Archive for the “2008” Category

2008

July 18, 2010
Camera Cinema Club
Ireland / Sweden
English
72 Minutes
Drama
Lance Daly

Kylie = Kelly O’Neill
Dylan = Shane Curry

Kylie’s goldfish has died. We see the color drain out of it until it appears, in closeup, a decaying gray. Kylie is an eleven-year-old girl, with an abusive older sister, an angry mother, and a despicable uncle, among other members of her family. Next door to her lives Dylan, a peer who spends his time avoiding his violent father, a man who in the opening scene appears to be losing a fight with his toaster. Dylan plays his videogames, sometimes hidden in cupboards, while his father drinks and yells at him until his mother comes home from work at which point his parents target each other instead.

Dylan is teased by some boys on those asinine tiny motorcycles while Kylie is taunted by older, experienced girls in the neighborhood (pushing a baby carriage), who wonder how far she’s gone sexually with Dylan. These two kids appear destined to spend their winter holiday avoiding their families and wandering the streets of their dismal Irish town.

Returning from a walk, Kylie’s face reflects horror as she sees a motorcycle parked in her driveway–”look who’s come to see you,” her mother says. It’s her Uncle and a series of heavy-handed filmmaking tricks including an ominous shadow, a shot of his boots while she hides under the bed, and her reaction to “give us a kiss” tell us all we need to know about what kind of man he is.

Dylan puts in headphones after his mother comes home to silence the her screaming at his father. The fight escalates and Dylan finds himself in between his parents as they trade punches. He throws his beloved Nintendo at dad, breaking it on his forehead. And then he runs upstairs for his life.

Kylie has been listening in to the argument and because she’s the coolest next door neighbor girl ever, finds a ladder and puts it up to the bathroom window where Dylan has hidden himself. A narrow escape, followed by some property damage, and the two kids are running off vowing to never return to their dismal and depressing home lives.

Though the neighborhood rumor tells the tale of a father murdering a son, Dylan is sure that his runaway older brother is living in Dublin and they set out to find him. They are 11-years-old. They have about $100, which Kylie found in a sibling’s shoe.

Getting away from their homes, even just a few miles, seems to lighten their spirits, the soundtrack, and the audience’s mood. It isn’t for another 20 minutes or so that we realize that color has been added to the film in slow, subtle ways. Like the further they get away from their side-by-side houses, the brighter the world seems. Your subconscious will feel something changing before your eyes notice something changing.

They hitch a ride with a reluctant waterway captain who in the space of an afternoon, provides more parental warmth than either child has probably experienced in their whole lives. This is also a part of Ireland that we’ve never seen. The captain is moving a dredge from their small town waterway to the mouth of a river in Dublin. Along the way, Dylan will learn about and hear his first Bob Dylan song performed with a strong accent by the boat captain. They will learn how to tie knots and how to work the boat locks and the proper impression of a monkey. It is magical. They might not have a plan once they reach their destination, but getting there is nothing short of soul-cleansing. Fictional characters have been taking trips down rivers by boat for centuries. It always seems to do the trick.

The almost unbelievably-kind boat captain gives Dylan his official jacket and off the two kids go to find his older brother on the bright, but harsh streets of Dublin.

But first, they have money and time on their hands. A haircut, sweatshirt, and his and her heelies are important enough to spend money on. Scenes of the two (who quite frankly are more accomplished at this skill than any real-life kids I’ve seen) rolling quickly and gracefully through a crowded shopping mall are beautiful and fun. They are just kids after all. And being kids, they spend their last money on gummy snakes, neglecting to plan any future meals.

There are long passages of the film without dialogue, using hand-held cameras and fantastic music which make us forget the brutality the kids have left behind, if only for a few minutes. When one of them gets down, the other picks them back up. When Dylan thinks their search is hopeless, Kylie continues knocking on doors. When Kylie has a very serious scare, it’s Dylan who rises up to save her.

Kelly O’Neill and Shane Curry are so fantastic in these roles that it’s almost scary. O’Neill plays Kylie as a brave, wise, talkative, fiercely loyal best pal to Dylan. It is impossible not to fall in love with her. Every boy wants someone like Kylie watching over them. Her home life may be the only one worse than Dylan’s and she vows much more strongly than he that she’ll never return. Curry plays Dylan as an asthmatic boy who turns his pain inward, having no friends but Kylie, and no enjoyment besides his videogame. He spends a great deal of time pouting and it usually takes the energy and work of Kylie to get him to break out of his funk. These two actors are crazy talented for being so young.

The story on paper seems incredibly depressing. Abused, poor kids run away and become targets for all manner of adult malfeasance in the big city of Dublin as they try to find a ne’r do well older sibling without money or a roof over their heads. But somehow, kids make it through hardships of all kinds.

There are plot issues I had trouble with. Let’s just say that the boy’s skill using his new shoes ends up probably saving Kylie’s life. And most adults they come into contact with are more than nice to the pair, they all seem to be able to impart a bit of wisdom, perhaps some food, and maybe a few coins and a song. Bob Dylan even gives them a beer to share as he waits to return to a stage for an encore.

Besides the manipulation of color based on the characters’ mood, we also got swirling camera work when the kids were playing, and scary dark alleys when the kids weren’t playing. The music was uniformly great and included a few Bob Dylan songs performed by both actors and the man himself. Also, for the first time that I can remember, there were subtitles, but only intermittently. When they stopped about 10 minutes in, I thought it was another film maker manipulation whereby he thought that we were comfortable enough and could follow along from that point forwards. But then they returned in most cases, and I began wondering if he only subtitled the most important dialogue. By the end I came to no great understanding of why they were sometimes there and other times they weren’t. Luckily, the actors’ faces really told us everything we needed to know.

The feeling of the film, the child-like wonder that is still evident, regardless of past experiences–the optimism and energy of youth, and the idea that with one loyal friend, the world can be taken conquered. All of this was in the faces of the two young leads. The conversations were realistic and age-appropriate. The ending left some questions unanswered. There was hope hidden within all the bad stuff we see.

Even the final scene which included a clenched fist that turned into a hug, a shared smile, and a blown kiss, were perfectly paced.

Go see it.

6.9 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

KISSES

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LORNA’S SILENCE
2008

July 22, 2009
Press
Belgium / France / Italy / Germany
French / Albanian / Russian
105 Minutes — July 31, 2009
Drama
Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne [The Child]
Arta Dobroshi plays Lorna

We are immediately dropped into these characters’ lives. We are trusted to catch up on our own. Without someone spelling out every character and every motivation. This fact alone makes the first moments of LORNA’S SILENCE compelling. Lorna is at the bank where she makes a deposit. She is married, though clearly unhappily, to a man named Claudy, whose emaciation tells us that he’s an addict of some sort. Lorna is as cold as can be to this man. What has he done (besides get hooked on smack) to make her treat him this way? We are mostly in hand-held closeups at this point–in fact, this “you are there” quality will make the whole experience of the film much more visceral.

Claudy is clearly in terrible shape. He’s looking for companionship from Lorna, trying to get her to play some cards with him before bed. She then announces, I’m going to bed, adding “are you coming?” Which throws us for a loop as her body language, stoic face, and coldness towards him doesn’t exactly spell marital bliss. Alas, he needs to get his bed roll out of the other room and she sleeps in her bed while he tosses and turns out in the living room while trying to kick heroin–and not for the first time. This sounds like every other junkie-trying-to-clean-up movie that’s ever been made, but this heroin portion of the film really isn’t important. The film is about so much more.

They live in a dismal, drab apartment. She continually pulls out her ID to tell people she cares about that she’s “nearly Belgian.” The story becomes more clear. She has married Claudy in order to get a green card. She’s Albanian. The terms of the arrangement are spelled out: $5,000 Euros for marriage and $10,000 Euros for a divorce. Lorna is in a hurry for this divorce because it will be her turn to get paid when she marries “The Russian”, a crime boss of some stature. And so on, and so on, and so on.

What if you wanted to immigrate to a new country, but couldn’t do it legally? A sham marriage might be just the ticket. But the authorities are used to such capers, so it would really help Lorna’s case for divorce, if her Belgian husband abused her. But he can’t. So desperate and lonely is he, that her occasional tiny displays of caring and compassion mean everything to him. Perhaps she’s been supportive in prior attempts at quitting drugs.

There are harrowing scenes where he demands that she lock him in their apartment while she goes to work as a drycleaner so that he can’t leave to make a buy. Even more hard to watch are the scenes where Lorna pleads with Claudy to beat her, so that she can file a police report and get her divorce quicker. But he won’t. So she’ll have to bruise herself and blame it on him. But she’ll need a witness.

Lorna seems dead inside most of the time, but her eyes come alive with sparkle during the few meetings she has with her boyfriend, Sokol, another immigrant who is always traveling here and there to pick up whatever work he can. They all answer to Fabio who has the connections, the seed money, and the gun to run the whole enterprise. This is a story about the people we don’t notice. It reminded me of DIRTY PRETTY THINGS.

