Question of the Week: What’s your favorite contemporary black & white films?

This week’s question is inspired by Sin City: A Dame to Kill For screening Tuesday night. Boy it’s been ages, almost a decade to be exact, since the first film was released.


To be honest with you, I don’t remember much about the story but the visual certainly is striking. The graphic novel came to live onto the screen, the term ‘graphic’ here has double meaning as the violence truly was quite explicit. Yet the stylish way it was filmed somehow made it somewhat more palatable if you will, enhancing that fantasy element to the noir story. So I kind of expect more of a visual feast with this sequel and not much else, but who knows it might surprise me.

So it got me thinking about other contemporary black/white films released in the past decade. Naturally the first thing that came to mind is Schindler’s List, but that was over twenty years ago. If we’re looking at just in 2000s decade alone, there are nearly 250 films in either partial or entirely done in black & white (per Wiki). Here are a some of beautifully-shot B&W films I’ve seen just in the past 10 years:

Memento (2001)
Angel-A (2005)
Sin City (2005)
The Artist (2005)
Caesar Must Die (2012)
Nebraska (2013)

There are some recently-released ones I still want to see like Control, Persepolis, Blancanieves, Much Ado About Nothing, Frances Ha, Ida, etc. Hopefully I’ll get to those soon.

So what’s YOUR favorite modern Black & White films you saw recently?

Indie Review: Caesar Must Die (2012)


Inmates at a high-security prison in Rome prepare for a public performance of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”

I have to admit I haven’t seen too many Shakespeare’s plays in my day but even if I did, this would probably stand as the most unique of all of them. That’s because it’s set in Italy’s Rebibbia Prison and performed by its inmates. Directing brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani was apparently inspired by a prison production of Dante’s Divine Comedy which prompted them to go back to that facility and work with its resident theater director Fabio Cavalli. Mr. Cavalli plays himself in the film and the performers in this Julius Caesar play are all convicts or former convicts [per NPR]

The film began with the conclusion of the play, which gets a standing ovation from the audience. Then it goes into flashback mode to several months earlier to show us how the play was constructed. The film switches from color to stark black and white, not sure why but perhaps to contrast that with the actual performance itself. The mood of the film is dark and unsettling, though the audition part is quite lively and at times hilarious. During the audition, we learn their names, where they’re from and the serious crimes that got them to this high security prison, which includes drug trafficking and even murder. The rest of the film capture the rehearsal process, which takes place in various parts of the prison—the corridors, cells, courtyard—as they’re being watched by the other inmates. At times during the rehearsal, one of them would ‘break’ out of character and reflect on his past.


The entire time I was watching this I kept pondering how the inmates must’ve been feeling. I was struck by the contrast of how liberating it was for them to be able to perform and express themselves, but yet they’re constantly reminded of their confined lives. I think the striking dichotomy is what makes this film inherently intriguing and it kept me engaged despite the rather slow pace. The finale is definitely a rousing one. The inmates are ecstatic and jubilant seeing how well-received their performance was and it felt so refreshingly real that we can’t help but being happy for them. Then comes the contrast that each and every single one of those performers must return to their cell. It’s heart-wrenching stuff.

I was struck by how good these inmates are as actors. Even during rehearsals, with the way the scenes are filmed, it’s hard to separate them from their characters. It’s said that the performers could use their own Italian dialects/accents for their own character, but since I don’t understand any Italian, I don’t really notice the difference. The Caesar assassination scene, which I’ve seen numerous times in TV shows and films, has a dramatic impact unlike any other. I think the actors playing Caesar, Brutus and Marc Antony stand out the most, but among the three, Salvatore Striano as Brutus is my favorite. I guess he’s the most experienced actor of the bunch as he has also starred in Gomorrah.

Caesar Must Die is certainly one of the most unique films I’ve seen, both in concept and execution. It’s definitely worth the hype and merits the Berlinale’s Golden Bear win.

4 out of 5 reels

Has anyone seen this film yet? If not, what are your thoughts of this concept?

Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF) – April 11-28

MSPIFFlogo I’m so glad to live in a city where arts & culture thrive and are celebrated year round. Well, the biggest film event of the state, The Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival today or MSPIFF for short, opens today! I’ll be picking up my Press Pass later this afternoon. Thanks to the Festival Coordinator (Eric) for the prompt response in approving my application! 😀 Check out the official website for the full lineup selections for the 2013 Festival, which features regional premieres of international and local independent feature-length and short films representing over 60 countries. The Festival, presented by the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul, runs April 11 through 28 on all five screens of the St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 SE Main Street, Minneapolis. Here’s what will be showing for their Special Presentations:

Opening Night: The Angels’ Share • UK Closing Night: In a World… • USA Centerpiece Special Presentation: Caesar Must Die • Italy Centerpiece Special Presentation: Midnight’s Children • India Disconnect • USA The East • USA The Kings of Summer • USA Kon-Tiki • Norway/Denmark/UK Low Movie (How to Quit Smoking) • USA Mud • USA The Reluctant Fundamentalist • India/Pakistan/USA Twenty Feet from Stardom • USA Unfinished Song [Song For Marion] • UK What Maisie Knew • USA

MSPIFF_scheduleWow, quite a lineup, isn’t it? Some of them have won film festival awards from around the country, for example, Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share won the Jury Prize at Cannes and Caesar Must Die won the Golden Bear at 2012 Berlinale. I’ve just downloaded the schedule which is quite handy. You can download the Block Schedule here. I’ve perused the schedule and I’m definitely going to try to see at least 10 films in the next three weeks, here are some I’m hoping to catch:

  • I, Anna
  • Caesar Must Die
  • Mud
  • Unfinished Song (Song for Marion)
  • Disconnect
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  • The East
  • Kon-Tiki
  • The Hunt
  • In a World…

I’m sure there’ll be more that caught my eye as I go through the film descriptions on their massive FILMS page. Well, last night, I had the pleasure of watching Ken Loach’s latest feature film The Angels’ Share ahead of my interview with its screenwriter Paul Laverty this afternoon. Here’s the premise of the film:

Narrowly avoiding jail, new dad Robbie vows to turn over a new leaf. A visit to a whisky distillery inspires him and his mates to seek a way out of their hopeless lives.

AngelsSharePoster My friend Mark wrote a beautiful review of this film and I love what he wrote about it…

Loach still has the power of gritty authenticity and on a few occasions he displays that but like the beverage they are concerned about in the film, it has a nice balance; it manages to be both rough and smooth… A slight change of pace from Ken Loach and more upbeat than fans of his will be accustomed to but he manages the understatement very well and delivers one of his most feel-good films to date.

I absolutely agree with Mark that The Angels’ Share has a nice balance of being rough and smooth, it’s a feel-good film without being unnecessarily over-sentimental. The dialog is witty and hilarious at times, and the acting by mostly-unknown young actors are very natural and convincing. Suffice to say, it’s a GREAT pick for an opening film for MSPIFF! Hope you’ll check it out when it’s playing in an indie theater near you.

Paul Laverty [right] with Ken Loach on the set of The Angels’ Share
I’m so looking forward to my 10-minute chat with Mr. Laverty later this afternoon, though I wish I had seen more of his films. He has done some fantastic work, mostly with Loach, most notably The Wind that Shakes The Barley and Looking for Eric, both of which have won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and also the British Independent Film Award. I sure hope the thunderstorm—yep you read it correctly, we’ve got lightning AND snow last night and this morning, [sigh]—dies down a bit in the afternoon, but this snow ain’t gonna stop me!! I’ll definitely be blogging about the interview, so stay tuned 😀

Have you seen any of these… or does any of these films interest you?