Sunday, December 31, 2006

Children of Men

Today I saw Children of Men, starring Clive Owen and Michael Caine.

It is the topic of Cinebanter 18, which is available here.

Go see the movie and join in our debate!

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Pursuit of Happyness

Tonight I saw The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will and Jayden Smith.

This movie is the topic of Cinebanter #17, available here.

Night At The Museum

Saturday evening I saw Night at the Museum starring Ben Stiller and Robin Williams.

The best way to evaluate this one is to say that it is what it is.

Is it silly? Yes. Is it funny? Sure. Is it a pleasant option for holiday movie watching? Absolutely.

Basically, Ben Stiller is a deadbeat dad that has trouble staying employed, so in desperation he accepts a position as a night guard at New York's Museum of Natural History. The catch? Due to an ancient Egyptian tablet, everything in the museum comes to life after dark.

The adventures that Ben's "Larry" endures are predictable and formulaic, but cute and easy to watch nonetheless. Robin Williams as the wax Teddy Roosevelt and Owen Wilson as a miniature cowboy round out this somewhat all-star cast and make for a good couple hours of laughs.

Take the kids, sit back and enjoy.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Blood Diamond

Last night I saw Blood Diamond, starring Leondardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou.

It is the topic of Cinebanter 16, which is available here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bobby

Last night I saw Bobby, starring half of Hollywood.

It is the topic of Cinebanter 15, which is available here.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Holiday

Last night I braved the Seattle snow storm to see a screening of The Holiday starring Kate Winslet and Jude Law.

Is it predictable? Yes. Formulaic? Of course. Charming? Yeah—that too. And that's why I forgive its cookie-cutter-composition. Because it made me feel good.

All of the Bridget Jones comparisons will be fair—right down to the details (Winslet's 'Iris' is even a writer), but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable to watch.

We have two couples that have suffered cheating (anchored by Jack Black and Cameron Diaz), one office romance gone-wrong (the source of Winslet's distress) and one dashing Brit with a secret (Law). And to top it off, all of our players are wealthy or at least upper-middle class. The story couldn't be easier to compose, but we still find ourselves rooting for certain characters and booing at the rest.

Go into this film with high expectations and you may get irritated with its simplicity, but if you go in ready to have a good time you'll come away with a smile on your face.

And really—who can say that Jack Black and Kate Winslet don't make the most adorable couple ever?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Shut Up & Sing

Today I saw Shut Up & Sing, a lively documentary that follows the Dixie Chicks from their controversial anti-war comment to the present day.

I'll admit it—I'm not a fan of country music. I've never bought a Dixie Chicks record. I probably couldn't name one of their albums if my life depended on it, but after watching this I almost want to just on principle.

A few months prior to the start of the war in Iraq, lead singer Natalie Maines said "We're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas" during a show in England. The London-based newspaper The Guardian printed the quote and soon the American right-wing group the Free Republic got a hold of it and led a national boycott of their music.

Ridiculous. And wildly hypocritical.

Here they are "defending" a war that is allegedly taking place to "liberate" a country so they can enjoy the same freedoms that we do, and these so-called patriots are denying the Dixie Chicks their freedom of speech (and freedom of security since Maines received death threats as a result of speaking her mind). It's also hypocritical because it hurt the business of the Dixie Chicks, a business which is ultimately stimulating the American economy when it does well.

It was refreshing to see Republican John McCain cracking down on the radio suits who originally ordered the boycott during congressional hearings, but it was nauseating watching these three lovely ladies see their career crumble before them because they acted like...Americans.

Every journalism teacher should show this film in class and every fan of the first amendment should buy a Dixie Chicks album. Just to show their patriotism.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Nativity Story

Tonight I saw The Nativity Story starring Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac.

Perfectly timed to coincide with the holiday season, this film begins at the time of the Virgin Mary's "miracle" and concludes following the birth of Jesus Christ.

Castle-Hughes does a fine job of portraying the naive young Mary, and Isaac is equally convincing as the understanding Joseph. The supporting characters were also very true to their Biblical descriptions with the exception of the Three Wisemen who were a bit too comical for my liking.

