Amoeblog

No "best of" 2012, just "films I saw in 2012" and "films that looked good in 2012"

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 28, 2012 03:42pm | Post a Comment

Around this time of year (i.e. the end of it), film fans usually trot out their "Best of" Lists. As much as I'd like to do the same, I don't even think that I saw ten films this year. Of those I really enjoyed only a few which is why I don't ever make these lists but I'm always looking for more films to love.



Part of the problem is that I rarely see what end up being my favorites in the year that they're released -- does anyone? About 10,000 films were released on the planet so how do people find their favorites before the planet goes full circle around the sun... and how are those films supposed to find their fans that fast?


Of the films that I saw, I quite liked The master although though, as with most PT Anderson films, felt like it gave me more to hold onto than truly admire. Skyfall was mostly satisfying although the pacing allowed my mind to repeatedly dwell on Bond's waxed cotton jacket more than the story. I thought The Dark Knight rises, though deeply silly and self-serious, was really exhilarating. Flight, on the other hand, was deeply silly and self-serious yet not exhilarating at all after the opening scene -- for some reason I've seen nearly every Robert Zemeckis film despite having not honestly liked any since 1985's Back to the future. As someone who can't get enough Middle Earth I thought The Hobbit: an unexpected journey was flawed but enjoyable ...and frequently just... too much. I remember The campaign and Wanderlust both being pleasantly diverting when I saw them but now they've almost entirely extricated themselves from my memory. Tim and Eric's billion dollar movie was bizarre and should've been annoying but was mildly amusing. Casa de mi padre was bizarre and should've been amusing but was mildly annoying. 

Of those films that I had plenty of opportunity to see but still haven't, I count End of watch, Jack Reacher, and Magic Mike. I probably just need one more recommendation from someone whose taste that I trust.

For some reason I can't get excited about Amour, Lawless, or Moonrise Kingdom to follow through with the whole process of actually watching them. And finally, I have little or no interest in seeing highly-regarded films Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django unchained, Life of Pi, Lincoln, or The Impossible as they all look absolutely atrocious and I just know that I'd hate them. 


*****

I suppose the films that looked most interesting to me but I missed were the following -- oh, apologies for some of them having ads at the beginning. It indeed seems perverse that YouTube would require people wanting to see ads to sit through ads first:



The angels' share is a Ken Loach comedy-drama filmed in Scotland. I've really liked every film of Ken Loach's that I've seen so that's enough for me. To be honest, the trailer makes it look pretty unremarkable but trailers more often convince me not see movies than to see them.




Damsels in distress
 is Whit Stilman's first film in thirteen years. I loved his first three so naturally I'm anxiously curious about his latest.





ライク・サムワン・イン・ラブ(Like someone in love) is a French-Japanese production about someone who supports herself through prostitution -- which sounds like it could be unbearable... but it's directed by one of my favorite directors, Abbas Kiarostami.





Nairobi half life is a Kenyan film directed by a first timer, David 'Tosh' Gitonga, that's gotten a bit of buzz. With African films continually snubbed by Criterion, New Yorker Films having reduced their output, and the Pan-African Film Festival increasingly showcasing "Pan-African" (in most cases independent black cinema from America) at the expense of actual African films from Africa, it's hard to know what great films are coming from the most cinematically-underrated continent.





アウトレイジ ビヨンド(Outrage beyond) is a Takeshi Kitano film. His output has been up and down for me for a while now but I'll always give him a chance... although I still need to see the first Outrage!




피에타 (Pietà) is the latest Kim Ki-duk film. It sounds as unsettling as most of his films but for some reason there's something seductive and poetic about his films that makes them something other than the arty torture porn or ugly endurance defiance contests (a la Lars von Trier).
Any thoughts or recommendations based on my "taste profile" that might have flown under the radar? Let me know and maybe I'll get back to you next year. 

*****

Iran in the Local News

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 10, 2008 08:26pm | Post a Comment

I caught a “local news” story the other day on one of the local stations. Under the headline “Desert Wonderland?” they ran footage of snow in Iran and (with those slightly robotic chuckles that all newscasters are able to activate thanks to their Hillary Clinton Brand emotion chips) they talked about what was made out to seem a freak occurrence, or at least a newsworthy event. I mean, weather in Tehran isn't exactly local.


