Daily Viewing: “Unhung Hero”

 

Unhung Hero (2013) – dir. Brian Spitz. Documentary on whether penis size is an important factor.

My roommate and I wanted to watch something light and entertaining after the visceral and emotional Oldboy. The first half of the film is a pleasant if disposable viewing, with Patrick going through the motions of penis enlargement. It’s entertainment is derived from how desperate Patrick seems and how much fun people have around talking about his penis size. The second half turns schmaltzy and super obnoxious. As he journeys around the world seeking a penis enlargement solution, he gets hit with cliche stress and the necessary talk with mom. The film then ends on a note about being okay with who you are, but for me I just ended up angry. Amateurish at best, distressingly simplistic at worst. Grade: F

 

Summer Movie List: Chaplin, Scorsese, Baumbach and 2 Korean classics

In the past three days I watched six films of varying genres and styles from acclaimed directors and represent some of the finest that cinema can offer. It took a few days for me to process what I saw, but here are some brief thoughts I’ve had on each one of the films I watched. In the future, I might write more about these films, but for now I still need time to think through them.

1. Frances Ha (2013) – dir. Noah Baumbach

The photography in this film is beautiful, each scene perfectly lit and shot like a still photo. Frances is a frustrating childish character but Greta Gerwig never lets her neuroses, her constant need for attention and her chatty personality make her less likable. In fact, all her tics are endearing even if they can get annoying and self-important. Being from New York City, I can relate to some of her concerns and having friends who live this kind of life. Overall, what a fine and funny film worthy of all the hype. Grade: A-

2. Taxi Driver (1975) – dir. Martin Scorsese

That opening shot with the taxi coming out of the smoke with the jazz music blaring in the background slayed me. The next two hours was just one beautiful shot after another with the jazz music seeping through my skin. Robert De Niro gives one of the finest performances ever on screen, detailing the ever-growing neuroses and the unchecked machismo as each minute ticks by. This film is perhaps the best I’ve seen from Scorsese’s oeuvre so far and I’m excited to watch his older stuff now that I have a taste of what he accomplished. Grade: A+

3. City Lights (1931) – dir. Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin is hilarious and even if he doesn’t utter a single word, every gesture, motion, expression registers so much feeling or meaning that words are useless. Chaplin is a fascinating director: each scene almost feels random with little to no connection, but the plot reveals themselves once the story progresses. I love that Chaplin makes jokes about alcoholism or about diseases or sickness without once being offensive. It helps that Chaplin is an astounding actor, who knows his body so well. Overall, one of the funniest films I’ve seen ever. Grade: A+

4. My Sassy Girl (2001) – dir. Kwak Jaeyoung

I’ve know about My Sassy Girl for a while now, since every Korean friend or even some of my non-Asian friends swear by how amazingly funny it is. And now that I’ve seen it, add me to the chorus of believers. Cha Tae-hyun and Jeon Ji-hyun are known for playing similar character types and they’ve built a career on doing the kind of films that play to those strengths; namely, Cha’s adorable dorkiness and Jeon’s hilarious feistiness. This film basically set that standard for them and I can see why everyone was won over. This film brims with hilarity anchored by an emotional and melancholic story. Cha and Jeon have so much chemistry that it overcomes even the slower less interesting parts of the story. Grade: A-

5. Oldboy (2004) – dir. Park Chan Wook

This is such a bizarre film. Each image is more unsettling the next but Park has such a remarkable control of each scene, particularly a long take of Dae-su fighting through men with a hammer, that I couldn’t look away. The film has so much “wrong” about it, with the incest and intense fascination with violence. I can see why Quentin Tarantino went crazy for it Cannes in 2004, it has a lot of his hallmarks. But for all of the craziness here, this film thrives on the human emotions and feelings that its characters go through. Choi Min-sik, in particular, gives a moving performance of a man unhinged. That last encounter with Yoo Ji Tae’s Lee Woo Jin is exhilarating acting. Grade: A

Up next: Fargo and When Harry Met Sally

Summer Movie List: “Sad Movie” (2005) dir. Kwon Jong-Kwan

This isn’t on my final 100 list because I was watching the film while typing away at my laptop about the list.

