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Sugar! (2017)
7/10
Alice Ripley fans UNITE!!
30 May 2019
I was on the PLUTO channel looking for something to watch on their "Documentaries" section and "Sugar!" (the fiction feature) popped up instead of the docu "Sugar Sisters" tho listed under the latter's title. "Sugar!" is NOT a documentary but this lucky mistake of the universe did provide me with some middle-aged lady issues and MUSIC!! Despite the shortcomings of the plot, the music (lead by Broadway Tony-winner Alice Ripley) was great. So if you ask me if you should watch this, well, if you're over 40, then I say: "I do." #Aliceisawesome
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7/10
WTF?
28 April 2019
No one had a copy of this film? Seriously? All those Fay Wray admirers in projection booths across the country, one of them must have stashed a copy. If your gramps was in the movie biz check the attic, this one must be found!!
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Lost Highway (1997)
8/10
13 years later, probably Lynch's most enduring masterpiece of weirdness
13 March 2010
Caught this at a Midnight screening last night (early this a.m.), and I have to say David Lynch's LOST HIGHWAY resonates a lot more loudly now than it did 13 years ago.

In fact, I not only didn't "get it" oh those many years ago, but I found it to be a "lesser" Lynch. So much so, that I waited till last night to revisit the film on the BIG SCREEN in all its wide-scree glory! (and the print was clean too)

***SPOILERS*** I had forgotten that Bill Pullman disappears completely from view halfway through the story, only to magically reappear at the end and save the day. I had also forgotten how much nudity Patricia Arquette exhibits to indulge Lynch's appreciation of the female form. She (as twins) has multiple sex scenes (indoors & out), and proves a most provocative of "femme fatales."

Lastly, I read IMDb's note about Robert Loggis's first meeting with Lynch at a "Blue Velvet" audition (Hopper got the part), and had to admire Loggia's dirty-old-man-gangster that could kick a tailgater's ass one minute and make B&W porno's for the pleasure of his entourage.

Although the story drags a little in the last reel, Lynch's use of voyeuristic video's (prior to Haneke's CACHE, 2005) and oddball doppelganger/wormhole-transport (pre-"DONNIE DARKO, 2001) is so ahead of its time the film could be released today and still catch fire.

Dial up your Midnight programmer and give this one another look ON THE BIG SCREEN!!!

3-1/2 stars (out of 4) -THEreelreviewer.com
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Humpday (2009)
7/10
Straight-male masculinity is put to the test
14 July 2009
HUMPDAY Straight-male masculinity is put to the test in this very earnest attempt to explore friendship and sexuality while steering clear of the "b"-word (as in the recently coined bro-mance genre) ... this is NOT a farce!

3 stars [(2009)USA/Magnolia/Rated R] - (1 hr 35 min)

Writer, Director, & Co-star: Lynn Shelton

Original Music by Vince Smith Cinematography by Benjamin Kasulke Editor: Nat Sanders

Cast ... Characters (linked to IMDbPRO.com): Mark Duplass ... Ben (the married guy) Joshua Leonard ... Andrew (Ben's long-lost bohemian pal) Alycia Delmore ... Anna (Ben's wife) Lynn Shelton ... Monica (Andrew's bi-sexual friend) Trina Willard ... Lily (Monica's lesbian lover)

Review:

"Two straight dudes ... bonin'." -Ben

The word 'Humpday' was originally coined as a humorous term for the middle-day of the work week (getting over the hump), and certainly sounds more interesting than the word it replaces: Wednesday.

But now, writer-director Lynn Shelton has adopted the slang-ier meaning of the first syllable 'hump' (have sex) and added a homo-erotic resonance (of sorts).

To sum up, the concept for the film revolves around two straight guys who get talked into making a gay-porn video for a private 'visual arts' festival known as (yet again) HUMPDAY.

Now if homophobic Hollywood had been bold enough to take on this kind of masculinity-defying idea, the result would have been a high-concept farce not unlike the Adam Sandler/Kevin James vehicle "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry," with most of the jokes made at the expense of gay lifestylers rather than for them. Thus defeating the purpose of really exploring how straight men feel about gay sex and how they identify as either gay, "bi", or straight.

Well, third-time narrative-feature director Lynn Shelton is not at all interested in playing this concept for laughs (alone), so don't expect the laugh riot that the title might indicate or an "indie" version of "The Hangover." Shelton is much more interested in frankly exploring what a male-male friendship-bond really is and what's the breaking point for such a relationship.

Is anal sex the dealbreaker? Is just getting naked in front of your BFF an act of gayness? Should a man's wife have any say-so when a friendship is taken to a sexual level? Is this the ultimate test of a friendship and is it one you would ever want to try?

These are uncomfortable questions to ask and answer, and one can see why Hollywood tends to play serious "sexual" material for big laughs, because no one wants to take the mass audience out of their comfort zone.

The much more widely distributed Sascha Baron Cohen vehicle "Bruno" shows all too clearly how sensitive the general public is to flamboyantly gay personalities and, as stated above, it's played for laughs for the most part (with a fair amount of shock value added to the mix).

Which is why "Mumblecore"-style, extremely low-budget films like "Humpday" can exist at all, since even the narrowest of niche audiences is large enough to support an artist's vision (if the artist is willing to shoot digitally with a non-union cast & crew). These artists can go where "profit-conscious" Hollywood can't.

And they do.

And best of all, these genre-busting, limited release, art-house vid-films ("Baghead," etc.) occasionally eclipse Hollywood's big-budget Oscar contenders by revealing the truth in a totally new way or discovering a fresh talent.

