Archive for the “2010” Category

2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAMAS & PAPAS

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LE SENTIMENT DE LA CHAIR
2010

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

Benoit = Thibault Vincon
Helena = Annabelle Hettmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SENTIMENT OF THE FLESH.

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TUAN YUAN
2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

APART TOGETHER

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2010

February 5, 2011
Cinequest 21 San Jose Film Festival
Canada
English / German / Dutch
75 Minutes
Crime / Thriller
Ed Gass-Donnelly

Peter Stormare = Walter
Jill Hennessy = Rita
Martha Plimpton = Sam

Much better than expected. A small Canadian town is shocked by the news of a dead girl found at a local fishing lake. Sheriff Walter and his deputy appear to be the only police in town. The town is a farming community where trucks rumble past main street, there’s a barbershop and a diner, and a large Mennonite community.

Walter has a dark past involving his temper, though we’re never sure exactly what that past infraction was. We know he’s born again, lives with a simple-minded waitress named Sam, attends church regularly, and knows everyone in town. It seems that the 911 call after the body’s discovery was made by his former lover Rita, who is now shacked up with a druggie bad boy (with especially bad teeth). Walter may be known by everyone, but he is also ridiculed by quite a few. Whatever his past indiscretion, you can believe the whole town, if not the larger community knows what happened. His deacon reminds him, “you can’t change who you are.”

After the incident, Rita left him, and his father stopped speaking with him. A single, terrible violent event in a community known for pacifism. Redemption is the theme of this film.

The vistas are vast, the people appear to be real small-town folks. Hardly anyone is recognizable to movie audiences. The authenticity drips from the screen. Farmers speak in their native tongue, people pretty much act like normal people, the sun appears to be in a constant state of settingness. And though I’ve probably never written this before, even the dead body appears authentic. How do you stop your eyes from blinking and your neck from pulsating? From the bartender to the old woman serving tea, these characters are perfect.

And the music, what about the music?

If the native tribes of North America converted to Christianity, were recorded by Peter Gabriel’s World Music label, and only brought their drums and five part harmonies, the music would sound like it does in this film. It’s mostly religious in nature, many traditional songs, with a few aching love songs thrown in for good measure. And the drums are loud in the best possible way. It is foot-stomping to be sure. The music is by Bruce Peninsula.

The film is broken into chapters with huge text declaring bumper sticker bible verses. “God Meets You Where You’re At” and “Live In The World But Not Of It” or some such advice. This strangely doesn’t take away from the film in any way. The performances are fantastic. Stormare, especially, who appears to be [this close] to going haywire finds the tone between born again calmness and vein-popping hot-head. He is something to watch.

But the town is the real star. Shots are perfectly composed including a double-wide mobile home being driven through the town with police escort. Sunsets, boats on lakes, tractors going this way and that, horse-drawn buggies. It couldn’t have been shot on a soundstage. I loved the look.

My only complaint might be that it’s too short. The stuff around the murder mystery is as important as the crime itself. I would have liked to have spent some more time in the town.

This is a good one.

SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS screens as part of the San Jose Cinequest 21 Film Festival on March 4, March 6, and March 11.

7.8 IMDB

SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS

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2010

January 16, 2011
Camera Cinema Club
Spain / Mexico
Spanish / Wolof / Cantonese
147 Minutes (though seems longer)
Drama
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu [Amores Perros; 21 Grams; Babel]

Even Javier Bardem’s broad shoulders can’t carry the weight of this much hopelessness. Within the first five minutes of this feels like three hour “epic”, Bardem is given a cancerous death sentence, communicates with the dead, pisses blood, and attempts a reconnection with his bi-polar mess of an ex-wife. Who’s an abusive mother. And ex-drunk. And sleeping with his brother. Oh yeah, and he has two small children to care for and his only job apparently is picking up a couple of bucks from grieving families who need closure, and his “business ventures.”

In true Inarritu fashion, there are interconnected lives, though not to the degree of his past three major films. In this case the three story lines are Bardem’s dying, a sweatshop full of Chinese illegal immigrants who make knock-off purses in sweatshop conditions, and the Senegalese men who sell those purses illegally (along with some drugs) on the streets. Bardem pays off the crooked cops, argues with the Chinese about quality-control, and befriends the Senegalese sellers and warns them off the drug sales.

Bardem does all of this with the deep, soulful eyes, he’s famous for. He may have smiled twice during the film’s running time. Everywhere he turns, the world is against him, someone is taking advantage of someone, and he feels is. Or at least we’re supposed to think he feels it. Although the Chinese workers are locked in a freezing basement at night, we are led to believe that Bardem’s character, Uxbal wants to treat them better. Even though only one of the workers has any lines–his babysitter–Uxbal’s face tells us that he really, really cares about the plight of the immigrant workforce, both from Africa and Asia. Unfortunately, the screenplay affords us only two members of this downtrodden lot who we will recognize. The rest serve as background noise to the “immigrant experience” in Barcelona.

Bardem’s burden is so heavy that when one of his Senegalese sellers is deported, he feels responsible enough to look after the man’s wife and small child. When his ex-wife engages in behavior that would cause most of us to cut ties to her, he gives her another chance. When he hears of the poor conditions of the Chinese workers, he tries to do the right thing in a telegraphed tragedy–no good deed goes unpunished.

There’s not getting around the fact that the sheer shape of Bardem’s face can keep an audience’s interest for more than two hours. In fact, upon further review, his mopey face may be the only reason to recommend this film at all. It is two hours of sadness, dressed up in fancy colors and quick edits and showy focus tricks.

Bardem’s mopeyness doesn’t even stop when he meets his brother at a strip club where, no joke, the dancers have a single huge breast where there heads should be.

7.6 IMDB
5.3 Metacritic

BIUTIFUL

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2010

January 11, 2011
San Jose — Cinearts Santana Row
Canada
English
108 Minutes
Biography / Comedy / Crime / Drama
George Hickenlooper [Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse; Some Folks Call It A Slingblade; Mayor Of The Sunset Strip]

Spacey chews the scenery in this semi-true story of imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Spacey plays him as a super-jew, super workout guy, super schmoozer, super loyal husband, and super cocky. Barry Pepper matches him overacted scene for overacted scene. Not sure if it’s a black comedy or a realistic portrayal of broken Washington. Not hard to watch, though John Lovitz is pretty much replaying every slovenly medallion wearing character he’s ever been.

As a political wonk, I enjoyed seeing real-life people portrayed by look-a-likes. George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, etc. Real footage of congressional hearings is spliced in. Hints are given that Abramoff had his hand in all sorts of malfeasance, including the recount in Florida in 2000.

Spacey appears to be having fun, though.

Kevin Spacey; Barry Pepper

6.5 IMDB
5.0 Metacritic

CASINO JACK

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2010

January 11, 2011
San Jose — Cinearts Santana Row
USA
English
110 Minutes
Adventure / Drama / Western
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen [Blood Simple; Raising Arizona; Miller’s Crossing; Barton Fink; The Hudsucker Proxy; Fargo; The Big Lebowski; O Brother Where Art Thou?; The Man Who Wasn’t There; No Country For Old Men; Burn After Reading; A Serious Man]

Jeff Bridges; Hailee Steinfeld; Matt Damon; Josh Brolin; Barry Pepper

Terrific from start to finish. Young Hailee Steinfeld is a force to be reckoned with, playing 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who wants justice against the man who shot her father and won’t take “no” for an answer. Not many of the telltale signs of the Coens here. It’s a beautifully shot film to be sure, but it lacks the wackiness, winking, and matter-of-fact violence that has made the Coens such great filmmakers. In a strange way, I wanted it to be more adult. They never venture past the PG-13 line, either in language or violence. I felt like an R-version of this film would have been monumental.

Having said that, I want to see it again, and some of the Coen magic shows up in the fast-paced dialogue, where Matty all but hoodwinks anyone foolish enough to negotiate with her. The language is almost West Wing level, circa late-1800s, full of legalese and old-fashioned-sounding put-downs. An early extended courtroom scene sets the stage for the verbal gymnastics we’ll be exposed to as the film goes on.

Another vintage Coen touch is a “medicine man”, dressed inside of a bear skin, complete with head attached. The Coens love to pause and watch characters tangential to the plot (the coffee shop scene in Fargo comes to mind). This man adds texture to the proceedings, though not much story.

The acting is first-rate, with young Steinfeld holding her own against Bridges and Damon, who get into a “measuring dicks” contest that is hilarious. The landscape realism had me shivering and feeling dusty. At some points the dialogue had me thinking of, yes, the late, great DEADWOOD.

Barry Pepper and his teeth play a bad guy who honors the code of the west. As part of that code, native Americans are not afforded the same “any last words” privileges that pale faces are.

When my daughter is old enough, I’ll take her to see this. There are far worse role models for young women than Mattie Ross.

8.3 IMDB
8.0 Metacritic

TRUE GRIT

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2010

December 20, 2010
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
115 Minutes — December 17, 2010
Biography / Drama / Sport
David O. Russell [Spanking The Monkey; Flirting With Disaster; Three Kings]

Mark Wahlberg; Christian Bale; Amy Adams; Melissa Leo.

Disappointingly traditional sports story about two brothers from Lowell, MA who enjoyed different levels of glory as professional boxers. Wahlberg plays Micky Ward, who is younger brother to Dicky (Christian Bale), who remains a big-shot in Lowell because he once held his own in the ring with Sugar Ray Leonard. In that fight, Leonard fell down, and the town continues to argue over whether it was a knock down or simply a slip. Either way, Dicky is chummy with the whole working-class town, especially with a group of crackheads he spends time with. Micky has looked up to Dicky (yes, the names are annoying) his entire life and is hard at work training for his shot at the title. Dicky acts as trainer, but with a crack habit like his, he isn’t exactly the most punctual worker.

Micky excuses Dicky over and over again, until a fight in Atlantic City when the original opponent of Micky’s is unable to fight. He reluctantly agrees to fight a man fresh from prison, who outweighs him by 25 pounds. Micky’s clock gets cleaned. Meanwhile, their not-exactly-classy mother, Alice, played by Melissa Leo, acts as a sort of manager to Micky. She is fiercely protective of her two sons. She is also protective of her seven daughters. She and Dicky often speak of the importance of family even as that same family is keeping Micky from any real success.

Micky spots Charlene (Amy Adams) in a local bar, where her cleavage and famous rear end are two of the main attractions. She is feisty and smart and holds her own against the drunks in the bar. Micky is instantly smitten (as was I).

Will Dicky drag Micky down? Will Micky turn his back on the family? Will all seven of his sisters hate Charlene for making their brother happy? Will Alice smoke another pack of cigarettes? Will Micky get his shot at the title?

Do you really have to ask?

Wahlberg plays Micky as a timid, though buffed, brother who seems to love the shadow of his hyper-verbal older brother. We never get a real feeling for why he wants to box. It doesn’t seem to give him any joy. His scenes with Adams are pretty good, but when she sticks up for him, it sure seems like he’s substituted one mouthpiece (Dicky) for another (Charlene).

Amy Adams is adorable. She attended some college before dropping out due to partying too much. She was an elite high jumper, but now works in a bar. She’s one of those movie constructs where a hot woman makes a man the best he can be, even if she needs force him to go against everything he knows.

Melissa Leo is just this side of a caricature. If she wasn’t such an acting stud (see FROZEN RIVER or HOMICIDE), it would be laughable. She’s all tight skirts, a poofed up hairstyle, animal prints, and potty mouth. Why she continues to worship the ground her crackhead son walks on is never explained. Unfortunately, each one of the sisters is there to make the audience feel superior. They appear to be real women from around the way in Lowell. Each sister’s hairstyle requires more Final Net than the last. Each accent is stronger than the last. Each pair of white Reeboks and acid-washed jeans and half-shirts is more stereotypical than the last. The film takes place in 1993 and some allowance can be made for their fashion sense. But oh, the hair. My goodness.

The sisters immediately hate Charlene because she’s been to college and has engaged in, you know, book learnin’. There is no group of sisters so ridiculous. When they all cram onto a sofa for a family meeting, it’s like a rouge’s gallery of the rejects from a Whitesnake video. Whitesnake, incidentally, is the music played when Micky enters the boxing arena. Here I Go Again, indeed.

The entire film would have crumbled under it’s own seriousness if not for the performance of Christian Bale. He’s already rightly famous for the lengths he goes to physically in changing his body to fit the role. Here, he needs to be crackhead skinny, but not only that. He also needs to look strung out, yet energetic. He needs to be lanky and unwashed, but ready to spar in a boxing ring. His eyes are hollow and he’s got the accent down. He also made me tear up several times. He is all bravado and self-delusion. A camera crew from HBO is following him around–he says to film his comeback, they say to film stories about crack addiction. I believed that he was HNIC in Lowell. He is charming enough for people to look the other way at his drug habit, a fact that hurts him obviously more than it helps him.

The boxing scenes were pretty good. There aren’t many ways to film fight scenes that hasn’t already been tried, but this film finds a way. All of the action that takes place inside an arena is filmed on video, like we’re watching the HBO tapes. It really was effective. I forgot once in awhile that I was watching a movie and wondered why Adams and Bale were in Atlantic City watching a fight. Wahlberg is passable as a boxer, I suppose. We don’t really see that much boxing, though.

The announcers are the real team from HBO and Michael Buffer does the intros. I’m not sure if they used the actual transcripts, but this is the kind of film where an announcer will say “Micky’s finished, someone should stop this thing” exactly when Micky finally lands a punch that hobbles his opponent. Perhaps to someone new to boxing films, the things done in this one will be spectacular and riveting, but I was tired of hearing “he’s getting killed” and “this unknown is taking way too much punishment”.

Good use of locations. Exciting editing and pretty great use of music. That is, when it wasn’t hitting us over the head. “Back In The Saddle” by Aerosmith is played, when not one, but two characters are shown “back” where they belong. This film had the surprising inclusion of the greatest bass drum song of all time, “Good Times, Bad Times.” I’d always heard that Zeppelin was too expensive to license (see ALMOST FAMOUS).

I’m a sucker for sports movies. I inevitably tear up a little when our hero’s dreams are fulfilled (“Rudy, Rudy, Rudy”; “Rocky, Rocky, Rocky”; “Hey Dad, Wanna Have Catch?”) and this one was no exception. And Bale is remarkable. I hope he’s remembered during awards season. The rest of the film, is way too paint-by-numbers to be anything above the ordinary.

8.5 IMDB
7.8 Metacritic

THE FIGHTER

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2010

August 14, 2010
Sneak Preview Cinearts Santana Row San Jose
USA
English
90 Minutes — August 27, 2010
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Rob Reiner [This Is Spinal Tap; The Sure Thing; Stand By Me; The Princess Bride; When Harry Met Sally...; Misery; A Few Good Men; The American President]

You Never Forget Your First Love.

There is not a single moment within FLIPPED’s 90 minutes that could possibly offend anyone. Except maybe people looking for a compelling story or strong acting or well-rounded characters. But language and subject matter and the blossoming of young love are done with such apple-pie restraint, that I hate myself for hating it.

Bryce Loski moves into a new neighborhood across the street from Juli Baker. Juli introduces herself and appears to be ready to spend the day with the new family before their moving truck is even unpacked. We are told the story almost entirely in voice-over. First Bryce gets to explain what happens, and then it flips (get it?) and Juli tells us the same story from her point of view.

Bryce is played to an almost unbearably bland level by a kid named Callan McAuliffe, whose sole qualification seems to be his blond hair and skinny frame. Why Juli likes him, we cannot speculate. Juli, on the other hand, is equally attractive, but is at least given a back story and a personality which Bryce is sorely lacking. Juli is a spitfire, she isn’t afraid of what other people think, she mounts a tree sit-in 40 years before Julia Butterfly Hill will do the same thing up in Humboldt. Juli is played with a smile and energy by Madeline Carroll, whose list of credits dwarfs McAuliffe’s.

This romantic mis-match continues to their respective families. Bryce has an older sister and snobby parents played by Anthony Edwards and Rebecca De Mornay. Edwards’ character is seen with a constant scotch in his hand and a negative word for everyone, while De Mornay doesn’t appear to do anything. The one bright spot in the family is Bryce’s grandpa, played by John Mahoney who seems to figure out how great Juli is before the rest of the family does.

Juli has twin brothers, a hard-working mother (Penelope Ann Miller) and a bricklayer father, who spends his free time painting, well-played by Aidan Quinn. There is also an uncle who is in an expensive institution, which explains why the Bakers, gasp, rent their home and don’t own it like the self-respecting Loskis do. Dismissed as hillbilly dreamers by the Loskis, the two families don’t interact. But the Bakers are seen singing at the dinner table, raising eggs in the backyard, and being loved, while the Loskis argue and suffer the rage of Edwards’ character. And we suffer right along with them.

The plot is as follows: Girl sees boy move in, girl stalks boy, boy avoids girl for five years, boy realizes that she’s pretty great, girl now hates boy, boy apologizes for being a dickhead, hands are held. The end.

As I’ve mentioned, though, the girl’s affections are something worth fighting for, while the boy is a blank-staring guy with obnoxious friends.

The voiceover stuff is necessary to move the plot along, but it tries to put us in the mindset of every other, and much more well done, nostalgic film we’ve seen. The Richard Dreyfuss stuff in STAND BY ME, a much better Rob Reiner film, did this in a great way. Much of the praise for that can be leveled at Stephen King, a man who has had some success in the publishing arena.

But FLIPPED has too much voice-over and then we have the other character voice-over us a bit more. There is also a big problem with what they’re saying. They are speaking at a level of clarity and self-awareness (and vocabulary for that matter), that no 13-year-old could possibly handle. Not for a second did I think these characters were doing the talking and not some older writer or director.

The side-trip to see the retarded uncle was painful. It is nearly impossible to play mentally challenged (as Robert Downey, Jr. explained in TROPIC THUNDER), and this was no exception. Wait until you see what happens when he drops his ice cream cone. Oy.

There is a 15-minute meaningless sub-plot about the eggs that Juli’s hens are laying in her backyard. Two neighbor women begin paying her for several dozen eggs a week and she gives Bryce’s family some for free as a thank you for past niceties. During a meal, the Loski family begins by being thankful of the eggs, and then with Bryce’s help, by the end of the meal they’ll all be convinced that there is either an embryo or salmonella hiding under each shell. This leads to throwing them out, but still accepting them from Juli on a regular basis.

Quinn and Carroll are very good in their roles, Mahoney does the best he can, but the rest of the cast is not given much to work with. Edwards, especially, is never seen smiling, yells at his kids at the dinner table for seemingly no reason, and harbors preconceived notions about just about everyone he comes in contact with. His role is thankless.

After watching this, I’m convinced that TOY STORY 3 should be the film with a PG rating and this one should have eliminated one utterance of “asshole” and been the G-rated family film that it’s trying to be.

One side-note. Pay attention to the Bryce’s lawn and parking strip. When shot from Juli’s house, the strip is clearly covered in dark-green astroturf, while the lawn appears to be real. Then the strip is magically back to normal, then turf, then normal. If there’s a symbolism there, I’m not sure what it is.

You can safely take your grandmother and your six-year-old to this film. And then apologize for it later on.

6.5 IMDB

FLIPPED

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2010

August 10, 2010
HBO
USA
English
87 Minutes
Documentary
Jeffrey Blitz [Spellbound; The Office; Parks And Recreation]

Everyone knows that playing the lottery is a ridiculous way to spend money. The opening stat says that “people” believe there’s a 1 in 6 chance of winning, when the statisticians will tell you that the chances are more like 165 Million to 1. And yet, even with these stats, some people play their state’s lottery every single week. In fact, compounding the irrationality of the enterprise, when the jackpots get up over $100 Million, even more people buy tickets, even though their chances become slimmer the more people who play. I last bought a ticket when some co-workers and I went in on about a hundred tickets when everyone was talking about the huge payoff. I knew there was no chance, but: 1) it was a social thing to do; and 2) just imagine how sucky it would have been had all of them won after I chose not to play. That was something I couldn’t accept.

This film follows a half dozen winners who illustrate the maxim “be careful what you wish for.” They are all a bit wacko, except maybe the couple who lost all their friends and moved from Pennsylvania to a waterfront mansion in Florida after claiming a $110 Million jackpot. They tried to continue life normally, but it just couldn’t happen. Conversations about waking up in the morning for a hated job or about where the cheapest gas was available no longer meant anything to them. Friends would stop talking when they approached. One woman who was a friend of the couple said that every day she wishes it were her and she stays up at night wondering why it wasn’t. They’ve kept some of the thousands of letters they received about business opportunities and donation ideas. Their two teenage kids remember not being allowed to leave the house for the few months afterward for fear of kidnapping.

We should all have such trouble, right?

Another Pennsylvanian winner bought 400 pairs of identical pants when he found a style he liked. He didn’t say no to any offers for business partnerships, he promised his family a million each, he built a hilltop mansion that was so poorly designed that he couldn’t add drywall for fear of its collapse. He bought more than one limo. Then his siblings sent a hitman to kill him and someone sold him a car with all the chassis bolts cut off hoping he’d kill himself in it. He now lives in the storeroom of a supply company owned by a friend. And he appears happier for it.