If Lorna claims spousal abuse, she’ll be questioned thoroughly, but if her husband were dead (he is a junkie after all), wouldn’t that make the whole situation a bit easier? Lorna wants to be rid of Claudy, she wants the $20K the Russian has promised, she wants to be out from under control of Fabio, and she wants to open a cafe with her beloved Sokol. But to her horror, she realizes that she has a conscience. If Claudy overdoses by his own devices, she can’t be held morally responsible. But if he really tries to get clean, asking her for help, doesn’t she have to support his decisions? Things aren’t as easy as they first appear.

This film is full of magnificent little moments. Claudy’s treatment ends and he promises to cook Lorna dinner. She receives a letter from a judge telling her that her divorce is final. Claudy, though expecting this to happen eventually, is not okay with it happening so soon, and puts on his jacket in order to go out and meet his connections. She refuses to let him go and he must physically fight her to get out of the apartment to score dope to drown his sorrow at losing his sham wife. This is a wordless scene that lasts about ten minutes. They awkwardly wrestle, she grabs him, she throws his key out the window after locking them both in, and then she reverts to the only urge that can possibly challenge the need for heroin. It is an incredibly touching scene–something I won’t soon forget. She is giving herself to him for comfort, for congratulations, for her own guilt about taking advantage of him, for thousands of other reasons. No dialogue is necessary.

This is actress Arta Dobroshi’s first major role and she is magnificent. Her big eyes are perfect at projecting hope, fear, apathy, and desperation. A scene where she’s questioned by some cops is a superb use of few words going a long way.

The film unfolds as a sort of mystery. Who is The Russian, what is the relationship between the two people who share the apartment, why does Lorna deposit money in the bank? The Dardennes make us do the work in finding out. It is easy to believe that Lorna was living her life in Belgium well before we started following her. There is a feeling of us sort of happening by, the camera picking up her story by accident, though it could be many immigrant’s story.

The last ten minutes play better as metaphor than as plot and I’m not sure they’re successful. But the rest of the film is spectacular.

8.4 Metacritic
7.3 IMDB

LORNA’S SILENCE

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2008

July 21, 2009
Press
USA
English
97 Minutes — August 21, 2009
Documentary / Music
Davis Guggenheim [Relativity; NYPD Blue; ER; The Shield; Deadwood; An Inconvenient Truth]

Jimmy Page. The Edge. Jack White.

Guitar players have no reason to read any further. Take the day off work or school, and find the loudest movie theater you can. Go ahead. The film was made for you. It’s like “guitar porn.”

Led Zeppelin fans, I’m about to say something to you that will make you stop reading and head to your nearest theater. Non-fans probably won’t know why it’s a huge deal when I tell you that Jimmy Page will take us to see the hallway / staircase where John Bonham recorded his “WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS” drum parts. Off you go, now.

Jack White fans. Unfortunately, due to my, er, age, I need to report that I have absolutely no frame of reference for White or The White Stripes or any of the other half-dozen bands he plays with.

And finally, for U2 fans, I’ll give you two reasons: 1) You will see “The Bulletin Board” at Mount Temple Comprehensive School; and 2) In Edge’s kitchen, he will put an old cassette in a player, mutter “not sure what this is”, and we will hear a 4-track recording of an early run through of “WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME” complete with extra high-hat, and Bono in the background counting out “4-5-6! 4-5-6!” to the rest of the band trying to figure out Edge’s rhythm structure. A perfect edit takes us whooshing to the Slane Elevation show just as the lights come on, and as I sat there in open-mouthed amazement, I realized that none of us have seen that show on a big screen before.

If you’re a student of musical history, the director, Davis Guggenheim, could scarcely have found three better guitarists to follow. James Patrick Page is 65; David Howell Evans is 47; and John Anthony Gillis (more on that name later) is 34. Page was there for the very birth of heavy metal, 60s Prog Rock, the era of the sessions guitar player, and his band had their own plane, “The Starship”, some 30 years before U2’s Elevation Air took off. Edge proves to be a good tour guide on the political influence of music, how punk rock made attitude as important as musicianship, and the cost of sonic perfection. White leads us through a depressed Detroit, hearing in blues music from the 1930s an expression at the anger he felt in the late 1980s when you were looked down on if you could play an instrument.

I need to get my own prejudices out of the way.

1) U2 is my favorite band. I’ve seen them more than 50 times, my first show being in 1984 in San Francisco. I have never waited for an autograph from any other celebrity of any kind, but I have waited for the band, both backstage, and at hotels. When I talk to close friends, many of whom I’ve met because of our love of the band, we still marvel that somehow, way back, we chose the “right” band to fall in love with. My first show was 25 years ago, and I’ll be seeing them again in October. Same lineup. Bigger stadium. Still the biggest band in the world. One of the things I love about them is that they are, by far, the best example of a band being larger than the sum of its parts. To a ridiculous degree. Any one of the four of them on their own or in a different band would probably not inspire any of the adoration they now claim. Except, maybe Edge.

2) John Bonham died when I was 13 years old. People sometimes play that “What single concert do you wish you could have attended?” game. Music fans answer all over the place, Elvis’s ’68 Comeback Special, Beatles on Ed Sullivan or at Shea Stadium, The Who when Keith Moon was alive, that Motown TV show where Michael Jackson first moonwalked, Springsteen Born In The USA Tour at the Meadowlands, the Nirvana Unplugged show. U2 fans usually say Red Rocks or Point Depot New Year’s Eve or Live Aid. If I could go back in time, I’d go to a Led Zeppelin concert from 1977 or so. I’m not even sure it’d be a good show. Back then, people sat in chairs to listen to the 20-minute laser-aided compositions, while inhaling god-knows-what. (In March, 1975, they played a version of “DAZED AND CONFUSED” that lasted a butt-numbing 43 minutes.) But to just be in the room with them. What was that like? I’ve been in the room with U2 before and that was pretty cool. Much like U2 is greater than the sum of its parts, Led Zeppelin is probably not-quite-as-great as the sum of its parts. Because those parts are spectacular. John Paul Jones is a far better bassist (and keyboard player) than Adam Clayton will ever be. Bono has only recently challenged Robert Plant, in his prime, as a vocalist (though not lyricist—Bono wins there.) And John Henry Bonham is the best drummer that will ever live. Period. End of sentence. I had a Zeppelin poster over my bed until I graduated from high school. There is one important thing that Led Zeppelin and U2 have in common. When John Bonham died, there was never even a conversation that the band would go on without him. Can you imagine three of the members of U2 touring with anyone else but the fourth? Me neither.

3) I probably have one White Stripes album. As I went in to IT MIGHT GET LOUD, I thought that Jack was one of those “trying-really-hard-to-appear-to-not-be-trying-really-hard-to-be-cool kids. Why the hat, why the bowtie, why the old-fashioned car, why live in Tennessee? I must say I came out feeling the most differently about him, as he was the one I knew the least about. He also has the most to overcome. Page, Edge, White. One of these things is not like the others. Yet.

The conceit of the film is that three guitarists from different eras, with different backgrounds, and different styles, would come together in a warehouse to talk about their love of the guitar and music in general. And they’re bringing their guitars (and guitar techs—Dallas Shoo gets plenty of screen time.) This is referred to in the press notes as “The Summit”. Seeing three professional guitarists discuss their craft would probably be compelling enough, even if two of them weren’t my favorites. But this Summit is only a small portion of the film, and not the most exciting part. For those viewers looking forward to a concert recital by the three men, you may be disappointed.

We will spend a great deal of time with each of the three individually, in hometowns, guitar shops, next to record players, surrounded by amps, and in the backs of cars as they each take us on their own musical journey. While this can be seen as self-indulgent on Behind The Music, none of them come across as conceited. Which is weird because they’re superstar guitarists. The difference here, I think, is that they are reminiscing on behalf of the guitar. The participants know that the guitar itself is the star, not the player. We will visit places and hear songs important to the courtship of each man and his guitar. This isn’t a film about stardom; it’s a film about musicians.

It might be a good time to point out that we will never really hear one of the three say that they’ve been influenced by either of the other two. Edge won’t tell stories of playing along with Zeppelin records, White won’t even acknowledge that the other two exist, claiming instead to study early 20th Century Blues. But each of them will, to an incredible degree, give praise to dozens of players who came before them.

We get no clue as to whether or not the three men even like each other’s music. And this proves to be a help to the film, not a hindrance. There is no hero worship here (except by us and the director) and the three men have such different styles that none of them could be accused of stealing from either of the others. But it also leaves the meeting between the three as sort of cold. This was the first time any of the three had met, and it didn’t appear to be the beginning of any musical collaborations. In fact, I don’t think there is any way in hell that the three of them went out for a beer afterwards. I’d be surprised if any of them had spoken with any of the others since the film was completed. Again, the guitar is the focus, not the individual.

The credit sequence at the beginning tells you just about all you need to know about the direction the film will be traveling. With titles that mimic a guitar font somehow, we are treated to close-ups of shiny frets, razor sharp strings, and smooth, polished curves of guitars. If instruments can be made into porn, Guggenheim has done it. A Page voiceover says, “caress it like a woman,” and damned if the director didn’t sex-up the instrument with loving angles.

