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davidals

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105 reviews in total 
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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Many, many missed opportunities here..., 20 August 2006
5/10

Sorry to say, this film suffers in comparison with the extraordinary WEATHER UNDERGROUND, which managed to become an unexpected commercial success, largely on the strength of meticulous film-making which not only recounted the history, but also captured context and diverse commentary on the events, times and people central to its' story. It was a film that - in many ways - raised the bar on recent-historical documentary film-making.

Alas, GUERRILLA is a far more pedestrian affair, mostly a compendium of archival footage (much of which is fascinating), with precious little digging into context - the fragmentation of the American left during the early 70s, the rise of underground radicalism (Weathermen, PLO, IRA, Red Brigade, et. al.), the post-60s decline of many major American cities (and the rising despair that ultimately fueled the crack wars of the 80s/90s and the riots that hit Miami and Los Angeles). Each of these elements are of some relevance to what's being presented in this documentary - the SLA were weirder and wiggier than most, mixing their Mao and inner-city blues with a big dose of dadaist strangeness, but they didn't just materialize out of the ether, and - in keeping the focus too tightly on the events and the group, this doc plays the history out as some ultra-violent theatre-of-the-absurd, in real life; a sort-of weird-sploitative pigs-vs-the-people melodrama.

This does a great disservice to history - through this film, Patti Hearst remains an enigma, with a great many class issues, psychological issues (post-traumatic stress, or the Stockholm syndrome) barely touched upon. The other surviving members of the SLA get plenty of screen time (unlike Hearst, who I assume didn't want to be involved), but the many interviews presented don't really seem to dig into anything deeper than who-did-what.

GUERRILLA isn't a total failure by a long shot; anyone with any memory of the 70s knows how weird the story seemed to be, and the recounting of it seen here is definitely captivating; the strangeness, chaos and confusion of the era doesn't feel very distant at all. But I also recall something else: back in the late 80s, the rock band Camper Van Beethoven recorded a snappy, satirical homage to Patty Hearst, entitled "Tania." In three-and-a-half minutes, I think they might have outdone this 90-minute documentary. Oh well.

If they move...., 19 August 2006
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

**SPOILER ALERT**

I don't know if ATTACK THE GAS STATION holds up to repeat viewings, but it's terrific fun once, at least. An adrenalized, ultra-stylized, comic-book-violent black comedy about a group of well-scrubbed but very alienated youth who rob a gas station out of boredom, before then deciding to return and run the place for a night, pocketing all of the sales, and then taking off. Of course, the plan goes a little awry...

The style is a deadpan blend of Kubrick, Tarantino, Peckinpah and maybe Suzuki, played for all the gleeful nasty humor and actually sharp social critique that can be gotten out of the premise; at the very least, this film energetically puts the 'slap' back into slapstick. A Peckinpah quote/homage becomes a running punch line, which as much as anything sums up the sensibility. The way, way over-the-top climax is quite well-orchestrated.

Tokyo Shock DVD is of good quality, not many extras (making-of featurette), though I don't know if this one really needs 'em.

17 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
Illuminating the darkness of the lower depths..., 19 August 2006
9/10

Kyoshi Kurosawa is becoming one of my favorite current filmmakers, and the further he gets from conventional horror and shock, the better I think he is.

Deeper meanings mingle with absurdist humor, and the kind of chance occurrences that enliven the fiction of Paul Auster and Haruki Murakami also figure heavily in Kurosawa's films; cinematically, everything from Lynch or Fellini to Don Siegel can be a touchstone for further exploration.

BRIGHT FUTURE is like an improved CHARISMA - more refined, less loony, and considerably more poetic, but K Kurosawa's many concerns - trashing of the environment, a sense of depersonalization (and discreet nihilism) in younger/future generations, the erosion of a society's cohesiveness (especially when that erosion originates within, and not from some external source) - are handled very well - the last shot offers his darkest humor, with the cross-generational understanding becoming something quietly heroic evoking certain past masters of Japanese film. A sense that - if younger generations have drifted towards a nihilism that could destroy them or you, it is balanced by an equally withering take on the older generations that somehow let them down; this film in many ways visualizes the idea of getting over it, and moving on with life (after presenting some of the consequences for not doing so).

