Sunday, February 26, 2006

A lovely book!

My new book of translation is now published in Tokyo: Aimee Bender's first novel, An Invisible Sign of My Own (2000). The cover is adorned with a lovely drawing by Midori Yamada. It fits the novel's story miraculously well, although drawn completely independent of the novel. The book looks really pretty. It's a strong work. The rest is up to you, possible readers!

Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)

It's funny how we form a certain preconception by a series of hearsays about a film we haven't watched. This is a classic from my junior-high days and surely I have heard talks about it. I knew it was a love story of a peculiar kind; and I thought somehow it was set in the UK.

Watching this for the first time now, soon I find out this is in the States. On the East coast somewhere; but the scenery looks Irish or Scottish. A very good film as long as you don't psychologize or psychoanalyze it. No explanation grasps the rich overtone of the film and its strong undercurrent.

"I should like to change into a sunflower, most of all," says Maude. Approaching eighty and she's vivacious. I can't help but think of a million sunflowers near Oamaru, New Zealand. Cat Stevens' songs are quite nice, too. At one point we learn that she has multi-digit nunmbers tatooed on her forearm and this tells about her past in a Nazi concentration camp. No further explanation is given. Sadness remains.

Just like Being There, this is also a wintry film although filled with moments of laughter. I just learned (I had overlooked) that Sean Penn had dedicated his first film as director, The Indian Runner, to Hal Ashby. This makes me think that living in America, one's heart can only be wintry.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Craft (Andrew Fleming, 1996)

Witchcraft is a science of the four elements and the power of nature within. The film begins with this in mind and it's pleasing to a certain point. There are some brilliant scenes: e.g. the beach and Nancy's walking on the water. But the finishing 25 minutes or so are strictly unattractive. The uses of snakes, rats, and bugs all contribute nicely to weaken the film's charm (wow, this is a magic-related word, "charm"!).

One big blunder I think is Sarah's rival Nancy's background. If she comes from such a poor, white trash background, how can she attend a very expensive-looking Cathoric prep school?

All the actresses are too aged to be high-schoolers, too. Rachel True, the black girl, is beautiful, but at the time of this film's production she was 29 or 30. Well. The movie is the ultimate witchcraft, ain't it?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (Gus Van Sant, 1993)

So ambitious, so boring. It could have been a great film, if not for the word-heavy screenplay and the irrelevant narration (by the novel's author). I haven't read the novel but I get a glimpse that it must be fun to read. Then, by trying to follow the novel's development too closely, the film failed to find its own undisturbed pace. It lacks proper percussions, so to speak.

But as in many of Van Sant's films, outdoor sceneries are fascinating. Uma Thurman is also a great material, visually striking, if not exactly pretty. This film contributes well to the myth of the west. Of course, all the land we conceive in our heads are just images mediated to the bottom. And this west has its own charm.

I, Robot (Alex Proyas, 2004)

Directed by an Egypsian, this film is set in 2035 AD and Chicago is a hyperopolis then. I have never been an SF fan and I don't have any sensibility whatsoever toward things robotic. Starting from the famous Asimov's three laws that govern robots, the story is cebtered around the latest model robots revolution against humans and the struggles against them of a cop (himself a quasi-cyborg) performed by Will Smith. The US us attacked by the robots led by VIKI (the central machinic nervous system) because the US threatens other countries and pollutes the planet more than anybody else; how sensible. VIKI is finally disabled by Will Smith, but the aftertaste of this human triumph is not altogether good.

In fact, the film is somewhat groomy. The main purpose of robotics--to develop someTHING to replace human labout--seems to me to be a very decadent direction.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hitch (Andy Tennant, 2005)

This is a very well-written story with just what you can expect from Will Smith. I have been a fan of him as much as I am a fan of Eddie Murphy (who is of my own generation) and basically I am trying to learn my English locutions from them more than from anybody else. The fresh prince (whom my son used to respect when he was six) is alive and well, here as a very probable improbable profession of the date doctor.

Eva Mendes (as Sara) is gorgeous and very Cubana.

