Archive for the “Camera Cinema Club” Category

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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2008

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

Kylie = Kelly O’Neill
Dylan = Shane Curry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go see it.

6.9 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

KISSES

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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

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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2008

Camera Cinema Club
USA
English
93 Minutes
Mystery
Jeffrey Goodman

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

6.1 IMDB

THE LAST LULLABY

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1981

April 19, 2009
Camera Cinema Club
USA
English
115 Minutes — August 14, 1981
Comedy
Peter Bogdanovich [The Last Picture Show; Mask; The Thing Called Love; Northern Exposure; The Sopranos; Broken English]

Three agency detectives fall in and out of love in the course of their duties.

The guest this Sunday morning was writer-director, Peter Bogdanovich. Which was cool.

* Halliwells
6.0 IMDB

They All Laughed @ Amazon

THEY ALL LAUGHED

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2008

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

8.7 Metacritic
8.2 IMDB
8.2 Critical Consensus

GOODBYE SOLO

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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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2007

January 18, 2009
San Jose Camera Cinema Club
Vietnam / USA
Vietnamese
97 Minutes
Drama / Romance
Stephane Gauger

10-year-old Thuy runs away from her mean (but not too mean) uncle’s bamboo blind factory and heads for Saigon after he yells at her when she makes a production mistake. She breaks open her piggy bank, gives away some items to friends, and is on her way. She shows up in the bustling city with one outfit and a pink princess backpack containing her two beloved dolls. She falls in with the other kids who try to make a living on the street, selling postcards, food, or roses. No one she comes into contact with is particularly sinister and all have advice for the new girl in town: “customers can’t say no if you have a good story.”

Meanwhile, a flight attendant checks into her regular room at a rather-nice hotel. She is 26 and attractive, with a good job. But she finds herself meeting a married pilot for an afternoon of non-feeling sex. Of course, he’ll never leave his wife. Lan knows this, but she falls back into easy patterns of behavior. “I’m not good at dating” she tells a setup over dinner after she sneaks out the back way. The people she comes into contact with can’t seem to figure out why she’s single.

Across town, at the Saigon City Zoo, Hai tends to the animals, especially his favorite young elephant who has been sold to a zoo in India. Hai was recently dumped by his beautiful, high-maintenance fiance. “She just changed her mind” he says. When asked why he’s single, he replies that he’s not the type of man women like. Hai gets more enjoyment from the animals, having grown up living at the zoo while his father worked as a zookeeper.

We know that somehow these three intricately drawn characters will cross each other’s paths. But before they do, we already care what happens to them. It’s the weirdest thing. We fear for the young girl’s safety in the big city, of course, but we also want Hai and Lan to be happy almost from the moment we meet them. Their loneliness is written all over their faces. In fact, the runaway little girl seems to be happier than the two adults.

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The film is shot with hand-held cameras which take us right into the crowded alleyways and shops of the city. We’re in traffic with the characters, we experience what they experience. The city is every bit as big a part of this film as Mumbai was for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.

The anchor of the story is young Thuy. A non-professional actor chosen for the part with just two days to learn the lines before shooting, it can’t be overstated what a screen presence she is. Her open, trusting face and her ability to carry us along with her as she meets every challenge with calm thoughtfulness. She is given a crash course in sales by the other children. She never complains about her fate; “I’m used to sleeping on the floor–it’s good for the back.” She seems genuinely touched when someone shows her a kindness. And the first adult to do so is zookeeper Hai. He lets her feed the elephants sugarcane, he explains the hidden dangers of some of the animals. She follows him around as he does his duties, he offers her lunch (which she needs to protect from his pet Orangutan). She doesn’t talk in the way of wise-beyond-their-years child actors that we’re used to. She seems to suck everything in and digest it before speaking. By the same token, she isn’t afraid to ask questions of her adult friends. A favorite is “why are you alone?” which is typically answered with “you ask too many questions, sometimes.”

Thuy meets Lan while trying to sell her a rose as she eats alone after another miserable date. Lan sees something in the young girl. An honesty, perhaps. A girl who isn’t so different from Lan when she was 10. Or maybe Lan just needs something to live for; something to protect. Whatever the cause, a simple sharing of some Pho turns into an offer of a roof over her head. Thuy is beside herself with appreciation. Lan is happy for the company, even when Thuy applies Lan’s makeup while she sleeps to see what it’s like to be a grown-up.

Young Han Thi Pham inhabits the role of Thuy as if she’s living her life in front of our eyes. Part of that is probably due to the hand-held cameras which captured what was happening without lengthy setups or too large a crew. Thuy sees that what both of her adult protectors are missing is each other. She mentions them to each other and finally tries to arrange a meeting at a restaurant. The scenes of the three of them, each adult holding one of Thuy’s hands, is nothing short of magical.

There are something we know while watching OWL AND THE SPARROW. The uncle will search, the authorities will find out she’s a runaway, there will be a scene in a (pleasant) orphanage, tears will flow, children will be ripped out of arms. But the ending is never in doubt. The zookeeper’s lower status, the flight attendant’s far-away job, and the girl’s relatives are all merely speedbumps on the way to the inevitable. And I loved every minute of it.

OWL AND THE SPARROW is being self-released and is playing in pockets of California now.

8.5 IMDB

OWL AND THE SPARROW

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2008

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

The Body Of War. The Heart Of A Man.