I admit, before I ever watched an Iranian film or visited Tehrangeles, I had only the vaguest notions of what the country and its people looked like. I kind of reckoned that the middle east was one big sandy desert sparsely populated with turbaned Arabs and veiled harem girls. I am, after all, a product of Hollywood stereotypes and American public schools where we prefer to teach about 1000 years of Dark Ages serf rebellions in Europe rather than even mention the developments in math, science, technology, literature and the arts occurring at the same time in the Muslim world which helped jump started the Renaissance.

Our country’s relationship with Iran has been prickly ever since the 1953 CIA-orchestrated Project Ajax, in which their elected (and secular) leader Mohammed Mosaddeq was removed from power after he nationalized Iran’s oil industry, knowing full well that Iran’s oil belonged to England! Perhaps because of this (despite Iran frequently being in the news over the decades since) it has felt like there’s a ban on showing any actual images from the country, lest the American people start to recognize it as an actual country and not the hatred-stirring bogeyman it’s made out to be by politicians and the media when it's time for uniting we the people in mistrust and xenophobia.

Out of curiosity I decided I'd watch an Iranian film a few years ago. The first one I saw, on a recommendation, was Majid Majidi’s Color of Paradise. I was surprised. There were misty, wooded mountainsides. Who knew? I read a bit about Iran afterwards. They supposedly invented skiing 4,000 years ago (although there is disagreement about it, with the Chinese and Scandinavians also claiming that honor). There were major metropolises with shiny buildings and fancy cars, not mud huts and donkey carts. And to boot, the film itself was sophisticated, poetic and profound.

Persian film began in 1900 when Mizra Ebrahim Khan Akkas Bashi brought a camera back from Paris. The first theater was opened in 1904. Sound films began with Lor Girl in 1932. Throughout the 1930s and 40s films drew from Persia's rich mythological and literary background.
                        

In the 1960s, melodramas and thrillers dominated Iran's film output. With Masoud Kimiay's Kaiser, a new genre began that would prove popular with Iranians and influential with Iranian film, the "Tragic Action Drama." That same year Darius(h) Mehrjui's Gaav heralded the beginning of Iranian Art Film, often referred to as thereafter as "Iranian New Wave." Iranian New Wave became popular worldwide (at least with critics and adventurous film goers) with its focus on quotidian affairs and the struggles of regular people, the style is reminiscent of Italian Neo-Realism and yet also owes heavily to French New Wave's  encouragement of "La politique des auteurs." The 1970s saw a proliferation of films in the Iranian New Wave which then came to a sudden halt when the oppressive and elitist Shah, considered by most a corrupt puppet of the U.S. and UK, was run out of town. Of course, the void he left was filled not by art-loving populists but by another oppressive gang, the Islamist government that remains in power today despite their broad unpopularity.

   

After the revolution, the new, iron-fisted government severely restricted and censored the content and exposure of domestic and foreign films. Subsequently, apolitical commercial films which generally fall into two groups have dominated: Films dealing with the Iran-Iraq War or the Islamic Revolution on the one hand, and star-driven formula comedies and melodramas on the other. In the mid-80s there was a marked boom in crime dramas. Major stars included Mohammad Ali Fardin, who (though unpopular with the government for having starred in pre-revolution films with scantily-clad women and depicting alcohol consumption) had his funeral attended by 20,000 mourners. Just looking at our Iranian films at Amoeba, actress Niki Karimi seems to grace the cover of half of them. In the 1980s and 90s, the so-called "New Iranian Cinema" (sometimes still referred to as "Iranian New Wave") began to be celebrated at film festivals around the world despite usually being banned in Iran -- although they're readily and easily viewable in Iran thanks to a healthy black market, the proliferation of satellite television and avoidable and/or bribe-taking morality police. These films, while obviously varied, usually share an emphasis on visual beauty, lyrical storytelling, and a disregard for the boundaries between fiction and reality.