Tadanobu Asano's presence here is somewhat hyped (definitely on the DVD cover), undoubtedly due to his ascendant global stardom, but his performance is eclipsed by co-stars Joe Odagiri and Tatsuya Fuji, who both deliver dynamic performances of great range and control.

Mysterious, poetic, open to many interpretations, and one of Kyoshi Kurosawa's finest.

Distance (2001)
9 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
poetic...philosophical...cryptic...and excellent, 19 August 2006
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Hirokazu Kore'eda's creative career continues to evolve, and this expansive and meditative drama may be my favorite among his films thus far.

All of the Japanese films I've seen that would seem to psychologically touch upon the Aum Shinrikyo gas attacks in Tokyo 10 years ago do so in oblique fashion, turning into great meditations on the idea of some unseen and unexpected terror arising from within, and what that says about a society (not necessarily just Japanese society) that likes to think of itself as secure and a success - most of Kyoshi Kurosawa's films beginning with CURE do this, as does Shinji Aoyama's EUREKA. Hirokazu Kore'eda's DISTANCE is perhaps the most suggessful example of this reflective sub-genre, examining the whys and hows of society's darkest impulses, when those impulses happen to surface unexpectedly.

In this rather lean, Dogme-like film, individuals who lost loved ones to a cult-inspired act of terror and mass suicide, gather for a memorial reunion at the place their loved ones died (a former cult compound in a remote location), only to meet the cult's lone survivor. The idea of blame falls away very quickly, replaced by a more meditative sense of trying to logically and emotionally comprehend an event that is literally incomprehensible; thematically this film has an intense global relevance, perhaps more now than when first released.

Kore'eda's shifts between hand-held cameras (the actual story) and more polished/composed flashback sequences (watch for a brilliant restaurant scene) illustrating the allure of the cult to it's former members is dazzling, blending the techniques used in his earlier AFTER LIFE and MABOROSI. Kore'eda's roots are in documentary film-making, and a fairly unique style has evolved from that background (one can trace that style through the two earlier features; here it really begins to coalesce into something personal and unique): like Errol Morris, Kore'eda prefers the unobtrusive, allowing characters to reveal themselves in fairly relaxed fashion, with many precise insights emerging during quiet, seemingly random moments. This makes for film-making that is languid in tempo, enigmatic and elliptical in narrative structure (certain characters here actually seem to become more inscrutable as the film progresses), but when it works - and it works very well here - the results are mesmerizing.

Like Kore'eda's other work, there's a fairly limited commercial appeal in this extraordinary film; 5 years on it has no distribution in the US, which is very unfortunate - I think a lot of American viewers would be quite stunned by this film, given the opportunity to see it. This one is worth the hunt.

5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A deceptively quiet drama..., 19 August 2006
9/10

I was very impressed by this upon first viewing, a couple years ago, and boy does it hold up with the passage of time. This was Jeong's debut and it will be interesting to see what she comes up with next.

In this coming-of-age story set in a group of young women in a rather bleak and industrial Inchon, S Korea, Jeong doesn't attempt to duplicate the lushness of Naruse or the extraordinary technique of Ozu, but there's an elegance that recalls both - a real ability to look straight into the many subtle slights these women endure, along with the many moments of joy they create, and discover profundity in the everyday. The basic mechanics of the story seem (at first) simple, and the film seems very ethereal for the first 20 minutes or so, but it does coalesce into something quite memorable - the slow tempo and loping narrative makes it easy to overlook the subtle defiance and independence of spirit (and the quick moments of odd, deadpan humor) to be found underneath it all. In both look and feel, Jeong's work is of a piece with certain other leading figures in the current Asian cinematic new wave, and like the best examples of that new wave, Jeong creates a memorable style of her own.

Sweet but not sappy, occasionally tragic without sliding into gross manipulations - a film of great power. The Kino DVD looks great, no extras however.

