Archive for August, 2006

(The Bridesmaid)
2004

August 16, 2006
San Jose CA — Camera 12
France / Germany / Italy
French
111 Minutes

I can’t really get my head around this one very well. A guy who works for a contractor lives at home with his mother and two younger sisters in what appears to be a boring life. His mother has just introduced the rest of the family to her new lover, a guy that the rest of the family doesn’t like nor trust.

The youngest daughter is pierced and unruly and is prone to staying out late and stumbling home drunk. The second daughter is about to be married to a clerk/volunteer fireman. It is at this wedding that Phillipe meets one of his sister’s bridesmaids, Senta. She stares at him in a way that moves beyond sort of sexy into sorta creepy.

She’s also hot. See photos above and below. They chat a bit, he leaves the party early to do some work, offering her a ride home. She rudely answers, “I can get myself home.” Alone in the house, Phillipe hears a knock, goes to answer it, and standing in the pouring rain, in her powder blue bridesmaid dress is Senta. He lets her come in to dry off before he drives her home. She boldly puts on his mother’s robe, throws the dress on the ground, looks into his eyes, and lets the robe fall. They have sex, after which, she claims she’s waited her whole life for him, they will never be apart, they can never leave each other’s side–a typical fatal attraction situation. Except instead of being freaked out or pissed off, he embraces her grand proclamations of their love.

They grow closer. Situations arise which I won’t divulge here.

There is a little matter of a stone bust of an ancient woman. A gift to his mother from someone, it is held in high regard in the family. The mother decides to give it to the new boyfriend. The boyfriend skips town so Phillipe steals it back and hides it in his closet where be takes it out so that it can watch him work and once in awhile he sleeps with it. WTF? I’m not sure what it was saying.

There are four things a person must do to know their alive: plant a tree, write a poem, make love to someone of their same sex, and kill someone. Is she serious?

7.4 Metacritic

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

August 16, 2006
San Jose CA — Camera 12
USA
Spanish / English
90 Minutes

Boy if this wasn’t a pleasant surprise. I was afraid this would be movie-of-the-week quality. Where we’d all learn something about being Latino in modern Los Angeles. We’d see how things used to be better and how we should hold onto traditions because they make us who we are.

This was enjoyable from start to finish with only a few hiccups where I was reminded that it was a tiny independent feature.

Emily Rios plays Magdalena, who is attending a friend’s 15th Birthday / Debut / Debutante party, or Quinceanera. She is cute, average, goes to school, gossips with friends, freak dances, speaks Spanglish–in short, she is a typical 14 year old in the Echo Park part of Los Angeles. She likes a boy who likes her. Her father is the local pastor at a store-front church, which is so poor, that the backdrop to the pulpit, which here is a lectern, is a huge photograph of a nature scene in what appears to be the Rocky Mountains. What the building used to hold is never explained. He is a strict parent. Her mother is a bit warmer, but they both expect a lot from their daughter.

When Magdalena tries on her own special birthday dress, it’s clear that she’s gained weight. And only around her belly. Rumors and whispers begin. She claims to have never been with a man. No one, especially her tough father believe her. She is cast out of the house and ends up living with a great uncle and her black-sheep cousin Carlos, who is spectacular. They both have something to hide.

Magdalena claims that she’s a pregnant virgin. Carlos claims that he wasn’t really caught fooling around with a neighborhood boy. The understanding Uncle Tio Tomas dispenses wisdom.

It’s the story of a family and fighting and the Latin experience. But it’s also about gentrification of an old neighborhood. It’s about gay boys with Cholo fetishes. It’s about the importance of peer acceptance. And it was funny and heartbreaking and sweet and even a little sexy.

It also had both the most surprising gay sub-plot and another gay stereotype we don’t need to see again.

Another great thing was when the teenage girl clique gossips, they really gossip. Their lines couldn’t have been scripted. They just flowed out of the girls. They gather around a tv to watch the friend’s birthday video, making snarky, real comments the whole time. There is an ease, a naturalness.

Rios and Garcia and Uncle Tio are the standouts. But everyone is good. And I didn’t recognize a single actor. Which I loved.