The first scenes are of Jack White on what I assume to be his Tennessee farm. A cow moos as he picks up a single string, a coke bottle, and a piece of wood. This MacGyver move results in a quick slide-guitar performance. This build-your-own aesthetic is something that is very important to Jack White.

We next see the three men headed towards The Summit. White and Page are in the back of town cars, while U2 fans will be proud to watch Edge drive his own Mercedes to the meeting. In Los Angeles, Edge has the home court advantage. The three men are probably being prodded from off camera about what they expect to happen. White sarcastically says “we’ll probably have a fistfight” and “I’m hoping to steal everything they know about guitar playing.” Edge is excited and hopeful. Page says “we’re bringing our guitars, so there’s no telling what could happen” and then says of Edge, “he is a sonic architect”, which is as good a description as I’ve ever heard for him.

Since this is basically a documentary about guitars, drama must be manufactured and we see a super-slow-motion shot of the three men, in unison, walking up three different stairs to the raised platform where the summit will take place. Begin and Sadat wish they would have been photographed as lovingly. Hands are extended, still in slow-motion, smiles are exchanged, and we leave the warehouse and go back in time.

Jack White is all about “overcoming” a musical instrument in order to get it to do what you want. He is also about cultivating an image. It’s no mistake that the White Stripes only used red, white, and black—White got the idea from both the Coca-Cola logo and the Nazi flag. White is sometimes a hard man to like. The biographical sketch we get in this film probably requires some fact-checkers before we take it as truth. He was the youngest of ten kids, growing up outside of Detroit, under poor circumstances. He had a seven by seven foot bedroom and in that bedroom were two drum kits, a reel-to-reel, and all his records. He claims to have slept on a mat laying diagonally between bass drums. Unlike the other two, White’s growing up story in the film is animated. We don’t see a childhood home, and in fact, White doesn’t give us a tour of many important places to him. At the time, he played drums because two of his older brothers were already playing guitar. Also, White says, “I have no interest in playing guitar because everyone else is.” He gets a job in an upholstery shop and he and his manager form his first band. His first guitar is payment from a thrift store for borrowing his van to move. He loved it. An interest in old blues music was born, and to this day, he claims that the Son House song, “GRINNIN IN YOUR FACE” is his favorite song of all time. The song features a man singing and stomping his foot and that minimalism appealed to White. He seems to choke up when he plays that song for us while holding the roughed-up album sleeve.

For some reason, White’s story includes a 9-year-old kid, dressed exactly as White is, learning about music from present-day White. Not sure who’s idea this was, but Old White kicks a Montgomery Ward guitar and then Young White does the same. This Montgomery Ward guitar will be one of many old, out-of-tune, and low-cost musical instruments that White collects.

He formed the group The White Stripes with his ex-wife Meg White. When they married, he took her name. While I’m in favor of his feminism in this move, he negates all of my good feelings when the press notes still refer to “his big sister Meg.” But when it comes to the music itself, I can set aside his dress, his cooler-than-thou-ness, and his “authenticity”. Because he says things like “making music should be a struggle” and “sometimes I put the organ four steps away instead of five so I have to run faster to get there.” And then he said something that will make U2 fans stop in their tracks. He claims that when the White Stripes toured, neither he nor Meg knew what the first song was going to be. They’d go out. And try something. And if that didn’t work, they’d stop and try something else.

There is concert footage of White in various bands, and he is really good. I know, newsflash, right. But he has a soulful, bluesy thing going that he has no right to have. The filmmakers captured a guitar solo during a show in Austin where White was so into the music that he didn’t realize (or did he?) that his fingers were bleeding all over his guitar. He was literally bleeding for his music. At a different show somewhere in the Northwest, a single camera is behind an amp, facing the crowd. It follows Jack as he plays and the crowd is jumping and pumping their fists and he’s manically playing and jumping around and then he turns and begins singing and the place goes nuts. White’s stage setup is substantially smaller than either of the other two participants as you might imagine.

Jimmy Page is seen as a 13-year-old kid playing the song “MAMA DON’T WANT TO SKIFFLE ANYMORE” on the British TV show “All Your Own” in 1957. One of the biggest laughs of the film is when a cracked-voice Page answers the hosts question about his post-school plans with “I want to do biological research.” And then the fun for Zeppelin geeks really begins.

Page gets out of a car at Headley Grange, a former workhouse outside of London. Page once claimed that the estate was haunted, and I don’t know if it’s true or not, but Robert Plant wrote the lyrics to “STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN” there in a single day, and Peter Gabriel likewise had no trouble with writer’s block as he wrote most of “THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY” there with other members of Genesis.

Now, Page is an old man, with a goofy grey near-mullet. He is a bit of a caricature of a retired country gentleman, bumbling about his estate, remembering the good old days when he ruled the music world. But it can’t be overstated what a production genius he once was. There are things he did in the late 60s and early 70s with no technological help that are still being used today in music recording. He believed in the maxim: distance equals depth. One of the most famous things that he did was to set up microphones both right next to the amps, as usual, but then he’d place a second microphone some 20 feet away from the first and mix the sound to be right in between the two. The sound of the room and the natural echo were just as important as the notes in many cases. He changed recording engineers for each Zeppelin album–he was completely hands-on as a producer. This changed on Zeppelin’s final studio album, “IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR” when the rest of the band would be happy if Page would come out of his drug stupor long enough to record anything. Page’s genius resulted in guitar sounds that weren’t like any others, and more importantly, he took the sheer strength and power of John Bonham and made him into the cornerstone of the band.

Page takes us inside the house and says, “this is the entryway, and there’s the staircase. This is where Bonzo recorded WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS.” Page looked all over the house for the right spot for echo and power and found it at the bottom of the staircase in the front hallway of Headley Grange. The microphones hung down from the second floor and everyone left the room and John Bonham played. Page claps his hands to listen for the same echo and recalls that after Led Zeppelin IV came out, bands began putting their drummers in all manner of industrial setting. Elevator shafts, cement basements, etc. all trying to capture the same sound.

We next find ourselves in Page’s country house as he plays us some of his records. This is giggle-inducing. Page saying, “listen to this part” and “that was extraordinary” while playing air guitar to old 50s and 60s hits. I couldn’t help but notice that on the shelves behind Page are all of the Zeppelin box sets that you were too poor to afford back in the 80s when they came out. Page will play “RAMBLE ON” in his living room.

Jimmy sits on an old chair in his backyard and plays a beat-up old mandolin. He’s playing “THE BATTLE OF EVERMORE,” outside, by himself and it sounds magical. During the Page portion of the movie, we see plenty of black and white footage and hear of the pain he went through once he realized that he was just a guitarist for hire. He would be called to this studio and that, without any connection to the songs he was playing. His skill made him much sought-after, but he gave it all up after one session where he realized he was playing guitar with the Muzak orchestra. In response, he formed The Yardbirds. The many years past have not lessened Page’s anger at the rock press, especially for their response to Led Zeppelin IV. “One paragraph—that album had Stairway and Levee and Misty Mountain Hop and Rock And Roll—and they could only write one paragraph.”

Bono-haters will be happy to know that he doesn’t appear on camera saying anything. Fans will recognize the first clips we see of Edge as he does Yoga on the roof of his Miami hotel while holding a Blackberry. We then go to Hanover Quay where Edge and Dallas try to lead us in a tutorial on the effects pedals. It takes both men to change the music to the exact sound Edge was looking for. If it wasn’t clear before this film, no Dallas Shoo, no Edge. Seriously. It’s to the point where Dallas can read his mind. Edge fiddles with something, Dallas stares, trying to remember this exact setting for the next time Edge wants it. Edge plays a bit of “GET ON YOUR BOOTS.” He also plays “ELEVATION” without any pedals and then with the full court technology press. Edge will play guitar at Hanover, at his house, at the warehouse, and on the Irish coast.

In Edge’s kitchen, he’ll pull out the 4-track of “WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME.” He’ll give us a tour of Mount Temple School, including Mr. MacKenzie’s music room, where Edge says the band pushed the chairs to the side and tried to make a ruckus. He also jumps up on the stage-like platform where the band would play early gigs. He jokes that he stood at stage right for a reason he can’t remember “and I have been ever since.” And then, set your watches, because you will see the early single “STREET MISSION” on the big screen in all of its big-hair glory. And, though it may require rewinding when the DVD comes out, a full five-minute ear to ear smile is seen on the face of the once-jovial Larry Mullen. Edge is filmed all over Dublin, providing his own voiceover. He’s on the docks at sunrise, and these scenes are interspersed with the October photo shoot on those same docks.

