• The Movie Watch

    A Seperation
    Hunger Games
    The Artist
    The Skin I Live In
    Safe House
    Super 8
    Black Power Mixtape 1967-75
    Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
    Margin Call
    My Week with Marilyn
    The Ides of March
    Rise of the Planet of the Apes
    Red Desert
    Fright Night
    Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest
    Page One: Inside the New York Times
    13 Assassins
    Horrible Bosses
    Dragon Inn
    Jamel Shabazz: Street Photographer
    Radiant Child
    Still Bill
    X-Men First Class
    Midnight in Paris
    Inside Job
    Source Code
    Dracula (1992)
    Cedar Rapids
    Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
    Cave of Forgotten Dreams
    I Saw the Devil
    The Square
    Exit Through the Gift Shop
    The Fighter
    The King's Speech
    Louis C.K.: Chewed Up
    Paranormal Activity
    True Grit
    Black Swan
    Toy Story 3
    Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
    Reign of Assassins
    Tron Legacy
    Il Conformista
    The Tourist
    The Kids are Alright
    127 Hours
    The Social Network
    Waiting for Superman
    Elite Squad
    Enter the Void
    The Town
    21 Grams
    The Other Guys
    12 Monkeys
    Catch Me If You Can
    The People I've Slept With
    She Puppet Peggy Ahwesh, 2001, 17m
    Nest of Tens Miranda July, 2000, 27m
    Poetry and Truth Peter Kubelka, 2003, Austria, 13m
    Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine Peter Tscherkassky, 2005, Austria, 17m
    The General Returns From One Place to Another Michael Robinson, 2006, 11m
    Rehearsals for Retirement Phil Solomon, 2007, 10m
    Broadway Danny Rose
    Manila Skies
    Scream Blacula Scream
    More Than a Game
    The Law
    Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
    Wah Do Dem
    El secreto de sus ojos
    The S from Hell (short)
    Photograph of Jesus (short)
    Open Air (short)
    Man-Made Things (short)
    Iowa Mixtape (short)
    The Feast of Stephen (short)
    Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No (short)
    Blood Magic (short)
    Billy and Aaron (short)
    Alice in Wonderland (2009)
    Please Give
    Wo ai ni Mommy
    Au Revoir Taipei
    At the End of Daybreak
    Manila Skies
    Tall Enough (short)
    The Queen (short)
    Poi Dogs (short)
    Works of Art (short)
    Lovers (short)
    Gareeb Nawaz's Taxi (short)
    Mao's Last Dancer
    Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story
    Not Quite Hollywood
    La Chute de la maison Usher
    We Feed the World
    The Man Who Shot Chinatown
    Blood and Rain
    A Brand New Life
    Vidal Sassoon: The Movie
    Arias with a Twist: The Docufantasy
    Elvis & Madona
    Keep Surfing
    Loose Cannons
    Travelogues (short)
    Yanqui Walker and the Optical Revolution (short)
    American Mystic
    The Arbor
    White Lines and the Fever: The Death of DJ Junebug (s)
    Hard Rock Havana (short)
    Missed Connections (short)
    New American Soldier (short)
    A .45 at 50th (short)
    Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn (short)
    Dog Pound
    Sons of Perdition
    In the Loop
    Hot Tub Time Machine
    Memories of Murder
    Quadrangle (short)
    Night Catches Us
    Happy Together
    The Ghost Writer
    Medicine for Melancholy
    El Salvador
    The Gangster's God
    Election 2
    The Secret of Kells
    The Exploding Girl
    Let the Right One In
    Shutter Island
    Heavy Metal 2000
    The New Tenants (short)
    Miracle Fish (short)
    Kavi (short)
    Instead of Abracadabra (short)
    The Door (short)
    I Loved You So Long
    Nothing But the Truth
    Off and Running
    The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus
    Edge of Darkness
    A Serious Man
    Soundtrack for a Revolution
    A Single Man
    The White Ribbon
    Fish Tank
    The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
    Sherlock Holmes
    Point Blank
    Broken Embraces
    Star Trek: Generations
    The Road
    Up in the Air
    Hard Boiled
    Fantastic Mr. Fox
    The Lovely Bones
    Hour of the Wolf
    Princess Mononoke
    The Bank Job
    Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
    An Education
    Rachel Getting Married
    Il Grido
    Unforbidden City
    Immokalee, My Home
    The Messenger
    Lars and the Real Girl
    No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti
    Black Dynamite
    Blow Out
    Good Hair
    Fame (1980)
    After the Storm
    Capitalism: A Love Story
    Around a Small Mountain / 36 vues du Pic Saint-Loup
    Plastic Bag (short)
    White Material
    Chicken Heads (short)
    La vie de famille
    Wild Grass
    The History of Aviation (short)
    Taking Woodstock
    Inglourious Basterds
    District 9
    People Will Talk
    Desperately Seeking Susan
    The Awful Truth
    Born to Be Bad
    Ladies Should Listen
    C'était un rendez-vous
    Funny People
    A City to Yourself (short)
    Video Terraform Dance Party (short)
    Six Apartments (short)
    Reincarnation (short)
    Studies in Transfalumination (short)
    Passages (short)
    Dahlia (short)
    In the Realm of the Senses
    Paper Heart
    Mississippi Mermaid
    What's On Your Plate?
    Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans
    Adjust Your Color: The Truth of Petey Greene
    Children of Invention
    No Joke Burma (short)
    Story of a Businesswoman (short)
    A Song For Ourselves (short)
    Crossing Midnight (short)
    Fruit Fly
    Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan
    My Four Inch Precious (short)
    Once… (short)
    Walking While Sleeping (short)
    I Don’t Sleep I Dream (short)
    Take Out (short)
    The Humberville Poetry Slam (short)
    Fate Scores (short)
    The Call Center (short)
    Civilian (short)
    The Hurt Locker
    Big Fan
    Everything Strange and New
    Why Did I Get Married?
    The International
    Don't Let Me Drown
    Capturing the Friedmans
    District B13
    Unmistaken Child
    Red Cliff
    Brothers Bloom
    Summer Hours
    Terminator Salvation
    Limits of Control
    Star Trek (2009)
    X-Men Origins: Wolverine
    The Eclipse
    Rudo y Cursi
    Dean and Me
    Rocky Road
    A Reggae Session
    Rebirth of a Nation
    Paris is Burning
    Tell No One
    Goodbye Solo
    The Sky Crawlers
    Examined Life
    The President
    Day of Wrath
    Whiz Kids
    Two or Three Things But Nothing For Sure
    La Nana
    Dillinger is Dead
    Baghdad ER
    The Omega Man
    All About Eve
    The Living Wake
    Invisible Revolution
    The Andre Show
    Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
    The Wrestler
    Daybreak Express
    The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306
    Little Rock High: 50 Years Later
    Deux vies... plus une
    Waltz With Bashir
    Revolutionary Road
    Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
    Street Fight
    Cadillac Records
    Battle in Heaven
    Gran Torino
    Seven Pounds
    The Reader
    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    Stanley Kubrick's Boxes
    The Devil's Backbone
    Let the Right One In
    The Story of a Three-Day Pass
    Wendy and Lucy
    Un Giorno Perfetto
    Confessions of an Ex-Doofus-Itchy-Footed Mutha
    Encounters at the End of the World
    Sita Sings the Blues

