Friday, September 29, 2006

NYFF day one: Royalty

With embargoes officially gone because this is a major film festival, we go with the bookends for the NYFF. The reason is that there's a common theme: Royalty. Both are about the same thing to some extent. The conflict between public opinion and the Royal family. The Queen gets it, Marie Antionette doesn't.

The Queen
Miramax Films, 103mins, PG-13

Directed by
Stephen Frears

In the early fall of 1997, Great Britain had a nervous breakdown. On the last day of August, Diana, Princess of Wales was famously killed in a car wreck. The British Royal family, who loathed her for years, acted in such a way as to put in jeopardy everything they had spent the previous sixty-one years trying build.

This film is all about show business and celebrity culture as it was in the last decade of the 20th century. It’s not really about politics per se, but that fits into it to some extent.

The film begins with the inauguration of British Prime Minister Tony Blair(Michael Sheen), who was called to Buckingham palace in order to be appointed to the job by HM Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren), in a ceremony called “kissing hands. This may be accurate in it’s details, especially the fact that since the Queen had been doing this for 44 years and knew what was actually going on a lot more than Blair does, especially when it comes to protocol.

However, what HM, her mother(Sylvia Syms) and husband Prince Philip (James Cromwell) didn’t know, is that the press liked Di far more than they did them and generally took the “people’s princess’” side in the war between her and them. Prince Charles(Alex Jennings) knew it too, and he at least made an attempt to show some remorse. Politics, like show business, is to some extent sbout hypocrisy and while the royals try to stay the course, there’s the war between HM’s private secretary Robin Janvrin(Roger Allam) on the one side, and Blair and his press secretary Stephen Lampor(Tim McMullan) on the other. The big question for Blair and Lampor was how to save people you don’t like and an institution you don’t respect?

That was Blair’s problem and why this crisis was his finest hour.

Frears’ work is always wonderful, and with this cast he’s especially so. We’ve got both sides placed before us in a sympathetic way, knowing what happened later, it’s amazing that everyone actually looks as good as they do. Mirren is going to get nominated for an Oscar, at least, and Sheen’s going to break into the big time.

This has the immediacy of a “West Wing” episode, and it’s thrilling. See it.

Marie Antoinette
Sony Pictures, 101mins, PG-13

Written and Directed
by Sofia Coppola

The tagline to the film is: ”The party that started a revolution” and that isn’t exactly correct. The party had been going on for 114 years when Marie Antoinette von Habsburg-Lorraine showed up in 1774. It was all the idea of French King Louis XIV, who was at war with the nobles when he was a kid in the 1650s and needed to give them something to do instead of plotting against him.

So he threw an eternal party at his new digs at Versailles in 1661 and it kept on going until 1790, by which time the Revolution was going on full swing.

For reasons of state, [and get rid of her] Holy Roman Empress dowager Maria Teresa(Marianne Faithful) has made a pact with Louis XV(Rip Torn), to send her youngest daughter Marie-Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst), then 16, to marry the good hearted but inept dauphin (Jason Schwartzman), this meant that in return for getting pregnant, she would get to be the star and hostess for the eternal party, for the rest of her life. The downside was gossip and backbiting by a bunch of bored dilatants stuck in an expensive world of endless ceremonial.

Talk about exotic, this is as bizarre as it gets.

One of the great mysteries in history is why King Louis XV of France didn’t send his grandson the dauphin, to a high class whorehouse in order to learn how to get laid properly. The kid was a bit of a prude, unlike most Frenchmen of the time, and it would cause both he and his fiancée quite a bit of trouble. So we see MT living with the anxiety of two people who don’t know what they’re doing and are being forced to pay the price for it until The Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II(Danny Huston) arrives and cures them.

Then she gets to become that greedy bitch the world has loved to hate for over two centuries.

This is a slight but lavishly produced biopic, and it’s always fun to take a glimpse into the remarkably insane world of the royal village of Versailles at the end of the old regime. We can almost see the cracks in the façade of the ancient monarchy, which was creaking away under the beauteous and expensive façade.

The story has been told before, most recently in “The Affair of the Necklace” [which has been excised from the script], and it remains as vacuous as it is in the history books. MT is portrayed as an innocent party girl, more sinned against than sinning. The sheer snobbery shown to Madame du Barry(Asia Argento) is appalling and so is all that other crap which goes on. It’s fascinating up to a point.

The problem is not that we don’t see and empathize with her during her initial stay, but once the “problem” is solved, Coppola doesn’t really know what to do with the rest of the film. Going shopping with her pals(Judy Davis, Rose Byrne and some others) and a brief affair with a Swedish count(James Dornan), but we really don’t have a clue as to why exactly the whole thing fell apart…apparently, in real life, neither did she. If you like lavish sets and costumes, then this frivolous trifle is for you. If you want a genuine understanding of the machinations of history, read a book.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The New York Film festival—Day Zero

The thing opens tomarrow, and so we're going to start posting stuff then.

You've been warned.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Happy 5767.

kay, folks, tomarrow is Rosh Hasonna, the first day of the year 5767. One may wonder if the Christians say that it's 2006 and a bit years since Jesus Christ was born, then what exactly happened 5,767 years ago to make it the start of the Jewish calender. Well, according to the Talmud, that was when God considering creating the world, something he did between Sept 21-27, 3760 BCE. The first Rosh Hashona, on this planet, at least, was to begin on the 26th, which would begin the year two.

In other words at the start of the Jewish era of the universe, the Molad Efes-Zero Point (7 October 3761 BC), the world did not exist as yet. Or so the sages tell us. So how did the conjunction of the moon, which didn't exist, take place? It's a miracle!!!!

There are those who say the world was already up an running for billions of years on the Molad Efes, and that's undoubtably true, and there are some who say that one that date writing was invented and that anything happening before it could be written down doesn't really count.

There's some truth to this, for the first historical figure has come down to us before was the Scorpion King, who ruled part of Egypt about 3150 BC, centuries later.

The discoverer of fire will never be remembered, nor will the inventer of the lever, the boat or the inclined plane Nor will the discoverer of France or Norway.

Even the Yellow Emperor, inventer of China, dates from afterward. So it's a good place to start.

Enjoy 5767, and may there be peace, love and a Democratic congress sitting in Washington on Rosh hashona 5768!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hugo Chavez and the UN

Calling Bush the devil is disrespecting the nation. Hugo Chavez is a royal prick.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

the Jackass 2 screening (not the movie)

The projector broke. They tried to fix it, but couldn't and they herded us down to another theater. it was actually appropriate in a way.

Monday, September 18, 2006

This is the penultiamate batch from Toronto, but do not fear, the New York Film Festival starts in about a week, and we'll have lots more stuff from there.


France, Masters

Written and Directed
by Benoît Jacquot

What is it about French cinema that makes it so infuriating? The film discussed here is a case in point. While one cannot say NOTHING happens, it certainly seems that way. That they went all the way to India to film part of this seems like a complete waste of time and money.

Jeanne(Isild Le Besco) is an actor on the brink of stardom. She’s doing one of those avante guarde plays when she finds out from her mother (Bérangère Bonvoisin) that her father is Indian and an "Untouchable" of the lowest social caste. Intrigued, and having been searching for identity quite a while, she tells her agent that she’s willing to do that sex scene in the trashy flick she’s been offered, and so she has enough euros to fly all the way to India to begin the search for her father.

When she gets to India, we get to see some very exotic architecture and some interesting people, unfortunately, we don’t see very much of them, there’s a fellow passenger who’s kidnapped, and a possible cousin (Parikshit Luthra), who’s to be her tour guide, plus various strangers who really do nothing. This is travelogue and a rather boring one at that. There is no character development, no real plot to speak of, in fact, no nothing. What a waste of celluloid!

Death of a President

Written and Directed
by Gabriel Range

Perhaps it was the happy dance. From the moment I heard about this film, there was controversy. There are a lot of people who want this to be the truth, at least the murder part. That Britain’s Channel Four would do a preemptive celebration of America’s pain is something that we in America didn’t expect. Yeah, there are lots of people in the British press who spent a lot of time and energy trying to suppress smiles and overt joy when the twin towers were attacked back on Sept. 11. “"American bond traders, you may say, are as innocent and as undeserving of terror as Vietnamese or Iraqi peasants? Well, yes and no…” said The New Statesman back then.

While many in Britain support the War on Terror, the chattering classes never did, and to them Bush is the antichrist. So we have Gabriel Range trying to imagine what might happen if his dream came true. It’s an interesting experiment.

Most of the action takes place on October 19, 2007. Revolution is in the air and no where is it more evident than in Chicago, where twelve thousand real radicals, with those “Drive out the Bush regime—NOW! “ signs and the like, screaming invective, they actually manage to overwhelm the cops and heroically scare Bush’s motorcade into taking an alternate route to his speech [the brutal coward is only there for a few hours as the masses threaten to overwhelm him]. American democracy is on the brink of collapse, HOORAY!!!! Bush makes his speech [as he did a few years back, this is archival footage], and upon leaving the hotel is shot to death on the handshake line. [Bush’s head is digitally grafted on an actor’s body].

The news spreads, that happy dance I mentioned at the beginning of this review is danced. With that bit of editorial chutzpa out to the way, the film changes to an investigation of who did it and why.

The ideology of the film makes it certain that we know who really did it and that justice will NEVER be served in America. The main suspect, a Syrian immigrant named Jamal Abu Zikri, who, despite the fact that there’s plenty of forensic evidence, cannot be really guilty, because that would make the US “the good guy.”

