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Les herbes folles (2009)
bloody brilliant French version of a David Lynch film
WOW! What a film and it's shocking to see all the negative reviews here. This is a thinking man's movie, which complements 'The Seventh Seal' where that Ingmar Bergman classic is overt about death, this is more subtle and confounding. This is not a surface entertain us plot line; rather, it's subterfuge for the real intent. SPOILER ALERT! Rewatch this film and view the female dentist as Death. It explains the way the main character reacts the entire movie, especially to the police when they arrive to speak with him, what he says about his neighbor committing suicide. You'll notice throughout the film how the MC alternates between reaching out to embrace 'death' and angrily spurning 'death'. I did not clue in on this until the last two minutes of the movie when the wife asks 'death's dentist colleague if she wants to join them and she says, absolutely not! (You'll notice at the end, the MC kisses death, accepting his fate) That's when I knew and sure enough, the MC's soul soars into the heavens until the plane crashes and it is received back into the grave of wild grass or is the soul reincarnated as the little girl asks, if she becomes a cat in her next life? Yes, at the end, I can see the woman writing a novel and all this is in her imagination, but this plays like David Lynch's 'Mulholland Drive' with multiple interpretations. No one will be truly satisfied with one interpretation or another but it does make us think and for that, the director did his job.
The Girlfriend Experience (2009)
take a pass on this film experiment
This past week I caught Steven Soderberg's latest film experiment on DVD, 'The Girlfriend Experience'. I've been watching him long before he won the Oscar for Traffic. Rather, I watched his 'sex, lies and videotape' when it came out, basically initiating the modern independent film movement, which now hands out the Spirit Awards, the day prior to the Oscars.
But about this film shot on video for about $2 million? Well, everyone is allowed a misfire, even Soderberg. Everyone knows of him because of the 'Ocean's 11' films, and up to recently his producing buddy George Clooney who stole some Soderberg shots for his 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' film he directed.
But I digress yet again.
In the GFE film, the director takes a well known porn actress and places her in a contemporary film about a Manhattan-based call girl. There is nothing sexy about this movie, I can assure you, not even voyeuristic.
Rather, it's a plain jane approach to the life of a woman making her living sleeping with men, if that. She is actually more of an amateur psychiatrist. This is no modern remake of 'Belle Du Jour'. I think the more interesting angle would have been about her customers and why they procure her services. They seem to be a sad sack collective of characters.
But what kills this film is not the lack of nudity or even a coherent linear thread to the narrative, which mimics '81 Grams'. Rather, it's about her non-acting ability. Yes, you can give it up to a major Hollywood director taking a experimental chance, like Mike Figgis has countless times before. The medium does need to be stretched. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
Soderberg did do this before, use amateur actors, in a film I did not see. But in GFE, Sasha Grey's inability to act or emote sympathy is what kills this story. Yes, she is a real-life porn star, not a thespian by training, but I think in this regard her notoriety is what marketed the film. Had the director used a conventional famous actress, there would have been none of the attention this film was given even in its limited release.
Don't get me wrong, I still think Soderberg is one of the greatest directors out there today. This is just not one of his better examples, that's all.
c this only if u hate yourself
This movie was just pointless and more importantly - boring. The director had the goods he needed to make a great film. But when he actually narrated the beginning as to who worked on the film, "I'm like, are you serious?" I only saw this Israeli film because I wanted to see Ronit Elkabetz and she blew away the scenes she was in but overall, her appearance was much too brief. She is such an awesome actress, I re-watched 'Late Marriage'. Then her character's denouement in this film was the nail in the coffin for me. I fast forwarded through most of this cinematic wreck. I also recommend 'The Band's Visit' with again Ronit because this had to be an embarrassment to everyone who worked on this production.
Abercrombie & Fitch vampires
Mind you I was FORCED to see this film, 'Twilight'. I had no desire to see teenage vampires, followed by the American female tween crowd like sports commentators on ESPN. But when I did see this much heralded film, it was worse than I had anticipated.
Anyway, basically, it's a retelling of the Romeo & Juliet story. This time Romeo is a 109-year- old-man lusting after a 17-year-old Juliet. I guess I was the only one offended that some old dude who became a vampire at 17 waits almost a century for his true love. Come on, seriously. This guy waited almost a 100 years to fall in love? Man, and I thought my dating career is a disaster.
But needless to say, I am not the audience this move was made for. I sat in on a weekday matinée and there were already enough younger girls skipping school to see this cinematic wreck.
Because I watch so many movies, I thought I would find something redeeming about this movie. The director is a woman who did the courageous movie, '13', which is a scary film for anyone who has a teenage daughter. This blows away 'Lolita' by miles in the power of a young girl's desires, like a young cobra snake, not knowing the power of its venom. With that said, the directing was malleable.
