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La graine et le mulet (2007)
This COULD have been a very good movie
It had atmosphere, closely-observed characters, some genuine feeling and warmth - but it was spoiled by lack of editing. Too many scenes went on too long, were too close-up and seemed gratuitous - the dockyard boss ranting at Slimane - the buttocks exposed in Majid's sex scene - the little girl being potty-trained - the endless belly dance and chasing of the motorbike. The real interest lay in the Slimane's journey to start a business - his family and friend's help - his interactions with his extended family - but just where it could have crescendoed and could of given us the super-satisfying happy ending we would love to see, especially when so much investment is made into the characters- well, you'll find out. It reminded me of seeing My Beautiful Launderette the first time - whereas that movie was a success, and I could not say the same for this one, especially as the ending does not create any satisfying or meaningful conclusion.
Boring and Wrong
The life of the real Judge Bean was more interesting, at least as how it is recounted on Wikipedia, and if Wikipedia is true, then episodes of the movie go directly opposite events of the real Roy Bean's life.
The scene where Paul Newman orders the hanging of a criminal who doesn't think he has done anything wrong for killing a Chinese man? The real Bean made up that law himself as an excuse to release an Irish murderer from his crime - by saying that his law book ruled against killing human beings- not Chinamen.
The first man Bean ever killed was a Mexican "desperado," according to Wikipedia. At 41, he married an 18 year old Mexican girl and then was convicted of assaulting her in their marriage, which eventually led to a divorce after 4 children.
No, the real Judge Bean didn't sound at all like a person worth mythologizing, at least not THIS way, except as an example of misbehavior and notoriety - a far cry from this boring, lazy, star-vehicle movie with a truly reprehensible script that does a disservice to history and to our intelligence.
The only real interest this movie has is as a historical document and as an excuse to ogle the famous actors of the time - Paul Newman, Ava Gardner, a young Victoria Principal, who all play shallow, 2 dimensional characters.
Grizzly Man (2005)
Eerie and paradoxical
Frankly, I went hoping to hear first hand the grisly (no pun intended) footage of Treadwell and his girlfriend's death. It was frustrating and disappointing when Herzog took the higher moral ground of listening to it himself on earphones and making the audience watch his tearful reaction; then advising the woman, Treadwell's friend, who owned the tape, to destroy it.
I thought the documentary was good when it delved into Treadwell's upbringing and past connection with friends; and his ability to find entertainment in narrating himself among the bears. It was eerie, how many times Treadwell paradoxically contemplated the method of his own death. The fact is, Treadwell was something of an odd, irritating person...apparently bi-polar, with manic highs and sobbing, sentimental lows. In some scenes as he narrates the bears behind him he practically acts like Pee Wee Herman among the Grizzlies. It is no surprise when some of the documentary guests state their beliefs that Treadwell "got what he deserved" from risking death in his delusional bond with the bears.
I like everything, but the fact that Herzog would not allow the audience to hear the actual, final tape, or see photographs of the aftermath that are luridly described by a coroner but not shown.
The Dying Gaul (2005)
I just saw this at the Seattle Film Festival, Peter Saarsgard was there to answer questions. The movie is extremely watchable for the first half of the way through, is built on a fascinating premise with interesting characters (a bisexual movie producer and his wife who reside in a Lifestyles of the Rich And Famous type beachside modern mansion, a young gay writer whose lover has died of AIDS), and builds to a pitch of extreme suspense. After that, however, the plot stumbles and the film's conclusion turns on a series of unbelievable events. I thought since the movie was based on a play, the plot would be clear, but it's almost as if the movie version was forced to cut out some important sequences, as there is never quite enough information about 1) how the woman obtains all her inside information on the writer, 2) how the writer's ex-wife was related to the characters and 3) most importantly, what happens to the characters at the end of the movie.
I went into the bathroom after the movie and joined a lineup of women who were also asking each, "What exactly happened there?" --- when it's not clear it's a sign of unclear movie-making.
Another Good Japanese Animation Film
WARNING: PLOT SPOILERS BELOW - DO NOT READ IF YOU DON'T WANT SOME CHARACTERS REVEALED
A great animated thrill-ride peopled with archetypes and insanely detailed, awe-inspiring machinery and backgrounds. Steamboy is repeatedly asked, to what is the best end of science? To make people happy? To make powerful weapons that will harm one another? (or conversely to keep them safe from their enemies)? Or to entertain them? The main characters are a wild man grandfather, whose runs about most of the movie as naked as a castaway, representing an innocent but wild and raging nature figure, and believes power should be used to make people happy through entertainment; a cyborg father, who has given up on nature and harnessed the fruits of science to produce weapons to be sold cynically to capitalist bankers and salesmen, and the boy, who must watch the two battle each other for dominance, even while various other international elements fight over their inventions. As usual, Japanese cartoon films pose more complex questions than American ones, nor do they provide the same type of easy good/bad, black/white resolutions Americans are so fond of. Instead, each character is allowed to describe their opinions, and the boy, like the audience, must observe, listen to all sides, and think hard before drawing conclusions as to where his own heart lies. Following the unquestioned policies of ones family or national alliances alone is unwise. If only all people could learn to think like this.