12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
One Of Ray's Masterpieces, 11 April 2006
10/10

The great Satyajit Ray has become one of my favorite filmmakers, and unfortunately it's become very difficult to see most of his films in the US. GOOPY GYNE BAGHA BYNE easily ranks as one of Ray's most intriguing creations - a wonderful family film, which also contains the complex philosophies that enliven Ray's many other masterpieces. In his own film writing, Ray expressed admiration for certain experimental filmmakers who came to prominence during the 50s and 60s, and this film gave him an opportunity to do a bit of stylistic experimentation of his own, while also creating something of a tribute to his father's and grandfather's writings. The results are one of Ray's finest films.

I won't summarize the plot, which is well-described here. But I would point out several outstanding elements of GOOPY AND BAGHA - the first would be Ray's creative use of effects - apparently the film was made on a small budget, but the story is captivating enough that one doesn't really notice - such constraints force a filmmaker to rely upon his own expertise, imagination and ability to improvise and innovate, and in this regard, GOOPY AND BAGHA almost feels like a great, kids version of a 'new wave' film (in the best senses of the term) - willing to try the unexpected, and confident that the unexpected will work well.

A second strength is Ray's creation of a sophisticated family film that has much to offer adult viewers - GOOPY AND BAGHA offers a great amount of hope and strength in the face of a changing world, as the film was made at a time in which momentous and troubling events were occurring throughout the globe. I'm certain that Ray was mindful of this, and sought to incorporate a sophisticated engagement with changes in the outside world into the underlying philosophy in this dreamlike and magical film. Many writers have commented in vague fashion on Ray's 'humanism,' but the worldview expressed is far more detailed and wide-ranging than that term would imply - a well-thought way of looking at life connects all of Ray's films, and that includes this one.

A magnificent film, one very much deserving of wider appreciation around the globe.

18 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
An extraordinary documentary that I encourage others to seek out, 5 July 2005
8/10

After two viewings, I've concluded that DANGEROUS LIVING is one of the finest documentaries focusing upon the global LGBT human rights struggle that I've seen; it's lone major flaw is that it left me wanting more.

The film is structured around the well-publicized and much-protested persecutions and torture of a number of gay men arrested in what was presumed to be a comparatively safe environment in Cairo, and the incident is used as a touchstone to explore what gay, lesbian and trans-gender activists in a number of other countries have had to endure. Activists from Brazil, Honduras, Namibia, Uganda, Egypt, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Fiji and The Philippines are interviewed, and in every instance I wanted less voice-over, and more 'in their own words' discussion. I also would have liked to hear more about where conditions have improved, and how those improvements were obtained. DANGEROUS LIVING does also manage to hint at the link between the LGBT rights struggle, and the broader fight for human rights around the globe, and likewise suggests (an opinion I share) that state-sponsored homophobia has been heavily shaped by Western influences. Both of these issues still await further cinematic exploration.

I'm of the opinion that the fight for LGBT rights is global, and that we are overdue a documentary that would make that plainly clear to Western LGBT communities who may take certain freedoms for granted, and - in relying so heavily upon voice overs, I'm not certain that this film does that effectively in its' comparatively brief running time. Still, this is both a moving and an infuriating film, and it does work as an inspiration to further research; to paraphrase the late writer and activist Paul Monette, a difficult life can take you to the core of your being; teaching you what has to be fought for and how - DANGEROUS LIVING does this often, with moving reality.

At the risk of cheer leading, I would strongly encourage others to seek this film out.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Unforgettable, 9 April 2005
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Where to begin with this one? By just about every critical standard around, this is crap, getting down to almost Ed Wood levels of badness. Which of course is why it's great - it's a shame this movie is so hard to find these days; because it's a born cult classic.

Jesus-fixated farmwife Ida Lupino (poor, poor Ida - what hath the entertainment industry reduced you to?) and her doomed hubbie (some guy who looks like the Gortons' Fisherman) discover some slop that looks like ranch dressing bubbling up out of the ground. Initially, they think it's oil.

When this possibility is ruled out, not knowing what it is, they feed it to their chickens, and soon enough they have a barnful of giant chickens. An inspired and most definitely unique giant-chicken-assault scene is an early high point.

