Saturday, January 08, 2005

What's happening now?

Over the past couple of days, we've been doing a lot of filming on the movie. We've been working really quick, because people always have to go, but it works well that way. It cuts out the waiting around and procrastinating time and keeps us on task. I feel like we're definitely making an arty film, in the sense that the shot composition and cutting is unconventional. I'm definitely influenced by Wong Kar-Wai, just because I've been watching so much of his stuff recently, and it's so innovative, it inspires my own stuff in the same vein. Yesterday, I said Mystic River was good, but not great, and I think one of the reasons for that is the fact that it didn't really inspire any creative ideas in me. The best films that I see always have me thinking about new ways to tell stories and make films. Mystic was great on its own, but it wasn't inspiring in that way. WKW, despite the fact that his films are certainly flawed, is so inspiring in creating a new visual language, I just love watching his films. Particularly on Fallen Angels, there's shots that just leave me in awe, and make me want to create things on that level. So, I'm having a lot of fun doing that, it's new filmmaking territory for us, and I'm really enjoying creating new stuff.

Other awesome news is that The Polyphonic Spree are playing two shows in New York in February, so I'm going to make the return to see them. They were incredible live and I'm really psyched to see them again. It's going to be a hassle to make it back during the week, but it's doable, and definitely worth it.

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Friday, January 07, 2005

Mystic River

I watched Mystic River yesterday. I feel like it was a classic example of a movie that's made really well, with a strong plot, solid acting, but just doesn't feel like it's that important to the people making it. Most great movies have a story where it feels like the person had to tell it, a story that is very close to them personally. Tarantino's films are a great example of this, he's clearly in love with what he's doing.

Mystic River is well made, but it doesn't feel inspired. I can forgive a lot of flaws in a movie if you can feel an excitement that went into making it. Mystic River feels almost effortless, which also means it doesn't feel too personal. There always seems to be a distance between the filmmaker and his characters. I'm not saying that every film has to be ripped out of the director's soul, but the best ones usually are ripped from at least the mind of the director. This didn't feel that way.

One thing I did find really interesting was the moral stance of the film's ending. Jimmy has just killed one of his best friends, and his wife tells him to forget about it for the good of their family. I find this repulsive, and it's tough to tell where the film stands on the issue. It's sort of a Rorshach at the end of Watchmen dilemma and that was really interesting. I would have liked to have seen that explored a bit more, but by that point it felt like the film was over, so it would have been tough to keep going on.

Maybe I'm being a bit tough on the film. It was a solid two hours of well made entertainment, certainly not a bad film to watch, but I've been on such an auteur kick lately, it's tough to watch a film that doesn't seem so personal for the director.

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Top 10 Films of 2004

I've been working on filming the movie, and it's going really well. It's definitely an improvement over everything I've done in the past, and as long as each one we do keeps getting better, it's good. It's unfortunate that we're always under time pressure, since I'd love to spend more time working on shots, but it's just not plausible. As is, there's some great shots, but I feel like we could be doing more with each frame, but are sort of limited by the time we can spend on each scene. But, it's a learning experience, and getting the story conveyed is the most important part of the process, and I think we're definitely doing that. Plus, I'm having fun along the way, which is also critical. It's just cool to see stuff I imagined being acted out in reality.

So, I've seen pretty much all the movies I really wanted to see that came out in 2004, which means it's time to drop the year's top ten list.

10. I Heart Huckabee's - The black bag sequences in this movie just owned, and were some of the most original cinema I've ever seen. I love the fact that the movie focuses on an intellectual, philosophical dispute, and the way that the events of the movie lead to an intellectual rather than plot-based resolution. I can relate much better to someone who's got a crisis of thought rather than a real pressing physical crisis. Uniformly great acting, particularly from Mark Wahlberg and Naomi Watts, and the Shania Twain cameo was genius.

