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REMINDER: Sergio Leone Retrospective to Hit Busan Cinematheque with Guns Blazing

Sergio Leone


February 26 through March 1 at the Busan Cinematheque

Screening Information:

“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” - February 26 at 13:00, February 28 at 15:30

“Once Upon a Time in the West” - February 26 at 16:30, March 1 at 19:00

“Duck, You Sucker” - February 27 at 15:00, February 28 at 19:00

“Once Upon a Time in America” - February 27 at 18:00, March 1 at 14:30

I recommend getting there a bit early because the screenings might sell out, especially on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday.

Reactions to the 2009 Academy Award Winners

The results are in! My predictions weren’t quite as spot-on as I had hoped they would be (I got 6 out of 10 right), but I did say it would be a big night for “Slumdog Millionaire,” which ended up winning 8 of its 10 nominations. Then again, you didn’t need a crystal ball to foresee that one. The academy definitely went with the heavyweights this year, doling out top acting prizes to Sean Penn, Kate Winslet, Heath Ledger, and Penelope Cruz (all of whom had previously been nominated). The less established actors were completely left in the dust. Otherwise, it was a pretty dull ceremony celebrating a pretty dull year in cinema. Let’s just hope 2009 is better.

Who Got Robbed:

Mickey Rourke (”The Wrestler) for “Best Actor” - stolen by Sean Penn (”Milk”)

Andrew Stanton (”WALL-E”) for “Best Original Screenplay” - stolen by Dustin Lance Black (”Milk”)

Am I the only one who thought that Gus Van Sant’s “Milk” was sentimentalist drivel? It certainly shouldn’t be rewarded for transforming the compelling life of a courageous man into a banal film. There was nothing original about the screenplay and Sean Penn just spoiled one of the greatest comebacks in acting history. If I were Mickey Rourke, I’d piledrive him.

Biggest Surprise:

“Okuribito” for “Best Foreign Film”

This little-known Japanese film came out of left field to take the award away from the contenders - Israel’s “Waltz with Bashir” and France’s “The Class.” I hadn’t heard of it before today, but I can’t say I’m not curious now that it won the top international prize.

Former Titanic Co-Stars Depict Marriage as a Sinking Ship

Revolutionary Road


Directed by: Sam Mendes

Starring: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio

“Revolutionary Road” opens at the party in the roaring New York City apartment where Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) first meet, and instantly fall in love. The blissful beginning provides a rare glimpse of happiness in a film that spends the next two wretched hours dissecting a married couple’s discontentment with their all-too normal suburban lives in 1950s America.

After tying the knot and having two kids, the Wheelers settle down in a quiet, family-friendly community in Connecticut. Frank commutes to the city everyday to work at a mundane office job while April plays house. Despite their comfort and security, neither are satisfied with what they’ve grown to be. April once dreamed of being an actress, and Frank had always envisioned something more exciting for himself. In an attempt to salvage their marriage after weeks of constant quarreling, April proposes that they leave everything behind and move to Paris on a whim. Frank reluctantly agrees, and in the following months, the two protagonists rediscover their passion for each other while preparing for their upcoming travels. However, it isn’t long before the crushing weight of responsibility comes crashing down on their plans.

Based on the novel by Richard Yates, “Revolutionary Road” is an indictment of the conformity that reigned in the so-called affluent society. All of the film’s characters live in little boxes on the hillside that all look just the same. Yet, none of them are more miserable than the chain smoking, gin-soaked Wheelers. Frank is a lowly salesman slowly suffocating in his suit and tie. He hates what he does, and hates where he lives, but lacks the backbone to improve his situation. In contrast, April wants to take initiative before she sinks even further into self-loathing and regret. Yet, there’s something pathetic about her belief that all of their marital problems will magically resolve themselves by moving to Paris.

