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33 reviews in total 
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how the American left has failed..., 27 October 2006

What is so captivating about "Half Nelson" is not that it's a story so much as an incredible character study of a school teacher, Mr Dunne played by Ryan Gosling. I can't recall the last time I was so captivated by a performance that seemed so true and so effortless. Throughout the film, I kept thinking: "I know this guy. I've known teachers like him." And there is something all too familiar about the social, political dynamics between the teacher and the school's society".

Ty Burr of the Boston Globe said that this is an example of how the American left has failed in this country. The message (if there is any political message) is very subtle and in some ways, not so newsworthy. We've all felt and questioned a sense of hypocrisy from the baby boom generation of the sixties. But the film suggests reasons for this that are far more complex than we can even put into words. I have not even mentioned yet that Mr. Dunne is a crack addict. How did this happen and what is it that drives him to teach these kids in the first place? Mr. Dunne says "my students are what keep me focused". This line could not have sounded more true but we know that in retrospect, it is completely false. I believe it is the foreign and racial environment that is the key to his failings. He has a way of connecting and being hip to his students but he can't really relate to them. We can imagine how tough these kids from poor environments can be but Ryan Fleck does not show us this. In fact, quite the opposite is true and the responsibility is all up to Mr. Dunne. There is a contrast in his relationships with women and we see how easily he is capable of earning respect.

I think one of the important questions to ask from watching this film is not so much how Mr. Dunne fails or becomes a crack addict but why he chose the path that he did. There is something ironic about Mr. Dunne's fascination with black history and Drey's drug dealing father who collects racial artifacts that hang on his bookshelf. Does the drive to teach these kids in this specific environment come from something as superficial as nostalgia? Mr. Dunne does not like to go by the book and he is attracted to the theory of dialectics but if he cannot relate to the kids or his relationships in a sincere, down-to-Earth and honest way, then there is not much hope for the future. That is just one take on the film, I'm sure you'll have others.

20 out of 27 people found the following review useful:
Please Come in..., 9 April 2006

Wim Wenders has done it again. The authentic German American filmmaker has recaptured the nostalgia of the American West influenced by photographer Robert Frank and feeding off plot themes by his contemporary, Jim Jarmusch. But much like all of Wenders films, his plots are not the central focus. He is interested in details, symbolism, existentialism and the process of creation. What I always liked about Wenders was his taste in music. I always hear something new that I get very interested in. Don't Come Knocking has a wonderful score.The Buena Vista Social Club is an obvious example, but there is also the music of Madredeus in Lisbon Story or the Stewart Copeland country score in "Kings of the Road'. speaking of "Kings of the Road", there is an interesting detail that is repeated in this film: At the end of Kings, there is a cinema with a broken neon sign that only has two letters lit "WW" which is the signature of Wim Wenders. This film, has a bar called the "M&M". which is the same only upside down. The story of this film by the way is co-written by Sam Shepard who collaborated with Wenders on "Paris Texas" . This time, he also stars in the film as a cowboy movie star on the search for his ex and his son who he never met. The landscapes reflect the ghostliness of an Edward Hopper painting. Few people exist in the town where he shows up. There are beautiful shots that are very memorable such as the view from the health club looking out the window where Shepard and Jessica Lange are fighting. Another great scene involves a trade in identity where a guy on a horse gets pulled over by a cop and ....well you'll see. Alhough this film symbolizes the transition to reality, it looks as though reality does not appear to be as real as one expects. This is a refreshing film by one of the great filmmakers of our time.

Dead Man (1995)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
He Who Speak Loud, Say Nothing, 30 January 2006

There should be a periodical published on when critics are wrong. Dead Man is a film that was long overlooked upon its release. This was partly due to the fact that Miramax did a lousy job at distributing the film, but only a handful of critics like Jonathan Rosenbaum recognized this film as a masterpiece. I saw Dead Man on the first screening of its premiere. After my first viewing, I had various problems with the film. I thought the film seemed too heavy on poetry and symbolism and I also felt that things didn't seem real or authentic enough to be part of a historical period. Other times, I felt the film was confused about its mood. Sometimes it seemed deeply serious and other times it seemed silly and absurd. Not until repeated viewings did I discover how appropriate these observations were to the film.

