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5/10
Slow set at a rocking show
26 December 2009
The Plastic Ono Band comes on stage near, if not at the end of a night of 100% rock and roll at the Toronto Rock And Roll Revival Festival featuring performances by Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bo Diddley among others. The fact that The Plastic Ono band seems to be headlining this event must be due to John Lennon's enormous draw because the band is a far cry from headlining material. Playing a generic and slow set of Blue Suede Shoes, Money (That's What I Want), Dizzy Miss Lizzy and ending with a few Beatles songs and then Yoko's "thing," it's understandable why some of the audience left as the band performed their final song of the evening. Had the band ended with their covers of the Beatles' tracks, the night might have been overlooked as a small footnote in Lennon, Clapton, Voorman and White's long and lauded musical career, however it is Ono's eight minute opus which closes the performance that draws the most attention and criticism.

At the beginning, Ono curiously chose to hide herself under a white sheet in the middle of the stage as the band kicked off their set, though she had walked out on stage with the band. When she appeared again, her only musical contribution was to wail and moan under and sometimes over the vocals of John Lennon. What was obviously musical experimentation must have horrified the rock and rollers who had just sat through the phenomenal sets of Little Richard and Bo Diddley, etc, for Ono is truly not a rock and roll singer. As she sings, the cameramen and women of the film lock in on the face of Lennon. In what must be the most interesting editing choices in a music film, we watch, or appear to watch Lennon react to Ono's performance. It's hard to tell what he's thinking as we observe his often emotionless face. We the audience can interject anything we want into his psyche as the film presents us with the glancing eyes of Lennon juxtaposed to Ono's squealing. What was he thinking? Was he accepting of Ono's singing or did those eyes reveal some condescension? A follow-up interview to this performance with some of the band members would have been great.

The final song of the performance presents the audience with the biggest set of challenges. Lennon basically gives the stage over to Yoko who begins another series of wails with the band backing her up. Musically it begins generically enough, with Clapton and Lennon playing a slide guitar riff, but about five minutes in Lennon edges closer and closer to the amps and begins to adjust his guitar to generate feedback. What some might say quickly devolves into noise is actually a fascinating duet between Lennon and Ono. Matching each other with their own forms of noise, the two banter back and forth, experimenting with different pickups and amp settings in the case of Lennon, and Ono adjusting her vowels to make new noises. It is understandable why many many people found this too much and left or turned off their television set, and I must admit I too wanted at times to shut it all off, but what held me to the screen was Lennon and Ono's relationship and play. Here we see John Lennon, a man who claimed more popularity than Jesus seemingly slumming it up with an average band and a crazy woman singer. And yet he sticks with it to the very end. And not only does he stick with it, he encourages it as he hands the stage over to Ono for the final song of the night.

Sweet Toronto is an engaging film by a talented filmmaker that gives a unique perspective to an effervescent musical group. I highly recommend the film to all Lennon and Ono fans and to experimental music fans.
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8/10
Directed by {Blank}
5 October 2008
For those of you fortunate enough to have been in a situation where Les Blank personally showed his private copy of this film to a group of non-profits, you might get the title joke. Easily Les's least seen film for legal reasons, it is nevertheless one of his best. The film documents the recording period of musician Leon Russell in his Oklahoma recording studio from 1972-1974. The film alternates between vignettes of Leon at his sprawling studio, such as the painting of the mural in his pool, and scenes of local Oklahoma flair, like the great goose flight. While oftentimes it features persons who seem to be there to do nothing but lounge and generally disagree, there are those moments when Leon and his crew actually play music, and those moments are wonderful. It's a shame that Leon refuses to release this film, because it exists as a document of a person in a time that can't be gotten back, yet must be understood. Les is an aging man who may never show his film again so if you come across a situation where it will be shown, go out of your way to see it.