A matchmaker who is so clumsy about her own affair is basically an Emma story (we have Clueless) but in this the transposition (female to male, white English to black American) is thorough, unexpected and funny. Another good piece from the director of Sweet Home Alabama!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Being There (Hal Ashby, 1979)

This is one of the most popular films in my undergraduate years but I haven't had a chance to take it in. Now I watched it. It's very funny. More than Peter Sellers himself, the dying man Ben is an awesome actor. Shirley Mac Laine masturbating is quite funny, too. The film is wintry and tranquil. It's a pure fantasy, isn't it, but I am led to think how in the world did the original author Kosinski want to write such a fantasy and did Peter Sellers want to impersonate the character at the end of his life.

Innocence of a retarded person is a very strong myth. In this Chance is akin to, for example, Sean Penn's Sam in I am Sam, among others. A genealogy of innocence is to be undertaken.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sweet Home Alabama (Andy Tennant, 2002)

An incredible story of a fat liar Southern belle faithfully loved by two too-good-to-be-true guys and gets away with it. It's silly, of course, but curiously enjoyable.

Apart from the fun this film offers, I am moved by the simple fact that it's about Alabama. Back in the early 1980s I was an exchange student at Troy State University, Troy, Alabama. Nostalgia has a great shaping power for one's sense of identity, and on viewing this film I am constantly taken back to my own Alabama days! C'est larmoyant, à vrai dire!

Reese Witherspoon's accent as Melanie is authentic as she's from Louisiana. The same is true for the husband Jake (Josh Lucas who is from Arkansas).

Geez, it's been a quarter of a century... I wish I could go visit Troy, Montgomery, and other towns I knew!

In the film Southern nationalism is so thick, and the presence of blacks is so limited. That's Alabama, too.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)

Finally. And e uma beleza! (It's a beauty!). So funny, so well conceived, so well staged, so well performed. And yet, and yet, it can't compete in my mind with the wakening freshness of Bottle Rocket. Whatever. All the characters in RT, including dogs and the falcon, are interesting.

I sensed for the first time in this film an affinity with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, not only for the story telling and the cinematography, but also for a subtle attitude toward life, or toward the depiction of human lives. Will have to think about it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

New York Stories (1989)

This is an omnibus film by three well-established directors, playing out each one's tune to their hearts' content. Nice combination.

Martin Scorsese's Life Lessons shows Rosanna Arquette at her best time (contemporaneous I think with lovely Desparately Seeking Susan).

I heard people criticizing Coppla's Life Without Zoe as child-oriented and damaging to the other two, but no, I think this is a wonderful piece of urban fantasy that captures a certain core feel of New York-ness.

Woody Allen's Oedipus Wrecks is so crazy and hilarious that makes me want to watch more of his films, when I have been out of touch with his work for such a long time. This apparition of the Jewish mother in the Manhattan sky really kills me.

Jewish sense of humour... what is it? I am even reminded of Aimee Bender's joyful short story "Mazipan" for its absurdity. Will come back to it when time comes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bend It Like Beckham (Gurinder Chadha, 2002)

Hilarious, exciting, charming, and touching. I think I'll write an essay comparing this with another fascinating Indian girl movie, Anita & Me. It's filled with vivacity and humour, and it makes us curious about the life that's behind the African-Indian immigrants in the UK.

I enjoy so much the parallel scenes of the wedding and the football match. Such colorful cultural displays on both sides! Then I am brought to think upon it.

I will probably never get to know an Indian family like this and I will probably never attend their wedding. So what I enjoy on the screen (their dances, songs, proxemics, mannerisms, cuisine, etc.) are really all representation of representations. Still I get pleasure out of them. Is this all in vain?

I don't think so. To have a glimpse of a culture, even in a highly mediated form, is not bad at all. It's entertainment in the best sense. It's up to you how you make use of the knowledge you receive from it. To a good cause? If possible. To be lost in oblivion? If inevitable.