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Margin Call Brings Me Out of Writing Coma

J.C. Chandor’s feature debut is a confident and unexplored look at one of humanity’s darkest hours. It posits that the financial meltdown we remain mired in was less the result of evil machinations, though there is a smattering of that, but more human frailties like hubris, naivete, and poor management.

I’m not sure whether this is plausible, but it makes for very good watching. Chandor manages to imbue a typical three act drama with strange horror and thriller notes that blend naturally. I left the theater shaken by the depth of duplicity we live with on a daily basis. In many ways it is “normal people” who create the monsters we so abhor, grand excuses for our own failings.


The King’s Speech: Friendship in Wartime

Tom Hooper’s well-mannered period piece (minus some staccato naughty words) is a welcome affront to the 3-D glut spilling out of theaters these days. Also I must emphatically state that I’m not using “well-mannered” as some code for “utterly boring.” This film has brought me more entertainment than anything I’ve seen in the past three months hands down. This liveliness is not accomplished through special effects or fancy editing but rather simple and coherent storytelling thrust on the backs of superbly talented actors.

The King’s Speech opens with the grandeur of Wembley Stadium as it slams into the paralyzing fear of the Duke of York, as played by a subdued Colin Firth. The prince and king-to-be is the official mouthpiece of the royal family on this momentous occasion. The British Empire exhibition at Wembley was one of the largest international events up until that time so there were most likely millions of ears and eyes on the prince. However, the trepidation of his wife and other dignitaries surrounding him, and his almost pantomime movements through the upper decks speak louder than he will. Immediately we know a man controlled by his phobias. Firth manages to convey the world of the prince’s emotions through the twitch of a lip, the darting of eyes, and a hunched demeanor.

Hooper uses tight framing, close-ups, and sound distortion to heighten the claustrophobia and mounting pressure of the prince’s moment in front of the mic. The words are throttled in his throat battling to get out with no chance of easy egress. The disappointment in the crowd grows toxic as silence builds to a merciful cut away. This will become a common theme as Hooper consistently brings us to the brink of words, but pulls the camera away from unnecessary gawking at the prince’s embarrassment. He shows great deference to his struggles and those of many out there who share his condition. In fact the only time we are allowed to languish over language is when there are hard won breakthroughs.

Slowly we discover that the prince’s belayed words are the remnants of unfulfilled promise, blunted pride, and a piercing anger. The prince has gone through an interminable succession of speech therapists to address his “deficiency.” After having given up for the most recent time, his wife, played by Helena Bonham Carter, covertly attempts to procure a practitioner with novel techniques to assuage the easily frustrated prince. She finds a peculiar man in the guise of Lionel Logue, an upwardly mobile striver and a failed actor with a unique approach to word reclamation. Geoffrey Rush balances a wry impishness with a deep empathy for his clients — a far bridge from the expected detachment. It is a bridge of suffering he seems to have crossed himself at one time finding some measure of peace on the other side, mostly due to the love and support of his wife and three children.

This is not a seamless meeting of the minds and Logue has to step over royal custom repeatedly to get through the Duke’s ingrained defenses. The most humorous of these digressions is his insistence on calling the prince “Bertie,” a private family nickname. Nonetheless through repeated conflict these two men born of hurt pride forge a real deep and abiding friendship that crosses their stark class differences. Hooper manages to infuse the film with subtle characterizations that organically flower into intimate realizations about the true motivations of these historical figures. Firth masterfully plays the prince as a braggart child of royalty, certainly scarred and afflicted, but also entitled and dismissive. However at his core he is extremely needy of approval through friendship, leadership, and from his wife and children. In this way both men are connected through their deep, abiding love of family.

The King’s Speech is not only the requisite Oscar front-runner but a deeply respectful film that uses one royal problem to address the multitude of nameless stutterers in the world. I’ve never seen a film handle a condition which precludes smooth dialogue with such sophisticated use of language to inspire, make us laugh, and impart the gravity of war. Hopefully appropriate praise is given to Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler over the next few months for the incredible research and commitment to bringing this story to the masses.

Top 10 of 2010

I’m woefully late on this list, and I still have yet to see The King’s Speech, Another Year, Winter’s Bone, Never Let Me Go, Blue Valentine, and the Fighter but this end of the year corral is more for my mental closure than any fastidious bean counting. My top three this year fall into the category of gruesome formalism–beautifully composed works about unpleasant subjects. You won’t soon forget them, and I haven’t all year long…

10. Catfish
Perhaps the truer “facebook movie” this year, what happens when you fall in love with a digital copy? Joost and Shulman insert themselves into this funny, heartbreaking, and slight examination of what lengths people go to find themselves in others.

9. 127 Hours
How many times can one use visceral in a sentence. I couldn’t breath from about minute ten until the end of this gnawing, slot-canyon drama. Knowing the ending can’t prepare one for the exhilaration, claustrophobia, and ultimate release. It’s never felt so good to leave a theater before.

8. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
15 minutes of fame ruthlessly, strategically, and lovingly held on to for 50 plus years is a pretty amazing feat. If this serpentine career is the consolation prize, then I consider us all pretty damn lucky!