Edge remembers the lengthy guitar solos of the 1960s and 70s and how self-indulgent they seemed. We see a schematic of an electric guitar and Edge describes how he and his brother, Dick built it, right down to wrapping the magnets. He was an electronics geek even at a young age. He recalls first with frustration the fact that Top Of The Pops was the only TV show that Irish kids could watch to learn about and hear new music. Then he turns downright giddy when he remembers seeing The Jam perform on the show. Twice the same year. His life would never be the same. No longer was musicianship more important than attitude. Suddenly, the fact that the band couldn’t really play their instruments was no longer a detriment to their breaking big.

Edge recounts a trip to New York City with his family. “People looked and talked just like they did in the movies,” he says. He saw a guitar in a window and went in to play it. Here’s your U2 pullquote: “Twenty minutes in that store defined the sound of the band. I thought, this better work.” While we watch an animated guitar, amp, and effects pedal, Edge explains how he discovered that creative use of echo could fill in notes when he wasn’t playing any, resulting in a much more full sound. How he takes away notes from chords, making them more clear. This is the part that U2 cover band guitarists will rewind over and over again on home video.

Edge takes us to the house where the “WAR” album was written and some demos recorded. He was full of anger about the “Troubles” and was concerned that he couldn’t express that anger with his guitar. Bono said something to the effect of “Go off and find it, Edge” or something else equally Bonoesque. Edge goes on at some length about looking at trees in an orchard and suddenly realizing that this group of trunks and branches and chaos was actually lined up in perfect clarity. Or something. Edge’s introspection resulted in “SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY.”

And yes, towards the end of the film, Edge stands in front of the very bulletin board where a young Larry Mullen, Jr. placed a notice looking for students to join his band. Edge reflects thoughtfully on what would have happened if he hadn’t responded to that first notice. He says he’d still be playing guitar, but with whom?

They each get to perform for the other two at the Summit. Edge will play Elevation while the other two look on. (He gets credit for the title saying “This might get loud for a second” as he fiddles with his equipment.) White will play something as well, but the real fun, and my favorite moment of the entire film is when Page stands up, while the other two remain in their comfy leather chairs. Page coolly rips into “WHOLE LOTTA LOVE” and Edge jumps to his feet like a tweener at a Jonas Brothers concert, his smile huge, his eyes pinned to the fingers of Jimmy Page. White is a bit cooler and leans in, tapping his foot, and also staring. The two of them appear to be trying to decipher the mystery of the universe. Edge is standing and actually moving slowly towards Page while he plays, his over-sized brain taking in every nuance of the song. It was the coolest.

All of these individual stories of the three guitarists are divided up with footage of the warehouse and songs from each of them, and old clips and there are chapter titles for each new section. The editing is pretty perfect, showing us modern day images juxtaposed with how the person looked when they were just starting out. We hear the voices of the participants, see rare photos, and have the privilege of listening to dozens of songs. (Final stats: Page: 18; Edge: 20; White: 17)

The best chapter titles say simply “Edge’s Explorer”, “Jack’s Kay”, and “Jimmy’s Strat.” And then we hear about how the love affairs started. It’s always difficult to capture creativity in a film, but this one does a pretty good job. Each man asks “what if I…?” at specific points in his life, and that decision, coupled with hard work, gave them each a very lucrative career.

For a rock guitarist, Edge is by far the most normal of the three.

Page used to wear purple silk dragon-adorned pajamas, for pity’s sake. Page used a violin bow, Page had a double-guitar for “STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN,” Page bought the house of Aleister Crowley, Page used an actual theremin onstage, Page had a thing for barely teenage girls. White wears bowties and vests and guyliner, and took the last name of his former wife who he still refers to as his “Big Sister Meg.” Edge is thoughtful and polite and self-deprecating and by my estimation, we see much more of Edge and hear much more U2 music (Bass Trap! Passengers! One Tree Hill! Tomorrow!) than from the other two musicians.

We are left with three very different people doing the same job. Page and his cohorts in Led Zeppelin were responsible for many heavy metal clichés which are still laughed at today. Both the double-necked guitar and violin bow that Page required were mocked by the quintuple-necked bass and violin v. violin solo in Spinal Tap, (a clip of which we see). The “self-indulgent guitar solos,” as Edge refers to them, were a staple of Zeppelin shows. (Wait until you see the clip of a concert by the Edgar Winter Group.) Edge claims to have cried while watching Spinal Tap because he knew it was truthful. Punk rock itself can be seen as a response to Zeppelin and Queen and Yes and every other band who created 15-minute songs when a 2:30 Ramones masterpiece would do. Page brings this double-neck guitar to the Summit and see if you agree with me that Edge is sort of laughing at it as Page explains how it was necessary in order to quickly switch from acoustic to electric during “STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN.”

By the same token, Edge’s tutorial on his effects rack and several dozen pedals is immediately followed by White saying, “technology is the enemy of creativity.” White built a guitar in front of us and Edge needs his own carbon offset to play his. White fronted a two-piece band, and claims his favorite song was made by a man stomping and singing the blues. However, White enlists a guitar tech to mount a harmonica microphone inside one of his guitars so that he can grab it and sing through his amp. So he’s not the tech-hater he claims to be. White will bring this guitar to the Summit.

Page was often thought to be the single best guitar player in Britain, playing on many, many songs as a session player. White studied the old bluesmen. Edge admits to not having a particularly deep musical knowledge. Of the three men, (let the e-mails start), Edge is clearly bringing up the rear in terms of guitar virtuosity. Even the choice of songs the three men play with each other at the Summit tell us something about their proficiency.

The Page song the three play is “IN MY TIME OF DYING,” a masterpiece of slide guitar. This performance alone is worth the price of admission as Page slides like a master, Edge somehow harmonics it up, and White finds the blues. White’s song is “DEAD LEAVES AND THE DIRTY GROUND,” and he barks out orders to the others as they play. The Edge song chosen is “I WILL FOLLOW,” which Page and White could probably play with their eyes closed, but which wouldn’t sound like Edge. Edge has overcome musical ability with musical uniqueness. There are guitarists who sound like Page and White, but none who sound anything like Edge.

Having said all of this, I’m not entire sure that the film will work for everyone. Fans of any of the three men’s music, or the guitar itself will have themselves a ball. Musical historians can find something to enjoy in the way that music has evolved from 1957 until today. But for those who see the trailer and think they’ll be treated to a concert by the three men, think again. We see relatively little footage from this heralded meeting. Most of the information is compiled during the individual portions. The warehouse also features a box of records that we never hear. We can only hope that a DVD extra will be the complete warehouse meeting including songs listened to and played and any demonstrations the men did for each other.

When I walked out of the theater, I realized that my face was hurting because I had been smiling so much while watching it. I may have shouted (or at least mumbled) at the screen. You rarely get a chance to see musicians you love on a large screen, so it’s right to feel a little giddy when you can. I would suggest something that I normally never do. Go see this in the loudest theater with the biggest screen you can, even if you normally avoid the chains like a plague, as I do. This film needs to be felt and experienced. Don’t wait for the DVD.

7.3 IMDB [102V]

IT MIGHT GET LOUD

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2008

July 20, 2009
HBO
Canada
English
90 Minutes
Documentary
Paul Saltzman

Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954. Charleston High School in Mississippi finally integrated their single high school in 1970. In that year, the seniors had two proms. One for the white kids and one for the black kids. And that’s the way it continued until Charleston’s most famous resident, Morgan Freeman, offered in 1999 to pay for a single prom, provided it was integrated. He was turned down. So he tried again in 2008. This time the schoolboard and the seniors themselves said yes.

The high school has 415 students, 70% of whom are black.

The documentary crew gave cameras to a dozen or so students, probably the most outspoken of the group. All of the kids were fine going to an integrated school and living in an integrated town. At least all of the ones who appeared on camera. One white senior male was photographed behind a screen for fear that his family would see him brazenly say things like “I’ve had white lovers and black lovers and it’s what’s inside that counts.”

Whenever something comes up that speaks for the other side–that is, the racist side–the cameras aren’t there to capture it and we see events unfold with animation. People in this town may be racist, but they also are careful. A white girl claims that a black girl threatened her and then brought a gun to school the next day. We hear from the black girl but the white one is nowhere to be found.

A prom committee is formed and rules are established. One white girl resigns from the committee because she would not be attending the mixed prom, though she would go to one if it were white-only.

Meanwhile, the townspeople are reacting. We hear from several parents, who remember their own segregated proms. We meet one white senior girl (who looks to be about 14) who openly talks about her black boyfriend (who looks, maybe 15). They aren’t particularly demonstrative at school. They don’t hold hands in front of people, and neither has ever been allowed to visit the other one’s home. They claim to be in love, and with West-coast 2009 eyes, they seem like a naive, though cute couple. But to people stuck in the past in Mississippi, they might just represent the downfall of the human species.

The woman’s father is by far the most open about his thoughts on their relationship. He is one of those “you can either love me or hate me. I hope you love me, but if you don’t, keep to yourself and I’ll do the same” type of southerners. He claims to have plenty of black friends, but he feels like his girl will be hurt when she gets out into a real world that won’t approve of her boy choice. The boy’s parents take a more “be careful” approach. The man tried to punish his daughter by grounding her and taking her cell phone, but she stayed with the boy. As the school’s sole interracial couple, the prom has extra meaning for them.