Majid Majidi بچه‌های آسمان

 

Father (1996) concerns a 14 year old boy who is forced to find work to support his family after his father dies. When he returns home, his mother is re-married and there is predictable tension between the child and his new stepfather. In a plot contrivance, the boy and his stepfather end up handcuffed in the desert and the film is easily the least enjoyable of Majidi's works that I've seen.

Children of Heaven (1997) is about two siblings forced to hide the fact that they share a single pair of shoes after the brother loses his sister's pair on the way to getting them repaired. He enters a race hoping to get third since the prize is a pair of shoes. He accidentally gets first and receives a different prize that means nothing to him. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film but lost out to the singularly awful, sentimental Oscar-bait, Life Is Beautiful.

Color Of Paradise
(1999) deals with a blind boy returning home from school who, though loved by his sisters and grandmother, is seen as a burden by his struggling father. His father attempts to pawn him off as an apprentice to a carpenter to make himself a better prospect in his attempts to re-marry. A tragic and sentimental event occurs in the climax and yet it somehow avoids being as cloying as my description suggests.

Baran (2001) is about a young man who starts developing feelings for an Afghani refugee at his work, not realizing that the tea boy of his interest is actually a girl. The young man, Lateef, discovers his love interest is a girl and goes out of his way to protect and help her but the refugees are forced back to Afghanistan.
 
Jafar Panahi 

 



The White Balloon (1995) isn't on DVD so I was lucky to grab a VCD of it at Amoeba. This is the perfect sort of family film -- the kind that you can watch and enjoy even if there are no kids around. It concerns a little girl wanting a fat goldfish for Nowruz. She loses the money to purchase it and the film concerns her attempts to retrieve it.

The Mirror (1997) begins as a story about a similar little girl trying to overcome obstacles when, all of a sudden, the actress removes her cast, her chador and her microphone and stomps off annoyed at the helplessness she's supposed to convey. The film crew spends the rest of the film trying to convince her to come to her senses and finish the film.

The Circle
(2000) is about several women, again confronting obstacles of contemporary Iranian culture: disappointment at having given birth to a girl, having to wear the chador, and not being able to travel alone. Most critics thought it was Panahi's best film yet, but I found it unpleasantly and relentlessly grim, with none of the uplift of his previous films. It seemed defiantly and annoyingly preachy, making its points with a heavy hand.

Crimson Gold
(2003) is very dark. It begins with the protagonist, in a botched jewelry story robbery, shooting the shopkeeper and then shooting himself in the head. The action that follows shows the events leading up to his suicide and meanders and flows in a way that makes me not want to get into the plot. I thought it was amazing. It was written by Abbas Kiarostami.

Abbas Kiarostam  



Close-Up
(1990) concerns the true story of a man who impersonated director Mohsen Makmalbaf. He entered a household and convinced the occupants that he wanted to make a film about them. Their lives become intertwined but they end up discovering his deception. The actor playing the con artist is the actual con artist and, toward the end, he's introduced, in tears, to the real Mohsen Makmalbaf.

Taste Of Cherry
(1997) follows a man driving around the outskirts of Tehran picking up various passengers. At first, his aims are unclear but he soon reveals that he's dug himself a grave and is looking for someone to bury him. If that sounds depressing, it is. If it sounds humorous, it's that too. And ultimately it's one of the most uplifting films I've ever seen without providing easy or false solutions to real and eternal problems. The highest praise I can give it is that it was on Roger Ebert's "Most Hated Films of 1997."

The Wind Will Carry Us
(1999) is about a documentarian who travels to a remote village in Kurdistan to make a film about Kurdish funeral customs. Unfortunately for those waiting, the old woman whom the funeral is for just won't die. I liked it but found it Kiarostami's least memorable film.