The cinematography is striking—you do feel as if you are roaming about ancient Nazareth, however the element that is missing is the intangible magic that a story so sacred deserves. I felt guilty for not weeping when the Star of Bethlehem lit up the sky, or when they showed crucified men lined up in the village for show.

Perhaps its me that needs the spark of divinity, or maybe it was just the film.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Deliver Us From Evil

Today I saw the documentary Deliver Us From Evil about Father Oliver O'Grady, a convicted sex offender who the Catholic church moved around Northern California for 30 years before any charges were brought against him.

In the film, Director Amy Berg speaks with a surprisingly candid O'Grady (now living an unfairly comfortable life in his native Ireland) and several of his forever-damaged victims.

The accounts are horrific—the sodomy of a young boy who was helping with the landscaping outside the church; the rape and molestation of a 5 year-old girl (while the Father lived with her family); penetration of a 9-month old baby. And this man only served seven years behind bars, yet his number of victims is estimated into the hundreds.

What's nauseating about this story is how easy it was for the Catholic Church to dodge legal bullets throughout the tenure of this priest. They did so little to help the families and put an end to the abuse, you have to wonder if any of the higher-ups have a conscience, let alone an ounce of actual faith. What God would let this happen?

The most heartbreaking element to watch is the guilt of the parents who trusted this monster with their kids and didn't learn of the abuse until their children were grown. It's not their fault, but you can understand the responsibilty they must feel for O'Grady's actions and their absence in noticing.

Hopefully, this documentary will spark a revolution from the victims—those who have been brave enough to come forward and those who have remained silent, but want to somehow make sure this doesn't keep happening. They (along with each and every Catholic on the planet) need to demand reform and justice so this most hypocritical abuse of trust can finally be put to an end.

Little Children

Last night I saw Little Children starring Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson.

It was the most complex, realistic and human movie I've seen all year.

The setting—American suburbia—is perfectly executed in the catty behavior of the soccer moms and the weekly football games the men play as an escape.

At first the movie is funny, complete with voiceovers that actually work and a steamy romance that you root for. Then, the movie turns dark as you find yourself alternately sympathizing with and being disgusted by the town pedophile, portrayed brilliantly by Jackie Earle Hayley.

It all comes to a climactic end when the characters each discover their individual destiny and take action to live them out. It makes you think, it makes you laugh and it makes you cry. The problem that I had with it was that the entire movie seemed to be illustrating why some things are just meant to be, yet the ending doesn't pay that theory off.

Nonetheless, it's another fantastic journey from Todd Field that carries us through the American experience with fierce authenticity.

To hear me and Michaelvox discuss this in Cinebanter 14, click here.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Deja Vu

On Tuesday, I saw Deja Vu starring Denzel Washington and Val Kilmer.

To put it simply, it's a fun ride.

Denzel dazzles as ATF good-cop Doug Carlin, who is recruited to help FBI agent Pryzwarra (Kilmer) investigate the bombing of a passenger ferry in present day New Orleans. The murder of a local (coincidentally beautiful) woman somehow ties into the mystery and Carlin becomes nearly obsessed with solving the crime.

When he learns of the FBI's time-traveling capabilities, he puts his own life on the line to take a quantum leap and save the girl. Oh - and the 543 people that died on the ferry too, including his partner.

The main flaw of the film is that it's painfully predictable. There are many Bruckheimer-typical explosions (Jerry produced the movie, you know). The scientists at the FBI are the funnier-than-usual brand and Denzel is nothing short of handsome the entire time, regardless of the situation. Come to think of it, even the terrorist is hot.

But if you can forgive all of that, watching this fast-paced murder mystery can be quite enjoyable.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

Today I saw Stranger Than Fiction starring Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson.

It is the topic of Cinebanter 13, which is available here.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

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

This morning I saw Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which is the topic of Cinebanter 12. You can download it here.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Copying Beethoven

Tonight I saw Copying Beethoven, starring Ed Harris.

It was so awful, I wrestled with getting up and leaving or merely napping in my somewhat-assigned seat at the screening. Yes, it was that brutal.

This fictional exploration of the end of Ludwig Van Beethoven's life is so absurd, it's laughable.

