Not enough votes yet! Vote for your favorite (and least favorite) reviews below.
Posted on 11/15/10 02:04 PM
On one hand, this two-part masterpiece, which should have been composed of three parts, was a complete departure from director Sergei Eisenstein?s early revolutionary dramas ?Strike? and ?Battleship Potempkin.? As in 1938?s ?Alexander Nevsky,? the hero of the story has switched from embodying an entire mass of people to simply a single man, in this case, a man who has such an overwhelming determination to reunite the Motherland that he is willing to do literally anything.
It is perhaps Ivan?s single-minded thinking that remains his curse ? he is perpetually lonely in his time of rule ? while he attempts to fill in the immensely vast holes in Russia?s borders with his solitary might. It is interesting to see his character, played memorably by the great Nikolai Cherkasov, slowly develop from a defiant ruler full of potential to a hellish tyrant who has lost all earthly embassies of love and is crazed by paranoia. Clearly, Stalin knew where Eisenstein was getting with this rather operatically conceived biography, and swiftly prevented the completion of Part III.
The large scale sets and battle scenes in the first part show how the young Tsar was not shy about presenting the military might of Russia before the entire world, while the more introspective second part revealed a hidden dark side to the strikingly egocentric ruler. Vertically integrated camera angles, ?boogie-man? ? like shadows rampaging up the walls and ultimately the use of color film in select scenes provide the director with an ingeniously conceived character study that show not only the true colors of the main subject, by the filmmaker himself.
Eisenstein most likely was counting on the Communist ruler to halt the production of his trilogy of glory, paranoia and hollow triumph at some point. If anything, I would think he was either waiting for the tyrant to kick the bucket so that he could resume production, or if he himself passed, that someone else would find he means to complete the films. Sadly, only a brief few minutes of Ivan the Terribly, Part III exist today.
Posted on 6/16/10 11:01 AM
Fans of the late director Robert Altman should under no circumstances be unaware of this truly fine work of art by one of cinema?s greatest craftsmen. Jean Renoir?s ?La Regle Du Jeu? (The Rules of the Game) got off on a bad start, originally opening to a non-receptive audience in 1939. The film?s negatives were also considerably damaged during the war, only to be completely restored in 1959.
This belated release during the French New Wave movement allowed different classes of society to succinctly admire a work that was created far ahead of its time.
With the foundation of an old 19th-century comedy of manners by Alfred de Musset, Renoir (son of the impressionist painter) chose to make a subtle yet contemptuous comment on the senseless conventions of pre-war French society in the face of grave crises.
Now cleaned up with a new digital restoration, we are first introduced to an exhausted Andre Jurieax (Roland Toutain), touted as the next Charles Lindberg, as he lands his bi-plane in heroic fashion after crossing the Atlantic solo. He is met by his friend Octave (Renoir in one of his more memorable cameo roles), French diplomats and a media frenzy, but not by his beloved Christine. She is also a close friend of Octave?s, and whom he says was the impetus behind the journey.
Not put out, the now-married Christine switches off the radio broadcast and continues to prepare for her group?s pleasure trip to their countryside estate La Coliniere. While Christine?s husband attends to his own outstanding relationships, Octave convinces them to invite Andre along with them to their estate. Hilarious allegory ensues as the group heads out on their hunting/adulterating excursions (largely referenced in Altman?s ?Gosford Park?).
To the casual viewer, possibly expecting a quaint portrait of the 1930?s French lifestyle, the film is quite deceptive in that it does not beatify or denounce any of the characters outright ? for instance painting their faces in hard shadows or filling their mouths with adversarial dialogue.
Instead, the filmmaker made the conscious decision to outwit the viewer, even incorporating many of his own personal attributes into the characters, especially Octave. The whimsy creatures of this theatrical anecdote are also in a perpetual state of uneasy happiness throughout the picture, creating the dark underbelly that no one on the stage at La Coliniere wants to admit exists.