9. Shaun of the Dead - It's not as good as Spaced, the TV show by the same people, but that doesn't mean it wasn't really good. There were some hilarious bits, but throughout the film, there was character development, and actual attention paid to making the characters change, rather than just getting in gags or forwarding the plot. The end gets a bit too much like a conventional zombie film, but particularly in the first half, this is a really entertaining, smart and funny film.

8. Hero - The colors alone made this a phenomenal film, but the looping narrative structure and some great action sequences gave it a real epic feeling, capturing the mythic nature of old American westerns. It doesn't hurt that two of my favorites actors, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung are in the film either. This is how an action movie should be shot, as a showcase for phenomenal cinematography and production design. The green sequence and the leaf fight were notable highlights.

7. 2046 - Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung appear again here, but this one's most about Tony, who puts in the best performance of his career. Now, technically this film doesn't come out here until 2005, but it was made in 2004, so it's on the list. I talked a lot about this a few days back, but it's one of Wong Kar-Wai's best, and that's saying something. His use of the sci-fi storyline was inspired, and the sadness of the film was profound. Every single frame had something interesting visually, and I love the ties to WKW's previous works. I feel sort of guilty about ranking this so low, since it was a brilliant film, but there was just so much good stuff this year.

6. Oldboy - Damn, Asia, you don't stop making great films. Now, this film was released in 2003 in Asia, and won't be released here in 2005, buut I saw it it this year, so it's on the list. After seeing Kill Bill I, you might think there's nowhere left for the revenge film to go, but Chan Wook-Park disproves that with this incredible film. This is a film that just pops, with brilliant frames and great use of music. The one take tracking shot in which Oh Daeseu fights a whole gang of people is the sort of thing that makes you say "Respect." The prison sequence is another really dazzling piece of filmmaking, and the ending leaves you thinking. This film is just so alive and popping, it's amazing. There's supposedly a remake in the works, but watch this, because other than Kill Bill, it's been a long time since I've seen an action movie this good.

5. Dogville - Yet another foreign film, this one's from Denmark and director Lars Von Trier. Three hours long, taking place on a stage with chalk outlines instead of sets, you may say, "That doesn't sound very entertaining." Well, it is very entertaining, and it's also brutal and thought provoking. This is a slow build film that draws you into a sort of funk and then jolts you out of it with a morally ambiguous ending that makes you wonder just how much Von Trier hates people. Nicole Kidman gives probably her best performance here, and the rest of the cast does a great job of giving the feeling that this stage is not a stage, but in fact, a fully functioning town.

4. Garden State - A film that hit me at exactly the right time, and is pretty personally relatable, so I may be a bit biased in my liking of it, but that doesn't take away from the great direction and writing of Zach Braff. I love the way the beginning of the film uses all sorts of wacky visuals to bring you into the world, and then segues into a more character focused story. I like the fact that this isn't a really plot driven film, the events come out of the characters. I even love the ending, which is consistently knocked. Maybe it's because I'm not jaded enough, but I think it makes sense for him to give it a try with Sam, the one person in his life who he has really connected with. That's more important than getting back to working in a restaurant.

3. Kill Bill Volume 2 - A very different film from Volume 1, so different that I was a bit disappointed on the first viewing, since the film was so completely different from what I was expecting. However, upon seeing it again, I really loved the film. It's Tarantino's most mature film, and also full of incredible pop moments, notably the training sequence and the trailer fight. The buried alive sequence was another highlight, one of the best uses of sound in a film ever. I love how the ending throws everything that's come before into question, and humanizes all the characters involved. Volume 1 is about the gradual cartoonization of the bride, two is about the humanization of all the characters. Rather than fighting mythic yakuza leaders, she's fighting the bouncer at a strip club, and an old man. David Carradine owns in this movie, it's one of the best performances of the year. The ending is a catharsis, and then the credits bring back all the great moments from the duology, a final glimpse at the world that Tarantino created. The two films together are an astonishing piece of work.

