12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST
April 18, 2008
Comedy / Drama
Archive for April, 2008
12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST
April 18, 2008
April 18, 2008
Just when I was about to give up on Wes Anderson, he makes this gem of a film about brotherhood, soul-searching, and travel. No slow patches, no annoying quirks. An incredibly brief 91 minutes in India.
Netflix Criterion DVD
Mild-mannered-seeming Ogata falls in love with his landlady, moves in with she and her two children, never telling them that he doesn’t sell medical equipment, he produces and sells porn. It’s the 1960s in Japan. Ogata hires almost-retarded people to star in his films. They are beyond low budget, but the stressed out businessmen that he comes in contact with can’t get enough of his 8mm loops or his photos or his written work. He delves into prostitution a little bit as well.
This must have been shocking in 1966. It is completely tame by today’s standards. There is no nudity and no shocking language. But it does cover some pretty taboo ground. Ogata finds his thoughts towards his stepdaughter changing as she grows from little girl to teenage temptation. He is harassed by the mob, is shocked to learn that someone has brought a retarded girl to a movie set (“she’s old enough, at least”), his lover claims that her first husband has been reincarnated as the carp she keeps all too close, his step son climbs into bed with his mother, even though he’s college age.
Japan is a strange mixture of puritan and fetishistic. The subcultures there vary much more than they do in the United States, but there is no legal porn there that comes close to the explicitness that you’d find in America. Women are expected not to look young, as in America, but to actually act young. Pigtails, Hello Kitty, schoolgirl sailor suits.
Ogata doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong, in fact he believes he’s keeping the men of Japan sane. Eating and sex are the only two things men need, he says.
Modern audiences will find it just weird enough to be interesting. With mental illness just around the corner for just about every character. Everyone is messed up a bit in the head, this film seems to say, what’s the harm in a little porn to brighten one’s day.
April 17, 2008
This is your brain on anime.
Impossible to categorize (is there any other kind) anime about a dream machine which can capture dreams and record them on computers to be analyzed later. It seems that someone evil is placing people in other people’s dreams until everyone ends up in the same huge scary, yet creative, dreamworld. Because half of the story takes place in the characters’ dreamstates, the anime is used to great effect. People’s faces can melt, a hottie can turn into a scary dragon, people can fly, etc. When I was younger I’d probably assume that the filmmaker was complete high while making this film. But now I just think that there’s a collection of incredibly creative people in Japan that can somehow put down on film the wacky images they see in their heads.
There is a parade that is part of everyone’s dream that includes such a wide variety of objects that it can scarcely be believed. China dolls, the statute of liberty, teddy bears, robots, godzilla, the gates to a temple, umbrellas, confetti, and literally hundreds of others. Like the guy looked around a child’s room and brought everything to life.
A detective uses the dream machine to solve a case, the scientists use it to understand the mind, and evil men use it to control the thoughts of the whole world. The Paprika of the title is some kind of alter-ego cute 20ish pixie who can be summoned up to help within dreams. Sort of a Japanese animated Lola from Run Lola Run.
A feast for the eyes.
April 13, 2008
Lukas works in an Orange County toll booth. He lives in a tiny apartment in Los Angeles. His life appears to be going nowhere. He visits his comatose mother in the hospital from time to time. He tries to interact with drivers with varying success. One day rednecks in a pickup (stereotype much?) throw a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf into his booth after paying the toll. He begins to read it, mostly out of boredom. A few days later, an old Jewish man notices the book while paying and goes ballistic. Never mind that all informed people should know what’s inside Hitler’s book, if only to try to come to terms with his madness. In this survivor’s head, the book itself should be burned. Lukas says he “doesn’t believe in burning books.” The Jew drives off angry.
Several days later the man appears again and hands Lukas a videotape without explanation. At home Lukas watches it (on his 13 inch screen) and it turns out to be an interview with the man about his experiences during the Holocaust.
It’s here that the movie goes crazy. Lukas, apparently finding nothing in his own life to suffer through, gets himself hired at the production company, begs to film other survivors, takes to wearing a yellow star, visits temple, purposely gets beat up by skinheads, and becomes some sort of expert on a Holocaust he’s far too young to have experienced. His life is so isolated and boring in the tollbooth that he needs the identity of a Holocaust survivor? Perhaps.