I saw this at the Seattle Int'l Film Festival with the director in attendance. She was a slim blonde Englishwoman, a photographer and a friend of Nick Rhodes (of Duran Duran fame), who said that while in Los Angeles, it was the large amount of homeless people pushing "trollies" (shopping carts) that inspired her to make this documentary. She initially focused on how they obtained them and how they were used (i.e. as ways to cart their belongings, as ways to make a living recycling cans and bottles to support drug habits) and then she zooms in on several homeless who agreed to be filmed by her and let her into their lives. In the course of their movie you become moved by their plight, and in between the movie discusses statistics of homelessness, the percentage that are war veterans and mentally ill, the increasing lack of beds available to them in the city, and interviews activists with visions of how to help the homeless, former homeless people who describe how they have gotten out, and homeless who more or less feel doomed to remain as they are and why. In one scene she invites a homeless person she has gotten to know to attend a charity ball for the homeless at a luxury hotel - and amusingly, she has the camera record the shocked expressions of the tuxedoed valets as she asks them airily in her English accent to park her friend's shopping cart loaded with garbage bags of belongings in between the squads of limos arriving.
The movie is artistically shot, with plenty of great music from Lou Reed, John Cale, and Nick Rhodes, among others, which was donated as they are all socially conscious activists. Altogether an excellent movie about a depressing topic, delivered in much the way Mary Poppins delivers medicine with a spoonful of sugar. This movie reminds me of Born Into Brothels, also shown at the SIFF, which began with a female photographer who as she became more intimate with her subjects, took the opportunity to utilize the documentary form as a vehicle for enlightenment and social change.
Un coeur en hiver (1992)
Romantic Beautiful French Film
I saw this movie over ten years ago but I still remember it as a beautiful, sensitive, moving film. Emmanuelle Beart was incredibly beautiful in a cold blue eyed honey-haired way and Dan Auteuil was so handsome in that sexy laid-back French way. What I remember best about it, though, was how good the music was. The music was the best thing about it, combined with the beauty of the actors and their bittersweet romance. In fact, afterwards, I rushed out and bought the music of Ravel as performed by the Britten String Quartet for the movie. This is that kind of good movie. I highly recommend it for those who would like to see Emmannuelle Beart at her peak of beauty and to listen to the tender, yearning music of Ravel.
The Pianist (2002)
See the Pianist - Especially Now
A movie about the atrocities committed during WWII could not be more timely to watch than now, at a time when George Bush is comparing the "War on Terrorism" to WWII - odd since depending on what your politics are you might think that lately the US is acting more like the Nazis in this film than the rescuing Russians, with the common people of Afghanistan, Iraq and the US, like the Pianist, being caught in between as the inadvertent, non-politicized victims of the ideological/political war between the government of fascists and fundamentalists. Roman Polanski does a tremendous job of portraying the brutality and ugliness of war, and the beauty of human individuality when mercy, kindness, and love are demonstrated in the face of it. If all the political leaders with their agendas today were forced to sit in a room and watch this together, I wonder what they would say afterwards about it. Polanski had made a movie that will haunt those who see it forever -- a cinematic revelation that wisely reminds us--"Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it." It makes me hope that if perhaps if more love, kindness, mercy and understanding were demonstrated in politics today, we might be able to get further toward global peace. Using words like "Axis of Evil" on our side, and the terms fanatical fundamentalists use to describe us, only fan the flames of hatred - it does not help to put them out.
CHO Revolution (2004)
Another Fabulous Film from Margaret Cho
As a first generation, similarly "inappropriate" Asian American who grew up in a predominantly white city never quite feeling as "Asian" as other people seem to view me, there is no other comedian I can identify better with than Margaret Cho. Her range is fantastic - she can do hilarious impressions of everyone from asian "old school" relatives to George Bush and Condoleeza Rice, gay men to snotty 14 year olds, Japanese film samurai to Ukiyo-e pictures. I admire her tremendously - a brave, intelligent woman who manages to utilize her own closely-observed experiences of racism and sexism to educate the audience about it. An example - "Whenever I go to a dinner party, inevitably someone tells me 'Too Much Information,' and, 'Don't Go There.' -- Problem is - I live there. I bought a house there. I'll TAKE YOU THERE!'." She wisely advocates the need for constant communication and discussion to bring about the "CHO REVOLUTION."
Good Topic, Dull Documentary
If this is the same movie directed by Robert Stone and which I saw at the Seattle Int'l Film Festival today then I would have to say it was quite dull in places and in need of some editing. While it got across the interesting spectacle Patty Hearst made at the time - rich girl turned radical rebel ostensibly for the people - I would have liked to have seen more in-depth profiles of all involved prior to hearing them talk - of Patty, her parents, their relationship, the backgrounds of the other members of the party, etc. Too much of this film's information was just a dry re-telling of the news, and a dry outline of how the event affected the evolution of reporting and FBI investigative reporting. It's a fascinating and timely topic - in that today again we are faced with a conservative government and a growing rebellion against it complete with terrorist activity, only on a global instead of just domestic scale, but this documentary falls sadly short of portraying the events that unfolded in any particularly interesting or involving way. There's got to be a better documentary out there on this subject. Can anyone recommend any?