10 Favorite Actors

August 30, 2009 at 9:39 pm (Uncategorized)

And their great performances.

Honorable Mention: Michael C. Hall

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Not enough performances to get him on the list, but his performances on Dexter and Six Feet Under are among the best I’ve ever seen.

Jeremy Irons

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Dead Ringers, Brideshead Revisited, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Reversal of Fortune, The Mission, Lolita, Elizabeth I, The Merchant of Venice, Inland Empire

John Malkovich

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Being John Malkovich, Dangerous Liaisons, Time Regained, Burn After Reading, Shadow of the Vampire, The Killing Fields, The Sheltering Sky

Klaus Kinski

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Nosferatu the Vampyre, Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre the Wrath of God, Cobra Verde, Kinski Paganini, The Great Silence

Brad Pitt

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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Inglourious Basterds, Fight Club, 12 Monkeys, Burn After Reading, Interview with the Vampire

Tony Leung

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In the Mood for Love, 2046, Lust Caution, Happy Together, Infernal Affairs, Hero, Chungking Express

Marcello Mastroianni

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8 1/2, La Dolce Vita, Divorce Italian Style, Big Deal on Madonna Street, La Notte, Ginger and Fred, Le Notti Bianche

Marlon Brando

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The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Wild One, On the Waterfront

Daniel Day-Lewis

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There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York, My Left Foot, The Last of the Mohicans, The Age of Innocence, A Room with a View, In the Name of the Father, The Crucible

Johnny Depp

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Dead Man, Ed Wood, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Libertine, Benny & Joon

Ralph Fiennes

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The English Patient, Schindler’s List, The Constant Gardener, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, In Bruges, The Duchess, Spider, Red Dragon, Wuthering Heights

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A Horror Challenge

August 27, 2009 at 12:41 am (Uncategorized)

Horror is one of my favorite genres, although I often torture myself by watching too much of it for my overactive imagination, and probably the type of film that inspires me the most. So it’s like a double-edged sword, making me feel creative and excited, but also depriving me of precious sleep. As a very unofficial challenge to myself, for the rest of the year, I will attempt to watch as many horror films as I can from a list of what intrigues me most. I may edit the list as recommendations come my way, and I will also try to post reviews here when I finish one. Please give me suggestions! I’m not very well-versed in classic or very recent films, and I try to avoid the extremely gory stuff. I’m interested in atmosphere and chills, not body count. Also, my definition of “horror” is pretty loose, and will include films that just skirt the edge of the genre. So, what I want to see:

  • Repulsion (Polanski, 1965)
  • The Faceless Monster (Caiano, 1965)
  • Eraserhead (Lynch, 1977)
  • Dawn of the Dead (Romero, 1978)
  • Faust (Murnau, 1926)
  • Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Christensen, 1922)
  • Eyes Without a Face (Franju, 1959)
  • The Devil’s Backbone (del Toro, 2001)
  • Antichrist (Von Trier, 2009)
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes (Clayton, 1983)
  • Re-Animator (Gordon, 1985)
  • Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (Raimi, 1987)
  • At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (Marins, 1963)
  • Epidemic (Von Trier, 1987)
  • The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Argento, 1970)
  • Ravenous (Bird, 1999)
  • Don’t Torture a Duckling (Fulci, 1972)
  • Black Sabbath (Bava, 1963)
  • Shivers (Cronenberg, 1975)
  • The Pit and the Pendulum (Corman, 1961)
  • 28 Days Later (Boyle, 2002)
  • Hour of the Wolf (Bergman, 1968)
  • House of Usher (Corman, 1960)
  • Cat People (Tourneur, 1942)
  • Les Diaboliques (Clouzot, 1955)
  • Trouble Every Day (Denis, 2001)
  • Don’t Look Now (Roeg, 1973)
  • Possession (Zulawski, 1981)
  • Opera (Argento, 1987)
  • The  Last House on the Left (Iliadis, 2009)

It’ll probably take me forever to see all of these, especially since I’m going abroad soon and won’t have Netflix, but at least this will work as a nice guideline for what I want to see. I’m excited to get started, as I have Repulsion at home now and Eraserhead on deck. Out of all of these I’m most looking forward to Antichrist despite having most of its shocking moments spoiled for me. I’m a big fan of Von Trier and anticipating Epidemic a lot. I expect to love most of these, so this should be a creepily wonderful film journey!

