Archive for May, 2008

2007

May 26, 2008
Netflix DVD
USA / Germany
English
135 Minutes
Biography / Drama / Music
Todd Haynes [Safe; Far From Heaven]

I admire the casting and the different types of film and the pacing and the naming of the characters. But I just didn’t like it. I wasn’t exactly bored, though it went on a bit too long. Each and every actor who plays Bob Dylan is remarkable. But those performances don’t really add up to much in my mind.

A cool DVD feature is having the lyrics printed on the screen during the film. So you can tell what the hell he’s singing about for once.

7.3 Metacritic
7.5 IMDB

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2005

May 25, 2008
DVD
USA
English
135 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Greg Daniels [Saturday Night Live; Seinfeld; The Simpsons; King Of The Hill]
Ricky Gervais [The Office (BBC); Extras; The Simpsons]
Stephen Merchant

First six episodes. Pam and Jim are more flirty than I remember. Kelly is more Indian. There are six or seven commentaries and about 45 minutes of deleted scenes that are well worth watching. Includes Diversity Day and The Hot Girl episodes.

9.4 IMDB

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2008

May 25, 2008
HBO
USA
English
115 Minutes
Drama
Jay Roach [Blown Away; Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery; Meet The Parents]

A dramatization, whatever that means, of the debacle that was the Florida portion of the 2000 Presidential election. We get big names playing real people. We get outraged responses to court rulings and appointed politicians. We see Warren Christopher bend over for James Baker. And we know that whatever Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary believe is the truth. I hope people watch this and become outraged. I consider myself something of a Florida Recount Student, watching every possible story from every possible angle about this. Because of that, the single bit of information that I had not known before watching RECOUNT was the Gore lawyer, getting a sample blank ballot to study, being threatened in a crowded elevator by the frat-boy thugs that the RNC had bussed down to Florida demanding that their vote count (even though they were all employees of Republicans up in Washington and had no connection with Florida). We see clips during the credits of all the real participants and lo and behold, there he is being escorted out of the election office by a half dozen cops. A character says in passing that the RNC Abercrombie boys were flown from DC to Florida on the Enron jet.

There is a much better primer on this whole issue called UNPRECEDENTED: THE 2000 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, which lays out in easy-to-follow detail exactly what forces had to come together for this to happen. That documentary painted the Supreme Court and Florida Secretary of State (and Bush Campaign Chair–conflict of interest anyone?) Katherine Harris as the main culprits. RECOUNT adds Joe Lieberman and Warren Christopher to that list. One villain not mentioned is Fox News, who has been blamed for being the first to call Florida that night for Bush, even though they knew that the numbers didn’t yet add up. Watch the documentary OUTFOXED for more on that.

Laura Dern plays Harris as a dim-witted bible thumper bowing to the will of whoever is loudest. To think that Bush-buddy Harris is partially responsible for the man who now resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue makes my blood boil.

Fictionalized films like this one can do a good job of making hard-to-understand legal minutia easy to digest. A character will say “The Supreme Court has ruled that this is a one-time decision”, and then another character, standing in for those of us at home will say, “has that ever happened before?”, and the lesson will be complete when the first guy says “never in the history of the Supreme Court” and we’re all a bit more well-versed on Constitutional Law. Ed Begley perfectly nails the head Dem lawyer. In fact, just about everyone at least looks like their real-life counterpart.

It isn’t said in the film, but Bush took office in January of 2001 without a mandate, knowing that he lost the popular vote, with a whiff of scandal already in the air. He couldn’t get anything passed, was about to become the most ineffective president since Carter. And then the towers fell and the very office of the Chief Executive changed, probably forever. Thank you Dick Cheney, et al. How would the world have been different if Harris wasn’t secretary of state, the recount went on longer, and Mr. Gore took the oath that January day? The towers probably still would have fallen. But what about everything after that? The mind boggles.

Leary and Spacey engage in this kind of “what if” as they walk to their airplanes to leave Florida. Harris, Supreme Court, voter rolls erased, Gore fighting, Christopher’s sick daughter, and Clinton’s blowjob all are included. What if, indeed.

As a film, it has much stacked up against it. Obviously, we know the ending. We also know what a chad is, what the participants sound like, and how the Supreme Court ruled. We also get several incredibly terrible scenes, the first of which is when a roly-poly Gore aid is told to stop the Vice-President from conceding before a recount can be started. He falls out of his town car, is stopped by secret service (even though he was in the motorcade), and finally catches up to Gore, breathless, just as he’s about to step on the stage to deliver his election night speech. Not even the West Wing would have had that kind of madcap pratfalling. But it gets better from there.