As an audience member, I felt some sections of "Humpday" were uncomfortable to watch, and a portion of the semi-improvised dialogue could have been sharpened, but at the same time, the performance of Alycia Delmore was worth the price of admission alone. As Ben's wife 'Anna', Delmore's performance is as true, spontaneous, and award-worthy as anything the Oscar-folk will nominate at the end of the year.

Thus proving the idea that you don't need big stars and a multi-million dollar budget to make cinema. Now all you have to do is ask yourself one last question: Am I ready for Mumblecore?

"You're not as Kerouac as you think you are." -Ben
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8/10
Not since the first "Rocky" movie has the rise of a boxer been so winningly
12 February 2008
When the documentary of "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg" was released almost a decade ago, it was the first time that I heard of a person of the Jewish faith being in professional sports. However, until now I never would have believed that an orthodox member of Judaism could not only succeed as a boxer, but also get the mainly non-Jewish led ruling bodies of the boxing world to agree to modifications to fit their sport to his religion.

Very early on in the film the 'kosher' boxer Dmitriy Salita cancels a bout in Turkey because the promoters need him to fight on the Sabbath. From that point on, Dmitriy realizes that TV's "Friday Night Fights" will not be part of his boxing calendar, but he does successfully argue for fighting on Saturday nights after sundown (the end of the Sabbath period). Not to mention all the holy days in between, some 70 days of the year that his religious preference interferes with his profession.

Luckily Dmitiy finds some sympathetic promoters and winds up boxing in Las Vegas. With each successive fight Dmitriy soon proves he's not only a contender but a big draw in his new hometown - Brooklyn. As a Russian émigré (from Odessa, Ukraine) and devout member of the Flatbush synogogue, the opportunity to fight in front of his Georgian religious brethren proves to be just the approval and recognition he needs to continue the grueling training schedule.

In between fights Dmitriy works as a cab driver, but always remembers to stay Kosher and observe the Orthodox rules at all times. The story hinges on Dmitriy's determination which never wavers and his ability to outperform his opponents in the ring. He's a real talent worth watching in future.

I won't spoil the ending but even the scriptwriters in Hollywood couldn't have come up with a better way to end this merging of sport and religious faith. If you're going to the festival, put this one at the top of your list! Courtesy of ReelReviewer.com
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NEW RESTORATION gets a screening @ the 2007 Tribeca Film Fest (NYC)
22 April 2007
Welcome to Siberia, circa 1959 (in perfectly restored, glorious Black and White).

Although this story revolves around four 'pioneers' dropped into a vast wilderness to search for a rumored vein of diamonds (aka 'the Diamond Pipe'), the real star of the movie is cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky ("Soy Cuba," "The Cranes Are Flying").

Urusevsky is master of composition, dolly shots, and hand-held photography (when necessary). The way he frames his close-ups of the actors practically allows the audience to see into their souls.

Of course, it helps that he's shooting a top-notch Russian cast, including actress Tatyana Samojlova ("The Cranes Are Flying") whose character 'Tanya' is desperate to survive the troubling events that befall the group. Tanya is also the lone female and commands the attentions of two men in the rock-sampling group (though one is unrequited).

In addition, the visual elements are underscored aurally by composer Nikolai Kryukov's ("The Forty-first") evocative score, although he does amp up the music a bit too much in a couple of scenes. Not unusual for the time period, so set your appreciation meter back to the 50's and you won't be as bothered as I was.

The title of the film refers to not one but two letters that figure into the plot. One is a long, personal letter that is referred to in voice-over from time to time throughout the film, while the other is a love letter thought to be hidden away until it accidentally comes to light.

The plot is very straightforward so I won't spoil any surprises by detailing it here, suffice to say that the main attractions of this film are the artistic cinematography, the strong cast, and the director's choice to foreshadow plot elements by overlaying fiery images over his hardcharging trekkers.

If you've never seen any films by director Mikhail Kalatozov ("The Red Tent," "Soy Cuba," "The Cranes Are Flying"), then this one is probably as accessible as any and with a new restoration to boot, practically a MUST-SEE.

The ending alone is worth the price of admission, so check it out festival goers.
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9/10
Walter Reade theater in Lincoln Center offers up ROCKDOCS galore!!!
25 July 2006
Of the several ROCK-umetaries playing at this year's ROCKDOCS festival this one is undoubtedly the best. Due in part to the power of the band being profiled ("Pixies") and the expansive inside look presented by the filmmakers that details the individual member's lives inside and outside the band.

It was said about the Beatles that each musician was excellent in his own right but when the four of them gathered together something 'magic' happened. This also applies to the Pixies and their relationships to each other, as they are ironically the four most uncommunicative people in the world when sitting backstage, but put them in front of an audience and you get an eruption of music and lyrical poetry that stays with you long after the concert has ended.

Formed in 1986 by Charles Thompson (aka 'Black Francis'), the band achieved a modicum of success until in 1992 Thompson dissolved the band due to friction with co-lead singer Kim Deal (who also fronts 'The Breeders' w/ her sister). In the intervening years the band's music inspired dozens of other bands and became a cult phenomenon. Now some 12 years leader, Thompson has decided to put the Pixies back together and see if what they once had can be duplicated.

Of course, the long years between have brought about a number of changes among the members, most notably the rehabilitation of Kim Deal's alcoholic problems. Although she still drinks alcohol-'free' beers by the dozen her recollection of the Pixies concert years are a haze and now she's forced to listen to their albums to recall the parts she played. She enlists her sister Kelly to join her for the tour to segregate herself from the band and any partying on the road. Kelly also proves useful as she likes to 'interview' other band members with extremely pointed questions offering quite a bit of comic relief.

