Archive for the “2001” Category


March 20, 2010
English / Spanish
80 Minutes
Davis Guggenheim [NYPD Blue; ER; The Shield; Deadwood; An Inconvenient Truth; It Might Get Loud]

5 Teachers. 180 Days. Our Children’s Future.

As a high school teacher myself, this is the documentary that I want to show people so they can see what sort of challenges we face every day at work. I don’t just mean the many people I speak with who are confident that “anyone” can teach. I mean the supportive ones who have no idea how the dynamics of a classroom can change in an instant. This has much more truth than the heralded French film, THE CLASS, which was praised for its authenticity. While that film was more realistic than most classroom-set films, and was allegedly work-shopped for a year, it doesn’t come close to THE FIRST YEAR.

Five teachers, representing five different grade levels are featured. We meet all of them on the first day of their first year. They all work in Southern California, most thanks to the Teach For America program. A smiling teddybear from Illinois teaches kindergarten, a bilingual white man from a family full of teachers has a 4th grade class, a woman lets us into her 6th grade class, a community activist teaches 11th grade ESL social studies, and a fiery woman moves from classroom to classroom dragging her suitcase full of lesson plans and teaches social justice.

I told myself I’d give this film 10 minutes. It didn’t take that long to get me. The brief running time is divided up with different title cards. “First Day”, “Who gives up first?”, “I have a child I’m concerned about”, and so on. Lest the audience think that every day is fabulous and hugs are given all around as life lessons are learned, each teacher deals with at least one kid who is disruptive to all the others. This proves to be the most interesting portion. At least for me. The incredibly patient kindergarten teacher navigates budget cuts and pitiful staffing numbers while fighting for a doll of a boy with a severe stutter and speech problem. He also begins home visits when parents don’t show up for their conferences.

My school has a night where the parents are invited to come to school and follow their child’s schedule. I can assure you that the ten parents or so who show up each period have children who will try hard and be no trouble behaviorally the entire year. It’s the other kids I worry about. As this man pleads and begs and makes phone calls and opens his classroom early to help, the viewer can’t help but wonder exactly when he’s going to give up. A homophobic outburst in the social justice class requires an intervention, a boy with anger management issues takes the other 30 kids off task, another boy laughs during a serious ex-gang member presentation after the speakers say “what if they were aiming for you but hit your mother instead, would you be laughing then?”

It’s inspiring and honors the profession. It is also propaganda which is actively trying to recruit new teachers. Because there are five subjects followed in the 80 minutes, and because we are seeing brief periods of a full school year, we don’t ever see a “normal” day in a classroom. There are often days where everything goes well. There are days when teachers hide in their cars to sob. And there are days when all the extra preparation in the world wouldn’t have resulted in alert students engaged with the subject matter.

That film is still waiting to be made.

7.2 IMDB

The First Year @ Amazon


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September 19, 2009
Netflix DVD
Germany / USA
95 Minutes — March 19, 2005
Erik Skjoldbjaerg [Insomnia]

Overly depressing story of a young, talented journalist who gets a full-ride to Harvard and begins writing for Rolling Stone while trying to keep her unraveling life together. Ricci is fine as the real-life writer, but Jessica Lange was over-the-top and oppressive as her put-upon mother. Ricci enters therapy after her friends find her editing and re-editing an article on Bruce Springsteen, setting aside things like eating, sleeping, and bathing.

The 1980s references are spot on, the costumes worn to college parties perfect, and I remain unconvinced that mental illness can ever be properly captured on screen. She seems to grow more angry and paranoid, which isn’t the same as growing more depressed. I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the acting, but one scene of a person unable to get out of bed does not an in-depth portrait of serious depression make.

Say what you will about the overly-dramatized (and sanitized) Ron Howard film A BEAUTIFUL MIND, but when he was looking at all of his scribbling and the formulas jumped off the walls so that he could form them into the answer he was looking for, we at least understood that he sees numbers differently than we do.

No such luck here. Jason Biggs plays a way-too-patient love interest and Michelle Williams is one of her verbally attacked roommates.