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Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009)

August 24, 2009 at 3:47 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

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“Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.” – Jean-Luc Godard

Inglourious Basterds is essentially a complex and creative lie, demonstrating film’s ability to interpret and distort the truth to suit the vision of the filmmaker. This vision is of a violent revenge fantasy against the Third Reich, in which the Nazis thoroughly get what they deserved, satisfyingly dealt out by the Jews. The truth, here, is irrelevant – this is an alternate history, where cinema shapes fate, and writes a future where the heroes triumph over the villains. It’s not quite that simple, but what the film boils down to is that it allows us to see what we want to see, the version of history that victims of the regime wished was true, done up with exciting cinematic flourishes that consistently remind us of the illusion. Because it plays so fast and loose with history, this is a much more entertaining and provocative entry into the canon of WWII films than recent offerings such as Valkyrie, which strive to honor the real men that died trying to take down Hitler, and failed in their mission. This disparity poses an interesting question: does cinema have an obligation to the truth? The propaganda of Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl play a large part in the story, again suggesting the power of cinema to distort the truth and persuade the audience of the filmmaker’s ideals. This was dangerous, because they were the only voices allowed to speak, but are Tarantino’s aims noble? By rewriting history, is an injustice served to the real memories that people carry? Or do we gain something by collectively participating in this fantasy in which the world operates by the logic of cinema?

There is no easy answer, because film is subjective and we each take away something different from the experience. There is no sacred law which decrees that film must depict the world as it is, just as any artist has the right to express himself however he chooses. Vladimir Nabokov believed that the artist held no social responsibility, and that the quality of art should not be measured by the effect it has on the interpreters. If someone is offended by Tarantino’s graphic imagery of American vigilantes scalping German soldiers, it does not lessen the quality of the film itself, which is smartly constructed in chapters consisting of long scenes of dialogue usually climaxing in violence or the expression of violent emotion. Melanie Laurent and Christoph Waltz play off each other the most deliciously in a long conversation over strudel, in which she attempts to hide her overwhelming pain at the knowledge that he killed her family four years prior, while he rambles on amiably, concealing his own darkness.

Waltz as Hans Landa, head of the SS, is the film’s revelation. Deemed “The Jew Hunter” by the Allied media, he is cunning and ruthless, yet perfectly elegant. He speaks perfect German, English, French, and Italian. He speaks enthusiastically, collecting linguistic oddities, delighting in small details, such as delicious milk or a fashionable shoe. Yet he is a complete mystery, giving alternate opinions on his unofficial title, never revealing how he truly feels. The truth, of course, is irrelevant. It is the illusion that matters. Both the writing and the performance are masterful sleights of hand, revealing the ability of cinema to create a perfect fake, while the explosive finale of the film hints at cinema’s ability to destroy, both literally and figuratively, as the dissenting voice of the artist can create social and political change. Inglourious Basterds perhaps suffers from this emphasis on artifice, as it feels a bit hollow, like a grand spectacle without real humanity. Yet this unique approach to a tired subject brings out fresh themes and ideas, and the end result is gloriously entertaining.

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Summer 2009 in Review (so far)

August 20, 2009 at 5:15 am (Uncategorized)

All the films I’ve seen in theaters from May-yesterday.

Star Trek (Abrams)

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Excellent effects, great cast of characters, wonderful balance of humor and action. I have a crush on Spock.

Angels and Demons (Howard)

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Rather dull with a very flat protagonist. I liked the overdramatic music and the stunning locations.

Terminator Salvation (McG)

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Christian Bale is terrible, but Anton Yelchin and Sam Worthington are charismatic and interesting. Neat mood and some very exciting action offsets poor writing.

The Brothers Bloom (Johnson)

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Very charming comic caper with sharp writing and acting. Lovely photography of some stunning locales.

Drag Me to Hell (Raimi)

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Possibly my favorite horror of the decade. Hilarious, disgusting, ballsy, and flat-out scary.

Up (Docter)

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Gorgeously animated and heart-breakingly tender. The first 15 minutes are a self-contained masterpiece; unfortunately what follows is a little aimless, but still very enjoyable.

My Life in Ruins (Petrie)

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Unbelievably lame. Offensive, condescending, makes Greece look as sexy as central Florida.

Moon (Jones)

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Does not follow through on most of the interesting questions it poses, and lacks conflict or bite. Nice compositions and a very impressive performance from Sam Rockwell.

The Proposal (Fletcher)

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Formulaic, but entertaining. Nice banter between Bullock and Reynolds and some decent chemistry.

The Hurt Locker (Bigelow)

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Bigelow’s distant approach from the characters makes it hard to really connect. A very thought-provoking look two opposing philosophies on being a soldier, but not as powerful or suspenseful as it could have been with that connection.

Public Enemies (Mann)

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Visually intriguing but dramatically flat. The development of the characters is often so subtle as to disappear, which makes the wait between masterfully orchestrated action sequences tedious.