While caring for his mother (or is she?) in the hospital he meets and becomes smitten with Mira, a doctor who is a bit too young to be practicing and is the daughter of a survivor who has yet to have his story filmed. What she could possibly see in a psychotic toll booth worker is beyond me.
Our club director mentioned before the film started that this was the most unique telling yet of a topic we’ve all seen too many filmed examples of. This fact does not make it good, however. Some of the early scenes of his transformation are humorous. He keeps his kitchen kosher, he buys a prayer shawl while wearing a cross, he transforms his tollbooth into a mini-temple. But then it goes off the rails.
It’s unbelievable, clunky, and a bit racist. The equivalent might be a white guy putting on blackface to march on Washington demanding his slavery reparations.
April 12, 2008
Seven years later, more paunch, less hair. Who would have thought that Tony would be so well-adjusted? The no-shows this time are John, Charles, and Peter.
April 12, 2008
“Sorry is nothing but worn out joy”
Slow as molasses (sometimes in a good way, sometimes not) story of two men, former sorta-hippies friends who have grown apart, who get together for a night in the woods in search of a hot springs outside of Portland, Oregon.
A film like this could only take place in the woods in Oregon, I think. The film captures how two best friends can become different from each other. One (Mark) by selling out–that is, starting a family and owning a Volvo. The other (Kurt) by continuing to live in his late 30s exactly how he lived as a 20something in borrowed houses doing odd jobs.
The two men have an easy familiarity that comes with years of friendship. They talk about news big and small, about triumphs and tragedies, all while in search of a hot springs. The guy with the Volvo says something early that is important to certain men of a certain age “I sure could use a night in the woods.” He finds his tattered tent and sleeping bag underneath some potting soil, happy about being able to use it again. His pregnant partner knows that he needs to re-experience a night of camping–we get the feeling she’s no stranger to the outdoors herself. He seems hesitant to leave her and he checks in periodically using a cell phone–more proof that he’s becoming “The Man.”
The plot isn’t much. The two men leave around noon and return the following evening. They talk while driving, they find a place to sleep, they eat at one of the hundreds of diners I myself have enjoyed in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. All the roads are two lane, the traffic minimal, the skies cloudy, the trees magnificent. A road trip where nothing happens. You wonder where all those psuedo-hippies you went to college with ended up? Here are two examples.
Beer is drunk. Pot is smoked. Campfires are built. Hikes are taken. Bodies are soaked. The trip can either be a reintroduction of two friends, or the last chance for that friendship to continue.
The photography seems to drip with the moisture of the trees. The conversation seems natural, the actors are unknown. Absolutely no excitement. It’s better than that. This is perhaps the most relaxing film I’ve ever seen. And those hot springs are magical.
April 10, 2008
Some Will Fall. Some Will Fly.
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April 9, 2008
New Yorker John Pierson spends one year screening free movies on a Fijian Island.
Pierson used to have a program on IFC called Split Screen and one of the stories on that show was a trip to the most isolated movie theater on the planet. They picked one that is right smack on the International Dateline in Fiji. The segment had two programmers show up at the same time as a humorous punchline. There was also footage of the islanders enjoying (not really a strong enough word) several Three Stooges shorts.
Pierson took that one-week experience, moved his family to Fiji, and set about writing a book about his experiences showing movies for free to Fijians.
The film works on two levels. One, I have personally thought that if I hit the lottery, I would both exhibit whatever wacky cinema taste I have after purchasing a theater, and buy land on a South Pacific Island. So it fulfills that fantasy that many of us have. Our favorite hobby and a spot in paradise. Check and check.
The film also works on a more serious level. Uninvited Americans are thrust into a culture they know nothing about, bringing with them films which don’t mesh with Fijian society. Pierson’s family of four and his seemingly drunken Australian landlord are the only white faces we see on the whole island. Shouldn’t the Piersons adapt to the islanders and not the other way around?
It doesn’t help that Pierson is a complete control freak, used to exhibiting films in indie theaters in New York where the patrons “know the rules.”
The film works also as a culture-shock portrait of two teenagers trying to assimilate into an island culture where the concept of time is tenuous at best. The 16 year old daughter thinks nothing of running away, drinking, and showing a bit more of her body than might be safe. The younger boy is cynical. Both children talk back to their parents, who speak with unedited language around them. They are a New York liberal family dropped into a culture with thousand year old traditions, ideas about ownership, and a history of being invaded (by both Catholics and wealthy white men).
