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Posted: Thu Jun 03, 2004 8:32 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
Train de Vie (Train of Life) (1998)

Written by Lissa

Shown tonight on Sundance Channel, I saw this movie when it first came out on video, and after my first rental of it, I knew I had to own it. In fact, I saw it twice within the same week, and have seen it numerous times since acquiring it. It never loses its impact. Despite owning it, I watch it whenever I can, so it was a delight to find it on cable tonight.

Train de Vie is a Holocaust film unlike any other. There have been comparisons between it and Life Is Beautiful and yes, there are various elements of the film which compare, but in no way do I feel they are anywhere in the same league (and I LIKE LIB). Train de Vie uses a melancholy that gives it its richness. It is about hope and strength and humor and togetherness. And it works on all levels without ever getting into the slapstick of Life Is Beautiful.

The story begins in a small shtetl somewhere in Eastern Europe. We find out, from Shlomo the Fool, that the Nazis are coming. It is Shlomo who devises an idea (after much chest-beating and hysteria from the so-called wise men of the village as to what to do), and his idea forms the premise for the film: create a fake deportation train and ride it to freedom. The village sets to work, obtaining a train, piece by piece, transforming it into a deportation train, "electing" those villagers who will play the parts of the Nazis, and creating costumes for all the villagers, prisoners and Germans alike. It is an organized effort, not everyone in agreement with this plan, but finally it is underway.

We see the chain of events unfolding mostly through Shlomo's eyes. There are close calls, there are revelations, there is dissention when the younger men of the village form their own Communist Party, and there is adventure upon heartstopping adventure. In fact, we see how mindset becomes more important than events at hand, and how determination can overcome the worst possible reality.

It is reality in question here. Anyone even reading the back of the box will wonder, "How can this be?" and rather than answer that question, it is imperative to see the film. Suspend your disbelief and sit back for the ride. Train de Vie combines humor with somberness, and very successfully so.

The film focuses upon the character of Shlomo, but there are many many players in it, the Rabbi, Esther, Mordechai, Yankele, name only a few. It is said that the true star of the film is the village itself, and I do agree with this to a point. It borrows from the Jewish storytellers we have all read and watched, and makes the sense of community a main theme. After all, this scheme could not work without the cooperation of everyone. And there are stereotypical characters within the tale, which creates a tendency for us to see them more as a whole than as individuals. But in my eyes, Shlomo is the true star, as he is the character from whom we all learn the most. His "Does God Exist?" speech is one of the most compelling on film, and it is very obvious, from early on in the film, that he is a misnomered fool. In fact, when asked by Mordechai, later in the film, "Why are you the fool?" he answers, "I wanted to be the rabbi. But we already had one." He is not far off the mark. His calm sense of wisdom and justice is the most soothing outlook of all. And the most powerful.

It is difficult to discuss the film without spoilers, and it is not my intention to even put any spoilers in this initial post, because if you haven't seen it and you wish to do so, I won't tempt you. However, this is one of those films, such as The Sixth Sense, where you begin to work your way backward into the story after it ends. I once, on that other site, classified The Sixth Sense as a palindrome in filmmaking, and Train de Vie fits that description as well. It takes reviewing (not just reviewing) to grasp some of the subtleties within. Upon the ending, I was able to see various scenes in my mind in very different light. Again, without using spoilers, I cannot elaborate - but perhaps if anyone would like to discuss it, I can elucidate further. I just don't want to spoil anything in this initial writing.

Many questioned Life Is Beautiful for its treatment of the Holocaust using humor, but in my opinion, it is refreshing to see that there are other ways in which to view this horror. Train de Vie, at no time, offends. It enlightens. And it pays homage to those who were affected by that time in our history.

The filmmaker uses richness of culture to underscore the authenticity of his village, and through dialogue, music (which is positively uplifting), demeanor, tradition, scenery and character, you are transported to a different world. It is a sobering thought to reflect upon how much culture and way of life was lost when the Jews of Eastern Europe were forced from their villages and those villages destroyed. So while we question, throughout the film even, the reality of this story, we are also reminded of how real that era is, and how much was obliterated.

Radu Mihaileanu created this film as a tribute to his father, a Holocaust survivor, and to that culture which is forever gone, and in reading interviews with him, one is even more enlightened.

The acting is superb even if, at times, over the top. But any who know the old-fashioned Jewish mentality will also know that over the top is pretty normal. The film is subtitled in English but is filmed in French, and it is one of the most beautifully spoken films I have ever watched. Being bilingual, I can watch films in the French language without resorting to the subtitles much, but this is one which had me barely reading (unless the language changed to German or Hebrew, which it does at times as well). It is such a rich, full-bodied French they speak that just listening to them is like listening to music. The added bonus, of course, is that subtitles cannot do justice to some of the more colorful passages and outbursts which don't quite make it to the lower part of the screen.

Now, I won't give anything away, but I have debated the ending with a good many people, from friends and family to those with whom I worked at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Center, and if any here have seen, or will see the movie, I look forward to discussing it with you. This, I can honestly say, is one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen.
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Posted: Sat Jun 05, 2004 9:01 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Written by...McBain

I had high hopes for the next film of the Harry Potter series as Alfonso Cuarón, the director of the fabulous Y Tu Mama Tambien and visually stunning Great Expectations, was set to take over from Chris Columbus whom I can pretty much take or leave. Even with Columbus, I enjoyed the first two films as clever and thoughtfully written children's stories. Rowling fills her books with cunning jokes, authentic childhood emotions, and surprising villains and they translated quite well to the screen. So I was stunned today when the third film surpassed my highest expectations as the best movie of 2004 that I've seen outside of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

For starters, the whole film is more tight, more cohesive than either of the others. This was mostly because there was little need for all the exposition of the first and, to a lesser extent, second film. It assumes that you understand what quidditch, muggles, and "you know who" are. This really lets the movie exist within its own fantasy without constantly pointing out how novel everything is. I had a real feeling of escaping into the realm of Hogwart's and having an adventure.