We need tension, and it comes in the form of some parents paying for and holding a white-only prom after all. A meeting is held in someone’s house and two of our interview subjects recount being there and hearing a father say “no black boy is going to rub up all on my daughter at a dance” and they take off denouncing the meeting and the prom. Some white kids refuse to go, but others don’t. And the ones who went received much less scorn than I would have expected. They took dates to a party to which an entire ethnic group was excluded. And they didn’t feel particularly bad about it.

The white parents hire a lawyer who speaks to the film crews in their stead. He begins saying things that make them look worse while trying to make them look better. One obvious question for a lawyer is “why won’t those parents speak to us?” To which he replies “They don’t want to appear racist.” By holding a white-only event, they don’t want to appear racist. Nice.

Clips of Freeman driving around, clips of kids worried about dresses and tuxedos and big enough limos and whom to go with begin to take over. Beauty parlor scenes, texting, music apprehension. It all seems pretty normal.

One thing that isn’t easy to see is that just about everyone we see in town is poor. These kids come out of trailers and walk down milk crate steps while dressed in beautiful, colorful outfits. It seems like the town much more alike than the older generations would lead you to believe.

The film is most successful in documenting an anachronistic town, with a single small high school, who can’t seem to get their head around racial diversity and interaction, more than 50 years after the Supreme Court ruled on the matter.

8.4 IMDB

PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI

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SUMMER HOURS
2008

July 14, 2009
San Jose CA — Camera 3
France
French / English
103 Minutes — May 15, 2009
Drama / Family
Olivier Assayas [Clean; Paris, Je T’aime]

A woman celebrates her 75th birthday at her country home just outside of Paris. Her two sons and one daughter are there, as are her five grandchildren and housekeeper. She is concerned about getting old and takes her eldest son on a tour of the home, pointing out valuable art pieces and furniture and suggesting what he should do with the home and its furnishings when she’s no longer around. This type of conversation is always fraught with meaning and emotion, and the son puts off any serious discussion, but knows that he will some day need to take control as executor.

Mom dies and the siblings must decide what to do with the house. Frederic is the only one of the three who lives in Paris. His younger brother, Jeremy, works for the shoemaker Puma in China, where he’s just been offered a five-year committed promotion. Adrienne, played by goddess Juliette Binoche, is a artsy designer presently living in Manhattan. The home is full of artwork by their great-uncle, a man that the oldest can barely remember, but who the world remembers as a genius. Should they sell the house and auction the art or keep it as a family meeting place.

Anyone who’s been in a similar situation with their own family can relate to this issue. If you keep a home that few family members will be able to take advantage of, are you simply putting off the inevitable split that all families face? Should you keep it as the legacy of your beloved mother? What if one kid needs cash and another kid would rather have the family home available for use? How do the grandkids feel about visiting grandma’s house, without grandma being there?

On paper, this seems so dry as to be unwatchable, but somehow, director Assayas finds a way to show us exactly how these siblings interact. There are no black sheep, no one is out to get the others, no one is pilfering the really good stuff before the others can see it. But by the same token, no one is going to roll over and let the other two decide what’s best for them. They have three separate lives now and live on three separate continents. How will they come to an equitable conclusion?

The interaction between siblings is very honest. They kid, the get upset, they comfort each other. We don’t need them to say things out loud, we can watch how they deal with each other. The daughter isn’t serious about men, the younger brother has some guilt about living and working in China, the older brother has some anger about being put in the position to figure everything out.

There are three scenes that stick out in my mind.

–After the funeral, when all the siblings are in Paris, perhaps for the last time, they have a dinner at Frederic’s house. Wine is consumed, food is prepared (Quiche, natch), and the discussion begins in earnest about what to do with all that mom left behind. Frederic’s idea of keeping the house completely as it is, complete with housekeeper is met with differing levels of unhappiness by the other two siblings. Subtly, the wife of Frederic and the wife of Jeremy, realize that she should probably be in the kitchen instead of out at the table discussing the inner-workings of their in-law’s family. This was so realistic as to be shocking. One picks up a coffee cup, the other takes a dirty plate in. We see them in the kitchen, not talking, simply letting the three siblings reminisce and decide important things without their input. Anyone with in-laws know that they’re influence on family members is exercised behind closed doors.

–A group of art experts descends on the shuttered home and in one continuous shot, we go from room to room as the siblings and the experts go through art pieces, commenting on their relative scarcity and value, then we leave and go to the next room where pictures are being packed up and such. By the end of the film, you feel like you have some mental image of the layout of the home and its grounds.

–The teenage grandchild “borrows” the home for a party and another long continuous shot followers her as she flutters from group to group, unpacking food, changing the music, taking a hit off a joint, flirting with boys, etc. while in the background a surprisingly large number of kids arrives via moped, car, and bicycle. The girl feels every bit as powerful as her grandmother once did on the same land. The way the camera floats over everyone and notices things and moves effortlessly from room to room, not really focusing in on any one teenage participant in particular. The camera continues outside, down a hill, and to the swimming hole where some kids are cooling off. Really good stuff.

This film had no agendas, and the most important character was the house and its furnishings. Families might be destined to break up in our global world. I didn’t feel the filmmaker lamenting that fact, merely observing it.

After my grandparents died about 15 years ago, there was some serious thought to the rest of the family (their three kids, and we five grandkids) keeping the family cottage on a lake in Michigan so that we could continue to visit. But then we realized that the family was spread out in Seattle and San Jose and DC and the chances of us ever visiting again were pretty slim, especially as one big group. But the fact that even today we talk about that house, with its grassy hill, it’s murky lake water, the aluminum dock, makes us long for those days. We clearly don’t lament the loss of the house as much as the loss of our visits there with Grandma and Grandpa.

8.4 Metacritic
7.0 IMDB

SUMMER HOURS

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THE SIDE EFFECTS OF BEING AMERICAN
2008

Netflix Roku
USA
English
105 Minutes — May 30, 2008
Documentary / Sport
Chris Bell
12 Month Movie Pace: 152

Entertaining documentary about the hypocracy of America’s relationship with steroids. The main facts can be narrowed down to two. 1) What if steroids aren’t actually bad for you; and 2) If they are bad for you, why don’t we better regulate other drugs which are much more dangerous, but used much more widely and therefore encouraged, much less tolerated?

Chris Bell is the middle of three boys born in upstate New York. They come from a big-boned family. The oldest got a nickname early of “Mad Dog” because he got in fights with schoolmates who called him fat. The younger one had a learning disability and ended up with the nickname “Smelly”. They all became obsessed with TV wrestling to the point of putting on shows in their basement and even performing in school talent shows.

Then Mad Dog went to play college football where he was all but ordered to begin taking steroids. Which he has never stopped to this day. He is now 35 or so. He also had a career in the WWF as one of the guys who lets the stars beat up on him in the ring. The director turned 18 and moved to California to attend USC and to work out at the fabled Gold’s Gym in L.A. where his hero, Arnold, used to work out. His dream of WWF glory never panned out. Smelly is also a steroid user and competes in powerlifting competitions. (We see him bench press 705 pounds–unbelievable).

Somehow the Bell boys are a perfect “normal family” example which plays off well with all the well-known examples the director finds of steroid obsession. Bonds, Maguire, Conseco, Carl Lewis, Ben Johnson, Lyle Alzado, Hulk Hogan, as well as porn stars, Air Force pilots, Congressmen, psychiatrists, and medical doctors of all stripes. The medical doctors to a person are confident that steroids are as safe as any other treatment and can’t understand the mania around them. Congress spent more time talking about steroid use in baseball than Hurricane Katrina or health care.

Bell goes to an anti-aging clinic (really a chiropractor) where after a few rudimentary tests, which he does himself, he gets a package in the mail of injectable steroids. He visits researchers, Olympians, parents of teenage suicides, Mexico, a supplement store, and he even creates his own supplements with the help of three day laborers from the local Home Depot. For $4 worth of supplies, he can sell a bottle for $60 and there is absolutely no governmental regulation. He visits a photo shoot for a fitness magazine, he gets two pictures taken ON THE SAME DAY for a before and after mockup. Pouty bad posture before–smiling, spray tanned, shaved, and flexing after (along with some photoshop work).

What I’m saying here is he gets so many different perspectives on the need for Americans to look and perform their best (legally or illegally) that it’s a wonder he kept them all straight. Which he does. A particularly strong argument is the sheer number of prescription drug advertisements we see on TV and why those are fine, but it’s a crime to possess steroids. One lawyer says “Peanuts kill people each year–do we sue God for making them?” We then see a list of reasons for emergency room visits. Alcohol, cocaine, vitamin C, then way down in the 160s, steroids. Deaths by tobacco: 435,000, alcohol: 75,000; steroids: 3.

We see George C Scott in Patton, Stallone in all kinds of things, Arnold in Conan and Predator. What’s a boy in America to do? Even GI Joe has completely changed from a normal looking guy in the 70s to a buffed beast today.

