New DVDs 7-22-2008

Two very different horror movies, released within a few months of each other:  Karl Freund’s austere, minimalist “The Mummy” and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s unrestrainedly experimental “Vampyr,” considered here in the New York Times.

182 comments to New DVDs 7-22-2008

  • Jaime

    “Jack loves cinema truly and deeply”

    Indeed he does. He’s not a “people person,” but he’s a film person beyond measure. I sat next to him during Ozu’s LATE SPRING; when he wept openly and without a stitch of shame during its finale, I was in awe and felt mildly intimidated. I cannot say the same for any blockbuster-derived “applause,” regardless of “awesomeness.”

    Jaime

  • Ben

    “I sat next to him during Ozu’s LATE SPRING; when he wept openly and without a stitch of shame during its finale, I was in awe and felt mildly intimidated.”

    Wow. I wish I am that brave. I wept every time I saw LATE SPRING in the theater, but I always had to fight back the tears. To me, it’s an even bigger tearjerker than TOKYO STORY.

  • Joe

    Michael, re your comment, “people demur to those who write on music, literature, theater, etc., but always question or attack the film critic.”

    I think that’s because film, as opposed to literature and theater, is seen as a popular art – not even an art actually. People who feel unqualfied to comment on a play or some piece of classical music have no problem pontificating on movies. Because of misguided confidence, they now think they know as much as the average movie critic. (Dedicated buffs are the exception, natch.)

    This has been going on for years but it’s been exacerbated by the Siskel-Ebert thing, which reduced film criticism to the level of two guys sitting in a bar, jawing about sports and giving a tumbs up (or down) to the Big Game. They may have popularized film criticism, once seen as something effete and therefore suspect, but to what end?

  • Kent Jones

    Joe, of course you’re right. But people feel comfortable molding film into whatever they want – “popular art form,” addiction (per David Thomson), and so on – because it’s only a little over a century old. There are no traditions that have sunk in, at least not the way they have in dance, literature, drama, etc. All this rampant popularization has led to numerous annoyances and offenses, but it also keeps cinema in flux, culturally at large. Of course it’s an art form, as anyone who loves it knows. I don’t need John Simon to tell me that. But its relative disreputability does have its upside, I think. Because it’s a good thing that someone with talent doesn’t necessarily have to enter the world of filmmaking with the heavy cloak of high art weighing him or her down. Of course, for some people (the young Philippe Garrel, for example), it’s a gift. For others, better to start with Roger Corman. Of course, those opportunities are also disappearing quickly. Everything is always changing…

  • Brad Stevens

    Hopefully the worlds of sport and cinephilia can merge harmoniously next Friday, when Zhang Yimou directs the opening ceremony of the Olympic games.

  • Kent Jones

    Zhang Yimou, the master himself. I suppose his fellow virtuosi Luc Besson, Chen Kaige and Franco Zeffirelli were unavailable.

  • Joe

    Well put, Kent, re film and film analysis as entities still evolving and still groping uncertainly between being art and a popular sport.

    As for me, I love disreputable films and will always think fondly (despite our differences in opinion) of those critics who went out of their was to validate them. On the other hand, I almost have an aversion to something that comes on the movie scene with the word “IMPORTANT” nearly emblazoned on it. (Hollywood’s December product ususally has me cringing.)

    Funny, the average moviegoer seems to write off film critics as snobs, when I find the opposite to be true. Film critics are open to everything and are willing to sit through everything (sometimes more than just in the line of duty). But your average moviegoer seems to nitpick about what’s acceptable. Subtitles? No! Musicals? No! Black-&-White? No! For them (and this is a vast generalization), most films are either too arty and pretentious – elite, to use a word that has been recently demonized – and you can lump any David Lynch or foreign film in this group. Or they’re way beneath them and couldn’t possibly be any good (say, “Mean Girls”).

    And so we end up with “Hancock” ruling.

  • Junko Yasutani

    About Sokurov THE SUN, I looked at note I made about it. The movie is fantasy about Showa Emperor (Hirohito)should be known first. It’s not the real picture about Emperor in history but about the Emperor as Shinto god who has to become the human being.

    Imperial Castle bomb shelter is like cave of Amaterasu in Japanese shinto mythology where she went and the world became dark until Amaterasu came out again. Showa is descend from that god, her son after many generation later.

    Sokurov has good direction of actors and making the story in dark places is beautiful to see. Also bomb shelter is the cold womb for the Emperor.

    Important for me to see Western filmmaker’s movie about Showa Emperor.

    But real Showa Emperor today is symbol for Japanese right wing. He’s still a big question for the Japanese people. For me he was war criminal, no question. Also, Emperor system is no good for the Japanese people.

  • Brad Stevens

    “Zhang Yimou, the master himself. I suppose his fellow virtuosi Luc Besson, Chen Kaige and Franco Zeffirelli were unavailable.”

    Okay, but there is, at least occasionally, more to Zhang’s films than empty spectacle. I found CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER extremely moving (vastly superior to HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS). Though it is tempting to speculate on what an Olymmpics opening ceremony directed by, say, Dario Argento, Bela Tarr or Miklos Jancso might look like.

