Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Maid (Saturdy, October 31, 2009) (155)

The Maid is a small Chilean film about a house maid, Raquel, who works in an upper-middle class house in a fancy neighborhood in Santiago. She's in her late 30s and has spent 20-some years with the family helping to raise the four children. As she goes about her mundane day-to-day routine of vacuuming, washing clothes, cooking and minding the kids, she slips into a deep funk where she feels more and more unloved and disrespected by the household. She is somewhat hampered by migraines, so the family hires a series of assistants to help her with her tasks. Upset and insulted that she might need help, she marks her territory and works to make their lives impossible so they quit.

By far the best single element in the film is the lead performance by Catalina Saavedra. She is lovable, but somewhat pitiful; she's a proud woman who also behaves childishly; She's vulnerable and vindictive at the same time. The snapshot of her that is used in the poster for this film sums up the character and her performance perfectly. She's beaten down, but still lives to fight another day - and does so somewhat devilishly. I hope she gets attention from the various award-givers later this year and next. So far, I think hers is the best performance by a woman this year.

The tag-line of the film, "She's more or less family" encapsulates the heart of the story. Director Sebastian Silva does a wonderful job of showing how despite being so deeply rooted in this bourgeois family, Raquel will never be one of them. In the first scene, when it is her birthday and the family is trying to celebrate with her, we think it is strange that she does not want to join them. But soon we see that she is treated somewhat unkindly by them - especially by the father. He can barely get out the words to wish her a happy birthday before rushing off to his study to 'work' on his model ship building. Later, he asks that the children close the kitchen door in Raquel's face so they can eat supper together.

There is a feeling of guilt that pervades the relationship between the lady of the house, Pilar, and Raquel. Pilar does not want to step on Raquel's toes and, despite the fact that she knows the relationship is not going well and that Raquel is not happy, she cannot fire her or even give her a stern warning. At one point when Raquel has a physical fight with one of the assistants, Pilar covers for her in front of her husband. Pilar is somewhat trapped knowing Raquel's happiness is somewhat a reflection on the life that has been created for her by the family - but also that a bad attitude has an overall negative effect on the household.

This film is very reminiscent of the 2007 Argentine film Live-In Maid, which dealt with many of the same issues of class and the end of the bourgeoisie in South America. In that, there is a sense that the rich woman cannot figure out her life without the maid, who has also become her best friend. There is a sense that the monetary relationship between the two affects the personal relationship. That financial element is here too. It it hard not to wonder whether Raquel would be so well loved by the family if she did not work for them - or if their love for her is contingent on the fact that they also pay her a salary.

For a somewhat simple-looking movie, I think there is a lot of interesting sociopolitical stuff here - and the style is very intimate and immediate-feeling. Again, Saavedra's performance alone is worth the price of the ticket.

Stars: 3 of 4

Friday, October 30, 2009

This is It (Friday, October 30, 2009) (154)

When I first saw the trailer for this documentary, about seven weeks after Michael Jackson died, I had a bad feeling about it. I didn't understand why I would want to see rehearsal footage from an erstwhile concert that never took place. I figured Jackson would be as much a 'past-star' on stage as he was at the end of his life; I worried that his voice and body would not sound or look very good. As it turns out, my worries were somewhat confirmed and somewhat wrong. This is not a good movie, but Jackson was much more physical and mobile than I expected.

The biggest problem with the film is that it would seem (based on the look of the footage and an opening title) that the film was shot for internal use only and edited together to make it as 'concerty' a movie possible. But the movie is not a concert. It is rehearsal footage. Most of the 'songs' in the film are just run-throughs of the dancers' blocking with some dancing. MJ sings only about half of the songs, relying on pre-recorded vocals (with live band music) on most tracks. On some songs he sings at bit more, but the mix is strangely very quiet on the vocals and stronger on the the band (I can only imagine that this has something to do with the bad quality of the vocals available).

This is all very frustrating. I feel like the footage we see is not good enough for a documentary; I feel ripped off. There is great footage of Jackson dancing (he seems to still be a great dancer in the months leading up to his death), but not enough substantive stuff for a feature film. We get the outlines of most songs - all the big hits: Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean, Man in the Mirror, Human Nature, Bad, etc. - but none of the soul of these songs. I would rather have sat in my living room and listened to a CD of Thriller or Off the Wall - or even HIStory, disc 1.

Making everything more strange is that there are brief interviews with some of the dancers and band members where they talk about how *amazing* Jackson is. (I mean, he's paying their salaries - so I don't know why they would say anything else.) This hagiography is no big surprise (I don't really expect them to raise questions about his pedophilia or obsession with plastic surgery), but it sort of feels like they're all forcing the issue too much. I'm sick of the revisionist history on the man. He was once brilliant and beautiful and became a physical and social freak show. This was not our misunderstanding of him; he was the problem himself.

A few surprises and observations in the film: Beat It is a song that does not age well. It sounds very dated now and the guitar solo bridge is trite and silly; Human Nature is really a beautiful song - possibly Jackson's most beautiful; At times, Jackson looks like a kabuki dancer with a face covered in make-up, even when he's not wearing make-up; The moment when he talks about his in-ear monitor being a 'fist in his ear' is hilarious - but only for the dirty joke that comes to mind; It's not clear that Jackson is a nice person to work with - not that he's a jerk, but his personality does not really come through in the film.

I think the saddest part of the film and the biggest problem with the fact that it is simply rehearsal footage, is that Jackson never speaks for himself about his feelings and never talks directly to the camera about what is going on. He speaks to the director of the show (and the movie), Kenny Ortega, and he speaks to the band and the dancers, but he never speaks to us (or to a director off-camera in an interview, as it typical for a doc like this). This made me think that he is a man (animal) in a cage. We see him doing stuff and interacting with people, but we never hear from him. Maybe this is the deepest part of the film - after all, this is who he was at the end of his life.

Stars: 1 of 4

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rembrandt's J'Accuse (Sunday, October 25, 2009) (153)

Peter Greenaway is an interesting filmmaker - and by interesting, I mean that he makes weird, off-beat movies that are not always successful and sometimes are downright bad. It is no surprise then that a documentary by him would also be non-standard and a bit cheeky.

In this film, Greenaway presents a case for how Rembrandt's The Nightwatch is actually an artistic indictment of the painting's subjects having murdered a man to enhance their political power. He presents 31 pieces of evidence and unusual variations in the painting that lead him to this conclusion and he tells a very compelling story that leaves us totally convinced about Rembrandt's motives and the guilt of the accused men.

Formally the film is very interesting. Throughout most of it, Greenaway appears in a box at the bottom of the screen talking directly to us as he makes his arguments. We do not see art or academic historians, but Greenaway makes points from the point of view of those experts. In the background are close-ups of the painting itself as well as dramatic re-enactments of Rembrandt speaking to the men he was painting getting them set up in costumes and staging them. There are also scenes where Greenaway questions and cross-examines the historical figures (again, actors in period costumes) as if in a murder trial.

Of course, the film is is it's own formal work of art - and reminiscent of how modern and contemporary artists (Roy Lichtenstein, Cindy Sherman, Thomas Struth, etc.) have re-examined the old masters in their works. It is a fresh look at a somewhat stuffy old work. It sounds totally dumb to say, but he really makes the work come to life - and not just because he has actors impersonating the characters on the canvas. He adds all sorts of behind-the-scenes drama that makes the dark background of the painting brighten for a moment. He does this with a tongue planted firmly in his cheek - though it is not silly, just self-aware. This is probably Greenaway's most successful work in a decade or more. It's a lot of fun!

Stars: 3 of 4

Antichrist (Sunday, October 25, 2009) (152)

This is an open letter to Danish filmmaker extraordinaire Lars von Trier. Please note, I do not recommend that anyone see his new film Antichrist. It is shocking and disgusting and terrible. OK - maybe you should see it because it is so wonderfully bad. How von Trier is considered a modern master is beyond me. WARNING: This letter has lots of spoilers and might not be totally SFW. Again: Don't see this movie.

Dear Lars von Trier:

I wish I could say that when in Antichrist a dead fox with its guts spilling out jumps up and says directly to the camera 'chaos reigns' that I knew the picture was a piece of garbage. But sadly, this fact was clear to me way before this sequence. Your movie is totally fatuous, quasi-intellectual sophomorism. And you are a conceited demagogue.
Your film opens with what I think is a very elegant slow-motion sequence with Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg fucking wildly in the shower and their baby falling out an open window to his death, all while a Handel aria plays. This is nice, but is not even a close of anything to come. Once the baby dies, the Gainsbourg goes into a state of extreme shock (she seems to be bi-polar) and gets hospitalized.
When she wakes up (after a month in a coma!) Dafoe, who is some sort of psychiatrist, decides he doesn't like the treatment she's getting, so he flushes her meds down the toilet and resolves to treat her himself. As he treats her, she goes through several stages of 'recovery', with some episodes of crying, self-mutilation and, again, jumping on her husband to fuck him (I mean, why not!?). At a certain point, he decides that they should go to their country house deep in the woods, because he believes part of her problem is that she's afraid of nature (or something like that). Once she gets there, she begins to get better, but ultimately goes fucking bat-shit and attacks her husband.
Your need to show graphic sexuality on screen makes no sense to me. Yes, it's very frank, but I'm not sure it really helps tell the story. I don't need to see vaginal penetration in the opening sequence to understand they are screwing (I think you were trying to make a visual allusion to the stabby violence that would follow, but this was still pretty juvenile). I don't need to see Gainsbourg hit Dafoe in his erect cock with a paving stone and then jerk him off until he spooges blood on her shirt. I don't need to see her drill a hole in Dafoe's leg and then attach a grinding wheel to it with a wrench as a 'man-anchor'. I don't need to see her cut off her clitoris with a rusty scissors. None of these details give me a deeper understanding of anything and are basically all totally fucking gross.
I guess your point in this movie is that men keep women down and hurt them, so it is a woman's right to fight back. Or maybe that men make women into monsters, so we should not be surprised when women fight back. But this argument falls apart once we know that she is bi-polar and is suffering from an extreme depressive episode followed by an extreme manic episode. Also, Dafoe's biggest sin we know about is that he tries to become her shrink (I guess that's something about man's control over women), but this is not the worst sin in the world. Yes, it is very unethical, but it should not lead her to castrating him, or whatever she does. You also show Gainsbourg putting the kid's shoes on the wrong feet to torture him - which means either she's an incredibly negligent mother, or an outright evil one who hurts her child so directly. She is not an easy woman for us to love.
Most of the dialogue in the film is hilariously bad. Several times in the screening I went to, the audience laughed AT the film. At one point, after Gainsbourg has been depressed for several months and unresponsive to Dafoe's treatment, and he says earnestly, 'This is not going to work.' I mean - really, Lars?! That's the best line you could come up with? When the fox said 'chaos reigns', just about everyone in the theater laughed (again) - but aside from the ridiculous line, I don't even understand what the fuck it means. Is the fox a mythological symbol of chaos? Is the woman chaotic? Is there something about the relationship between men and women that is chaotic? Is the fox the Antichrist? I don't know.
Throughout the film, the cinematography is striking, but frustrating. I found that the blue-green, hyper-stylized look of the film made me forget at moments how bad the movie was and enjoy looking at it visually. Maybe it's unfair of me, but I want my bad movie to look really bad too. I think it's cheesy for your turd of a film to look good. (It's also very anti-Dogme 95 of you to have a film look so fancy, bt-dubs.)
I have a few final questions for you: Why is the film set in Seattle? It seems like a totally random place. Is this a criticism of American culture? I don't know how emblematic of America Seattle really is. (I also object to the fact that I don't really associate Seattle with snow, but rather with rain -so I think the snow in the opening sequence is lazy overkill and visual obfuscation). Do you object to psycho-pharmacology and talking therapy? Do you think one is better than the other? At one point it seems like you hate all therapy, but then you let the women who is in bad therapy hurt somebody, so maybe you like therapy. Which parts of the body did Willem DaFoe's body double play? What does this film have to do with Andrei Tarkovsky and why did you dedicate the film to him? Have you considered retirement, and if not, why not?
Most importantly: This film seems to break almost all of the Dogme 95 ten rules. Was this done on purpose? Do you think Dogme is bullshit the way we do? Of all the broken rules, #6 (no murders or weapons) is especially shot to shit - why did you do this? Do you think it makes you an ego-maniac and a hack to write a manifesto and then get sick of it after less than 14 years?
I appreciate that there is a credit at the end for 'research on misogyny' - but I think you are really a misanthrope - at least that's the only explanation I can figure on why you would make this movie - because you fucking hate humanity and want to make us suffer like dogs.
No Stars

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Amelia (Saturday, October 24, 2009) (151)

It seems to me like a biopic about Amelia Earhart would be a totally thrilling and interesting movie about a proto-feminist and her high-flying (literally!) life and career and a wonderfully tragic ending. I'm somewhat surprised that there is not a new film version of her life every few years, the way there are so many Queen Elizabeth movies. But then when I saw this totally anemic film effort, I realized that lives that are inherently cinematic should not always be made into movies - and that sometimes it is possible to screw up a grilled cheese sandwich.

