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Patriot, Gentleman,and an American Original: Pete Seeger
Since childhood, I've been a fan of folk music. Before the Beatles, I was not a rock-n-roller. I was a folkie. So the documentary, "Pete Seeger: The Power of Music," was a must-see film.
This film was every bit as good as I thought it would be. It covers both Seeger's music and the politics that both inspired and was inspired by it.
Being a lefty, I am sympathetic to Seeger's humanistic politics. But the music, oh the music, is so wonderful. The film reminds us why Pete was as important to twentieth-century music as the Tin Pan Alley composers and musicians (the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, et al), the R&B/rockers (Little Richard, Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, et al), and all the folkies he inspired (Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul, and Mary; the Kingston Trio, et al).
If this film comes to your town, go and see it. Something magical is likely to happen when you do. You will suddenly hear people in the audience do something unheard of in a movie theater. You will hear them singing along. And rather than being annoying, the gentle harmonies will embrace you like your favorite warm jammies on a cold winter night.
Enjoy! (9.5 out of 10)
The 11th Hour (2007)
An extremely important, poorly delivered message
What a shame. This is the most important issue of all time. It's too bad the film spoke ten miles over the heads of its audience.
I know about the environmental movement, the issues, and the players. I thought Al Gore's film and book were outstanding. But after ten minutes with this film, I was lost. I was lost because I was pelted by experts with expert-speak. This is absolutely NOT how to reach an audience if that audience is non-experts.
My college work is in political science, sociology, and technical writing and editing. If you want to make an impact on an audience, you must target the message to the audience, like Al Gore did. You cannot bludgeon a non-tech savvy audience with techno babble. Talking about the abstract concept we call "the environment" won't work. You have to tell people both how these separate facets are affecting them now, sometimes in ways they don't realize, and how they will likely affect them in five years, ten years, twenty years, etc.
The good news is, this was attempted several times in the film. When it was, it reached me. One example was when an interviewee spoke about the growth of asthma among school children. That was good. Because I am the uncle of three children under 11 years of age, that had a direct connection to my life. If the film had been at least half of this, it would be much more successful in delivering the message. Instead, the noise killed the message.
Leo, I really appreciate what you tried to do. But you lost me. May I suggest you pick up a classic book on environmental rhetoric. It is "Green Culture," by Herndl and Brown. Pay attention to the essay "Saving the Great Lakes." It will show you how to reach both your audience and the powers that be by recounting the real-life impact this environmental devastation is having on our lives.
The next thing I'd like to see is a weekly television series on Sundance Channel, or perhaps in syndication, that shows the daily impact of catastrophic climate change on the average person. It would be an environmental version of Morgan Spurlock's "30 Days" series. I believe it's impact would be profound.
Wild at Heart (2006)
Good Series. Now Duplicated in US as Life is Wild.
I like this gentle show. First of all, I love animals. Second, I like fish-out-of-water stories. Third, the acting is excellent. I am a fan of Stephen Thompkinson, ever since first seeing him in Ballykissangel.
For some, the sentimental nature of the stories is worthy of a roll of the eyes or feigned disgust. Me? I love sentimental stories. They tend to get to the emotional nitty gritty that most of us do not want explored, either in others or ourselves. If we did, we would have no need of therapists, right? And so we denigrate those who explore this psychological ground, using symbols and story lines to tell us something about ourselves. That makes sentimental pieces invaluable, I think. So, I enjoy the emotional region the program explores, and especially the difficulty in having the two families assimilate into one. You see, their difficulties parallel of the overall difficulty in assimilating into the African lifestyle. That makes the story lines a touch more sophisticated than the eye rollers give it credit for.
The episode where everybody comes down with an illness (won't spoil it for you) is genuinely well done and kept me riveted.
I am dreading the US version, though I like the idea that Rutger Hauer will play the Afrikkaner, Du Plessis.
Go ahead and watch. It won't bite. But it will entertain.
