Reviews written by registered user
|34 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This short film, screened at the DC Shorts Film Festival last night, starts rather ominously with a crowd of well-dressed business men and women standing outside a generic office building. They chit-chat amongst themselves, and check blackberries and cell phones. A Mexican drivers up in a pickup truck. They suspiciously gather around as he gets out. After looking over the crowd, he shouts for two accountants, men and women frantically wave their hands. He picks two then points to he back of the truck. Then he shouts for two lawyers, a chief financial offer, etc. Before long, the Mexican has what he needs. He closes the back of his crowded pickup truck and drives off to the disappointment of the other business people. Granted, it is a one joke film, but it tells that joke very well. It takes a sharp, satirical punch and fades out while you're still laughing. Well worth a look.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A friendly poker game has trouble finding and keeping a fifth player because one of the regulars is a serial killer who keeps letting his business get in the way of his pleasure. I saw this film last night at the DC Shorts Film Festival. For the most part, I found it fresh and quite amusing. My only problem was that I found the chit-chat about the killers' job more than sufficient. I didn't need to see him actually do it. It was a totally unneeded detour from satire to sadism and darkened the tone of the piece. Still, it managed to recover for a strong finish, but it would have been better if it hadn't pushed a little too far.
Marilyn Jones plays an aspiring dancer reduced to stripping at a nightclub in Baltimore's famous Redlight District in this gritty thriller. When originally released, this film, shot in vivid neon-absorbing Super 16mm by Erich Roland, offered a nearly documentary-like presentation of the seedy nightclubs and their denizens. Now, however, it serves more as a historical document. In one of the subplots of the film, a venal developer, played by Academy-Award nominee Howard Rollins, Jr., tries to close down "The Block" to build an office complex. Soon after the movie's release, in a case of life imitating art, the city of Baltimore managed to tear down a portion of it to build an office complex. The film also serves historical document in regard to Marilyn Jones' performances. They show the history of striptease in reverse, starting with the modern, more functional, striptease of today and then hearkens back to the classic tease of Burlesque dancing of the type exemplified by Blaze Starr, who makes also makes an appearance in this film. (No, she doesn't get nude!) The plot itself is, in a sense, a subtle retelling of Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" with Marilyn Jones' stripper as Esmeralda, David Caltrider's obsessed detective as Frollo, and Michael Gabel's simple-minded handyman as Quasimodo. This film offers much more than meets the eyes. Check it out if you get the chance!
The last week in the life of the great American poet and master of the
macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, is illustrated in this fascinating
independent film. Anyone who has studied the details of Poe's death
knows what a contentious and controversial subject it has become. There
are many theories for his demise ranging from alcohol and drug abuse to
assault and even rabies! Interestingly, writer/director Mark Redfield,
who also provides a compelling performance as the doomed poet himself,
gives the first explanation to Rufus Griswold, a newspaper editor and
enemy of Poe's whose lurid and mean-spirited obituary did much to
destroy the man's reputation for nearly a century. The rest of the
film, which could more accurately described as a fevered
dream-within-a-dream than a straight forward biography, ultimately
gives a more rounded and plausible explanation for Poe's untimely
demise. The film also offers Poe's life as a template of the universal
struggle of the artist to fund his work and reach his audience.
The film features an intriguing mix of color and black and white images, and a moody and effective score by Jennifer Rouse, who also plays the wife of the last doctor to treat Poe. Kevin Shinnick gives a fine performance as Poe's last doctor, and George Stover, a veteran of many John Waters and Don Dohler films, gives perhaps his best performance as twin brothers Poe seeks out as investors.
Well worth checking out!
Hamilton is a quiet meditation on life in a quiet northeast Baltimore neighborhood -- a world away from the grim hustle and bustle of the world that make up Baltimore's cinematic alter-ego "The Wire." There is no real plot, just a situation. An unwed mother waits for her baby's father to live up to his responsibilities. The boy's mother is waiting for the same thing. That's about it. No action. Not much talking. Not much emotion. Just the awkward silence before decisions are made. The film doesn't linger long enough to reveal what decisions are ultimately made. It doesn't even work too hard to explain the actual relationships between all of the characters, it only reveals their connectedness. The film is practically silent, but works lyrically toward a gentle poetry through its images. This is definitely not a film for all tastes. If you expect something, you will probably be disappointed, but if you expect nothing, you might be surprised.