The cast they found for the series has always been good, and they don't fail the film here. The kids are solid actors, and fast becoming young adults before our very eyes. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are now all old friends and close to family. The seeds are planted in this film for an obviously intimate relationship between two of them. These moments are skillfully handled, funny, and cute without being obnoxious. There are nice moments when we see the trio goofing off together, and we see their loyalty to each other. This isn't new to the third film, only more artfully done. Alfonso Cuarón isn't holding up big signs to point out each relationship. The storytelling is just more organic than that. And Alan Rickman returns again as Snape. Rickman is fun to watch anytime he's on film.

Each film has had sort of "guest stars", actors who appear as professors or other characters important to that installment. John Hurt appeared in the first as the wand maker. Kenneth Branagh appears in the second as the faker Gilderoy Lockhart. While Gary Oldman is on hand to play the titular prisoner of Azkaban, it turns out to be a minor role. The surprise of the film is David Thewlis in the all important role of Professor Lupin. (SPOILERS FROM HERE ON) Thewlis turns out a great performance as Harry's mentor throughout the adventure. He has a secret, it turns out he's a werewolf and it is played in the end as if he is an AIDS patient outed at a prestigious private school in another time. Thewlis breathes life into his old school master, compared to Branagh's silliness in admittedly a very different role.

Emma Thompson also makes an appearance, and has a few good gags but offers nothing special. The big casting disappointment has to unfortunately be Sir Richard Harris' replacement as Dumbledore, Michael Gambon. While he is the spitting image of King Arthur, he is terribly missing the late Harris' most wonderful asset: his voice.

On to the action, where the film wastes little time. After the obligatory embarrassment of Harry's muggle relatives, he's quickly off to Hogwart's. There are lots of fun special effects, of course. But then finally they exist to move the story along. There are scary looking Dementors, grim reaper wannabe's looking for the dangerous Sirius Black (Oldman), the escaped prisoner. They float around, freezing everything around them while hunting their prey and anything that gets in their way. The quidditch match leads to a moment of mystery rather than existing as an insular chariot race. Then there is the most ingenious wizard device in the film, an old dull parchment that with the right spell acts as a sort of GPS radar for everyone in Hogwart's. Very useful for sneaking around and great for showing end credits on.

There are really too many fun sequences for me to go into. And I don't want to give away all the plot, but every plot element is weaved into the final, most exciting sequence of the film, where a little time travel is involved and lots of "Aha!" is exclaimed by the audience. It was a joy to watch and I'm sad that Cuarón will not be directing the next installment, as I will remember this one as not just a great kid's movie, but a great film. (And it made that Shrek 2 movie look like the callow, facile, baloney that it is.)
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Posted: Sun Jun 06, 2004 9:03 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
Deadline (2004)

Written by...Marilyn

The death penalty is an issue on which Americans are divided. The statistics say that 70% of Americans are in favor of the death penalty, but the majority also are against executing innocent men. The incongruity of that seemingly coherent finding is that the death penalty has cost hundreds of innocent lives. In Illinois, before the moratorium on the death penalty was called in 2000 by Gov. George Ryan, a review of 25 cases showed that 12 men were dead at the state's hand, and 13 men were found to have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. If the majority of Americans found out that many capital convictions were obtained against innocent men, would they still be for the death penalty?

That is one of the questions Deadline, a 90-minute documentary , raises. Others include whether the system of capital punishment is racist, classist, and capricious. Directors Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson talk to a number of people intimately acquainted with the death penalty, from exonerated Death Row inmates who were freed by the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia that struck down the death penalty (at least until such time as states revamped their systems of capital punishment; 38 states currently allow the death penalty) to the warden of Mississippi's notorious Parchment Prison to best-selling attorney/author Scott Turow, who served on the commission that examined the application of capital punishment in Illinois.

Gov. Ryan is the central character around which a swift circuit through the issue of capital punishment is run. Some of the interviews are heartbreaking, especially with the Parchment Prison warden. We watch him, in archival footage, prepare a prisoner for execution. He notes that most wardens who have been charged with running executions end up being opponents of the death penalty. The warden says emphatically that it is unfair for the American people to expect wardens to carry out executions of innocent men. Yes, he knows innocent lives have been taken, and he is demanding that We the People do something about it.

The clemency hearings called for by Gov. Ryan are heartbreaking as well. We watch grief-stricken families having to relive, perhaps for the 20th time over the course of trials and appeals, the horror of their loss. We watch families of convicted killers (some, admittedly guilty as hell) beg the commissioner to spare these prisoners' lives. What came through clearly to me in this section of the film was what one of the interview subjects, a death penalty opponent, said--that crime in the United States is incident-driven. We apply the law one case at a time, and that such an emotion-driven system of life and death will never be applied fairly, according to our principle of equal justice under the law.

As a film, Deadline is confusing. Furman is brought up without explanation of what it is. We don't get enough background on the decision to be able to comprehend how states could now have the death penalty. The film relies exclusively on the words of the interviewed and archival footage to tell the story. Some informative title cards or a voiceover narrative would have been helpful to put the events shown into context. I was fortunate to have one of the film's producers, director Katy Chevigny, a family member of a murder victim who is working against the death penalty and an exonerated Death Row inmate, Gary Gauger, to answer questions about some of the issues that had contextual problems and expand on the capriciousness that still exists (one man exonerated because of flimsy evidence, his codefendant still in prison).

Nonetheless, this is a crucial film for people to view. Fortunately, its showing at Sundance this year attracted the attention of a producer for Dateline NBC, which will air it on July 30. Check it out.
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Posted: Mon Jun 07, 2004 9:48 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
The Day After Tomorrow

Written by...Lshap

During its tense opening moments I wasn't sure which way The Day After Tomorrow was headed. The disaster-flic foreboding starts right away -- planetary temperatures go wonky, weather anomalies crop up, it's the literal calm before the storm. Yet there was also THE MESSAGE, lurking behind the effects like the classroom science nerd with his hand up. Global warming is, after all, unlike rogue comets and invading aliens; this is a very real, very topical, concern, and I thought maybe, just maybe, it was time to stop slurping the Moka-Java smoothie and listen to what was being said here.