?La Regle Du Jeu? was dedicated to the still-influential film critic Andre Bazin, rightly so as he encouraged the realization of many directors? creative fruits, especially during the New Wave.
In many ways, this film was a culmination of those talents and can be timely for every generation due to its universal conclusions.
For one, almost no screen time is wasted here, with the constant rigmarole of the debutants and their hubbies acting out their confused understanding of love. Only during choice moments, like on the hunt when a terrorized rabbit meets his slow, agonizing end, does the audience have a chance to take a break from the sensation of their anti-reality game and reflect on its repercussions.
Posted on 9/02/08 08:51 AM
If you are one who is used to seeing low-budget independent films, then you will act accordingly with writer/director Courtney Hunt's impressive debut feature, "Frozen River," which essentially paints a fresh coat over the reasons why distributors continue to allow only a sliver of films like these through to exhibition. See this one while you can, because it will not be out long, and before you know it your Netflix queue will be inching nearer its max.
The star of the picture is Melissa Leo (Ray Eddy), a powerful actress with many dramatic notches on her belt, including the groundbreaking cop-drama "Homicide." Her character here is a struggling mother eternally stuck in a figurative rut ? physically at one point ? in a small town near the New York State border with Quebec, which also happens to be right alongside a Mohawk Reservation where smuggling illegal immigrants stateside is a common practice.
The film's timeline is brief, covering only the span of the couple days leading up to Christmas, and all the while Ray's fragile family fabric is slowly tearing amidst the unpredictable absenteeism of her childrens' father, (who is not seen once throughout the film) and the oppressive cold that has frozen over the St. Lawrence River. This natural occurrance provides ? for better or worse ? Ray with an unexpectedly convenient source of income, as the immigrant smuggling superhighway occurs over Mohawk territory, outside State police jurisdiction.
Desperate to move her kids into a new, more luxurious mobile home (for reasons curiously unexplained), Ray takes to the criminal life with a six-shooter at her side that she's "not afraid to use."
At first the plausibility of a basically single-mother taking up the vigilante lifestyle seems far-fetched, but after spending time in this no-future town and witnessing the perpetual depression that sets in along with the unceasing cold, one can begin to understand rash measures being taken in forgotten towns where opportunity comes only to the fortunate or the criminal.
As a study on the modern plight of poor and lower-middle class families struggling in America, (a subject Hollywood tends not to dwell on) the film is enlightening to the extent that its production took on fully the true grittiness of that environment, and capitalized on the need for engrossing performances from the actors, especially Leo and the Native Americans.
"Frozen River" will not recieve much critical attention outside of independent film awards centering on Leo's performance and perhaps Best Debut Direction for Hunt.
Posted on 8/11/08 12:57 AM
[FONT=][FONT=Tahoma]I?m not used to paying the price of admission multiple times at the many
local megaplexes for a single film, but there are those rare occasions that warrant at least a second viewing. The release of The Dark Knight is such an occasion, and even more so, since after my third viewing (the most recent being of the ?Hollywood IMAX Experience?) I have gleaned at least some new perspective on the re-energized Batman franchise:
1) The inevitable loss of Bruce Wayne?s love interest Rachel Dawes immediately makes necessary her replacement in the next film. My best guess is that Catwoman will at least make some sort of appearance.
2) As for the possibility of Johnny Depp playing a role in the next film ? possibly The Riddler ? the problem becomes, with any villain really, that it is going to be near impossible to meet, let alone top Heath Ledger?s Joker performance. I?m sure whoever plays the next villain (Philip Seymour Hoffman has also come up in discussions) will do admirably, but the brilliance of the Joker?s character as he relates to Batman?s will be the most difficult to overmatch.
3) The Dark Knight will receive Oscar nominations, of that there is no doubt among anyone. The question is, does Ledger have a real chance? At this point in the year, I think so, but Oscar contender season has yet to begin, and when late-September-October comes around, the real test will begin, with films from Charlie Kaufman, Fernando Meirelles and the Coen Brothers contending. Nevertheless, it will go down as the most financially and critically successful comic book fi[/FONT]lm to date.
