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Criteria: below ten titles, only counting films and TV films, and with less than two known works (that's why you won't be seeing Heather O'Rourke here, just an example).
Le mura di Sana'a (1971)
The historical walls of Sana'a
After going through a civil war in the 1960's, Yemen was no longer what it used to be, cities were destroyed and rebuilt in modern ways, following Western styles and losing part of its culture. The old city of Sana'a, the capital, was on its way of becoming a modern place just like many other cities. Centuries of history and the famous medieval architecture of the place within its walls could disappear anytime if it wasn't for the efforts of historians and many other people and efforts like this movie made by Pasolini.
In "Le Mura di Sana'a" ("The Walls of Sana'a"), the director speaks on behalf of the simple residents, people who wouldn't be heard by officials and authorities, and wouldn't have the means to pledge to UNESCO for the city's preservation as a World Heritage Site. Pier Paolo Pasolini shows the historical importance of the city through its magnificent and beautiful architecture composed of ancient and resisting long buildings, dating from the medieval period - all viewed through the spectacular lenses of Tonino Delli Colli - the markets, villages, squares and makes an important contrast with his native Italy by presenting a small village that got surrounded by contemporary constructions and now you can't even see the place on the horizon because of the modernization imposed by "evolution". "We can't save Italy, but there's time to save Yemen" says the narrator at its conclusion before his urgent messages to UNESCO.
The battle succeed, but the director wasn't here long enough to see it. As we all know, Pasolini got killed in 1975, and only in 1986 UNESCO would declare Sana'a as a World Heritage Site to be preserved for future generations. But what matters is that the movie got made, the director made a very good point without taking too long to expose his facts and to defend his cause, and there's plenty to be learned from here. 9/10
November 22, 1963 (2013)
50 years later...and no answers
50 years has passed ever since the tragic November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas, an unsolved crime as far most of us tend to believe. All those years later and Errol Morris interviews someone who covered the aftermath of the assassination back in 63's, reporter Josiah Thompson, who previously appeared in Morris' "The Umbrella Man" shedding some light on who was the mysterious man who opened an umbrella while JFK's motorcade was passing by. Like many theorists, Thompson believes that Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy, providing basic and provoking details about how the media coverage at the time helped forming those rushed concepts, easily buying the lone gunman theory. Mr. Thompson exposes facts concerning all the visual media available on the case, with photos, Zapruder film and the other guy who filmed from a different angle and almost no one remembers him - and with those, Thompson offers more interrogations while claiming that all those materials were altered in some way, to hide further evidence.
Along with the many TV specials and with the average "Parkland" released in theaters, this short film was the most gripping work that appeared in light of remembrance of the 50th year of the assassination. Brief, precise, giving food for thought but still not answering anything. The truth remains covered up, that was the only affirmative in here. 10/10
A noble film but a lost cause
"School of the Americas Assassins" main target is the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA), an institution that trained the scum of Latin American dictators and part of their armies, including Noriega and many other tyrants in the Cold War context trying to combat Communism in their nations but their victims were all always peasants, common people, women and children with no political involvement whatsoever. Bear in mind, the Latin personnel were trained in U.S., with Reagan/Bush fully endorsing it. And even so, that training and those killings turned back to make American victims in Central America soil, like the brutal rape and murders of four American nuns in El Salvador in 1980.
The short documentary presents some of the atrocities committed by the notorious graduates of the school, interviewing survivors of attacks; and also there's time to make a positive campaign led by a priest against the school, supported by the contributor's taxes and barely do they know of what's been taught there and their actions in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Argentina, Peru and many countries as well between 1980-1990. Like many wrong things in the world that you can't change but can only cause some stir, provoking to see what happens, nothing's changed about the school - they just go by a different name now and who knows who is going to be the next assassins to be graduated from there, with their proud pictures hanging on their walls. It still is a helpful source for the government in future interventions when they won't need to use their own armies.
Made to cause impact, disturb and inform and succeeding in all of it, the film only reaffirmed many of my thoughts on dictatorships in South and Central America nations aided by the United States. It's no mystery, everybody knows those things now (and even back in the day as well) and it's too bad no one is held responsible for their actions. 9/10
Å vokte fjellet (2012)
Has its moments
The original title, which was perfectly translated to the English as "To Guard a Mountain" sounds a little stupid and confusing since the whole premise has nothing to do with protecting a mountain but to find a lamb that escaped from a ill-constructed fence. A suitable title would be "Search in the Mountain". Small shepherd Isa (Besim Murtezani) did that and now his father is forcing him and his younger brother Hamid (Altin Axhani) to find the lamb and bring it home. But when Hamid is struck by a lightning and gets injured, Isa must decide what to do next: it he takes his brother with him and leave the now found lamb behind; or try to take both, or just the animal.
