Thursday, July 05, 2007

Crimson Gold (2003)

****½
Iran

Jafar Panahi directs an Abbas Kiarostami script, which establishes how parties are illegal in Iran, the disadvantaged are routinely humiliated and the gap between the very poor and the very rich is distending. It's a quiet, gently flowing and profoundly embittered piece of cinema, demonstrating without redundant earnestness or hysteria how the most inoffensive, inconspicuous, seemingly indomitable spirit can be smothered by any casually unjust system.

dir: Jafar Panahi
wr: Abbas Kiarostami
cast: Hossain Emadeddin, Kamyar Sheisi, Azita Rayeji, Shahram Vaziri, Ehsan Amani, Pourang Nakhael

Grbavica (2006)

***½
Bosnia-Herzegovina

In her account of festering secrets still leaking out nearly a decade after the Bosnian civil war, writer-director Jasmila Zbanic isn't above employing the more schematic weapons of melodrama, but she's skilled at evoking how this now-decade-old trauma maintains an increasingly unacknowledged powerhold over humble, outwardly quiet lives.

wr/dir: Jasmila Zbanic
cast: Mirjana Karanovic, Luna Mijovic, Leon Lucev, Kenan Catic, Jasna Beri, Dejan Acimovic, Bogdan Diklic, Emir Hadzifahisbegovic

Offside (2006)

****
Iran

Jafar Panahi's comparatively light though typically biting comedy about the arrest of a bunch of teenage girls attempting to sneak into a major football match in Tehran's Azadi Stadium. There is a subtle, subversive trace of optimism to it - an element previously absent from Panahi's work. It ends on a note of unlikely though ferocious celebration, hinting at a bubbling, left-field rebellion. There isn't a false note in the performances of the young women and non-professional Safdar Samandar as the bewildered soldier assigned to guard them.

dir: Jafar Panahi
wr: Jafar Panahi, Shadmehr Rastin
cast: Sima Mobarak-Shahi, Shayesteh Irani, Ayda Sadeqi, Golnaz Farmani, Mahnaz Zabihi, Nazanin Sediq-Zadeh, Melika Shafahi, Safdar Samandar

Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic (2005)

****
USA

"I was raped by a doctor... which is, you know, so bittersweet for a Jewish girl." A recording of Sarah Silverman's genius stand-up routine interspersed with backstage diva antics and production numbers. The backstage stuff doesn't quite come off, though the songs are hysterical and the stand-up comedy of the highest, filthiest demented order: "When God gives you AIDS - and God does give you AIDS, by the way - make lemonAIDS."

dir: Liam Lynch
cast: Sarah Silverman

Takeshis' (2005)

**½
Japan

The kind of bloated, opaque, self-indulgent public therapy session that just about every great director makes at least once, having grown dangerously accustomed to critical and popular success.

wr/dir: Takeshi Kitano
cast: Takeshi Kitano, Kotomi Kyono, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Osugi, Susumu Terajima, Tetsu Watanabe, Akihiro Miwa

Sherrybaby (2006)

***½
USA

A generic recovering-junkie indie, elevated into something considerably more absorbing by Maggie Gyllenhaal's blistering performance. In a role that most actresses would approach as misty-eyed Oscarbait, she is fierce, she is comfortably vulgar and she refuses to submit to the junkie-with-a-heart-of-gold stereotype. She lends the picture some grit, resonance and conviction that very likely didn't exist in the original draft.

wr/dir: Laurie Collyer
cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brad William Henke, Sam Bottoms, Danny Trejo, Kate Burton, Giancarlo Esposito, Ryan Simpkins, Rio Hackford

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)

***
UK

An ostensibly no-frills look into the formative days of the IRA, it centres on a Shakesperean-level tragedy involving two brothers with increasingly conflicting convictions, and is marred by the depiction of British soldiers as exclusively barking sadists. It beat a couple of much richer pictures (along with a couple of paltry ones) to win the Palme d'or.

dir: Ken Loach
cast: Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney, Liam Cunningham, Orla Fitzgerald, Mary O'Riordan, Mary Murphy, Laurence Barry, Damien Kearney, Frank Bourke

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

97. The Purple Rose of Cairo (Woody Allen, 1985)


Turksib (1929)

