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Friends of Kim (2006)
Very interesting, more detail than other documentaries
This is an extraordinarily interesting documentary not only about reality vs. the warped narrative of North Korea, but a very revealing look at the unselfconscious clownishness of rented European left-wing militancy. The level of frankness the filmmakers managed to capture during this bizarre, almost comical "peace trip" sponsored by North Korea's paid Western agents is so full of rich atmosphere and detail that it is unmatched by the many more journalistic documentaries/exposes one normally sees on Western TV networks. It is ironic what befalls the ABC News reporter Andrew Morse, whose own documentary footage was seized during the trip, but the renegade Dutch filmmakers managed to get incredibly damning and revealing footage out in order to make this film. The only drawback is that some of the editing is amateurish and jarring, but it doesn't take much away in terms of the power of the images and stories they were able to capture.
"Gigli" on about a pound of cocaine
I was unfortunate enough to watch this film via On-Demand before it hit theaters. How is it that you can make a film where literally every character is an annoying idiot, completely lacking in humanity, and learns absolutely nothing of value from the ridiculous events that unfold (none of which ends up being funny)? The four women are at best droningly pathetic (Manhattanites in their 30s still carrying on about events from high school? Seriously?), and at worst just toxic and repellent. Anyone who has spent an entire night with a bunch of self-absorbed, coked out girls knows well enough what a bore it is. They didn't need to sit through "Bachelorette" to find out.
Evita Peron (1981)
Kind of silly
Dunaway was absolutely wrong for the part of Evita Peron, from start to finish. As with nearly all her roles, she played it all with out-sized shoulder-pads and overblown line delivery. What's worse, the film looks like it was shot in some dingy Mexican border town instead of the opulent capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires. The building they'd chosen for the iconic Casa Rosada looks something like an old Spanish war prison in Baja.
They have the chronology fairly correct, but little else is really accurate or even compelling drama in this adaptation of history. Peron launched a mass movement that transformed Argentina, at the time one of the biggest economic forces in the world, and his wife was a highly complex, colorful public person who worked herself to death for him and won the hearts of his political base with her naive, crypto-fascist concepts of the state's role as a mother to its people.
This film, sadly, portrays it all like a story arc on some Dynasty rip-off, set in some unrecognizable banana republic.
This is purely for die-hard Faye fanatics, and certainly NOT for any fans of the Peron story.
The Next Best Thing (2000)
Very nice start, but it drives off into a canyon
This film drew the usual raft of competing bitchy one-liner put-downs from all the critics. No surprise there, because the film is, on balance, a failure. But for many fans of Madonna - those who want to see that volcanic stage personality burst forth on screen FINALLY - this was one of the most frustrating experiences of her career. Because it's a film that could have been very good, and even started nicely enough. But the script took a rapid turn off the highway and became a lumbering, runaway truck heading into a canyon. Neither Madonna nor Rupert Everett nor director John Schlesinger could escape the wreck.
I agree that the film hit the wall after Abbie learns she's pregnant. It's that the film tried to carry all sorts of leaden political baggage instead of being a FILM. Having set itself up as a send-up of contemporary L.A. life, thinking itself so hip and modern until it goes too far, there was a lot of promise for this movie. Instead of the boring, groan-inducing turn the relationship took, it could instead have been a funny take on two highly self-absorbed people bumping up against the utterly selfless task of parenting, and alternately reaching their limits. Madonna and Everett would have run away with such characters and given them all sorts of humanity and comic touches.
But instead, the screenwriters reached their limit of creativity and murdered the film. I feel bad for both Everett (whose career nosedived after this film tanked) and Madonna, who had just come off a Golden Globe for "Evita" and a raft of Grammys for "Ray of Light".
How could the studio have done this to them? Who are the idiots who wrote the final screenplay?
There are funny, quirky moments, though. Madonna even has a few chances to poke fun at herself, and Everett has a funny turn by utterly queening out just to get even with one of her nasty exes. But those isolated moments just make "The Next Best Thing" even sadder to contemplate.