The first line of dialog in the film comes after a long uneventful journey on the train. The train conductor comes in and says to William Blake: "Look out the window. Doesn't this remind you of when you are on the boat..and when you look up at the sky you ask yourself 'why is it that the landscape is moving but the boat is still?'" This line is a key element of the film because it questions the essence of reality. Dead Man is not a film that deals with reality in any conventional sort of way, at least not in the narrative sense and certainly not in our preconception of history. Dead Man is a film that deals with a man's journey through a series of death experiences. Blake's destiny was originally to be an accountant for Dickinson Metalworks in the town of Machine. After some unfortunate events, William Blake is suddenly caught laying in the woods with a bullet next to his heart. A Native American named "Nobody" becomes his new mentor for his ill-fated journey.

The film feels fragmented with fades between scenes and a loose narrative structure. At times we feel the clock ticking and other times, we feel unconscious of what just happened. This was my experience anyway, when I first saw the film I remember Nobody telling his life story about traveling East. Something about how a whole city of people could move so quickly and then the rest of the story slipped my mind because it seemed too overwhelming and absurd. The key line to this moment however, was the name given to Nobody:"He Who Speak Loud Say Nothing". Nobody's life story is a reflection of the Allegory of the Cave written by Plato. Someone has traveled to another dimension but once he returns home and talks about his experience, no one believes him. The story told by Nobody also reflects the rise of capitalism and America's shift toward a more homogenized society. Dead Man takes us on a psychedelic journey through Western and Native American culture. We've come to understand through previous Jarmusch films that cultural influence is an inevitable part of life. Dead Man expands on this fact by demonstrating what happens when cultures clash. There is a hierarchal conflict with reality. Part of this is due to politics but it is also due to religious consequences. I've read reviews by critics who seemed puzzled by the reference to the poet and artist William Blake. There is a reflection to the poet's Christian background and his influences with other mystical beliefs. There is a famous poem sited in the film: "some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night." As one culture dies, another is born.The film comes full circle when Blake ends on the boat looking up at the moving sky. This is a great film. I can still see this today after repeated viewings and always find something new.

4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
beautifully atmospheric, a timeless classic, 15 January 2006

I rented this film about four years ago and watched it late one evening when I was tired. I didn't remember much about the plot but the scenery and atmosphere had a long lasting resonance which years later, drove me to rent it again only to discover that the video store closed down and the film was nowhere to be seen from again. That was until now, when I had the luxury of seeing a brand new print of it on the big screen.

Like all of Antonioni's films, the scenery is more engaging then the characters or the plot. One can get so absorbed by the environments that they feel they are actually there. We feel at peace by our wandering eyes, looking at the background and turning our heads when we want to look the other way. This of course, is the illusion captured by the amazing cinematography. In "The Passenger", we meet David Locke, a reporter played by Jack Nicholson who is somewhere in North Africa trying to get to a guerrilla base of some kind but fails when his tour guides abandon him and his Jeep is left stuck in the desert. Once he finds his way back to the Hotel, he finds Robertson, a businessman he previously met, lying dead in his room. David decides to exchange identities with Robertson and plans to follow his destinies whatever they may be. He goes from London to Munich and soon finds out that Robertson was a gun dealer. He knows he is being followed but his plans lead him to abandon Robertson's appointments and run away. He meets an architecture student who runs with him through Spain until their journey leads to a dead end. There is a mesmerizing final climax that involves one of the most tedious tracking shots I've ever seen on film. Some may see this film as a thriller but there is also the existential angst that resonates with all Antonioni films. We are left to ponder on which road to travel. Is it safer to be so sure and determined like Robertson? Or is it worse being a reporter who documents the political world but cannot draw any conclusions in their work? There are a number of details that deserve attention for their symbolism and it is definitely worthwhile seeing it again. Those who find the film too slow, need to take some Ritalin and stop watching so much t.v.

Stroszek (1977)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A bizarre and haunting film, 21 December 2005

Werner Herzog's Stroszek intrigued me because of the film's journey from Berlin to Wisconsin. I am always fascinated when directors take on other cultures to present their point of view. Wim Wenders' "Alice in the Cities" came to my mind when I rented this film. Knowing Herzog's other ambitious and strange films, "Aguirre the Wrath of God" and " Even Dwarfs Started Out Small" it was no surprise to me just how bizarre this film was going to be. Bruno, a man who some might assume is mildly retarded is released from prison. His first destination is a bar and meets a prostitute who is being mistreated by her pimp. He offers her a place to stay which is looked after by an elderly man, Mr. Scheitz. All of these characters by the way, have an amazing look about them. They are not your typical looking actors, they have a rough and odd look that can be found in a Fellini film. We know they are not professional actors but they fit and play the roles perfectly. Mr. Scheitz announces that his nephew in Railroad Flats Wisconsin has invited him to move there. Bruno then takes the leap in deciding that they must all start new lives there. We already feel baffled at the idea of these people getting off the boat to live in such a rural and remote part of the US. Nothing goes well for these characters. The prostitute runs away because of financial and domestic problems while the other two decide to become robbers and fail miserably. This, mind you, is only a general plot summary but it is the details and occurrences that are fascinating. I particularly loved the scene where the mobile home is being auctioned off. We get a glimpse of how alienating and strange America is for these people. There are other fascinating scenes that I don't want to spoil for anyone. This film is a must see for any fan of Herzog and anyone who loves films period. Some critics have described Stroszek as an attack on America but I believe it is an equal attack on Germany. These characters fall into a predicament of taking their sorrows with them wherever they go. They are unfortunately very naive. The final scene with the dancing chicken was a bit over the top and disturbing but it fits with the absurdity of the film as a whole.