Man of the Century (1999)
Extra! Extra! Johnnie Twenties is the Berries!
Coming across like the big six, The Man of the Century left me grungy for a better day. The writing and direction hit on all sixes. The music was dandy. And when Johnnie and Samantha danced the Charleston beautifully, I was hooked like a mackerel on joy juice.
The smiles were strong, the music keen, and the photography in stellar black-and-white. The actors all played it straight, which made the film work perfectly.
Where did Adam Abraham, the director, go? He only made a few films, won a slew of awards for this one, and then nada!
The next time this film is on IFC, sit your keester down, give it five, and you will see what a keen flicker it really is. It simply slayed me!
A Very Good Film with One HUGE Flaw
This is clearly a great movie. The story and music left me in tears, and I can't remember the last time I could say that. The acting didn't look like acting. It was all quite real. The direction was sharp and tight. The cinematography was excellent. It is a great film except for one big problem the sound mix was horrible.
For a musical, it is unconscionable to have flat, high-tone sound. Marketa Irglova, the female lead, has an extremely thick Czech accent mixed with hints of Irish brogue. This makes a clear sound mix vital to understanding her important dialog. I have top notch hearing. If you have anything less, this may make listening to the film a very real problem. You may want to wait for the TV release so you can view it with closed captioning.
The music was excellent, and Glen Hansgard sounds incredibly like Cat Stevens. Close your eyes and listen. Wow!
Other than the sound problem, this is one of those beautiful, small, independent films that will grab your heart and make you smile through your tears.
Waking the Dead (2000)
The Best Program on BBC America So Far
I'd give this series a 10 minus if I could. This series is so compelling, I lack the words to express it. And that's saying something for me.
We just finished viewing season six on BBC America, and I say with greatest admiration that I hope it comes back for as many seasons as the producers, actors and writers wish. You have a willing viewer, here.
I also wish BBC America would show the whole of each episode. Some of the jump cuts between scenes create periodic non sequitors. It appears as though parts of the narrative are shaved off to make room for advertisements.
Trevor Eve may be one of the best actors I've ever seen.
Away from Her (2006)
A Must See Film
What makes us who we are? Are we not really the memories of our experiences, the memories of who we are in relation to others? And when those memories begin to vanish, one by one, and sometimes in whole volumes at once, in a very real sense don't we cease to exist? And what happens when others remember the less savory moments of our lives and we don't? What happens when the memory of an individual's personality no longer exists in its full context, of the interplay between light and dark moments? What if those are the only memories they have of us?
These are the various questions explored in the complex character study, "Away from Her."
Technically and artistically, the film is a wonder. My mother lived the last years of her life in a nursing home. She began living there too young, as does Fiona, played by Julie Christie. The feel of the home is exactly right. Administrator Madeleine, played perfectly by Wendy Crewson, is like every administrator I met over fifteen years. She is all business, and completely emotionally removed from her job-- except for one fleeting moment, when she turns tail and walks away from another's tragedy as quickly as she can. But I can forgive her. For her, this is self-preservation. And then there is the character whose life is predicated on empathy: nurse Veronica. I swear I knew her in all her many disguises while Mom lived and died in the nursing home. She was played with a genuine sense of compassion by Deanna Dezmari.
There was one weak performance, and it must be noted. I don't know what happened with her preparation for the role, but Olympia Dukakis was completely miscast. She simply didn't understand the character. The delivery of almost every line was flat and condescending to the audience, like she was reading from cue cards. Not good.
There are the three beautiful performances in the film. They are by Michael Murphy, Gordon Pinset (Grant, who is Fiona's husband), and Julie Christie. Pinset's voice rumbles like that of a purring cat. He and Christie played their parts with such incredible attention to detail that I knew I had seen these people in my mother's nursing home. My heart was lost to their characters as each struggled with memories-- he to have his wife remember, and she, perhaps, to forget him altogether. Michael Murphy plays Aubrey, a former executive who is left profoundly brain damaged by a viral infection. Murphy forced me to deal with his character's full range of emotions, from frustration, to love, to empathy, all with his eyes, all with his facial expressions, all without ever saying a word! What an amazing pantomime!
