Author Archive

2012

June 26, 2012
Cinearts Santana Row
USA
English
86 Minutes
Comedy / Romance
Colin Trevorrow

I dare you not to fall in love with Aubrey Plaza as an intern name Darius at Seattle Magazine, who interviews, then befriends, a man who has put an advertisement in the paper reading “Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed.” The man’s name is Kenneth and he’s played by mumblecore pioneer Mark Duplass.

The magazine writer in charge of the road trip / expedition is Jeff, played by Jake M. Johnson, who is the “nice guy” on NEW GIRL. Here he plays a combination of that role, plus a large helping of Schmidt the douchebag.

Every character, not just the would-be time traveler, is dealing with some form of incredible loneliness. And the low-key nature of the performances and direction make the story seem much more universal than just a wacky guy who claims to be able to travel through time. Jeff volunteers for the assignment so that he can visit a woman he dated in his late teens who continues to live in the small town. His life has been full of empty hookups and dead-end career moves. A second intern, Arnau, has never kissed a woman, though he’s about to begin graduate school. Darius, is a loner outsider, who has never felt like she belongs. A touching dinnertime scene between Plaza and Jeff Garlin in a welcome tiny role shows the concern a father might have for the lack of action his daughter is getting.

And what to say about Kenneth? Is he crazy? What are his motivations for wanting to move the clock back ten years? What sort of trauma could have happened in his life? Jeff performs his own kind of time travel by setting up a meeting with the girl he can’t get out of his mind. She’s obviously aged since then, as he has, but will there be anything there when he arrives? Darius feels guilt over her mother’s death. Can’t we all think of a time in our past that we might think is better than our present? Specific weeks or seasons or ages or grades. I think we all can. If we did have the technology to go back to that time, what sort of dangers would we face?

Duplass never for one second winks at the audience. He shows off his martial arts training, his ease with handguns, his secret plans for stealing necessary technology. He needs to trust Darius completely, though her main job is to write an article about Kenneth, not be his assistant.

The film was sweet and slow and full of those off-handed jokes that naturalistic filmmaking is full of.

7.5 IMDB
7.2 Metacritic

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED

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1992

Netflix Blu-Ray
USA
English
131 Minutes — August 7, 1992
Drama / Western
Clint Eastwood [Play Misty For Me; The Outlaw Josey Wales; Sudden Impact; Heartbreak Ridge; Bird; White Hunter, Black Heart; The Rookie; The Bridges Of Madison County; Mystic River; Million Dollar Baby; Flags Of Our Fathers; Letters From Iwo Jima; Changeling; Gran Torino; Invictus]

#217 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

A former hired killer turned unsuccessful farmer, together with a young would-be gunfighter and an old friend, set out to collect a thousand-dollar reward for killing the cowboys who slashed the face of a prostitute.

“Harsh Western of revenge and needless slaughter that re-invents and revives the genre to spectacular effect.” — **** — Halliwell’s.

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

Clint Eastwood…Bill Munny
Gene Hackman…Little Bill Daggett
Morgan Freeman…Ned Logan
Richard Harris…English Bob

Oscar Wins for Picture, Director, Hackman, and Editing.

Clint Eastwood’s 1992 film, UNFORGIVEN, has a special place in my heart. But not because I liked it. I remember it being the first critically acclaimed film that I ever hated. Ever since I saw PLATOON and realized that movies meant something, I’ve generally agreed with the critical consensus on films large and small. UNFORGIVEN was universally heralded as a monumental piece of film that reinvented the western and made us forget everything we ever knew about gunfighter movies.

Um, no. 19 years ago, I couldn’t understand the big deal at all. It seemed pretty ordinary to me. So obviously the problem was mine, not the general feeling of the movie-going public. So, I’ve wanted to revisit this film for awhile, to see what in the world was wrong with me when I saw it the first time. I popped in the Blu-Ray.

And it turns out, the problem wasn’t with me back in 1992, and it isn’t with me in 2011. This is the most overrated film I’ve probably ever seen. I joke with friends that I can’t get through 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY without falling asleep, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it has value.

