Tag Archives: cinema

‘Prince of Persia:Curse of the Black Pearl’ trailer arrives!

3 Nov

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Wow. I’m wondering if Disney even knows how to cut good trailers anymore.

I wish I could be more excited for this one. Afterall, it’s one of the big summer tentpole movies.

It took me  a few moments to process Donnie Darko as a swashbuckler, but more than that, it’s the 1999 Mummy sand fx that seem out of place here. I’m not digging the excessive use of digital imagery and the central plot seems like a cookie-cutter genre affair. For a movie with its own established franchise, Persia looks a bit too much like LOTR, Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean stirred into a giant CGI stew. Continue reading

AMAD-Horror Edition:Wendigo

18 Oct

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cinemagrade bChances are you might have heard of Larry Fessenden, and if you have, most of his buzz is probably coming off of this 2001 movie. Larry directed a creepy and sometimes off-putting vampire film called Habit early in his indie career and followed that movie up with this one. And after making Wendigo, he apparently became obsessed with the titular mystical beastie since both of his following efforts would feature the dark forest spirit prominently. The Last Winter was an eco-thriller with a ghost story wrapped around it, and his episode of Fear Itself, written by AICN’s Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan, was a grotesque little tale with Doug Jones as a most hideous wendigo.

But for my money, it’s this little feature here that works the best. Wendigo isn’t solely about some monster in the woods, though. It’s really about the ways in which children see the world as they grow up and tells the story of a little boy coming to grips with the difference between the phantoms of his imagination and the harsher dangers of the real world. It’s an odd spooky trip and whole chunks of it play like The Shining done documentary style. Continue reading

AMAD-Horror Edition: Sauna

6 Oct

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Oct 6th, 2009–

cinemagrade b A.J. Anila’s Sauna is an odd and challenging  film. The Finnish horror feature is the second for its director and like his first, Jade Warrior, it’s a melding of genres; supernatural horror, historical drama and existential mystery.  A grim, cold and foreboding movie, Sauna is really about the price of sin and the nature of guilt. I’ve watched it twice now over the past few days, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. Continue reading

Fantasia 2009 Review: ‘Daytime Drinking’ Without the Hangover

24 Jul

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Daytime Drinking (NR) 116 min. Written and Directed by: Young-Seok Noh Starring: Kang-Hee Kim, Sam-Dong Song Cinematography and Original Music by: Young-Seok Noh

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 After seeing so many of the Fantasia Fest entries this year (and I’ve got a ton of reviews on the way) one begins to notice the overarching differences between the various strains of Asian film. China seems to still be primarily focusing energy on martial arts and historical action pictures; Japan is all over the wacky place with some really bold dramas and alot of comic-book fueled madness; Thailand is mostly concerned with how to actually kill its stuntmen during filming; and then, there is South Korea. In the past five or six years Korean film has leapt to the forefront of the cinematic landscape. Producing work both provoking, artistic and just plain-out entertaining, Korean filmmaking is in the midst of a significant evolution forward. When I look at movies like Oldboy, The Chaser, or the work of Kim Ki-Duk, what I see reminds me of the artistic explosion that occurred in the film world here in America during the 1970s. That era bought about a new viewpoint through which artists considered the opportunities the medium of film afforded. Continue reading

Celebrating the Senator and 70 Years of Cinema!

8 Jul

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July 8th, 2009–

Well, I’ve finally got around to starting this one. From the very beginning of the blog, a few months ago, I had gotten an idea for a new column inspired by the fact that the nearby classic theater, The Senator, which  stopped showing films in March, had been previously operational since 1939. 70 years! What a phenomenal span of time, and imagine how much the films and the industry have changed since then. I just turned 30 in April, and I haven’t even been around half that long, so it got me to thinking about all of the films, particularly those some 50 years old now, that I have never seen. And thus, this project was born.

Unfortunately, things are rather up in the air for the future of the old historic theater, and if you check the website you can learn more, including the date for the upcoming auction. Meanwhile, I’ll keep updates on the current situation linked right here in the column. Go to The Senator Theatre site HERE.