The structure of the film is completely trite: We see Amelia setting off on her final trip, and then cut back to her childhood in Kansas learning to fly with her father; then we see her later in the round-the-world trip flying over Africa, and we cut back to her first flight across the Atlantic. This back-and-forth format is so tired that it's surprising director Mira Nair is even breathing. You could design a computer program, I'm sure, to come up with a more creative plot.

Amelia Earhart (played by Hillary Swank) meets George Putnam (Richard Gere), a New York publisher and advertising and PR man who is looking for a woman who can sit in the back of a plane while two men fly it to London (or Ireland, as it turns out to be). Earhart is strong-willed, but concedes control for hope of marketing riches that would follow the flight. And the riches do follow. When she is done, she gets swept up on a lecture tour with product endorsements and instant fame.

She falls in love with Putnam and also meets and falls for Gene Vidal (Ewan McGreggor), Gore Vidal's father. As she struggles with her love life, she embarks on other flying expeditions (from Hawaii to California; across the Atlantic solo; and somewhere in South America). At some point she attempts the Mt. Everest of flying - a trip around the world. As history shows, her plane goes down somewhere in the South Pacific.

There are so many problems with this film it's hard to know where to begin. My biggest complaint is how lifeless and superficial the movie is. We basically don't know anything about the characters (including Earhart) or their motives and backgrounds. Putnam and Earhart fall in love sorta because they sit next to each other in meetings and Model-T Fords - but we never see why they fall in love. Clearly Ewan McGreggor is hot, but it is never clear why Vidal and Earhart are attracted to one another. (Also - putting a child Gore Vidal in the film is totally unnecessary and dumb. His character adds nothing to the film - and honestly, I think most viewers don't know enough about him today to care who he was then.)

We are never shown that Earhart is a great pilot - and one of our first introductions to her is as a passenger in her trans-Atlantic flight shows her as a restless but compliant second to the male fliers. This doesn't help her case as a master aviatrix. (OK - I do want to say that I love the word 'aviatrix' - and not because it sounds like dominatrix - but because there aren't enough English words that end in 'trix'.) We see that she was selected because she was pretty and could fly - but we are supposed to think that she was the best pilot in the world (or something like that), but we never see this.

Not only is the structure of the script terrible, but the dialogue is laughable too. It seems like most of the talk in the film is simply explaining what was going on or what going to happen next in very clear terms. It felt like the dialogue was written by children - or maybe for a children's book. At one point, Earhard says that she likes flying because it lets her move in three dimensions ... Well, yes, Amelia, you can also walk or run or sit in bed in three dimensions if you want too! This terrible talking was compounded by Swank's totally terrible affected accent. I can only guess that Earhart had some midwestern folksy accent - though it really just comes out as a caricature of a 1930s woman.

(In addition, the production values are terrible and I was constantly bothered by the badly looped-in dialogue that didn't sync with the footage on screen, especially in the most important moment of the film as Earhart is leaving for her final journey -which is shown twice!)

One of my biggest pet peeves in film is anachronisms that would be easy to fix - like bad props and costumes. This film features two Longines watches that are shamefully modern and totally unnecessary. These are clearly put in by the studio's marketing department - but there's no reason why Nair should have allowed modern watches (that do sorta look old) rather than vintage Longines watches - especially when the Longines brand was basically made on the back of 1930s-era aviation. I mean, Nair should be in control of everything on screen - props and costumes and all. If you can see a quartz watch on a wrist in 1937, why not a black box in the cockpit of Earhart's plane. That would have made the search for the wreckage much easier!

In the end, Earhart does not come off as a feminist who is in control of her sexuality or her career during an era when women were not equal to men. She comes off as a woman who knows how she is a second-class citizen and uses her sexuality to control men and steer her career. I think it is, in fact, anti-feminist to suggest that a woman's only tool is her sexuality. This plays directly into the themes of the chauvinist world we live in and is not progressive at all.

Stars: .5 of 4

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are (Saturday, October, 17, 2009) (150)

I have to admit that when I was growing up the Maurice Sendak book Where the Wild Thing Are was not my most favorite book. I was always thrilled by the illustrations, but found the story rather simple. When I first saw the trailer for this Spike Jonze film, I was once again excited by the visuals (and happy with the great use of an Arcade Fire song) and looked forward to the film.

I think Spike Jonze has a really interesting aesthetic and has made and performed in some very interesting movies and shorts. Say what you might about Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, but it's hard to criticize the very unique look of the movies. He has a way of making very mundane and frequently dirty settings look amazing. He relishes 1980s kitsch, synthetic print fabrics and orangey-brown plastics. He's weird - but weird in a good way. Fun and interesting weird.

In the movie, Max is a young pre-teen boy who has a wonderful imagination, but is an outsider in his home town. His best friend is probably his mother, but she is mostly wrapped up in her new boyfriend. One night, when his mother has her boyfriend over for dinner, Max throws a tantrum and runs away to the woods (while wearing a fantasy animal costume). When he wakes up he finds that he's in a world where the wonderful giant Wild Things live. They behave exactly how a 10 year-old boy would expect them to. They break things and build forts and the fight and love one another. They quickly make him their king and he helps to repair their ever-fracturing world.

The themes of the story are rather eternal. The story is reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz or Candide with the idea that the grass is always greener over there - but is ultimately pretty good back home. Max is a universal childhood character that is very easy to understand and identify with.

What I love about the movie is that it really feels like it is seen from the eyes of a child - and not an adult version of what children see. That is, the Wild Things are just big stuffed animals, rather than more realistic fleshy or CGI beings. They are childish, rough and imperfect - and clearly things that could not exist in our world. They only exist in their own world - in Max's world. This world has a wonderful forest and a wonderful dessert with sand dunes - but it totally small enough to be contained in a kids head.

As much as I liked the Wild Things land, though, I feel that the movie ran a bit long at the end of the second act and beginning of the third. I lost track of the story there and think that it should have been cut and tightened a bit.

