Archive for February, 2008

2007

February 16, 2008
Netflix DVD
USA
English
160 Minutes
Biography / Crime / Drama / Western
Andrew Dominik

Casey Affleck is pretty much the star here, even though his nomination is in the supporting category. He reads the exciting adventures of Jesse James and the James Gang and then finds his way into becoming a member of the gang himself. He is creepy –like a modern day superfan. But not as creepy as Pitt plays James himself. Paranoid, immature one day, father-of-the-year and loyal the next.

The film sure looks beautiful. Wide open spaces, snow-covered plains, a night-time train robbery is incredibly exciting. But most of this film is a slow, unspoken story about who can trust who and whether a man’s biggest fan can also be his murderer. I was never bored, but boy is this thing long. Mary Louise Parker plays the seemingly mute Mrs. James. Sam Rockwell is Bob’s brother, mostly playing dumb when others are watching.

Oscar Nominations:
–Best Supporting Actor of 2007 for Casey Affleck
–Best Cinematography of 2007 for Roger Deakins

Also, SAG Award Nomination for Affleck.

6.8 Metacritic
7.9 IMDB
***^ Ebert
***^ Phillips
A Schwarzbaum
A Tobias
**^ Berardinelli

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BEYOND BEATS & RHYMES
2006

February 16, 2008
PBS — Independent Lens
USA
English
55 Minutes
Documentary
Byron Hurt

A hip-hop head weighs in on manhood in hip-hop culture.

A fairly scholarly documentary about the images in hip hop culture. The film is divided into sections: violence, misogyny, homophobia. We see examples of the way women are treated, we watch as Busta Rhymes chokes on the word “homosexual”, we hear about Nelly canceling a trip to Spelman college because he didn’t want to defend his son, “Tip Drill.” The filmmaker is leery about investigating his favorite form of music this closely. But then he captures scenes at a Floria BET convention where sexual assaults are taking place with dozens of young men there to capture the action on their video cameras. There are some freestyle sidewalk battles, with each song involving gunplay or hos. Academics weigh in with their own studies. Gay men are heard from, women’s studies professors, former Vibe editors, and African American leaders. We see dozens of videos showing the same thing over and over. Chuck D makes an appearance, KRS-One is heard from. And there is a section about the homo-eroticism of Hip Hop that I can’t wait to show my high school students who think it’s cool to talk like they’re from Brooklyn instead of Vietnam.

Show this to the young male hip hop fan in your family. Now.

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2007

February 10, 2008
Camera Cinema Club
USA
English
92 Minutes
Drama / Thriller
Jeff Nichols

I admired the slow, southern pace (much like GEORGE WASHINGTON or TULLY), but there isn’t much there there. Three boys, named Boy, Kid, and Son, proving that they weren’t exactly wanted, live in a poor town in Arkansas. The oldest is married, but estranged from his wife because of his gambling. The youngest is about to ask his girlfriend to marry him even though “I don’t even have a car.” The middle kid is more peaceful, lives in a van, and ocassionally gets the energy to coach some kids on a weed-infested basketball court.

They find out their father is dead, crash the funeral where the man’s “new” family is, say a few choice words about the man who abandoned them for a bottle, and set about a chain of events that becomes Hatfield and McCoy in nature. The plot, such as it is, involves a public slight, threatening words, fighting, and revenge after revenge after revenge. Sort of ridiculous, even if you grew up with brothers and understand how they interact.

On the other hand, all the acting is first-rate, with no identifiable actors. The shots are beautiful, the town isn’t ridiculed. No one is trying to get out of there. The oldest son says “I farm catfish–that’s what I do” with no embarrassment.

I liked it while it was on, but it needs no further reflection whatsoever. I wouldn’t have minded spending more time with these brothers. I didn’t really need a story.

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A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS
2007

September 1, 2007
February 7, 2008
Netflix DVD
USA
English
79 Minutes
Documentary
Seth Gordon

Don’t Get Chumpatized.