As for this column, the plan is this: Starting with 1939, and progressing through 70 years of films, I will cover one year a week(Wednesday to Wednesday). For each year, I’ll find 3 films that I haven’t seen, watch them, and write them up.  That’s pretty much the whole gist of it. When I checked out 1939 for choices though, I discovered some egregious holes in my film knowledge; stuff I was sure I had seen, but upon further inspection I realized, no, I hadn’t. So, the 1939 segment of this column will feature 3 films that I probably should have checked out long ago, but for whatever reason, didn’t. Continue reading

Dude Fest and ‘Lebowski’ abide in Baltimore this Saturday!

3 Jun

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June 3rd, 2009-

You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me. There are ways, Dude. You don’t wanna know about it, believe me. 
Hell, I can get you a toe by 3 o’clock this afternoon… with nail polish. These …amateurs! ” – Walter Sobchack, The Big Lebowski

 Carving out it’s own unique niche in American pop culture,  the penultimate Coen brothers epic of  mere mortals facing the darkness of nihilism and the random chaos of the universe has won accolades right and left since the time of its release. No Country for Old Men, right? Ha! We are talking The Big Lebowski here, the Coen’s laugh-out loud 98 comedy that combines post-modernist straw grabbing, stoner humor and noir potboiler with a savage, glowering John Goodman thrown in for added effect. But like I need to tell you. Continue reading

Bartleby Abroad: Teen love with a ‘Chainsaw Edge’

1 Jun

 

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Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge isn’t quite the movie the title or the trailer suggests it will be. After witnessing flashy snippets of a young, female warrior doing battle with a hulking behemoth that looks like Andre the Giant wearing a holocaust cloak and lugging a massive chainsaw, I expected we were in for some zany, hyperactive silliness like Machine Girl or Tokyo Gore Police. As it turns out, NHCE isn’t remotely in the same genre as either of those movies; instead, it’s a teenage romantic comedy.

Huh? You mean it’s got a love story shoehorned into the battles with the giant chainsaw man? No, I mean it’s primarily a teen love story with the chainsaw man providing the film’s metaphorical layer and a few choice action scenes. Yea, if John Hughes moved to Japan and replaced the smug, arrogant boyfriend or the unresponsive, overbearing parent with a gigantic reaper wielding a gas-powered weapon for a hand, it would more or less look exactly like Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge.

 

  Young schoolboy Yosuke has been having a rather rough time of things ever since his friend Noto died in a motor-bike accident. Always living in his dead friend’s shadow and staging reckless stunts, Yosuke is just haphazardly cruising through life when he runs into the bewitching but somber Eri. Yosuke knows Eri has issues right off the bat, because her issues try to grind his face off the first time he meets her. See, Eri’s afterschool activities consist of essentially only one thing: dueling with a phantasmal giant with the titular chainsaw attached where his right arm should be. She employs a host of weapons in this crusade, and the giant’s attacks are always telegraphed by an unnatural snow-fall, even indoors. If Eri can withstand the monster’s assault and impale his heart, he flies away and returns, seemingly, to the moon. Yea, the moon.

 Yosuke is obviously a bit daunted by that initially, but he sees it as an opportunity to once again challenge the echoing words of his lost friend, who had a habit of calling him gutless. Eri is brooding and lonely, but she welcomes Yosuke’s presence, even if it is grudgingly at first. And then, the romance begins. What follows isn’t a polished, trite teen romp or a frenzied action pic, racing past the courtship to get to the chainsaw battles. Instead, it’s a light, and occasionally delicate teen drama about dealing with grief, loss and mortality and putting it all in a perspective that still allows one to live with joy. In fact, the chainsaw battles are an integral part of the central courtship. Yosuke and Eri ride around on Yosuke’s bike, get coffee, talk, go to the amusement park and dance around their obvious feelings for each other like any other reluctant teen movie couple. But death lurks at the center of both of their lives, even if it’s haunting Yosuke’s past and dominating Eri’s present. So, every night when Eri goes off to fight Chainsaw Man and Yosuke scurries behind to protect her, it’s really the dark aspects of their individual lives they are confronting.

Sometimes the epic battles aren’t even depicted on screen. We see Eri charging into the fray with a golf club or an umbrella, and then we see the two kids sitting in the aftermath of victory, glancing nervously at one another. It’s a nice touch in a film that plays everything light as a feather. The battles that do appear on screen are visualized with an energetic camera style that isn’t aggressive but rather playful, and the special effects create a world that is just real enough without taking away the manga-esque elements of the action sequences. Best yet, Hayato Ichihara and Megumi Seki have a quirky chemistry with each other; he manages to make bumbling look charming and she gives defensive melancholy a fetching sheen. It’s odd, but it works. And, in his own way, so does the chainsaw man.