Story's pacing is OK, the effective special effects are quite surprising in the already mentioned moment; good cinematography; the boys are fine actors and carry the whole movie with dignity during difficult scenes. But I didn't find much need for a story like that to exist and found quite irritating the scenes involving the father being harsh to his older son, very much like "Padre Padrone". I know it's a reality, that's the way peasants treat their sons educating for their future (which is going to be the same as their fathers, mostly) but said reality is featured in many other films and what's the point? And of course, the conclusion had to be with a shocking pleasant moment. It's a story about growth, about children having responsibilities, enduring hardship after hardship and the most fun they can ever have is smoking a cigarette without their parents know about it. That's life and it was this movie. Watchable but fades away quickly on your mind. 6/10
Back Beyond (2013)
An outstanding collage of deleted scenes from "The Master"
P.T. Anderson makes a groundbreaking collection of unused scenes of his exceptional film "The Master". Instead of the usual set of clips most directors make for their DVD's as bonus material with scenes randomly presented, Anderson hold together 20 minutes of images, mostly moments that were cut short from scenes that made to the final cut, and the bridge he constructed with those comes from several music pieces and medleys that fit the movie and its atmosphere. In the end, it feels like a more mysterious film than "The Master" already is, and a good lesson on how directors should make their film trailers - at least, it's least clichéd, doesn't tell the whole movie and makes you deeply interested in the project.
Among the greatest moments are a beautiful and long continuous shot of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) running to his lost ship, after spending the night with a beautiful girl; more joyful dancing scenes of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman); a conversation on books and its mortal power; and the gag reel that closes this film with Phoenix and Hoffman breaking characters because of a funny quote, that scene was repeated a few times.
Since they used one gag reel, I felt disappointed that the funniest one from the movie isn't here (that can be found on YouTube as well). During the elevator scene, if you remember, all the characters are assembled in a serious manner (an excellent shot, by the way), annoyed by the skeptic intruder who attended their meeting. While filming it, an actor in the background farts, very loudly - not sure if it's because he was too close to the boom mic or because of the silence in the place - and everybody, Hoffman, Adams, Rami Malek and a few others can't help but explode in laughter and talk about it. Everyone cracks up in that limited set...except Joaquin who stayed dead serious through the whole thing. It's an hilarious sequence and perhaps Mr. Anderson decided to not include in "Back Beyond" because it would a little off place. But in any case, this is a masterwork of deleted scenes. 9/10 RIP Phil and Christopher Evan Welch
Laukaus tehtaalla (1973)
Nothing new in terms of story, but the presentation's style makes it a little different
"A Shot in the Factory" chronicles the events that led to the film's opening moments when a desperate working man shot and killed a factory's boss. With a documentary style, the director observes the downfall of a great factory that merged to another big one, failed to generate profits to their owners and that culminated on the cut of a whole department, later on dismissing groups of simple workers in this rural community whose only work available was there. From there, reunions are settled but nothing is achieved, strikes are made and the rest leads all to the initial tragic event.
The verité style was interesting, nicely done with many frozen film stills - and some documentary images, I think - conducting everything like a real story that develops before the viewer. Though the concept was great and the story goes right for the most part, I haven't felt much need for this film to exist. If the idea was only to present a real look many workers face during their lives and how strikes and groups are assembled amidst internal crisis then I've seen better stories (like "They Don't Wear Black-Tie" and "The Working Class Goes to Heaven", for example). And this would be more relevant if the director used of an extra hour to give us the aftermath of the opening shooting. And anyone could predict that a former employee would kill the guy who fired him. Doesn't create much suspense but manages to be a good social drama with the very few it has to offer, supported by a effective cast. 7/10
Intelligent and relevant comedy, wronged by its too many ambitions
The movie "Teachers" pledges to fight for the cause of education, pointing out what's wrong in a damaged system that awards students who don't even show up in class, mocks the school system and also guarantee some laughs with it. The message is good, it's not anything out of this world, but the intersection of genres and some choices get in the way of making this a greater film.
