Session 9

A disappointment but worth the experience.

I came across Session 9 when I was researching the inspirations of Team Silent (the group who created the original Silent Hill games at Konami). Session 9 is a USA Films production written and directed by Brad Anderson. The film is set in the former Danvers State Hospital in Danvers, MA. The plot revolves around a small hasmat team hired to remove asbestos for the institution’s renovation as a community center.

Session 9 has got some great ideas, the most important one being the usage of the actual, real life Danvers Hospital. The complex itself is the central character and its natural allure, mystery, and disfigurement permeate the film so effectively, I could just watch a film touring the structures. Unfortunately, the setting is really where the virtues of the production stop. Session 9 could have been so much more, but really, what it comes down to is a lack of craft.

Directing. It’s obvious, from the first 5 minutes of the film, something is lacking in the character relationships. They just don’t feel connected. Some may say this is intentional, to show their familial dysfunction. If that was the case, it was too soon. My feeling is that so much more could have been brought out if the director focused on building the relationships before the first scene, like The Shining, and then letting the plot unravel the connections.  From the very beginning, I just don’t believe in the characters’ histories with each other. They feel stilted. If you can’t believe in the characters, you can’t believe in the film.

Cinematography. It doesn’t matter how gorgeous the set is, if the cameras don’t see properly, all that production value is lost. In the first few minutes of the film, I became skeptical. Two characters, Phil and Gordon are sitting in a van in daylight. The outside is blownout so badly it detracts from the van interior where dialogue is happening. Very often, depth of field is overlooked. There are many shots where it would have lent much more dramatic effect to focus on the foreground character elements and leave the background blurred and then rack focus to elements of interest as they enter the character’s attention. This would have better placed the audience in the film, allowing them to see things only when the characters themselves see them. Finally, a more realistic image would have been captured with a different selection of lenses. There were many close up shots (and I’m going back to the opening scenes in the van) where the lens was too wide and the shot was suffering from optic distortion.

Preproduction and Post. However the script was written, it felt too simple in the end. The resolution and meaning of “Session 9” just didn’t fulfill me as a viewer. I didn’t feel a build up in rising action or a real climax in the plot. There were disjointed events that should have been better brought together.  In watching the “alternative ending” and other deleted scenes on the DVD, I get the idea there were other possibilities as far as the film’s protagonist and climax. In a plot, these elements are the real cornerstones. If there were other possibilities being shot then I wonder if the script was really fully baked. I understand if there are elements left to improv and inspiration (David Lynch is my favorite director), but this film is really a ghost story, and as such you can’t afford to go in without a well defined map. Maybe these decisions were made in the edit room. In any respect, I was let down by the simplicity of the resolution. The significance of “Session 9” was little more than a voice over, which is a last ditch device to tell the audience the film’s meaning, as opposed to really allowing them to experience it.

Though I’m pointing out areas to improve, I’m glad I watched this film. There were moments when I was pulled in to the set, the lighting, and mood and my heart got moving. However, these moments of trance would be broken again by lack of attention to craft. Visually, there are some gems well worth seeing, but I think they are much more to the credit of the hospital than to the production. If you are a student of the genre, do watch this. It’s worth the experience and analysis. If you are looking for a good ghost story, though, Tale of Two Sisters is still in the top of my list.

Afro Samurai

I’ve been meaning to see this film for a long time, and finally, my friend Andrew came along with a copy and we just watched it on my projector.  Daaaaamn.  If you want to read up in detail on the origins and plot of Afro Samurai, check out Wikipedia’s article here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afro_Samurai)

First off, the story.  It’s the traditional “boy avenging father” plot.  On the road to vengeance, our hero has had to sacrifice feelings and friends:  universal concepts which make for good drama.  However, it’s what’s built upon this simple construct that really makes the film stand out. 

Our samurai/hero is not the traditional “Yojimbo”-looking character.  He’s a silent hero sporting a loud afro.  It’s never explained what he’s doing in Japan.  He just is (in the same mythic sense I love in Kurosawa and the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone).  The hero has an “imaginary friend” embodying his repressed feelings and desire for family.  Both the hero and the imaginary friend are played by Samuel L. Jackson with the flare that just is the man.  The script is full of jive and Americanisms that are funny and just cool set against a quasi-feudal Japan.

Imagery.  The visual style is fairly unique in my experience with japanimation.  The frames are very detailed with a literal edge/contrast in the color pallette that feels like a mix between ink and watercolor.  Obviously, the “inks” tend to lend themselves towards red.  Poses of figures are very exagerated.  The film actually looks more like a graphic novel in its attention to detail and style.

Music.  The soundtrack was assembled by RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan.  The hiphop rhythms go beyond Samurai Champloo‘s lauded beats into a sound that fits tightly with the visual world and character stylings.  

All in all, if you are into japanimation, this is a film to see.  If you’re like me, and just into japanimation if it’s “really something special” (along the Ghost in the Shell, Paranoia Agent, Big-O strain)… then you too will find some serious enjoyment in this 5 episode film.