 

It’s rather a shame that a lifeless and dull exercise like Twilight is garnering the attention of teenagers while this film, which tackles a similar theme, premise and audience will most likely never be seen by any of the vamp pic’s fans. NHCE is a strange and curious movie, and its success isn’t a massive triumph but rather a small victory. It’s entertaining and engaging and it will likely ensnare even the viewers who come to it expecting something gorier, ghastlier and more twisted. But its real strength and it’s real story will work best for those in their teenage years. Word to whoever might have the power to get this thing an American distribution. If you get it out there on dvd, I will personally promise to recommend it to every teenager I know.

 

Movie Review: Pixar’s ‘Up’ soars in 3-D

1 Jun

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Pixar’s Up is a grand adventure and a heart-warming drama that reaches new emotional heights for the animated film team. It’s not surprising that Up works as a superb family entertainment; after-all Lasseter and gang have yet to really miss. What is surprising is that Up, similar to last year’s brilliant Wall-E, manages to raise the bar for Pixar and gives us a film that exceeds both our expectations and the boundaries of its own premise. Like its protagonist Carl Fredrickson, Up takes off early and heads into the stratosphere, floating with ease for its entire running time and finally coming down to bask in the glow of the voyage.

For Pixar, Up marks a more adult journey than its predecessors. After Toy StoryA Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2,  Pixar had cornered the market on wonderful children’s films that appealed to both young tykes, their parents and everyone else in between. However, they were still, essentially, “kid’s films’. With Monster’s Inc. this began to change. The world of Monsters was a complete original and it took childhood imagination and married it to working class comedy and embedded something at the heart; a parent/child bond between Sully and little Boo. It was an enticingly complex and poignant relationship for a mere children’s film and it signified the move to a broader genre camp–the ‘family’ film. Andrew Stanton’s Finding Nemo boldly launched the company forward into that kind of family epic, and Brad Bird improved it with The Incredibles. And then, using the enjoyable Cars as a transition piece, the Pixar films changed. Ratatouille, Wall-E and now Up all share the fact that they don’t have a simple or easily marketable idea at their core; a rat who wants to be a French chef, a little worker robot who doesn’t speak and spends the first half of the movie puttering around an abandoned Earth, and now, the story of an old curmudgeon sailing his house to South America via thousands of balloons anchored through his chimney.

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 The new Pixar films aren’t limited to being simply kiddie or family pictures but are capable of functioning simply as ‘good movies’. Up(directed by Monsters helmer Pete Doctor) is like that, starting with an emotionally charged set-up and moving into a captivating lost world adventure worthy of a 30’s fantasy serial.  The animation has reached such a level of sophistication that Pixar can combine stylized representations with nearly photo-real imagery and it all blends together perfectly. Some of the visual enchantments include a floating house lifted into the sky by thousands of shimmering balloons, a massive air-ship releasing canine-piloted planes, and characters who represent their own brand of animated evolution; an old man squared down by age and experience and a small, round little asian boy who has yet to encounter the defining and shaping events of life. All of it looks spectacular and there is a mesmerizing beauty to the soaring sky sequences and the passages that occur in South America.

Up’s strongest feature is the writing and character development. Carl Fredrickson is an old, house-bound widower who has ceased making contact with the outside world. The house that he bought and fixed up with his loving wife is still intact, but all around high-rises and skycrapers have cropped up and businessman are pursuing Carl’s property. Shortly after meeting the young and determined Russel, an overweight and clingy boy scout, Carl is faced with the possibility of losing his  house and all the memories of his beloved wife along with it. His solution is the massive clot of balloons he attaches to the house which propel it airborne, tearing it from its foundation and floating away towards Paradise Falls, a lost world in South America that he and his wife had long dreamed of going to.

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 To say more of the journey, or how exactly Carl and Russell happen to be stranded in the floating house together would be to rob the film of some of its best moments. What is important is the way in which the filmmakers imbue Carl with a heartfelt quest and a desire to have one more great adventure for the sake of his wife. Their relationship is presented to us in the first fifteen minutes of the movie, when a young boy meets a hyperactive tomboy dreaming of far-off lands and exciting travel. That fifteen minutes, nearly as silent as the early parts of Wall-E, are the most emotional of the film; I was in tears half-way through. Ed Asner as Carl brings a weight to the role that carries all of that emotional currency with him through the fast-paced adventure segments. Russell, the little boy that accompanies Carl is primarily a bundle of energy but his home life has issues and he has latched onto this old man in a way that forces Fredrickson to consider something besides his own loneliness for the first time in years.