Ultimately, wasps and rats get into the stuff, with all the usual expected bad effects - they attack and kill unsuspecting entrepreneurs, hippies, rustics and others, while our hero Marjoe Goertener (the onetime evangelist, and subject of the unforgettable documentary MARJOE) rallies his bored-looking cast to shoot their way out of a rat siege.

As is typical for a lot of b-movies (Ed Wood, Herschell Gordon Lewis, et. al.), there is a great affection for the escapist and mythic possibilities of cinema on display here; I can point out the drive-in-flick cheesiness, but I should also note that this film (and stuff like it) is great, great fun, and director Bert Gordon's miniatures are well-crafted; perhaps a bit quaint (and suggestive of an innocence that might now qualify as anachronistic) in an era of technological effects. If you love movies, you owe it to yourself to not miss this one.

19 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
A sprawling Bengali masterpiece, 1 March 2005
10/10

The visionary Bengali filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak peers into the future, and sees nothing but disintegration - succeeding at multiple levels, CLOUD-CAPPED STAR humanizes this bleak vision, by locating the drama in a Bengali family, but everything occurring is something of a howl of outrage at what had become of his divided homeland.

The central figure in this sprawling melodrama (with some coincidental resemblances to European new wave and neo-realism) is Nita, the eldest daughter in a once-middle class, intellectual family, driven by partition into refugee status in the slums of Calcutta. Varied family members react in different opportunistic ways to their reduced status, and their need to survive, all of which takes an extreme toll on Nita, who ultimately becomes the family's sole breadwinner. The performances throughout are excellent - Supriya Choudhury as Nita is riveting, and Niranjan Roy is particularly strong as Sanat.

Throughout, Ghatak boils human nature and the survival instinct down to the most ruthless basics: this is a compelling and visionary film, but there is virtually no room for lofty ideals or sentimental altruism in the world created here - mourn what one must, and do what one must do to survive. Sentiment and ideals are - in this film - luxuries, and from the cruelty of such a truism, Ghatak has created one of cinema's great, vital tragedies.

Ghatak claimed few Western cinematic influences - like Jean-Luc Godard in France and Nagisa Oshima in Japan, his primary concerns were historical and political, and also technical - how to alter cinema to express those concerns in accessible language? For Ghatak the solution was found in using outdoor locations, natural sound, idiosyncratic editing, and a minimum of the flash seen in Bollywood or Hollywood - CLOUD-CAPPED STAR is bleak, absolutely gripping, tragic and infuriating. As drama, it would definitely rank as one of the more obscure global masterpieces out there (there has yet to be an official US release on VHS or DVD), rarely seen or commented upon. This is highly unfortunate - as a film of moral/social outrage, this rivals Bresson; its' overall feel for the everyday reminds one of Italian neo-realism; it's willingness to experiment boldly evokes Godard or Oshima; in it's concerns with the status of women (another of the many themes explored here), it evokes Naruse, Sirk or Mizoguchi.

Ghatak's own biography is one of great tragedy; one could possibly read the discretely enraged hopelessness of this film as an extension of his own, and see this as a drive that would have to produce at least one masterpiece (his later SUBARNA-REKHA is also very much worth a look), even as it brought him to a premature end. For all of its' bleakness, CLOUD-CAPPED STAR is absolutely compelling - any cinephile (or student of history) would do well to see it.

6ixtynin9 (1999)
4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A first-rate dark comedy, 11 February 2005
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I rented this without knowing much about it, aside from having heard the directors' name, and was very impressed.

6IXTYNIN9 (the English title) follows a bit of a dark comedy/crime comedy formula, wherein an innocent makes a discovery (money or property) and falls into an uncontrolled succession of events that pushes them toward actions that defy their usual sense of morality. It's all handled inventively here, with slow pacing that builds remarkable tension (especially during the latter half of the film), and some very dry humor that always comes out of nowhere - I almost think it should be rented just for the hysterical 'manicure' scene ("What salon was THAT?"). It should also be noted that the cinematography and performances are dazzling from start to finish.

This is the third Thai film I've seen thus far (the elegant historical drama 'Legend Of Suryothai' and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's remarkable, experimental 'Mysterious Object At Noon'); all three were completely different, but also excellent - I'm definitely on the lookout for more Thai film making it to the US.


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