Bruno (Charles)

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Occasionally hysterical and razor-sharp in its skewering of intolerance, but frequently just awkward and uncomfortable.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Yates)

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Dazzlingly shot fantasy and a nice adaptation of one of the least interesting books in the series. Captures silly adolescent love, as well as the awe of dark, dangerous magic.

(500) Days of Summer (Webb)

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Wildly creative and funny anti-love story that is the perfect antidote to too many sugarcoated Hollywood films. Killer soundtrack.

Funny People (Apatow)

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Adam Sandler isn’t funny, but the rest of the cast get some good laughs. Overlong and indulgent without any legit reason.

Julie & Julia (Ephron)

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Made me very, very hungry. The food all looks so amazing and Meryl Streep is perfection as Julia Child. It’s a little long for such little conflict, but it’s warm and welcoming.

District 9 (Blomkamp)

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Smart, satisfying, and unique. The science fiction universe is brilliantly realized down to minute details and feels wholly genuine. Very impressive debuts from Blomkamp and leading man Sharlto Copley. Amazing effects.

Ponyo (Miyazaki)

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Sweet eco-fairytale that meshes childhood nostalgia with muddled mythology, not always to the best effect. But it’s so gorgeously animated and scored you might not even notice.

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Ponyo (Miyazaki, 2009)

August 20, 2009 at 12:30 am (Uncategorized)

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This beautifully animated fairy tale takes a page from Hans Christian Andersen, telling the story of a fish who falls in love with a boy and wishes to become human. In this case, the fish, Ponyo, is magical, and she grants her own wish, transforming herself out of sheer willpower.  In doing so, she upsets the order of nature, and the sleepy seaside village her human friend, Sosuke, lives in, is flooded to the tops of the mountains. Almost immediately, the mythology of the fantasy world Ponyo inhabits clashes with the warm domesticity of Sosuke’s life with his mother, and as the film progresses, the reasoning behind these mythological clashes becomes fuzzy and incoherent. Thus Miyazaki’s trademark “weirdness” is often more jarring than charming, pulling the viewer out of the sweet, low-key scenes of childhood friendship and family bonding. Even more confusing is Sosuke’s mother’s decision-making when the storm hits. Her actions seem forced to move the plot along despite going totally against maternal instinct and the way the character is written, as frazzled but loving.

Despite some very muddled writing and some poorly realized fantasy, the film succeeds overall based on the connections forged between characters, which are genuinely moving. The film’s gentle pace lingers on the details, painting a wonderful picture of childhood love and wonder. Frankie Jonas does a great job with the English dub of Sosuke, making a very believable and sweet young hero, but Noah Cyrus as Ponyo grates (luckily she has few lines). The rest of the voicework is strong and the musical score lovely as well. The film’s greatest strength, however, is its stunning visuals. The style is often reminiscent of watercolors, very soft, with amazing  colors and expressive movements. The scene where Sosuke and his mother race the storm is one of Miyazaki’s most striking set-pieces in his impressive filmography. The rest of the film does not rank among his best, which is not really a knock on it’s quality – he is still a master of animation, and has created yet another uniquely charming fantasy populated with characters that feel truly real.

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Recent Viewings

August 13, 2009 at 12:14 am (Uncategorized)

(500) Days of Summer (Webb, 2009)

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An honest look at idealized love and the heartbreak that follows when reality sets in, it feels both familiar and fresh. Creatively zipping through the ups and downs of a relationship, playing with timelines, contrasting reality with expectations, and succeeding at connecting with anyone who feels both jaded by failure and hopeful about the future, it has the rare of virtue of being a story about love that doesn’t insist we define ourselves by it.

Lake of Fire (Kaye, 2006)

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A relatively unbiased look at the abortion debate in America that is absolutely shocking in both its graphic imagery and frank depiction of the sheer force of hate that uses the issue as a launching pad. Interviews with violent fundamentalists are even more chilling than the medical procedurals. Essential viewing.

The Sacrifice (Tarkovsky, 1986)

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When war looms, our true nature is revealed. Thought-provoking and masterfully shot, this film is a rather indescribable experience, as it is so richly layered and beautifully textured. The patience it demands is truly rewarded.

Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968)

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It starts off a bit clunky, and the score can be overbearing, but it quickly becomes disturbing and the violence still has impact today. The bleak ending is powerful, making the randomness of the tragedy, not the flesh-hungry zombies, the real horror.

Say Anything (Crowe, 1989)

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The fear and pain that comes with discovering who you are and what you value apart from your family’s expectations is tenderly depicted in this sweet love story. Learning to trust yourself and your emotions when you’ve relied on your intellect all your life is not easy.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Gilliam, 1988)

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Gilliam’s most visually enticing fantasy. Beautifully imaginative, if unsubstantial. Like a great children’s novel with wry black humor, sharply illustrated characters, and a whimsical disregard of logic.

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