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10/10
Great videos
22 September 2008
This guy has an energy that makes you feel good. Despite the barrages of countless prank phone calls, he still shows up to make 50+ episodes of himself running, sweating, getting dirty, painting, blending terrible drinks, and having guests so bizarre they push the show into a new level of curious. That plus the green screen keying and wild camera work and editing make for a fantastic collision of everything fun. Hilarious, spontaneous, ridiculous; these are only a few adjectives to describe the show. I highly recommend it to internet junkies and other people looking for something off-the-wall and scatterbrained. Call in sometime too and encourage him to run faster.
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7/10
A Tea Feast
23 January 2008
I saw this film in Austin, Texas accompanied by five distinct varieties of teas to drink, most actually coming from the Hoffman estate. Before seeing this film, drinking those teas would have meant little to me. But after seeing the film and learning about the tea making process, from plant to package, I became more aware of the effort it takes to enjoy a quality tea. Les follows tea exporter David Hoffman around China as he talks to everybody, from politicians and businessmen down to the farmers about buying good quality organic tea. The term organic, says Hoffman, is a recent term. Seventy five years ago, all tea was organic. Before chemical fertilizers were touted as the solution to the mass production of tea, centuries old methods of tea growing was the only way of production. Today, Hoffman battles Chinese bureaucracy and stubbornness to sway the government away from vast modernization and to buy traditional tea directly from the farmer for a good price. The battle is long and hard and filled with potholes and bumpy roads. China believes that the chemical fertilizers will increase production and exports. Hoffman argues that the farmers won't even drink the teas grown with chemical fertilizers. The teas I drank from the Hoffman estate were exquisite. Much better than any Lipton or Bigelow tea. After seeing this film I can rest assured that I won't be poisoning myself anymore with chemically grown teas. I now know what to look for, thanks to Les.
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Gimme Green (2007)
7/10
Good but lacking
15 October 2007
The film is a good look into the excesses of lawn care as it talks to the people who make, distribute, and use the lawn care products that keep America's lawns green. The film strikes them in a light that one might call oblivious: there are the sod manufacturers who go about their business as cameras roll, the chemlawn representatives who skirt claims of their product's toxicity to humans by waxing rhetoric about what the definition of "safe" actually is, and then there are the half dozen or so interviewed homeowners whose obsessions with their lawns lends their compulsions to comedy. We also see those people who are taking an alternative stance to the world of sod lawns with synthetic lawns made out of plastic. We see their plastic spinning machines whir out huge blankets of turf and meet the landscaping companies in the drier parts of the States who are paying their clients dollars per square foot to replace their old grass lawn with new turf. And the opinions vary from enthusiastic reception to city council skepticism on the new turf. But everything is blended together in this film without distinction. The opinions of those people who trim their tiny lawns using the largest John Deere mower they make do not seem that much different from those people who replaced their whole lawn with synthetic turf. Both sects seem ignorant of the environmental consequences inherent in both products, and the filmmakers, either in an attempt to stay true to their subjects or maybe in ignorance themselves, never discuss environmentally friendly solutions to lawn care with anyone. All I can tell from this film is that Americans love of their lawn and they will do anything they can to keep it looking green.
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8/10
Cajun cooking with Marc Savoy and friends
27 June 2006
Yum, Yum, Yum! seems to have been made as a supplementary piece to "J'ai été au bal," Les Blank's film about the Cajun singing duo Marc and Ann Savoy. Though "J'ai été au bal" adequately covers the musical aspect of Marc and Ann's lives, it only touches briefly on their private life and the food they cook, a topic Les Blank loves to cover. What is so unique about Les Blank's films is his ability to embed himself into the mindset of his subjects. In the beginning of Yum, Yum, Yum, we are placed in the back woods of Louisianna with Marc and friends as they begin a fish stew. The questions posed by Les and company are never intrusive, never really asking personal questions, but the answers he receives to questions such as "have you ever used a cookbook" give them more personality than any sit-down interview could possibly do. Lying just below the movie's definite subject of Cajun cooking is the desire of Marc and Ann to see their culture and heritage represented fairly throughout the rest of the country and the world. All too often Cajun people and Cajun cooking have been given a bad name simply because it has been misunderstood. This movie serves as a visual plea for solidarity among the United States and the world for the Cajun people. It's refreshing to see in this movie the kind of survivalist traditions of catching, growing, cleaning, and cooking one's own food that seems to have been all but lost with today's consumerism. This movie shows how even after hundreds of years of living off the land and the ease of pre-packaged foods dangled in front of their eyes, these people still choose to do things the way their parents and their parent's parents did it. This is a great film by America's greatest documentarian.