But, of course, it's spring outside, and all serious issues get dropped faster than a homework assignment on a sunny day. Dennis Quaid -- the film's head science nerd -- yells to the Vice-President, "If we don't do something now it'll be too late!!", and, voila -- it's too late. With dialogue that scintillating and credibility that shallow my brain instantly shut down for the remaining two hours. Who can concentrate on serious stuff when there's so many special effects to enjoy! I mean -- cyclones and floods, guys!

As you've likely figured out by now, that nonsense story about Republicans being put off by the film's message was nothing but good marketing. This is not a deep film with some added character subplots. Instead The Day After Tomorrow anchors itself around cliche-driven characters who use global warming as motivation to act even more cliched. It's all about father and son relationships, husband and wife issues, buddies bonding over a crisis, and, naturally -- because it's Hollywood -- a young couple discovering love. In this supposed 'message-film', it's all about how everyone feels rather than that problem of a disintegrating climate right outside the door. See if you can guess how all of the above relationships turn out. That's right -- how'd you know?

And therein lies my source of my grumbling -- The Day After Tomorrow turns out to be yet another BIG THEME movie with a cut-and-paste screenplay. All that's changed is the disaster. There's plenty of awe to be inspired by the degree of destruction rained down on the planet, the effects are monstrously big as all get-out and writer/director Roland Emmerich does his usual good job of pumping non-stop adrenaline. It's a two-hour Disney ride that doesn't disappoint.

But that's the extent of it -- a theme park ride. The Day After Tomorrow never bores, but it never enlightens, either. There's a "Wow!" every minute, but it's never followed with, "...I never thought of that!" For an issue as crucial as global warming, the audience walks out of this film remembering nothing but huge walls of water. All morsels of real information are pummeled beneath the waves. What can we do as individuals to fight global warming? What should we expect of our governments? Damned if I know after watching this film. Sorry...what was I saying...oh yeah -- cyclones and floods, guys!!

It's a shame, really. Disaster films don't have to be synonymous with mindless effects. The similarly-named The Day After was a 1983 made-for-TV movie about nuclear war that haunts me still and Titanic managed to recreate a palpable aura of history around a then-85-year-old event, despite the film's romantic shlockery.

I'd recommend The Day After Tomorrow as the fun summer flic it was intended to be. It's just too bad The Day After Tomorrow is about as long as you'll remember it.
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Posted: Tue Jun 15, 2004 3:08 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
Songs from the Second Floor
[Sånger från andra våningen] (2000)
Dir. Roy Andersson

Written by...

After seeing this film three years ago at Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival, I was desperate to see it again. I wrote a couple of letters to New Yorker Films regarding its theatrical and DVD release dates. Sadly, it took more than two years for this 2000 Cannes Jury Prize winner to receive a limited theatrical release in the United States, and another six months for it to come out on DVD. Last night, I cracked open the shrink wrap of the DVD and made my wish come true.

Andersson, who began this film in 1996, uses the apocalyptic fears regarding the coming millennium to craft a coal-black comedy about economic collapse in a country that must be Sweden, if we are to judge by his palette of faded yellow and blue, the colors of the Swedish flag, His capitalist implosion is populated by enormously fat, cadaverously thin, and grotesquely misshapen people in a desperate hurry and going nowhere fast.

The bottom feeders of the economic food chain are reduced to massive denial, madness, garbage picking, and arson. One Mother-Courage type decides the millennium is the perfect time to capitalize on the 2000th birthday of Jesus and goes into the crucifix business. "An opportunity like this comes along only once in a thousand years!" Ah, the optimism of the seriously deluded! Company managers make for the airports like they are in the middle of the fall of Saigon, while middle managers, left holding the bag, move through the streets as flagellants or worker ants trying to navigate the most massive case of gridlock since the invention of the internal combustion engine.

The tallest pillars of society, the clergy and the government, are the most clueless of all. A desperate furniture salesman named Kalle, who has burned down his own store and is trying to bilk his insurance company, goes to confess his misdeeds to his pastor. Unfortunately, the spiritual adviser is busy consulting with his real estate broker about the imminent loss of hundreds of thousands because he hasn't been able to sell his house, on the market for 4 years and counting.

A meeting of cabinet ministers is near comatose while the finance minister fumbles through a folder of papers looking for the missing short-range economic forecast and the rest of the cabinet passes around a crystal ball. The meeting adjourns suddenly when one of the ministers claims the building across the way is moving. The government's final measure to remedy the situation is human sacrifice.

The only man who seems to have money is 100 years old, living in a steel crib in a posh nursing, and insensate to the high-ranking military men who have come to bid him a happy birthday.

This description shows the high absurdity of this morbid film, and I haven't even gotten into the small details that keep the laughs sharp and constant. A magician does the saw-the-man-in-two trick but doesn't clue the subject from the audience into it and cuts his midsection open. For the rest of the film, the unfortunate magician's assistant yells "Aie aie aie" every time he moves. Sickly funny. Kalle's son Tomas, a poet, is in an insane asylum. Every time Kalle comes to visit him, he becomes furious that his weeping son doesn't even say hello, and the orderlies end up dragging Kalle out of the ward. Repeated throughout the film is a line Tomas wrote: "Beloved is he who sits down." No wonder he went mad. Lack of talent will do that.

In the end, Kalle starts experiencing visions of the dead. This aspect of the film is rather poetic and deepens what could have been a mere exercise in pessimism and the creative skewering of types. Be prepared for a film both superficial and silly, sly and, ultimately, sublime.

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Posted: Wed Jun 16, 2004 8:24 am Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
THE SON, dir. Dardennes.