Each of these documentaries related to 2000 election is better that RECOUNT:

Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (2002)
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War On Journalism (2004)
Hacking Democracy (2006)

6.6 Metacritic

RECOUNT
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2007

May 22, 2008
Netflix DVD
USA
English / Spanish
106 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Craig Gillespie

The Search For True Love Begins Outside The Box.

I really wanted to love this one. But I didn’t. The writer has mentioned that she wrote this based on the idea of what would happen if a town reacted to a mental illness with compassion instead of ridicule. Lars is so messed up mentally that he sits up on his bed all night, hides from everyone, including his own family, and won’t interact with the cute girl at work who is all but throwing herself at him. He won’t eat dinner next door at his brother’s house. One day he shows up with a Real Doll, one of those lifelike, expensive sex dolls that prove that we have a long way to go before either men or women can be replaced by technology. After initial “my brother is looney” type conversations, the town–I mean the whole town–goes along with Lars’ psychosis. They offer his doll, now called Bianca, jobs, haircuts, knitting circles, dances. Everything. Not a single person calls the rest of the town out. How about some hospitalization? How about sending Lars to a specialist instead of a do-it-all doctor played perfectly by Patricia Clarkson? The idea of someone so afraid of human contact that he’d rather cart around a doll as his lover is very compelling. But the tone was all wrong–one minute a madcap comedy, the next a dark film about childhood trauma.

There have been several documentaries on this same topic. And these people who have shunned real humans for dolls are incredibly intriguing subjects. But they are not exactly normal. They themselves say as much. I’d rather watch another one of those documentaries than LARS AND THE REAL GIRL.

I’d hoped for so much better.

7.0 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
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LILA SAYS
2004

May 21, 2008
Netflix DVD
France / UK
French
89 Minutes
Drama
Ziad Doueiri

Chimo is a 19-year-old Arab living in a slightly slummy part of a city, committing petty crimes and odd jobs, and hanging out with his three equally unmotivated buddies. His world is turned upside down with the arrival of one of the sexiest presence in movies that I’ve ever seen. She’s a French girl named Lila, and she’s amazing. Gorgeous, brazen, self-assured. Chimo doesn’t stand a chance. She makes him an early offer that causes him to remark in voiceover “Lila could cause a Jihad.” They take romantic, sexy moped rides together, she whispers her secrets and desires to him, and he gets crap from his buddies for not making his move on her. She also causes him to write, which we’re led to believe he’s good at, because he is visited by a teacher who encourages him to enroll in some famous writing school in Paris.

Lila is played by an actress named Vahina Giocante, who I will have to go research now. There isn’t very much to this film. Their differences in religion and background aren’t really explored. It’s one of those movies where a hottie will ride by a group of guys and somehow pick out the one she should be with and smile only at him. We know he’s the right one because he writes, is more polite, and is the most handsome of the group. One thing that is hard to figure out is why he hangs out with the idiotic and felonious group of guys we always see him with. He is smarter than they, more compassionate, has a brighter future. I found that to be less-than-realistic.

Besides a pre-20s mutual attraction, I’m not sure what this film is trying to say. We get blowing sundresses, stolen peeks of flesh, the application of suntan lotion, and deep soulful looks into eyes. Not much more.

But did I mention that Lila is beautiful?

5.7 Metacritic
7.1 IMDB

LILA SAYS
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2005

May 18, 2008
San Jose Camera Cinema Club
Canada
English
87 Minutes
Fantasy
D: Blake Van de Graaf
W: Michael Sparaga

There’s A Hero Inside Everyone.

Not a good film. Mild-mannered comic book geek, Norman Neale, is convinced that he works with an actual superhero after watching him catch coffee cups without looking and single-handedly win the company softball tournament. The geek is quiet and not respected and awkward-looking while the hero, Victor Ventura (see what they did with the character’s names?), is stunningly attractive and popular. Norman spends his off hours in a comic book store, owned by Danny Baldwin (fantastic!), who believes that Norman is merely writing a comic book, not living a comic book life. With Baldwin’s encouragement, Norman realizes that his task is to train Victor to utilize all of his abilities, like a good sidekick should.

The tone of the film is all wrong. Is it humorous, realistic (or at least as realistic as a comic book film can get), moody, or dark. Is it supposed to tell us something about modern life? The hero is an absolutely misogynist prick and there is a lot of mean-spiritedness throughout.