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3/10
Unfunny attempt at Hollywood satire
10 June 2006
I get the feeling with all of the recap shows on every Hollywood wannabe channel that go over the minutest happening in Ventura County, somebody thought a cartoon would be a fresh take on a dying fad. Apparently, nobody told them that's been tried before and that none of them succeeded. I'm referring particularly to the show starring Robert Evans, former President of Paramount Pictures as a Hollywood mogul disguised as a social butterfly and able to swing with the A-list of Hollywood. This show however places two comedians in the bodies of mutts and throws them into Hollywood circumstances where they behave as flies on walls to the private conversations of the biggest stars. The problem of this show lies in the comedians' inability to write original material that successfully satirizes events of which we are more than familiar with. The animation style is overdone and basically a rip-off of many different styles without any of the excitement those original styles once had. The caricatures of celebrities in this show seems to have been where the majority of time was spent, and even then they aren't very good. Add to the fact the show is full of dumb premises and situations, and you get one huge flop of a show.
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Modus Vivendi (2005)
8/10
Handsome student film with big budget appearances
17 May 2006
I watched this as a part of the Open Apperutre Short Film Festival and was surprised to see the level of technical skill that was put into making this short. Shot on 16mm, there are helicopter shots, slow-mo shots, tracking shots, frame by frame animations, and a nice running theme. The images play well against the backdrop of the opera, especially those spectacular slow-motion shots of the two females performing backflips down the sidewalk. At times I felt the artsyness of the whole thing was pushed a little too far. For instance, as the leading lady is dressed in her cowgirl outfit, the way the director played with the rising heat waves and low angle 'through the legs' shots felt overdone. These kinds of shots have been done before. What I wanted to see was what the director was going to do to subvert the genre. Overall I liked the movie. It was definitely a few steps above and beyond your average student film.
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7/10
Buena Vista Social Club
17 May 2006
Wim Wenders heads to Cuba with country music guitarist Ry Cooder to produce an album about traditional Cuban music as played and sung by those artists still alive to play the songs. With most of the artist's ages topping the 80's, the power with which they sing and play will knock your socks off. Each person has a story. One didn't sing for ten years before this because there was no money in singing in Cuba. Another worked with a blind bandleader who would get uproariously drunk and chase after people in a blind, drunken rage. The movie was about more than just the music. The people themselves are the reason why the movie and the music is still around. True that can be said about all different kinds of music, but it's these people's spice to life that make their form of music all the more interesting. Would the Beatles be the Beatles today had Paul and John not been in fierce competition with each other? They all had the music in them, but sometimes it's the people that make the music interesting. After the album, "The Buena Vista Social Club" reached popular success in the States, Cooder took the group on a worldwide tour to play in Amsterdam and finally in Carnegie Hall in New York City. Some of the movie takes place during these concerts, showcasing each artist's particular addition to the band. This is then paralleled by a personal showcase of the artist playing their instrument as the camera swirls around their bodies, examining every part of them in an attempt to uncover and find out what makes them so great. This is probably my favorite Wim Wenders film as the topic is so nostalgic it fills my heart with grief to think of pre-50's Havana as gone. And I was born in 1985. Picked this up at the University library on VHS. Would like to see Wim Wenders' commentary on the film on DVD.