Cory McAbee plays Samuel Curtis an astronaut on a mission. His mission
is to take a cat to a bar on an asteroid to trade it for the clone of a
woman and then to take the clone to Jupiter and trade it for the boy
who once saw a woman's breast, and then take him.... Ah, don't worry
about the rest. It doesn't matter, because in this movie, as is usually
the case in life itself, the destination isn't as important as the
This ingenious black and white musical gem restored my waning faith in independent film. Over the years, independent film, of the Sundance variety, has become too pious, too bland, too self-important and too formulaic. (How many times can you watch a group of quirky misfits and loners form themselves into an impromptu family? Okay, okay, there's an element of that here too, but the setting and the execution make it fresh and diverting.) Writer/Director McAbee populates the film with unique and interesting characters, and he doesn't care if they are really relevant to the resolution of the story. Take, for example, Tom Aldredge, who tells the "Hertz DoNut" joke. It doesn't go anywhere -- literally -- not even all the way to the punchline, but it is hilarious. The film careens from one amusing episode after another. From the "Hey Boy" showdown in the mens room, to everything Lee Vinsky has to say, to the Woman With The Vagina Made of Glass. Not everything works completely, but I found myself either laughing, or with a goofy smile on my face throughout.
I can't help but think that had this film been released in a more adventuresome cinematic time like the mid-80s, this film would have been a massive cult hit and McAbee would be hailed as the next David Lynch or Jim Jarmusch. I had the good fortune to see this film at a screening in DC that featured a Q&A with the director after-wards. He seemed to take the film's -- how can I put this discreetly -- lack of success in stride. I didn't. It's a shame to see such an original and entertaining film limp out onto the market with so little exposure. I hope this film finds it's market. It's too cool to dwell in obscurity.
You owe it to yourself to see it.
Werner Herzog examines the life and death of self-proclaimed Grizzly
bear researcher and protector Timothy Treadwell in this fascinating
documentary. I had never heard of Timothy Treadwell until he made the
news by being eaten by a grizzly bear. The news story I read made the
most of the irony of concerning Treadwell's death, and, to be honest, I
sought out this film hoping that it would serve as a punch line to what
I considered to be the worst, most simplistic aspects of the
environmental movement. In a sense, "Grizzly Man" was exactly that, but
it was also something more: a penetrating examination of a sad,
mentally-unbalanced man desperate to find meaning for his own life. It
is easy to make fun of Treadwell, but I couldn't help but feel sorry
for a man who felt so disconnected to his society, and indeed, his own
species, that he felt the need to become something else. Sadly, nature
didn't prove as kind and serene as he imagined.
Herzog was an excellent choice to bring together the various aspects of Treadwell's personality. I understand his admiration for Treadwell as a filmmaker, based on some of the amazing images Treadwell captured, but Herzog's world-weary cynicism proved a perfect counter point to Treadwell's naive view of nature. Normally, I don't like to hear the filmmaker narrate a documentary. I prefer documentaries where the subjects and the footage manage to tell their own story. However, I enjoyed Herzog's narration. I felt it accented the material perfectly.
Herzog is a remarkable filmmaker. What other documentary filmmaker would recommend that an interviewee destroy film, as Herzog did to the woman who had Treadwell's last tape, which captured his death. Herzog displayed excellent judgment by not using the material. To actually hear Treadwell and his companion being killed and eaten by the bear would have so disrupted the tone of the piece that it would have been impossible to maintain a balanced viewpoint of Treadwell's life and "accomplishments." Treadwell deserves to be defined as much by what he did with his life than merely by his death itself.
