Black Swan

Before Black Swan was released, but when the hype machine was already in overdrive, I stated on one film message board: “Aronofsky has earned my willingness to see any film he makes. Even his failures are interesting.” Indeed, Aronofsky may be the most interesting young American director working today, if only because with every film he genuinely seems to be shooting for the moon in an age where most directors are much more modest in their ambitions. But he also makes the kinds of films that are as fraught with faults as they are strengths. In many respects, I’ll take interesting failures over uninteresting successes any day, because it’s often just a matter of time before those faults are transformed into strengths upon reconsideration. Read more of this post

Black Rock Shooter

Released in July of 2010 after some amount of hype, Black Rock Shooter is an OVA scripted by the respected Nagaru Tanigawa (Haruhi Suzumiya novels) and directed by relative newcomer Shinobu Yoshioka.  Although there isn’t much to anticipate from Yoshioka’s side—seeing as how he’d mostly worked as staff on other projects but none featured him in a leading role—Tanigawa’s involvement is enough to spark most fans’ interests.  Well, any who has enjoyed the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise, both its television series adaptations and original novel source material.  Although the storyline of the novel series hasn’t yet reached completion, Tanigawa has proven himself a capable writer with Haruhi’s rather intriguing thriller-like narrative, balancing the serious against the mundane with what seems like effortless ability.

So although expectations for Black Rock Shooter may have been somewhat high, I don’t mean to imply that anyone was expecting the next Yuasa artfilm out of this OVA.  At the most, a thrilling, action-packed, balanced story with at least marginally strong characters were of foremost importance and likely guaranteed based on Tanigawa’s track record.  And suffice to say, these aspects were certainly delivered—just not that well.  For all of its pretenses and for everything it DID manage to do well, Black Rock Shooter remains surprisingly unremarkable and dull. Read more of this post


“The worst thing that can happen is you’ll learn something about yourself.” –Yale

There’s a kind of romantic splendor that opens Woody Allen’s Manhattan, a kind of boyish awe and wonder; In Kubrick’s work, this feeling was turned towards the cosmos and a God’s-eye point-of-view of man, but in Allen’s it’s turned towards a single city, and an all-too painfully human, inside-out view of people. Some artists need the entire universe to find the universe, but Allen could see it all from his city and his persona and all the others who inhabited it. It’s not just the opening musical montage—brilliantly staged to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue—that sets Manhattan apart from any Allen film up to that point, there’s also the gorgeously textured black-and-white, widescreen photography, courtesy of Gordon Willis. Allen’s voiceover is familiar, so is the humor, the self-doubt, and the self-reflexivity, but it’s set in a more somber key than we’re used to from Woody, even as the imagery is flamboyantly celebratory. Read more of this post

36 Fillette

Catherine Breillat has, somewhat unfairly, gotten labeled over the years as the “female French director who deals in salacious female sexuality, especially of an adolescent nature”. Well, perhaps everything in that criticism is accurate except the “salacious” part. “Provocative” would be a much better word. But, as I’ve written about before (see my reviews for Diary of a Nymphomaniac or Y tu mamá también), there may be nothing more difficult in dramatic art than integrating sexuality in a way that’s intellectually substantial and dramatically coherent while still keeping it sexy. Breillat has often been content with ignoring the “keeping it sexy” part, preferring to craft portraits of female sexuality with all the provocations and intellectualism (or, at least, suggestions of intellectualism) without ever even creeping close to pornography. In the three films I saw prior to 36 Fillette, Breillat’s biggest problem is that she hasn’t been able to find characters or a plot strong enough to carry the dramatic weight. That problem is one she’s finally solved here.
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R&A by JL: Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance

Hideaki Anno’s Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance was the first film I screened at the 23rd Helsinki Film Festival. Basically it’s a part of a movie series that attempts to reimagine a TV show from the 90’s about a group of teenagers who are tasked with protecting the world. You can read more about the franchise here. Reimagining a grand story in a different format is difficult on its own and it’s even worse with Evangelion – a series more multi-layered and brilliant than anything else I’ve ever seen. At first you simply have to realize you are not going to get the same product since switching from 26 episodes (+ 1 film) to 4 films will inevitably require a drastic change. Read more of this post