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14 reviews in total 
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8 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
John Waters' Fabulous World, 18 April 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's really interesting that my favorite movie in the Istanbul Film Festival so far is the least cinematic of them all. Essentially, "This Filthy World" is just a means of taking John Waters' one-man show to people who can't see it otherwise. And thank God for that! (I can just imagine Waters saying that, can't you?) It's not particularly notable for its use of mise-en-scene, music, or art direction. But it's funny as sh*%.

Waters' shtick is well-known, and I love it. I don't care if he did make Serial Mom, I've always loved his movies. I love Polyester, Pink Flamingos, and Female Trouble. Trash as an art and comedic form just seems so naturally funny to me, as do Waters and his acolytes, or shall I say "tramps"? I think he would like that better.

This movie is his one-man show, stories about the films he saw while growing up (many of which I would love to get copies of), the people he grew up with (Divine, Mink Stole, and more), and numerous mis-adventures. He throws in quips about things that bother him, the humor of people in Baltimore (followed by the best line in the movie, quoted from a fellow Baltimorean: "Because you're an asshole!!"), and the growing outlandishness of sexual behavior, even for someone with John Waters' standards, adult diapers anyone? I never would have thought he was so funny on his own but he truly truly is. This is his torch song I guess, and you can tell he's a nice and loyal guy because he rarely has a mean word for anybody, and even his name-dropping in graceful. He's one of the few famous people that I think I would really love to hang out with. He shows us that not having talent or money can not only be cool but is actually a potential for success. That's comforting.

On one last note, I also found it interesting that Waters' favorite director was Joseph Losey. Never in a million years would I have thought of Losey as a candidate, Ed Wood perhaps, or one of the many other loony directors he mentions in the film. Although of all people he can probably appreciate how under-appreciated Losey was and is, his stubborn scrappiness, and even the importance of this quotation from the master director of Monsieur Klein: "Film is a dog: the head is commerce, the tail is art. And only rarely does the tail wag the dog."

Burn! (1969)
2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Queimada! Don't forget the exclamation mark!, 18 April 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

While watching this film, I had to wonder how different it would have been historically and even cinematically without Marlon Brando. His presence looms larger than the burned island we're introduced to at the beginning of the film. Considering that one of the early images of the movie is a white island whose land was colored or rather dis-colored by the dried bones of African slaves brought to the island after the total destruction of the native population by Portuguese "settlers", it does point to Brando's ability to fill a screen.

I had never seen a film by Gillo Pontecorvo, which is pretty blasphemous for any self-respecting, pompous cinephile such as myself although Battle for Algiers is high on my list, along with other films that my friends can't believe I haven't seen, like Rashomon, Apocalypse Now, or The Wild Bunch. This film, however, is kind of what I expected from someone whose work is as politically-informed as Pontecorvo's and very characteristic of late 60s-early 70s cinema: frenetic camera movement, jump cuts, hammy yet stirring close-ups, and the highlighting of political injustice.

Brando plays SIR William Walker, a colonial troubleshooter for England's sugar industry, or interests. Basically, Walker goes to Queimada to foment revolution against the Portuguese, meets and "trains" the porter Jose Dolores (played by the studly Evaristo Marquez). Dolores. In Spanish "dolor" means pain. I wonder if it's similar in Portuguese. If so, it makes sense because Walker leaves after doing his fomenting and then returns ten years later to bring down the powers that he helped earlier because of their threats to the sugar interests. Throughout the film, the interaction between Walker and Dolores dominates and forms the narrative arc. In the end, after much back-and-forth, Dolores shows Walker that he and only he is the master of his destiny, just as the Developing World attempted to show the Developed World back in that era. I use capital letters here because these terms have been utilized so thoroughly and are so politically loaded that they are characters themselves, with a relationship built on ideology, passion, corruption, and exploitation, rather similar to Walker's and Dolores'.

Pontecorvo attempts to show the injustice of colonialism through this microcosm of Queimada, but he's also using the relationship between Walker and Dolores to add a deeper layer to this conflict by using something audiences can always relate to: character development. But it felt dated and just didn't seem to work for me. In fact, it was an 11 am movie so I fell asleep for part of it. When I woke up and asked my boyfriend what I'd missed, he said "Not a lot, just Brando slapping people around." I gently nodded off for another fiver. I knew that the sugar interests were going nowhere for the moment.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Deep..., 12 April 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

How could I not go see this?! Several dejected moviegoers were asking me if I had extra tickets when going in at the Istanbul film festival. I tried to reassure them that the local documentary film channel would probably be showing it in the near future. Luckily, I saw no men in trenchcoats and proceeded in.