After you’ve seen THE KING OF KONG, listen to our spoiler-filled CINEBANTER podcast available here.

This was my second viewing. It’s pretty amazing how nail-biting they make the competition between two grown men for supremacy of a vintage video game seem. We have a vested interest in Steve Wiebe winning over the evil Billy Mitchell, he of the spectacular hairdo. I’ve just looked up the most recent world record. In March 2007, one of them got 1,049,000 and then in June 2007 the other one got 1,050,000. The extras on the DVD include film festival footage and an update on the scoring controversies since the film wrapped.

A fantastic and heart-pounding documentary. About a video game. My personal best? Probably around 90,000. I’ve got a ways to go.

8.3 Metacritic
8.5 IMDB

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2007

February 3, 2008
Netflix DVD
France / UK / Czech Republic
French / English
140 Minutes
Biography / Drama / Music
Olivier Dahan

The Extraordinary Life Of Edith Piaf.

Brilliant performance by Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf, who is generally considered to be France’s best pop singer of all time.

A Dickensian upbringing will make you head to the Wiki to see if all of it can possibly be true. Born in 1915 to circus performing father and singing-on-the-street mother. Left alone by mother while father is in the trenches of WWI. Father returns, and takes Edith to his mother, who happens to be the madam of a low-end brothel. Edith becomes the young mascot of the whorehouse. And one day, she goes blind. She can’t see for several years. The hookers take her to a holy shrine and several months later, she takes off her blindfold and lo and behold, she can see again. Father grabs her from whorehouse, takes her on the road as a circus laborer. They quit the circus and dad begins performing in the streets and forces his daughter to sing as part of the act. Later Edith falls in with a pimp who makes her pay him the money she makes singing on the street, or be forced into prostitution like his other girls. She drinks, she fights, she swears, she sings like an angel.

Nightclub owners hear her and weep–critics swoon–and Edith drinks and runs around like a crazy girl. There is sort of an Amadeus vibe to this film. She’s a complete mess, except when she’s on a stage in front of a microphone. Where she’s magical.

The songs are Edith’s and they must have been remastered because it sounded like she was right there singing to me. Cotillard had the manerisms down, the tilted head and wide eyes–the reaching arms.

She ages in this film from 20 to nearly 50 with inconsistent success. Her hard life caught up to her in her later years. The filmmaker chooses to bounce the narrative all over the place. She’s four, she’s 45, she’s in New York, she’s in France, etc. He does do something unforgettable. The scene that everyone knows from the poster or the trailer is when we are behind Edith and the spotlight is shining on her and the microphone is in front of her. We’ve seen scenes of singers taking over a concert hall before, but the director here films the scene with background music, while we watch Edith wow the crowd by singing–they are laughing, crying, clapping–but all we hear is the unrelated background music, until the song is over and we’re brought back to the concert hall and the thunderous applause.

Oscar Nominations:
–Actress Marion Cotillard
–Costumes
–Makeup

6.6 Metacritic
7.6 IMDB

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2007

December 30, 2007
January 20, 20008
San Jose CA — Santana Row
USA / Canada / Hungary
English
96 Minutes
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Jason Reitman

A Comedy About Growing Up…And The Bumps Along The Way.

After you’ve seen JUNO, listen to our spoiler-filled Cinebanter podcast here.

Second Viewing:
Since you know that Rainn Wilson’s dialogue is going to ruin the first ten minutes, it’s much easier to get through. The touching scenes are only more touching. And Jennifer Garner is better than I remember. As are Juno’s parents. The theater was also more crowded since the Oscar nominations were announced.

First Viewing:
If you can get through the first 20 minutes, with all it’s preciousness and look-at-me begging, you’ll fall in love with it. Too much snarky dialogue threatens to sink it.