In addition to Kim, each member of the band has followed a strange road since the Pixies break-up with only Deal and Thompson able sustain solo careers in the interim. The documentary successfully brings all of their varied paths together within the framework of rehearsals, warm-up tours, and the inevitable European and USA venues with fan adulation escalating from one date to the next culminating at the Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC.

Most poignant of the non-band stories is the movie is that of a teenage musician's adulation of Kim Deal and her gifting of the paperback book "Brave" to her idol. The novelette turned her on to the Pixies after they'd disappeared from the scene, but the music inspired her to form her own band. The end credits features the Pixies-wannabe's jamming in the basement and continuing the 'Pixies' legacy.

This coda completes the circle started at the beginning of the film with Kurt Cobain's quote on how the Pixies were one of the bands that inspired Nirvana. In fact, Cobain said that Nirvana was trying to BE the Pixies.

As you can see, if you're not a fan of this band now, I guarantee by the end of this film you'll be making a beeline to the nearest music store (as I did). So if you only make it to one movie at this year's festival, then let this be the one!
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Noise (II) (2006)
6/10
Definite MUST-SEE for the musically adventurous. NOISE, it's the new sonic frontier?
25 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The Festival Art Rock in Saint Brieuc is a very eclectic music festival that allows artists to explore the boundaries of what constitutes music. The acts vary from spoken word to sung to jazz-fusion noise to instrumental, as well as combinations of all of the above. There are no interviews, and most of the songs are played in their entirety. Also, this is a foreign festival so the singers perform in their native language (w/ no subtitling). Not for all tastes, but if you like avant garde rock 'n' roll, then the 13 min. set from Canadian band "Metric" is worth the price of admission alone (and that goes double for "Sonic Youth" fans, re: Mirror/Dash). Other than that, you're on your own with this very diverse rock-noise-music documentary from director Olivier Assayas ("Clean").

The set list:

'Alla'

1. Several solo instrumentals & vocals by Algerian Oud virtuoso 'Alla' (approx. 5 min.)

Pascal Rambert

2. Spoken word, music, singing by "de l'A" w/ Pascal Rambert & Kate Moran (approx. 4 min.)

Vincent Epplay's musical noise equipment 3. Synth noise by Vincent Epplay, then vocalist Joanna Preiss of "White Tahina" (approx. 5 min.)

Steve Shelley 4. Instrumental 'noise' (various instruments) by Steve Shelley, Lee Ranaldo, Alan Licht and Tim Barnes of "Text of Light" (approx. 21 min, good time to visit the concessions or smoke a cigarette).

Jeanne Balibar

5. 3 songs (2 in English) by Jeanne Balibar w/ guitarist Rodolphe Burger (approx. 14 min) 6. Malian master Afel Bocoum & Ali Farka Touré (Drum trio w/ vocals/approx. 10 min)

7. Vocalist Marie Modiano (approx. 4 min.)

8. Band set from "METRIC" feat. Emily Haines (approx. 13 min.)

Kim Gordon 9. Performance by duo MIRROR/DASH feat. Kim Gordon & Thurston Moore from "Sonic Youth" (approx. 32 min.)
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8/10
MUST-SEE viewing (& listening) for Leonard Cohen fans worldwide, and if you haven't yet joined the cult of LC then here's your chance to find out what 'everybody knows'!
18 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
From his early days in Montreal, Canada to his current residence at the Zen monastery on Mt. Baldy in California, artist Leonard Cohen continues to inspire songwriters and increase his cult of followers while only recording one new album within a nearly 15 year span.

The 9-year gap that separated THE FUTURE (1992) and TEN NEW SONGS (2001) was by far the longest in Leonard Cohen's recording career to many longtime fans chagrin. But the interviews with Cohen in this film seem to indicate that the fire is coming back into his belly and he might not only record again, but possibly tour.

Certainly the last musical selection in this documentary, which features Leonard Cohen performing "Tower of Song" with backing from the rock band U2 (that's right, Bono sings back-up vocals only), points up the merits of a world tour with guest artists, one that could propel the Canadian legend into the mainstream at last.

One of the most striking elements that separates this concert-docu from the many that have been released in recent years is the depth of the love that these performers and songwriters have for Cohen's music. They know how hard it is write powerful lyrics, and the fact that Cohen will spend as long as a year perfecting his verses it becomes no wonder that any other artist who hears his words for the first time is immediately a fan for life.

While some recent rock-umentaries have faltered (re: any Ramones docu) when trying to blend edited-down songs with 'talking head' interviews, this one marvelously blends both elements to the rhythm of the concert itself. Director Lian Lunson seamlessly weaves the songs and interviews together while letting the instrumental breaks underscore enough of the non-concert footage to keep the audience 'in' it. In this way, almost all of Cohen's lyrics can be heard in each selection and none of his lyrical impact is diminished.

Leonard Cohen is the 'heroin' of rock 'n' roll, in that once you've heard one of his songs you immediately want to hear more of what this man has to say. After listening to so many of his essential works in this film, you'll immediately want to hear the 'man' himself so be prepared (re: bring credit card) to leave the theater and hit the nearest record store for your post-docu 'fix' (re: stock up on Cohen's catalog or the dbl-CD that spans his entire career).