A documentary like this takes a taboo topic and asks “what’s the big deal?” In many ways RELIGULOUS did the same thing.

Very well done.

8.0 Metacritic
7.8 IMDB

Bigger, Stronger, Faster* @ Amazon

BIGGER STRONGER FASTER

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2008

July 11, 2009
San Jose CA — Cinearts Santana Row
USA
English
131 Minutes — June 26, 2009
Action / Drama / Thriller / War
Kathryn Bigelow [Near Dark; Blue Steel; Homicide: Life On The Street; K-19: The Widowmaker]

An excruciatingly intense film about a bomb squad unit in Iraq. Bomb squad movies are always a little tense, from THE ENGLISH PATIENT to any movie-of-the-week where the characters aren’t sure if they should cut the blue wire with the white stripe or the red wire with the yellow stripe. THE HURT LOCKER will have none of that. These guys are professionals, with tools and technology at their disposal. Most times they disarm the bomb, save lives, and come back to base simply a little sweaty for the experience. Other times, the only thing left of them is charred hair inside their helmet, as one character mentions.

There is a ten to fifteen minute sniper scene in this film that can’t be overpraised. The men come to the aid of some English soldiers for hire, come under attack by a group of men in a far-away building in the middle of the desert, and must team up to fight back. The tension that Bigelow brings to this, from the generous use of time, from the silences, from the angles, from the shot into the scope so that we see a soldier’s huge eye, to a shaky hand trying to drink a juicebox, to the guy who may be a sheep herder or may be another sniper, to the question of whether any of them will make it out of their little crevice alive. It is stunning and worth the admission price alone. Film students will study this scene for years to come.

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THE HURT LOCKER is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 75. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 THE HURT LOCKER Discussion
• Break
• 27:52 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 28:30 BEAU TRAVAIL Discussion
• Break
• 36:00 The Last Five®
• Break
• 1:09:43 Listener Feedback
• 1:15:47 Credits

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9.3 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

THE HURT LOCKER

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2008

June 29, 2009
DVD Screener
USA
English
104 Minutes
Drama
David Spaltro

There are few e-mail scarier than the ones I sometimes get that say “I made a film which I am distributing by myself and I was wondering if you’d watch it.” After more than a decade attending the Cinequest San Jose Film Festival, I know just how many lousy, nay, unwatchable, films are made each year. Not a year goes by when I don’t shake my head wondering how on earth someone was given money to make the trash that just unspooled in front of me.

I can happily report that …AROUND (note the dots first) caused me to neither shake my fist at it, nor wish for my 104 minutes back. In fact, I am incredibly thankful to Director David Spaltro for introducing me to an actor named Rob Evans, who is charismatic and sexy in a Ryan Gosling/Ben Afleck/Edward Burns way. He seemed to be acting at a higher level than the others (and perhaps at a higher level than the material.)

The story would normally be another clue to send a viewer in the other direction. A guy moves to Manhattan, enrolls in a film school of dubious quality, runs out of money, uses credit cards to fund his cinematic vision, and ends up homeless but wiser for having met new people and experienced new things his suburban self wouldn’t have. The struggling first time filmmaker may be the single most popular storyline of struggling first time filmmakers. For obvious reasons.

Spaltro is not above having characters say things that would never be said. Witness two separate characters, one homeless, living in a train station, who somehow both know they exact highfallutin classic quote that our protagonist also lives by. That this understanding of great literature happens in a public men’s room doesn’t make it any less probable. But these mis-steps are few and far between.

I’m not as smitten with the main love interest, played by Molly Ryman, who I felt was out of her depth beside Evans. I did, however, enjoy a spunky actress (who may have been Indian-American), who we first meet having sex in the back of a car. She had an energy that seemed to suit the story. Saul, a homeless bookseller, is a welcome addition to the circle of friends. His character made me think of the real-life street people I’ve seen running a tiny business from a card table on the street.

The “homeless are people too” portions of the script didn’t override the story of a young man’s quest to live by his code, even if that code involved rotating several dozen credit cards and living under a roof only sporadically. Scenes where he picks up beauties in bars rang especially false due to the duct tape covering one of his Converses. I wonder if his target knew that he had showered that day in a shelter.

I look forward to what Spaltro does next. Word is that through some kind of distribution channel, this film should soon be available at both Amazon and Netflix. And then perhaps he can pay back all those creditors.

6.2 IMDB (43 Votes)

…AROUND

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2008

June 21, 2009
Cinemax
USA
English / Portuguese / Spanish
112 Minutes — June 13, 2008
Action / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Louise Leterrier

Sometimes you just want to turn on the dish and sit back and watch something. Back in the 70s, whenever I read comic books, I was a Marvel guy and not a DC guy. Those guys were snobby, what with their Superman and Batman. My two favorites were Spiderman and Hulk. I like the whole “big guy misunderstood and forced to turn green due to others’ stupidity” of The Incredible Hulk. I’m sure I’ve seen every episode of the Bill Bixby series.

But here’s the thing: CGI has not risen to a level whereby a normal-sized man (Ed Norton) can change into a guy 30 feet tall and still make it believable. Say what you will about Lou Ferrigno in green makeup and torn pants, but at least he was a human being and so was Bixby. Once Norton gets the green eyes, they at first try to hide Hulk, but then we see him and its a cartoon that runs around fast with swooping cameras and quick editing which tries to confuse us enough so that we’re not really sure what we’re seeing.

The plot isn’t bad. I didn’t see the Ang Lee version, so I don’t know if this is a continuation or not. Banner is living in Brazil, hiding from some kind of governmental authority led by William Hurt. He sends his blood into an unseen scientist who tries to get him to try different experiments in the hopes that it will cure him. He is discovered and when the special ops team Hurt assembles proves to be no match for a 30 FOOT MONSTER HUMAN, he calls in Tim Roth, for some reason. Roth volunteers to be experimented on and this leads to the number one plot device in comic book history: the evil twin. When Hulk and Bad Hulk fight, I just wanted it to be over. It was all just too loud and ridiculous.

Norton tries the best he can to bring some kind of intelligence to the proceedings but he’s no match for helicopter gunships and CGI where no human actors are required.

6.1 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

Incredible Hulk @ Amazon

THE INCREDIBLE HULK

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A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER
2008

May 27, 2009
Download
USA
English
95 Minutes
Documentary / Crime
Kurt Kuenne [Drive-In Movie Memories; Validation]

By some reports, the most powerful documentary ever viewed by human eyes. Entire theaters full of people sobbing, unable to leave the theater after it was over until composing themselves. I can’t really dispute that claim, though I wonder if the story itself is powerful or the film-making execution. Kurt Kuenne, a local guy, set out to film the story of his friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby so that his unborn son could learn about him. Allegedly, Dr. Bagby was murdered by his off-kilter (duh) substantially older than he girlfriend. The film alleges that she drove from Iowa to Pennsylvania without stopping, all the while calling him from a cell phone. For thirteen hundred miles she drove and called, but he never answered. She shows up, they meet, she shoots him with a gun she didn’t deny owning. Then she drives all the way home again without stopping where she gets on her home phone and calls the man she just killed in order to leave a message on his voicemail thereby establishing an alibi. At first she denies seeing him, then she changes her story to say that she handed him the gun and then drove away, claiming that he shot himself. Five times. In the back. Then she flies to her hometown in Nova Scotia where she announces that she’s pregnant with her murder victim’s baby.

Here’s the thing about this film. Murders happen all the time. This guy was nice enough, sure, and there’s ample footage of him acting in the films of his buddy Kurt when they were boys. And there are groups of people ready to speak to the camera about how warm he was. But what’s different about this story is that almost to a person, man, woman, old, young–when they begin speaking about him, they inevitably begin crying. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. And that’s because there’s much more to this story than we are let in on, but the interview subjects are privy to. In deference to spoilers, I won’t say what it is, but it’s revealed as if it were THE SIXTH SENSE or something.

This is where the controversy arises. This film makes Michael Moore’s work seem positively objective. This film is exactly the opposite of the Maysles Brothers or Barbara Kopple or even Errol Morris. The days of a documentarian simply turning on his or her camera and letting the story tell itself appear to be over. Kuenne has scary music and closeups of words in court documents like “murder” and he does the voiceover and he often sobs while speaking and there are flashes of red and he ridicules governmental officials and the murder suspect with language and footage and attitude. Like Moore does with Bush 43.

So what we end up with is a documentary, about a compelling subject, which is every bit as manipulative as a Ron Howard sweeping-score-telling-us-what-to-think fictional drama.

Make no mistake. I was absolutely riveted. My mouth was agape during several portions. I talked back to the screen. I cried. I yelled. I actually paused the film and walked around for 15 minutes because I didn’t want to learn any more about the story. I can’t remember a documentary making me feel that way. There are hundreds of docs which cause outrage or sadness. But this one sort of grabs the outrage and sadness and anger right out of you while you’re watching. How much of that was due to technical know-how and editing brilliance and how much of it was due to the story itself, I can’t really say.

