Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The World of Today Yesterday

Play Time (Jacques Tati, 1967)

The revered French filmmaker Jacques Tati film Play Time is generally considered as his masterpiece. The film takes place in contemporary Paris and deal with Mr.Hulot (Jaquest Tati) copping with the world. In Play Time the immediate environment takes precedence over the tourist and inhabitance. The grandeur of Play Times modernist Paris had to be created instead of using natural location as their filming conditions turned out to difficult to overcome. The cost of production for the film in itself bankrupted Tati who personally financed the picture.

What is so enjoyable about the film is the scope of the world it presents. The film shot in 70mm, unlike most films that are shot in 35mm, allowed for a more developed mise-en-scéne. This allows for a wider and sharper image and sound. In a single scene there would be unbridled events occurring at once. Everything would be going on smoothly in the frame until eventually interlocking the scene together. It serenely plays out more like a tableau vivant than it does a story.

Play Time succeeding Les Vacances de Mr. Hulot (1953) and Mon oncle (1958) offers a much smaller role for Mr.Hulot. The character of Mr.Hulot was suppose to be a one time role but since his creation has become more important then his creator. Tati wanted to kill off Mr.Hulot but keep the Mr.Hulot paradigm present through out the film. His charming bumbling persona returns by others resembling him or by nondescript pantomimes. This was done to infer there is a little Hulot in all of us.

The Canadian Film Institute has been running Playtime: The Cinema of Jacques Tati for the last month. The festival ends next Saturday with Tati’s last film Trafic (1971).

National Archives Auditorium, 395 Wellington Street, Saturday, August 9th, 7:00.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Conscious Balloon

Flight of the Red Balloon (Hsiao-hsien Hou, 2007)
*** (A must see)

Hou Hsiao-hsien, the Twaiwanese film-maker was commissioned to remake Albert Lamorisse Le Ballon Rouge (1956) by the Musée D`Orsay. Mr.Hou is one of the greatest narrative filmmakers and his structural innovations focus on a contemplative model instead of a conservative narrative by focusing on impression, gestures, moments and moods. The story takes place in a contemporary Paris. Suzanne is a performer in an adult puppeteer theatre and lives humbly in her small bourgeois apartment. The two principle characters are the realistic Suzanne (Juliette Binoche) who is trying to attain an emotional equilibrium and her charming son Simon (Simon Iteanu). Their characters are developed through melodrama as Suzanne fights with one of her tenants and her ex-husband while Simon learns to play the piano, plays and goes about his day. The hired nanny Song (Fang Song) observes the family. She is a film student who has a deep appreciation for life and genuinely enjoys the time she spends with Simon. Like the balloon she is a calm, self-contained observer. Red Balloon is beautifully shot with a subliminal style using window reflections, shallow focus and long tracking scenes due to the director of photography Mark Lee. From an unreachable height the balloon represents a free floating metaphor. In my humble opinion it represents transcendence. The potential self-realization that can be achieved that is always present in ones life. The sincerity of the performances showcases each characters inner emotion, feelings and thoughts.

The film is playing July 25th to August 4th at the Bytowne Cinema.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Today’s Dark Knight

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Heath Ledger passed away tragically due to a drug overdose in January. His performance in Dark Knight since then has been praised in the industry. Now finally being able see it is both superb and sad. He had a subconscious way of bringing the inner life of characters into the roles he played. His part in the film is genuinely unnerving and his Joker is intensely evil. He is no longer playing a super villain but a modern day terrorist. He outlines moral dilemmas where either choice results in someone’s death. He goes into his past explaining the scars around his mouth came from being cut up from his father who asked him "Why so serious?" before cutting his face. At the same time it is a shame that it will be one of his last performances. There is talk of maybe a posthumous Oscar nomination and he has an upcoming role in Terry Gilliam`s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus that is now in post-production.

Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan have been working together since Christ’s first feature film Memento that was based on a short story Memento Mori by Jonathan. They collaborated again in 2006 for The Prestige and finally on the screenplay for Dark Knight based on the DC Batman Comics. Bob Kane the creator of Batman inspiration for the Joker is from Paul Leni’s German Expressionism film The Man Who Laughs (1928). The comic-book hero had several big screen adaptations prior to Nolan’s films. There was the 1966 cinematic transfer with Adam West taking up again his campy performance from the television show of the time and Tim Burton revamped the superhero with his more gothic and perverse 1989 Batman.

The new series is a lot darker then any of the previous films. This sequential film in Nolan’s Batman series has the Bruce Wayne character (Christian Bale) is already developed. In Batman Begins through a series of flashbacks involving Bruce we learn his true motivation and fears. As a child he falls down a hole and there he is attacked by bats. The idea and thought of bats scare him right into his adulthood. After that he leaves the theater earlier with his parents who then get accidentally murdered while being mugged. He channels his grief into a revenge plot to take down the criminals. Then through vigorous training that resembles something out of Star Wars and the best high-tech equipment Wayne Enterprise can buy he faces his fears and the Gotham City criminal world. The film is full of exciting action sequence, awe-inspiring scenes of Batman flying thought Gotham City, actually Chicago, and effective one-liners.

Dark Knight starts with a bank heist. There is a group of criminals all wearing clown mask who try to pull off the perfect heist. The mask the men are wearing was influenced by the ones worn by the gangsters in The Killing (1956). The clowns turn off the alarm, take everyone as hostages, and shoot the vigilante bank manager then get way with the money. As these events progress they are slowly turning on each other due to orders from the organizer, a sociopath who wears make-up and calls himself the Joker. The Joker turns out to be in the group. He betrays the clowns that aren’t dead yet then gets away by driving away in a school bus in between a caravan of other busses while the police arrive at the scene to late. This sequence here depicts the view the Joker has on the world. He believes that as long as things are in order instead of chaos whether it is good or evil is irrelevant.

The Gotham city in the Dark Knight is the one of the 21st century. The city is darker, nihilistic, swamped with corruption and crime and the citizens are unsympathetic and afraid. The city no longer is in its own confined existence as the film switches to Hong Kong to emphasize its global economic and moral connections. The Joker plays a terrorist who is devastating the city with high explosives, political assassination and destroying buildings including a hospital. Batman is now an antihero in between good and evil. He tortures to get information and creates a wiretap information center to locate the hiding spot of the Joker. The film has political implication echoing the society we live in now by skillfully putting together images that have cultural value.

The Jokers action poses moral problems for Batman and the citizens of Gotham City. He puts two ferry boats loaded of passengers, one boat civilians and the other boat of felons, against each other to blow the other ferry or be blown. To offset the pessimism of destroying the good-will of The White Knight district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) into the murderous Two-Face. The film rejoices with the humanism of one the criminal on board one of the ferry’s who convinces the warden to give him the detonator and he throws it out into the water instead of sacrificing the other boat.

There are excellent performances from Michael Caine returning as Bruce Waynes faithful butler, Maggie Gyllenhaal with a heartbreaking performance as Rachel Dawes, Gary Oldman as the understanding Lt. James Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox Wayne Enterprises technical adviser.

The film is playing at all major theaters and make sure to get there early since screenings have been selling out.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Looking Out, Looking In

Maya Deren was one of the pioneering American avant garde filmmakers. She made short experimental films that felt like nightmares dealing with critical emotional experiences. Born Eleanora Derenkowsky, her parents anglicized their last name to Deren when they moved to New York in the 1922 due to threatening anti-Semitism and later in 1943 she changed her first name to Maya that in Buddhists means illusion.

Her films were never able to get into cinemas due to Hollywood’s Monopoly over them and instead she exhibited her films from her own living room. In the 50s Deren toured North America exhibiting her films. An exhibition at the Provincetown Playhouse entitled `Three Abandoned Films - A showing of Meshes of the Afternoon, At Land & A study in Choreography for the Camera` sold out and inspired Amos Vogel’s formation of Cinema 16. Some of her followers included Manny Farber, Le Corbusier, Marcel Duchamp and David Lynch.