When your movie is titled “Sad Movie,” it’s hard to really get invested without feeling like you’re being manipulated into feeling things before you can even see what’s happening. If you’re a fan of Korean entertainment, you’re in for a treat because of the many movie and TV stars that are in this film. Who do they have? Jung Woo Sung, Im Soo Jung, Cha Tae-hyun being adorable and cute like always, Son Tae-young, Yeom Jeong Ah, a very young Yeo Jin Goo (in his debut), Shin Min-ah, and Lee Ki Woo. I like most of the actors listed above and all of them work really hard to make this film special.

The film tells four different stories somehow interconnected with each other. It’s a formula that has stopped working in Hollywood with duds like Valentines’ Day or New Years’ Eve (but this film precedes those). Jin Woo (Jung Woo Sung) is a firefighter looking to propose to his girlfriend Soo Jung (Im Soo Jung), a sign language translator for the news, who is always afraid for his safety in the job. Her sister Soo-eun (Shin Min-ah) is a deaf girl with a facial scar, working as a mascot at a theme park, hiding her face behind a giant mask. She has a crush on a theme park artist Sanggyu (Lee Ki Woo), who is planning on studying abroad within a month. In another story, unemployed Jung Ha Seok (Cha Tae Hyun) gets dumped by his girlfriend Sukhyun (Son Taeyoung), a cashier at a grocery store, because he doesn’t have stable employment. He then got a job delivering break-up messages to people. Lastly, Yeom Joo Young (Yeom Jung Ah) is a busy mom who spends little time with her son Hee-chan (Yeo Jin Goo). But when a cancer diagnosis leaves her in the hospital, Jooyoung and her son reconnect.

The story is full of humor and a lot of sentimental moments that perfectly honors its title even if the director sometimes strains too hard for emotional effect. Each frame is flooded with light, seeping through windows, and giving the film an ethereal glow that makes the film like a scene in the afterlife. The soundtrack is light and peppy but juxtaposed against the sadder moments, it seems almost destined to make you cry. The best scenes in the film are the ones between Soo-eun and Sanggyu, who makes such a cute-looking couple, but is doubly funny because most of their scenes involve physical and visual humor.

What I don’t buy about the entire film is just how contrived each moment feels, which is a problem with films with overlapping stories in general. Nothing in each story really affects any other story but they all overlap in one way or another as if to say that they all exist in the same world. In other words, logic doesn’t really play into how the story is set-up but it’s designed for maximum star visibility.

But at the same time, those actors really make this film more enjoyable than it really should be. Cha Tae-hyun, even if I’ve seen him do this kind of acting a million times, is just so good at acting like a schlub but a lovable one. He nails his one dramatic scene but he’s just as good, if not better, in his lighter and funnier scenes. Yeom Jung Ah is a wonderful actress and she proves what a tremendous dramatic actor she is with the slow-burning reaction shots and the gentle but firm way she scolds her son. Lastly, Yeo Jin Goo’s debut performance promises such a bright future and I can see what makes him special in later films and TV shows here.

Ultimately, the film proves to be a good watch, even if it is disposable.

Rating: B-

Summer Movie List: “The 400 Blows” – dir. Francois Truffaut

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What is there to say about a film that has had essays written about it since it came out? Nothing I say will add anything more of value to a film that has endlessly been called one of the greatest films ever. At the same time, I find it really hard to find the right words to express my feelings on this film.

From a purely cinematic perspective, I can see why the film is lauded. The cinematography is quite virtuoso, with the camera fluidly following Antoine as he struggles in school and at home. The central performance by Jean-Pierre Leaud is strikingly simple: he highlights Antoine’s inner juvenile personality but also the turmoil that he is going through. The music is quite pleasing, adding to the story without overpowering it and aids in transitioning between scenes seamlessly.