Diane Kruger plays Anna, a composition student brought in to rescue the deteriorating maestro and save Ode to Joy. As an actress she was fine, but as a character, I have a few problems:

A) To the best of my knowledge, the Ninth Symphony didn't need saving.
B) If it did, my bet is that the difficult composer would've fetched a more experienced musician to use as his copyist.
C) The 'naive, innocent, lives-in-a-convent' chick has been done before.

And the way Harris plays Ludwig is nothing short of insulting. He's vile, rude and so over-the-top (yes, he moons someone and makes fart jokes) that I had a hard time not turning away from the screen each time he appeared.

I realize that the real man may not have been the easiest artist to be around, but he was a genius, and I'd rather remember him for the melodies of his brilliance than his bad behavior.

Don't you dare go see this. I'd hate to have to say "I told you so."

Monday, October 30, 2006

Who Killed the Electric Car?

Yesterday I saw the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, which offers a frightening look at how large corporations (and our own government) will do anything to ensure their weath, even at the cost of our environmental health.

The fast-paced film, narrated by Martin Sheen, presents the destruction of the GM V1 electric car as a murder complete with suspects, 'trials' (by way of documents and archival footage of the actual California energy hearings) and a full-scale funeral, led by those that were passionately attached to their electric cars (or helped create or sell them).

In a nutshell, the state of California initiated a mandate for cleaner air that required the development/implementation of more energy efficient vehicles. The car companies reluctantly responded and the V1 was born. Released in a limited supply, only for leasing, the cars were quiet, fast, reliable and aesthetically pleasing. Each person who leased one seemed to love their vehicle like a family member and was excited at the prospect of owning one.

But that never happened.

Due to pressure from the oil companies, the federal government and of course, the car corporations, the mandate was killed. And then GM decided to retreive ALL electric cars from circulation once their leases were up and kill those too. They offered no option of purchase although many citizens would've paid above and beyond the asking price to own one.

It was devastating to those who had grew fond of their electric cars, those who had worked to create them, and everyone who cared about the environment/and or our foreign oil policies.

And what was more absurd was that the cars were in excellent working condition—they required little service unless they had a standard problem such as a flat tire. So when the activists discovered that the cars were being transported to a wrecking yard in Arizona to be shredded, they took action and staged a protest in front of the Burbank lot where their former vehicles rested.

Unfortunately, nothing stopped the ultimate destruction of all but one car (which is now sitting idle in a vehicle museum) and you just have to wonder—do the car companies really think the engineers alive today couldn't replicate that successful prototype without a living, breathing example in front of them?

Ridiculous.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Marie Antoinette

Last night I saw Marie Antoinette, an exhilirating, realistic glimpse of the subject's life during her time in France.

Kirsten Dunst makes a perfect Marie—naughty and naive as a youth, clever and indulgent as a queen, and brave and sensible as a target of immense hatred. It's easily her best role yet. And her supporting cast is great too. From the sexually challenged Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) to the sexually charged Madame du Barry (Asia Argento), each actor fulfills their role and then some.

Sofia Coppla's writing style is brilliant. Every bit of dialogue sounds like words that would actually come out of the mouths of the historical characters, which makes it easy to follow. The fast-paced, blink-and-you'll-miss-it scenes are reminiscent of Baz Luhrman's William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but not as dizzying.

The authentic sets (i.e. the actual palace where the actual Marie Antoinette reigned), coupled with extravagant costumes that are sure to attract attention during awards' season, make the viewer feel as if they're a party attendee rather than an audience member.

Can you tell I had a good time at this film? Well, I did.

That of course doesn't mean that it's perfect, because it's not. The pace in the beginning is frightfully slow and the time spent dwelling on the young couple's non-existent sex-life is too lengthy, but the payoff of an engaging middle and exciting end (though we all know how the story turns out before we arrive at the theater) makes it a worthwhile way to spend two hours.

Just go see it.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Shortbus

Today I saw Shortbus...what was supposed to be an innovative exploration of sex in cinema, but instead was a weak story played out in the lives of pretentious characters.

I wanted to like the film—I really did. I think that our American society is far too close to its Puritan roots with our attitudes toward sex in film, music and general media. And I was hoping that this daring venture would take a bit of the fear from audiences and prove that sex, like eating, sleeping, working—breathing—is simply a part of everyday life.

