Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

•June 25, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Last weekend was a great cinematic weekend!
I finally got to see Garde A Vue with English subtitles at LACMA (as part of a double feature with the masterful Classe Tous Risques), and on Saturday I was able to catch up with Coup De Torchon and Shoot the Piano Player (again at LACMA as part of their french crime series).

But it was the New Beverly that provided me one of the most satisfying film going experiences of my life with their screening of a remastered print of Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in the West.

I had seen the film maybe 15 years ago on TV as a kid and I loved it back then, but I was absolutely blown away by it this time around. It is sheer perfection in every form and way.

The new 35mm print, struck for the Rome film festival in 2007, was just stunning and helped highlight the perfection of the film and how ahead of the time Leone was.

I talked to my co-worker who is a huge fan of the film, and he said he watches it at least once a year, and that it just gets better with each viewing. I can totally see this being case, and I sure hope it’s not going to be another 15 years until I catch up with it again.

Henry Fonda in an amazing performace

Henry Fonda in an amazing performace

I've been on a huge Bronson kick lately, the man was just supercool!

I've been on a huge Bronson kick lately, the man was just supercool!


Camino (2008)

•June 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Just saw this powerful and polarizing Spanish film at the Egyptian theater as part of their “New Spanish Cinema” series. This is easily the most powerful film I’ve seen recently.
It tells the story of a young girl called Camino who leads a seemingly ordinary happy life in Madrid. Camino and her family are part of Opus Dei, a small but powerful section of the Catholic Church. Things take a turn for the worse when Camino is diagnosed with a rare type of cancer.
I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, suffice to say that is a very rich film that like another Spanish film, Pan’s Labyrinth, combines reality and dream-like fantasy to tell the story of the suffering of a young girl by the hand of the adult world. In Pan’s Labyrinth it was the war that causes the suffering, and in Camino it is the strict rules of religion.
From a Cinematic perspective, the film is a triumph, at almost two and half hour it keeps you glues to the screen at all times and literally transports into the inner world of Camino and the strict lifestyle of Opus Dei followers.
In a Q&A session at the end of the film, the director, Javier Fesser, insisted that the he loves all characters in the film and that his point of view is completely neutral, but me and the rest of the audience, judging by the questions that were asked, couldn’t helpĀ  but feel that he is taking somewhat of a stand against Opus Dei and against their Camino (way) which states that there is only one way to happiness, through god.
Perhaps in that the film is somewhat of a failure as there is definitely less sympathy towards the ultra religious characters thatĀ  surround Camino and they only elicit sympathy when they are having a rate moment of secular show of emotions, such as the older sister playing the guitar, or the mother finally agreeing to purchase a revealing red dress for her daughter.
Then again it might just be my point of view and interpretation, in any event Camino is a film well worth watching and forming your own opinion of. An experience not easily forgotten.


Nerea Camacho as Camino in an impressive harrowing performace

Nerea Camacho as Camino in an impressive harrowing performace

Rififi/Topkapi (1955/1964)

•May 21, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The Aero theater in Santa Monica screened these two films as part of a Tribute to director Jules Dassin last weekend.

I had the pleasure of seeing Rififi for the first time on film about 4-5 years ago when Dassin himself presented the film at LACMA.

Since then Dassin has past away (he was already in his 90’s at the time), but his cinematic legacy is still alive and kicking.

Rififi is one of those films that get better with each viewing and your appreciation for how perfect the film is just grows.

Even though the running time of the film is over two hours, it is so tight and breathtaking that it feels more like one of those ultra efficient 70 minute American film noirs of the 40’s.

Topkapi is a nice companion piece to Rififi. It has probably been about 15 years since I last saw the film on VHS. My impression was always that it is the weaker of the two, and that impression still stands, but it is also much more light-hearted, breezy and colorful.

All in all a very cool evening, it was nice to see the Aero jam packed and it was nice to listen to people who were introduced to Rififi for the first time discussing how awesome the movie is in the hallway after the film.

Rififi - One of the ultimate films about craftmen at work

Rififi - One of the ultimate films about craftsmen at work

The Private Eye (2009)

•May 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Caught this Korean film on Saturday night at mpark4 in Koreatown. Like other Asian films this is a somewhat successful attempt at mixing together several genres.

In this case we have a period piece (early 20th century Korea) mixed with a detective film mixed with some comedy.

All in all this doesn’t break any new grounds, but it’s an entertaining film with a great performace by the main lead (Hwang Jeong Min – who proves again that he is one of the most dependable stars in Korea).

At 110 minutes the film is just a tad too long and the end resolution is quite bloody and dark which does not mix too well with the lighter tone of the rest of the film.

Despite it’s shortcomings I still enjoyed the film and would recommend this to fans of Korean cinema, Hwang Jeong Min, or murder mysteries set in older times (Name of the Rose pops to mind as a similar example).

Hwang Jeong Min creatively extracts information for an opium dealer

Hwang Jeong Min creatively extracts information from an opium dealer

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

•May 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Caught this one over the weekend. The 4k digital projection at the Landmark is magnificent, but the film itself only gets a passing mark and is pretty much on par with most second tier superhero films such as Incredible Hulk or Fantastic Four.

I was never a huge fan of Gavin Hood’s films (I never quite figured out how Tsotsi won the academy award for best foreign film), and this film certainly won’t make me into one. Still, considering that this his first foray into truly mega budget action film making he handles himself quite well.

The true winners are Hugh Jackman, who proves once again that he can be cool even if the film is not so great (see Australia), and Korean heartthrob Daniel Henney who has a pretty juicy support role as a very slick gunmen.

Hugh Jackman and Daniel Henney at the South Korean premiere

Hugh Jackman and Daniel Henney at the South Korean premiere

The Italian Job (1969)

•May 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The original 1969 version is an incredible thrill ride with the perfect mix of wit and grit.
Michael Caine is outstanding as the leader of a large gang of British criminals who rob 4 million dollars worth of gold bullion from the Fiat factory in Turin, Italy.
Noel Coward is hilarious as the all powerful mastermind who helps Caine by pulling all the strings from within his (very lax) prison cell.
Everything about the film is perfect, the performance, the music (by Quincy Jones), the amazing cinematography by the great Douglas Slocombe, and of course the car stunts, which haven’t aged a bit and ironically are even more memorable than the ones in the new re-make.
The DVD is fantastic and contains over an hour of fascinating interviews with the screenwriter, the producers, actors, and the widow of Peter Collinson, the director.

(The energetic theme song by Quincy Jones – The Self Preservation Society)

Handphone (2009)

•May 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The Korean thriller Handphone tries to tackle the same territory as it’s hollywood and HK counterparts Cellular and Connected.
The problem is that the film isn’t quite focued on what it wants to be, a traditional thriller like the other two films, a social satire about the media and our dependency on technology, or an existential thriller about two men on a collision course.
In the end the existential thriller in it wins, but it’s no Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or Old Boy.
That’s a shame, because it has some great performances (especially by Uhm Tae Woong who is one of my favorite Korean younger generation star) and fairly decent pacing.
Worth checking out for fans of the star of for die hard fans of dark Korean thrillers, not the best example of the genre though.

Uhm Tae Woong is Suave and Sleazy at the same time in Handphone

Uhm Tae Woong is Suave and Sleazy at the same time in Handphone