But while I can appreciate it is a pure cinematic delight, what ultimately makes me love this movie a lot is how much Truffaut maximizes the emotions and feelings that Antoine experiences. His life feels like a fully lived-in childhood, full of painful fights and arguments and joyful memories going to the movies. Antoine’s life is tragic only because Antoine is so misunderstood by adults who are quick to judge him without taking a second look at what Antoine is saying. And it’s so easy to relate to Antoine’s troubles. It’s clear that he just wants to do right in some instances like the essay, but no one wants to take him seriously.

Overall, the film is beautiful to look at and never sentimentalized one bit of Antoine’s childhood problems.

Rating: A

2 Down, 98 to go! Next up, I’m going to watch Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver

Summer Movie List: “Woman is the Future of Man” (2004) dir. Hong Sang-soo

As one of the most prominent Korean directors internationally, Hong Sang-soo has unfortunately not been as popular at home as his fellow auteurs Park Chan-wook, Bong Joong-ho, or Lee Chang-dong. “Woman is the Future of Man” features Yoo Ji-Tae, right when he became a major star with “Oldboy”, which was also in competition at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. But unlike that movie, Hong’s film was received unenthusiastically by international critics and with little interest by viewers at home. 

The film tells the story of two friends, Lee Moon-ho (Yoo Ji Tae) and Kim Hyun-geon (Kim Tae-Woo) who reunite after a couple of years apart to discuss about Hyun-geon’s ex-girlfriend Park Seon-hwa (Sung Hyun-ah). Moon-ho is a professor and Hyung-geon is a filmmaker who just came back from studying abroad in the United States. During their meeting, Hyun-geon asks Moon-ho to reunite him with his girlfriend. Unbeknownst to him, Moon-ho and Seon-hwa had a sexual relationship after Hyun-geon left.

From the very first scene, I can already tell why Hong Sang-soo is often impenetrable for audiences and sometimes overvalued by arthouse critics. The story employs fractured storytelling, going back and forth between the past and the present, where the two friends try to find Seon-hwa. Meanwhile, Hong Sang-soo’s film is cinematically sparse: his preference for static shots and long takes is exasperating because we are always at arms’ length from the story. It’s hard to get involved with a film that tries so hard to be taken seriously without having much to say. 

The sexual politics, for instance, is really upsetting. The men in the film treat the women like objects. Both Moon-ho and Hyung-geon treats Seon-Hwa like a sex-doll and objectifies every other woman in the film. And even if this is the point that Hong criticizes, he does a bad job at making such a definitive statement, especially when the film itself treats the women with little interest. Consider the fact that Seon-Hwa is almost unknowable, always servicing men, but hardly being serviced herself. She might be the object of both men’s affection, but the film barely cares about what she likes or who she is as an individual. In fact, by the end of the movie, both men have left her alone stranded again, yet the camera continues on to Moon-ho’s character finding another girl to pleasure him. 

I can see what might attract critics to Hong’s movies, but as far as I’m concerned, his films are not as interesting or well-made as the other renowned compatriots who are quite popular worldwide right now.

Rating: C

1 Down, 99 left to go! 

Summer Movie List

The great thing about the start of every season is the wishful thinking that we can start anew. Each season, I have the urge to start a project: whether for physical self-improvement purposes like a diet or an exercise regime or for self-enrichment like reading novels or textbook or watching classic films. This summer, I plan on watching classic films that have been wilting on my list of things-to-watch for at least 5 years now. How can I profess to being a cinema aficionado, when I’ve seen so little of the movies that are constantly being hailed as some of the greatest? Of the 50 Greatest Films listed by Sight and Sound 2012, I’ve only seen 5 Films, which is quite embarrassing. On top of that, all of them rank highly on my list of favorite films.  So this summer, here’s 100 movies I plan on watching. I made sure that all of these movies are available to me either via Hulu’s Criterion Collection, Netflix, or my school’s library collection.

The first list, is a collection of the Sight and Sound Poll films that I find interesting or really important based on all the things I’ve read.