LEONARD COHEN fans unite!!! He's out of the monastery and back in the studio, so there's much more where that came from and hopefully many more new albums to come.

Music soundtrack (this will be one of the MUST-OWN albums of the year for LC-fans)

Pre-concert: Waiting for the Miracle - Sung by Leonard Cohen (album recording)

Concert numbers:

#1 - I'm Your Man - Sung by Nick Cave

#2 - A Thousand Kisses Deep - Sung by Linda Thompson & the Handsome Family

#3 - Everybody Knows - Sung by Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, with Kate (their mother) & Anna (her sister) McGarrigle

#4 - The Traitor - Sung by Martha Wainwright

#5 - Winter Lady - Sung by Kate & Anna McGarrigle w/ Martha Wainwright

#6 - Tonight I Will Be Fine - Sung by Teddy Thompson #7 - If It Be Your Will - Sung by Antony

#8 - Sisters of Mercy - Sung by Beth Orton

#9 - Chelsea Hotel #2 - Sung by Rufus Wainwright

#10 - Suzanne - Sung by Nick Cave

#11 - Death of a Ladies Man - Sung by Jarvis Cocker & Beth Orton

#12 - Anthem - Sung by Julie Christensen & Perla Batalla

#13 - Hallelujah - Sung by Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, with Joan Wasser

Post-concert performance (in New York):

Tower of Song - Sung by Leonard Cohen w/ U2

End credits song: I'm Your Man - Sung by Leonard Cohen (studio recording)
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Kz (2006)
9/10
If you like documentaries that can knock you for a loop, then get your tickets ASAP for this one when it comes to your town on the Human Rights Watch Festival caravan.
23 May 2006
If you like documentaries that can knock you for a loop, then get your tickets ASAP for this one when it comes to your town on the Human Rights Watch Festival caravan. By forgoing archive footage and musical underscoring, this film offers instead a great mix of grim reality along with the completely absurd.

The docu opens with a montage of scenes depicting the now picturesque village of Mauthausen, Austria. Then the camera crew joins up with a group of madly chattering high school students who are about to take a tour of the Memorial but have no idea what they are about to witness. The guides that are employed at the Mauthausen Museum are extremely dedicated and do a great job of intensifying people's limited understanding of what really went on inside the camps. The graphic descriptions nearly cause one of the students to faint.

Luckily for viewers of this film, the incredibly, emotional tour is broken up into three segments. One can only imagine the magnitude of the experience for those that visit in person and are forced to try to decipher the madness that was Hitler's Final Solution. This particular camp started as a men-only forced labor camp featuring the usual suspects of any regime change: political prisoners, homosexuals, homeless people, and other "undesirables." In the final years of the war women and Jews were added to the camp as Hitler tried vainly to complete the Jewish genocide before the Allied invasion.

Throughout the film there are also interviews with local Austrians who lived through and profited by the Nazi experiment, both then and now. It also showcases the absurdity of real life after the Holocaust. Several local women offer eyewitness accounts of atrocities that occurred while living among the SS officers (one woman admits marrying a handsome Nazi). Others freely admit to the prosperity that the German army brought to the very poor town (pre-WW2) and the continuing business growth (a tavern is located directly across from the main walls of the death camp) as a result of being situated near the infamous site for which their village will always be remembered.

Excellent documentary, totally blew me away. The power of this film lies in the unexpected anti-semiticism that is revealed by what the tourists do and how they react to what is shown to them.
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Black Sun (2005)
First-person documentary is NOT about talking heads, but the visual beauty one can lose when blinded!
20 April 2006
Being born blind necessitates accommodation to the sighted world from day one, but what kind of struggle does a person face when blinded much later in life.

In Hugues de Montalembert's case, not only was his sight taken away but it was the primary sense he utilized for maintaining his chosen profession as a painter. All it took was one mugger's desperate gesture to render him disabled and forever unemployed.

Rather than try to re-create the circumstances and do a straight interview with Hugues, director Gary Tarn has undertaken a much more artistic approach to show just what has been lost when you leave the sighted world for one of darkness or extreme blurriness.

While Hugues retells his struggles during the intervening years, the screen is filled with images of life in New York city and occasionally the blurry view that Hugues would have of the same scenes the viewer can observe with perfect clarity.

Not for all tastes, but if you're sick of 'talking-head' fact-flicks then this meditation on loss and rehabilitation could be of value. You never know when you might find yourself struck blind either accidentally or as the victim of a crime. This film helps to fill in some of the details of that worst-case scenario.
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6/10
How freaky can a rock 'n' roll mockumentary get? Try Siamese-twins freaky!!!
20 April 2006
There have been many self-destructive rock star movies over the years from "The Doors" to "Sid and Nancy," but what if said star was a 'twin' - a Siamese twin.

'Brothers of the Head' could more appropriately be titled 'Bros of the Chest' since that is where the twins are conjoined. As you would expect, one twin is docile and plays guitar while the other twin is more out-of-control but does manage to write some of the band's better songs.

The major problem with this movie is that the twins only produce three (maybe four) songs which leaves too much time for derivative rock star antics in between (re: drugs, alcohol, and groupies). Of course, the groupie thing gets a bit uncomfortable when only one brother 'scores' and the other bro is forced to watch from an all-too-intimate distance.

There's also the issue of identity as to which twin is in control as detailed in the song: 'Are you YOU or me?' Not to mention the film itself has its own multiple personality issues as it slides from insider documentary to Ken Russell adaptation (yes, the director is interviewed within the film). The Russell segments are few and far between and add very little commentary when they are injected between the pseudo-'documentary' segments (and yes, there is a film-within-the-film pseudo-docu director is interviewed too).

