[size=4]'[b]In Search of a Midnight Kiss[/b]'[/size] [i]Alex Holdridge, 2008
[img]http://i577.photobucket.com/albums/ss218/Jedimoonshyne9/1-2.jpg[/img] [/i] Alex Holdridge's whimsical breakthrough film shows that independent American cinema is still in good hands. Young hands, but hands that are better suited to capture today's society. [i]In Search of a Midnight Kiss [/i]is set up like many similar indie films of late, where two people meet and fall for one another to the familiar beat of a cityscape backdrop. In this case it is New Year's eve that provides suitable levels of lovelorn desperation, enough to convince one young man to place a personal ad on the internet and watch his failed love life blossom.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ [size=4] '[b]Everything is Fine[/b]'[/size] [i]Yves Christian Fournier, 2008[/i]
In a year positively bulging with the work of Gus Van Sant it is somewhat bewildering to find an unrelated film that channels his work. Set and shot upon the greyish landscapes of Québec, Canada, [i]Tout est Parfait [/i]tells the story of an ordinary suburban teen and his grief after the suicide of several close friends. It is an angled look at teenage angst, one that has been unavoidably amplified thanks to the central character's grievance and the actions of those around him in reaction to this.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ [size=4] '[b]A Complete History of My Sexual Failures[/b]'[/size] [i]Chris Waitt, 2008[/i]
A documentary of the more personal kind, Chris Waitt's quest to discover exactly why he is lost in love and sex gave me perhaps the most giggles of any movie this year. [i]A Complete History of My Sexual Failures[/i] feigns stark reality but is obviously scripted in many places, yet this doesn't stop the film from being utterly hilarious at points. Only someone with such boundless experience and thus confidence when it comes to women could ever make something so downright narcissistic.
A film that alienated critics worldwide upon release though could well be considered as Lucrecia Martel's most personal effort to date. It concerns a single woman and her guilt-ridden plight, experienced after she hits something on the highway but doesn't stop her car to investigate. Slow and dream-like, the film follows and observes this [i]headless[/i] woman until the truth is finally outed. It is a portrait of self-destruction, subtly used to comment unwaveringly on the increasing gap between classes in Argentina today.
A few days ago I watched Lee Chang-dong's first film, and as expected the man continues to impress. That's three films of his I have watched now, each unique and wonderful in it's own way. '[b]Green Fish[/b]', as stated was his debut film so I expected the little rustiness that was on show. That said the opening thirty minutes grab you unlike '[b]Oasis[/b]' or '[b]Peppermint Candy[/b]' does. A noir of sorts yet with little emotion from the central character. The [i]'boy straight out of prison/army is looking for work, falls in with the wrong people and in love with the boss' girlfriend/wife/daughter'[/i] tale is woven as if on unworn ground, and simply the setting itself is refreshing. Similar to the more recent '[b]Memories of Murder[/b]', in the fact that it uses a quiet Korean suburbia on which to impose a well-known Hollywood genus with a twist. Some beautiful direction that ties in well with the script, such chemistry that is often overlooked nowadays. It involves a degree of synergy that only comes from the minds of writer/directors, who are unfortunately a dying breed in the film industry of today. None of these doubtful aspects can be applied to Korean cinema however. It is witnessing the peak of a golden generation of contributors, intent on serving up refreshing visions that draw upon experiences and imagination rather than the latest un-adapted comic book character.
[/i]I made mention in a previous review of a talented Korean actor named Song Kang-ho ('[b]The Host[/b]', '[b]JSA[/b]'), a person who is fast-becoming the defining face of Korea's new wave in cinema. The actor is actually part of a trio of faces, a trio that all consider themselves good friends and quite possibly make up the first three spots in Korea's most-powerful-actors list. The other two are Choi Min-sik ('[b]Oldboy[/b]', '[b]Lady Vengeance[/b]') and Han Suk-kyu ('[b]Green Fish[/b]', '[b]Christmas in August[/b]') who both graduated from the drama department of Dongguk University although one year apart. The three teamed up to star in the 1999 film '[b]Shiri[/b]', an action/spy flick that pipped '[b]Titanic[/b]' to be box office king in Korea at the time and revitalised commercial cinema in the country. Many may already have heard of Choi Min-sik through popular revenge thriller '[b]Oldboy[/b]', a film that became the talk of Cannes and managed to crossover into western theatres/stores simply through positive word of mouth. Here he shows his theatrical foundations as an actor in the melodrama '[b]Failan[/b]', directed by Song Hae-sung. The film's title refers to a young Chinese woman who falls into an arranged marriage as part of her efforts to stay in Korea and make a living. 'Arranged' being the appropriate word, as her husband Kang Jae (Min-sik) is an outdated gangster, scuffling around in the remains of his life. The twist to this situation is that neither wife nor husband are to see each other, a marriage is required by both for various reasons but neither have any intent to carry it through. Things get interesting however when each spouse is given a photo and told to memorise things about the other, just encase the authorities come knocking. [i] [img]http://i229.photobucket.com/albums/ee198/jedimoonshyne5/1-36.jpg[/img] [/i] A melodrama it is, but with very little romance. '[b]Failan[/b]' and director Hae-Sung are more concerned with the human spirit. Both the two main characters own broken lives. One, the bully of an arcade and minder of local smut-oriented video store. The other, orphan to her late parents and a newcomer to a strange land. Somehow these lives run parallel to each other, even though so many differences can be noted. The arranged marriage is the slim moment when these two lives intertwine, it holds both together despite neither party being fully aware of the other's whereabouts. Despite having little to live for, each feel this connection and feel drawn towards it. Failan and Kang Jae are the opposite examples of each gender, yet both cannot help but wonder whether they need each other for more than just convenience. '[b]Failan[/b]' is a tale of two lives without love. Two seperate tales of woe that lack similarity yet mirror one another profoundly. It is such a strange situation to find oneself in, and both actor and actress play up this fact with some impressive attention to detail. The director also does well to underline the differences between Kang Jae's loud, rough life and Failan's quiet, soft one - yet always allows each character to experience similar emotions thus connects their respective plights. A melodrama with a twist, '[b]Failan[/b]' is a heartbreaking story of life and loss that ignores romance altogether and focuses more upon that seemingly unquenchable longing for companionship.