The use of archival footage is both expertly and ineptly done, the descriptions of the nation’s reaction just doesn’t play true [no one really cares that much—not even President Cheney]. Still the filmmakers do make an effort to do above decent propaganda. The problem is that this film could be used to excite the Republican base, and that might be why Newmarket is going to release the film just prior to the November election, even worse it might become a political version of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” where lefties go to jeer democracy in general and Bush in particular. It happened in Toronto, it could happen here.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The NYS primary results

Since the primary is over, I searched the web for the results and here they are:

Governor (Dem)
Eliot Spitzer 570,205 || 80.77%
Thomas R. Suozzi 135,740 || 19.23%

commentary: Why Suozzi kept on running is a mystery, his staying in didn't help anybody, especially him.

Attorney General (Dem)
Andrew M. Cuomo 373,752 || 52.88%
Mark Green 229,867 || 32.52%
Sean Patrick Maloney 66,542 || 9.41%
Charles G. King 36,614 || 5.18%

commentary: who is Charles King and why was he running? I have no idea, which is why I voted for him. Green is a prick, Cuomo destroyed the NYS Liberal Party, which hurt state politics to no end (it gave us democrats a safe place to vote for Liberal Republicans) and Maloney's campaign was going around my neighborhood "He's GAY, He's GAY!!! vote for him because he's GAY!!!! If Cuomo went around saying "Vote for me I'm CATHOLIC!!!!" I wouldn't vote for him either.

Senate (GOP)
John Spencer 104,034 || 60.19%
K.T. McFarland 68,819 || 39.81%

commentary: Since HRC is going to clean the clock of anybody who was going to win here anyway, who really cared? Spencer, being such a wonderful guy, refused to take McFarland's concession call. That's class!! NOT.

Senate (Dem)
Hillary Rodham Clinton 589,133 || 83%
Jonathan B. Tasini 117,986 || 17%

commentary: Tasini ran as a political corrector in order to punish HRC for supporting the US in the War on Terror. I don't like HRC one bit and wrote in a friend, but Tasini deserved to get creamed.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Toronto: day nine

I'm back! but this doesn't mean that I'm finished. I've got stuff to finish up, so let's get cracking:

The Fountain

Written and Directed
by Darren Aronofsky

When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” What I liked about it best was the sci-fi sets, and the obtuse plot, but then I was 12 when it came out and didn’t know any better. But I was really exited about this when I saw a preview at San Diego’s Comicon last year, as it had that certain SF jior de vie about it and I really liked his previous two films. Sigh…

The film begins with a bang: Captain Tomas Creo(Hugh Jackman), the loyal cavelier to her majesty Queen Isabella(Rachel Weisz) of Spain, is about to lead his troops to fight the bloodthirsty pagan Maya, who are guarding the great secret in a secret temple. This is a decent fight scene to say the least, and while our heroes lose, Tomas survives and is brought to the high priest, when…cut to a thousand years later, where Tomas is now a Buddha meditating in a interstellar fishbowl, which he shares with a giant tree. Here he replays the last days of his 21st century incarnation, and the death of his wife Izzy (Weisz). So we flash back four hundred years.

Here in our present, Tommy, as he’s called, is a researcher testing anti-cancer drugs on a baboon named Donovan, who is about to die of a massive brain tumor. He tried an extract from a unique tree [very good! You guessed!] in Central America. It’s the very tree that Izzy is writing about in her novel of a 16th century conquistador who is fighting for his Queen against the evil head of the Spanish inquisition (Alexander Bisping), who wants to overthrow the government in order to keep the location of the Garden of Eden secret [which actually not such a bad idea.] which brings us back to the first phase of the film.

Izzy is dying, and she’s okay with that, but Tommy isn’t and he’s too busy trying to save her through the miracle of science to spend too much time with her, this despite the pleadings of his boss Lilian(Ellen Burstyn). But he does manage to spend the last hours with her and she makes him promise to finish her novel, which ends about the point just before the credits.

This is all smoke and mirrors, signifying very little, but looking really good at either end of the timeline and not that great in the middle, where most of the action takes place. The whole thing is very Zen, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

On other occasions I have recommended illegal drugs before the viewing of certain films. This time I think it might actually be mandatory to do so.

For Your Consideration

Written and Directed
by Christopher Guest

The press notes say that Christopher Guest got the idea for this film when Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy started getting “Oscar Buzz®” for their performances in "A Mighty Wind," and when the show was over and everybody had lost, all went back to their former lives. So it was decided to have a 86 minutes of inside baseball, and that’s something which may not be the best thing to sit through in a theater full of film critics, all of whom go through the game every year.

So this is the story of a little film called “Home for Purim,” in which a southern Jewish family gathers during World War II, for one of the more obscure holidays [methinks that they might have mistaken it for Passover].

Okay…Sandy Lane(Ed Begley Jr.), a makeup guy notices on the internet that Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara), who plays Esther, the dying Matriarch, might be in consideration for a major movie award. This exiting news, and soon publicist Corey Taf(John Michael Higgins) looks into it, and soon more people are visiting the set and praising the work of Victor Allen Miller (Harry Shearer), a mostly washed-up thesipian who’s most famous for doing hot dog commercials, and comedienne Callie Webb (Parker Posey), famous for having the worst one-woman show in Los Angeles history. The fourth major cast member, Brian Chubb (Christopher Moynihan), plays her brother and is currently schtupping her.

Now of course, as the buzz gets greater, everyone is exited, especially director Jay Berman(Christopher Guest) and producer
Whitney Taylor Brown(Jennifer Coolidge), who complains of the price of snacks, and Miller’s agent Morley Orfkin(Eugene Levy), who usually wouldn’t take his calls.

Once the premise is set up, the film goes along it’s deplorably predictable way, doing the a paint-by-numbers routine the whole way from the “Entertainment Tonight” parody with Jane Lynch looking mahvulous and Fred Willard in an orange toupee asking the usual inane questions. The collagen gag works a bit, but for the most part everything’s visible a mile ahead of time and the laughs get fewer and fewer.

The biggest disappointment is the movie-within-a-movie. It’s supposed to be so brilliant, but what we see of it is most definitely mediocre, part of the parody. This is the first time Guest has done this, as in his last two films, there’s a moment of victory for the characters when we see them triumph. In “A Mighty Wind” for example, the music is actually GOOD. Yeah, they’re morons, but when push comes to shove, they actually DELIVER. This doesn’t happen here and what we’re left with is just bleh. If you like Guest’s other stuff and are addicted to ET and the tabs, you might like this, otherwise, don’t bother.

Yeah, I know the one below wasn't actually in the festival, but I saw it up there among all the other films and it's opening today, so why not....

The Black Dahlia

Directed by
Brian De Palma

Well, knock off another film from the Oscar® list. Brian De Palma tries, but doesn’t quite get there. Where he does get is a platonic love story which doesn’t actually have that much of a payoff.

The love story is between three people, Detectives Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Blanchard’s girlfriend Kay Lake(Scarlett Johansson). The guys meet during the Zoot Suit riots during the second world war and get together again for a successful publicity stunt which gets both of them on the elite “warrant squad” where they are partners. This is Bucky’s story, and he’s got the hots for Kay, but won’t do anything because he’s too loyal to Lee.

So it is when the body of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner), the notorious “Black Dahlia” of history, shows up in the middle of a field just two blocks over from where Lee and Bucky are at a shootout with some villains, that things begin to change. Lee gets Bucky and himself on the squad investigating the case, and Bucky’s inquiries lead him to the lesbian underground of LA, and Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank), and her very rich and weird family, which includes corrupt father(John Kavanagh), very strange mother(Fiona Shaw) and sister (Rachel Miner), all of whom may have known the Dahlia, but Madeline definitely did, and this leads to a torrid, forbidden love affair. Things get more complicated, as they’re supposed to in things like this.

This is about as traditional a film Noir as has been made in quite a while. All the clichés are there and the atmosphere of old Hollywood is so thick you can cut it with a knife. The acting is pretty good. We’ve got a lot of scene chewing here, especially by Eckhart and Shaw, the latter appears to be on drugs at some point.

Ellroy’s solution to the mystery isn’t particularly satisfying, and it does get a little bit silly here and there, but all in all the thing works. You can take it off the Oscar list, but is well worth a look regardless.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Day seven early morning

We're getting far behind in our reviewing, but we expected that. That's what happens when you do five films a day for a week....


Written and Directed
by Douglas McGrath

In November of 1959, two ex-cons hunting for money brutally murdered the Clutter family in Western Kansas. This act of barbarism and its aftermath has had a major impact on the history of literature. Truman Capote's book on the subject is a timeless classic, and revolutionized the writing of history.

Capote was an odd duck with his weird voice and strange manner. When he appeared on TV talk shows during the 1960s through the '80s he was a witty joke, sort of like a short Paul Lynde. An extremely flamboyant homosexual who induced giggles on the small screen, and thus was invited to all the parties that mattered as well as those that didn't. He'd done a lot of silly stuff in the past, good stuff like "Breakfast at Tiffany's" mostly. Then there was "In Cold Blood." That changed everything.

So how did this talented lightweight manage to change the world of literature so utterly? Dan Futterman, who's best know as the brother on "Judging Amy" has turned the relevant parts of Gerald Clark's book into a tight screenplay and....okay, you caught me. This was the beginning of my old review of Capote.

Actually, Futterman had absolutely nothing to do with this movie. Nor did Gerald Clark. The film was made by Douglas McGrath and is based on the book by George Plympton. There were two films based on the exact same incident with the exact same cast of characters [the actors are different, of course] filmed at almost the exactly the same time, and one of them had to wait on the shelf while the the buzz over the other died down. This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened, but the copying of plot has been done in a far more general way [witness Madagascar and The Wild] this is as close to being a remake as you can get.