Oscar Nominations:
–Picture
–Actress Ellen Page
–Director Jason Reitman
–Original Screenplay

8.1 Metacritic
8.3 IMDB
#129 IMDB

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THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
2007

January 30, 2008
San Jose CA — Santana Row
France / USA
French
112 Minutes
Biography / Drama
Julian Schnabel

Let Your Imagination Set You Free.

This one is pretty amazing. A wealthy Elle magazine editor has a stroke and when he wakes up from his two week coma, he can only move his left eye. All his mental faculties are working, but the power to speak or move is gone. He is visited by several French goddesses who help with speech and rehabilitation. The speech therapist develops a system of communication whereby she’ll recite an alphabet and he’ll blink when she gets to the correct letter, which she then writes down.

This is not the fastest way to write a book, but he’s got nothing but time. The film is shot in such a way as to be inside his brain while he’s waking from the coma. The camera is out of focus and people have to lean in for us to see them. We hear his interior voice while those around him hear nothing.

This is an incredibly touching and fascinating true story.

Oscar Nominations:
–Director Julian Schnabel
–Cinematography
–Adapted Screenplay by Ronald Harwood
–Film Editing

9.2 Metacritic
8.4 IMDB
**** Ebert
**** Phillips
A- Schwarzbaum

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2007

January 28, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
UK / France
English / French
130 Minutes
Drama / Romance / War
Joe Wright

You Can Only Imagine The Truth.

What is the huge frickin deal with this movie? What is everyone seeing here that I don’t? Girl reads something beyond her maturity level, misunderstands how young, attractive people interact, tells a lie, and ruins the lives of people around her. The end. Nothing to herald here.

James McAvoy is the housekeeper’s son, though Oxford educated. He digs holes in the estates garden without a shirt, the sweat dripping down his muscled back. Keira Knightley parades around those same grounds in all of her beautiful, emaciated glory, wearing next to nothing, with little or no sense of purpose in between the wars. They are hot. They are young. There are not many other possible suitors. They want to touch each other.

Are they in love? I never bought it.

Boy and girl are torn apart. Boy enters WWII English army, girl becomes London nurse. Do I believe that they’re pining away for each other constantly? No, I did not.

Second half of movie is Boy in French countryside with army buddies. Much-talked-about unbroken take at Dunkirk will make you talk about it, but only because you’re wondering how much CGI was used, and exactly who had a loudspeaker loud enough for all the extras to hear.

The praise it’s getting is way out of proportion. I found the early, estate scenes boring and redundant. I found the love affair unbelievable. I found the accusation ridiculous. I found the war scenes strangely uncompelling. And I found the ending neither heartbreaking nor incredibly romantic.

I am not happy about this. Where was ONCE on the Best Picture list?

Oscar Nominations:
–Picture
–Supporting Actress Saoirse Ronan
–Cinematography
–Adapted Screenplay
–Art Direction
–Costumes
–Original Score

8.5 Metacritic
8.0 IMDB
**** Ebert
***^ Phillips
***^ Berardinelli
B Schwarzbaum

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1991

January 26, 2008
Netflix DVD
UK
English / Bengali / Bulgarian
123 Minutes
Documentary / Biography
Michael Apted

Another seven years has passed since the last installment. We get the addition of the snobby kid (“I read the financial times”–age seven), but the absence of both the cute, snobby guy who is now at the BBC, and most regretfully, the half-black kid from the group home. Strangely, no mention is made of his non-participation.

There’s no easy way to say this: the participants have not aged well, physically. Emotionally, many of their lives are a mess with divorce and the like. The jockey seems happy with his family and taxicab. The homeless guy is still homeless, but has found a tenuous community in Scotland.

A remarkable achievement. I’ve watched these real humans grow up. Two more installments to go.

8.3 IMDB

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2007

January 26, 2008
Dublin CA — Regal Hacienda Imax
USA
English / Spanish
85 Minutes
Documentary / Music
Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington

8.3 Metacritic
9.1 IMDB
*** Phillips

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Written by Michael W. Cummins