But I thought, this had to be a low budget movie - why? Because most of the scenes take place outside, in the forest. No need to pay extras for those scenes. Additionally, no need to hold back crowds as you film scenes.
But the thing that really got under my skin as a film lover is the lack of development of the screenplay. They spent so much time in the protracted, plodding relationship building between the two leads that I was wondering, where is the main conflict? There it is, in the last 10 compacted minutes of the film. Even the danger seemed manufactured. It was as if the producers thought: you know, how do we end this film? The film is based on a series of four books and this is the first one. Still, they really needed to spend more time on the conflict to make the inevitable sequels better than the initial production.
To compare, contrast it to the another vampire film based on a book, 'Interview With A Vampire', this conflict is too subtle, along with the whole notion of being a vampire. These are vampires as envisioned by Abercrombie & Fitch, afraid to bare fangs, get bloody, destroy. Apparently they have a pact with the Native American Indian werewolves to keep a peace between them. I am not making this up. Everyone is so bloody nice with great table manners that I was saying enough! Someone BE proud to be a vampire and do some damage.
Yes, I was rooting for the bad guys.
I guess to maintain an appropriate rating, no viscera was shown, as any other indication that these vampires were remotely dangerous other. The "vampire" family that is the hub of the film are SO damn nice, I was wondering if they weren't modeled after The Munsters 1960s t.v. series.
The father is the local doctor and looks so young, it would make a normal human wonder why such a young guy and wife adopt so many children who are almost the same age in appearance. They could be a traveling Manson brood, clad in J. Crew flannel apparel. And the father is a doctor, requiring him to touch people to examine him. No one ever notices this guy is cold as ice or has no heartbeat of his own?
It would be easy to slam this film but I did find the divorced mother character appealing - why? Not because she was out of the loop as a character but because she was traveling with her husband, a baseball player. Having the daughter live with her father as the mother wandered the country seemed the only original part of this story line.
This movie is for young girls waiting to meet their own "Edward", the cool misunderstood rebel obviously based on James Dean, to include the hair. But Edward is 109-years-old. He really needs to get over himself, just like me writing protracted musings about a film not made for me.
Did I tell you I was FORCED against my will to see this movie? Just needed to remind you.
Lagerfeld Confidential (2007)
interesting but could have been better
Karl Lagerfeld is such a fascinating individual that this film could have been better with more insight from those around him. Gaining an outside perspective allows one to fully understand the subject. Lagerfeld's personal philosophy and observations about life are so entertaining and mesmerizing. Fortunately, we do not witness a personal, intimate, sexual aspect and we really do not need to see that part of his life. It's really none of our business as voyeurs into his existence. He is an artist and those who purvey this fashion career need distance and patience. Lagerfeld has shown the practice of this artistry is a genuine lifelong obsession for the legends in their field.
Shadows and Fog (1991)
not Woody's best effort
Shadows and Fog is nothing more than a mash up of Fellini's familiar circus environs and 1920s German Expressionism with a bit of Kafka's nightmarish circular world in which nothing is ever evident other than the insane rules that must be obeyed, enforced by mob strength. I saw this Woody Allen movie when it first came out years ago and I don't remember my reaction. But I know more about movies now than I did then. The dark shadows masks the film set being made on indoor soundstages, not that it matters, but I could have seen this being made in Prague or Budapest. The fog does not allow a deep focus in the frame and the perfect lighting gives away the idea that this is a real world. That nebbish character that Woody always plays is in full effect with the witty comebacks and bon mot insights. That was about the only entertainment. This was not by far his best effort, even when he's channeling Robert Altman's overlapping dialogue.
The Cool School (2008)
for genuine art lover's with too much time on their hands only
You REALLY, REALLY have to be an art lover to like this documentary. I mean, I thought after the glacial pacing that maybe I would learn something new about art and I did. But not enough to slog through after the first 10 - 15 minutes. I just couldn't take it anymore. Yes, I agree these guys/gals made their artistic bones on the west coast and need to be recognized but they deserved a better presentation as a whole. Even the celebrity cameos felt limp. I was more interested in the brand of cigars they were smoking than in the subject they were discussing. I flipped back to view what I had recorded from the History Channel to finish my night.
Sex and the City (1998)
Carrie Bradshaw and the Gurls
Don't ask me how, but when the book came out years ago, I ended up reading it and I can tell you, this show is nothing like the novel. The Carrie character of the book is sad and tragic in a way as the years go by and her friends have settled down and she's alone. This Carrie in the show is far more appealing, I gotta tell you.