But then the writer/director (John Cameron Mitchell) had to go in and create ridiculous caricatures of people (an identity-starved dominatrix, a sex therapist that can't have an orgasm, gay partners who are alternately suicidal and unimaginably irritating, etc.) to demonstrate 'normal' problems and somehow justify money shots and porn-store toys to illustrate them.

I was not amused (or aroused).

And that's another problem I had with this movie. I was constantly playing 'hunt the genre' wondering every few frames whether or not this was intended to be a comedy, a drama, a mockumentary or an adult film. All I concluded was that it was definitely not an adult film because the sex wasn't remotely sexy.

I appreciate what Mitchell was trying to do, but to have an audience connect with his intentions, he should've invented people that everyday moviegoers could relate to (or at least believe in).

I hope this doesn't discourage other hopeful filmmakers from attempting similar feats because if the box office returns were disappointing, it wasn't the subject matter's fault, it was the story.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl

Tonight I saw The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl.

This news-report-like documentary traces the lives of slain journalist Daniel Pearl and the terrorist responsible for his death, Omar Sheikh. Narrator Christine Amanpour shows us their similar upbringings (privileged, strong sense of faith, loving family) and explain that as they aged, Daniel grew more 'global' in a sense, while Omar withdrew from modern British society and adapted fundamentalist beliefs.

I appreciate the background on the killer, but I almost wish he hadn't been given that much airtime.

The Pearl home movies remind us of how much fun Daniel must have been; the calm spirit of his widow and surviving family are a testament to the peace that he stood for. He was truly a man that didn't just believe in tolerance—he believed in acceptance, which makes the way that he was captured and died all the more tragic.

Daniel had an uncommon desire to learn and use that knowledge to bridge undeniable gaps between faiths and cultures. Viewers will get the sense that although cautious, he was almost naive in his trust of strangers. And unforuntately, that false sense of trust led to his kidnapping and untimely death.

It may sound cliché to say that the world lost a hero when Daniel Pearl was murdered, but I don't care. God knows what more he could have accomplished if he had lived.

The Departed

Yesterday I saw The Departed starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon.

It is the topic of Cinebanter 10, which is available here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers

Tonight I saw Flags of Our Fathers starring Ryan Phillipe and Adam Beach.

The story tells of the soldiers who did (and didn't) raise the flag at The Battle of Iwo Jima—the scene captured in the iconic 1945 photo taken by Joe Rosenthal.

Everything about America is in this movie: blood, pride, racism, mercy, politics, compassion, deception and redemption. I would expect nothing less from Director Clint Eastwood.

I liked all of the performances—Phillipe, Beach, and even the still-creepy-from-Heavenly Creatures Melanie Lynskey who has a small, but memorable role.

The only weaknesses were the pace (slow) and the fight scenes (especially gruesome, when less really could've been more). The characters were well-developed and Iceland made a fine stand-in for the real war-torn soil (the actual present-day Iwo Jima is shown in the credits).

But I'll have to admit, I only teared up at the very end and was able to compose myself rather quickly. It wasn't the sobbing-followed-by-headache pain of Schindler's List or the sobbing-followed-by-vomiting pain of Full Metal Jacket or the sobbing-followed-by-days-of-more-sobbing heartache of Glory.

Maybe I'm just immune to the genre.

Regardless, I'm intrigued by the project Clint is completing now, which actor Barry Pepper told us about during a Q&A following the film. It's a companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers told from the Japanese perspective. It's called Letters from Iwo Jima and is currently in post-production.

Perhaps the theaters will market this cleverly and show the two stories back-to-back.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Queen

Tonight I saw The Queen starring Helen Mirren and James Cromwell.

As the brits would say, it was "spot on."

This movie chronicles the actions of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the days following Princess Diana's death and how the input of those around her supposedly did (and didn't) play a role in her response.

First, let me say that I understand why Ms. Mirren has generated so much Oscar buzz. Having grown up enamored with the drama of the royal family, I've watched the real queen all my life and studied her mannerisms. Seeing this film, I forgot I was watching Helen Mirren.

