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Thursday, December 27, 2012

DJANGO UNCHAINED 12/27/12



I loved Django Unchained - my favorite film by Quentin Tarantino since Pulp Fiction. It is a "genre" film - as he has described his movies in a recent interview - this time taking the Italian Spaghetti Western and setting it in the South in 1858 - two years before the Civil War complete with music that is quirky and wide ranging including James Brown, Johnny Cash and the composer Ennio Morricone (he was the composer of many of those original Italian Westerns directed by Sergio Leone such as The Good The Bad and The Ugly and Once Upon A Time in America.)

This movie views slave culture as seen through the eyes of an "unchained" free-man Django and the man who "buys his freedom" and becomes his "partner" a German-born bounty hunter. The two are a terrific team. This movie gives us an un-expurgated brutal vision of overweening racism, the slaves and the plantation slave owners as well as a look into the hierarchy of slave society and their roles vis-a-vis their Masters. 


Employing the bitterly ironic humor, theatrical violence and over-the-top Tarantino style, the dialogue is often humorous and campy but deadly serious and always refreshingly original. This is very much a tale of revenge and of a love which will not be erased by horrific obstacles. It is beautifully acted by Jamie Foxx as a soft-voiced, never distracted from his mission Django ("The D is silent",) Leonardo di Caprio - the heinous slave owner, Samuel L. Jackson as the wily House slave who helped raise Di Caprio and is his advisor, and the sophisticated might-be considered a scoundrel German Christoph Waltz who tells Django the story of Brunhilda and Siefried cementing our hero's determination to fulfill his quest in spite of the most dire circumstances.

This movie is filled with choreographed violence - literal blood baths but the history of slavery was one of power and raging cruelty so it all fits together.



Great discussion on Django on NPR with Michel Martin and her weekly group called The Barbershop. Start listening to Podcast at 8:19 sec.
http://www.npr.org/2012/12/28/168202846/is-em-django-unchained-em-the-blackest-film-ever

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

THE HOBBIT 12/25/12


Very simply The Hobbit is a tale of a displaced people (in this case Dwarves) struggling to reclaim their Lonely Mountain Kingdom; in doing so wandering through the lands to reach that home. There are trials by fire and the "help of Wizards - one being Gandalf The Gray - subtly and merrily not-so-subtly played by the wonderful Ian McKellan and Galadriea the fairest and most powerful Maiden in Elve Land acted by the beautiful Cate Blanchett. I regretted not seeing more of her as she is such an aesthetic feast for my eyes.

That this adventure takes place in Middle Earth - prequel to The Lord of the Rings does not change a basic tale of mankind's journey and fight for their homeland. I found the early scenes in the Hobbitshire charmingly fairytale-ish and the dialogue between Bilbo Baggins ( a well-cast Martin Freeman) and Gandalf quite amusing and also touching on another universal theme - the quiet, unassuming home-body who goes on an adventure and steps out of his/her "ordinary" life and thereby changes him/herself and the "world."

I must admit to terrible boredom with fight scenes between goblins and various creatures on scary wolf-like animals and wait for those scenes to end-my only fascination with them is how they are choreographed.

The pivotal and most moving scene in the film is between the wonderful Andy Serkis as the schizophrenic Gollum (fighting between his dark and light side - evident by his eyes and facial expressions) and Bilbo who discovers more about his own character through this encounter.

This film also uses special effects, and all that CGI can do to make a small lovely book The Hobbit, into a 3 part movie - with all the money that it will rake in. So a day fairly well spent but not great by any means...though the spare ribs I had right afterwards were delicious and satisfied a rib yearning I had for a long time

Saturday, November 24, 2012

ANNA KARENINA 11/24/12


I really disliked the movie Anna Karenina. Now I know why the Top Critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 53%. It is a self-conscious, schizophrenic film that wants to be many things - true to the book, but also a stylized CONTEMPORARY work of "art" which cannot make up its mind.

Artifice, parody and Tolstoy do not work for me. The great romance between Anna Karenina and Vronsky is reduced to some "hot" clutching and lingering glances between a hungry yet anorexic looking Anna (Keira Knightly) and her puerile Shirley Temple curly-haired lover Vronsky.

