Cha Tae-hyun and Jun Ji-hyun star in MY SASSY GIRL, directed by Kwak Jae-young for Cinema Service.

My Sassy Girl (2001, Kwak Jae-young), the director’s cut

The most important action in My Sassy Girl takes place off screen–the film takes place over a few years (though the main action is over three and a half months), with listless Cha Tae-hyun home from compulsory national service and back in school and having no idea what to do with his life. Enter Jun Ji-hyun's mystery girl, who doesn't just give Cha a love interest, but often provides him with someone to care for (she can't drink, but does) and someone to give him an energy boost.

Director Kwak never goes into either characters' home life too much, but both are still living with their somewhat overbearing parents. The parents get enough personality to be memorable, but Kwak can't give them too much time because My Sassy Girl has a very tight, very meticulous structure. Most of Jun's off screen life is a mystery and it turns out a lot of Cha's is too. And Cha narrates the film, but Kwak wants to fix the audience's attention.

The film is unambiguous–for the comedic scenes, Kwak goes for silent era slapstick music, for melodramatic ones, composer Kim Hyeong-seok is ready with a devastating piece. But Kwak identifies exactly what film stereotypes he wants to play with–Cha and Jun have a scene discussing melodrama in Korean cinema, with a "movie in the movie" example, no less.

Thanks to Kwak's sincere yet ambitious directing and scripting and excellent performances from the leads–Jun gets the harder one and excels–My Sassy Girl is outstanding.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Kwak Jae-young; screenplay by Kwak, based on a novel by Kim Ho-sik; director of photography, Kim Sung-bok; edited by Kim Sang-beom; music by Kim Hyeong-seok; production designer, Oh Sang-man; produced by Shin Chul; released by Cinema Service.

Starring Cha Tae-hyun (Kyun-woo), Jun Ji-hyun (The Girl), Kim In-mun (Kyun-woo’s Father), Song Wok-suk (Kyun-woo’s Mother), Han Jin-hie (The Girl’s Father), Hyun Sook-hee (The Girl’s Mother) and Seo Dong-won (The Deserter).

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Madeleine Stowe and Daniel Day-Lewis star in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, directed by Michael Mann for 20th Century Fox.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992, Michael Mann)

One of the particularly amazing parts of The Last of the Mohicans is how quietly director Mann lays out big pieces of the film. The relationship between Daniel Day-Lewis, Russell Means and Eric Schweig–Day-Lewis as adopted son to Means and adopted brother to Schweig–is complex and moving and Mann spends almost no time establishing it in dialogue. Certainly not the heavy lifting. The heavy lifting is the choreography of how the men hunt together in the first scene. Later, when they're battling the French or their Native American allies, their movements show the relationship.

For the romance between Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe, however, Mann goes the other route. The directness moves Stowe from third tier–behind Steven Waddington as her suitor and Day-Lewis's annoyance–to first. Hers is the film's most difficult role because she's the only one in the film making a huge journey. Mann establishes her character through dialogue in quiet scenes and in louder ones, it's all Stowe. Expressions, movements. It's a phenomenal performance.

And it needs to be to go up against Day-Lewis. He's transfixing.

Great supporting work from Means, Schweig, Wes Studi, Maurice Roëves and Patrice Chéreau. Jodhi May's good too, but doesn't have the same depth of material. Though she handles the implications of hers well.

The editing–from Dov Hoenig and Arthur Schmidt–the music–from Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones–and the photography–from Dante Spinotti–are all magnificent. Spinotti and Mann create expressive moments out of still shots of the scenery.

Mohicans is a truly wondrous piece of work.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Mann and Christopher Crowe, based on the novel by James Fenimore Cooper and a screenplay by Philip Dunne, John L. Balderston, Paul Perez and Daniel Moore; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Dov Hoenig and Arthur Schmidt; music by Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; produced by Mann and Hunt Lowry; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Hawkeye), Madeleine Stowe (Cora Munro), Russell Means (Chingachgook), Eric Schweig (Uncas), Jodhi May (Alice Munro), Steven Waddington (Maj. Duncan Heyward), Maurice Roëves (Col. Edmund Munro), Patrice Chéreau (Gen Montcalm), Edward Blatchford (Jack Winthrop), Terry Kinney (John Cameron) and Wes Studi (Magua).

Lilian Bond, Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart, Ernest Thesiger, and Raymond Massey star in THE OLD DARK HOUSE, directed by James Whale for Universal Pictures.

The Old Dark House (1932, James Whale)

The Old Dark House is a strange film about strange people doing strange things. Director Whale and screenwriter Benn W. Levy rarely let the film get a set tone–unless one counts the consistent mix of comedy and horror. It’s not straight comedy; the comic elements tend to be either absurdly strange or pedestrian. Husband and wife Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart bickering over his driving until the storm becomes too dangerous for an argument, for example.