The male producer who made the show knew how to package and sell this concept. It's a brilliant turn of the book into show. It can be the basis while not be the final delivery. But I wonder, had the show been female driven behind the scenes from the beginning, what kind of show would it have been? Yes, a terrific director I like, Susan Seidelman did the initial episode and some others, but when it comes to t.v. shows, it's really a writer/producer driven medium.
I guess when you've watched thousands of movies over a course of a lifetime and attended film school to hone that craft, I guess I tend to be hyper critical about a show or a film, a bit more than the casual viewer. But to be honest, I had to get over myself to kick back with my MANLY Miller canned beer and enjoy the "girl" talk, so to speak.
I liked the way the women already knew each other. None of this, "Hey, this is Miranda, Charlotte, Samantha, blah, blah, blah." I did predict the meet cute on the street with Mr. Big but that's okay. This is show is about emotion, form not function. But you can tell the show was evolving from the git go. How? The first two episodes, there is a jazzy soundtrack background, dark recesses and shadows, to Carrie's narration of life and love in the big, bad city. It's as she is that lone, weary, cynical detective who has seen the worse of mankind on display as he hunts the unknown killer through false leads and switchbacks. They moved on from that scenario and made it more lighter, airy in the third episode. Even the sets opened up, not so claustrophobic. You'll also notice the camera really doesn't move that much. This is necessary to a female oriented show.
Also in these initial two episodes, Carrie is almost constantly narrating to the camera, breaking that fourth wall to the audience that I wrote about yesterday about Woody Allen's pioneering work. I am old enough to remember when SJP came out in her first t.v. show Square Pegs; I can almost swear she did the same thing in that show.
But by the sixth episode, Carrie is only speaking to the camera several times since the second episode, which is a good thing, as it takes you out of the show for being so self-conscious. The voice-over narration is a better device to move the story along. But I will give them an approving nod for trying this gimmick, as I've never known it to be done in a woman's show before.
By throwing in those first-person mockumentary style testimonials, I thought the producers were pitching in everything into one visual pot luck, trying to determine what would work and what wouldn't work in the long term. I had a feeling they used focus groups initially since the style did change up in the first season.
The best moments are those human moments that come across when Carrie makes those deft insightful observations, such as when the gay couple wanted to buy one of her eggs, and she felt she was now just an incubator, an egg farm so to speak. I was thinking the same thing; even better is when she reveals the female psyche that I have no clue about, giving me a bit of necessary illumination.
As the show expands, the female supporting characters are given their own room to breathe, which I like. It can't always be about Carrie, and the scenes cannot always be perfect, because life is imperfect.
Nitpicking details: Charlotte has sex with an Orthodox Jew? If he was a real Orthodox Jew, he would not even have been speaking with her. I think they threw this in because of visuals, the collision of religion and art.
After Carrie and Mr. Big meet on the street, when they meet again for the first time in a club and Samantha has her eyes on him, describing him as a young Donald Trump, it's as Carrie does not know him, never seen him before. This is a script continuity problem.
Is it me or is everyone white on this show? And in NYC, of all places! The only notable minorities I saw in these first six episodes were the Sikh taxi driver and African-American date of Mr. Big's; both scenes were fleeting. I hope this Caucasian-only world opens up in later episodes.
Technical kudos: The restaurant scene in which Carrie, after being paid money for sex with the French architect is at the nightclub and her Italian party girl friend insists she join her fellow Eurotrash for a trip to Venice. The slimy Italian guy puts his hand on her ass and there is a medium head shot of her as Carrie is realizing her possible future: the camera focus pulls in while the background pulls out simultaneously. This camera maneuver was made famous by famed New Yorker director Marty Scorsese in Goodfellas. This was the perfect camera movement for this moment.
Carrie is walking down the street and after kissing her French architect beau goodnight, she lifts up into the sky literally, so joyful is her heart. This is a crane dolly shot, which is Spike Lee's signature camera move. It worked for me. Carrie was feeling lighter than air and this physical manifestation captured it perfectly.
Love and Death (1975)
the original Woody Allen film
I have seen Woody Allen's 'Love and Death' several times through the years and I kind of look at it as a standard bearer for Woody's films, a sort of litmus test: how funny is the movie compared to 'Love and Death'? Though I have seen almost his entire oeuvre, I think of this one as his break out film, the real Woody as filmmaker, while allowing us to see the true comic genius he is as a performer and filmmaker. Too bad the French appreciate him more than we do as an American audience, which is why they heaped awards and praise upon him through his life.
I think what gets by many people is that Woody can also be a serious artistic film director, as surely as any Europe produced in the latter twentieth century. Like any of those efforts, Woody uses the whole drama canvass and this is where he stands apart. Does he repeat himself sometimes through his movies? Sure, but how many times did Van Gogh or Picasso repeat themselves? Celluloid is the same as those other mediums.