The theatricality of the film was literally constructed through stage sets. Except for the naturalism of the outdoor landscapes in the sub-plot scenes dealing with the idealistic love affair between Levin (Tolstoy's alter ego) and his future wife Kitty, the rest of this movie had ladders and stage hands distracting us at critical moments moving throughout the set. I know a point is being made but I found it to be perplexing and disconcerting or just too obvious: "all the world's a stage...."

The movie does attempt to show the inequalities in the way women are treated, as opposed to men when they commit infidelity or break "God's law of marriage" - eventual banishment and social ostracism. Without a man's protection, they are helpless. Actually not so different from the way women are treated today in many cultures.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

LINCOLN 11/18/12


Spielberg's LINCOLN is a film that is part history lesson - the machinations to get the 13th Amendment prohibiting Slavery through the House of Representatives, and part polishing the myth of the 16th President of the USA.
What was most interesting and novel to me was the forestalling of peace negotiations with the Confederacy -peace talks held hostage so that the Amendment would be voted on by a Congress that did NOT include the secessionist Confederate states which would have voted against it. More lives were lost due to the delay BUT an Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery was now "the law of the land."

Daniel Day-Lewis is wonderful as Abraham Lincoln - looks just like him with his lean stooped body reflecting the moral decisions and political maneuverings the job of leading a nation entails. He can be boring and long-winded and at the same time incredibly wise and human.

In this film, Mary Lincoln played by Sally Fields - finally a great part for her (the best since Norma Rae} seems to have a larger influence on the President's decision making than I was ever aware of. The wife of a President - one who is prone to deep depressions triggered by the loss of their 12 year old son William from Typhoid is a tedious job and Sally Field makes the most of it.

Tommy Lee Jones is terrific as the powerful Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Representative Thaddeus Stevens, an abolitionist Senator whose "radical" views on the full equality of blacks - including voting rights, etc. must be pragmatically held in check in order fot the Legislation to pass.

There is comic relief furnished by James Spader and John Fawkes complete with prat-falls portraying latter-day Lobbyists arm-twisting and financial "give-aways" in order to get the needed votes.

This film is very contemporary in the way leaders and elected Representatives have to wrestle with their own ethical beliefs, and at the same time vote for issues that might be anathema to them. Yes -a good history lesson.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

CLOUD ATLAS 10/28/12


My Cloud Atlas review is still being mulled over. Just got home and NO I was not blown away either by the upcoming storm or the film.I did not read the book by David Mitchell so I came to the movie with no expectations except the fact that it was directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski (Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run.)

This just under 3 hour film speaks to how actions we do radiate through time from the past into the far future, and our personal interactions have an effect sometime and someplace in the Universe. Not my personal philosophy, but the film and the interlocking 6 stories held my interest as did seeing actors playing many many different roles in different time periods. Tom Hanks often is totally unrecognizable, as are Halle Berry and Jim Broadbent - made up as characters in various guises. Some are rapacious, corrupt, some are evil, some are innocents who develop the courage to "change" their surroundings and environment. Exploitation is evident in every epoch. My favorite and the most emotionally resonant story was the love affair between a young composer and his male lover- the heartbeat of their affair beams over the years.

I liked the fast-paced inter-cutting from one story to another - making you feel as if time were all of a piece and events from the far past are similar to future occurrences. This is an ambitious undertaking which was smoothly done, but still much of the film was cliched and too "new-agey" for my taste. I did respond to the strange language of the characters from a post -apocalyptic future There was a beautiful patois and rhythm to their speech - tho my friend who came with me did not understand what they were talking about.

Monday, October 22, 2012

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN 10/22/12


Searching for Sugar Man" is a documentary in search of a subject - Sixto Rodriguez - a young Mexican American singer in the 1970's who lived in Detroit Michigan and sang in local bars with his back to the audience. That alone would be the beginning of a legend. Detroit is beautifully filmed - the sounds of crunching snow underfoot and the light of the city are as mysterious as the subject of this film.

Why search for Rodriguez? His two albums which were enthusiastically reviewed in USA bombed. Very few people knew or know of him. BUT ironically he became a large hit and influence in South Africa to the point (according to the filmaker) where his songs were a catalyst among the youth in the fight against Apartheid. Since there were only the two albums available, and no tabloid documentation on Rodriguez, myths sprung up about the artist including suicide by immolation or a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head during a concert.

