Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Kite Runner

Marc Forster, China-US, 2007 (8.4*)Khaled Housseini's award-winning novel is brought to life in a near-epic film by Swiss director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball), who seems to have a delicate touch in bringing out the humanity in the stories that he films. The story begins with the childhood friendship of two Afghani boys in the peace before the Soviet invasion of their country, which turns many into refugees. The most exhilirating and joyful scenes in the film are of kite flying in Kabul (filmed in western China), which usually involves trying to attack other kites and cut their strings.

The central part of the story involves a dramatic turn of events that changes the boys' lives forever, while the latter part shows the new lives of Afghani immigrants in the U.S., forced to flee to avoid Soviet reprisals against anti-Communists during the occupation of Afghanistan. The acting is superb, even the amateur child actors (one was a Broadcast Film Critics award-winner), and especially Khalid Abdalla, who was a terrorist in United 93. However, like most films of novels, it seems a bit of a synopsis of a longer novel. This is a tough story to bear, showing guilt, shame, violence, fear, hope and redemption - but one that should definitely be experienced by those of us in the west who have never had to endure an invasion of our homeland. Golden Globe and BAFTA nominee for best foreign film - why no Oscar® nomination, which it deserved? (the music was nominated)

Be sure to see Forster's Finding Neverland, which is Kate Winslet's favorite film of hers (and perhaps Johnny Depp's best performance), and also Jack Gold's Goodnight, Mister Tom (1998), which features John Thaw (of Inspector Morse fame) in his finest dramatic performance as an embittered widower in the British countryside forced to take in a London child evacuee during the WW2 bombings of England, one of the highest rated films at Netflix among viewers.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Shane Rivers of Only Good Movies Interviews Me

Shane Rivers interviewed me this week on his film blog Only Good Movies, for his weekly feature called Critical Mass.. click here for the interview at his blog

I think you'll find it interesting at least.. I'd like to thank him for another 15 minutes of near-fame.

[solarized photo of me by Dean Abramson, professional photographer in Maine whose work has been in Time Magazine and many others]


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

United 93

Paul Greengrass, 2006 (9.1*)
This is a perfectly harrowing account of the one hijacked airliner on 9/11 that did not have a chance to reach it's target due to the heroic actions of some of its passengers, instead crashing into the Pennsylvania countryside. Director Paul Greengrass keeps the viewer absolutely riveted, even though we all know the results beforehand. This is done with expert editing and constant shifting from the situation being monitored on the ground by air traffic controllers, the U.S. defense system at NORAD, who were awaiting orders from an absent President Bush, and the frightening events within the aircraft itself.

The viewer can actually see a trilogy of films that presents the day's events in chronological order. The Hamburg Cell traces the origins of the hijackers, then United 93 takes us along for the ride with one group on that doomed airliner, then Oliver Stone's World Trade Center puts us inside one of the two buildings with some of the firefighters who survived the building's collapse from the inside. Of the three films, United 93 is the most riveting and the most finely crafted.

This is currently ranked #686 on our Top Ranked 1000 Films on the Internet, and #67 for films of this decade. In my opinion, it should be ranked higher and will likely climb in the polls as it reaches more viewers.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow, 2009 (9.0*)Bigelow’s film of the war in Iraq is an engrossing look at an elite bomb squad whose daily task is to access possible bombs and booby traps, and defuse or detonate them. To call this harrowing and nerve-wracking is an understatement. She manages to maintain the tension and keep the viewer riveted to the action with any real plot or story, other than showing the daily trials of the tiny squad of three men. Much of this credit is due to the "soldier's eye view" of cinematographer Barry Akroyd.

The unknown ensemble cast is dead on, most seem like real soldiers. The few cameo roles from veterans Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, and David Morse actually make the unknown actors, led by Jeremy Renner as the lead bomb specialist, look even better. In a way, the film is a little dispassionate (I'm sure a natural response of real soldiers in this situation), especially when compared to the story of Kurdish war orphans who defuse and resell land mines in the Iraq-Iran film Turtles Can Fly (2004) . Yet it’s still a very good war movie leaning more toward suspense and nail-biting action, which should be both gripping and informative to western audiences, most of whom are as clueless as I was about the technical details of this new type of weapon.

Hurt Locker belongs with that small group of films that attempt to show the results of this new terrorism, such as Rendition and The Kingdom. Viewers (and terrorists) not familiar with Gillo Pontecorvo's now classic Battle of Algiers should see that 1965 b&w film for an effective means of using terrorism for gaining freedom from foreign powers, with timed bombs left behind in crowded locations, thereby saving the bombers themselves for more work. That film remains my favorite primer on urban terrorism, and Pontecorvo enlisted thousands of volunteer extras in the streets of Algiers.