7.1 Metacritic

~~

Comments No Comments »

2005

August 15, 2006
DVD
USA
English / Algonquin
135 Minutes

Once discovered, it was changed forever.

Long, quiet, beautiful. Malick through and through. Not much dialogue. I little voiceover work to move the plot along. Colin Ferrell is Captain John Smith. Pocahontas (whose name is never uttered for some mysterious reason) is played by Q’Orianka Kilcher, a newcomer who can only be described as luminous. She is playful and curious and for some reason jumps on Smith just before his execution and then becomes his friend and later his lover. She was 12 or 13 years old. Putting aside the historical accuracy of this tale, I wanted to think that the two hotties would inevitably hook up. We don’t see much of anything (partially due to Kilcher being 14 years old during filming) happen physically between them. Mostly they wrestle and talk about their love.

He instructs a friend to tell her he’s died on a trip back to England. She mourns, learns English, gets baptized as “Rebecca”, marries a tobacco farmer, John Rolfe, and travels to England as a sort of curiosity.

In fact, most of the stuff that happened, besides the never-proven romance with Smith, really happened.

But it’s not about their love, it’s about the type of men and the type of country who would travel across a treacherous ocean in order to map and claim land which is already inhabited.

Malick makes Virginia look pristine and full of promise. You can see why settlers thought that they couldn’t use up all the continent’s resources in a hundred lifetimes. The Englishmen fight with the “naturals” one minute, trade the next, are saved by their generous food, and then killed by them. This happens with little or no reasoning behind it. Or at least we’re not shown any reason.

Malick’s THIN RED LINE also showed natural beauty spoiled by human war. There may be no one who photographs land as lovingly as he.

6.9 Metacritic
**** Ebert

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

August 13, 2006
San Jose Camera Cinema Club
USA
English
110 Minutes

Edward Norton. Paul Giamatti. Jessica Biel.

Boy was I looking forward to this one. Norton and Giamatti are among the top tier of actors in their respective fields. And Biel is relatively cute and probably not able to ruin a film on her own. The trailer looked good. There was magic. There was love. What’s not to like.

There are a couple of things that don’t work in the movies. I keep thinking of the example of James Bond. He is always in peril, about to meet his demise in so many creative ways, but we know that he’ll never be killed. He’s freakin’ James Bond! The franchise must go on and he must save the day. So while we watch with amusement, we rarely watch with any tension.

You also can’t film a magician. We have seen just about everything in movies. There isn’t a magician alive who can duplicate what we’ve all seen with special effects. Therefore, when Norton tosses a seed into a trash can, and causes an orange tree to grow quickly, onstage, we aren’t as amazed as the turn-of-the-century Vienna crowd is. And rightly so. It is too hard to imagine what we would have seen had we been a theater-goer 100 years ago. Norton does card tricks and stuff disappears and he does tricks utilizing a mirror on stage. But none of these leave a modern-day moviegoer wondering how he did it. He did it because it’s a Hollywood movie, that’s how. When he conjures dead spirits to come talk to the audience, the extras on screen are understandably horrified, but we can just sit back and try and figure out how much money the filmmakers spent in post-production.

This isn’t to say that the film is bad. It is beautiful to look at. The director uses coloring and light that recalls some of the first photographs you’ve ever seen. He uses an iris to change scenes, much like the first Edison footage or Chaplin used. Prague always looks good. Norton is believable and compelling and Giamatti is very good as the son-of-a-butcher with higher aspirations.

However, there isn’t much to the story. A boy is good at magic. He intrigues a girl who is clearly out of his class. They sneak off together until they’re discovered and he is forced to leave the country. He returns to find that she’s due to marry the prince, who we know is a dickhead because he’s played by Rufus Sewell. Their paths cross again, they want to be together, but the prince has too much power and can keep them apart. Norton must use all of his magician’s cunning to find a way for them to be together.

There isn’t much more to it than that. We are convinced that Norton is the smartest person in Vienna. We know this because he can fool the unfoolable. We know that Biel loves Norton because she said so at her own peril. We know that Sewell is a bad guy because he hunts, is rude, and there are rumors of abuse. And we know that Giamatti respects Norton on some level, but is loyal to a prince that he doesn’t necessarily like or respect. Place in bowl and mix. Film movie.

