Friday, October 24, 2008

Family Guy

Seth McFarlane, 2008 (8.2*)
Hey, there's a new Family Guy DVD out, Vol. 6... if you haven't seen this hilarious animated show from Seth McFarlane, you should - it's the next best thing to the Simpson's on TV... In fact, check out ALL the volumes from the beginning. Excellent writing, very witty...

Here's a blurb about the new set from my buddy John at M80:
A pop culture phenomenon the collection features the show’s 100th episode and a total of 12 edgy episodes from Seasons Five and Six. Catch the Griffin clan’s ridiculously hilarious antics such as Stewie’s not-so-successful attempt to kill Lois, Brian’s discovery that he is a father and patriarch Peter’s frequent visits to the Drunken Clam.

Family Guy videos & images:

YouTube Channel:

Highly recommended! Though some may find some language offensive, as intended by the producers.
... the Jman


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Nowhere in Africa

Caroline Link, Germany, 2001 (9.0*)

Best Foreign Film (AA)
Terrific story of a Jewish family who decides to move to Kenya from Germany to escape the Nazis just before World War 2. This is a riveting and very personal story, perfectly acted and constructed.

The majority of the story involves the wife, brilliantly played by Juliane Kohler, and her only child, a daughter. The film spans years, we get to see the effect of being far removed from a homeland has on the parents, and the effect of being raised in Africa on the daughter.

African actor Merab Ninidze is terrific and extremely likeable as the family's cook, who quietly helps them all cope with life in Africa. This film was everything Out of Africa should have been, it's much more real and believable, and more humane. This is a film I can watch again and again. One Oscar - Caroline Link becoming just the 2nd woman to win an Oscar® for directing a foreign language film. Marlene Gorris (Netherlands) was the first, in 1996 for Antonia's Line.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Samurai 1: Musashi Miyamoto

Dir: Hiroshi Inagaki, Japan, 1954 (8.4*)

Best Foreign Film (AA)
This samurai epic has some breathtaking cinematography, that alone elevating it a class above the average Japanese film, deservedly got an Oscar for Foreign Film... the director Hiroshi Inagaki is the star here, the actors, including the famous Tishiro Mifune, are truly just pieces of his vision which includes the poetic, yet overwhelming landscape. The only drawback, other than slowish pacing, is that the film (from Criterion) is in fullscreen, not wide. The first part of a trilogy by Inagaki, it comes as a set also.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Chungking Express

Wong Kar-Wai, 1994, Hong Kong (9.1*)

This crime and romance film is probably the best example of the sometimes flashy cinematic style of Wong Kar-Wai. Much of the film is shot with a shaky, hand held camera, and the process works great for city crowd shots, such as a blurred mob at a bus stop, and works best of all during street crimes, where the images and fast action seem exactly what the crime must be like for both victims and witnesses. This is a film in two parts (don't look for a novelish story plot either), with a third intended but due to length, Wong released the third part as another film, Fallen Angels. The Japanese actress, Faye Wang, who works at the express noodle stand is one of their pop music stars, this was her first film and she's a natural. Well-known Asian actor Tony Leung (In the Mood for Love, Hero, 2046, Lust Caution) is also in the noodle stand half.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Not One Less

Dir: Zhang Yimou, China, 2000 (7.8*)

This is one of the slower Yimou films, but still worth seeing, as are they all. The story involves a 13-yr old girl who must substitute in a rural mountain school when the teacher has to go on personal leave for one month. He offers her an extra 50 yuan if there is "not one less student" when he returns (due to kids dropping out), so it becomes the girls guiding principle in running the school, full of students not much younger than her. When one student goes to a nearby city to work to pay his family's debt, the girl, brilliantly portrayed by Wei Minzhi, is determined to bring him back. This is a more touching story for the fact that Yimou used not professional actors but actual real life people to portray their own "fictional" roles in the movie; that is, the head of a tv station was played by a real tv station manager, the teacher was a real elementary school teacher. The performances he elicits from children and the message of this almost propogandist statement make this film a must-see.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Closely Watched Trains

Jirí Menzell, Czechoslovakia, 1966, bw (7.7*)

Best Foreign Film (AA)
This offbeat film is about a young, bumbling apprentice train dispatcher in a small Czech town during the Nazi occupation. It's an odd time frame for a romantic comedy about losing one's virginity, while being surrounded by others also more interested in amorous activities than some silly world war. It's almost as if the war inside everyone's pants takes precedence, one hardly notices the real war, just some occasional German train officials who come around to talk about "watching the trains closely".

