Two years ago, Cinecultist caught Yoji Yamada's 2002 film Twillight Samurai and went nutso for it, even going so far as to say it was in the top ten for the year. So it was with great anticipation that we attended a screening of his most recent film, The Hidden Blade last Friday and again we're in love. Complex characters, intriguing cultural context, familial duty, unrequited romance and stunning photography always gets CC a swooning. This movie has all of that, plus some judiciously doled out kick ass samurai fighting. Can you really go wrong with that combination?
Like Twillight Samurai, The Hidden Blade follows a down and out samurai whose formerly prosperous family has become threadbare following his father's hara-kiri, mother's death and his sister's marriage. To make matters worse, Munezo Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase) also secretly pines for the family's former maid Kie (Takako Matsu). When it comes to light that her husband's family isn't treating her well, Katagiri swoops in to the rescue, despite the obvious impropriety. Meanwhile, Katagiri's school days friend, Yaichiro Hazama (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) has become embroiled in a plot on the Shogun and the clan has brought him home to the provinces to imprison him. That is until the dangerous criminal escapes. Katagiri and Hazama trained under the same sword teacher and only Katagiri can match Hazama's prodigious skill. What will this noble samurai do in the face of these two scandals?
In our review of Twillight, we noted the Jane Austen-esque plot flourishes and again in this film that comparison is apt. Convention and societal structures constrain these characters in their positions more than ever a mighty battle could. When the drama exists internally, in the complications we create in our own minds, it is at its most compelling. Though we will say, the scene where the title finally comes to make sense is also pretty awesome. We don't want to give anything away which would detract from the kick ass-ness of it, but needless to say, it's swift and a little shocking, just as real life violence can be.
This movie is finally getting the US DVD treatment in August, so really we urge you to either try to catch it at Cinema Village now in NYC or add it to the Netflix queue. You won't be disappointed. After all, Cinecultist only gives our heart to the most worthy and The Hidden Blade is surely one of them.
There's some weird, wonderful stuff on the web, not least of all are many, many short DIY video projects. As a DIY critic of sorts, Cinecultist applauds their plucky spirit and their initiative to get their video work out in any way possible. Here's a few that floated into our inbox recently which we think are worth a click or two.
- The Burg. This week's episode of the self-produced TV program which mocks those young L train riders features music from the lovely Bravo Silva, a band Cinecultist has seen play so many times we're practically a groupie. Plus, jokes about "Defend Brooklyn" t-shirts, sucky roommates who play tabla and a shot of one character reading Brooklyn Vegan on their laptop is enough to keep us coming back for more.
- Four Eyed Monsters. This film about a young New York couple who meet via the internet and decide to only correspond through artistic mediums as they begin their relationship is a part of indieWire's Undiscovered Gems showcase. There will be live screenings of this film around the country, and in New York one this Tuesday and Wednesday at Cinema Village. There's also a party at Pioneer Bar on Bowery following the Tuesday screening, so you could actually interface in real life with some fans of this tribute to online dating.
- Inside. CC probably shouldn't reveal this but we're a sucker for the personal missive from struggling filmmakers. Jeff Mahler wants to get folks out to the LA screenings of his indie, Inside about a peeping tom who breaks into people's houses to know them better. We don't post links to all such messages, but the trailer for Jeff's movie features the same creepy piano music on Eyes Wide Shut. Ballsy move to allude to such a reviled mainstream thriller and thus, here is your request link.
Keep those emails and links coming DIY videomakers! How else are we going to keep entertained during the long day job hours?
Ever since Michael Moore stormed the popular screens with his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, docs have been the big story in major distribution. Every sorry, former film student these days seems to think they should pick up a camera and film life around them cinema vérité style. Not that Cinecultist doesn't love your Hoop Dreams or your How to Draw a Bunny, but not everyone with an HD cam is the next Fred Wiseman, if you catch our drift.