But education usually is never free from such and such representations working wholly, in their unarticulated totality, on you. Hmmm. Do we ever learn anything about the actual world from a film?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Good Will Hunting (Gus Van sant, 1997)

A good, beautiful film, but the story is little plausible. I don't feel any traces of insights into math or psychology. It's just every schoolboy's image of what mathematics and psychology are. And a heavy dose of psychologism, too. Explanation is something we need last, preferably out of the screen.

Apart from that this film captures the images (illusions, maybe) of the Boston/Cambridge area nicely and it's a different kind of campus movie. Especially beautiful is the scene when Will sits on the riverside after telling the girl goodbye and the sky is blue and there are a lot of white clouds. This is the kind of shot we need. Very understated. Very nicely done.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Jerk (Carl Reiner, 1979)

This is Steve Martin's film-starring debut, I am told. It's silly and funny but not so dumb as Dumb and Dumber; in fact, in this strain of non-sensical comedy Steve Martin is mostly surpassed by Jim Carrey. But the beauty of this film lies in its starting point; that the white guy is actually an adopted son in a poor Mississippi black family!

Steve Martin's hair is prematurely gray. (He was barely in his mid-thirties at this moment.) Next time I'll watch this with Bulgarian subtitle (not that I can read and understand it).

Friday, February 10, 2006

Finding Forrester (Gus Van Sant, 2000)

A fine story told with integrity, precision, and elegance. Nothing is more touching than an unlikely friendship; movies have proved this over and over again. This is another triumph of the film that it is a medium destined for friendship.

The song used at the ending, a solo by the late Israel Kawakawiwo'ole (Brudda Iz) is beautiful. This makes me take up the ukulele once again.

Windtalkers (John Woo, 2002)

A great film about the futility of the war. And that set in the most futile of all the futile combats--that in Saipan. How many people got killed there on both sides? The violent depiction of this film can only be realistic. A rare moment of beauty is when one of the Navajo men and a white guy play together an improvised melody; one with the Navajo bamboo (?) flute, that strongly resembles the Japanese shakuhachi, and the harmonica. The Navajo language being one of the subjects is very well represented (probably for the first time in film history) and the Navajo values are rightly featured. Nicolas Cage is great.

Saipan is no joke. Many aspects of the contemporary US foreign policy are determined by the US's trans-Pacific relationship with Japan in the last century. The US, or at least a part thereof, never hesitates to demonize and kill the enemy. They overkill. Overly destroy. And they claim justice. Japan may have done something similar, too. The island of Saipan even today need a work of serious spiritual apaisement. I don't doubt the director's serious anti-war intent, but movies are funny. There must have been those who shouted "Kill the Japs" among the film's innocent spectators.

It's fun to watch that Nicolas Cage speaks fair Japanese in this film. It's strange that this film shows no African American among the marine.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Strange coincidence

If you licked something really cold, your tongue would stick to it. You see it in Dumb and Dumber (on the ski lift). Then again in Slap Her, She's French! when the little Geneviève licks the ice-ass of a cow. Of course there must be many who have watched these two films and remarked this little bit of coincidence. But why in the world should I watch them consecutively? This is a strange coincidence without any meaning in it...

Kingpin (The Farrelly Brothers, 1996)

Another nice comedy from the Farrellys. It makes bowling look so much fun (just like The Big Lebowski) and Amish look so interesting (just like The Eyewitness). Bill Murray has a pattern now about his paternity problems. It's so weird that director after director bring up this association. Deformity, deficiency, and love are the three words to describe what the Farrellys are after.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Shallow Hal (The Farrelly Brothers, 2001)

"Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder," says old wisdom. What if you pushed this logic to the extreme? This film is the result, it's a thought experiment. It's fun and in parts touching. Their recurrent theme of the physically handicapped (either by birth or by life history or by accident) is given a full voice and representation. How far do you go, you wonder. But they know how to wrap it up nicely, too. I liked it. But to say that Gwyneth Paltrow is very pretty already contradicts the story's spirit.