Whale goes for peculiar horror elements–relying on his cast to be creepy enough in their performances sometimes, but other times utilizing for practical effects in scenes without a cast member having to do much. The editing, from Clarence Kolster, is spectacular. Whale often goes for a visceral reaction, like when Boris Karloff’s vicious manservant preys on Stuart.

But just like the mix of light comedy and horror, Whale and Levy take the time to deepen even Karloff’s character. All of the characters end up getting some depth, both the “regular” people and then the crazy family living in the titular house. The film’s both cynical and hopeful, with Lilian Bond’s chorus girl having an arrangement with industrialist Charles Laughton, but not one with expectations.

Because Laughton’s messed up, just like almost everyone in the film. Melvyn Douglas’s drunken, mildly broken World War I veteran is ostensible lead–it’s between him and Stuart–and the film subtly implies his problems.

It’s a deliberately, beautifully made, beautifully acted (Ernest Thesiger mesmerizes) film. Truly fantastic.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Whale; screenplay by Benn W. Levy and R.C. Sherriff, based on a novel by J.B. Priestley; director of photography, Arthur Edeson; edited by Clarence Kolster; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Boris Karloff (Morgan), Melvyn Douglas (Penderel), Charles Laughton (Sir William Porterhouse), Lilian Bond (Gladys), Ernest Thesiger (Horace Femm), Eva Moore (Rebecca Femm), Raymond Massey (Philip Waverton), Gloria Stuart (Margaret Waverton), Elspeth Dudgeon (Sir Roderick Femm) and Brember Wills (Saul Femm).

Noah Reid and Melanie Leishman star in OLD STOCK, directed by James Genn for E1 Entertainment.

Old Stock (2012, James Genn)

The last scene of Old Stock doesn't exactly overshadow the rest of the film, but it certainly sets it apart. It's one of the more subtle finishes to a film. Without giving the viewer any guidance, director Genn and writer Dane Clark close the picture with a silent reference to a line in the dialogue. Hopefully the viewer gets it, because it's a fantastic pay-off.

The film concerns Noah Reid, the Stock of the title, who ends up hiding out in a retirement community (at the ripe old age of twenty) with his grandfather (Danny Wells), after an initially vague personal tragedy. The film manages to make it forty-five minutes before explaining the situation; when it finally does so, Genn goes with a full flashback. After hinting at it in dialogue–it's a small enough town Reid's famous for it–the flashback's the easiest way to get the story told.

Old Stock is short and to the point. Clark's script gets in a full subplot involving Wells and his estranged wife, Corinne Conley, and implied subplots for Melanie Leishman and Meghan Heffern, as the girls in Reid's life. Heffern is the girl involved with that vague personal tragedy, Leishman is the one who appears in the retirement community and causes Reid to reexamine his seclusion.

Genn's direction is fantastic, both composition and direction of actors. No one really gets a big scene, just quietly devastating ones. Reid, Leishman, Heffern, all outstanding.

Great editing from Kye Meechan too.

Stock is a notable success.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Genn; written by Dane Clark; director of photography, Arthur E. Cooper; edited by Kye Meechan; music by Dave Genn; production designer, Rosanna Lagace; produced by Geordie Sabbagh; released by E1 Entertainment.

Starring Noah Reid (Stock), Melanie Leishman (Patti), Meghan Heffern (Dhalia), Corinne Conley (Gloria), Anna Ferguson (Millicent), Gene Mack (Wendel), Jason Weinberg (Jason Weaver), Anand Rajaram (Dr. Anand), Jacob Kraemer (Tristan) and Danny Wells (Harold).

Rebekah Johnson and Ben Foster star in LIBERTY HEIGHTS, directed by Barry Levinson for Warner Bros.

Liberty Heights (1999, Barry Levinson)

Liberty Heights is about protagonist Ben Foster's last year in high school. Levinson never puts it in such simple terms because the film is about quiet, deliberate, but perceivable life events. Every moment in the film's memorable because Levinson is going through these people's memorable moments of the year. Of course, he never forecasts the film will take place over a year. Heights is an epical story, lyrically told.

Levinson splits the film primarily between Foster and Adrien Brody, as his older brother. But Joe Mantegna, as their father, and Orlando Jones, as Mantenga's business antagonist, also get some of the individual focus. So Levinson, along with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, editor Stu Linder and composer Andrea Morricone have to figure out how to identify these moments for the characters. Through the sound, the light, everything has to be perfect because of Levinson's approach.

It seems like a precarious approach–to set up a film to only have intense scenes; even scenes with Foster watching television or Brody talking to a friend, they all have to be intense in some way or another. Morricone's score is gorgeous and exuberant, but Levinson also uses contemporary popular music to get the scenes done too.

