I have had dreams like this. In these dreams, I am in a place much like the Hermitage — a museum, or maybe a school, with rooms and corridors and galleries salons and atria all spilling over into each other. I am searching for something here, something which is slipping away from me ever faster the more I hunt for it, and soon it is gone. When I wake up, all I remember are the most general parts of the dream, but I always remember that questing feeling more than any other element.
For Russian Ark to tap into something so personal is only one of the many reasons I was astounded by it. Just on the most basic technical level, the film is brilliant: it is a film composed in a single unbroken, uninterrupted 100-minute take. No film camera has a magazine big enough for such a feat, so the whole film was shot using a special high-definition digital system. The picture quality is practically indistinguishable from film, anyway, and if it means film is dead, it also means we have entered a new era of moviemaking that allows things never before possible. Read more
Critically assailed and praised in about equal measure, Pink Floyd The Wall is also monumentally exhilarating and depressing in about equal measure — and I'm fairly sure that's the idea. Director Alan Parker (of Fame, Midnight Express, Angel Heart and Mississippi Burning), along with Pink Floyd's Roger Waters and animator/illustrator Gerald Scarfe, produced this filmed adaptation of Pink Floyd's epic and massively successful two-disc album only to discover that they were both far ahead of their time and in way over their heads. But they also made no apologies for its excesses, and unlike a lot of other band-related movie projects it wasn't designed as a cheap publicity stunt to capitalize on the success of the artists.
Up until the mid-Seventies, musicals on film had been limited to adaptations of Broadway productions — The Sound of Music, Sweet Charity, My Fair Lady. When the idea of the rock concept album or rock opera started to come more into vogue, an idea more or less pioneered by The Who with Tommy, the idea of transposing a themed rock album to film took hold — and in fact, that did happen with Tommy, courtesy of director Ken Russell, in 1975. Many people found it goofy, and there is a lot of inherent camp value in watching Jack Nicholson and Ann-Margret have no more than two notes of range between them, but it was directed, photographed and performed with great gusto.Read more
Take Care of My Cat opens with five girls noisily celebrating their graduation, and then plunges just as suddenly into the morass their adult lives have become. In the space of only a year, the space they shared together as friends has splintered. Suddenly all the girl stuff that seemed so important last year is no longer enough to keep people together — but that doesn't stop them from trying. They stay in touch via instant messages and cellphones, sometimes with one or two of them doing all the work to corral them together. But they are no longer the clique they used to be. Whether they like it or not, they are grown up.
This may not sound like a description of one of the most riveting and beautiful movies I've seen lately, and in the abstract a story like this could have simply been turned into an exercise in cheap melodrama or theatrics. It never does, and that is a credit to Jae-eun Jeong, a first-time Korean director and screenwriter who makes the best aspects of his film almost invisible. There's never a sense that the film is plotted, that the characters are being hustled from A to B in the story — but it also never seems aimless and it's never uninteresting. Like Yasujiro Ozu, the Japanese master of movies about life's quiet drifts (in fact, one of his best movies was named Drifting Weeds), he doesn't take sides, but simply illustrates and lets the drama speak for itself. Read more
There's something unmistakably British about Brimstone and Treacle, not only in its setting but in its general tone of morbid black humor. And maybe also its tortured origins: Brimstone is a remake of a 1976 teleplay by Dennis Potter that turned out to be so unstomachable for British TV that it was banned for over a decade (much as they suppressed Peter Watkins' equally incendiary The War Game). When it was shot as a feature film, it lost none of its potency, even several years down the line, and today it's still gruesomely fascinating.
The story is simple enough in its broad outlines. A young man named Martin Taylor (although his real name could be anything, come to think of it) drifts through London and attempts to ingratiate himself into various people's lives by pretending he knows them — and that by the same token, they know him. He manages to work his charms on a harried writer of religious verses, Tom Bates (Denholm Elliott, reprising his role from the TV version.)Read more
Wonderful Days is at the same time one of the most beautiful and flawed movies I have ever seen. There is not a moment in it that isn't dazzling to behold — but its story is so hidebound, so riddled with illogic that it is irredeemably crippled. If they had paid the same attention to the script that they had to the movie's design and animation, they would have had one of the single greatest animated films ever made. I don't think that would be too much of an exaggeration, but the point is moot. What we do have is good only as a curiosity, a sad hint of what could have been.
I suspect those kinder than I will see it as being a close cousin to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. That film also had a story that didn't exactly obey logic or sense, but was more coherent and tightly written. Wonderful Days, however, does attempt to successfully do many of the same things: it brings us several potentially interesting characters in a remarkable situation, told in a story with groundbreaking visuals.Read more