The film's ability to affect the viewer, to create so deep a level of pathos, is a testament to writer/director Sarah Polley's skill as an artist and love for her characters.
It is Mother's Day weekend in the U.S., and I had just taken flowers to Mom's grave before seeing the film. Needless to say, writer/director Polley almost had me in deep emotional distress several times. I am almost there, now, as I write this. And I've already told my father NOT to see this film because it will hit him too closely.
If you don't mind shedding a tear or two, or contemplating your own future in a world determined to forget who you are, this film is a MUST!
Whom to Trust?
Whom to trust? That seems to be director Paul Verhoven's question throughout this film. The answer is one you learned back in grade school, but I won't elaborate here so as not to spoil the film for you.
The film clocks in at almost 2 1/2 hours, but is hardly noticeable as it proceeds at breakneck speed. The story is fascinating, intricate, and the characters realistic and well played. The only significant flaw is the score, which sounds like something Bernard Hermann would have written for Alfred Hitchcock or Brian DePalma ("Obsession" comes to mind). Perhaps that was the intention, as the film does bear some resemblance to Hitchcock's "The Thirty-nine Steps." If so, it just did not work for me because the pace of the images on the screen did not match the pace of the music, the former being clipped and the latter meandering.
The acting was simply excellent. I couldn't get over Carice van Houten's resemblance to Debbie Reynolds. At times she would turn her head a certain way and, wow! Astonishing! Good work by hair and makeup!
It was also kind of fun (sounds odd, I know) to watch a new World War II spy film. I think it would have worked as a film during the 40s, too, removing the "R" scenes and shooting it in black-and-white.
Anyway, I give the film a 7.75 rating. It makes for a nice afternoon at the movies. Enjoy!
One Word: Brilliant
Perhaps you're old enough to remember when NBC aired Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" as a teleplay back in the late 70s, featuring Robbie Benson and Glynnis O'Connor as George and Emily, and Hal Holbrook as the stage manager. It was an excellent production that featured minimalist sets which helped focus attention on the story and its message.
Think of "Dogville" is "Our Town's" dark, brooding, tragic twin, with elements of a very dark Walton's episode thrown in for good measure. The same use of stark set decoration proves absolutely riveting.
This film is an intense experience from beginning to end, even though we all know what happens to us mortals when we refuse a visit from Grace, ala the Biblical story of Sodom.
The acting is a thing of wonder. It turns out Nicole Kidman isn't really a movie star. She's an independent film siren, and this is not her only indie.
I dare go no further for fear of spoiling the film.
It usually runs in America on cable/satellite on IFC: Independent Film Channel, and is well worth seeing.
We Are All Connected
You may remember the story of the Tower of Babel. All the people of the earth spoke one language, and decided to build a tower that would reach into Heaven itself. And God, ever frightened that man should become like God, went down and "confounded" man's speech and scattered mankind across the face of the earth. So, they stopped building the tower, a symbol of man's unity. They got the message.
Babel is a story about the boundaries that confound mankind's ability to live in peace and the underlying connectedness that binds all mankind, that voids all boundaries.
The story, however, shows just how connected we are, and how, despite our different ways of speaking, how we look, and how different our cultures operate and see the world, we are all connected by our common humanity to this planet, and that the innocent act of one person can set off a chain of events that affects the whole world.
It is a very, very good film. The acting is brilliant. My only fear is, for people who are not readers, the three story lines may be hard to understand as one story with three parts. Yet, this is what makes Babel such wonderful storytelling. Well done.
The film even ends with the image of a daughter, stripped naked emotionally by grief at her mother's death, and her father consoling each other as they stand on the balcony of their condo tower. Nice touch.