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In the Realms of the Unreal (2004)
The Most Extreme Example Of Outsider Art
With the recent focus on outsider art,somebody must have figured that Henry Darger was a natural. Darger was a janitor and well known introvert for years. What was not known (at least until after his death in 1973),was that Darger kept a series of stories & paintings, as a continuing account of a realm of fantasy that only Darger could relate to. Vast volumes of paintings & text were found in the cramped apartment that he lived in for years (he had little family & had less than no use for the company of other people). Jessica Yu's film attempts to tell Darger's story (with extracts of his writing read by the likes of Dakota Fanning,and others). This film is a "must see" for anybody with an interest in art (especially outsider art). As this film is independently produced,it carries no MPAA rating,but does contain a bit of mature subject matter (mainly in the way of some of his paintings depicted that has nudity).
Two Sides Of The Same (Dark) Coin
What we have here is,yet,another shining example of what is supposed to be good for you can also be really,really bad for you. In this case, it is religion. The story concerns Naomi (played to perfection by Ania Bukstein),who is a young woman who wants to study theology at a seminary,much against the wishes of her ultra-Orthodox Rabbi father, as well as her straight laced,traditional husband to be,Michael (played by Guri Alfi),who's view of women is that they should be home, serving their husband & G-d. When Naomi does manage to enter the seminary,she meets an equally headstrong young woman,Michelle (Michal Shtamler),who she takes an instant dislike to,but eventually forge a friend ship. When the two of them take on duties beyond studies,they bring food to a middle aged Parisian woman,Anouk (played by the always welcome Fanny Ardant),they find out of her dark past & try to help her regain her spiritual centre by dabbling in the ancient Kabbalah (the realm of Judism that embraces mysticism,which is strictly forbidden in ultra Orthodox households). Things only become more involved when the two young women discover their budding sexuality during a sleep over (and for the benefit of any of you perverts out there that are thinking, "BOY,MIDDLE EASTERN LESBO PORN!!!", think again---the subject material is handled with good taste). Avi Nesher directs & co writes (with Hadar Galron)a crisp,well written script that is guaranteed to be a lightning rod for controversy (as homosexuality is absolutely a no no in Orthodox Judism). This film may be a bit of a find,as there are not a lot of cinemas that will screen a two hour film, spoken in Hebrew & French,with subtitles (art houses seem to be about the only logical choice,here). Rated 'R' by the MPAA,this film contains a bit of rude language,full frontal female nudity & a bit of sexual experimentation. Okay for more mature minded teens that may be interested in matters of a spiritual nature.
Gran Torino (2008)
To Sleep (and live) With Anger
Despite the fact that Clint Eastwood announced some time back that he is considering retiring after filming his latest opus (Gran Torino), he is,in fact working on his next project. Until then,we can sit back and enjoy 'Gran Torino'. Eastwood pulls no punches in his portrayal of Walk Kowalski,a decorated war veteran (Korea,in this case),who is in his later years,and longs for the way things were,back in the day. Walt is a walking case of anger,bitterness & repressed remorse for what he did fifty plus years ago in Korea. Things aren't any better, when his beloved wife has passed away, and his two sons want to put him in a retirement home. All Walt wants to do is sit on his porch with his dog,drink beer & smoke. Things only get complicated with the fact that he's the last white person on his block (which is boasting of a growing South East Asian community). The icing on the cake for Walt is the growing number of street gangs causing trouble for his Hmong neighbors (whom he already has major issues with). When he defends his neighbors from the street gang, a troubled sort of relationship starts to form between the two. Clint Eastwood directs himself (from a crisply written screenplay by Nick Schenk & Dave Johansson) as well as a top notch cast in a film that incorporates drams,pathos,humour & action. Eastwood himself deserves major kudos as a embittered war vet who's glory days are far behind him (and has no problem with expressing it). Rated 'R' by the MPAA, this film contains vulgar language (including some unpleasant racial slurs),as well as some violence (including the upsetting after effects of a rape & beating). Not a good choice for the kiddies.
Che: Part Two (2008)
The Best Of Intentions
The year is 1964. Ernesto "Che" Guevara, having been a Cuban citizen for the last five years,disappears from the face of the Earth,leaving a glum Fidel Castro to announce that he is probably dead,when in truth, he has left Cuba to move to Bolivia to live an assumed identity. Whilst living in La Paz,Guevara undertakes an idea to overthrow the corrupt,bourgeois government there. Once again,Steven Soderberg takes up where 'Che:Part One' leaves off (only better this time). The pacing is more on target,the job of acting is ever so fine (including a turn by a sickly looking Benecio Del Toro,as Che Guevara). Suffice it to say,it's probably best if you see both films,to get the true story of Guevara & what kind of a man he was (I had the rare open window of opportunity to see both films at one screening----talk about a long haul!). As with 'Che-Part 1:The Argentine',this film has no MPAA rating, but contains enough salty language & violence to easily snag it an 'R'.
Che: Part One (2008)
"You Say You Want A Revolution?"