2. Before Sunset - From an action packed, pop style spectacular we now move to two people talking for eighty minutes. That's it, but the conversation is riveting, and the suspense in this film is more than you'll get from any horror movie. Linklater perfectly captures the feelings of regret that people have about things that were done or weren't done in the past. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy completely inhabit their characters, slipping back in after a nine year gap. The beginning of the film, you can tell that they feel an awkwardness and want to get deeper, but are stuck on the surface. It's not just the lines, it's the delivery and physical mannerisms. I love the way this film seems to be much more cynical than Sunrise, but is in fact full of the exact same romantic spirit of its predecessor, even more so, as the ending shows. The ending is so simple and yet it left me smiling for a long time after leaving the theater. This film is not only brilliant, it makes its predecessor even better. Richard Linklater is on an unparalleled role in recent years, and these two films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, contain everything that's unique and exciting about his filmmaking.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - It's been a while since this one came out, but it's still brilliant. This film was a perfect fusion of visual technique with story, using the effects to emphasize character emotion rather than replace it. Gondry is a visual master, I love the run down feel of the technology, and the mundaneness of it. The dinky Lacuna Inc. is the most Philip K. Dickian thing ever filmed. This is one of Kaufman's best scripts, so emotionally real. Jim Carrey gives by far his best performance ever, so low key and real. Jon Brion provides another great score, which gives the film a vaguely nostalgic feel throughout. The way that the narrative structure is used to gradually reveal plot developments to us is so brilliant, and the show offy structure never overwhelms the story at the heart of the film.

What a year it was. America got a bit served, with only four films in the top ten, but maybe that means we have to kick up our game a bit.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Filming and V For Vendetta

In the past couple of days, we've been doing filming on the Ricky Frost movie. It's going really well. We've been a bit rushed, but we're getting enough footage, and more importantly, I feel like we're actually making a film rather than just a series of shots. There's actual character development, and acting, which is sort of a first for one of my projects. We've been working using the script as a guideline, but not neccessarily referring to it for every line, instead using a bunch of improv, which is awesome. I've written on him a bunch of times here, but Wong Kar-Wai has really changed my view of how to construct a film. Rather than writing a script and just filming it, it's much more interesting to actually construct the film during the filming, because then you're actually making a film rather than a script. While I'm not opposed to planning ahead, sometimes it's better to just let your actors mess with stuff, and go with how it feels on the spot. I could definitely see the appeal of working without a script, and just going with what feels right at the time. It would take a lot of time, but in an ideal world, that would be the way to make films.

Hitting up the internet, I saw some really cool news today, and that's that Natalie Portman is going to be playing one of the lead roles in the V For Vendetta movie. This brings together one of my favorite actresses and one of my favorite comics of all time. V is probably the most politically significant comic ever published, and surpasses even 1984 in its depiction of a dystopia. It's written by Alan Moore, and is part of what is generally known as his "holy trinity" of brilliant works: Watchmen, V For Vendetta and From Hell. The comic is incredibly relevant, and I hope there's no shying away from embracing a building destroying terrorist character as a hero. Natalie has been on a bit of a role lately, with great performances in Garden State and Closer, ad hopefully she'll pick it up a bit for Episode III. I think V could have a bit of a Leon dynamic, because she'll be playing the innocent girl being trained by older man whose an expert in violence. The story has a lot more scope than Leon, and if done well should be something on the level of Brazil.

However, considering the track record of Moore adaptations, combined with the quotes from the producers, and the fact that the director is basically a no name, I'm not getting my hopes up too high. From Hell wasn't an awful movie, but it lacked basically everything that made the book one of the greatest literary works of all time. From Hell is a history of civilization from the beginning of time to the present, a work full of magic and loss, all told in a really compelling way. The movie is a murder mystery, and if you've read the book, you already know the murderer. And, the less said about "LXG" the better.