Sam Mendes captures the harrowing disillusionment of a husband and wife who are unable to come to terms with their own conventionality when the optimism and ambition of their youth run dry. There’s nothing endearing or uplifting about “Revolutionary Road” - the characters are genuinely unlikeable and the plot is so utterly depressing that by the end you’ll be wishing for a prescription of Prozac - but I don’t mean that as a criticism. The filmmaker adopts an uncompromising approach that never sells out the book’s desolate tone. The loving scenes of reconciliation are kept to a minimum, boldly emphasizing what the audience is less comfortable watching: the heartbreaking arguments that tear Frank and April apart. It’s almost like witnessing your own parents fighting all over again, filling you with the same dreadful feeling you first experienced as a child.

The movie wouldn’t have been quite as gut-wrenching had it not been for the clever choice of actors. It’s extremely alienating to see the relationship between the former co-stars of “Titanic” (1997) fall bitterly to pieces. As usual, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio both deliver powerhouse performances that live  up to the challenging material, but the real tour de force comes from the incredibly gifted Michael Shannon (who only appears in two scenes as the insane son of the Wheelers’ realtor). From the second he steps on-screen, he imposes his presence with his commanding voice, sardonic smirks, and nervous twitches.

“Revolutionary Road” isn’t for everyone - its bleak portrayal of the American dream gone wrong will turn off viewers looking for a typical Hollywood love story. But whether or not you can appreciate its heavy (and sometimes heavy-handed) subject, the film is undeniably an emotional roller coaster that offers a stunning display of some of the year’s finest acting.

Rating: 75/100

Busan Cinematheque Film Archive Gives Access to Thousands of Rare DVD Titles

I made a new discovery at the Busan Cinematheque today - they have an archive of thousands of DVDs that you can watch there on small screens with headphones for free. It definitely doesn’t make for the best viewing experience (only hardcore cinephiles will probably want to bother), but it’s the only way to get access to such a vast collection of rare titles in Busan. I glanced at the selection for a few minutes, and it’s pretty impressive - lots of older, artsier stuff made by well-regarded filmmakers.

Cinematheque Film Archive

2009 Academy Awards Predictions

By no means does this list represent what I think should win, but what I think will win. That being said, some of these picks totally deserve to take home the golden statue.

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

I predict a big night for “Slumdog Millionaire” because it’s the obvious choice and the academy almost always goes for the obvious choice. I’ve seen three of the five films in competition this year and I liked “Slumdog” the most, but that isn’t saying much. It’s more like I hated it the least. I’ll save the juicy details for the review I plan on writing if and when it comes out in South Korea.

Best Actor: Mickey Rourke for “The Wrestler”

You know an actor did a good job when you can’t imagine anyone else in the same role. Mickey Rourke, the washed up has-been in real life makes a stunning comeback with his first big lead in years as, well, a washed up has-been. Of this year’s choices, he is the only other actor besides Heath Ledger who successfully managed to make the movie he starred in all about him.

Best Actress: Kate Winslet for “The Reader”

It pretty much comes down to first-time nominee Anne Hathaway and seasoned Academy Award veteran Kate Winslet (currently running 0 for 5). This year’s competition for “Best Actress” pits a fresh face vs. experience, indie vs. studio. Regardless of who gave the best performance, Winslet will probably win because she’s paid her dues while Hathaway is still too wet behind the ears.

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger for “The Dark Knight”

The dude died just a few months after breathing new life into a character that will forever be remembered as one of cinema’s most colorful villains. He’ll win.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis for “Doubt”

This is the toughest one to predict because there is no frontrunner. I’m betting on Viola Davis to be this year’s “token black actress” pick.

Best Director: Danny Boyle for “Slumdog Millionaire”

Danny Boyle is a respectable director. He’s made a handful of decent movies (”Millions,” “The Beach,” “28 Days Later”), but a lot of his work is very hit (”Trainspotting) or miss (”Sunshine”). As I mentioned earlier, “Slumdog Millionaire” fits more in the miss column. I suppose it isn’t the end of the world if Boyle wins an Oscar when so many talentless hacks have before him. It’s just a shame to award a good filmmaker for one of his bad movies. This seems to be a tradition at the Academy Awards - two years ago Martin Scorsese won for “The Departed” (a solid film but not his best by a long shot) and last year the Coen brothers took the trophy home for “No Country for Old Men” (again, a commendable effort but rather minor compared to “Fargo” or “The Big Lebowski”). David Fincher and Gus Van Sant, two capable directors, are also nominated for some of their poorest contributions to cinema: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Milk.” Perhaps it’s just a testament to how often the academy fails to get it right. After all, they left the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Luis Bunuel, and Ingmar Bergman completely empty-handed.

