Cloverfield (2008)

The concept behind this movie is one that sounds good on paper, but to fully capture that idea leads to unforeseen problems.  The decision to take the “handy-cam” approach to fully immerse the viewer into the moment can be compelling and also disorienting to the point of exhaustion.  If you exclude the scenes where the camera is shaking so vigorously for such an extended period of time that I feel a seizure coming on and the cornball love story dialogue, then you are left with a suspenseful and engaging film.  Perhaps some find the handy-cam style appropriate, but I just cannot do it.   The positives to the handy-cam style are that we get to feel that we are there with the characters more intimately and the viewer can possibly buy that they are watching “found footage”, to add to the realism.  It is just at the risk of distracting the viewer from the actual substance of a film, or lack there of.

Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The (2007)

This film is not just a biographical drama, but a psychological roller coaster. Each role is well written and complex, allowing the actors to really dive in and take the viewer along for the ride.  We learn to love characters we should hate and learn to hate characters we should love.  From the title alone the audience knows where the film is going.  As we get to know the difference between Jesse James the man and Jesse James the myth it becomes challenging to root for his survival or demise.  At the same time, Casey Affleck’s performance is tremendous and conjures up ambivalence that teeters back and forth until the credits.  It is rare that the protagonist in a film is also the antagonist.  In addition to that, the cinematography was stunning and vibrant. Although this film seemed to fly under the radar when it was released, perhaps it was just overshadowed by its contemporaries: There Will be Blood and No Country for Old Men.  I highly recommend this movie.

Secretary (2002)

ScreenThis movie touches on some, more than, risqué subject matter that just dives deeper and deeper as the movie progresses.  The cyclical format of the film persists from the start until just before the end.  This seems to play on the use of both classical and operant conditioning found in the film.  The ever present and in your face masochistic theme is not a new concept behind a film, but this one is also a comedy.  At the end of the day, if you like Maggie Gyllenhaal in kinky situations than this is your movie.

A State of Mind (2005)

A spectacular movie that shows what North Korea is really like on a day to day basis.  Daniel Gordon takes the viewer through the day after day regiments and daily life for gymnasts that train all year for a chance to perform in the Pyongyang Mass Games.  These games are a large spectacle that are a kin to the opening ceremonies for the olympics, only on  grandeur scale.  The purpose of these Mass Games are best described by Jong-il Kim, “Mass gymnastics play an important role in training schoolchildren to acquire these communist qualities.”  Gordon and his crew were able to get so close and behind the scenes of, what appears to be, typical life in North Korea.  In the process they enlighten the viewer with, sometimes shocking, culture differences.  It is fascinating to see how the United States is perceived from within North Korea and the role propaganda plays in the North Korean psyche.

Brother (2000)

Takeshi Kitano’s Brother brings a member of the yakuza to L.A. where he runs into the mafia.  While not Kitano’s best film, namely Zatoichi, Sonatine, or Kikujiro, I still applaud his attempt to bring his style to an American audience.  In the end, the story has been done before and the acting is silly at times.  With that said it is a good watch if you are looking for a Japanese action film that isn’t filled with strange and unpredictable scenarios.