Last summer this documentary, My Date With Drew came out and we recall that we did our best to avoid it. But last night it was on TV and we couldn't help but get sucked in by the silliness of Brian Herzlinger running around like a complete idiot on camera. The "premise" is that Brian wins $1,100 on a game show and decides to use the money to try to get a date with actress Drew Barrymore, someone he's admired since he was 10 years old. With the slightly faulty technique of using friends of friends in the LA movie industry to connect with Drew, Brian gives himself 30 days to meet his goal.
It's probably not giving too much away to reveal that in the end Brian does get his sit down with the actress, coincidentally enough at the Miracle Grill restaurant, which is right near chez Cinecultist. This is the part that really hit home for CC and actually makes this movie worth watching. All along Brian seems to be intimating that his quest is all about his pre-teen crush on Drew, but rather she points out that his project is really about chasing down a dream. Brian obviously wants to make movies and he'll stop at nothing--whether it's interviewing Corey Feldman, working out to the Rocky theme or making fake passes to get into the Charlie's Angels after-party--to get there. Drew sees that right away, even if Brian can't.
At their date, Drew and Brian exchange gifts which are quite telling in their blatant symbolism. Brian buys Drew the best gift ever from our childhood, the Snoopy Sno Cone Maker. He wants to acknowledge their shared cultural past. Drew bring Brian a video camera, to replace the one he bought from Circuit City which he had to bring back before the return policy was up. She sees his future behind the camera. Even though it may seem cheesy, a big star like Drew Barrymore understands the value of striving for what you really love. Cinecultist needs more optimism like that in our life, even if it comes from gimmicky documentaries.
- Apple is in talks to make full length films available for download through iTunes. The part that gives us pause: in the New York Times article yesterday, the author suggests that someone might want to watch the Godfather on their iPod. Not to be one of those annoying movie purists but the article further goes on to point out that the resolution quality on an iTunes download is really best suited for watching the video on an iPod screen. Most movies, particularly shot in the scope of Francis Ford Coppola's flick, shouldn't be seen that small. It's just not right (says Cinecultist in our best Chris Rock voice).
- Motherfucker: the Movie. The part that gives us pause: that filmmaker David Casey had a "vision" before making the mere trailer for his documentary about the famed New York party. "While in the pit, directing our steadicam operator, I experienced the most intense emotion - looking through a viewfinder, yelling for him to tighten the shot, and holding up the barricade behind me (the audience was going insane!) - people were being crushed: screaming, euphoric. That morning, while sleeping, the trailer came to me - literally. I saw everything, set to Cosmic Dancer, image and emotion completely united . . . .within." Hyperbole of this magnitude shouldn't be rewarded. But what the hay, add the movie's MySpace page as one of your friends, we're not stopping you.
PS. The only time Cinecultist has ever seen anyone actually get punched in the face was at the Motherfucker party that featured Bloc Party. Does this further recommend the parties or freak you out? Could be a good litmus test to determine whether you should see the film.
Sometimes Cinecultist would like to write about music (or art or fashion or New York) on this site but we need a movie in, so to speak. We're looking forward to seeing mellow indie fellow José González next week at Bowery Ballroom and today our co-worker Jonathan pointed out this amazing commercial for Sony Bravia that José contributed the song for the soundtrack which Jon read about in Esquire. Perfect little roundabout in.
This is one of those short films that leaves you a little speechless because it's such a beautiful concept (a quarter of a million bouncy balls flying down a San Francisco street) and also a little mind-boggling to figure out how they did it. At first our mind lept to the CGI solution, but according to this Flickr set we found and postings on SFist indicate that they actually orchestrated 250,000 balls flying down Filbert and Leavenworth last summer. 23 cameramen in protective gear caught the whole thing in one take, amazingly enough. Be sure to watch the extended 2 and a half minute version on Sony's site, it takes a bit to load but is well worth it. Hooray for smart short films and good songs on the soundtrack!
Photo by Sepiatone from Flickr
Just two things we thought you'd like to know:
- We interviewed two filmmakers last week, Nicholas Jarecki and James Toback. Toback made such movies as Two Girls and a Guy and Black and White and Jarecki made a documentary about Toback called The Outsider which is playing at Cinema Village right now. You can read the full interview on Gothamist. And for the record, CC thinks it would be a very bad idea if film critics were expected to offer a money back guarantee on their recommendations.
