Just Watched: Alice In The Cities

Another kind of magical realism.

A film so realistic that it captures those magical moments between two strangers becoming more than that.

Once again, expatriates roam European cities and existential territory, but this time, moving through the latter all happens naturally and implicitly. The film grapples with the ideas of human belonging, connection and responsibility but always keeps them in the concrete forms of characters’ actions and interactions; it’s practically all “show” and little if any “tell” with regards to the psychology of the characters. Moments when Philip and Alice yell at each other or become distracted or try to share things with one another, these slivers of time are inhabited by personality traits pushed and pulled out of the psyche and into reality by the vicissitudes of their journey.

I hope Alice In The Cities soon joins the other films of Wim Wenders available in the US from The Criterion Collection.

Back to the Futurism of 2001: A Space Odyssey

This stunning book by Piers Bizony from Taschen goes well beyond the infinite wonders of the film.
The physical heft this interestingly oblong tome seems to promise that The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is the definitive text on the iconic film. Then, when you slide the book out of its sleeve and open it, this promise is upheld. And man, does this book deliver. Numerous full-color pages and foldout leaves dazzle and delight. The astounding trove of behind-the-scenes images and descriptive text brings my appreciation of the film to a whole new level. The extent to which it details the realization of the film is unbelievable and even overwhelming.  Continue reading

Treasure Hunt With Kumiko is a Wild Goose Chase

film posterI see what The Verge is getting at in their review of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, but for the duration of the film, I just could not get past Kumiko’s central obsession; in an otherwise thoroughly grounded narrative, her irrational behavior just feels utterly implausible, not even surreal, and undermines the film for me. It just feels like I’m watching someone who’s lost her grip on reality in a peculiar, particular way for the entire 1.75 hours, which was indeed visual immersive but psychologically shallow.

Recently, The Making of a Story reminded me that narratives transpire “…in the sensory world, and in a world that embraces a complex emotional and intellectual subtext.” The sensory world is well developed in Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, but that fails to bring me into the subtext. Clearly subtext lurks in the film, as The Verge has nicely described, but I’m so distracted by the protagonist’s mentally unhinged nature, the subtext remains uninteresting or at least obscured. When I can finally let go of the strangeness of Kumiko’s (delusional) quest, all I’m left with is a woman utterly stifled in a constrictive modern society, seeking freedom and self-sufficiency, finding those in the end when she and the film finally fully cross from reality into fantasy. Kumiko is the caged rabbit now released, unsuited to deal with world outside—until it can be remade by the sheer force of her desires?

The only thing that kept the story somewhat intriguing to me are the opening scenes, where we see that Kumiko has been at this treasure hunting for some time. Glimpses of her notebook full of memos and maps tell us that what’s she’s doing during the film is part of something larger, and just what has she been piecing together in that notebook? What led her to that cave and the buried VHS tape there? Sheer coincidence and a conspiracy-theory mentality that drives her to see the odd detail as a deeply significant clue? Or some larger circumstances with a Murakamian otherworldliness? Is it some twisted game someone is playing with her that has now all gone awry? Alas, those questions find no compelling hints.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter reminds me of World on a Wire and Starfish Hotel, mostly the latter. Both of those start out with situations that also make us wonder if we’re faced with a character losing his mind or with a world that is revealing its darker, stranger nature. Both of those films work beautifully with that wonder. Starfish Hotel does it so well that the end compels, even forces us to once again and for the final time wonder about the logic of its world. The end of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter seems like it wants us to do that, but at that point, the logic of the world and logic Kumiko follows are clear to the point where I’m just not interested in wondering about anything in it any more.

Just Watched: Men, Women and Children

When I ran across this clip from the latest Jason Reitman film, I knew I had to see Men, Women and Children. In just under a minute, this bit of dialogue nicely alludes to cultural shifts related to the roles of Internet technologies in our lives, while also capturing a sense of that uniquely adolescent mixture of genuineness, irritation and sarcasm. After seeing Men, Women and Children, I now find this clip to be a deft microcosm of the film’s themes and approach to them, so much so that the full scene could have been a satisfying short film.

At times, Men, Women and Children can feel like a sprawling collage of characters and Internet-mediated interactions, but ultimately plotlines and motifs shape up to convey a compelling (though not necessarily coherent) picture of our relationships with each other and with information technology. The Verge summed it up nicely in the subtitle of their review:

a movie that gets the internet right

Though excellent as a film with relatable characters who reveal the facets of human nature that social media and the web can engender, facilitate, problematize, Continue reading

Before Sunrise meets Last Year in Marienbad… meets The Passenger?


Since catching a number of the screenings during the Kiju Yoshida and Mariko Okada retrospective at the Harvard Film Archive, I’ve been wanting to see さらば夏の光 (saraba natsu no hikari, aka Farewell to the Summer Light), which seems to have a reputation for being Yoshida’s artsiest work. A couple weeks ago, I got the film on DVD and finally immersed myself in this, indeed, artsy cinematic experience. I’m glad I had a chance to watch Farewell, but in the end, I am left to regard it as an ambitious work that resonates with its Japanese and French New Wave contemporaries while falling short of its aspirations and promise.

