Category Archives: Film

Napoleon Dynamite dance

This was from my time at school – a dance show where I made a surprise appearance as Napoleon Dynamite.

Funniest part of it to me was that the school was ~45% international students. The U.S. students thought it was hilarious, the internationals had no idea what was happening and complemented me after for my “interesting dance.”

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Favorite Foreign Directors

To follow my previous post on the domestic directors, I thought I’d mention my favorite foreign directors (and some example films) that I’ve followed for a while now. There were many to pick from, this is just a first approximation. Notice: many of these have now made English-language movies (after the quality of their craft was recognized).

Top Foreign Directors

Curing My Ignorance of Domestic Directors

Like many, I love movies. Yet, I remember a gathering that I proclaimed this to a group of friends and another film buff and I got talking about movies and directors. I quickly became embarrassed – although I knew quite a bit about foreign films and their directors, I didn’t know who directed many of my favorite domestic films. Tail between legs, I committed to update my knowledge on domestic films and the directors that I didn’t know I loved. Here are the results – 10 of my favorite domestic directors:

Top 10 Domestic Directors

As you see, I’ve tried to justify their selection with ~3 iconic movies (at least in my opinion) by each.

You’ll likely notice the omission of a few very popular and obvious American directors from the above 10. In my mind these include Spielberg (Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Saving Private Ryan, Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Lincoln, etc.), Scorsese (The Departed, Goodfellas, Raging Bull, etc.), and perhaps Jackson (all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films) or Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, Gran Torino). Why? Well, (not a great reason, but most likely,) I admit to wanting to be a bit different, and the above directors are not putting pumping out huge blockbusters all the time and deserve more recognition.

Current favorite film source: Korea

Likely akin to most lovers of foreign films, I’ve gone through my country phases (Italian -> French -> Spanish -> Latin American…) but most recently, I’ve been impressed with the masterpieces coming out of South Korea.  Admittedly, they aren’t for everyone (they are quite violent, gory, dark, depressing), but the cinematography, mood, and plot twists surpass any individual country’s output in the 00’s (especially adjusted for output).

I’ve scoured the internet for articles celebrating this recent explosion of quality cinema coming from Korea, but most are dated and cite movies from an era before all of my favorites existed.  About ten years back, there was enthusiasm for films like “My Sassy Girl” (shamed to admit, I have yet to get my hands on a copy – Netflix doesn’t carry anymore).  The Koreans deserves recognition and attention for their vastly improved and more recent work.

If you’re new to the Korean film scene, (or are only accustomed to older titles), let me help get you started:

Start with Chan-Wook Park’s films (the first three comprise his revenge trilogy, Oldboy being a required introduction to the genre)

  • Oldboy – mysteriously released from private imprisonment for 15 years, Odaisu has 5 days to figure out the motivation of his captors.
  • Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance – Mute and deaf Ryu is willing to do whatever it takes to save his dying sister
  • Lady Vengeance – Accused of murdering children, shy Geum-ja seeks elaborate revenge on the true perpetrator
  • Joint Security Area – North and South Korean border guards develop a forbidden friendship
  • I did not like his most recent title: Thirst

More recent titles:

  • Memories of Murder – detectives attempt to track down a serial killer
  • The Man from Nowhere – Inadvertently caught in a conflict between his neighbor and local gangsters, Cha is thrust into a fight he didn’t want
  • I Saw the Devil – A cat and mouse game between a rouge detective and the man who killed his wife
  • The Chaser – when his girls start disappearing, a pimp is forced to track down the source of their seeming departure
  • Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring – a beautiful and serene film (unlike ALL of the others) about a boy’s childhood lessons and eventual return to a monk’s floating house.
  • Mother – Out to liberate her mentally challenged son, an elderly woman seeks the truth, but is it more than she can handle?
  • A Tale of Two Sisters – are these recently released sisters truly crazy or the victims of something more sinister…

…And many of these are available for instant play on Netflix (but make sure not to watch a dubbed version – ruins any foreign film)

Caveat: the downsides

These movies are graphic and unforgiving – those with weak stomachs or that shy away from dark themes need not apply.  Most Americans want their movies to end on a positive note, all the outstanding plot strings tied down.  If you fall into this category, you are destined for disappointment.

Moreover, however surprising the plot twists, the general themes of these movies tend to be VERY similar – murder, revenge, some action, and characters from the darkest corners of society.  Obviously, be prepared to read subtitles and patient enough for movies that start slowly and build (rather than come charging out of the gate).

New Netflix Design = Pretty & Horrible.

