Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Ji-woon Kim is one of the three master filmmakers in Korea who blend a trademark artistry into their films which elevate them far above the standard genres with which they often flirt. (For the record, the other two are Chan-wook Park and Ki-duk Kim.) His previous horror film, A Tale of Two Sisters, is, for my money, the best of the J-Horror styled Asian horror films and I screened it at an earlier KBT showing. With A Bittersweet Life, Kim is firmly placing his film in the Gangster genre, but giving it subtextual layers which allow it to transcend.
Byung-hun Lee plays Sun-Woo, the #2 man in a prominent gangster operation. He is a smooth operator who stops to enjoy a succulently prepared desert prior to forcefully handling a group of troublemakers from a rival gang. His boss entrusts him to carry out nearly any task related to the business and he spends most of his time running a very upscale Hotel with a sky-lounge not accidentally called "La Dolce Vita". He is remote and has no life, girlfriend, or relations outside the business and is distant from both his boss and his fellow triad members. One day, his boss entrusts him to look after a mistress who could possibly be seeing someone off to the side. The orders are to watch her, and if she is having sex with someone else, eliminate both her and the lover. As Sun-Woo trails and interacts with the mistress, a beautiful and gentle woman which is so far out of his existence, he can barely have a mundane conversation with her, he doesn't so much as fall in love with her, as see how much 'life' he has sacrificed to be at his current status. When he does catch her with her boyfriend nearly in the act, Sun-Woo makes an interesting choice which puts him down the path of cleansing his soul.
A Bittersweet Life is not an epic film such as The Godfather or an inside-the-business film like Casino, but it knows how to play itself out in an operatic fashion with several powerhouse scenes. This is leavened with convincing drama, a couple of black comic moments not out of range of Quentin Tarantino, and a pathos which leaves the viewer with an acute flavour of the cocktail comprised of regret, passion, and a longing for what cannot be.
Rival gangs clash as a fitting backdrop to Sun-Woo's unmoored life, his conflict of emotions and diminishing set of choices available as he goes deeper into his own newly discovered needs. The film is gorgeously shot, beautifully scored and practically leaps of the screen with noirish intensity.
Not to be missed. Drinks at 8pm. Trailers and Showtime approximately 8:30pm

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


The year is 1991. On the TV, George Bush tells the American public that the "aggression will not stand". The Dude, aka Jeffrey Lebowski, an aging, slightly drug addled throwback to the 60s who loves to bowl is introduced by the films narrator as possibly the laziest man in Los Angeles (which puts him in the running for laziest man world-wide). Amusingly, after this sentence the narrator loses his train of thought.
The Dude buys some milk (for his ever present libation, the White Russian) from the grocery store while wearing bahama shorts and his bath-robe. The observative will notice he writes a cheque at the cashier for $0.69. Shortly after at this returning home, the Dude is assaulted by two thugs demanding the Million dollars that Jeffrey Lebowski's wife owes a local pornography producer. When they find out that this is the 'Dead-beat' Lebowski (unmarried, the toilet seat is up!), and not the rich Lebowski, they piss on his rug out of frustration.
At the bowling ally, the Dude tells his friends, an articulate oaf of a Vietnam vet who is a lot of a loose cannon, Walter, and a vacuous ex-surfer, Donnie, about his soiled rug. Donnie doesn't follow, but Walter cooks up the idea that the Dude should get the rich Lebowski to pay for the cleaning to his (urinated upon) rug, which "really tied the room together."
Thus begins an odyssey through the neighborhoods of Los Angeles, the most off the wall cast of characters from German nihilists, nymphomaniac trophy wives, feminist artists, fascist police chiefs, pornographers (and their henchmen), video artists, incapacitated TV show writers, and a Latino bowler named Jesus that has to be seen to be believed.

The Big Lebowski takes its structure from the Howard Hawks/Humphrey Bogart film, The Big Sleep (which had a plot so dense, even the writer was unsure of who killed one of the victims) and blending in Bubsy Berkeley style musical numbers (as acid-flashbacks naturally!) with all the hilarious goings-on for a guy who just wants his rug back.
But there is a point to all the madness, somehow the Coens manage to take a fascinating look at what it is like to be a man, and to have lived a meaningful life, and ultimately find your comfortable place in the universe. The Dude Abides.

I probably have more fun watching The Big Lebowski than any other film ever made (this is not hyperbole! For the record, several others have been shown at KBT including Ghost Busters, Bottle Rocket and The Ref, still others include A Fish Called Wanda, Clerks, Life of Brian and Dr. Strangelove). It still blows my mind how I missed this coming to the theatres in 1998 after the massive success the Coen's had with Fargo. To my shame, I remember seeing Rush Hour in the same multiplex and not even registering the film (I had a vague notion it was about bowling). Nonetheless, after I found out it was a Coen Brothers film, it had already left the theatres. Thus I was first at the video store when it finally appeared on VHS and from that point, I've probably seen it about 25 times (I purchased it on VHS and actually wore out the tape until it broke in my VCR!). The movie has spawned a regional series of Lebowski-Fests that have attracted several of the cast members which is a collection of Coen Brother regulars with a few excellent additions including an inspired performance by Jeff Bridges. The regulars: John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Peter Storemare, Joe Polito and John Turturro. The additions: Julianne Moore, Phillip Seymore Hoffman, Tara Reid and Sam Elliot.