The film is essentially like the situations and female-male duos of the stunning films Before Sunrise and Last Year in Marienbad were morphed together and played out over a variety of European countries (with an aesthetic somewhat reminiscent of The Passenger); we’re launched right into this exciting proposition—the meeting of two travelers dislocated from their native culture in visually enthralling environs, then further dislocated from the mundane logic of reality in a Murakamian maze of emotions gone metaphysically awry.

But the evocative, epic Farewell to the Summer Light soon falls short of its initial, fantastical potential. The visually luscious scenes in vivid European settings, images oozing with symbolism, philosophical musings, enigmatic characters, wistful, almost melancholy theme song—it seems like all the elements are present to make this film an extraordinary, fanciful psychological odyssey, but the assembly of these components is toppled by irritating distractions: the obvious, curious gazing of passersby into the camera, the peculiarly lilting English of the supposedly American characters, the cliché inevitability of romantic tension then involvement then extreme idealization.

And yet, Farewell to the Summer Light still has a magic and power that lingers on after the almost climactic, then ultimately anticlimactic ending. There’s something compelling about the idea characters meeting over and over, especially in some seemingly significance-laden setting (a scenario captured with eerie claustrophobia, stylized elegance and overt, poetic theatrics in Last Year in Marienbad). Is it because in our minds we sometimes keep coming back to certain people, meeting them time and time again in the course of our thoughts, even if not in the course of our lives?

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Gravity is as good as (or better than) they say it is

In his Fresh Air film review, David Edelstein is right on about Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. As is The Verge in theirs. There’s been so much good press and word of mouth about this film, I couldn’t help but enter the movie theater with high expectations. But Gravity surpasses all of them. I know people can fuss over the scientific accuracy, but its utterly, mind-blowingly convincing realness in its luminous, looming hugeness in the darkness of a cinema is so epically engrossing, suspension of all disbelief is easily achieved.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. Preferably without watching any of the trailers, like the one below.

Frustrating But Good: The Spectacular Now

Delightful and difficult to watch, The Spectacular Now is engrossingly charming and believable. Particularly for me, it was frustrating to see the well-meaning, relatable characters do things that hurt themselves and those they care about, frustrating to see Aimee’s insecurity, frustrating to see Sutter a victim of his own live-in-the-moment philosophy. But that’s what ultimately made the story as poignant as it was, portraying in an affecting way the ordinary but meaningful foibles of youth. Though perhaps at times dramatic, The Spectacular Now doesn’t have any overblown drama, yet we can see that there’s a particular magnitude to what’s happening, what’s slowly building up. Because like the characters who can see in each other what they cannot see in themselves, we as the audience have distance—from their situation and, at least in my case, from youth—we can see the slow disaster unfolding, can see that it doesn’t take a sudden catastrophe to derail lives. Or maybe not. At times the film does such a great job of pulling us into their world and their perspectives, and we, like the characters do, let things happen.

Love the ending.

I have to agree with much of the Fresh Air film review, which starts by characterizing The Spectacular Now as “goofy, exhilarating and unreasonably sad, like being a teenager.” What David Edelstein says about the actors and their characters is often spot on.

Again, a film that isn’t done justice by its trailer, but here it is in case you’re curious…

Just Watched: In A World

After hearing such captivating interviews with Lake Bell on NPR, how could I not be eager to partake of her film In A World? With solely Lake Bell’s on-radio descriptions of the film vigorously stoking my expectations, I excitedly immersed myself in all the familial drama, occupational antics and romantic (and vocal) misadventures of Carol’s (Lake Bell’s character) life.

Although not as auditorily delectable as I had hoped (there’s a good dose of sensual, smooth voices but interspersed with much normalcy), Lake Bell’s In A World had some well worthwhile hilarity. The plot and characters had enough zaniness to keep my attention locked on the film, riding their parallel voiceover-centric universe roller coaster with them. If you need something quirky and fun, check out In A World; I think it’s substantially better than its trailer makes it out to be.

So Awesome: “In a World” stars on Fresh Air

Listening to this Fresh Air interview with Lake Bell and Fred Melamed was just too much fun. As they discuss various facets of their film In a World and the topics voice and voiceovers it romps about, the unexpected humor and though-provoking opinions enthralled me. If this 47-minute chunk of radio show is too time-intensive for you, check out the All Things Considered interview with Lake Bell. I can’t wait to see her film.

BTW, hearing about Lake Bell’s film reminded me instantly of the trailer below for the film Comedian.

Just Watched: Closed Note

Kae reading the diary While it’s somewhat predictable if you’ve watched a bunch of Japanese (or even Korean) films and dramas, Closed Note with Erika Sawajiri, Yuko Takeuchi and Yusuke Iseya is an idyllic portrayal of the warmth and ideals of youth and human nature. The film does a good job of gradually, almost leisurely developing and revealing relationships between characters, through the present and past, through conversation and writing. Another reminder of how our thoughts and feelings can, in a way, transcend time and space.

As usual, I don’t want to give anything away. If you heartwarming/wrenching, sentimental Japanese films, give this a shot (preferably without watching the trailer below).

Yuko Takeuchi plays once again the kind of character she’s good at endearingly rendering.