But upon watching this movie again this week, it made me realize something I have not seen in the other reviews, the influence of the Marx brothers comedies on this film. The obvious zinging sounds, the casual verbal double entendre repartee, the put upon Napoleon double, it's all there. Another insight I picked up this time is that fourth wall breakdown, connection to the audience. While that was standard in early t.v. comedies such as the variety shows, in movies, Woody really pioneers that effort, mimicked to great effect in 'Ferris Buller's Day Off' and even not so great films such as 'Kuffs'.
The film is essentially a riff on Russian Literature, Russian music, Ingmar Bergman films, European philosophy, stream-of-consciousness self-awareness. Woody was self mocking Jewishness long before Sasha Baron Cohen and his Borat character arrived on the scene - the purists out there will state Jackie Mason actually pioneered this but not in film. Either way, if one were to begin watching Woody Allen films, this would be the start, where he finally perfected the comic template that would not change until he started channeling his inner Bergman.
Sidenote: I actually have seen Woody in person, up close, at the Parthenon in Athens, of all places. Regretfully, I never got to meet him but only spoke to his wife briefly.
what a little gem of a movie that needs to be discovered!
I watched this movie not knowing anything about it beforehand and what a gem of a little movie this film turned out to be. I mean, it was a discovery about the Jewish culture at that moment in Brazilian history where coups and secret police did their best to drive out communists, left leaning Jews and any other dissidents of the current military junta rule in 1970, the year of a World Cup championship.
This is basically a coming-of-age picture, about a boy who must learn to remember that his parents are "on vacation", along with any other adults who are fleeing sudden arrests.
But it's the interaction of the main character with the other kids of his age that it really takes off. You can just feel this kid growing up, learning, assimilating into a culture he never knew he was a part of and making new friends, while learning a religion he never knew that was his heritage.
The Brazilian World Cup championship is just more added background to a full and complete storyline. I only wish that more viewers will discover this film on DVD.
I have just seen another Brazilian film a few days ago, The City of Men and I could not keep up with ALL the characters or care about them in any meaningful way. In contrast, this movie shows that in the hands of the right screenwriter and director, that is not a problem in an ensemble cast. This movie makes you care.
Then She Found Me (2007)
a grounded in reality chick flick that is terrific
This movie is not bad at all.
I caught the first 10 minutes as I waiting for the film I came to see started. I was intrigued and came back the following week to see this little gem of a movie.
With Colin Firth and Matthew Broderick playing against type, it was a relief not to see them so admirable in their roles. Yes, Bette Midler played the typical yenta shrew but hey, at least we see Bette. She's been away from the screen for far too long.
I'll be the first to tell you I have never been a Helen Hunt fan at all. I have never even seen her hit t.v. series, Mad About You. Something about her just rubbed me the wrong way in the movies I have seen her in. But then, I saw this movie and I loved it and she did a terrific job in her production.
Seriously. All these people who are criticizing her are slamming her for the wrong reasons. Why? This is one of those FEW films in life in which it's neither the director, writer, or actor's fault. If there is any downside, it's the editor's fault. Yes, it is.
Why? Because the editor chopped up the scenes. In the editing room, a director can become a genius or a fool. This is one of those cases. I do not fault Helen's direction. I fault the editor here. Some of these scenes should have been allowed to breathe on their own, not jump cut from one emotion to the next.
Despite that editing distraction, this chick flick has heart, it does have emotion. How do I know this? I heard a lot of sniffling, tears of sorrow and joy in the audience when this film ended. That is what a film is suppose to do, make you feel something, be a participant, not a witness.
The Happening (2008)
'The Heppening' isn't happening
I decided to give 'The Happening' a chance this past weekend, despite my reservations that the director M. Night Shyamalan has made a career out of making movies from seemingly Twilight Zone episodes. All we need to complete the effort is Rod Serling's voice narrating with a clear, halting voice to guide the audience through.
But what really intrigued me before I went to go see it was reading somewhere that the film had a $58 million dollar budget and was a co-production between Hollywood and an Indian telecom company; they were essentially splitting their costs on this anticipated turkey. You can tell it had low rent production values as well at that low dollar amount. Barely any special effects and everything was outdoors, giving it that two dimensional (read: boring 1950s t.v. effect) feel.
Boy, was I ever right, and to be honest, I should have stuck to my earlier assessment that this director is a one-trick pony. Because his last outing 'Lady In The Water' was such a piece of dreck, he knew he had to seek financing money elsewhere, hence the Indian funding.
