FLOATING WEEDS. 1959, Yasujiro Ozu. 119min.
Following a band of actors returning to a town that plays a prominent role in the history of its founding member, Floating Weeds continues to unravel the stories of the past as it builds new intrigues around them. Bathed in a glorious color suggestive of Jacques Demy's Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964) and MGM's technicolor musicals, the film manages to weave humor into its otherwise dramatic situations. When Nakamura wanders the streets of the village, note the children who enter and exit the frame, peeping in on the action and injecting levity into the demeanor of the main character. A wonderful film, this study of love and relationships, art and artifice is a visual feast.
THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS. Jorgen Leth and Lars von Trier, 2003. 90min.
In 2002, Lars von Trier challenged his friend Jorgen Leth to remake one of Leth's first films, The Perfect Human . What ensues is a fascinating look at the results of a creative mind who surmounts the limitations (or obstructions) von Trier puts on each attempt. For one, no shot can be longer than 12 frames; for another Leth must go to the most horrible place on earth. With each attempt, von Trier offers more and more difficult obstructions, calling the process therapy as he attempts to break Leth (and his film) down. Each time, Leth manages to create a work of art that refers back to the original in a strikingly new way, circumventing von Trier's attempt to make Leth create crap. In the end, the process and the final film comment further on the theme of the perfect human. While during the film there are tedious bits of documentary footage that drag the film down (it's interesting to see the conversations between the two directors, but the footage of Leth's process is generally too slight to be substantial. And most of hte time I just wanted to see how Leth dealt with von Trier's obstructions), the film almost miraculously manages to make it all work in the final obstruction. And so the film comes full circle back onto itself in a very clever way. 12.04
THE FORBIDDEN QUEST. 1993, Peter Delpeut. 70min.
A post-modern documentary, The Forbidden Quest weaves the fictional re-telling of a doomed voyage to Antarctica by the sole survivor around archival footage of various early arctic expeditions. (The footage stands-in for film supposedly shot during the expedition by a cameraman who had joined the crew.) The archival footage alone is enough to see the film, and Delpeut's re-editing of the footage to support the story is inspired. Tinting the frames to suit his needs, and selecting stock reels for their deterioration as much as for what they exhibit, he recontextualizes the images to support his imagined narrative. The only weakness the film suffers is the somewhat melodramatic interview segments interspersed between the stock footage in which the survivor tells the story. Within the documentary, the performance feels overly-scripted, which takes away from the created reality within the overall film. But maybe that's a minor quibble when there's so much more that's worth seeing. 02.20.03
FONG SAI-YUK. 1993, Corey Yuen. 100min.
Director Yuen and Jet Li attempt to do for the legend of Fong Sai-Yuk what Li and Hark Tsui did for Wong-Hung in this elaborate Hong Kong action thriller. Boasting a plot that is more than the traditional revenge of the death of the king fu master variety--indeed it is a plot worth paying attention to, the film explores true love relationships across genders and familial responsibilities even as it serves up some of the best wire tricks I've seen. Jet Li is fantastic as the title character, at times very funny, at others deadly serious.
THE FALLEN IDOL. 1948, Carol Reed. 95min.
Based on a story by Graham Greene, The Fallen Idol is a short film that begins a noir and becomes something of a police procedural. While the film is well directed and shot (including a gorgeous running scene reminiscent of The Third Man), the plot unfortunately revolves around an insufferable child who apparently bears witness to what may or may not have been a crime. The plot unwinds and unravels slowly, and Reed does a masterful job here and there of creating taut scenes of heightened suspense. However, the boy grows tiresome as a character and as a plot device, and the film ultimately seems to lack the nerve to follow up on the conclusion it telegraphs from the start. 10.08
FIGHT CLUB. 1999, David Fincher. 139min.
While David Fincher shoots a good movie, Fight Club doesn't quite resonate. Part of the problem is the constant voiceover narration. To a certain extent, it seems as though its not a movie you need to watch; rather, you could read it as some sort of manifesto mimeographed and mailed into your work mailbox or, in this day and age, emailed to everyone on your address book. And the story, of a man who feels the need to assert himself and his reality by beating other people up? Is it social satire, or a masochistic outpouring of violence? Unfortunately, the film just takes it up a notch rather than really getting to the ultimate point. Still, Fincher is good for some moments of cinematic bravura, as when Ed Norton walks around what appears to be an Ikea catalogue, or as the opening credits appear over a background of neurons and receptors in the brain, a shot which is echoed later as the camera pulls back through the trash that has collected in a dustbin. Somehow, that shot may seem indicative of the film on the whole; a collection of thoughts and ideas of those things we are subjected to, those things the film tells us to divest ourselves of.
FINDING NEVERLAND. 2004, Marc Forster. 106min.
Ostensibly a film about Sir James Matthew Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, Finding Neverland is more about the creation of Peter Pan itself. While Johnny Depp does a good job as Barrie, in the end, it's difficult to really feel for the characters as they exist merely as shadows to be incorporated into the play, where their two dimensional lives become the stuff that dreams are made on. As a result, the film at times plays like a game of spot the reference, as "real life" events played out on-screen are scripted as references to scenes that will eventually be incorporated into future productions of Peter Pan (it's not a postmodern movie, but there are plaaces one could read into it as such). That said, there are some very imaginative scenes and I cried my eyes out during the third act. I'd have been curious how Tim Burton would have approached the same material, but perhaps this film is themeatically too similar to Big Fish for him to have considered it. 10.04
FIST OF LEGEND. 1994, Gordon Chan & Woo-Ping Yuen. 103min.
Jet Li stars in this cliched story of revenge during the Japanese occupation of China. A few good kung-fu action scenes (the fight choreographer went on to do the fight scenes for The Matrix (1999, Andy + Larry Wachowski) and it shows--though Jet Li could kick Keanu Reeve's butt even in cyberspace) but its not worth the bad dubbing and the awful storyline and dialogue ("When you learn to adapt, you will be invincible").
FRESH. 1994, Boaz Yakin. 114min.
A boy from the hood uses his father's chess lessons as lessons in life as he maneuvers the gang members around him as if they were pawns on a chessboard. While the eventual outcome is interesting, and the scenes with Samuel L. Jackson as the father are fun, the film takes too long to get where it's going. Paired down to a snappy 80 minutes, they might have had something. There's also something about the sunny way in which it is filmed that seems to be at odds with the material, and the language at times feels forced. You feel like you're watching a film rather than really associating with the characters. However, as I have been told, put in historical context, there were few films being made and distributed at the time which addressed the problems of growing up in the inner city. Sean Nelson, playing the title role, however, is very good. 02.04
FULL CONTACT. 1992, Ringo Lam. 96 min.
Chow-Yun Fat stars as a thief betrayed out for revenge not for himself but for an innocent family destroyed during the betrayal. It's a character he's played to much greater effect in The Killer (1989, John Woo)--still my favorite Chow Yun-Fat film. It's not that this film is necessarily bad (there are some very good action sequences including a fantastic sequence shot from the point of view of the bullet--if you need an excuse to see this film, this is definitely a great reason) its just that there's nothing terribly new (save for that cool bulletcam shootout) and the bad guys are more or less comic book cutouts. It's surprising actually that the bulletview wasn't used more often in subsequent Hollywood films. Oh wait. It was. Doesn't Hollywood have any original ideas anymore?