There is what seems like a 30-second aha moment at the end where the camera twirls around Giamatti as he slowly (much more slowly than the audience) figures out what happened. The aha for the audience should come much, much sooner.

I’d still go watch Norton or Giamatti read a menu. I had high hopes for this film. But there really isn’t much to it.

2006 Oscar Nominations:
~~Best Cinematography for Dick Pope

6.7 Metacritic

~~

Comments No Comments »

(Hidden)
2005

August 12, 2006
DVD
France / Austria / Germany / Italy
French
117 Minutes

Once in awhile, a film is so full of itself and so pompous and so proud of its inaccessibility, that it is nearly unwatchable. The two biggest stars in France, Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil play a married couple with one teenage son. A package arrives on their doorstep. It’s a videocassette which they put in their player and watch. It turns out to be a two-hour static shot of the front of their building. The camera never moves. The next package is a static shot of the house he grew up in. The third is a car ride, then a walk down a hallway.

Here’s the deal. The husband grew up on a farm. An Algerian orphan lives with the family. The husband is jealous and wants his family for himself, so he starts some lies about the boy. The boy is sent to an orphanage instead. The husband feels guilt about this 40 years later. His detective work will lead him to the apartment shown on the videotape where the boy he knew as a youth is now a man, who seems to have no idea about who’s sending the tape. But Auteuil’s guilt is too much and he is combative.

Kids do things as 8 year olds that shouldn’t be the defining moment of their lives. I really thought there’d be much more to this. I was so excited to watch it, but this may turn out to be one of the greatest disappointments in snobby movie history.

And the final shot is not so revelatory that it makes the rest of it okay.

The DVD extras, by the way, only reinforce the fact that the director (who did THE PIANO TEACHER, a film I adored) could scarcely be more full of himself. Even more than Brett Ratner. “I hate films that spell everything out” and “if you’re looking for a film that has easy answers, this one isn’t it”. How about a film that has a compelling story? Is that too much to ask?

8.3 Metacritic
**** Ebert

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

August 11, 2006
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
101 Minutes

Everyone just pretend to be normal.

Full Cinebanter podcast review will be here. But suffice it to say, fantastic.

2006 Oscar Nominations:
~~Best Picture
~~Best Original Screenplay for Michael Arndt
~~Best Supporting Actor for Alan Arkin
~~Best Supporting Actress for Abigail Breslin

7.8 Metacritic

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

August 11, 2006
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
125 Minutes

The World Saw Evil That Day. Two Men Saw Something Else.

As Kevin Smith said, while filling in for Mr. Ebert, “it’s hard to hate this flick.” And he’s right. I believe this is only the second Oliver Stone film, not written by him, and it’s hard to find any part of it that has his fingerprints on. There is an extra character who re-ups in the Marine Corps after watching the attack on television, but that might be it. There is also the rousing music and twirling camera angles that Mr. Stone is famous for. But the politics is kept mostly in check.

Cage and Pena play the leader and rookie, respectively, of a group of Port Authority Police Officers. What’s interesting in a film like this, based upon an event that few of us will ever forget, is that, while the characters are living the morning of September 11th, we are watching them with an incredible amount of additional knowledge that they didn’t have.

I mean, this happens with any true story. When you watch Kennedy get in the car at Love’s Field in Dallas, we know he’ll never get out of it, but this is different.

I remember all the conjecture and rumor going around on that morning, and many of the cops vocalize these “it was a commuter plane”, “Israel is gone”, “the white house blew up”. We all know what ended up happening, but these guys didn’t.

We see the shadow of a plane and then we feel an explosion, but no one on screen sees the plane hit. All the officers are called to the central office from their typical day looking for runaways and purse snatchers at the ferry terminal. They see the first video of the North Tower in flames and head towards it. The hugeness of the event slowly dawns on them as their commandeered city bus heads downtown and the people become more dazed, bloody, and ash-covered.

Stone shows us one guy falling from the sky and then has the booming sound of more bodies landing close by our characters. Like UNITED 93, we see the scared as well as the brave. Cage asks for volunteers to enter the building. Faces look away, there is a long pause, and then three men step forward, trying to hide their shaky voices.