There are some differences, however. The film opens with Truman Capote(Toby Jones) and Slim Keith(Hope Davis), one of his socialite “swans” that he likes to hang out with at a club listening to a sexy lounge singer(Gwyneth Paltrow) and chewing the fat. Slim confides in him some secret. Cut to another establishment and Truman is telling another swan, Babe Paley(Sigourney Weaver) what Slim told him in confidence…then we get a bunch of actors in character being interviewed about what kind of a guy Capote really was.

We see Truman getting his editor(Peter Bogdonovich) to foot the bill for an article on the aftermath of the notorious Clutter killings in Kansas, and of course he and childhood friend/assistant Harper Lee(Sandra Bullock) head out to the Midwest…

This version is a lot more mean spirited than the Futterman version. There's an air of condescension surrounding the depiction of the socialites and of Capote himself. He first shows up at the courthouse wearing a fur coat and acting like an ass in front of
Inspector Alvin Dewey(Jeff Daniels), who treats him like dirt, before it's discovered that Dewey's wife was a fan.

While in the Futterman version, the gay sexuality issue is skirted, if not entirely ignored it is front and center here. While Dick Hickock (Lee Pace) is just portrayed as a thug, his accomplice Perry Smith(Daniel Craig) is a different matter. What we've got here is pure romance, and that includes a full kiss on the mouth.

The acting is excellent. Jones' gives just as good a performance in the role as Phil Hoffman did, and he looks far more like him. What we have are two versions of the same story and both are tour de forces. Definitely worth a matinee.

Copying Beethoven

Directed by
Agnieszka Holland

There's a famous moment in the history of music: at the end of the premier of his ninth symphony, the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven, who was completely deaf by then, cannot hear the audience going wild behind him. A woman comes out of nowhere and turns him around to see the thunderous applause. This immortal anecdote brings to mind questions, the foremost of which was: Who was she?

Well, since after 180 years, there's no way to find out, screenwriters Stephen J. Rivele) & Christopher Wilkinson, who wrote the script for Oliver Stone's ahistorical masterpiece “Nixon” have decided to create her…giving her credit for all sorts of other things, of course.

Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger) a young music student, has arrived in Vienna on a special mission, the famous impresario Wenzel Schlemmer (Ralph Riach) is in desperate need of a copyist to transcribe the various parts of the great Beethoven's (Ed Harris) in time for the work's premier in four days.

This being the 1820s, the fact that Anna is a girl, at first, scandalizes both Schlemmer and Beethoven, but her competence and the simple fact that time is of the essence wins them over. We've now got a platonic romance going on in what might be described light comedy.

While there are the usual comedic plot twists, like the conflict between Beethoven and Anna's boyfriend Martin(Matthew Goode), the appearance of the great man's nephew Karl(Joe Anderson), and the conflict with the downstairs neighbor, this film has got more than that. It's got Ed Harris chewing the scenery with a joy that is quite infectious. His Beethoven is reminiscent of a character from Christopher Guest's mockumenteries, a cartoonish buffoon who, none the less, is capable of greatness.

The whole thing is sitcom, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The premier of the great Ninth symphony is a hoot, really great television that works as a movie. It's lots of fun, with great performances all around. But this is Ed Harris' shining moment, going back and forth between the silly old codger and the genius philosopher and back again. His explanation of why he is the way his is quite believable.

This is one of the big ones for the fall. See it.

Little Children

Written and Directed
by Todd Field

The little children of the title aren't the little children of the picture, the title applies to the behavior of some of the adults. Parents can be as immature as their kids, sometimes, and that usually has to do with that great negation of intelligence and responsibility, sex.

The film begins in “Desperate Housewives-Land.” It doesn't matter that this is in Suburban Boston and not Orange county, California, It's all the same…and in this episode, we have a suspected child molester, Ronald James McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley), back from prison after two years stretch for indecent exposure. The local vigilance committee, has plastered thousands of signs with the guy's face on it all over town, this leads to the ending the press notes ask us not to reveal, but prior to that, we have the morning playtime in the park, where Sarah Pierce(Kate Winslet) and her daughter Lucy(Sadie Goldstein) reluctantly hang out with the other mothers and kids in an attempt to relieve the boredom that suburban motherhood can generally inspire. We know this because the omniscient narration tells us so.

This idyll cannot last, and doesn't when househusband Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson) shows up with his son Aaron(Ty Simpkins) and one of the desperate housewives makes a bet with Sarah that she couldn't get the guy's phone number. Thus begins the expected affair, as we learn that that Sarah's boring husband Richard(Gregg Edelman) is into internet porn and Brad's wife Kathy(Jennifer Connelly) is too tired to screw after a hard day's work, and won't let him read “Men's Health.” It sounds like soap opera and that's what it is, our little world expands a bit when Brad makes friends with Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich), the head of the vigilance committee, who recruits him to play football in the amateur night league. Larry also enjoys harassing the notorious child molester…

As are most celebrations of adultery, this is a very unhappy movie, with the characters trying to do anything got relieve the gloom that they've gotten themselves into. Auteur Todd Field and co-writer Tom Perrotta have produced a group of some of the most unsympathetic characters to ever blight movie screen. Brad and Susan aren't that bad, really we can identify with their plight, but Susan is just not LIKEABLE, and Brad is just a slacker who doesn't really know what he wants to be now that he's grown up.

The only character that is in anyway genuinely sympathetic is the alleged child molester, who really feels guilty about everything and doesn't really know what to do about it, he's more pathetic than likeable, but at least his quest for redemption is something to root for. This is one of those films that's going to be showered with kudos despite the fact that it's way overrated. This is that it's depressing, and is the perfect way to get rid of your significant other, should you want to do so. This is NOT entertainment.

Griffin And Phoenix, USA World premiere

Directed by
Ed Stone

In the old days this would be called a “B Movie” one of those things with grade B stars and a low budget. It has an oh-so-cute script with oh-so-cute characters who are extremely doomed and fall in love just in time to redeem themselves before their inevitable demise.

Henry Griffin(Dermot Mulroney) is an insurance agent and divorced father of two, who's terminal cancer is forcing him to rethink what he wants to do with his life. He's taking a course on death and dying at the local university, where he meets one Sarah Phoenix (Amanda Peet), who's a bureaucrat working for the school and is auditing the class because….oh yeah, we mentioned that in the previous paragraph. Okay, it's a spoiler, but the damn thing is getting saccerine already and soon it is so frigging cute that one is in danger of getting a acid reflux attack.

Despite the premise of two doomed people falling in love at the end, this is cliché after cliché after cliché, and this is all very nice, but what's the point. There's no happy ending to head for, and the leads are so cuddly that we don't really care what happens to them since we know that they're not going to get hit by a bus at any point in the film and put us out of our misery.

One can understand why this hasn't gotten a distributor yet.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The middle of the day

The temperature seems to be changing by the minute, either very cold or suddenly very warm. I saw two flicks this morning and there are a three more this evening assuming that everything goes off as planned. Tomarrow is my last full day here, and Wednesday, I might see one or two.

Monday morning at eight o'clock

I'm beginning to run behind in the reviewing department, as we saw five films the other day and had to wait futally on a long line to try to see the über-controversial Death of A President. There was almost a riot when the fourth part of the line was put ahead of the third. But that didn't last very long and there was no extra to the reviews:

U The Unicorn

Written and directed
by Grégoire Solotareff,
and Serge Elissalde

Animation is something that brings form to a mind flowing free. Unfortunately, the only limitation on the medium is that it's still considered children's fare outside of Japan, and thus we've got something like this, which is one of those extremely strange movies which is allegedly for kids, but may not be. It's an unfocused wonder of some unusual stylizations.

Princess Mona(Isild Le Besco) is an orphaned puppy living with her evil rat step parents in a dilapidated castle by the sea in funny animal land where they mistreat her because they can't find any food. She's miserable and crys in dispair, when out of the blue comes U(Vhahina Glocatne), a little unicorn, who looks more like a diminutive supermodel with a horn coming out of her head than a horse.

Cut to years later and Mona is grown. Along come a troupe of traveling animal musicians, who settle in a tree nearby. It's spring, the filmmakers are French, and so we get a story about love and food. There's nothing wrong with that, and since this is for little girls, there's a little instruction on how to tounge kiss.

Unfortunately for U, her magical mandate only lasts until Mona falls in love, in which case she shrivels up into nothing, something that the filmmakers don't really know how to deal with, which is somewhat surprising.

The design of the film is extremely stylized and this fits the story, which is more for adults than children, except for the romance angle, which is more about lust than love, nothing much happens and the plot development is almost an afterthough.

This is probably not going to get release here in North America, even on video, so don't worry about finding out where it's playing.


Directed by
Ridley Scott

When you think of Ridley Scott, you think of action movies. From the science fiction “Blade Runner” and “Alien” to costume epics “Gladiator” and “Kingdom of Heaven,” Scott has gotten a reputation for stylish big budget epics. But then again everybody needs a vacation from the usual, like David Mamet doing a G-rated period piece or Wes Craven doing a two-hanky drama about an inner city violin teacher. So Scott is doing a light romantic comedy about the joys of wine and the Province region of France.

Max Skinner(Russell Crowe) is a stockbroker in the Gilbert Gecko mold. He first coming in for work to do what he does best, manipulating the market and making tons of money for his company and himself in a morally ambiguous way. He has just done that when he's informed by his assistant Emma(Archie Panjabi) that his Uncle Henry(Albert Finney), from whom he has become estranged and hasn't seen for years, has just died, and as his sole heir, has to fly down to Province immediately. This brings on the first in a series of flashbacks, where eleven-year-old Max (Freddie Highmore) and Uncle Henry converse about life, love and the art of winemaking.

Getting down there, our hero gets a tiny car and meets some people from his past, the caretakers of Henry's chateau(Didier Bourdon and Isabelle Candelier), who are worried what might happen when and if Max sells the place. Due to the questionability of our hero's actions, he's suspended for a week by the British SEC, and is forced to spend a week in the south of France.