  1. Vertigo (1958) – dir. Alfred Hitchcock (AU Library)
  2. Citizen Kane (1941) – dir. Orson Welles (AU Library)
  3. The Rules of the Game (1939) dir. Jean Renoir (Hulu+)
  4. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)dir. FW Murnau (AU Library)
  5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – dir. Stanley Kubrick (AU Library)
  6. The Searchers (1956) dir. John Ford (AU Library)
  7. Man with a Movie Camera (1929) dir. Dziga Vertov (Hulu+)
  8.  (1963) – dir. Federico Fellini (AU Library)
  9. Battleship Potemkin (1925) – dir. Sergei Eisenstein (AU Library)
  10. L’Atalante (1934) ­– dir. Jean Vigo (Hulu+)
  11. Breathless (1960) dir. Jean-Luc Godard (Hulu+)
  12. Apocalypse Now (1979) dir. Francis Ford Coppola (AU Library)
  13. Late Spring (1949) – dir. Yasujiro Ozu (Hulu+)
  14. Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) dir. Robert Bresson (Hulu+)
  15. Seven Samurai (1954) – dir. Akira Kurosawa (Hulu+)
  16. Persona (1966) – dir. Ingmar Bergman (Hulu+)
  17. Mirror (1975) dir. Andrei Tarkovsky (AU Library)
  18. L’Avventura (1960) – dir. Michaelangelo Antoinini (Hulu+)
  19. Contempt (1963) dir. Jean-Luc Godard (AU Library)
  20. The Godfather (1972) – dir. Francis Ford Coppola (AU Library)
  21. Ordet (1955) dir. Carl Theodore Dreyer (Hulu+)
  22. Andrei Rublev (1966) – dir. Andrei Tarkovsky (Hulu+)
  23. Mulholland Dr. (2001) – dir. David Lynch (AU Library)
  24. Shoah (1985) ­dir. Claude Lanzmann (AU Library)
  25. The Godfather Part II (1974) dir. Francis Ford Coppola (AU Library)
  26. Taxi Driver (1976) dir. Martin Scorsese (Netflix)
  27. Bicycle Thieves (1948) dir. Vittorio de Sica (Netflix)
  28. The General (1926) dir. Buster Keaton (Hulu+)
  29. Metropolis (1927)dir. Fritz Lang (Hulu+)
  30. Psycho (1960) dir. Alfred Hitchcock (AU Library)
  31. Sátántangó (1994) – dir. Bela Tarr (AU Library)
  32. The 400 Blows (1959) dir. Francois Truffaut (Hulu+)
  33. La Dolce Vita (1960) – dir. Federico Fellini (AU Library)
  34. Journey to Italy (1954) – dir. Roberto Rossellini (AU Library)
  35. Gertrud (1964) – dir. Carl Theodore Dreyer (Hulu+)
  36. Playtime (1967) – dir. Jacques Titi (AU Library)
  37. Close-Up (1990) dir. Abbas Kiarostrami (Hulu+)
  38. The Battle of Algiers (1966) dir. Gillo Pontecorvo (Hulu+)
  39. City Lights (1931) dir. Charlie Chaplin (Hulu+)
  40. Ugetsu Monogatari (1953) – dir. Kenji Mizoguchi (Hulu+)
  41. La Jetée (1962) dir. Chris Marker (Hulu+)

The next list is all the movies that I’ve been really curious about and I have been dying to see for a while now.