There's not a lot of substance here, but some tasteful comedy about virginity and lust, and mildly erotic scenes done in good taste, especially a famous one involving rubber-stamping a flirtatious teenage girl inside the dispatcher's station. One Oscar


Friday, October 3, 2008

Lust, Caution

Dir: Ang Lee, China, 2007 (7.4*)

Another beautifully shot love story from Ang Lee (Eat Drink Man Woman, Crouching Tiger, Ice Storm, Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain), this one taking place during World War II, in occupied Shanghai. Tony Leung (Hero, In the Mood for Love, 2046) is a Chinese collaborator, a government official for the Japanese occupation government. Wei Tang is a beautiful young student, whose acting troup at the university becomes political, and starts doing work for the resistance. Eventually their paths cross, and they become involved on two levels at once. This is a slowly unfolding erotic romance wrapped inside an espionage tale during a brutal period of Asian history. Beautiful cinematography, dark rich colors, it has the look of Vittorio Storaro who shot the best films of Bertolucci and Coppola. Received Golden Globe and BAFTA (British academy) nominations for Foreign Language Film.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

All About My Mother

Pedro Almodovar, 1999, Spain (7.8*)

Best Foreign Film (AA, BAA)
Almodovar's cinematic homage to women reaches new heights in this Oscar® winner, he even dedicates it to: "All women who play actresses, all women, and all those who want to be women", so aside from real women, the cast also includes some gender-benders. The film begins with people watching Bette Davis in All About Eve, so the connection to 50's dramas about women is made immediately by Almodovar.

It's a fictionalized account of the mother of a teenager who wants to be a screenwriter, a mother who once was an actress apparently, but nothing big. Her life connects with some real stage actresses (doing Tennessee Williams' "Streecar Named Desire"), and the stories of each individual is really what Almodovar's films are all about: the unique, creative people all around who inspire his films, especially women. The Argentinian actress, Cecelia Roth, who plays the mother, was riveting - soapy, yet sincere and believable. The music, I believe by Antonio Inglesias, is very good in all Almodovar's films, and it never intrudes on the scene.

One Oscar® and one of just five films (The Lives of Others, Babette's Feast, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Cinema Paradiso) to win both the U.S. and British academy awards for foreign language film.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Dir: Andrei Konchalovsky, 1979, Russia, 6 hrs. (7.5*)
This massive 6-hr production looks like it was made for Russian tv, a mini-series in 4 parts about 90 minutes each; since the film was also fullscreen, I'm assuming it was made for tv rather than the cinema - too bad I wish it had been widescreen, for the star and subject of this film is Siberia. In particular, a small village on the Volga River, and about three generations of its inhabitants, some of whom leave Siberia, some of whom return. This epic (in time if not in numbers of people) covers nearly a century of this area, from Czarist Russia until Soviet industrial expansion into the area in the 1980's, searching for oil.

This may be a bit slow and unsophisticated for some western audiences, moving like spring ice melting on the tundra, but there are beautiful scenes of a culture we'll never see: a wind-driven ice sled skating over the frozen river and disappearing into the winter whiteout (how did they ever find their way anywhere and back?, fur-covered Siberian peasants with the weather etched in their faces, audacious swamplands when thawed (called the "Devil's Mane" by the locals), as one Russian official puts in from an airplane "a useless area three times the size of France; we might as well dam it up for hydropower and create the world's largest man-made reservoir". This is truly a Soviet-style, industrial strength epic film, unlike anything from the west.


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Artist, photographer, composer, author, blogger, metaphysician, herbalist

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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