They get inside the mall area in between the towers unaware that the other tower was hit. Their assignment is to help evacuate people. They have absolutely no idea how big the disaster has become.

And then the South Tower collapses. This is the part that was incredible to watch. Cage yells “elevator shaft” and the team runs while parts of the building are whizzing past them. I felt like I was in there with them. It lasts quite awhile. Cage and Pena are stuck under rubble. There is tension because we, the viewers, know that the North Tower will also come down. All manner of rocks and plaster and dust is falling on these guys and the tower hasn’t begun to fall yet.

When it does, it is horrifying. It leaves two men alive, but severely injured, talking to each other to keep the other one alive. Because they’re trapped, they can pretty much only act with their eyes. They reveal things, they give up, then continue fighting. They remember their wives. At this point it became mostly routine, like a story about a trapped miner, and I found myself reminded of Ladder 49, when Joaquin is speaking by radio to Travolta.

We know they survive, so all that’s left now is to see how it happened.

Their wives are played by Maria Bello, who did something to her eyes that I’m not fond of and Maggie Gyllenhaal who is her normal fantastic self.

There is a sense of community, which this country had immediately following, that permeates this film. Neighbors pitch in. Firemen from Wisconsin drive down because they “had to do something”. Guys join the Marines, guys put down a bottle and become paramedics again.

It’s definitely worth seeing. A post-script tells us that only 20 people were pulled out alive. I remember the next morning the hope was that there were dozens of people who would soon be pulled out of the rubble.

6.6 Metacritic

~~

Comments No Comments »

2004

August 10, 2006
Sundance
USA / Netherlands
English
99 Minutes

Something happens to two boys when they are eight years old and on the same little league baseball team. Although they share the same experience, they’re reaction to it could not be any different.

We fast forward about ten years and one of the boys is a virginal geek who pursues the idea that he was abducted by aliens at age 8, befriending a woman who appeared on an unsolved mysteries show as a abductee. Brian has an overprotective mother and a sister away at Berkeley.

The other, who gets the bulk of the screen time, considers his experience at age 8 as the beginning of his homosexual awareness. Neil has always been gay and when a cute little league coach with a perfect queer mustache begins taking a liking to him, he isn’t turned off in anyway. Neil’s single mother is played with hoochie momma perfection by Elizabeth Shue.

The difference in parenting may be one clue as to why Brian keeps a dream journal illustrated with aliens while Neil brags that he’s slept with every john who frequents his small town cruising park.

Neil is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I hate to toot my own horn, but I’ve been on this kid’s bandwagon since he was in SWEET JANE IN 1998. He is ferocious as a male hustler with absolutely no fear. At $50 per coupling, why should he get a straight job. He is out and proud and a job at the sandwich shop, which his best friend gets him, is no match for having closeted married men wrapped around his finger. Gordon-Levitt is a sight to behold. His friends and tricks are in awe of him.

He has encounters which are easy and one which may be the most brutal sexual encounter ever put on film. It’s rated NC-17 by the way, and probably deserves it.

Not pleasant or pretty, but very well done.

7.4 Metacritic
***^ Ebert

~~

Comments No Comments »

2002

August 10, 2006
DVD
USA
English
96 Minutes

A troubled AP English student becomes inappropriately close to her teacher, played by the great David Strathairn.

Meg’s little sister is a cutter who sleeps in a raincoat. Her father left the family a few years back due to divorce (in the Blue Car mentioned in the title). And her mother is struggling with work and school. So Meg turns to poetry, entering contests eager for the approval of her teacher.

We’ve seen this sort of thing before. But this film is different. At no point does Meg flirt, bat her eyes, wear something revealing, or get into her teacher’s personal space. It is a natural progression as she realizes that the one person who will listen to her and who believes in her talent happens to be a married teacher with a son older than she.

This film also contains the most uncomfortable and therefore realistic cheap hotel scene I’ve ever seen. I just can’t shake it.

A film like this has to have a big contest at the end and this one is no exception. It’s not perfect, but it went places I wasn’t expecting and the lead actress, Agnes Bruckner, is a realistic teenager with innocent eyes. At no point did she play this beyond her years.

