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!