  • Brad wrote: “I found CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER extremely moving (vastly superior to HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS). Interesting, for me the films go in reverse order of value. I thought Zhang had nothing to say in “Curse”, not to mention that I found him ill-suited/prepared for large scale action.

  • kent wrote: “I suppose his fellow virtuosi Luc Besson, Chen Kaige and Franco Zeffirelli were unavailable.’

    It’s always interesting to see how a director one holds in great esteem, Chen Kaige in this case, is held by another. Jack Angstreich and I have discussed how “Together” retains Chen’s strong formal qualities and that it is unfortunate that many seem to want to write it off as a sentimental sell-out. (“Together” also shares thematic ties with “Yellow Earth”.) I am also a serious defender/champion of “The Promise”.

    I’d like to know your arguments for associating Chen with Besson and Zeffirelli.

  • On “CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER”: I also found it to be Zhang’s most visually dull film which probably has a lot to do with the it being shot on video. The forground and background colors just bleed into each other and the focus is more shallow.

  • Kent wrote: “For others, better to start with Roger Corman. Of course, those opportunities are also disappearing quickly.”

    To me, there seems to be a marked difference between the quality of directors and films that Corman was associated with via New World and now Concord. What happened? Are there any new directors or companies worth note in the slew of direct to video titles?

  • “Curse of the Golden Flower” is a decent movie, but let’s not forget that the action sequences — by far its most distinguished aspect — were directed by the veteran Ching Siu-tung (“A Chinese Ghost Story”) and duly credited to him.

  • True and a terrible oversight, being how much I like “Duel to the Death” and that I myself have written how one may need to separate the work of the action director from the main director, but I found the sequence of the son’s attack on his father’s fortress to be rather clumsy in terms of editing and spatial definitions and assumed that Zhang was in over his head. I’ve been duly called out on my incoherence.

    In regard to “Hero”, what impressed me the most was the way the action sequences were pushed into abstraction, both in terms of image and sound.

  • Kent Jones

    Michael, when I mentioned Corman, I was thinking only of the New World period. There’s really been nothing of any distinction since then.

    Regarding Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou, I have to admit that I haven’t liked anything by either of them in years. Apart from his earliest films, I never cared much for Chen and even found FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE to be visually overstuffed – I don’t know if this will make any sense, but it put me in mind of Terry Gilliam’s movies, where there’s no forward motion and every image seems to stack on top of the one preceding it (lest I be accused of thinking that forward motion is a cinematic virtue in and of itself, I don’t). I suppose I should give THE PROMISE and TOGETHER another look.

    Zhang seemed like a different story – an immensely gifted storyteller, who reached a kind of peak (this is my opinion, mind you) early on with RAISE THE RED LANTERN (a movie much scorned by most of my Chinese friends, but I liked it). After that, visual ornateness on the one hand and governmentally sanctioned narratives on the other have left his work, to me at least, virtually without interest (I still remember being in Venice and hearing that NOT ONE LESS had beat THE WIND WILL CARRY US and TOPSY TURVY for the top prize – I had never even considered the possibility). I once had a conversation with someone who told me they believed that THE HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS was superior to King Hu as a martial arts movie. I have no idea what he was talking about.

    Why place Zhang in the company of Zeffirelli and Besson? That’s easy: money. I think all three of them elected early on to live comfortable lives. As opposed to Tian Zhuangzhuang, the one truly great Fifth Generation filmmaker. In my opinion, anyway.

  • Kent Jones

    Michael, regarding the looming abstraction of the action sequences in HERO, it’s undeniable. But wait till you see ASHES OF TIME REDUX.

  • Kent,

    “The Promise” probably comes across as overstuffed, though for me it demonstrates a boundless force of creativity. Chen appears to be thinking and moving faster than the images or the effects can take him and I think he sincerely believes in the images and the emotions. I am moved to tears each time I see it. As for “Farewell My Concubine”, Chen’s editing within spaces and the definition and reversal of space via mirrors and reflections I consider to be on par with Lang. Regardless if Chen is living comfortably, –and cannot one live comfortably and still make great films, such as Hitchcock?– the financial success of his films in the US, not to mention the handling of his films including “Farewell” and thereafter seem to challenge that, I do not believe he has compromised his style or thematic concerns.

    As you were speaking before about limited options , with so few avenues available today for filmmakers to find funding, can you really blame Zhang or Chen for attempting to find a stable avenue?

    Btw: even though I am not an admirer of Zeffirelli, I still want to see his late work for he was working with David Watkins, a deity in cinematography.

  • Ben

    Kent writes: “As opposed to Tian Zhuangzhuang, the one truly great Fifth Generation filmmaker. In my opinion, anyway.”

    Right on Kent! I cannot agree more. Outside of Tian, the only film I care for among the 5th-Gen filmmakers is YELLOW EARTH, Chen’s most personal and poetic film up to this day and a milestone in Chinese cinema, along with Hou’s A TIME TO DIE AND A TIME TO DIE and Tian’s HORSE THIEF in the 80’s. Unfortunately, Chen chose to “live comfortably” and engaged in petty competition with his once DP Zhang, another sell-out. As Dave pointed out, any interesting element in their later films is credited to their action choreographer. FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE is the Chinese version of an Oscar bate film – his answer to Zhang’s Gong-Li vehicle couple years back, RAISE THE RED LANTERN and, interestingly, it came out the same year as Hou’s film about stage life THE PUPPETMASTER, one of the supreme masterpieces of the 90’s.