But UNFORGIVEN is simplistic on every level. Our “hero” Bill Munny isn’t just down on his luck, when we first see him, he’s literally being dragged through the mud by one of the pigs he raises. In fact, so afraid is Director Eastwood that we won’t get the point, that he repeats this scene again, just in case we didn’t get it the first time. Eastwood’s character doesn’t just tell us he used to be a bad guy, but he tells us over and over again. He also repeats that “I ain’t that guy anymore” several dozen times. Because his “dear departed wife turned me away from wickedness and drink.”

The character of “The Schofield Kid” is not only a stupid, blind, schoolyard bully braggart, but he’s a ridiculous braggart. “I’ve killed five men.” “I could have killed you right there.” “You ain’t much.” I mean over and over. We get it. The guy hasn’t done anything, can’t shoot anything, is a little boy trying to be tough. But my god, how about some subtlety? This guy made me want to scream. And I semi-blame the actor. I get that Munny needs money (get it?) and will put up with the kid just to get paid, but come on.

On to Morgan Freeman. “We ain’t those guys no more, we’re farmers.” The scene where Munny visits Logan is like that “one last score” scene from every bank robbery movie. First Logan’s against it, then he stands directly beneath his rifle and says “how long you expect to be gone, Bill?” There’s a scene where the kid is shooting at Munny and Logan and Morgan’s eyes are minstrel-show-wide as he crawls around wondering who’s shooting at them.

Hackman’s character is given more to work with and Richard Harris as a foppish English assassin is pretty cool. But what about the fat deputy? “Would you rather be killed in hot or cold weather?” the semi-retarded character says to the (no joke) one-armed fellow deputy.

Munny is shown unable to mount his horse, not once, not twice, but three times, while Freeman is forced to say “Jesus, Bill”. The guy who runs the billiard hall all but twirls his mustache as he calls the hookers “bitches”.

It wasn’t all bad. I get the whole “trying to outrun your past” and “can bad men really change” parts. I like the last 30 minutes or so when talk of killing changes into actual killing. I like that Morgan Freeman’s race is never mentioned and Hackman likes having a writer follow him around to publicize his legend. There are no poetic or beautiful deaths. Some important deaths happen off screen and some simply silence the characters. But these little pieces of insight amounted to about 20 minutes of a long 131-minute film.

I think what may have ruined me for this film (the second time I watched it) is HBO’s DEADWOOD. The canceled too early western epic, where every character was created in shades of grey. The bumbling hotel manager wasn’t a complete idiot. The boss of the town was cruel in ways that Hackman and the pimp in UNFORGIVEN have never thought of. The sheriff wasn’t perfect, the women had personalities and demanded justice. The nuances that DEADWOOD was full of put it head and shoulders above something like UNFORGIVEN.

I can’t believe how disappointed I was a second time. I look forward to comments defending it.

One note on the picture quality of the Blu-Ray: I’m not really one of those guys who checks the bitrate of the DVD data and figures out how clear the picture is and whatnot. However, though I haven’t seen very many Blu-Rays in my life, this one was absolutely crystal clear. Even the stuff in the far away background. It just looked magnificent. But that doesn’t mean I like it.

8.2 Metacritic
8.3 IMDB (Number 96 All Time)

UNFORGIVEN

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1958

Netflix DVD
USA
English
129 Minutes — May 28, 1958
Crime / Mystery / Romance / Thriller
Alfred Hitchcock [The 39 Steps; The Lady Vanishes; Rebecca; Notorious; Rear Window; To Catch A Thief; North By Northwest; Psycho; The Birds; Frenzy]

#2 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

A detective with a fear of heights is drawn into a complex plot in which a girl he loves apparently falls to her death. Then he meets her double.

“Double identity thriller which has many sequences in Hitchcock’s best style. A film as unsettling as the phobia it deals with, keeping its audience dizzy and off balance throughout.” — **** — Halliwell’s.

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

James Stewart…John Scottie Ferguson
Kim Novack…Madeleine Elster
Barbara Bel Geddes…Midge Wood

The Top 10 films of all time (based on that holy list I love) goes: Kane, this film, Rules Of The Game, 2001, 8 1/2, Godfather, Searchers, Samurai, Singing In The Rain, Potemkin.

One of these things is not like the other. And that thing is VERTIGO. There is no way that VERTIGO is the second best film ever made. No way.