(Or in geek-speak: UI at the cost of UX)

I am quite upset with the recently released Netflix redesign(s).  I use both online and PS3 versions, and have to admit, the new UI is sexier.  It’s sleek, intuitive, and attractive… but removes many of the core functionality I used!  (i.e. improved user interface at the cost of user experience)

The changes that have me in a tizzy:

  1. Removed the list view option (esp. web version)
  2. Only show movies in a scrolling horizontal image format – similar to apple’s ‘cover flow’ view (esp. PS3 version)
  3. Taken away the social aspect (ok, this happened a couple versions back)
  4. Hard to add movies to instant or queue from the scroll-over description bubble

All together, these changes make it harder to find the best movies since you can’t sort based on star ratings or rely on users with similar tastes to discover non-mainstream gems.  Besides access to hard to find movies, this was a core value proposition for me.

Given my druthers, there would be additional filtering options in a list view.  Yes, the bland & often ugly spreadsheet view is nonetheless highly functional).  I love sexy designs…but not at the expense of usability.  Aspire to attain both.

 

UPDATE: Now with the announced increased pricing plans and multiple PS3 service interruptions over the past month – I am triply perturbed…

Netflix Streaming Movie Recommendations

The best movies available for instant play

As much as I love Netflix, navigating it’s streaming content can be difficult, even with its great recommendation engine. I often hear people complain about the ‘lack of quality films available for instant view,’ and I completely disagree. You just have to know where to look. As a partly self-serving effort, (since I often make similar lists for friends), here is a list of quality instant view movies currently available:

Disclaimer: movies offered in streaming tend to change frequently, so I can’t guarantee these are available when you read this…

Title Year Notes
Searching for Bobby Fischer 1993 Heartwarming story of a chess prodigy’s struggle with balancing a childhood and maintaining a competitive edge
Balzac & the Little Chinese Seamstress 2002 Two Chinese students are exiled to the mountainous country to be re-educated, yet fall in love and trick the village into a bit of culture
Man on Wire 2008 Documentary of a crazy Frenchman who tight-rope walked between the world trade center buildings
A Very Long Engagement 2004 French romance/war drama that maintains the quirks of the directors’ other movie: Amelie
Together 2002 Young violinist pressured by his dad is befriended by an escort; heartwarming.
The Motorcycle Diaries 2004 Story of Che’s travels through South America
Please Vote for Me 2007 An election at a Chinese elementary school gets quite competitive; documentary.
The Kite Runner 2007 Story of a childhood and return to a turbulent Afghanistan to find a childhood friend
Whale Rider 2003 A young Maori girl refuses to abide by her tribes chauvinistic rules; heartfelt.
Dances with Wolves 1990 Civil war era pioneer who befriends Indians and wolves alike…
The Secret in Their Eyes 2010 Suspense around a string of murders & unexpressed romance recounted
Nobody Knows 2005 Kids abandoned in Tokyo to fend for themselves
Sin Nombre 2009 Epic journey to the states to flee the gang he’s left behind and avoid immigration police
Talk to Her 2002 A scandalous tale of two unconscious women and the men that care for them
The Overture 2005 Music rivalries abound (South Asian xylophone-esc instrument) while a boy seeks to find his place
Paradise Now 2005 Two Palestinian boys struggle with their orders to commit suicide bombings
The Beautiful Country 2004 Tracks the tragic story of a couple South Asian illegal immigrants
The Edukators 2005 Young rebels are confronted with deep questions as their pranks accidentally escalate…
Let the Right One In 2008 The sweetest and creepiest vampire / kid love story…
Just Another Love Story 2007 Mystery & suspense with a dash of love
Boys Don’t Cry 1999 The struggles of a lesbian trying to understand her self and find love
The Return 2003 Two Russian brothers end up on an island with their dangerous father
A Prophet 2009 Gangsters fight over a Turkish immigrant who is willing to go as far as needed to survive
Tell No One 2006 French murder mystery
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days 2007 Harsh realism in this Eastern European film about abortion
Syriana 2005 Expresses the problems of the Middle East & America from many perspectives

UPDATE: movies I missed or were recently added:  Malena,  Constant Gardner,  Cinema Paradiso

Favorite Flicks

Some of my favorite movies, so you know where I am coming from:

(tried to pick something for everyone…)

Movie

Description  (~Improved IMDB)

The Lives of Others  (2007)

In 1984 East Berlin, an agent of the secret police, conducting surveillance on a writer and his lover, finds himself becoming increasingly absorbed by their lives.   German; Thriller

Central Station  (1998)

An emotive journey of a former school teacher, who writes letters for illiterate people, and a young boy, whose mother has just died, in search for the father he never knew.  Brazilian; Drama