From the way she folds her glasses to her less-than-feminine walk, this woman has Her Majesty down.

The brilliance of her work however, was really in the supressed emotion that she conveyed—bubbling beneath the surface, yet refined and crisp in the presence of everyone except for a wandering stag, which she tenderly tries to save. I won't be angry if this actress takes the statue come March.

And the others weren't so bad either.

James Cromwell is perfectly cast as Prince Philip—bitter and irritable, always throwing in his two cents. And Alex Jennings as Charles is cowardly and awkward, even while trying to do the right thing as the actual Prince of Wales so often appears.

Michael Sheen, who portrays Tony Blair, is a little over-the-top and doesn't possess the real charm of the actual Prime Minister, but does an ample job of at least sounding like the man he's trying to imitate.

The writing is superb in that you can't bear to take sides as the crises unfolds.

In 1997, I was disgusted as many 'Diana fans' were, that the royal family didn't immediately fly the flag at half mast or make a public statement regarding the tragedy. But after seeing this, I'm left with mixed emotions.

While the silence of the queen was undoubtedly inappropriate, I no longer think it was because of any disdain she had for her former daughter-in-law. I think it was because she is a woman of duty and she believed her job was to remain strong.

In the end, she did the right thing by finally giving in to her advisers (in the movie it's implied it was mostly Blair and his team; I have to wonder in reality how true that was), but the damage she did to the reputation of the Monarchy may never be repaired.

Seeing the actual footage of Diana spliced in with the fictional reinactment gave it an eerie "I'm watching you" vibe, which quite frankly gave me goosebumps.

If only Her Majesty had realized the magic her grandsons' mother had with people while she was still alive, she may have reacted differently.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater

Caught this documentary on HBO earlier today—from the trailer, I thought it would be more exciting, but sadly it was actually kind of boring.

Created by his granddaughter, the film follows the political and personal life of famous Arizona senator Barry Goldwater. It's comprehensive and linear, but what it lacks is an intimacy that should be evident when a family member recounts the life of someone close to them.

Senator Goldwater had an interesting life—he was a politician, family man, photographer and special friend to Native American tribes throughout the southwest (in that order). Notable figures such as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Senator Hillary Rodham-Clinton share personal stories of his climb to the top and provide testimonials as to what a nice man he really was.

And I suppose that's where we have our story.

Not in his wild successes and low failures as a politician, but in his kind and compassionate heart that stayed with him and those around him until his death in 1998.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Friday, September 22, 2006

Hollywoodland

Today I yawned my way through Hollywoodland starring Ben Affleck and Diane Lane.

I can't put my finger on exactly what I disliked about the movie, except to say that there just wasn't much to it.

The acting is strong—Diane Lane as a controlling older mistress (Toni Mannix) and Ben Affleck as the doomed TV star (George Reeves). While they were the main characters in the story, the supporting players were more exciting. Robin Tunney plays a colorful and cunning gold digger (Leonore Lemmon), leaving the viewers to doubt if the late actor's fiancé ever loved him at all. And Adrian Brody's portrayal of investigator Louis Simo is easily the best performance in the film.

That said, for such an interesting real-life story, the Hollywood version falls short.

Sure, there are brawls in the street and innocent people turning up dead and scorned husbands, wives and lovers...but none of it is enough to get the pulse racing.

And at the end of the day, if Reeves really did kill himself, you have to wonder why. He had a successful (if not ideal) TV career and was on a path to directing and producing features. There was no shortage of women in his life and he still had a substantial fan base.

A senseless tragedy, no matter how it happened.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Saw this fun documentary tonight during a free screening.

It's about the secrecy surrounding the MPAA and the ridiculous lengths one has to go to to learn the identities of the members and even the names of the 'non-secret' appeals board.

The director actually hires private detectives to get to the bottom of this and the entire film follows them on their journey.

There's humor, explicit sex (scenes from other movies) and thought provoking questions about how far this organization goes to censor artists. There are clear biases and those are discussed by thoughtful persons of the industry ranging from Maria Bello to John Waters. Kevin Smith was probably my favorite famous face.

