TEN. Abbas Kiarostami, 2002. 91min.
A window on Iranian society (literally "a" window as almost every shot is through the front windshield of an automobile on the driver and her passengers), this claustrophobic film is of primary interest for how the conversations portray the changes as well as the constants within Iran. A boy discusses his mother's divorce and his desire to live with his father, a sister seeks solace, a prostitue mistakes a mark. Throughout, the focus remains on the status of women within Iran and the dominance men, although the driver seems to have been able to assert a degree of independence, which unfortunately has resulted in estrangement from her son.
THE TERRORIST (aka MALLI). Santosh Sivan, 1988. 95min.
The first film from cinematographer Sivan, it plays like a film that a cinematographer would make. Each scene is suffused with the glow of an art photograph as it radiates the lush green jungle, the translucent viscosity of water, the beauty of its star, Ayesha Dharker. Shot in 17 days with a nonprofessional cast, the film tells the story of a young girl in a terrorist camp who volunteers for an important suicide mission, which will eliminate a roadblock to progress for her party's beliefs. While the film struggles with the moral delimmas she eventually must face, the film unfortunately strives to become too much of an art object. The music is overbearing and the sound effects of breathing become overpowering. Restraint would serve Sivan well, for while he can compose a beautiful image, there is no need to underline every emotion with slow motion, tense music, and the amplification of ambient sound. And, unfortunately, the film ends up becoming a bit oversimplistic with regards to its very complex subject. For all its faults as a film, however, it is still a beautiful thing to look at.
THE THIN BLUE LINE. Errol Morris, 1988.
One night in 1976, at around 12.30am, Dallas police officer Robert Wood was shot and killed during a routine pullover to warn a driver against driving with their headlights off. Months later, Randall Adams was tried and convicted of the death penalty. As Morris' film interviews the key players in the investigation and the trial (including Adams and David Harris, the chief witness against him), it soon becomes apparent that Adams is the victim of a wrongful conviction. The film exists as a record of the criminal justice system's failures, this one in particular eventually leading to the chief defense attorney's disillusionment with the law and withdrawal from the bar, exposing the weakness of eye-witness testimony and the weakness of men. A repeated re-enactment and a Philip Glass's score play perfectly in counterpoint to the interviews, as each interview colors and shifts the perception of the events in the re-enactment, much in the way Glass's compositions subtly shift rhythmic emphasis throughout their development. A masterpiece of the genre, the film eventually lead to the Adams' case being reopened. He was exonerated. 02.22.03
TIME OUT (aka L'Emploi du Temps). Luarent Cantet, 2001. 132min.
After working for years as a consultant, Vincent loses his job, then chooses not to tell his family as he superficially searches for a way to transition into the next stage of his life. His choices at times seem to reflect an underlying inability to deal with his situation, and then appear under a different light to be very rational decisions. The first half of the film is intriguing in the way in which it presents information and the way in which Vincent's (a very good Aurelien Recoing, who put me in the mind of John C. Reilly) interactions with the various people in his life seem to explain perfectly his actions. It's difficult to determine whether Vincent is lying or merely parcelling out the truth. A measured existential film, Time Out unfortunately comes close to being derailed as it enters its second half, as Vincent is caught up in a larger scam not of his own making. The film saves itself, however, offering chilling conclusions. Aurelien is particuarly fine in the closing scene. 03.04
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. Howard Hawks, 1944. 100min.
Lauren Bacall simply smoulders in this "adaptation" of Hemingway's novel (Hawks, faced with the challenge of putting the book on screen took the title and the character's names and jettisoned the rest) co-scripted by William Faulkner. Credited with being the film that introduced Bacall to Bogart, the screen sizzles for the first thirty minutes as they circle each other like sharks, and then ease slowly into each other's presence. Unfortunately, the film suffers as it changes pace in the second half to become a CASABLANCA (1942, Michael Curtis) retread, introducing the French resistance and offering two characters Bogart must reluctantly save (you can almost hear the dialogue drifing along with the fog in the background--"I stick my neck out for no man"), one of which is a weak attempt at inserting a romantic triangle. In all, the film suffers by comparison, but it's impossible not to see the shadow of Rick Blaine in the distance and with at least one character you wish they could have snagged Sidney Greenstreet for the role. Still, there's by far enough great dialogue and fantastic performances in Bogart and Bacall to justify its classic status. "You know how to whistle, don't you Steve? You just put your lips together and . . . blow." (A few notes and trivia: Throughout the film Bogart and Bacall refer to each other as "Slim" and "Steve". These were the nicknames Howard Hawks and his wife used to refer to each other. Also, if you've not seen it, definitely rent THE BIG SLEEP (1946, Howard Hawks) which reteams Bogart, Bacall, Hawks, and Faulkner in the screenwriting chair.)