This is where 'The Happening's' director and John Singleton diverge, as a comparison/contrast. Where John hit a grand slam with his first film, as did M. Night with 'The Sixth Sense', John too has seen his films decrease in popularity from his Oscar-winning 'Boyz In The Hood.' But John has chosen a divergent path by becoming a producer and allowing others to direct their own films. Though John's films are still gritty, urban-theme, African-American dramas, he is saying something, and he does not make the same movie twice.
Witness all of M. Night's efforts. He says nothing other than he tries to set a mood to encompass the whole screenplay. The studios have wised up to his failing abilities and he may have to rethink of how he can position his next effort because Hollywood is out to make money, not give it away. And not to go down a rat hole, but why do all his movies take place in Pennsylvania? I realize M. Night grew up in Philly but there are other parts of the nation and the world he can film in.
Because I am a movie junky geek, maybe you'll take my words with a grain of salt. Get a life, instead of writing blogs! But if you don't believe me, then believe my colleague who sits next to me during the day. She actually walked out of 'The Happening' this past weekend, and the theatre management gave her a movie pass for a different show because she also thought this lame celluloid effort tried to qualify as entertainment.
Le mépris (1963)
not Jean-Luc Godard's finest effort
Because I am a film geek there are movies I must watch, even if I do not want to. Jean-Luc Godard's 'Contempt' is one of those films.
I saw this 1963 Italian/French production yesterday after taping it on TCM some months back. Though the reviews I read through either praised or scorned it, I found myself in the latter. Remember, intrepid reader that criticism is subjective. No two people see the same film the same way. Why? Because we filter the perception with our experiences. And we all have different experiences in life. Through in culture, religion, a host of other variables and you can get many polarizing reviews.
Most people know that French film director Jean-Luc Godard IS the French New Wave, starting off with his early 1960's seminal, 'Breathless', which at the time was groundbreaking for its generation. It certainly has influenced many low budget films, certainly a template for 1970s independent film-making auteur John Cassavetes.
Why did I dislike 'Contempt'? Was it because of the lack of seeing French sex bombshell Bridget Bardot in a sexy role? This was the least skin she showed in a movie and Jean-Luc was forced to go back and redo some shots to show her nude. Actually, no. That wasn't the reason.
What got to me was the endless bickering. The repetitive arguing in Cartesian circular form about their disastrous marriage throughout the entire film made me believe that this was what was going with the director Jean-Luc at this time in his life, especially when you consider the film they are working on within the film itself is 'The Odyssey' and the main character and narrator is more obsessed about whether or not Penelope cheated on Odysseus back in Ithaca than he is in the hero's journey.
And you know what? I was right.
Though this was the biggest production Jean-Luc ever made, one with a big studio with big A-List names, this was still a low budget approach to a movie and in some ways he was exorcising his demons about his own failing marriage. To write it off as a European convention is not correct.
A movie like this could certainly not be made by Hollywood today. Sure, they are dark films out there about family or marriage dysfunction. But the constant medium shot and overlapping dialogue (a la Robert Altman style) would never be financed by a major studio as 'Contempt' was.
What this film reminded me of was, Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf? You get people like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton and they could spin this mediocre screenplay into gold, Oscar gold that is, which is what they did. Of course, that is my opinion and I have not seen other reviews mention this connection.
Sure, relationships go through tough times and some break as a result. But this film makes you think: if they are so miserable together, why bother staying together? Life is too short to have such misery heaped upon you in doses.
Music? It so graded on your nerves with its swells in endless repetition as a motif that I was wondering if Jean-Luc had final cut authority. Because it had to be the only reason why the same piece of music played on endless loop, to satisfy himself, not the audience. Not even composer Philip Glass does that and he created the repetitive sound for soundtracks.
I will give this film two praises though: it does feature famous German director Fritz Lang playing himself here. Fritz directed a very famous silent film 'Metropolis' made in 1928. (I recently saw the uncut version; if you don't know this movie, it was featured as Madonna's 'Express Yourself' music video and has influence on other films such as 'Blade Runner').
The second praise is that there is a bit of a device that Jean-Luc gives that throws you off from the ending you think is coming. I'll leave it at that as a surprise, if you choose to see this.
Ônibus 174 (2002)
The Cost of Ignoring Life
I cannot overemphasize what a powerful and engaging documentary this Brazilian film is. Not only does it reveal the consequences of violence but the roots that allow it to explode years later onto innocent Rio citizens taking another bus ride in their lives. How such tragic circumstances surround a young man and the invisible existence he knew radiate out to touch strangers is what is investigated. This expose reveals how a society condemns the marginalized lives of children and teenagers who live in the streets, not caring that some are hungry, scared, wanting a home with a mom and dad, family, instead of being orphans, such as Sandro, a victim and the criminal.