Overall, an extremely dark portrait of a freaks-gone-famous punk phenomenon that offers little solace for the audience and a scattershot approach to the mockumentary format that won't score points with genre fans.

Don't expect any laughs or a feel-good ending either, this is mockery at its most dour. Welcome to the dark side of mock 'n' roll.
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Cavite (2005)
7/10
Terrorism gets personalized when a Filipino émigré must free his kidnapped family by using himself as the ransom!
12 March 2006
Whatever superlative film-making skills co-director Ian Gamazon has attained over the years are quickly diminished by his average acting ability portraying 'Adam', the lead role of "Cavite." It also makes one wonder just how shallow the Filipino-American acting pool is in this country.

That said, this story is basically an extension of the Hollywood movie "Phone Booth" where a voice on the telephone forces the person on the other end to capitulate to their demands. Of course, "Cavite" takes it one step further by allowing the caller to be a well-known terrorist who not only has Adam's cellphone number but his victim's mother and sister too (after having already executed the father).

The cellphone also allows the action to travel which is technically more visually interesting than watching Colin Farrell sweat it out in one spot (a la "Phone Booth"). Although the voice on the phone purports to be Muslim terrorist leader, the political thriller elements are muted for the most part with the primary action revolving around the making audience watching Adam saunter his way through the city of Cavite (near Manila) on foot until he reaches the point of no return.

The terrorist's final request is the ultimate decision of the Adam's life: be a suicide bomber for the Abu Sayyaf and complete the mission or listen to the sound of your family being killed over the cellphone.

Of course, it'll cost you the price of admission to find out which choice he opted for, but for those not used to cinema verite this may be a hard film to watch. Almost all of the action is shot from either the Adam's POV (self-held camera) or the POV of the cameraman (also hand-held) gamely following behind him. Not for all tastes, but this low-budgeter shows you don't have to have millions of dollars to create suspense, but a better lead actor would have been worth a fortune.
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Le filmeur (2005)
6/10
Intriguing 'home movie' spanning a decade of the filmmaker's life but containing singularly personal moments and thoughts that will absorb viewers!
14 February 2006
As a filmmaker and happily married man Alain Cavalier leads an unremarkable life for the most part. However, it is the little moments that one experiences life and deals with injury and death that the true tale of humanity lies. In this respect, Cavalier has produced a remarkable snapshot that is at times intimate and others extremely impersonal.

The past decade (1994-2005) that is covered in the film starts with the director and his wife filming a gorgeous sunset on a beach. As the years past Cavalier becomes enamored of catching his wife 'Francoise' asleep only to capture her rude awakenings. He also coaxes her to bare her nude body for the camera which may seem perverse, but later it's learned her wonderful breasts could possibly fall victim to a mastectomy and his film is preserving the memory of her anatomy.

Similarly, episodes involving his father and mother precede their eventual deaths each in succession. Then Cavalier himself is struck with skin cancer around his nasal area which allows him to candidly reveal this painful experience which forces him to get reconstructive surgery.

This is case where the filmmaker is not only the observer, but the subject and in many cases he uses the camera as his confessor. Not for all tastes, but if you have a streak of humanism within you then this is one human being you will want to acquaint yourself with. His wife is a delight too!
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8/10
The trans-formative powers of LIVE theater ...
14 February 2006
On paper, taking a group of mentally disabled people out to the country and rehearsing them for a few weeks to perform an operetta might seem like a noble purpose with the unspoken proviso that nothing could possibly come of it.

That's where you're wrong. Documentarian Nicolas Philibert ("To Be and To Have") uses his camera to document and interact with the subjects. He becomes 'one of them' and as such is privy to many private moments that communicate volumes.

Philibert is known for shooting widescreen 35mm doc's and in this film the country scenery and summer sunshine are perfectly captured. The outdoor performance of Witold Gombrowicz' "Operette" captures the color of the costumes and texture of the make-up as well as the trans-formative powers of LIVE theater itself.

The patience and encouragement of the production staff is shown off to great effect as dysfunctional candidates are taken through a variety of settings from acting and music rehearsals to the creation of sound effects for the 'thunderstorm' scene.

MUST-SEE viewing for anyone even remotely connected to a mentally ill person or hospital profession. Watching some go from semi-autistic to dancing a waltz on-stage is nothing short of miraculous.

Check this one out (ON the big screen if possible)!!!
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8/10
After 50 years in show business, the big green lizard goes out with a band in his 28th (and final?) film with host of former monster nemeses!
28 December 2005
This is one kick*ss action flick. No less than 10 monsters appear in the film including the hilarious appearance of Michael Bay's 'Godzilla' creature which the real Japanese Godzilla trounces in short order - oh hell yeah! Die-hard 'Zilla fans will want to add this one to the collection while anyone who ever wondered how this franchise lasted so long now has proof as to why Godzilla is a movie legend.

Forget any kind of long, detailed review, this movie's wall-to-wall action as well as a fanboy's wet dream so 'godzilla'-philes should RUN (don't walk) to any cinema, film festival, etc. within a 1000 miles (you won't regret the trip)! Otherwise, you'll have to check it out on DVD (damn chicken-sh*t USA film distribs)!
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Happy Endings (2005)
7/10
Will Oscar remember Lisa Kudrow at the end of the year?
14 November 2005
"Everything is a much bigger decision than we think"

Sound familiar, it could pass for an independent cinema manta. Hey, this is an indie comedy - guilty as charged. It seems the critics has seen all these characters and situations before but what they've failed to grasp is that quirky, ironic, and painfully funny moments are what make indies worth watching and the more familiar the better. Not to mention risky casting and this film has all of that and more.