I commend the family for allowing the camera to follow them, even when they’re not acting as the best ambassadors of America, or even when they are scarcely acting like normal human beings. There is an element of white privilege and the civilizing of “noble savages” that permeates the whole enterprise.
I’ve been to several different islands in the South Pacific and any business venture I’d choose to start would be welcomed with varying enthusiasm. Raratonga, maybe. Molokai, no way.
April 5, 2008
You Can Close Your Eyes. You Can Turn Away. But You Will Never Forget.
Absolutely remarkable true story about a Hungarian teenager sent from Budapest to a series of concentration camps. The teenager-in-Holocaust story has been told before. The Holocaust story has been told before in both fictional accounts and in the annual documentary Oscar race. But something about FATELESS and the way it tells its story makes it at least as good as any of the most highly regarded films of its kind. I will remember particular scenes for the rest of my life.
Gyorgy is 14 1/2 at the start of the film. His father is leaving in the morning for a work camp. His neighbors and family enjoy a last supper, with the understanding, though never verbalized, that he won’t be coming home. One of the major differences in this film than in all the other Holocaust-themed ones is that both we the audience, as well as the characters on screen, already have some prior knowledge about what is going on in these Polish camps. I can’t stress how important this fact is. The small Hungarian Jewish community has heard tales of attrocities in the camps and responded with varying degrees of disbelief, rumor spreading, and fear. They know that people leave Budapest never to return. They know that Jewish men are being called to labor. And the infrequent letters which arrive from loved ones are non-specific about the treatment. It remains unsaid mostly at the start of the war.
Gyorgy’s father leaves and he continues to work in a brickworks until one day he is taken off a city bus along with several dozen other teenage boys, all of whom are wearing yellow stars. The man who takes them off is a Hungarian city police officer. Several hours and many more men later, the group is put on a train and sent to the first of many work facilities. The men work pretty well together, organizing the box cars that will take them to the camps. They make some choices of their own before the Nazis can decide for them. The boxcars are crowded, but not unbearable. Men looking out the window try to figure out where they are. They go first through Germany and then into Poland.
The film’s plot is about survival, friendship, and even joy surrounded by the horror of life in a concentration camp. Yes, we’ve seen all this before. But not the way FATELESS shows us.
There are long passages which are wordless. There is incredibly emotional music by my favorite film composer which probably could have brought tears to my eyes even if not coupled with the images I was seeing. These wordless passages seem much more realistic. The prisoners don’t explain what is going on for two reasons, I think. One, at the camps themselves, no one would say each time, “that guy’s headed for the showers” or “we only get one slice of bread”. And secondly, and uniquely for this type of film, the audience already knows the story. And this gives the filmmakers great leeway in describing what goes on during the day to day monotony of the camp life. This starts immediately. The teenage boys who have sort of stayed together after being taken off the city bus show up in a scene, which is obviously a few days after we last saw them, with their heads shaved. There is no “head shaving scene” or explanation about Jews having their heads shaved. We already know. This happens dozens of times, and while it doesn’t sound like it’d be that important to the success of the film, it can’t be over-emphasized. The main characters don’t explain that they’re incredibly hungry. We watch them as they watch the fat guard eat his chicken, we see prisoners pretend that their dead bedmates are alive so they can have extra rations, we see scenes of piles of bodies lined up by the ovens, we watch as friendships are made in camps, only to have them break as prisoners are moved from camp to camp. There are no sad farewells or happy reunions as prisoners recognize each other. There is no Hungarian posse of prisoners explaining their love of country to prisoners from other places.
We see the kindness of prisoners for each other. There is typically a 20-something “rebel” who helps a kid like our protagonist, and this film has one as well. But he is a harsh friend dispensing advice on food rationing and hygiene, but also slapping Gyorgy’s face when he does something that might get all of them killed or cause them to starve to death.
When an old man falls, others rush to help him up. When a younger boy faints, an older man (who happens to be gay, though nothing important is made of this-hurrah) whispers to him heartbreakingly, “just hang on a little longer” while helping him up. Loyalties are formed and broken. People are hustling, helping, hurting, and surviving in the camps.
