About Rob

Name: Rob W. Birthplace: Pittsburgh, USA Blood type: Unknown Likes: Cooked Greens, Remote Mountainsides Dislikes: Furniture, Heights, Smoking Skills: Aerobic endurance, Tea Drinking, Special Move "Bottomless Perogie Lotus Vortex"

Stirring the Ashes

Recently I stumbled upon a trailer for a soon-to-be-released Redux version of Wong Kar Wai’s heart-rending period romance cum magical martial arts epic Ashes of Time. It reminded me of my first viewing; it was in my late teens and I was overwhelmed and deeply shaken by the beauty of the film but could feel I was missing some of the core experiences needed to fully appreciate it. I’m looking forward to trying it again, the original next weekend and then maybe the Redux when it’s released in October.

Wong Kar Wai is an auteur known for weaving the quiet, emotional lives of his characters in and out and through each other, and for his control of atmosphere, narration and setting to create a realistic, intimate experience bordering on voyeurism. My favorite film of his is his first full length, Days of Being Wild, but the most acclaimed and influential are probably Chunking Express, In the Mood for Love, and Happy Together. Ashes of Time is unique in that it is his only period piece (until the future-set 2046), and his only film to employ any special effects, although they are all of a decidedly analog Mexican magical realist bent. Despite their prevalence in the trailers, the “action” takes a far-backseat to the character’s stories of regret, memory, and love lost. I suggest reading some of the IMDB comments for perspective.

This movie was a ridiculously long time in the making, so much so that Kar Wai took a break from it to write and direct Chunking Express, to “get his head straight”. From what I have read and remember it shows. It may not be very cohesive or on first viewing coherent, especially with the weaving, non-linear vignettes, but those who are willing to put forth a little effort will be doubly and doubly again rewarded by Kar Wai’s heartfelt and human ruminations on the connections that bind lovers together and their slowly twisting, constricting movements on the paths of memory as, with time, they move farther and farther apart.

-RW

Gold age, Silver age, Grime age

Here in Oakland, Dean has created some interesting new subsections that don’t exist at our Bloomfield store. He’s separated out 70′s Drama, 70′s Comedy, 70′s Thriller and 70′s Sci-Fi.

I’ve been slowly going through them, re-discovering the flavor of the last age that actors, writing and direction were king. The 1970s were a unique time in auteur movie making, producing a quantity of intelligent, full bodied cinema that stands against the hygenicised pop-hits of the eighties and 90s. The storylines meander more than we’re used to today, down paths more dangerous, more rewarding. The film stock’s gritty quality creates a natural, immediate atmosphere that connects you to the action in a way that digital post-production, with all it’s polish and perfection, fails miserably. And in the pre-blockbuster age the actor is always paramount. Characters are developed, nuanced and real, their interactions pulsing with charisma and connection that used to be the mark of Hollywood greats. In many ways it’s a much purer cinema than what is produced today.

My friend Ted joked that the new sections might as well be called “Best of”. Come down and see for yourself.

-RW

Foreign movies are better?

Right now I’m watching the amazing five part Yakuza Papers series by Fukasaku Kinji (1 2 3 4 5). I’ve been impressed with the way the actors inhabit their characters, so believable, every action adding to the overall realism of Fukasaku’s gritty gangster world. It seems most foreign movies have excellent performances, and I think this is mainly due to the worthwhile movies being separated from the chaff when studios decide what to export, but I wonder if it also has to do with a culture barrier. Can we, as Americans, not pick up on the little things that ring untrue in a French or Japanese actor’s performance? Can we not hear poorly delivered dialog because we don’t understand the natural rhythms of most foreign languages? I suppose it evens out with the enjoyable nuance we miss in poor subtitles and overdub, and the humor we don’t catch because it relies on cultural norms with which we’re not familiar.

Either way, I’m pretty sure Yakuza Papers is awesome.

