Archive for the ‘Great Director’s Series’ Category

“The Personal Ingmar Bergman: an Odyssey” or “It’s Okay to Question”

August 25, 2007

bergman at work

There’s been so much written about Bergman over the past month, it’s unfortunate that I was unable to finish this sooner, but all commentary on films and filmmakers is worthwhile in my eyes, no matter how timely the piece may or may not be.

Part 1

There’s a lot to this, to understand the impact of Ingmar Bergman in my life you first have to understand my life a little bit. My Father was and still is to this day a minister, and my Mother a minister’s wife. And similar to most biblical stories a lot of turmoil followed them and likewise my sister and I as we lugged around the United States looking for a Church that was without inner conflict; hypocrisy and backstabbing. I remember the stories of the apostles as they traveled across the land trying to bring people together with wisdom and love, trying to upend them out of their ways that were there more for convenience of memory than an actual desire to worship. My parents tried to do this by removing the hymnals and using bands, doing staged productions for the Church (both the poor man’s versions of much larger churches). My Father was trying to reach out to a younger generation of kids. He even went so far as to bring in movie clips. But like the congregation and the apostles, my Father was hardly perfect. Perhaps the man who takes upon them the mantle of not only a religious follower, but leader, succumbs to their own worst impulses when they realize they can’t live up to their own expectations. I don’t know. Thankfully his worst impulses pale in comparison to the leadership in the Old Testament, and he’s since outgrown many of them.

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The Grindhouse: Tarrantino, Rodriguez and me

April 7, 2007

It was an experience alright. Not one many seemed to get. What do I mean by that? That even among the pulp schlock crowd there are idiots who don’t even seem to know what they are watching. Two things stood out among the audience during this film. The first, moments after Rodriguez’s Planet Terror came to a conclusion a good 20 people stood up and left the theater as if the movie was over. I watched in absolute astonishment as this occurred. Did they not realize that Kurt Russell hadn’t appeared in the film yet? That there was no deadly car chase sequences? Very odd. And secondly, only about a quarter of the audience was laughing and truly appreciating the amazing experience that these two talented filmmakers created for our pleasure. They were watching but they certainly weren’t seeing. Every detail of these two films was so minutely crafted to capture the essence of the original grindhouse movies that really its difficult to calm them bad movies. From seeing the crew and camera man in the mirrors in the opening moments of Planet Terror to the constantly shifting backgrounds every time the camera cuts in the first car ride in Death Proof, you know, if nothing else, that Rodriguez and Tarrantino have seen far too many of these movies themselves.

But even where homage is paid, the films stand alone as very entertaining and enjoyable modern films. The car crash sequences in Death Proof are really quite thrilling. The violence is unquestionably and almost realistically violent. If you know someone who has been in a fatal automobile accident, you may want to close your eyes during this sophisticated slasher movies first big death scene. But then if you do, the final 20 minutes of the film won’t be nearly as satisfying. The only problem here is that, well, you’ve seen Tarrantino do this all before. Certainly not with a murdering stuntman behind the wheel, but the whole 70’s exploitation in modern setting, you have…over and over again. So when the camera wraps around the girls in a diner quipping in pulp culture references…you’ve seen it. When you witness the over the top violence…you’ve seen it. This is Tarrantio’s specialty. This is why people love him, and will continue to do so. Because while he takes himself seriously as a filmmaker (my friends would argue too seriously), he takes himself too seriously when concerning film genres that don’t matter as much to anyone else. (Except maybe Eli Roth – who is his own sort of twistedness.) Even when there are a few moments of this film that drag a bit (the second group of girls especially), it’s so smoothly done, and has such an incredible end, you’ll find yourself a fan…I was even hooting and hollering in the end, which is something I don’t normally do. And thank goodness Kurt Russell exists. I don’t know what I would do without the man.

As for Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. It’s just impressive to see a man take such a ridiculous idea and make something beautiful out of it. Oh, and grotesque. But instead of making my own statements about the film, I’m going to pick on someone else’s statements. That being this final statement made by Richard Roeper in his current review “Grindhouse” over at the Chicago Sun Times…

“Rodriguez is a ridiculously talented writer, director, editor, composer, cinematographer, sound designer, etc., etc., and he absolutely nails the tone of the classic zombie gore-fest. Even through all the winks and blood and decapitations, he gives us twisted little subplots and a handful of three-dimensional characters. The cast is strong, though it’s a bit tough to buy the slight (albeit talented) Freddy Rodriguez as the baddest man on the planet. The sole reason I’m giving “Planet Terror” only three stars is I’ve never been a zombie-movie guy; I’ve always found this particular strain of undead, with their limited brainpower and their halting gaits and their dopey groaning, to be among the least interesting horror-movie monsters. But for fans of the genre, “Planet Terror” is just about perfect.” (more…)

The Japanese Noir of Takashi Miike

August 10, 2006

For years I’ve observed and enjoyed Japanese cinema. My love began with “Rashomon” – a tale of a thief who robs a a traveling couple, rapes the wife, and several of them end up dead. The events are retold after the events have occurred and not just through a single source but through several sources at a trial (they even go so far as to have a medium call upon one of the deceased – and the deceased speaks through her in a crackling voice that heightens the unease) but the twist is, we’re not hearing the trial as it happens either, instead we’re hearing it passed on as gossip between three lower class men. Each time the tale is retold from a different witness during the trial we wonder how much of it is true and how much of it has been unintentionally rearranged by the men. The complexity and simplicity of the film that played out in front of me struck a deep nerve, and immediately after viewing it, I took it to several friends and made them watch it. I believe I watched it four times that day. Then came “Seven Samurai” and “Stray Dog”. The films of Kurosawa embedded themselves in my subconscious.

Then the films of Ozu came into my life, “Tokyo Story” and “A Tale of Floating Weeds” are truly two of the most magnificent and emotional films I have ever seen without bringing sentimentality into it. Ozu tells stories with such a matter-of-factness that he doesn’t need to add any extra dramatic elements to the stories or characters or camera (which typically avoids movement and stays planted directly in front of the actors as if we were sitting in front of them listening intently) – these characters simply exist, and are that much more powerful for it.

Now a new Japanese Director has entered into my conscious as a truly visionary filmmaker. That Director is Takashi Miike. It began, as it did with most American audiences, with “Audition”, a film much like “Misery” only more gut wrenchingly painful to watch. Where Rob Riener captured the Stephen King essence of sudden bursts of brutal violence and horror mixed with that over the top silliness that King brings to his yarns, Miike gives us a much more subtle and nuanced build, one that as we become more enveloped by the film, leaves us feeling that much more unnerved, until the car-wreck of an ending, where it was more hard to look away than watch. Truly horrifying. (more…)