7. Waiting for Superman
As my movie partner can attest to I had a hard time not succumbing to Guggenheim’s blatant manipulation. I’m man enough to accept my tears, but is this country good enough to look after it’s most valuable resource? Definitely not if status quo keeps the wealthy at the top of the class…

6. The Other Guys
A comedy about the financial collapse on Wall Street is definitely not what I signed up for, but I left appreciative of the lesson in the laughter. McKay is one of few who understands that the path to enlightenment goes through Eva Mendes’ ugly ugly face.

5. The Kids Are All Right
And the adults have a lot to learn. I think the sole reason this film settled onto my list is Annette Bening. I am still flummoxed over her transcendent performance in Being Julia. I have no clue how her shrill, stressed out, and judgmental doctor actually warmed my heart. Now that I think of it she may be the only true adult in the film.

4. The Social Network
Why are we all on facebook? Is it truly about connecting or is it more about fashioning the perfect self that eluded one in college and life afterwards? Fincher approaches these questions through the lens of a bleak dystopia ruled by an embittered child-king. We are all the sad, obedient slaves.

3. Dogtooth
Dogtooth manages to successfully mix family drama, comedy, sci-fi, horror, and pornography into a perplexing whole! What is their not to love? Alien monster cats never had it so bad…

2. The Secret in Their Eyes
In America, the Thriller has become an uninventive wasteland for half-baked legal dramas and atmospheric horror movies without the gore. Apparently in Argentina they haven’t jettisoned the intricate set pieces, the wrenching human element, and the crackling suspense that makes the genre watchable. Be prepared to question your basic understanding of morality and justice…

1. Mother
I can’t describe what Joon-ho Bong does with a camera. It’s a slow, contemplative explosion buffeted by vague dialogue and shattered characters. I could not look away, not once. The tension was delicious, and I still don’t know to what purpose it was used, but it doesn’t really matter. Movies don’t always have to make sense to be masterpieces.

Honorable Mention: True Grit, The Arbor, Dog Pound, The Exploding Girl, and brilliantlove

Stephen Tobolowsky Wisdom

“Relationships are the true time machine in that they exist in the past, present and future at the same time.”

Nighttime Poetry

Why is there a space between
Pain that slides and vibrates
Your Insides

It is always late but never easy
If I could control my fate,
I could let my words
free and reclaim “I”
from “What might be”

Pretty Funny, Huh?

Centurion’s Blind Ambition

The sword and sandals genre has had a woeful resurgence of late. Not since the Hercules/Maciste/Samson films of the 50’s and 60’s have bare-chested bravura, tunics, and dusty sandals been such a hit at the box office. Recent unfortunate examples include Troy, 300Clash of the Titans, and Prince of Persia. They all trade on our communal knowledge of some vague, ancient fable which is subsequently blown up in favor of intricate chases, encounters between massive battalions, and monster fights. I’m not a particular fan of the genre, considering sweaty Cro-Magnon brows coupled with wooden dialogue and undisciplined extras all stuffed into grandiose settings do not tempt me as they do some.

Hence I entered Neil Marshall’s new film, Centurion, with equal parts apprehension and growing nausea. But don’t paint me a devotee of self-flagellation just yet. I reasoned that, with starring roles from both Michael Fassbender (Hunger, Inglourious Basterds) and Dominic West (The Wire), there would at least be top-notch, testosterone-soaked emoting on a grand scale….

Check out the rest of my review on mediapora

Asian American International Film Festival Preview

This year the AAIFF runs from July 15th to July 24th. With a smaller selection of films from last year, the choices are consistently good and occasionally remarkable. Opening Night has been handed over to award-winning Filmmaker Raymond Red, who is no stranger to international audiences. He was the first and remains the only Filipino to have won the Palme d’Or in Cannes for his 2000 short film, Anino. In Manila Skies we follow Raul (Raul Arellano), a struggling day laborer who tries to cobble together some money for a trip back to his childhood home in Romblon, where he hopes to help his ailing father. Raul’s attempts to secure a more lucrative job abroad are stymied by Manila’s suffocating bureaucracy.