Posted on 11/07/07 07:26 AM
?Lake of Fire? is British director Tony Kaye?s engrossing 2006 documentary that covers the issues surrounding the American woman?s right to have their child aborted safely and professionally. It has been in production for 15 years, ever since Bill Clinton took his new job in the Oval Office, and after touring the Toronto and Cannes Film Festivals, has finally gotten limited release.
While being unique as the only feature length film to date to seriously tackle the issue in a broad, encompassing scope, as well as having been filmed while much of the turmoil was in progress, ?Lake of Fire? falls short of being entirely inclusive as some might hope it to be.
Early on, Kaye shows segments of footage from pro-life/pro-choice rallies all across the country, some of them shocking in their extremity. While mingling with the protesters, we are first introduced to some of the brilliant thinkers of our time, including Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz; to whom Kaye returns for elucidation several times throughout the film.
After about two hours (yep, it?s a long one ? 152 min.), we know about all there is to know about the two extremes on each side of the debate, and with some input from more moderate voices such as the Catholics for Free Choice political organization, Kaye seems to conclude the discourse with a sentiment by Chomsky. In such an emotionally charged debate, probably more so than any other, the MIT professor emeritus explains how some decisions must eventually be made on ?where human life begins ? somewhere between the skin cells you wash off your hand in the bathroom and the extermination of an innocent 3-year old.? The range of possibilities, like all the varying opinions, is as vast as all the oceans put together, and Kaye, in a brilliant stroke of Cinéma-vérité, closes the film with an unsettlingly candid, yet emotionally complex visit to the abortion clinic.
One may recall Kaye?s 1998 film ?American History X? that travels down similarly windy roads of acute beliefs and emotions. The difference here between fiction and non-fiction is made more severe by the fact that according to the press packet, he failed when originally trying to develop a fictional script on the issue, but realized in the early nineties that nothing could cover all that needed to be.
The most shocking reaction to this film would be the snubbing of it on account of the film not spending enough time on every single perspective. True, it may be that any moderate pro-life voice is pretty much unaccounted for, but never before have people had an opportunity to see in glowingly contrasted black & white footage this issue presented so objectively.
Some of the film wavers a bit too long while discussing the most obscure of fundamentalist anti-abortion extremist groups, collectively called by one speaker as a trend of ?Christian Reconstructionism,? where a quiet revolution is under way with the goal of turning the USA into an Iran-like theocracy. While intriguing, these elements take away from the heart of the debate, and though perhaps Kaye did this intentionally, this is certainly one of the problems tied to the near impossibility of the two sides having a civil, intellectual deliberation.
There will be many other attempts to do what the filmmaker has mostly done here, and they may be more successful at offering audiences a more complete review of everyone?s positions, but until then, the artistry and expansiveness of Kaye?s immensely important work is the superior to date.
Posted on 10/12/07 07:32 AM
Originality is often hard to come by, but when John Cameron Mitchell?s first film premiered in 2001, it was there for all to see, whether they liked it or not. ?Hedwig and the Angry Inch,? originally a hit off-Broadway play, morphed into celluloid form and issued a musical message of a sexually androgynous yet revealing nature?areas not comfortably traversed in Hollywood.
What is so endearing about the film is the deeply personal level on which the audience is allowed to see the characters, especially Hedwig herself. Mitchell and musician Stephen Trask wrote the original story and music back in 1994; since then, the tale evolved into something more than that of a mysterious drag queen, but a quest for love.
Based on many personal experiences of Mitchell?s, Hedwig, who grew up in claustrophobic East Berlin, was once a boy who was enchanted by the messages of freedom he heard over American Forces Radio from the likes of Lou Reed and David Bowie. Desperate to see life beyond the Berlin Wall, he eventually falls for a U.S. Army soldier and gets a sex-change operation to make for a legal marriage, but the procedure is a disaster and she is left with an inch-long mound of flesh where her vagina should be. Sexually confused and vulnerable, she ends up in a Junction City, Kan. trailer park with nothing. But she soon remembers the music that first inspired her and meets Tommy, a shy boy with unexplored musical talents.