Can a single incident forever mar a life? Can no family relations make one hopeless? Does a life in and out of inhumane jails breed resentment, allow it to foster a hate towards humanity? It's scary to think of the profound implications, a true manifestation of the "super predator" theory. What future is there when the young have no education, no job, no connection to other people, instead seeking a constant desperate escape through drugs?
The filmmakers go behind bars of a regular prison and show what Sandro went through, how the penal system literally threw away the key once he was locked-up with no rehabilitation, stifling 120 degree heat, rotten food, rancid water or even room to sleep. The guards brutally torture their prisoners who are held indefinitely, knowing they'll never get in trouble. The director also delves into the 1993 machine gun massacre of street children by Rio police, of which no cop was ever prosecuted, and instead celebrated by citizens sick of street crime. The, 'you are there' actual video footage puts all the requisite pieces together, the origins leading up to the Bus 174 hostage situation that the documentary is about.
This film is an excellent companion to 2002's 'City of God', an absolutely stunning Brazilian film that should have been more celebrated than it was by the Academy of Motion Pictures during this past Oscar season.
There is no doubt Sandro realized what was awaiting him. He knew he could not escape fate, no matter what. But in his brief countrywide televised coverage, eventually global, he stuck a middle finger to all of Brazilian life, that this tragic streetkid, borne of violence, ignored in life, would not be denied attention in death, that his ultimate personal victory was that people knew he was alive, that he breathed, that he lived, just before he died at the hands of police.
Sandro is no hero but just a symptom of a larger societal problem and no doubt all sympathy should be given to the true victim, a 20-year-old woman, who had her whole life ahead of her, instead accidentally shot and killed by the police and the gunman. Why the scene commandant chose to take direction from police directors watching live television is not explored and something no doubt the government would rather forget, due to an underbudgeted and unprofessionally trained police force, creating incompetence. The police cannot even communicate and coordinate as they have no equipment. (Interesting to note how ordinary journalists and citizens just walked up to the bus for a look)
But the stark clarity of the contrast in Rio society is revealed at the end with a pauper's grave greeting the simple coffin, pushed by a grave digger, with one person in mourning. Along the crude furrows, the newest resident is set along all the crammed rows of anonymous wooden crosses. No names are recorded, as no lives here are even noted. Just for a few brief hours, Sandro escaped his anonymity but eventually, as in all Rio's street lives, invisibility returns, and descends into permanence.
Living the Life (2000)
Where Are All The Role Model Men?
Being a middle-aged Hispanic male, I am probably not the intended audience of this film, based on a popular young adult book, but I watched it anyway and was surprised how engaging it was until the twist in the middle of the movie and then it kind of dwindled after that. It seemed the main character waffled back and forth about her true feelings. Perhaps she was confused about her future but I don't think the lead actress was good enough for the audience to feel sympathetic towards her dilemma. I guess being at an age where I could be the characters' father, I was amazed at the lack of Latino men in positive role models. For the two main characters, there was no father, uncle, cousin, no man who espoused constructive ideas. Instead, we get gangbangers who abuse their own women. Okay, maybe that's the way it is in this society but in order to have drama, you need conflict between competing ideas. None of that was shown which shows the difference between this film and the mid-90s Allison Anders' film, 'Mi Vida Loca' with its similar theme.
Who Killed the Red Baron? (2003)
For A Brief Shining Moment
Though I grew up with a biography in my father's library of the Red Baron, I just merely glanced at the cover, viewing the sly smile of the young bald man, no doubt a pin up of his age. This documentary allowed me to learn what I had missed by not turning the covers of that book. Born into minor Prussian nobility, this hunter born crosses the threshold of the old world into the new mechanized war of a dawning 20th century in which machine was superior to man's prowess. Manfred von Richtoffen managed to briefly live in that twilight between two clashing ideas. This hour film investigates how the most famous aviator of that war died, and the deepening foreboding he felt towards the end of his own existence. Surely he knew evitably the dog fight hunter would become the hunted and breaking the rules of his recorded thoughts on warfare certainly sealed his fate, as the 80 planes he brought down in combat. I applaud the filmmakers for not mentioning that a young Herman Goering served in that same squadron. It could have easily exploited that angle in a tawdry fashion but sticks to the basic premise sequestered in the title. In the end, it really doesn't matter who killed the Red Baron, though the filmmakers really bring forth a strong case. What really matters is that young men die -- and those who serve in air are no immune to the horrific legacy of brutal combat than the infantrymen on the ground.