Olivier Gourmet .... Olivier
Morgan Marinne .... Francis

Written by...Marc

THE SON subverts the viewer's expectations at every turn. Just when you think you've got an angle on the film, reality shifts. THE SON is an extraordinary film that shatters the kinds of dramatic cliches we are so conditioned to expect in modern cinema. In the beginning, one projects that the main character, Olivier, may be a pedophile, a John Wayne Gacy on the verge of some kind of horrific breakdown. His doughy face, darting eyes, fetishistic attention to a leather back brace he wears around his bulging belly, all suggests that he may be a freak on the brink. The directors are clearly playing with your head.

But, instead of a Hannibal Lecter, we discover that Olivier is a man in deep pain, suppressing it thru simple ritual and an obsessive/compulsive attention to detail. The gestures we mistook as possible perversions become the essential rhythms/habits a man must maintain in order to stay sane. THE SON subverts melodramatic hype and tells its story thru nuanced behavior and small gestures .

Its rare to find a film that reminds you that cinema is the act of watching. THE SON embarrassed me thru undermining my own cliched conditioned approach to narrative. I kept anticipating plot turns that never came. And all of my expectations were rooted in hackneyed dramatic cliches that have been the staple of "psychological thrillers". What is thrilling about THE SON is that its psychology is not at the service of dramatic tittilation, but truth. There's a purity about the film that must be seen and can't really be described.
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Posted: Fri Jun 18, 2004 3:09 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
Control Room (2004)

Dir. Jehane Noujaim

Written by...Marilyn

An experiment in the public's right to know began when Al Jazeera began broadcasting in the 1990s. This news organization, headquartered in Qatar, was widely reviled for criticizing the governments of the Arab countries of the Middle East that contain its target audience. Attempts to silence Al Jazeera failed, and the organization is the now the most popular in the Arab world. The nascent organization, however, came up against one of its most dangerous foes in 2003 - the United States.

Al Jazeera - working on the brink of the invasion of Iraq, during the war, and at the moment Baghdad was occupied by coalition forces - is the subject of this film by Egyptian-American documentarian Jehane Noujaim. Noujaim does an excellent job of providing a thumbnail history of Al Jazeera, impressing the personalities of her 'characters' on the minds of viewers and then letting us see what reporting the war was like for this organization and others, including most of the major American news outlets.

Foremost among the individuals we get to know are Sameer Khader, Al Jazeera's senior producer; the rotund, affable Hassan Ibrahim, a former BBC reporter; and Cpt. Josh Rushing, press liaison with the U.S. military. Each of these individuals, most impressively Rushing, has some degree of skepticism about the information they are giving and receiving.

In Rushing's case, he comes to doubt what he is doing. Starting as a fresh-faced optimist who has arrived in Iraq to help liberate its people from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, he rather quickly comes to see how the people all around him are spinning and counterspinning stories and information, how stories his office is issuing are picked up (or not) and used by both international and American news services, and how his basic assumptions about life may need scrutiny when he realizes he has been made nauseated by an Al Jazeera broadcast showing dead Americans, but reacted less strongly to a story shown the night before depicting Iraqi victims of an American bombing. He also learns that while Americans see the Palestinian/Israeli conflict as separate from Iraq, Arabs look at it as one issue.

Khader seems like a typical producer looking to please his audience. He's also learning how to be a journalist who combines the strong partisanship of European journalism with the more objective balance for which American journalists strive. For example, he is appalled by an interview his booker has arranged via satellite with an American in Washington, D.C. The man is an antiwar activist, and Khader is very angry that his booker did not get someone who could offer his audience a balanced viewpoint.

Ibrahim is, by far, the most fair-sighted of our main characters. He's aware of the many angles of news gathering and storytelling, seeing how all sides will view whatever actions are taken. He is sort of the Father Christmas of the story, a comforting presence in a sea of danger, death, and disinformation.

Things get tense for Al Jazeera and other Arab news services when Don Rumsfeld comes to see them as hampering attempts for Americans to be effective 'liberators' because they keep showing the civilian costs of the war that are inciting anti-American sentiment. In one of the most damnable actions of the Americans during the whole war, bombs target Al Jazeera headquarters in Baghdad, as well as Abu Dabi News headquarters and a hotel known to house journalists. It is an action worthy of any totalitarian regime.

The film is eye-opening, warm, and, unfortunately, carefully edited to create a sequence of events that appear to make a causal link between Rumsfeld's complaints about Al Jazeera and the bombing of their reporters. That link may be very real, but it does weaken the case for the objectivity of this film. On the other hand, news organizations that take sides are not considered suspect in most parts of the world - including, despite protests to the contrary, the United States. Perhaps this is just another point of the documentary.

I highly recommend this film to anyone interested in journalism, especially those interested in how a free press might develop in formerly repressive areas of the world.
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Posted: Thu Jun 24, 2004 8:45 am Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal

Written by...Marj

Spoiler Alert

Still reeling from Angels in America: Perestroika, I am at once in awe and emotionally satiated by Mr. Kushner's audacity and singularly prophetic ... God has abandoned us! AHA! We knew this all along, but only the mind and integrity of a Tony Kushner would dare to put this to paper and assault us with such a brave notion. Yet while we think all is lost; apocalypse will surely descend, perhaps in the form of a bedazzled angel adorned in black, he then does the unthinkable ... He gives us with hope! So this is what it's all about? Shouldn't we have known? The truth is, we needed both Tony Kushner and Mike Nichols to present this obvious yet dangerous conceit in such a stunning fashion.

So, why were we in the dark? Prior knew. He should! Having journeyed any and every emotional and physical anguish possible … Tormented by his lover's abandonment and accosted by fever dreams, of dead ancestors, angels in both white and black, all while in the throws of this century's plague, to end up visiting the hereafter, he becomes, finally, Mr. Kushner's Everyman. He will not be denied Life at any cost, and fights the ravishes of pains beyond belief, to Live and inform us, that if God indeed returns, he had better get a lawyer and fast!