- Cinecultist enjoyed this article by Ginia Bellafante in yesterday's NY Times about The Devil Wears Prada's supposedly accurate depiction of the fashion journalism world. As a writer who sort of has a toe in this body of water, we're even more curious to see/judge the film now after reading this commentary. In fact, we're sorta thinking about having a whole DWP night where CC and the girl friends drink strong, bright pink drinks and wear high heels before attending a late night screening. Maybe there will be tiaras involved too, because really nothing says party like a bunch of drunk girls wandering around downtown New York in tiaras.
Last night after spending the better part of the afternoon drinking beers and watching sports of all things at Pianos with some hyper-linkable friends, Cinecultist headed out to Brooklyn to meet our companion in crap movies, Lisa. Even though Josh had agreed to review The Lake House for the Binge, CC is a glutton for punishment and thought it'd be good fun to go with Lisa and in her nabe at the notoriously raucous Court Street theater. While the patrons weren't yelling anything of note at Keanu and Sandra on screen*, there sure were a lot of them there for a Sunday at 7 pm. Also, the management strategy at Court Street seems to be to have only one person at any one counter and to make sure they move at a leisurely pace.
Here was the line for popcorn, which CC and Lisa waited dutifully in for our over-priced snacks.
We also took a picture of the popcorn, in the hopes that after waiting 20 minutes to buy it that it would be the Best Popcorn of All Time. It wasn't.
An aside on popcorn and concessions in general: CC rarely buys food at the movies because a) it's really expensive and b) it's not very good. We'd much rather smuggle in something tasty and healthy like tamari almonds from Whole Foods, which we did for our Saturday movie. However, lots of people do eat this stuff (see picture above) and frankly even consuming a small popcorn makes us a little ill. Have you ever noticed the popcorn stomach feeling? It's that yucky, overly salted and sort of bloated sensation from eating all of that snack food through the previews and first 20 minutes of the movie. Blech.
CC likes participating in the rituals of moviegoing, but the side effects from that much salt and whatever the hell is in the fake butter stuff seems not worth the effort. Thoughts?
*We sort wish the patrons had been yelling stuff at the screen because at least that might have clued CC in on what the hell was going on with this film. It literally MADE NO SENSE. Magic mailboxes and time traveling letters aside, there were scenes where the sheer amount of didactic speech making made CC put our head in our hands. Comments about how "the house owns you" and "the light in Barcelona is different from the light in Tokyo" can go take a flying leap. Though as Lisa adroitly pointed out, Sandra and Keanu's time traveling dog looks like he is the same dog from Because of Winn-Dixie. So at least someone is getting some work out of dreadful movies like this.
With the Cinecultist in full summer blockbuster movie binge mode, loyal readers who dig our art house coverage may be worried that our Pavlovian response to the flashy opening weekends may have rotted our brain. Not to worry, CC's still making time for the indie, the foreign and the academic strands of our movie fandom. Case in point the following three recent flicks:
- Funny Ha Ha (DVD rental). We can't quite recall why this ended up in the Netflix queue but needless to say we liked it's low fi, rom com charm. Starring Kate Dollenmayer as Marnie, it's about a slightly disaffected 24-year-old who's graduated from college but is feeling a little lost. She drinks too much, has a dumb temp job and has a thing for her friend Alex (Christian Rudder) who may or may not be single. Jeez, that sounds all to familiar to CC from our own salad days. This is one of those movies where very little happens, yet the smallest gesture or look between these very "real" characters communicates so much about their experience. Andrew Bujalski, we await the rest of your career with eager anticipation.