Stewart is his usual charming, natural self. Novack is wooden at best and terrible at worst. Bel Geddes is entirely charming as the BFF of Scottie who has real feelings for him.

Positives:

–Hitchcock took the most beautiful city in North America and made it look even more beautiful somehow. It makes me want to drive up to The City to find Scottie’s apartment right now.
–The give and take between Scottie and Midge is pretty great.
–The sexual obsession of Stewart is pretty strong for a film made in 1958. He essentially can’t get turned on unless his date is made into another woman for him.
–Novack is pretty hot, especially in either a white coat or a black dress.
–Colors and angles are all superb, as you’d expect from Hitchcock (who apparently never looked through the camera during filmmaking).

Negatives:

–They fell in love too easily.
–How did Scottie get off the ledge in the first scene?
–Way too much following of people.
–Stewart: 50 years old; Novack: 25 years old. Um, of course he’s attracted to her.

Scottie is recuperating from his brush with death after chasing a criminal over the rooftops of San Francisco. An old college friend (though clearly living in England) asks him to follow his wife who is apparently under the spell of or possessed by a woman who died long ago. Scottie follows her and she’s gorgeous and she’s troubled and she jumps into San Francisco Bay and he had to take her wet clothes off and put her in his bed, so naturally he believes he’s in love with her. And we are asked to believe it as well. Her possession and sadness cause her to do herself harm and he spends half an hour seeing her in every other blonde in San Francisco.

And he doesn’t realize that an attractive, artistic, intelligent woman is his for the asking. Plus, she’ll fix him dinner and pour him bourbon.

Fabulous San Francisco locations. Great music.

I mean, it doesn’t suck. It’s pretty good and it was probably a big deal when it came out. But why all the praise?

I was surprisingly disappointed.

8.5 IMDB (Number 45 All Time)

VERTIGO

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2010

Cinequest 21 San Jose Film Festival
Czech Republic
Czech / Russian
110 Minutes
Drama / Family
Allice Nellis [Little Girl Blue]

MAMAS & PAPAS is about the strange lottery aspect of human fertility. While some couples try all means of medical intervention, other couples seem to be able to become pregnant simply by glancing at each other. One couple has been trying for three years and the wife is desperate. One couple is arguing over whether their relationship is strong enough to include a child or if it should be aborted. A third couple is pregnant with their third child, but money and space is tight, and didn’t she just hear the story of a woman who legally made some money by handing over her newborn to a desperate, wealthy couple? All of these stories are sort of tied together by the fertility specialist, who has her own family sadness.

There are a few things that raise this film above the typical “baby fever” type of movies we’re all used to.

–>It’s in Czech, which instantly makes it more important. Not really, but the universality of the human experience is something we get while reading subtitles.

–>The not being sure if you want a baby that appears to be the answer to prayers is shown well.

–>As I have some experience with this whole “fertility thing”, I was happy to see an agreeable husband finally explode over being treated like a “stud bull”. Once you get deep into fertility science, all the fun of “reproduction” takes a back seat to shots and timing and specimen jars.

–>As I have some experience with the whole “adoption” thing, I was touched by scenes involving all of the tests (mental, psychological, economic) that one couple had to go through. Also, the other side of the equation (the actual birth mother) was shown with care.

The acting was uniformly good. There are some mis-steps involving scuba diving and whales, believe it or not, and the “find yourself” part of the doctor’s story never took hold of me. But the genetic lottery of who gets pregnant when, by whom, and under what circumstances did take hold of me.

MAMAS & PAPAS

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NOSFERATU, EINE SYMPHONIE DES GRAUENS
1922

Cinequest 21 San Jose Film Festival
Germany
Silent — Wurlitzer Organ Accompaniment by Dennis James
Fantasy / Horror / Mystery / Romance
F. W. Murnau [Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans]

Film Number 103 Of All Time — They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000

OK, so it was made in 1922. It’s famous for being the first of the many vampire films. It’s campy and corny and silent. But was it fun to watch?

Absolutely. I was mostly worried about dozing off as it was my fourth film of the busy day. But seeing something that my great-grandparents might have seen, in a theater that my grandparents might have gone to as children, surrounded by a balcony full of fans ranging in age from about 8 to about 90, meant that it was an experience I’ll cherish forever.