6.2 IMDB


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April 14, 2009
Netflix DVD
French / English
80 Minutes
Drama / Romance
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Perfect Love; Romance; Fat Girl; The Last Mistress]
Alice: Sarah Pratt [The Last Mistress]
Thomas: Gilles Guillain

Alice and Thomas meet on a ferry in the cafeteria line. He can’t find a seat, she offers one at her table. He says he is 18 and loves to smoke cigarettes. She listens bored. At first. His immature small talk begins to change as they watch each other eat. She is in her mid-thirties and says she is moving back to England after her husband asked for a divorce after eight years of marriage. His true age of 16 is discovered when they try to buy booze at the Duty-free shop. She begins to feel protective and when he suggests they get a drink in the lounge, she accepts. He drinks soda while she enjoys a brandy and a few people dance in the background. This scene goes on for quite some time. Maybe 20 minutes. But it’s not boring. Alice continues her “all men suck” statements while Thomas counters with “I don’t suck” statements. She gets tipsy and he asks her to dance. She feels much older than the others in the lounge, but she accepts to placate him. He even dances immaturely grabbing her inappropriately. Back at the table, a long scene takes place where a magician and his assistant perform a trick involving a woman in a box. This symbolism is hammered home by Alice’s speech about women knowing their places, etc. But something is happening that is just out of frame. Before we realize it, they are holding hands. He is bravely stroking her arm, she is happy about it, and they look suddenly like a normal pair of lovers. Just a couple, on a boat, holding hands in a bar.

He tries to kiss her, she pushes him away, he is hurt, she goes back to tell him it’s okay. He states his intentions brazenly, saying “I want to sleep with you.” Or is it naivete? She has a cabin on the ship, he only has a place where he’s set down his luggage. They go to her room. He is a virgin. She is angry at her ex-husband and therefore all other men. Her seduction was spontaneous, wasn’t it? But why is there a red scarf covering the lamp in her room to make it more romantic?

This is probably the most accessible of Breillat’s films. It’s a short 80 minutes. There are only two characters to keep track of. There is scarcely a body fluid to contend with. At no point did I turn my head from the screen. There is a realistically clumsy loss of virginity scene. The gender roles are again reversed. We think nothing of a man being 15 years older than a lover, but rarely do we see the opposite. The fact that Alice looks like Julianne Moore doesn’t make the idea any less rare. When she lets her hair down, and when he becomes emboldened (by lust or her responses or the alcohol he drinks or her beauty), they seem to turn into a realistic, viable couple who share a passion for each other.

But just because they are both able to perform sexually does not mean that they expect the same things from each other. He is completely smitten with her, she seems to return his feelings cautiously. They will be arriving in England in 20 minutes. What will become of them once they get there?

“A thirtysomething Englishwoman and a 16-year-old French boy meet, converse, and engage in a one-night stand while on board a ferry crossing the English Channel. Another of Breillat’s cynical forays into male-female expectation and manipulation, this one offering her usual generalizations about male sexuality. Leaves a bitter aftertaste.” — ** Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide

7.2 IMDB

Brief Crossing @ Amazon


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April 13, 2009
December 2, 2006
Criterion DVD
France / Italy
French / Italian / English
86 Minutes
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Perfect Love; Romance; The Last Mistress]

An overweight 12-year-old girl observes her pretty, 15-year-old sister’s sexual initiation on a summer holiday.

Elena and Anais are sisters. Elena is 15 and beautiful. Anais is 12 and pudgy. Elena is only allowed by their parents to leave the vacation home if she takes her younger sister along. At a sidewalk cafe, she meets an Italian law student who offers the two girls a place to sit, and then buys them something from the menu. Anais picks a banana split (“my favorite”). Elena spends her time sharing cigarettes and flirting with the older man. Anais directs her attention to the ice cream. Anais is forced to wait at the driveway for Elena to finish with her “date”. Having just met each other is no reason to avoid a heavy makeout session before Elena is dropped off.