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6/10
Wings of Desire
17 May 2006
German filmmaker Wim Wenders and his company Road Movies Produktion need to make a movie or else they will go bankrupt. Wenders decides he wants to set a movie in Berlin that tells the story of the people of Berlin. The movie follows the existence of angels as they follow humans around and influence what they think, how they react, and sometimes what they do. The angels are able to listen in to people's thoughts through an ingenious cinematic trick where they merely lean their head against a man or woman's and the thoughts begin to flow like rain. We hear their internal pleas for help, their self-doubts, their inner monologue, anything they might be thinking at the moment. Wenders shoots the majority of the film in black and white, but when an especially touching moment occurs, the movie switches to a beautiful and vibrant full color, almost Technicolor with extremely strong emphasis on reds and yellows. His camera is in constant motion, a sort of camera entfesselte or literally unfastened camera that moves about space without hinges or blockades. This unfastened style of cinematography seems to stick with Wenders throughout his career and becomes somewhat of a trademark for his films. Overall I thought the idea of this movie and its angels and people of Berlin was excellent, but there was something unsettling in the lack of focus in this movie. Picked this up at the University library.
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6/10
Mr. Death
17 May 2006
This is a documentary that feels like a compressed news broadcast. Errol Morris, the reason why Werner Herzog ate his shoe, makes this documentary about, well, the rise and fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., also known as Mr. Death. During the 70's and 80's, Mr. Leuchter found himself in a successful niche improving upon and creating new machines to implement capital punishment. Though he was not a licensed technician, he sold blueprints and homemade machines to state penitentiaries as well as acted as a consultant on the lethal machines in prisons across the country. Where Mr. Leuchter went awry was when he was contacted to investigate the truthfulness to the claim that Nazis used lethal gas to exterminate thousands of people at concentration camps in Germany and Poland. His research found him knee deep in the ruins of Auschwitz, taking rock samples off the walls of gas chamber rooms to take back to the United States for arsenic analysis. His research turned up no traces of cyanide in the wall samples nor evidence of the structural integrity of the supposed gas chambers to safely contain the gases. He presented his findings to the trial of Ernst Zundel, a holocaust denier on trial in Canada for publishing documents refuting the Holocaust ever occurred, and was successively outcast from society as a fellow Holocaust denier. Through Morris' ninety minute film, we are shown the relative success of a man quickly sink to the bottom of the world's hating order through the publication of one research project. Mr. Leuchter is portrayed as objectively as possible in this film, sometimes even going to black while his voice continues, but the sheer tenacity of this man makes me grit my teeth with rage when I think of him. His lack of concern for human life and the sufferings of others and his ambivalence towards people as both models of death and financial gain is a horrifying example of what kinds of people do what kinds of things in this world. The movie was well made with nice interludes of beautifully shot slow motion 35mm as well as video footage from trials, video from Leuchter's own research in the tombs of Auschwitz, and the interviews of Leuchter sitting and talking about his work as calmly as a dove coos.
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Badlands (1973)
8/10
Badlands
17 May 2006
This is one of the few films that director Terence Malick has made in his life as of today. In fact I can count his directing career on one hand, but what I can't do is begin to contemplate the technical prowess that went into making this films. In Badlands, a young Martin Sheen (Kit) and Sissy Spacek (Holly) essentially roam the plains of Colorado killing people, usually to cover their tracks and to keep themselves from being caught. The story is simple enough, but it's the characters and the photography that make this movie, hands down, the most intriguing films I have ever seen. Everything is an enigma, if not a pretense for a hidden desire or message. Take for example the scene where the two characters encounter their own images of death. Young Holly decides to throw out a sickly but curable catfish into the yard rather than to watch it die in the far too small bowl in her house. She later regrets doing it after being scolded by her two male role models, her father and Kit, but what does her initial decision speak about the innocence of youth. Kit's work on a cattle ranch leads him to come across a cow dead on the ranch floor. He looks at it and puts his arms on his hips. He halfheartedly taps it with his foot. Then he sort of kicks it. He looks around suspiciously and steps on top of it and walks over to the other side. Are Kit's actions a byproduct of not being told what death is or are there other wheels turning in his head? Where is the father figure in this movie; the role to give explanation to the actions of the movie's young characters. Well, there isn't one, and this movie's youthful explosion of freedom in a world where the characters don't even know the rules makes this an intriguing character study. And finally there is the cinematography. Amongst the vast and nearly desolate plains rises the image of the mountains in the distance more than half way through the movie that serves as the maguffin of the film (any object or idea that inhibits the story's central focus). But the mountains are only an illusion created out of desperation for hope by Kit in an attempt to free himself from his past. The mountains represent hope and opportunity to him, but in actuality, they represent and would solve nothing even if he had gotten to them. Cinematography works when the camera's eye is focused on a central theme of the movie. By embedding the ideas of the movie into the viewer' brain, the images we are shown on screen are given new freedom for interpretation and personal analysis. Terence Malick knew what he was doing, and this was his first feature length film. I picked this up at the University library.
