Short Thoughts About A Bunch of Movies That I Watched Recently
(d. Nuri Bilge Ceylan) - Winner of both the 2003 Cannes Grand Jury Prize and a joint Best Actor award for its two leads (Muzaffer Ozdemir and Emin Toprak), the Turkish film Distant
is a moody examination of a relationship, or more properly, the lack of a relationship, between two relatives: Mahmut (Ozdemir), a 40ish photographer who has long since given up on an idealism, and is now discontentedly living a life of bachelor solitude in wintry Istanbul; and Yusuf (Toprak), a distant cousin from the country who is in Istanbul seeking work, and who stays with Mahmut, much to his annoyance. The film is kind of like the Odd Couple
, with the fastidious Mahmut and the more laid-back Yusuf eventually annoying each other to no end (especially once Yusuf resigns himself to not being able to find a job, and spends his time following pretty girls through parks and shopping malls), but with beautiful, moody photography; a deliberate pace; and a distinct lack of humor. Other than a brief, snowy interlude, Winter in Istanbul is presented as gray and bleak, much like the lives of the disconnected and alienated protagonists.
Super Size Me
(d. Morgan Spurlock) - Another high profile festival favorite, this time the 2004 Sundance winner for Best Documentary and Best Director-Documentary, is a frequently funny, and just as frequent gross, documentary about the effect of bad eating habits upon American health. It’s nothing that I have not heard before, though it’s a nice summary and presented in such a way as to be entertaining. However, I think the central stunt, Morgan Spurlock’s strict diet of only McDonald’s food for 30 days is kind of a crock, since few, if any, people actually duplicate that kind of diet; force feeding yourself greasy cheeseburgers and fries, and in the process turning your liver into pate may make for an attention grabbing stunt, but it doesn’t really “prove” anything (I can’t believe those doctors, especially the general practitioner, did not see that kind of excess coming). Perhaps if Spurlock would have ate McDonalds once a day for a year, it would have been a more credible experience instead of just a stunt, but then again, having worked at a McDonald’s, I would not wish that kind of experience on anyone. However, a small triumph for Spurlock; I left the theater feeling that I should try to eat more organic food.
(d. Yoji Yamada) - I don’t want to duplicate Phyrephox’s great, earlier review
of this Oscar-nominated film, so just a couple of quick comments. Far from the pathetic Hollywood bombast of The Last Samurai
, this film knocks the samurai off there largely romanticized pedestal and presents them as real people, where being a samurai in late Tokugawa Japan means trying to just make a living doing the books, farming, fishing, or taking care of the kids, and where the violence is appropriately quick, brutal, and bloody (it’s quite funny to see how the other samurai retainers react after they learn that this shabby man is actually a great warrior). The penultimate scene (SPOILERS), when Seibei returns home wounded, after the duel, to find that Tomoe has waited for him is one of the best final scenes of any film I’ve seen this year (I don’t count the epilogue, in this case).
(d. Wilson Yip) - What is with zombies and shopping malls? The two subjects just seem to go hand in hand. A Hong Kong version of Dawn of the Dead
, cross-pollinated with zombie shoot em’ up games like House of the Dead
or Resident Evil
, was neither as funny or gory as I expected. So, kind of a disappointed thumbs down from me, though I appreciated the films bizarre usage of Iraqi WMD references (though the film was made prior to the Second Gulf War) and an appropriately nihilistic ending. I read about this film at Belligerent Bunny’s Bad Movie Shrine
, so if you want a more indepth view of what the film looks like (plenty of screencaps), check out this link.
(d. Lau Wai-Keung & Mak Siu-Fai) - A smash hit in HK (a unfortunate rarity for homegrown products in Hong Kong these days), Infernal Affairs
is a moody and stylish thriller about a pair of undercover agents on both sides of the Triad-Police Line: Yan (Tong Leung Chiu Wai, in what, as Phyrephox pointed out to me last night, was really a reprise of his role in John Woo’s Hard Boiled
) is a police cadet whisked off into an undercover assignment to infiltrate the Triads, while Lau (Andy Lau) is a Triad member who long ago infiltrated the HK police force. Ten years later, there forced immersion into their respective worlds has endlessly complicated both their lives and relationship to the film’s two opposed, father figures, Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong) and Triad Boss Sam (Eric Tsang), especially after both are tasked with ferreting out the other, leading to more and more tragic consequences as they try to extricate themselves from the mess they are in. Leung gives a more soulful performance as a cop teetering on the edge, but Lau is given a more interesting character arc, given his character’s growing moral quandary. The ending gives special resonance to the on-screen quote attributed to Buddha.
Just wanted to note, since I pointed this out to Phyrephox last night during an AIM conversation, that the screenplay is so economical. For instance, it takes less than 10 minutes for the film to completely setup its premise and backstory, without sacrificing any depth or complexity, a virtue that I think the rumored American remake will not possess.