Ten
(2002) is a fascinating film. Shot entirely on a dashboard-mounted camera, the film entails a woman driving around Iran with ten different passengers. The logistics of making such a film are amazing. Think about the actors waiting in various locales to be picked up by the star. The fact that it doesn't feel static given the setup is incredible.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf محسن مخملباف

The Cyclist
(1987) is about an Afghan refugee who, in a desperate attempt to raise money for his ailing wife, enters a bizarre contest wherein, if he can ride his bike in a circle for one week without stopping, will earn the money necessary to buy the medical care his wife requires. The portrayal of the horrific effort involved, with a small industry of bet-placing observers and vendors springing up around him is nightmarish  and so tragic that it borders on comic in a way that many Iranian films do.

Darius Mehrjui داریوش مهرجویی



Gaav (1969) is the film that began the Iranian New Wave. A poor villager, whose closest companion is his cow, is away from home when the cow dies. The villagers, worried about how he'll take the news, tell him that the cow has run away. The man, Hassan, begins to lose his mind and adopt the behaviors of a cow himself. Of course, the ending is tragic.

Hamoun
(1990) portrays a middle class intellectual, Hamid Hamoun, and his mental deterioration arising from his wife's demands for divorce. She's an artist who's gained greater critical acclaim (which reminded me of Anotonioni's Les Amiches). He buys a rifle, planning to kill his wife. The film, frequently described as Fellini-esque and notably voted as the best Iranian Film of All Time by a group of critics, was hard to enjoy for me, as I found Hamid a pretty unlikeable and unsympathetic character.

Babak Payami بابک پیامی
   
Secret Ballot (2001) is a low-key comedy about a female civil servant's attempts to get the citizens of the Iranian island of Kish to vote in an upcoming election. She is escorted by a soldier who chauffeurs her around. Coming up against gender discrimination, mechanical difficulties and widespread and understandable apathy toward the voting process, Payami constructs a comedy that everyone in the audience I was in (myself included) found downright hilarious.    

Tahmineh Milani تهمینه میلانی

 

Hidden Half (2001) stars the ubiquitous Niki Karimi as a woman who meets a female activist scheduled for execution. It was interesting for a variety of reasons. As with a lot of the more commercial Iranian films, it deals with the 1979 revolution. It was interesting for me to see how internationalist the revolutionaries were. Students in army surplus with images of Ernesto Guevara everywhere... and a lot of the driving force was apparently communist and populist, not Islamist. The fact that it was directed by a woman isn't actually that out of the ordinary. Iran probably has more female directors than any other country that I can think of. There are more women in their government than our own, too. It's also a melodrama, and as such deals chiefly with romantic relationships. My main obstacle in enjoying it more was the love interest -- a smug, patronizing, smarmy and completely obnoxious know-it-all who I couldn't for the life of me see as the charmer that he seemed designed to be.

So, if this has piqued your interest in a cinema almost completely neglected by your local movie theater, head down to Amoeba and check it out.

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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Alhambra, the Gateway to the San Gabriel Valley

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 5, 2007 05:00pm | Post a Comment

I had to go to
Alhambra to see a man about a horse at the bidding of the original San Gabriel Valley Girl, the always radiant Ngoc Nguyen. To vote for another Los Angeles neighborhood, vote here. To vote for a Los Angeles County Community, vote here. To vote for more Orange County communites, click here


Pendersleigh & SonsOfficial Map of the San Gabriel Valley


ALHAMBRA'S LOCATION

Alhambra is on the western edge of the San Gabriel Valley between posh
San Marino, trendy South Pasadena, old San Gabriel, blue collar Rosemead, and the most Chinese city in the US, Monterey Park.


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Alhambra

The center of Alhambra is the intersection of Garfield and Main, which has functioned as the hub of town at least since 1895.


                          Garfield and Main, 1890                            Garfield and Main, 2007 improved with an Applebees


My favorite historical site, however, isn't really too historical. There's a great shopping center, New Valley Shopping Center, built in 1964. Its main anchor is replaced the 168 Market -- a subsidiary of Ranch 99 Market. It's one of those many, amazing LA simulacra that make what would normally be a boring stripp mall feel like a visit to Disneyland. This shopping center is, much more successfully than the Cerritos Auto Mile, going for a New Orleans French Quarter vibe with a gazebo, faux wrought-iron street lamps and balconies, and a cupola with a liberty bell. And in this beautiful setting, things get pretty third world, just in the Big Easy. 