On that note I put in my bid for Lisa Kudrow's first Oscar nomination as she has finally broken the 'Friends' mold (along with a streak of bad studio comedies) and fleshed out a three-dimensional character. As 'Mamie', the abortion counselor, Kudrow must painfully convey both a personal secret humiliation while dealing with indifferent patients. As if that isn't enough, Mamie also finds herself being blackmailed by filmmaker-wannabe 'Nicky', played with needy bravado by Jesse Bradford ("Bring It On"), who has some information she doesn't want anyone else to know.

Another comic actor who also breaks the Hollywood mold (so to speak) is longtime sidekick Tom Arnold ("True Lies") as 'Frank', a role he should have 'paid' to play. Why you ask? - well he does get to seduce 'not-one-but-two' of the great actresses in this film and does so with all of the comic neediness one would expect. Still, it's a role to die for and he raises his game to meet the challenge.

I could go on and on about this cast which is stocked with indie starlets like Laura Dern ("We Don't Live Here Anymore") and Maggie Gyllenhaal ("Secretary") plus hilarious comic actors ranging from Steve Coogan ("Coffee and Cigarettes") to Bobby Cannavale ("The Station Agent"). In fact, it's Cannavale's masseuse character (with the hilariously bad Mexican accent) that gives the title of the film its ironic twist.

And if you like disturbingly funny (albeit intrusive) on screen intertitles then this is the film for you. Indie fans UNITE! - this is your MUST-SEE viewing for the summer! It's like a quirky, old friend you've been longing to re-acquaint yourself with - plus it'll help to take away the 'bad taste' left in your mouth by more recent indie fare like "The Ballad of Jack and Rose" and "Palindromes."

Check it out!
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43rd New York Film Festival first to screen it in the USA!!! October 5, 2005 - be there or ... wait a bit longer!
28 September 2005
With all the talk of old films disintegrating from the use of nitrate film stock it is a real boon to cinephiles to hear about one that survived. Almost entirely intact with only a few blemished scenes this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see to legendary silent stars Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson on the big screen. Milestone films is preparing two versions of the film for release in 2006, one will be issued with a full soundtrack and the other completely silent for LIVE piano accompaniment.

Sadly, the festival is only able to run the version with the full soundtrack (that includes sound effects as well as music). One thing I noticed was just how unnecessary and obtrusive sound effects can be in a film. There's a certain magic to watching actor perform in silence without the noises of the real world intruding. When it's released in 2006 I would highly recommend seeking out the completely silent version for maximum pleasure.

That said, this film features two remarkable actors in a very unremarkable love tryst about two honorable lovers and their desire not to cuckold the girl's dying 'trophy' husband. Hilariously, the cuckolded husband feels guilty and unworthy of his young wife's adoration so he takes off on a suicidal trip to Africa. The final scene between the threesome will astound modern day audiences who are used to seeing the lover get his comeuppance as opposed to the noble reconciliation that concludes this very early 'chickflick'.

Acting students should take note of Gloria Swanson, who's acting skills could be easily applied to today's films as she shows none of the histrionics that most people associate with silent films. She even performs her own stunts including a near drowning and a fall from a cliff. Rudolf Valentino, as the lover, does not fare as well in very reserved role as he tends to let his eyes do the acting.

Now I'm not saying that everyone in the film follows the Stanislavski method, especially not the actor playing the husband who comes across in isolated scenes like Charles Durning on Viagra (don't ask, you'll see).

MUST-SEE viewing for cinephiles as this movie is both an amazing artifact of early film-making technique (watch for the fake alps or the California beach doubling as the Sahara desert), and a showcase for its two lead performers (especially Swanson) who have earned their places in film history.

Hopefully more silent films will continue to be either discovered or digitally reconstructed to show us how life once was and how we related to the world around us (there's even a scene of Muslims praying in the desert, when's the last time Hollywood put something like that in a big screen romance).

Lastly, it's SOLD OUT so hit the stand-by line on October 5th (Good Luck!)
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The Cave (2005)
7/10
Easy prey for critics, but a lot of fun for B-movie fans (great photography too!
8 September 2005
The best thing about this film is the photography, now how often do you hear that in horror movie review. Not only is there a fantastic cave setting but also an underwater river that runs through the cave for miles and miles. With the setting constantly shifting from above ground to underwater the actors are pushed to their physical limits which only adds to the drama.

Basic story line starts a few decades earlier and introduces the cave as part of a local supernatural phenomenon (demonic of course) that dates back to the 13th century. The locals built a church over the cave entrance to keep the evil in (of course), but as luck would have it, some Knights Templar-based robbers stumble onto the opening and cause a massive avalanche that buried the church and the cave ... until now (darn those archaeologists)! Anyone with even the briefest spelunking (cave exploring) or rockclimbing experience will immediately be entranced by the massive size of the cave (much of which was created for the film by a first rate design team) that the divers set about to map. Romania has over 12,000 caves and the just about every cave environment is represented as the film progresses.

A project of this size has built in suspense, since even before the man-eating predators come on the scene there are plenty of other dangers facing the team below ground. One in 14 cave divers die each year due to accidents caused by rappelling into deep dark holes, swimming miles underwater, water temperature shifts. etc.