In Prior we find hope for man, and in doing so, Angels in America comes full circle. That such a concept should astound, is what makes this bravura piece of art, genius. That Everyman accepts this yet chooses to fight for life is only emotionally devastating. One's heart breaks as Prior's human accomplices join him in his quest. Those that leave, make their choices as well. Do they not possess the courage of Everyman or are they just a different breed of same? Perhaps faced with their own anguishes, they are on a different quest? Kushner leaves this up to us to determine, while we are swept away by Everyman's crusade.

Then what breed of man is Tony Kushner? That he should not only possess the temerity to base a play and now a film on so simple yet furious a concept as God's abandonment, and make it all so plausible. How dare he!? He dares because he can and must, and does so because he cannot ignore what has been obvious to man for centuries. And although he may deny the existence of God, he celebrates the hope of humankind. Perhaps after all is said and done, God, the real thing, is in the hope, desire and spirit within us all?

Plaudits go to every actor in this production. Meryl Streep, has reached the pinnacle of her career. While her Ethel Rosenberg astounds, it was the Mormon mother, Hannah Pitt that touches the heart. Al Pacino, as the difficult Roy Cohn, was expected to chew the scenery until his death, but surprises with an astonishingly real portrayal. Jeffrey Wright is pitch perfect as the moral center. Mary Louise Parker has found her defining role. And what can be said about Justin Kirk, for without his singular talent and skills there would be no Prior and hence no Everyman. Patrick Wilson and Ben Shenkman do not fair quite as well, but they still serve their roles admirably. And finally, Emma Thompson is both lovely and frighteningly mystifying as duel angels.

Angels in America, a film for the everyman within us all, is not a film for everyone. For it takes a particular investment to be so compelled. And while it uses the aids crisis as its core, it surely touches on each and every heart for the plights we individually endure. If this were not enough, it gracefully questions our own existence as well as that of a higher deity. I for one, will never look upon the Bethesda Angel in Central Park, quite the same way again. While I once took her for granted, she will now and forever represent a landmark that is a symbol of humanity, love and courage. A symbol that will forever be, the Angel in America.
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Posted: Fri Jun 25, 2004 8:47 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
Fahrenheit 9/11

Written by...Lshap

If I was Michael Moore, I'd be doing two things right about now: First, I'd be patting myself on the back for the wondrous way in which the media, the political climate and my own savvy marketing has made Fahrenheit 9/11 a monster hit before it even opened; and second, I'd be doing my back-patting from a safe distance, maybe in a cave far, far away, right next to Osama Bin Laden's.

Look up in the sky. It's even money the clouds you see have formed from steam whistling out of George W. Bush's ears. Fahrenheit 9/11 is that scathing, and this is undoubtedly one pissed-off prez. Moore's latest film is more than a simple indictment. It is probably the most damning and disturbing film ever produced about a U.S. President, ripping apart the entire Bush presidency, savaging his family's credibility and coming within a hair of accusing Bush of outright treason.

Fahrenheit 9/11 begins with a fireworks display celebrating the hopeful presidential victory of Al Gore, followed by shock, dismay and apparent treachery as Florida -- along with the entire country -- seemingly slips into Bush's hands via the supposed machinations of family moles planted in Florida, the Supreme Court and Fox News.

But that's just the beginning. Moore's election conspiracy grenade is just the opening pitch. The fireworks really start as Moore delivers the entire Bush family, the U.S. administration, Saudi Arabia, September 11 and, of course, the war in Iraq on a conspiracy platter so thick and tangled it's hard to know when to laugh and when to be truly scared. His evidence is a scattershot of pieces and clues that Moore fuses together by the heat of his beliefs.

But to buy into his sinister conclusions means buying into his level of contempt for the present authority. If you don't, then all his facts appear strung together by spiderwebs.

There is the deep financial alliance between the Bush and the Bin Laden families and Bush and the Saudis. Moore assembles all his clues and suggests the men at the top of the U.S. presidency have been putting Saudi interests and their financial pockets ahead of their responsibility to America. His facts appear solid even if the conclusions are flimsy, but Moore doesn't let that slow him down -- he literally comes within a legal word or two of calling George W. Bush a traitor to his country. Them's alot more than fighting words.

But it's on the subject of the Iraq war that Moore shines best, both as a filmmaker and as a messenger of truth. He puts down his amateur sleuth hat and does what he does best -- interview people. We're taken inside Iraq to see footage of 20-year-old kids fighting a war they don't quite understand, we see horrific, painful clips that would never show up on American television, and we follow a Mother's helpless grief. The latter is an emotionally devestating segment, and it's the most manipulative part of the film. Moore latches onto this woman's gripping story like a lifeboat for his credibility, knowing it offers both emotional punch and undisputed reality. The cost of war is rammed home all the more powerfully because Moore, for once, shuts up and simply allows this story to be shown.

Whether or not you buy the hyperbole, Moore -- the "gadfly" documentarian, the goofy "showman" -- proves he has graduated into an impressive investigative journalist. We see information and video clips that beg the question, "How the hell did he get that!?" It's newshound reporting in the finest tradition. As Moore himself has said, his reputation has grown to the point where inaccessible files and pictures are now offered to him through clandestine contacts. That position can only help his films and it's even more important for his audience, because it grants us access denied to us by networks and the press. Whether you agree with him or not, it's hard to argue that someone should be doing Michael Moore's job. At worst, he can be accused of being a talented pain in the ass who can't resist running with scissors. At best, Michael Moore may be the gutsiest filmmaker North America has ever seen.
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Fahrenheit 9/11

Review by...Chilly

There are two kinds of people… no, not conservatives and liberals, although they matter. I’m referring to people who either like Michael Moore or hate him. Those who like him will go see his movies or read his books to see what he has to say and embrace their new found activism and run with it. Those who hate him will possibly not read his books, nor watch his movies and sit in utter disgust as he speaks his mind about their favorite elected official, business conglomerate or firearm right. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a movie that helps to change this, bringing the Bush fan and the Bush hater into a common area of concern. By the end of the movie, it tends to leave both feeling like something went wrong and that something should be done.