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9/10
Black Narcissus
17 May 2006
Black Narcissus (1947) – Black Narcissus is what happens when you push the color capabilities of Technicolor to its most extreme. Shot entirely on the lots of Pinewood studio in London, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's film is the pinnacle of lush. There's a popular anecdote that goes around when talking about this movie. The directors once commented that because of the power of Technicolor, the lips of the actors would appear to be too red on screen. It was then decreed the main actors must wear a beige toned lipstick to hide their natural redness. It makes the scene at the end of the film all the more powerful when Sister Ruth sheds her black and white nun's clothing and paints the forbidden red across her lips and charges out of the building to the top, confronting Sister Superior Clodagh in a showdown swinging from the convent's bell 9000 feet above the Earth. I loved this film for two things: color and expression. I felt while watching this to be a part of a living museum mixing the art of the German Expressionists and the hyper realistic colors of some contemporary art (sorry no examples, I'm terrible with most art movements). I was also enthralled by the actual Technicolor camera.I picked this movie up at the University library. If you like color, watch Powell and Pressburger's other Technicolor masterpiece, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.
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Pickpocket (1959)
9/10
Pickpocket
17 May 2006
This film is where my perspective of film-making took a sharp and very abrupt right turn towards a new appreciation of the art of making films. Robert Bresson is absolutely brilliant. His vision of how to make movies is so detailed and intricate I find it hard to believe how I ever made a movie without thinking about what he has done in his films to make his movies. In fact I'm ashamed to admit I've ever made films after seeing this film. To listen to how his actors describe him is like listening to a child describe how they were raised by their grandfather. With awe, with compassion, with respect that cannot be sown between two peers. Between two peers comes a rivalry very hard to overcome, but with Bresson and his movie and his actors, he is allowed to take his "models" by the hand and lead them through the movie on blind faith alone. To consider a movie where the director took a cast of actors who has almost exclusively never acted before, and told them only where to look in between delivering their lines while positioned at such and such a point is why I have reconsidered the way I make movies. Twenty, thirty, forty, sometimes fifty takes later Bresson would still be looking for a glimpse, a nod, or a movement that expresses what he feels inside him, and here I am telling people to do stuff over there while I fiddle with the lens a little more. I am in debt to his work. Robert Bresson was the father of the French new Wave and the epitome of film-making. Also be sure to watch A Man Escaped. Got this film at the University library.
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Roger & Me (1989)
6/10
Roger & Me
17 May 2006
Roger Moore makes this documentary about trying to convince General Motors CEO Roger Smith to visit his hometown and observe for himself the amount of destruction the job cuts to plants in Michigan have done to the economy and to the people themselves in Flint, Michigan. It is also the beginning of Roger Moore's quest as a filmmaker to be personally offended by everybody who doesn't agree with his philosophy. Moore presents a good case for us to consider: why would General Motors cut thousands of jobs in the United States as well as strike deals with the UAW (United Auto Workers) to recover billions of dollars in benefit cuts, only to send those lost jobs off to Mexico? Well… uh… well, Moore never really answers that question. He implies the company is restructuring their business strategy to become more involved in the highly lucrative weapons manufacturing business, but he never expands on that line. Instead, his attention diverts away from the GM Company and towards the people of Flint in their struggle to get their lives out of the gutter as they lose their jobs by the thousands while plants close all around them. And so I'm confused by Moore. Is this movie an attempt to whistle blow on the GM Company for leaving the car industry to join the arms dealers of the world and then to address the issue implied there, or is this a sentimental story about the people of Flint and their sad attempts at picking themselves up out of the gutter of America? One subject has more power than the other and he clearly chose the wrong subject. This fact is what makes Roger & Me not nearly as successful as the highly focused film he made fifteen years later. Roger & Me was a tremendous starting block for Moore, but it wasn't until Fahrenheit 9/11 that his film-making career found its plateau and his investigative nature found its home. Good early work for a first time filmmaker. Found this at the University library.