New Valley Shopping Center


ALHAMBRA DEMOGRAPHICS

By the 1950s, Garfield and Main was the hippest place in the San Gabriel Valley and was predominantly populated mostly by Italian-Americans. The following decade saw an influx of Latinos from surrounding areas and Anglos moving to other suburbs. In the late 1960s Alhambra was a hotbed of anti-Vietnam War protests and Brown Beret activity. By the mid 1970s tensions rose between the predominantly Anglo "surfers" and cholos. Many
Taiwanese began to move to the neighborhood, followed by Chinese from the mainland, Vietnamese, Cambodians and other Asians
. Today the population is roughly 47% Asian (mostly Chinese and Vietnamese), 36% Latino (Mostly Mexicans of any race), and 14% white.


ALHAMBRA EATS

The San Gabriel Valley is widely recognized for having the best collection of restaurants in Los Angeles County. Being the gateway to the SGV, entering Alhambra on bike I was always hit with a blast of delicious fragrances emanating from kitchens and restaurants. Even though they make up a very small percentage of Los Angeles's Asian-American population, Los Angeles being the great city of the
Pacific Rim it should be no surprise that the highest population of Indonesians is in Los Angeles County. The highest concentration within Los Angeles County is in Alhambra. I mention this first because Indonesian cuisine is one of the world's greatest and Alhambra boasts a few places to get it. Borneo Kalimantan CuisineIndo Kitchen, and Wong Java House. One can also get Indonesian and/or Indonesian-inspired dishes at Garden Café, Savoy Kitchen, and maybe Noodle World. That being said, there's no place in Alhambra that I've eaten more than Yazmin Malaysian Restaurant -- representing the cuisine of Indonesia's neighbor to the north -- Malaysia, of course. I'm also a fan of Banh Mi Che Cali, the Alhambra Lee’s Sandwiches (don’t hate!), Thai Purple, and at least the fried zucchini at Rick’s

In addition to the aforementioned cuisines and restaurants, Alhambra boasts a number of American, Cajun, Chinese, Dim Sum, Hawaiian, Hu, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Taiwanese, Thai, Vietnamese restaurants including the following:

Michelangelo Antonio Dead

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 31, 2007 10:05pm | Post a Comment
Michelangelo Antonioni died yesterday. He was partially paralyzed by a stroke in 1985 and unable to speak for the last 22 years.

 

He began his career in the 1930s but really began to make a name for himself in the 1950s. While his peers made gritty, immediate neo-realist films focusing on social issues and the struggles of the poor, Antonioni used film to examine the space between bourgeois characters with a highly refined and stylized directorial aesthetic.


In 1960 he released L'Avventura starring the iconic Monica Vitti. It was a radical departure from European film before it. The film remains an amazing depiction and evocation of alienation and dread. Its title is seemingly ironic (although "avventura" also means "fling," apparently, in addition to "adventure").

Antonioni's subjects were almost always aimless, wealthy and unhappy. The films invariable had very long takes, minimal dialog and a surface that prevents the viewer from coming up with easy answers to Antonioni's implied questions.  L'Avventura and his subsequent films practically filled the screen with emptiness. Il Deserto Rosso (1964), his first color film, remains one of the bleakest and most beautiful films I've ever seen. I'm sure Criterion will "present" it in the months to come. It also has one of Giovanni Fusco's best scores, mostly consisting of disconcerting electronic beeps and belches (and silence), not to mention amazing Carlo Di Palma's amazing and ground-breaking cinematography.


He went international with Blow-Up and Zabriskie Point, which many find dated and less sophisticated. They focus on characters in Mod and Hippie subcultures respectively; their inauthenticity betrays them as the work of an outsider and yet their charms are still considerable.


He continued making films into his 90s. I haven't seen any of them. I'm more interested in his '50s and '60s output for now.

If you're like me, where endless explosions and cars flipping over and over like some out-dated screensaver puts you to sleep, whereas long, slow, methodical films like those made by Tarkovksy or Kiarostami stimulate you, then Antonioni is someone whose films you need to check out.

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