Dennis James got sounds out of the mighty Wurlitzer that seemed to required five people to perform. He kept the pace and made us scared and happy and when a drummer appeared on screen, I’ll be damned if a snare drum didn’t sound from the right speaker in perfect syncopation. If you’ve never heard live accompaniment to a silent film before, get your ass out of your house and go to one. Even if you don’t like the film. It’ll be worth it.

The story was overacted and the special effects rudimentary, but again, it was filmed just after World War I, for god’s sake. Women and men alike seem to swoon, the bad guys are extra bad, the wacko mental patients extra mentally.

But I found it touched me–the darkness, the lust, the way the Count looked upon a drop of blood while licking his lips.

And my, oh my, to experience all of this in a double-decker full house like the California Theater. The title cards causing snickers and oohs and aahs. The “wow” factor of the Count levitating. The creepiness of a long boat ride. People were enthralled. I was one of them.

And I didn’t doze once.

8.1 IMDB

NOSFERATU

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LE SENTIMENT DE LA CHAIR
2010

March 4, 2011
Cinequest 21
France
French
91 Minutes
Drama / Romance
Roberto Garzelli

Benoit = Thibault Vincon
Helena = Annabelle Hettmann

Sure, it was late, and I had been up since 5:30. And I had worked a full day. And it was my third film of the day. But holy cow, what the hell was this one all about? Helena is getting her degree in Anatomical Drawing (they didn’t offer that at UC Irvine when I was there). She observes surgeries and medical students dissecting cadavers with her sketch pad always at the ready. She believes in the beauty of the outside of people–birthmarks, scars, curves, and whatnot. She can apparently mount a successful breast examination in the shower.

Sent to the doctor because of some back pain, she somehow notices that the sexy practitioner has taken an x-ray of her, but not lower back where she’s feeling the pain. Confronted, he at first makes excuses, but then admits that he’s fascinated by a slight abnormality in her anatomy. You see, he is turned on (in the sexual and non-sexual sense) by human anatomy that differs from the norm. I’ve forgotten what her difference is, but she is not angry about a second, unnecessary x-ray, but rather turned on by his semi-professional attention.

They make a date. And have sex all over the place. Often. She memorizes his moles, he can picture her internal organs. It’s a match made in “Gray’s Anatomy.” She entices him with ever more medically intrusive procedures so that he can “know” her inside and out. MRI? Check. Surgical Scope? Check.

The ending had my audience tittering. At least those who stuck around for it. It isn’t a completely sucky movie, and I kinda get the whole “if you really loved me, you know everything about me and my body” vibe it’s going for. In fact, the feeling I got most from it was David Cronenberg’s CRASH (not to be confused with the Best Picture travesty by Paul Haggis). Where something medical and sexual combine in character’s heads. In CRASH, it was the excitement of a car crash and the disfigurement that brought. In this one, it’s how much you can expect your lover to know about your skeleton and internal organs.

I won’t say anything about the final shot, except that, though I understood the director’s reasoning, it was impossible to pull off.

March 12, 2011: Upon Further Review: I kept thinking of David Cronenberg while I was watching SENTIMENT OF THE FLESH, but now after a few days to ponder, I think I’m leaning more towards the style of Catherine Breillat. She typically takes the viewer on a wild ride that ratchets up the fetish and social acceptability until few are left at the end singing its praises. This can be rape or body fluid or murder. Some Breillat viewers only last five minutes, while others finish even the least accessible of her films, happy for the experience. SENTIMENT OF THE FLESH made a rather severe leap from realistic to plausible to way-out-there a bit too quickly, perhaps, but the themes were in line with Ms. Breillat’s work.

THE SENTIMENT OF THE FLESH.

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2011

March 4, 2011
USA
English
Cinequest 21 World Premiere
Drama / Romance
Conrad Jackson

Elliot Carson = Parker Croft
Chloe Webb = Emilia Zoryan

One of the best pleasant surprises I’ve had in my 14 years at Cinequest.