If you value free speech and the preservation of art as it was intended, go see it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Saint of 9/11

Tonight I saw Saint of 9/11, a documentary about FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge.

I attended a special screening made up of movie club members and guests from our own Seattle PD. I'm convinced it was the best possible way I could've spent the 5th anniversary of the attack on our country. 'Anniversary' is the wrong word, but I'm at a loss for a good synonym on this somber night.

The mood was quiet before the movie began. It might have been my imagination, but I'll swear people were more polite as they were searching for seats and settling in. The SIFF representative welcomed the audience, said a few words (folks clapped for our guests from the PD) and the lights went down. Not one peep of noise was heard for the next 95 minutes.

Father Mychal Judge was an Irish boy that grew up in New York. His father died at a young age and he and his two sisters were raised by his mother. He was always a life-loving, kind, sweet soul.

At a young age, he knew his calling was to serve God, so he began religious studies in the Franciscan order. After he became a priest, he struggled with alcoholism and his sexual orientation.

He remained a closeted homosexual out of respect for the church that he so loved, but trusted his close friends and associates with the truth. Over time, he became more open about his sexuality because he realized it humanized him in the eyes of the people.

Anecodotes and stories about his life were provided by friends, churchgoers, firefighters, politicians, priests, nuns and street people. Gay and straight, black and white. All of them mentioned his kind spirit, his sense of humor and his compassion for the poor.

An AIDS activist remembered how sad it was when the virus was still an unknown killer in the early 80s. Victims of it were isolated by friends and family in their final days for fear of spreading or catching it. Father Judge visited all of them, without protective masks or gloves and even kissed them and massaged their feet. He administered the Last Rites to dying homosexuals and spoke at their funerals with tenderness and pride for their accomplishments in life.

He was a loyal member of Alcoholics Anonymous and was 23 years sober when he was laid to rest.

He counseled families for months following the airplane crash of flight 800.

He worshiped with the gay Catholic group 'Dignity.'

He acquired winter coats for the homeless each year by persuading shop owners to give him discounts or not charge him at all, and delivered them in his official FDNY vehicle.

This hero was the first recorded death in New York City on September 11, 2001.

Footage of his September 10, 2001 sermon is played throughout the film and prior readings are told by narrator Ian McKellan.

Father Judge spoke of God's Kingdom of Heaven becoming bright with beautiful souls after devastating tragedies that capture many good lives all at once.

I can think of no one more deserving for the title of Saint than Father Mychal Judge.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Monday, September 04, 2006

Little Peace of Mine

A nice surprise I stumbled upon tonight was the documentary Little Peace of Mine, a story that follows a group of Israeli children in search of peace.

The star of the show is 12 year-old Nadav who spearheads a movement called Peace for the Future, aimed to open the gates of dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian children.

Director Eyal Avneri doesn't show too much of the creation process, but we join Nadav and a few of his friends already in-progress discussing what their goals are for the movement in a very Western-looking fast food restaurant. The talk is candid—Nadav is the eternal optimist that wants the movement to begin small and then replicate into the tens of thousands to result in peace; his buddy is less hopeful and remarks they'll be doing well if they get a handful of participants from the other side. Despite their differences of opinion, they pledge to work together along with a few others.

With the help of what appears to be an established peace organization (run by adults), the kids schedule a meeting with a leader of the opposing party. They act like kids, munching on pastries and chatting on the car en route to the summit, but once they arrive they are all business. They carefully explain what their goals are in a respectful and professional manner: they want to meet with kids their own age from the Palestinian side and convince them to join their movement. The leader is hesitant, but polite and promises to do what he can to help them. Then he sends them on their way. As they're leaving the meeting, they very briefly get stuck in an elevator. The lights go out, Nadav panics and you feel the fear they must live with on a daily basis. Thankfully, it's just a minor electrical blip and they're safely deposited a few seconds later, but it was a great way to convey the tension that exists and the inherent lack of trust the opposing sides have for one another.

Later we see the first meeting between the two sides, which is incredibly awkward. Since English is the only common language between the kids, it's what they use during their time together (which makes it a bit more challenging for both sides to communicate). The Israeli kids seem too eager and the Palestinian kids almost appear frightened. The Israeli kids mention this afterward and the adults tell them that next time they'll get children that are more interested in what they're trying to do.