Rodriguez was a total unknown - no mass publicity, no articles in magazines, etc - just an artist making his art in isolation. AND that is the crux of this film. It speaks to all of us who work and work with an occasional wave that breaks our way - but mainly living our lives doing what we need to do unknown with little or no support commercially. Even though personally after years of making art, I felt saddened, I also felt vindicated by seeing this film.
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=%2F20120808%2FREVIEWS%2F120809984
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Saturday, October 13, 2012

ARGO 10/13/12


Saw a wildly entertaining film entitled ARGO directed by Ben Affleck. It is based on the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979-1980 during the Jimmy Carter Administration and some of the scenes will feel very contemporary. A fast-paced, heart stopper - constant cuts between historical documentary footage, Iranians protesting against America, and a bizarre but true plot - hand in hand with the Hollywood film industry to get out 6 of the Hostages who had escaped the Embassy and were holed up in the Canadian Ambassador's home.
Very well directed and filmed without being confusing - my heart was beating so quickly at the end - with an old-fashioned, exaggerated Hollywood beat the clock touch - that I swallowed an aspirin in case I would get a heart attack..I am big on preventative medicine.
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Sunday, September 23, 2012

THE MASTER 9/23/12


Saw movie "The Master" today. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman were terrific. So was Amy Adams. I love to watch excellent actors perform. The way they can evoke emotional change through the slightest nuance in their facial expression - the use of the hands and the way Joaquin hunched over when he walked - never out of character. And Amy Adams was cool and collected, subtly manipulating the "Master" (Hoffman) himself.

This film was about the Id vs.the Super-ego; the rational "perfect" vs.the irrational/volatile "animal" in man. Controlled vs. Controller. The two main characters complement each other but also are very much alike. An undercurrent of need and attachment between Phoenix and Hoffman is there from the beginning which is left at just that - an undercurrent.

There are some visually beautiful shots - the clarity of light is played up against darkness; sand vs. water, family man vs. ruler - cult leader, etc.
I felt that this film definitely referred to Ron Hubbard and Scientology though as this reviewer said - not enough to be legally actionable.
Its a film I have to see again and think about some more. I loved Boogie Nights and Magnolia - this one did not affect me as wildly as those films did.

Monday, September 17, 2012

TO ROME WITH LOVE 9/17/12


  • Saw Woody Allen's film To Rome With Love which was a reflection/ meditation on FAME and the fickleness of celebrity, and those who are enamored of the "famous" in the gorgeous setting of Rome- still romantic and beautiful but always an awareness of its past glory and ruins. Entertaining but absolutely a slight film dealing with surface issues and one-liners."

Monday, July 30, 2012

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD 7/30/12


The press photos for Beasts of the Southern Wild shows a young girl running and I am reminded of the 1972 Pulitzer winning photo by Nick Ut of 9 year old Phan Thị Kim Phúc fleeing with severe burns (and who ultimately survived) caused by napalm during the Vietnam War.

This film has nothing to do with Viet Nam but has to do with fire and survival under harsh conditions. It also features an extraordinary young actress, Quvenzhané Wallis playing 6 year old "Hush Puppy" being brought up by her father played by Dwight Henry - who is fiercely independent of the "civilized/industrial" society" that the group of people who live in a section of Southern Louisiana cut off from the mainland by levees-called the "Bathtub" eschew. He knows he is dying and is determined that his daughter will be "da man." Her mother left them after birth, and Hush Puppy in her imagination has a running dialogue with her abandoned parent and occasionally utters a shrill cry which pierces your being. The little girl is fearless - and very much in touch with the animals and life that surround her. She literally puts her ear to objects to speak and hear "the universe" which gives her comfort and wisdom.

Living off the detritus of "civilization", filmed in dark browns and blacks with the light of a fire, and the constant threat of impending storms creates an environment that is not "romantic" but rather harshly primal and elemental.
When the film has a scene where the residents of the "bathtub" interact with Mainland society in a Hospital, Hush Puppy's confusion and embrace of that world is wrenching. We hear her thoughts which express the innocence of discovery.
Throughout the film there are references to Mythical creatures and global warming and a there is a moral code among the inhabitants of this world that evince the values of a true community.