Cinema Paradiso  (1988)

A filmmaker recalls his childhood, when he fell in love with the movies at his village’s theater and formed a deep friendship with the theater’s projectionist. Italian; Romance/Drama

Amores Perros  (2000)

A horrific car accident connects three stories, each involving characters dealing with loss, regret, and life’s harsh realities, all in the name of love.  Mexican; Thriller/Drama

Searching for Bobby Fischer  (1993)

A child chess prodigy struggles with the idea that he must harden himself in order to become a champion like the famous but unlikable Bobby Fischer.  Drama

Primer  (2004)

Fledgling entrepreneurs, knowing that there’s something bigger and more innovative than the error-checking devices they’ve built, wrestle over their new invention.  A low budget movie that is able to interestingly capture the problems with time travel.  SciFi/Drama

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress  (2002)

Two well-off youths (a violinist and dentist) sent for a Maoist “re-education” in the mountains fall in love with the village tailor’s granddaughter and teach her to read classical literature.  Chinese; Drama

The Color of Paradise  (1999)

A kind blind boy, waits for his dad to pick him up for summer vacation.  Wanting little to do with him, his father prefers that he stays at the school for the winter vacation.  Iran; Drama

Talk to Her  (2002)

Two men share an odd friendship while they care for their girlfriends (a bullfighter and ballerina) who are both in deep comas.  Spanish; Drama

Beautiful Boxer  (2005)

Real life story of a Muay Thai boxer who underwent a sex change operation to become a woman. The movie chronicles her life from a young boy who likes to wear lipstick and wear flowers to her sensational career as kickboxer.  Thai; Drama

Oldboy  (2003)

After being kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years, Oh Dae-Su is released, only to find that he must find his captor in 5 days. Strong themes (messed up!) but beautifully done.  Korean; Thriller/Mystery with hints of romance.

Amelie  (2001)

Innocent, lonely and naïve, Amelie develops her own sense of justice, deciding to help those around her and along the way, discovers love.  A whimsical and colorful film oozing French culture.  French; Romance

Maria Full of Grace  (2004)

A pregnant Colombian teenager becomes a drug mule to make some desperately needed money for her family.  Colombian; Drama

Rounders  (1998)

A law student man is a reformed gambler who must return to playing big stakes poker to help a friend pay off loan sharks.  Drama/Thriller

Sex and Lucia  (2002)

Various lives converge on an isolated island, all connected by an author whose novel has become inextricably entwined with his own life.  Spanish; Drama/Romance

Beijing Bicycle  (2002)

A seventeen-year-old country boy working in Beijing as a courier has his bicycle stolen, and finds it with a schoolboy his age who has come to depend on the bike.  Chinese; Drama

Gattaca  (1997)

In a future where applicants are judged on the perfection of their genes, a genetically inferior man attempts to assumes the identity of another in order to pursue his lifelong dream of space travel.  Sci Fi/Drama

Paradise Now  (2005)

Two childhood friends are recruited for a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.  The film depicts the doubts and tribulations as they prepare to execute the plan.  Palestinian/Israeli; Thriller/Drama

Children of Heaven  (1999)

Zohre’s shoes are gone; her older brother Ali lost them.  They come up with the idea to share one pair of shoes. Will the plan succeed?  Iran; Drama

The Sea Inside  (2004)

The real-life story of Spaniard Ramon Sampedro, who fought a 30 year campaign in favor of euthanasia and his right to die.  Spanish; Drama

My Neighbor Totoro  (1988)

When two girls move to the country to be near their ailing mother, they have adventures with the wondrous forest spirits who live nearby.  Animated/Child

Why Film?

 

Another general topic that I have even less qualifications to speak authoritatively on…

Ok, who doesn’t like the movies?

That being said, I try to stay away from the mainstream blockbusters, which, although I find to be exciting and visceral, seem generally void of any real emotional connection.  I tend to be drawn to foreign, independent and documentary films that don’t just tell you a story about characters & events, but slowly put you in uncomfortable & unfamiliar shoes.

Especially after graduating (correction: surviving) undergrad, I sunk my teeth into as many foreign films as I could get my hands on.  Being a consultant – the only time I had to spare was on countless flights where I was looking to unwind.

An avid Netflix user & evangelist (shout out to my buddies at Foundation Capital who were early investors) with about 2,000 movies watched & rated, I’ve doled out one too many recommendations to family and friends to add to their queue.

As you’ll see in following posts, I consider film a passion of mine and love to help others discover and experience new favorites.   I start by posting some of my favorite movies, but please don’t hesitate to recommend me some in return!