Slap Her, She's French! (Melanie Mayron, 2002)

It's a good comedy around the war of meanness between two high school girls, one Texan, and the other a French foreign student. All possible stereotypes are cleverly exploited to make you laugh. Then by and by you'll notice something's fishy about this "French" girl... She's got a French accent, all right, but she says "sophistique" (sophist-like) for "sophistiqué" and "Entendez-vous" pour "Attendez" (on the phone). And as it turns out, she's... Good enough to spend an hour and a half. It's very convincing, too, that such a story can take place only in Texas! (The only other state I can imagine it happening is Wisconsin...)

Dumb & Dumber (The Farrelly Brothers, 1994)

Finally I watched this classic... Good but a bit primitive compared to the refinement of There's Something About Mary. The parakeet incident--selling a dead parakeet to a blind boy--is downright outrageous to my real-life standard, but then I don't know why I feel such a repulsion against this one point. In their other films the humours they show with handicapped people are not this crude. Well, in other moments in my life I would have taken it otherwise. All I can say for sure is after this the Farrelly brothers get better and better.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Reality Bites (Ben Stiller, 1994)

I like Ben Stiller, I really do. I also like Wynona Ryder (especially in Jarmush's Night on the Planet) and Ethan Hawke (especially in Snow Falling on Cedars). BUT. This is a terrible film. The story stinks. There is no sense at all about the flow of music. It's haphazard at best. Dialogues can be interesting and they may serve as a valuable source of information on how American brats spoke in the 1990s, but they lack in organization. The use of the video is also too tentative. This doesn't have the kind of integrity that a decent film has. Danny de Veto (one of the producers) must have been very UNHAPPY to see this. Of course, Ben Stiller has grown up since then. But, boy, this is a terrible film.

Utu (Geoff Murphy, 1983)

Should there be a justifiable "national" movie anywhere in this world, this is it. In the bloody history of numerous murders between Pakehas and Maoris, this film offers one clear message; that a Maori warrior cannot be sentenced by the military court of law. In the final instance, his execution is retrieved into the realm of traditional ceremonial honouring beyond simple, individualist revenges. It moves you in a strange way by showing how the land of these islands were conquered within the western space of law and how such a space of judgment itself is in contention even today.

I watched this first time at the U of Hawaii in 1987 where I was a graduate student in anthropology. My friend Akihiro Kalama Inoue reminded me of this recently. After almost twenty years, it is my joy to be able to watch this again to commemorate the Waitangi Day, which was yesterday. This is a must for everyone even remotely interested in the history of this country: Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The River Wild (Curtis Hanson, 1994)

At first I thought this was a family-adventure-comedy, but it was not. It was a thriller and the storyline was rather horrendous. As soon as the dog dissapeared, we knew it would appear again, and as soon as the good ranger appeared, we knew he would somehow be eliminated in a brutal way. And the ranger was Native American, too.

Maryl Streep shows a good command of the raft and the breath-taking power of the water makes this an interesting film. Is this the Snake river? I've got to go there.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Dirty Pretty Things (Stephen Frears, 2002)

A kidney sells for 10 grands in London. And the sellers are illegal immigrants who yearn for a passport, and the money goes to those who stand in-between. The underground business of human organs preys on the weakest, the invisible, the silent.

This is a love story of two illegal immigrants, a Nigelian man and a Turkish woman, who work at the Baltik Hotel. Audrey Tautou is the Turkish girl and she is rather convincing. Not a bad film and it's doing a good job of focusing on friendship among the weak. "Good at chess usually means bad at life." Rings true.

Adaptation. (Spike Jonze, 2002)

To the extremity of self-referentiality... only some Japanese I-Novelists and Charlie Kaufman can come up with something like this.

I keep wondering, how the author Susan Orlean thinks about all this, with Meryl Streep playing her and all? The final scene with flowers is very strong and fulfills the writing seminar instructor Mckee's theory in the story. I particularly like the way the time is manipulated. You can easily think of it, but it's another story to actually put it into practice.

