Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Is it me or is it the movies? Part II

Coming to you soon in glorious 3D!!!

If I see one more preview for a film in 3D I am liable to throw something at the screen. Enough already. Not that there is anything wrong with making films in 3D, but the films being made in 3D are for the most part nothing more than a marketing gimmick. Shows what Hollywood thinks of their audience. Story? Direction? Acting? That's hard and no predictor of success. Let's film it in 3D! Boffo box office! Pretty sure Sophie's Choice in 3D can't be far behind.
On the other hand, there's a part of me that is really tempted by Jackass 3D. If ever there was a gimmick that one's it.


Robert Rodriguez is a very talented and skilled filmmaker and it really shows in Machete. I saw more than my share of grindhouse films in the 70s. Machete is so good that despite watching it inside of a state of the art movie theater in Riga, Latvia (that's in Europe for the geographically challenged), from the start of the opening credits I was instantly transported to the seedy Chicago Loop of the late 70's. I could even imagine hearing the popcorn popping in the lobby and other not so fond sounds and smells came back in sense memory. Mark of a great film if it can capture the sense and feel of a time and place.
One problem. Grindhouse films were awful. Really, really bad films. The kind of films that distributors would buy the pound and were judged by how many shots of naked women they had and how many kills they contained. These were the type of films that could and would only appeal to 16 year old boys or those who no matter their age still had the emotional maturity of one. So here's the conundrum. If someone makes a great bad film does that make the film great or bad? I don't know the answer, but a part of me wishes Rodriguez would make a straight film for once. Same goes for Quentin Tarantino.


There's a little desperation in my film watching of late. Its not that I haven't seen some good films lately (Social Network, The Town, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), but sometimes you just want something mindless and less filling. I knew exactly what I would get with Red and that's exactly what I got. The only thing I can say about the film is that movie stars should never ever surround themselves with actors. Its just asking for trouble. Bruce Willis is good at what he does. Really he is. I loved Die Hard. All of them. He has even shown an occasional, no matter how brief, flash of acting ability. But in a film with John Malcovich, Helen Miren, Brian Cox and Morgan Freeman, all excellent actors, oops. Movie stars and actors should never mix. The secret of a movie star is that they attract the audience's eye. As Mel Gibson once said they know where to stand and how to look at and look great on camera. As long as they're the focal point of the scene. In an ensemble cast Willis is lost. He just simply does know what to do when the camera is not on him and he isn't the center of the action. And on the few occasions when he tries to act it just falls flat because the other actors don't have to try.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Written and directed by Maris Martinsons.
Starring: Kaori Momoi, Andrius Mamontovas, Monie Tung, Kristine Nevarauska, and Lau Dan.

So when is a Latvian film a Latvian film? Does it have to be in Latvian, with Latvian actors and take place in Latvia and have something to do with being Latvian? Directly or indirectly? No matter how remote?

Amaya takes place in Hong Kong. It stars Andrius Mamontovas (Lithuanian) and Kaori Momoi (Japanese). The dialogue is mostly in English and Cantonese. Its written and directed by Maris Martinsons (a Latvian, but one who has been living in Lithuania since 1991). Then again, Martinsons did recently move back to Latvia and the film has been selected as Latvia’s entry for the 2010 Academy Awards. That’s good enough for me.

Amaya is part Lost in Translation, part travelogue, and parts other. The story follows several characters who at the onset seem to have nothing in common. There’s Paul, the seemingly lonely and lost traveler who finds himself in Hong Kong. There’s Amaya and her husband stuck in the routine rut of everyday life. There’s Amaya’s brother in-law Tao who owns a massage parlor and gives classes on the side. We don’t really know much about the characters. Martinsons keeps the back stories and exposition to a minimum and allows their stories to unfold slowly. The film lives in the present and in the now and that’s its greatest strength. Its basically a journey of self-discovery. We discover the characters as they discover themselves.

Amaya will not be everyone’s cup of tea. The pacing can be slow and the motivations of the characters unclear. Its like traveling alone to a foreign place. Confronted with unfamiliar surroundings, tastes, smells and sounds one tends to first withdraw inward. The tendency is to stick to the grounds of wherever its is you are staying or at least the immediate vicinity. But, if you can overcome that first shock and are willing to start venturing a bit further, no matter how slowly, the rewards of what can be discovered are well worth it. Not only about the location, but about yourself.