- Peacock (closing film at Brooklyn International Film Festival). Programmed by those crazy kids at Subway Cinema to close out BiFF and as an entry in their own festival (screening June 22 at 8:30 pm), it's a 2 plus hour movie about a family struggling through the Cultural Revolution. This may sound like snooze city but CC found ourselves quite engaged by this elegantly shot film which reminded us a bit of Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, though without the jokes. While we're still a bit baffled by what the appearance in the final scene of the titular peacock actually represents, we enjoyed the vignettes about each of the three siblings.
- Dead Birds (MoMA's To Save And Protect Festival). A few weekends ago, our friend Adriane shot us an email asking if we'd like to see a documentary at MoMA later that day. Only thing was, it was a 1964 ethnographic film about the Papuans in West New Guinea by Robert Gardner. Sometimes it's a good idea to just say yes to such a strange movie request, without any preconceived notions or expectations and this time was no different. Somehow Gardner was able to capture this ancient and seemingly untouched society on film, as the subjects deal with the continuing warfare between tribes and the customs associated with community and religion. Seeing a movie like this that's about a world so remote from our own makes us rethink all of our cultural assumptions of normality. If an anthropologist looked in our our lives from a different world would our beliefs and rituals seem as alien? While the god-like voice of Gardner's narration is a bit too omniscient for comfort at points, the fact that he's able to get that close to real fighting with spears is beyond impressive.
The Cinecultist's Netflix queue these days has been a little clogged with Michael Winterbottom movies, as we're on a kick to see everything that's available from the English director. We've seen good things (Code 46) and slightly less good things by him (Nine Songs) but it's all been varied and all thought-provoking. Our most recent was his 1997 film, Welcome to Sarajevo with Stephen Dillane, Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei.
We actually recall when this flick came out, probably because Sarajevo was a hot button subject at the time and we'd liked his previous film, Jude with Kate Winslet. However, we also remember we thought it sounded sorta heavy and we have an automatic aversion reaction to all things Woody Harrelson, so we avoided it at the time. Watching it recently on DVD, our initial bias wasn't too far off the mark but nearly 10 years after it's release, CC knows better what's good for us in terms of viewing habits and Welcome to Sarajevo is a thoughtful movie about an important subject.
Dillane plays Michael Henderson, an English journalist in Sarajevo covering the war. The city is under siege and his group of reporter friends (including Harrelson) are struggling to both get the real story from the war on their home news channels and to keep from getting killed. Both are quite a challenge. Henderson becomes emotionally attached to a group of orphans whose poignant stories he hopes will get them safe passage out of the war zone. He teams up with an aid worker (Tomei) to try to get one particular young girl, Emira, who he particularly feels for, in her convoy of children leaving the country. It's as much about the horrors of war, as the ways that people touched by the ordinary folks caught up in war can't help but get involved in their plight.
One of the most interesting parts of this movie came from noticing in the final title and from the credits that the young girl who plays Emira is actually named Emira and comes from Sarajevo. Actually, in the scene where the orphans tell their stories to Henderson's news camera, these are their actual lives they are recounting. In a way, you can see how Sarajevo couldn't help but touch Winterbottom and the rest of the filmmakers, even as they make a fiction film meant for entertainment. Though of course, this isn't your run of the mill entertainment then, it's a movie with a purpose. Not your usual summertime fare but certainly worth our 2 hours in front of the TV. Oh, and it's actually a pretty entertaining movie.
Earlier today CC posted a long-ish review of the new Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn picture over on our new project, The Movie Binge. Though we think we hit most of the major points in that review, there is this needling detail from the film that we failed to mention which often happens in the star vehicle romantic comedies and is totally annoying: completely unrealistic real estate.
Granted, as a New Yorker (nearly half way to the 10 year benchmark!) Cinecultist is at time overly sensitive to the difficulties of urban life and the fantastical ways it is depicted in cinema and on television. Also, The Break Up is set in Chicago and though we've visited, Cinecultist has never tried to rent an apartment there, let alone buy a condo like the characters in the film. Regardless! Our gut, intuition and sense for bullshit says a tour bus company operator and a gallery manager could not afford such posh digs. Let alone furnish it in that tasteful, modern and oh so elegant decorating scheme. It's seriously distracting.