The theme of Up is refreshing as well. In the face of time and tragedy, which moments of our life are the ones that gave it meaning? The wide-eyed thrills or the smaller pieces? What Up does is give care and craft to both; the human drama is stronger here than it is in any ten live-action Hollywood dramas. The adventure in South America has a high-flung, good natured excitement to it and the action scenes in the air are far more rousing than anything in the last Indiana Jones film.

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How about the 3-D? For the first time, I was enthralled by its use. When it requires dropping an extra four dollars to see a film in three dimensions instead of two, it really needs to work if I’m going to recommend seeing something that way. I totally recommend Up in 3-D. Instead of focusing on a series of “set pieces’ the animators have  painstakingly designed each sequence of Up in a way that it immerses the viewer into the world of the movie. The 3-d only accentuates and deepens this immersion. Whether its seeing Carl’s house sail under darkening storm clouds or watching Russell dangle thousands of feet above the jungle, the 3-D opens up the animated world like a cinematic version of a pop-up book. There is a weight and texture to the flawlessly concieved art.

In any form, Up is worth a look. It stands at the forefront of this year’s most ambitious movies and so far it’s the best.

Now Playing: Oscar winning ‘Departures’ embraces life and honors the dead

1 Jun

 

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Okuribito (Departures) (2008) rated: PG-13 for thematic material. 130 min. Japanese with english subtitles.  directed by: Yojiro Takita. written by: Kundo Koyama. starring: Masahiro Motoki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ryoko Hirosue, Kazuko Yoshiyuki. cinematography by: Takeshi Hamada. Original music by: Joe Hisaishi.

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The wanted ad says the position will help others find ‘peaceful journeys.’

Freshly unemployed 30-something cellist Daigo didn’t just lose a job when the orchestra he was playing for disbanded, he lost a direction and a purpose. When he comes across the ad during his job hunt, he thinks it describes the work of a travel agent. That will do, especially if it pays well. He has sold his cello and is ready for something new–but maybe not this. His prospective employer is eager to have him and explains that the ad was misprinted; the proper translation should be ‘departures’. Daigo is offered a substantial salary and encouraged to give this job a try, even if its different than what he expected.

The actual position is that of a nokanshi, or ‘encoffining master’ who works in tandem with the funeral homes to prepare dead bodies for burial in ceremonies that take place in front of the deceased’s family. Daigo didn’t plan to sign on for this, but he and his wife Mika, have just moved out into his family home (his mother is dead and his father abandoned him when he was young) and he has promised her a fresh start. He takes the job, but keeps its nature a secret from her. And thus begins Yojira Takata’s Departures, a japanese film that won the Oscar for best foreign language film at the 2009 Academy Awards. 

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Departures is a surprisingly moving film that combines poetry and humor with a rich sense of cultural awareness. That may sound stuffy but it isn’t. To this westerner’s eyes, the process of ‘encoffining’ seems sterile, detached and perhaps a bit morbid; the family sits in front of the nokanshi as he bathes, cleans and prepares the body and then gently but expertly wraps it for its final journey. The entire process plays out like a somber dance, one final waltz whose purpose is clearly intended to benefit not the deceased but the living. The film is helpful in drawing out and exploring the assumed stigma that Japanese culture has towards death.

What Takita and his screenwriter Kundo Kayama do is instructively draw the lines between an aversion to death and a respect for the transition between life and death. If Departures were merely a study into the process of encoffining and an observation of its intimate details that would in and of itself make for a compelling film. The uncommon strength of Departures is that it manages to be so much more than just an explanation of a ceremony; it’s a warm and thoughtful exhaltation of the joy to be found in living and the catharsis that comes from properly acknowledging grief.

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Motoki as Daigo narrates the film but never gets carried away with it. He is the neophyte into this world and through his eyes we see his own progression; not simply from a cellist to a nokanshi, but from a man without a purpose to an artist embracing a passion and a talent he never would have guessed he had. Daigo isn’t sure about the job at first and a few days are rough, like a visit to an elderly shut-in whose body has been in the house for over two weeks. But the first time he watches his boss, played by veteran Tsutomo Yamazaki, perform an encoffining ritual he is intrigued and enraptured.