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7/10
American Graffiti
17 May 2006
I have to agree with my film professor when he claims this movie is George Lucas' best film. The story is so tight it's hermetically sealed. Four friends after graduation are only one night away from leaving each other to go on with the remainder of their lives. It's up to them to decide if they're ready to go yet or not. What makes this movie appealing to many is its soundtrack. Taking clips from the top 40 charts of the 1960's and placing it alongside hot rodding muscle cars really sets this movie in a period and truly asks you the question on the poster "where were you in '62?" Again, this is the kind of solid movie-making that allows the director/writer to go on and do whatever else they want to do in the industry. It's like a golden ticket into the studio system, and for Lucas it was his chance to rebound from the failure of THX-1138 and get back on his feet to make Star Wars. After that it's the gravy train and as many remasters of your movie as you want to make because people are going to buy it, no matter how many times you jerk them around. O, Lucas, how thou art what thou despised as a film student. Picked this up at the University library.
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7/10
The French Connection
17 May 2006
I wanted to watch something that would thrill me and William Friedkin's hardboiled story about two detectives who will stop at nothing to bring down some French drug dealers was exactly what I wanted. You can't get more exciting than a ten minute car chase that winds through the NYC transit system as Popeye smashes off buses, cars, walls, and whatever else he can sideswipe to keep moving. The particular car chase scene I'm speaking about had the same motivation to keep going that a concussion victim has to stay awake: to keep going as if your life depended on it. As Popeye wedged his way past intersections of crossing cars and off of walls that pointed his car kind of in the direction he wanted to go, we quickly become enthralled by the amount of drive he has. Past dump trucks, around lines of more cars, almost over a baby carriage, you slowly get sucked into his desperation and suddenly his passion for the chase translates into your passion to watch him chase. It's ingenious how Friedkin used the in-car perspective of the chase and the jarring close-up shots of the car hitting the next object to glue you to the screen through visceral action. I've even begun to speak in first person plural, trying to include the rest of you in on my experiences watching this car chase. That is exactly how Friedkin entraps us and makes us watch. This is an excellent 70's film. Picked this up at the University library.
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9/10
The Terminator
17 May 2006
James Cameron makes his science fiction masterpiece about time travel, cyborgs, guns, chicks, and Arnold. Hot damn this was an awesome movie! I had never seen this before so I watched this with extreme scrutiny considering the heaps of praise everyone lavishes upon this movie, and I have to say nearly every bit of it holds up like a rock. Cameron tackles the subject of the past affecting the future through time travel without skipping a beat and barrels his movie down a slip and slide of action. Action splashed here, splashed there, action freaking everywhere. The stop motion was great as was the dark, almost black post-apocalyptic world of the future. We see tank machines rolling over dozens of skulls and bones, lasers, guns, battle armor, flying machines, this movie was so much fun. About the only problems I had with the movie were the Highlander-esquire special lightning effects at the beginning of the movie. If I were going to update anything, it would have to be the way the lighting licked the metal pipes while the bum in the alleyway looked on unfazed at the storm of blue electricity. Either it was the bum's lack of reaction that I didn't like or it was the actual special effect. It's hard to decide. Anyways, another classic film from the science fiction genre down thanks to the University library.