Dope Game 2 (2003)
Enter The Narc As Flawed Hero
Okay, okay, so the Quiroz Brothers must have read my previous review of the first Dope Game because they did change up their filming strategy. Now there are two sided telephone conversations, thank you. But you know they are still working on a micro budget because the set designs are cheesy, even if they are filmed on location in a single take. The lighting design needs some work, too; bare bulbs setting off shadows is amateurish; instead, use a scrim, offset the light level. That's my suggestion for the next sequel. Though the camera work has improved a bit, it's still too static and all scenes are establishments shots (still not enough mediums and no close ups). Once they relent and allow the scene some movement, the brothers Quiroz will be on their way to true film direction. Haven seen their previous efforts, I can see their artistry mature in this latest chapter of the downside of Oakland where the 'hood' is the true actor of this crime saga. Enter the wise, hardcore narcotics detective we've seen in countless incantations played by a straight forward and effective David Rocha, who is also co-producer. He still pontificates, instead of letting his body language speak for him, but he'll get there eventually as a method actor. Our lead is a little shady and looking to expand his narc squad's moonlighting activities and moneymaking potential. "It's good to have friends," he preaches to a druglord. Yes, indeed, it is. That is, if you think your foe is an idiot, which is the fatal flaw that almost unravels his lucrative side trade. That's where the screenplay has stepped out from previous outings because this time, the "bad" guys are not as stupid, nor as intimated as others perceive them. But they are ruthless indeed, so this film could upset the casual viewer of a cop film, to include a not-necessary porno moment. I thought the heavily dramatic scenes were not built up enough to take advantage of the idea. Maybe in real life, they stop and start suddenly but no emotion is built up unless the scenes are. Just the pull of a trigger and it all ends. Of course, there's the requisite black touch at the end. The other supporting actors here do rather a good job, especially the bad guys. You could almost sense the cast is just recreating their own daily existence. Watch this if you are into gritty cop drama like "Cops" and all those other cinema verite police video shows. Do not watch if you are execting Hollywood production values with no gray, moral ambiguity. Sometimes life is like that and that's what is on display here.
Jisatsu sâkuru (2001)
Movie Dreck from the Land of The Rising Sun
This movie is really a stinker, which proves that the Japanese can create junk just as much as Hollywood does. I don't know who was helming this mess but he could have used an editor, unlike the Not-Ready-For-Primetime version used on this effort. The scenes jump all over the place with no build up or tension or with any kind of sequence. It's like the standard Dead Teenager movie without logic. I had no clue who the lead was, nor was there a standard female protagonist whom no believes that there is something sinister happening. But really gets me is the excessive blood splatter. It was a like a grade-B 1950s film where the obvious body dummies fall and someone offstage throws the paint bucket against the window. I lost count how many times this happened. This is a waste of time. I fast forwarded through most of it. But why do I have this feeling this will be a cult film eventually?
Éloge de l'amour (2001)
This movie is why the French film industry is tanking
I have seen countless French films. And I will continue to watch Gallic productions but this filmed train wreck has me matching the reviews shown in the critics section. This production is awful and that is stating it mildly.
The cinema going public will be forever in the debt of director Jean-Luc Godard. He, along with Trauffaut and others created the groundbreaking French New Wave film movement in the early 1960s starting with Breathless', which is still evident in movies of today. But now he is just a desiccated old man riding on his fading legend, having his own little private in-joke that slaps our heads for being such ignorant rubes, especially Americans for buying other people's memories because we as a nation do not have any.
Godard might be irate that Hollywood has taken over the world's cineplexes. But what is the competition? This mish-mash artifice and criticism of art in its different forms just wanders in and out of scenes with various characters that can never be identified or truly identified with unless they have a sourpuss personality. There are pointless pontifications that have no connection to anything resembling a storyline with a historical fact cited to give it some kind of legitimacy.
And what was Jean-Luc saying by placing numerous scenes near and by water? Was he saying that mankind was drowning in its own moral morass or was Godard confessing that he had no possible clue how to show this impenetrable story, so he substituted by having the audience ponder the gentle ebb and sometimes clashing waves as a reflection into our own souls.
Amazingly, there is one item that does stand out in a positive fashion: the black-and-white cinematography in the first half of the movie. The night and early morning shots with their black recesses, sharpened figures and darkened foreground remind me of Brassaï photographs of the City of Light' before the Second World War. The ambiance evokes that warm feeling toward Paris as Woody Allen does about New York City in Manhatten'.
But in the end, cynicism wins out and so Godard uses the writer as a substitute to sum up his viewpoint in an existentialist manner that could have been written by Albert Camus. Jean-Luc should have been more honest like the movie director-character in that other debacle about why the French film industry is in decline, Irma Vep'. `F*** the audience. They will see what I want them to see.'
In Praise Of Love' is a perfect example of that edict.