And they do.

What follows is an inspirational journey through the friendship of two groups of friends from both sides and more specifically two young leaders—Nadav (our star)—and Mai, a 13 yar-old Palestinian girl just as interested in peace as him.

We watch them draw together, enjoy arts and crafts, and engage in lively debates about their religions and governments. It's intelligent, thoughtful and productive—which is more than either of them can say for their current government's methods. The heartbreaking thing is that the kids have a terrible time visiting one another because of the danger at the checkpoints. Little Nadav has a clever idea, mentioning that they should all 'be Arab' going into Palestine and when they come back they should all 'be Israeli.' The answers really are so simple, aren't they?

What's most compelling is a talk that Nadav and Mai have after encountering some less-than-friendly soldiers at the border. They discuss the fact Nadav will have to be a soldier when he grows up or else he will be imprisoned. Mai asks him if he will kill her people if ordered to. He says of course he wouldn't. And that he hopes things will be better by the time he turns 18.

We all do too.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Factotum

Tonight I saw this movie (free thanks to SIFF) and I won't say any more about it until we decide what the topic of our next podcast will be. If it doesn't end up being this, I'll blog about it later in the week.

UPDATE: We did not choose this movie to be a Cinebanter topic, so my review is as follows:

Matt Dillon portrays Hank...the character that Charles Bukowski created in the image of himself. Hank is a writer who passes the time by taking jobs he has no interest in and failing miserably at each of them. He alternately squats at the houses of his parents, his lovers and a few whores here and there. He's unlikable, directionless and mean-spirited. You never want to root for him, even with a few glimpses of his redeeming quality (a sense of humor).

Overall, the movie was so slow it was boring. Matt was horribly miscast and too good-looking for the role. Lili Taylor was perfectly cast as his part-time love Jan, but she didn't have much to work with by way of the script. Marisa Tomei (who is billed as a supporting player) makes more of a cameo appearance than a lasting impression, not given enough time to develop her character.

Thank goodness it was free.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

House of Sand

I saw this one tonight...but I won't say any more about it because it is in the running to become the next Cinebanter topic. If we end up choosing it, I'll link to the MP3 of the podcast about it; if we don't, I'll return next week and write a full review.

UPDATE: You can now hear my and Michael's full review of this movie here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

The last two acts, which I watched tonight, were no less impactful or disturbing than the first two.

In these portions of the film, we're shown the aftermath of Katrina and those returning to New Orleans to pick up the pieces of their lives. It's heart-wrenching to see elderly folks reduced to sobs when they realize their homes are piles of rubble. These are good people who have worked all of their lives, raised their families and been model, taxpaying citizens. They now have nothing.

• Insurance company payouts? Probably not (we're told many policies didn't cover flood damage and most of the damage was due to water, so they're splitting hairs over what was 'rain' and what was 'flood')

• FEMA housing? Most likely not - but if they do, their new digs consist of a paper-thin trailer barely suitable for camping, parked alongside 20 others just like it. Did I mention these emergency homes have with no electricity and what appears to be shower curtains for room dividers?

• Government assistance? Of course not - we only live in the richest country in the world and offer aid to millions of places/other citizens around the world on a daily basis, but our own backyard? Nope.

What it boils down to is really poverty entrapment. These citizens bought land in an area where the property value was believed to be rising, then the storm hit and the levees broke (or were blown up, depending on who you believe) and those who survived were either scattered to another part of the country to start their lives over from scratch, or have nothing to rebuild with at home because they aren't being reimbursed for their losses.

It's nauseating.

What's also nauseating is that the degree of devastation was unnecessary. Dutch engineers in The Netherlands have built superpower levees that would've prevented this. They showed footage of those systems to demonstrate how far behind we are.

Human life was lost mainly because of poor workmanship, not because of Mother Nature.

The only bright spot in the entire documentary was the spirit of the people. The resilience and pride they have in their home state of Louisiana is inspiring. At the end of the film, each speaker was set into a picture frame as they stated their name, title and where they're from. Most are natives of New Orleans and have remained there in spite of our country's embarrassing failures.

