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American Bellydancer (2005)
Misses the mark, misses the point
Brandeis' documentary chronicles producer Miles Copeland's odyssey in forming "The Bellydance Superstars" and taking them on tour to various world locations. Fans of The Police might seriously question Copeland's decision to step a bit outside of his regular range to put together an event showcasing modern bellydancers in America. Indeed, fans of bellydance may wish he hadn't. Not to degrade the dancers at all; some of the finest performers of Egyptian Cabaret style bellydance can be found in this film. No, what is unsettling is how Copeland claims to give bellydancers their due by showing them as hard workers, not sex objects, yet he ends up proving the very myths that surround bellydance, much to the ire of many bellydancers worldwide. One such myth is the notion that all bellydancers must fit a particular body type (5-foot 8, youthful, legs to the neck, and utterly sexual), and Copeland fills his entire cast with skinny showgirls that more closely resemble a Vegas review than a real bellydance troupe. Another myth is that the Egyptian Caberet style is the gold standard, when in fact, myriad styles of bellydance abound. Completely absent from this film are performers of American Tribal Style bellydance, and Copeland gives very little attention to Tribal Fusion despite Rachel Brice's involvement with the BDSS. Copeland doesn't see his narrowness of viewpoint despite a candid earful from world-renowned dancer Suhaila Salimpour. Brandeis' interview footage seems stilted and undeveloped, leaving many questions unanswered. The interviews are poorly constructed, have distractions in the background, poor audio and lighting, and questions do not effectively draw out the talent or back story of the dancers; whatever the camera did catch was pure luck. The editing seems to reveal a lack of commitment to the original goal, or perhaps just a lack of goal. As a concept, the film rates a C+ for "did the work, but sloppy research and lack of development," and as a documentary, it rates a C- from a third-rate film school.
A perfect departure from film as usual
I have to agree with some main themes already given here - it's brilliant, it's unconventional, it's not linear, it's hard to follow, its production values and casting are not the highest quality, and it's incredibly funny. This is one of the best movies for catch-phrases I've ever seen - it's got witty dialog, great character names, and it doesn't really matter that the plot doesn't go anywhere important - it's just funny as hell. Anyone who liked Waking Life will like this film, but if you have to have movies develop in meaningful ways, just pass it up and don't feel guilty. If you do rent it, be prepared for oddly named characters, spoofs on Dianetics, conversations in gibberish, and random odd scenes that all conspire to show how meaningless life can become if you let it.
I'd really like to know more about how and why Soderbergh made this - it doesn't have any credits or production info on the VHS version, and it is so radically different from anything else he's done. It's hard to believe the same person who did Erin Brokovich and Traffic did this, but I'm eternally grateful - I kind of wish he'd do another one sort of along these lines, just to add more irreverence into filmmaking.
If David Lynch had directed Cool Hand Luke, but for kids
SPOILERS contained herein.
Yikes, could it be true? I actually enjoyed a Disney movie? Well, yes, I did, and here's why.
First of all, it is a really quirky story that I'm surprised got picked up by Disney at all. To me, it had a mix of the sinister and the absurd to it, sort of like if a "for kids" version of Cool Hand Luke had been directed by David Lynch. A kid gets fingered for a theft he didn't commit and gets sent to a twisted work camp. Somehow, he never rages against his unjust sentence - he has until now accepted that it is his lot in life to suffer. At the camp, we see kids who have been abandoned or abused in some way. The very first scene shows a kid who apparently would rather get bitten by a rattlesnake than stay at the camp.
Secondly, it actually had some cinemagraphic elements to it that verge upon quality moviemaking. For example, it is clearly presentational in its cartoonish quality, and the colors are melodramatically rich and warm. The evil characters are characatures of themselves played with physical nuances on par with comedia del arte. The baptismal rain at the end of the movie signifies the redemption that all the characters so desperately need. Really, in a DISNEY film. I'm simply floored that Eisner let this one past.
Finally, the characters make decisions based on what you know of their characters; they don't just "grow up" and suddenly make radical changes in their lives after an hour and 15 minutes of tripe like, well, like Disney characters do. That was heartily appreciated.
For those skeptical of Disney, I can tell you this one was pretty good.
The Sweetest Thing (2002)
I want my money back
I saw this movie simply because I heard that Parker Posey was in it. After seeing her edgy and explosive work in The House of Yes, Henry Fool, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, etc., I was fairly confident that this film would have some humorous and intellectual merit. "How bad could it be?" Some advice: don't ever ask yourself that question unless you are fully prepared for the answer. The script was, at best, pedestrian and woefully misogynistic - but now that I know Nancy Pimental wrote it, I can understand that.
BIT OF A SPOILER COMING UP... I tried desperately to justify the $8.50 I'd spent by coming to the film's defense. "Well, it tries to be a positive voice about women in that it shows that women want to have relationships on their own terms..." So, is that why the women in this film are either a) shown to be stupid sluts when they're single and mature only when they're partnered, b)subjected to frat boy gags like BJ mishaps, glory holes in gas stations, and attempts to urinate while standing, or c)so pathetically bereft of self-esteem that they will flip-flop from being fervently anti-commitment to driving 3 hours to humiliate oneself at a wedding? Please - a woman wrote this?
I want my money back, damn it.
The Scottish Tale (1998)
Realism is not a common standard; this films shines!
This film was very singular and refreshing in approach. Watching it made me wish that more filmmakers today would take a little breather and remember their early filmmaking experiences, especially what it felt like to be creative and not to care about convention. This film is brutally honest about its low budget and wry humor from the very beginning, so you are encouraged to lower your expectations; once you do, you'll find it hysterically funny.
One pitfall I see in comedies today is that they are often attempted in a realistic style, which makes them appear embarrassingly and insultingly unbelievable (read, ANYTHING with Adam Sandler). People don't realize that realism is not the standard against which all film is measured; it is just another style, and it demands believability. A style like presentationalism or farce gives the audience permission to find the piece funny, since we already know it's not real. This film was true to its style of comedic farce. Yes, the skunk was stuffed. It was supposed to be. Yes, the accents stunk. They were no more believable than the idea of two Scottish brothers, one a love-struck, drug dealing poet and the other a lawyer, living on the Central Coast of CA and flying back and forth to Scotland to visit their three witch-aunts. Again, the film makes no pretense of being serious drama, here -- it asks you to play along because it knows it's not real.
In criticism of the film, I wasn't wild about the female character; I thought she was vapid and mono-dimensional; the actress didn't do an admirable job, but it's hard when you don't have much scripted character to work with. Let's hope these guys learn how to write women a little better. Shakespeare, after all, created one of the most complex characters in theater in Lady Macbeth, and that was an element I missed. Why not a final scene where she strangles the Banquo-skunk's lover with her bare hands and wanders, perfumed and babbling madly, never ceasing hand-washing motions...the Bard might have even liked that.
In general, this film is an enjoyable rental and very creative.