Despite this being a 1980's flick, "Teachers" is not dated and feels more relevant now than ever. Schools like the one depicted here are quite common, with variations on the same tune: precarious places with uninterested teachers and even worse students, and directors trying to please themselves and the government with false statistics to get more funding, that always gets lost somewhere. It'll open some eyes about the obstacles inside the educational system and the politics behind one of the greatest tragedies of all: present students and future workers have their potential wasted under those circumstances, a present with no knowledge and a future without opportunities. You know the rest of the picture in real life, and it can only turn darker.
A high school is facing a lawsuit from one of their former graduated student who passed all exams but who doesn't even know how to read. This premise, so far, looks dumb cause this kid benefited, in a way, of the institution policies and then got mad he got shunned off by possible employers, then sue them? No judge in their right mind would accept that. Anyway...The prosecutor (JoBeth Williams) goes to the school to find out what really happened and if the teachers knew about this wrongful approval. One of the masters is a former teacher of hers (Nick Nolte), an idealistic man she saw as an example to be followed but at the current moment is deeply involved in the place's mode of conducting business: they need to get more budget and they can only guarantee that with results - which they don't have because they are a low quality school (but the government doesn't know that!). It's a game of pretending but he teaches, he cares about his students, and that's why the woman is convinced he can help her to make her case against the school, after knowing that no one's gonna help her there.
In between the battle of ideologies Nick's character has with the prosecutor (the institution's reality vs. the dreamy cause of education) and the obstacles he faces with the board of directors, he tries to save some conflicted students - a rebel boy (Ralph Macchio) neglected by his divorced parents, who is forced to take reading classes in order to pass since he was already pushed grades after grades by thousands of other teachers - and a girl (Laura Dern) who was knocked-up by a PE teacher, and I guess you can see that this will be the turning point of the story. Luckily, the movie escapes from the worn out clichéd of dangerous school filled with robbers, punks and thugs who threat colleagues and masters.
What attracted me the most was the level of reality brought into the story. Absurdity is a norm in that kind of movie, and "Teachers" has plenty of that, but it stays close to the truth in some aspects, with the teachers routine in class and in the meetings with their peers during breaks. Directors putting pressure on teachers to get results favorable to them? Sure, and they do that with students too. I personally seen during my high school years a director assembling the last seniors, explaining to all of us how important the state's exam was, rudely demanding to do our best. You know what everybody did? Boycotted the exam. By that, I mean, the majority flunked those tests on purpose. Why going right if no one's gonna stay there one more year? It's all about providing big budgets to the school.
The movie's a delight, humored, serious when needed but it's overloaded with baggage. It deals with problematic schools (avoiding some clichés though), some romance, the lawsuit, troubled kids (but never dangerous as portrayed in many existing realities and films out there), disenchanted masters vs. idealist types, and more. It's like Mr. Hiller wanted all and wouldn't want to settle for less, but in the end he accomplishes half way with everything he wanted because it's just too much to cover. By the time a murder takes place, it all falls out of place and the upcoming moment is an hilarious scene where the true nature of Richard Mulligan's character is revealed, cutting off any possible moment of sadness for the dead student. I think the writer and the director should settle with something: or invest in a real drama like "Lean on Me"; or be somewhat satirical; or an anarchic comedy like any other of its kind.
The final message provided here isn't all that easy to accomplish, and I'm not sure if it is even possible. Teachers challenging the system is a good cause but it can only work if students, parents and the community get involved, and the administration (governments included) be willing to fight for the best cause for all. Education is the fundamental right that paves the way to all the other rights. 8/10
Metallica Through the Never (2013)
A different experience
Crowds out there are only in it because of Metallica; I went there mostly because of up-and-coming star Dane DeHaan and the movie within the show and I admit I got more than what I was looking for. Though not that much of a fan of the band (I like some of their music) I acknowledge its power among their devoted fans, and they deserve to be on the top of the game because they deliver a spectacle, they deliver a true rock n'roll concert, loud and clear, and so magnificent that you might become a fan of theirs after the film, if you weren't before. What about Dane? Excellent choice in the minor adventure that jumps back and forth between the show, with some little interaction between Trip, his roadie character, and the band.
"Metallica Through the Never" revolves around the band performing their classics and a story involving Trip, one of their roadies, embarking on a strange adventure trying to pick up a mysterious bag. Trip's long journey is surrounded with danger, crashes, explosions, protests and stuff, greatly matched with the sound of James Hetfield and his troupe to be heard at full volume.