New feature on DreamingAnt.com – Movie Reviews!

The web team have implemented a new “Movie Review” feature on DreamingAnt.com. Our website is already one of the best independent rental store sites I’ve seen, with a database searchable by title/director/actor/genre, movie descriptions, you can see which Dreaming Ant location has the movie you’re looking for, and you can see if the movie is in or out in real time. Now all members can review and rate all the movies in our database! Seriously! It’s like we’re a mini IMDB.com, but you can walk over to our brick-and-mortar and rent any movie you read amazing reviews on.

I think this new feature has the potential to make everyone’s dvd renting and viewing experience much more rewarding. The future may bring an in-store kiosk for easy reference, and maybe bonuses for customers who write the most, or most helpful, reviews, although these ideas aren’t finalized yet.

Rating and reviewing movies is pretty easy:

First, log in.  If you’ve never logged in to DreamingAnt.com before, follow the instructions under “Create new account”.  You’ll need the email address you gave us when you signed up for your membership..

Now that you’re signed in, you have two options. You can either click “Rate movies from your rental history” and bring up a page with multiple movies and a drop down box to rate each from 1 to 10, or you can click “View your rental history”. You can then click on any movie you’ve rented and click the button at the bottom that says “Review/Rate”. Type up your little Siskel/Ebert/Roeper, click submit, and congratulations: you’re a Dreaming Ant critic.

I hope everyone takes advantage of this amazing new feature. The feedback will help both you, the customers, get the most for your rental dollars, and us, the employees and owners, to better understand what our fellow Ant renters enjoy and supply you with more of that sweet, sweet celluloid honey.

-RW

Director Spotlight: Kitano “Beat” Takeshi

Better known as a comedian and game show host in his native Japan, actor and director Kitano Takeshi’s films have gained a substantial international art house and gangster aficionado following. He has cultivated a style unique among his contemporary directors, oscillating between playful, childlike innocence and explosive scenes of realistic violence. The result is an offbeat, life affirming atmosphere heavy with pathos, usually driven by the laconic performance of Kitano himself. The downbeat counterpart to the Miike Takashi’s gratuitous magical realist yakuza pictures, Kitano’s films offer a slower experience heavy with tension, and rich with emotions often lost in his contemporaries’ gunbattle epics. These are some of my favorites:

Violent Cop (1989): Kitano’s stripped to basics directorial debut. Stillness, misanthropy, and an odd naiveté explode periodically from Kitano’s detective Azuma. His personality bruises the people around him, police and criminal, like a blunt weapon. The world he occupies is a real-life Tokyo, complete with consequences and repercussions, far removed from the fantastic cinematic realms of Die Hard or John Woo’s Hard Boiled. Essential.

Sonatine (1993): Available as the second disk on Zatoichi (2006). A mid level yakuza boss travels to Okinawa to settle a dispute, but it soon becomes apparent that he has been sent there to die. The yakuza retreat to an abandoned beach house, passing the hours as pleasantly as they can under the unspoken knowledge of their inevitable deaths. The film is saturated with Kitano’s bittersweet atheistic nihilism, more powerful than in his other films as evidenced by his suicide attempt immediately after its release.

Brother (2000): His first release for American audiences. Kitano is an exiled yakuza who casually transforms his brother’s small time Los Angeles gang into an organized crime powerhouse. The translated-to-English dialog can seem stilted, its delivery cumbersome, but the oddness fades as the story gains momentum. Omar Epps’ friendship to Kitano’s “big brother” figure drives the second half of the film, lending a poignant weight to the unavoidable conclusion.

Also recommended: Fireworks, Kikujiro, Boiling Point, Zatoichi.