I can say that you won’t soon forget it and as soon as its over you can argue with yourself about the film-making style that Kuenne employs in the service of his story.

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DEAR ZACHARY is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 74. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 PUBLIC ENEMIES Discussion
• Break
• 17:39 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 19:27 DEAR ZACHARY: A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER Discussion
• Break
• 31:06 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 31:41 The Last Five®
• Break
• 55:11 Listener Last Fives (Scott in Florida and Cynthia in California)
• 1:04:02 Credits and Outtake

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8.2 Metacritic
8.7 IMDB

Dear Zachary @ Amazon

DEAR ZACHARY: A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER

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2008

May 23, 2009
Showtime
USA
English
87 Minutes
Documentary
Abby Epstein

My wife had a baby a little more than six months ago. This documentary was right up my alley. Because I’m a closeted hippie, I wanted us to get a doula. My wife was skeptical, thinking that I wanted someone else to do the work that I was supposed to do. The breathing, the backrubs, the control in the delivery room. But what I wanted was someone to be her advocate so my wife could concentrate on the whole bringing a new human life into the world thing. She interviewed several and we hired Vanessa (if you’re in Santa Cruz or San Jose and need a Doula, e-mail me and I’ll give you her info.)

I bring our doula up here because one of the first things she asked us was “do you believe your baby knows how to be born?” which was exactly what she should have asked. I’m the guy, I’m not pushing a huge baby through my birth canal, but it seemed weird to me that, though human babies have been birthed for thousands of years with no need for medical intervention, lately in the United States, it seems like childbirth has become some sort of ordeal which needs to be “neutralized” or “made more comfortable”. Again, cave-women leaned against a tree, squatted, and a baby came out.

Of course many of these babies died in childbirth, as did their mothers, but the way that the baby industry has completely gone bonkers in the other direction is cause for some concern. I was shocked to learn how many ways medicine intrudes on the birthing process. Shots are administered, eyedrops put in crying babies’ eyes, umbilical cord cut too early, women placed on back with legs up in complete defiance of their anatomy, painkillers administered into the spinal cord area, and most concerning of all, the rate of cesarean sections increasing every year. In the USA. Not the rest of the world.

What is wrong with us? That’s the question that is taken on in this documentary. Ob/Gyn’s are interviewed, most on the side of medical science, a few on the side of nature. Midwives are heard from, expectant mothers, babies are born on camera, and the magic of childbirth is pretty accurately captured. We spend most of our time in Manhattan which lends a bit of an elitist vibe to the whole thing. Since home births are rarely covered by insurance, we can assume that most of these women had the means to pay their own way. We see organizations fighting with insurance companies. We see stats that compellingly tell the tale that we have a terrible rate of childbirth death for such a rich nation.

In America, childbirth is thought of as just another “quicky procedure” like liposuction or a boob job. Why wouldn’t the modern, busy woman schedule her delivery down to the half-day if she could? Why wouldn’t a woman who takes an aspirin at the first sign of headache also long for the numbness that a epidural can provide?

Because childbirth isn’t an “ordeal” to suffer through. It is probably the most alive a woman can feel. There is a whole bunch of spiritual earth-mother warrior-woman stuff I’m thinking of but won’t write out here. I’ll just say that babies know how to be born. We should as a country stop getting in their way using the medical industrial complex.

It must be said here that had my wife and I tried a home birth, or even a birth center, the complications that we had would have probably resulted in my wife’s death. So the home birth thing isn’t for everyone. But it should be for thousands of women who want to take their power of reproduction back. Labor takes time, don’t let the doctor limit that time. Eyedrops are unnecessary. Birthplans written in clear, polite but firm language, are a must. It is your day, your birth, your health. You get to be in charge.

One note for the squeamish. I didn’t find myself watching this doc through my fingers as I often do when I see other surgical procedures.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go watch porn and NASCAR to get my penis cred back.

6.3 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

The Business of Being Born @ Amazon

THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN

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2008

May 23, 2009
HBO
USA
English
92 Minutes — June 6, 2008
Animation / Action / Comedy / Family
Mark Osborne & John Stevenson

Prepare For Awesomeness

Jack Black made this more enjoyable than it probably had the right to be. Creative use of Chinese-seeming art design. It may be culturally inauthentic, but I didn’t notice the difference.

7.3 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

Kung Fu Panda @ Amazon

KUNG FU PANDA

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A STORY FROM THE DEEP SOUTH
2008

May 23, 2009
PBS — P.O.V.
USA
English
86 Minutes
Documentary
Katrina Browne

7.2 IMDB

TRACES OF THE TRADE

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2008

Camera Cinema Club
USA
English
93 Minutes
Mystery
Jeffrey Goodman

There Comes A Time In Your Life When You Want To Be Exactly Who You Are.

6.1 IMDB

THE LAST LULLABY

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2008

May 3, 2009
HBO
USA
English / Hawaiian
111 Minutes — April 18, 2008
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Nicholas Stoller

A Comedy About Getting Dumped, And Taking It Like A Man

6.7 Metacritic
7.5 IMDB

Forgetting Sarah Marshall @ Amazon

FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL

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2008

April 28, 2009
Download
France
English / French / Albanian / Arabic
91 Minutes — January 30, 2009
Action / Crime / Drama / Thriller
Pierre Morel
Liam Neeson [Excalibur; The Bounty; The Mission; The Dead Pool; The Good Mother; Next of Kin; Darkman; Husbands and Wives; Schindler’s List; Nell; Rob Roy; Michael Collins; Les Miserables; Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace; Gangs Of New York; Love Actually; Kinsey; Batman Begins]

His Daughter Was Taken. He Has 96 Hours To Get Her Back.

Neeson on phone: I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.

Bad Guy after long pause: Good luck.

Greatest trailer in history? Maybe. It got me to watch to see if this movie could possibly be as bad as it sounded. It was.

Take a look at the difference between the critical response and the user response scores below.

5.0 Metacritic
8.0 IMDB

Taken @ Amazon

TAKEN

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2008

April 26, 2009
HBO
USA
English
93 Minutes
Documentary
Carl Deal & Tia Lessin

Oscar Nomination For Best Documentary

7.5 IMDB

Trouble the Water @ Amazon

TROUBLE THE WATER

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2008

April 17, 2009
DVD — Thanks, Nazhat S.
USA
English
90 Minutes — October 3, 2008
Comedy / Drama / Music / Romance
Peter Sollett [Raising Victor Vargas]

6.4 Metacritic
6.9 IMDB

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist @ Amazon

NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST

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2008

April 8, 2009
Download
USA / Germany
English
121 Minutes — November 7, 2008
Comedy
David Wain [The Daily Show; Keeping The Faith; The Ten]
Paul Rudd [Clueless; Romeo + Juliet; The Cider House Rules; Friends; Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy; The 40 Year Old Virgin; The Ten; Knocked Up; Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story; Forgetting Sarah Marshall]

Danny and Wheeler were just sentenced to 150 hours mentoring kids. Worst idea ever.

This one can be filed in the “could have been much worse” category. Man-crush Paul Rudd makes this story bearable. We get a ten year old obsessed with boobs, a medieval role-playing dork, and a guy who responds to a woman’s “I’m kinda engaged” with “I’ve kinda got a boner.” I laughed a lot, and I only feel moderately embarrassed about that.

6.0 Metacritic
7.3 IMBD

Role Models @ Amazon

ROLE MODELS

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THE CLASS
2008

March 19, 2009
San Jose CA — Cinearts Santana Row
France
French
128 Minutes — December 19, 2008
Drama
Laurent Cantet [Time Out; Heading South]

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THE CLASS is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 67. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:

• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 THE CLASS Discussion
• Break
• 15:15 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 15:43 The Last Five®
• Break
• 41:54 Listener Last Five® (3)
• 55:53 Credits and Outtakes

~~
~~

9.2 Metacritic
8.0 IMDB
8.1 Critical Consensus

The Class (Entre les murs) @ Amazon

THE CLASS

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2008

March 15, 2009
Camera Cinema Club
USA
English / French / Wolof / Spanish
91 Minutes — March 27, 2009
Comedy / Drama
Ramin Bahrani [Man Push Cart]

8.7 Metacritic
8.2 IMDB
8.2 Critical Consensus

GOODBYE SOLO

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2008

March 8, 2009
Cinequest 19
Switzerland
German
92 Minutes
Comedy / Musical
Oliver Paulus

Strange mishmash of an alpine village and a Bollywood musical story. Somehow, it works. Lighter than the altitude, characters, all of whom are blonde, begin dancing in a supermarket while a noticeably brown Indian in town with a film crew, sings to the camera about love and food. Madcap, slapstick, romantic. The crowd couldn’t have laughed any louder. Everyone left smiling.

