Archive for Film

A pirate’s life for me

I’ve been getting back on a movie kick the past few days, after a few weeks spent doing a lot of reading. Mostly, I think, I’m inspired by the Academy, which nominated a lot of films that I’ve heard are really terrific for Oscars this year. The weather was gorgeous this afternoon, sunny and in the high 40s or low 50s, so I decided to take a ride out to the suburbs to Tom’s–by far the best DVD store in Beijing. Their prices are more expensive, but the quality of the DVDs is great, and their selection is unrivalled, as well as incredibly (alphabetically!) organized. I found just about every movie I was hoping to buy, plus, of course, a number of others that caught my eye in the process:

Munich
Walk the Line
The Constant Gardener
The Family Stone
A Home at the End of the World
Edward Scissorhands
Everything is Illuminated
Transamerica
Proof
Elizabethtown
The Aristocrats
The Simpsons – Season 15
The Pretender – Season 2

Altogether, they cost me about $32–but I’m flush since I got paid on Friday. Besides, these movies are all well worth it, or so I hope, and just compare how much I spent with the prices at Amazon!

Posted by on February 19th, 2006

The filmmaker of suburbia

Since I aspire to be a filmmaker, and given that my childhood was one of the suburbs, it’s not altogether unlikely that one day I will make a movie that somehow nestles up against this genre, even if only in mockery of it, or perhaps as a more serious study of the qualities most films that fall within it profess to examine. While I was on Salon reading “Ask the Pilot,” I also came across this interview with Mike Mills, the director of the soon-to-be-released (in America, and shortly thereafter on DVD here in China) movie, Thumbsucker:

Whether it’s fair or not — and it’s not — you’re going to be compared to other recent American movies that deal with suburbia. People are going to talk about “American Beauty” and “Donnie Darko.” I don’t know if you see any thematic continuity there, but I’m curious how you approached a setting that’s become so symbolic.

“American Beauty” I completely hate. I find it a really reprehensible movie because it’s making fun of people that live there. I don’t respond to “Donnie Darko” at all, because its quirkiness overtakes any sense of reality. But “Ordinary People” I watched a lot. “Ice Storm” I watched a lot. Those are two suburban movies I would embrace. And while mine has certain visual gags, I guess, I’m more in that camp.

I get compared to “Donnie Darko” every frickin’ day. That and “Garden State,” another movie I hate. I’m not going to argue with the audience. But my take on suburbia is that I have no interest in picking on people, or saying they’re “dysfunctional.” I hate that phrase. As if there’s a family that’s functional, you know? It’s a very George Bush way to be looking at family: Evil is to be killed, and good will go to heaven.

Ironically, I had just watched Ang Lee’s Ice Storm two days prior, after my friend S. recommended it over a month ago while we were shopping for DVDs. Unlike Mills, however, I happen to love both Donnie Darko and, even more so, Garden State, and I find American Beauty tolerable in its teasing humor–and for the ease and style with which Family Guy proceded to parody it in the episode where Stewie becomes a cheerleader. (I haven’t seen Ordinary People, though after reading this I plan to, if only for comparison’s sake.) Anyway, I think the above was the most interesting part of an otherwise lackluster interview, but the rest of the article may be worth passing through Salon’s hoops anyway, as it discusses two other films that I hadn’t actually heard of yet, and that seemed quite worth watching.

Posted by on September 10th, 2005

Sontag at the movies

Arts and Letters Daily had a link to this terrific article from the most recent issue of The New Yorker. Since it would cost me well over $100 to have my weekly literary sustenance delivered to me here in Beijing, I have to subsist on the few articles those demigods of Times Square are willing to publish online for free each week. Luckily, this retrospective look by film critic David Denby at how Susan Sontag viewed the cinema was among the pieces that made it into their website. In addition to offering some fascinating insight into the perspective my favorite recently deceased public intellectual had on the twentieth-century’s most unique art form, the article also reveals that Sontag loved some of the same films I do–most emphatically, Yasujiro Ozu’s incredible Tokyo Story.

Sontag, it turned out, had a personal canon of about four hundred movies that she visited over and over at revival houses–Renoir’s Rules of the Game and Kurosawa’s High and Low were particular favorites, and she claimed to have seen Ozu’s heartbreaking Tokyo Story thirty times. “There are passions which last forever,” she told an audience of movie-lovers at the Japan Society in 2003. At the end of her life, working hard, and often ill, Susan Sontag went to the movies almost every day of the week.

Here in Beijing, I’m lucky to have unparalled, inexpensive access to great films on DVD. For 10RMB (a little more than $1), I can get almost any movie I could want, from Tim Burton’s disappointing remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Istvan Szabo’s Love Film, and Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten, which are just a few of the DVDs I have purchased in the past few days. Even if I can’t experience the dark pleasure of the cinema-house by going to the movies “almost every day of the week”–there’s usually only one or two English-language films playing in the whole city, and those are the likes of Mr. and Mrs. Smith or Batman Begins–I can certainly attempt to do so from the comfort of my own home.

Posted by on September 9th, 2005