Bartleby (2001)
3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
I'd prefer to see this film again..., 30 November 2005

I loved this film and I cannot believe how so few critics liked it. What were they thinking? Apparently one critic thought since it was based on a short story that the film should be shorter. Of course, once one critic says its too long, every other critic has to agree. I guess David Mamet is an exception to the rule. Bartleby is not too long. It deserves it's running time so that we can absorb the story more closely. When we hear Bartleby repeat the same words: "I'd prefer not to" we are not given any explanation for the comment but yet it becomes extremely poignant. Eventually everyone in the office begins to use the word "prefer" and we see how Bartleby has affected the workplace like a disease. The film is very bizarre particularly because of the way the boss reacts to Bartleby. Instead of just firing the guy for not doing his job, he tries to reason with him. Eventually Barlteby gets in an even more bizarre predicament that has even more to do with just "prefering not to" work. The boss is obsessed with Bartleby and the film turns very Kafkaesque. We see a capitalist scenario where people topple on another for greed, power and respect. The film is based on the short story "Bartleby the Scrivener" by Herman Melville. It was appropriate to mention the source because the story seems very relevant not only to our modern culture but also to what Melville went after writing Moby Dick. The film also has a wonderful score with a Theramin instrument and a brilliant cinematography.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Johnny Cash would have been proud of this film, 30 November 2005

Like most film biographies about artists, I was skeptical about Walk The Line. I thought the film would try to make a big spectacle by glorifying Cash's life and by having to show every detail of his career so that all you get is a big convoluted opus. I was basically worried it would turn out to be something like The Doors or even Ray. Walk The Line is not one of those films. It focuses on a specific story revolving between Johnny Cash and June Carter. It has a similar structure to Alex Cox's "Sid and Nancy" where the film is about the relationship and the music follows in the background. People who know a lot about Johnny Cash might be disappointed only because they may want to see more behind the man in black. I on the other hand, am glad they did not exploit his dark side or try to unravel any big mystery behind the legend. We don't need to know the myth behind this man. Johnny Cash was a monumental figure in American music. His devotion to playing music and staying alive was depended so strongly by his relationship with June Carter and that is what makes this film interesting. The performances are superb. Joachim Pheonix delivers all the way through the end. His singing is great and at times, he really looks like Cash. I can't speak as highly about Reese Witherspoon but she carries herself as a believable strong and self protective woman. She does not mimic or try to replicate June which is actually good. I hope most people who don't know about Johnny Cash will see this film and will then be tempted to buy his music. He is without a doubt, one of the great treasures of American music.

Nick Park saves the cheese again..., 23 November 2005

I can't think of a cuter pair of animated characters. Wallace and Gromit are among my favorite. Nick Park has a one of a kind talent that surpasses all of the contemporary animation directors I know. He gives us characters that make us laugh and genuinely cry. Drama does not come easy in a cartoon visualized world but Nick Park pulls it off with his innocence and sensitivity. What else makes Wallace and Gromit films special is their odd sense of storytelling. We can see how the stories get carried away to such bizarre levels. Audiences might ask from time to time "how did they come up with that?" I believe the magic of Park's creative ideas relies heavily on his traditional stop motion approach. Creating a film with that type of technique forces the animators to take directions they did not exactly predict. A move might go somewhere else and once it is shot, it has to keep going. When that happens, new ideas come up that are infinitely more interesting then the ideas that are preconceived on paper and designed on the computer. I am so happy Nick Park made another Wallace and Gromit and I am even more happy that there are still animators working today that don't use computers. This film proves how authentic this style of animation really is. I highly recommend this film.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Not as punk as you'd expect but who cares.......that's punk attitude., 14 November 2005

When you see a documentary film with the word "Punk" in the title, you really can't have high expectations. It's tempting to watch but you know you are going to miss a lot when a film tries to strip down a huge movement and make it so concise. Granted, the film is about attitude as it states in the title but somewhere along the film, it feels as though the point gets a bit lost. We know early on that being punk was about being different and being able to express yourself without any current influence. There is only one documentary I know of that makes this point clear and that is the Sex Pistols documentary film "PIST". "Punk: Attitude" seems to focus chronologically on the New York scene, The British scene and then the L.A. scene which is fine but the problem is that we only see the punk artists that fit the status quo (which is totally contradictory of what punk was all about.)

