I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! 1945, Michael Powell + Emeric Pressburger. 92 min.
There's a dreamlike quality in the Archers' films evident again in this one, which follows a woman on her way to her wedding. All through her life she's determined what she wants and, as the title suggests, she always knows where she's going. En route, she is waylaid by weather caused by her wishing too hard, and discovers that perhaps all her planning is not the best approach to her life. Shot in Scotland, the film uses its backdrop of Gaelic legend and undulating scenery to great effect, even more impressively captured on film in light (no pun intended) of the knowledge that the cinematographer (Erwin Hillier) never used a light meter.
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE. 2000, Wong Kar-Wai. 97 min.
An assured, mature work, this intensely controlled study is as affecting for what doesn't appear on the screen as for what does. With careful repetition and sumptuous cinematography, Wong Kar-Wai builds suspense and sensuality as he slowly peels back the emotional layers behind relationships searching for the true heart of the matter. Maggie Cheung, dressed in a series of beautiful but constraining outfits, plays beside a reserved Tony Leung (both fantastic) as Christopher Doyle's camera constructs the frames around them, observing the minute details of their chance encounters and developing friendship, sneaking around corners to suggest the lives of their respective spouses. A film both vibrant and volumous, startling and subdued, I experienced chills at the beauty of the film's images, and then at the beauty of the way in which the film describes the many (sometimes hidden) relationships that inform those images burnished upon the screen.
THE INCREDIBLES. Brad Bird, 2004. 121min.
Pixar's sixth animated feature, it's a long way from Toy Story. The animation is incredibly fluid and the style is fantastic, but the true wonder of this film is that halfway through, the animation was beside the point as I lost myself in the story, the characters, and the gags. The characters are so well developed and the story so neatly pitched that I was engrossed in the world of these supers who, like many modern superhero stories, are trying to find their way through the world as ordinary human beings. Throughout, each character's superpowers reflect the characters themselves so that as they discover or exercise their powers they also learn about themselves or reveal something about their personalities. Even the minor, less incredible, characters are memorable for the small rolls they play, as they coem ot the aid of or attempt to destroy the heroes. Where Finding Nemo suffered from an insufferable cheezy and preachy streak, The Incredibles manages to weave its moral lessons subtly through the family interactions, and coming as they do between incredible action scenes (the 100-mile chase is one of the most thrilling I have seen on screen in a long time) or crazy gags, they are organic reactions to what's happening to the characters we are watching, rather than grafted on lessons to be learned. Perhaps most telling, once the film was over, I wanted to turn around and go right back into the theater to watch it again. 12.04
INFERNAL AFFAIRS (aka Wu Jian Dao). Wai Keung lau and Siu Fai Mak, 2002. 97min.
A great cop film, Infernal Affairs tells dual stories of a mole in the Hong Kong police department trying to catch an undercover cop in an organized crime syndicate who's trying to take them all down. In the end the story boils down to who is a real cop, and who is a mole, in a surprisingly nuanced story for the genre. Tony Leung and Andy Lau star as the cop and the mole, each trying to suss the other out before they're exposed.
THE INSIDER. 1999, Michael Mann. 157min.
A fairly restrained Al Pacino presides over the proceedings in this true-life story of a man who blew the whistle on the tobacco industry. A well thought out film, it strangely paints a poor portrait of Mike Wallace. I can't imagine he could have been so thrilled. It's interesting for the behind-the-scenes story of how one man who had the information to knock big tobbaco was courted by the media and then hung out to dry, and the resourcefulness of one producer to finally get his story told. An insider's story told adeptly, the loose ends are those that remain unanswered in life itself.
INSOMNIA. 1997, Erik Skjoldbjaerg. 97min.
Stellan Skarsgard is the glue that holds this film together. Portraying a Swedish police inspector who has come to Norway to aid in the investigation of a woman's murder, he soon finds himself caught in an investigation of his own soul. While the sun beats down day and night, the story becomes darker and darker, the camera prying into Skarsgard. A taught little thriller, the film offers no pyrotechnics, just a well made study. [NB: This film was remade by Christopher Nolan in 2002].
INTACTO. 2001, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. 108min.
A taut little thriller about luck. Without giving too much away, the film boasts a number of set pieces to test one person's luck against another until the ultimate showdown! while offering somewhat half-baked theories of how luck operates. Max von Sydow plays the inevitable God-like figure overseeing the games of luck as people vie for the possession of the luckless. The film unfortunately follows one character throughout, when it could have been much more interesting if its focus changed to a policewoman's investigation into the underground games to the background. But that's being perhaps overly fussy. Sometimes its better to just enjoy the ride.
IRMA VEP. Olivier Assayas, 1996. 97min.
Or, Everybody loves Maggie Cheung. Cheung stars as herself in this film about making films as she is brought from Hong Kong to France by a director on the skids to star as Irma Vep in his remake of Louis Feuillade's silent serial LES VAMPIRES (1915). Not speaking a word of French, she is suddenly thrust into this world that satires the French filmmaking industry (and filmmaking in general) and their preoccupation with navel-gazing cinema. A very funny film, the best scenes feature Cheung, as she is obviously the center of attention for everyone (as a side note, the director is also her husband). Unfortunately, the thin plot that stitches the scenes together is fairly rudimentary, and the scenes showing the crew running around bitching at each other border on the cliche. Still, it's worth it just to see Cheung in a rubber suit and her overall winsome performance. 01.02.02
I-SAN SPECIAL. Mingmonkul Sonakul, 2002. 112min.
On a bus bound from Bangkok to the town of Nong Bua in northeastern Thailand, a woman asks the driver to turn off the radio just as it is about to start a serialized soap opera. Suddenly, the occupants find themselves enacting a soap opera of their own, their voices dubbed by actual Thai soap stars. When the bus stops or breaks down for repairs, they emerge onto the road their actual selves, letting bits of their personal stories spill into the film. The conceit is almost Bunuelian as the characters slip into and out of their situation obliviously, their split lives telling stories each as interesting as the other. The themes of people being actors on a stage may not be new, but the execution is surprisingly well executed and effective. In Thai with English subtitles. 04.06.03
THE ITALIAN JOB. F. Gary Gray, 2003. 111min.
The best heist movies use a heist as a occasion to explore the needs and desires of its characters. One of the best, Rififi, does this, and in so doing proves to be driven by its characters rather than the mechanics of the heist (though it also boasts one of the most notable heist scenes in movie history). Not so The Italian Job, which offers a buy one get two free deal on heists. The film is so interested in heists and the planning that goes into them that it offers three. The characters therefore have little time for anything other than preparing for the heist and dreaming of what they will do with the riches (though most of the characters exist merely to as cogs in the mechanism that performs the heist, offering no traits other than the skills they bring to the table). On the surface it's a pretty little film, masquerading as an advertisement for the BMW Mini; but if you scratch the paint, there's nothing underneath. (n.b. This film is a remake of an 1969 film starring Michael Caine which I have not yet seen). 12.04