So while he's trapped in all that beautiful scenery, there's a budding relationship with the lovely restaurateur Nathalie Auzet(Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), which goes on a remarkably standard romantic comedy arc and the sudden appearance of his maybe cousin Christie(Abbie Cornish) just before his best friend and real estate salesman Charlie (Tom Hollander) shows up.

It's so goddamned cute you almost want to puke, but you don't. This is the most charming movie of the year, and it comes within an inch of being too sweet to stand, but it doesn't get there. It stays in that territory of pure grace where you laugh and cry in all the right places and don't feel the least part manipulated. This is a great movie, possibly one of the great romantic comedies of the decade.

Attendance, preferably with a date, is mandatory.


Written and directed
by Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro is going to give Peter Jackson a run for his money as the number three creator of fantasy in movies today.
In between doing his two “Hellboy” pictures, he's managed to create one of those unexpected masterpieces that both touches both our inner child and our inner cynic, something that not too many people can do.

It's June 1944. War is raging everywhere but Spain, or at least that's the official story. Even though the Republic finally collapsed under assault from Franco's fascists in early 1939, an insurgency was still going on, and would continue into the 1950s.

Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), son of the famous General Vidal, who died heroically in the Civil War, is a fascist through and through. He's mean, nasty and a bit of a coward. His wife Carmen(Ariadna Gil) is almost nine months pregnant, and he wants her to give birth where he can supervise things, which means that she and her daughter [from a previous marriage] Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) have to go all the way out to the boonies to be with him on what appears to be the remnants of the front lines. They are being watched, and not just by the insurgents…

Back in the age of legend, when what is now Spain was inhabited by the pagan proto-Irish, the daughter of the king of the underworld left her dank-but-happy land to see the world of the surface, and came by a horrible fate. The fairies have been looking for her ever since, and in Ofelia they may have found her.

So we've got two simultaneous plots, In the first, Captain Vidal fights the forces of good, who are not only in the hills, but have support even in the armed camp, for the captain's housekeeper Mercedes (Mirabel Verdú) and the camp's doctor (Alex Angulo), are providing aid and comfort to the guerrillas in the hillside. Next to this real-life horror show is the second story, which has to do with that lost princess and those millennia-old ruins which prove to be a portal to another world, guarded by the fairies and a faun (Doug Jones), who looks like the devil but is actually good…or is he? What we do know is that he gives her a magic book and three tasks to accomplish, providing juxtaposition between the worlds of fantasy and the reality.

The film is beautiful in it's ugliness. The special effects are really cool, and the makeup job on Doug Jones is really creepy. What makes this film compelling is Ofelia's internal conflict. Does she want to stay with her mother and soon-to-be-born brother? Or does she want to just chuck it all and head off to fantasyland?

The whole thing meshes perfectly, and while there are a couple of bumps at the end, this is an almost perfect picture. This is something to take the kids to despite the R rating.


Written and Directed
by Sean Ellis

When a short version of this film was nominated for an Oscar@ last year, we saw the makings of greatness. A delightful romp in the fields of erotica, we got a glorious celebration of the human female breast, in one of the most artistic hard-R comedies of the decade. It was a genuine triumph. Unfortunately, Ellis and company were invited to turn it into a full feature. He should have left well enough alone.

London art student Ben Willis (Sean Biggerstaff) is working the night shift in a grocery store. The reason is that he foolishly dumped his girlfriend Suzy (Michelle Ryan) and has been plagued with complete insomnia ever since. So after reading every book on his college reading list, he decides to make some extra money with his extra hours, and so we get into that glorious fifteen minutes of the short.

This part flows effortlessly, from his boss, Mr. Jenkins (Stuart Goodwin) a bit of a jerk, who has a thing for the Sharon(Emilia Fox) the check out clerk and she doesn't reciprocate the feelings. Meanwhile Barry(Michael Dixon) and Matt(Michael Lambourne) like to play with the products, like putting penis-shaped shampoo bottles in women's carts without their knowing it, or simulating cocksucking using large sausages.

Ben then goes into flashback mode where is seen the full frontal nudity from the height of eight year old Ben (Frank Hesketh), with a close-up of a clitoris that comes close to filling the screen. This is art, right, not porn [well, the short was kinda porny, but so what?].

One of the cute things about the short was the use of Ben's superpower. He had, as a way of keeping from getting bored, developed the ability to stop time, and use the prolonged microsecond to literally undress the women in the supermarket and observe their beauty for his artwork, plus a few minor pranks.

In the short, it was terrific, and pretty much the entire short is in there, but as a full 90+ minute feature, there's lots more time to fill and what we've got is a lot of bad slapstick with people we don't care about doing things that get old really quick. The cast is good, and Ellis' sense of style [he is Britain's top fashion photographers] is impeccable, but his comic sense is off, especially with the soccer scene, which is deplorable. You can get the short on DVD with the other Oscar contenders from last year. Get that.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sunday morning...

We saw five film yesterday, and haven't had time do up them all, here are most of them:


Written and Directed
by Neil Armfield

Candy (Abbie Cornish) and Dan (Heath Ledger) love three things, each other, their old friend and mentor Casper(Geoffrey Rush) and that wonder drug known as heroin.

The thing is simple enough: Candy wants candy and bullies her beau Dan into letting her shoot some up. When she immediately OD's and is revived, her first words are: "Let's have some more."

From here we have three clearly titled chapters: “Heaven,” where “heroin chic” is still lots of fun, except when it comes to Candy's folks(Noni Hazlehurst and Tony Martin); Earth,” where the things become harder and our lovers turn to lives of crime, and Hell, where they try to become sober and things get even worse.

This is a film that's saved, so to speak, by the acting. Ledger and Rush have had some brilliant performances in the past and it's this skill that shows up on the screen. Cornish, who's not had that much experience has shown that she's got the chops to keep up. However the script doesn't, there are some plot holes here and there and the tone of the film is too erratic at times for even the subject matter.

Neil Armfield and Luke Davies's script gets bogged down far too much, and at times veers towards unwatchable boredom between moments of brilliance. This is not nearly as good as it pretends to be, and it shows. The anti-drug theme, while laudable, has been done better and more horrifically elsewhere. This may be a good film to take the kiddies to if you want to scare them. Sort of like those car crash films in driver's ed. But it's generally not worth it.


Directed by
Phillip Noyce

Sometimes even-handedness can go a bit too far. In telling the story of a terrorist and the cop who's out to get him, Phillip Noyce gives us too heroes going against each other trying to do what he thinks is right. The problem of who to root for is a big one and even though this is based on a true story, we can see that Phillp Noyce and writer Shawn Slovo are somewhat conflicted.

The terrorist, Patrick Chamusso(Derek Luke), who's telling the story, starts out the film as a foreman in a South African oil factory. This being the age of apartheid, he and his wife Precious(Bonnie Mbuli) live in modest way, although they can be considered well off as opposed to most of the other oppressed blacks down there at the time. Noyce shows the oppressive way the white cops treat the blacks almost immediately, and how Patrick's family reacts to it, showing little patience with his wanting to keep his head down and stay within the system.

Phillip is, in his way a community activist, coaching a kids' soccer team. He also has a mistress and a kid with her, and this was to lead to his downfall.

Nic Vos(Tim Robbins) is a captain in South Africa's anti-terrorist squad. He's, politically a liberal, plays folksongs on the guitar, loves his family and believes in punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent. So when there's a bombing at a the plant in which Patrick works, he has to investigate.

Now on the night in question, Patrick was away. His team had made the playoffs and thus he had Precious call him in sick in order not to lose his job [no more vacation time], this little deceit in itself is an innocent fib, what wasn't so innocent is that he made a long trip to visit his girlfriend and their kid, and when he's arrested on suspicion of doing the bombing, he insists on repeating his cover story in order not to get fired, and this leads to more brutality.

They beat up Precious offstage and show him the results, leading him to make a false confession. Vos lets them go because he believes in only punishing the guilty and protecting the public good. However this encounter with the system radicalizes Patrick and he runs off to join the African National Congress' terrorist squad, where he trains to do what he was accused of in the beginning.

So we have, instead of a hero and a villain to deal with, a hero and a counter-hero, both, to fighting the good fight in an entirely ambiguous way. This film is all grey, and had this film taken place just about anywhere else, it would have been a lot more satisfying, but is was apartheid South Africa, and you're not supposed to root for the Nazis, right? This is not a documentary, and the whole thing leaves you feeling confused, especially the dénouement. That is not what good moviemaking is all about.


Written and Directed
by Steven Zaillian

If you're going to fail, you might as well do it big. For a period of about a year, the people at Columbia pictures have been delaying and delaying the release of this film. We now know why.

The original film version of Robert Penn Warren's classic novel is a classic itself, winning a number of Oscars® back in the '50s. There was really no reason to remake this but Steve Zaillian did it anyway, but there was no way to update it, for the story of the transformation of Willie Stark(Sean Penn) from farmer to liberal political activist to corrupt governor is timeless. The acting is really good, although Sean Penn is a bit over the top where he's not supposed to be. The problem is in the storytelling. It just doesn't jell.

As in the book, the main character is not Willie Stark, but Jack Burden(Jude Law), the journalist he seduces into working for him. It's through Jack's eyes that we see political flunkies Tiny Duffy(James Gandolfini) and Sadie Burke (Patricia Clarkson)
seduce a naïve and idealistic Willie Stark with the glittering prize of a governorship that they don't really want him to get.

It's at this point that we see an abrupt change from idealist to cynic, but we don't see the change from cynic to fiend. All of a sudden, the golden hearted activist is now a crook who cheats on his wife (Talia Balsam) and has gone from teetotaler to raging drunk.