Elena has arranged for Fernando to sneak into the window of the bedroom both girls share. “Don’t embarrass me,” she says to her younger sister. “I have better things to do than worry about your sexual activity,” Anais replies. But the room isn’t very big and the private, persuasive pillow-talk is heard easily by Anais who pretends to be sleeping, but then watches as her older sister gives in to his advances — almost all the way. The younger sister is less intrigued or aroused than she is full of pity for her sister, who she later tells is making a mistake by actually caring about the man who is about to take her virginity.

Anais declares that she would rather have her first sexual experience with a stranger so that she won’t be attached to him, thereby taking away most of his masculine power. The young caressing couple speaks often about how she’ll never forget him and how he’s incredibly honored to be allowed the privilege of deflowering her. When she says no to a sexual advance, he says all the words that every man has used on every woman from the beginning of time. “This will be a proof of your love,” is a favorite he repeats several times. Though he seems sophisticated to the two girls, we see him for the sniveling, immature boy that he is. He steals a ring from his mother to give to Elena as proof of his “love.” An awkward exchange occurs when she pounds on the front door demanding its return.

In between the sexual give-and-take, there are honest scenes between the two sisters. They vary in their sisterly closeness. Sometimes, giggling together on the bed, recalling funny family experiences. Sometimes, telling each other that they are the only person they trust. And then Elena will remark while looking in the mirror that no one would guess that they were related. Anais is an extremely touching character. She play-acts a relationship with two men using items in the pool area, promising that her heart belongs to each of them. She is clumsy and has none of the glamor of her older sister. She is loved by her parents, but ridiculed a bit by them as well.

Breillat has again delved into the mind of the adolescent female, this time in two radically different characters. One who feels wise to the ways of men, but with little chance to act on her desires. The other, unable to control her power over men–when she sees how she effects them, she seems to want to believe them.

Virginity-losing films made in Hollywood are rarely done from the girl’s point of view. And they are almost always a light-hearted comedy where the act itself is shown to be nothing like the importance given to it. This film is different. This film is better.

“Elena is 15, old enough to understand the effect of her beauty on males, young enough to feel insecure and confused over how to lose her virginity to the right person. Her 12-year-old sister Anais, on the other hand, is fat, envious and insists that, when the time comes, she’d rather give herself to a stranger. Holidaying with their parents, the girls reach a new phase in their bickering when Elena starts seeing Italian law student Fernando, whose determination to have sex involves smooth talk that may persuade Elena of his romantic intentions, but doesn’t fool little sister, reluctant witness to his siegecraft from her bed across the room. What if mom or dad were to find out? Breillat’s typically tough but sensitive study of sisterly rivalry may be less philosophical in tone — not to mention less visually explicit — than its predecessor ROMANCE, but it remains notable for its refusal to provide a facile, politically correct account of adolescent experience. As psychological portrait and social critique, the film offers cruelly honest insights. Dark, disturbing and hugely impressive, it’s made all the more lucid by superb performances from the two young actresses.” — Time Out Film Guide 2007

“It is not merely that a boy will tell a girl almost anything to get her into bed, but that a girl will pretend to believe almost anything, because she is curious, too. FAT GIRL, seemingly more innocent, at times almost like one of those sophisticated French movies about an early summer of love, turns out to be more painful and shocking than we anticipate. It is like life, which has a way of interrupting our plans with its tragic priorities.” — ***^ Roger Ebert

“An often observant study of adolescent sexuality and sibling relationships vitiated by its violent ending.” * Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008

“Potent drama from the always-provocative Breillat explores the complex relationship between two sisters, aged 15 and 12, who (like all the director’s heroines) are obsessed by sex. The older one is pretty and desirable; the other may be plump and miserable, but has her own yearnings. Breillat offers a voice to the title character, a type who is usually the object of scorn or ridicule. Features graphic sex scenes and an unsettling finale.” — *** Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide

*** Berardinelli
7.7 Metacritic
6.4 IMDB

Fat Girl – Criterion Collection @ Amazon


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December 29, 2008
Netflix DVD
Japan / USA
116 Minutes — September 1, 2001
Animation / Action / Comedy / Crime / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Shinichiro Watanabe

R-rated animation story about a terrorist explosion that releases a virus that kills people within a nearby radius. The virus contains microscopic machines that somehow kill people. There is one guy who is immune and he’s the one doing the exploding. But I may have the plot all wrong because I’m not entirely sure what was going on. But as a piece of animation, the creativity is high-level. There is a ragtag team of bounty hunters. The women are buxom, the guys are slender, there is a dog along for the ride. The city is futuristic and we are sometime in the future.

