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Police Beat (2005)
Visually Striking and Poetic
Really one of the most beautiful low-budget films I've ever seen.
The lead actor is very compelling, and the idea of observing American life through an authority figure who is also an immigrant is really striking. And occasionally very funny.
The film as a whole has elements of David Lynch, as well as Linklater's "Slacker." But the sensibility is really not well described through reference to other films. It's really a one-of-a-kind piece of work.
The news in the final credits that all the incidents portrayed in the film were taken from actual police files was strangely disappointing, but when I later learned that the co-writer was the author of a "Police Beat" column in the Seattle alternative weekly, it made total sense.
Honestly, some of the images here are just absolutely singular. You've never seen anything quite like it.
Congratulations to all involved.
Fast Food Nation (2006)
Mournful but true and compelling
I saw this last night at a screening. Watching it was an interesting process. I went from finding it a little didactic (and comparing the border crossing scenes with the similar scenes in Ken Loach's "Bread and Roses") to slowly finding myself overwhelmed by the sheer sadness of it all.
I think there are some easy jokes and moments early on that seem unnecessary -- a kid spitting in a burger; an executive saying "there's sh*t in the meat" to explain the issue to any dummies who might be in the audience -- but as the film unfolds, all the characters get time to develop and unfold.
And as they do, I found myself feeling terrified for all of them. These are lives that don't make it to the screen often, except perhaps in Ken Loach movies. But what makes this film special is that Linklater is no Ken Loach. He doesn't artificially ramp up the drama of small lives. They have enough drama already.
One of my favorite details in the movie was the sound of Amber's car as she drives off to school. It sounds dangerously close to breaking down, and we know from watching her home life and work schedule what that will mean for her. "Fast Food Nation" is full of details like this.
Overall, the film allows the viewer to invest in all the characters at an unhurried pace. Which is what's truly compelling about it. The political message, while important, isn't what makes this cinema. If anything, it is the weaker aspect of the film. But the human stories are so strong, that it doesn't matter. At least to me. I just found myself very moved by this. Which is what I'm looking for in any film.
Encounter Point (2006)
I've seen my share of documentaries on this subject, and even toyed with making one myself. But I've never seen one that was this fresh and vital. Mostly it has to do with the characters featured in the film. On both sides, the people in "Encounter Point" are just exceptional human beings who make you glad to be alive.
In recent years I've been wearied by the endless twists and turns that day to day events take in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But "Encounter Point" helps to show that there are stronger undercurrents, driven by people who are both intelligent and committed. And watching it gives you hope that there could be a different way to approach the debate than through series of historical arguments and high-pitched recriminations.
Mostly, though, it was just a pleasure to spend time with optimistic, funny, righteous people who made me really care about their situations. Thanks to the filmmakers for bringing them to me.
Shanghai Knights (2003)
Sometimes rises to the level of Buster Keaton
I can't quite believe it, but there are sequences in "Shanghai Knights" that are as intricate, hilarious, and graceful as any scene in a Buster Keaton film. The plot is disposable, but Jackie Chan is in rare form, and the creativity of his physical gags seems particularly developed this time out. Owen Wilson is equally enjoyable although he's basically doing nothing except giving off a tremendous raffish charm and good humor. The fact is, everything he says in this movie is funny. Some of it is laugh out loud, some just makes you smile. But this is one of the best times I've had at the movies in quite a while.
Fucking Åmål (1998)
Moodysson is some kind of genius
This is my new favorite movie. I got the DVD for Christmas and I've watched it twice since then. It has the single best feel for teenage life I've ever seen in a film. It's all so loose and natural. And the love story is so touching. What amazed me on the second time was how essential every scene is. There's not one wasted moment in this entire film. And not one false note. What other movie features a girl menacing her would-be boyfriend with a toilet brush? If you like awkward, true, and really emotional stories, this is your film. Also, check out "Tillsammens," ("Together") which is just as good.
Buffalo '66 (1998)
After all the time I spent checking the shelf at my local video store waiting for this mess of a movie to be in so I could finally rent it, I'm flabbergasted to discover how bad it is. Who has been renting it and why? It starts promisingly, but as soon as the characters begin to talk, the whole thing falls apart. There's not a recognizable emotion or believable moment in it. The acting is uniformly awful. I'm not able to really explain how bad it is, but I liked Jonathan Rosenbaum's review, which can be reached by going to the external reviews link. If you are, like me, someone who heard for years how visionary and unusual this film was, don't waste your time on it. Yes it's unusual, but that's not always a good thing.
Mansfield Park (1999)
Outstanding adaptation reveals the underbelly of Empire lifestyle
Patricia Rozema, whose "When Night Is Falling" is one of the great unknown films of the 1990s, has turned her hand to adapting Jane Austen. But unlike any of the previous contemporary film versions ("Sense and Sensibility," "Persuasion," "Emma," etc.), "Mansfield Park" has both a fierce awareness of where the wealth on display in the film comes from, and the moral implications of these facts for her drama. This is the only film from this period to contextualize the emotional lives of its characters with issues like slavery and genuine poverty.
One of the best lines in the film comes Fanny returns home from Mansfield Park to her desperately poor family because she does not love the man who has proposed to her. Her mother sneaks into her bedroom late one night and tells her, "Remember, dear. I married for love." It's the kind of moment that none of the other Austen adaptations would have known what to do with. But it is part of this film's subversive humor and trenchant social critique, and it gets the biggest laugh from the audience.
The film's deft handling of the issue of slavery is also noteworthy. Austen's characters make much more sense given the full social context in which they lived. Harold Pinter, the playwright, is powerful and terrifying in the role of Sir Thomas, the patriarch of Mansfield Park. The confrontations between him and Fanny are truly mesmerizing.
This is a great and powerful film, made with intelligence and moral sophistication. It's also wickedly funny. A great piece of entertainment for the heart and mind.
Three Kings (1999)
Outstanding mixture of shocking humor and edge-of-your seat action.
"Three Kings" is a movie that takes the audience into areas that are completely unsafe, and drags it out alive the other side. The experience is terrifying, but the rewards are more emotionally satisfying than any other Hollywood film this year. Mark Wahlberg gives a fine performance, as does Ice Cube and George Clooney. The film is a scathing indictment of American indifference and ignorance about the rest of the world, and yet delivers its message in the cinematic equivalent of a nerf football bomb. I have no idea how anyone convinced Warner Brothers to cough up $50 million for this vision of the Gulf War, but I'm extremely grateful that they did. Highly recommended.