Steven Soderberg is the kind of director that can be (in a sense)compared with directors such as Michael Apted & Jonathan Demme. They like to direct mainstream,money making,popcorn escapist fare that thrills 'em at the major cineplexes. But he also has an equal eye for the arthouses that prefer to screen quirky,off centre films for those who like brains,as well as entertainment. When I heard last year that Soderberg was about to release a four hour,plus biography of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, I thought, "I'm there,if it turns up at one of the cinemas in my area". One year (plus)later,the hope became a reality. Benecio Del Toro stars as the ill fated Argentine that assists Fidel Castro topple the corrupt Battista regime in 1959 (tho not without many lives lost during the nearly five year struggle that it took). The film also gets some good mileage from the rest of the supporting cast (including a nearly unrecognizable Matt Damon in a role that if you blink,you'll miss him). The film is not without a few minor flaws. At times,the pacing can be slow as a snail. Don't let this deter you from seeing this otherwise fine film biography of a man who was more than just a face on a T-shirt that one can find at Hot Topics. Not rated,this film contains some raunchy language & violence, some of it fairly bloody. Released as two separate parts, 'Che-Part One:The Argentine',and it's follow up, 'Che-Part Two:Guerilla' was originally screened as one complete film in it's original release.
Date with Duke (1947)
An Entertaining/Inspirational Duet
I first saw this George Pal animated short some years ago on American Movie Classics,when that station was worth watching. It incorporates animation with live action (okay,nothing new in itself---but stop motion puppet animation with live action?). Duke Ellington is seated at a piano,when several figures pop out of a series of bottles to interact with Ellington (and perform with him,as well). As musical shorts were the in thing at the time, George Pal's stop motion animation was a major plus on this short, which is sadly missing these days from the airwaves (the Paramont live action shorts,like the animated ones are hard to track down,due to the fact that the original distributors that sold the 16 & 35mm prints to television in the mid 1950's/early to mid 1960's had all gone out of business by the late 1960's,leaving behind some battered & scratchy prints that sometimes turned up on late night television). I'm sure some of the George Pal Puppet Toons can be found on various video compilations on budget video releases (check your local department stores)
Tubby the Tuba (1947)
George Pal Started A Movement
George Pal was a force to be reckoned with. After leaving Hungry to move to the United States,he inked a deal with Paramont Pictures to produce/direct/animate a long running series of beautiful stop motion animated "puppet" shorts for that studio. Tubby The Tuba,from 1947 is just one of those shorts. Adapted from a popular children's record of the time,Tubby dreams of being a soloist in the orchestra,only to be reminded that he's only an instrument in the harmonic section of the orchestra. Tubby,not listening to the others,decides to test his fate. Does he manage to fulfill his quest? All I can say is,just watch & find out (good luck,as the Paramont shorts have all but been sucked into the proverbial black hole in space,although 'Tubby'has turned up on a few video releases in the 'El Cheapo' budget video section in certain department stores. Not rated,but perfect for the small fry's
This Was Actually Made For Television?...The Mind Boggles
I first saw this early Henry Sellick animated short at a festival of animated short films. I had never heard of Sellick before, but after seeing this, I thought..."Wow, I'll have to keep my baby greens open for any other works by him". This dreamy,surreal short would be the perfect film to be screened at just about any midnight movie,before the main feature (if,in fact,midnight movies still existed--with the possible exception of 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)',which would work,as well). I would imagine it would also work at a screening of surreal,experimental,avant garde films,too. I can't imagine this strange little film being aired on television (outside of being aired in the early hours of the morning,on the Sundance,or IFC channel). No rating,but too bizarre/cerebral to rate.
Kudos To Henry Sellick
Henry Sellick is one gem of an animator to be reckoned with. His contribution to stop motion animation is superb. I had my world rocked big time with 'Nightmare Before Christmas',as well as 'James And The Giant Peach'. Sellick mines the harbor of author Neil Gaiman (American Gods)with the story of Coraline, a feisty 11 year-old girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning)who is very unhappy with the fact that she's been moved from her original home (as well as her best friends),to live in a creepy old house, with some pretty weird neighbors. When Coraline finds a portal into a alternate dimension with parents who seem like the ideal parents,Coraline seriously decides to cross over to that realm,for good. Somehow, something seems...well...not quite right. The film gets some good mileage from the other voice talents on parade here (including Terri Hatcher as both her Mothers). This lovingly stop motion animated feature film is available in both 3-D digital projection, as well as standard 2-D,for the benefit of cinemas that do not have the set ups for 3-D,digital projection (if you have the open window of opportunity to see the 3-D edition,by all means,do it--although the 2-D animated prints would be just as much fun). Handed a PG rating by the MPAA,this film serves up some situations that are pretty creepy & scary for the little ones (much like 'Nightmare Before Christmas'was). Older youngsters will eat it up.
Frog Baseball (1992)
The Big Debut (heh,heh....he said "big")
Anybody with a twisted sense of humour will appreciate Mike Judge's first installment of Beavis & Butthead. The plot:B&B are two VERY stupid teens from Texas who find a frog & decide to play a sadistic game of baseball with it. No big surprise:the frog croaks (oooh!---bad joke). This animated short (only about three minutes)would start a trend that would eventually spiral into a pop culture icon in the 1990's. This twisted little short has been featured in several animated anthologies,and is also featured on one of the Beavis & Butthead video compilations. No rating,but contains some pretty violent (and gross)images. Not for the little ones.