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Jurassic Park (1993)
6/10
Jurassic Park
17 May 2006
This time Steven Spielberg makes a movie about dinosaurs. He made some films about aliens, about sharks, and about action heroes before, and now he's made a film about dinosaurs. If you can't tell, I'm pretty apprehensive about this movie. I didn't like this movie. No, actually, it was okay. It was just… too mawkishly sentimental for my tastes. Spielberg has obviously become the master at manipulating emotions as scene after scene barrages the viewer with images that breathe too sickly sweet in my face. Behind the excitement of a movie about nature running wild lies the heavy-handed morals of the film: stealing and double crossing is punishable by the innocent and unguided forces of nature, money is a corruptible power, sometimes nature might be better left untouched, and keeping the family unit intact is priority number one, as is always the case in all of Spielberg's movies. But in the foreground of all of that morality is this awesome visual roller coaster ride filled with some of the most breathtaking computer video images and hand crafted puppetry I have ever seen. It's a toss up. I can take those images of the "Jurassic Park" banner falling around the tyrannosaurus rex being attacked by raptors on one side and compare that to the image of a tyrannosaurus rex chasing one of the jeeps in the rear view mirror with the words "object in mirror may be closer than it appears" on the other. Those are some cool images, but one smacks of contrived metaphor and the other screams with raw power juxtaposed with situational irony. I'll always respect Spielberg as one of cinema's powerhouse figures, but there will always be something to disagree about. On the disc with the movie were a number of behind the scenes featurettes including Spielberg with his creative team planning out images from the movie in pre-production, as well as a perfectly matched stop motion animation mock up of the raptor hunt scene in the kitchen. I would personally love to see someone take the whole movie and turn it into this kind of film-making. Picked this up at the University library.
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8/10
The Last Picture Show
17 May 2006
Peter Bogdonavich directs a cast of unknowns in this story about small town high school graduates growing up to discover what roles they can play in other people's lives. Some of them don't know how to cope with their own insignificance in life and resort to sexual deviance to fit in with a group they don't belong in, while others try to run away from their life by driving to Mexico or chasing the girl of their high school dreams. Others merely escape to the world of the last cinema in town which is about to close down. The story incorporates the adults of the town as the high school graduates are forced to finally coexist with them on more than a student/teacher relationship. It usually ends in disparity. Found this at the school library. I liked this film a lot. I thought of this film as what George Lucas was trying to achieve through the kids in American Graffiti but without all the 60's pop music and muscle cars. Some people assimilate well, which is what American Graffiti is all about, but then there are some who screw it up, which is what The Last Picture Show is about.
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The Crazies (1973)
7/10
The Crazies
17 May 2006
George Romero directs a wonderful low budget film about a virus that breaks out in a town after a military plane crashes in the mountains and the virus leaks down in through the water and which drives anyone it comes in contact with to complete madness or mindless drivel. The film really captures the essence of the Vietnam era fear as well as undercurrents of the communist threats where you don't know who might be "one of them." I saw nice nods to the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers in this. In the DVD commentary with Romero, he comments that this is the first time he's been able to step away from the camera and direct the scenes as a director, not as a director/cinematographer/camera operator. The results show a very cohesive story with great background action to compliment the foreground stuff. I picked up the DVD for about $10 at Deepdiscountdvd.com. Comes with commentary with George Romero, an interview with star Lynn Lowery, trailers and spots, posters and stills, and a biography of George Romero. If you're a fan of the 'Dead' series, you'll appreciate the style of film-making and story line from Romero.
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7/10
The beginning to Cajun/zydeco music
29 March 2006
What I love about Les Blank is his obsessive nature to cover all the aspects of his subject. While at a seminar with Les, I heard him comment that in making this movie, he wanted to make the definitive Cajun/Zydeco music movie. He accomplished everything he hoped for. The movie starts with the acknowledgment that Cajun and Creole is not one defined group of people. The collection of people known as Cajun began when the Acadians moved out of Canada and found home in the deep south among free slaves and other Europeans. The roots of Cajun and Zydeco music is Gaelic, with heavy drones, usually played on stringed and reeded instruments. Today's Cajun/Zydeco music has witnessed many changes since its beginning, conforming to the popular trends of American pop music, country music, and even rock and roll. The introduction of the accordion was another major change to the Cajun/Zydeco sound. Alongside the change in sound was featured the change in the music's stars. Many of the genre's major artists are featured in this documentary, including but not limited to Mark and Anne Savoy and the Savoy Family Band, Lawrence Ardoin And His French Zydeco Band, Clifton Chenier The King of Zydeco, Michael Doucet, and Joe Falcon. And, even during the aftermath of a devastating segregation war between blacks and whites in the United States, Les Blank was able to capture both the black and white perspective of Cajun/Zydeco music with interviews from both sides of the dividing line. Fortunately today, that line has been heavily blurred and racial tensions have been lifted. After watching this film, I was enlightened to the rich cultural heritage of Cajun and Zydeco music. It was like watching a text book of information on a big screen.