The teaser poster looks pretty good, and is basically the cover of the graphic novel. What bothers me is this quote from producer Joel Silver: "With V for Vendetta, the Wachowski Brothers have created an uncompromising vision of the future driven by a totally original superhero."

First, the Wachowski brothers did not create the uncompromising vision, that would be Alan Moore and David Lloyd. Second, just because it's based on a comic book that doesn't make V a superhero. It's not that inaccurate, he does have a uniform and a mask and cape, but I really hope this isn't a movie that is just about V being a hero, because it's a lot more complex than that. V isn't even a character so much as an idea and I hope that's preserved in the film. Also, considering today's political climate, I hope that the creative team keeps the strong political content of the book, and doesn't turn it into an action movie. Natalie Portman signing on is a good sign, but I'm still not sure how this is going to turn out.

However, regardless of whether the film is good or not, the book will still be there. The good thing about From Hell and LXG is that they're so bad, I practically forget they're based on a book. Also, with comics, you'll always have the original visual intact. When you see a movie based on a prose book, the images of the movie will replace the images you had in your head when you were first reading the book, and you can never get those original images back. But, with V, I'll always have the book right there.

The other good thing about this is it indicates that people are moving beyond strict superhero stories in adapting comics to the screen. Sin City was a big step, and this is another one. Even if the movie's bad, this will provide the outside world with another reference point for comics, so when you say Alan Moore, you can say, the guy who made V For Vendetta and people will get it.

One thing that bothers me is the fact that more and more Alan Moore stuff is being adapted, but still no one's even attempted to make anything based on Grant Morrison's works. Grant is just as good as Alan, and I would kill to see a Flex Mentallo or Kill Your Boyfriend movie. I'd actually love to make a Flex Mentallo movie, it's one of the very few things I would rather make than an original story. Flex is in many ways the ultimate superhero story and it deserves to get wider exposure, as does Grant. Alan is getting there as a household name, but basically no one has heard of Grant Morrison. He's got a lot to choose from, hopefully once they run out of Alan, we'll start seeing Grant movies.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Going to 2046

So, after much anticipation, I finally got my all region DVD copy of Wong Kar-Wai's new film 2046. The film surprised me in a lot of ways. It's got almost everything you'd expect from a WKW film, but also a lot of new elements, and particularly in the ending, this film feels different from most of what he's done before.

First, the film is goregous. Visually, WKW is unparalleled, it's not just the way he shoots, it's the entire mise en scene. The future stuff is phenomenal, but even in the 60s scenes, he creates really stylish environments for the characters to move in. Check it out...

The most interesting element for me was the sci-fi stuff. First, I love sci-fi, second, it's the most unique thing about the film in the context of WKW's career. While the 60s stuff is great, it's much more in tune with the rest of his work, whereas the sci-fi things look completely different from what he's done in the past, and the way he uses the sci-fi story is absolutely genius. The whole 2046 world is so perfectly tied in with the rest of the plot, and the metaphor behind it says everything about Chow.

One thing that surprised me was how much the film was tied in to In the Mood For Love. I'd heard that it was the same characters, but 2046 wasn't really a sequel. That's completely off. This film requires In the Mood For Love to really get it. The motivation for Chow's character comes from the events of In the Mood For Love, and to really understand what he's going through, you need that context. I would not reccomend seeing this film without seeing In the Mood For Love. However, having seen ITMFL, it was awesome to get a followup on the character, and to find out what's happened to him as a result of ITMFL. Another great moment was the return of Lulu from Days of Being Wild. Seeing her, combined with the music from Days brought back a lot of memories and added a history to this film that was really interesting. This film unites those two previous 1960s films into a trilogy that is connected within the story universe. It also gave the film a history that deepened the experience. It made the film fee like it wasn't just a two hour story that began and ended where the film began, it was an entire world that stretches for years, and we only see a little piece of it. It's a subtle distinction, but that this does is give the film so much more meaning. There's no feeling of resolution, or even beginning and ending within the film, it's a piece of lives, some that we've seen before, others that we haven't, it's a peek into another world.