The photography is amazing, the mud looks like the coldest, wettest mud ever. The sky is grayer than any sky ever, the prisoners’ eyes are darker than we’ve ever seen. And, most strikingly, the camps look colder than you can imagine.
Tiny moments are spectacular in their understatement. A woman says “they said we won’t need anything where we’re going” while on the train car. A young boy continues to find and smoke cigarette butts. A young woman applies makeup before getting off the train at Auschwitz, her intentions known to us through such a small act. The lineup in front of the Nazi soldier who determines what line the prisoners go into. The helpful man who teaches them how to say their number in German. The long-term prisoner who instructs the boys to say that they’re 16 in order to be kept alive to work. The SS officer staring into a boy’s eyes as he waits for the next heavy sack of flour to be placed on his hunched shoulders.
I could go on and on with the memories of these snippets of the whole 140 minutes film.
This film is different in other ways as well. Our lead character is not a good Jew. He doesn’t know Hebrew–he simply mimics his elders during prayers. He is looked down upon by other prisoners who say he’s “not a true Jew”. In turn, he looks at the small group of Orthodox Jews who lead Friday prayers in the camps as misguided strangers.
He also describes his surroundings in a matter-of-fact way that isn’t so different than what the Nazis would say. “This camp is a smaller, less impressive facility than Buchenwald, with no ovens.” And he continually downplays the misery he finds himself surround by.
I need to mention, before ending this rave, that there is a four-minute scene that is etched in my brain. The prisoners are lined up before dawn in their tidy rows. No words, just a grid of men in stripes. The sun comes up, they remain in their rows. It begins to rain, they are standing in puddles–wordlessly still in rows. The front row corner faints, others pick him up. The men weave back and forth as they begin their fifth hour of standing. No water, no food. One says to another “I bet he’s hiding.” Another says “He’s probably dead.” It becomes clear to us that they’re being punished for being one prisoner short. But it isn’t explained to us until several minutes in. The camera moves down row after row and shows us face after face of men at the edge of their ability to survive. The music swells, we crane-shot above the lines, we watch as old and young men struggle to simply remain standing. The score comes in more loudly now and the combination of haunting angelic music and men struggling to stay in line and remain conscious is almost more than can be taken. It happens around the 1:14 mark, if you rent the DVD. I’ve watched these four minutes several times over and over. I will never forget it.
We may have reached a saturation point in Holocaust films, but FATELESS finds a new way to tell the tale. With far fewer words, more faith in the knowledge of its audience, and a depiction of the minute-by-minute life of a prisoner.
Go see it.
April 4, 2008
Never Has The Screen Thrust So Deeply Into The Guts Of War!
In 1916 in the French trenches, three soldiers are court-martialled for cowardice.
I watched this on the recommendation of David Simon, the creator of THE WIRE (the best television show in the history of the medium) who said in interviews as The Wire was finishing it’s five year run, that the film that most closely relates to his feelings about the failure of institutions was Stanley Kubrick’s PATHS OF GLORY.
The story takes place in the trenches of World War I. We are following the French side, though all of the actors speak English. In an incredibly lavish estate a higher-ranking general asks a lower-ranking general to take an impenetrable hill on the German side called “The Ant Hill.” Then he invites him to stay for lunch in a four-story ballroom. The lower-ranking man knows the hill can’t be taken and says as much. The higher-ranking man appeals to the man’s vanity, sense of duty, and gets him to agree “as a personal favor.”
This general will now tell the next in line, who knows the hill is an impossible goal, but will dutifully follow orders. Kirk Douglas plays Colonel Dax, who seems to be the one man who is both brave and has a brain in his head. The offensive will go horribly wrong and the bumbling general will call for the court martial of 100 men who failed in their mission. The number who actually stand trial is brought down to three, picked completely at random (or to settle a score), tried before a military court where the judge doesn’t pay attention and sentenced to a firing squad. “One way to maintain discipline is to shoot a man now and then” says the embarrassed general.
The shots in the trenches are spectacular will all the hallmarks we now know to be Kubrick’s. Everything is in focus, there are long tracking shots, Douglas is buffed and heroic.
The dangers of blind allegiance. The lack of connection between the men who follow the orders (muddy, bloody, exhausted) and those who give them (far away from the action, looking at maps rather than actual terrain).
April 1, 2008
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