A rough and unsparing film.
Steven Boone has written film criticism for over 20 publications in print and online, including The Village Voice, The Star-Ledger, Time Out NY and Salon.com.
Boone is a writer at large for the website Capital New York and a contributor to three popular blogs: Fandor's Keyframe, Indiewire's Press Play and Slant Magazine's The House Next Door. His experimental video essays blend film commentary, memoir and documentary in a provocative DIY style.
A piece on the Milestone Films releases of The Connection and In the Land of the Head Hunters.
A report from the macing incident at yesterday's AFI screening.
Steven Boone returns with highlights of the just-wrapped 20th Annual Los Angeles Film Festival.
An introduction to and examination of Kevin B. Lee's "Transformers: The Premake."
A preview of the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival.
What changes when "Star Wars" is dubbed in Navajo? More than you might think.
Follow the goings on at Ebertfest (April 17 - 21, 2013) with the official festival blog by RogerEbert.com contributor Steven Boone.
"The Life and Death of a Porno Gang" is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Synapse films.
Cinema, that traditionally aristocratic medium, has always found unlikely ways to commiserate with the working man and the poor. In America, King Vidor's "The Crowd" showed us a man trapped on the treadmill of lower middle class survival in the big city. A few years later, Frank Borzage's "Man's Castle" gave us Spencer Tracy as a street hustler who learns that Depression-era struggle is no excuse to turn his back on a chance at family life. It's the same in every country, every era: Societies that place the bulk of their economic burden upon the low man's shoulders often send that man scrambling in the opposite direction of happiness, in the name of happiness. A random spin of the world cinema wheel will turn up great directors whose finest work touches on this phenomenon: Ken Loach, Ousmane Sembene, the Dardenne brothers, Ulrich Seidl, the Italian neorealists, the blacklisted Americans, and so on.
In Takashi Miike's "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai," power and tradition crush good people, just as they did in Masaki Kobayashi's 1962 version. Both films are expressions of social rebellion, but where Kobayashi's conveyed a spirit of righteous vengeance that anticipated the course of its revolutionary decade, Miike's is more plaintive and despairing. There are struggles, but nobody wins, ever. Weak and cowardly people who happen to be tending the levers of power simply carry out meaningless rituals that destroy lives.
As in the '62 film, through flashbacks we get a good, long look at the lives an inflexible Samurai code has destroyed. With the elegance and shyness of an Ozu domestic drama, Miike renders a family formed under bittersweet circumstances: A poor Samurai dies, leaving his son in the care of his old war buddy, a fellow widower with a daughter of his own. Raising these children in early 15th Century peacetime means drawing from meager earnings as an umbrella maker rather than as a soldier of fortune. Hanshiro Tsugumo (Ebizo Ichikawa) might have been tough on the battlefield, but he imparts a gentle nature, not a warrior's stoicism, to the boy, Motome Chiziiwa (Eita). Motome becomes a schoolteacher and, inevitably, marries Hanshiro's daughter Miho (played as an adult by Hikari Mitsushima, the radiant star of Sion Sono's Miike-like masterpiece, "Love Exposure"). He fulfills both obligations with his father's patient, nurturing ways.
"The Moth Diaries" is now available via IFC On Demand, Sundance Now, iTunes and other outlets. It opens in theaters April 20th.
A secret co-star of "The Moth Diaries" is cinematographer Declan Quinn. He brings to this tale of supernatural incidents at a girl's boarding school a palette of navy, teal and black to match the school uniforms, and pale flesh tones out of Vermeer. No great innovation there, but quite striking in the service of the story. Director Mary Harron makes sure these images don't overwhelm the drama by casting young ladies with powerful presences.
Model-actress Lily Cole's broad face and wide set eyes are terrifyingly beautiful, or maybe just terrifying. Either way, her turn as Ernessa, the mysterious new girl on campus, gives the "The Moth Diaries" a more solid reason for being than its familiar, "Twilight"-tinged plot. She's a head taller than the rest of the girls, striking an improbable balance between willowy and robust. Her famously red hair is dyed a deep brown (or covered in a masterfully applied wig), providing a stark frame for that porcelain doll face. In one scene, without the aid of special effects, her fleshy yet spindly arms seem to stretch out of proportion, like some Tim Burton creation. (It's easy to imagine Burton tripping over himself to add her to his gallery of living 19th century humanoids, alongside Lisa Marie, Christina Ricci and Helena Bonham-Carter.) The mystery: Is Ernessa some kind of vampire, witch, ghost or... what?