As the scientists begin to discover some new forms of life, the newfound primitive eco-system is shown to have evolved over the centuries with white algae growing in the water along with small invertebrate animals. If there is a food chain in the cave, what's at the top? Well that's for me to know and you to find out!

Again, I could easily recommend this film for the cave photography alone, but it does have a solid ensemble cast with enough testosterone to please both segments of the B-movie audience. And be sure to stay until the very end for sure, this is one of those movies that doesn't let the audience off the hook once it's supposed to be over.

Sure it rips off "Alien" and "Pitch Black," but it takes the best elements of both those films and transplants them in the coolest cave in movie history. You've been put on notice, now check it out! Spelunkers UNITE!
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Like "Nobody Knows," this is another powerful and realistic drama where the daughter is forced to be the parent ... until her teenage urges take over!
4 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Amazingly realistic story that starts out as a grim but heartening story of a young girl's attempt to reform her lazy mother. Having just left the hospital, 'Ruthie' wiggles into her hot pants and prepares to go back to turning tricks no the street.

Ruthie is too old to get a job in a proper brothel and her street customers frequently give her physical violence in lieu of a tip. These are more than enough reasons for teen daughter 'Or' to step and 'play' parent by locking her mother inside the apartment and forcing to start a new job as a cleaning lady.

Both actresses give compelling performances but the more 'Or' does for Ruthie the more she realizes that the 'apple doesn't fall far from the tree' in terms of seeing the opportunities that prostitution offers a young woman working as a pot scrubber in a restaurant.

This is not a formula movie like "thirteen" and has both humor and poignancy galore. Check it out!!!
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2005 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL SIDEBAR - Special Retrospective
1 September 2005
The Film Society of Lincoln Center Presents

A Special Retrospective of The 43rd New York Film Festival

The Beauty of the Everyday: Japan's Shochiku Company at 110 September 24 – October 20, 2005

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art.

This year's New York Film Festival Retrospective— The Beauty of the Everyday: Japan's Shochiku Company at 110— is virtually a pocket history of Japanese cinema. While some fifteen of the forty-five films in the retrospective are devoted to Japanese filmmaker masters, such as Ozu, Naruse, and Mizoguchi, more than two dozen of the films are by directors far less well-known in the West.

The Castle of Sand / Suna no Utsuwa Yoshitaro Nomura, 1974; 140m Two detectives, Imanishi and Yoshimura, are assigned to the murder of a 60-year-old man whose body was found dumped in a railroad yard. It turns to be that of a former policeman, Miki; the murder now seems even more mysterious, as Miki was well liked by all and had been on holiday when he was killed. The detectives visit all the places to which Miki has traveled, with little luck, but then they read an account buried in a lengthy report of how Miki years before had befriended a destitute, leprous man and his young son. Amazingly, that boy had grown up to become Eiryo Waga, a rising star in the music world. Could such an eminent figure have anything to do with the murder? Sadly, Yoshitaro Nomura passed away this past April; for years one of Shochiku's most popular and reliable directors, he worked successfully in a variety of genres but especially made his mark with The Castle of Sand, based on a best-selling novel. A real delight, the film contains many of the classic features of the detective film — the pairing of a veteran and a rookie, the investigation as a voyage of discovery, wonderfully eccentric supporting characters — but under Nomura's sure direction they take on a whole new life.

ONLY ONE Screening: Sun Sept 25: 9:00pm
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9 Songs (2004)
7/10
Possible the first pornographic 'date movie' that lacks the hardcore edge guys expect but does take mainstream ADULT movies to the next level - REAL sex!
25 August 2005
How does a modern man recall his last 'love' relationship? In this case, by the songs they shared together. The man in question is a glaciologist who's airborne research over Antarctica spurs a chronological series of memories broken up by nine LIVE concert segments. To sum up the simplistic plot line of the flashbacks, the two young lovers meet at a rock concert and then each major sex scene at their Islington flat is punctuated with brief concert segments (shot guerrilla-style with the couple in attendance).

Director Michael Winterbottom ("24 Hour Party People") has actually done Hollywood (and Planned Parenthood) a service by taking out the 'fake' lovemaking scenes audiences have grown accustomed to and replaced them with REAL sex, actual condoms IN USE, and a female (or male) orgasm that hasn't been staged for dramatic effect.

Seriously, the porn industry should take note if this film has any commercial success in the USA, because for my money I'd rather have my human sexuality nicely photographed, lit well, and true-to-life than filled with emotionally forced bad acting, flat lighting, and fake orgasms (with even faker breasts). Name one porn movie with fantastic helicopter shots of Antarctica's icy surface with a science lesson tossed in too. Nada.

Best of all are the honest, first-rate acting performances from both Brit acting veteran Kieran O'Brian ("24 Hour Party People") as 'Matt', the very lucky older guy (age 31), and 'Lisa' (Margo Stilley), the young American waif, who gets picked up at a rock concert one night at London's Brixton Academy.

In England, where this film has already been released there was quite a brouhaha as first-time movie actress Margo Stilley (age 21) supposedly tried to have her name removed from the credits. Luckily, the scathing reviews by the British press have worn off and the film is being released in the USA with Margo credited and NO NC-17 rating.

Although a first-time principle actress, Margo's performance is noteworthy in that her improvised dialogue not only rings true but it speaks to the neuroses of many young 'wild' females way beyond the Paris Hilton experience. She even creates a little comic relief when confronting her 'boyness' in the bathroom mirror.