The part concerning the Stanton siblings (Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo) is cursory at best, and Jack's investigation of his old mentor Judge Irwin (Anthony Hopkins), is awkward.

We don't get any of the characters, and as such the thing gets really boring. I myself had to fight to keep awake during most of the screening. The real tragedy is that Steven Zaillian didn't seem to know what to do with the material, and thus have come up short.

The Last Kiss

Directed by
Tony Goldwyn

Michael(Zach Braff) and Jenna(Jacinda Barrett) have been in a state of living together “in sin” for about five years now. She's pregnant with his kid, and they're both 29 and very happy with each other and the situation, and not only that, her parents (Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson) actually like him. It's quite clear that they must be destroyed.

We meet our soon-to-be-victims at a friends wedding, where age-old pals Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen), Chris (Casey Affleck), and Izzy(Michael Weston) and their various significant others are also guests. Aside from Kenny, who's happy just going from one meaningless relationship to another, the other two are in either disintegrating or destroyed relationships. The penultimate flareup between Izzie and his ex is something that jars Michael to some extent, and this state leaves him venerable to the wiles of 20-year-old Kim (Rachel Bilson), a college student who's in the mood for a fling with an older man.

This film walks the razor's edge between romantic comedy and tragedy. We know that Chris can't take the change that his wife
Lisa (Lauren Lee Smith) has made since they had their child, we don't know if this is going to be repaired, or should be repaired.

These are Gen-Xers facing the onset of full adulthood, facing an premature mid-life crisis, and the whole thing isn't particularly pretty. The problem is that of identification. We're supposed to identify with Michael, but he's acting like a cad seems to unforced that we're not exactly sure we want to root for him or not. Another problem is that Kim is so extremely likeable a character that we're not sure whether we want the “adultery” to succeed or not.

There's also the counterpoint in the temporary breakup of Jenna's parent's marriage, which can lead to an assumption that this is in fact anti-marriage propaganda. The thing is, is that it's too cute by half and there's too much pain for it to be merely a comedy, and too much cuteness to be a decent drama.

The acting is better than average, and Wilkinson and Danner are especially good. Barrett and Bramf blossom near the end of the film, and the former gets close to brilliant. Its not really a date movie, but it's something that will provoke conversation.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Saturday morning

We're into the swing of things now. There's nothing but movies. I've got a few party invites, but I don't know if I've got the time for them.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Directed by
Larry Charles

Sacha Baron Cohen is in deep trouble in the heart of Central Asia. The reason he isn't yet in trouble anywhere else is that the Kazakh people don't yet have an equal rights committee like the Poles currently do. However they do have an army, and if he ever sets foot in Alma Ata he's going to get lynched.

You see, what Cohen and partner in crime Larry Charles have done is one long ethnic joke, victimizing the Kazakhs and their culture while pretending to make fun of the Americans and theirs. Yeah, it's racist, yeah it's offensive, but this is the funniest movie of the year and no one is going to be able to say otherwise unless they speak Kazakhstani.

This film is the equivalent of a Saturday Night Live sketch extension film. In Baron Cohen's “Da Ali G Show” Borat Sagdiyev (SB-C) is a foreign correspondent from you-know-where and asks astoundingly stupid questions [like Ali G] to genuine politicians and religious leaders, who are generally clueless as to what is really going on. So except for a couple of scenes, that's what our hero and his producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian) do across this great land of North America.

Borat and Azmat have been sent to the good ol' USA to do a documentary on what makes America great. But before that we get to look at what makes Kazakhstan great, like the “running of the Jew” festival and the fact that our hero's sister is the number four prostitute in the entire country. It's horrible, but you just can't stop yourself from laughing.

Once they get there, they do the usual shtick from the TV show, but that doesn't make for more than fifteen minutes, so SBC concocts a plot where he falls in love with Pamela Anderson(Herself) and takes a trip through the heart of the American south where he hobnobs with the locals. It gets funnier and funnier. You feel ashamed of yourself for falling on the floor with tears in your eyes gulping for air as you gaffauh your lungs out through your windpipe.

The best, or possibly worst thing in the film is the fight scene between Borat and Azmat where the two wrestle butt naked all the way from their hotel room to the lobby, with computerized censor marks over their dicks in such a way as it actually looks like you can see them and they're a couple of feet long swinging like elephant trunks. It's gross, yet brilliant at the same time. If you don't have a weak stomach, you have to see this thing. The guiltiest pleasure of the year.

Stranger than Fiction

Directed by
Marc Forster

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an auditor for the IRS. He leads an extremely humdrum life, doing things with mathematical precision, that is until he discovers his has a narrator. How he does this is by hearing a voice in his head describing exactly what he's doing. This doesn't happen all the time, only sometimes. This is merely annoying until the narrator, novelist Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) says the words “unbeknownst to Harold Crick…he's going to die.”

This is something of a wake-up call.

So he tries a number of doctors, the last of whom is a professor of literature by the name of Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who has agreed to help him on his quest to at least silence his narrator by finding out what kind of literature our hero is trapped inside of.

One key is Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a baker and auditee who Harold has begun to fall in love with. Is he in a romantic comedy, in which he's going to marry her, or is it a tragedy in which he's going to die, and speaking of that…

Kay has writer's block. She's had it for years, and her publisher has sent their writer's block specialist, Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) to help her kill off poor Harold, who gets more desperate by the day.

This is where Jim Carrey's career began to sputter. He did a film called “The Majestic” in which he decided to do something a little more serious after getting stiffed by the Oscar® people for two absolutely brilliant performances. Will Ferrell is trying to be taken seriously here, and gives a good, but not great performance. The comedy is in the situation and not character. Any actor with a modicum of talent can do such stuff, there's no scenery chewing or a quirky character with lots of emoting to do. Harold is just a normal guy doing normal things, in other words, boring. It's Hoffman and Thompson who have the fun parts, and both manage to overwhelm both Ferrell and Queen Latifah, who is also famous for broad roles, and is remarkably understated. She's capable of being a straight man, and so is Ferrell, that's why it works.

Everyone can handle sitcom and they do. It's worth a bargain matinee.


Directed by
Alejandro González Iñárritu

Guns don't kill people, people kill people. People with guns that is.
Two moronic shepherds in Morocco are given a powerful rifle by their father in order to protect the goats from jackels. This is actually a completely legitimate use for the thing, but the kids are stupid, and after a bit of arguing about how powerful it is, one of them decides to shoot at a passing bus, severely wounding an American tourist named

Susan(Cate Blanchett), who is with her husband Richard (Brad Pitt), to recover over the demise of their youngest child from crib death.
They have two other kids, Debbie(Elle Fanning) and Mike(Nathan Gamble), who's being taken care of by the illegal Mexican housekeeper Amelia (Adriana Barraza). But there's a problem. Amelia's son is getting married on this particular day, and somehow Amelia has neglected to make plans as to what to do with the kids.

When she can't find anyone for the afternoon, she and her nephew
Santiago(Gael Garcia Bernal) finally conclude that they have to take the kids to Mexico, which if they had the right papers would have been a wonderful idea.

Meanwhile, in distant Japan, a deaf teenager named Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) is having problems with her father Yasujiro(Koji Yakusho), which have nothing to do with anything much, the usual teenaged girl stuff. What does this have to do with the shooting of Susan clear on the other side of the Old World?

This is as much a polemic as a drama, three groups of interconnected people, and how a single rifle can cause so much havoc that it effects, in a small way, much of the world. It's also about how western people, even if they're completely innocent are evil even, this includes the westernized Japanese.

Six degrees of separation.

The Moroccan segment is anti-western because the Western tourists are all a bunch of selfish pricks, and the American embassy makes things worse, while the locals are all wonderful and nice.

González seems to want us to sympathize with the shooters, who after all just made an innocent mistake and that the shooting, while unfortunate, wasn't that big a deal. They shouldn't have been hunted down by those evil fascist cops, right? Other, INNOCENT people might get hurt, right?

The same with the Mexican segment, the kids have a wonderful time, it's only the American border guards who ruin things. The Japanese segment is the most problematic, it's about sexual awakening, pure and simple, Cheiko really doesn't really need to be deaf in order to get the point across, that kids are alienated and horny. This is a universal theme, which has been done much better elsewhere.

The acting is terrific, especially Barraza, who manages to carry the entire segment by herself. The Moroccan kids are really good too, It's a bit long, and in the end doesn't really work all that well. This is one of those overrated things that's going to get a lot of undeserved praise. Still, it ain't all that bad, but that doesn't mean it's worth twenty bucks for a pair of movie tickets.

The Caiman (Italy)

Written and Directed
by Nanni Moretti

Silvio Burlusconi was the most influential Italian politician in recent Italian history. The reason was that he was an alleged crook and the only way he could avoid the jail is to be elected prime minister. This he was for the second longest time for anyone to hold the job since the fall of Mussolini. One of the reasons he managed this trick is because he owned the media. That's right, OWNED the media, Imagine Rupert Murdoch being President while still owning all those newspapers and TV stations.

Auteur Nanni Moretti is not a Burlusconi fan by any means. He and others of the left in the media wanted to do a decent satire, but with the Prime Minister now in control of 90% of the private and all the public TV and radio stations, it was impossible to get financing for a full frontal attack. So Moretti decided to do a slightly oblique approach.

Bruno Bonomo(Silvio Orlando) is a failure. The once-upon-a-time film producer is on his last legs. He hasn't produced a film in years and that last one, which starred his future wife Paola(Margherita Buy) was the biggest flop of the year. So he married her and had a couple of kids. He loves his kids, but his wife no longer loves him, and divorce is in the air. When we first meet him, he's at a screening of the abovementioned, now ten years old, film. Just before the film starts, a woman holding a baby gives him a script for a film called “The Caiman”.