See Roger Ebert's beautiful review:
http://tinyurl.com/bu375tc
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Saturday, June 9, 2012

BERNIE 6/9/12


Finally left the house and saw a surprisingly wonderful performance by Jack Black in the film BERNIE directed by Richard Linklater - really good director of Slacker and Dazed and Confused. This film is set in Linklater's home state of Texas and his familiarity with the hometown characters are therefore beautifully individuated - but yet so familiar. Based on the true story of Bernie Tiede, Assistant Funeral Director who genuinely loved his job - opened my eyes to the rituals of funeral services and their importance for family and friends who mourn the death of a loved one.

Bernie, a good "Christian" community man who is driven to compromise his deepest moral values in a relationship with someone (Shirley McLaine) who is very different from him. This is a comedy but a dark one of good/generosity of spirit vs. a meanness of spirit but there are many gray areas to ponder.

Jack Black uses his body to flush out this character and i love when actors do that. The way they walk, move their arms, and with the slightest turn of the head can give the audience insight into a character.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

DAMSELS IN DISTRESS 4/22/12


Saw Whit Stillman's "Damsels in Distress" with friends and I was the only one who really liked this funny, charming film - precisely because of its wonderfully, self-consciously spoken dialogue, and the eccentricity of Stillman's characters. Always a surprise to hear language that is so original - even if intentionally stilted. I was constantly aware that this is theater giving homage to 50's film even to the unflattering "cinch belt" the main character Violet wears with her dresses.

The film is set in a College environment but there is not much studying going on and the war between the sexes is carried on with many original parries and thrusts. Tap Dancing and "scents - like smells" among other forms of dance craze's are the answer to life's "tailspins." The musical numbers are delightful despite the awkwardness of the participants - these dances do not have Fred and Ginger's graceful mobility. But never mind!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A SEPARATION 1/29/12




Some people wrote that Iran's repressive regime was an element in this film, but I disagree and do not believe that Iran's system of justice was depicted unfairly, and that is why it was not censored. All films made in other countries, if good give you a glimpse into their culture. AND A Separation is a strong, wrenching film about interpersonal divisions and the way a society deals with conflict.

To quote Roger Ebert:
"The movie takes place in present-day Iran, a modern nation that attempts to live under Islamic law. The film's story has no quarrel with Islam, but it demonstrates that the inflexible application of the letter of the law may frustrate the spirit of the law. This is true in all nations under all religions and all laws. Laws are an attempt to regulate hypothetical situations before they may arise. If laws were replaced by principles, they might be a better fit with human nature...

"...A Separation" provides a useful portrait of Iran today. Some inflamed American political rhetoric has portrayed it as a rogue nation eager to start nuclear war. All too many Americans, I fear, picture Iranians as camel-riding harem-keepers. Certainly some of Iran's punishments for adultery that we read about seem medieval. But this film portrays a more nuanced nation, and its decent characters are trying to do the right thing. To untangle right and wrong in this fascinating story is a moral challenge. I'd love to see the film with wise judges from American divorce courts and hear their decisions. Sometimes the law is not adequate to deal with human feelings..."

I thought it was interesting to see the way everyone was forced to compromise some principals and not others. There was a powerful ethical/religious compulsion to tell the "truth" and we
are shown in the film how often a personal crisis can trump one's most devoutly held beliefs.

All societies have their economic pressures, laws and ways of meting out justice. This movie deals with a very personal story of two people who could not solve their difference in a society that also has religious and class distinctions. The husband was choosing between his father who has Alzheimer's and needs 24 hour care and his wife and daughter; the daughter was asked to choose between parents. And the married couple are both devoted to their daughter who is torn between them and basically to each other.

Questions of arrogance, pride and justice prevail in this film, where all the characters are basically decent people trying to live their lives in as uncomplicated a way as they can; and how chance occurrences can disrupt that very fabric.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY 1/14/12


Pay CLOSE ATTENTION to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as it is complicated; even if you don't "get" most of it, one can enjoy this film anyway for the dark, haunting cinematography, and the stoic performance by that excellent actor Gary Oldman as George Smiley, and a great performance by John Hurt as his boss whose weary face reveals the horrors and strain of the job and all that that he has seen and experienced.

My friends and I were riveted to the screen, though not always sure where we were in time and place. I was not bored at all, but drank in the cold-war atmosphere and the spy game - where everyone is suspect and every look is filled with suspicion. No James Bond antics - fast cars, womanizing and gadgets - just plain old digging into files, and other quiet, albeit tedious grunt work with Smiley's sharp intellect putting the puzzle all together - often with bloody and dangerous consequences.