Gate of Flesh

Last night I finally got to watch my latest NetFlix arrival, Gate of Flesh, by Seijun Suzuki.  Now, I can already hear the gasps among some of my friends who will read this and think I’ve descended into genres heretofore “taboo”.  Gate of Flesh is a 1964 film from the famous Nikkatsu studios of Japan.  The script was originally intended to be a low budget, semi-erotic flick (ok, I admit it) about a sisterhood of prostitutes surviving in postwar Tokyo and the drama ensuing when a former soldier joins their family.  The script was handed to contract director Seijun Suzuki who turned the script into a surreal drama with the visual and psychological aesthetics that have made him an undeniable rock and rebel in cinematic history.  (other notables I’ve commented on in the past are Branded to Kill – which got him fired from Nakkatsu and Tokyo Drifter)  [ Wikipedia does a much better job extolling the merits and history of Suzuki; his article is located here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seijun_Suzuki). ]

Gate of Flesh plays the hands of innocence vs experience, love vs. lust, sacred vs sacrilage, and freedom vs occupation by the United States.  Suzuki evokes these ideas within a simple plot of a young woman named Maya who becomes a street worker.  As she descends (quite literally) into the ruins of Tokyo and into the dark underpinnings of her own desperation, she assumes a family of like women.  It becomes quickly apparent that the big sisters who should be her supports are more childlike than herself, and when a man named Shin joins their world, already tenuous relationships break and Maya falls further into her descent.  The outcome and the meaning I think are best left for you to experience first hand, but needless to say, the best parts of the film will be left untold here.

Having read that, you’re probably thinking this isn’t the feel-good movie of the season.  It’s not.  It is gorgeous.  It is moving in its sheer brilliance and depth.  The cinematography and the sets are so well married it is astounding to realize Suzuki had only 10 days to preproduce and 25 days to shoot (according to interviews with the director himself on the Criterion Collection DVD).  The performances are each individual and supberb.  Suzuki’s production designer Takeo Kimura comments in the interviews that Suzuki did not direct for reality but his own surrealistic vision of the characters.  

If you have a penchant for artfilms, the time and an open mind, you should really sit down and watch this film.

 

Lawrence of Arabia

I know this is going to make me sound like a complete uncultured boob, but until two weeks ago, I had never seen Lawrence of Arabia.  Maybe you are in the same boat?  No?  Well, I like to believe there are other people out there who haven’t seen this classic (because, among other reasons, if everyone else has seen it but me, than this entry is fairly pointless).  So, assuming there is someone reading this who, like me, has never seen the film: this is for you.

See it!

I don’t know what compulsed me to put the film on my NetFlix queue, but I’m glad I did.  I watched it as I was flying to LA two weeks ago and it just made 4 hours sail by.  

Lawrence of Arabia is based upon the writings and life of an actual historical figure, T.E. Lawrence, and his struggle to unify the feuding tribes of Arabia in order to fight off the Turkish invaders of World War I and thereby liberate the land and people he has come to love.  The film traces his campaign in concert with his 

A Tale of Two Sisters

A Tale of Two SistersI first got into Korean film when I saw Chunhyang at a meeting of the film society at SUNY Binghamton.  Since then, I have been very drawn to the particular visuals, stories, and overall craft of the Korean cinema.  This love of Korean film was crystalized when I saw Park Chan-Wook’s  Old Boy when I was attending Cannes as a grad student.  That film, in my mind, is one of the most beautiful crafted pieces ever made.  A Tale of Two Sisters continues this progression with a film that has many psychological elements fans of The Others would know (a la “The Turn of the Screw”) coupled with the folklore of Korea. 

The story revolves around a pair of sisters returning to their country cottage after an unexplained absence.  The next few days of their lives unravel what caused that absence through the subtle peeling back of layers that it is mesmorizing while frightening.  A countryside backdrop projects innocence and the idylic beneath blue skies while the country cottage where the sisters retire at night is full of dark corners.  This is a film that easily transcends cultural lines by drawing on the simplist childhood fantasies, pleasures, and fears of all people.  If you have the time, the inclination, and an open mind for subtitles, it’s definetely worth the rental.  

Darkon

I definitely would not consider this a review, so much as : I need to get back in the flow of building content on a website:)  I’ve been very busy wtih my company’s website and it’s just drained my ability to sit down and work on my own pages.  However, I’ve got to get back in the flow.

Tonight, my brother brought over Darkon.  We saw a clip from it almost a year ago and Adam finally grabbed a DVD.  “Darkon” is a real-life role-playing game going in the Baltimore / DC area (see http://www.darkon.org/) since 1985.  The film documents the events and people surrounding a chapter in the “civilization’s” history when an alliance of rebel nations attempts to break the power of an empire.  However, the film goes way beyond events and investigates the motivations of the actual people behind the masks and armor, comparing and contrasting their “real” lives with their “Darkon” lives.