The storyline seems odd and confusing at first, but the plot tends not to be the focus of such an entertaining film. It is heavily infused with punk rock semi-music video/flashbacks to expose not only how this situation came to pass, but what it all really means.
In the tradition of possibly the first film to cover similar topics of sexual ambiguity, ?The Rocky Horror Picture Show,? (1975) ?Hedwig? swims without restraint within a musical comedy/rock opera context of the 1970s glam rock culture. Even when bearing the stigma of a counter-culture raison d?etre, (there is a resilient cult following) the film still has made a considerable amount of dough.
In past productions of ?Hedwig,? Mitchell gave up the role and ushered in several talented actors to play the part as they toured the world, further illustrating how universal a character like Hedwig truly is?if one can see past all the glamorous get-ups.
In time, her quest for self-discovery and understanding becomes too much, and unlike others whose identities are unchallenged and self-evident, her whole life is dedicated to and nearly destroyed by this tragic yet inspirational pursuit.
The idea of director-as-actor is a frightening thought to most filmmakers because, as Mitchell became aware during shooting, there is no fun involved in the process. Rightly so, this cornucopia of talent was awarded with dozens of recognitions by film festivals across the globe, the most important of which was the Audience Award at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.
Posted on 9/19/07 02:56 AM
In Jeffrey Blitz?s exceptionally quirky debut narrative feature ?Rocket Science,? (2007) many themes arise in similarity to the director?s earlier documentary effort ?Spellbound? (2002). The films can be seen as companion pieces in different strains, the later focusing on the pressures of a contest, the former on the pressures of life itself.
The challenges that come afoot during one?s secondary schooling are legion, and the many filmmakers who mirror their own experiences onto their characters (John Hughes kick-started this tradition with ?Sixteen Candles?) are never without hard-to-watch storylines. Blitz continues this tradition with concise direction of talented actors.
The protagonist is Hal Hefner, played by the television-based actor Reece Thompson (?The 4400,? ?Smallville,? and others), and one day on the bus he is preyed upon by the school?s top debater Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick).
Before we continue, one must be aware that Hefner is a seemingly incurable stutterer, but is equipped with what he deems to be a wry sense of humor. This makes for some of the most discomforting dialogue sequences in recent teen flick memory.
After a humiliating defeat at the previous year?s state championship, where her whiz partner, the slick-tongued Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D?Agosto), came to the realization as he was closing in on the title, that the whole thing was a pointless charade. Suddenly stopping mid-sentence, he effectively gave the trophy to the opposing school. Ginny becomes desperate to reclaim her superiority, and back on the bus convinces Hal of his potential when she says ?deformed people? are always the best. ?It must be their deep source of anger.?
Completely infatuated, Hal falls for Ginny and her rifling speech patterns. He looks up to her as nature?s perfect creation, and decides to make a move, but Ginny is seemingly not prepared to get so close, and in response leaves the team for a rival school.
On top of this, Hal?s home life is shit. Lacking the support of a father (or mother) figure and being forced to fend for himself, he manages to survive on his own.
Not willing to give in so easily, he goes in search of the legend. Wekselbaum, now living alone, is found working happily at a cleaners in the slums of Trenton, N.J., and it is here that Hal plans to stage a comeback to prove his worth?but to whom?
At first, it is easy to think Blitz is simply jumping on the awkward bandwagon, joining the likes of ?Napoleon Dynamite,? ?Rushmore? and others in order to get a ticket to Hollywood ? and he may very well be. A closer look at Hefner, however, may reveal an impetus somewhat less shallow.