I have to give the filmmakers props, they treated the subject with respect and even-handedness. The film isn't about pornography, but rather how this particular movie played a role in America in the 1970s. Obviously, the filmmakers are on the side of freedom of speech, but they treated Linda Lovelace's family with respect. Crisply edited and well-paced, it features such talking heads as Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, John Waters (who I got to see for a second time this festival- yay!), Dick Cavett (who obviously was having a ball with the whole thing), Camille Paglia, Erica Jong, Dr. Ruth, and members of the crew and cast of this historically important film.

Historically important however, because of 20/20 hindsight. Obviously, any director of this subject is bound to suffer from some notions of grandeur. The statement at the end of the film that claims "Deep Throat" was not important because it was the first blow job movie but rather because it served as a crusader for the 1st amendment shows a bit of overreaching. Yeah, many aspects of society converged on the release of the film, but in this age of overanalysis and micro-niche studies of history (e.g. the invention of spandex and how it changed the world!), I often feel that films such as these are less about illuminating the public and more about illuminating the talking heads and mini-industries that spring up around them.

In certain ways however, it is a historically important document. For example, since I don't know the history of the porn industry, I didn't know that this film essentially launched the obsession men have with fellatio. If you look at porn ads (and I have to daily when I check my email) you can easily see the truth in that claim.

I also didn't know about the court cases, how the mafia played such a major role, or just how profitable this film was, particularly when examined in the backdrop of the 1970s, when Nixon was going out and Carter coming in. It's interesting how something as major as a presidential election would affect the outcome of the case, as one lawyer says to "Deep Throat" actor Harry Reems, "If a Republican wins, you're going to jail. If a Democrat wins, you won't." A Republican won, and the lawyer was right.

Sigh. Seeing Reems debate Ray Cohn just honed in for me how much I dislike right-wing nitwits. Obviously, not much has changed between then and now. The culture wars continue, and people still don't want to stay out of others' bedrooms. Now who is more perverse? Note: I was wondering if the filmmakers were going to show an example of Lovelace's amazing oral abilities and was really struggling to think how it could be done tastefully (no pun intended). They did show it and I have to hand it to them, it was done simply, with no big fuss and very quickly. Talking about censorship and then not showing a clip of what made the film so famous would have been problematic, wouldn't it?

16 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Stark portrayal of injustice, 12 April 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Never mind Ozgurcd's review of this film, he or she is not reviewing the film (who knows if he or she even saw it) but merely spouting political views about a touchy subject in Turkey. I'm Turkish and know all about Turkish victimization paranoia. I would rather judge the film on its own merits and perhaps acknowledge and discuss the politics also. This film is less about the Turkish-Kurdish divide as it is about class and the issues of migrant workers in Istanbul. This plot could happen anywhere in the world. Here's my review: "Journey to the Sun" is an almost perfect film, but hurt by the stilted acting. God, why can't Turkish people act in film? Either it's over-dramatic (as if they've confused the camera lens with a theater audience) or it's so understated to be nonexistent. This film suffers from the latter. I know this happens with non-actors and though I have always loved the Italian neo-realists, I have also always thought they could have used a hefty dose of the Actors' Studio.

But back to the movie, Journey has a lot in common with the neo-realists, by attempting to show the stark reality of migrant life in Istanbul. We first get a glimpse of this in the opening scene, in the form of shots of people unrelated to the film, and most likely just faces in the crowd of the busy neighborhood of Eminonu.

This is the story of two friends, one Kurdish (Berzan) and one not, but who is so dark-skinned as to be mistaken for one (Mehmet). Mehmet is from Tire on the Aegean Sea coast while Berzan is from a village near the Iraqi border. They are both migrant workers, trying to eek out an existence. The tragi-comic circumstances in which they meet work as an eerie foreshadowing for the events to come. A band of drunk hooligans attempt to beat up a man they think is Kurdish and Mehmet and Berzan save him. They then have to run to save their own asses.

All goes well until one day Mehmet is mistaken for a Kurd through a plot twist I won't go into here and is taken to the police station, tortured, and then let go. The treatment he gets after that brings him on a multi-tiered journey: of political and social enlightenment, of identity, of geography (he ends up going to the East). Berzan is certainly working with some underground organizations, but this is never made clear. We see him as Mehmet sees him, Mehmet being the non-Kurd and representing the non-Kurdish audience that Ustaoglu must, in some way, think is watching this film. This aspect is somewhat problematic. Would Berzan somehow be less sympathetic to us if we knew what he was up to? I don't know, and can't say for sure.