7.6 Metacritic
***^ Ebert

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

August 9, 2006
Showtime
USA
English
74 Minutes

Documentary directed by Stewart Copeland (who I so wanted to be in 1983) using super 8 film he shot from the time that Fall Out was played on the radio in 1978 to the demise of what could have been the biggest band in the world.

Copeland has always been a bit of a smarty pants. His narration is full of deep thoughts about adulation and hiding in hotel rooms. He has footage to show just how scary it must be to get from the backstage door to your car. There are dozens of grumpy rock stars who I can now empathize with thanks to this footage. Sting especially gets the “We Want Sting!” treatment.

Although written from the point of view of one of three extremely volatile musical geniuses who made up The Police, Copeland does less “I was better than Andy” or “Sting turned into an asshole at this point” than I was expecting. I remember an appearance that Copeland had on David Letterman during the Synchronicity madness where he described Sting getting an extra fried egg in the morning and how close they were to breaking up the band over it. “This is what may halt the biggest band in the world, Dave.”

This film will interest anyone into popular music in the 80s. We see the boys attempt the punk clubs and we see proof of Stewart’s hairband past. Because Copeland was always filming, we see as their record store appearances begin with ten people and end with cops and broken windows and crying Japanese girls.

We watch the band enter a shell. Recording the last two albums in tropical hideaways. We also see Sting carry his own suitcase which has probably never happened since.

This documentary was a bit too short for my tastes, surprisingly. I was the world’s biggest Police fan in 82 and 83. Still consider their stadium Synchronicity appearance one of the highlights of my life. But I’ve always been angry at them for breaking up when they were on top of the world. I used to try to drum like Stew with the backwards left hand and all. I enjoyed watching them in the early days playing pranks on each other and acting goofy, something that modern bands seemed to have shunned in the name of public image.

Some more insight into songwriting and studio work would have been interesting, but that would have required more from Sting. It’s nice that he and Andy are simply subjects in front of the camera and not deeper participants.

Copeland also remixes six or seven songs. We hear snippets of at least 30 more. And anyone who’s seen POLICE AROUND THE WORLD and remembers the clay-thrower who nearly got Sting to kick his ass will revel in the yelling that Mr. Sumner does in a scene that has Stew actually holding the microphone to the super 8 camera while he’s drumming.

~~

Comments No Comments »

1995

August 9, 2006
DVD
USA
English
33 Minutes

Fabulous, short documentary about the resilience of the Bosnian people who were stuck inside Sarajevo for four years as the city was under siege from three warring factions. What stands out is the sense of humor that most citizens showed. There is an incredible scene where the director, Bill Carter, is following two teenage sisters as they talk about their lives. Then they pause and say “we’re going to run now” and they take off running across a busy highway in the direction of the snipers towards their apartment. Like is was nothing. Two cuties running from bullets like it was an everyday occurrence, because it was. Carter is forced to run himself, camera shaking, narrowly avoiding speeding cars (also avoiding snipers) and meets up with the giggling girls who acknowledge his “heroics”. There is a symphony which practices once a week, even though there is no telephone service nor electricity, making logistics quite difficult. There is a theater troop filming movies on location as bombs go off. There are nightclubs and kids in bombed out cars imagining trips to the beach and radios playing Ace of Bass.

Really good stuff. Bono fans will want to watch the bonus feature where a young Bill Carter explains the situation to Bono, decked out in Mirrorball Man costume. Carter is so disarming that when he asks something of Bono, it’s all he can do to not agree on the spot. This was the setup for 13 satellite hookups during the ZooTV tour in Europe where Carter would have citizens of Sarajevo speak to the crowds. We see the first one during a show in Bologna.

Could have been sad and sentimental but turns out quite lively.

~~

Comments No Comments »

2005

August 8, 2006
DVD
USA
English
110 Minutes

Treasure has its price.

Jessica Alba. Jessica Alba. Jessica Alba. She is a force of nature. She is colored to a golden brown that doesn’t exist in nature. She finds a way to wear a bikini bottom in scenes where she doesn’t have to. Based on her lawsuit against Playboy for implying that she’d be naked inside its pages, we can bet she’ll probably never be naked in a film. This is probably the closest we’re going to get. She is reason enough to see this ridiculous movie.

