Tag: United States

MOVIE REVIEW | ***DIRECTOR DEBUT WEEK*** Lee: Pushing Hands (1992)

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Ang Lee is an interesting film maker.  He’s made high profile, Oscar nominated gear like Crouching Tiger, Hidden and Dragon, Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi.  He’s made a prestige English drama with Sense and Sensibility.  He’s made a big old comic book stink bomb with Hulk.  He’s not just a foreign born director who’s crossed over to English language success.  He really is an international film maker who isn’t scared to take on any story or location.  I think the only movies of his I’d actually seen before now were The Ice Storm and Life of Pi.  And as much as I know I should be familiar with his work, I’m really not.  But now I’ve made a start by watching his first feature, Pushing Hands.

Martha (Deb Snyder) is an American writer, working from home, trying to finish her latest novel.  But she’s a little distracted by her newly arrived father in law, Chu (Sihung Lung).  Martha is married to Alex, a Chinese American who recently moved his father to America from China.  The language barrier between Martha and Chu rapidly breeds resentment between them both.

Chu feels isolated in his new country and resists the American way of life as much as possible.  He’s basically just a cranky old bastard, set in his ways and determined to hate everything about America.  Until he meets Mrs Chen (Lai Wang), another recently arrived Chinese octogenarian who’s struggling to fit in to her new world as well.

There are culture clashes, generation clashes and physical clashes.  You see, Chui is a tai chi and martial arts expert, and he gets to show off his moves more than once.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an action movie in any way, the martial arts are only used sparingly and usually only to illustrate a thematic point.

About half way through, I started to get a little bored and frustrated with Pushing Hands.  It seemed to be nothing more than an exercise in showing how younger generations are too impatient, selfish and cocky to appreciate their noble, wise elders who’ve been there and seen it all before.  But then the movie started to explore Chu’s own stubbornness and lay a little blame on both sides.

Even though Lee had an English speaking co-writer, I still felt the dialogue was the biggest let down in Pushing Hands.  Some of the exposition is really obvious, as characters tell each other things they both clearly already know, but the audience needed to learn so the story could continue.  And more than once, an actor would awkwardly deliver a line that seemed like it was written by someone who’s first language probably wasn’t English.

Apparently Pushing Hands is part of a thematic trilogy about generational conflict.  I can’t say I’m super excited to see the other two entries, but it has made me want to finally check out his bigger movies like Crouching Tiger and Brokeback Mountain.

Pushing Hands
Directed By – Ang Lee
Written By – Ang Lee, James Schamus

MOVIE REVIEW | ***DIRECTOR DEBUT WEEK*** Lynch: Eraserhead (1977)

Earserhead
Excluding a few documentaries, David Lynch has made around a dozen feature films.  He managed to go beyond being a cult success and is a genuinely admired name as a director an innovator.  Which is why I feel kind of guilty that until today, I had seen a grand total of one of his movies. The Elephant Man.  Well now, I have doubled that number, by watching his feature film debut, Eraserhead.

Of you’ve never seen it, but have heard a little about Eraserhead, I’ll start by saying this, it’s even weirder than you think.  I have no idea what it’s about, what it’s trying to say or what I was supposed to take from it.  But for me, that was the charm of Eraserhead and what I like about it the most.

In the perfect kind of weirdness that seems so appropriate, the movie opens  with Jack Nance as Henry Spencer, kind of just floating in space.  Super imposed over a planet that represents his brain, I think.  Then some kind of fetus thing floats out of his mouth.  What does it all mean?  Who cares?  It looks amazing.

Henry goes to dinner at his girlfriend’s parent’s house where it turns out she gave birth to a weird alien, cow, baby thing.  Still with me?  Probably not.  I’m not still with me.  Her parents think he’s the father and should marry her, there’s a man who seems to be making the planet move and a girl with giant, mutant cheeks who sings a song.  You know, just regular movie stuff.

Made and pieced together over several years, that disjointed feel is obvious and I don’t think it can all be put down to deliberate Lynchian weirdness.  Not that Eraserhead is attempting any sort of conventional story with a beginning, middle and end, but the flow seems to have become even more jerky as a result of the years and years of filming.

I can’t think of anther film maker who has kept their art house sensibilities so much in tact while also finding such mainstream success.  Maybe John Waters is up there with him, but David Lynch makes the weird movies that even regular, casual movie goers seem to be kind of aware of.

If it doesn’t exist already, some band needs to make an album that syncs up with Earserhead, a-la Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz.  Because even if the story frustrates and aggravates you, it is visually stunning enough to make the best 90 minute music video ever.

Apparently Lynch has made a point of rarely talking about this movie or going into detail about what it means.  His reason being, he wants people to come to their own conclusions about the movie and what it’s about.  I’d like to think the real reason is because even Lynch doesn’t have a clue what Earsehead is about.  For some reason, I think that would make it even more successful as a piece of experimental art.

Eraserhead
Directed By – David Lynch
Written By – David Lynch

MOVIE REVIEW | Gojira (1954)

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At this stage, Godzilla has transcended the original movie that made the monster famous.  The references and parodies of the shonky man-in-suit aesthetic of the old school Japanese movies, the huge flopness of the big budget American attempt in the late 90s directed by Roland Emmerich.  The upcoming big budget, probable flop American attempt directed by Gareth Edwards.  Nothing can keep this radioactive infused big bastard down.  And it all started with a little ainti-nuclear weapons allegory, disguised as a schlocky B grade monster movie, 1954’s Gojira.