On paper, this film had every red flag imaginable. Terminal illness, Los Angeles hipsters, a house party, a meet-cute in a Jamba Juice, an internet entrepreneur, and two incredibly adorable young people who spend a single night together. And yet…

Elliot visits his doctor the day before he has brain surgery. The doctor assures him that he’s optimistic, but we can tell from Elliot’s eyes, that he has no such positive feelings. He wears sunglasses indoors as the light bothers him and on the way home from the doctor’s office, he needs to pull over his car in order to barf. Looking for a bathroom in which to clean himself up, he ends up at an ice cream / smoothie place staffed by an almost supernaturally adorable girl named Chloe. As he walks in, she’s taking photographs of the store’s merchandise. She kindly lets him use the bathroom, he orders an “anything with bananas in it” drink, and they make smalltalk. But realistic smalltalk. Awkward, silence-filled, customer-employee smalltalk. He picks up a card for her photo exhibit that night–”you should come”–and heads back to his sparsely furnished, though expensive looking apartment, where he enjoys a bowl of cereal after closing the shades.

Trying to get his mind off of the next morning’s procedure, he heads down to Chloe’s show, where they exchange names and more conversation. Which leads to dinner, which leads to a houseparty, bike ride, security guards, danger, a hike, some music, and all those other things that can make a first night with someone magical. But eventually, Elliot will have to tell Chloe why he hasn’t eaten or drank anything since midnight, won’t he? And what if she wants to plan something for that weekend?

There are several things to say here, in bullet-point format:

–the cinematographer and director find a way to perfectly capture the dizziness, migraine, and ear-ringing that accompany someone who is about to barf. I can’t recall ever feeling someone’s nausea quite so vividly. The sound quiets, the lights get brighter, and the speed sort of changes. Very well done.

–The young woman who plays Chloe, Emilia Zoryan, looks like an “almost” Minka Kelly from FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. She has these huge, soulful eyes that stare at Elliot, often when he isn’t looking. She is convincing as a normal, LA girl, who works in a store, but longs for great, artistic things.

–The young man is played by Parker Croft, who was one of the writers of the film. He looks like an even-thinner young Roger Daltrey, all angles, and bones, with a big mop of blonde hair on his head. He has this slow-blinking, surfer drawl dialogue delivery that somehow isn’t annoying. Because it sounds like a kid his age. And with his very thin frame and our knowledge of his condition, we can’t help but cheer for him as he tries to experience a memorable night on what might be his last.

–The two leads, while conversing–both initially meeting, and as the topics get deeper–sound perfect together. At the Q & A after the film, it was learned that the crew filmed this over a two week period of nights. And I know that Parker was one of the writers. But something more is happening here. I don’t know if they work-shopped the dialogue or were given a simple framework upon which to improvise around. The two 20ish actors are speaking like two 20ish people who are meeting someone they might end up eventually liking. The honest awkwardness of silences, of jokes that don’t land, of spilling food on a first date–all of it seems real. They don’t finish each others sentences and they mostly don’t have a rapid-fire HIS GIRL FRIDAY thing happening. It just seems more organic. Or else I was just fooled, which is good enough for me.

–The music worked, especially a “concert in a tunnel” where someone’s friend of a friend is performing on guitar and a tiny amp. The crowd looks happy, if a bit too hip and good-looking. The other songs didn’t hit us over the head. There was no “brain tumor theme” for example.

–A new romance causes us to completely lose track of time, and somehow that feeling was communicated in this film. Everything they do could plausibly have taken place during one night. But looking back on memories of perfect nights with perfect people, we never really relay that story perfectly, do we? Maybe the bike ride took four hours and maybe it was just around the block. The important thing was who you were with, not how long it really lasted.

–Capturing blossoming feelings is incredibly difficult on screen. You have to believe in the chemistry of the two people. They have to be realistically right for each other. There has to be something in each of them that would attract the other. All of these things work in this film. Though, due to Elliot’s condition, he needs to hold back his feelings more than Chloe does. I thought that she fell too hard for him too early. Plus, she’s adorable. Why doesn’t she already have something to do that night?

–Another entirely tiny positive thing that no one probably noticed but me. Both members of the couple sustain minor injuries during their night together. Hers is much less conspicuous. But I noticed that the continuity didn’t lapse when I saw her in a later scene. Attention to detail=A.

Lest it sound like it was perfect, let me slow down that impression now.