TOKYO DRIFTER. Seijun Suzuki, 1996. 89min.
A somewhat crazy, careening gangster film, its 60s vintage should give away some of its stylistic tendencies. Tracing the life of a gangster as he must leave his boss and become a drifter (and the inevitable backstabbing twist at the end), the film owes as much to Eastwood's spaghetti westerns as to those of Sam Raimi, throwing go-go dancers, a ballroom fight, and a whistling loner into the mix. Glorious use of color places the protagonist in a baby blue suit as he drifts into and out of towns, trying to stay true to his boss who is trying to go straight. But as we all know, it's never that easy.
TOKYO OLYMPIAD. Kon Ichikawa, 1965. 170min.
A record of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Kon Ichikawa's film is a testament to the human spirit and the beauty of the human body. Concerned less with the final results in each event, he films atheletes in the throes of their sport, focusing on their faces and limbs as they test themselves. Shooting with telephoto lenses, his team of cameramen bring intimate portraits to the screen, following atheletes as they prepare for their events and then through them. Barring some strangely chosen opening orchestrations, the sound design is fantastic, focusing on the individual sounds associated with events rather than the blaring crowds. An epic undertaking in itself, the fiml involved 164 cameramen and 1,031 cameras. Over 400,000 feet of film were exposed. A beautiful portrait of the games, Ichikawa's choice to focus on the atheletes in their private moments of competition offers us an incredibly personal look at the events. As I watched I cried with the Japanese volleyball team as they won the gold and felt a sense of accomplishment along with the last finishing marathoner. Watching the film was almost like meditation. 01.02.03
TOKYO STORY. Yasujiro Ozu, 1953. 136min.
An older couple from a small town in Japan decide to visit their children in Tokyo, then they go home and their children find that they have to go back to visit them. From this simple premise, Ozu is able to draw out the dissapointments of life, and the strength that allows one to persevere in the face of such an impossible life. His formal control and technical mastery reflect upon the story, as he allows the film time to develop under his watchful gaze. It may be slow, but it's worth the investment.
TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI. Jacques Becker, 1953. 94min.
An ancestor to Rififi [Jules Dassin, 1955], as well as countless other French reimaginings of the American gangster film, Touchez pas au Grisbi tells of the aftermath of one last score, as the aging Max attempts to secure his future retirement in the face of his partner's mistakes. A French gangster film concerned more with the daily existence of gangsters after their scores than with the score itself, the film proves to be a study of manners as much as of gunplay. While not as gripping as Rififi, the seeds of the latter film are planted in the world-weariness of Max and his attempts to settle one last score over his last score. 9.6.03
TOUCHING THE VOID. Kevin Macdonald, 2003. 106min.
In 1985 two climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates attempted to summit Siula Grande by its then unclimbed western face. They climbed with minimal gear, "alpine style." They accomplished the feat, but on the descent suffered an accident that should have left Simpson (if not both of them) dead. Touching the Void is a harrowing film about the experience (based on Simpson's book of the same name), using interviews with Simpson and Yates and a surprisingly effective re-enactment of the event. The footage is breathtaking; the story astonishing (if the ending gets a little drawn out). 11.04
trOUBLE IN PARADISE. Ernst Lubittsch, 1932. 83min.
Lubitsch has been called arguably the creator of the Hollywood romantic comedy, and having finally seen this film, I might have to agree. Predating It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934), the film tells the story of two theives and their mark. A love triangle ensues, but throughout none of the characters' hearts are duped. They see things for what they are and are able to act accordingly. Exhibiting a sophistication seldom seen, almost everything is hinted at without being explicity shown. The action is inferred from the results, and Lubitsch manages to build his jokes one after the other from a seemingly simple premise. The Lubitsch touch, indeed. Unfortunately, the film suffered after the Production Code was created; in an introduction Peter Bogdonovich points to the fact that the film couldn't even be made after the Code. It's up-front about sexuality, and impossibly adult, and funnier than it seems to have any right to be. 9.13.03
THE TAILOR OF PANAMA. John Boorman, 2001. 109min.
Pierce Brosnan plays the flip side of his James Bond persona in this spy thriller which quickly spins out of control as the tall tales Geoffrey Rush tells to ingratiate himself into the spy game come to be taken as truth. It's mildly interesting to see Brosnan play the cad to his otherwise suave Bond, and more interesting still to realize that the characters are more or less the same, but then that's an academic argument, and doesn't really serve as entertainment. By the end of the film, when the world seems about to be torn asunder, I was wondering when it would all end and how and then realized I didn't really care all that much.
THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. Anthony Minghella,1999. 139min.
Would that the scriptwriter had the purported talent of Mr. Ripley! A confounding film where said Ripley stumbles into a life of crime and privledge, the source material was better addressed by the infinitely superior PLEIN SOLEIL (aka PURPLE NOON, 1960) by Rene Clement. While parts of the film are pretty, and the last scene uses mirrors to fantastic effect, it's not worth the two plus hours to get to it. A dismal effort, the major problems seem as though they could have easily been fixed with a few minor corrections and shifts of emphasis. Unfortunately, as it stands, the film is just this side of ridiculous. Perhaps the best thing about the film is Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing a bit of a cad. Pity he's onscreen for less than a tenth of the film.
TEMPTING HEART. Sylvia Chang, 1999. 115min.
While I enjoyed this film, I find it difficult to recommend, necessarily. A film within a film of sorts, Tempting Heart tells the story of a woman's first love in the form of a director telling a screenwriter as they fashion a script out of her past. Flash-back scenes are played as scenes shot for the film, interspersed with scenes of the director and screenwriter in conference. The narrative technique allows the people in the present leeway to comment on the characters of the past, commenting on the beauty and banalities of love. An interesting film, maudlin at times, and perhaps not quite up to its 115 minute running time, Tempting Heart is a bittersweet love song sung to a past that may have turned out better, or may have turned out for the best. 12.26.01
THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. Bobby Farrelly + Peter Farrelly, 1998. 199min.
The wonderful thing about Cameron Diaz is her utterly unaffected performance; watching her you can see the joy with which she inhabits this role and film. While the setups can be tedious, there are some genuinely funny parts, most of them involving a dog, and there is the ingenious introduction and reintroduction of a musical duo who function as a Greek chorus of sort. Ben Stiller is the man who has pined after Diaz for 13 years, since a bathroom accident kept him from accompanying her to the senior prom. The jokes don't really leave that particular annex of the house, but its diverting entertainment. In the ensuing years and 2 hours it takes this film to unspool, a number of men fall in love with Diaz (the Mary of the title), each trying to serruptitously undermine the chances of the other. And in the end, well, you don't need to be a Hollywood script doctor to figure out who ends up with who. 03.05.01
TIME AND TIDE (aka Seunlau ngaklau). Tsui Hark, 2000. 113min.
Tsui Hark's latest Hong Kong action film ironically puts a little too much emphasis on the action. While there is a hint of a story under all the wham bam thank you ma'am, it is unfortunately suspended after the first half hour for a series of action set-pieces leading one to the next. That the action is at times inspired, using (mostly) transparent CGI effects, it unfortunately cannot offset the coma that one slips into as explosions and trailing cameras continue to fill the screen and the characters slowly slip off of it to be replaced by two-dimensional figures existing only to carry out the demands of the special effects. 05.26.01
trAFFIC. Steven Soderbergh, 2000. 147min.
A miniseries condensed into a two hour film, trAFFIC follows three slightly interlocking stories revolving around the US war on drugs. The most interesting, both in terms of cinematography and storytelling, focuses on Mexican cartels and two Tijuana police offers bent on making the city safe for kids to play baseball. The other two tell of a judge appointed to be the new US drug czar in charge of defeating the drug runners, and of a woman who must deal with the discovery that her husband's extensive business is predicated on importing drugs into the states. Heavy-handed and didactic at times, the film suffers most when it either spits statistics at the audience or puts moralizing lectures into the mouths of its characters to tell each other off. The attempt to put as many messages and ironies into the film as possible also mires the production, as the newly appointed drug czar must deal with his daughter, who becomes such a drug addict that she must . . . but i don't want to spoil that debasement.
TWENTIETH CENTURY. Howard Hawks, 1934. 91 min.
Cited as the first screwball comedy, this overwrought film features more scenery chewing than I've seen in recent memory as the charaters strut and fret and strut and fret some more on the stage. One wonders why they bothered with scenery at all what with the arm waving and hair pulling. The film unspools as a fairly routine pygmalion story, with John Barrymore as a theatre producer/director creating a star out of Carole Lombard only to have her flee from him to Hollywood. They are reunited on a train to New York (The Twentieth Century of the title). Compared to future representations of the form, the film feels slow, with the action not really commencing until they arrive on the train (some 30 minutes into the film). While interesting for historical value (and good for a few chuckles), overall it's hard to sit through so much preposturous posturing. Even if Etienne Girardot is a charming bit of characterization. If you're looking for better representations of screwball comedy, you're better off BRINGING UP BABY (1938, Howard Hawks) or seeking out HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940, Howard Hawks).