I have to admit, the premise of this whole film at first struck me as laughable.  Just seeing these people and hearing the speeches on the field made me cringe, but as the film progressed, I found myself understanding why these people need this other reality.  In fact, I began to see how I, and everybody else, may not be any different.  There’s a particularly poignant moment when a player compares his playing a character in a game to his weekday role : playing a manager at a Hot Topic, trying to get people to buy his clothes.  

If you have the time and an open mind, Darkon is worth it.

Belle de Jour

Belle de JourI was doing some research into surrealist directors and ended up putting some works of Luis Buñuel into my NetFlix queue.  The first one being Belle de Jour which won best film at Venice in 1967.

 

Belle de Jour exhibits many qualities which appear in the contemporary works of some of my favorite directors.  The film stars Catherine Deneuve as a seeminly innocent woman with a fear of intimacy whose curiosity pulls her toward a self-destructive foray into the “world’s oldest profession”.  This idea of curiousity as a character flaw harkens to many works of noir, espeically, in my mind, Lynch’s Blue Velvet, obviously many works of Hitchcock where the character knows he/she shouldn’t look, but they do anyway. In that noir tradition, the character than has to dig themself out of a situation they created.

The film delves into the imagination of Deneuve’s character, showing the audience what Deneuve imagines to see and hear. To do this, the film utilizes some unconventional, yet effective, means, including rapid cuts to a childhood where Buñuel puts context to his protaganist’s behavior.  He utilizes other effects including cuts in the soundtrack between reality and the imagination which lead to a visual jump into Belle de Jour’s daydreams.  The progression of the daydreams themselves eventually cause the audience to question ensuing scenes.  “Wait.  Is this another daydream?”

Overall, the film was enjoyable.  I do have to warn you that some scenes are definitely not for general consumption.  It is an art film and the audience has to be in the right mindset or else it could seriously offend.  Performances were consistent throughout.  The story was engaging.  As a more-or-less traditional (single language) American, French lends to the poetic/dreamlike nature of the piece.  If you are open to a piece of foreign filmart touching on a sensitive topic, it’s worth seeing.

BMW Films – Star

Got some downtime and was looking for something on YouTube and randomly decided to look for this short film I saw a few years ago.  BMW used to have a site called bmwfilms.  BMWFilms was a project / website / DVD that was used for ads and also as eyecandy for proud BMW owners.  Anyway, the basic premise was Ridley Scott (BladeRunner) produced a series of shorts directed by various names.  Each director received funds and I think five cars to do with with they pleased.  There’s a whole series which you can find on YouTube, but far and away, my favorite in the set was “Star” by Guy Ritchie. 

Here’s the embedded film from YouTube.

 

Andrew’s Facial Tick

 

 

Allright.  Sometimes, I just doodle around.  This is one of those things.  Last night, my brother and I were working on one of our last shots for a film project we’ve been working on.  This is our friend, Andrew, the star of the film.  Between takes, he was goofing off for the camera.  This morning, after backing up the captures, I looked at this shot and thought I’d have a little fun with it.  It’s by no means refined, it’s just a “doodle”, but I thought you might enjoy.  It’s heavily inspired by Andrew Kramer’s work at videocopilot.net.

Amsterdam – International Broadcast Convention – Travel

Flying to AmsterdamIt’s half past midnight Amsterdam time.  Going to sleep.  I flew out of JFK at 6:30 pm yesterday en route to the International Broadcast Convention (aka IBC).  I’m not good at sleeping on planes.  The only time I wish I was short is when I’m looking at the 5 foot tall person next to me and understanding that”ample legroom” does exist for some.

In this case, the couple next to me wasn’t five feet tall.  They were in the same situation: cramped, but we made the most of it.  We couldn’t talk much as I don’t know Dutch, but we still managed to have some laughs, especially trying to work the remote control for the inflight entertainment (which gave me a chance to finally see KungFu Panda and revisit Batman Begins)

Well, I intend on putting down some observations from Amsterdam over the next few days.  I’m here through Tuesday, so I’ll have some time.

All I’ll really say now is, as I was flying out, Neil Young kept playing over and over in my head with “Old Man”.  I don’t know, maybe it’s my version of “Sounds of Silence” from The Graduate when Ben is at the airport in the beginning.  What I do know, is as I was flying out, I looked out the window, just about sunset, and saw Cape Cod receding behind me.  I thought about the first time I crossed the Atlantic on the way to the Cannes Film Festival.  It’s been just over 4 years since that first adventure, and since then, I’ve been a few places.  

This is my third trip to Amsterdam.  I grew up in my small, quiet valley back home, and now, as I write, I’m looking out the 19th floor window of my room onto the night time sky of Amsterdam.  I know for many, it’s not such a big deal, for me, it is.  I’m 6 hours away from the place where I grew up; a stranger who doesn’t know the language and many of the customs.  It’s a very different way to wake up in the morning.  It’s a very different way to go about finding a restaurant to eat, especially when you’re alone.

Well, I intend on taking some photos in my spare time.  So, I hope to have some additions here soon.  Meanwhile, I should get some sleep.  Goodnight.

Reach out and make a friend