My favorite part of the film was the introduction of 2046 in a rush of images from that world. You're given a tantalizing glimpse of many lives within this world, and a rush of astonishing images, and for a moment, you see Su Li Zhien, from In the Mood for Love, the very reason for the whole world of 2046. One of the coolest things about this sequence is the way it very quickly plays out the story of Chang Chen and Lulu. We see a jealous glance from him in the 60s, then in the 2046 segment, we see him angry as the robot Lulu has sex with some guy, which then leads us to the 60s again, where we see that Lulu has been stabbed. It's a great intertwining of the two stories. Now, I will admit that this sequence bothers me a bit because it's so full of interesting footage, and you get the feeling that there's hours of this stuff cut out of the finished film. This film has now joined Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me as the only film where I really need to see cut scenes from it, because there's clearly a ton of stuff cut out, including some stuff with Maggie Cheung as a robot that I'm really annoyed wasn't in the final film. I feel like in the same way that the FWWM cut scenes could make a nice little coda for Twin Peaks, some additional footage from 2046 could bring that story to a close. Maybe it'll turn up, if Criterion does a DVD, I'd imagine we'll see it.

The other phenomenal sequence was the story of the robot Faye. The return of the telling a secret into a hole motif from ITMFL was great. The whole story of Faye was heartbreaking. She was very convincing as a robot, and I loved the symbolic signifiance of the story. It applies to Faye/Chow in 2046, and also ties into Chow's relationship with Maggie Cheung from ITMFL. My favorite part of this story was when Faye decides to go to Japan in the present, so Tony tries to write a happy ending, in which the robot would presumably meet up with the person that she loved in the past, however, she just rides on the train, in a never changing state. The brilliant device of the intertitles showing how many hours have passed and nothing changed, for both the robot and Tony says so much. Tony is the robot Faye, despite the fact that there is someone who loves him, he cannot commit to her because he's still in love with Maggie, so he'll spend the rest of his live on this train, constantly changing, and yet everything's still the same. He gets together with other women, but he spends his whole life waiting for Maggie, never able to let go of her.

Chow calls 2046 the place you go to recapture lost memories, where nothing ever changes. 2046 is the hotel room where he and Maggie wrote their martial arts serials in ITMFL, and it's the place where the happiest time of his life occurred. However, in this film, he loves in room 2047, but is constantly getting involved with the women who live in 2046. He, like the Japanese man in his story, has left 2046, and can never get back there, though for this entire film, he tries to recapture it. In his story, he creates 2046 as a perfect place, where he could get Maggie back, and recapture that moment, but as it says at the end of ITMFL, that moment has passed and nothing that belongs to it exists anymore. He says love is all about timing, and he missed his time, and he's going to spend the rest of his life on that train just going through the same thing, never letting himself be as happy as he was. 2046 is the last year before change, and he's in 2047, it's impossible to get back to where he was.

This film stood out from WKW's other stuff in its pessimism. I suppose Days of Being Wild ended on a down note, but it had some good times along the way. This film is all about trying to get back to a past that can never be, and as a result, Chow ends up hurting everyone along his way, most notably Bai Ling. This film ends on a really downnote, ITMFL ended pretty low, but there was a sense of a new beginning, that the moment had passed and those people were moving on, but here, we only get the sense that Tony will drift further into depression, and that his life will never get better. There's none of the feeling at the end of Fallen Angels, of finding warmth amidst all the darkness, there's only the cold darkness, and we get the feeling that Chow has been utterly destroyed. He can only dream of a world where nothing changes and he can recapture his memories, because he'll never get back there.

I think it's notable that all of WKW's 60s movies end on a rather down note, whereas his present trilogy (Chungking, Fallen Angels, Happy Together) all end with a great song, and a sense of hope. The world of the 60s really is gone, and it was an era of change for all involved, through the films WKW is trying to return to an era that has been destroyed, something that's echoed in Chow's story.