Still, Jonze amazed me again with a vision that maybe no other director does as well. The art directors and production designer deserve a lot of credit too, as does cinematographer Lance Accord. I think the film is set in the 1980s (at time when I read the book) and I see myself as Max, a bit of an outsider and a bit sad (oh, OK - I'll stop with the boo-hoo). If I had known then that this movie would be made in my future, this is exactly how I would want it to look.

Keep Spike Jonze weird!

Stars: 2.5 of 4

New York, I Love You (Saturday, October 17, 2009) (149)

This film is a re-make of the recent French picture Paris, Je T'Aime that had a series of simple one-scene film shorts about people falling in love in the French capital. As only dunderheaded Hollywood folk can do, producers felt that if it worked OK en francais, pourquoi pas en Anglais. (OK- I'll stop with the French, though I do like to think of film people speaking French when ripping off a tired idea.)

The main problem with the concept, though, is that the French film as thin and treacly. In other words, there was once a bad French movie that was re-made in New York and the re-make is really bad.

So the outline of the film remains the same: A pastiche of short films set in New York City dealing with people falling in love, flirting, falling out of love or fucking. I should be clear here - by 'people,' I'm only speaking of white people and by 'New York City,' I'm only speaking of Manhattan and Jewy Brooklyn. How there could not be a single story of black people, Latino people, Korean people, Russian people - let alone a single gay person of any gender - is shocking to me and makes me think the production had nothing to do with New Yorkers at all. (To be fair, there is one Sikh man, one Chinese woman, one bi-racial whore, one Orthodox Jewish woman, and an old Jewish couple - Yay! Diversity!)

Each short is directed by a different film maker and each one has its own personality and style. One is silly and funny, one is tragic, one is romantic, one is naturalistic. Then in between each sequence, there are a few characters who tie all the stories together (because as American film viewers, we are apparently dumbfucks and can't possibly understand a bunch of shorts without a few directorial guides). Rather than helping to tie the stories together, these interludes create more unusual segues - suggesting connections that are not actually there at all. Letting one short butt up against another would be much easier to comprehend. Instead we are left asking if there is one major story that we're missing as we watch all the small films. (There is not.)

Easily the biggest surprise of the whole thing is that some of the actors and directors who I would expect the least from give some of the best moments. Director Brett Ratner, who I think normally can't direct his way out of a paper bag, does a great job in his short about a boy (Anton Yelchin) who is tricked into taking a girl in a wheelchair (Olivia Thirlby) to the senior prom. It's a very funny bit and generally well done -and easily the best of all the shorts. Actor Shia LaBeouf, who I think is a terrible actor, is very good in a serious role in a heavy-handed, but elegant-ish short by Shekhar Kapur (a director I don't think much of either).

But this is, like, the worst praise a movie can get, right? That the people who really suck in general didn't suck as much as expected and were actually pretty OK. Well - that's about all I'm going to give the film. Why there were not love stories set in Washington Heights or Spanish Harlem with people who spoke Spanish, or why there was not, say a Korean story in Queens - or, forgodssake, a gay love story - is totally beyond me. I don't think this is going to get much attention or play outside of New York and I think New Yorkers are rather bored by such a safe, white script purporting to be about the whole city.

Stars: .5 of 4

Monday, October 12, 2009

An Education (Monday, October 12, 2009) (148)

This film tells the story of a precocious teenage girl in England in the early 1960s who befriends an older man who purports to be a cultural dilettante and professional man of international esteem. The girl and both her parents fall in love with the guy and she decides to quit high school and begin her new life as a woman of leisure. She gets so caught up in the romance of her own story that she loses track of her goals and gets burned when she finds that the man was not entirely forthright with her about his situation. God - even writing a three-sentence summary of the story makes me want to doze off to sleep. The story is completely banal and the film is as exciting as the foggy gray atmosphere of the London setting.

Cary Mulligan in the lead role of Jenny is a wise girl who has a very nice and attractive demeanor. Her performance is good overall, but the dialogue she is given is terrible. She constantly speaks in half-French phrases and then banal English cliches. Not a fault of the acting at all, but rather the script, she does not seem to fit well into the era that the movie is set - as she constantly talks back to her parents and teachers in a particularly modern way. Peter Saarsgaard as the love interest, David, has one of the all-time terrible English accents here. It's hard to pay attention to his performance or the character because the accent is so distractingly bad.

One thing that comes off strangely (that might just be my contemporary prudishness coming out) is how there is not a single character who ever questions the appropriateness of a 16 year-old girl dating a man in his mid-30s and travelling around the country (and Paris) with him. I guess one could say 'times were different then' - but still, there should have been a teacher or parent asking if it was right for the couple to date (to which she could have replied, 'Oh - don't be such a prude' in a bratty tone).

On top of this problem, is the more central question of what David's motives are in sweeping Jenny off her feet. His intentions are never explored at all. Early on, he seems excited by the girl's excitement for him, and then later he seems rather turned on by her virginity and sexual adventurousness. But why he sticks around so long is never really examined. Is he really in love with her? It seems like a stretch to think he is. Aside from the puerile lust he might have for such a young girl, she doesn't seem to offer him much. She is clearly more in lust with him and fools herself into thinking it's love.

This is yet another case of the historical truth of the story getting in the way of a compelling narrative. The fact that this is based on an alleged true story gets in the way of a cohesive structure. I have to imagine all of the events here actually occurred, but they don't make a good movie. The story is totally cliche and the characters are so two-dimensional they almost recede into the beige wallpaper.

Stars: 1 of 4

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Good Hair (Sunday, October 11, 2009) (147)

This is a documentary by comedian Chris Rock about the science and culture of black women's hair. I'm a bit baffled as to why Rock would make this - I mean he's never shown a heck of a lot of interest in hair before and I don't think he's a stylist by day or anything - but he actually takes the somewhat trivial topic and makes an interesting story about it.

He looks at all sorts of aspects of black hair, from historical trends (relaxer and straightening to weaves and hair pieces) to price and social impact. These sequences are intercut with the Bronner Bros. International Beauty Show, the Super Bowl and Oscars of the black hair industry rolled into one. The final day of the show is a competition where five hair stylists perform acrobatic routines showing their skills with scissors and showmanship. (The loudest and most flamboyant of the participants is Derrick J, sometimes seen on the Real Housewives of Atlanta, where he designs wigs with housewife Kim.)

