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Ethnic Notions (1986)
Fascinating look at the nuances of harmful stereotypes
A nicely subtle parsing of the stereotypes of African-Americans that have dominated popular culture in America since the early days of slavery. The commentary on the evolution of types, and the cultural motivations for the creation of caricatures like the laughing Sambo or the asexual Mammy, is particularly interesting. Both an invaluable historical documentary and an insightful commentary on the larger impact of racist, harmful depictions in popular culture on the people they're intended to ridicule and belittle. Derisory caricatures of blacks have both inspired and justified (and helped to make legal) racism and racial violence.
Die Niklashauser Fart (1970)
Fassbinderian brilliance, way ahead of its time (for him).
One of Fassbinder's first films, 'The Niklashausen Journey' might be the most explicitly political the filmmaker would ever get. Once again - as with all his earlier work that I've seen - Godard's influence is palpable, particularly the messy mythologizing he applied to revolutionaries in 'Weekend' (although from what I've read about Straub-Huillet and other first generation of filmmakers from the New German Cinema, the influences extend much farther beyond that). 'Niklashausen' is a scathing critique of both political radicals and the society that produces them. Unlike Godard, Fassbinder makes this a very specific society, a very German society. The movie draws very clear parallels between religion and revolution, questions both the means and ends of revolutionary violence, suggests similarities between this uprising and the one led by Hitler several decades earlier - and it completely dismisses the ruling class as worthless, absurd fools quick to devastation when their enemies are involved. It works on the viewer in unexpected ways, building on our empathy with the revolutionary cause, while nearly condemning the whole movement, to make us truly care about enacting change - it is not as depressingly claustrophobic as the summary would have you believe. Without the usual melodrama to carry the film along, it does feel like an emotionally distant version of Fassbinder's later films like 'In A Year of 13 Moons' or 'Querelle.' It is difficult to deny that the film is formally and structurally brilliant, however, and of immediate interest to anyone who wants to see yet another side of a genius manifesting itself for the first time, in one of his more fascinating experiments.
Bacheha-Ye aseman (1997)
Severely overrated sentimental fluff.
In a sea of beautiful masterpieces from Iran, somehow this piece of drek got snapped up for the kind of distribution and attention that dozens of other films deserved. It's the cliched story of a poor brother and sister who have to get by with one pair of beat-up old shoes between them. Direct references to Bicycle Thieves abound.
Samira Makhmalbaf's The Apple, one of the greatest films of modern cinema, is still unavailable on video and has been seen by almost no one in the states. Until Kiarostami won the Palme D'Or for Taste of Cherry, his films were only seen by a handful of lucky individuals who made it to the right film festivals. Samira's father, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, whose films make it to theaters but never with too much attention, and other great artists like Bahram Bayzai and Daryush Mehrju'i, are overshadowed in America, somehow, by Majidi. Despite having made what might be the most significant Iranian film in history, The Cow - shown at Venice in the early 70's and introducing the country's cinema to the world - Mehrju'i and Bayzai - considered to be their best by the Iranians themselves - collectively have fewer films available on video than does Majidi, in his relatively young career.
Children of Heaven is the only Iranian film that I have seen which seems artificial. The performances are not good, the plot seems hackneyed and contrived, and it's sentimental - there's lot of crying and yelling. The children aren't real people, but little angels beset upon by this harsh life. The little boy hero is even the best student in his class AND a great athlete.
Jafar Panahi's The White Balloon and Abbas Kiarostami's Where Is The Friend's Home are both very similar storywise, but infinitely more touching, substantial and genuine.
I suppose I should have expected more, but ...
It's a Kevin Smith movie, so you can expect a lot of narcissistic little touches, haphazard direction and an always surprisingly sentimental plotline. That and some of the best damn jokes around. He's a funny guy and his jokes are always clever and surprising, and he's got a stylish knack for dialogue that puts him up there among the best screenwriters working today. He's no director, and he's no actor, but he's got that whole writing thing working for him. Jay and Silent Bob is really not a good movie. There are a whole lot of eye-rollingly indulgent in jokes and references and it seems at times more like a Leslie Nielson-style spoof than a Kevin Smith movie. Don't get me wrong, I'll take as many Ben Affleck jokes as I can get, and Charlie's Angels makes an ideal target, but the movie doesn't have enough laughs in it to be enjoyable. It's not that funny. Jay and Silent Bob are really getting old. I thought they were funny in high school, and their continued reappearance on the big screen would always provide a good amount of actual comedy. But there's no excitement left. Jason Mewes has a lot of energy, and that's fun to watch, but it would be nice to see him play off some real personalities like he did in their other movies. The movie's pretty much a waste of time and should be watched on video in a large, drunken group. That's the way this film was meant to be watched.