4.1 Metacritic
6.3 IMDB

Johnny Got His Gun @ Amazon

JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN

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2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.9 IMDB

WENDY AND LUCY

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2008

August 24, 2008
Camera Cinema Club
USA
English / Mandarin
96 Minutes — September 5, 2008
Comedy
Jessica Yu [The West Wing; In The Realms Of The Unreal]

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Don’t Just Win. Destroy.

Light, but highly enjoyable story of an Asian-American layabout, who must train for and enter the big ping pong tournament because his overachieving brother has suffered an injury. What makes it different from other films of this type is that it pinpoints exactly the cross-over of cultures in young America. Christopher Wang prefers to be called “C-Dub” by his friends and the young kids he schools on the basketball court. He speaks in a non-threatening gangsta fashion. He wears jerseys and chains and protests against his parents’ old Chinese ways. This film has nothing threatening to families in it. There are cute kids, a tame love interest, and all the swear words are “dribbled” or “bounced” out.

5.4 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

PING PONG PLAYA

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2008

July 20, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera Cinema Club
USA
English
Drama
Tom Quinn

5.8 IMDB

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2002

February 16, 2003

Camera Cinema Club

USA

English

92 minutes

Documentary about the Weathermen, a group of radical early 70s young people who claimed responsibility for a host of bombings around the US to protest the Vietnam War specifically and the capitalist form of government in general. Although I’m too young to remember the actual events, I knew about their existence, but not the extent of their bombing targets. This film has archival footage and recent interviews with the subjects. A fascinating look at how a youthful movement can take people in directions they didn’t plan on. The filmmaker was a guy named Sam Green who was probably the best guest the Camera Cinema Club has ever had. Young and thoughtful and even-tempered, he makes me optimistic about the future of the genre.

There was a bit too much harsh war footage, but I suppose that was to get us in the right frame of mind to see why these people went to such extremes to try and halt the war. A lot of blood. They also captured pretty well the free love society that The Weathermen wanted to live. It was very well done and can be seen this year at the upcoming Cinequest 2003. I highly recommend it.

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2000

November 17, 2002

Camera Cinema Club

USA

English

It’s a bit hard to describe this one. No matter who you are reading this, I would like you to go see this film, support it, show it the love and care it deserves. The fact that it takes place on a farm is no reason to go in with pre-conceived ideas.

The truth is, this film could take place anywhere. It is about a widower and his two sons living in a small Nebraska farm town, how they interact with each other and the town, and how secrets can eventually tear apart families, or bring them together.

Anson Mount plays the cocky brother, Tully. He is so good-looking that men, women, animals alike are charmed by him. As are we in the audience. He has a roster of town girls he sleeps with, he assumes everyone would like a chance to mess around with him, and he has never needed to actually communicate with women in order to spend time with them. Glenn Fitzgerald plays Earl, the geekier, quieter brother who raises award-winning cows and shares secrets with the local veterinary student, Ella, played with swooning attractiveness by Julianne Nicholson. Bob Burrus plays the father perfectly. He is all leathery skin and infrequent speech, like you might imagine an old farmer acts. He spends nights in his workshop, fixing things and hiding out in his loneliness.

Nicholson is a sight to behold. She’s tomboyish and freckle-faced. She understands each of these men in ways they probably don’t understand themselves. She is probably the best friend of Earl, and she knows exactly how to get playboy Tully to spend time with her.

The dialogue is normal. That is the biggest compliment I can give it. The characters talk like real people. They don’t over-explain things, as movies are want to do, so that the dumbest in the audience knows what is happening at every second. People often interact with each other without saying anything. Characters who are alone, do not talk to themselves, explaining what they’re thinking. When Ella rides her bike over with tears in her eyes, she doesn’t say “I’m sad because….”, when Tully offers her companionship, under the guise of doing errands, he doesn’t say “Please tell me what happened” he just puts her in the car with him. Tully goes to a favorite spot alone, Ella goes to her favorite swimming hole, Earl escapes to the movies, and the father parks his truck and enjoys his weekly Pabst six-pack. None of these scenes require dialogue. We don’t need to know what they’re thinking about. We can see how they’re feeling, knowing what exactly is going through their minds will not increase our enjoyment of any scenes, they will simply ring less true.

That is the biggest selling point for this film. The character interactions are realistic. The clerk at the grocery store who cherishes the three minutes she spends a week with the father. The stripper who sleeps with and then claims Tully’s body as hers alone. The way the two brothers can be fighting one minute, and teaming up the next. All of these things are the way life is really lived.

Add to this the beautifully shot fields of the plains, the simple pleasures of a waterhole, or french fries at the Dairy Queen, or a slow walk through the crops, and we see captured on screen the slow, but fulfilling pace of life on a farm. And I’m making these statements based on a video-projected VHS copy that we were forced to watch, due to Fed Ex losing our print. After about five minutes, the quality of the projection was completely lost as I entered this film’s world.

The story involves the possible foreclosure of the farm due to debts that no one anticipated. But rest assured, this is not one of those big-guy-against-the-family-farm films, nor is it one of those “Aw, look at the poor, backward farm folks who don’t have Playstations.” It treats the townspeople and the way of life with respect.

The plot has secrets that are revealed one by one, but they are just icing on this beautiful cake. It is really saying something when a film would have been just as enjoyable, had the revelations not even been a part of it.

Again, the fact that the film takes place on a farm is really inconsequential.

Nicholson is something to see here. And so is this film. Let it wash over you.

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Written by Michael W. Cummins