But not all of the film is flash and glitter. Rock looks at how most of the companies who sell hair products to black women are white- or asian-owned. The few black-owned companies are well loved, but not nearly as big as their non-black counterparts. Rock goes to India to show how most hair weaves come from temples and holy sites where pilgrims have their black and brown hair shaved as pious offerings to god. This hair is then taken to the U.S. where it is sold (for thousands of dollars a weave) to the black community.

There is a look at how very traditional black hair (an Afro, say) is basically unwearable for black women as society expects wavy or straight shiny hair and not the tight curly hair that grows on their heads. This is a very sad observation - especially when we see this history of this bias, going back to Josephine Baker and other black celebrities of older generations.

Hair has been a political tool and a repressive agent by Whites over the Black community for centuries - and Rock shows how black women are now accepting this as standard now and embracing it. It's hard for me as a white guy to say that black women should fight back and wear their hair how they want, when it would seem that they want the expensive, uncomfortable and fragile hair - but it does make me a bit uncomfortable. Still, I appreciate this interesting, funny look at a topic I didn't know much about before.

Stars: 2.5 of 4

The Yes Men Fix the World (Sunday, October 11, 2009) (146)

The Yes Men are a post-modern political hoax duo whose mission is to expose corporate greed and fraud through elaborate public pranks. Their targets are the traditional big-meanies of the multi-national corporate landscape, from Halliburton and Dow to the wrong-headed mosaic of government agencies that work in New Orleans re-building after Hurricane Katrina. This film, written and directed by the pair themselves, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, is a tongue-in-cheek look at some of their more famous and powerful works that brought them the largest amount of attention.

Their most successful act began with them setting up a website that appeared to look like an 'ethics' arm of Dow Chemical. Approaching the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster (where tens of thousands of people were killed from a massive chemical spill and then thousands more died in the following years from the damage) the Yes Men, posing as Dow executives, were invited on to BBC to speak about the company's reaction to the situation it created.

Bichlbaum, under an assumed name, spoke on camera about how sorry the company was that the event occurred, and how they were going to accept full responsibility for their actions and pay the victims and their families with several billions of dollars. Of course, Dow has never admitted to any amount of responsibility and has been totally unhelpful to the Indian city.

Moments after the interview, top headlines around the world reported this gigantic turn-around in message and unparallelled restitution money. Of course, it was only a matter of minutes before Dow's real spokespeople contacted news media to say that in fact the Yes Men were pranksters and that they still don't take responsibility for their actions and still will not pay any money to the Indians who were hurt.

This, in the end is the real art of the Yes Men - getting big companies and government bodies to specifically defend indefensible beliefs, policies and messages.

This film is a much more successful indictment of corporate greed and capitalism run awry than the recent Michael Moore movie, Capitalism: A Love Story. The Yes Men know that there are not two sides to every story (as Arriana Huffington has been saying for a few years now). There is not real scientific *debate* about evolution or climate change - so it's foolish for news reports to give 'equal time' to both sides. There is not a real moral pro and a con to Dow paying back victims of their chemical spill - they messed up and they should help the victims of the accident. That there are corporate suits and apologists who would defend the faceless company is sickening and, simply, bad. The Yes Men try to expose these problems.

They are not shrill, rather they are funny and friendly. In the film, they hatch their next 'attacks' from their modest super-hero den, as if they were poor, kitschy Batmans. This is a very funny and clever doc that leaves you feeling empowered by these modern-day Davids versus Goliath. I can't wait to see what they do next!

Stars: 3 of 4

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bronson (Saturday, October 10, 2009) (145)

The best way to explain the beautiful and weird movie Bronson is a line from the movie, where protagonist Charles 'Charlie' Bronson says to us, 'I'm not bad bad'. This sums up well his very cheeky and interesting persona and is both a lie and an understatement, but also rather spot-on with how we feel about him. This biopic is a fascinating and operatic appraisal of a interesting and compellingly violent character.

Charles Bronson, ne Michael Peterson, was never a really terrible person. He is known to this day as Britain's most violent prisoner, who went to jail in the 1970s, in his early 20s, for a bungled robbery (he still lives in British prison today). Once he got to prison, he began a bizarre and obsessive string of violent attacks and actions against other prisoners and mostly against the guards and prison administrators. He would organize elaborate kidnappings (into his cell), fights with other prisoners, fights with guards, stabbings and muggings and riots with lots of fires set to the facilities. As a result, he has spent something like all but four years in custody in solitary confinement - and of course, most of his life there.

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn does a beautiful and unorthodox job with material that could be rather banal. The film is incredibly stylized and seems almost thematically Victorian - as if Bronson himself is a Victorian hero - like Sherlock Holmes. Bronson has a wonderful bald head and a fabulous thick handle-bar moustache.

The chronology of his life is intercut with sequences where Bronson is on a stage in an opera house dressed in a suit and sometimes in clown makeup explaining situations and giving some commentary on the events we're watching. This actually is a very interesting technique as it shows Bronson as a showman trying to capitalize on his notorious caché (these sequences are very reminiscent of the later scenes from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, where Ford goes on tour re-enacting his fantastic but cowardly betrayal of his friend) but also rather intimate, as at times, he speaks directly to the camera - to us - about what is going on.

Tom Hardy does a wonderful job in the lead role. He's charming, funny, appealing and handsome. He is as bald as a newborn baby (at least a bald newborn baby) and his amazing moustache gives him a 19th Century boxer feel - which he basically was (his name comes from his days as a bare-knuckle boxer in East London when the promoter wanted him to have a strong, movie-star name like the star of Death Wish). This is a man who is clearly insane - but he's so compelling that you want to be his friend.

It's hard to watch the film not think about Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange - and Malcolm McDowell as Alex. Both films fetishize 'ultra-violence' and both romanticize fist and knife fighting as an artform. The characters see their physical appearances including their clothing and makeup as part of a persona that helps them do their bloody work. One unusual thing about Bronson's fights is that several times he stripps down nude and paints his entire body, possibly as a defensive move (it's harder to wrap up a man who you can't grab hold of) but largely as a creative touch. The imagery is striking on screen.

This film is as much about the choreography, the ballet, and the swelling operatic moments of climax as it is about the narrative per se. The style is a tremendously important device that lures us in and makes disgusting things less sickening.

This is a fascinating film that sounds rather dull when you explain it ('it's about a guy who goes to jail and gets in lots of fights while he's there') - but is in fact beautiful and evocative and tragic and, in the end, sublime.