Best Original Screenplay: “WALL-E”

There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay for “Milk,” but I’m following my heart on this one. Andrew Stanton merits more than just a pat on the back for creating two main characters whose combined vocabulary is limited to “WALL-EEEEEEEE” and “EEEEEEEEVE,” and still make a film that works wonders. But the odds are against him. If “WALL-E” wins, he will go down in history as the first person to be awarded an Oscar for writing the script of an animated feature.

Best Adapted Screenplay: “Slumdog Millionaire”

The “Best Picture,” “Best Director,” and “Best Screenplay” (Original or Adapted) often go together, and as the French say “jamais deux sans trois.”

Best Animated Film: “WALL-E”

“WALL-E” single-handedly quadrupled my respect for Pixar. It’s not that I disliked “Toy Story” (1995) or “Finding Nemo” (2003), I’ve just never been so swept off my feet by a cartoon. If I’d had it my way, this computer generated gem would be a shoe-in for “Best Picture” and “Best Director,”  but because it doesn’t quite fit the academy-award mold, it was unjustly robbed of nominations in the more prestigious categories. “WALL-E” is not only the best animated film of the year, but arguably of all time - if it doesn’t win, I’ll teleport myself to Los Angeles and bomb the Kodak Theatre (in case the CIA/FBI is tracking this, that’s a joke).

Best Foreign Film: “The Class”

Palme d’Or winners rarely do very well at the Oscars, especially in the foreign film category. Yet, this French docudrama has what it takes to pull off an upset over “Waltz with Bashir” - an interesting technique, realistic performances, and most importantly, a taut but always politically correct examination of a weighty subject (the ethnic diversity of a Parisian high school).

Rohmer Marries Art and Entertainment in Seductive Romantic Comedy

A Good Marriage


Directed by: Eric Rohmer

Starring: Beatrice Romand, Andre Dussolier, Arielle Dombasle

Where: Busan Cinematheque

When: February 20 at 13:00, February 25 at 17:20

I’ve already gushed over Eric Rohmer enough in the past two weeks (see previous posts), so I’ll try to keep this relatively brief. Like most of the other films in the “Comedies and Proverbs” cycle, “A Good Marriage” is a charming reflection on the precarious nature of male-female relationships.

After swearing off married men, Sabine (Beatrice Romand) gets it in her head to wed her best friend’s cousin, Edmond (Andre Dussolier). As a handsome and successful lawyer, he has all of the characteristics of a perfect husband. The only problem is he doesn’t know about the protagonist’s hasty plan for their future together. The film follows her unwavering courtship of what increasingly seems to be a lost cause.

“A Good Marriage” is much more character-driven than any of Rohmer’s other works. The person in question here is a veritable princess who has to have everything her way. If not, she doesn’t hesitate to make a scene. In the middle of her 25th birthday party, Sabine resorts to locking herself up in her room to cry, and just barely falls short of shouting “it’s my birthday, I can do what I want to” - all because her crush didn’t show up in time. In her view, once she’s established that she wants something, there’s no reason for anybody to prevent her from getting it. Her stubborn behavior is only one of many unattractive qualities that eventually come to light.

The protagonist doesn’t beat around the bush, and on multiple occasions, she acknowledges her own straitforward attitude. What could be perceived as a strength, however, is really her biggest weakness. She’s glaringly obvious and overly persistent in her advances from the get-go, frequently making Edmond uncomfortable. These awkward exchanges make up the film’s most entertaining moments.