What’s it about? Paul Walker (no slouch in the hotty department) is a treasure hunter in the Bahamas who hasn’t had much luck finding anything. His buddy Scott Caan comes down to visit with a blonde he met the night before. We’re to believe that Caan is a lawyer. They go snorkeling and jet skiing on the luxury yacht of one of his clients. They also turn out to be x-game champion proficient, doing flips and twists over the wake of the huge boat as Alba drives. While snorkeling, it becomes clear that none of them (even the New York City girl) require oxygen as normal humans do. Walker especially can hold his breath for 3 or 4 minutes. They explore and come across a wrecked plane full of cocaine. They begin to argue, A SIMPLE PLAN style, about what, if anything, to do about it. At exactly the same time, Walker finds the treasure-score of the century, the Zephyr, thought to be worth millions of dollars.

The bad guys want their dope back, the good guys are really bad guys, the good girl is a bad girl, and Alba is hot.

Walker actually outsmarts the bad guys by jumping off a boat in the middle of the Atlantic and holding his breath long enough for them to lose him. At one point a wild shark is used as a defense against a bad guy. Tyson is a bad guy. And the one actor on screen who is supposed to be straggly and ugly and over the hill is played by Josh Brolin, who presently can be found most nights lying in bed next to Diane Lane. So the attractiveness level is set kinda high.

But if you want to see beautiful coral and water and hot semi-dressed people, go rent this one. Just don’t think about it.

4.5 Metacritic

~~

Comments No Comments »

2005

August 7, 2006
DVD
USA
Japanese / English
145 Minutes

This film includes 75% of the asian female actress power on the planet. Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang, and Gong Li are all in it. It looks beautiful (and not just those three actresses). Each frame is lighted perfectly. We get cherry blossoms, of course, but we also get rice paper walls, fan dancing, kimono tying. But it doesn’t amount to much.

Zhang is sold into geisha ness by her poor fisherman father. She has blue eyes which sets her apart from the others. The reining geisha at the house is played by Gong Li who is so mean as to be a caricature. Yeoh plays a kinder, older geisha who teaches Zhang in 9 months what normally takes 9 years, or so we’re told.

I dozed. I couldn’t help it. I would see anything these three actresses are in, but this one tried my patience. 145 minutes? Why.

For the record, the fourth member of the asian hotty cartel: Maggie Chung. Go see IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE or 2046.

Incidentally, this story of perhaps the most Japanese of topics: Played entirely by Chinese women. Thank goodness for Ken Watanabe to add some actual Japaneseness to the proceedings.

5.4 Metacritic

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

August 6, 2006
San Jose CA — Camera 12
USA
English
105 Minutes

The story of a man who could only count to #1.

Anchorman is way funnier. This film has by far the most product placement in movie history because it’s about NASCAR. At one point, the team sells the space on the windshield for a Fig Newton advertisement. “This is really hampering my vision, but Fig Newtons are so tasty” says Ricky.

It was a collection of skits semi-tied together with the story of a guy who isn’t particularly smart, but who loves to drive fast. Everyone in it is fantastic, but there isn’t much to it.

There are funny family prayers where KFC and Taco Bell are thanked. There are also two shockingly terrible children in it. Saying the worst possible things to other characters. I’m not a parent, but I shudder at the way that 9 year olds will be emulating what they’ve heard in this film.

I can’t remember the joke now, but at one point, I just about choked on my water. There were several can’t breathe laughs and a bunch of chuckles. It’s evaporated out of my memory already though.

6.6 Metacritic

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

August 6, 2006
San Jose CA — Camera 12
UK / USA
English
96 Minutes

The perfect man. The perfect story. The perfect murder.

Full Cinebanter podcast review is here. But suffice it to say, terrible.

5.0 Metacritic

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

July 17, 2006
IFC
USA
English

Gay and lesbian cinema emerges beginning with experimental films of the 1940s and ’50s through AIDS-themed films.

~~

Comments No Comments »

Written by Michael W. Cummins