The Great New Wonderful (2005)
How a sudden, unnamed shock forced a city to look at itself in the mirror
The appearance of "United 93" and "The Great New Wonderful" at around the same time is a very fitting artistic take on the impact of 9/11 on the hearts and minds of Americans. So many other films have cropped up here and there, nearly all of them heartless polemical tirades from various points of view, which I think reflected more on feelings and opinions that existed before 9/11 and merely used the tragedy as a vehicle.
While "United 93" was a monument to the victims of 9/11, and how they faced down the human and political significance of that morning, "The Great New Wonderful" is a reflection of how the rest of us live with the personal, emotional aftermath of that day, whether we had a direct connection to the events or not.
"The Great New Wonderful" will probably be the only film dubbed a '9/11 movie' which didn't resort to any melodramatic exposition from that day to make its point. No flaming towers, no cheap-and-easy "my brother, the fireman who died/my sister, who was in Tower 1/my father, the cop...." plot devices. It vividly demonstrates the emotional, collateral role that 9/11 played in the lives of tens of millions of Americans who lived through that day and were shaken and transformed in ways that were too personal to articulate to others or themselves.
Beyond the film's calendar setting and the concluding moments which take place at about 9am on September 11, 2002, there is only one oblique reference to the attacks impacting a character directly, hidden among the films many humorous lines (an apt New York coping mechanism woven through the whole script), and it becomes a climax of its own, the moment in the story when each character's pent-up personal hell explodes forth.
Mid-way through the film, many of the far-flung characters end up together in an elevator. There is a sudden jolt, the lights flicker, and the sound of rattling cables and wires fills the space. It is a mere moment. Then, the elevator restarts and arrives at the floor of Sandie (Jim Gaffigan), who has spent the film attending therapy sessions in his company's break room with Dr. Trabulous (played by the sublime Tony Shaloub) to discuss some unnamed office tragedy which took place on "the 7th floor" of the company's offices in which several co-workers were killed. Sandie steps off the elevator, and a cranky old man in the back corner, seen earlier asking a cantankerous question at a Queens neighborhood meeting, mutters "well, you made it out alive," to which the cheery Sandie replied, "yeah!" and smiles. Minutes later, Sandie has finally opened up with Dr. Trabulous, in tears, realizing that behind his scarily cheerful, productive, doe-eyed American veneer he is seething with rage and anguish and trauma. In due course, the explosion inside Sandie is so primal that he leaves the doctor with a head wound on the floor and flees on foot to his parents' home in Connecticut.
But Sandie is an exception -- being the only presumed direct victim of the attacks, he is the only one with a doctor caring for his wounds. The rest of the characters -- from Olympia Dukakis' somnabulent, elderly housewife to the self-absorbed yuppie couple (Judy Greer and Thomas McCarthy) who cannot grasp the venality of their son's mental illness -- like us were left to struggle alone. Perhaps the most ingenious subplot involves the pointless rivalry between Maggie Gyllenhaal and Edie Falco, a signature New York/U.S. upper-class drama in a laughably (but all too believable) superfluous world where rich, idiotic clients pay tens of thousands of dollars for birthday cakes, and the two wealthy cake-artists are vying for the decisive favor of a spoiled, uninterested teen-aged heiress. (Will Arnett's turn as Gyllenhaal's pampered husband is a great touch.) So brilliant -- cakes! -- representing the ruthless spiritual hollowness of so much of Manhattan's gliteratti before 9/11, and as Falco says in her one, powerful scene, "it's amazing how after everything that has happened, everything is still the same."
"The Great New Wonderful" is such an unsentimental, powerfully true look in the mirror; it is required-viewing in the 9/11 oeuvre. While "United 93" is a raw, draining and ultimately necessary catharsis akin to an open-casket wake, this film will stay with you much, much longer. It makes stark moral statements -- some might even argue it explores the human, non-political, universal root of the murderous criminality of 9/11 itself -- and sometimes the audience's reaction in the theater (keep an eye out for when the nervous laughter in the room subsides, or if it subsides at all) is just as fascinating as the action on screen.
Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
If only for one scene, see it...
