I will admit that I have not read the Hunger Games novels, which have been taking up space on my Kindle for awhile. Mockingjay Part I is the first film where I thought that I probably should have read them before committing to watch the series. I did enjoy the first movie in the series. I thought the second one, last year’s Catching Fire, was too repetitive of the first and didn’t add much to the overall story line to be interesting. I was glad to finally be finished with the cycle of games and trips to the decadent Capital City. I was worried that the third installment would come up with another way to get Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) back in the arena. I have moved on from that, even though Katniss appears to be a stuck in the film, rehashing issues that I thought were already resolved in her love life and her role as a hero.
Hee-il Leesong directs films about tumultuous relationships between pairs of men that swing from romantic love to contempt and violence. He is one of the best directors of films about same sex relationships working today. His films may be aimed at his local Korean audience, but his storytelling and technical skills can easily be appreciated outside of that country. He is probably best known for No Regret (2006), which was the first gay film released widely in Korea. That film centered on an orphan and an wealthy man swept up in a tempest of obsession, disdain, romance, revenge and finally love. If you asked me what a hero was in a Leesong movie, it would be a man who refuses to be heartbroken without first putting up a fight. White Night and the two companion short films, Going South and Suddenly Last Summer, follow up on that idea through the parings of an expatriate flight attendant and a messenger, a private and his former sergeant and a teacher and pupil, respectively.
Warning: Trailer contains nudity
Voyage is Hong Kong director Scud’s fifth film. Audacity would be a good one-word summary of Scud’s output to date, and those who have appreciated that about his films will not be disappointed. Like his previous films, Voyage has plenty of obscure and sometimes idiosyncratic symbolism and allusions, abundant full nudity, saturated colors, explanatory texts, and a very negative story about love. Scud is not a director for the modest. The film is a series of shorts on the themes death, depression and and the afterlife, framed as stories being written by a psychiatrist (Ryo van Kooten) as he travels on his yacht with the intention of determining whether or not to take his own life.
Yûya Ishii’s the Great Passage was Japan’s submission for Best Foreign Language film last year. It received a very limited release in the US one weekend and has played a few film festivals. I couldn’t find the name of a US distributor for the film and ended up ordering a copy of the Hong Kong version from Yesasia.com so that I could finally see it. It’s a shame, really, that the film hasn’t been picked up. I could see people adding it to their list of beloved films. It is a very easy film to like. It sums up the hopes and dreams of all of us-that we will find a task that we can be devoted to and share that devotion with others. It is an optimistic film, not lofty enough to be awe inspiring, but the world it offers up is as much a fantasy dream world as the most magical love story or futurist utopia. It’s a world worth believing in.
Set in the Nebraska Territory of the 1850s, Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman is about hardship on the plains and the difficulty of maintaining civilized relationships on the frontier. There are many movies about the time period of the post Civil War west – with cowboys, farmers and railroads. Pre-civil war, we are in the transition from pioneers and frontiersmen to the farmer settlers who probably would have been better off staying at home. The movie captures the challenges of farming this particular area of the Great Plains. Treeless and unlike anything the Europeans were familiar with, the Nebraska Territory was the heart of what was called the Great American Desert, not the Breadbasket that it known as today. The difficulty of this life takes a mental toll on the wives of three farmers, who need to be taken back east in the hopes that returning them to their families will restore their health.
Big Hero Six is Disney’s latest foray into the boys’ animation film market. If it can be compared to any recent release, it reminded me of How to Train Your Dragon. Like that movie, the adolescent hero of the story, Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter), must overcome grief, parental loss and thrusts himself into adulthood quickly to save his city. The emotional weight of the story is carried by his feelings for his lost older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), who dies in a fire trying to save his professor. Whether his memory will inspire Hiro to be one of the good guys, or his loss will turn him towards vengeance is the major conflict of the movie, which has far too few conflicts to sustain it for a full 90 minutes.
Force Majeure is Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s take on a husband and wife reanalyzing their marriage after a breach of trust. Told over a five-day ski holiday to France, the story follows a low point in Ebba and Tomas’ marriage (played by Lisa Loven Kongsli and Johannes Kuhnke) after he “accidentally” abandons the family when a controlled avalanche appears about to engulf a restaurant where they are having lunch with their two children. While he is filming the event on his iPhone, he panics and leaves his children and wife at the table, but remembers to pick up his ski gloves as he flees. Even though a marriage contract doesn’t spell out what is supposed to happen in these circumstances, we know that there has been a breach somewhere. The question is whether or not Tomas will realize that and whether Ebba will allow him a chance to fix it.
The Way He Looks is Daniel Ribeiro’s first feature film. The movie started it’s life in 2010 as a well-received short, I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone, which told the story of a blind teenager who falls in love with a new student. That movie climaxed with one of the sweetest stolen kisses I’ve seen recently. I was glad to find out that Ribeiro was given the opportunity to expand the short into a full movie and that the movie is Brazil’s submission for Oscar consideration this year. That submission was probably one of the reasons it was picked up for distribution to US theaters for limited release.
I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone was a very simple budding romance story, and there was quite a bit that could have gone wrong in expanding it to 95 min. There needs to be complications at that length, and complications can ruin simple love stories beyond recognition. The movie actually highlights this issue in the opening scene. Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) and his best friend, Giovana (Tess Amorim) laze by her pool and discuss whether they will ever be kissed. They both want their first kisses to be special – romantic, but without drama. Romance without complicating drama is how I’d describe the short, and I wondered what obstacles Ribeiro was going to throw out there to make it more difficult for Leo and Gabriel (Fabio Audi) to get together.
Set in the region of Upstate New York and New England, Tom Gilroy’s The Cold Lands tells the story of a sheltered teen-aged boy making a transition to new adult role models after the death of his mother. When the movie opens, Atticus (Silas Yelich) and his mother, Nicole, (Lilly Taylor) are living off the grid. She is home schooling him, but he is entering a stage where socialization with his peers is important to him. They aren’t survivalists, but are getting by without electricity and supplementing the income she earns as an office cleaner by recycling and beekeeping. It is an existence without many conveniences, but hardly a simple life. Beyond financial pressures, Nicole has diabetes and feels hassled by public health nurse who believes she as complications from the disease that may need additional treatment. She is managing to hide the pressure she faces from Atticus, while devoting her life to his education and cultivating his values.
If someone were to ask me what kind of movie I am Happiness on Earth is, I would respond that it is a Julian Hernandez film. I suppose that I could say that he makes “art house” or “festival” films, but he also belongs in that category of director where the style and subject become established patterns such that their films are classified off by themselves. No one makes films like them.
If you haven’t seen one of his movies, I don’t know if I would recommend this one, but Happiness does follow what I’ve come to expect from Hernandez. He is very good at creating stories of attractive men pursuing sex with each other – in fact he probably has no equal in that. There is a certain style to these pursuits in his films that evoke a very raw sexuality that barely even rises to the level of Eros. It is more instinctual than Eros, which should involve some passion and pleasure. Men (and in this movie, women, too) in pursuit of sex are like animals in heat. They prowl. Stare. They crawl on all fours. Consume as if they aren’t certain whether what they hunt is prey or a rival beast. Since there is hardly any dialogue in this film or any of his films, the actors must physically convey this animalism as well as any emotional states they might have. It makes sense then, that part of this movie involves an affair with a dancer since modern dancers are trained in the art of physical communication.