Stars: 3.5 of 4

More than a Game (Saturday, October 10, 2009) (144)

LeBron James is a totally amazing athlete and public persona. His basketball skills are unquestionably amazing and he is easily the most charismatic and dynamic athlete in America today - and one of the most marketable of all time. He is at once not too political or 'urban' for white folks, and also not too safe and Floyd Patterson 'yessir' for black folks. Clearly his decision to skip college rubbed many in the establishment the wrong way, but when you see him play now, that's easily forgotten.

This documentary, More than a Game, follows LeBron and his four high school basketball teammates from their pre-high school AAU team through their three Ohio state high school championships. We see mostly home video footage of the early games and then local and national television coverage as they the team grows up and gets more famous. There are interviews with the players and coaches in the present day looking back on their high school careers (now only six or seven years ago).

This is a interesting movie, because it would be very easy to only focus on James and his amazing ability on the court, but rookie director Kristopher Belman does a very good job of showing the other guys too. In fact - the way it's put together, it seems that in the early years, LeBron was not necessarily the clearest talent on the squad. But soon enough, of course, he separates himself from the other guys as the best player and the most photogenic and sellable.

The best thing that can happen to a historical documentary like this are some true-life writerly twists in the story. There is a wonderful suspense added to the film when the team loses the championship its junior year, or when LeBron is suspended for taking gifts during his senior year.

I would have loved a little bit more analysis about what happened to these guys after high school - that they either didn't go to college or they did go to college or they skipped college and why these things happened. It would have been interesting to get some thoughts from LeBron about why he wanted to forgo college ball and play in the NBA and what it meant to him that he knew he was going to play for his almost-home-town team (he's from Akron, so Cleveland is very close by). Yes, that might have been a different movie, but it would have been a slightly more complete ending than what we got (which was some simple titles about where they all went).

Stars: 2.5 of 4

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Boys are Back (Friday, October 9, 2009) (143)

This is a very strange movie and proof that just because a story is real and based on a memoir, does not mean it will translate successfully on screen. Otherwise said, not everybody's life deserves to be a memoir, or a film.

Joe Warr, played by Clive Owen, is a sports journalist living on the rural coast of Australia with his son only weeks after his wife has died suddenly of natural causes. This is Joe's second family, as he left his first wife and son in London a decade or so earlier when he met and fell in love with his second wife.

Initially, he is overwhelmed with the responsibility of fathering a son without any help from his wife. To cope with this, he sets no rules or boundaries for his son and the two live like pigs in a filthy house. At some point, his first, older son visits and strikes up a friendship with the younger boy, his half-brother. Joe is unable to cope with the two boys and work at the same time, and ends up frightening his older son back to England.

My main problem with the film is that Joe never totally grows or learns any lessons - despite endangering the lives of his son many times. He never comes to the conclusion that, though it was fun to live like animals and children in a big house with no boundaries, it is, in the end, juvenile and unproductive. He never gets control of his ego to turn his friendship with his hot neighbor lady friend into a romance. (This is actually a very frustrating thing, as we are teased with the idea that they will end up together, but the idea is never really investigated deeply and the woman floats off into the ether of the story.)

There is a strange melancholia that pervades the story. There are few happy scenes, but overall it seems like the weight of the world is on Joe's shoulders and he's about to crack. Even at the end, it is not clear that he has figured out a way to make his situation work. Rather, the story just ends, not far from where it began.

Clive Owen is great in this role - just as he is in most roles he gets. He has a certain charm and a certain bad-boy appeal. The problems with his character are more in the writing than in the portrayal. The boys are good too - especially the older son, played by George MacKay.

The photography by Greig Fraser (Again! I guess he shoots all contemporary dramas made in Australia or by any Auzzie directors!) is lovely - though the gorgeous location of Joe's house on the rocky, windy coast makes this a bit easier, I'm sure.

Overall, I'm sure this story is an accurate look into Joe Warr's life, but I don't know why I'm supposed to care about it. It is not entirely interesting and I don't really see a ton of growth out of him. It does not come off as a more typical story of a man who thinks he can do everything, then learns he can't, then figures out how to make it work. Rather, it's the story of a man who thinks he knows how to do everything, then fails, then continues to do things the same way - but this time getting along with his estranged son. Big whoop!

Stars: 2 of 4

Bright Star (Friday, October 9, 2009) (142)

This movie tells the story of the last few years in the life of romantic poet John Keats and his love affair with Fanny Brawne. As the story opens, Keats is living with Charles Armitage Brown, a one-time merchant and now romantic poet and bon vivant. Brown is a boorish man who has no refined qualities, especially not with his neighbors in the Brawne household next door. Nonetheless, when Fanny hears of the arrival of Keats, by then a somewhat known poet, she goes to see him and immediately falls in love with his gentle, loving attitude toward the world.

Keats has no money and no income and, despite being seen as a handsome and talented man, is totally unacceptable as a husband for Fanny. They continue to flirt and fall in love, even as he gets sicker and sicker with tuberculosis.

As only director Jane Campion can do, this movie is much more about atmosphere and visual beauty than it is about characters or story. In fact, the movie is quite dull and the two-hour run feels more like three hours. Most scenes contain a minimum of dialogue and seem like filler, rather than actually telling me something I need to know to advance the story. At times, the narrative goes off into directions that mean nothing - like Brown's affair with his parlor maid - that are totally distracting and unnecessary. There is a 'romantic' quality to the visual style of the film - it does look beautiful, actually - but most of these plastic elements feel get frustrating and boring after awhile.

Cinematographer Greig Fraser deserves a lot of credit for making southern England look bright despite its frequent dreary wetness. There are lovely blue-green-gray colors throughout the film that contrast nicely with the lighter, sunnier colors of the few scenes where Fanny and Keats go walking in nice weather. Campion does deserve some credit for this as well, of course, however she seems to lose control of the story - mostly in the script - and isn't able to pull it together for a tight plot.

The acting is nice overall - Ben Wishaw is good as Keats and Abbie Cornish is compelling enough as Fanny. But the real achievement is Paul Schneider - one of the best young actors working today - as Brown. He is obscene and funny and vulnerable and proud all at the same time. His northern or Scottish accent is wonderful and helps make him more of a beast in our minds. His performance is the best part of this otherwise tepid film.

Stars: 1.5 of 4

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Julia (Thursday, October 8, 2009) (141)

Most bad movies have one or two interesting or fun elements in them. It might have a terrible script or horrendous acting, but might look nice or have a good scene. Julia has nothing good at all in it. The script is terrible and unfocused with bad dialogue and a ponderous narrative. The acting is not good, including Tilda Swinton, who has had some good performances in her career, but struggles here with an American accent. The direction is loose and directionless and the visual style is uninspired.