"Everyone Says I Love You" is the last of a series of smaller, wonderful films that spanned a decade after Woody Allen's box office and Oscar triumph, "Hannah and Her Sisters". It is by far his most gushingly sentimental film, and the musical he FINALLY got around to making. It's ironic that this films draws a sort of inspiration from perhaps the most reviled film musical in history, Peter Bogdanovich's "At Long Last Love" (1976), in that the actors (most of whom can't sing a note) often suddenly break into song to express their innocent moments of passion, love, pain, sorrow, fear and joy. And many of the musical moments are sung live as filmed (and it shows), yet there is a lovely nakedness to this, much like when you spy a loved one singing in front of the mirror, thinking no one is around.
Beyond the hardcore Woody fans who will find much to love and study in this showpiece, if you have any amount of silly love in your heart, see it through to the scene near the end with Allen and Goldie Hawn which begins at the Groucho Marx party and climaxes beside the Seine.
It makes the whole film worthwhile. It gave me goosebumps the first time I saw it, much like when I saw my best friend walk up the aisle with her now-husband years ago.
Allen reminds us again that this little shiver is as important as anything else in life.
Another Woman (1988)
Small and golden
"Another Woman" was the first in a decade of gems in Woody Allen's film-making canon, nearly all of them small dramas with very precise stories. It is, perhaps, among his best because of how modest, how quiet and how emotionally and psychologically affecting it is. Surprisingly so.
It is the story of a classic introvert, played with magnificent discipline by Gena Rowlands, who has constructed a very tight shell around herself she never realized she lived behind. But from the moment we see her and hear her narrative voice in the opening frame, we see it. We feel it. And we relate to it while we also scoff at it.
And bit by bit, in her small corner of life in Manhattan's old, stoney, by-the-park world where the film is set, Marion's shell is cracked and peeled by the inevitable twists of life, even for people like her. And the funny, coincidental shocks -- most penetratingly through a device Allen uses -- end up stirring Marion's self-doubt and self-awareness for the first time in her life. She whirrs to life, finally. She feels real pity, real humiliation, real regret, and real girlish passion under a Central Park bridge in the middle of a rainstorm.
Indeed, much like a classic introvert, all of Marion's turning points happen when she is alone (except, of course, the romantic one -- but alas, it only is realized as she relives it alone in a room). And if you've ever hopelessly loved an introvert like Marion, you'll applaud Allen's insight into the way such people operate. Perhaps it's the only film of his in which Allen really communicates the hell and the loneliness of such a personality without any tonic of humor.
But this is not a dreary film, far from it. It has a golden beauty to it despite the beigey-ness. When Marion's real warmth and humanity pulses to life in "Another Woman", it has a hopefulness and naivety that redeems all of her blathery intellectualism, much like we must forgive some of Allen's dialogue which must read better in subtitles overseas than it sounds to us (much less so in this film than of its butterscotchy predecessor, "September").
Indeed, in "Another Woman" -- much like in the small-and-golden films that followed like "Crimes and Misdemeanors", "Shadows and Fog," "Alice", and finally, with a gush of fully re-realized wonderful sentimentality in "Everybody Says I Love You" -- Allen doesn't hide so much behind his shtick and comes right out and says how he feels.
Added in are some really fantastic cameo performances. Mia Farrow's whiny, hormonal character has a humanity to it that leaves just the right kind of taste in your mouth by the end. Blythe Danner is wonderful as the best friend who ends up being more (or perhaps less) complex than you initially realize, and Ian Holm is pitch-perfect as the moral match for Marion's cranially-steeled self. Martha Plimpton does the young, rich prep-school girl justice without making her a cartoon. Sandy Dennis' two scenes are riveting -- her character's emotionality clearly something Marion had an intense jealously toward (and Dennis hits it out of the park so well in a way that you imagine the main scene was done in one take). And John Houseman, in his last moments on screen, brings a sort of brave, memorable rawness to his speech about the end of life -- Allen owes a great debt to him for this.
If you have someone like Marion in your life, someone intelligent whom you love yet you find maddeningly introverted and remote -- go onto Amazon and quietly send them "Another Woman" with a very sparing note. And while you probably shouldn't expect a very revealing note back a week or so after it arrives, be content to know that it will likely have quite an effect. A small and golden one.