There is an artistry to it, like playing the cello, and a strange thing happens to the family present. They move from inconsolable grief to a mournful but visible peace. It isn’t complete and sudden, but it does happen and in one instance, a man even credits Daigo and the job he has done with helping him accept his son as the person he was. The purpose that Daigo latches onto isn’t related to the aesthetic and precise nature of the work but to the people who attend the ceremonies. He, the typically despised nokanshi, becomes a guide of sorts, not ushering the passed away into the land of death, but leading the grieving to a place of closure and acceptance.

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Its hard to describe exactly how Departures ends up being as great as it is. A large share of the credit goes to the excellent cast who embody their characters so perfectly that they convey their essence mostly through action and only occasionally with dialogue. In a film like this that spends so much of its time immersed in imagery, custom and tradition, long conversation scenes explaining processes and protocol would be tedious and besides the point. Motoko, who has had a long career as a Japanese pop star, is excellent here as a sensitive young man searching for his purpose and struggling with the memory of the father who abandoned him. Instead of just playing as a footnote in Daigo’s painful youth, the film expands and internalizes that conflict. Motoko makes it a large part of who the character is and how his new-found profession is bringing that pain back to surface and eventually calls it to be dealt with.

Yamazaki as the old boss does top-notch work and provides much of the comic relief without really saying much. Usually a film like this would revere the old pro and give him plenty of wisdom and perhaps even make him a father figure to Daigo. None of that ever happens, explicitly. Yamazaki’s master is a professional and a man who has organized a philosopy and lifestyle around what he does;he is completely at peace with it. Being in such close proximity to the dead amplifies everything in life and he models this for Daigo; the boss and his employees eating chicken with a discernable fervor right after an encoffining is a scene both odd and insightful.

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The remainder of the cast do their jobs wonderfully and I honestly couldn’t find a single poor performance. So well crafted is Departures that even the dead have been chosen with care and the family members at the deathbed have some of the juiciest roles. The film takes it time and has a natural flow and rythym which is good for a story that tends toward the melodramatic. Instead of being mawkish, it’s moving and wise in the way it visualizes its narrative. The cinematography and score are two of the strongest elements and they are the backbone of the film; they don’t simply accentuate the story, they give it the power it has. I was reminded of the way a master like Akira Kurosawa would construct deep and meaningful structures out of simple quiet life moments. The  encoffining ceremonies are numerous and each one is presented in almost its entirety. This would almost assuredly be boring if it weren’t for the fact that when each one happens it means something different and the characters are learning and growing during them.

Not unlike Kurosawa’s Ikiru, Departures is a masterpiece of Japanese cinema and though it might be grudgingly recieved over here as solid but overly sentimental, it deals with mortality in a mature and expressive way. This is not a story of  grief but a call for embracing every facet that life has to offer, each in its own time and in its own way. We shouldn’t be surprised when it turns out that Departures is not a tear-jerker but a triumphant, humorous and satisfying drama that inspires us to consider the joys available to us that are all too often taken for granted.

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Departures is one of the very best films I have seen this year and I encourage you to check it out. It’s completely wonderful and hearkens back to the work of the Japanese masters of the 50s and 60s while embracing the same kind of big-hearted entertainment that made 1996’s Shall We Dance? such a delight.

Harry Lime heads to the big screen and The Senator heads to auction

29 May
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It’s official. The Senator is headed to auction on July 21st where the BDC (Baltimore Development Corporation) will preside over the sale. The Senator Theatre will be sold for no less than a bid of  1 million dollars.  For further details regarding the specifics of the auction and the circumstances surrounding it, check out yesterday’s Baltimore Sun article about The Senator.  

Theres also this editorial letter calling for respect for Tom Kiefauber’s work and contribution to The Senator over the years.

Right now, The Senator is still showing films and this weekend its playing a bona fide masterpiece, Carol Reed’s noir thriller The Third Man. If you have never seen it then I suggest you check it out at The Senator if you can.  My wife and I are showing the film as part of an upcoming movie night event at our house, so I’ll have a more detailed review of it up then. My advice would be to walk into it knowing as little as possible. You won’t be disappointed.

Showtimes for The Third Man, as well as Yellow Submarine and the Pink Floyd concert film P.U.L.S.E  are HERE.

 

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