Awesome in many ways. It can be demanding on the side of the viewers without much reward for it. Still, a very interesting and hilarious work.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (Beeban Kidron, 2004)

A reasonablly good and enjoyable film, but the use of Thailand is typically derogating. Renee Zellweger will be remembered as Bridget in our afterlives, but I prefer her in the pre-Bridge days. Sorry to be so frank.

I am more interested in the director's name. Beeban? Where is he from? He seems to have directed a decade ago the TV movie Oranges are Not the Only Fruits, which of course is based on Jeanette Winterson's novel. I have to check it out.

Me, Myself & Irene (The Farrelly brothers, 2000)

This film has got a great tempo and an incredibly good selection of songs. All the possible finesse is put into making the story flow. Jim Carrey is simply incomparable. And Renee Zellweger shows her subtle facial dramaturgy in perfection. Not particularly beautiful, she's so charming. Three kids are fine, too, and the appearance of the black dwarf and the too-white albino (like the Winter brothers) are also an integral part of the directors' will to fight against the general discrimination toward "unusual" looking people. By any standard, this is a great film, if I'm not totally in sync with their sexual jokes! Most of all, this is the first time I took interest in that big small state (or whatever): Rhode Island!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Falling Down (Joel Schumacher, 1993)

Very strong performances from Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall. Begins with a slight racial overtone, which is then absorbed into the main character's psychopathology. It makes the story more convincing but less interesting. You feel as if at a certain point the social dissapeared and the individual surfaced, even with that brief description of the pro-nazi shop owner. Finally the man's fall is blamed on the society in a rather tepid way. However, the sequences of the last ten minutes or so are very fine, if a little unnaturally contrived. I didn't know Trevino could be an Italian name. I didn't know that Italians would move to Venice beach!

Loser (Amy Heckerling, 2000)

A cute little love romance at NYU, but a little on the drab side considering this is from Amy Heckerling, the master filmmaker with that incredible Clueless and, much earlier,that lovely Fast time at Ridgemond High on her cv. But some details are so good; like the episode with a new-born kitten or the fight in the library. I mean, these could have been totally different if taken by another filmmaker less thoughtful. On the other hand, the final scene is but a fantasy only a mid-twentieth century American could love.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

One Hour Photo (Mark Romanek, 2002)

This is a fear materialized--the kind of fear we all slightly feel toward the shopping mall photo labs. The time of stalkers, indeed. And when they try to be too intimate, we can't but be defensive. But our photos are in their hands, all exposed, vulnerable, defenseless... like a child.

Robin Williams is super again as a psycho (as we have seen in Insomnia), gentle and calm, with hidden violence and weird obsessions. It's very American, very sick. And near the end we learn what is behind the protagonist's personal history; a sexually abused childhood for which photography played a cruel role.

It's well thought, well executed, but this psychological explanation rather puts me off. But then, the director Romanek did have a social message. With more and more family photos taken digitally, the high-speed photo processing is almost a history. We don't know what's taking place behind our social facade. Who's taking advantage of whom, manipulating images.

It's gluesome to think about, but this film is already a kind of testimony to a culture outliving its destiny.

A Room for Romeo Brass (Shane Meadows, 1999)

Set in Nottingham, this is a story of friendship between two 12-year old neighbouring boys. One is Gavin, white, a little crippled, the other is Romeo, of mixed-blood with a white mother, a pretty white elder sister, and an estranged white father. To the end you are left wondering about Romeo's paternity and the reason for the film's title. You get no clues anywhere. The film is equally focused on both Gavin and Romeo.

There is this very strange guy who at first helps the boys then has a crush on Romeo's sister. The guy's got no chance and turns violent. He is a self-contained bully, essentially, and finally gets what he deserves from Romeo's father. You are left wondering again--this time murmuring: So what is this film all about?

It maybe about the kind of violence, physical and metaphysical, a 12 year-old goes through everyday in rural England. But the story is too blurred and the developpment is rather dull. And yet, and yet, the film has a peculiar kind of charm.

I'll have to watch it all over again to know anything about Romeo's position in the family.