Thursday, 24 September 2009


I have just posted a review of Lee Yoon-ki's first film, This Charming Girl (2004). It's available here:

Thursday, 17 September 2009


I have just posted a review of Kim Ki-Young's The Housemaid (1960), along with an overview of You can find it at

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

PIFF Top Ten

I have just posted my preview of the Pusan Film Festival. You can check it out here:

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Saturday, 5 September 2009

MADE IN USA (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966)

For many years, one of the more difficult to see of Jean-Luc Godard's 1960s films was Made in USA, a film Godard makes in between a number of what I feel are among the greatest in film history. It is made after Pierrot le Fou (1965) and Masculine Feminine (1966) and before Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967). This run of films by Godard, and in fact the whole decade of his 1960s filmmaking, mark one of the most incredible runs in film history. This is not to say that Godard has not continued to make great films. Rather, this time period allowed for the unique convergence of experimentation taking place by a highly visible celebrity artist (Godard's celebrity in France at the time was rather enormous). The fact that Godard had the ability to act as a public intellectual while continuing to make aesthetically dazzling work remains one of the great achievements in cinema history. And, luckily, the Criterion Collection has gradually been releasing many of these works on high quality DVD packages over the last number of years. Most recently, Made in USA and Two or Three Things I Know About Her finally made their appearance on the Criterion label, and as usual the quality of the productions in great, both in terms of the image and the supporting extras.

Seeing Made in USA for the first time was quite a surprising experience. Being made after the essay-like Masculine Feminine and before the even more anti-narrative films like Two or Three Things, La Chinoise, and Weekend, I was expecting Made in USA to be something similar. However, with Godard, it shouldn't have been a shock that it didn't fit into my expectations. Made in USA is more in line with something like Pierrot le Fou or Alphaville, or even the much earlier A Woman is a Woman. It is a genre piece, a detective story, and is filled with a huge number of references to Classic Hollywood. Old actors and detectives dominate the character names and dialogue to a very blatant degree for any cinephile, and it is clear where Tarantino gets his influence. Of course, the similarity between the two stops there. As the excellent Criterion supplemental reference guide points out, the cinema references are only one context of allusion: there is also literature and, most critically, politics. And while I got most of the cinema references, the politics of the period were less familiar. What this did was make me learn this context, which Criterion helps provide, at least as a starting point.

Now, the question arises as to how "entertaining" all of this is, and it is a legitimate question to try to answer. But it is not one we should answer uncritically. Most younger film fans, when asked about whether they prefer Godard or Tarantino, would answer Tarantino, provided they even heard of Godard, because Tarantino gives a much easier access to cinematic pleasure. Tarantino does not want to question, at least on any fundamental level, the dominant mode of cinematic address. Godard clearly does, but I would maintain that he does so in a highly entertaining manner. The images of this film are incredibly pleasurable and arresting. The problem lies in Godard's lack of interest in telling generic stories. Unlike Tarantino, he was unwilling, almost from the start, to play the game. He does not want to break expectations as much as destroy them from the start and have the audience approach the film in a radically different way. In another of the extras from the DVD, Godard biographer Richard Brody states that Made in USA, despite being dedicated to Nicolas Ray and Samuel Fuller, does not show the influence of either Ray, Fuller, or the whole film noir tradition. This is true narratively, but certainly not in terms of the actual dedication, which is to the sounds and images of the two directors. Looking at Made in USA, the work of Ray in particular cannot be ignored. If Godard was willing to give in to audiences in terms of story, I'm convinced his images would be capable of mass appeal.

But I hardly think we should want this kind of concession from Godard. And I'm not trying to simply dismiss Tarantino (whose work I very much like) or popular narrative in general. But I do feel someone like Godard, given the rather easy acceptance of the cultural industry given by most fans and even many scholars, is still very valuable and needs to be seriously considered in today's cultural world. This is why I highly recommend checking out his work on these Criterion DVDs, which really provide a wealth of additional material that properly contextualizes Godard and can lead to greater enjoyment of his very challenging and still important work.

Friday, 4 September 2009

The Battle for the Soul of Jesse Eisenberg

I recently watched Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009), newly released on DVD, an indie romantic comedy that I really enjoyed. It stars Jesse Eisenberg, who is also the lead of two other very good comedy-dramas, Roger Dodger (Dylan Kidd, 2002) and The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005). These three films have a great deal in common, especially in terms of the characters that Eisenberg plays. In all three, Eisenberg is positioned between different concepts of masculinity, especially in relation to women. Eisenberg's characters are all very similar, sensitive young men who want to respect women and find romantic love. They are in many ways post-feminist young men who want to join in rejecting traditional masculinity. However, in each film, there is an older male character who tempts the character into rejecting their sensitivity and embracing their "natural" sexual urges. Of course, these natural urges involve viewing sexuality in a physical rather than idealist light.

This biological argument gets expressed in the great opening scene of Roger Dodger, with Roger's opening line: "What's happening right now is important only in the context of our continuing evolution as a species." Roger (played by Campbell Scott) explains to his colleagues that man is only useful as long as he has a utility to women. Once that function ceases, which he believes is coming in the future with technology that will allow procreation without men, the result will not be "equality" but rather "natural selection"; the role of the male gender will thus become first servitude and then elimination. It is a dazzling speech and performance, as indicated within the film by the applause he is given by his colleagues after he concludes, and sets up Roger as a seducer, not only or even primarily of women but of his young nephew (played by Eisenberg). It clearly sets up the character's hatred of women as being intimately linked to his vulnerability. But this vulnerability is actually not biological in any way. It is primarily social and cultural, a result of Roger's own difficult relationship with his father. This scene sets the stage for the drama not only of Roger Dodger but of the later films as well. Both the father in The Squid and the Whale (played by Jeff Daniels) and the carnival maintenance worker in Adventureland (played by Ryan Reynolds) make similar arguments about sexuality being something that is a physical need in order to justify their own behaviour, and Eisenberg in each case is lured into rejecting his former values and following this path. By the end of each of these films, however, the character comes to a better understanding of the jaded and rather pathetic nature of these characters (only in Roger Dodger does this character also come to some self-realization) and rejects them.

Adventureland is especially interesting because Eisenberg's character is now older (post-graduate) and in many ways the battle is not as difficult. He easily rejects Connell for the loser that he is, and even forgives his girlfriend for cheating on him. This is why I think the most interesting character in the film is actually Em (played by Kristen Stewart), who is also torn between two different types of masculinity and has difficulty rejecting the older form. Again, this is less biological than social, given the difficulty she has in her own family situation. Still, although it is about slightly older characters, Adventureland still has a youthful idealism and concludes on a beautiful shot just before Eisenberg enters into the world of sexuality. What will be interesting will be if Eisenberg continues to get cast as similar characters as he gets older. Because in many ways the battle he will face going forward will be much more internal, an attempt to maintain a certain idealism in the face of social reality.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Overview of Chungmuro Film Festival at The One One Four

I just completed my first assignment working as a contributing editor for Film at the One One Four website, a English language blog covering the arts and culture scene in Korea. Most of my writing will now appear here, although I will occasionally post items that may be outside of their concerns on this website. And I will continue to link to my pieces at the One One Four here as well.

My article on the Chungmuro Film Festival can be found here: