Archive for the “2009” Category

2009

July 18, 2010
Showtime
USA
English
88 Minutes
Comedy / Crime / Drama / Sport
Robert D. Siegel [wrote THE WRESTLER]

Paul Aufiero = Patton Oswalt

Oswalt is perfectly cast as a die-hard New York Football Giants fan who spends his working hours in a small box in a parking garage listening to sports radio and writing the script for one of his nightly calls. He is one of those movie-level losers, like MARTY, who lives at home with his mother, has filthy friends, and posters of his sports heroes on his walls. He also sleeps in sheets that I myself had back when I was twelve. The ones with all the NFL teams on them.

His sister is married to a businessman and his brother is a personal injury lawyer as seen on TV. They all wonder what he’s doing with his life. But Paul seems to be content simply following the Giants, talking about the Giants, calling in to sports shows as a representative of the Giants, and wearing only clothes that come in Giants colors. On homegame Sundays, he and his buddy, Sal, played by indie-everywhere Kevin Corrigan, put on jerseys and facepaint and drive from their homes on Staten Island, down 95 to the Meadowlands, where they cheer with the other fans, walk around throwing the football, but strangely, don’t seem to eat or drink anything. Just when I was wondering how a guy who works in a parking garage could pay the astronomical NFL ticket prices, we cut to a shot of the two men, in the parking lot in camping chairs, watching a TV which is hot-wired onto their car battery while the real game goes on 100 yards away. This is the kind of humor the film has to offer. It’s very dark, it’s borderline mentally ill, and just this side of unbelievable.

The scripts that Paul writes for his call-ins (which he claims he says off the cuff) are full of grammar and spelling errors. And he works on them for hours. His calls end up lasting a minute or two and typically end with Scott Farrell saying “always great to hear from Paul in Staten Island.” Unfortunately, his mother often pounds on the wall imploring him to keep it down.

Paul’s single greatest hero (and here’s where we as viewers have to substitute our own–I’ll use Bono) is a killer linebacker named Quantrell Bishop. He has posters of the guy and he always wears his number 54 Bishop jersey to the parking lot. One day, the two losers are out for pizza when they spy Bishop and his posse getting gas for his Escalade. “What are they doing in Staten Island?” they ask each other before giving chase in a run-down Corolla. They stop off at a row house for something that seems vaguely criminal and then head into Manhattan. The film really gets going when we see the two men, who are complete products of their Staten Island surroundings, get nervously excited as they cross the bridge into the bustle and parking difficulties of Manhattan. Never mind the high prices. They follow Bishop into a strip club, where they are shocked to drop $29 within minutes of entering and they grab two seats facing the VIP lounge and the Bishop entourage.

In real life, this must happen all the time. I once bumped into (literally–it was crowded) Derek Jeter and his entourage at the Palms in Las Vegas (which makes me sound much cooler than I actually am.) Everyone who’s seen a celebrity in public knows that they just seem to shine brighter than those around them. I did get to glance into the famous blue eyes of Jeter, but what I also noticed was just how the energy of him being there, smiling, added a kind of buzz to the surroundings. People see celebrities in airports and hotels and concerts and they do appear to be different than we mere mortals.

But here’s the question the film asks: what if your hero turned out to be not only rude, but to beat the shit out of you until you went into a coma? I have been in the presence of celebrity probably 50 times. The soundboard at U2 shows, their hotels, in airports, at film festivals. And I’m always asked why I didn’t get an autograph. My answer is that I never want to be disappointed. And how a signature and a two-second human interaction means that I’ve “met” Bono or Stewart Copeland or Colin Farrell, I’ll never know. Gene Siskel used to say, when asked about interviewing actors and then giving them bad film reviews, something like, they’ll never be your friends–you won’t be going out for coffee with them. Plus I know they all have as many problems and they are as assholish and as messed up as the rest of us.

I say all this because in the film, the pair try to send a drink over to Bishop, who refuses a screwdriver (the only mixed drink they’ve ever heard of), so they decide to walk over anyway. They are at first ignored, then ridiculed (“look Bishop, you do got fans, ha ha ha ha.) This scene is unbearable to take. We know that Paul the schlub meeting Bishop the multi-millionaire cannot go well. But the scene takes a terrible turn when it’s discovered how long the two had been following him and Paul is punched and kicked into unconsciousness.

This alone makes a good movie, but what makes it even a bit better, and where the connections to my choice of Bono no longer work, is that the more trouble Bishop gets into, the less successful the New York Giants are on the football field. If I were to go up to Bono and say, please sign my copy of OCTOBER, and he beats me unconscious, they need to postpone some concerts. After Bishop stomps Paul, he is suspended and the Giants playoff hopes dim, the longer the investigation goes on. This part I loved. Paul is such a Big Fan, that he may decide to put his own health and a well-deserved payday aside so that he can continue to follow his beloved Giants (on TV at least) as they make a run for the Superbowl. If his name gets out, will his fellow fans hate him? Was he too much of a pest and somehow had the beating coming?

Oswalt is absolutely perfect. I’ve always known there was an actor hiding inside his schlubby comedian body. (He does a bit on a 1980s video from Night Ranger that is making me laugh right now as I remember it.) He almost dies, yet he wants his Giants to win. He has made the success of the Giants his reason for living, and without them, his family would be even more right about him. No girls, no adequate job, no life. And if it turns out that his lawsuit is the reason for the Giants demise, could he live with himself?

Added to the picture is another caller to the sports program, a guy named Philadelphia Phil, who revels in any Giants defeat and who is the arch-enemy (radio-version) of Paul from Staten Island.

Sidenote: I was at a San Francisco Giants game this year, and there was a presentation about cancer research, I think, and the spokesman was Tommy Lasorda. Now, Tommy Lasorda may be the single most hated person in San Francisco Giants history. Wanna get beat up? Wear Dodger Blue to Pac Bell Park. Or Chiefs Red to the Black Hole in Oakland. Maize and Blue in Columbus? You get the idea. However, Lasorda was years removed from being a Dodger. He was raising money for medical research. And you should have heard the boos. Oh my. Whenever the jumbotron showed him, the profanities began (from the normally white-wine sipping Giants fans). Sidenote over.

I bring it up because the hatred between the Giants and Eagles was shown pretty perfectly in BIG FAN. The two fans of different teams at first simply spar on the radio show, but over time, they get more angry and mean and how long can Paul keep the truth of his beating from the AM radio audience.

The specificity of Staten Island and the portrayal of a unique type of obsessive, the American football fan, make BIG FAN a fabulous, though not exactly fun, film.

What if your hero (Steve Jobs, Obama, Thom Yorke, Lebron) ignored you–made fun of you–almost killed you?

7.0 Metacritic
6.9 IMDB

Big Fan @ Amazon

BIG FAN

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STARRING MAJA
2009

Cinequest 20
Sweden / Ireland
Swedish
94 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Teresa Fabik

Sort of a Swedish “Real Women Have Curves” where an overweight, but bubbly teenager shows the audience that she has feelings too. Just because this film was predictable from the first frame to the last, doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

The title character, Maja (Zandra Andersson), is an 18-year-old aspiring actress. She is also huge. She takes acting workshop classes where it’s clear she takes her craft much more seriously than the other, bored members of the troupe. She also is the butt of jokes at her school, and is bumbling in the way that only the cinematically big-boned can be. At a wedding (where she trips into the wedding cake, catches it before it collapses, and then licks the base of the bride & groom figures before quickly reconstructing the top tier, all without anyone noticing), she strikes up a conversation with the wedding videographer. Like all wedding videographers, Erika (Moa Silén) believes that she’s destined for greater cinematic glory. As she’s reviewing her video from the wedding, she stumbles upon Maja speaking directly to the camera about wanting to be an actress and declaring her availability for any projects that Erika might have.

Erika is at first intrigued by Maja’s klutziness and her seeming disconnection between her dreams and her body-type. She begins filming a thrilled Maja while shopping the footage around and being turned down at most production companies, except for one which wants to make her the basis for a comedy film called “Phat”.

When a call comes in about a role in a sitcom, Maja jumps at the chance, Erika does the driving, and a “sensitive” male classmate sneaks out of his house to go along so that he can meet with his “brother”. As this film holds no surprises, we know that Maja’s role will be described as a “hideously obese creature” who set up a blind date with the sitcom star. Erika will struggle with her conscience after setting up the part for Maja with an ex-boyfriend who has become much more successful than she has. The boy from school will learn how men posting ads online will often not, gasp, be exactly who they say they are. Maja will be in heaven as she spoons with the hot, but “theatrical” boy while they share a bed in the big, exciting, city.

There will be drama as Maja’s mother invites a large party over to watch the show, as Erika’s plans for a film at Maja’s expense are exposed, as the boy tells Maja a secret that the rest of us have known about for 45 minutes.

There are some things that the film surprised me about.
1) The boy did go to the big city, meet a man, and have some form of sex with him. Maja: you didn’t do things you didn’t want to do, did you? Boy: [no answer--then tears]
2) The acting troupe is putting on The Twelfth Night (I believe) which includes a character who is so hideous that the rest of the cast pretends to be attracted to him, until he realizes and has a speech about how evil they are by playing with his heart. This role will be played, of course, by Maja, who will wow the community theater crowd to the point of tears with her heartfelt acting talent. But the thing is, Andersson is a really good actress. We want to applaud along with the rest of the auditorium during their curtain call.
3) The film said some things about the actual chances of someone of Andersson’s build becoming famous at anything. There were scenes that were reminiscent of PRECIOUS when she pretends she’s at the BET Awards with her light-skinned boyfriend. There are dream sequences here as well.

The moral of the story I suppose is that if you’re a filmmaker, don’t make fun of your subject, find their inner soul and show it to the audience. And if you’re an overweight aspiring actress, simply find a gay man to hitch your wagon to and he’ll design a graduation gown that will be talked about for years and years. Or something.

I’d let kids of any age see this. It’s empowering. It’s crowd-pleasing. And completely predictable.

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The Cinequest Program Said:

Everyone wants to be seen, everyone wants to be noticed.

Finding the perfect balance of comedy and drama, Teresa Fabik’s Starring Maja inspires with a poignant, coming-of-age tale that examines our hopes and fears, about discovering ourselves and about following our dreams.

Meet Maja, an 18-year-old girl from a small town in Sweden. She dreams of becoming an actress and getting the world to see her for the beautiful person she is. But it’s difficult to get anyone to look past her portly physique, her awkward social skills, or her clumsiness. Along comes Erica, a struggling documentary filmmaker, who sees an opportunity to create some comedy and make some money by recording Maja’s daily antics. As time passes, Maja’s warm-hearted enthusiasm wins Erica over and has her questioning her motives. Maja’s journey is riddled with comedy and sadness as she struggles to find the self-esteem and courage to live her dream—on her own terms.

—–

6.9 IMDB

STARRING MAJA

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MOTHER
2009

Cinequest 20
South Korea
Korean
128 Minutes
Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Joon-ho Bong [The Host]

The closing night film of Cinequest 20, was a film by Joon-ho Bong, who also directed the much-better HOST in 2006.

This is basically the story of a mother’s loyalty to her mentally-retarded son. I’ve read a bit about this film and the phrases that continually come up are “challenged,” “simpleton,” and “slow” which I dismiss. The boy in this story is a barely functioning retarded youth who hangs out with a small-time criminal who uses him for whatever bad idea he can think up. I have seen hundreds of filmed portrayals of mentally challenged characters and few dramas have asked me to believe as ludicrous a character as Do-joon who stares at people with his mouth open and answers questions in slow motion. He forgets events and activities the second they are finished. But when he needs to be, he appears to add IQ points instantly. I almost couldn’t get past him. But Hye-ja Kim, who plays the mother, kept me at least partially entertained.

As did director Joon-ho Bong, who may have created a terrible, long, and frustrating mystery, but who can’t possibly be accused of not having the technical skill to pull of beautiful scene after beautiful scene. In one, a police interrogator karate kicks the apple out of the son’s mouth. This had nothing to do with any of the other 127 minutes, but it sure looked awesome! The opening scene showed Mother dancing, with abandon, in a field for reasons that we hope will be made clear by the end, but in actuality never are. But it was still hilarious, stunningly beautiful, and strangely emotional to watch this actress look at the camera and dance as if no one was watching.

The film is full of such moments. A building is engulfed in flames off in the distance as Mother walks through some woods. An incredibly tense scene follows a gratuitous sex scene (nothing wrong with that), in which a spilled bottle of water and it’s resulting puddle make you hold your breath as it spreads toward the dangling fingers of the bad guy.

Plot-wise, not much there. Mother runs a herbal store and moonlights as an illegal acupuncturist. She lives with her 20something son, who would forget to feed himself if she wasn’t around. Son is hit-and-runned by rich guys in a Mercedes. Boy and Thug drive out to the golf course to confront them and end up in the police station where Mother bails Son out and gives out free samples of some sort of herbal drink. Later, after a night of drinking, Boy is accuses of killing a loose schoolgirl and then displaying her for the neighborhood to see. Mother begins an investigation to find the real killer, going so far as to enlist bad guys to beat confessions out of people.

After all, her son couldn’t have possibly done what he’s been accused of, right?

And on and on. For more than two hours. Once the “mystery” has been solved, we are still subjected to another 20 minutes of slow-paced often inexplicable scenes which seem to have no connection with the original story.

I am a huge fan of Asian cinema. I enjoyed The Host and most of the creepy Korean horror films of the past decade. But this one just sucked. I don’t care if it’s from an established and much-heralded director, if this had been made in the US, no one would be giving it a second glance. Somehow it garnered an 8.1 at IMDB and a not-terrible 6.9 at Metacritic. There’s no accounting for taste.

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The Cinequest Program Said:

Some secrets can only be uncovered by a determined force of nature…

For twenty years Cinequest has empowered the Maverick via innovation and discovery. It fits this tradition to close a milestone program with a Maverick moment that will truly electrify…and give you one of those special moments when you leave the theatre knowing you’ve discovered something very original, very powerful.

There are many forces of nature. Perhaps the most organic and committed force is that of a mother for her child. And this power and experience of motherhood carries a universal understanding, respect and community. What would you do if your child were accused of a brutal crime?

Mother delivers a breathtaking and hugely entertaining mystery, delving into the realms of truth within the shadow side of humanity.

When it comes to her mentally challenged adult son, Do-Joon, there is nothing this middle-aged matriarch won’t do. Her devotion is put to the ultimate test when a schoolgirl is found murdered and all signs point to Do-Joon as the killer. Denied help by the authorities, she sets out to prove her son’s innocence. Using her amateur sleuthing skills, she uncovers a host of unpleasant secrets among the tormented townspeople. As the quest deepens, the heroine’s own maternal instincts become increasingly blurred.

Rather than stun with shocking sequences, director Joon-ho Bong (director of the hit film The Host) emphasizes and amazes with detailed cinematography. Shots of open fields and mystifying landscape are equally dazzling and fundamental to the mother’s journey. While her eternal love for Do-Joon may come across as shameful and outrageous, the powerful performance of the matriarch overshadows all else on screen.

—–

8.1 IMDB
6.9 Metacritic

MADEO

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APPLAUSE
2009

March 6, 2010
Cinequest 20
Denmark
Danish
85 Minutes
Drama
Martin Zandvliet

Though I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen Natasha Richardson look-a-like, Paprika Steen before, I can assure you that I’ll try to catch her in any future projects she might be involved in. She is just that good. She plays an alcoholic actress in Applause, and judging from the way she’s treated by others, a quite famous one. In a bit of too-meta storytelling, Thea is playing an alcoholic in a stage play each evening, while trying to kick the habit during daylight hours. She has also driven away what appears to be a pretty great husband and is trying to reconnect with their two young boys. But as a diva and a boozer, she isn’t exactly sure how to go about winning their trust again. Awkward hugs and unsuccessful trips to Toys R Us are just a few of the problems Thea encounters on her way to becoming a more normal-acting mother.

She attends AA meetings, but insists on visiting her neighborhood bar, even if she only enjoys a club soda and the flirtations of the men there.

The camera work is shaky and close-up. We seem to peer into her eyes, or maybe they just do a great job of catching ours. Thea is at a specific age in an actress’ life. Still beautiful, but with all of life’s years written on her face. She is mean to most of those around her, but Steen never lets us forget the humanity behind the rudeness.

There is also a scene towards the end which will give you the heaviest sense of dread.

A fantastic character study.

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The Cinequest Program Said:

“Even though you can’t tell, I am a good mother.”

The reason for the emotional impact achieved in Applause can be summed up in two words: Paprika Steen. One of the world’s most vibrant actresses (having starred in such films as Adam’s Apples, The Substitute and Open Hearts), Steen has the innate ability to make us laugh, cry and, yes, even to fear her with just a glance.

Steen’s tour-de-force performance as Thea in Martin Pieter Zandvliet’s debut film is, in short, fearless. A celebrated actress, Thea has been battling alcoholism for years—an addiction that led to her divorce and the loss of custody of her two sons. Pampered at work and lacking even the most basic social skills, Thea does not suffer fools gladly and fills the lives of those around her with a caustic, venomous sarcasm. But Thea wants her children back desperately and pleads with her ex-husband to let her spend time with them. But how far is she willing to go?

—–

7.2 IMDB

APPLAUSE

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HOUSE OF BRANCHING LOVE
2009

March 6, 2010
Cinequest 20
Finland
Finnish
102 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Mika Kaurismaki

This is the kind of comedy where a man, while getting orally serviced by his girlfriend for rent, tosses a lit cigar out his window onto dry grass, where a brush fire ignites, and as the man rushes outside wearing boxers and brandishing an extinguisher, he loses control of the hose and it sprays all over his face and the window before finally hitting its target. The crowd erupts in laughter. And…scene.

A couple in their 30s is divorcing, but neither wants to leave the lakeside house, so they decide they’ll both live there, as long as they live by a set of ground rules. Samples are, we split the bills, and, no new people allowed inside, which really means that they can’t bring their new lovers over. This rule lasts about an hour. The woman calls a former one-night-stand participant and he flies his seaplane over and docks it at the house. The man asks his pimp half-brother to secure the services of a prostitute who will pose as his new love interest. But she’s on the run from a scary female mob boss who accuses her of stealing some money.

The man’s best friend is some sort of blow-dried, tight-acid-washed-jeans wearing guy who seems to have a way with the ladies, if not with his toothbrush.

The entire plot is based around a divorcing couple, who through jealousy and kidnapping and a next door neighbor with a huge dog, find that they are better together than apart. There isn’t a single surprise, and the mood changes from madcap slapstick to serious tied-to-a-chair torture seemingly at random.

Skip this one.

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The Cinequest Program Said:

It’s divorce: Finnish style.

In this wicked comedy, Juhani and Tuula, a successful family therapist and a business trainer, cannot practice what they preach. When they decide to divorce but continue to share the house, reason not only doesn’t prevail, long repressed emotions erupt like childish, playground tantrums. First Juhani brings home a bar pickup, infuriating Tuula so much that she gets even with a tryst of her own the next night. Juhani then ups the ante by hiring a prostitute who’s being tailed by the local mob that thinks she’s stolen a big chunk of their money, to pose as his girlfriend.

Director Mika Kaurismäki’s wild ride through domestic dysfunction not only earns its laughs, it also exposes the futility of false personas where matters of the heart are involved. Ultimately, love, in all its guises, is a part of the human condition none of us can do without.

—–

6.6 IMDB

HOUSE OF BRANCHING LOVE

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2009

February 28, 2010
Cinequest 20
India
Hindi
105 Minutes
Drama
Amit Rai

Not very successful film about a Muslim community in India. A suicide bomber has blown up a marketplace and the Indian authorities respond using force against other Muslims, detaining them for two weeks without trial. Tired of being blamed for the actions of one man, the local leader calls for a general strike, whereby each shop owners will close his store until the unjustly incarcerated men are set free. Our protagonist, an auto mechanic, is given an important job to do by governmental engineers on the day before the strike is to commence. An 1940s Ford engine is brought to his shop by official looking people who need him to fix it. It seems that the final urn of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes was recently found in a bank vault and the government is getting prepared to drive the ashes to the final Indian river using the exact same truck that carried them after his death. This is a huge honor to be picked to fix this engine, but if he keeps his shop open to do the work, his fellow Muslim businessmen will think that he’s disloyal. He will try to speak to the community leaders, but they won’t listen. He’ll be assaulted by the thuggy Muslim youth for going against orders. He’ll try and try to point out that Gandhi may have been murdered for being sympathetic to the plight of Muslim Indians. He’ll lose sleep and rely on his closest friend, a doctor who will tell him to stop stressing.

And what will the women say? We have no idea because there are only two women who appear on screen, only one of whom has a line of dialogue. There is a funeral scene which involves only men.

By the time the film ends, all warring parties will come together in a show of support that the Mahatma would have wanted to see. There is really no surprise here.

Simplistic and boring and overacted. There are some Bollywood type songs that you can bob your head to. I suppose we don’t see many films about the Muslim population of India. However, just last year at Cinequest Firaaq played, which told the story of race relations in India with much more heft.

6.9 IMDB [25 votes]

ROAD TO SANGAM

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2009

February 28, 2010
Cinequest 20
Japan
Japanese
107 Minutes
Drama
Atsushi Funahashi

I don’t need plot or the camera to move or dialogue or sex or violence or fast pacing to keep me interested. But Holy Toledo was this thing slow. I was sitting with a full cup of coffee, it was my first film of the day, and I’ll be damned if I could stay awake.

In the Yanaka neighborhood of Tokyo are a whole bunch of Buddhist temples and old-timers. And a huge, five-story pagoda used to stand over all of it. The children played around it, and it made the neighborhood happy to have it. Everyone alive at the time agrees that it burned to the ground in 1957, though how it caught on fire has two story versions. Either a crazy homeless man did it, or two lovers killed themselves by lighting it on fire while they were inside. Either way, the burning of this structure has deeply wounded the neighborhood and a student film society sets about interviewing people about it. They are also after the holy grail of filmed footage of the fire itself.

Two characters discuss how important it is to make the elderly interview subjects comfortable before asking them painful questions about the burning. This is supposed to help us in the audience go along with film maker’s pacing, which involves slow, static shots of this temple and that. Of a blind woman scrubbing tombstones. Of various ceremonies for the dead. There is also footage of the young people from the film society (actors, I think), interviewing people with memories of the pagoda (real-life citizens, I think). These stories meander until we end up learning about why the neighborhood isn’t as good as it used to be when the pagoda stood sentry. Some of the interview subjects lament that no one worships dead relatives anymore. Another doesn’t like the crime that’s moved in. Others talk about the beauty of the structure itself and how the designer went against the convention of the time and hung off the edges of the immense structure without ropes.