In retrospect, I don't think this film has the artistic merit of last year's ode to eroticism (Bertolucci's "The Dreamers"), but director Michael Winterbottom does make a compelling argument for taking sex scenes to their natural conclusion. Adult audiences are gravitating more and more to NC-17 rated movies (re: "The Brown Bunny," etc.) and it may be time for local cinemas (and Hollywood) to grow up. Hey, if Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt really are lovers then why couldn't they have 'condom sex' on screen for a change, and how much more of an impact would that have on college-age adults practicing 'unsafe' sex than thousands of hours of PSA's and sex-ed classes! Even if sex on the big screen isn't your thing, this film is so pure in its intentions it's practically a 'date movie' (except blind dates). Even the ladies will enjoy the sensitive approach to the material as the sexual exploits build from cunnilingus to some mild S&M, eventually progressing to the de rigeur 'cum shot'. As I said, it's an ADULTS ONLY experience, but one that might rekindle the sexual romance in your own relationships and give you a forum to converse with your partner about a sensitive subject (in America anyway).
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7/10
Slow starter gets interesting in the second half when 'tagging' turns to tragedy!
25 August 2005
The dedicated practitioners of graffiti art in New York City get dramatically profiled in a film shot 'guerilla' style late at night in order to simulate the 'danger' involved with the only art form that's against the law.

Stereotypical 'bad' cops continually stalk the intrepid band of 'taggers' while 'Blest' (Mark Webber) truly is the most artistically blessed member of the gang as he readies an art exhibit of his best work.

However, this film doesn't really become interesting until Blest becomes involved with 'Alexandra' (Jaclyn DeSantis), a political activist who anonymously paints the words 'Bomb the System' all over the city sidewalks using a cleverly modified shopping bag that has a stencil cut into the bottom.

As the police become more and more of a factor the dangers that Blest faces by hanging with his friends causes him to make some hard decisions. Worth watching for some great night shots of New York City and an amazing sequence on the top of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Check it out!
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5/10
Only in America could over-eating be a sport, and what's more, could a fan of a sport become a star of same!
12 August 2005
If you've ever wondered if there's a sport that could garner less respect than professional wrestling, then pro-'eating' would be it. What this film seeks to do is enhance the audience's appreciation of a sport that basically involves shoving large quantities of food down your throat in a set period of time.

Some people may find this fascinating but the self-mocking 'Crazy-Legs Conti', while talkative and humble, is not someone you want to spend a lot of time with. And his journey from #1 'fan' of championship eaters to becoming an actual 'professional' himself is worthy of more pity than awe.

With world hunger at an all-time high, only in America can people get paid to eat way too much on the (can you believe this?) 'eating circuit'. A circuit featuring the 500 lb. talents of guys like Eric 'Badlands' Booker and Ray 'the Bison' Meduna. They even have their own show on the Discovery Channel.

However, if watching the eating 'master' Kobayashi down 50 hot dogs (with buns) in 12 minutes is your idea of entertainment, then this may be your film. As for me, all I got from it was heartburn (BELCH) - ah, that's better.

Note: this review was not sanctioned by the IFOCE: the International Federation of Competitive Eaters (no joke, this organization actually exists!)
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Second Best (2004)
6/10
Thank God for the marvelous cast of character actors who winningly portray a group of born losers facing up to the awful truth!
25 July 2005
Depending on your point-of-view, this story of 'Elliot', a self-proclaimed loser, is alternately depressing and amusing as it follows the travails of the ultimate frustrated writer. His animosity towards the world grows when he can't get published and is forced to post his 'literary' work around town on flyers stuck to telephone poles.

Then, to his surprise, Elliot's pseudo-'fictional' prose gets a response as it begins to strike a chord with his fellow downtrodden underachievers. But as pungent and funny as some of Elliot's observations may be to audience members, they do manage to strike his 'serious' readers close to the heart while at the same time aiming alarmingly closer to the bone of his close friends and associates.

Perfectly cast as said loser 'Elliot' is veteran actor Joe 'Joey Pants' Pantoliano who's supporting work in big-budget films like "The Matrix" and "Memento" has finally garnered him a major film role (of sorts). Elliot's sardonic wit gets a many-layered recitation from Pantoliano's lips (via voice-over primarily) as he perfectly captures the psychological depression and self-abuse that goes along with being the eternal outsider. Not to mention the even more deplorable fact that Elliot is a man who's sunk so low he's willing to borrow money from his ex-wife, mother, AND son just to maintain his paltry existence (and help pay for the flyers).

Elliot's polar opposite is his mega-successful childhood pal 'Richard', well-played with jaded zeal by veteran stage actor Guy Boyd, who continually dodges Elliots questions regarding a potential screenplay to be developed. Richard's knowledge of the business prevents his recognition of Elliot's populist appeal, leaving him with unenviable task of having to bring Elliot back to reality. Between them there is also an underlying jealousy which fuels their need to score decidedly humorous zingers against each other. Both Pantoliano and Boyd make the most of these verbal duels making these scenes the most enjoyable of the film.

The rest of the supporting cast is also above par and each character is given a choice moment to respond to Elliot's damnation of their feeble existences. The losers gang also provides plenty of comic relief throughout the film from the golf course to the local singles bar.

If it weren't for the reality TV audio quality and subpar video transfer this film would be very easy to recommend. However, if you feel that film is a visual medium and your theater isn't projecting this film in its original digital format then you might want to wait for the DVD. It'll be just as funny as a small-screen experience and a lot cleaner technically.

However, if you are the losingest loser in your neighborhood then maybe you should watch a second rate print of "Second Best" just to soothe your damaged ego. In any case, you've been warned.
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