This is, however, a beautiful film, with the more serious threads punctuated with moments of humor and touching detail. The mise-en-scene is so exquisitely rendered, so detail-oriented that the director must have spent time with the everyday people that we normally just passed by. I love seeing women directors creating such important and moving work, it gives me hope. What's the point of highlighting injustice if there is no hope? I dare not be a nihilist. And while the the penultimate scene at the submerged Kurdish village is close to heartbreaking, like many scenes in the film (Mehmet dying his hair blonde in an attempt to seem less Kurdish then reversing his identity and taking on Berzan's own identity) it never totally breaks you because the characters are never totally broken.

18 out of 33 people found the following review useful:
Romanticized favela life, 7 April 2006

Documentary content: Amazing man, amazing movement he started, amazing stories- most of them yet to be really told.

Celluloid treatment: Nike Ad. Sorry, ain't got nothing else to say about this but that you can say all you want about the dire circumstances in the favelas, but... if you attempt to support that claim with flashy and romanticized images and camera-work of that life, the humbleness necessary to show this life as an outsider filmmaker goes out the window. And with that goes the legitimacy of the narrative. Besides that, the time-space continuum in the film is all off, and I'm not necessarily against that in films as a tool, but here it serves only to confuse the viewer into wondering what was said when; thus leading me to the question: is this a documentary or a docudrama?

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
"A director doesn't make a cult film, an audience makes a cult film.", 7 April 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This alliteratively titled film is more about the margin than the mainstream. In fact, the movies it examines were far beyond the margin. Are they still? That's an important question to which I don't know the answer.

The birth of the midnight showing of cult films started in the early 1970s, in a political climate that was ripe for disillusioned, ironic film goers to pour their unrealized idealism into films that made heroes out of freaks. Six of those movies are highlighted in this film, which takes a non-flashy, straightforward talking head approach to examining how the movies were made, distributed, and received. Luckily the talking heads are the directors and the cinema owners who dared to show these films, often for years before they gathered a following. The films include, in temporal order, Jodorowsky's El Topo, Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Perry Henzell's The Harder they Come, John Waters' Pink Flamingos, Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Lynch's Eraserhead.

As one person in the film said, and I'm roughly quoting here: "A director doesn't make a cult film, an audience makes a cult film." and that's essentially what brings these films together. The right political climate, the right tone, the right distributor, the right director, essentially everything coming together to create the perfect word-of-mouth hit. Samuels chooses to allow critics to discuss the films but more importantly the directors themselves are on hand to examine and explain their work, thus showing directly the different thought processes that took place, but also indirectly how each personality is manifest directly in the film! Waters IS Pink Flamingos, O'Brien isn't just Riff Raff but also a huge chunk of Rocky, Lynch is industrial Philadelphia. These films are the directors and vice-versa precisely because they were low budget, underground, and made with such verve and dedication. I would daresay these directors are closer to their films than big budget, mainstream directors. That makes us closer to the films too.

Besides personality, a different aspect of film-making is described in each film. For example, for El Topo Jodorowsky describes how he combined different genres (spaghetti western, horror, coming of age, etc.) . Romero discusses shooting the closing scenes of his film in a style similar to the news reels of Vietnam and the other news shows of the day, with their growing depiction of the day-to-day senseless violence seemingly affecting the country at large. Waters describes the importance of filth as a theme and the Charles Manson trial as an influence on his films, while O'Brien and others discuss the difference between the stage version of Rocky versus the film (interestingly enough, audiences begin to co-opt the film and create their own stage version- thus bringing the film back to its theatrical roots).

This is what a documentary should be, the documentarist should allow the story to tell itself, not be the story itself. I'm no firm believer in captured objectivity, but I still fundamentally believe in a documentary's pedagogic powers. I want to learn something, dammit! I did here. And it also reminded me of what I love about cult movies and anything cult in general. Though seemingly marginal, cult has the power to make a person feel very much not alone. The receivers of that bit of culture are sharing something that the mainstream just can't and never will get. That knowledge in and of itself brings people together. Unfortunately, as the people in the film point out, this cult culture has become socially and materially acceptable, and what was once marginal is now hopelessly mainstream.