From start to finish, Fahrenheit 9/11 had my full, undivided attention as the images, words and dialogue played on the screen. As someone who neither likes or hates Moore – this was my first complete experience with his work – I found that I appreciated his film making, presented in a way that was neither obnoxious or eccentric. The scenes showing bloodshed and horror were done very well and with obvious taste and sensitivity, given the lives lost from both 9/11 and the ongoing Iraq conflict.

The movie starts out with the 2000 Presidential Election and the controversy surrounding it. Having a long time interest in political coverage, I was very familiar with the events, but still found myself riveted by the images and discussion as they played out. As the movie progressed into the time Bush spent on vacation during the first 8 months in office, the lack of attention to the reports of terrorist activity by his cabinet and the events surrounding 9/11, I became more enthralled and focused and how familiar subjects and events were spelled out very clearly on the big screen.

One such event shows George W. Bush, sitting in a Florida elementary classroom, preparing to read a book to the children. This part of the movie showed to everyone - Bush fan and Bush enemy alike – the lack of responsibility and the embracing of fear Mr. Bush had during the minutes that took place when the planes hit the World Trade Center. You find yourself asking the question, “Why is he just sitting there?” when Mr. Moore’s narration speaks the very same words.

As the movie progresses, we find Mr. Moore in Iraq, viewing the destruction that happens after the Iraq invasion begins. Seeing families and children enjoying freedom and joy before and fear and entrapment afterwards shows the contrast and effects that people’s lives took from the barrage of bombs and military personnel.

Mr. Moore comes across more as a fact teller than a story teller. The few times in the movie you see him, he is active in confronting those in charge. From the ice cream truck reading of the Patriot Act to the questioning congressmen why their children are not also offering to be enlisted for war, comparing those who are involved from his home town of Flint, Michigan, Mr. Moore’s tactics embrace sincere concern over shameless grandstanding.

One such Flint resident involved is Lila Lipscomb, whose family and offspring have been involved in the military in various forms of service. This is one of those most revealing and touching parts of the movie as we watch a vocal and ardent supporter of military show disdain and distraught after she learns of her son’s death in Iraq. Not a sound was heard in the theater during Lila’s reading of her son’s last letter, where he spoke of his own disgust for the war in Iraq, hoping that ‘George’ would not be reelected in November. If you were not moved during this part, you must have not been watching. In the end, Mrs. Lipscomb visits Washington DC and visits the outside of the White House, tears flowing from the thought of what has happened to her son in a war that should never have been.

Fahrenheit 9/11 is a movie for anyone who considers themselves to be concerned about the events from the last 40 months. It is very patriotic in presentation and presents the facts and people involved in a story that invites you to at least question the actions of our elected officials and their concern for our country. And whether you love him or hate him, Michael Moore deserves recognition for bringing this to the big screen, and for presenting it in a professional and thorough manner, playing out the facts and timelines as they happened.
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The Notebook

Written by...Lshap

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck and weeps like a duck and falls in love like a duck, don't expect it to suddenly transform into a zebra.

That pretty well sums up the story arc of Nick Cassavetes' latest film, The Notebook. From the opening scene it proclaims itself unashamedly as a weepy, romantic, violin-playing duck, quacking out tales of love at the top of its lungs for two hours. There are two overlapping love stories -- an old man and woman, played beautifully by James Garner and Gena Rowlands, who are reading a story in a notebook about a young man and woman, played by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams.

Both couples' character dynamics are established right away and remain unswerving in a steady fire and burn straight toward the finish line. True love is forever, we're told, and The Notebook keeps humming that mantra with nary a surprise in sight. This is not a film for cynics or suspicious types who expect plot twists to pop out at them.

Now, before you think I'm dismissing this genre in general, and this film in particular, let me say I enjoyed The Notebook for what it was. It's a classic chick-flic, a simple, touching tale with great performances by its leads. Unlike other chick flics, however, this one has too much heart to fall into the male caricature cliche. Thankfully, the guys aren't shown to be either brutes or idiots. The worst that can be said is that the men stay the course from beginning to end without changing an iota, like emotional pylons stuck in place to be maneuvered around by Allie's character.

Allie's is the only journey that matters, and Rachel McAdams sparkles onscreen. Allie is neither a victim or a willful rebel. She's an authentic girl on the verge of adulthood, struggling with the painful gear shift between being a good daughter and the irresistable heat of first love. McAdams is a natural, playing Allie's life as the inner conflict it really is, rather than some external showy act of petulance against her parents. I didn't doubt her for a minute throughout the film. When she squares off with her controlling Mom she is self-assured but still dependent; when she's with boyfriend Noah, she's madly in love yet physically tentative.

She is both emotionally immature and sexually playful, two refreshing changes from the over-written, stagey maturity of typical girl-heroes.

Ryan Gosling plays Noah as solidly as a rock, and with as much expression, but he is the fulcrum on which Allie has to jump, cry and shout and so the role is effective. Garner and Rowlands are undeniably sweet, and the film is rescued from insignificance by their presence as actors, and by the journey their characters take.

Last edited by lshap on Wed Aug 04, 2004 1:26 pm; edited 1 time in total
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De-Lovely  2004

Director. Irwin Winkler
Screenplay. Jay Cocks

Written by...Marj

When I was about nine or so, I went to an overnight camp, where Cole Porter's, "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" was used as an end of summer anthem. As a child, it never failed to move me. As an adult I happened on the song again, and again it touched me but in a deeper sense, for by then I could appreciate the lovely marriage of melody and lyric. That's the thing about a classic. It can grow with you, taking on new meanings, new colors, new emotions. Today I saw the new film about the life of Cole Porter, De- Lovely, and once again, have found a new and more emphatic meaning to what has become forever, a significantly personal and evocative song.