One memorable scene involves a “training night” whereby Victor and Norman come upon a group of ne’er-do-wells and are taunted for being gay. Victor uses his superpowers to make the two toughest thugs kiss each other, and then one sinks to his knees to simulate the toughs’ worst case scenario. All to teach them a little lesson about tolerance. We’re here, we’re superheroes, get used to it!

Proudly low-budget, but somehow the brief 87 minute running time was simply not brief enough.

One bright spot in the experience was the appearance of the writer of the film, Michael Sparaga, who spoke to the audience after our screening. I’m not sure how to say this another way, but Sparaga could not have been more Canadian–and I mean that as a compliment. Self-deprecating, funny, gracious, optimistic, and incredibly polite. A master storyteller. I could have listened to him speak at the microphone during the Q & A for hours. In fact, I would have preferred 87 minutes of “Sparaga At The Mic” than the film SIDEKICK.

5.4 IMDB

SIDEKICK
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2007

May 16, 2008
Showtime
USA
English
92 Minutes
Drama
Tommy O’Haver [Fabulous! The Story Of Queer Cinema]

Yikes. Sylvia (Ellen Page) is the daughter of a carny couple who is left with a normal-seeming woman who has a brood of her own children and entertains other kids from the neighborhood in her average Indiana home. Her parents promise to pay $20 a month to the single mom, played by Catherine Keener. When the first check is late, Page and her younger sister are taken to the basement and given the belt. This turns out to be the least brutal “punishment” that Sylvia is given.

Based on the actual transcripts of the court case from 1966, this film is even more shocking that it first appears. Keener, while trying to “protect” her loose and pregnant oldest daughter, continues to “punish” Sylvia for simply not being as big a screw-up as her own daughter. She is burned with cigarettes, branded with hot safety pins, sexually assaulted, and slapped repeatedly. And then it gets worse. Her own young children can’t hide their basement-dwelling curiosity, and they begin invite neighborhood friends over to burn, beat, and hose down Sylvia who is kept in the basement. That these kids do this with minimal provoking is the most horrifying aspect of this horrifying (and true) story.

And the neighbors, hearing the screams, continued to rake leaves like nothing was wrong. “Best we keep to ourselves.”

Page is spectacular and you will forget she had anything to do with JUNO after watching this. Keener’s character slowly devolves into a monster, but never a cardboard cutout monster. The kids are sufficiently scary in a numbed-by-what-they’ve-seen way.

Not exactly a happy time at the movies, but worth it for the Keener and Page performances.

7.6 IMDB

AN AMERICAN CRIME
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2007

May 15, 2008
Netflix DVD
USA
English
111 Minutes
Drama
Andrew Wagner [The Talent Given Us]

This film does a lot of little things well. Frank Langella is a writer of some note, the author of four books, whose been working on his fifth for more than ten years. He has an extremely regimented life–rising at the same hour, working at the same hour, ordering the same lunch, etc. Lili Taylor is his almost 40 daughter who is craving a child but her true love, Casey, has made that a deal breaker. Father and daughter have an easy connection, attending dance recitals, book readings, and other New York art events.

Lauren Ambrose appears as a Brown University grad student who wants to write her thesis on Langella. She is simultaneously in love with his work and the him she knows him to be. She is 20something, he is 60something. But with Langella’s intelligent eyes and Ambrose’s optimistic youth (her Ivy League vocabulary struggling to cover up her giddiness), the thought of these two together as some kind of couple isn’t as strange as it might at first seem.

Langella is excellent as a gruff, by the book, quiet author. He doesn’t say much, he responds to Ambrose’s questions with thoughtful, though cold answers. She wants to get at the heart of his work. Ambrose is really the surprise here. If you’ve only seen her as the youngest of the Fisher clan on Six Feet Under, you’re in for a treat. I completely bought that she was a brilliant grad student who is widely read and could pull off the revitalization of Langella’s career with the right literary criticism. She is tough-acting, vulnerable, and when she puts forth all the theories bouncing around inside of her huge brain, it’s hard not to fall for her. And the way she looks at him with such feeling.

Lili Taylor chalks up another of her perfectly noted performances. From the trailer, you wouldn’t guess that she has such a large part in the film. She is struggling with her love for Casey and the two of them together make an almost perfect pair. Taylor suffered a breakup with him five years prior that resulted in her not leaving her bed for several months. But they look at each other with such love, that you wonder why they can’t get that one huge disagreement settled and live happily ever after.