Julia is an active alcoholic who goes to an AA meeting where she meets another drunk, probably schizophrenic woman. That woman has a plan to kidnap her son away from her husband's rich family in order to make some money. She asks Julia for help for the plan and Julia agrees, sensing that she can make an extra buck. She hatches her own plan to kidnap the kid from the mother and extort more money form the rich family. The plan goes pear-shaped and Julia is left with the kid and no cash - so she runs for Mexico with the boy (huh?!).

One of the biggest problems for me is that none of the characters are likable and their behavior is irrational and the story is disgusting. Julia's drunkenness is never really addressed and it's not clear that she has the slightest bit of a goodness in her body. When the boy is crying and soiling himself (more than once) she's oblivious and heartless. But the strange thing is that Julia is not supposed to be an evil character - it seems that director Eric Zonca shows her as a tragic character who has made a string of bad choices. I guess she has an addictive personality, but her decisions are irrational, even for someone who drinks a bottle of vodka before noon.

Overall this is uncomfortable and uninteresting and just plain boring. I don't find kidnapping and drunkenness interesting or enjoyable to watch - and I also don't know why I would want to watch it for 150 minutes. The script could have easily been cut down by 45 minutes at least (structurally, there are four acts - which is sloppy, to say the least). Swinton should be ashamed of her thin, shrill performance here.

Stars: 0 of 4

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Window (Wednesdaty, October 7, 2009) (140)

This is a very small and lovely Argentine film about an old man in the last days of his life who is bed-ridden in his country home. He is pre-occupied with the imminent visit of his estranged son, a concert pianist working in Europe. After gazing out the window at the beautiful day, he escapes his servants to go for a walk on his land. By the time his son arrives, his energy is nearly entirely spent and they can barely communicate before he passes away.

This poetic story is much more atmospheric, almost impressionistic, than narrative. The characters are beautifully sketched, but few details are given to us. The man is rich and formerly rather powerful, however the loss of his wife and the illness he is succumbing to have sapped his will. Still, he is proud and does not want to be seen as a helpless invalid in his son's eyes. Actor Antonio Larreta does a beautiful job in this role. The son is aloof and clearly had a falling-out with his father. He's somewhat caring, but distant. His lady friend is uncompromising and difficult and icy and unloving. It's actually very nice to have these schematic portraits of the characters rather than thick histories of each.

The film is very light and pure with a concentration on the texture and atmosphere of the house and surrounding areas. The decay of the once-grand estate is echoed by the man's worsening condition. This naturalism is underlined when the son and his girlfriend arrive with their mobile phones and modern ways.

There is not much story in the film, but it is beautiful and worth the 88 minutes it takes to watch.

Stars: 3 of 4

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Informers (Tuesday, October 6, 2009) (139)

The 1980s in Los Angeles were a time of synthetic fabrics in various shades of brown, pink and light blue, big permed hair (sometimes with blond tips), small, fast cars, the end of modernism, buckets of cocaine, skinny people and new electronics. Such a trite list might sound tedious but it contains the only moderately entertaining aspects of The Informers, a lifeless movie about the end of modern civilization in the Reagan years.

The film follows several different dull stories of people living in LA in 1983. There are several kids in their early 20s who seem to screw, snort lines of coke and screw; there are a few adults who work in Hollywood and screw one another and their kids' friends; there are some lowlifes who deal drugs and kidnap kids for some white slavery ring. Uh - that's about all there is.

This is really a painfully boring movie with a big cast and writers behind it. Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Bassinger, Mickey Rourke, Chris Isaac and Winona Ryder all struggle with Brett Easton Ellis and Nicholas Jarecki's terrible script.

The art direction and production design, not to mention costumes and make up, are all worthy of praise. Each scene is beautifully set up and looks absolutely perfect for the time period. But these technical aspects are the only part of the film that are not totally mind-numbingly banal.

Stars: .5 of 4

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Whip It (Sunday, October 4, 2009) (138)

At the beginning of 2006 there was a totally fun reality show on A&E called Rollergirls about a roller derby league in Austin populated entirely by pierced and tattooed women. It was a pretty good show, but only had one season. Now comes Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, Whip It, based on the same roller derby and it's punk players. In the end, the movie is totally formulaic and pretty dull - not terrible, but not great.

Ellen Page plays a high school girl outcast in a small town in Texas. Her mother wants her to participate in beauty pageants, but she is a light feminist and thinks they're, like, totally lame. She learns about the roller derby in Austin and goes to the tryouts. Of course, having not skated since she was 7, she's totally awesome at it and is offered the spot on one of the derby teams. She starts living a double life where she's a dorky student by day and by night she's a butt-kicking derby hell raiser. She lies to her parents about where she goes at night and lies to her team about her age. Ugh - then there's some Bad News Bears-y story about losers who start winning once they start believing in themselves.

There's nothing outright terrible about the film. It's just totally predictable and trite. There's a dull love affair, a best friend with hurt feelings, a scorned and then heroic dad and a tough situation with the derby championship on the same night as the beauty pageant her mother wants her to attend. Dullsville.

The directing by Barrymore is mostly pretty unremarkable, with a few clever moments and some really bad choices. The roller derby sequences are rather lifeless, unexciting and brief - and there should have been more of them. (Drew should have studied the the Rollergirls episodes shot by Bradley Beesley, who was able to get a ton of action in short bursts in the TV show.)

Ellen Page - who I normally find annoying - was pretty good here. She was vulnerable and sweet and totally believable as a precocious high school senior. Drew Barrymore had a terribly written role that she couldn't do much with. Juliette Lewis was totally laughable as the derby queen villain (I don't know why she is ever hired for any roles). Kristen Wiig was fine as the motherly derby friend - though I gotta say I'm getting sick of her being in what seems like ever comedy that comes out now. Enjoy your moment, KW!

I would not advise against seeing this movie, but it's really banal. The final roller derby scene is exciting to be sure - but that doesn't say much. If you really want awesome roller action get the Rollergirls DVDs - it's less cliche and many of the characters in it (real women in a reality show!) are the basis for many of the characters in the movie.

Stars: 2 of 4

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Zombieland (Saturday, October 4, 2009) (137)

Zombieland is a short and smart movie that knows exactly what it is and doesn't try to be anything more. It's a ton of fun to watch (if you like zombie movies) and is a very funny farce.

