Last night the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Film Comment Selects and Scott Foundas hosted “An Evening With Christopher Nolan.” Which was basically an award-season promotion for Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises under the guise of a career-review conversation. HE’s Manhattan correspondent Clayton Loulan attended and took snaps and recorded the conversation. Problematically, I would add, as you can barely hear what’s being said without headphones.
Scott Foundas, Chris Nolan following last night’s FSLC discussion.
I can’t write an authoritative stinging indictment of Tokyo because I’ve only experienced a bit of it. I’ve only been here eight hours and I haven’t wandered outside of the Shibuya and Shinjuku districts. But I’m hugely unimpressed so far. I shouldn’t even be saying this but Tokyo strikes me as corporate and arid and car-friendly and full of delights for rich people. It’s a bigger, chillier, smoggier Houston with sushi and noodles and taller buildings and more stylishly dressed women. It’s titanic and rich and sprawling and so what?
It was all but burned to the ground in 1945 thanks to Curtis LeMay so the buildings are all less than 50 or 60 years old, and it just doesn’t have any character or flavor or aroma to speak of. Certainly not the kind that reaches out and pulls you in. I’m sure my opinion would be a bit more favorable if I had the time to really get into it but this is what I feel right now.
All I could think as I wandered around was “why did I come here again?”
And it’s not much of a walking city either — you have to constantly walk up and down stone staircases to cross streets. And what is there to look at anyway beside restaurant signs and the women? Big buildings are a deadly bore. And the air is light brown — I went to the top floor of the TMG building and you can see a dense layer of smog hanging over the whole town (like the air in LA in the ’70s), and there are so many people walking around with those white surgical masks that I feel I’m part of an epidemic in Steven Soderbergh‘s Contagion.
People of serious character and accomplishment love Tokyo so I should probably hold my tongue, but this place feels like downtown LA or Detroit or Honolulu or….I haven’t been to soulless Sao Paulo but I’ve heard it has a similar vibe. I’m not going to get all bent out of shape about this, but honestly? I almost hate it here. There’s nothing architecturally alluring or unique and the girls are prettier in Vietnam, and they all have smaller, shapelier, more perfectly pedicured feet than the women here. I’m sorry but that’s what I’ve observed.
Too many people have told me the food in Tokyo is terrific so there’s no disputing that aspect. (I’ll be going to Ichiban, the Lost in Translation sushi bar, in a couple of hours). But I wonder if it can beat the drop-dead scrumptious food I’ve eaten in Hanoi over the last three or four days.
I’m not sure I’ll ever return here. In fact I know I won’t. Give me Paris or Berlin or Rome or Havana or London — any town with a personality and the right kind of seductive flair. A town that has something you immediately want more of, and that puts you in the right kind of mood. Tokyo is my idea of a town you really don’t need to visit. Life is short. You can have it.
The one thing that really impressed me? Some of the Tokyo taxis have an automatic rear-door opening-and-closing mechanism so when the driver pulls over to let a fare in…pop! The door swings open and then closes at the push of a button.
Here’s what a filmmaker friend recently advised: “In Tokyo go to Nakano Broadway, the largest toy-collectible mall in the world. It will give you an insight into Japanese culture being a mixture of extreme depth and extreme youthful enthusiasm for characters and toys. Go to YoYoGi Park in Shibuya. Great stores around it and an amazing shrine at its center. Go to Akihabara and geek out on the electronics and walk around Ginza for a day or two. Go to the palace and walk the gardens — even in winter they are amazing. I also recommend you make an appointment to visit the Ghibli museum. Go to the big department stores in Ikebukuro.”
I am completely and fully prepared to ignore everything my friend recommended for the rest of my days on this planet and into the next life. And when I say “prepared” I mean I am absolutely at peace with this notion.
I’m staying on the 6th floor with a nice view of the park across the street.
There are a lot of squat toilets in Tokyo, which is why they have this sign explaining to the sophistos that you’re not supposed to squat with the regular sit-down model.
With my flight to Tokyo leaving at midnight, HE’s gracious host Nguyen Mai invited me to a farewell lunch today at Le Tonkin, an elegant, French colonial-style gourmet restaurant in Hanoi’s French quarter. Joining us were actor Chi Bao, music composer & producer Nguyen Quoc Trung, pop singer Thanh Lam and her son Dang Quang, and Mai’s business partners (in Vidotour and other enterprises) Pham Tuan Phuong and Nguyen Thuy Quynh.
Vidotour and VidoMedia CEO Nguyen Mai — Wednesday, 11.28, 12:50 pm.
Le Tonkin chef Le Tuan Cuong
Yesterday afternoon I saw Nguyen Huu Muoi‘s Scent of Burning Grass, a highly emotional antiwar film that is Vietnam’s official 2012 submission for the Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar. It’s basically a Vietnamese All Quiet on the Western Front about four North Vietnamese lads suffering the horrors of the Quang Tri battle of 1972, which was almost entirely a North Vietnamese vs. South Vietnamese face-off. It may be based on the personal experience of screenwriter Nhuan Cam Hoang, although this is just a guess.
