a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Still the Water / 2つ目の窓

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still-the-water-posterNaome Kawase manages to curb her new ageist tendencies a bit to create a moving coming-of-age story in her new film, Still the Water. At the heart of it is the bravura performance by Jun Yoshinaga as Kyoko, dealing with the impending death of her mother and having a crush on the difficult Kaito (Nijiro Murakami), who’s having his own mommy issues. Murakami isn’t quite up to the task of giving more than a couple of dimensions to his character. However Yoshinaga builds a more than believable character who shows fathoms of depth beneath her surface task of trying to get laid. Taking place on the island of Amami-Oshima, Kawase carefully paints a portrait of a community dealing with lives, deaths, relationships and the beautiful and terrifying qualities of nature. The scene where Kyoko’s mother passes is a tour de force of working sentiment and an almost anthropological view as she’s sung off into the unknown with island folk songs. Kawase, who can be a maddening filmmaker, sometimes finds sublimely magic moments.

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2014

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 5, 2014 at 9:41 am

Forma

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T0018889qAt nearly 2 and half hours, director Ayumi Sakamoto’s debut feature, Forma, manages to demonstrate how “slow cinema” can go all wrong. The plot follows a handful of characters. Ayako (Nagisa Umeno), an OL living with her dad (Ken Mitsuishi) runs into an old high school classmate, Yukari (Emiko Matsuoka) and offers her a job. For the first 80 minutes or so, it’s obvious that something’s off and pretty foreboding about their relationship. The second act focuses on Yukari and a subplot about her relationships with her fiancé and another young man. It ends up with a highly telegraphed denouement – a 26-minute shot where all is sort of revealed and the obnoxious Ayako is finally killed off. Slow cinema has its auteurs. Look at Bresson or Lisandro Alonso. But between the poorly written script, endless shots that neither further the thin plot nor build mood and most egregiously, fore front a completely banal high school revenge story, Sakamoto’s exercise in audience abuse shows she has no clue about how and why people make movies.

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2014

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 5, 2014 at 9:38 am

Sacro GRA

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gianfranco-rosi-sacro-gra-documentary-movie-posterThe Grande Raccordo Anulare (GRA) is the ring road that surrounds Rome. Along this great ribbon of concrete documentarian Gianfranco Rosi has found a wild mix of people whose lives he’s committed to the camera, creating a portrait of the early 21st century in all its sacredness and profanity. Among the people we meet are an amateur scientist who records the sounds of palm tree-destroying bugs, a pair of bitchy old prostitutes living in a mobile home, various dwellers in a public high-rise apartment building, a rustic eel fisherman who is fully aware of how global capitalism is affecting his livelihood, and most importantly, an ambulance driver who deals with life and death, through snow and through fog, by night and by day, along this sacred road. In a similar vein to Errol Morris’ Vernon, Florida, Rosi gives plenty of leeway to the eccentric lives along the GRA, but he also gives them plenty of screen time allowing for a great empathy for these resilient hangers-on in the twilight glow of late capitalism.

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2014

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 5, 2014 at 9:35 am

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The Great Beauty / La Grande Bellezza

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la-grande-bellezza-posterJep Gambardella is an author with one great novel under his belt and lifetime of never living up to expectations ever since. Not that he isn’t successful in doing puff pieces for magazines and reigning over a coterie of sycophants and hangers-on. The great actor, Tony Servillo gives Jep a knowing cleverness, charm and enough honesty in his self-loathing to make him empathetic and likeable. Paolo Servino’s The Great Beauty is a La Dolce Vita for 21st century Rome. Unlike the frenetic and desperate decadence of Mastroianni’s Marcello Rubini, Jep’s is gentler – like an old well-fitted suit. There’s a similar world of well-heeled fashionistas and hipsters, but nothing seems new any more. Even the wildly hilarious send-up of a particularly egregious example of contemporary performance art shows the same old pretentions of (con) artists. Jep’s not only our guide through this world, but part of it too. Like a modern-day Virgil, Jep takes us through his own particular hell – a real world of cynicism and meaninglessness. It’s an old story, but it’s still timely.

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2014

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 5, 2014 at 9:33 am

Drive In Gamo / ドライブイン蒲生

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Drive_in_Gamo-p01 Longtime cinematographer, Masaki Tamura (Tampopo) makes his directorial debut with Drive In Gamo, a character study of young folk growing up with no rebellion or cause. Tamura paints a fairly convincing picture of a kind of dead end ennui that comes of living in the hinterlands, but fails to bring much tension, let alone narrative to really engage viewers. Sure, there’s the ex-yakuza dad (Masatoshi Nagase), who’s prone to general asshole-ness, brother Toshi (Shota Sometani), who’s kinda along for the ride most of the time, and Saki (Mei Kurokawa), the central figure, who at least manages to accidently get pregnant. A fine set of actors all. But nothing quite gels. The moments of revelation and/or climax fall into a clichéd coolness. Kurokawa brings a languid sexuality to her high school Saki and certain drive to single mother Saki, but seems to be left hanging high and dry by the movie’s end. And for a career cinematographer, Tamura, who also lensed Drive In Gamo, seems to have phoned it in, leaving a slew of unmemorable images.

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2014.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 5, 2014 at 9:19 am

Watashi no otoko

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Watashi no otoko starts with an interesting premise. Hana, a young girl orphaned by the tsunami of 1993 in Hokkaido is taken in by Jungo (Tadanobu Asano), a 20-something distant relative. Cut to Hana (Fumi Nikaido) as a teenager, living with Jungo in a perpetually snowy port town. Their loving relationship turns into a different kind of loving – with a mess of repercussions. Kazuyoshi Kumakiri is deft with a certain kind of cinematic naturalism. His Summer’s End and Sketches of Kaitan City prove it. Outside of that realm, he gets into cold water. One can pinpoint the scene in Watashi no Otoko where it all falls apart – a blood drenched Kubrickian fantasy lovemaking session that’s supposed to be the turning point of the affair between Hana and Jungo. After that, the plot devolves into some sort of thriller meets tragedy that misfires on both fronts. Nikaido puts her all into Hana, giving her a bit of believability, whereas Asano, usually a blank slate, ends up chewing the scenery at the denouement with a patent dishonesty.

Originally published in EL Magazine, July 2014

Written by Nicholas Vroman

July 3, 2014 at 8:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Sanjinés Retrospective

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ukamau01Jorge Sanjinés, one of the most consistently brilliant practitioners of the Third Cinema movement, is getting a nearly complete retrospective at K’s Cinema, May 3 – 16. Third Cinema expounded an anti-Hollywood model of cinema that dealt with such issues as neo-colonialism, capitalism and racism. Sanjinés has been at the forefront since the beginning with his first short, Revolución (1962), a piece of Eisensteinian agit-prop that puts the struggle of indigenous people into a new revolutionary spotlight. His first features, Ukamau (1966) puts a fable of revenge into an anti-colonial context. His next, Blood of the Condor (1969) tells a neo-realist tale of a sisyphean struggle of a man to help his brother survive. Both are in indigenous languages. El coraje del pueblo (1971), found him developing a collective approach to filmmaking, recreating a tragic miners’ strike. His work since has been consistently been exploring the edges of political cinema. But what one is mainly left with are the beautiful faces that Sanjinés has committed to screen and the deep humanity that informs his political stance.

Originally published in EL Magazine, May 2014.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

May 12, 2014 at 2:49 am

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