The performances are essential. Foster, Brody, Jones. All three are phenomenal. Bebe Neuwirth's great as Foster and Brody's mother, Rebekah Johnson is excellent as Foster's friend. The entire supporting cast is perfect.

Heights is simultaneously ambitious in its filmmaking, but also in its sincerity. It never hits a false note.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Barry Levinson; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; edited by Stu Linder; music by Andrea Morricone; production designer, Vincent Peranio; produced by Levinson and Paula Weinstein; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Adrien Brody (Van Kurtzman), Ben Foster (Ben Kurtzman), Rebekah Johnson (Sylvia), David Krumholtz (Yussel), Bebe Neuwirth (Ada Kurtzman), Orlando Jones (Little Melvin), Richard Kline (Charlie), Vincent Guastaferro (Pete), Justin Chambers (Trey Tobelseted), Carolyn Murphy (Dubbie), James Pickens Jr. (Sylvia’s Father), Frania Rubinek (Grandma Rose), Anthony Anderson (Scribbles), Kiersten Warren (Annie the Stripper), Evan Neumann (Sheldon), Kevin Sussman (Alan Joseph Zuckerman), Gerry Rosenthal (Murray), Shane West (Ted) and Joe Mantegna (Nate Kurtzman).

Luke Wilson, Lumi Cavazos, and Owen Wilson star in BOTTLE ROCKET, directed by Wes Anderson for Columbia Pictures.

Bottle Rocket (1996, Wes Anderson)

Bottle Rocket is such a masterpiece of narrative design, it eschews drawing any attention to that design. Somehow Anderson and Owen Wilson manage to tell a satisfactory long short film and affix an additional thirty minute postscript to the whole thing.

It’s like a movie and a sequel all in ninety minutes. Or maybe they’re just setting up the train set for the first hour and loosing the trains for the last thirty minutes. It’s hard to say–Anderson employs obvious but unspoken connections and complexities. Even though the film is never simple, he refuses to make anything obtuse. The viewer just has to pay attention.

Like a metaphor for protagonist Luke Wilson’s romance with Lumi Cavazos. He’s ostensibly on the run from a book store hold-up and she’s a housekeeper at the motel where he hides out. Cavazos doesn’t speak English, Luke Wilson doesn’t speak Spanish. The script never goes for easy jokes; their romance is the calm. Even though it involves crime and occasional violence, Bottle Rocket isn’t dangerous. But through the performances and script’s delicate, deliberate treatment of the romance, the importance of a calming factor for Luke Wilson’s peculiarly troubled soul becomes clear.

Offsetting that Wilson is Owen Wilson as his frantic best friend. He gets all the fun stuff, only his performance can’t be easy. Bottle Rocket wouldn’t work if it were too fun or too silly. It’s absurd, but every moment’s real.

Great support from Robert Musgrave, awesome editing from David Moritz.

Bottle Rocket’s magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Owen Wilson and Anderson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by David Moritz; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Polly Platt and Cynthia Hargrave; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Luke Wilson (Anthony Adams), Owen Wilson (Dignan), Robert Musgrave (Bob Mapplethorpe), Andrew Wilson (Future Man), Lumi Cavazos (Inez), Shea Fowler (Grace), Donny Caicedo (Rocky), Jim Ponds (Applejack) and James Caan (Abe Henry).

Charles S. Dutton and Sigourney Weaver star in ALIEN³, directed by David Fincher for 20th Century Fox.

Alien³ (1992, David Fincher)

Alien³ is a strange film. Some of its problems inevitably stem from its post-production issues, but there's also the question of intent. It's three films in one; first is a sequel to Aliens. That storyline takes about an hour. Then it's its own film for about forty-five minutes. Then it's the final film in a series for the last ten or so. Characters move between these phases, but not necessarily subplots and the filmmaking techniques even change.

Disjointed might be the politest description; incredibly messy also works. Gloriously messy might be the best, however, because Alien³ is glorious. Fincher does an outstanding job directing–and his composition techniques also signal changes in the film's phases–with wonderful Alex Thomson photography. But the Terry Rawlings editing really brings the whole thing together. It's a lush, dark, dank film.

All of the acting is great, especially Charles S. Dutton and Charles Dance. Sigourney Weaver is fantastic (of course, it wouldn't work at all if she wasn't). She and Dutton occasionally get some terrible, trailer-ready lines and they push through them. It's in the quieter moments Weaver really shines; it's simultaneously too obviously on her shoulders and just right.

The special effects are fine. The practical ones are outstanding and the production design is phenomenal.

Additional good supporting turns from Danny Webb, Ralph Brown, Brian Glover, Pete Postlethwaite. Paul McCann's good even if he inexplicably disappears (one of those post-production issues).

