Archive for the 'Movies' Category

25 Years of Asian-American Film

Jeff Yang writes an interesting history of the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM, formerly NAATA) for the SF Chronicle today, roughly a month after the end of the 25th annual Asian-American Film Festival in the Bay Area. His narrative gets at some great points about the direction of media, as well as film’s importance in representing the shifting nature of Asian-American identity.

Excerpt:

I’ll admit it: Two years after its name change, I still find myself referring to the Center for Asian American Media by the organization’s original acronym, NAATA. I’m just so used to the nickname’s catchy two-syllable rhythm (though the jury was always out on whether the correct pronunciation was “Natta” or “Notta” — tomayto, tomahto). Also, whenever I mention “CAAM’s film festival,” people think I’m talking about the South of France.

So yeah, there are downsides.

But there are upsides, too. The new name reflects CAAM’s ambitious plans to expand its mission and audience as never before. And ultimately, as staffers point out, the change was more or less inevitable. [...]

[Read the full article on SF Chronicle]

Linda Linda Linda!

There are few films that can capture the subtle humor and happiness brought by friendship, or the inspirational change that comes with simply growing up – Linda Linda Linda is one of those films.

Set in the days before a high school festival in a town outside Tokyo, three young female band members are in need of a new singer; they find an unlikely candidate in Son (played by Doona Bae, star in the more recent Korean film ‘The Host‘), a Korean foreign-exchange student who still struggles with her Japanese. The film follows the four as they attempt to master several songs written “The Blue Hearts,” an 80s Japanese punk-rock band, to play at the final performance of the festival.

I saw the movie just today – the only film I was able to see at this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival – and if I could only see one flick again, I’d choose ‘Linda Linda Linda’ in a heartbeat.

The wonder of the film is in its simplicity: the expressions are real, the characters are quirky (but not over-exagerrated), and the cinematography gently pulls out the everyday beauty that our eyes often pass over. The director pays careful attention to the nuances and humour of awkward teenage moments, and the joy of pursuing new experiences.

Beyond that, the music is absolutely honey-sticky in your head, and the entire piece touches a soft, nostalgic place for anyone who has ever wanted to be a momentary star, rocking out in front of the entire school.

[Listen to Paran Maum's cover of 'Linda Linda Linda.']

The New Horror

Continuing with the movie theme – I want to bounce around some ideas about the value (or lack thereof) of new wave horror films, to go along with a New York Times article that ran today.

The NYT reports that Hollywood is bracing itself for the release of a new study on how horror films are marketed to youth – a topic that caught massive attention post-Columbine, but perhaps even more so since North America went (excuse the language) completely fucking mad last fall, when more than three school shootings occurred – in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Montreal. Granted, only half of these were perpetrated by students.

In recent years, Hollywood has seen an influx of high-profile, bloody, grisly, gut-wrenching horror flicks: Saw (I, II, & III), Hostel, The Grudge (I & II), The Hills Have Eyes (which was a remake), etc. And they keep on coming – studios are set to release The Reaping, Dead Silence, and Captivity within months, among other (as the NYT puts it) “movies about killing.”

All of this reflects what is to me a disturbing trend: As people are being brutally murdered, kidnapped and beheaded in the real world – as ethnic, religious and sectarian conflicts rage with unthinkable violence – American movie makers are flushing theaters with increasingly grotesque scenes of carnage and death, depicting plots conceived of nightmarish imaginations.

It’s as if there weren’t enough soul-shattering images in the news, that our culture should supplement itself with more images of blood and gore.

But here’s the real issue – these films are by and large without art or merit. I’m not trying to knock free speech or horror as a genre, but the way the genre is going. Frankestein and Dracula were heart-stoppers in their time (1931), but surely there was artistic value in those films. Many of today’s horror releases are so intensely gory that audience members feel like they might be sick in their popcorn – an aspect marketers frequently play up as some perverse draw to viewers.

I don’t mean to sound like the preachy Catholic mothers of the early 1900s worried about “magic-bullet” effects on our society’s kids, but I think it’s worth questioning why we go see movies like this – why in god’s name we would be attracted to vivid scenes depicting the vicious slaughter of other people? In a time of endemic violence, what is the value in adding more?

Whatever the findings of the new study, I’m not an advocate for government regulation over Hollywood – I think the best regulation in this scenario is the one over the self and one’s children. If nobody saw these movies, the money would dry up, and perhaps filmmakers would get the message that we’re tired of the violence – both in reality and fiction.

‘Dark’ films: Sadness & Indie flicks

I don’t know who thought it was a good idea – but somehow last night my girlfriend, five friends and I ended up sitting in the living room, sipping hot chocolate and beer, while watching one of the most depressing films ever made.

Dancer in the Dark (2000) is the story of a Czech immigrant named Selma (played by singer Bjork – whose voice I still can’t decide whether to love or hate) who has pulled all short straws in life.

Set in Washington state in 1964, Selma is a factory worker who is slowly going blind, and who saves every penny she can in hopes of affording an operation for her son so that he will avoid the same dark fate.

Her escape from this dreary reality is an active imagination that transforms tragedy into scenes befitting musicals; but her daydreams are repeatedly yanked back down to earth as she faces a series of soul crushing events.

I can’t say that I liked the movie – I think my mind tends to reject films that are oppressively sad – but I suppose I can appreciate some of the cinematic aspects. The ‘musical’ scenes were imaginitive, surprising and fresh, and flushed with vivid colors. I respect the filmmaker for being brave enough to portray such a heartbreaking tale in full force, but all in all I think I’m somewhat exhausted with depressing indie films.

Not long ago I also saw Dark (2003) - which enticed (and misled) me because the main character is a bicycle messenger (it turned out to be a very small theme).

But again, after watching, I felt a mix of confusion and depression – despite what seemed to be the film’s (spoiler warning) superficially positive ending. I understand that the point of independent film is to break the god-awful mold of hollywood film – and surely Dark did that. But the absolute sadness of Dark’s life (the main character’s name is Dark Freeman) seemed to dillute any message that might have been conveyed through the story.

And beyond that, I generally despise the use of inner monologue in film.

Among these films with “dark” themes, one uniquely dark movie stands out to me as having conveyed something other than the utter sadness of human life.

A Scanner Darkly (2006) succeeded in my eyes because it brought out a subtle idea of hope and human resilience. Though I initially felt thoroughly bummed out after watching, further reflection led me to see the more positive aspects.

Contrary to my former comments, I enjoyed the inner monologue in Darkly because it felt poetic – it added something to the film rather than supplementing for an aspect that fails to be portrayed visually, as Dark does.

True, the twisted plot and mind-warping visual twitch even the most stone-faced viewer out – but Darkly subtley and beautifully painted the human struggle to cope with the (can I resist?) dark aspects of life as a battle than can be won – perhaps breaking this new “indie film” mold of sadness.


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