Leaving the theater, I just couldn't believe that out of the six films presented in the documentary, I had only seen Pink Flamingos and Rocky Horror Picture Show, and neither one at a midnight showing! Oh, the shame!

The Hero (2004)
6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
My first view of Angola, 5 April 2006

I have a general rule of thumb about movies from Africa- I will see anything that comes there. Sometimes I love what I see, I often feel ambiguous, but rarely do I hate. That's what you get when you watch movies based on geography. I just feel though, that I know so little about certain places in the world, I mean I can't even visualize what the majority of the non-Western world looks like, and films help fill that gap. This particular movie falls into the ambiguous category, a film with beautiful moments, whose parts don't add up to a cohesive whole. Humanism runs throughout however, and that seems to be a theme in African movies, and is something I love.

This particular movie revolves around two main characters: a soldier, no, a sergeant, as he fervently reminds us, named Manu, who lost a leg in the 26-year civil war. In addition to lacking a leg, he's out of a job and a home. He's desperate for a prosthetic leg, but remains proud throughout the whole demeaning process of pulling his life back together. There is also an adolescent boy (can't remember his name) who lives with his stern but loving grandmother, and dreams of the day his father will return home. He gets into trouble by stealing and getting into fights, but we know deep down he's a good kid. There is an assortment of stereotyped characters, the upper-crust beautiful woman who teaches the poor, the hooker with the heart of gold, dirty politicians, another upper-crust beautiful person, this time an asshole who profits off of his familial ties to find a secure job in the government, and so on. The plot starts to get complicated when Manu wakes up one morning on the street to find his leg stolen.

Unfortunately, the film falls into the trap of cliché and overwrought melodrama. There are, however, some scenes that stand out. The moon in the sky falling into the earth in the form of a basketball thus providing a nice segue into the next scene, or when the boy lifts the prosthetic leg he has stolen into the night sky so that it can point to where his father might be. Or when the teacher and Manu fall asleep outside of the hospital and she wakes up to find herself resting on his shoulder. The tender look between the two speaks a thousand words. The all-to-clean ending however, feels tacked on and certain societal issues could have been examined more deeply, but like I said, it's refreshing to see anything from Africa, particularly how everyday people live, eat, drink, hate, and love. And I can ALWAYS listen to Portuguese.

10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
"Is that a scalpel or are you just happy to see me?!", 5 April 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This French movie, written and directed by women (two different ones), falls squarely into the serial killer genre, or so it initially seems. It starts off rather typical, a mousy but beautiful blonde woman, Claire, who sports glasses (to show her extreme mousiness) and is often filmed wearing a tightly wrapped wool coat and painful-looking high heels, works as an insurance agent who examines people filing claims. She's a bit proper and a bit pushed around, as we come to see as her co-workers unload their work on her because they know she won't say no. She is married to a somewhat unambitious photographer husband, played by the yummy Jonathan Zaccai (I bought a ticket for this movie because of him, I'll admit it) and has a daughter, aged around 5 or 6, who is afraid of the dark. So far so good. We have a boring nuclear family.

Claire also has a "wild" friend Valerie. How do we know she's wild? She sleeps around a lot, dumps her boyfriends after one month, and in one particularly annoying scene, hears a song she likes on the radio, turns it up, and starts dancing wildly, much to Claire's bemusement. Yup, that slut has to die! She is essentially the opposite of Claire. Brunette whereas Claire is blonde, sexually and personally "liberated", while Claire is a slave to her family and job, wisecracking where Claire is austere.

Anyway, Claire investigates a vet's office, where the basement has flooded. We get an eerie scene, where the vet, Laurent, leaves Claire to walk around the dark, flooded basement, and from that moment on, the tension begins to build. To make a long story short, Laurent and Claire hit it off, Laurent initially doing more of the hitting until Claire falls in love with him, and he starts to back off. Why? Because he's got daddy issues and he feels the need to carve up slutty ladies and sees Claire as "different", someone he could actually love. For the first time in his life (cue the music).

This is where the film gets interesting. The audience knows Laurent is the killer, (at least I think we are supposed to) and as the story progresses, we start to actually like him. There's a key point here, up until late in the film we never see him kill anybody and that contributes greatly to our process of sympathizing. We see the Laurent that Claire sees. All until one scene, where we see a murder so graphic, so no-holds-barred, that we are shocked at our previous opinions. It's a brilliant cinematic move, arresting, indicting, grotesque.