Blitz is trying to tell us something momentous here about the importance of humanity?s capability for speech in that it doesn?t matter how many 15-letter words we can blurt out in perfect sibilance in front of large crowds, but rather what you do with the knowledge you gain and the words you do?eventually?speak.
Posted on 9/19/07 02:49 AM
As one savior of a suicide attempter said in the film, being in such a situation is as if you are in a separate, detached world when looking at the real one from behind the lens of a camera. ?It?s like the nature photographer, taking pictures of a tiger, but he doesn?t realize the tiger?s running right at him until it?s too late.? This sense of capturing an extraordinary aspect of human nature on film does not hinder, but rather it illuminates Eric Steel?s ?The Bridge,? (2006).
Doing needed justice to the star-child of taboo subjects, Steel and his cameramen shot hundreds of hours of telephoto film aimed at San Francisco?s Golden Gate in an attempt to capture the numerous suicide attempts that occur there every year. Despite its purest majesty, the bridge is the single most popular destination for suicide attempts in the entire world, according to the film, with 26 successful attempts during Steel?s yearlong 2004 shoot.
Framing the film with the story of Gene, a man who died after jumping from the bridge in 2004, we hear the candid depositions of his friends and family. From these, it becomes clear that even the closest of friends to a mentally volatile person can be totally naïve to what that person is capable of doing. While these types of actions are extremely unpredictable, we generally avoid dwelling on the moroseness of the topic because it makes us feel uncomfortable or afraid that even bringing it up will provide that spark needed for someone to literally go over the edge.
The sister of one of the jumpers puts the attraction of the bridge into perspective, citing its accessibility, stunning beauty, and above all its false promise of fame and romanticism.
The ethical thorns fly in from all directions when one really takes into consideration what is going on here. Some may (and have) asked, how the filmmakers could just stand by and watch people die. Furthermore, by showing people in the act, copycat attempts could result. In an extra DVD featurette however, it is said the cameramen were always ready to make the call as soon as they saw someone jump. Though their goal may be eerily unsettling to many, shining light on the subject germinates discussion among those concerned.
In the tradition of rudimentary, non-condemning documentary filmmaking begun prior to the Depression-era, exploitation is not an impetus for Steel here, as he interviews the families, friends and survivors of those who attempted suicide on the bridge without the slightest sense of judgment. He presents them as they really are, and how people and families experience these tragedies every day.
The most striking moments in this daring, universally essential film are the long, telephoto sequences of people calmly strolling across the bridge until one of them quietly slips their legs over the railing, as if everything is normal. Then a passerby realizes what may be happening and decides to break the social convention of polite non-involvement we all live by, intervening to save the person from jumping into the depths.
Posted on 9/03/07 11:54 AM
Leave it to America, a place where it is never too late to unite for a good cause, to rally behind the rich and famous when dealing with such a vital issue as the self-destructive path we have so desperately clung to for nearly three centuries now. With his contemplative ?The 11th Hour,? actor Leonardo DiCaprio has joined the likes of Al Gore and many others in fostering one such movement for this generation.
In the new movie, first-time filmmakers Nadia Conners and Leila Conners Peterson show their novice skills, following DiCaprio?s inspiration. Gathering dozens of nature videos and interviews of experts ranging from Stephen Hawking to Michael Gorbechev, they switch from talking head, to a shot of a volcano erupting, to another speaker, to yet another ocean wave splashing ashore. It becomes difficult to concentrate on only one subject at some points.
Another major player in the film is the constant musical score underlying literally every second of footage. At times eerie, and at others overly bombastic and monumental, the soundtrack reveals that the filmmakers were going straight for the viewers? heart with their dire message.
Beginning with the current state of earth and the human race, dozens of recognized professors, anthropologists, entrepreneurs, architects, and others make their case for why a pivotal change in global thinking is necessary to sustain consumer?s comfortable ways of life.
