Archive for the “2008” Category

AS SIMPLE AS THAT
2008

March 4, 2009
Cinequest 19
Iran
Persian
97 Minutes
Drama
Seyyed Reza Mir-Karimi

Notes:
Attractive wife-mother is polite to everyone she meets. She timidly offers advice when people insist, she is highly thought of. She may even be a genius. But we’ll never know because she is stuck in the rut of obedient housewife. Her eight-year-old daughter would rather sing along with songs on the radio than learn how to cook from her mother. Her son is even less enamored of his mother, insisting that he can get to English class on his own by using cabs. Her husband is invisible but we know he’s an architect or engineer. They aren’t wanting for much. People borrow from her household because they have it and Taraneh is always willing to help. Quiet, the woman has much poise even though everyone around her is acting psychotic. She keeps an incredibly even keel, even while packing her things in a suitcase and calling a “Koran helpline” where on two occasions she is hung up on. There is a big wedding going on upstairs and a very pregnant neighbor continually reminds her of a life she thought she’d have. When she is asked to bless the wedding for the young couple because “she’s so happily married” its all she can do to not break down. She also dabbles in painting and has begun writing poetry, although its clear that none of her family or friends have any idea. She seems to have just one real friend, a woman who lives apart from her husband and daughter and runs a clothing boutique. A self-made woman who isn’t afraid to be alone. Is the grass greener?

8.9 IMDB (23 Votes)

AS SIMPLE AS THAT

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THE MARKET: A TALE OF TRADE
2008

March 1, 2009
Cinequest 19
Germany / Turkey / UK / Kazakhstan
Turkish
93 Minutes
Drama
Ben Hopkins

Notes:
Clearly has a Turkish sensibility. “God-willing, I’ll make a lot of money on this deal.” Everyone wants a deal. Gambling and drinking man doesn’t want to be part of any larger group of shady businessmen. His wife is supportive of most of his business efforts, though she shakes her head at the gambling and drinking. When a local doctor asks him to find some much needed medicine, he is off across the border in search of it. He is embarrassed to tell his wife of the no-profit deal. She tells him heaven will reward him for his good deed.

He risks his life to go get the medicine. And he hopes that when he gets back he can open the mobile phone story which he feels will be his ticket to wealth.

7.1 IMDB (41 Votes)

THE MARKET

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FINNISH TANGO
2008

March 1, 2009
Cinequest 19
Germany
German
90 Minutes
Comedy
Buket Alakus

Notes:
This film could never be made in the USA. Is it exploiting the disabled or empowering them? There’s a fine line. Downs Syndrome woman wants sex and offers to pay. A man with MS play-acts his own suicide. Our “hero” steals and ID from a guy at a bus stop with no arms. We know our guy will come to love this motley crew of special needs adults, but how long will it take and what about the cutie who runs the group home?

A young man, in love with his accordion, suffers the death of his band mate, becomes homeless, and has no job until a headhunter tells him that if he were somehow disabled he could get a job right away. He’ll need a disabled ID, which is why he steals one from the armless man at the bus stop.

Even though our protagonist is a total dick at the beginning (including saving his accordion from a car crash instead of a second buddy), we can’t help but feel like he’ll be redeemable by the end of the film.

6.4 IMDB (42 Votes)

FINNISH TANGO

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ESTHER’S INHERITANCE
2008

February 28, 2009
Cinequest 19
Hungary
Hungarian
90 Minutes
Drama
Jozsef Sipos

Notes:
The photography is milky–like a 1970s porno from France or Sweden. The location is a vineyard house kept in the family and wanted by an unmarried daughter and son-in-law Lajos who everyone agrees is a scoundrel. In fact, words like “scoundrel” come up often in this film. There is a lot of angsty conversations between characters. All centered around the pure or impure heart of Lajos. Did he marry who he loved? Did our heroine, Eszter, commit the sin of not following her heart truthfully or did the late sister really steal the love letters without Eszter or Lajos’ knowledge?

Before Lajos shows up, no one has a kind word to say about him. He preys on women’s hearts and men’s wallets. He owes the whole town money, it seems. He “borrowed” one man’s watch for five years. He switched a family heirloom ring with a cheap immitation. By the time we see him, he’d better be charming. Once he arrives, we see him fall into old patterns, but he in now way deserves the kind of worship that he’s been given. No way.

Lajos will cross a room to stand by Eszter as she gazes out the window in contemplation of her life. She’ll emote and then move to a different window while Lajos tries to woo her all these years later. Beautifully shot, but doesn’t amount to much.

6.9 IMDB (69 Votes)

ESTHER’S INHERITANCE

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FOR MY FATHER
2008

February 28, 2009
Cinequest 19
Germany / Israel
Hebrew
98 Minutes
Drama
Dror Zahavi

Notes:
Wow. Powerful and hopeful and about Israeli-Palestinian relations. It doesn’t solve anything, but it does personalize the conflict, right down to one young man. Tarek straps on a bomb belt in the first scene. He is asked questions by his conspirators. Are you ready? Yes. Eight o’clock in the morning in a crowded market. Then, since they don’t completely trust him, they attach a cellphone so they can remotely blow him up if he loses his nerve. He is young, good-looking, well-spoken, and a soccer prospect of some note. But his father is in a jam with an extremist gang.

Meanwhile, over on the Jewish side, things aren’t so great either. A gorgeous young woman with pink hair and tattoos and a short skirt runs a shopping kiosk. Keren and Tarek strike up a tenuous friendship. She is estranged from her father–Tarek is far from his father. She is threatened by a group of ultra-traditional Jews who don’t approve of her lifestyle. Meanwhile, an old man named Katz runs the local hardware store and when Tarek’s bomb switch doesn’t work, he goes there to get a new one. In exchange, he’ll fix the leak in the roof that Katz has neglected. Tarek is invited to stay for dinner at his home. Everyone is connected. Tarek is the only Arab in the story, but he begins to see the vast cornucopia of Jews as he comes into contact with them. The sad girl, the bitter old man, the orthodox gang, the community safety inspector.

The relationship doesn’t go where you think it will. The tension of the bomb belt is constantly felt. I was most impressed and when the two young people share headphones on the beach, your heart will break into a million pieces.

7.4 IMDB (43 Votes)

FOR MY FATHER

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A POLICE ROMANCE
2008

February 28, 2009
Cinequest 19
France
French
95 Minutes
Stephanie Duvivier

Notes:
Female police chief of average at best looks falls for young trainee and confuses her work life with her personal life. After a particularly harrowing gunpoint situation, a messy hookup takes place. The chief is married. The recruit is highly sought after by women. Drug dealer plot isn’t really clear. Bad cops and bumbling cocky head of narcotics unit. Teenager is afraid to talk to cops. His mother is attractive lover of narcotics head. Grandma tries to get cops to stop the drug trafficking in the projects where they live. The film tries to do too many things at once.
Chief’s home life isn’t great. Her husband doesn’t find her attractive. The young recruit reignites a passion in her. The drug story is hard to follow. At first no one cares about the projects being overrun by dealers until, suddenly, they do care. They shoot a guy at the public pool and piss everyone off, but later they shoot a different guy at the public pool and everyone’s a hero. Narcotics guy is bad, then he’s good. Well-acted and nice use of Arab-French relationships. The entire film takes place during the night shift. We never see the town in the daytime.

7.4 IMDB (15 Votes)

A POLICE ROMANCE

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2008

February 28, 2009
Cinequest 19
Argentina
Spanish / English
252 Minutes
Miriano Llinas

252 Minutes long. Get your head around that. What would you expect from a more-than-4 hour film in Spanish which takes place mostly in Argentina? Here’s the thing: there isn’t a single moment that drags. It’s the most amazing thing. We basically follow three different stories. The characters’ names are H, Y, Z. The fact that we don’t know their full names is just one of the charms. But what makes this film a particularly fulfilling experience is an almost perfect use of narration. And the use of time. Which is hard to explain. We’ve all seen films that use length of shots to their advantage. We’ve all been programmed to expect shots of a certain length. We notice when a filmmaker holds a shot longer than expected. Wong Kar Wai and Gus Van Sant to name a few. But director Miriano Llinas goes us one better. He holds a static shot for a long period of time, but he also films the shot from way, way back. So far away in fact that we can’t really tell who’s who. So in comes the narrator to tell us. “The farmer’s name is Rey.” [pause]. “He will hide a briefcase in a hay-bale” [pause where nothing happens and Rey doesn’t do anything]. “Here he goes.” [finally, Rey moves towards the hay bale]. This happens over and over. The narrator tells us what’s about to happen, nothing does, then the narrator says, okay now it’s going to happen. It’s a type of narration whereby the person could be sitting next to us and showing us a story that he filmed. This is hard to explain but a pleasure to experience. “The fat one will go to the truck and get a shotgun”. We wait from far away for what seems like five minutes “There he goes.” Then we see the fat guy go to the truck to get the gun. The narrator tells us what’s happening, sometimes WHILE it’s happening. This could seem simplistic, but for some reason it works pretty well. He also will explain a huge story about a minor character, with backstory, dreams, dark and happy experiences. We’ll spend ten or 15 minutes on these characters and at the end of the vignette, the narrator will say “this had nothing to do with what we’ve just seen” or, in a particularly funny scene, after a man has gone on and on about his theory of a crime, the narrator comes on to say “Every word he just said was wrong, he was correct about this crime in no way whatsoever.” So the narrator (and there are a half dozen) is there to correct wrongs, clarify plot moves, and explain what we’re seeing. The script for this film (setting aside it’s length, even) must have been much longer than usual. There is so much voiceover. Plot-wise, H is on a boat going up a river to settle another man’s bet. X witnessed a farmer’s murder, and is holding a stolen briefcase while holed up in a motel. Z is new in a management position and begins investigating the man who held his position for the previous 20 years. But those plot points in no way go far enough in explaining what’s going on, because with all the time we’re given to get to know these people, we can watch them do things slowly, in real time. A man watching the world outside his window; a man explaining the personalities of his co-workers; a man who is ridiculed by his colleagues but sets out for revenge; a woman who can easily manipulate the men in her life; the story of a gold heist gone wrong—each of these is given the time and energy they deserve. There are few loose ends.

Notes:
Perhaps the find of the festival. Nothing dull. I needed to see what happens next. Fantastic storytelling. Never dragging. Narration is perfect storytelling. “Nothing much happens”…long scene…”then it does”…long scene. Or “The fat man will go to his truck.” But on the screen nothing changes for a long 45 seconds. Then we see the man go to the truck. Narrator: “there he goes.” The scene is five minutes long with the narrator telling us what is about to happen just before it does, sometimes way before it does. The director tells us through narration and shows us through action. Hard to explain how well this works. Action sequences are done with a series of still photos. This is probably to save money. Rumors of a $50,000 budget were thrown around before the show started. It was more than four hours long. We got a break near the middle. Will the stories come together at the end? Will they go off in tangents that don’t mean anything? Which character should we most care about? This film has perhaps the best use of a narrator in movie history. It was like sitting next to someone late at night while they spin a yarn.

If you get a chance to see it, do.

8.5 IMDB (66 Votes)

HISTORIAS EXTRAORDINARIAS

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ANOTHER MAN
2008

Cinequest 19 Screener
Switzerland
French
89 Minutes
Drama
Lionel Baier

Black and White. Stark. Covered with snow. Francois and his girlfriend, Christine have recently moved to a sort of backwards hamlet in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. He took writing classes in college and carries around a resume to show the printer of the local weekly paper. The man doesn’t need to see a resume. As long as Francois can write, he gets the job. One of his duties for the paper is to attend the weekly screenings held at the town’s only movie theater.

First up: LAST DAYS, the Gus Van Sant film based upon the final few days in Kurt Cobain’s life. Francois has no idea how to feel about the film. Does he like it or hate it or is he indifferent? He simply can’t answer. To be fair, LAST DAYS is not exactly and easy film to quantify. My first words about it in the summer of 2005: “I’ve had nearly a week to digest this. And I’m still not sure if it’s merely good or fantastic. It’s like watching a dream. People move about and do things without needing to push the plot along.

He comes across a magazine called “Travelling”, which is an incredibly high-fallutin cinema journal along the lines of FILM COMMENT or CASHIERS DU CINEMA. Rather than figure out his own thoughts on the film, he copies the published review word for word and turns it in as his own.

Luckily, not many of the townspeople are cinephiles and none of them have read “Travelling” so his secret is safe. However, the high-minded magazine doesn’t like any of the films that the single theater has chosen to show. He refuses to lower the bar on “his” reviews and is subsequently banned from the weekly screenings. So he takes it upon himself to drive into the cosmopolitan town of Lausanne where he attends press screenings with all the local critics. He begins believing that he is a great critic. There is an incredibly sexy critic named Rosa Rouge who is on to his game immediately, but would rather sleep with him and demean him than let his secret out of the bag.

Cue the Swiss-French sex scenes–in a theater, and hotel room, complete with chopsticks.

Francois at one point says, “I have no opinion on anything–I haven’t been taught to.” And that is the essence of the film. Francois is surrounded by critics with opinions and when he appears on an NPR-type radio show, the entire panel speaks except for him. Do the professionals really know more than the man who has nothing to say?

Robin Harsch (Francois) and Natacha Koutchoumov (Rosa) are a charismatic pair. She’s bratty and know-it-all. He’s a puppy dog with nary a thought in his head.

ANOTHER MAN (UN AUTRE HOMME) will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here: http://www.cinequest.org/event_view.php?eid=457

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ANOTHER MAN

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THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE
2008

Cinequest 19 Screener
Canada
French / Inuktitut
102 Minutes
Drama
Benoit Pilon

Tiivii (you’ll recognize Natar Ungalaaq’s angular face from THE FAST RUNNER) is an Eskimo living on a rushing river in the far north of Canada with his wife and two daughters. It is 1952. A French medical ship anchors and the natives board it for a check-up. Tiivii is found to have a lung disease. His family is sent away as he is taken on a two month boat ride to Quebec City for treatment. His biggest worry is that his family won’t have enough to eat. “Who will hunt food for them?”

Upon arrival at the modern hospital, it becomes clear that no one on the staff speaks his language and he doesn’t know any French. His hair is cut and his native clothes are disposed of. The doctors can’t explain to him what his sickness is, but through some pantomime and the use of a calendar, Tiivii is told that he may need to stay in the hospital for two years. He is placed in a ward full of coughers, who look at him in wonder. The first meal he’s supposed to eat while in the hospital? Spaghetti. For a man who’s never used utensils.

This fish-out-of water story continues until, after missing his family terribly, he makes a break for it. He sleeps in barns, sings traditional songs to himself, and tries not to freeze to death. He is brought back and mounts a hunger strike. His dismal life in the hospital becomes much better when a kind nurse transfers a native orphan to his hospital. He is fluent in both French (“you know the White language? Yes, it’s easy”) and Inuktitut. The boy teaches him about modern life and he teaches the boy hunting techniques and tells him stories passed down from generation to generation.

There isn’t a whole lot more to the plot than that. There is two-way culture shock. A piece of raw salmon is almost giggled over, while a Christmas feast barely registers. Male-female social conventions are tested. And a strong bond is formed between the man and boy, who are both unsure of their place in a large, French-speaking city in Canada.

The incredible face of Ungalaaq is so expressive and honest that not much more needs to happen. When he says he misses his family, there isn’t a doubt in our minds. This film tells a unique story. There are no good or bad guys. Everyone is trying to help Tiivii. But he wants to get back to his tent and his family.

THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here: http://www.cinequest.org/event_view.php?eid=511

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THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE

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2008

February 17, 2009
Cinequest 19 Screener
USA
English
102 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
John-Michael Thomas

A group of good-looking, but geeky, 20somethings meet in a warehouse loft to play online video games. To say they take these games seriously would be quite an understatement. Right away, the jargon is going to be tough for those of us outside the target age group. But before we throw up our hands in frustration, the screen freezes and two of the characters explain to us what the hell they’re talking about. Characters speaking directly to us is just one of the ways that CORPSE RUN tells its story.

This group is plugged in. They live in Los Angeles, they pursue their dreams in the daytime–singer, actress, investor, management trainee–but they only feel alive when they gather with each other (and beer, junk food, extremely fast computers) to defeat other teams in an online universe. They are the self-described “second best team online.”

Much like people you know in real life, everyone in the movie has an online handle. Adama, Liberty, Chucky, MichaelVox. Just kidding about that last one. When not playing videogames (reasons come up–the online universe is down for maintenance, the electricity is out, the sun is out) the group sits around and tries to explain and solve the problems of the world. Which would be grating in most movie instances, but isn’t in this film. That’s mostly due to the extremely capable cast of unknowns (at least to me). Another thing that keeps this introspection from being excruciating is that the characters themselves realize that they’re full of shit.

The musician knows he’s probably not much better than the other thousand bands in Los Angeles at any given time. The actress, while attractive, can’t perform in auditions and begins looking for another job. A young videogame magnate realizes that he’s stopped calling games art and begun calling them business. In one memorable scene, one character explains to his boss at what appears to be every single office job I’ve ever held, that what his boss thinks is 3 weeks of work, can be completed by a halfway intelligent young person in three hours. And then he goes off on a rant about “his generation” being able to multi-task and figure things out and they are better equipped and smarter and have access to more information and all the rest of the things that people born in the 1980s sometimes say in online essays (or their blogs). The result of this character’s inspiring story about how much different the new boss is from the old boss is that he is fired. He is no good at his office job. He talks an extremely good game, but can’t execute that gameplan.

The film has video game theory, style, and music throughout. When a kid is told that the Challenger disaster will be the defining moment of his generation, his voiceover counters with “Fuck the Challenger, my generation was defined by the Nintendo Entertainment System.” Scenes begin with quotes from the guys who brought us Pac Man and Donkey Kong.

Two characters have a meet-cute in a diner after one uses an obscure anime reference and the other answers back with a different, though equally obscure, anime reference. Love is born.

For computer geeks, this group seems relatively well-adjusted. They are no more messed up than any other 20s group. They get outside. They play poker, they aren’t rendered mute around attractive women. In fact, they are probably substantially better looking as a group than any real group of kids gathering in the dark to play games on a LAN. The main love interest (the anime twins) have a sweet and realistic courtship. They talk about ice cream and movies and games and their dreams. They walk on the beach and pretend they’re superheroes. Each of the couples in the film (there are two others) are sweet and awkward and realistic. The larger group has become a sort of family for all of these kids who have come to Los Angeles from other places, mostly.

There is a very well done scene which takes place in one of the canyons where a Myspace alert has brought other gamers out of their homes for a kegger. There is drinking and a bonfire and laughter. And then there is a game of capture the flag. Sega v. Ninetendo. And the Hatfields and McCoys never had so much unbridled hatred for each other. This is just another example of videogames permeating the lives of these characters. A diatribe against John Madden for somehow becoming the most powerful person in videogame history is also particularly funny.

As a filmmaker, director John-Michael Thomas (who appears in the film as anime boy / aspiring singer) tries all kinds of things to prove that we’re not watching a normal narrative. There are quotes on the screen, the characters speak directly to the camera, in several scenes a videogame arrow appears above a character denoting his importance, there is text on the screen instead of filmed footage (EXT — Characters walk into bar), and there is a Zelda-type quest that three characters take to a mysterious cave where they play in a live-action text-based videogame from back in the day.

In terms of plot from A to B to C, it’s not really there. A few of the characters change, but in most cases we don’t know what happens to them. Life goes on. Online life goes on online. Characters pontificate about their place in the world, but aside from the technology at their disposal, generations of humans have been arguing about their place in the world since we left the cave. They are no different.

If I were 15 years younger, this would probably be one of my favorite films ever. I cheered when I saw an actor playing Nolan Bushnell, I oohed at the Atari 2600, I swooned at the fake DOOM screen showing a character attempt to fix the electrical grid. But the rest of the gaming stuff was a bit over my head–which is exactly where it should be. I’m too old to be worried about my generation’s place in the world. I’m simply trying to live in it.

CORPSE RUN will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here: http://www.cinequest.org/event_view.php?eid=472

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CORPSE RUN

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2008

February 14, 2009
Cinequest 19 Screener
USA
English
86 Minutes
Comedy / Crime
Julian M. Kheel

Three devious schemes; three badly executed heists; and a pawnshop with one surprising treasure.

Every year that Cinequest comes around, I sort of have to split my personality as a viewer. Half of me remains the snobby holier-than-thou viewer, seeking out the darkest Ukrainian dramas about life’s futility and documentaries whose sole purpose is to anger or delight me enough to physically pull others into the theater to experience what I just experienced.

But the other half of me at Cinequest (this will be my 13th year), when dealing with ultra-independent American films, has come to realize what the festival is here for. Cinequest looks for fresh faces–filmmakers who will go on to greater things. We get early exposure to them and can remember future superstars when they could barely hold a camera straight or keep a narrative flowing to save their lives. There is also the whole social aspect of the festival–there are parties and the chance to see and meet semi-famous people, there are casual movie fans who are looking to impress their dates, there are dinners and cocktails before and after the screenings–and this is where I differ from the crowd.

I have rarely, if ever, enjoyed a dinner and cocktails, and then headed to a movie. Or at least any movie where any thought was involved. Spiderman? Yes. Frozen River? No. However, on those rare occasions when I venture to the movies on a Friday or Saturday night, I am typically surrounded by buzzed audience members who insist on continuing their dinner conversations in the darkened theater. I personally need to be alert, sober, and ready to be taken wherever the filmmaker wants to take me.

But Cinequest is different for me. I still don’t drink-first-view-later, but I understand that there are parties and people are spending their money in a down economy at one of the many fine San Ho restaurants. There are also first dates being planned whereby one party will prove to the other party just how much of a film buff they are by taking a chance on a movie none of their friends have heard of. There are aspiring young people filmmakers and artsy seniors who finally feel like the Camera 12 is their venue–at least for the 11 days of Cinequest. For some filmmakers with movies in the fest, this will be the furthest they get. For others, it’s merely a stepping-stone on the way to greatness. People will come into theaters late and leave early. People will get texts, answer them, and then go to the next-door screen where a friend has told them genius is unspooling. People will sit in aisles, stand against walls, laugh at jokes that they’d never laugh at in a normal multiplex, and ask questions of filmmakers which have no basis in the reality of the film they just experienced. That’s become a bit of a sport for me. Watching something I hated and then waiting for someone to attempt to impress his or her companion by asking a question about the director’s influence from Bunuel or Ozu or Kiarostami. It’s all I can do to not laugh out loud. At Cinequest 18 I sat next to a girlfriend sitting on her boyfriend’s lap for a 130 minute film. By the end, I thought she was at least half mine. Needless to say, she went home with lap number one leaving me, lap number two to enjoy the next film uncovered.

What all that means above is that I have come to realize that there are certain films which appear to be made especially for this kind of melting pot of an audience. Snobs, hipsters, old folks, wise-beyond-their-years teens, NYU grads, and people who wandered into the wrong theater by mistake make up quite a schizophrenic group of viewers.

But CAPERS should make almost all of them happy. It’s a perfect Cinequest comedy. It tries new things, it stars people who you think you’ve seen before, it looks good, but not too good, it’s plot is easy to sum up in both a Tweet and in the big program with the woman putting on (taking off) her face. There are a lot of laughs, some minor girl-on-girl action, hip hop rhymes, and stone-faced Soviets.

CAPERS has four easy-to-remember sets of characters. Connie is an over-the-top racist mafia widow who runs a pawnshop with her semi-retarded grandson. The Amateurs are over-the-top robbers who dress and act like they’re from a 70s movie, down to the Popeye Doyle hat on Danny Masterson’s head. The Moolies (I didn’t realize that it was okay to name a gang after an Italian insult directed at black people, but this film claims that it is) are over-the-top small-time crooks who dress and act like they’re filming a rap video. All the time. They wear colorful outfits, carry a huge boom box, and hold their guns sideways. Every time they enter a scene, music plays loudly and the familiar MTV font appears at the lower left of the screen. The third group of crooks are referred to as the Sputniks who act as if the cold war hasn’t ended, wear drab clothes and live in drab surroundings, and have no discernible sense of humor. Each of the gangs has had interactions with Connie, each has noticed that she keeps a safe in her shop, and each has decided that the safe must contain something incredibly valuable. Each gang plans a can’t-fail robbery of the place.

Here’s the cool and unique thing about CAPERS: whenever the Amateurs are on screen, the film uses lenses, film exposures, angles, clothing, and language as if it were filmed in 1974. This same idea was tried, less successfully, by Tarantino and Rodriguez for their Grindhouse experiment a few years back. The Amateur scenes have poor splicing, a 70s soundtrack, hairs on the camera, and long, grainy shots. It is actually quite a feat.

Whenever the Moolies are onscreen, the picture is razor-sharp, the music is loud (so loud that in one scene two characters continually yell louder than the music until one of them gets out of bed to turn it down), the clothes are loud, and the style changes to the slow-motion, fast-motion scenes we’ve come to expect from rap videos. There are slow-motion house party dances for no reason, the language is street, there is a blacked-out SUV, the beverages are all Diddy-approved.

Finally, the Sputniks are kept in black and white. Sparse language, spoken with a Rocky and Bullwinkle accent, a robot-like woman trying to be sexy, and static camera shots.

Somehow, director Julian M. Kheel keeps all the balls in the air. The Amateurs try to gather a team together (“you need a tall guy and an oriental for computer skills and karate”), the Moolies shop for weapons at a Hassidic plastic explosives store (“we’re open until sundown every day but Saturday”), and the Sputniks try to buy Uranium at their local hardware store. Each time we join one of the teams, the entire frame is changed to suit the style of the group. This works to fantastic effect, but it’s more than simply a visual gimmick. The editing changes, the pacing changes, the soundtrack changes. Eventually, all three teams will have to be in the same place at the same time–what will that look like?

Plot-wise, CAPERS is nothing to shout about. There are enough jokes to keep us laughing, none of these teams are Oceans Eleven quality brain trusts. The object of their planning doesn’t seem like much, and many of the characters are complete cartoons. But sometimes cartoons are funny and can keep your interest for 90 minutes.

CAPERS is sure to be a Cinequest hit. The theater will be full of laughter and people will talk about it when the lights come up.

And there is nary a whisper about the futility of life in the entire film.

CAPERS will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here: http://www.cinequest.org/event_view.php?eid=470

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CAPERS

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2008

February 11, 2009
Cinequest 19 Screener
USA
English
87 Minutes
Documentary
Bestor Cram

Out Of Darkness, Comes Light.

When the “Man In Black”, Johnny Cash was stationed at an Air Force Base in West Germany, he watched a movie from 1951 called “Inside The Walls Of Folsom Prison,” which so inspired him that he later wrote a song about the prison, located just outside of Sacramento, California. The song, of course, is “Folsom Prison Blues”, which was released on December 15, 1955.

The documentary JOHNNY CASH AT FOLSOM PRISON will make the case that Mr. Cash may have heard an album by a songwriter named Gordon Jenkins who’s song “Seven Dreams” has verses which are a bit too similar to be coincidental. Regardless of Mr. Cash’s influences, the song became a hit, Mr. Cash began performing within the walls of prisons, and it was only a matter of time before he’d perform “Folsom Prison Blues” inside the actual Folsom Prison. He first performed there in 1966, and then on January 13, 1968, he returned with his band, the Tennessee Three, his wife, June Carter, Carl Perkins, The Statler Brothers, a photographer, and a sound recording engineer. There is no filmed footage of the event.

In 1968, Cash was just getting over his drug addiction and was looking for a comeback opportunity. He had been performing at different prisons around the country and writing songs written from an inmate’s perspective. For the Folsom show, he and his band spent the day before learning a song that one of the Folsom inmates had written called “Greystone Chapel.” It was written by a singer-songwriter named Glen Sherley, whose children appear in this film. Sherley was given a seat in the front row and was shocked when the famous singer began strumming the song that he had written.

The parallel stories of Sherley and Cash are quite compelling. One man lived a life in prison and the other got credit for singing as if he knew what it was like on the inside. Cash once told country star Merle Haggard, who spent several years in the late 50s at San Quentin, “people think I’ve lived the life that you actually have.”

The film is fascinating. We hear interviews with Cash’s bandmates, his children, former guards and two former inmates who were there that day. There is rare footage taken inside the present-day walls of Folsom. There are dozens of photographs of the event and some songs that weren’t released on the 1968 album. And somehow, though he died in 2003, we hear audio of an interview that Cash did about the concert.

The album, “At Folsom Prison” was an instant success, quickly selling half a million copies. It resurrected Cash’s career and increased his fan base. If you saw WALK THE LINE, you’ll probably remember the scenes that took place at Folsom as the most exciting of the film. I mentioned above that there is no footage of the show, so director Bestor Cram, finds images for us to see while hearing the fantastic songs.

One that sticks out for me is “25 Minutes To Go” where a condemned man headed to death row is recounting his last 25 minutes. The film uses black and white animation which depicts the words of the song. It’s an exciting song to begin with, that excitement is intensified by hearing it sung in front of inmates who whoop and cheer specific lyrics, and the animation only adds to the power as a man eats his last meal, is visited by a preacher, and begins walking up the steps of the gallows.

Then the sheriff said boy, I’m gonna watch you die;
Got 19 minutes to go;
So I laughed in his face and I spit in his eye;
Got 18 minutes to go.

The inmates go crazy as the song gets louder and louder, and faster and faster, leading to the execution of the character.

Now here comes the preacher for to save my soul;
With 13 minutes to go;
And he’s talking bout burnin but I’m so cold;
I’ve got 12 more minutes to go.

This clip has been posted on youtube, and if it’s still there, the link is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ey3-Rq9p5A

The film is full of these performances and insightful interviews. After 40 years, the impact of this live album is still being felt. When you think of other live albums and how they changed a band or singer’s career, the list really isn’t that long. U2 at Red Rocks. The Who Live At Leeds. Cheap Trick at Budokan. Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Bruce Springsteen had to compile several dates and several venues to gather the right material for their live releases.

Live At Folsom Prison can be held up among the best live albums of all time. Cash needed a hit after reaching rock bottom. The prisoners were excited that anyone, let alone country music royalty was performing for them and Cash chose songs that appealed deeply to the inmates. The film adds interviews with major players, the story of the other musician, inmate Glen Sherley, and we see how these concerts cause Cash to become an advocate for prisoner’s rights. There is footage of him testifying before Congress.

I can’t wait to see this again on a big screen with big speakers.

Johnny Cast At Folsom Prison will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here: http://www.cinequest.org/event_view.php?eid=497

JOHNNY CASH AT FOLSOM PRISON

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2008

February 7, 2009
DVD
UK / USA
English / French
94 Minutes
Documentary / Crime
James Marsh

1974. 1350 Feet Up. The Artistic Crime Of The Century.

Unbelievably compelling.

The story of a Frenchman–one of those juggler, unicycle, magician, street performer types who felt it was his duty to walk between the World Trade Center towers on a tightrope. He had previously walked on the Sydney Harbor Bridge and between the two towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

But the WTC walk required incredible planning, inside men, a bow and arrow, perfect timing, a team for each building, sleeping guards, fake id badges, and a lot of luck. And that was before the guy began his walk. One might ask how a film about a tightrope walk can be made exciting. I would have asked the same thing before seeing it. To make matters (on paper) worse, there is no moving footage of the walk. There are handful of stills only. And yet.

One of the many talking heads in the film is the man himself, Philippe Petit. So we know he survives. And he doesn’t appear to be speaking from prison, so he probably didn’t get a life sentence. And yet. We are riveted as he plans, argues, draws up designs, gathers helpers, and walks between the frickin World Trade Center towers.

Mr. Petit is a show-off. He is a loudmouth, he treats women poorly, he has no respect for the law. Because he feels he has a higher calling. How a walk on a rope can be called art, I didn’t know before watching this movie. But now I do. Petit tells the story of learning of the building of the WTC and believing that it had actually been built so that he could walk between it. It was designed and built so a man from France could come over and perform in between its towers. And as goofy as that sounds, you will believe it once you see it. It is somehow art. There is a beauty and a sense of awe. He appears to be dancing–1350 feet up.

As a story, it needs no extra bells and whistles from the filmmakers. But luckily, the style of the film is also superb. There are a few re-creations, there is enough original footage of training sessions and prior stunts for us to get an idea what it might look like in NYC. There are talking heads who are still angry at each other. And there is Mr. Petit to guide us in his hyper-poetic manner.

I have this thing about jumping off high places into water. A bridge in California, a cliff in Greece, every waterfall in Hawaii. I am afraid of heights but find the challenge of overcoming that fear a pretty cool thing. I’m also one of those people who looks down from a great height and isn’t sure that his legs will walk themselves over the edge against his brain’s instructions. But I was absolutely not prepared for how scared shitless I was when I simply saw photographs of the men planning their caper. They lied their way to the top several times and pretended to take photos of workmen, but were really taking photos of anchor points and such which they’d use later to string the wire. And some of these photos, with Petit at the edge of the building, caused me to shake. I can’t explain it. Photos from the early 70s cause a physical reaction.

At one point in his walk, Petit lies down on the wire. All alone. Silently. At 1350 feet, he lies down suspended between the tallest building in the world. A plane flies overhead.

And strangely, the first word that came to my head was, “beautiful.” I may have been tearing up a bit while saying it.

Just an incredible experience.

My Number 10 for 2008.

Oscar Nomination: Best Documentary of 2008.

8.9 Metacritic
8.1 IMDB

Man on Wire @ Amazon

MAN ON WIRE

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2008

February 5, 2009
DVD
UK
English
118 Minutes — October 10, 2008
Comedy / Drama
Mike Leigh [Life Is Sweet; Naked; Secrets & Lies; Topsy-Turvy]

The one movie this fall that will put a smile on your face.

Poppy is always happy. Always. No matter what happens to her, no matter how those around her are feeling.

The opening scene of Happy-Go-Lucky shows Poppy riding a bike around London. She stops at a bookstore and tries to engage the silent and brooding clerk in a conversation, but he doesn’t take the bait. She continues smiling, looks at the shelves and as she’s leaving, she says “it’s okay now, I’m leaving”. She goes outside to find her bicycle stolen, but instead of swearing or crying she continues the smile and says to herself “I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye.”

This is not a normal person. But you know what? I fell for her. She’s like a sociology experiment come to life. What if you met every situation with a happy go lucky attitude? How would you change those around you, how would you be treated–that is, can you will yourself to happiness? This film argues that yes, if you react to every setback and rude person and heartbreak and, once in awhile, danger, with overwhelming (some would say oppressive) positivity, your world will be a better place.

There are problems with this way of living. Because she is acting so different than other people, strangers aren’t sure how to react. I remember an experiment I did as part of a college course where I entered a crowded elevator and faced the back while people got on and off. This caused a frenzy. Just doing one thing that people don’t normally expect completely messes with their day.

Poppy’s friends are used to her and are happy most of the time, also. She teaches young children at a grammar school where her happiness works in her favor, no matter how serious her classroom management issues become. She’s happy clubbing, she’s happy trampolining and taking Flamenco classes and visiting her uptight sister, and meeting potential boyfriends. She’s even happy while taking driving lessons from a red-faced, belligerent, racist driving instructor who never cracks a smile during the whole of the film. These scenes border on terrifying. What if her smiling disposition causes real violence in a man who clearly needs help. But you sort of believe that no harm can come to her.

This is especially true when she walks home, through a scary part of town and walks towards a homeless man muttering to himself. She meets his eyes, signals that she understands him. walks with him a little ways, and then after some sort of unspoken signal between them, he leaves and she continues on her way home. On paper this sounds like an irresponsible, if not dangerous, turn of events. A young woman doesn’t head towards abandoned train tracks in the middle of the night to converse with a large homeless man. But as this is happening, we feel as if her happiness is some sort of protective shield. Who could hurt her, she’s just so happy?

Sally Hawkins pulls off this role by the sheer force of her will. She is perfect.

The problem with this film is that if you find her annoying, which is not only possible, but probable, you won’t want to spend time with her as she goes about her daily life. For some reason, I fell for her, and her story, from start to finish.

8.4 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

Happy-Go-Lucky @ Amazon

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

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2008

January 31, 2009
Cinequest 19
USA
English
91 Minutes
Documentary
Don Hardy & Dana Nachman

Some Convictions Are Criminal.

In 1983, in Manhattan Beach, California, the mother of a young boy went to police with a story so repulsive (involving sex, torture, Satan, and the kitchen sink), that the media couldn’t help but take notice. The case became known as the McMartin Preschool Trial and it lasted for seven years, becoming the most expensive criminal trial in American history. The word “McMartin” has now become shorthand for any type of overzealous prosecution using coached witnesses, many of whom are too young to know what they’re saying.

WITCH HUNT is a documentary about a similar set of trials which took place in Bakersfield, California in 1984. A new “tough on crime” District Attorney had just taken office (where, sadly, he remains to this day), and he brought with him bravado and mandatory minimum sentencing. John Stoll was one of the first to be accused. He was a hard-working divorced man who had a swimming pool which his son enjoyed on hot summer days, sometimes with his friends. He is woken up by police and taken to jail, where he is told that his son has accused him of sexual abuse. By the time he is arraigned, two other boys have allegedly come forward and told police the same story.

When something like this happens in a documentary, we find ourselves trying to “read” the man’s face as he explains his ordeal. Does he look like a molester? What exactly does a molester look like? Why would his son say such things if they weren’t true? Isn’t there a child molester behind every tree and broadband internet hookup?

When Stoll gets to prison he finds himself sharing a cell with another accused pedophile whose photo had been plastered all over the newspapers. Looking the other man in the eye, a man Stoll assumed to be guilty, he begins to see a pattern. What makes this pattern different from other molestation accusations, is that the initial accusation came from their very own children. A son accuses his father. Two girls accuse their father. Two boys accuse both their mother and father. Over and over again. Regular, normal, young couples are dragged in front of TV cameras and shown as examples of the molestation wave that appeared to be sweeping the town of Bakersfield, the State of California, and the country at large.

Is there a worse crime than child molestation? While in prison, all of the accused are held away from the rest of the prisoners for their own safety. Children are placed in foster homes, estranged spouses leave town, whispers turn to yelling. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, right?

If this were a film about a single man who was wrongly accused, you might come to the “better safe than sorry” conclusion and feel that a prison sentence is probably a good thing. But we see couple after couple after couple being sentenced to hundreds of years in prison and it’s obvious that something else is going on here. Judges are routinely disallowing evidence for the defense, child witnesses are testifying one way, then after court recesses, coming back to testify exactly the opposite way. The press can’t get enough. Husbands and wives are separated permanently. Prosecutors tell juries about photos of acts, which are never seen. Houses are lost, communities broken up.

It is incredibly hard to watch.

The talking heads collected by WITCH HUNT involve most of the accused, and a handful of the children who made the original accusations. One couple, who have moved away from Bakersfield, refuse to show their faces this many years later. The rest of them speak about their legal ordeal with pained eyes as if it happened yesterday. The children, all approaching 30 now, bravely talk about how the trial changed their lives. We hear from former California Attorney General John Van De Kamp whose office was brought in due to the overwhelming workload in Kern County. He begins to see problems with the prosecution’s cases.

We hear over and over again how these working-class men and women believed at every step, the truth would come out and they’d be headed home. One of the couples, during the deliberation, plan to have a victory dinner at a local restaurant. We are as shocked as they are when they are instead sentenced to several hundred years in prison. Surely, someone will come to their aid, the children will recant, the prosecutors will drop the charges, the judge will come to his senses. Not so much.

Every moment we spend with one of the couples, the Kniffens is heartbreaking. There is plenty of footage from the trial, both of them in fashionable 1984 haircuts, both of them looking as normal as the waitress at Dennys and the guy who fixes your car. Mrs. Kniffen, when accused of sodomy, has to have the act itself explained to her by her husband. They were in love in 1984 and continue to be in love in 2008. They sit next to each other during the interview and finish each other’s sentences. There is footage of Brenda fainting to the floor after her sentence is handed down. Scott speaks in the quiet tones of someone who has seen parts of life the rest of us don’t want to visit. After their victory dinner is denied them, they head off to separate prisons. At one point, Scott ends up at San Quentin, surrounded by the most violent offenders California has to offer. Being a convicted child molester is a quick way to a shanking, and he feared for his life every day until his appeal letter was finally read and he was transferred to a less-violent prison.

Thanks to the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara Law School (http://law.scu.edu/ncip/), some of these cases began being reviewed. When a retrial is held after six years of prison, the Kniffens see each other for the first time. Brenda says to Scott that he should be using rogaine, as the years in prison have not been kind to his hairline. The appeal goes on and on–tapes of children being questioned are listened to proving their obvious coaching by both prosecutor and Child Protective Services employees. One by one, they are released. Mr. Stoll was arrested at the age of 41. He is released at the age of 61. He never saw his son again.

I’ve often told people that I have an unnatural fear of being wrongly accused. It makes films like THIN BLUE LINE and TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE and THE VERDICT that much more frightening for me. This film had me shaking my head with worry. Some will argue that it’s better to err on the side of caution. If there’s even the slimmest chance that that person could have been a terrorist or touched a child, isn’t it better to lock them up for the greater good?