However, Claire is not totally innocent either, as news reports of a man killing women with a scalpel arise, Claire begins to question what Laurent might be moonlighting as. Yes, she knows it and she can't bring herself to leave him alone, because she starts to feel- alive, which begs the question, does she like him for him or because he's a serial killer? She loses the glasses (isn't it interesting how actors never actually need the glasses they wear?), starts to wear makeup, leaves her home late at night to meet up with Laurent at seedy bars- we're very close to S&M territory here, but Fontaine never takes that route. We learn small things about Claire, such as when she was a child, she was forgotten at the beach by her family, or that when she was an adolescent, she used to cut herself to remind herself that she was living. Laurent just listens, passing no judgment, knowing his levels of craziness far outweigh hers.

I don't know which aspect of the movie is starker, the fact that Claire sympathizes with a serial killer, or that we do. Laurent is essentially like the sleeping lion? tiger? that we see him treat, potentially ferocious but sweet when asleep.

The film ends with a beautiful but ambiguous shot of Claire alone, walking towards the ferris wheel that she and Laurent rode together previously in the film. Ferris wheels seem to me to be emblematic of youth, innocence, first dates, first kisses, all of course from previous cinematic treatments of them, and I think one of the film's themes is innocence, the innocence of not knowing, of love, of hoping, of children, of animals, and the inevitable corruption of that innocence.

Stromboli (1950)
17 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
"La terra e dura qui": Setting as Character, 4 April 2006

"La terra e dura qui." Ingrid Bergman is a powerhouse in this film (perhaps out of love and devotion to the director), but she still can't match the power of the menacing volcano on this remote island off the coast of Italy. Bergman plays a prisoner of war with a checkered past stuck in a women's camp, who marries a Strombolian in order to provide herself with the security she needs. Trouble awaits her, and the first sign we get of that is when she starts to complain of being cold on the boat that is taking her to her new life. What she finds is not up to her high Continental standards, and her attitudes towards the locals and the place itself diminish her already low stature as an outsider. It is less the people however, than the general character of the place that turns her off. The volcano, unnamed by the villagers, always awaits in the background, and setting itself becomes one of the main characters (thus the importance of the title), a force to be reckoned with, much like her character.

Although this film is not noir in any way, and Rossellini himself would probably turn in his grave for hearing me say this, Bergman's character certainly does not hesitate in using her female "wiles" to get what she wants and needs. She survived a world war on what we take are wits and flexible morals, so she will also make it through this and I love her for it.

She even attempts to seduce the local priest by cooing "I knew you were the only person who could help me." Having that attempt fail, she tries with the village lighthouse keeper seen at right, and I don't even have to explain the power of her touch. As she asks for help to escape from the village, she softly touches his foot with hers, and creates an unbelievably palpable feeling of erotic energy, something unheard of in mainstream movies today. I know, that's such a cliché, but it's true.

Anyway, I won't discuss the ending, which angered me as a modern woman (even Bergman didn't seem to be buying it), but I will say that the film impressed me with its use of setting comprising plot, character, mise-en-scene, and theme. The film IS setting. It's also worth it just to see the non-actors performing a yearly tuna fishing ritual that dates back to the Phoenecians. Rossellini films are never just stories, they are historical documents. And I love him for that.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A Cinematic Ode, 4 April 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I don't know what Rossellini would have thought of Guy Maddin's work. Personally, I loved "The Saddest Music in the World", but as an artist, he can't be any more different from Rossellini. Where Rossellini was obsessed with portraying reality and the lives of ordinary people, Maddin is interested in the avant-garde and stylistic excess. This short (it's only 10 minutes), narrated by Isabella Rossellini (who is the daughter of the great director and a frequent collaborator with Maddin), is a highly personal love letter from daughter to father, and it's beautiful.

Daughter Rossellini acknowledges the troubles her father faced and knows that he was a complicated man. He said himself "All my films were a battle." At the beginning of the film she asks "Was he a genius?" She then goes on to portray Hitchcock, Selznick, and Fellini arguing with her father about the nature of cinema. Father Rossellini is portrayed by a giant belly. Yes, a giant belly, this being an aspect of her father that she remembers with fondness. In one particularly self-reflexive and funny scene, daughter Rossellini scolds Maddin and asks him to bring down his camera from high up, stating that her father would never have allowed for such pretensions in cinema. It's a sign of deep respect on Maddin's part that he lowers the camera, something not often seen with directors paying homage.

She closes the short with a head-on shot, stating that although she does not know if her father was a genius, she does know one thing- that she loves him deeply. Just lovely.

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