It is filmed mostly in Black and White, though there are rare shots of color and a few in sepia. The mixture of real neighborhood residents, a real historic fire, and actors working around them is mostly successful. The shots are uniformly beautiful, even while watching someone sweep for five minutes. But oh my goodness is it slow. And dark. And quiet.

Notes:
Slow, static shots…temple after temple…some young people are collecting film from old-timers…a five-story pagoda built in 1600s, then destroyed, then rebuilt in the 1800s, and burned in the 1950s…old-timers reminisce about what the huge structure meant to the town..

DEEP IN THE VALLEY

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2009

February 27, 2010
Cinequest 20
Norway
Norwegian / Polish / English
100 Minutes
Drama
Sara Johnsen

Terrific film about the nature of fate. And love, of course. Axel is an advertising executive in his 20s with a completely dicky demeanor. He is Asian, but was adopted at a young age by a Norwegian couple. He treats women poorly, is reckless and handsome and snobby. His adoptive parents live in a large, expensive house, and it’s clear he’s the most important thing to him. His family hires a new maid, Maria, a sexy woman from Poland, whose own son lives with her mother back in her home country. They are immediately attracted to each other, though when not having sex, he treats her as if she were his family’s maid–which, of course, she is. Maria works a second job washing dishes at an Asian restaurant in a not-so-great part of town. A co-worker, Anne, is quiet and thoughtful and was also adopted by a Norwegian, though her mother has a blue collar job working as a coat check woman in a hotel lounge. Rounding out the cast is a blond farm boy named Per, just back from the Gulf War, after being photographed brandishing a rifle in the face of a small Afghan boy. The publicity from the photo resulted in his being discharged from the army, and sent back home where he is anxious to begin his college studies. His first apartment is across the street from the restaurant. The four will become two couples.

There are several things going on in this film and not all of those things work. The film opens with night vision shots of a war zone, but Per’s military story is by far the least compelling one. He has an embedded photo-journalist (a hot one, to boot) follow him around as he goes about his army business. A car speeds through a roadblock, he kills the driver and screams at the kids in the back seat to get out. A photo is taken and he becomes a scapegoat. He has trouble sleeping afterward, but is polite and smart and ready for college.

The more successful theme is one of class distinction. Axel is spoiled and wealthy and handsome and entitled and works in a high-priced ad agency. Anne is beautiful and sweet and is a waitress at a local restaurant. Maria is in Norway on a worker’s permit, lives in a different country than her son, is both a maid and a dishwasher. That’s our hierarchy. But what caused them to reach the class level they’ve reached? Maria came to Norway looking for a better life. Axel and Anne were adopted as children from their homeland by two vastly different families. One a single mother working in a hotel, the other a well-to-do couple who throw lavish parties, support liberal causes, and think nothing of their mid-20s son coming home to live after a work suspension (for inappropriate language towards a female, of course).

Add to this the relationship that Maria and Axel enter into–she is employed by his family, how can any love affair be equal? When he’s mean to her, his barbs are always aiming towards her domestic servant status.

What if the situation were different? The girl was adopted by the wealthy couple and given all the advantages that Axel now enjoys.

I must say that as someone who was adopted as an infant, this sort of what if discussion is never far from my mind. What if the family before the one I ended up with had decided to take me? How would everything have been different–or the same? Biological children probably don’t go through this, but we “chosen babies” do. So this film hit quite close to home.

Beyond the plot, the film is populated by good looking people of various backgrounds. Axel walks around completely nude–and why shouldn’t he with that body. Anne is striking in her poise and posture and quietness. She has a first kiss that will make you swoon. Maria is louder and demonstrative and sexy. And Per is buff and handsome and as Norwegian as apple pie. Each does a fabulous job with their characters. The music and photography is great.

If you forget about an incredible coincidence for a moment and just let it wash over you, you’ll be in for a great film experience.

Notes:
Coincidence aside, fabulous story of siblings, adopted from Asia to Norway…the son is an affluent advertising creative type who is just an asshole to everyone he meets…his adopted family is beyond wealthy…clearly he’s had everything he’s ever wanted…we see him as the film opens paying his buddy to sleep with his girlfriend, thus proving her unworthiness–it’s a loyalty test she fails…sent home on a semi-suspension (for inappropriate language), Axel meets his family’s new maid, a Polish hottie who he treats like trash…Maria also works as a dishwasher at the Vietnamese restaurant where her best friend Anne works. Anne was also adopted from Vietnam, but her mother is a coat checker at a posh hotel…An ex-soldier, who becomes infamous for a photo of him aiming a machine gun in an Afghan boy’s face, moves into Maria’s low-rent building to being his college studies…the soldier finds comfort in the restaurant and the advertising exec finds comfort in the maid…there are some interesting things being said about the luck of life’s draw…both Vietnamese young people seem smart, one was adopted by affluent parents, the other by a working-class woman…how does this adoption lottery affect those involved…the cast is magnificent, and the Norway we see is less fancy, clean, and healthy than divided, racist, and full of class divisions…not sure if the soldier’s story is as compelling as the others…the scenes of war seem a bit out of place…they are good, but the vibe is different…the film is all about how big events can affect everything that follows, whether it be an international adoption, a child left in another country, or an act during wartime…

7.1 IMDB

UPPERDOG

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THE ROBBERS
2009

February 25, 2010
Cinequest 20
China
Mandarin
92 Minutes
Action
Shu-Peng Yang

A crowd-pleaser that left me sort of cold. Two bumbling thieves walk the countryside until they arrive at a village which is full of idiots. They claim to be hunters desiring water, but it quickly becomes clear that they are after any valuables the villagers have. One of the robbers has an incredible likeness to Toshiro Mifune, but a bit more chubby, and this bumblier of the bumbling duo takes a liking to the daughter of the man they first rob. Before they can get away, some soldiers show up, abuse the villagers in minor ways, then begin to abuse the daughter in much more serious ways. As the rape is taking place (though this rape is mostly played for laughs), the robber with the crush stabs the soldier, which begins a full-on samurai fight with four soldiers vs. two robbers.

This is when the film takes off into supercool territory. The soundtrack is “300-esque”, full of speed metal riffs that have nothing to do with authenticity, but just sound bitchin. As the men are running around and stabbing each other and shooting arrows into each other, the blood spurts, the villagers recoil in horror, and the soundtrack thumps on.

But as soon as there is life in the film, it begins running out of gas. Instead of thanking the robbers for saving a young maiden from her soiled fate, the village elder gets the rest of the men in town to take the two men prisoner. This will happen several more times in the course of the film. The men will save the asses of the village, the dim-witted mayor and his even more dimwitted townspeople will tie up the two men, and they’ll find any number of ways to get out of their control. On one occasion, one fakes the need to pee–in another, a sympathetic (and sexy) butcher-badass leaves one of her knives within reach so they can cut their way out.

But it’s ponderous when the same plot happens over and over. The mayor fakes paralysis in order to sneak away on a donkey to tell the army what the robbers have done with their comrades.

The film is bookended with scenes of an ancient man and woman and their crazy kid who stop for water at a village full of scared people.

The music is cool, but the film is ridiculous. I suppose if you have a soft spot for slapstick, this one might do the trick. And apparently dick jokes translate into any language and dynastic era.

5.9 IMDB

THE ROBBERS

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2009

January 12, 2010
San Jose CA — Cinearts Santana Row
USA
English
112 Minutes — December 16, 2009
Drama
Scott Cooper

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CRAZY HEART is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 85. 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 CRAZY HEART Discussion
• Break
• 22:06 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 22:37 The Last Five®
• 1:00:08 GLAAD Award Nominees
• 1:07:02 Credits & Outtakes

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8.0 IMDB
8.4 Metacritic

CRAZY HEART

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2009

July 19, 2009
Camera Cinema Club
USA
English
95 Minutes
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Henry Jaglom [Hollywood Dreams]

Time Never Kills The Love Of Your Life.

Actress Tanna Frederick. Remember that name, please. Although you’ll be hard pressed to forget it after the credits for IRENE IN TIME spend what seems to be a full 60 seconds where they say simply “Tanna Frederick In”. In huge letters, while background images of the ocean are changing. Someone (director Henry Jaglom) really must think that the name Tanna Frederick either means something now to audiences, or will soon mean something to audiences. She also starred in his last film, HOLLYWOOD DREAMS, and fool me once, shame on me, but fool me twice…you know the rest.

Frederick plays a 20-something, unlucky-in-love, singer who is recording an album. While Ms. Frederick’s voice won’t make you nauseous, neither will you believe for a second that she has a recording contract. Nor will you believe that the obviously hip producer spends his time staring out his booth’s window at Frederick while mesmerized by the dulcet tones coming out of her mouth. Someone told the actress she could sing, Jaglom encouraged her, now she’s playing a singer. (This is something I’ve referred to for years as the “Potsie Principle” named for the Happy Days character who found a way to sing in nearly every one of the later episodes of that classic sitcom.)

Never mind that her songs include one call “Dancing With My Father” (lyrics: I’m dancing with my father by the light of the moon) and a song that must be heard to be believed called “Starbucks” about a woman who walks into the coffee shop with a cellphone thus making the retail chain (ticker symbol: SBUX) magical. Or something.

I really enjoyed the 2007 Irish film ONCE, and one of the reasons why was the recording studio scenes. Typically films have a big “reveal” whereby a band or singer hits one, maybe two notes and the heard-it-all producer stops what he’s doing, silences his co-workers, and stares longingly at the musicians behind the glass. ONCE didn’t do this. The first verse of the first song was shaky, but it got better and better, and while the recording engineer didn’t gaze at the band as if witnessing greatness, he did smile at the surprise of hearing something decent.

IRENE IN TIME has sweeping camera shots of what seems to be entire songs, where our beautifully lit star, Ms. Frederick, is singing with such passion that every other musician in the room can’t help but stare. And producer, and later love interest, Jakub, sits in a director’s chair absorbing every note that comes towards him. He even uses his love of her singing to land a date with her. I don’t doubt that people may find her whiny voice appealing, but I defy anyone to tell me that the rest of her band, including four other professional singers, would smile as much at one singer, when they have much more important things to worry about–like producing their best performance. It rang completely false.

There are also those films where the director needs to show us that the actor or actress is really singing. And that he or she is really remarkable. And that the words that the character wrote are so deep that we need to hear every verse and every word. And then the whole band has to hug and high-five afterward to prove that magic was made during the session we just witnessed. Somehow IRENE IN TIME covers each of these bases. And did I mention the song called “Starbucks”.

This film is completely populated with boring, self-centered people. And the queen of the self-centered is Irene. This gaggle of women meet up to drink wine, swim in a posh Santa Monica bungalow’s pool, and bad-mouth their former and present boyfriends and their mostly absent fathers. There are tears aplenty. Whenever this group of women meet, or even when a group of older friends, male and female, hold poker nights, Irene gets to be the first and last person to talk. Her problems are so much bigger than everyone else’s. She gets to be first in telling the story about how great her now-dead father was, how he would lie to teachers to get her out of school and take her bike riding or sailing or to the circus. In fact, why limit these incredibly compelling stories to just friends or even just acquaintances? Why not discuss her father on first dates? And, believe it or not, why not discuss her father with the unknown high school student at the next table at a restaurant?

There’s a scene where a father and daughter are having dinner in a restaurant booth. She is one of those only-in-the-movies teenagers who speaks of existentialism and parental boundaries and how her dad could have been a better father. He leaves to go to the bathroom, against her wishes. Meanwhile, our heroine’s date, a jazz singer’s manager, has been getting eyes from the restaurant’s hostess (played by Dorothy’s little sister and the ex-Mrs. Bogdonovich, Louise Stratton) so he leaves his date to go talk with her. This shows us that another man in Irene’s life will be a dog like all the others, but that’s not the worst of it. Irene scoots over to talk with the young woman. Are you with your dad? Yes. My dad used to come to school and lie to the teachers and take me bike riding. And within minutes of meeting, she’s explaining the greatness of her dead father to yet another victim. The teenager, who is both wise beyond her years, and much more aware and intelligent and grown up than Irene mentions that her date is right now flirting with the hostess and “he’s not the right match for you.”

In addition to the contract rider which provided Frederick with three full songs to sing on camera, there must have been an equally enforceable clause which required that she appear in a bikini. Don’t get me wrong, she looked fabulous, but with the exception of a scene that actually took place poolside, the other two bikini-scenes were were completely gratuitous. Frederick has obviously been hitting the gym and if I had a body like hers, you know, but more guyish, I’d scarcely keep my shirt on anywhere. But sometimes scenes are added to films just because the actress wants them. To the best of my recollection, she never actually sang while in a bikini. Though perhaps those scenes will surface in the DVD release.

All of the characters come from money. Irene’s father apparently gambled a lot and on one of the occasions when he won, it paid for the down payment on the house she grew up in. Irene currently lives with a friend and her friend’s mother (Karen Black), in a huge house with a pool and fountain. It’s not clear how Irene makes a living. Surely not in the hour a day she spends recording songs with such titles as “Starbucks.”

In the mid-point of the film, Irene visits the house she grew up in as her mother hosts a last party before selling it. She escapes to her old room to look around. She finds a music box and inside of it is a note in her father’s handwriting. Why she waited this many years to open the music box even though many a childhood treasure hunt started there, is never explained. The clue inside says to look in a box in the closet and in that box is the photo of a young singer. At this exact moment a family friend comes into the room and nervously says “put that away before your mother sees.” Uh oh. The plot thickens. Or maybe, the plot finally starts. Not really.

Next scene: a woman is rehearsing a jazz song while her manager watches. Irene comes in at the exact second the singer starts performing a song. Irene begins shaking and crying and sobbing and looking on in mouth-agape wonder as the woman continues to sing. When it’s over, Irene (who is unknown to both singer and manager) demands to know “where did you get that song!” Again, Irene walked in just as the song was starting. The manager tries to cool her down and asks if she’s a fan, but she isn’t. The singer comes over and tries to comfort Irene. Irene, never one to hide her emotions from strangers, begins a story. “My daddy and I wrote that song together and I haven’t heard it for 15 years, I demand to know how you got it!” The answer is obvious to we in the audience, though it isn’t so obvious to Irene because apparently nothing is obvious.

Yes, her perfect father (disappearing gambler, breaker of public school truancy laws) may have had a mistress or two on the side and perhaps this singer was one of them. The singer tries to lessen the blow by saying “you remind me of him” and “I loved him so much”, etc. Once we find out that Irene’s mother adopted her, it doesn’t take a genius to deduce that the singer is the mom and Irene is the daughter and the father wasn’t the prince that she thought he was. Her constantly rosy view of her “daddy” is finally cracking a bit when faced with this kind of evidence.

Irene is a “close-talker”. Irene stares at people and says things like “I feel this connection” or “Daddy is watching over me.” Irene is apparently so incredibly beautiful, inside and out, that every man who comes within her zone of influence is immediately smitten and must date her. But what about the women in her life? Thanks for asking. In what may be the most ridiculous scene in a film full or ridiculous scenes, there is a bathing-suit-clad couch scene where four women are talking. One of the more forward women, who looks like a former Olympic swimmer, is all but devouring Irene with her eyes. “I find you very attractive” she purrs as her hands stroke our heroine’s bare shoulders. “Have you ever been with a woman?” Only in the movies do we hear “let’s kiss to see if we feel anything” and our giddy main character kisses the Olympian to see if her problem isn’t with her choice in men, it’s with her choice of males. Then the other two have to kiss, but they don’t take it seriously. Then Irene gives her review: “your lips are softer than a man’s–it’s like kissing yourself,” which in retrospect is probably something the narcissistic Irene has always wanted to do.

The next male who falls for her is the record producer, a buffed, seemingly normal guy who all but begs for a date. She agrees (while close-talking) and he picks her up while holding a bouquet of red and blue balloons. You’d think he was a medium who contacted her father from beyond the grave by the way she acts. She again shudders and cries and sobbingly says “Oh my god, when I was a kid, my dad would give me balloons that were also red and blue! How did you know?” she says through her tears. He replies, “I thought of you when I was picking the colors.”

To review the men we see with Irene. 1) Man comes over for dinner at Irene’s house. She admits how happy she’s been with the past three months together. He counters that it’s really only been 2 and a half. Gone. 2) On date with architect, her chirpy, borderline retarded interaction with him (“Close your eyes. Now think of your favorite drafting tool”) results in his replying something that the rest of us will wonder for the rest of the film “what’s wrong with you?”. Gone. During the meal. 3) A man returns to L.A. after six years and has lunch with Irene, her friend, and another man. By the way, the friend has to “pretend to be straight this one time” and though she ends up telling her date she likes women, he almost changes her orientation with a single kiss. The man who returned after a long absence used to date Irene and he continues to talk about the good times and how he’s grown and changed the way she wants and then he proposes marriage, right at the bar. Gone. 4) Jazz singer’s manager, calls her up, they bike ride on the Santa Monica boardwalk (the better for Irene to again tell the story of her father “kidnapping” her to go for a ride), and they have the aforementioned meal while the hostess licks her lips while watching him on his date. She gets dropped off by him after a different date saying “you make me feel like an awkward 8th grader” though I’m not sure what that means. Gone. 5) Record producer who stares at her through the glass, is smooth and handsome, and picks her up with huge display of tear-inducing balloons. They have what appears to be romantic walks on the beach and good sex. This man leads Irene to invite her complaining girlfriends over for a ceremonial burning of the huge collection of self-help dating books she’s collected. They throw them into the fireplace with enthusiasm. Irene then says “this past week with Jakub has been great. I think I finally found the one.” Yup, it only took her a week, but she knows for sure. A later phone call will reveal that Jakub is on his way back to Chicago where his wife and family live. Gone.

Zero for five. And none of them are as great and warm and loving as Irene’s Father was.

Frederick (or her character, and I’m not sure which is which) is as self-centered and neurotic as Woody Allen, with none of his humor or charisma. That’s right, she has less charisma than Woody Allen. Her mother will say “did you know you come from a long line of narcissists?” Anyone who watches this film will be nodding their head vigorously. This film was full of boring people (mostly women) who continuously boo hoo’ed over their man problems. And each of them connected their present day problems with men and the fact that their father left them, or were abusive, or were perfect, or were too caring, or not caring enough. We get it.

Fathers have incredible “power” over their daughters’ formation of male roles and relationships. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that fathers have been responsible for untold negative relationships between daughters and the men they attempt to love. On the other hand, fathers have also been responsible for well-adjusted and fulfilling relationships between daughters and the men they form partnerships with. Most of us have parents who mostly did the best they could. It’s time to move on and take responsibility for ourselves.

This film was a mess of talky scenes where characters I didn’t care about lamented how terrible their lives were, while surrounded by affluence. No one is seen working or paying for anything or checking off anything on their to-do lists. They were just seen talking. Over and over again about the same thing. Mostly, about the father that Irene hasn’t seen in 15 years.

A final title card says (in flowery script): For My Daughter.

5.4 IMDB [20 Votes]

IRENE IN TIME

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2009

July 16, 2009
Redbox DVD
USA
English
91 Minutes — January 16, 2009
Action / Comedy / Crime
Steve Carr

Safety Never Takes A Holiday.

In my defense, sometimes marriage can be a collection of compromises. Sometimes my wife gets to pick the movie. Plus, we are big fans of KING OF QUEENS, which is probably the lightest TV show I’ve ever watched regularly. For a three-camera studio audience sitcom, it was hilarious to me. Mostly because the guy was overweight and loved the same kinds of foods that I do–that is, stuff a 10 year old would eat. And neither character was all good.

So with that goodwill felt towards Mr. Kevin James, I tried my first experience with the Redbox machine near my Lucky’s. I have recently read a New York Times article about how Paul Blart is the number one rental in Redboxes, which only hold about 50 different titles and how the CEO of Redbox was pretty sure that Paul Blart was not the number one rental at the much snobbier Netflix.

The plot, ha ha, is that James has hypoglycemia and that keeps him off the police force in New Jersey, but he takes his job at the West Orange Mall just as seriously as if her were a real cop. He rides a Segway, helps little old ladies, finds lost children, and keeps his uniform pressed and looking good. Everyone around him ridicules his weight and the dedication he brings to his job. He has a crush on the hair extension kiosk girl. He has a circle of friends who work in the mall. He has a daughter at home, the product of a green-card-acquiring Mexican immigrant who left them behind soon after her birth.

It’s Black Friday and a group of highly-trained, tattooed, X-Game participants takes over the mall so that they can steal the credit card codes on the biggest shopping day of the year. But with our hero’s knowledge of the mall layout and how to get a Segway to do what you want, the bad guys don’t stand a chance, do they?

The reason this film wasn’t as funny as it could be is because Blart himself has no discernible sense of humor. At all. Since he takes his job so seriously, he doesn’t think what he’s doing is funny. His shyness isn’t funny. His dating bad luck isn’t funny. James isn’t given a chance to be ridiculous. Knowingly, that is. It just isn’t very funny. Filled with unknown actors, this film made a fortune. I’m sure a sequel is in the works. Nice use of incredibly sappy old Survivor song.

3.9 Metacritic
5.4 IMDB

Paul Blart: Mall Cop @ Amazon

PAUL BLART: MALL COP

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2009

July 16, 2009
HBO
USA
English
45 Minutes
Documentary
Alexandra Pelosi [Journeys With George; Friends Of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi]

After being exiled from his home and the church he built, the former minister tries to redeem himself and rebuild a life for his family.

Something happened while I was watching this short documentary that I never expected to happen: I started feeling sorry for Mr. Haggard. Of all the social issues that are dividing our country, the one that I have the most trouble with, above all else, is the group of people trying to stop gay people from having the same rights as straight people. Adoption, marriage, and leading a church. Racism, abortion, creationish, etc, all take a back seat in my mind to two adults in love. How do you legislate that?

Before seeing this, Haggard was a hypocrite who spoke out against gay equality while having an ongoing relationship with a male escort. This documentary shows us some of his early sermons on the topic and in retrospect it’s easy to snicker at him as he explains the great danger of homosexuality. A particularly awkward speech he gave ten years ago mentions that a buddy and he were knocking on doors while going about the lord’s good work, or whatever, and they suddenly found themselves in the parking lot of a gay bar. Someone called out to them “are you two together?”, then we see the audience at the sermon bust out laughing like it was the craziest thing they’ve ever heard. Can you imagine? Two men being a couple? Madness?

But here’s the thing: Haggard seems like a charismatic, slightly dorky, leader of people. If he encourages you to do things, I bet that you do them. He is still strongly religious, still reads the bible, and is still almost superhumanly honest. Some of the questions Pelosi asks (and she is great at this in all her films) are so on point, that the subject can’t help but answer with the first thing on his mind. He doesn’t sugarcoat what he did or his “struggle” or when the news came out that he was “completely cured of his homosexuality” that Haggard himself never said it, but one of his former co-pastors did. He knows he isn’t “cured” and he may not believe that being gay is “curable”. He continually talks about the sins he’s committed, his wife seems pretty cool and supportive, his kids are exactly like every other kid, though probably more understanding as the family is banished from the State of Colorado and forced to live in loaner houses, a residence hotel, and then a tiny apartment.

And here’s the part I can’t get my head around. He had sex with a man, he admitted to buying crystal meth. And for those transgressions, he was fired from his job, required to enter treatment, banned from ministering again, and here’s the kicker, forced out of the entire state of Colorado. On who’s authority can a church with 14,000 members tell a man and his family they must leave the state and the church which he founded and led for decades? I’m sure there are bylaws and such that spell out what happens, but wouldn’t a man who has, according to their beliefs, fallen, need his home church and familiar surroundings now more than ever? Isn’t that what Christians are supposed to do?

As an atheist, I’m finished shaking my head while listening to people talk about why theirs is the one true religion. I’ve moved past his or anyone else’s religion. But here’s what I saw: A man who could again be a very compelling leader, a man interested in the downtrodden, who could be an asset to any organization (even a church) that might want him.

At the beginning of the documentary we see scenes from Pelosi’s previous project where Haggard is hugging young men and speaking in front of all male arena crowds and riding his scooter around the huge empire that he’s had a large part in building. We can snicker at the male hugging, but there is no doubt that all the people who speak to him after his sermons or speeches think that he’s the greatest. They can scarcely control their enthusiasm.

Did the punishment fit the crime in this case? As someone who wishes everyone could just bang who they wanted, obviously I don’t understand how big a crime it is to enjoy the company of the same gender. But the way he was treated, after admitting to touching a man, seems just about as unchristian as you can get. They gave him a severance package, they forced him into exile in Arizona, the White House distanced themselves from him, the other evangelical leaders suddenly decided that he never really was that powerful, and he became a story that his former supporters wished they could simply forget.

The greatest post-script possibility of this documentary would be the news that Ted Haggard has started a ministry for all sexual orientations. He could keep the meth out, but let in the gay and the bi and the poly and whatever else consenting adults should be allowed to do. Shouldn’t those children of god have access to the same scripture and fellowship as his initial flock? If you believe this kind of thing, and I don’t, Haggard could conceivably save souls for Jesus. He still has the skill set. Let him lead.

Back to the filmmaking for a second. Pelosi is great at asking the pushy, yet not-rude question. I’ve always felt like her subjects consider her some kind of west coast, liberal Jew, who simply doesn’t know how social graces are followed and they are therefore extra forgiving when she acts in such a forward manner. This film is short, and Pelosi and another person handle all the filming. There are shots in cars and shots on walks in the desert and old clips and explanatory title cards. He really opened up to her and it made him, and his family, a much more sympathetic subject.

7.0 IMDB

The Trials of Ted Haggard @ Amazon

THE TRIALS OF TED HAGGARD

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2009

July 7, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
140 Minutes — July 1, 2009
Crime / Drama / Thriller
Michael Mann [Thief; Manhunter; The Last Of The Mohicans; Heat; The Insider; Collateral]
12-Month Movie Watching Pace: 152

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

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

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

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7.0 Metacritic
7.9 IMDB

Public Enemies [Book] @ Amazon

PUBLIC ENEMIES

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2009

June 14, 2009
Camera Cinema Club
USA / UK
English
98 Minutes — June 26, 2009
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Sam Mendes [American Beauty; Road To Perdition; Jarhead; Revolutionary Road]

5.7 Metacritic
7.8 IMDB

Away We Go @ Amazon

AWAY WE GO

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2009

June 10, 2009
San Jose CA — Camera 12
USA
English
100 Minutes — June 5, 2009
Comedy
Todd Phillips [Old School]

7.3 Metacritic
8.4 IMDB

The Hangover @ Amazon

THE HANGOVER

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2009

June 10, 2009
San Jose CA — Camera 12
USA
English
99 Minutes — May 29, 2009
Horror / Thriller
Sam Raimi [Darkman; A Simple Plan; Spider-Man; Spider-Man 2; Spider-Man 3]

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DRAG ME TO HELL is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 73. 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 DRAG ME TO HELL Discussion
• Break
• 27:13 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 28:07 SIFF 2009
• Break
• 50:38 Credits and Outtake

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A Gleiberman
A- Tobias
***^ Phillips
8.3 Metacritic
8.0 IMDB

Drag Me to Hell @ Amazon

DRAG ME TO HELL

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2009

June 3, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7 — 3D
USA
English
96 Minutes — May 29, 2009
Animation / Action / Adventure / Comedy / Family
Pete Doctor [Toy Story; Toy Story 2; Monsters, Inc.; WALL-E] & Bob Peterson [Finding Nemo; Ratatouille]

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UP is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 72. 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 UP Discussion
• Break
• 20:31 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 21:23 The Last Five®
• Break
• 49:49 Listener Feedback/Eli Stone discussion
• 1:00:34 Credits and Outtakes

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**** Ebert
**** Phillips
A Schwarzbaum
8.8 Metacritic
9.0 IMDB #15 All Time (ha!)

Up @ Amazon

UP

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2009

May 8, 2009
San Jose CA — Century 21
USA / Germany
English
127 Minutes — May 8, 2009
Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi
JJ Abrams [Regarding Henry; Forever Young; Armageddon; Felicity]

The Future Begins.

8.3 Metacritic
8.5 IMDB #71 All Time

STAR TREK

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2009

May 6, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7
Mexico / USA
Spanish
96 Minutes
Crime / Drama / Thriller
Cary Fukunaga

The Greatest Sin Of All Is Risking Nothing.

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SIN NOMBRE is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 70. 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 SIN NOMBRE Discussion
• Break
• 19:09 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 20:08 The Last Five®
• 1:04:59 Credits and Outtake

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**** Ebert
***^ Berardinelli
B- Gleiberman
B- Tobias
** Phillips
7.7 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

SIN NOMBRE

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2009

March 31, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA / Germany
English
125 Minutes — March 20, 2009
Crime / Thriller
Tony Gilroy [The Devil's Advocate; Armageddon; The Bourne Identity; The Bourne Supremacy; The Bourne Ultimatum; Michael Clayton]

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DUPLICITY is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 68. 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 DUPLICITY Discussion
• Break
• 22:14 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 22:46 The Last Five®
• Break
• 45:15 Listener Feedback (3)
• 59:56 Credits and Outtakes

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*** Ebert
*** Phillips
6.9 Metacritic
6.7 IMDB
6.6 Critical Consensus

Duplicity @ Amazon

DUPLICITY

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My 12th year. Will be remembered as the year the Twitter took off and updates were sent back and forth while the festival was in full swing. My biases are away from low-budget films in English and towards foreign dramas. I rarely find film festival comedies funny, which I believe is what they set out to be.

Countries represented this year: Hungary, Serbia, Switzerland. Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Liberia, Norway, Pakistan, and Turkey. Where else do you get a chance to see this kind of variety without the help of Netflix?

My final count was 28 films and one shorts program.

