Sunday, 26 July 2009

Film Quiz

The following film quiz originated over at the blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. You can find it here.

1) Second-favorite Stanley Kubrick film.

The Killing

2) Most significant/important/interesting trend in movies over the past decade, for good or evil.

internet's effect on film criticism/ reception

3) Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood) or Buffalo Bill Cody (Paul Newman)?

not familiar with either

4) Best Film of 1949.

The Third Man

5) Joseph Tura (Jack Benny) or Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore)?

Joseph Tura

6) Has the hand-held shaky-cam directorial style become a visual cliché?

yes, like most

7) What was the first foreign-language film you ever saw?

honestly can't remember for sure, but maybe Breathless

8) Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) or Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre)?

again, neither

9) Favorite World War II drama (1950-1970).

Army of Shadows

10) Favorite animal movie star.

the birds

11) Who or whatever is to blame, name an irresponsible moment in cinema.

rape scene in Irreversible

12) Best Film of 1969.

again, Army of Shadows

13) Name the last movie you saw theatrically, and also on DVD or Blu-ray.

theatrically: Drag Me to Hell
DVD: Gone With the Wind

14) Second-favorite Robert Altman film.

Short Cuts

15) What is your favorite independent outlet for reading about movies, either online or in print?

Girish Shambu's blog

16) Who wins? Angela Mao or Meiko Kaji? (Thanks, Peter!)

no idea

17) Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei) or Olive Neal (Jennifer Tilly)?

Mona Lisa Vito

18) Favorite movie that features a carnival setting or sequence.

again, The Third Man

19) Best use of high-definition video on the big screen to date.


20) Favorite movie that is equal parts genre film and a deconstruction or consideration of that same genre.

Shoot the Piano Player

21) Best Film of 1979.

Scream from Silence

22) Most realistic and/or sincere depiction of small-town life in the movies.

The Wind Will Carry Us

23) Best horror movie creature (non-giant division).

the brood

24) Second-favorite Francis Ford Coppola film.

The Godfather

25) Name a one-off movie that could have produced a franchise you would have wanted to see.

Zero Effect

26) Favorite sequence from a Brian De Palma film.

museum scene in Dressed to Kill

27) Favorite moment in three-strip Technicolor.

opening color scene of The Wizard of Oz

28) Favorite Alan Smithee film. (Thanks, Peter!)


29) Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) or Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau)?

Crash Davis

30) Best post-Crimes and Misdemeanors Woody Allen film.

Deconstructing Harry

31) Best Film of 1999.

The Wind Will Carry Us

32) Favorite movie tag line.

no idea

33) Favorite B-movie western.

not sure if I've seen one

34) Overall, the author best served by movie adaptations of her or his work.

James Cain

35) Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) or Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard)?

Susan Vance

36) Favorite musical cameo in a non-musical movie.

The Yardbirds in Blow Up

37) Bruno (the character, if you haven’t seen the movie, or the film, if you have): subversive satire or purveyor of stereotyping?

subversive satire

38) Five film folks, living or deceased, you would love to meet. (Thanks, Rick!)

Godard, Fuller, Bogart, Welles, Hitchcock

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Call for Proposals (SCMS)

Type of Posting: Panel

Proposed Panel/Workshop Subject: Hong Sang-soo

Organizer Name(s): Marshall Deutelbaum and Marc Raymond

E-Mail Address:

Summary: This panel will examine the films and career of South Korean director Hong Sang-soo. We invite either analysis of individual films or comparative studies looking at the evolution of Hong's work and welcome a variety of critical and theoretical perspectives. Our goal is to provide a number of different readings and approaches that will open up discussion and illuminate Hong's filmmaking career.

Please send 250-300 word abstract by August 12th to the email address listed above. Response will be given promptly by August 15th.