I subscribe to the better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man go to jail idea. (See origins of that law school cornerstone here: http://www.law.ucla.edu/volokh/guilty.htm) Part of my public school teacher training in our modern post-Letourneau, post-priest-scandal world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Kay_Letourneau) stresses the boundaries between children and trusted authority figures. As a teacher, I need to be conscious every day that a few words from a young person could not only change my life, but effectively end it. I hear personal stories from students about the most atrocious things imaginable. The problems exist, but at some point we began to believe that everyone was a predator. A now-ridiculed recent statistic was that something like 40% of teenagers have been propositioned online by a sexual predator. I have taught close to 700 teenagers in my career and not one has ever been the target of one of these people.

The topic makes for compelling television. To Catch A Predator, the NBC entrapment-case-study-in-the-making causes us to cheer as man after man is dressed down by the camera-ready host.

This environment of fear has some side-effects and they are on frank display in WITCH HUNT.

The film is narrated by Sean Penn and perfectly uses Pearl Jam’s Long Road towards the end. There are two ways to review a documentary: the story it tells and the way it tells the story it tells. The story of WITCH HUNT is compelling, scary, sad, and maddening. The way it tells the story is a bit static. Old TV news footage is mixed with modern-day talking heads. There are old family photos which seem to me to look haunting even in upbeat documentaries. I wonder what filmmakers will do 20 years from now when there are no printed photos from which to choose. There is a five-minute portion at the very end, showing us Mr. Stoll’s life since prison, that is creative and powerful and completely different than the sober 85 minutes that came before.

The film breaks no new technical ground (as THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE or WALTZ WITH BASHIR do), but with a story like this, it doesn’t need to.

And how have the lives of the young accusers changed? Drugs, mental health issues, the guilt of sending people to prison.

Surrounded by the sadness of the film, perhaps the saddest moment is when one of the young accusers tearfully admits that he never gave his own son a bath for the first year of his life, so afraid was he of being accused himself of inappropriate touching.

More info on the cases: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kern_County_child_abuse_cases

WITCH HUNT will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here: http://www.cinequest.org/detail.php?m=1619

WITCH HUNT

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2008

January 29, 2009
DVD
USA / UK / France
English
122 Minutes — December 5, 2008
Biography / Drama / History
Ron Howard [Grand Theft Auto; Nightshift; Splash; Cocoon; Gung Ho; Willow; Parenthood; Backdraft; Far And Away; The Paper; Apollo 13; Ransom; Edtv; A Beautiful Mind; The Missing; Cinderella Man]

400 Million People Were Waiting For The Truth.

I’m a huge fan of political films. I watch THE WEST WING continuously–often with tears in my eyes. I love the pageantry of the office of the President, the customs of the US Government–to the point of watching a particularly close Congressional vote on CSPAN. For god’s sake, I teach High School Government. So I should be the guy this film is trying to reach.

But I waited a long time to see it and now that I have, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. No matter how you slice it–how exciting you make the edits and music–you simply cannot make a sit-down interview as exciting as a boxing match, which is exactly what director Ron Howard is trying to do here.

I’m not old enough to remember Nixon or what he stood for or how much people hated him. And for people younger than I, whose only exposure has been through history classes, this film will probably cause them to have more sympathy for an old man who made a few mistakes, but was basically good. That fact must infuriate people who were in their politically aware 20s at the time Tricky Dick held office. There simply isn’t enough backstory in this film to tell the uninformed viewer the gravity of his crimes. I’m not saying that this film is the place for a complete review of the Watergate break-in, but depending on your age, this film will be a piece of negative nostalgia, or the story of people with funny haircuts sitting down for an interview back when you were allowed to smoke wherever you wanted. (The “aggressive” 70s product placement is one of the problems with this film–the famous Iron-Eyes Cody PSA is seen on the TV while people drink TAB).

As with most Ron Howard films, his one or two main themes are spelled out, heightened with music, repeated again, and then paused after for effect. One of these themes was something that actually was “achieved” by David Frost during these interviews, when Nixon admitted that no matter what he did as president, it wasn’t illegal because it’s impossible for the president to do anything illegal. This statement obviously has more weight in a post-Bush United States where the former president never met a signing statement he wouldn’t make or found a way to put the office of the President above the law in the name of “The War On Terror.”

The parallels between 1974 and 2008 are not lost on us (and with Howard at the helm, we have no choice but to think about them).

The other theme is that Nixon was a lonely man who wasn’t good with people. Boo hoo.

Setting aside the facts of the case, the film tries to make the high-pressure world of presidential interviews something of a sporting event. In this corner, David Frost, a man who drinks, smokes, bangs models, and hosts the 1970s equivalent of America’s Got Talent. In this corner, a disgraced president, who somehow thinks that if he says just the right thing during a one-on-one interview that he’ll be invited back to DC and receive a hero’s welcome. In 30 years, we might see David Hasselhoff v. Bush II.

Nixon thought he’d wipe the floor with Frost. How could a limey from across the pond hope to match his intellect? Frost thought he’d show all those naysayers by finally getting the secretive Nixon to admit to the whole business.

The performances are good. Unfortunately for Oscar-nominee Frank Langella, Nixon has been played by so many people by now that we scarcely remember the real man. The supporting cast is good: Rockwell, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, and Rebecca Hall is a very sexy woman who’s only purpose in the screenplay is to stop the sausage-fest.

Here’s your one-sentence review: A film about an interview. Really, how exciting can that be?

Oscar Nominations: Picture, Director Ron Howard, Actor Frank Langella, Screenplay, Editing

8.0 Metacritic
7.9 Critical Consensus
8.1 IMDB #242 All Time

Frost/Nixon [Theatrical Release] @ Amazon

FROST/NIXON

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2008

January 22, 2009
DVD
USA / Germany
English / German
124 Minutes — January 9, 2009
Drama / Romance / Thriller / War
Stephen Daldry [Billy Elliot; The Hours]

How Far Would You Go To Protect A Secret?

It’s been more than a week since I’ve seen it and I can’t seem to figure out how to go at this film. It is not good. In fact, it’s a bit preposterous. Winslet is a fabulous actress, but in THE READER she must choose between dour, embarrassed, angry, or predatory. There is no in-between.

It’s just after World War II in Germany. A young boy of 15, stricken with fever, is helped by Winslet’s character. After his recovery a few weeks later, he goes to her house to thank her, and before you can say “you’re 18, right?” they’re in the sack. What he sees in her is obvious. She’s nearing 40, is hot, and he’s 15 and would probably avail himself of just about any opportunity. What she sees in him is a bit less obvious. He’s a nubile 15 to be sure, but why couldn’t someone like her find someone within a decade of her age, at least? I suppose he’s naive enough to not ask too many questions, to not question his incredible luck. What a story he’ll have to tell that summer at camp!

Strangely, she begins to demand that he read to her before each encounter. Which is a small price to pay for him, I’m sure. A more successful homework system has yet to be devised. He catches the eye of other, more age-appropriate schoolmates, but what chance do they have against a fully grown, willing woman who doesn’t ask questions? They fight, they break up. He heads off to law school. And the film begins to self-destruct. Because during a field trip to the courthouse, who does he see on trial for Nazi atrocities? That’s right, the woman who took his V-power, in the flesh. And here’s the kicker: she’s accused of writing an intricate plan for others to follow which leads to the deaths of 500 Jewish prisoners. That she shows no guilt for what she did is bad enough. But when she’d rather admit to something she didn’t do than admit to not being able to read or write, the film goes off the rails.

That’s right. In post-war Germany, killing Jews in the name of Hitler isn’t quite as bad as admitting that you don’t know how to read.

Ralph Fiennes shows up as the grown up boy who then begins his very own Audible.com franchise, sending tapes to Winslet as she spends the rest of her days in jail.

Ridiculous, but Winslet is pretty hot and rarely has a film made reading the classics seem quite as sexy as THE READER does.

5.8 Metacritic
7.0 Critical Consensus
8.0 IMDB

The Reader (Book) @ Amazon

THE READER

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2008

January 21, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
104 Minutes — December 12, 2008
Drama / Mystery
John Patrick Shanley [Moonstruck; The January Man; Joe Versus The Volcano; Alive]

My overriding impression of DOUBT? Boring.

Streep, Hoffman, Adams. Great cast. But it’s just so slow moving and ponderous. And every time something important is about to happen, the wind blows or rain hits a windowpane or a tree branch crashes down in the courtyard. And then the music swells.

It’s 1964 in Brooklyn. Hoffman is a Catholic Priest (hazard alert). Streep is the principal of the attached school. Amy Adams is the naive, wide-eyed character that we’re supposed to chuckle at and then feel for. Adams thinks she sees Hoffman put a boy’s shirt back into his locker. This boy is the only black kid in a sea of white, which is the excuse Hoffman uses when confronted with the suspicion that he plied the boy with alcohol. But not just any alcohol, mind you; the holy communion wine, the very blood of Christ. Viola Davis plays the boy’s mother who is remarkably nonchalant about the accusation, preferring to hide her head in the sand until summer when her boy graduates.

Streep is on the warpath against Hoffman and the two play several loud, spittle-rattling scenes where they try to scare the other one into backing off. We know Streep is the humorless disciplinarian because we see her walking the aisles of the church scolding anyone slouching or whispering while the sermon is taking place. She strikes fear in the children and other nuns alike. She is a cartoon movie archetype along the lines of the guy in Lean On Me (I’m the HNIC, now), and every other film about school and an evil paddling headmaster.

Hoffman appears to be kind, he connects with the kids, he write sermons that don’t immediately cause his congregation to sleep. But what earthly reason does he have for taking such a shine to the young black boy? We have two choices: 1) he’s a closeted homosexual predator who can’t wait to add another notch on his priestly bedpost; OR 2) he’s a caring priest who ministers to his congregation. Which one do you think the film favors?

We aren’t given any reasons for the actions that the characters take. Except maybe Amy Adams. She sees something and she goes to her superior to discuss it. Fine. Streep makes it her mission to kick Hoffman out of the parish. We are only given hints about the characters’ pasts. Hoffman is apparently at his third church in a short period of time. With 2008 eyes, this is a warning sign. Not so much back in 1964. Streep’s character is a widow who has known life outside the convent, but now finds herself ruling one. She is probably the only non-virgin on the campus.

