Monday, July 25, 2016

Der Verlorene

1951, West Germany, directed by Peter Lorre

An excoriating film about the German experience during the Second World War, all the more notable for coming just a few years after the end of the conflict, well in advance of a more systematic historical reckoning. Lorre's only film as director makes adept use of flashback structure to bring us back to the moral compromises of the Nazi era, with the shifts in time also effectively emphasizing the ways in which the past overshadows the present. The film is especially strong on the ways in which the Nazi regime made use of the trappings of the law to bend individuals toward its ends, though Lorre doesn't make excuses for the behaviour of his compelling yet amoral central character (who evokes one of Lorre's most famous roles from the German phase of his career, in Fritz Lang's 1931 M).

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Brighter Summer Day

1991, Taiwan, directed by Edward Yang

An extraordinarily ambitious film that aims to paint a picture of an entire generation of (urban) Taiwanese still adjusting to live after migration from the Chinese mainland, drawing liberally from Edward Yang's own youth in Taiwan -- the Chinese title for the film makes reference to a tragedy that is woven into the latter stages of the film, and which transfixed Yang and his peers at the time. A degree of historical knowledge, such as that provided by the booklet accompanying the Criterion edition of the film, greatly helps with understanding of Yang's goals, in particular the unusual, loose-limbed first hour or so during which the film gradually coalesces around one protagonist while nonetheless retaining a sense of the broader fresco.* Indeed, the film is novelistic in the best sense, weaving a variety of destinies together to exceptional effect.

The English language title emphasizes the fascination that overseas, and particularly American, culture held for young Taiwanese of the 1950s and 1960s, just as postwar Germans delved into the depths of American popular culture, as in the films of Wim Wenders (like Wenders, Yang suggests a deep degree of alienation in the postward populace, an absence of emotional engagement that underpins the film's bursts of violence). Yang is looking back at his own youth, but there's little trace of nostalgia -- even when the film is lit with a wonderful warmth, there's often a sharp contrast with the events or words onscreen, while Yang makes exceptional use of naturalistic lighting effects during one of the film's most bewildering and brutal sequences.

* I also found John Anderson's 2005 book Edward Yang, published by the University of Illinois Press, very informative. Yang's untimely death in 2007 means that Anderson's book stands as a comprehensive career survey.


1950, US, directed by Robert Siodmak

Not classic Siodmak by any stretch of the imagination, and indeed the skill on display in his Hollywood films of the late 1940s seems temporarily to have abandoned him: though relatively brief, the picture overstays its welcome, and both photography and editing are disappointingly below par. The only real interest comes from the location shooting; though Siodmak apparently preferred to stay in the studio, he always had a fine eye for a good real-life backdrop.

Monday, July 18, 2016

You're Ugly Too

2015, Ireland, directed by Mark Noonan

Not a bad film -- the central pairing of Aidan Gillen and Lauren Kinsella is often effective, even affecting -- but one that's distractingly derivative, in a way that smacks of funding-body conservatism.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

2005, US, directed by Shane Black

Perhaps it was my mood, but this didn't work for me although I'd long wanted to catch up with it. There's nothing wrong with a good neo-noir, even one that thumbs its nose at genre conventions (see, for instance, Goodbye Paradise), but this comes across as entirely too self-satisfied, and I didn't warm to Robert Downey Jr's lead character.

Friday, July 01, 2016


2016, US, directed by Byron Howard & Rich Moore

From this adult's perspective, performs the key function of delivering good entertainment for kids while also providing more than a few components for the accompanying adult to enjoy -- perhaps never more so than in the scenes wherein the DMV employees are revealed to be... sloths.

Hail, Caesar!

2015, US, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Not vintage Coen Brothers -- it certainly doesn't reach the heights of their prior behind-the-Hollywood-scenes opus, Barton Fink -- but still highly entertaining, with vignettes to treasure (Jonah Hill's performance, and the glimpses into the technique of the movies, among others).

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Assassin

2015, Taiwan/China/Hong Kong, directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Coming immediately on the heels of Come Drink With Me, Hou's film was almost shocking in is use of aspect ratio: gone, at least in the early going, is the wonderful width of the Shawscope frame, in favour of the Academy frame, although this quickly creates a sense of intimacy that's key to the film's atmosphere (and which proves quite effective even used outdoors). The atmosphere and texture are key here; the narrative is tricky to grasp, especially on a first viewing, and I found the brief bursts of action relatively confusing, whereas the use of light and framing are often hypnotic, with a colour palette that sometimes recalls Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, perhaps because both directors were interested in the effects of natural light.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Come Drink With Me

1966, Hong Kong, directed by King Hu

The first of King Hu's wuxia films, in which he developed the template on which he'd expand (in every sense: Come Drink With Me is a good deal shorter than Hu's subsequent career highlights, especially the epic A Touch of Zen). Given that Hu had little enough experience behind the camera, never mind in this specific genre, it's a strikingly confident film, making exceptional use of both exterior and, especially, interior spaces: one sequence set in an inn is a masterpiece of staging, the frame alive with action at various depths (it's also an especially satisfying sequence as Golden Swallow, memorably played by Cheng Pei-pei, showcases her abilities).

Monday, June 20, 2016

Docteur Petiot

1990, France, directed by Christian de Chalonge

Michel Serrault is very good in the title role, his precise gestures and distinctive phrasing creating a deeply disconcerting portrait of (real-life) violence and madness that seem, in Chalonge's telling, entirely in the spirit of the times, that is, occupied Paris. Whether the locations are authentic to the story or not, they are used to excellent effect to create an atmosphere of desolation and desperation, with the sound design constantly keeping the ear off-balance.


List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States