Tuesday, August 29, 2006


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


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.