De- Lovely is not a typical musical. While the music doesn't substitute for the book, it thankfully renders a lot of dialogue unnecessary. It explores character, unveiling needed subtext. Mostly, it serves to underscore events and emotions, heightening them as only good music can. Sometimes it is the event itself, but when it does the former, accentuating moments, it is simply sublime. 

The producers chose to use pop singers in hopes of appealing to a younger demographic and while a few spin magic, others are simply not up to the task. With a new breed of singers bringing much needed life to the American Songbook: Stacy Kent, Steve Tyrell, Jessica Molaskey, Michael Buble, and Tierney Sutton, to name just a few, and a young audience yearning for good musical movies, the choice of the likes of a Lemar or an Alanis Morissette, gives one pause? The producers simply do not give today's audiences credit. Indeed, one of the most effective uses of Porter's music, is when Mr. Kline as Porter, sits at the piano and sings. It Is simple and it is wonderful. And, unlike the 1946 biopic of Porter, Night and Day, in which performances uniformly used 1940's arrangements, and are forever stuck within one particular stylistic era, the arrangements here reflect the actual time period of each song, or more accurately, the song is used to service a particular moment 'in' time.

De- Lovely employs the concept of an imaginary travel companion/director, Gabe, played by Jonathan Pryce, to escort the frail and elderly Porter to view his life, via what else? A Musical! While some critics have compared the device to the angel in All That Jazz, it is also reminiscent of the editor in Chaplin. The conceit works and might have actually been effective had only the director and screen writer been less timid and more daring in its use. It is more than a conceit really, rather a necessity, for it frames what is to happen, highlighting essential moments and gives a right of passage for the use of song. However, this enchanting beginning, this portal into the life that late he led, is too often forgotten. What we are left with, is a series of, and then he wrote. As well as, and then he loved, albeit, sometimes not too wisely nor too well. (Homosexuality was not only a taboo then, but actually illegal!) Still, there are unnecessary scenes and songs that serve only to mark a passage of time, to cover events, many highly suspect in terms of veracity, and while important for a literal depiction of Porter's life, seem unnecessary for this particular point of view.

While De- Lovely sometimes errs in trying to bite off more than it can chew, it does succeed in its central theme: the examination of a love … a bond so rare, and remarkable, especially in light of Cole Porter's sexual proclivities, that it could move the most hardened of cynics. The love that Cole Porter and Linda Lee Porter shared was one of intimacy, 'almost' sans sex, maybe. Quixotic, certainly. It is one of caring and being cared for, of supporting and needing, of undying admiration and above all, friendship. It is bittersweet. And it is touching beyond expectation. That this succeeds, is largely due to the excellence of Kevin Kline and yes, often … Ashley Judd! Mr. Kline inhabits Cole Porter much like a comfortable pair of old jeans. He is nuanced and subtle and very simply superb. Ms. Judd does a fine job, although next to Mr. Kline she seems somehow, wanting. When De- Lovely focuses on the heart of the matter, this extraordinary love story, the film soars and complaints and problems vanish. This indeed is a love like no other and it is, in a word, heartbreaking.

I recommend De- Lovely even with its flaws and detractors. For above all the hype and disappointments, De- Lovely is essentially a new fangled romance, haunted by the timeless music of Cole Porter. It is then that De-Lovely becomes nothing less then entrancing. And in the end, my old camp anthem, underscoring the intensity and sorrow of this love story, brought many to tears, keeping those in the packed house in their seats, long after the credits rolled and the Beguine had ended.

Last edited by lshap on Wed Aug 04, 2004 1:24 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Godzilla (1954)

Written by...Marilyn

A newly restored print of the Japanese version of this staple of the monster movie genre is making the art house rounds this year to honor the 50th anniversary of the release of the film. This film is a substantial 98 minutes in length and has lost the bad dubbing, distorted storyline, and Raymond Burr character of the film most of us saw in our youth. In the process, the film is made almost unrecognizable to the memory and a much richer experience to the mature movie buff who wants more than cheesy thrills.

Whereas the American version of the film starts after the destruction of Tokyo, this film builds slowly. A fishing boat, then another, then a veritable fleet is burned and swallowed by the ocean off Odo Island. The few survivors report that the ocean seemed to explode. Reconnaissance missions and scientific expeditions come up empty. Then an attack occurs on Odo itself. An old island man says it is Godzilla, a creature of the ocean that periodically comes to feast on humans when fish are not in abundant supply.

A paleontologist, played by renowned Japanese actor Takashi Shimura (the lead in Ikiru and other Kurosawa masterpieces), heads a small party to Odo Island where they find footprints that are radioactive. Then Godzilla’s head peeks up above the peak of a mountain. The paleontologist recognizes it as a dinosaur from the Jurassic period and theorizes that the monster is radioactive because it was able to withstand the effects of the H-bombs tested in its waters.

The film casts a jaundiced eye at science throughout. Shimura’s character advocates study, not murder, of the beast, even after Godzilla has wrecked some preliminary destruction on the outskirts of Tokyo. The scientist who possesses the means of Godzilla’s destruction initially refuses to reveal it, fearing that it will be used by politicians for destructive purposes in the future. He is the Robert Oppenheimer of Japan. Godzilla itself is a product of H-bombs and has become an instrument of destruction that no longer seems content to prey on a few humans. The beast’s out-of-control rage seems to represent the destructive power of nature unnaturally tampered with, and humanity grown too prideful.

Numerous references to H-bombs are made, and the real fire bombing of Tokyo is painfully evoked in Godzilla’s rampage. Victims are taken to a hospital, where they are tested with a Geiger counter; some are found to have absorbed lethal levels of radiation. The sickness and death that visited Japan for years after the H-bomb attacks are economically evoked in this short hospital scene. From what I have read, the film’s director, Ishiro Honda, served in the Imperial army, whereby he witnessed the fire bombing and passed through the ruins of Hiroshima. These experiences lend to the authenticity of the events depicted, even as Godzilla and the Tokyo it wrecks are obviously fake.

