Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Helena from the Wedding

Initially Published Here

The Film Movement series is an interesting concept. The company collects independent films from all over the world and makes them available on DVD primarily by means of a monthly subscription. You get to feel a little like a patron of the arts and each month a little gift shows up in your mailbox. Alas, I have to hope that the majority of the films are better than this simplistic marital drama.

A newly married couple invite a small group of friends to celebrate New Year’s Eve in a secluded rustic cabin. Everyone has their own unique strife to contend with -- there’s the passionate couple who only stop fighting long enough to have noisy sex (comedy here consists of their friends looking into the distance awkwardly while listening to them get it on). Then there’s the Type-A lawyer whose wife is about to have a baby and is questioning her husband’s fidelity. And of course the newly divorced friend who puts the moves on Helena, the only other single person at the party. They break off into pairs or small groups, reveal their doubts to one another and move on to the next earnest conversation. But first-time writer/director Joseph Infantolino has nothing new or interesting to say and while the actors are all pleasant (and recognizable as supporting TV players), they don’t have much to do here. The film aims for low-key and winds up just being dull.

The disc itself is relatively bare bones. A few cast interviews and trailers for other available films in the series. There’s no subtitle option (English or otherwise) which is a shame for such a talky little film. As a nice touch the disc also includes an unrelated short film, this one from Sweden (Awaiting Examination). Sadly, it is also fairly ho-hum.

Yi Yi

Initially Published Here

The last film completed by Edward Yang before he passed away in 2007, Yi Yi is also, arguably, his best. An intimate epic, it moves at a leisurely pace but is packed with so much detail and so many finely drawn characters that its almost 3 hour running time flies past like time spent with great friends. Like Altman at his best, Yang trusts his audience to put together the connections between people and places. The film has plenty of laughs and drama, but Yang’s camera moves with such subtle grace that these moments seem to come out of nowhere and hit all the harder for it. And the film features one of the most eloquent metaphors for the power of film I have ever encountered -- an 8 year old boy, played by Jonathan Chang in one of the great child performances ever, takes to photographing the back of people’s heads in order to show them something they have never seen before. “You can’t see it yourself, so I’m helping you,” is how he puts it and that moment has stuck with me in the decade since I first saw the film.

Criterion have upgraded their already excellent DVD package to Blu-Ray. Presentation is much more film-like than any previous home video version. Most of the extras are carried over from the prior Criterion release and include a commentary track by Yang and critic Tony Rayns, a video interview with Rayns about the New Taiwan Cinema movement and an insightful essay by film writer Kent Jones which focuses on Yang’s empathetic depiction of modern life in Taipei.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Sorry to have neglected the blog for awhile, but my family and I just returned from 9 days on the island of Hawaii (The Big Island). It was as remarkable a trip as most people who visit Hawaii claim it to be -- beautiful weather, amazing sights, great friends to share it all with. On our last full day we drove the 100 or so miles from our resort to the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park. I had doubts as to whether it would be worth the 2+ hours each way in a car with our 5 year old, but I quickly found myself in awe of the various lunar-like landscapes.  To say I felt like I was walking around in a Hipgnosis album cover come to life is to damn it with faint praise. Or maybe I just had pictures in my head of me wandering around with Nico.

But perhaps my favorite part of the trip was that drive on Highway 11 to the park.  From sea level up to 4,000 feet and back down, hugging the edge of the island for most of it with a breathtaking view of the Pacific dropping off on my right. I had my iPod on shuffle and I swear that the thing became sentient somewhere along that road. From Thelonious Monk pop classic to David Bowie piano ballad to the prettiest Superchunk song ever, I was moved by it all. And then this one came on - my favorite recording of a favorite Bob Dylan song. About 30 seconds in my wife turned and asked if it was the Clash playing. My first thought was to chuckle. But then I continued to listen with that thought in mind and it was like hearing the song for the first time. And it occurred to me that one of the greatest joys in life was getting to experience something familiar from a new perspective. I hope that never stops happening.