A Thinking Man's Matrix
Though the cliche dark, dreary future is evident here, Equilibrium is a stylish cerebral approach to a future that believes the state knows how to control man's impulses, policed by a black-clad religious 'cleric' priesthood that could mistaken for the Nazi SS, true believers with no remorse. This film is a mixture of The Matrix, Gattaca, and 1984.
Christian Bale is terrific in his lead role, a step away from his American Psycho personae. He has to carry forth the balance of being both a cleric leader and secret rebel, each tearing at the fabric of what passes for his soul. Emily Watson is underutilized, much to my disappointment. Spielberg future vision is evident here in this movie as well, where the future is 'white' with the obvious exemption of the Taye Diggs character.
Interesting contradictions do abound: why is that 'citizens' and 'clerics' are not allow to express emotion yet the 'leader' and the Taye Diggs character quite obviously express their anger? Did they not take their daily doses, they very thing they are policing against? Additionally, where are the women -- is the future masculine? Where are the old people? Do they get fed into the state machinery, as in Solyent Green or does their time run out as in Logan's Run?
Some little cinematic homages to Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the 1984-inspired Apple McIntosh computer commercial, Blade Runner, Escape From New York, and Soviet propaganda machinery.
Watch this if you want to be entertained in a cerebral manner; do not watch it if you are looking for visceral, emotional reactions.
Barrio Wars (2002)
Shakespeare has left the building
To say this movie sucked would be too kind. I'll just say that at least the producers decided not to use the bard's old English (thank you). But I think the only person who actually read the play was the screenwriter and they still failed. Translating this oft imitated doomed love story to a modern Hispanic urban setting doesn't play as well as Baz Luhrmann's update, which was also based in California. No doubt there was not a large production budget here, but there was not enough emphasize on the drama and instead tended to focus on the hood angle, making it more a gangster wannabe flick than a love story. Then there was that soft core porn moment, which was not really necessary. The actress who played Juliet's best friend truly stood out. She did a great job. Everyone else in the cast could have benefited from an acting class or at least watching the Actor's Studio on the Bravo cable channel. Yes, I kept the DVD remote busy. Welcome to the Fast Forward Nation.
Could Have Been A Better Effort
This is the first Israeli film I have seen and I really wanted to get to know more about the citizens via this route. Though I did learn some things, it isn't enough to recommend. The director presumes the audience knows the situation and all the locales. Though I keep up with the news daily, I just couldn't identify with the West Bank settlers. The undertone of religious renegades and dark collusion just wasn't filmed correctly. The scenes kept jumping around and I wanted to call the editor and ask why there couldn't be more of a flow to the sequences. I am looking forward to seeing more Israeli productions. Perhaps I can learn more of that beseiged society that I didn't feel here.
The Salton Sea (2002)
Vincent D'Onofrio Again Steals The Show
Val Kilmer needs to get over himself. This guy could do so much better. I really liked him back in the 80s with Real Genius and Top Gun. But he hasn't really stretched as an actor since then. It's just one after dud after another. Despite trying here, he still has that 'Hey, aren't I good looking, just admire me' face on. At least he doesn't have that Keeanu Reeves/Al Gore, wooden look. Val now tries to foist himself off as some sympathetic street loner with a score to settle. Without giving away too much, it seems that everyone in this film as an identity crisis. I don't know if this was intentional or not. But no one is who they say they are except Val's pal who looks up to him (why, is his self-esteem that low?) The rest of the characters kinda mosey in and out of the screenplay. One notable exception: can Vincent D'Onofiro be any better? This is the man who needs to be the lead even if he doesn't have Val's good looks. Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for Val's comeback vehicle. It looks like I'll be waiting for a while.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000)
We Hardly Knew Ya!
I cannot believe I am giving this such a good review considering that I have such a grudge against Conservative Christians, but I don't think that really plays into the midset of this documentary because we really get to learn about her and her foibles and tragedies. This is a flesh and blood person, not the TV personae that is always trotted out to the media. Now what I would really like to see is a warts-n-all telling of the Jerry Falwell story. I would like to get his "spin" on these events. I believe, like Supermodels, TV evangelists are a product of their time. Americans have become cynical of their exploits and true ambitions. In the end, I believe Tammy Faye will be remembered by not what she did but how she reached out, moved beyond the public personality, came back down to earth.
Finally, A Breather From The Schlock
I know there was not much of audience when it was released in the U.S. but hopefully now out on DVD and video, it will find an audience. This is a really good film with a smart sensibility and witty repartee that makes it stand above the daily dreck for the masses. If we are to get more films of this caliber, we as a public have to consume it, so please pass along this little gem to your friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances, and colleagues. Maybe we all can make this better place for film lovers.