While Sabine sometimes comes off as bratty, immature and garrulous, she isn’t repulsive. Despite her flaws, there’s a lot of appeal in this sassy, opinionated woman, and the audience ultimately cheers her on. Maybe it’s just because she’s an underdog. It becomes pretty clear she doesn’t stand much of chance, but she sticks to the same strategy unflinchingly. It’s hard not to commend such a strong-willed trooper for her valiant efforts.

The combination of all these traits along with an unshakeable confidence and determination are at the root of the main character’s impetuous decision to get hitched, which pushes the story forward. Yet, “A Good Marriage” isn’t really about marriage at all - the movie is a fun-filled game of seduction that will get you laughing (mostly at the protagonist instead of with her).

Rating: 71/100

FIN, or "My Butt's Asleep."

The French film festival at the Cinematheque Pusan concluded this weekend and Yujin and I made a marathon of it Sunday to catch the few that she had missed. We saw Stormy Waters (tr.), a movie made in 1940 that had some rather unsubtle symbolism regarding the international situation at the time (one ship, that cheated, was Russian, and the competitor of the French ship was called the Dutchman.) It was notable for some remarkable special effects. Although to our eyes it looked like a couple of model boats in a bathtub, I am sure that in 1940 it was possible to effectively suspend disbelief. The plot was thin but the lead actress and actor were superb. And any movie that closes with the words "Forward at 60 revs" is OK in my book. All of these movies had English subtitles and Korean subtitles were shot along side the film from a laptop with a LCD projector.

Ordinary Lovers (tr.) was about the Paris "Revolution" of 1968. I loved The Unbearable Lightness of Being (both the movie and the novel [Milan Kundera] ) and this movie covered the same time period but in Paris not Prague and with the communists on the opposite side. It had sex, drugs, more drugs, throwing cobblestones, more drugs, and a main character (a poet...wait for it...) who ends up killing himself (with drugs) when his girlfriend moves to New York with the painter for whom she has been modeling. If it sounds predictable it wasn't and mostly because the plot, what little there was of it, was lost in the brilliant photography (B+W in 2005) and the long uncut shots. I believe the director intended this and succeeded as I was good and fecking depressed when it was over (179 minutes).

We concluded the evening with a movie of conventional length and format. A young girl is tired of being a girlfriend and a mistress and decides she is going to get married. The subtle way in which she fails even though the object of her pursuit is genuinely attracted to her was intriguing. The language of the climactic scene, in which the inexplicable behavior of both parties was explained was transfixing in its psychological depth. Unfortunately, the film had dragged up to that point and then it was over. And it was shot in 1986. In France. You can imagine what the clothes and music looked and sounded like. Torture. I have fortunately forgotten what it was called.

While we were waiting for the second movie to start I saw an expat reading a book in the corner and I went over and asked him what he was reading. He showed me an old translation of Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot." Odd. I had a copy of a newer translation in my bag. I pulled it out and we had a laugh. This young man was tall and shy (think Luke Turasky) and I asked him where from, etc., etc. Turns out he was born in the US but moved to France when he was five and grew up there. He still visits frequently (parents live/work there) but try as he might he could not achieve citizenship, something for which he was still a bit miffed. We watched the last couple of films together and exchanged digits for more hang out.

Next week (February 26 to March 1), by the way, they are showing a series of Sergio Leoni films, including my favorite film of all time: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. If you have not seen a spaghetti western you should get out there next weekend for some of that. The casting, the photography, the music, the plotting... all of it is exceptional. If you want more info email me but the theatre is adjacent the yachting center in Haeundae. Take bus 1003 from Suyeong or get off line 2 at Dongbaek and walk back up the river to toward Centum. Call PIFF for schedule as the paper I have is in Korean and I can't figger it out damnit.

Afterwards we cabbed it to what has become my favorite restaurant. It is a dwedgi-guk-bab place near my school. Huge steaming cauldrons of pork soup bubble on the porch of these places and the soup comes with a whole bunch of stuff to throw in there, customizing it to your taste. There are tiny shrimp to throw in (makes it salty), the best kimchi I have ever had, big bowls of gakdugi (radishes in spicy red sauce), guksu (noodles), veggies, red bean sauce, and, of course, rice. It is filling and wholesome and when I finish eating there I feel good all over.