  1. The Philadelphia Story (1940) – dir. George Cukor (AU Library)
  2. The Red Shoes (1948) – dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressberger (AU Library)
  3. The Third Man (1949) – dir. Carol Reed (AU Library)
  4. Ikiru (1952) – dir. Akira Kurosawa (Hulu+)
  5. Sansho the Bailiff (1954) – dir. Kenji Mizoguchi (Hulu+)
  6. The Seventh Seal (1957) – dir. Ingmar Bergman (Hulu+)
  7. The Housemaid (1960) – dir. Kim Ki-Young (Hulu+)
  8. Woman in the Dunes (1964) – dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara (Hulu+)
  9. The Good, Bad, and the Ugly (1966) – dir. Sergio Leone (Hulu+)
  10. The Pornographers (1966) – dir. Shohei Imamura (Hulu+)
  11. Enter the Dragon (1973) – dir. Robert Clouse (AU Library)
  12. Chinatown (1974) – dir. Roman Polanski (Netflix)
  13. Jaws (1975) dir. Steven Spielberg (AU Library)
  14. Monthy Python and the Holy Grail (1975) dir. Terry Gilliam (AU Library)
  15. In the Realm of Senses (1976) dir. Nagisa Oshima (Hulu+)
  16. Insiang (1976) – dir. Lino Brocka (Hulu+)
  17. Annie Hall (1977) – dir. Woody Allen (AU Library)
  18. Alien (1979) – dir. Ridley Scott (AU Library)
  19. Manhattan (1979) – dir. Woody Allen (Netflix)
  20. Raging Bull (1980)  dir. Martin Scorsese (Netflix)
  21. Kagemusha (1980) – dir. Akira Kurosawa (Netflix)
  22. The Ballad of Narayama (1983) dir. Shohei Imamura (AU Library)
  23. Back to the Future (1985) – dir. Robert Zemeckis (AU Library)
  24. Blue Velvet (1986) – dir. David Lynch (AU Library)
  25. Akira (1988) – dir. Katsuhiro Otomo (AU Library)
  26. Coming to America (1988) dir. John Landis (Netflix)
  27. When Harry Met Sally (1989) – dir. Rob Reiner (AU Library)
  28. Days of Being Wild (1990) dir. Wong kar-Wai (Netflix)
  29. Edward Scissorhands (1990) – dir. Tim Burton (AU Library)
  30. My Own Private Idaho (1991) – dir. Gus Van Sant (AU Library)
  31. Thelma & Louise (1991) dir. Ridley Scott (Netflix)
  32. Howard’s End (1992) – dir. James Ivory (AU Library)
  33. Schindler’s List (1993) – dir. Steven Spielberg (AU Library)
  34. Three Colors: Blue (1993) dir. Krystof Kieslowski (Hulu+)
  35. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) dir. Lasse Halstrom (Netflix)
  36. Bullets over Broadway (1994) dir. Woody Allen (AU Library)
  37. Ghost in the Shell (1995) – dir. Mamoru Oshii (Hulu+)
  38. Sense and Sensibility (1995) ­– dir. Ang Lee (Netflix)
  39. Fargo (1996) – dir. Joel & Ethan Coen (Netflix)
  40. Boogie Nights (1997) – dir. Paul Thomas Anderson (AU Library)
  41. Rushmore (1998) – dir. Wes Anderson (AU Library)
  42. Boys Don’t Cry (1999) – dir. Kimberly Pierce (Netflix)
  43. Peppermint Candy (1999) – dir. Lee Chang-dong (Hulu+)
  44. Requiem for a Dream (2000) – dir. Darren Arronofsky (AU Library)
  45. Fat Girl (2001) dir. Catherine Breillat (AU Library)
  46. My Sassy Girl (2001) – dir. Kwak Jaeyoung (Hulu+)
  47. 2046 (2004) – dir. Wong Kar-wai (AU Library)
  48. Before Sunset (2004) – dir. Richard Linklater (AU Library)
  49. Oldboy (2004) dir. Park Chan-wook (Netflix)
  50. Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall…Spring (2004) – dir. Kim Ki-duk (AU Library)
  51. Woman is the Future of Man (2004) dir. Hong Sang Soo (Netflix)
  52. Vera Drake (2004) – dir. Mike Leigh (AU Library)
  53. 3-Iron (2005) dir. Kim ki-duk (AU Library)
  54. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2007) – dir. Cristian Mungui (Netflix)
  55. Syndromes and a Century (2007) – dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul (AU Library)
  56. Milk (2008) – dir. Gus van Sant (AU Library)
  57. A Simple Life (2012)  – dir. Ann Hui (Hulu+)
  58. A Touch of Sin (2013) – dir. Jia Zhangke (Netflix)
  59. Frances Ha (2013) – dir. Noah Baumbach (Netflix)

Wish me luck as I embark on this adventure!