5.2 IMDB (94 Votes)

TANDOORI LOVE

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2008

March 7, 2009
Cinequest 19
France / Belgium / Liberia
French / Child-Soldier-Patois
97 Minutes
Drama / War
Jean-Stephane Sauvaire

Notes:
Simply doesn’t let up from the moment the black screen tells us the title. On a frenetic pace not seen since CITY OF GOD. Boy soldiers, dressed in all sorts of costumes (wedding dress, superman, boombox around neck, top hat) roam around Liberia killing and raping and cheering about it. The true story is probably even more harrowing, but this will do for now. Women are raped, limbs are cut off, and the boy soldiers yell all the time. And that’s the once flaw I found. It was a one-note film. It is shaky cam and loud and on coke and young girls are sexual partners, all of which is well and good filmmaking-wise. But I’d like a few different paces, some down time to reflect on what I’ve seen and to get my heartbeat back where it belongs. I’d like a character to speak in a normal tone of voice. Maybe for five minutes, and then we can start the carnage and bloodshed again. And I don’t want the girl rape victim to change into a willing participant half way through the encounter.
None of what I’ve just written is as good as Jarrod Whaley’s take on his favorite film of Cinequest 19.
There are images in this film I’ll never forget, but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed them.

6.8 IMDB

JOHNNY MAD DOG

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CUT LOOSE
2008

March 7, 2009
Cinequest 19
Belgium
Dutch
100 Minutes
Drama
Jan Verheyen

Notes:
Belgian pushover works for a tabloid newspaper where he is given the “wacky story” of the day. He visits a group that helps new immigrants to help them assimilate into Belgian society. Of course there’s a Palestinian woman and of course she’s beautiful–and single–but will she be nice to him only so she can emigrate? Our hero has a perfectly beautiful supportive girlfriend at home and we don’t know why he leaves her for the new woman–could it be her exotic foreign-ness? Her non-blondness? Her big brown eyes? Protagonist gets an interview with a reclusive rap star / social activist who sings for the downtrodden. The sensibility is all over the place. He speaks to the camera, he learns about racism, he stands up for himself, he deplores violence, he treats his alleged love of his life in subtle racist ways. Oh yeah, and his grandpa wants to kill himself as dementia takes over. Not hard to watch, but sort of unnecessary.

6.3 IMDB

CUT LOOSE

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THE MAN WHO LOVED YNGVE
2008

March 7, 2009
Cinequest 19
Norway
Norwegian
98 Minutes
Drama / Romance
Stian Kristiansen

Notes:
1980s music references in this film: The Smiths; Combat Rock; Joy Division; Jesus and Mary Chain; REM The One I Love; The Cure Just Like Heaven; Ever Fallen In Love With Someone You Shouldn’t Have Fallen In Love With; Just Like Honey.
This film has the greatest Rock N Roll girlfriend of all time–beautiful, passionate, drinks with the boys, goes to band practice, cries when boyfriend tries out new song on guitar, often initiates sex. Because I wish I was in a band and I wish I had a Rock N Roll Girlfriend like Cathrine, I’ll mention that she’s played by a woman named Ida Elise Broch. Look for her. Even this example of cool femaleness isn’t enough for our hero when a new blonde god arrives at school. They first talk in the lockerroom shower, of all places. Those crazy Norwegians and their lack of inhibitions! The band plays songs like “Pussy Commie Anarchy”. They are a rock trio. And they’re pretty good. Our hero is angst-ridden about being in love with two people. Blonde boy is sometimes shot in super slo-mo with sun shining down on his beautiful hair. The pacing is great. Jarle, the guy we’re following, speaks to the camera to get us up to speed on what era we’re watching. The new boy, besides being handsome, shows Jarle some of his sketchings. Music is interspersed throughout. The boys practice, deal with family issues, buy pot, the usual. Jarle and Cathrine have good sex, he can perform. He makes mix tapes for people he cares about, male and female. And who exactly did he write that heartfelt love song for?
Cute story about boy loves girl, boy gets girl, boy also loves boy, which takes place before bands seemed to be unhappy with their success.

7.4 IMDB

THE MAN WHO LOVED YNGVE

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THE BEAUTIFUL BLUE DANUBE
2008

March 6, 2009
Cinequest 19
Serbia
Serbo-Croatian / English / German
107 Minutes
Drama / Musical
Darko Bajic

Notes:
Formula: Cabaret + Shortbus + Irreversible = BEAUTIFUL BLUE DANUBE. Started as a multi-language sex romp as a cruise ship departs carrying all members of the sexual spectrum who will learn something about themselves behind the doors of their staterooms. The staff offers food, beverages, and sexual favors for all paying guests. There is also a nightclub show where incredibly beautiful bodies perform in various states of undress. A widow is ready to awaken her long dormant sexuality, a husband branches out with his new male lover, a woman seduces, then tries to sign a young, hot author to a contract. The crew hustles for tips. The envelope-pushing is welcome, the freak flags are flying, the bodies writhe and can dance and everyone is happy, if a bit nervous. There is orgasm and flirting and drinking and a little blow. We are happy, we are gay (often literally)–and then there’s the story of Carl. An incredibly rich, pathetic, mopey guy who knows why he gets girls. He pays them. He checks in and the new girl is sent to him. He calls her a whore, he pretends to engage in conversation until he bluntly asks for oral sex. I’m still fine as a viewer. They have a struggle, trying to gain the upper hand in the dance of dominate sex. I’m still okay. They slap each other, she calls him names. They are play-acting and I’m okay. They wake up bruised from a night of semi-violent passion, I’m fine. But everything goes to hell when he chases her into the dining room where he rapes her in front of the rest of the passengers. For more than five minutes, screaming, tears, horrified guests–five minutes–and the lightness and playfulness vibe is shattered–and people walk out–angry at the film–and at the very end, a bit of a shared wink at the camera–which was most definitely not earned.

7.0 IMDB (57 Votes)

THE BEAUTIFUL BLUE DANUBE

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THE INVESTIGATOR
2008

March 6, 2009
Cinequest 19
Hungary / Sweden / Ireland
Hungarian
110 Minutes
Crime / Drama / Thriller
Attila Galambos

Notes:
Incredibly dead-pan pathologist dates and works without cracking a smile. He favors one word answers and seems to take pride in his job, putting on makeup carefully and helping discover how people died. He has a “relationship” with a cafe waitress with whom he sees movies without reacting in any way. She likes him and wants to have sex (or “get together”) but he replies that he “doesn’t get together.” One day a man offers him $50,000 to kill a person. Our hero’s mother is dying of cancer and he needs the money to send her to a clinic in Sweden. He is cool, doesn’t speak much, is desperate for cash, and comfortable around dead people. A perfect person to ask. He commits the crime and then begins learning about the victim and several ties he may have had with the deceased. Its a why done it, rather than a who done it. What could the dead man have done to have made someone want to kill him. Fabulous, mostly on the strength of the main actor, Zsolt Anger (a misnomer if ever there was one). I’m adding this to my Netflix queue.

8.2 IMDB

THE INVESTIGATOR

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THE TOUR
2008

March 6, 2009
Cinequest 19
Serbia / Bosnia and Herzegovina
Serbo-Croatian
108 Minutes
Action / Adventure / Comedy / War
Goran Markovic

Notes:
The Bosnian War. A formerly glorious acting troupe, in need of a change of scenery (and some pocket money) embarks on a tour of the divided country. The manager insists that they’ll be thought of as heroes from Belgrade coming to help the troupes with morale. They arrive in a huge Bosnian Hummer-type vehicle after dodging mortar fire. An indifferent general has, of course, changed the itinerary. They will play once in town and they again at the front lines. Mis-steps ensue. Some humorous. Some funny in a more “we’re all in this together, why are we shooting each other” way. It turns out that no one cares that these actors have appeared on a TV series. Music is terrible. Bad news is telegraphed by single low note on a piano.

7.9 IMDB

THE TOUR

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2008

March 5, 2009
Cinequest 19
India
English / Hindi / Urdu / Gujarati
101 Minutes
Drama
Nandita Das

Notes:
Slickly produced story of Hindus and Muslims in India who can’t get along. We hear stories of Indians brandishing swords and burning people and raping thousands. But every Indian blames those “Jihadist” Muslims for the trouble. They are brought up to hate. We see a vast cross-section of people from rich business owners to a small Muslim child who witnessed his whole family being killed by fire and sword. The rich people, like many in America, believe their money and breeding put them above any racial or religious differences. The one mixed marriage is a couple of rich people. Also two young women are friends though one must pretend to outsiders that she’s Hindu.

7.4 IMDB

FIRAAQ

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2008

March 5, 2009
Cinequest 19
Pakistan
Urdu / Hindi
103 Minutes
Drama
Mehreen Jabbar

Notes:
Bratty Pakistani Hindu boy explores a bit too close to the Pakistan/India border and is detained by Indian soldiers as is his father who follows to bring him back. After strip searching to determine their religion, they are transferred to a jail where “everyone wandered close to the border.” Mom/wife tries to get them back but they aren’t registered and therefore can’t be traced. A year passes quickly. The father and son learn the prison culture, Ramchand goes to prison school and gets a crush on his teacher, who is less than thrilled to be teaching a member of the Untouchables class.

8.0 IMDB (191 Votes)

RAMCHAND PAKISTANI

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Written by Michael W. Cummins