Best Fiction:

1-HISTORIAS EXTRAORDINARIAS — Argentina — Three characters and their stories are told by an unseen narrator
2-SOF SHAVUA B’TEL AVIV (FOR MY FATHER) — Israel — Suicide bomber has 48 hours to live among, learn about, and fall for, the Jews he set out to kill
3-JOHNNY MAD DOG — Liberia — Boy soldiers ruthlessly kill and rape while overseen by older violent men
4-THE PHOTOGRAPH — Indonesia — Nightclub singer attempts to improve her life by becoming the assistant to an ancient photographer
5-FIRAAQ — India — Intertwining stories of Hindus and Muslims unsuccessfully living together in the era of terrorism
6-A NYOMOZO (THE INVESTIGATOR) — Hungary — Humorless pathologist is offered a payday if he kills someone he believes he has no tie to
7-MANNEN SOM ELSKET YNGVE (THE MAN WHO LOVED YNGVE) — Norway — A boy in a high school rock band is conflicted when he finds himself attracted to the new tennis-playing, artistic, beautiful boy even though he knows he has an almost perfect girlfriend
8-PAZAR-BIR TICARET MASALI (THE MARKET: A TALE OF TRADE) — Turkey — Struggling businessman tries to bring much-needed medicine across the border even though he won’t make a profit
9-BE HAMIN SADEGI (AS SIMPLE AS THAT) — Iran — Housewife and mother feels invisible and artistically stiffled
10-CE QU’IL FAUT POUR VIVRE (NECESSITIES OF LIFE) — Canada — Inuit man taken from his home and family for TB treatment in Quebec City in 1952
11-NOME PROPRIO (CAMILA JAM) — Brazil — Passionate young woman with no sense of privacy exposes her thoughts, secrets, dreams, and body to an eager online readership
12-UN AUTRE HOMME (ANOTHER MAN) — Switzerland — Man with no opinions of his own becomes film critic in small village by copying better-known critical material
13-FINNISCHER TANGO (FINNISH TANGO) — Germany — Con man pretends to be disabled and falls in with a group home and learns a little something about himself
14-RAMCHAND PAKISTANI — Pakistan — Father and son are taken into custody for wandering too near the Indian border and adjust to life in prison
15-TANDOORI LOVE — Switzerland — Indian chef on a film location falls for Swiss woman working in an alpine restaurant
16-EL CAMINO — Costa Rica — Children flee abusive grandfather and attempt to cross the border into Costa Rica from Nicaragua, but the dangers are at least as great on their journey as they were back at home

[Avoid the ones below here]

17-LOS (CUT LOOSE) — Belgium — Journalist wants more serious stories to report on and begins writing about immigrant’s experiences coming to Belgium and falls for a beautiful Palestinian
18-UN ROMAN POLICIER (A POLICE ROMANCE) — France — Arab rookie and French police chief investigate drug dealers and a relationship with each other
19-ESZTER HAGYATEKA (ESTHER’S INHERITANCE) — Hungary — Woman with family home falls a second time for her scoundrel brother-in-law
20-CORPSE RUN — USA — Tech-savvy youth play videogames and talk incessantly about their generation
21-TURNEJA (THE TOUR) — Serbia — Semi-famous theater troupe takes a tour of the war-ravaged countryside
22-CAPERS — USA — Three different bumbling crime gangs filmed in three different cinema styles
23-NA LEPOM PLAVOM DUNAVU (THE BEAUTIFUL BLUE DANUBE) — Serbia — Cabaret + Shortbus + Irreversible = Loveboat with value added sexual favors
24-WAKE — USA — Young woman tries her luck dating people she meets at funerals. I tried my luck watching this. I got through 30 minutes

Documentaries:

1-WITCH HUNT — USA — Working-class couples unjustly thrown in prison based upon coached evidence of children
2-JOHNNY CASH AT FOLSOM PRISON — USA — Landmark live album has interesting back story
3-ROCK PAPER SCISSORS: A GEEK TRAGEDY — Canada — These people take Rock Paper Scissors very seriously

Impossible To Categorize Or Review Without At Least A Half Dozen More Viewings:

1-CANARY — USA — Replacement organs are sometimes repossessed if the host doesn’t follow their care and feeding correctly?

Fell Asleep But Heard It Was Terrific:

1–YE CHE (NIGHT TRAIN) — China — I have no idea

CINEQUEST 19 2009 FINAL RANKINGS

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A CHRISTMAS IN TENT CITY–Poor immigrants recall a long-ago Christmas when there was no money. Several colorful paintings are used Ken Burns style. Very short. Sort of a “remember the migrant children” type of film.

DRAG KING–Loud people talking about cars. Old, old cars. They race with boats dragged behind their cars. Not on trailers, just dragging on the ground. One race filmed. Crashing boats and cold cars–funny and “cool” but shallow and very short.

FORCED INTO “COMFORT”, FIGHTING FOR APOLOGY–Korean comfort women. Uses old footage, semi-colorized, and a weird effect with “motion waves” around the movement of the footage. Interviews with survivors. Some very angry. The survivors protest every Wednesday in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Some of the old footage seems extra sinister in light of present-day knowledge.

NAMING PLUTO–Old English eccentric scientists discuss the Planet Pluto. We meet the old woman who initially named it when she was eleven years old. Her father ran the Oxford library at the time. Not much more story here. There is a scientist with an honest-to-god monocle in his eye.

PICKIN’ & TRIMMIN’–A barbershop in Drexel, NC. One man has cut hair for 69 years, his young apprentice for 42 years. Old men talking story. The place is famous for musicians stopping in to play bluegrass in the backroom. Nothing is scheduled, it’s all jam sessions. All are welcome: kids, old people, people passing through. Funny in a down-home, small town way. Has some great music as well. The head old barber keeps a collection of gag gifts which he enjoys showing off. Really a warm film, full of men. There is nary a woman or person of color in the whole thing. Really well done.

RARE CHICKEN RESCUE–Heavy-set, unkempt depressive loses his job and goes inside his family’s cottage for “four or five years” and only comes out when the sound of the farm’s poultry (mostly turkeys) make him go outside to investigate. He considers this a sign. They “call” him when he needs to get out of the house. They require his food, his water, his egg incubation skills. He realizes his purpose in life now. He may never trust humans again, but he’ll become a best friend to chickens, going so far as to help sustain them as extinction nears. He goes on a road trip to locate eggs of rare species no one has seen in years. He has paintings of these species in books but has never seen them. Very compelling in its fetishization of chickens. Studio interviews are held while chickens sit on laps. A really compelling documentary, the best of this bunch.

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2009

March 1, 2009
Cinequest 19
USA
English / Vietnamese / Russian / German
91 Minutes
Sci-Fi
Alejandro Adams

The most talked about film of Cinequest 19.

CANARY

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2009

February 15, 2009
Camera Cinema Club
USA
English
90 Minutes — April 3, 2009
Comedy / Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller
R.W. Goodwin

She Was A Waitress. He Was A Space Alien.

Well-done, but extremely light story of a flying saucer that crash lands in a California desert town. Filmed as if it were a monster movie from the 1950s. Everyone is playing it straight. Much like FAR FROM HEAVEN looked and felt as if it could have taken place in the early 1960s, everyone in ALIEN TRESPASS is taking their job seriously. There is slang from the time period, everyone smokes, no one believes the first guy to see the crash site, a teenage couple watches the crash from inspiration point. There are some fairly well-known actors involved. Eric McCormack, Robert Patrick, etc. It is literally a one joke film, but that joke (this film was lost in the vaults of a major studio only to be unearthed in 2009) is done very well.

No one winks at the camera. Everyone is horrified at the ridiculous looking space alien.

IMDB

ALIEN TRESPASS

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Written by Michael W. Cummins