If there’s a well-rounded and nuanced character, it’s Viola Davis as the mother. The boy has an abusive father, the mother thinks that the boy is gay (although you can bet that word is never used by anyone in this film), and if the priest needs a little loving while he protects the boy from the racist bullies in the hallway, well then, that’s a small price to pay. Davis hits a “if my nose runs and I don’t wipe it during a crying scene I’ll get an Oscar just like Jane Fonda in Klute” move perfectly. Then when we’ve been sufficiently mezmerized by her dripping nose, she miraculously finds a kleenex, wipes herself, and heads off to work like nothing happened. The words that the two women say to each other in the Davis v. Streep walk-and-talk are pretty good. But then the whole scene is ruined by the “foreboding wind of doom” that causes several dozen leaves to press up against Streeps legs. God help us.

So let’s see, Streep thinks that the priest is guilty, Hoffman maintains his innocense, Adams is first sure one way, then the other, and Davis doesn’t really see the big deal either way. You see, they all have DOUBT about what happened. Adams’ doubt puts her on Hoffman’s side and Streep finds a way to keep her doubt at bay. So we all know what the dilema is.

Wait a second, I have an idea. Why doesn’t someone ask the kid what happened? He’s not five years old, he’s in 8th grade! Wouldn’t he be able to at least give an impression about what happened or didn’t happen in the vestry? Is he so in love with the Father that he’d lie under questioning? He’s the only other witness.

I just don’t get it. Any verbal fireworks this film had were more than countered by the clumsy staging, and hit-me-over-the-head symbolism. It saddens me to report that my favorite part of the film, the only point when I wasn’t near dozing, was the spectacular church choir and organ song played loudly over the credits. What a shame.

Oscar Nominations: Meryl Streep Actress; Philip Seymour Hoffman Supporting Actor;Amy Adams Supporting Actress; Viola Davis Supporting Actress; Adapted Screenplay John Patrick Shanley;

7.0 Metacritic
7.1 Critical Consensus
8.2 IMDB

Doubt (book) @ Amazon

DOUBT

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2008

Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA / UK
English
119 Minutes — December 26, 2008
Drama / Romance
Sam Mendes [American Beauty; Road To Perdition; Jarhead]

How Do You Break Free Without Breaking Apart?

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REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 66. 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 WRESTLER Discussion
• Break
• 23:58 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 24:54 REVOLUTIONARY ROAD Discussion
• Break
• 45:06 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 45:35 The Last Five®
• 1:03:53 Credits and Outtakes

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6.9 Metacritic
7.4 Critical Consensus
7.9 IMDB

Revolutionary Road @ Amazon

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

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2008

January 11, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English / Hmong
116 Minutes — January 9, 2009
Crime / Drama / Thriller
Clint Eastwood [Per Qualche Dollaro In Piu; Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo; Play Misty For Me; Dirty Harry; High Plains Drifter; Magnum Force; Thunderbolt and Lightfoot; The Eiger Sanction; The Outlaw Josey Wales; The Enforcer; The Gauntlet; Every Which Way But Loose; Escape From Alcatraz; Bronco Billy; Firefox; Sudden Impact; Heartbreak Ridge; Bird; The Dead Pool; Pink Cadillac; White Hunter Black Heart; The Rookie; Unforgiven; In The Line Of Fire; A Perfect World; The Bridges Of Madison County; Absolute Power; Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil; Mystic River; Million Dollar Baby; Flags Of Our Fathers; Letters From Iwo Jima; Changeling]

MichaelVox Twitter Review in 160:
Gran Torino (08 Eastwood C) Clint as Catskills comic–A Don Rickles Capt. Amer–inhabited by stereotypes, not characters–Get Off My Lawn!

I’ve listed all 33 movies that I’ve seen where Clint Eastwood appeared as an actor or as director. That is a lot of baggage and Hollywood history to overcome when you need to take on a new film role. Which is the fatal flaw of GRAN TORINO. We’ve seen Mr. Eastwood for too many years. While watching GRAN TORINO, it borders on the impossible to “forget” Dirty Harry or The Man With No Name, or more specifically for this story, the hot-headed drill sergeant he played in Heartbreak Ridge.

Eastwood plays a grumpy widower who has just buried his wife and is now free to complain about how his Michigan neighborhood and the country at large has changed for the worse. We are hit over the head with this belief of his when, at the very funeral itself, the first scene, one of his grandkids shows up in a Lions jersey and another in a belly shirt, navel ring glinting. Then we see a woman in the back text someone something. At this point, it’s okay to agree with him. We really have become a nation of ugly Americans. But that agreement will end shortly. Eastwood will turn into a jokester Archie Bunker–one who carries a gun and uses language that Television doesn’t allow.

His next-door-neighbors are Hmong. Grandma, mother, daughter, and weak teenage son. We know that every time we hear Eastwood use another all-asians-are-the-same racist remark, he’ll make up for it at the end by respecting and helping and realizing that the world is one great big melting pot. Or something. There are the scenes where he is indoctrinated into the customs of the Hmong; where he tells his drinking buddy the one about the jew, the mexican, and the colored fellow who walk into a bar (punchline: The bartender says “get the hell out of my bar”); where he will flashback to his days during the Korean War, where he’ll have a racist-off with his buddy the barber. Many of these scenes work. None of these scenes are unique or surprising.

The first hour of the film is like watching Eastwood the Catskills comedian. He even narrates his own life. “Why does that grandma hate me so much?” he says to his trusty golden retriever. Eastwood is playing a stereotype, not a character. And unfortunately, so do the other characters. We have the wigger, the three tough black guys, the sassy asian girl, the Hmong gang who sound like they’ve listened to too much T.I., the veterans, the construction supervisor, the shaman, the catholic priest who even has red hair, the money-grubbing daughter-in-law, the selfish grandkids. Everyone who comes on screen is playing a genre, not a person.

But can I say something here? The crowd I was with loved it. They wanted to hear Eastwood say “Get Off My Lawn!” while holding a rifle. They wanted to see him squint and say with his gravely 79-year-old voice “I’m the guy you don’t want to f**k with.” They laughed when he called his neighbors zipperheads and slopes, his barber a dago half-jew, and the young man next-door a pussy. He was like Don Rickles trying to be Captain America. It didn’t work. Eastwood is supposed to be so taken with the son-next-door that he teaches him a trade, gets him a job, protects his honor and even gets him a date. And this was after the boy tried to steal his beloved car.

I’m under the impression that the Hmong cast was non-professional and while it made it a bit more realistic, it also made the film a bit harder to decipher. With Eastwood grumbling and the Hmong speaking too quickly and with inconsistent accents, I’m not entirely sure about half of the dialogue. Sometimes you want realism and sometimes you want people to be able to act. I wanted actors this time. The ending is exactly what you’d expect, but what will stay with you is the dumbed-down script. Way overrated.

7.2 Metacritic
8.4 IMDB #125 All Time
7.1 Critical Consensus

Gran Torino @ Amazon

GRAN TORINO

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2008

January 11, 2009
January 2, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
115 Minutes — January 9, 2009
Drama / Sport
Darren Aronofsky [Pi; Requiem For A Dream]

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THE WRESTLER is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 66. 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 WRESTLER Discussion
• Break
• 23:58 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 24:54 REVOLUTIONARY ROAD Discussion
• Break
• 45:06 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 45:35 The Last Five®
• 1:03:53 Credits and Outtakes

~~
~~

MichaelVox Twitter Review In 160:
The Wrestler (08 Aronofsky A-) much better mortality tale than BButton, Rourke as good as advertised, Tomei deserves more praise.

Some of my bullet points referred to in the podcast:
–The music is perfect—opening Metal Health Quiet Riot, Cinderella, Round and Round, Sweet Child O’Mine, Balls To the Wall by Accept
–Set design perfect—trailer, backstage, we could probably navigate the grocery store, VFW halls
–glasses/hearing aid/boots, jeans, duct tape on jacket
–tanning/hair/shaving/roids
–bar scene (“just one beer”) among the most romantically perfect I’ve ever seen. An old song, even a terrible one, brings people together. They are happy for five minutes. What Rourke does is amazing, singing terribly, dancing ridiculously, all in front of a woman he’s trying to impress.
–Sweet Child is a perfect song. It is now 22 years old, isn’t it? It’s not just perfect for the film, it’s just perfect.
–Every word of regret that Rourke says can be seen on his pounded up face
–Tomei has the harder role—her femininity is on display, her sexuality is being questioned, her only power (as she sees it) is slipping away from her—drunken customers tell her to her face that she’s too old to be seductive—no one will remember a particularly fabulous pole dance she did once—she was a star in an even less highly-thought-of profession than Ram
–Wrestlers are friends, Ram is supportive, doesn’t have any self-pity that I can see. If he doesn’t pay rent, he sleeps in his van; he doesn’t whine when staples are taken out of his body; he quietly works the deli counter, and then becomes an expert who is comfortable with customer contact.
–The run at the end to make it to the big match was too Hollywood. The speech, while also a movie convention, made sense in this context.
–Aronofsky doesn’t show us Rourke’s face for several minutes at the start. We are always following him at shoulder level, like his sheer size can protect us. That backstage room is full of huge wrestlers, but Ram is their leader.
–Little things: Ram can’t get out of his jeans at the tanning place, the shopping trip to the dollar store, the video game with the kid, the payphone, the autograph session, the kid playing with the action figure, the way Tomei knew how to get money out of Ram but didn’t feel exactly great about it, the way Ram goes through curtains to the cheers of the crowd or the silence of the deli counter.
–Not sure about the fireman girl. She has posters of fireman he of Angus Young
–Daughter stuff didn’t work. Evan Rachel Wood, who I’ve loved since Once and Again, is too angry without explanation. A mad face and brief “not again” are not enough for me. His scene at the beach with her worked in spite of itself.

8.1 Metacritic
8.7 IMDB #59 All Time
8.7 Critical Consensus

The Wrestler @ Amazon

THE WRESTLER

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2008

January 4, 2009
DVD
USA
English
101 Minutes — October 31, 2008
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Kevin Smith [Clerks; Mallrats; Chasing Amy; Dogma; Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back; An Evening With Kevin Smith; Dinner For Five; Jersey Girl; Snowball Effect: The Story Of ‘Clerks’; Clerks II; Siskel & Ebert & The Movies; An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder; Live Free Or Die Hard; Reaper]

Disclaimer: I’m a few years older than Kevin Smith and when I first heard him interviewed in the mid-90s as he was becoming well-known, I used to tell friends that he was the first person younger than me who I completely admitted was better at what he did than I could have been. That is, when he spoke or wrote, I knew I’d be hard-pressed to keep up. This was a revelation to me. He is one of the best guests that Howard Stern ever had on his program; he somehow was insightful and smart when he filled in for Roger Ebert, even though he was trying to critique people he may some day work with. I have his books on my shelf right now, Silent Bob Speaks and the screenplays to Clerks and Chasing Amy. I’ve downloaded every episode of his Smodcast podcast (though he and Scott can be so wordy that I can’t take a full 90 minutes per week).