Great Elliot Goldenthal score.

In pieces, Alien³ is excellent. All together, it's still good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson, based on a story by Vincent Ward and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Gordon Carroll, Giler and Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Charles S. Dutton (Dillon), Charles Dance (Clemens), Paul McGann (Golic), Brian Glover (Andrews), Ralph Brown (Aaron), Danny Webb (Morse), Christopher John Fields (Rains), Holt McCallany (Junior), Pete Postlethwaite (David) and Lance Henriksen (Bishop).

Woody Allen stars in MEN OF CRISIS: THE HARVEY WALLINGER STORY, directed by Allen.

Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1971, Woody Allen)

Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story recounts the rise to power of one Harvey Wallinger, friend and aide to Richard M. Nixon. Wallinger is one part buffoon, one part creep, one part sex addict–Allen revels in the part. He opens the short with a recounting of the 1968 election with some creative editing before introducing his character. He is the subject after all.

Crisis balances absurd humor with intelligent–though not insightful–observation of Nixon and his cronies. Allen goes for some easy jokes at Spiro T. Agnew (though probably not so amusing at the time) but for the most part he lets Nixon speak for himself. There's a great bit with Allen–in character–describing everything so untrustworthy about Nixon's face with a subsequent speech clip proving him right.

Eric Albertson's editing is phenomenal. The bit players giving interviews are great.

It's assured and energetic and deserving of far more in-depth consideration.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; edited by Eric Albertson; produced by Jack Kuney.

Starring Woody Allen (Harvey Wallinger), Diane Keaton (Renata Wallinger), Louise Lasser (Harvey’s ex-girlfriend) and Richard M. Dixon as the President of the United States; narrated by Reed Hadley.

Noah Reid and Jordan Hayes star in LAY OVER, directed by Hayes.

Lay Over (2013, Jordan Hayes)

A lot of Lay Over is obnoxious. Loud and obnoxious. It's a Before Sunrise knock-off with Jordan Hayes's Canadian traveller in L.A. for just one night and she meets nice accordion player Noah Reid, who shows her the town. So there are all these montage shots of L.A. set to loud and obnoxious music.

The short does have its strengths, however, whenever Reid shows Hayes things from his childhood. There–thanks to Reid's fantastic performance and Hayes (who also directs) slowing down for a minute and allowing the viewer presence with the characters–Lay Over gets good.

As a director, Hayes is fine. It's a short shot at night on DV; there's only so much she can do. There are occasionally pretentious shots and they're annoying, but it's fine. Max Topplin's photography leaves a lot to be desired.

Unfortunately, the end is predictable and insincere. It kills the short's accumulated good will.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Jordan Hayes; written by Hayes and Noah Reid; director of photography, Max Topplin; produced by Hayes and Topplin.

Starring Jordan Hayes (Sam) and Noah Reid (Owen).

DeForest Kelley and Paul Kelly (no relation) star in FEAR IN THE NIGHT, directed by Maxwell Shane for Paramount Pictures.

Fear in the Night (1947, Maxwell Shane)

Fear in the Night shows just how far something can get on the gimmick. Bank teller DeForest Kelley wakes up one morning from the dream he killed someone. He then discovers evidence of his crime and, as he suspects he’s going mad, starts going a little mad.

If not totally mad, he does make some poor choices.

Luckily–or unluckily–Kelley’s brother-in-law (Paul Kelly) is a homicide detective.

Night doesn’t have good narration–though director Shane’s script does use it consistently–and Shane isn’t much of a director, but the film intrigues. The plotting is fantastic, with Shane withholding clues for so long I was wondering if he was ever even going to explain the mystery.

Shane handles the mystery in two parts. First, whether it’s real or not and then what–if it does turn out to be real–the consequences will be for the characters. Kelley’s also got a faithful girlfriend in Kay Scott and a concerned sister in Ann Doran. Shane gives Kelly a lot to do in terms of negotiating being a good husband and a homicide cop.

As a director, Shane’s mediocre at best but does have some creative visual flourishes.

Kelly is really good, even with some questionable dialogue, and he’s able to carry the film. Sometimes he has to carry Kelley through rough scenes; Kelley isn’t very good. He has a tough role but he also isn’t very good. He’s likable, however.

The whole thing is likable… but not very good.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Maxwell Shane; screenplay by Shane, based on a story by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Jack Greenhalgh; edited by Howard A. Smith; music by Rudy Schrager; produced by William H. Pine and William C. Thomas; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring DeForest Kelley (Vince Grayson), Paul Kelly (Cliff Herlihy), Ann Doran (Lil Herlihy), Kay Scott (Betty Winters), Charles Victor (Captain Warner), Jeff York (Deputy Torrence) and Robert Emmett Keane (Harry Byrd).

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