Perhaps before movies like this, or even before every rerun episode of Friends, we could get a reality disclaimer from someone who knows real estate, Barbara Corcoran* perhaps. Barb would appear on screen, or maybe just her voice, disembodied and godlike: "The property you are about to see in the following teleplay is fictional and does not represent actual market value in said urban area. Thank you." That'd be very sobering and helpful, in our opinion.
We're all about escapism in movies, especially summer ones, but come on. Let's keep it from becoming sci fi in regards to the set design. And don't even get us started on Jennifer Aniston's wardrobe in this. Sheesh.
OMG. Did you know Barb has a blog? Check it. Seriously. "She" blogs about her interns and from the point of view of a mouse in her office.
Ah, it's a different cinema world than 2002. Those were the days when Cinecultist heard reports about Zhang Yimou, a Chinese director known for his sweeping and artsy historical epics, and his new martial arts action film, Hero. Apparently it was the biggest thing since the dumpling in China and Miramax had bought the rights, yet they had no concrete plans to release it. Even after the popularity of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for that studio, it was not until Quentin Tarantino had a hit on his hands for the po-mo hodge podge Kill Bill that those Weinstein brothers seemed to think that the American public was hungry for all things Asian. We could've told Bob and Harvey that Hero would be a hit, but they don't listen.
Though now it seems that they're whistling a new tune and this one is accompanied by an erhu. According to Variety today, the Weinstein Company is in final talks with adorable actress Ziyi Zhang for a three picture deal including a live action version of the folk legend, Mulan and a remake of Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. This is both exciting but a touch perplexing. Mulan for Ziyi we get -- as long as we don't loose the talking dragon character called Mushu -- but Samurai? It's been a few years since we watched this movie but we don't recall there being any big women parts in the film. Aren't samurai almost always men? And that production still pictured above looks like all dudes to you too, right?
Anyhow, we have faith in the pocket sized Ziyi, especially after her more complex turn in 2046, even if we don't trust those Weinstein's further than we can throw them, and we're cautiously intrigued by the idea of a new DVD label from the company called Dragon Dynasty which they announced at Cannes.
Summer is the best because it means summer Fridays and summer Fridays mean full on permission (from us to us) to watch crappy movies in the middle of the afternoon. Ahh, it is the sweet life. Though we hadn't officially begun the summer half day ritual last week because it was pre-Memorial Day, we still were encouraged to vacate our office at 3:00 pm and thus just barely caught a 3:30 pm downtown of the Lindsay Lohan vehicle, Just My Luck. Balcony seating, smuggled in Diet Coke and special treat Toblerone bar (we're vicariously eating for poor, troubled Linds) -- does it get any more choice?
Oddly enough, even in this ideal situation we encountered something we hardly expected. The movie wasn't half bad. Sure, the premise is weak (lucky girl looses her luck to unlucky boy with a masked kiss then must find him again to regain said luck) but the blithe charm of both Ms. Lohan and her co-star Chris Pine actually carried the day. They're both cute and personable on screen, which is actually more than we can say for a certain supporting player previously from the O.C. (Samaire Armstrong, your 15 minutes are up, girl!). Plus, the film has the advantage of being quite downtown and Eee Vee centric. Linds's character lives in the most beautiful building on Fifth Avenue (same layer cake stone facade as Kate Hudson in How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days), Chris Pine's character lives on Ludlow Street, starts working down in Tribeca, there's mention of the Knitting Factory and the girlfriends live in a walk up above the Dumpling Man on St. Mark's. Sure, they randomly constructed a set on Ludlow for a Bowling Alley/Bar, which would never fly in that hipness arena but you can't fault them for at least trying to be sorta, kinda genuine.
While we wouldn't go so far as recommend going out of your way to see this movie, it's surely better than a poke in the eye and if it happens to come into your periphery sometime soon on cable or whatnot, you don't have to turn away in disgust. That may seem like an oddly specific way to put our Cinecultist stamp of approval on a new release but you'd be surprised at how many times those very circumstances come up in real life.