Special thanks to Les Blank, Cece Conway, and the Open Apperture Short Film Festival for hosting the Les Blank retrospective seminar on the campus of Appalachian State University.
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8/10
Les Blank short film about bluegrass in the Appalachians
9 January 2006
I love this film. When I watched it, I simply couldn't believe that bluegrass was that enjoyable. This film, set in the North Carolina Appalachians, honors the fiddle playing an 82-year-old Tommy Jarrel and the time honored tradition of whiskey and folk music. Filled to the brim with stories, small towns, good friends, and did any one say bluegrass?, "Sprout Wings and Fly" is a reminisce of heritage that stretches living memory back to the Civil War. But these aren't from the minds of the immobile. These people are full of energy, enough to start dancing at the drop of a tune and who won't stop until the last one's done. Of course a little drinking can't hurt to keep the music going too; and if you listen carefully, you'll even learn the true secret behind good alcohol. This film covers everything that is good and right with these people. They have a vigor for life and a lineage that forms the roots of America's culture. With music, family, and some drink to keep things kicking, what more could you want?
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The Mascot (1933)
8/10
The Mascot
20 October 2005
One of Starewicz's longest and strangest short films follows a toy dog in search of an orange after becoming animated by the tear of the mother of a girl who longs for an orange. The dog comes upon an orange after falling out of the back of a car on his way to be sold, but at night must protect the orange when he comes enters a devilish nightclub featuring many bizarre and scary characters. With the help of a stuffed cat, the dog gets the orange back to the little girl and she is saved from a terrible scurvy death. The Mascot features new techniques I have not yet seen in Starewicz's films. The addition of sync sound and a mixture of live action with the stop-motion animation makes for a new twist on Starewicz's old style of puppetry. Live scenes of moving cars and people's feet walking by as a puppet sits on the concrete sidewalk is impressive and fresh. The honking of cars and cries of street vendors is noteworthy due to the fact that small studio shifts to sound were costly and Starewicz's utilization of the new technology seems like old hat. New puppet characters in this film are frightening contributions to the devil's club scene. Twigss and newspaper shreds come to life. Skeletons of dead birds lay eggs which hatch skeleton chicks. Characters come flying in from all over on pats and pans and rocking horses. A new editing technique uses quick zooms which are accomplished through editing to speed up the pace of what before might have been a slow scene. Overall, Starewicz is able to update his style of film-making to meet the demands of a new audience making this film one of the best examples of his work.
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9/10
It's "political timber"
20 October 2005
One of Starevich's earliest films made in France is possibly his only political satire. The story of The Frogs Who Wanted A King mirrors its title as a group of high "croakers" feel that democracy has gone flat so they demand a king from Jupiter to rule their land. When he sends down a stump, the frogs ask for another king, saying the stump is but "political timber." Jupiter sends down a hungry stork this time whose frog lusty eyes devour the town's residents. As the original "croaker" is about to slide down the stork's beak, he speaks his moral: "let well enough alone." This film features a few beautiful crowd scenes of dozens of puppet frogs. Starewicz tricks the audience into believing they are all moving at once by keeping the background in constant motion and animating only about six frogs or so at one time. The slightly corny dialogue and problems with lighting in a few places diminish the quality of repeat viewings, however its historical significance in Starewicz's life make it of importance to watch. His feelings towards government immediately following his flee from Russia are likely expressed in this film. In addition, the technical accomplishments of animating so many characters at once in a stop-motion film is astounding.
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