Hurt Locker could win many awards this year, and has a good start already with 44 wins so far at various festivals and from film critics. Cinematography, editing, and sound are likely Oscar® winners. [The film shows a 2008 release date, yet it's up for 2009's awards, so I'm confused as to when it was really released - so I went with 2009 here to avoid the appearance of error]
Awards link at IMDB


Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Phil Morrison, 2005 (7.8*)
This small indie film received high critical marks for its honest portrayal of a real family with believable problems in middle-class North Carolina. Embeth Davidtz plays an art dealer from Chicago who specializes in "outside" or primitive art, paintings done by self-taught individuals. She travels with her husband to his childhood home in NC to court an autistic artist, David Wark (Frank Hoyt Taylor), a reclusive who is pre-occupied with the Civil War, slaves, giant genitalia, and his own poetry, often inserted into his artwork. True to southern bigotry, he also refuses to deal "with Jews".

While there she meets the in-laws: the parents, realistically played by life-worn Scott Wilson and a domineering Celia Weston, brother-in-law Johnny (Ben McKenzie), a slacker who lives at home with his pregnant wife Ashley, brilliantly portrayed by Amy Adams, who won 13 international awards for supporting actress, and also garnered an Oscar® nomination for supporting.

As an artist, I'm always amazed at the "big city, big money" attraction to art that is merely different, not necessarily talented, sublime, or transcendent - this is no exception. This film, perhaps intentionally, exposes the superficiality of the art world, especially among the wealthy collectors who place high value on outrageous originality that has little else to elevate the works.

For me, the film has credible characters with real problems, maybe too much so, and failed to really deliver any revelation or catharsis. The ensemble acting is superb, and perhaps the film's major plus is its lack of judgment, allowing any real meaning to come from the viewer's own interpretation, especially concerning the paintings themselves.

Winner of 16 awards, mostly for Amy Adams: the awards page at IMDB


Monday, January 4, 2010


Gavin Hood, 2007 (8.1*)
This is not a very pleasant movie to witness, but it is both a timely one and make some important political statements regarding terrorism and national security. The story begins with Reese Witherspoon on the phone with her husband, played by Omar Metwally, now a petro-engineer attending a conference in So. Africa, about picking him up at the D.C. airport. He boards the plane but upon arrival is whisked away by U.S. security agents, apparently because his cell phone was called by a suspected terrorist, and he's an Egyptian national living in the U.S. on a green card, which makes him a third class citizen with few rights. We are then shown a suicide bombing in a public plaza in Cairo, witnessed by CIA field operative Jake Gyllenhaal (whose name is "Freeman", perhaps too obvious) to visually illustrate what real worldwide terrorism is about. Over the course of the film, British director Gavin Hood brings these stories slowly together in what is both a scary and a realistic scenario.

This film exposes some important dilemnas, voiced by Meryl Streep in a small but very effective role as the CIA op who can have certain suspicious individuals whisked away, under "extraordinary rendition", a polite way of saying that individual rights and due process under law are waived in times of martial law, which certainly now exists to combat militant extremists. Veteran Alan Arkin is also perfect as a politically-minded U.S. Senator, balancing the thin line of what's right vs. staying electable. Gyllenhaal is effective as someone relatively new to the game of information extraction from prisoners, witnessing the best acting in the film for me by Yigal Naor, totally believable as the ruthless Egyptian security head who will stop at nothing to gain information from suspected terrorists, and to protect his beautiful daughter, played by Zineb Oukach.

If you can stomach it, watch the documentary on the dvd, called "Outlawed" for a brutal look at eyewitness accounts of torture under U.S. supervision, which inspired director Hood in making this movie. It also helps explain why much of the terrorism is directed at the U.S. This is a scary subject, one that likely won't go away anytime soon, as each side refuses to budge and insists on it's own self-righteous political stand.

Quote (from Alan Arkin as the Senator, to a lawyer on his staff): "If you don't want to compromise, join Amnesty International"


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

Edward F. Cline, 1941, bw (8.1*)
This film defines the word zany, perhaps the funniest W.C. Fields film, certainly the craziest. Fields tries to sell a completely preposterous script to a Hollywood film mogul, and we get to witness all the crazy action he describes. In one scene he falls from an airplane onto the poolside divan at a mountaintop castle-like retreat of a reclusive wealthy widow, Mrs. Hemogloben (Margaret Dumont) and her daughter (Gloria Jean), without injury of course. We also get to see one of the great car chase sequences ever imagined, with police and a fire truck also involved. Even those who aren't fans of Fields slow, painstaking delivery should enjoy this romp. They never made comedies any more 'screwball' than this one. Fields co-wrote the screenplay as well, which the censors at the time found to be a bit too risque with some well-worded innuendos.


About Me

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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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