The DVD disappointed me in one aspect. I was hoping that there would be a director's commentary so that Herzog could answer a question I was curious about: What percentage of Treadwell's footage featured him talking, as opposed to footage of the bears alone? I think the answer to that question would reveal once and for all whether this crusade was ever really about the bears, or simply Treadwell himself.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The inhabitants of a small rural community maintain an uneasy truce with a menace in the neighboring woods and a greater terror beyond them in the new thriller by M. Night Shyamalan. I wanted to like this movie. I really did. The trailer and commercials were sufficiently creepy. If only the film lived up to half the promise, but it didn't. The film had potential, personified in the performance by Bryce Dallas Howard, who seems to be a legitimate talent. Unfortunately, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan failed to deliver the goods because he tried too hard to deliver the goods. I think the success of "The Sixth Sense" doomed him. Now he feels it necessary to outdo the shocking ending of that film. Therein lies the problem with "The Village. When you know, as everyone does, that it is a film with a "shocking" twist, you become distracted from the "drama" by the hunt for clues to the ending. At least I do. This time, however, one didn't need to hunt too much. Considering the film's setting, I thought the "twist" had to be one of two things: It was either set in the present, or the village's inhabitants were prisoners in some sort of alien menagerie. (Both concepts were, I believe, exhausted by The Twilight Zone decades ago.) At the first glimpse of the monster, I correctly suspected the first option. As I considered the implications of that scenario, I grew increasingly angry. The scenario simply wasn't workable. I couldn't suspend my disbelief. Their society simply couldn't exist without contact with the outside world. For example, Phoenix worked as a blacksmith. That's nice, but where does he get the iron to create things? Do they mine it themselves? I didn't see any mines. Also, what about their clothes? They could certainly make it themselves if they had cloth, but where were the cotton fields? It'd be one thing if they were all wearing all wool clothing. The list goes on and on into absurdity. Also, all the elders keep a locked trunk with their "modern" items. Don't you think one of the children, out of natural curiosity, would have broke open one of the boxes and looked inside? Think about it. When you were growing up, didn't you look inside everyone old box in your home? A lock would only make you want to look into even more! No kid could resist! And what's up with all the phony "King James"-style talk? Why would the elders start talking like that? The youngsters who grew up in the community wouldn't know the difference between old fashioned and modern speech. That was a stupid and totally unnecessary. Ugh! This film was an insult to my intelligence. While I enjoyed some of his earlier films, I think it might be time to jump off the M. Night Shamalamading-dong bandwagon.
Two cowboys find romance one summer on Brokeback Mountain and spend the
next twenty years trying to recapture it. This film, directed by Ang
Lee, is certainly the most highly-acclaimed film of 2005 and will
certainly be as big a winner at the Academy Awards as it was at the
Golden Globes. However, is it, as some claim, the greatest love story
ever told? The answer is a resounding no, and let me tell you why.
I have three problems with the film, which are the story, the acting, and the film-making. Let me deal with them in reverse order. This film is horribly paced. It takes way too long to get started, and once it finally does it moves at a glacial pace. This is becoming more and more of a problem with films today. When I was growing up, if a film was two-and-half or three hours long, it was a given that it would be good because the studios wouldn't put out a film that long unless it dealt with epic events or themes which couldn't be contained in a mere two hours. Nowadays excessive length simply seems to be a sign that the filmmakers didn't find the story. Now, I look at long films with a bit of dread. Loved the scenery, Ang, but let's get on with it. The make-up department was also a problem. It did an abysmal job of aging Ledger, Gyllenhaal, and Anne Hathaway. When Ledger sits down with his daughter at the end, they seem more like brother and sister! The make-up definitely took me out of the movie.
Next, the acting. One major problem: Heath Ledger. He does to "Brokeback Mountain" exactly what he did to "A Knight's Tale," "The Four Feathers," "The Order" and "The Brothers Grimm." And that ain't pretty. He doesn't have the charisma necessary to be a movie star, or the talent necessary to be an actor. He makes Keanu Reeves look like Lawrence Olivier. Here, with the monosyllabic Ennis, Health tries the less is more school of acting which has served men like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood so well, except that he exaggerates his less to the point that his less is much more than more. He struck me as utterly false with each of his little gestures or guttural pronouncements. I like Jake Gyllenhaal better, but he seemed a little awkward here. Whether that was intentional or a result of uncertainness of his behalf as an actor, it seemed to suit the character. However, poor Jake was not able to generate any romantic chemistry with Heath Ledger. (That's no crime, I haven't seen an actress able to do it either!)
