more certain that this film will obtain a special place in cinema history.

Focusing on three character’s, Mark Zuckerburg, Eduardo Saverin, and Sean Parker, during the creation of facebook the film provides a tangential connection to the millions who use the site and see the film. Personally, I was an undergraduate during the inception of facebook and clearly remember setting up a profile in my tiny University Commons apartment. While I did not attend Harvard or any of the Ivy league schools, I was privy to the site in the days when a user had to have a registered university email account to access the site. Even for people who were not a part of facebook’s initial stages or care little for social networking can connect with this story.

Aaron Sorkin has repeatedly described that the film is less about the experience of facebook and more about greed, power, friendship, lust, love and betrayal. However, with this ‘good-ol’ storytelling style it simplistically and problematically places women into the category of groupie slut or angelic voice of reason. Essentially, The Madonna or The Whore. Even with this issue the strength of the actors, storytelling, and editing remain so focused it is a challenge not to heap praise on the film.

In addition to these elements, I feel a significant amount of credit must be given to the film’s score, composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Similar to the compelling score of Sneakers the music of the film enhances each scene and makes programing lines of code a real adrenaline rush. In particular the tracks, In Motion and A Familiar Taste which play during the brainstorming, creation, and launch of Zukerburg’s initial attempt of facemash create a frenzy of image and sound. The melodic themes combing electronic and traditional compositions propel the scene while never overtaking the characters. I would argue the opposite is true of the similarly composed TRON:Legacy soundtrack by Daft Punk which essentially turns the film into a two-hour music video.

Shot on, The Red One digital camera, the cinematography is gorgeous and filled with the lush dark reds and golds that run through any Fincher film. Even though the frame is dark the colors feel deep and probing. Viewers are guided to specific spots on the frame, but the darkness around the edges hints at something more tempting if you choose to explore the space. Absolutely wonderful.

In one of the most dynamic scenes Fincher and crew cut between Zuckerburg’s dorm room, the Phoenix Final Club party and various locations around campus to balance tension with humor as facemash spreads throughout the campus community. The use of slow motion effectively raises the drama while the score hints at the sinister nature of the game all the while punctured by humor as each student makes their selection. Each of these elements is well balanced and helps a scene which would fall flat in lesser hands.

If there is any weakness to the film it would have to be the ending, which is the tragic element for so many Hollywood pictures. The conversation with Rashida Jones character echoing the themes set up in the opening scene feel forced. I compare this scene to the moment on a carnival ride or roller coaster when the action stops and the passengers coast back to the starting gate. You are still in the ride and you know it is coming to an end, but these last few moments feel like boring compared to the controlled insanity just experienced. During each viewing when the final scene arrived, I felt cheated by the machine operator and wanted just one more time around the bend. That is the best compliment for any movie, when after two hours you still want more, you still want to be with these characters and you just want the ride to continue. The Social Network is one of those rare films that makes going to the cinema some kind of wonderful.

Until next time, Cheers!

PS

I do enjoy watching the Academy Awards every year and even mark a ballot. However, I rarely voice an opinion about which film should ‘win’ as it seems rather meaningless. I do hope this film wins the lot though, if only for placing it on a list that will guarantee future generations access. On that same coin, some of my favorite films are those that have lost (There Will be Blood) or were never even nominated (El Dorado). So you know, whatever.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

A Technicolor dream film that I watched countless times as young fella. The music, costuming, fantasy, everything is just magic. For many (including myself) this was an entry into the magic of cinema. While I have not seen it in many years, it still fells like yesterday when I first spent time with Dorothy as she clicked her heels and adventured with the scarecrow, tin-man and cowardly lion.

In high school I watched the film in sync with ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ which I highly recommend trying. It is an interesting viewing experience that works with or without the aid of external substances.

It seems almost foolish to recommend the film as it should be a standard for anyone who watches film. It is even more remarkable to think that Victor Fleming directed this film at the same time as Gone With the Wind. Just as powerful as it was now seventy years ago and with a new Blu-ray release I am sure features an even more impressive image than ever before.

Rating: 4/5

Until next time, Cheers!

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Omar Shariff’s entrance in Lawrence of Arabia is perhaps one of the most stunning in cinema history. Almost like a mirage in the panoramic view of the desert Shariff arrives on camel to the aid of Peter O’Toole. This is probably one of the best shots I have ever seen.

The film is long, sweeping and epic. The main characters and supporting cast down the line are compelling and fantastic.

It is a film I have only seen once or twice, but left a strong impact on my mind. Over the years I know I will return to the film again and again to appreciate each element of the film.

Rating: 5/5

Until next time, Cheers!

The Godfather (1972)

I believe this was one of the films that turned my enjoyment of going to the cinemas from a hobby to a passion and potential career goal. Every element of this picture drew me further and further into the world Coppola and others had created. Every character feels fleshed out and part of a family. While the world of the mob is not common to the average viewer the connections and responsibilities each family member has to one another is.

In my mind’s eye the camera  highlights rich gold and red colors, which seems to emphasize the familial bonds and humanity of the characters. In turn it also adds impact to the violence and blood-shed that puncture key scenes throughout the film.

The only portion that took me out of the film on the first viewing were certain scenes with Michael Corleone while on the lam in Italy. I felt that time could have been tightened up just a bit. After seeing the film a few more times, I started to enjoy the leisurely pace of these scenes and further connect with Michael during his time away from the family.

Also, the penultimate scene cross-cutting between the assassination of key members of the five families with the baptism of Connie and Carlo’s daughter (played by an infant Sophia Coppola) is remarkable. The power of the scene cannot be understated. One of the best films I have ever seen and one that should be enjoyed by all.

Rating: 5/5

Until next time, Cheers!

Casablanca (1942)

Casablanca is a film so well-known and embedded into the fabric of American cinema that when I first saw it, the majority of the story felt like a collage of famous lines and scenes, which over the years I had experienced piece meal from Academy Awards ceremony clips, VHS video promos and parodies in other films. When I finally got around to seeing the film, it was somewhat of a letdown. I could not enjoy every aspect of the film fresh due to all the copies and homages that I had already been privy to.

Never the less there are multiple scenes which are not as famous, but pack a strong emotional and cinematic punch. Thinking that this film was released in the midst of WWII the mingling of soldiers from across the globe in Rick’s ‘jin-joint’ is quite powerful. In particular the singing of multiple national anthems. The power of the songs combined with the reaction shots of the main cast heighten the tension of the scene and the complex nature of the time.

The film is shot beautifully and must be seen for any aspiring film student, if only to be in on the conversation of the film. Even with my knowledge of the more quoted lines and homages I was still impressed by the film and recommend it to anyone.

Rating: 4/5

Until next time, Cheers!

Citizen Kane (1941)

I first came across this film in high school after the first airing of AFI’s 100 Greatest Film list. At the time I enjoyed the film, but focused primarily on the story elements.

As I have gotten older I appreciate all the subtle elements of filmmaking
Orson Welles spun to create the life story of Charles Foster Kane. It is hard to add much praise to a film almost universally recognized as one of the best examples of american cinema.

I love the use of deep focus and multiple match transition shots throughout the film. The make-up is also remarkable highlighting various points of Kane’s life from young adulthood to retirement all played by a 20 something Orson Welles. Just amazing.

My favorite shot of the film though comes midway through the picture. From a crane the camera pans down toward the ceiling window. As the camera approaches rather than cutting inside the building the camera rather seamlessly continues to move through the ceiling window and down to the characters in the night club. It is a very quick sequence, but was one of the first shots that got me excited about how the camera could be used.

It’s Terrific! (as the tag line proclaims) and a film every person should see.

Rating: 5/5