The next day, the director of his latest project quits on the day before he was to have an interview with the public TV network RAI to fund the project. Completely depressed, he thumbs through the screenplay, and we see it, as the Caiman (Elio De Capitani) starts his career by getting a trunk of money from God himself fall through his ceiling. He uses this to get himself a TV network and then take over Italy's media.

Intrigued, Bruno decides to pitch the project to RAI instead of the other project, which just fell through, and when that falls through, the other finacial venues, which mostly include his old pal Jerzy Sturovski(Jerzy Stuhr), but only if famed actor Marco Pulici(Michele Placido) takes the part, which he eventually does, for a while

Novice Writer/Director Teresa(Jasmine Trinca), a lesbian mother of one, is thrilled of course, and soon we're in a three ring circus, one is Bruno's family life, then there's his professional life, and finally there's the Caiman, itself. Going back and forth brings in an air of dizziness to the proceedings, as Bruno begins to get his second wind as a filmmaker as his family life falls apart. Finally the whole thing falls apart, and then we have what must be a fantasy sequence of sort, in which Moretti himself takes the role of the Caiman and we get a chilling ending. Fortunately, Burlusconi lost the election, which took place after the film was made. What's interesting is that this may have worked even without making any mention of Burlusconi…

Friday, September 08, 2006

Day four, early morning

Well, it's back to the good old Varsity multiplex, where we easilly get back into the swing of things. Things are going to get hot and heavy today, yesterday was too, but had a decent pace with only four films to see:


Written and Directed
by Debbie Isitt

Here we go again: yet another spoof of reality television. The ultimate parody was a thing called “Series 7” [rent it], but if you can't find it at the video shop, this'll do very nicely.

The title refers to a wedding magazine, whose chief editorial staff (Felicity Montagu and Jimmy Carr) thinks that this year's “wedding of the year” competition should be one for the most original [read: “bizarre”] one, it sounds like something which has already been done, and perhaps there was a pilot for a show like this, but this is a procedural flick and we're going to see the entire process.

We begin with the pitches. It's clear that they're not going to do the most original theme wedding because the some of the failed pitches are more interesting than the three they like, which are:
Matt(Martin Freeman) and Sam(Jessica Stevenson) want to do a 1930s Hollywood musical-themed wedding, Josef(Stephen Mangan) and Isabelle(Meredith MacNeill) want to do a Tennis themed nuptial, and finally, Michael(Robert Webb) and Joanna (Olivia Colman) are nudists and want to do it in the buff.

So the magazine hires Famed gay wedding consultants Archie Heron(Vincent Franklin) and Gregory Hough (Jason Watkins) to plan the events, which are to take place at the same venue and the games officially begin.

Auteur Debbie Isitt wrote a treatment but not a script. In order to keep this spontaneous, all the dialogue was improvised so when
Matt's best friend Snoopy (Mark Wootton) auditions a wedding song for the couple and the planner, it's a punker “you make me sick” kind of thing, and the use of the actor's real friends and relations [Isabelle's tennis coach is really a tennis coach]. Some of it works and some of it doesn't, the important thing is that the hits far outnumber the misses. On the other hand, there's no suspense, as we know who's going to win the entire time. This makes some of the other stuff going on a bit more poignant.

This is something to see if you're actually betrothed or have just come back from a honeymoon. Not great but, quite cute.


Directed by
Paul Goldman

19-year old Katrina Skinner(Emily Barclay) is evil. Pure unadulterated evil. she's even more evil that her brother Danny(Laurence Breuls), who's in jail for life [he decapitated a clerk with a samurai sword] and that's saying something. Her long-suffering father John((Robert Morgan) and his longtime girlfriend Dianne (Genevieve Lemon) have had enough of her shananagens, which includes things like being the official town slut and shoplifting , and are threatening to do something about it. Kat has a baby named Bailee (some kid), and with no prospects for a career, which she doesn't want anyway, action must be taken.

So the film begins with what the immediate aftermath of said action, namely her dad's funeral. The film takes the mockumentery format, with faux interviews with the various characters done in a grainy video while the flashbacks of the events leading to the death of Dad are done in film. We follow Kat as she wreaks havoc with the lives of her boyfriend Rusty (Michael Dorman), an innocent manicurist named Lilya(Mia Wasikowska) Danny's retarded best friend Kenny(Anthony Hayes) and the family of Constable Andretti(Steve Baston), who is on the case. This is an Aussie black comedy as we've come to expect it, very punk and a sense of right and wrong, but just not caring.

Barclay's Kat is sort of like Paris Hilton on steroids, she's a train wreck and is having a great time being one. The rest of the cast is decent. This is not a great film, but its kind of fun.


Written and Directed
by Ken Loach

What is the difference between terrorism and revolution? What are the rules of war when only one side agrees to play by them? And when the game is over, what if one side doesn't actually want to stop playing? That's the tragedy of Ireland in the first quarter of the 20th century. Ken Loach tries to answer that in what seems to be biased retelling of the history of the Irish revolution and civil war which followed it.

When we first meet him, Dr. Damien O'Conner(Cillian Murphy) is a pacifist who's going to go work in London, when the war ruins his plans. He and his brother Teddy(Padraic Delaney) are playing a form of field hockey with his friends Micheail(Laurence Barry), Finbar (Damien Kearney),Leo(Frank Bourke), Rory(Myles Horgan), Dan(Liam Cunningham) and Chris(John Crean), something that has been banned by the British authorities. The “Black and Tans” get wind of this little act of rebellion and counterattack by heading to the house of Damien's girlfriend Sinead(Orla Fitzgerald) and her grandmother (Mary Riordan)s, and start harassing the players. Micheail acts defiantly obnoxious, and pays with his life.

Damien is determined to leave this all behind when he sees some soldiers try to buy some train tickets, only to be told that the engineer refuses to let them on the train. They respond with violence, and this not only ruins Damien's trip, but drives him to join the Irish Republican Army. He and his pals are now soldiers at war, except they're dressed in civies and go around like normal people, except when they meet up with the British soldiers, who suspecting the truth, treat them as the enemy. They innocently respond with murder. The British don't like this at all, and there's more reprisals, which leads to even more (this is a low level war) and we get to see our “heroes” kidnap and execute the local lord (Roger Allam) and their pal Chris, who betrayed them. Justice in the areas controlled by the revolutionaries is definitely in the communist mold, which causes dissention in the ranks.

Thing get worse when the war against the British is one and the Irish turn on each other, leading to a heartbreaking ending.

This is a brutal film of terrorism and how it works. What's strange is that Ken Loach and Paul Laverty's screenplay is very much pro-terrorist, having the anti-treaty forces in the civil war be the good guys and the leaders of the newly independent Irish government portrayed as traitors, when in fact it was the other way around.

The acting is excellent. Murphy is overdue for an Oscar®, and the rest of the cast does a bang up job. This is one heck of a scary movie. If you're interested in history, it's worth a look.

Days of Glory(Indigenes)

Written and Directed
by Rachid Bouchareb

Just when you think that every group has had it's own World War II movie, yet another group comes out of nowhere to remind us that they played a vital role in the defeat of the Nazis all those decades ago. Nothing wrong with that, but is pretty much the same thing all over again. This time, it's the North Africans, who fought under the French flag from the liberation of their country by the Americans all the way to VE day.

We start in 1943, where an uncredited mullah wanders through certain towns in Morocco and Algeria looking for recruits, and getting them easily. Among them are Said Labiri(Jamel Debbouze), a young naïf with dreams of glory, Yassir Allaoui(Samy Nacer), a sharpshooter who enlisted to get out of doing forced labor in Morocco, Messaoud Souni(Roschdy Zem), who is looking for love and can't find any back home, and Corporal Abdelkader Bellaidi (Sami Bouajila), who has been in the French army since just before the war. They are joined by their commander Sargent Martinez (Bernard Blancan), who isn't Moslem, but comes from North Africa.

While we are able to follow the characters rather easily, each of them is an everyman, who goes through the same experiences as everyone else from his ethnic group during the war. While it's nice to see this experience from a slightly different perspective, it's still the same old thing. The purpose of the film is to show that the North Africans were treated badly by the French and they also played an important part in the war to liberate Europe, and for this they should be remembered. If you're a WW2 enthusiast this may be worth a look, but Speilberg did it better with “Saving Private Ryan.”

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Day three part one

Yesterday, there was a bit of a mistake in the reviews. The film The Analyst isn't actually in the film festival. The mistake was made because the ads in the Hollywood Reporter website said that the film was screening at Toronto and gave a number of places and times. Apparently the production company was trying to gate-crash.

Now before we get to the festival, there's a review for a regular movie I want to put up, and here's why: The first film is being dumped by 20th century Fox and isn't even opening in New York! Only LA, Toronto, Chicago and Austin, Texas. I blew ten bucks Canadian to see it:


Written and directed
by Mike Judge

Eugenics, the art and science of breeding people, has been mostly taboo subject since the Nazis were defeated back in 1945. Whether or not it's a good idea to bring it up is neither here nor there, but one would think that the last person to try to restart the movement would be the creator of “Bevis and Butthead,” and “In-bread Fred.”

Maybe it's shame for the above works, or it might be that he's just an arrogant sonofabitch who thinks he's better then the people he's been entertaining for the last twenty years or so.

Judge begins with a lecture taking place the late part of the third millennium, in which his eugenic theories are explained. The smart people don't have the time to have kids, and when they finally get around to it, they're too old to have them, and must resort to expensive medical procedures that don't usually work, while morons generally breed with wild abandon. He uses an animated family tree to show exactly what he means, just in case we, his audience, don't understand. So with the stupid not dying out as is the good old fashioned social Darwinist way, the population becomes dumber and dumber and corporate America takes control, but soon the people in charge are just as dumb as the unwashed masses.