If he’s involved in something, I want to read/see/listen to it. I hope that as he grows into middle age, he’ll become some sort of film or pop culture historian. Sort of like what Scorsese does with his documentaries and what Tarantino tries to do in his screening room with young actors. Smith is an aware social critic, pointing out hypocrisy in culture and politics. He can often give compelling arguments as to how comic books are an art form. He finds a way to be a good catholic and a smut peddler at the same time. I remember reading a piece somewhere about John Madden, the football magnate. The quote was “Madden is a genius who masquerades as a lunkhead.” The same can be said for Kevin Smith. Get past the language (and for god’s sake get past the poop humor–please!) and you’ll find stories about love and self-awareness and inferiority and all the other parts of the human experience that artists have been trying to make sense of for hundreds of years. If you haven’t seen them, go watch An Evening With Kevin Smith 1 and 2. He is charismatic and charming. If he keeps filming his Q & As, I’ll keep watching them.

He has said himself on many occasions that he’s a terrible director, but he makes up for it in his writing. His blog posts and his essays and his book of random thoughts are compelling, humorous, and honest. He has no trouble (often to a fault) exposing his thoughts and beliefs and idiosyncrasies to whomever is there to listen. I suspect he’d be exposing these same thoughts if there was no one listening.

So it is with great sadness that I have to report that ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO is a failure on nearly every level of filmmaking.

Plot:
Zack and Miri are friends from childhood who live in a terrible Pittsburgh apartment. They act as brother and sister, get in arguments, make fun of each other–all the groundwork needed for an inevitable hookup down the road. The fact that Elizabeth Banks seems too smart, driven, and beautiful to be living in such an apartment is just one of the film’s many problems. The two buddies are so low on cash that their utilities are turned off and they decide to film a porno as a last-ditch effort to make some money. Not get more hours at the coffee shop, not cut back on hockey expenses, not take on another boarder, but film a porno. In the real world, modern porn has much higher production levels than these two can come up with. In the real world, distributing a movie to 800 classmates would barely begin to turn a profit. In the real world, people don’t film porn in Pittsburgh coffee shops. And the actors don’t look like Zack (at least since the retirement of Ron Jeremy). And with downloading now an issue, how many copies were they hoping to sell? And why wouldn’t those same customers just get on the almighty internet to get their fix of amateur couplings? None of this occurs to Zack and Miri.

Casting:
Seth Rogen plays Seth Rogen. He is frumpy, lazy, mutters quips under his breath, and will end up with a girl way out of his league. I have been a fan of his since Freaks and Geeks, but he is in even bigger danger than Michael Cera of being typecast as the exact same guy for the rest of his filmic life.

Jason Mewes is in the cast of the fake porno and he actually has improved since his other attempts at acting in Kevin Smith films. His heroin habit apparently behind him, he actually does exactly what the part needs him to do.

Traci Lords and Katie Morgan have actual porn experience, so they lend the film whatever realism it has to offer.

Craig Robinson plays an unhappily married co-worker of Zack’s who incredibly gives up a flat screen TV (how he can afford one while having the same job as Zack who can’t keep his heat on is a question the film doesn’t attempt to answer) in order to “produce” the movie. Robinson’s scenes are both funny and incredibly demeaning. When the script calls for hip street language, Robinson is there to deliver. When there’s a hint of racism, Robinson is there to comment on it. When there are grammar rules to be broken, call up Robinson. He is the one exception to the lily-white cast. He does more with two minutes on The Office when wiping the floor with Michael Scott than he does here in a full length film. Go rent KNOCKED UP and watch his single scene as a club doorman and think what might have been. Examples of his delivery in this film (watch the grammar): “What? Han Solo ain’t never had no sex with Princess Leia in the Star War!” and “Her name Bubbles”. His “boob audition” scene was pretty funny.

But the person who emerges the most worse for the wear is Elizabeth Banks. She has proven to be that special combination of cute and funny on Scrubs and 40-year-old Virgin. She is a sweet girlfriend in Invincible. I hear she’s good as Laura Bush in W. But she is completely miscast in this film. She is too cute and smart to be surrounding herself with either Rogen as a roommate or any of the other people she comes into contact with. But the fatal flaw with her is that I simply never believed that she’d talk the way her character talked, act the way her character acted (her squirm-inducing seduction of the popular guy from high school was well-done), or involve herself in the money-making idea that she follows through on in this film. It’s like she’s pretending to be a hard-assed f-bomb throwing girl-next-door and it didn’t work. At one point, she even says “Hey Zack, no one wants to F-in watch us fuck.” That’s right, she used f-in and the full work fuck in the same sentence. I believe that someone like Sarah Silverman actually talks like that. I believe that Kevin Smith talks like that because I’ve heard him talk like that dozens of times. But I never bought that Banks was speaking realistically. To be clear, I’m not saying that people don’t act or speak like Smith writes, I’m just saying that I don’t believe Banks or her character would. I found myself embarrassed for her.

Which leads us to writing: If Smith only gave the world Chasing Amy, he’d be rightfully held in some regard for finding a way to weave both a tender can-I-turn-a-lesbian-straight romance and a here’s-why-she’s-called-fingercuffs raunchy comedy into something special. (Setting aside the male-dominant view that all any lesbian needs is a perfect guy to “cure” her.) It wasn’t Ben Affleck that made that movie, it was the writing. But here, again, is where ZACK AND MIRI fails. The “realistically dirty” language we’ve come to love from Smith (and Apatow) is here used to prove something, I think. Like Smith is afraid that when we boil down the story we’ll see a sappy love story, not unlike WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, and to avoid accusations of becoming soft, he goes for the verbal grossout. I simply do not believe that Banks would recount in casual conversation the time that Zack tried to fellate himself for about an hour. I’m pretty sure that she wouldn’t stay around that long to watch. But the script has that experience as one of the many that is supposed to make us feel like these two have shared everything with each other except feelings. As a guy with far more female friends than male, I can say that when Zack claims to have never wanted to sleep with Miri, even though they share a bathroom and 25 years of friendship, I say, bullshit. Plain and simple. That the plot has us believe that until they were scheduled to have on-camera sex, the thought of trying out a romance with each other never occurred to them is preposterous. And from the second they do, the movie goes completely haywire. Slow motion, closeups of their faces in love-filled ecstasy, a completely different song by the band Live which seems to be playing only in their heads, all combine to turn the film into something else. Something it neither earned, nor does particularly well.

There have been hundreds of films where two characters fall for each other after a hookup or a good talk or some other event. What is this one saying? “The search is over, you were with me all the while” to quote a sappy 80s song. Tell us something new.

But that’s not the worst of it. After a misunderstanding at a party, whereby Zack leaves with a pornstar to have sex after Miri has given permission, the next morning brings an argument, which sends Zack peeling out, then moving out, then working at the Penguins hockey games as a human target. The screen says “Three Months Later,” but not 30 seconds in, we see Robinson who has come to get the two crazy kids back together.

I can’t explain just how off the pacing is at this point. Zack drives off, film crew wonders why, Miri sees that Zack has moved out (where to? we never find out), “3 Months Later”, we are there to see Robinson contact him for the first time by using a quote that only they would recognize, they rekindle a friendship (not sure why they broke contact with each other), Robinson entices him back to his basement where they are still (after 3 months) editing the film, then the big reveal that Miri never had her second on screen sex scene, a ridiculous attempt at a serious line from Robinson about how people make you believe you can do things that you didn’t know you could or something, a musical cue that sends Zack back to Miri where a final misunderstanding involving her new male roommate gives way to a tearful hug and reunion and happily ever after.

It may have been the most painful 15 minutes of film I’ve seen in years. It’s made more painful because it’s my hero Kevin Smith who’s in charge.

I haven’t brought up the music: fake porn background music throughout, even when the scenes change; great 80s pop at the high school reunion; sappy I love you songs when the two are having sex..making..doing whatever they did.

I can remember exactly two laugh-out-loud moments: Jason Mewes in the last five minutes discussing the “Dutch Rudder” was deadpan delivery at its best.

The other one was a spectacular cameo by Justin Long as an “actor” in L.A. who attends the high school reunion with his football hero lover. “Really, you’re an actor? What kind of movies have you been in?” “All kinds of movies with all male casts.”

Zack Brown: All male casts? Like “Glengarry Glen Ross”, like that?
Brandon: Like “Glen and Gary Suck Ross’s Meaty C**k and Drop Their Hairy N**s in His Eager Mouth”.
Zack Brown: [pause] Is that like a sequel?
Brandon: Sort of. It’s a reimagining.
Zack Brown: Oh, like “The Wiz”.
Brandon: More erotic. And with less women. No women, to be exact.
Zack Brown: I apologize in advance if I am outta line here, but are you in gay porn?
Brandon: [smiles] Guilty as charged.

[I've added the *] The fact that his lover is played by the guy in the new Superman movie is one of the fanboy tips of the hat that Smith is famous for. Long is funnier in those five minutes that the remaining 95 minutes of the movie. Don’t get me wrong, whenever a character like Rogen’s talks as quickly as Smith’s script call for, there will be chuckles. “Where’s the clitoris again?” caused me to smile. But those smiles were so few and far between and so hidden by the rest of the “look how outrageous my dialogue is” that the impact was weak.

I wanted so much more from my former BFF Kevin Smith.

MichaelVox Twitter Review In 160:
Zack And Miri Make A Porno (08 Smith C-) Dear Kevin, I’m breaking up with you after 14 years of bliss. It’s not me, it’s you. WTF happened?

5.6 Metacritic
7.5 IMDB

Zack and Miri Make a Porno @ Amazon

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO

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2008

January 2, 2009
DVD
USA
English
109 Minutes — January 9, 2009
Drama / Sport
Darren Aronofsky [Pi; Requiem For A Dream]

This film award season has been much worse than past years in terms of release schedules of quality films. I live in the 10th largest city in the country, but in order to have access to the films with all the buzz, I need to drive myself an hour north to San Francisco, which is typically just after New York City and Los Angeles on the release schedule. THE WRESTLER won’t open in a local theater until the 9th, but I couldn’t stand waiting. This is all a long way of saying that I will withhold a more in-depth review until I see it on the big screen, the way nature intended.