The story. This is not a great love story. Great love stories are tales of sacrifice. No one sacrifices anything in this film. Wait a second, let me correct that, both Ennis and Jack are willing to sacrifice the love and respect and trust of their spouses and their children in a vain attempt to periodically recapture a magic moment in their youths, but neither of the men is willing to sacrifice anything for the other. This is not "Casablanca" love, this is "Citizen Kane" love love on your own terms. Granted, the men face formidable obstacles to their "love," but in a great love story, the lovers overcome their obstacles or die trying. Romeo didn't walk away from Juliet because his family didn't approve. He died instead. Geez. Come on. Men certainly lived together in 1963, albeit less openly than now. They've been doing it for thousands of years. Ennis loved the life he openly projected more than he loved Jack or he wouldn't have made the choices he did. And Jack Did he even love Ennis at all? Despite his much stated desire for them to settle on a ranch together, it seemed his commitment to Ennis was little more than skin deep. His attitude was clearly revealed when he admits he was with other men because he only got what he needed from Ennis three or four times a year and he needed it more. What was he referring too? Love? I think not. Ennis loved him year round in his own way. What Jack only got three or four times a year was sex. That's a very adolescent view of love. I assume Annie Proulx managed to bring more depth to their relationship in the book than Ang Lee managed to do in this movie.
This film was an examination of selfishness. Unwilling to make a commitment to their "true" loves, they dissipated their passion in unfruitful unions which deprived their partners and children to the attention and love they deserved. Didn't their spouses or children deserve better? Granted, many homosexual men marry for appearances, or in a misguided attempt to deny their sexuality, but that doesn't make them heroes or martyrs. I would have a preferred to see a movie about the two old homosexual ranchers Ennis heard about in his youth who were murdered by their judgmental neighbors. Those guys sounded like real men who really loved each other and were willing to sacrifice for each other. There was potential for a great love story there. But not here.
I found myself withholding judgment on this film until the very last scene. I was hoping that in one of the final scenes with his daughter Ennis would reveal something of himself that would make his life something more than a lie. I was hoping he would do something courageous worthy of his love for either Jack or his daughter, but he didn't.
An aging band of western outlaws take one last job, stealing guns from
the U.S. Army for a Mexican general, in this masterful western about
the end of the west. This film is director Sam Peckinpah's true
classic. It is a perfect mix of director, script, timing, and
ultimately, casting. Since this is a film about men, Peckinpah's
trademarked misogyny is less pronounced than many of his other films,
and he never had a better canvas for his explicit yet poetic violence.
It is, in some ways, an exploration of the nature of violence, and how
it is handed from one generation to another as symbolized by the
American children who replay the violent bank robbery in the bloody
street, and the young Mexican boy who joyfully watches the battle at
the side of the Mexican general Mapache.
The script is wonderfully understated. It's truest and most brilliant moment comes when William Holden's character makes his suicidal decision to rescue his tortured comrade. He simply says, "Let's go." No speeches. No explanations. There is a certain grandeur in the simplicity of that moment. The timing of the film was important in two ways. This film was one of the first to be edited with tape rather than glue, and that innovation in and of itself made it much easier to edit. That, in no small part, can be credited for the frenetic cutting of the gun battles. The editing of this film was tremendously influential. Also, the film was relevant in terms of theme during the Vietnam era. Many saw this violent tale of armed Americans interfering in a third world civil war highly-symbolic of America's bloody loss of innocence. Still, despite any real or implied meaning, the film would be irrelevant if it didn't work. And it does thanks in no small part to the excellent cast led by William Holden.
William Holden is truly stunning as Bishop Pike, the aging, disillusioned leader of the gang. He is a great actor, too little acknowledged today, and this is one of his very best performances. His character reminds me more of a film noir detective than a normal western character. Like a film noir anti-hero, (imagine, in comparison, Bogart in "The Maltese Falcon,") Pike lives outside society's corrupt morality yet maintains an inner dignity and superiority by living by his own ironclad code of conduct. There's only one problem: Pike really doesn't live by his code. He readily speaks of it, but he really only uses it to maintain a hold over his unruly bunch. Despite the code, he is willing to sacrifice member after member, even his old friend Sykes, in the shabby name of self-preservation. Pike, more intelligent than the other members of his gang, realizes his life is lie. His decision to rescue gang member Angel, or die trying, is a true moment of redemption that gives the ensuing orgy of violence meaning.
The rest of the cast is very good too. Ernest Borgnine gives an excellent performance as Dutch, the conscience of the group. Ben Johnson and Warren Oates are excellent as the rowdy Gorsch brothers. Robert Ryan is also very good as a former outlaw compelled by the railroad to bring Pike back face down over a saddle.
This is one of the truly great westerns. There would not be another truly great one until 1992's "Unforgiven." One complaint. The DVD only features the "director's cut." The theatrical version of the film was superior. None of the restored scenes were truly needed. They only slowed down the narrative.
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