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Best Films of 1995
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Miller's Crossing
Un Coeur en Hiver
Glengarry Glen Ross
Three Colors: Blue
Three Colors: Red

Fast Cheap and Out of Control

BEST FILMS OF 1992 - List in Progress
by Mike Lorefice

Autumn Moon
Clara Law

A mid twenties Japanese tourist Tokio (Masatoshi Nagase) vacations to Hong Kong in search of good women and food. He finds quality if pained conversation from a 15-year-old Chinese girl (Li Pui Wai) who is preparing to move to Canada, as Asia has become Americanized they can communicate but not exactly express themselves in English. They both have a lot of time on their hands, and since he has a decade of experience on her there's always something he can teach her whether or not either really want him to have to. Her grandmother happens to be a brilliant cook that asks no questions, but neither can deliver what he really seems to be after, sex. Tokio has been with tons of women (mostly whores), but none of them really satisfy him because they aren't truly interested in him. They don't care about his past, and memories fade when you have no one to share them with. A meditative and reflective film where nothing much happens, people find some way to pass the time amidst a world of impressive landscapes and empty buildings. Everyone is very distant and never satisfied, always longing for something they never find and regretting what they've had and what they haven't. They're all trapped in a world that is changing very quickly in a way that eliminates heritage and tradition. The older they are the more displaced they become and the harder it is to relate to the changes as well as the youth, who don't seem to know very much and consider McDonald's a traditional restaurant. An Antonioni-esque parable of modern day alienation, probably closest to Identification of a Woman given the color patterns and musical choices. Law's film isn't nearly as good, but does provide a young girl's perspective by showing her with a boy her age she also likes. These scenes are good contrasts to the ones of her with young adult Tokio and Tokio with a Japanese woman around his age he can have sex with and talk to in his native tongue. The cinematography is very beautiful, particularly the sections where precisely lit splashy colored portions are emphasized by the darkness of the rest of the frame. [11/4/06] ***


Claude Chabrol

Betty was my first Chabrol experience. Having seen more than a dozen of his films since, it's a much richer work than I originally realized. Flashbacks are regularly utilized in Betty, which seems to elevate the past, especially since they make up so much of the film. However, they are always triggered by the present, showing life as a kind of loop. Chabrol likes to show human nature by repeating the same situations, and like his characters most of his films are variations of one another. He builds on his previous work even more than usual, particularly his 1968 masterpiece Les Biches, which involves two women living together and struggling for the same man. Stephane Audran plays off her character in that film, the lonely older woman who uses her fortunate financial state to take in a young stray girl. She seems very helpful, but is also very selfish, needing other people to amuse herself. Marie Trintignant began acting when she was four in a compilation film that involved Chabrol though her mother Nadine directed her segment. Her first work under Chabrol was 1988's Story of Woman where she plays a prostitute. She too somewhat continues her past role, so there are many possibilities, all of which Chabrol refuses to reveal. Chabrol starts the film with Betty in her lowest state having recently given away her children, and will only give us her intrigue over Audran and the bar owner having sex as a clue. But Chabrol's indifference to plot makes this far tenser and much more fascinating than it would otherwise be because we can't figure out where the story is going. Chabrol will not hint as to whether Trintignant's title character is an unfortunate victim of marrying into a bourgeois family who accepted her only as a childbearing object or a diabolical whore. Nor will he tell us if Audran is a good nurse or once again up to no good. [8/27/06] ***1/2


Lessons of Darkness
Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog's 1971 film Fata Morgana used "documentary" footage of deserts to deal with colonialism by way of a Mayan creation myth. Returning to the desert, Lessons of Darkness counters with a destruction myth. The war may last but an hour, however the last vestiges of life forms are is trapped in a never ending loop of devastating the earth, technology increasing our power to the point we can assure grass will never grow again. The key to the trilogy, also including 2005's The Wild Blue Yonder, is Herzog's recasting of the documentary footage into science fiction. In this case, oil firefighters trying to extinguish the wells the retreating Iraqi troops set ablaze are said to be aliens. Using his narration to abstract the footage and distance the audience from their preconceived notions and Gulf War allegiances, Herzog subverts limiting readings that render all destruction in the past and asks the audience to contemplate the results of any war. Similar to Francois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451, firefighters are the tools of the destructive madmen, and thus become their stand ins. Though not the only tactic used in real life, Herzog limits their combative methods to explosives, metaphorically piling one brand of destruction on top of the other to suggest nihilistic rituals are only thing that still gives purpose to our existence. As always, Herzog's primary theme is madness, and as usual a secondary theme is man's inability to communicate, rendering prevention or comprehension impossible. The film is silent other than Herzog's somber ultra serious narration, which he largely forsakes in the second half once he's established his reconfigurations. Producer and cinematographer Paul Berriff captures the most beautifully horrible, or horribly beautiful, images from a helicopter. Through the distant unbroken wide angle bird's eye views of bubbling black ponds, spouting neon fires, gushing black geysers, and clouds of smoke, our planet is at once rendered unrecognizable and grotesquely beautiful. Herzog reveals his intentions at the outset with a quote from philosopher Blaise Pascal referring to the grandiose splendor of anti-creation, and his apocalyptic tale sometimes approaches the meditative qualities and visual splendor of Godfrey Reggio's look at the collapse of the natural world through destructive man made imbalance, Koyaanisqatsi. [6/5/07] ***


