Archive for February, 2007

2006

February 23, 2007
DVD
USA
English
101 Minutes

Voyeurism Is Participation.

First of all, I’ll put my energy behind any film that wears its perversions on its sleeve as much as this film does. Second, all things being equal, I’ll support anything that comes out of Queer Cinema. Thirdly, John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch was a enormously entertaining musical that had me smiling from start to finish.

A character remarks that 9/11 is the only real thing that’s ever happened to 20-somethings and they want to be close to ground zero. The first time we see the dominatrix is in a high-rise overlooking the hole. She isn’t the typically happy mistress who is providing a service to men who want to give up control. She’s in the business because she simply can’t connect in any way to other human beings.

And that’s the idea of the film. Human connections. People in Shortbus are longing, in the strongest possible way, for connection–sexually, physically, but mostly, emotionally. The sex therapist who is pre-orgasmic (“Does that mean you’re about to have one?”) feels disconnected from the great sisterhood of women. “I feel excluded, I wasn’t even a Brownie,” she laments. A long-term gay couple thinks about opening up their relationship to fill an emptiness that one of them thinks is boredom, but the other thinks is a much bigger deal. The therapist’s husband, who engages in every manner of sexual game with his wife, still has fantasies that he feels she wouldn’t understand.

The New York City of Shortbus is a computer-generated cartoony wax model, where young people move from their tiny towns to find themselves. I can’t say enough about the New York City model. We “fly” from one apartment to another, through fake parks and over a fake Brooklyn Bridge. We pass by thousands of other apartments where we can surmise that other humans are trying to connect as well. It’s almost like Mitchell picked the five we see randomly, with the assumption that his camera could have stopped anywhere and found sexual beings being sexual.

There is sadness at the missed opportunities, but there is also great joy in the incredible cornucopia of items on the sexual menu. There is the shared experience of gathering at a sex/social club, called Shortbus, where different facets of oneself can be explored and changed without judgment. There are pot brownies and a room of all women and a room of dozens of couples of every stripe engaging in all sorts of body-contorting positions. There is one couple who seems so incredibly happy during their encounters that the therapist begins thinking that they’ve found the secret–to human existence.

There is a lot of humor in this film. One liners. The therapist and the dominatrix meet in a sensory deprivation tank, one wants an orgasm, the other wants a more mental connection with others. When the Mistress lights up a cigarette, the therapist says “This is a non-smoking environment.” “What do you mean? We’re surrounded by water, this is the best possible smoking environment.” Therapy self-talk permeates when the therapist and husband argue. The gay couple, Jamie and Jamie, have hilarious and fun sex with the model they bring home.

When your largest city is attacked, you look to anything for comfort. This film goes into apartments to show just how many different ways there are for someone to feel connected, to feel love, or just to feel short bits of ecstasy. One character is seen sobbing after his orgasm. The tattooed woman at the club is seen almost criminally happy. It takes all kinds.

Two of the lesbians in the “woman room” can be seen in the Bright Eyes video for “First Day Of My Life”.

There is actual sex in this film. Many have said, most notably John Waters, that eventually sex in films will be just one more requirement for a role. In this case, it really doesn’t take away from the film. Mitchell does a good job of getting the nudity and male orgasms out of the way early, so we can concentrate on the story.

I really liked it, and it made me feel sad, but also part of the vast human condition. One transgendered woman describes her best orgasm as energy shooting out into space and connecting with every other human’s energy. It’s either laughable or a perfect definition. I’m not sure which.

6.4 Metacritic
6.5 Rotten Tomatoes

~~

Comments No Comments »

THE MURDER OF DANIEL PEARL
2006

February 23, 2007
HBO
India / UK / USA
English
80 Minutes

Tracking the lives of journalist Pearl and terrorist Omar Sheikh.

Somewhat run-of-the-mill documentary about the most famous beheaded westerner since the 9/11 attacks. Interesting contrast between two western men, one growing up in So Cal and the other in privileged London. I’m not sure why this didn’t capture me. He seemed like a great guy.

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

February 20, 2007
DVD
Japan / France / USA
French / English
123 Minutes

Let Them Eat Cake.

Modern music, real-life acting accents, catty teenagers, and the majesty of Versailles. Bow Wow Wow, New Order, The Strokes. The importance of two teenagers, from different countries, marrying and the imperative of a sexual encounter with each other. Basically a teenage girl forced into life as a queen. Why wouldn’t she party and collect animals and have her own retreat?

6.5 Metacritic
5.3 Rotten Tomatoes

~~

Comments No Comments »

A ROAD TRIP WITH ALEXANDRA PELOSI
2007

February 18, 2007
HBO
USA
English
60 Minutes

Evangelical Christians become a formidable force in culture and democracy.

More even-handed than I would have expected. Basically, Pelosi (a daughter) travels around the southern part of America and pulls over whenever she sees something Evangelical that strikes her fancy. A guy who is putting up huge crosses in as many states as he can, a mini-golf course which is bible themed, the Orlando, Florida Bible theme park, a huge mega church, a guy with a drivable billboard about God. And many, many roadside signs declaring one’s faith.