Director Nimród Antal's concept was quite good, though lacking in more substance. It reminded me a bit of that Duran Duran gig in the 1980's where they joined with the real Duran Duran played again by Milo O'Shea in "Barbarella", but that was a more interactive concert with the actor appearing from time to time on the stage while DeHaan's voiceless character pops in with the group in brief moments. But there's fascinating visual effects (the pyrotechnic effects on the show are truly effective), and a positively engaging adventure to follow through. It feels fresh, unique and visually captivating, those it doesn't answer anything. The acting was great and the concert even more explosive.
The movie points a way on how we should experience music in a different light, creating the images after what's already composed, with themes from the many different albums and you form a image of the whole. That kind of experiment would work better if the director (and I'm not sure if Antal was deeply involved behind Metallica's show) select the songs and try to create a film afterwards with a plausible storyline. Not exactly like "Tommy" or "The Wall" were, but I'm talking about mixing several albums from a said artist and work a script around those music and lyrics. While more of those aren't invented, I dream of a "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" version. Antal could make it work, he's got the visuals, the technique, everything to make a great musical out of that. 8/10
The Wilding (2012)
Love and the difficult choices that comes with it
Great dilemmas and filled with obstacles usually make excellent films, and they're always gripping or exciting enough to make us feel fully immersed in everything. "The Wilding" is no exception but it makes us want it for more. It's too short and it's never enough. If the film's director happens to read this, here's my message: rewrite for a bigger project and try to get funds for it, cause I'll watch it in a heartbeat.
The dilemma: juvenile delinquent Malcolm (Reef Ireland, very good) is torn between a chance of leaving detention, after being paroled, or staying behind to protect Ty, his love (Shannon Glowacki), a less experienced juvenile convict amidst a violently charged place, with fights and conflicts happening all the time. The facility's supervisor is deeply inclined to help Malcolm with the leaving process but he can't understand the boy's reasons on his "apparent" doubt to not getting out of there. Meanwhile, another problem is getting ahead and the couple is about to face a final and dangerous test against a rival group.
A rising tension dominates the film's mood with threats, punches and provocations, all told in a spinning manner (a well-placed shaky camera), softened by small yet highly effective tender moments between Malcolm and Ty, in brief romantic moments in those characters can speak and relate with each other way (Malcolm teases his partner with a rap, it was kind of sexy). The latter moment could be expanded here and also in a possible future version in a feature film (please, let that happen). I loved the film simply because it was a different coming of age story dealing with gay characters at the society's margin rather than the "Glee" like format we have on the mainstream lately, everything's happy and perfect at such a young age and everyone falls for that but it's not real, it's one side of the coin. Stories like "The Wilding" need to exist, they serve a higher purpose of comforting those who think they don't stand a chance, that they don't have a place in the world and they can't or won't find love. There's hope. 10/10
The Complete Citizen Kane (1991)
Another good documentary on "Citizen Kane"
Heart of the matter: this is a British documentary about the making of one of the greatest films of all time, "Citizen Kane", in the light of its (at the time) 50th year of release, gathering film critics and the known individuals who worked with Orson Welles in that magnificent and ambitious project. And there's also some clips from a 1982 interview with Welles.
The presentation: good with peaks of high greatness when the directors decided to call William Alland to be the narrator, in the same way he was the voice-over behind the "News on the March" clip - the newsreel within the movie. The man hasn't lost his voice through the years. They present a brief historical and cultural context to make us have a better comprehension of Kane's importance and characteristics included in the script.
The problems (if I should call it this way): "The Battle Over Citizen Kane" exists, I watched first and it's a more complete and enthusiastic experience. Much of what's here is also there and that is quite disappointing to go through the same interviews and clips all over again. But there's different things too: a great testimony from Maurice Seiderman, the make-up designer who made Kane's models to be used in Welles, and this is one of his last interviews; and the whole controversy surrounding Pauline Kael's essay "Raising Kane" and she appears to set things straight once and for all (I could sense some retraction of her).
I guess everything we needed know about Welles classic we already know, through this site or other sites, books, documentaries, and the film itself. It remains a mandatory picture and it never gets old. "The Complete Citizen Kane" is very well-made, worth watching and worth having if you can find it. 8/10