A fishing boat off a small Japanese island is attacked by something and sinks.  Soon several rescue ships are sent to help before they also sink one by one.  A little old dude tells his village it’s the ancient monster Godzilla.  They all think he’s talking crazy, until they see monster themselves, in all his awkward, ill fitted rubber suit glory.  Now it’s time for everyone to start thinking of ways to kill Godzilla while local scientist Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura), who had figured out it’s all due to nuclear radiation from the American attack several years earlier, tries to convince them to try to preserve the monster and study him.

Godzilla basically goes on a rampage, attacking boats, villages and towns, but never really doing much more than wreck up the place.  There’s no rhyme or reason.  Meanwhile, Dr Yamane’s daughter, Emiko (Momoko Kochi), is breaking off her engagement with Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), another scientist and colleague of her father, who might have developed a weapon so dangerous, he won’t use it on Godzilla, for fear of the rest of the world learning of its existence.

Made so close to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Gojira wears its anti-nuclear stance prominently on its sleeve and that’s totally understandable.  But it also tries to have its cake and eat it too.  The noble scientist is determined not to unleash his weapon of mass destruction on the world, even when it seems like the only solution.  But unlike the arms race kicked off by the use of atomic weapons by America, Gojira tries to find a way to justify it with a one and done approach.  

It’s weird seeing something for the first time, yet being so familiar with its look, its feel, its style and approach.  It’s also weird how effective the movie is.  Even with the comically ridiculous costume, the hokey effects and ludicrous surface story, the smaller, character moments generally work.  The anti-nuclear weapons message is plainly obvious, but never over baring.  And the performances are a little camp, but never too much.

It hasn’t made me want to dive into the whole Japanese kaiju world of giant monsters like Mothra and Rodan (who’s names  I think I only know of thanks to The Simpsons), but I am glad I’ve now seen where it all started.  With anything this iconic and enduring, there’s always a reason for that iconic endurance that leads to easy watchability.

Gojira
Directed By – Ishirô Honda
Written By – Ishirô Honda, Shigeru Kayama

MOVIE REVIEW | Italianamerican (1974)

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I’ll get this out of the way straight out of the gate.  In my opinion, Martin Scorsese is the greatest film maker working today.  Possibly of all time.  So I was predisposed to liking this.  Having said that, if you can watch Italianamerican and not have the shit charmed out of you, you may not have a soul.


I guess I’d have to call Italianamerican a documentary, but that makes it sound a lot more elaborate than what it actually is; Martin Scorsese having dinner with his parents, Charlie and Catey Scorsese, and encouraging them to tell stories about growing up in early twentieth century New York.

If you’ve ever seen Goodfellas (and if you haven’t, what’s your problem, jerk?  Stop reading this and go watch it right now), you know how adorable Scorsese’s mother is.  In a movie filled with murder, mobsters, drugs and guns, her one scene is one of the most memorable.  As the mother of Joe Pesci’s Tommy, she almost steals the movie.  Watching her in Italianamerica, I had to wonder if any of her lines in Goodfellas were even scripted, or if Scorsese just pointed a camera at her and let he do her thing.

Even more impressive than Catey Scorsese, is the fact that her husband Charlie somehow manages to not be completely lost in her shadow.  He holds his own and tells amazing stories about growing up in Hell’s Kitchen.  This dude grew up sharing a two room apartment with thirteen other people.  Not a two bedroom apartment, a two room apartment.

The Scorsese family should be on a billboard somewhere advertising the American immigrant experience.   Catey and Charlie are both children of Sicilian immigrant parents who arrived in America penniless.  Catey and Charlie managed to work themselves up to the middle class and were even able to send their son to film school.  In three generations, the Scorsese’s went from poverty stricken immigrants to rich and world renowned film maker.  They are the American dream.

Even at their most violent, excessive, flashy and gangster filled, Scorsese’s movies always come back to family.  He’s obsessed with the little things that influence people and make them who they are.  Italianamerican is an amazing look at the little things that made his parents who they are.  It’s also an amazing look at how their influence produced the greatest film maker working today.  Possibly of all time.

And as an added bonus, the end credits even include the recipe for Catey Scorsese’s amazing looking pasta sauce…
Singe an onion & a pinch of garlic in oil. Throw in a piece of veal, a piece of beef, some pork sausage & a lamb neck bone. Add a basil leaf. When the meat is brown, take it out, & put it on a plate. Put in a can of tomato paste & some water. Pass a can of packed whole tomatoes through a blender & pour it in. Let it boil. Add salt, pepper, & a pinch of sugar. Let it cook for a while. Throw the meat back in. Cook for 1 hour. Now make the meatballs. Put a slice of bread without crust, 2 eggs, & a drop of milk, into a bowl of ground veal & beef. Add salt, pepper, some cheese & a few spoons of sauce. Mix it with your hands. Roll them up, throw them in. Let it cook for another hour.

Italianamerican
Directed By – Martin Scorsese
Written By – Lawrence D. Cohen, Mardik Martin

MUSIC REVIEW | Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action (2013)

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It’s been almost a decade and three albums since France Ferdinand announced their arrival with hit single Take Me Out and their self-titled debut long player.  They emerged confident in their sound then and haven’t messed with it too much since.  The new Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action sees the next small, but not disposable, step in their evolution.

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