Godzilla eventually is stopped. Shimura says that there must be other creatures like Godzilla, if this one survived. I chuckled a bit at the obvious sequel set-up, but my laughs were silenced by Shirmura’s fears of what further horrors might await them because of humanity’s tampering with the forces of nature. It showed how sobered Japanese aggression was by annihilation. This film is unusually sad and very Japanese in its reverence for nature and belief in myth. This is a new Godzilla ripe for a new, more mature audience.
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Surrender Dorothy (1998)

Written by...Marilyn

Androgyny and sexual perversion have been staples of pop culture for some time, but they hit a new peak in the 90s. The polarization of the sexes that erupted in the 60s and 70s became a long cultural hangover during which successful coupling became akin to climbing Mt. Everest in many young minds, and an already lengthy adolescence in America was prolonged even further. We saw this phenomenon play out in films, such as Slacker, Clerks, Singles, Two Girls and a Guy, and the one that started it all, Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape.

A latecomer to this landscape of sexual crisis is Kevin DiNovi's underground film Surrender Dorothy, and in many ways, it has taken the most extreme position of any film I have seen on the subject. At its core are two severely dysfunctional men, one whose fear of women has taken on a long and sharp sadomasochistic edge, the other, a pretty-looking junkie who is, by definition, a liar and a thief.

The film opens showing the midsection of a belly dancer in a restaurant. The film is in black and white, high in contrast, and we are somewhat blinded by this glaring colorlessness as the camera takes a turn around the room. Will this film be about some Turkish mogul, a restauranteur, the belly dancer? A flash of the white shirt of a busboy distracts us, then the camera slowly does a 360 around this man. Yes, the film is about him. His name is Trevor (Peter Pryor), and we watch him fix his gaze on a fork and imagine the fork going into the mouth of a woman. We watch him at the end of the night being spoken to dismissively by his boss (the film's producer Richard Goldberg) and dominated by the head waitress, who refuses to give him a fair share of tips. Later, we see him at home in a warehouse loft, masturbating into his toilet while raking his mouth with the fork. This is the type of sex he is used to having because he is terrified of women.

Enter Lahn, a junkie who is on the run from his dealer because he stole the dealer's entire stash. He holes up with Trevor in the loft, which is subdivided using chain-link fencing and sheets of plastic. Privacy is only a state of mind for these two young men. They witness each other whacking off and shooting smack. A boundary is crossed, and Trevor, no longer alone, is craving real human contact. He begins to crave it with Lahn.

When Lahn's stash runs out, Trevor agrees to hook him up if Lahn will do something for him. Trevor pulls out an apron he found in the restaurant and throws it at Lahn. "Wear this and clean up this place", says the fastidious Trevor. Lahn dons the apron, which is emblazoned with the name "Dorothy" and starts scrubbing. So begins Trevor and Lahn's strange adventure in which both men, neither of whom is gay, become more and more closely invested in having a man/woman relationship.

Peter Pryor's Trevor is one of the nastiest characters I‚ve ever seen on screen. He's thoroughly creepy, angry, scary. I'd cross the street to get out of his way. Heck, I'd move out of town! DiNovi's Lahn is common and rather stupid. He doesn't even see how far he has gone until it is too late; of course, he's stoned on smack much of the time, so that certainly clouds whatever judgment he might have had to begin with.

Lahn and Trevor are given a couple of speeches that give clues to the origins of their psychologies and why it has led them into this twisted psychodrama. The speeches are a bit heavyhanded, but provide some satisfaction as to why things play out as they do. Ultimately, it is the relationship between Lahn and Trevor that is as compelling to watch as a house on fire. I literally couldn't tear myself away from this movie. It's a low-budget affair that seems to draw realistically from a life I've never known. DiNovi said the film was conceived as a comedy, and I think 20-somethings will get the joke. I didn't. It just was a sexy, compelling portrait of deviance from a promising young talent. Luis Bunuel would have been proud of Mr. DiNovi.
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Written by...Lissa

I'm not totally into gimmick movies unless they work. Twenty Bucks is one that does. It is a fascinating tale of the life of a 20-dollar bill as it travels through the hands of various owners. The film comprises a series of vignettes and snapshots as this bill makes its way along its path, and there are storyline overlaps, double-takes, character revisits and surprises galore.

What surprised me most was the stellar cast of which I was unaware till seeing the film. Linda Hunt, Brendan Fraser, David Schwimmer, William H. Macy, a delightful Tony B.-like Steve Buscemi, Christopher Lloyd, Gladys Knight, Elizabeth Shue...the list goes on and and on. And each one brings new meaning to the word "character".

The film is about luck and chance, as well as planning and wit. It is about relationships between people as well as people and the world - and of course the main "relationship" is that between this 20-dollar bill and its various owners.

The film twists and turns, and takes you from one end of the spectrum (a homeless woman aching to win the lottery) to the other (a rich limo-chauffeur-driven socialite snorting coke through the bill) and keeps you interested in the bill itself even as it draws you into the lives of the people holding it.

What works so well about the movie is that the viewer does become involved, interested in the stories of those people, without ever losing sight of the reason we are getting to know them. And even as we leave them when the bill leaves their possession, we do not feel a sense of cliff-hanging frustration. We want to go on, and see what happens next.

The attention-deficit-theater pace of the film as it switches stories does not leave the viewer unsatisfied, either. Perhaps it is because you are aware of the premise before the movie begins and you have already agreed with the filmmaker to not invest too heavily in the characters or stories. Or perhaps it is the whimsy of the film itself, despite some rather dark, heavy moments along the way, which has you perfectly fulfilled with the snapshots you are viewing.

The film was made in 1993, but stands up today as one which makes no statement whatsoever, except perhaps to leave the viewer smiling. And perhaps, next time you take out a 20-dollar bill, a quarter, or even a, too, will begin to envision or wonder where it has been and whose hands have held it before yours.
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