I love the way this film ties together a lot of WKW's previous work. I feel directors like Tim Burton and David Lynch have a universe that most of their films take place in and WKW goes one step further, by explicitly connecting the films into one larger story.

Like most WKW films, the movie's been growing on me ever since I saw it. I went in expecting a bit more sci-fi, and a bit more Maggie Cheung, so there was a bit of disppointment, so I think I need another viewing to really evaluate it. I know Fallen Angels, on the first viewing I liked it, second viewing, it clicked and I loved it. I really feel like there's a whole other film out there with the footage of 2046, and that's something I'd love to see one day, but most importantly I really want to see that Maggie Cheung footage.

However, the use of the Maggie Cheung footage within the film was expert. WKW puts the audience in Chow's state of mind, by providing us with glimpses of the character, but never the reunion that both we and Chow want. That moment truly is gone, and she exists only in faded, blurry memories. Her story continues somewhere else, she too is probably unhappy, dreaming of what could have been, but she's chosen a family life to distract her, while Chow has chosen a bachelor lifestyle. I've got to give props to Tony Leung for this performance, I'd say his best in any film. You completely get his state of mind, and feel what he feels throughout the film. Considering what he does in the film, it's tough to make him sympathetic, but Tony pulls it off. WKW films work because the actors are so good that he can do whatever he wants with the camera and we still get the emotions.

So, a great film, and a summation of much of WKW's previous work. Rarely has a film been so geared to an "inside crowd," because this one requires a lot of previous WKW knowledge to really appreciate. However, as a part of the inside crowd, I loved it, and would highly reccomend it once you get through In the Mood For Love. The sci-fi stuff is perfectly integrated with the rest of the material, creating a really satisfying whole, with more layers than I could pick up on one viewing.

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Sunday, January 02, 2005

2004's Best Albums

2004 saw the release of some damn fine albums, I've only gotten to a small fraction of what's been released, but there were some good times. Generally speaking, especially with smaller artists, it takes a while after an album has been released for me to actually get to it. But, here's five albums that were released in 2004 that were amazing.

1. The Polyphonic Spree "Together We're Heavy" - The Beginning Stages was an amazing album, but this follow up goes way beyond that, adding so many musical layers to the already great sound of the spree. The album has a great opening, and flows really well. It's tough to isolate standout tracks because every single one has merit. 'Hold Me Now' and 'Two Thousand Places' are probably the best individual tracks, but in the context of the album 'We Sound Amazed' and 'When the Fool Becomes a King' just own.

2. U2 "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" - Their best album since Zooropa, it's an album without a single bad song, and 'City of Blinding Lights' and 'Miracle Drug' are some of the best songs they've ever recorded. U2 has a way of producing musical moments that are just unparalleled, the use of the guitar and the vocal combined in such a way that they perfectly compliment each other, and soar together.

3. Handsome Boy Modeling School "White People" - Mulholland Drive is to David Lynch as this album is to Dan the Automator, it combines elements of everything he's done in the past into one of his strongest works. It's got a ton of guest stars, a bunch of genres and it all works. It's astonishing that one album features Mike Patton, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Julee Cruise and Cat Power. The best tracks are 'Class System,' 'I've Been Thinking' and 'Breakdown.' Never before has an album so nimbly hopped across genres.

4. Phoenix "Alphabetical" - Difficult to place in a genre, they've got both dance and rock elements, but end up sounding like a rock version of Daft Punk. The album is great, and they're my favorite new artist discovery of 2004. 'If Not With You' and 'Everything is Everything' are the best.

5. Air "Talkie Walkie" - Air's first album was brilliant and this one is also. It's very similar to the first album, but that's not neccessarily a bad thing. I love the feeling of the music, it always conjures up pink clouds in a perfectly serene sky. 'Cherry Blossom Girl' and 'Venus' are two standout tracks.

Good bunch of albums, those. Check 'em out.

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