Her filmography includes Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), At Land (1944), A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945), Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946), Meditation on Violence (1948) and The Very Eye of Night (1952-55).

Meshes of the Afternoon was directed by Deren and her husband of the time Alexander Hammid. The sound was later added by Maya Derens third husband Teiji Ito. Influenced by the European Surrealist Luis Buñuel's and Salvador Dalí Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L'Age d'Or (1930). She filled her films with objects and physical facts that were infused with profound psychological meaning. The use of symbolism and poetic psychodrama pleased her father who was a psychologist. The principal character in this film is as well played by Maya Deren who is sulkily beautiful as she wanders throughout her house.

The film begins with a series of events including Maya Deren picking up a flower, dropping a key, seeing bread and a knife on a cutting board, putting on a record, seeing a mirror and a phone being off the hook and then sitting on a chair. The chair looks out onto the path she took to get into her house. There is a close up of her eyelids closing and then it looks like the camera pulls back into her pupil for a tunnel shot of her watching herself outside the window. There is fear, poetry and rhythm as we see the early events repeat themselves and the objects return in different contexts in what we can interpret as a dream sequence. The film meditates on the characters paranoid fears, restlessness and alienation. This trance film contrast fluid camera movement with shaky movements and experiments with rhythm and editing.

In the 50s she was awarded a grant from the Guggenheim to travel to Haiti to research voodoo. Due to malnutrition and a developed drug dependencies she died in 1961. Her last remaining project was a documentary Divine Horsemen: the Living Gods of Haiti that was only completed by her old husband Teiji Ito.

Maya Deren: Experimental Films DVD (Mystic Fire Video, 26.98$)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Centretown Movies

The Centretown Outdoor Film Festival starts this Friday July 18th. The festival gets the community together for a fun night to watch a movie. The screenings are at Dundonald Park located at 512 Somerset St. The screenings are pay as you can with the money going to a different charity organization each week. The movies will be each Friday and Saturday until August 16th.

Hal Ashbys 1971 Harold and Maude story is about a young man Harold played by Bud Cort who has become disenchanted with life. Staging mock-suicides has become a routine that his domineering mother takes very little notice. At a funeral Harold meets Maude an energetic, light-hearted senior citizen played by Ruth Gordon who shows him how to live each day to its fullest.

Friday, July 18: Across the Universe
Saturday, July 19: Golden Compass
Friday, July 25: Who Killed the Electric Car
Saturday, July 26: Office Space
Friday, August 1: The Constant Gardener
Saturday, August 2: Transformers
Friday, August 8: King Corn
Saturday, August 9: Maltese Falcon
Friday, August 15: Harold and Maude
Saturday, August 16: Ratatouille

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Girl From Monday

Hal Hartley, the American independent filmmaker, 2005 film The Girl from Monday is a sexy sci-fi comedic thriller, starring Bill Sage, Sabrina Lloyd, Leo Fitzpatrick and Tatiana Abracos. The film depicts a futuristic dystopian society where people have tattooed bar codes on their wrist and having sex boosts both partners’ credit ratings. It is a meditation on modern consumerism and its relation to sex. Satirizing a world where everywhere you look there is advertisements for new products. Though the fluctuation between color to black and white, dutch angle shots, freeze frames, and blurry effects might throw some viewers off of the film. Hartley’s experimental technique is as avant-garde as Godard in the 60s and fits the content of the film perfectly. The Girl from Monday is full of plot twists, sexy characters, beautiful visuals and dialogue that are delivered with deadpan humor.

(Possible Films, single disc, $21.99, Rated-R)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fantasia 2008,

Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival start’s July 3rd and continues until the 21st. The festival started in 1996 and it’s goal was show unaccessible Asian films. This years festival will include films from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Québec and other countries. It is an independent film festival and I do not recognise any of the directors or films except for Takashi Miike, Sukiyaki Western Django. It is playing on the Wednesday the 9th at 5PM. (too bad I can not make it)

Maybe I will go down and check it out on its closing weekend of the 19th to the 21st.

Here is the festivals official website.