I know how subjective comedy is, but I happen to think this is the best one ever made. Please join my celebration of this fantastic ode to cinema. Drinks @ 8, Trailers @ 8:30, showtime immediately to follow.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


There are films which are made to help adults try to visualize the world of a child and let them attempt for to regain (for a time) a fragment of lost innocence. This is one of those films.

Nobody Knows follows the lives of four children who manage (for a time) to get along by themselves in the cocoon of an apartment with only each other. Their single mother is out trying to woo a husband to better look after both them and her. She doesn't have the means to properly support them, and she does not send them to school - likely because of this. She sneaks three of the children into the appartment likely because it is too tiny for five people to live (the washing machine is on the balcony), and the land-lords wouldn't allow it. She disappears for weeks at a time, supposedly working and wooing, but more likely being boozed up. The children (12, 9, 7 and 5 years old, I'm guessing) somehow behave themselves, do the dishes, cook the meals and the oldest, Akira, pays the bills and does the grocery shopping.

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda focuses on the little things in extreme close up, to give the impression of seeing the world as someone small. A dangling hand, nail-polish spilled on the floor, a seed in a pot of dirt they are wonderous, and occasionally portentious. The few melodies in the film consist of only a simple collections of notes. The lighting is natural. The pace relaxed and care-free. It is an evocative way to make a film as tragic as this one, and very, very effective.

At some point, there is realization that the mother is not coming back for her own children. This doesn't prevent the children from behaving in a wistful and innocent manner, they have managed like this for most of thier lives. They continue, with Akira shouldering most of the adult responsibility, but the film still allows him to have moments as a 12 year old.

This is as close of a film to ever reach François Truffaut's The Four Hundred Blows. Like that film, scenes and action are familar to the real lives of people but also manages to crush clichéd and pat storytelling. The result is something both beautiful and haunting. You will not walk away from this film unchanged.

Come out and try a computer-less KBT. This film will be running off my DVD player onto the screen. There will be no trailers, and only stereo sound, but that is entirely fitting for this minimalist masterpiece. Drinks at 8pm, showtime at 8:30.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A LA FOLIE...PAS DU TOUT (He Loves Me...He Loves Me Not)

Here is a fascinating confection of a film, cotton candy laced with arsenic. A La Folie...Pas Du Tout (or it's Engish title of He Loves Me...He Loves Me Not) starts out as another glossy romantic adventure of Audrey Tautou in full Amélie Poulain mode, only a tad tackier. However, with a puzzle-box plot and some unusual narrative techniques, it ends up venturing down corridors not often explored in a bubbly romance.

Angélique (Taotou) loves Loïc (the superb Samuel Le Bihan who was also the lead in Les Pacte des Loups) enough that she can never quite stop from smiling, and this infectious charm rubs off on everyone around her. She can convince easily a florist to go against delivery policy with only a smile and have a single rose delivered because of true love. But Loïc is a married man, and is having trouble leaving his wife. That is OK, because Angélique is a patient woman, secure in her love for her man. They will meet in private, go to Florence for a surreptitious vacation until he works up the courage to dump his wife, or his wife finds out about their relationship. Letters and gifts abound while Angélique house-sits for the summer and pursues an Art scholarship. Things get bad when Loïc's wife gets pregnant to further bind Loïc to his matrimonial vows. What's a girl to do?

A La Folie...Pas Du Tout is a hard film to talk about without veering into spoiler territory. The facile summary would be to label it as the combined DNA of Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, He Said, She Said and Fatal Attraction. I've seen the concept of showing the same film twice from two different perspectives a couple times (He Said, She Said, Sliding Doors, Lola Rennt and a humorous episode of the X-Files guest starring Luke Wilson) but I can't say that I've seen this somewhat gimmicky technique used more effectively than by 27 year old director (at the time) Laetitia Colombani. Playing with truth and audience exepectation takes a delicate hand, and admittedly, some of the cinematic hocus-pocus is a bit flawed and the occasional plot hole rears up. But the film has a truck load of ambition and in any sort of wistful romantic film, that is worth quite a bit. A La Folie...Pas Du Tout mines the dark side of love, passion, and frankly, delusion, in an entertaining, delicately crafted and stylish package that is probably best not to take a 'first date' to (unless used in a sort of Seinfeld-esque test scenario).

Sony Pictures had a fabulous sense of humour releasing this film on Valentine's Day in 2003 and so close to the popular success of Jean Pierre Jeunet's film. Even taken away of that particular bit of meta-trickery the film is a solidly enjoyable viewing that would make a fascinating double bill with Yann Samuell's Jeux d'Enfants, which in hindsight, owes a lot to A La Folie...Pas Du Tout.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run) is a breezy exercise in style and kinetic energy. This film was a double expresso to lovers of foreign film in 1998 and made careers for the director (Tom Tykwer) and lead actress (Franka Potente). The movie takes place over a span of about 20 minutes, when Lola receives a call from her boyfriend who is in frantic need of 100,000 DM (yes this is pre-Euro) within the next half hour or the local crime syndicate is going to have more than words with him. Lola sizes up her options and does indeed begin running.
The film is incredibly inventive, if you want to get all the nuances you have to pay attention, as it clips along at a fast pace, connecting various dots and paths by flash backs, flash forwards, and the occasional flash sideways (or something like it). The film uses animation, still photos, split screen and digital video as short-hand so it doesn't have to slow down for even a microsecond.
All in all it is a fabulous piece of entertainment and cinema.

Come on out and enjoy this, even if you've seen it before. It will certainly shed some light on the "Linguo" episode of the Simpsons, and it shows the writers of that show are a savvy bunch. Drinks at 8pm. Showtime at 8:30 pm.