The movie begins after a zombie virus has spread across the world turning all but a handful of people into zombies. Jesse Eisenberg is one of those people and he has survived by being comically cautious and relying on his ever-growing list of rules (rule 1: stay fit so you can run from zombies; rule 2: be careful in bathrooms; rule 3: check the back seat of cars before getting into them, etc.). Along his way he meets Woody Harrelson who has survived by behaving totally differently - that is being a total bad ass and having a good time killing zombies in more and more elaborate ways.

The two team up and begin driving and killing the zombies they find along the way. At one supermarket they stop at (so Woody can find the Twinkies he's obsessed with finding) they bump into and get held up by Emma Strong and Abigail Breslin who trick the men out of their SUV and guns. They all then head to LA where they've heard is a zombie-free amusement park - but of course find more zombies who have to be killed in more elaborate and hilarious ways.

The movie is very simple, but rises above it's silly concept with great writing and very funny acting. It doesn't get political and doesn't waste time explaining what is going on - you know it's no more than a zombie movie and there is no time spent explaining what that means. The voice over by Eisenberg is arch and fresh and his dorkiness and awkwardness are used for some very clever jokes. I liked that there were about four recurring jokes throughout the movie that come up several times - not too many and not too few. Harrelson is great - I really think he's a very good actor and I think he's generally underrated.

At a short 81 minutes, the movie moves along briskly and ends exactly at the right moment. The climactic scene is nicely choreographed, and is very enjoyable and, as with the entire movie, totally entertaining.
It's a great comic pair to 28 Days Later - a great zombie thriller.

I think this movie will stick around for a long time and be one that I could watch many times. It's a totally silly and hilarious movie with a ton of blood, gore and vomit! Fuck yeah!

Stars: 3 of 4

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Serious Man (Friday, October 2, 2009) (136)

I think my biggest gripe with movies by Joel and Ethan Coen is that they frequently trade style for substance. They love little genre pieces and quirky comedies with big stars as well as bigger dramas that generally look amazing. Roger Deakins is the director of photography on most of those great looking movies (Barton Fink, Fargo, The Man Who Wasn't There, No Country for Old Men). Sometimes it is hard to say whether his amazing photography lifts Coen brothers movies above flaws in their scripts and bad choices in their direction. As with man of these other 'serious' movies by the duo, I think A Serious Man is so beautiful to watch that you almost lose track of the fact that it doesn't totally come together story-wise.

In the movie, Larry Gopnick is a middle-class physics professor at a college outside of Minneapolis. He and his wife are active members of their synagogue and greater Jewish community in Bloomington, MN in 1967. As the movie beings, Larry's life starts to fall apart. His wife tells him she wants a divorce as she is having an affair with an older friend of the family. Larry's live-in brother has health and gambling problems and is getting in trouble with the police for sexual acts. His kids hate him (as any teenagers would hate their parents) and he is facing an ethical dilemma at work regarding a bribe from a student. Realizing he is being tested by God, Larry seeks help from doctors and rabbis, but never seems to get satisfactory answers.

Clearly the story alludes to the Talmudic trails of Job. Larry is a pious and prosperous man who is being tested for reasons he doesn't understand. He never curses God - in fact his faith is the rock he leans on. But there are also allusions to Abraham and Isaac, Susanna and the Elders, Sodom and Gamorrah and any number of Old Testament weather disasters to name a few.

The problem is that there are so many mixed tales here that you lose track of which story is being explored at what time. It's a bit of a biblical 'throwing of pasta against a wall'. It's messy and at the end you just have to see what sticks. The film lacks focus. The individual scenes and sequences are lovely and work well in and of themselves, but moving from one allegory to another is difficult and gets messy.

The movie is very serious and straightforward, but it is also very funny. As Larry gets more and more divergent and bizarre advice, and slips further and further into worry and pain, the movie gets funnier and funnier. At a certain point we are laughing at Larry's misfortune thinking it is amazing that his situation keeps getting worse and worse. From the twerpy junior rabbi (played hilariously by Simon Helberg from CBS's The Big Bang Theory) who clearly is green and preoccupied with the parking lot out his office window, to the foxy neighbor who smokes pot with Larry, to Larry's brother (played by Richard Kind) who is constantly in the bathroom draining a cyst, Larry can seem to find no normal people to talk to.

Michael Stuhlbarg, as Larry, does a really great job of falling deeper and deeper into self-despair while maintaining a stiff upper lip and not trying to complain. At moments he is explosive when he feels he has the slightest leg up on someone. His face shows how he feels the weight of the world on his shoulders - but he can quickly turn that to a smile when his dean comes in to talk about him getting tenure.

The look of the film is perfect. Each shot is meticulously designed and is bright and crisp with perfectly time-appropriate accessories and furnishings. There is not a single spot of dirt or dust in any of the shots. All of the exteriors are clean and full of light. The interiors are expertly vacuumed and not a single coaster is out of place. All of this underlines the Biblical themes of the film - as if the tales that are in the Torah are brought out in their divine magnificence from God's mouth. The perfection we see on screen couldn't be possible in reality - making the Book of Larry it's own new Biblical story.

Overall, this is an interesting movie with sumptuous photography. The tale of Larry being tested by God for unknown reasons in fascinating and compelling. I feel, though, that the Coens opened so many metaphysical doors that, in the end, several are left unattended and ignored, so to speak. It's problems are in the script to be sure and it is not as neat and tidy as I would have liked it - but it is definitely thought provoking and entertaining.

Stars: 3 of 4

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Dinner with Andre (1981) (Thursday, October 1, 2009)

I have to admit, having never seen this film before and hearing about it through the years, I was a bit worried about what I'd find at the theater. But when the opportunity presented itself to see it (as part of the New York Film Festival), I decided I should try it out. I gotta say - it's a great movie!

It is funny and fresh and wonderfully playful and post-modern. I don't totally know how Louis Malle is able to have a nearly-two-hour dinner conversation remain gripping and interesting throughout, but he does. Wallace Shawn is hilarious and Andre Gregory is compelling and bizarre and fascinating (the script, written by the two of them, is great). It's a long one to get through - and I'm not sure it would have worked as well for me on the small screen in my living room - but it's worth it. It's also one of the most effective tongue-in-cheek uses of a voice over in recent memory.

... and then they danced and drank all night until dawn ...

Stars: 4 of 4