This is in no way as cool as any of the Howl’s Moving Castle or any of the other Miyazaki stuff. Those are aimed at children and are almost superhumanly creative. This one is sort of based in reality. There are scientists developing things, bad guys at drug companies, army and secret police arguing over jurisdiction. There was hand-to-hand combat and realistic gunshot wounds.

But it never amounted to anything. We know who blew up the truck, do we really care why?

6.1 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

Cowboy Bebop – The Movie @ Amazon


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July 26, 2002




Mulholland Drive–A Love Story In The City Of Dreams

Naomi Watts. Laura Harring. Directed by David Lynch.

This was one of my top five films of 2001 and upon second viewing, I still believe this. In fact, watching this on DVD was better than in the theater. Mostly because of the intricate sound design that Lynch came up with. It is much scarier watching this on your TV alone at home than it was in a theater full of people.

I loved that entire philosophies of this film sprung up on the internet when it first came out. What does the box mean? What is the timeline? I read every word and agreed with many of the theories. They still hold up after watching again. The sex scenes are still hot, the ending still creepy, and the performance of Watts looks even better. I’d like to know where in Australia Watts has been hiding because she was unbelievable.

As this is a Lynch film, there are red herrings galore. What was the meeting in the board room all about? What’s the deal with the cowboy? Why do we care about the director’s wife and Billy Ray Cyrus? But this all makes the film more fun.

* Best Actress of 2001 for Naomi Watts–Boston Film Critics Nomination; Chicago Film Critics Winner; Online Film Critics Society Winner

* Best Director of 2001 for David Lynch–Academy Award Nomination; Boston Film Critics Winner; Cannes Film Festival Winner; Chicago Film Critics Winner; Los Angeles Film Critics Winner; Online Film Critics Society Winner; Toronto Film Festival Winner

* Best Picture of 2001–Boston Film Critics Winner; Broadcast Critics Association Nomination; Chicago Film Critics Winner; Cesar Award Winner; New York Film Critics Winner; Online Film Critics Society Winner

* Best Cinematography of 2001 for Peter Deming–Chicago Film Critics Nomination; Independent Spirit Award Winner; Online Film Critics Society Nomination

* Best Screenplay of 2001 for David Lynch–Online Film Critics Society Nomination

7.3 Critical Consensus

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July 20, 2002




Denzel Washington. Ethan Hawke.

Training Day. Denzel deserved his Oscar win. I’m just as surprised as you are. I had heard that this was a routine police film about an out-of-control cop and a newby. Which it was. But somehow Denzel is such an acting stud that anything that comes out of his mouth has this sort of power that mere mortals can’t possibly match. Hawke is not my favorite guy, but he leaves behind ‘author-smart-guy Hawke’ to play a new guy, eager to make a good impression and provide for his family. The fact that he isn’t acted off the screen is a testament to his skill. Denzel is powerful as a guy in charge of a group of narco cops in L.A. He bends and breaks the rules with impunity. He stares at his young charge and seems to be making up dialogue on the spot. I believed that he was from the streets of L.A. He swaggered like the homies he was arresting. He went from being a serious role model cop, to funny jokester in a single breath.

The film crumbles under a single coincidence that couldn’t possibly happen, which is the only thing keeping this from being something special. We know how its going to end and it ends exactly that way.

Watch this for the performances. Not just of Denzel and Ethan, but of Macy Gray and Dr Dre and Snoop Dog. Great acting, not-so-great story.

Denzel Washington won the Best Actor of 2001 from the Academy Awards, Boston Society of Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and was nominated for a SAG Award.

Ethan Hawke was nominated for Best Supporting Actor of 2001 by the Academy Awards and SAG.

6.2 A Critical Consensus

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Written by Michael W. Cummins