There’s the heartwarming story of a Vietnamese man who won the Powerball with co-workers and could buy his family in America as well as Vietnam a huge house. He and his wife tear up while describing their escape by rickety boat.

And then there’s a cat man who is clearly not mentally stable, put off dating and friends to help his parents with their business. After they both died, he became a crazy cat man hoarder whose property was about to be condemned so full of coke bottles and cats that you couldn’t move around in it. Down to his last three bucks he bought lotto tickets and won around $6 million. He has a friend who sort of counsels him on what to do and makes all interested women speak to him first. Under his supervision the man moves to a better house, but one year later finds himself at a motel that rents rooms by the hour where he appears to feel more comfortable. It’s $200 a week and his day seems to consist of talking to his motel neighbors and feeding about a dozen cats at a local body shop. Oh yeah, and he spends money on strippers and other back-of-the-alternative-weekly companionship.

Everyone interviewed (even the woman who continues to play but has never won more than $1,000) seems to think that there’s something larger at work than random chance. Even the Berkeley mathematician. He, of all people, should know never to play, but he attributes his success to the state of “theta brain activity” he went into to get glimpses of numbers, which he wrote down in a book and played for 18 months until those numbers hit. Even he seems like a wacko. His wife, having no more use for him after his win, divorced him and took half his winnings.

I’m not sure that viewers will have their behavior changed by watching this film. If you think it’s stupid to play now, you’ll probably come out of the experience with that view solidified.

There is a prank played on a guy (first seen on THE FRESH PRINCE OF BELL-AIR) whereby his friends show the guy a tape of the previous numbers with a new lottery ticket. And then they film it. He jumps all over the room to the degree where a heart attack might not be out of the question. So that guy can tell people that he knows what its like to win the lottery. Though he has no cash to show for it.

7.2 IMDB

LUCKY

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2010

March 7, 2010
Cinequest 20
USA / Poland
Polish / English
83 Minutes
Documentary
Steven Meyer

Is there really another worthwhile documentary to be made about the Holocaust? This brief, interesting documentary says that there is. This one follows survivors of a less well-known concentration camp called Maidanek, where participants of the Warsaw Uprising were sent. This one lacked a railroad track so the prisoners were marched from the town’s station into the front gates of the camp after traveling for days with no food or water. This camp was also unique in that prisoners were given time in a field which was in between two barracks. Another difference was that it seems as if the Nazi guards made no secret of the ultimate fate of the inmates. At other camps, prisoners on their way to the showers were told to neatly arrange their personal items so that they could find them when the shower concluded. No such charade went on at this camp. Knowing that all the gold and money they had brought to bribe the guards wouldn’t secure their freedom, the prisoners then began burying these items in the field to keep them out of the hands of the Nazis.

The film is a mixture of survivor stories and a methodical archeological dig, as well as a story about the red tape of modern Poland. It’s no shock when items are found (what sort of documentary would it have been if these stories of buried treasure proved unfounded), but hearing about a couple’s buried wedding rings or an entire family’s supply of gold is much different than seeing these items being unearthed. The items are cataloged and the survivors get a chance to hold them, struggling to see tiny inscriptions in some of them.

A post-script tells us that less than 1% of the area has been excavated.

It has become no easier over the years to watch an elderly survivor of a concentration camp walk back through the gates of the camp that killed their entire family. Sobs and memories flood back and we can somehow see their pain. Most were the only one of their large extended families to survive World War II.

Not particularly uplifting, but worth seeing.

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The Cinequest Program Said:

When facing even the most dire of situations, the strength of the human spirit prevails.

In 1943, thousands of survivors of the Warsaw ghetto uprising were taken and held in the Maidanek death camp. There, a revolution of a different kind would occur. Realizing they were being selected for death, the inmates, in an act of defiance and bravery, secretly buried their personal possessions so that the Nazis could not take and use them to support their war effort. Sixty-three years later, an international team of survivors and experts from around the world convened for an archeological expedition to unearth the hidden treasures.

Director Steven Meyer’s inspirational Buried Prayers is a beautiful homage to the human spirit and our necessity to survive and fight against those who attempt to take our humanity away from us. And what they discover lying six inches beneath the long-untouched earth are not just relics, but incredibly powerful stories of hope.

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BURIED PRAYERS

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Written by Michael W. Cummins