Send individual topics & summaries to organizer(s) by: E-Mail

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Nagwon Music Film Festival

From July 21 to August 2, the Seoul Cinematheque will be showcasing a lineup of music related films, from American rock concert films to Soviet musicals. Films showing in English or with English subtitles include:

The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, 1978)
Hair (Milos Forman, 1979)
Pink Floyd: The Wall (Alan Parker, 1982)
The Doors (Oliver Stone, 1991)
The Commitments (Alan Parker, 1991)

Tractor Drivers (Ivan Pyryev, 1939)
A Better Tomorrow on the Street (2008)

Also, the Puchon Fantastic Film Festival continues running until next week.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

THE HURT LOCKER (Kathryn Bigelow, 2009)

By far the most critically acclaimed film of the year so far is Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq war action film The Hurt Locker. When discussing the film, people inevitably point out that it is an "apolitical" Iraq film, usually claiming this as one of the reasons it is so successful. In my opinion, there is no such thing as an "apolitical" film, but I understand what the critics are referencing. Unlike many of the other Iraqi films, there is no overt political stance, nothing polemical about the story. It is an action film set in Iraq, about an elite three man bomb squad. Most of the film concerns the men doing their job, with brief moments away from battle in between. It has the feel of a Howard Hawks film, of professionals at work. But, it is also, I think very clearly, a film about America in Iraq. The political may be subtext here, but it is nevertheless very present. (WARNING: Some spoilers ahead)

After an opening in which the first group leader is killed, the film follows the new group leader, Sgt. James, along with Sgt. Sanborn and Specialist Eldridge. Clearly, James is the lead of the movie, a character with tremendous charisma, a man who seems, especially through the first part of the film, to be exactly the type of man and leader war requires. He may be crazy and have a death wish, but the film also romanticizes this as the type of bravery and courage one needs in battle (he is reminscient of the character of Kilgore in Apocalypse Now). He is also very paternal, especially to young Eldridge, who is seeing a army doctor because he is having difficulty adjusting to the stress of his job.

The major set piece of the film is a sniper battle, and although it is a great example of filmmaking from Bigelow, it is also the most ideologically dubious part of the film. It ends up having the feel of a video game, in which we can take pleasure and thrill from long distance murder. This takes place roughly halfway through the film. Fortunately, the last hour works towards questioning the heroism it initially celebrates.

This begins right after the battle, when the three men have a drunken evening together. At the end of this night, James puts on the helmet he uses when going into diffuse bombs. It is the only thing he feels comfortable doing. In the next scene, the men discover a "body bomb" which James believes is the young Iraqi boy he has befriended. This drives him towards revenge, in which he recklessly puts his men's lives in danger.

On one of these ill-advised missions, Eldridge is wounded and sent home, denouncing James before he leaves. Shortly afterwards, we learn that the young Iraqi boy is actually still alive, making James' actions even more absurd. The final mission before leaving is trying to diffuse a bomb strapped to an innocent Iraqi man. This time, however, James is unable to save the man and the bomb explodes.

James and Sanford survive, although their faces show the effects of the shrapnel. They have an extended talk about the dangers of their lives, in which Sanford claims he hates the country and wants to leave. James, however, is a different case.

We see him back at home, but for James, this world is more strange and disconcerting than anything in Iraq. Bigelow films the supermarket in a way that would not seem altogether out of place in Godard and Gorin's Tout Va Bien. James, like America, or at least a part of America, has become an addict. In his case, as the opening states, the drug is war itself.

Early in the film, we are given a deadline heading: 38 days left in Bravo Company's rotation. However, the film ends by reversing this expectation, as James goes back to Iraq for another year of duty. The critique of America comes through this lead character, who cannot stop living this life of war. Still, Bigelow does not make this too overt. Here, she is similar to Hawks, who would often subtly critique his heroes but also maintain a certain macho admiration for them. The last shot of The Hurt Locker does this as well. It shows the absurdity of James going back into battle for another 365 days, this time into an increasingly desolate Iraq. But the use of slow-motion and loud music also gives this sequence a grandiose quality that comes across as "cool". Like most mainstream American films, The Hurt Locker is not so much apolitical as it is contradictory and incoherent at the ideological level, working on both those in favour of and opposed to America as a military force. This is a limitation and a plus: we have both a great action movie and a critique of that mentality. Ultimately, any critique of something that also becomes it is inconsistent and even hypocritical. At the same time, only the most closed-minded viewer will fail to ponder the mentality of war addiction this story puts across.