This film gets New York City right. Which may sound ridiculous coming from a person whose never lived there. They mention traffic and sharing cabs and coffee shops. They have their own neighborhoods where they know the waitress and the cafe owner. They go to events at the 92nd Street YMCA, they watch the Dance Theater of Harlem perform. They attend book release parties. At least, to me, it seemed like they got the NYC that an author of his age would inhabit right. Even the doorman’s character seems realistic.

This film is about so much more than a young woman infatuated, influenced, and interested in a man in the twilight of his productive years. It’s about four people living in New York City. And it is terrific.

7.8 Metacritic
6.9 IMDB

STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING
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2007

May 14, 2008
San Jose CA — Santana Row
USA
English
108 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Thomas McCarthy [Meet The Parents; Boston Public; The Guru; The Station Agent; Good Night, And Good Luck; Syriana; Flags Of Our Fathers; Michael Clayton; The Wire]

Connection Is Everything.

After you’ve seen THE VISITOR, listen to our spoiler-filled Cinebanter podcast which is posted here .

*** Ebert
7.9 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

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2006

May 11, 2008
Netflix DVD
Belgium / France / UK
French
168 Minutes
Drama / Romance
Pascale Ferran

8.0 Metacritic
7.1 IMDB

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2007

December 30, 2007
January 20, 2008
May 10, 2008
DVD
USA / Canada
English
96 Minutes
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Jason Reitman [Ghostbusters II; Kindergarten Cop; Dave; Thank You For Smoking]

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

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

This time, just for the DVD extras, including the commentary. They had good extras including deleted scenes that maybe shouldn’t have been deleted. And the commentary by Diablo and Jason was fairly educational. I noticed things I hadn’t before, though that could be because it was my third time.

8.1 Metacritic
8.1 #189 IMDB

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LADY VENGEANCE
2005

May 7, 2008
Netflix DVD
South Korea
Korean / English / Japanese
112 Minutes
Drama / Thriller
Chan-Wook Park [Oldboy]

All She Wanted Was A Peaceful Life…They Didn’t Give It.

7.5 Metacritic
7.8 IMDB

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2008

May 6, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
126 Minutes
Action / Adventure / Drama / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Jon Favreau [Hoffa; Rudy; Seinfeld; Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle; Batman Forever; The Larry Sanders Show; Swingers; Friends; Deep Impact; Very Bad Things; The Sopranos; The Replacements; Dinner For Five; Made; Undeclared; Elf; Something's Gotta Give; The King Of Queens; The Break-Up]

After you’ve seen IRON MAN, listen to our Cinebanter podcast, which is available here.

7.8 Metacritic
8.4 #119 IMDB

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2008

May 5, 2008
PBS
USA
Spanish / English
600 Minutes
Documentary
Maro Chermayeff

Puts a human face on the thousands of sailors deployed on the USS Nimitz for incredibly long periods of time. We get to know sailors at every level of seniority. How do they date? eat? wash the ship? entertain themselves? Ten hours long, but never dull for a moment. They are allowed to honestly discuss issues of policy and war and patriotism. In no way are the interviews completely pro-navy. Absolutely fascinating, and not just in a guyish “that’s so cool” way. I may have to buy this.

8.3 IMDB

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2005

April 26, 2008
PBS – P.O.V.
UK
English
134 Minutes
Documentary / Biography
Michael Apted

8.4 Metacritic
8.3 IMDB

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2006

April 26, 2008
Netflix DVD
Canada
Mandarin / English
80 Minutes
Documentary
Jennifer Baichwal
Photos By Edward Burtynsky

7.9 Metacritic
7.1 IMDB

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2003

April 24, 2008
Netflix DVD
South Korea
Korean
120 Minutes
Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Chan-Wook Park

15 Years Of Imprisonment, Five Days Of Vengeance.

Fabulous, fun, kinetic, violent. A great experience, even with the implied torture and cut tongues and broken fingers and hammers to heads. Guy gets out of a hotel-prison after 15 years and wants to know who put him in there and why. Along the way he’s joined by a hot sushi chef. Reasons for everything are revealed. Go see it.

7.4 Metacritic
6.7 IMDB

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AN ADOLESCENT
2001

April 24, 2008
Netflix DVD
Japan
Japanese / French
132 Minutes
Drama
Eiji Okuda

5.5 Metacritic
6.6 IMDB

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2008

April 23, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
112 Minutes
Comedy / Romance
Nicholas Stoller

After you’ve seen FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, listen to our Cinebanter podcast, which is available here.

6.7 Metacritic
8.0 IMDB

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Written by Michael W. Cummins