I was affected by the depictions of suffering because I’ve never seen a Vietnamese-perspective drama about the Vietnam War, and because it reminded me once again (as if I needed reminding) that all combatants in conflicts such as these experience acute hell in more ways than I’d care to imagine. So despite the film’s problems, I was moved. There I was in a small theatre filled with Vietnamese, the only Anglo, watching a story about their pains and losses as it were, or rather the pains and losses of their fathers and grandfathers. I was inescapably affected.
But Scent of Burning Grass does, due respect, have problems. Or one problem, I should say. I’m speaking of an insufficient level of exceptional talent and refined professionalism, or at least the kind of exceptional talent and refined professionalism that would warrant even-handed comparison to the work of All Quiet‘s Lewis Milestone or, say, Paths of Glory‘s Stanley Kubrick or any number of respected wartime dramas.
The fim’s low budget creates technical believability issues that are irksome but not fatal. What is fatal, in my humble view, is that each and every actor has been told to over-act — to make feelings so explicit and upfront that one can’t help but feel annoyed.
And the digital projection at the theatre was appalling at times. Hardware commands would appear and light from the booth flooded the screen and compromised the image. Small-point-size English subtitles had been pasted into the margins of previous existing French subtitles that were slightly larger and yellow-tinted. This was tolerable except every so often the English subtitles would disappear for two or three or four minutes at a time.
A production guy whom I’ve been speaking to at Hanoi Film Festival parties told me that Scent of Burning Grass is, in his view, a “commemorative film” commissioned by and/or pushed along by the government rather than one that came out of Vietnam’s artistic community as it were. He was saying that there isn’t a sufficiently concentrated community of film artists in Vietnam, from which a process of honing and refinement and self-criticism naturally results.
And yet despite all this, I felt Scent of Burning Grass. And I’m glad I saw it.
Watch both Love Is All You Need trailers and tell me the German-dubbed version isn’t preferable. The half-English, half-Danish version, as Rope of Silicon‘s Brad Brevet wrote, has Pierce Brosnan “playing an Englishman living in Denmark running around speaking English while everyone else is speaking Danish and they clearly understand him and he understands them, so why aren’t they all speaking the same language?”
Occasionally Criterion jacket-cover art will convey an alternate-universe take on a well-known film that half convinces you that you haven’t quite absorbed everything the film has to offer, even though you’ve seen it 15 or 20 times. The white birds (which have to be seagulls and not pigeons) are an interesting invention. Their presence suggests that Elia Kazan‘s 1954 Oscar-winner was directed by Vittorio De Sica or Roberto Rossellini.
The goodies: (a) new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition, (b) presented in 1.66, 1.33 and 1.85 aspect ratios (a landmark decision that brought about, in my humble view, the eternal discrediting of Bob Furmanek‘s research-fortified 1.85 fascism, and thank God in heaven for this), (c) commentary from Richard Schickel and Jeff Young, (d) new conversation between filmmaker Martin Scorsese and critic Kent Jones, (e) Elia Kazan: Outsider (1982), an hour-long documentary, (f) New documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with scholar Leo Braudy, critic David Thomson, and others, (g) New interview with actress Eva Marie Saint, (h) Interview with director Elia Kazan from 2001, (i), Contender, a 2001 documentary on the film’s most famous scene, and (j) New interview with author James T. Fisher (On the Irish Waterfront) about the real-life people and places behind the film.
Plus a booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Almereyda and reprints of Kazan’s 1952 ad in the New York Times defending his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, one of the 1948 New York Sun articles by Malcolm Johnson on which the film was based, and a 1953 Commonweal piece by screenwriter Budd Schulberg.
Vietnamese actress Hai Yen (a.k.a., Do Thi Hai Yen), star of Phillip Noyce’s The Quiet American and more recently Story of Pao (’05), Adrift (’08) and Floating Lives (’10). I joined Hai Yen, her husband Calvin Lam and daughter-in-law Crystal Lam for a chat this afternoon on the outdoor terrace of Hanoi’s Hotel Metropole, a world-class establishment where Graham Greene, Charlie Chaplin, Jane Fonda, George H. W. Bush and Francois Mitterrand have stayed.
In a Variety “Actors on Actors” piece, Kenneth Branagh has called Keira Knightley‘s Anna Karenina performance “breathtaking…her effervescence of spirit is tangible and irresistible. Her whole being seems to blaze with a ferocity that is mesmerizing.
“This is Knightley as we have never seen her before so completely: a mature woman who is also impulsive, troubled, deceitful, sexual, passionate, heartbroken. Everything about her work here sears and scorches itself into the memory. This is an actress of subtlety and delicacy fulfilling her potential in a performance that comes from the depths. Like the novel itself, her work in the role is at once elegant and wild and compelling at every moment. A classic.”
Congrats to the winners of the just-concluded IFC Gotham Awards. Wes Anderson‘s Moonrise Kingdom won Best Picture, and Beasts of the Southern Wild helmer Ben Zeitlin took the breakthrough director award as well as the inaugural Bingham Ray Award. Jared Leto‘s Artifact won the best film audience trophy, David France‘s How To Survive A Plague was given the Gotham Award for Best Documentary, and Terence Nance won the Best Film Not Playing at the Theater Near You prize for An Oversimplification of Her Beauty. Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, David O. Russell and Participant Media’s Jeff Skoll were given career tributes.