LAGAAN: ONCE UPON A TIME IN INDIA. 2001, Ashutosh Gowariker. 224min.
In the days of the British Raj, one village dares to confront the injustices placed upon it, resulting in a wager predicated on the outcome of a game of cricket. Sumptuously filmed and a riot of color, the film manages its almost four hour running time gloriously, as the villagers slowly come together to form a fist against the British in a game they have bet their livelihoods and thereby their lives on. The familiar Bollywood musical numbers are woven into the fabric of the film, including an interesting juxtaposition between the Indian version of the musical and the western, as musical styles reveal the complexities of an inter-racial love triangle [which isn't otherwise that original] . While not a great film, LAGAAN is entertaining and engrossing. Even without knowledge of cricket, the last hour is as suspenseful a sporting event as any committed to film, as the villagers, rallied again and again by Bhuvan seek to free themselves from the yoke of tyranny on the sandlot. 10.29.02
LAPUTA: CASTLE IN THE SKY [aka TENKU NO SHIRO RAPYUTA]. 1986, Hayao Miyazaki. 124min.
In the opening scenes, a girl, seemingly kidnapped and riding on a dirigible is suddenly the target of a pirate attack. As she slips from a window to fall towards the earth, a crystal around her neck begins to glow and her descent slows until she is floating towards the earth. A boy discovers her and tells her the story of a mysterious floating city his father once glimpsed from a plane. So begins their adventure as she attempts to unravel the truth to her past, and he to reap the rewards of discovering a city rumored to be legend. Yet another of Miyazaki's anime films, CASTLE IN THE SKY falls somewhere in the lower middle part of his offerings. While there is nothing to fault the animation, somehow the story is not quite as engaging as his other films. But still, his work rises above many other animated films, and at his best, his films stand among the best films ever released, animated or not.
THE LAST LAUGH. 1924, F.W. Murnau.
Brilliantly constructed and evocatively shot, this silent has the distinction of having no title cards. Beyond a hand-typed note, a newspaper, and the icing on a cake (almost none of which are necessary, beyond the newspaper--but that's a tacked on ending that Murnau is even witness to) the entire film rolls along on its score and its acting (which is wonderful). Amazing dolly shots that enhance the action, a groundbreaking (I think) dolly through a window, and just wonderful acting. Not in a long time have I been so transported so that I was startled to hear sounds other than the orchestra playing. When my roommate returned I was surprised he could talk. Surprisingly, a desert island movie for me. One note, the orchestra's cellist plays a bit out of tune on occasion (the score was written in 1994, I believe). Or is it just me? (I won't tell you the plot to show how effective the movie is at telling it).
LAURA. 1944, Otto Preminger. 88min.
A masterfully done thriller in which what appears a routine murder investigation suddenly gets turned on its head. Preminger kept that one detail from the book on which he based the story, and that is what elevates this film beyond other thrillers. While not as accomplished as his ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959), the film garnered accolades in the form of an oscar for best cinematography and nominations for best art direction, best director, best supporting actor (Clifton Webb in a performance that would have kinship to George Sand's in ALL ABOUT EVE (1950), and Best Writing, Screenplay. 4.16.00
LE SAMOURAI. 1967, Jean-Pierre Melville. 101 min.
Cited by John Woo as an influence, LE SAMOURAI tells the story of a lone hit man on his last few hits. From an intensely beautiful first shot (in faded, washed out blues) that borrows a page from Hitchcock's VERTIGO (1958), the film continues in an even (some might say slow) rhythm as a stripped back chase film, with the police on one side, and the mob on the other. There is seemingly no morality here. Alain Delon (as the hired assassin) takes his money; does his job. He uses women as alibis until . . . somehow he realizes what they mean to him when they save him. And then he sets out to save himself.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1943. 163min.
A very British biopic of the fictional Colonel Blimp. Based on a famous cartoon character of the time, the film spans forty years in the life of a career officer of the Royal Army. Brilliant in its depiction of the way in which fighting wars changed over the years, and the slow way in which some adapated owing to the idea of gentlemanly conduct, the film portrays Blimp as one of the old guard, unwilling to change tactics as the world changes around him. While the acting is somewhat stagey, the direction is assured, and while this may not be my favorite Archers production (I can think of a number that would supercede this), it is a worthy addition to their canon. [As an aside, it's interesting to note the approach to war depicted early in this film and in Jean Renoir's GRAND ILLUSION (1937), both dealing with the gentlemanly manneri n which war was waged.)
THE LIFE OF OHARU. 1952, Kenji Mizoguchi. 146min.