They won't back down.

Monday, August 21, 2006

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

"Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
Now, cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move."

These words, a verse of the Led Zeppelin version of the song When the Levee Breaks, refused to leave my head this evening as I watched the first two acts of Spike Lee's new documentary about Hurricane Katrina.

It was everything I expected it to be and then some.

The interviews with celebrities -- a genuine Sean Penn, a typically amped up Al Sharpton and a Harry Belafonte who sounds a lot like Marlon Brando -- were all entertaining and effective. The real stars of the show, however, were the actual victims of this natural and national tragedy.

A man who realized his mother had passed but didn't have anything to cover her body with; a family of children whose mother lie dead in the bedroom as they wait for help to arrive; a woman who asks her husband in the eye of the storm if maybe it isn't just God's will for them to die there in that moment.

The injustice of the lack of response by our government will leave a much greater scar on the city than the actual storm did.

Watching the archive news reports again of the hurricane "on its way" really brought it all back. I remember at the time wondering why they were making such a big deal of it on CNN. Didn't the south have hurricanes every year? Why are they putting people in a sports complex? How can U.S. citizens be lying dead on the streets of a major city and go completely unnoticed?

Horrific doesn't begin to describe the conditions these people were put through. And they should have never had to endure what they did.

One woman summed it up very well as she described waiting for nearly a day at the airport to get on a plane to anywhere (literally) and being hassled at the security checkpoint. She said the screener asked her "Do you have any drugs on you?" to which she replied "If I did, I'd be smokin' em! Fuck."

Fuck is right.

Part two is tomorrow night - I can't say I'm looking forward to it, but I can't not watch it. As an American, I just have to.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Quinceañera

Today I saw the film Quinceañera, which was written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland.

Well-acted by an ensemble cast of unknowns, the story takes us to a real-life community in Los Angeles (Echo Park) where an intertwined fictional Mexican family deal with being young and old in 2005.

Of course, the teenage group acts like typical teenagers -- the title of the movie references the ceremonial 15th birthday that Latino females enjoy as a rite of passage. We see the quinceañera of one of the supporting characters at the beginning of the movie and it unfortunately resembles the MTV show My Super Sweet Sixteen, which is a blatant display of spoiled brats attempting to outdo each other by throwing an obnoxiously large 16th birthday bash, complete with new convertibles (can we say cliché?), cakes taller than the Empire State Building and in some cases, animals shipped in from faraway places to help the bitch of honor make an entrance. But I digress.

Anyway, the quinceañera they showed here wasn't nearly as bad as any of those actual parties, but it did demonstrate a certain level of materialism in an otherwise sentimental story.

The real plot shows Magdalena (Emily Rios) becoming unexpectedly pregnant at 14, although she maintains her virginity, and Carlos (Jesse Garcia), her gay cousin, trying to make a life for himself despite being disowned by his family...save for his Uncle Tio (Chalo Gonzalez), who takes both of the troubled kids under his wing.

The funny thing is that the most uptight generation is the middle-aged group of parents who cast away their offspring at the drop of a hat in the name of Jesus (or cancel their cell phones and send them off to a faraway school). Uncle Tio is by far the most open-minded character and he is 85.

The story moves along at an easy pace and the 'imperfect' characters have such redeeming qualities, you can't help but root for them.

The only two flaws I found were:

1) The too-predictable death of one of the characters
2) The Elton John CD that stereotypically fell out of an opposite CD case that Carlos was taking to his crush (at least it was "Too Low For Zero" but still - come on!). We could tell by the threesome scene that Carlos was homosexual, so that bit was totally unecessary. And if the writers wanted to convey embarrasment from one gay man to another, they should have put a Metallica CD in there instead.

Otherwise, Quinceañera is a very authentic narrative reminiscent of the more organic Real Women Have Curves, yet just as smart.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Welcome To My World

Welcome to the first message ever posted on the 'Tassoula' blog.

Due to a persuasive recommendation from my Cinebanter co-host, I've decided to start a blog from my perspective, which will feature movie reviews, news updates about my projects and general musings.

Feel free to comment on anything and everything that you read here.

Cheers,
Tassoula