The Lover
Jean-Jacques Annaud


Full Movie Review


Porco Rosso
Hayao Miyazaki

Miyazaki's biggest strength might be expressing the joy of life. It sounds silly, after all that's really what a children's films are supposed to do, but very few are really lively. Miyazaki sometimes makes films with messages that really resonate (Spirited Away) and other times seems to have little to say (Castle of Cagliostro), but unlike most Hollywood films that leave you feeling bombarded, drained, sluggish, and inferior, he always leaves you feeling energetic and ready to go out and accomplish something. Here he's in a very lighthearted comedic mood despite the WW II setting and some asides about the dangers of fascism and nationalism. Miyazaki's heroin is, as usual, a young girl who is very capable but needs adults to give her a chance. His hero is a world weary noble pig face nazi fighting flyer that Ernest Hemingway might appreciate. By allowing her to design his plane and then tag along, she falls in love with him for his many positive qualities, but he's not much for other people or relationships, keeping everyone (including another woman that loves him) at arm's length with dull self deprecating humor. Despite my preference for stories that value the interior over the exterior, I can't say this is a well written or even particularly interesting story. However, the film is so well crafted it's easy to forget it's even animation. Not that the animation isn't spectacular, Miyazaki once again shows that there's nothing like drawing it yourself. It's just that the framing, angles, lighting, and editing are at least on par, probably better, than any flying picture that's been shot. One of the reasons the film is so lifelike is Miyazaki is willing to include unessential scenes and segments to time things closer to reality. The people and machines move and fight in such a believable manner; the all around attention to detail is astonishing. Overall, this is a good film for anyone, but I don't really buy it as being any more for adults than Miyazaki's others. The issues are never truly dealt with, the story is too goofy, and the villains too cartoonish. [1/15/07] ***

Gift Set DVD Gift Set DVD

Simple Men
Hal Hartley

The first mistake with a Hal Hartley film would be to look for a plot. He paints a portrait of middle class angst where his twentysomethings are searching for the meaning of life and love, of their existence. Like Jean-Luc Godard, the digressions are the film. All the characters are thoughtful goofballs who love to impart their philosophy. Simple Men is a comedy, but thankfully Hartley never tells you which of the theories from his colorful characters to laugh at, so what you find humorous someone else might find intelligent and vice versa. As long as you don't mind asides, the dialogue is excellent. Simple Men is a collection of Hartley's observations on relationship troubles. Love from women and relatives is painful, but we constantly seek it even when we swear we'll never do so again. The problem lies within the characters - they believe their worldview to a fault - but as they struggle to see the big picture they wind up basing the current relationship on the previous failure. The two stars, Robert John Burke in particular, have a hard time reconciling their theories with reality, thus the world threatens them because they are unable to explain it. Burke is a thief who was just doublecrossed by the blonde woman he loved, so his answer is to exact revenge on the next blonde he sees by making her fall in love with him then dumping her. Younger brother Bill Sage has never really gotten anywhere in life due to the absence of his radical activist father, who has been in hiding basically all of Sage's life after being blamed for bombing the Pentagon. He's determined to track down his father because somehow that will solve all his problems, or at least give his life some direction. Both brothers project what's absent in their life onto others, seeing them as the missing piece. Burke doesn't care about his father, but he's on the lamb anyway. So begins Hartley's version of a road movie, where his characters hitchhike because they can't even afford a fairly short bus ride. Along the way they find an appealing epileptic Romanian (Elina Lowensohn), who happens to be their father's girlfriend, but Sage goes for her anyway, and bitter blonde Karen Sillas, a hostile divorcee who is ill matched for Burke because she also hates the opposite sex. Desire leads to trouble, but excitement comes along with it. [5/3/07] ***

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