Today’s Viewings: 4 Disney Films and House Episodes

Today, is my first official day of not having anything to do this summer. The best way to cure my boredom? Netflix. So here are some quick thoughts on these films and TV episodes that I watched.

1. Lilo and Stitch  dir. Dean Deblois & Chris Sanders (2002)

Thoughts: What a lovely film this turned out to be! I never watched the entire movie but I had fond memories of the TV show when I was younger. To my surprise, the storytelling is robust, never overselling the tragedy and punctuating each scene between Nani and Lilo with the right amount of melancholy. Stitch too is a hoot. (Grade: B+)

2. Hercules – dir. Ron Clements (1997)

Thoughts: I don’t really like how it mangles Greek mythology (I mean, how else can you tell a family-friendly story with all the sexual perversions included) but I did enjoy the score’s mix of gospel and classic Menken-style musicality. Hercules’s main arc works and Meg is an interesting female lead, but the overall story is a tad dull and the film is actually pretty hideous to look at (the colors clash horribly). (Grade: C).

3. Mulan – dir. Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook (1998)

Thoughts: I still think that Mulan is the best “Disney princess” for the simple fact that she kicks ass harder than anyone before or after her. More than that, she thinks independently and she doesn’t let any man stand in her way. Besides her, Eddie Murphy is pretty funny as Mushu and there are other musical gems in this film, including “A Girl Worth Fighting For,” “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” and “Reflections.” (Grade: B+)

4. Pocahontas – dir. Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg (1995)

Thoughts: Wow. This film is beautiful drawn, each scene brimming with colors and fascinating lighting. Pocahontas is also perhaps the most beautifully drawn character in the Disney canon. The animals are distracting and there are inconsistencies here and there with the storytelling (HOW ON EARTH CAN POCAHONTAS UNDERSTAND JOHN) but it feels like a movie with so much to say. (Grade: B+)

5. House M.D, Season 4:

Episode 1 “Alone”: A fascinating look at House’s head, as he struggles to do his job without a team. The twist at the end of the case is quite stunning and it features a lot of sharp dialogue. Too bad for the poor special effects at the beginnings. Overall, a satisfying beginner to a season (Grade: B+)

Episode 2 “The Right Stuff”: I love that we have so many new faces here, especially because they’re a volatile mix. House’s “hallucinations” of his old team is a fascinating sideline story but this is seriously all about making strong impressions for the new cast. (Grade: A)

Episode 3 “97 Seconds”: Amber continues to fascinate as a character and Forman continues to show just how boring the story gets when it strays away from House’s team. (Grade: B)

Episode 4 “Guardian Angels”: The competition keeps the story moving, even as the show tries to force Forman, Cameron, and Chase back into the show. I think it would have been a stronger show had the makers just let them go. (Grade: A)

Episode 6 “Whatever It Takes”: The CIA aspect is the best part about this episode because it’s always fun watching House bully doctors and woo another. The other patient storyline is interesting if only because the final twist is quite unsettling and unexpected. (Grade: A-)

Episode 7 “Ugly”: The episode is really poignant because of the ugly patient’s story. Nothing in the film is sentimentalized but one can easily sympathize for the patient. The documentary aspect is a bit gimmicky but it worked to bring some much needed humor into the episode. (Grade: A-)

Episode 8 “You Don’t Want to Know”. I was kind of bored with this episode’s case, but really fascinated by the character development going on among the fellows. House finally gets a case of lupus so way to go with ending that running gag (Grade: B-)

Episode 9 “Games”. Jeremy Renner before he became an Oscar nominee shows up as a rockstar. Otherwise, his case is not interesting. Again, the most interesting part of the episode are the fellows’ continued character arc. Also, what a great episode for Cutthroat Bitch. (Grade: B)