-RW

Bridget Fonda has a huge crush on Jet Li

Working at Dreaming Ant has its ups and downs when it comes to watching movies. Ups: watch whatever movie, without having to worry about wasting money, whenever, for as long or as many times as you want. Pretty good ups. Downs: BURNOUT. I watch a lot of movies. Too many sometimes. To give you an idea, when business was slow I’ve found myself half or fully watching four movies a day, more or less. You can imagine that although I love them, movies are no longer on the top of my list for every day post work activities, and neither is internet or computing. I think it’s called screen fatigue.

Anyways, now at work I don’t really face the screen a lot. I rarely watch a movie a day, if that. But I do a lot of listening to movies. More than anything else I listen to commentaries.

When you rent a movie you only have a couple days with it. I don’t think many people have the desire to watch the same movie two days in a row. I certainly don’t, and that’s why until now I didn’t listen to commentaries, ever. But let me let you in on a secret – COMMENTARIES ARE AWESOME. They tend to be closer to a book on tape than a movie. Half the time you have a director and an actor or two getting drunk, letting the anecdotes and jokes at each other’s expense flow in direct proportion to the beer for an hour or two (Big Trouble in Little China), and the other half they’re a director, writer or actor narrating their experience during filming, getting the film made, technical explanation (of creature effects in John Carpenter‘s The Thing), and their philosophy about the film and movie making in general (all of Sidney Lumet’s exceptional commentaries). In a way listening to them talk, and what they choose to talk about, is a mini autobiography of people you’ve known until now only as characters, voices and styles. The director of Shoot ‘Em Up is a Tarantino-level jackass (although the movie is great). Val Kilmer thinks he’s funnier than he really is (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). Vin Diesel is well spoken with a natural air of education. He’s a sci-fi nerd. Bridget Fonda, although she tries to cover it up, has a huge crush on Jet Li. He’s so handsome, and powerful, and professional, and quiet… and good looking, and fast, and he can kick things. And he’s good looking, and small and handsome (Kiss of the Dragon). Sometimes the creative forces behind a film are exposed as only mildly talented, but the film itself grows and solidifies out of a million milquetoast decisions into something unique, even great. Most of the time after you’ve heard the commentary, movies are better.

My advice for commentaries is don’t watch them right after the movie. Wait a day or two, and then while you’re writing emails or folding clothes or working in Photoshop or stuck inside for whatever reason, turn on the commentary track (usually under Special Features and sometimes accessible by flipping through the sound options with your remote), turn your back to the television, and listen. -rw

Hello Everybody

The rainy day in Oakland is giving me some spare time, so let me introduce myself. Rob W., 26, in the Oakland Ant on Tuesdays and Sundays. I just ate some Chinese food with a gross black egg in it. In a couple of weeks we’re going to start handing out fliers with movie reviews written by your favorite Dreaming Ant employees. I’ll give you a preview with my (slightly expanded) review of Yoji Yamada’s The Twlight Samurai.

The Twlight Samurai
Directed by Yoji Yamada, Starring Hiroyuki Sanada and Rie Miyazawa, 2002

Iguchi, a poor, slightly disheveled widower and a beurocrat of low rank, is viewed by his peers as a harmless outsider. He’s happy to live his life humbly caring for his senile mother and two young daughters. By chance he comes across a childhood love fleeing an abusive marriage, and later finds his life threatened by a call to duty he cannot resist. This is not a tale of crashing blades and bloody warriors, but rather a low key and powerful drama of a man pulled in opposite directions by the loyalties that define his life. The film is poured through beautifully calm cinematography, scenes filling with natural lighting and subdued colors, the story unfolding quietly, even gently, with sparks of humor and excitement scattered throughout. The mood reflects the calm, humble mindset of Iguchi as he meets both hardship and joy. Unlike some films I’ve seen recently with fast cuts and jittery action, The Twilight Samurai left me feeling like my eyes had drank a refreshing glass of cool water. A highly acclaimed film recommended for those who appreciate storytelling that captures you through content, substance and delivery rather than explosions, volume and special effects. If you enjoy this I highly recommend Yamada’s similar historical drama The Hidden Blade.