American-born writer/director Gus Van Sant has arguably been a central figure in independent cinema for most of his career. His unwillingness to be moved from this circle has attracted both praise and ridicule however, as has his insistence to connect to the youth of America. With this breed of filmmaker, there are those that either have natural talent or don't. To find the answer to this one must discover the earlier work of each artist, for it is here that we become exposed to any raw talent. It is clear from his debut 1985 feature '[b]Mala Noche[/b]' that Van Sant has an incredible amount of talent. Yes the film is rough around the edges and was obviously made on a shoestring budget, but neither of these points can obscure the fact. Like Jim Jarmusch before him and Allison Anders after, Van Sant's ability is there for all to see even at the beginning. '[b]Mala Noche[/b]' introduces an aspect of the man's work that we have since come to know well; that of homosexuality. Here we witness the classic idea of a virile, young gay man pining after a beautiful and unattainable straight guy - though this never feels clichéd or heavy handed. Indeed it is an early showing of the kind of tenderness that can be seen throughout Van Sant's later work.
Walt Curtis (played by Tim Streeter) is a lost poet in the backstreets of Portland, Oregon. He works in a broken down local store by day and takes a fancy to brown-eyed young Mexican immigrant Johnny (Doug Cooeyate). The problem is that Johnny doesn't speak a word of English, neither does he appreciate the unrelenting sexual interest from Walt. '[b]Mala Noche[/b]' is similar in this way to Van Sant's skit for the recent episodical effort '[b]Paris, Je T'aime[/b]', which again features two young guys of a different background and who speak a different language. This central tale of [i]amour fou [/i]drives '[b]Mala Noche[/b]' and is ultimately its most rewarding facet. The choice to use young non-actors was no doubt a necessary one but obviously doesn't aid the film overall, unlike the decision to shoot with 16mm in grainy black and white which really complements the grittiness of the landscape and story itself. The film manages to create a sensitive edge to what is a rather unconventional tale without becoming too sentimental or overbearing. While we feel no sympathy for the protagonist and his setbacks, it is Van Sant showing us that love comes in all shapes and sizes. It is the work of a person who clearly has a bright future ahead of him, and I wish that I could say this without the all-important hindsight.
[i] "When the sky turns black, why do l feel so blue?" [/i]- The question posed by resident wild child [i]White[/i] in the much-celebrated Japanese anime film '[b]Tekkon Kinkreet[/b]'. White's partner [i]Black[/i] surely doesn't have the answers; but through an exquisitely crafted place called Treasure Townwe begin to understand this urchin's melancholy meanderings. The town is a vibrant one, a colourful place that never sleeps though suffers from a darkened underbelly of crime and extortion. Black and White are orphans of the town itself, protecting it and living off it as if they are themselves part of this magical landscape. Indeed the title of the film itself is a pun on the Japanese word for reinforced concrete, a mesh of the words "iron", "concrete" and "muscles". A point that should aid our understanding of exactly whom the central character of '[b]Tekkon Kinkteet[/b]' really is; the town, of course. Within this place the self-titled 'Cats' gang rule, or at least they think they do. However when even the local Yakuza are threatened by a darkly foreboding new presence, actions must be taken to protect their beloved metropolis from the alien hand of cut-throat consumerism. Within this struggle to save the town, Black and White must also face their own demons to understand their almost prophetical bond.
'[b]Tekkon Kinkteet[/b]' is unusual in that while being a Japanese project it was in fact conducted by an American. Michael Arias, who began work on the film in 1999 as an adaptation of the three-volume manga series '[b]Black and White[/b]'. The director started out creating animation software, the likes of which has been utilised in Hayao Miyazaki's '[b]Princess Mononoke[/b]' - later moving on to work as a producer on '[b]The Animatrix[/b]'. Ultimately [i]Treasure Town[/i] is wonderfully realised in '[b]Tekkon Kinkteet[/b]' - a place that through subtle encouragement can be seen to breath, cry, laugh and shout; through the places that Arias and co. conjure up. Unfortunately this is perhaps the only positive point to be found, except perhaps the flawless and somewhat unconventionally child-like style of animation. The film slides from being a mildly entertaining child adventure film to a mess of half-hearted symbolism and highly convoluted themes. It appears that the project has in fact suffered from its episodic production, thus it is a collection of stylized parts rather than a whole and fluent article. It's clear that the ambition was there for '[b]Tekkon Kinkteet[/b]', and the American budget certainly backs this up. However it's clear on reflection that Arias encourages his project to be bigger than it is. Cramming miles of heavy-handed philosophising into what should have been an exciting hop in the evolution of a genre.