Cut to the year 2005, where the Pentagon is doing a top secret project put people into cryogenic sleep until they're needed.
What they need is a test subject that's as average as possible, so they turn to Corporal Joe Bowers(Luke Wilson), who is as average as they come. Since they need a female too, and they don't have any completely average women in the military, they have to go to the private sector, in this case a whore named Rita(Maya Rudolph).

Since morons run the military, the project is cancelled and forgotten before Joe and Rita can be thawed, and they wind up in a garbage dump for five hundred years. When the dump somehow collapses, our hero and heroine are thrust into the brave new world of 2505, where they have some amazing technology, but no one smart enough to actually run it.

The rest of the movie is basically a satirical critique of the current cultural situation. It's a world where people talk in a cross between ghetto jive and Appalachian drawl, few people can read and no one can add, and the crops don't grow because the makers of gatoraide consider water to be too competitive a drink and the crops are given that instead.

The people are not just stupid, but truly morons, our hero's lawyer, Frito (Dax Shepard), doesn't know what he's doing and is a big fan of the violence channel, and President Comacho (Terry Alan Crews) isn't any smarter. There should be some geniuses behind the scenes, but it seems that there aren't any, there are some really funny bits here, but it begins to make one queasy after a while.

It's said that some of the companies lampooned here got so mad that the film was delayed a year and then given only a very limited release [which included Toronto but not New York]. While the cast gives a good performance, Judge's arrogance just rubs the wrong way, and in the end, we've got a mediocre comedy that is going to come and go before we know it. Fox is going to bury it, and it's understandable why.

We now return to our regular programming....


Directed by
Laurent Herbiet

For the French, it always comes back to Algeria. The colonial war between the French and the Muslims that took place between 1954 and 1962 is the core of everything having to do with the relations between Moslems and Europeans for the last half century or more, and is timely for the simple reason that many in the Arab world think that it's the operative precedent for just about everything since.

Costa Gravas does as well, and he and his wife have written a screenplay about murder and war is meant to be an allegory of the War in Iraq. There is no parallel, of course, but the story is, in it's way compelling.

When the film opens, we see retired Colonel Raoul Duplan (Olivier Gourmet) telling someone offstage to get out of his house, which the person does after shooting him.

There is now a murder to be solved and since the colonel died right after making an appearance on TV defending some of the nastier practices of the Algerian war, the French JAG corps appoints Lieutenant Galois(Cécile De France) to investigate. They have nothing to go on until a mysterious package from the murderer arrives, containing the decades-old journal of a lieutenant Guy Rossi (Robinson Stévenin). The action in the diary is filmed in black and white and the ”present day' [which is clearly shown to be sometime in either the 1980s or early '90s] in color, which actually makes a great deal of sense if you think about it.

Rossi is a leftist who joined the army after his love affair ended badly and ended up in Algeria. Here he meets Colonel Duplan, who's job it is to protect the French colonialists, who are under attack by the terrorists/freedom fighters and is hamstrung by the fact that the civilian authorities(Philippe Chevallier and Guillaume Gallienne) wish to pretend that there is no war and believe that the rebels have rights and such. Reidacher(Bruno Solo) the local prefect of police, doesn't quite agree with this, but he's hamstrung.

So the Colonel, his second-in-command Capitaine Roger (Georges Siatidis) and Rossi start doing things off the books, something which Rossi begins to chafe at. This leads to more problem.

Is Rossi, who allegedly went missing in action back in the '50s, the murderer? How are the rules of war to be applied when only one side agrees to fight by them? That was the conundrum posed by the Algerian war and all those that came after. It's clear that to some, only the immediate surrender to any and all resistance movements by the authorities is warranted.

This clearly isn't true, but the argument for it makes for some rather compelling cinema.

Dark Blue Almost Black

Written and Directed
by Sanchez Arevalo

Jorge's(Quim Gutierrez) life has been totally wasted. The reason is pure guilt. He's declared that he doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps and spend the rest of his life as a janitor like his father(Hector Colome). After this declaration, dad prompltly has a stroke, and our hero is stuck for the next seven years taking care of dad and working at a dead-end job he vowed to reject. Meanwhile in jail, Paula(Marta Etura) is taking an acting workshop, mainly to get away from some bitches who are harassing her.

The best way to do that is to get transferred into the maternity ward and the only way to accomplish this is to get pregnant, and fellow thespian Antonio(Antonio de la Torre) is more than happy to oblige.

Unfortunately, it is discovered that he's infertile, so he gets his brother Jorge [you knew the two halves of the story had to converge somewhere] to make conjugal visits and do the job for him, allowing Tonio and Paula to live happily ever after when they both get out.

Meanwhile, Jorge and his friend Israel(Raul Arevalo) hang out on the roof, where the latter snaps blackmail pictures of the massage parlor across the way, and Jorge begins a romance with his old school sweetheart Natalia(Eva Pallares), who's just come back from Germany, and begins looking for a better job. This has the makings for a snarky romantic comedy, but somehow, it isn't funny. The jokes don't work at all, and we're not sure whether or not they're supposed to.

The acting is fine, but the story seems uncomfortable within it's own skin. It's light at heart but too serious in the head. We don't know whether or not this is drama or not. Interesting try, though.

OPERA JAWA Indonesia/Austria
Pyramide films 120min)

Written and Directed
by Garin Nugroho

Central Java is Moslem. This is important to know because otherwise this film would be totally incoherent. Come to think of it, it doesn't matter as the film is that anyway. It's one of those things that doesn't translate, which is a pity, as it's clear that Garin Nugroho is proud of his country's cultural heritage. This is fine, but telling a story is important too.

What the film is, is a musical film adaptation of the Ramayana, a classical epic hugely popular in countries influenced by Hinduism. Now Java used to be Hindu and Buddhist before the Moslems got there, and their literature managed to survive the mass conversions of the 15th century, mainly as the subject of shadow puppet shows, and dances in the gamelan tradition. Now if you don't know what it is, you'll know it when you see it.

The story is about a happily married couple named Siti(Aritika Sari Devi) and Setyo(Martinus Miroto), she's a housewife and he's a potter. It seems that the Evil Ludiro(Edo Supreiyanto) has the hots for Siti and uses his magical powers to abduct her, leading to all sorts of nastiness. Only we don't know how he does it, there's something do with wicker cones, but other than that it's all one unexplainable mess. This despite the introduction which shows us clearly the pig liver the narrator, who leaves immediately never to return, claims to have gotten the entire “truth” from. Cultural quirks like Moslems [who officially HATE pig livers and should have nothing to do with them, nor the rest of the animal] reading animal entrails don't exactly endear us to the veracity of the story, nor the lack of characterization for all but the villain, who seems to be a mama's boy with megalomaniacal intentions.

Not that it matters much, because the damn thing is so confusing that if you don't know the entire story, you won't make heads or tails of it whatsoever. Getting confused isn't why we go to the movies. Ik.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Day two, part one

So here we are on our first morning in Canada, I had trouble with the newspaper machines around the corner and there wasn't much news, the headline in the SUN being that a six-year-old kid was thrown off an airplane at Pearson airport for throwing a temper tantrum. He was going alone and the plane hadn't taken off yet.

Another victory in the war on terrorism!

Speaking of which, American troops accidently killed some Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, and NDP leader Jack Layton is demanding NATO start negotiating a surrender with the Taliban (presumably ours, not theirs).

Now since I've been going to screenings back home and the festival has actually sort of begun, here are a bunch of reviews for films opening at the festival:


Written and Directed
by Pedro Almodovar

Almodovar is back! Not that he ever actually left, but he's decided to go back to his roots in a charming pseudo-fantasy with a little bit of murder added into the mix.

Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) is going to visit her aged aunt
Paula (Chus Lampreave) with her sister Sole (Lola Duenas) and daughter, also named Paula (Yohana Cobo), in a village out in the boonies. When they get there they find the place surprisingly neat and clean for a senile old woman living on her own with only an occasional visit from her neighbor Agustina (Blanca Portillo), who tells the principles about reports that the house is haunted! Apparently Irene (Carmen Maura), the mother of Sole and Rainmunda, has come back from the dead to take care of her.

When they get back from the trip, the gals discover Rainmunda's husband Paco (Antonio de la Torre) has just been fired and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, something which leads to a major tragedy, which has nothing to do with the elder Paula's death.

Sole returns from the funeral unknowing that her mom is in the hatch at the back of her car. The most of rest of the film has to do pondering the following question: Is Mom a ghost or a faker?

Until recently, Almodovar has been concerned primarily with the lives and inner thoughts of women, and with this he's back in form. The script is tight, the plot twists logical and exiting, and the acting is superb. Carmen Maura, who has been in a number of his previous films, sparkles as the dead mother, and Cruz gives her best performance in years. The rest of the cast does a bang-up job too.

The film is deep, the scenery beautiful, and except for a little excess misandry, this film is flawless. See it.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon

A documentary directed by
David Leaf and John Scheinfeld

Who is John Sinclair and what does he have to do with John Lennon and Yoko Ono? He was a drug dealer and pot legalization activist, who was busted for selling two joints to an undercover cop. Getting him out of jail through a massive 1971 rock concert was the greatest success of the anti-war movement and it scared the Nixon administration to the bone.

This was the tipping point in the paranoiac Nixon administration's war on dissent. This led to Watergate, the dirty tricks, the whole ball of wax. It also led to the years-long effort to get Lennon deported, which ultimately failed. Nixon's test case for the repression planned for the rest of us.

This is what a documentary should be. It's interesting, it's entertaining, and what most important, it's fair and balanced. That's right, fair and balanced. This is not one of those one-sided propaganda flicks, which gives a false and skewed version of events. No. This actually gives a complete, well-rounded picture of what was going on back in the day, and it's truly illuminating.

