4 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Rakuen (1998)
Enchanting film
23 July 2005
Well, this won't be my useful commentary ever, as I'm afraid it's been awhile. I saw this film at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it was one of my favorite films that year. It is a gentle and enchanting meditation on grief and change. (I think I saw it within a day of Hirokazu Kore-Eda's After Life, which may say something about the themes that cropped up in the festival that year).

The actors (whom, if I recall correctly were not professionals) are wonderful, acting with little dialogue, but conveying all the myriad emotions they need to. Visually, the film is beautiful. A disillusioned young man joins a grief-stricken older man in building a traditional boat. Seems simple, and it is outwardly, but like any journey of emotional healing there's a lot going on under the surface. I recommend it, and giving yourself over to it.
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Compelling film about life during war
12 September 2004
Incredible performances from a cast mainly comprised of children and teens. Director/writer Bahman Ghobadi blends day-to-day experiences common to people everywhere (falling in love, being asked to do something you don't really know how to do, etc ...) , with some of the realities of life in a Kurdish village in Iraq before the (most recent) war, to create an incredibly moving film. It is at once specific to its time and place, and universal. There is horror and humour, honour and compassion.

It's beautifully filmed, too, but the power comes totally out of the stories and the kids, who are in effect playing themselves.

I saw this at a festival, don't know what kind of distribution it will get, but I strongly recommend anyone who gets the chance going to see it.
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Garden State (2004)
Charming and introspective
7 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Garden State is one of those gentle, introspective films that rarely get made, and when they do rarely work. It is (as studio execs turning down the script apparently told Braff) "execution dependent". As is evidenced by the fact that two of those same studios are now bringing the film to theaters, the execution works.

It's not a film for everyone. It has no desire to meet audience expectations in the old-school "if you see a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it better have been fired before the final curtain" rule of theatre. Don't expect Scrubs-style one liners. (If I had to compare this film to a TV series it would be Six Feet Under.) It is in no way a straight-ahead comedy. Its most powerful moments are often silent, shared understanding between characters.

If you're willing to settle in for the long haul it is very rewarding, despite its flaws (it's a first time film, it's gonna have 'em). It put me in mind of Tom Gilroy's indie film of a few years ago, Spring Forward. Though I have to say Garden State felt more consistent than I remember that film being.

The acting is great. Peter Sarsgaard is particularly impressive.

I would have liked to have seen more of Ian Holm as the father, though I qualify this by saying I think the movie is truer as it is. I felt the need for some information and set up that the film never found an opportunity to provide vis a vis Large's father's intentions and desires for his family. When they are revealed they are, while not unbelievable, a surprise (not a dramatic revelation, either, just something the audience didn't know). But the movie is committed to being from Large's point of view, which I can't fault, and as a result we don't get as far into the hearts and minds of other characters, especially one Large is avoiding!

Garden State is definitely what the studios call summer counter-programming, but I hope people in those cities it gets released in will take a break from Spiderman 2 and the rest of the blockbusters, and check it out.


A word about the ending - I liked the ending. I believed it, although I didn't feel the need for it to be quite so dramatic. I would have been happy if he'd made his decision on the steps.

Listening to friends and other people talk about it there were some common themes. Some wondered why Sam (Natalie Portman) couldn't just go with Large (i.e. why the female character didn't give up her home, job and ambitions to be with the male character. Might be some unconscious sexism, but audiences are also used to secondary characters giving up their dreams to support protagonists, so I give 'em the benefit of the doubt.) As with other conventions Garden State doesn't care, and I applaud it for that. I'd have been disappointed if Large had invited Sam out to Tinseltown and she had said yes.

Others wanted him to stay on the plane. I argue that the whole point of the third act (and despite Braff and other's comments to the contrary I think the film does fall rather neatly into three acts: act two begins with meeting Sam/the doctor's office, and ends with the scream from the Ark) is that Large has found his way out of his rut. He's not avoiding his life anymore.

Others were uncomfortable with the unfinished quality of the ending. As in real life, the characters are not done growing. Their story arcs have not resulted in some perfect understanding that we are to believe will govern their actions for the rest of their lives. We could easily come back and visit Large in a few years and have another movie, just as messy, just as complicated.

In the spirit of Decline of the American Empire/The Barbarian Invasions, I kind of hope we do.
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Firefly (2002–2003)
Could have been great
30 May 2004
As with BtVS, the world is divided into people who get Firefly and people who don't. In this series Joss Whedon created one of the most realistic post-war visions of the future ever committed to tape, that at the same time spoke about yesterday and today. Maybe a little too much today for its own good.

The series is anti-corporate, anti-government and, while it takes the stand that some things are worth fighting for, it is largely anti-war. No wonder FOX did everything in its power to kill it off, including airing episodes out of order, skipping weeks after airing only three eps and, inevitably canceling the show without even airing episodes 12, 13 and 14 (out of 15). This was particularly damaging, as Firefly had a greater sense of ongoing plot than any other Whedon series in its first year. Viewers were left wondering, on more than one occasion, when a character would reference something we hadn't seen yet.

The backstage dramatics aside, Firefly is intelligent and, like Buffy, mythic - except this time Whedon is dealing with the myth of America: the Frontier, the Civil War, the rise of the Corporation, etc . . .

Firefly is a demanding show. It asks its audience to appreciate the shades of grey in its characters' moral scale. The villains are not comfortingly dressed as an alien race. In 500 years mankind will still be its own worst enemy. Technology will be in the hands of a privileged few, and others will in "The Black" - Whedon's frontier third world - where it is possible to exist without the interference (or benefit) of civilization and government. Things will be dirty, and used. Firefly creates a universe that almost totally opposes that of (that bastion of television sci-fi) Star Trek: its Federation-like central power (the Alliance) is interpreted as being oppressive and dystopic. We are on the side of those who resisted (like the Maqui) and lost.

The acting is strong, the writing as excellent, funny and moving as on any Whedon show, and the effects and sets create a consistent, believable world. It is a shame the series didn't have a more hospitable environment in which to grow and become all it could have been.
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