Ted Haggert brags about his sexual prowess, conveniently leaving out the fact that much of that prowess is with a man and while he’s on meth. But we can all rejoice in his complete cure from homosexuality. It only took three weeks. Hallelujah.

Pelosi does a good job, in my mind, of not mocking her subjects. It’s a quick drive through America. Most of the Christians seem polite and happy and not really so brainwashed. Her final stop through red states ends in the ultimate blue city in a blue state at a rock concert for god at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco.

She has a habit of asking questions in a sort of whiny manner. But also kind of realistic. “What are three hot young guys doing at church on a Friday night?”

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

February 18, 2007
PBS — Frontline
USA
English
55 Minutes

A typically riveting Frontline. This one about the Crystal Meth epidemic which spread from the west coast towards the east. A reporter at a Portland paper found that meth use went up and down in waves and investigated why. He found that the higher quality the drug was, the more people who were hooked. We see families ruined, we see labs in the Central Valley of California. We go to India which has one of only nine laboratories in the world which make the main ingredient. One would think that a drug enforcement official need only monitor those nine places and they could put a lid on the whole thing.

The legislation that wanted to put all cold remedies behind a counter was defeated by the drug company, as you’d expect. We also hear from an old DEA guy who warned of this epidemic thirty years ago, when regular speed was first being used.

They say that Meth is the most addictive thing a human brain has ever encountered. There is a racial component to the Meth epidemic. Although not mentioned on the show at all, most of the addicts are white–poor, but caucasian. Does that make it more likely that Congress will do something? Stay tuned.

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

February 17, 2007
BBC America
UK
English
60 Minutes

Three people are profiled who all claim to suffer from sexual addiction. And they do suffer. One is a hot Maximish model who writes a column about her addiction. I’m not convinced about her. One is a middle-aged man, of average attractiveness, who checks his e-mail obsessively to see who’s checked in. He doesn’t ever leave his English village, all women must drive to see him. He keeps meticulous records of each woman. He doesn’t want a relationship, doesn’t promise anything. His reflections for the camera are so cold. He isn’t turned on, doesn’t get excited about reliving any of his conquests. He treats it not unlike a baseball card collector or any other obsessive hobbyist. It’s a treat to have interviews from three of his past women. They speak candidly about his inability to find pleasure in pleasure. They are remarkably attractive, breaking the preconception of what sort of woman drives to a man’s modest flat in order to sleep with him. The third subject is a former prostitute, now married, who absolutely dreads the day when, following a fight with her husband, she’ll hook up with a stranger she met in a pub. She’s done it thousands of times before. She claims to have had 100,000 partners. None of these three seem to get any pleasure from sex. It is spoken about by them exactly as an alcoholic would talk about liquor or a food addict talks about Taco Bell.

~~

Comments 1 Comment »

1991

February 17, 2007
Showtime
USA
English
107 Minutes

Three boys become men, one guided by his father, in their racially divided Los Angeles neighborhood.

I remember this film as a life-changing experience when I saw it in the theater way back when. Notable for several things.

Cuba Gooding before he won an Oscar and before he had trouble choosing scripts. His many “verge of tears” scenes are fantastic. One scene after being pulled over on the way to his girlfriend’s house is probably the best work he’ll ever do.

Ice Cube proves to be a natural actor, funny, tough, and strangely vulnerable.

The early 90s fashion of this film cannot be overstated. Like a time capsule. High-top fades, acid-washed jeans, biking shorts.

Not perfect (the football prospect constantly carries around a quart of milk), but very good. Also shows a strong father figure in Larry Fishburne.

7.3 Metacritic
10.0 Rotten Tomatoes

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

February 17, 2007
PBS — P.O.V.
USA
English
53 Minutes

Filmmaker Steven Delano confronts misperceptions about little people.

PBS seems to love documentaries about little people. This one is different because it’s directed by a little person who can get other little people to open up a bit more. Delano keeps it light, showing us cinema portrayals of dwarfs, both good and bad. He confronts Randy Newman about his “Short People” song. He interviews actors and clowns and people in regular jobs. His most compelling subjects are a beautiful actress who I remember from NYPD Blue and the great Peter Dinklage who shifts uncomfortably in his chair as he’s questioned about his solidarity with other little people. THE STATION AGENT has so far been the best portrayal of a dwarf by a long shot. Delano goes to a doctor to find out his particular type of dwarfism. He sadly recounts his loneliness and singleness. Well done.

~~

Comments No Comments »

2003

December 25, 2003
February 17, 2007
DVD
USA
English
124 Minutes

After her husband and children die in a traffic accident, a middle-class housewife’s life becomes intertwined with those of a sickly academic and a poor ex-convict, in ways that involve drug addiction, adultery and murder.

Better than BABEL. Probably the best example of confusing the audience with timeline. But there are only three characters so we can put the puzzle together without errors. Some scenes are only a few seconds before we’re sent several months prior or later. Naomi Watts and Sean Penn and Benecio Del Toro are three names that you’d want to watch no matter what they were in. Good subtext of God and fate. Penn is spectacular. Not uplifting, but very good.