Mizoguchi was known as a fantastic director of women, and this gently crafted portrayal of a woman who, on the weakness of one mistake, sinks slowly through the levels of Japanese society affirms that reputation. A sort of Japanese LE NOTTI DI CABIRIA (1957, Federico Fellini) the film is more an indictment of society's ruining of a good woman than a comment on her character as Oharu, ever strong and never really in the "wrong" per se, suffers one degredation after another. A finely wrought work, the film glides through her life in flashback until it brings us back to the present and then to a lilting, heartbreaking coda.
LOLA. 1961, Jacques Demy. 90min.
A charming fairy tale of love lost and . . . regained? LOLA tells the story of a burlesque dancer who bides her time waiting for her first love to return to her. Beautifully shot by Raoul Coutard [who also shot BREATHLESS (1960, Godard) and JULES ET JIM (1961, Truffaut)] the film follows in the footsteps of French New Wave cinema, the film infuses the daily lives of Lola, a childhood friend of hers (Roland), and a widow and her child Roland meets in his wanderings through the town with interesting camera angles and movement (note a particularly unexpected and poignant slow motion scene involving the widow's child and a sailor). While the ending seems blithely bright, it is underscored by darker subplots (a particularly effective one parallels the story of Lola's younger life) that mark an underlying layer of complexity to the film. Demy uses music to great affect here, and would a few years later direct the fantastic UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964), a film in which all the dialogue is sung (the film, along with LOLA, was scored by Michel Legrand). Oddly, that film has a much brighter visual tone, but a darker outlook for its characters. For more information about Demy, check out JACQUOT (1991), a film about Demy directed by his longtime companion Agnes Varda. 4.6.00
LUPIN III: THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOStrO. 1979, Hayao Miyazaki. 110min.
A rollicking mystery/adventure that is said to have inspired a number of sequences in the Indian Jones series, LUPIN follows the antics of master theif Lupin III as he seeks to uncover the mysteries of the Goat counterfeit bills he has just stolen from a major casino. Opening with a fantastic car chase scene that beats the pants off of the opening of, say, MI:2, the film continues to explore the mystery of the counterfeit bills even as other mysteries surrounding Lupin's knowledge of a mysterious bride deepen. Quality animation, as we've come to expect from Miyazaki's work, with a bent towards broader comedy, thanks to the flamboyant lead character. 10.27.02
L'EAU FROIDE (aka COLD WATER). Olivier Assayas, 1994. 92min.
A story of teenage angst in the 70s, L'eau Froide follows Christine and Gilles as they attempt to figure out how their life works. Ledoyen, as Christine, reminds me somehow of Juliette Lewis in the video for "Come to My Window" as the two of them attempt to outrace their futures in a mental institution and a boarding school, respectively. At the center of the film is a party scene set to a classic 70's soundtrack that seems to rival that of LA DOLCE VITA (Federico Fellini, 1960) in length, but where as that film stretches over three hours, the scene seems somewhat over-indulgent in a film of L'eau Froide's length. Still, the final scene is fantastic, and few American films explore the sense of confusion and determination of teenagers with as much sympathy. Your mileage throughout may vary. 01.03.02
LE GOUT DES AUtrES aka THE TASTE OF OTHERS. 1999, Agnes Jaoui. 112min.
A rather slight French comedy of manners and perceptions, the purported point is rather lost in a rather soporific story. The manager of a factory, with his narrow middleclass views, becomes infatuated with a stage actress. After meeting her and his friends and confessing to his rather bourgeois views, he is ridiculed for his low-class taste while the actors are shown to have their own rather smallminded worldviews. Do we care? Not really. While some levity is brought to bear here and there, for the most part, this is yet another film whose Oscar nomination makes me question anew the taste of the academy. On second thought, I've just about given up on them.
LIVING IN OBLIVION. 1995, Tom DiCillo. 90min.
A tired send up of independent filmmakers and the cast and crew who work on such films, LIVING IN OBLIVION tells the story of the shooting of one scene from the various perspectives of the director, an actress, the cinematographer, and a production assistant. The cliche elements of conflict are in place, and each story dissolves into each character's personal neuroses. Further exacerbating the overall lameness of this run of the mill production is the fact that most of the set pieces turn out to be dream sequences (note the director's last name, Reve), to say nothing of the meandering soundtrack. It may hold some laughs for those in the biz, but even then, I would imagine the stories you would see around you on the set would be far more interesting than those on screen. 03.25.01
LOVE AND BASKETBALL. Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2000. 124min.
A Hollywood HOOP DREAMS (Steve James, 1994) in which one of the characters is female to add the extra element of romance. While not a bad film, the romance becomes somewhat sappy, and the subject matter doesn't necessariyl support the running time. More interesting is the comparison between men's and women's basketball programs and the attention (or lack thereof) afforded them. In the end, the woman's story is the more interesting (as we've already seen the rise and fall of male basketball players) and I almost wish the film centered solely around her. The film is, however, entertaining, and worth a look on a rainy afternoon.