–The hipster, mostly white-people, young and funny, houseparty birthday “my friends are outrageous” stuff was almost a bit much for me. Almost. A sobbing birthday girl, a cynical bearded friend, a guy with one of those stupid knit hats with the ear flaps, a conversation about grilled cheese, a top-half-clothing-trade. If I wasn’t so invested in the couple’s beginning, I would have hated, hated, hated that group of people. They hike up an LA mountain, where a group of people has cold beer ready and a tree adorned with lights and a couch and deep and shallow conversations abound. I get that this is a real thing that happens, but that doesn’t mean it makes good cinema. When I was their age, my friends and I acted exactly like them. If you are between the ages of 16 and 30, you’ll even love these scenes.

–Both actors were pretty spectacular, especially when compared to their resumes. Parker was a bit stronger than Emilia, but her big eyes go a long way towards helping us forget that. Parker has a big scene that starts with spinning a globe that I never quite bought. I wanted to, but it was too long, too close-up, too monologue-ish. That was the only misstep I could find in his performance.

In conclusion, I’m almost embarrassed by how much I like FALLING OVERNIGHT. I’m a sucker for the falling in like part of cinema relationships (BEFORE SUNRISE remains the gold standard), but the LA location, the age of the participants, the extra “bonus” of a brain tumor, all told me to avoid this film. I’m glad I didn’t.

FALLING OVERNIGHT

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TUAN YUAN
2010

March 4, 2011
Cinequest 21
China
Mandarin
93 Minutes
Drama
Quan’an Wang

Qiao Yu’e = Lisa Lu
Liu Yangheng = Feng Ling
Lu Shanmin = Cai-gen Yu

Liu fled China for Taiwan 50 years ago during the Communist Revolution. He has come back to an unrecognizable Shanghai and would like to reconnect with his girlfriend from before the war and bring her back to Taiwan with him. Unfortunately for his plans, she leads a broad family of three generations, none of whom is exactly happy to see the man. Oh yeah, and she’s been happily married to “a good man” named Lu for more than 40 years.

The family is understandably upset with Liu’s plans. The sisters bicker, the businessman son-in-law wants to look at it like a business proposition, the oldest son, who is Liu’s biological child, wants to leave it up to his mother. It’s none of his business, he says.

The hip, cool, and bored 20ish granddaughter is put in charge of showing Liu the sights of Shanghai. The city becomes another character in the film. When Liu left, it surely wasn’t the economic powerhouse it is today.

Just about the only person who isn’t upset with Liu’s plan is Yu’e’s husband, Lu. He seems fine. In several hilarious scenes, he shows just how okay he is with his wife leaving him for another country. He refuses money and drinks a toast in honor of the man about to take his wife away.

There is a hilarious section where the couple get caught in a bureaucratic nightmare after being told they were never “officially” married all those decades ago. “What can we do?” “Go next door and get a marriage license and then bring it back here for the divorce.” The wrinkled couple poses for their first wedding portrait sandwiched between much younger newlyweds.

Lisa Lu, as the center of this love triangle, plays her role with quiet reserve. But her eyes tell us everything we need to know about her thoughts. She may have been playing the “what if” game for 50 years–since Liu left. Or perhaps she just wants a late-life change.

And why on earth is her husband Lu, being so peaceful about the whole thing?

One of the rare Asian offerings at this year’s Cinequest Film Festival.

APART TOGETHER

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After 1,017 postings, I’ve decided to begin using WordPress. All of these pages should stay the way they are.

All updates from now on (including podcasts that can be listened to from the webpages) will be posted here:

MichaelVox

Comments are welcome.

Michael.

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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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12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST
2006

April 18, 2008
Netflix DVD
Romania
Romanian
89 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Corneliu Porumboiu

7.7 Metacritic
7.3 IMDB

~~

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2007

April 18, 2008
DVD
USA
English / German / Hindi / Sanskrit
91 Minutes
Adventure / Comedy / Drama
Wes Anderson [Rushmore; The Royal Tenenbaums; The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou]

Just when I was about to give up on Wes Anderson, he makes this gem of a film about brotherhood, soul-searching, and travel. No slow patches, no annoying quirks. An incredibly brief 91 minutes in India.

6.7 Metacritic
7.5 IMDB

~~

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Written by Michael W. Cummins