Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Tuesday ten-forty in the morning

An inordinate amount of time yesterday was devoted to fighting. A woman tried to steal my ticket to the one of the screenings, and during Joyeux Noël, just as the characters were getting their most saccarine, two Frenchmen in the audience got into a shouting match. Everybody in the theater cracked up.

I just got out of the Jim Jarmush's latest film, JBroken Flowers.J Bill Murry has finally gotten it right. So far I've not been invited to any more parties and the one I was going to go to yesterday wouldn't let anyone in who hadn't been to the screening of a documentery on James Dean...oh well, now for the latest batch of reviews::

Joyeux Noël (France/Germany/UK)

Written and Directed
by Christian Carion

In the winter of 1914, during the first Christmas of the First World War, a minor miracle happened. The troops from both sides put down their weapons and came together to celebrate the holiday. This is one of the most famous incidents to come out of the entire war.

The film begins with schoolchildren reciting poems advocating genocide and worse, while the main characters, a famous German tenor named Nikolaus Sprink(Benno Furmann), a Jewish lawyer named Zimmermann(Joachim Bissmeier), a couple of brothers from Scotland(Steven Robertson and Robin Laing) and a French artist(Guillaume Canet), who's father's a general(Bernard Le Coq) are all drafted into their various armies.

We see a really good recreation of life in the trenches, as the men cower in their trenches taking potshots at each other. Blood and everything, it's rather chilling.

Then, back in Berlin, the famous soprano Anna Sorensen(Diane Kruger) has an idea. The best way to see her lover Nick is to organize a concert for Crown Prince Wilhelm(Thomas Schmauser) who's at the rear of the fighting. That way she could do a duet with her love, who's now a Private in the trenches.

The ploy works, and Nick bravely brandishing a Christmas tree, walks into no man's land, singing to the tune of bagpipes piped by Scotsman. Soon the officers come out and negotiate a quickie 30-hour truce and fraternizing with the enemy becomes the watchword of the day.

Soon everybody is palling around and taking down each other's addresses, playing soccer and listening to Nick and Anna's arias and Father Palmer(Gary Lewis) celebrate mass. The problem is that if the high brass finds out, there'd be hell to pay, and there is. But we see that it was all worth it.

Despite all the blood, this is a family movie, full of the Christmas spirit before it became commercialized. With a few cuts here and there to make it good for TV it might make a holiday classic.

It's well worth a look.

A History of Violence (USA)

Directed by
David Cronenberg

Tom Stall(Viggo Mortensen) seems to have it all. He's married to a beautiful, intelligent wife named Edie(Maria Bello) and two children named Jack(Ashton Holmes) and Sarah(Heidi Hayes) who all live in a sweet little town in Indiana, where Tom owns a small resturaunt and Edie is the public defender. It's all very sweet indeed, but as we saw in the prologue, two villain s (Stephen McHattie and Greg Bryk) are coming from elsewhere to ruin this blissful state of affairs.

Tom's bistro is robbed and Tom manages to kill them both in the choreography David Cronenberg is famous for. This makes him a local hero and momentary TV star, which inspires young Jack to fight back against the bullies that make his life hell. But this momentary fame has it's down side…

Enter crime boss Carl Fogarty(Ed Harris) and some of his soldiers. They enter the place and accuse Tom of being the notorious Philadelphia gangster Joey Cusak who had famously ripped open Fogerty's eye and left a really nasty scar a couple of decades before. He's also told that “Joey's” older brother an underboss named
Richie(William Hurt) wants to see him. Is it a case of mistaken identity? What will the local Sheriff (Peter MacNeill) do about it?

That's the big question. It seems that Tom's quite the martial artist, and this leads the family to the truth. But the question remains, what Edie going to do about it?

For us “Lord of the Rings” fans, Viggo Mortensen is one of the best actors around, and it's really nice to see him in what's going to be his post-“Rings” breakout role. His acting is brilliant. We see the inner turmoil of him and his family, and their reactions to the news of the truth. Bello gives an almost as powerful a performance and Ashton Holmes has quite a future in front of him. John Hurt, who's making a bit of a comeback here, is also good.

When this comes out sometime in either the summer or the fall this is going to be a real hit. This is Cronenburg's best and most nuanced movie in quite a few years.

See it.

Manderlay (Denmark)

Written and Directed
by Lars von Trier

Fear and hatred of what you don't understand is a common enough story. That's what starts wars on occasion. They make movies about it too, and this is one of them, for you see, Lars Von Trier doesn't understand America and therefore he fears and hates it.

I'm not saying this lightly. Von Trier's hatred of America has shown brightly in his films “Dancer in the Dark” and much more in “Dogville,” shows the USA to be a bleak land inhabited by monsters, and irredeemable mess which should rightly be destroyed. His idea of the country is a cartoon based on the most violent of American movies and biased news reports [you think Fox is bad…hoo!]

The fear and loathing from the “Axis of Envu” drives Von Trier, and this is why his four [including the upcoming 'USA-Land of Opportunities', which comes out next year] latest films obsess on the subject. When he says “I'm not anti-American” He's lying. No doubt about it.

When we last left Grace(Bryce Dallas Howard), her father (Willem Dafoe) and his army of gansters, they'd just left the smoldering remains of the teensy village of Dogville, and were on their way to Denver, Colorado, where Dad was the local godfather. Someone else got the job in the week or so in the meantime, and the gang, Grace in tow, heads for greener pastures, and so they head south, to Alabama, where while stopping for some unknown reason, a black woman bursts forth from a gate and announces that Timothy(Isaach de Bankole), one of the slaves is getting whipped, and could she help.

Now when I first heard of this scene when “Dogville” first came out, I was appalled. How could Van Trier even think that slavery was still going on in the 1930s American south, even with all the injustices that were going on there at the time? Well, he wasn't as dumb as all that, and Grace decides to borrow some of her dad's gangster underlings and “invade” the Manderlay plantation in order to bring democracy and the like…her father thinks better of it but agrees. He predicts that the former slaves will be forced to sign contracts endenturing them for life and they'll be indebted to a company store forever. When this indeed happens, Grace starts a revolution from above.

The owner of the place(Lauren Bacall) is on her deathbed, and informs our heroine of how the plantation works, she's appalled of course and imposes a new regime based on socialist and democratic principles, also she forces the remaining whites
(Jeremy Davies, Chloë Sevigny and some others) to indenture themselves to her until such times until they “learn their lesson.”

The plantation undergoes it's ups and downs, Grace and others make some awful mistakes, and in the end everyone seems better off, or do they? In the penultimate scene, Wilhelm(Danny Glover), the elder negro, explains why slavery was better.

This is clearly an allegory of the War in Iraq, pining for the days of Saddam or maybe even Hitler is what seems to be going on here.

The fact that it's so well done makes it even worse. Evil, evil film.!

1 comment:

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