The weather has turned back to the cold side but winter is set to come to a close. I am really looking forward to springtime here. I have been told that people come from all over to see the cherry blossoms in the trees along the rivers. It is supposed to be quite a sight. I got into the ocean and it didn't seem too much colder than it was in the summer, when it was freezing. If I had some warm sand to dry off on I would probably take a dip now. It only hurts till you go numb.

The school year is about over as well. We will be having our graduation for the AM classes on February 25th. After that a new crop of kiddoes will join us from downstairs. All three of my morning classes are second year so I will have all new classes. Although saying goodbye to some of these kids is going to kill me I am looking forward to the new classes.

That about sums it up. In regards to the blog, I will be writing more in the near future as there are some travel plans in the works. Unfortunately, I have nearly reached the storage limit on my online photo journal. I am looking into other options but the simplest thing seems to maintain a hard copy and delete old albums as new ones are posted. So if you have a favorite picture or haven't looked at all of them and want to, you had better get on it. Their days are numbered.

"Forward at 60 revs."


Should Tragedy Ensue...

and the dullness of your scissors makes you blue,there is a place in Seomyeon just for you:I found this spot while walking home from Burger King a while ago. This would be the same Burger King that thinks mayonnaise, which is totally a sauce, by the way, belongs on Whoppers. Burger King is wrong. My horrid display of rhyming and digression into Burger King's folly ways aside, I wonder if people

No Doubt About It, Streep and Hoffman Shine in Religious Drama



Directed by: John Patrick Shanley

Starring: Merryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

It’s 1964. President Kennedy was just assassinated and the Civil Rights Act has been passed. The times-they-are-a-changin’. In a parish in the Bronx, the lone black student struggles to fit in with his classmates, but the kind and gentle priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) takes him under his wing. Before long, the school principal and head nun (Merryl Streep) suspects him of molesting the child and makes it her mission to expose him despite lacking proof. At times poignant and evocative, “Doubt” works as a cautionary tale against the dangers of excessive confidence.

The film benefits most from its stellar cast and sharp writing. There are two truly exceptional scenes: the initial confrontation between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn, and the nearly pitch-perfect denouement (or lack thereof). In the former, the filmmaker serves up an exemplary introduction of what’s to come - a highly dramatic battle of the wills between two bitter antagonists. Philip Seymour Hoffman just barely squeaks out the better performance by showing his remarkable ability to convey contradictory emotions in a single facial expression. It’s hard to tell whether Father Flynn is simply overcome with indignation by Sister Aloysius’ off-base accusations, or if he’s betraying feelings of guilt and fear.

In contrast, Merryl Streep plays her role without a hint of nuance or subtlety. Her character is little more than a diabolical zealot fired up for a witch-hunt. Later on in the movie, there’s even a shot of her holding up a prop that looks an awful lot like a pitchfork. Streep still makes for a haunting (albeit two-dimensional) villain.

The brilliance of the first showdown, however, isn’t only in the acting. John Patrick Shanley, a playwright by trade, knows a thing or two about stagecraft. The scene begins rather calmly with Sister Aloysius assuming the subservient position prescribed to her by the Church’s strict hierarchy, but the tension quickly crescendoes, and the nun from hell goes for the kill. The ringing telephone that no one dares answer mid-interrogation adds a particularly nice touch.

The final few minutes are another show stopping piece of cinema, and end the film on a high note. Shanley resists the urge to conveniently wrap everything together, and the central question goes unanswered. Unfortunately, he allows little room for doubt. It’s quite clear Sister Aloysius is just a mean muckraking woman and Father Flynn did nothing wrong. Still, the unresolved ending lets the audience decide exactly what went down. It just might have been that much more effective had the director left the conclusion even more ambiguous.

These two portions of the film are the indisputable highlights. The other hour and a half has some memorable  moments - including the priest’s opening sermon and Viola Davis’ (who plays the black student’s enduring mother) notable appearance - but it mostly pales in comparison.

Rating: 65/100


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