** Halliwells
7.0 Metacritic
8.2 Rotten Tomatoes

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

February 15, 2007
Campbell CA — Camera 7
China / USA
Mandarin / English / French
125 Minutes

Sometimes The Greatest Journey Is The Distance Between Two People.

After you’ve seen THE PAINTED VEIL, listen to the MichaelVox and Tassoula K. “Cinebanter” podcast, which is available here or at iTunes.

Slow to the point of stopping. Everyone is so dour. Only the scenery seems happy with itself. Norton a bit miscast I think.

6.9 Metacritic
7.4 Rotten Tomatoes

~~

Comments No Comments »

1941

November 11, 2001
February 13, 2007
DVD
USA
English
119 Minutes

A newspaper tycoon dies, and a magazine reporter interviews his friends in an effort to discover the meaning of his last word.

The best film ever made. I sort of forced my high school students to watch and I completely overshot their interest level. I probably would have hated it when I was 17.

**** Halliwells
#25 IMDB All Time
10.0 Rotten Tomatoes

~~

Comments No Comments »

(DAYS OF GLORY)
2006

February 11, 2007
San Jose Camera Cinema Club
France / Morocco / Algeria / Belgium
French / Arabic
120 Minutes

The True Story Of World War II’s Forgotten Heroes.

Absolutely fantastic story of a little-known part of World War II. Algeria and Morocco, which were French colonies during the war, sent groups of soldiers into Italy and Germany and France to fight the Nazis. They were all Muslim, spoke both Arabic and French, and were fighting for a “fatherland” they had never been to. Indeed most of them had relatives who had been killed by the French nation they were now being asked to risk their lives for. Some characters saw this as an opportunity to prove themselves, to move out of their village, while others thought that they should fight for the glory of France.

They are respected by townsfolks, but most definitely not by the French troops who are given better food and privileges. They pray to Mecca, they are called names by the Christian French troops. They are kept in segregated battalions. There are sub-saharan troops as well who go through even worse bigotry.

There is shocking nonchalance in a French woman seducing one of these soldiers just like she would a Frenchman or liberating American.

But mostly, it’s about war. Soldiers from the Sahara desert find themselves in the snowy Italian alps. The closest American story to this is probably GLORY, but even then the soldiers weren’t a colonized people. Perhaps there is a story about Hawaiians who fought the Spanish in the Spanish-American War.

Fantastic and worthy as a nominee for the Foreign Language Oscar.

8.2 Metacritic
8.5 Rotten Tomatoes

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

February 10, 2007
PBS — P.O.V.
USA
Kurdish / English / Arabic
90 Minutes

Documentary Oscar nominee. We are plopped into the kitchen of an Iraqi Doctor six months prior to the first democratic elections in Iraq’s history. The doctor is a Sunni candidate for city council and a caring physician. There are no voiceovers or title cards. We just follow him around as villagers discuss their grievances and concerns with him during medical checkups. The man has teenage daughters who treat him like teens have treated parents for centuries. His wife keeps her sense of humor–they all do, really–even though danger lurks all around them. The Americans aren’t seen as particulary bad, just unable to understand the country their fighting in. A painful kidnapping of a friend’s son is shown in all its bumbling shock. The importance of the entire country believing in the fairness of the elections is brought home again and again. The Sunnis will boycott this election, making the results less than a mandate.

Plenty went on in Iraq before people dipped their fingers in the blue ink. It was nice to see what that was for one Iraqi family.

7.4 Metacritic
8.5 Rotten Tomatoes

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

February 8, 2007
DVD
USA
English
95 Minutes

When Is The Last Time A Movie Made You Beg For Mercy?

This film consists of 30 minutes of punking people. Ha ha, we knew something you didn’t and now we’ll watch you embarass yourself on the screen. Another 30 minutes is full of the worst kind of bodily functions. You’ll turn your head.

Then the final piece of it is stuff that is both hilarious and incredibly creative. Bullfighting teeter totter, Rocket launch, medicine ball dodgeball in the dark, wee man with a parachute and an airboat. These are all things I’m still laughing about.

This also might be the gayest movie ever made by self-described straight guys. There are penises galore, branding asses, ass play, nudity, testicles, pubic hair. And not a woman in sight.

6.6 Metacritic
6.0 Rotten Tomatoes

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

January 31, 2007
San Jose CA — Camera 12
UK
English
121 Minutes

Charming. Magnetic. Murderous.

After you’ve seen THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, listen to the MichaelVox and Tassoula K. “Cinebanter” podcast, which is available here or at iTunes.

7.4 Metacritic
8.9 Rotten Tomatoes

~~

Comments No Comments »

2006

January 27, 2007
DVD
USA
French / English
109 Minutes

Hell On Heels.

Anne Hathaway is the ugly chick. Right. Streep is a total bitch, but somehow that’s okay because towards the end she shows that sometimes even bitches get sad. Hathaway isn’t taken seriously until she has the inevitable makeover and tries to tradeup her boyfriend. A light film about the lightest of industries. Not worth your time.

6.2 Metacritic
7.6 Rotten Tomatoes

~~

Comments No Comments »

Written by Michael W. Cummins