Monthly Archives: January 2006

Lots of Films, Yay!

The last time I watched so many movies in one month was over a year ago – December 2004 – when I took the liberty of my senior year to watch movies at all times of the day. I remember going to watch Closer on a Thursday afternoon at the Lincoln Sqare Loews and seeing the entire theater fill up with gray-haired senior citizens who all seemed to know each other. No such luxuries these days with work and all, but we do have Netflix and the weekends sometimes offer a few hours to relax and catch a flick. Well, a list and some thoughts:

Untold Scandal dir. by Je-Yong Lee – I thought this was better than the American remake with Ryan Philippe and Sarah-Michelle Gellar. Using the Korean equivalent of the Victorian era as the setting seemed to heighten the sexual tension between the characters. My mom knocks on Bae-Yong Joon’s acting a lot, but I thought he was pretty pimp in this film.

White Countess dir. by James Ivory – I really loved Remains of the Day, so it was only natural that I saw another collaboration between Kazuo Ishiguro – who wrote the story for the film – and legendary director James Ivory. As an added bonus, actor Ralph Fiennes was the lead man, and ever since The English Patient, I’ve been a fan. The film is subtle, artistic, and has a wonderful score. I can’t help but feel though that Ishiguro sort of recycled bits from his book When We Were Orphans.

Crash dir. by Paul Haggis – Bleh, I totally don’t see how people can heap praise on this film. It is contrived, cliched, and not even that edgy. Of course, the depiction of Asians is terrible (except the well-spoken insurance company guy), and I just gagged at certain points when Haggis tried to give some sort of redemptive quality to these characters. Only Don Cheadle had a role worth remembering, and I like it how he gets with his hot Latino detective partner.

Mr. Jealousy dir. by Noah Baumbach – This might have been my favorite film of the month. A very independent film based in Brooklyn, where Baumbach grew up, Mr. Jealousy is about a guy who becomes obsessed with his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. It’s not a corny romantic comedy and the film avoids all hints of cliche and predictability. The dialogue is incredibly witty, and you sort of wish the film had never ended once you reach the final scene. Highly recommended.

A History of Violence dir. by David Cronenberg – Cheerleader uniform and stairway sex. Otherwise, a few scenes of violence here and there. Can’t really say there was much of a message or anything lasting about this film. It ends in an incredibly abrupt manner and makes you wonder if it was worth the $10+ since most other movies play at least 2+ hours these days

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress dir. by Sijie Dai – The novelist takes a shot at making the film of his book and does an incredible job. I wrote up a small review of this in The Hoching Post. It definitely helps to know a thing or two about Chinese history in the 20th century in order to appreciate this film a bit more.

The Right Stuff dir. by Philip Kaufman – Based on the Tom Wolfe book, this film about pilots and space travel is an inspiring “guy movie.” Alpha males go against each other to become the first to travel into space and Chuck Yager defines the essence of having “the right stuff” with his death-defying stunts. I liked this much better than Apollo 13 because it didn’t have that mushy sentimental touch and made you think more about “pushing the envelope” and taking risks. A cowboy movie with planes and rockets for horses and wagons.

Walk the Line dir. by James Mangold – I told my friend Jean, who is from Tennessee and was the one who wanted to watch this film so badly (she even cried at the end), that this biographical film about singer Johnny Cash was essentially “Ray for white people.” A youth in which a sibling is killed, a sudden rise to fame, extra-marital affairs, the one woman who stays loyal, drug problem, rehabilitation, and doing Good Things for humanity. But overall, I loved the music, the story was tight and well-told, and the acting (Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon) was superb.

I hope February brings in another month of some quality film-watching. It’s always good to reflect on some of these movies even if it’s nothing more than some passing observations that I get to write down. I hope to keep a nice balance in my film diet with more foreign selections, some independent films, documentaries, and the occasional mainstream sensation. And hopefully a chance to catch up on some classics I may have missed in college. Please feel free to join me if you’re around on weekends!

Qs here and there

a few questions, some of them cliches, worth jotting down for now:

how do you live a meaningful life?
is kitsch all we ever experience these days?
how can you be a socially conscientious citizen without irony or selfish motives?
do all painful memories become dull as time passes?
is the notion of “balance” in life really legitimate?
why does time fly so quickly?
world relevance without media hype – is it possible?

what if the things that make us successful are the very things that eventually destroy us?

role model: chip kidd

For Christmas, my sister bought me Chip Kidd: Book One – Work: 1986-2006, which is a monograph of his book cover designs of the past two decades. I finally had a chance to sit down today and take a look through the book while enjoying my cup of coffee and cinnamon swirl coffee cake at the Starbucks across the street from my apartment. Chip Kidd makes covers for Knopf and has become a sort of cultural icon, having designed covers for famour authors (Michael Crichton, Amy Bloom, Haruki Murakami, John Updike, etc.) while radiating an energetic pulse and giving a feeling of “cool” to the publishing world. His name – a real one – has become a brand in and of itself. What impressed me about Kidd was his “organic” approach to work – he never grows complacent with his designs and also finds ways to use his talent in other areas. His list of projects and accomplishments keeps on growing: he edits graphic novels for Pantheon, he teaches classes at various universities, he does magazine covers, and he’s already written a novel, Cheese Monkeys, and is currently working on a sequel. He is an avid collector of tchotkes, and he often finds ways to use these little objects to adorn his book covers in a very relevant and symbolic way.

He’ll be speaking at Cooper Union next Thursday, and I really hope I can go and attend the event. His work will be on display at Cooper Union until February 4th. He’s a true enthusiast who loves to make use of typography, photography, and juxaposition to come up with compelling designs that reflect the core message of each book (he reads each one in its entirety – often a painful task, he admits). It’s easy to shower praise on someone whose work seems to be loved by everyone at the moment, but next time you’re in a bookstore, take a look at the back of the book and see who’s designed the cover. Maybe you’ll find one done by Chip Kidd and know what I’m talking about.

I need to run and get a haircut now, but I just wanted to write somewhere that I really admire Chip Kidd. Not that every single one of his covers is great and incredible, but that he’s relentless in his pursuit of new projects, new methods, and new perspective. I’d like to think that I am on such a track with my various interests and all, but sometimes it’s just easy to sit on the couch and be content with the status quo (making some money, buying nice things, going through the yearly cycles, looking forward to weekends, etc.). It’s not that being comfortable with a certain way of life is lesser than an adventurous one, but you have to admit that it’s probably more interesting to try new things and keep pushing yourself to learn new things. It’s not fame and fortune that makes me want to follow Kidd’s path; it’s the feeling of waking up each morning and knowing that I have many choices, many ways to expend my energy, and many ways to feel satisfied after the day is over.