    I doubt CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER was shot on video as it appears to have too much film grains to look video. I just checked imdb, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0473444/technical, and it was indeed shot on 35mm film with Kodak Vision stock. What Michael saw as “the forground and background colors just bleed into each other” appears to be bad digital keying in the DI process where they push the saturation so hard that the image can’t handle it anymore and starts to see visual artifacts. At least that’s what looks like to me in the theater. I just don’t know how long Zhang can milk this genre of martial arts/historical drama as it starts to look extremely mannered and tiring.

  • Ben,

    We disagree on Chen, but thanks for the info. I could have sworn I saw scan lines in the print and the DVD, but chalk it up more bad DI. (The domestic prints of “The Promise” were atrocious.) I’ve heard the Oscar bait charge before, and I feel that the presentation –and cutting of the film for US release–has more to do with Miramax.

    I believe Dave only talk about the role of the action choreographer in “Curse” and not that any interesting element in Chen’s and Zhang’s “later films is credited to their action choreographer.”

  • Kent Jones

    Michael, your point is well taken about Hitchcock, etc. I don’t see much in the way of an individual temperament in either Zhang’s or Chen’s work. Just miles and miles of brocaded splendor and “set pieces.” Which is to say, almost nothing but the stuff that money can buy. On the other hand, I’d rather see Zhang and Chen, both of whom have a taste and a gift for visual beauty, spending it than Peter Berg or someone else of his sorry ilk.

  • Julian Pearce

    I was in no way attempting to personally insult Jonathan Rosenbaum, as I do not know him, and I think that is clear from my text. I was simply commenting on my dislike of his writings about film.

  • Stephen Cone

    Kent, way to articulate my as-yet-unarticulated (even to myself) feelings on Gilliam. Now I know. Though I should say that, to a 15 or 16-year-old film lover growing up in the 90s, 12 MONKEYS is, like, the best movie ever made.

    12 years later, LE JETEE packs a bigger punch.

  • Stephen Cone

    Or, rather, LA JETEE.

  • Kent Jones

    Stephen, I should add that I really like FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS – a good match-up of director and material. Have you taken another look at TWELVE MONKEYS?

  • Stephen

    Kent, no, but I own it and have been meaning to go back. Have you? It’s the kind of movie I have fond memories of and remind myself to rewatch, but when I flip past it on television there’s nothing there that grabs me (or, ref. back to our original comments, too much that grabs me). It’d be unfair of me to comment further, before I see it again. It’s been a while.

    It just now occurs to me that back in the day it had a tone like nothing I’d experienced yet (as a teenager in South Carolina; in Chicago now). I suspect it had a lot to do with Paul Buckmaster’s wonderful score.

    I haven’t seen FEAR AND LOATHING. Maybe I’ll rent it this weekend.

  • Stephen Cone

    Kent, I responded to this last night, it posted and then I signed on this morning and it was gone. Who knows…

    Anyway, I said something to the effect of no, I haven’t taken a second look in a while, but own it and want to and will soon. Have you? Recently it’s been the kind of movie I remember fondly and remind myself to revisit but when I flip past it on television nothing really grabs me (or, perhaps, per your original comment, too much grabs me). In any case, it’d be unfair to comment further until I revisit.

    It just occurred to me last night, though, that back in the day the film was tonally unlike anything I’d seen (as a teenager in South Carolina; in Chicago now), which I’m guessing has as much to do with Paul Buckmaster’s wonderfully idiosyncratic score as with anything else.

    Lastly, I haven’t seen FEAR AND LOATHING. I’ll check it out.

  • Stephen Cone

    Oh, there it is. Sorry to take up so much space.

  • robert chatain

    “Twelve Monkeys” really stands up to repeated viewings, as does “Brazil.” I’ll get “Fear and Loathing” this week.

    Dave, Kent, Junko and all, thanks for the interesting comments on recent Chinese films — and on Sakarov, a hero of mine.

  • Junko Yasutani

    You’re welcome Mr. Robert.

    One more thing I want to say about THE SUN. Bomb shelter is like Amaterasu cave for Hirohito to me. He will leave as human being, not god. Light won’t shine from him.

  • Dermot McCaul

    I too love the Hammer remake with Lee and Cushing. Lee’s performance is really striking, even though I suspect he hated making the movie swaddled as he was from head to toe and unable to use that beautiful baritone. It is, nonetheless, a fantastic physical performance, a kind of headlong, runaway train of a monster barely in control of his reanimated limbs but terrifyingly intent and unstoppable when sent out on one of his murderous tasks. No sign anywhere of the emminently escapeable shuffling and crippled rag dolls of the later Universal shows, and totally devoid of even the need of CGI enhancement. A fantastic and painfully underrated performance.