The talking heads are pretty much the usual suspects: Yoko, a few family friends, Sinclair, representatives of the far left and far right, Walter Cronkite, John Dean and a few repentant FBI agents. They also have some fascinating clips, not only of Lennon making music and love in bed and other places, and shots of the great anti-war moratorium of 1971 and the Democratic convention of 1968, but John and Yoko taking over the Mike Douglas show, interviewing the likes of Bobby Seale, who were spouting some gawdawful stuff. The lefties were most certainly harassed and bugged by the FBI, but they also were saying what J. Edger Hoover and the paranoiacs in the Nixon administration wanted to hear: These people were definitely WERE trying to overthrow the government, something that Lennon and Ono realized a bit to late. They were dupes to some extent, and this is something the documentarians made quite clear. They also tried to extricate themselves from it to some extent, but it was too late.

The case itself is gone over in a straightforward manner. The lawyer they hired did a great job and if John and Yoko weren't rich, they'd have been booted. This is one of the best docs of the year and may actually get an Oscar nom.

Miramax Films, 105mins, R

Directed by
Christian Volckman

It's a little known fact on this side of the Atlantic, but comics are bigger in France than they are in Japan. Everyone reads them, and BD [for Band Desuneé-comic strips], and quite a few movies have been based on them. The gimmick for this particular film is that the look and feel of BD has been translated onto the screen. It took five years worth of production time to get it to look that way, and you can see every penny.

It's the year 2054. Ilona Tasuiev(Romola Garai), a scientist working for a Big Pharma conglomerate called Avalon, has been looking for a secret maguffin for a while now, and having almost gotten it, has been kidnapped by some nefarious baddies.

Since this is a major case, the Paris police department has assigned top cop Capt. Barthélémy Karas (Daniel Craig) to find her. This isn't as easy as it seems, as the last person to see her alive was her skanky slacker sister Bislane (Catherine Mccormack), and she doesn't know very much.

Avalon senior VP Paul Dellenbach(Jonathan Pryce) seems worried, but is he? And what of Dr. Jonas Muller(Ian Holm)? Is he really the kindly doctor that he seems to be or is there a sinister background to be uncovered? And who are those sneaky men in the invisibility suits working for? But the term “film noir” was coined in France, no?

The question is whether the gimmick works or not. What Volckman and company tried to do is to create a new and different Paris than the one we're used to, one more like the Gothum City of the Batman films, or Roberto Rodreguez's “Sin City” This looks like a comic book come to life, and as such you can accept more of the absurd parts of the SF storyline. On the other hand, the story isn't all that interesting and the twist at the end can be seen from a mile off.

A worth effort: close but no cigar.

Weinstein Co., 93mins, PG

Directed by
Geoffrey Sax

What we've got here is a case of self-betrayal. Anthony Horowitz is a children's author who created a character named Alex Ryder, sort of a James Bond, Jr. type who gets to save the world during recess or some such rot. The books, according to the various reviews put up on Amazon are rather good, and he's written several other volumes in the series that seem to be selling well, but the screenplay he wrote for the film version of the series' first book is a bit of a mess.

The film starts rather nicely, with super-spy Ian Rider (Ewan McGregor), being chased by a bunch of nasties, while his 14-year-old nephew Alex(Alex Pettyfer) is reading a report to his class about how he has no parents and his uncle is never there. The chase scene is cute, but seems too much like out of one of the Roger Moore James Bond movies, you know, the ones where we fans of Sean Connery were hoping that MGM would put Mr. Bond out of his misery…well this is sort of like that, and after blowing away a couple of dozen bad guys, our hero calls home to say that he's going to be a little late for dinner. That's when the villainous
Yassen Gregorovich (Damian Lewis) climbs down from his helicopter and shoots him. Cut to the opening credits.

With our young hero orphaned again, so to speak, he and his caretaker/mommy substitute Jack(Alicia Silverstone) discover the truth, and so our hero is dragooned into working for MI6, Britian's spy agency. Unfortunately, this isn't the organization James Bond worked for, but the one Austin Powers did. MI6 boss Alan Blunt(Bill Nighy) and his deputy, Mrs. Jones(Sophie Okonedo) are cartoon characters in human drag, and the bad guy, Darrius Sayle(Mickey Rourke), and his two top flunkies: Mr. Grin(Andy Serkis) and Teutonic ice-maiden Nadia Vole(Missi Pyle), actually dress as if they were. This doesn't help matters, especially due to the schizophrenic nature of the film.

It goes back and forth between cartooniness and actual action-hero stuff, and thus there's really no sense of danger, even when Alex is dangling from a rope at 10 thousand feet. Pettyfer is okay. He's a pretty boy with athletic skills and can actually emote from time to time, it's just the rest of the cast hamming it up that really grates. If you're going to do comedy, do comedy. If you don't: don't.

The fact that the books were full of humor should have informed the director that it should have been jokier, but no. This is as serious as a heart attack with a Snidely Whiplash/Wile E. Coyote plotline, which is why this fails. Maybe it's just as well that there won't be any more of these. I don't know if Alex has much of a fanbase here. We'll see.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Day one, part two

Our first full day in Toronto is consumed with screenings and getting credentials, it's the same as last year and the years before. There's nothing wrong with that. I managed to see a number of flicks yesterday afternoon, and these we now begin the hot and heavy business of seeing so many movies per day as to cause exhaustion.

...good thing I've been working out.

Robson Entertainment 104min, UK

A Documentery
By Lucy Walker

Sabriye Tenberken is an amazing person, having gone blind at the age of twelve, she grew up wanting to be an educator in third world countries, and co-founded an organization called “Braille without Borders” which, among other things, funded her dream to set up a school for the blind, in of all places, Lasa, Tibet. She managed to do this successfully despite the opposition of the Chinese government.

Not only that, she went into the countryside on horseback and recruited students, something unheard of anywhere in the world. The thing is a wild success, especially in Tibet, where the pious Buddhist population believes that blind people are being punished for the awful things they did in a previous life.

Back in 2001, Miss Tenberken read a story on the internet about a
blind climber Erik Weihenmayer, who had just become the first person with his disability to climb Mt. Everest. So, she emailed him with the invitation to give a inspirational talk to her students.

Weihenmayer had other ideas.

What he wanted to do is get a group of the students the school and take them to the Everest Base Camp, from which they would climb Lhakpa Ri, a smaller peak right next to the great mountain, which is still 23 thousand feet above sea level. The ultimate field trip.

The filmmaker goes back and forth between preparations for the trip and interviews with the families of the kids, most of whom thought they had gotten rid of these young burdens, and are quite bemused. The most interesting student is Tashi, who was Chinese, and had been sold into slavery by his parents and somehow wound up in Lasa. The quest to find his parents is almost as arduous as the trek to the Himalayas.

That, despite the fact that even a person in tip top shape would have a tough time with it, is actually the easiest part. True Tashi and some of the girls have problems with altitude sickness, and the mission could very well fail, but the ride is a heartwarming one and this is a very cute film indeed.

International premiere

Directed by
Lee Jun-ik

There's no business like show business and that's been true for many centuries. In Shakespeare's time, there were tales of theater troops who have changed history, and the bard, in fact wrote about it in his famous play “Hamlet,” were the melancholy Dane got a troupe to perform a version of the murder of his father.

Apparently, something like that happened in far away Korea just about 80 years before, and this is a far more sinister use of political theater than the bard had in mind, if such a thing can be imagined.

Acrobat and stand-up comedian Jang-seng (Kam Woo-seong) and his pal and foil Gong-gil (Lee Jun-gi), who specializes in female roles, tour the provinces of old Korea doing stylized dancing and tightrope walking to the joy of the local rubes. Gong-gil, also turns tricks as a male hooker, which drives Jang up the wall, and when a rich guy becomes the “straw that breaks the camel's back” Jang takes action, now both minstrels are on the run.

Now one of the best places to hide is the big city, and thus our two heroes head to Seoul, where they come upon a rival troupe, and after a cute contest of skills decide to join forces. Jang is now their captain. It is here that he make a fatal decision, he's going to become a political satirist…Not a very wise idea in feudal Northeast Asia. Especially, with, as the prologue states, the worst king of the entire Chosen Dynasty!

Having the worst king reign over you can be dangerous, but it makes for great satiric fun, and Jang, Gong, and their cohorts, who were starving, are suddenly extremely popular and have full bellies.

However, the government is always present, and our troupe is in the royal dungeon about to get whipped to death, when Jang gets another brave idea. He demands that the king himself watch the show, and if he laughs at it, they're all innocent, and should go free. If not?

Well, we don't have to think about that because both the ruthless King Yonsan (Jeong Jin-yeong) and his ambitious consort, Nok-su (Gang Seong-yeon) both love how they're portrayed. Our heroes are saved! But the king, being a megalomaniacal type, who never got over how the older members of the court had his mother whacked, has uses for the art of political satire, and soon a comedy sketch is a prologue to something not so funny. Not only that, his majesty suddenly has turned queer and is lusting after Gong-lil [who looks pretty good in drag] this new wrinkle makes things even more complicated.

This could have been a really schizophrenic film, going from comedy to thriller and back again, with the psychosexual ramifications of all this oozing into our heads while we marvel at the stunt-work, which is really nifty, and laugh at the jokes, which even though they're possibly five hundred years old, are still very funny. No wonder that this was the second biggest homegrown hit film in Korea last year. The acting is really good, especially Jeong as the evil king. He has a wonderful time chewing the scenery and is one of the most sympathetic monsters in Asian cinema in recent years. Kam is even better, with the “crying on the inside and laughing on the outside” shtick done perfectly. This is really cool.