*****
USSR

A little-seen, phenomenally crafted documentary account of the development of a railway line between Siberia and Turkestan. Even if the intention may be exactly the opposite, there is a constant undercurrent to the startlingly gorgeous imagery (ranging from a camel caravan caught in a sandstorm to a tribe of nomads first laying eyes upon modern machinery) of man continually underestimating the vastness and timelessness of time and human progress registering as something moderately insignificant in the greater scheme of the universe.

dir/ed: Victor Turin
ph: Boris Frantsisson, Yevgeni Slavinsky

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

***½
France

When Luis Buñuel notoriously stated that his and Salvador Dali's landmark mindfuck was supposed to mean 'nothing', he was lying. If anything, their purposefully grotesque, seemingly disjointed imagery is overloaded with meaning (a bachelor dragging a burden of bishops on his back, the just-married couple buried waist-deep in sand at springtime? unsubtle, if anything), and it isn't necessarily worth sifting through the tomes and tomes of dense and inevitably pretentious theses and dissertations to dig it up in full. Take in the unsurpassed visceral impact of the slicing of the eye, marvel at a few other images such as the one with the rotting donkey on the piano, and don't get overwhelmed in the undergrad art-wank adulation routinely bestowed upon Buñuel and Dali's crudely photographed and edited undergrad art-wankerism. They each (and Buñuel in particular) went on to bigger and better things, much more deserving of your time and consideration.

wr/dir: Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dali
cast: Pierre Batcheff, Simone Mareuil, Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dali, Robert Hommet, Marval, Fano Messan, Jaime Miravilles

Mean Streets (1973)

****½
USA

Martin Scorsese's breakthrough - and many people still swear it's his best film. Even if it isn't his best film (and I'm not saying it isn't), it's arguably his best-directed. The vigour, the freshness and the looseness that define the most vivid passages in his work dominate this rough-edged look into Harvey Keitel's small-time gangsterdom, Catholic guilt and valiant though doomed attempts to rein in wild child Robert De Niro. It's the least polished and glamourous of all the gangster pictures in Scorsese's gangster-fixated output, and it's all the better for that.

dir: Martin Scorsese
wr: Martin Scorsese, Mardik Martin
ph: Kent Wakeford
ed: Sidney Levin
cast: Harvey Keitel, Robert de Niro, Amy Robinson, David Proval, Richard Romanus

Greed (1924)

*****
USA

Famously, the original cut of Erich von Stroheim's adaptation of Frank Norris' novel McTeague ran roughly eight hours, though the surviving 140-minute version bears none of the choppiness that haunts the majority of raped masterpieces. Within the context of the floss routinely churned out by Hollywood during this period, the bite and cynicism of von Stroheim's film is quite shocking. To this day few studio filmmakers have demonstrated a gift akin to Von Stroheim's feel for the morbid dreariness and insignificance that can overwhelm such ostensibly weighty events as the beginnings of the McTeagues' courtship (by the sewer) and their wedding ceremony (with a funeral procession passing before the window). And McTeague' ultimate demise in Death Valley comes at the end of what is still the most searing and demistifying of all final showdowns.

dir: Erich von Stroheim
wr: Erich von Stroheim, June Mathis
ph: William H. Daniels, Ben F. Reynolds, Ernest B. Schoedstack
cast: Gibson Gowland, ZaSu Pitts, Jean Hersholt, Chester Conklin, Sylvia Ashton, Oscar Gottell, Otto Gottell, Frank Hayes, Jack Curtis

The Gold Rush (1925)

*****
USA

In maybe his most famous outing, Chaplin's Tramp is pitted against the thugs and blizzards of the Klondike gold rush. He's pursued by a bear, he morphs into a man-sized chicken, dangles off a snowy precipice, feasts on a pair of boots and performs the dance of the rolls. When Chaplin commits to these setpieces, so does every joint and muscle on his face, limbs and torso. It isn't only his inventiveness but also his zest and unflappable conviction that makes him freshly endearing upon countless repeat viewings.

wr/dir: Charles Chaplin
cast: Charles Chaplin, Mack Swain, Georgia Hale, Tom Murray, Betty Morrissey, Kay Desleys, Joan Lowell, Malcolm Waite

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

98. Trust (Hal Hartley, 1990)


99. The Knack... And How to Get It (Richard Lester, 1965)


100. If... (Lindsay Anderson, 1968)