What the film should have done was emphasize more closely the importance of being different and how that idea transcended new directions and movements in the world of punk. The film suggests that punk seemed to die in the 1980's as far as the mainstream was concerned but this is absolutely false. It is also a bad direction from the point of being different which had nothing to do with catching on to the mainstream. As one of the interviewees said, "you only need 5% to really get people to think in a new way". But as far as popularity is concerned, there were a good number of punk musicians that were visible at least within the margins of the mainstream during the 1980's. There was Devo, Brian Eno, Elvis Costello, Fishbone, the Pogues, Dinosaur Jr., The Cure, The Butthole Surfers, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Waits and Jonathan Richman among countless others. (Yes, Jonathan Richman, former Modern Lover who influenced the Sex Pistols with his infamous song "Road Runner".) (I'm sure there are plenty of people who would challenge me on some of these artists as being labeled punk but punk is really only a paradime of many styles of music like hardcore, new wave, no wave, grunge and my favorite "alternative".)

Despite the overemphasis of punk on the mainstream culture, the film does include some artists that are probably not so well known to the average punk fan. Bands like "Suicide" and "Slit" were a delightful surprise. But as far as bigger bands were concerned, why was X never mentioned or the Descendents or the Minutemen? Or Fugazi or Husker Du? I guess the film would just have to be a bit longer. I didn't really appreciate the bands that were mentioned in the end like Rancid and Limp Bizkit. That really gave a blow to the authenticity of punk. However, I was happy to hear the interviews with Legs McNeil author of "Please Kill Me" and Bob Gruen as well as Mary Harron, former Punk magazine writer and current independent filmmaker (I Shot Andy Warhol) as well as filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. These guys helped us to see the world of punk in a bigger light that has more to do with just the music. Its the ability to change ideas and keep things new and different in a postmodern world.

Cinemania (2002)
3 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
obsessive compulsive film watching disorder, 30 August 2005

We've seen these types of people before. I used to work at an old movie theater where one of these "cinemaniac" types was a regular customer. He would arrive very early between shows, waiting in the lobby and eat popcorn. Occasionally he would strike up a conversation and repeat a lot of the same stories like "you know, one of my best friends is William Shatner's personal secretary!" This man and the people documented in "Cinemania" are not people we want to pay much attention to. When we hear them, we may be amused by their quirkiness but eventually we just want to get away from them. We feel pity for them because they seem so oblivious. One minute of looking at these people and we know what their problem is. They need to get a life.

Instead of investigating their inner demons, the filmmakers decide to show the attractive qualities of these characters which is that they all love films. These are not the typical film buffs who obsess over Star Trek or Lord of the Rings. These are the types that are obsessed with "art" films. Despite their obsessive compulsive behavior, it is nice to see Americans who are passionate about films by Wim Wenders, Jean Luc Godard, Tarkovsky, and Truffaut. Their taste in films is rare in this country. One of the characters, Roberta takes film culture so seriously that she feels it is an insult to serve popcorn and snacks at the theater. Eric calls a theater and asks if the film playing that day is being shown on a new 35-mm print because otherwise, he won't see it. Another guy has a business card with a title like "philosopher, French New Wave, Godard expert". At one point in the film, we see him writing a blurb for an online dating service and one of his other film geeks is critiquing it. Unfortunately, we know he's not being very objective. The problem I had with this documentary was that it seemed to be mocking these people to the point where it was disturbing. There's not much we learn about these people other then the fact that they all share a form of obsessive compulsive behavior. One of the most depressing scenes was when two friends were sitting in a messy apartment watching an old movie on the VCR. The scene runs too long and the camera zooms right into their faces to show off their twitches and creepy expressions. It seems as though the film was trying to be therapeutic to these characters. At times, there are bits of revelations that we hear. "I watch these old films of Greta Garbo because it's a better alternative to watching porn all the time". That was a positive sign but by the end we just get a hopeless feeling about them. They're living as if they were in a movie, stuck in fantasy and never able to get out. Maybe, that's good for them but this film didn't make me think so.

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