Manila Skies After a disastrous turn of events, Raul ends up using a gun and grenade to return to the innocence he longs for. With guerilla-style framing that emotes claustrophobia and anxiety, Red propels us through the grime and heat of the city and never lets up. Unbalanced by a long, meandering middle section, the film nonetheless is a vital commentary on social injustice in the “modern” world. The Friday night pairing is delectably off-kilter with Slice, a Thai horror thriller screening concurrently with Wo Ai Ni Mommy, a documentary about adoption from China. Slice, taking a cue from recent, excellent Korean thrillers, leaves audiences in brilliant suspension as we meet truly awkward characters in rural settings.

Wo Ai Ni Mommy The opening screen titles of Woi Ai Ni Mommy let us know that since China began its international adoption program, over 70,000 children have been sent to live in American homes. In this bird’s eye documentary we follow one family, the Sadowskys, as they bring home a second orphan from Guangzhou, China to Long Island, New York. Fang Sui Yong, a precocious and head-strong eight year old is forced to acclimate quickly to her new life as Faith Sadowsky. Saturday highlights include Bruce Beresford’s latest, Mao’s Last Dancer. A biopic about Cunxin Li, it tells the story of this renowned ballet dancer’s transition from Communist China, hand-picked by Madam Mao, to his success and struggles in the United States. Though rather predictable in its set pieces, Beresford manages to invest a convincing emotional depth throughout.

Au Revoir Taipei Saturday’s Centerpiece Presentation of Au Revoir Taipei is one of the better films I’ve seen all year, and I promise this is not an overstatement. A love story interrupted by a gangster film, all undone by a screwball comedy is the only apt description for this wonderful romp directed by first time feature director, Arvin Chen. Kai (Jack Yao) is a lovelorn college student, abandoned by his girlfriend, Faye, for the allure of Paris. In his futile attempt to learn French from a book and escape the monotony of waiting until he can see her again, he parks himself on the floor of a local bookstore every day where he meets Susie (Amber Kuo). Interweaving various storylines, Chen takes us through the shops, alleys, and parks of Taipei in crisp, electric night cinematography. We follow a distracted cop, Kai’s best friend, and the gangster’s bumbling henchman as they all try to discern the mystery of love, wrapped up for easy transport. Sunday ends with At the End of Daybreak. Starting with a disturbing scene of animal cruelty which frames the entire film, Ho Yuhang doesn’t shy away from hard truths. Tuck Chai (Tien Yu Chui), an aimless 23 year old, is involved with Ying (Meng Hui Ng), a reckless high school student. They see each other as temporary distractions from the imposition of expectations and responsibilities placed on their young shoulders. Ho Yuhang captures the complexity of familial entanglements, the consequences of corporal punishment, and the lack of class mobility through a kinetic lens that masterfully flows from heart-wrenching close-ups to sweeping action sequences.

At the End of Daybreak Closing Night on July 21st features the Mamma Mia-esque romantic comedy The People I’ve Slept With. Angela (Karin Anna Cheung) has a healthy sexual appetite, and when she finds herself pregnant she must embark on a journey to not only find the father, but herself. The Shorts programs are also rather ambitious with themes as varied as family, love, hidden true stories, humor, and a special focus on Taipei. The First Kiss program includes an ode to the serendipity of love in Tall Enough. From the director of Medicine for Melancholy, Barry Jenkins, we witness the unfolding romance between an interracial couple portrayed in snug frames and tender close-ups.

Tall Enough In another short, Works of Art, a sumptuously filmed New York is explored through Art (Paul Juhn). He is a struggling actor, running to casting calls during lunch breaks from a boring job. Tired of being typecast and ignored, his friend offers him the acting job of a lifetime. While pretending to be someone else, he runs into the one real thing he has been missing all along.

Works of Art Throughout the festival there are also various panels, including ones on green film-making and overcoming copyright hurdles for those so inclined. All in all, this year offers multivalent options, even within the same film. It will not be uncommon that comedy and family drama enthusiasts will be sitting next to each other or thriller junkies and doc hounds will have something to talk about at the same screening. Take a chance, and you’ll probably walk away with a story to tell!