Anybody who has taken a history class knows how the Industrial Revolution transformed everything about how things are done within a functioning society. In fact, we still go on with our daily lives not thinking twice about how this period switched our thinking from raising our own food and making our own tools to relying on a supposedly infinite supply of natural resources to be used for mass production in factories.
It is this way of thinking, Gorbechev and others said that got us into the current unstable period, and that the time is running out for us to quit denying the obvious impact our wasteful lifestyles have created. If we don?t act soon, we are the ones that are at the most risk. Being at the top of the food chain, we would be among the first species to go.
The final portion of the film refreshingly focuses less on preaching about where we humans have faulted in our rise to the throne, but more on the ways we can still save ourselves, our ways of life and the natural beauty that surrounds us.
Some possible solutions to moving towards creating a sustainable economic system that supports the recycling of materials instead of their endless waste would include giving corporations incentives to be less wasteful with their production, initializing polluter pay systems and building more environmentally friendly houses and offices. All of these suggestions have begun trial runs in certain countries, and all have had positive impacts.
Though formed as an elongated PSA-like plea for universal awareness, ?The 11th Hour? will do moderately well at the box-office, making an initial impact far less than ?An Inconvenient Truth? did. The reasons for this may include the fact that the American psyche is so wired that it can only pay true attention to a one-man-show type of production (i.e. Michael Moore), and it is not yet ready to accept the kaleidoscope of other brains in this world ready to make change a reality. Or it may just simply be that the subject of this film that is suited better for the small screen and has too broad a scope for people to focus on anything palpable or revolutionary.
Posted on 3/29/07 03:44 AM
In the 1950?s the majority of films centering on the destruction of humanity?s civilized infrastructure and society were often via some grotesquely oversized creature of alien or even prehistoric stature. In time, however the audience drew the conclusion that it was ultimately from their very own ?civilized? culture that such a monstrosity originated.
In those days, ?Gojira? (Godzilla, 1954), other monster movies and their reactionary themes to the atomic age were taken quite more seriously then they are today. In South Korean director Joon-ho Bong?s modern resurrection of that epic genre, ?The Host? is just that ? an impressively amusing contemporary retelling of old cautionary tales directed at modern man?s imperfect and immoral encroachment on the ways of nature.
The Park family, especially the main character Hie-bong ? played by Hie-bong Byeon ? is already having a rough day in their hometown of Seoul. First his wife left him with his daughter Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko) years ago, his brother Nam-il (Park Hae-il) is unemployed after graduating college, his father Gang-Du (Kang-ho Song) runs a snack stand on the Han River across from the city, and his sister Nam-Joo (Du-na Bae) is a timid member of the national archery team. On top of that, a hideous monster the size of an eighteen-wheeler has suddenly risen from the current of the river and begun terrorizing people along the banks. Coming quite close to his own death, he is unable to save Hyun-seo from being kidnapped by the unwelcome monster.
At the outset of the film, however, we see the true culprit behind this fantastical creature, literally unlike any monster we?ve seen before ? irresponsible scientists dumping hundreds of bottles of a mysterious toxic liquid (possible formaldehyde) into the sewers leading to the Han River.
Now of course, the rule of any really good monster film is that the occurrences behind the making of such a creature must be based somewhat on fact.
It is true that after following a story with exactly the same circumstances involving US military officials dumping formaldehyde in to the river with slow and unsatisfying legal repercussions, Bong decided to turn his love of sea monsters into an entertaining statement on the rule of law.
When they become aware that Hyun-seo is not dead after all, the haphazard barely armed family ventures off in search of the girl. Their surprisingly realistic efforts and following self-realizations are an ode to the power and influence of the family as opposed to the nonsensical operations and unflinching denials of the military-industrial complex.
With the suddenly clashing emotions of sadness, terror, self-pity, joy and others at many points throughout the film, the audience is constantly kept on full alert as to what will happen next. One is truly not sure who or what will remain victorious in the end.
Though the world may never physically see such a frightening beast manifest itself, it has already been well accustomed to the increasingly real effects of the very authoritative human version.