But before that happens I need to say that this film will absolutely be somewhere on my top ten of 2008 list, and I’m not sure that any of the other slow-to-open films being hyped will land above this one. This film says things about mortality and the briefness of life that Benjamin Button was trying to say, but failed under the sheen of fairytale warmth.

I can’t wait to see it again.

MichaelVox Twitter Review In 160:
The Wrestler (08 Aronofsky A-) much better mortality tale than BButton, Rourke as good as advertised, Tomei deserves more praise.

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THE WRESTLER is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 66. 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 WRESTLER Discussion
• Break
• 23:58 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 24:54 REVOLUTIONARY ROAD Discussion
• Break
• 45:06 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 45:35 The Last Five®
• 1:03:53 Credits and Outtakes

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8.1 Metacritic
8.7 IMDB #72 All Time

The Wrestler @ Amazon

THE WRESTLER

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2008

December 30, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
159 Minutes — December 25, 2008
Drama / Fantasy / Mystery / Romance
David Fincher [Se7en; The Game; Fight Club; Zodiac]
Brad Pitt [Less Than Zero; Thelma & Louise; A River Runs Through It; Kalifornia; True Romance; Interview With The Vampire; Legends Of The Fall; Se7en; Twelve Monkeys; Sleepers; Seven Years In Tibet; Fight Club; Spy Game; Ocean’s Eleven; Troy; Ocean’s Twelve; Mr. & Mrs. Smith; Babel; The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford; Burn After Reading]

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THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 65. 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 CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON Discussion – Part 1
• Break
• 17:17 THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON Discussion – Part 2
• Break
• 33:20 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 34:18 The Last Five®
• Break
• 49:02 Listener Last Five (Aaron in Washington, DC)
• 1:03:07 Credits and Outtakes

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7.0 Metacritic
8.6 IMDB #74 All Time

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button @ Amazon

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON

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2008

December 9, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
128 Minutes — November 26, 2008
Biography / Drama
Gus Van Sant [Drugstore Cowboy; My Own Private Idaho; To Die For; Good Will Hunting; Psycho; Finding Forrester; Elephant; Last Days; Paris Je T’aime]
Sean Penn [Taps; Fast Times At Ridgemont High; Bad Boys; The Falcon And The Snowman; At Close Range; Colors; Casualties Of War; We’re No Angels; State Of Grace; Carlito’s Way; Dead Man Walking; She’s So Lovely; U Turn; The Game; The Thin Red Line; Before Night Falls; Mystic River; 21 Grams; Into The Wild]

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MILK is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 64. 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 MILK Discussion – Part 1
• Break
• 18:04 MILK Discussion – Part 2
• Break
• 32:58 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 33:34 The Last Five®
• 1:02:52 Credits and Outtakes

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8.4 Metacritic
8.5 Critical Consensus
8.3 IMDB

Milk @ Amazon

MILK

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2008

December 3, 2008
San Jose CA — Cinearts Santana Row
UK / USA
English / Hindi
120 Minutes — November 12, 2008
Comedy / Crime / Drama / Romance
Danny Boyle [Shallow Grave; Trainspotting; The Beach; 28 Days Later; Millions] & Loveleen Tandan

It’s hard to describe just how “cool” this movie is. Which is a terrible way to refer to any kind of film. “Cool”.

A young man from the slums of Mumbai is a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The host can barely contain his contempt. Everyone expects him to exit the game early. But he continues to answer questions correctly, captivating all of India in the process. Most of the film is told in flashback as each question he is asked on the show reminds him of a part of his life. If the question is about US currency, he flashes back to a time when he was a hundred dollar bill. This is clearly unrealistic but sometimes, as the screen shows us early “It is written”. These flashbacks provide and opportunity for us to watch the visual styling of Danny Boyle, who is working out of his European element here. Jamal and his brother are first played by tiny Indian boys who live in an enormous slum just outside the gates of an airport. They spend their time playing cricket, trying their luck at money-making schemes, and outrunning the corrupt police.

There is thumping music, colorful fabrics, slow motion and shaky camera work. It is incredibly exciting.

The boys are compelling and respond to heartbreak with a seen-it-all attitude. They become orphaned and pick up a “third musketeer” along the way.

The film continually moves between the present-day quiz show and the incidents in Jamal’s life that led him to know answers that he has no right knowing.

It is loud and exciting and is a great mixture of western and Indian filmmaking. I loved it.





8.5 Metacritic
8.6 Critical Consensus
8.6 IMDB

Slumdog Millionaire @ Amazon

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

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2008

November 23, 2008
San Jose Camera Cinema Club
USA
English
75 Minutes
Drama
Rowan Joseph

The Body Of War. The Heart Of A Man.

4.1 Metacritic
6.3 IMDB

Johnny Got His Gun @ Amazon

JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN

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2008

November 5, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
141 Minutes — October 31, 2008
Crime / Drama / Mystery
Clint Eastwood [Play Misty For Me; Dirty Harry; Magnum Force; The Outlaw Josey Wales; The Enforcer; Escape From Alcatraz; Sudden Impact; Heartbreak Ridge; Bird; The Rookie; Unforgiven; In The Line Of Fire; The Bridges Of Madison County; Absolute Power; Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil; Mystic River; Million Dollar Baby; Flags Of Our Fathers; Letters From Iwo Jima]
Angelina Jolie [Gia; Pushing Tin; The Bone Collector; Girl, Interrupted; Gone In Sixty Seconds; Mr. & Mrs. Smith]

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CHANGELING is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 63. 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 CHANGELING Discussion – Part 1
• Break
• 16:12 CHANGELING Discussion – Part 2
• Break
• 33:12 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 33:58 The Last Five®
• 1:03:16 Credits and Outtake

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6.3 Metacritic
6.3 40 Critical Consensus
8.1 IMDB

Changeling @ Amazon

CHANGELING

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2008

October 19, 2008
San Jose Camera Cinema Club
USA
English
80 Minutes — December 10, 2008 (limited)
Drama
Kelly Reichardt [Old Joy]
Michelle Williams [Dawson’s Creek; Dick; If These Walls Could Talk 2; The Station Agent; Brokeback Mountain; I’m Not There]

Another incredibly slow-moving (in the best possible way) story from Kelly Reichardt who also directed the quiet and beautiful OLD JOY, which was about two ex-hippies in search of an Oregon hot springs. This one is about Wendy, played with steadiness by Michelle Williams, a woman “just passing through” a tiny Oregon town when her car breaks down. She is on her way to the fisheries of Alaska in order to make some money. Her partner on this journey is Lucy, her loyal dog. We meet Wendy as she’s woken up by a security guard as she sleeps in her car. He wants to be kind to her, but rules are rules, and he helps her push the car off the Walgreen’s property.

Wendy keeps a log of money spent on her way to find fortune in the Klondike and her funds have dwindled lower than she’s comfortable with. She needs her car fixed and she needs some new dog food so she heads to a store where her urge to save a few more dollars results in a shoplifting charge which results in her dog being lost, which results in her world being turned upside down.

The plot isn’t much. Woman and dog break down on their way to Alaska. But to paraphrase Gene Siskel, it’s not what the film is about, but how it’s about what it’s about. Michelle Williams drops all of her glamor in order to play a woman who does all of her bathing in a Shell Station bathroom. She is distrustful of everyone but her dog. She is estranged in some way from her family, although we are never told what happened. Her license plates are from Indiana and she’s made it as far as Oregon. She doesn’t really hesitate to shoplift, she is comfortable around the homeless who join her in line to recycle cans. She also constantly hums the same tune as she walks from place to place. The time frame of the film is probably three days. And some of the scenes are made up of the mundane things one does while waiting for a car to be fixed, or in Wendy’s case, the auto repair shop to open.

Strangers help her and she helps strangers. The film can be seen as an example of the hidden underclass whereby one financial emergency (or simply a larger-than-expected bill) can devastate a person. She has just about enough money to make it to Alaska–until her car breaks down. She moves in a working class circle. She laments the job market with the Walgreen’s guard. She has no address nor phone number to offer people if they ask. The slide into homelessness could not be more slippery. It’s been reported that the director began thinking of this story after hearing right-wing blowhards blame the victims of Katrina for not leaving New Orleans before the storm hit. Why didn’t they just hop in their SUVs and head north? There is a sizeable group of people for whom a tiny car repair, or a massive hurricane would alter their existence completely. As each new expense pops up for Wendy to deal with, Williams’ eyes reflect a barely-hanging-in-there sensibility. It’s no wonder the homeless guy she meets in the woods is talking to himself. Life is hard. You try your best to get by.

Williams is spectacular in the role. Her wide expressive eyes tell us that she can’t possibly accept another setback. She stays mostly silent, except when speaking with her dog. The unconditional love of a pet might just be keeping her alive. There are scenes of Williams’ face when speaking to a store manager, a cop, a dog pound employee, where she hits it just perfectly. She has realistic breakdowns and seems to bring out the best in people with her open, available face.

And I probably won’t forget the scene involving a tiny kindness by the security guard. I may have teared up.

This film isn’t for everyone. You will feel every one of its 80 minutes. There are long passages where nothing happens and nothing is said. A substantial part of my enjoyment was probably based upon my own life. I have slept in my car (an Acura, not an Accord) in chain store parking lots in Oregon. I’ve been awoken by cops in the morning and told to move on. I’ve taken a train through the Pacific Northwest surrounded by other young people on their way to the canneries. I’ve had cross-country trips stalled because my VW couldn’t go another mile. I’ve “just passed through” most of the towns in Oregon and Washington and Northern California.

My love of the vibe and pacing of this film may be because I’ve been in Wendy’s exact situation, and it certainly rang true for me watching it unfold on the screen.

Like OLD JOY, give WENDY AND LUCY a chance to wash over you. Don’t watch it if you’re already tired. Just observe and you’ll be rewarded.

7.9 IMDB

WENDY AND LUCY

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2008

October 15, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
113 Minutes — October 3, 2008
Drama / Romance
Jonathan Demme [Melvin And Howard; Swing Shift; Stop Making Sense; Something Wild; Married To The Mob; The Silence Of The Lambs; Philadelphia]

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RACHEL GETTING MARRIED is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 62. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

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Show Description:

• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 RACHEL GETTING MARRIED Discussion – Part 1
• Break
• 18:17 RACHEL GETTING MARRIED Discussion – Part 2
• Break
• 33:07 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 33:37 The Last Five®
• 48:56 Credits and Outtakes

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8.2 Metacritic
6.8 IMDB

Rachel Getting Married @ Amazon

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED

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Written by Michael W. Cummins