Mauvais sang (1986)
what a poet.....
Having seen only his incredibly intense 1999 film, Pola X, I didn't exactly know what to expect with Bad Blood. The film is as a whole not as effective as the later film, but it serves to solidify Leos Carax in my mind as a truly great director. I love both films, and this one is definitely flawed, but the poetry which comes through onto the screen is absolutely incredible. Alex running down the street to Bowie, the motorcycle getaway, and the amazingly passionate and beautiful final scenes will remain with me for a while... the film is exquisitely wild and reckless and is truly innovative in the way it's put together. Even as I write this, shot after shot and scene after scene resurface in my mind, all of them worthy of mention, and all of them gorgeous and shattering in their own way. Carax is a deserving heir to the thrones erected by the new wave. Bad Blood is the work of a master, whether the film itself is a masterpiece or not... The characters are wonderfully crafted with very nice performances by everyone, it's very watchable and very human poetry of the highest calibre. See it, see a Leos Carax film, any of his films - I'm going to track down Boy Meets Girl and Lovers on the Bridge as soon as I can.
Le bonheur (1965)
A perfect little nothing.
Agnes Varda's Le Bonheur is a perfect little composition. A nice, sweet portrait blended perfectly with a Mozart score. There is no fault in this film, except that it feels a little empty. Varda's hand is light and inspired, and about as dramatic as its cheerful score. It's a wonderful ode to a summer's day, with barely a hint of winter.
The Woman Chaser (1999)
Wildly and wonderfully original.
The only truly original film I've seen this year, The Woman Chaser takes its cue from its psycho-pulp origins and steeps itself in a brilliantly mordant mise-en-scene. Each shot bursts with ideas and mood, and Patrick Warburton is wonderful. The film is hilarious, and far enough off-center to truly appeal to those who get it. Those who like it will love it, and those who dislike it should probably look a little closer. Somehow simultaneously endearing, shocking and gritty, it's an insider's view of insanity, with all its delightfully f***ed-up characters painted affectionately by the director and his actors. Insightful and funny on the dregs of human behavior and in many ways a multi-layered riff on the nature of movies themselves - this is the one American film I would recommend over any other this year.
Fin août, début septembre (1998)
Wonderful and charming.
Slow-paced, nuanced portrait of the friends surrounding a dying man. Wonderfully subtle and insightful, with outstanding acting and a marvelous script. Director Assayas' skill behind the camera is evident in every shot, despite lack of variety in locations and little action. Lots of conversation but the best moments come when the camera begins to wander. The kind of film you need to throw yourself into to truly appreciate. Very, very french.
The Avengers (1998)
It doesn't get much worse than this.
The Avengers is the biggest waste of a movie I have ever seen. At what point did someone say "It would be a good idea to put this on film?" The story is sloppy, uninteresting and inconsistent (not to mention silly - but not in an amusing way). The actors don't really have characters, just accents and quips. The action's boring; most of the time will be spent trying to figure out what's going on before anyone can enjoy flying mechanical insects (not that I did, but I'm sure someone might). Not even Uma's worth going to see - she isn't even given a chance and one of the most pleasant actresses to look at isn't seen enough to make this film even remotely good. Perhaps this film represents some kind of mastery of the acting craft, because the biggest task of Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman and Sean Connery, all quality actors, isn't just to play a part, but to avoid cracking under the weight of such an incoherent script in such a shoddy movie.
Jules et Jim (1962)
One of my favorites, one of the greats.
Jules et Jim is truly among the greatest films ever made. Truffaut's masterpiece bursts with energy and love of his craft, and the characters are truly wonderful. This film is great in every possible way. The type of work everyone should experience.