Tuesday, September 30, 2008

DVD releases for September 30

Goodbye September, hello to all the good things that follow: no playoffs for the Twins, snow, frozen bike face, better movies, and basketball! But until all that good crap happens, here some good rentals:

Taxi to the Dark Side (2007) directed by Alex Gibney
If you missed this in theaters, please rent this. And if you are a voting citizen of the United States, please rent this and know that this is what happens when we elect cowboys to the White House, and if you ask me a 'maverick' is no different. It makes me sick to think of what this country (my country) represents to the majority of the world. Gibney is pretty even-handed with this documentary that focuses on an innocent taxi driver who was tortured and killed at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan. Actions taken at Bagram seemed to start the US military (and the CIA) fully sanctioning (or at least not not sanctioning) torture.

An Autumn Afternoon (1962) directed by Yasujiro Ozu
A film that doesn't make me angry, but reaffirms life and why I like movies. Am I old-fashioned? Ozu last film is heartbreakingly beautiful. Available around the world on DVD, it is finally available here courtesy of Criterion. You get the obligatory booklet, and a cute little special feature from a 1978 French television show on Ozu, but the real news here is a commentary by David Bordwell who wrote the definitive book on Ozu (long out of print, but now amazingly available online here.)

Beaufort (2007) directed by Joseph Cedar
Do not underestimate this film or try to pigeon-hole it as a war film. It is so much more. One of my favorite films from this year's MSPIFF, you can read more of my thoughts on the film here.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster (2008) directed by Chris Bell
Although the big T may not be as prevalent as it used to be is sports, but the weird performance enhancing drug concoctions that athletes come up with these days is everywhere in every sport. I'm of the attitude that just let them pump themselves full of chicken hormones or whatever, and let the real athletes test themselves with out the Frankenstein drugs. Then we could have the human Tour de France or Olympics and the science experiment Tour de France or Olympics. But that just wouldn't be fair... Obviously the issue is not so simple. The culture of drugs in sports is a much larger societal problem, and Bigger, Stronger, Faster tries to tackle this issue. I'm going to watch this documentary soon.

The Unforeseen (2007) directed by Laura Dunn
If I haven't already let my true colors show, I will seal it with my great enthusiasm for this documentary that, before now, had not registered on my must-see list. This award winning documentary seems to look at development through the eyes of nature. Produced by Terrence Malick and Robert Redford, the doc focuses on development surrounding Barton Springs in Austin Texas, one of North America's largest spring-fed swimming holes. The trailer looks great.

OSS 007: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006) directed by Michel Hazanavicius
I missed this spoofy French spy film at MSPIFF and missed it again when it had a short run at the Lagoon. It may not be award winning material, but it looks more than entertaining.

Jellyfish (2007) directed by Shira Geffen and Etgar Kerret
I missed this Israeli melodrama at MSPIFF and missed it again when it had a short run at the Lagoon. Deja vu! I'm missing films all over the place.

Deadly Duo (1971) directed by Chang Cheh
More Shaw Brothers goodness from Tokyo Shock. (I am so confused about the US rights for the Shaw Brothers films!) Starring my boyfriend David Chiang and his boyfriend Ti Lung.

Chapter 27 (2007) directed by J.P. Schaefer
What was the deal with this movie? Did it play theatrically? Anyway, it is about Mark David Chapman who is played by a chubby Jared Leto.

2008 Olympics: Beijing 2008 Complete Opening Ceremony
Before this year, I would have never suggested such viewing, but in this case it is totally worth it. I was busy fixing snacks in the kitchen for the people and missed some of the opening ceremony myself. All I could hear was, "Wow. You should really see this. That's amazing!" and so on and so forth. For better or for worse, Zhang Yimou took it to a whole 'nother level.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Rodger Grossman's WHAT WE DO IS SECRET

Going into the 21st century, the phrase 'punk is dead' is probably as ubiquitous as 'God is dead.' Punk certainly hasn't had to stand the test of time that God has, but both statements would incite equally fiery debates, if the right people were included. But in order to confirm or debunk punk's death, you would first have to define punk—a road I am not about to go down due to the fact that I was only a mere 10 years old when Darby Crash of The Germs ended his five year plan. Permanently.

Darby Crash and The Germs are the fictionalized focus of Rodger Grossman's long time coming biopic What We Do Is Secret. The Germs are largely credited for being at the forefront of LA's punk scene in the late 70s, lead by the young Jan Paul Breahm who later became Bobby Pyn and then Darby Crash. What We Do Is Secret is filmed as a documentary, with testimonials from the band about Darby, interspersed with live performances and, of course, a little personal speculation. The film starts with the inception of the band (first named Sophistifuck & The Revlon Spam Queens) between Breahm and friend Georg Ruthenberg (guitarist now known as Pat Smear) and ends with Darby's overdose in 1980. Covering shows and events and people that are largely documented, it is a relatively straightforward memoir of the band and Darby.

Unfortunately, the judgement on any biography is largely going to rely on what the individual viewer brings to the film. I didn't bring too much to the film other than my own vested interest in music, punk or otherwise. That being said, I was unimpressed by the films willingness to fall in line with the stereotypical downfall of the tortured rock genius. The film shows a young (like, 12-years-old young) Darby reading "Will to Power" and props him up a little too much on the prophet pedestal. There is no doubt in my mind that Darby was very smart, but his lapse of judgement lead him down a road that made him a very unhappy man. Much like last year's Control, about Ian Curtis and Joy Division, What We Do Is Secret left me feeling unmoved and empty and slightly duped.

What We Do Is Secret was hardly a small project for Rodger Grossman who approached the living band members 15 years ago about doing the film. While Grossman is not the die-hard Germs fan that you might expect, the film and the band became an obsession that took over his life. He worked closely with the remaining members of the band while making the film. As a result, the 'interviews' have an air of authentic and believability, but one has to ask the question of why not just interview Smear, Doom and drummer Don Bolles? (Although Bolles is a little goofy these days.) And why not line up the bands who The Germs influenced? Maybe even dig up a fan who went to one of the shows?

These are selfish questions, because this would be the film that I would be more interested in. Grossman, however, was more interested in traveling back in time to this little corner of subculture and recreate, as best as he could, a scene that has become iconic, if not mythic. Fans will revel in Shane West's portrayal of Darby Crash (West even toured with the surviving members of The Germs as Shane Wreck) and in the visceral reenactments of live shows, but unfortunately, What We Do Is Secret contributes nothing new to the myth. As a matter of fact, it probably dumbs it down a little bit. You'll find much better material in the standout documentaries The Decline of the Western Civilization (1981) and American Hardcore (2006) .

Friday, September 26, 2008

Distractions: Twins v. White Sox 9.25.08

As the Twins teeter on being the little team that could, they finish probably the most important series of the season, sweeping the Chicago White Sox and putting them in first place in the AL Central division. At least for the moment. The Sox play three against Cleveland and the Twins play three against Kansas City to decide who will go to the playoffs.

Thursday nights game was far from a walk in the park. A half game back, the Twins really needed to win this game. However a disasterous 4th inning almost sunk the ship as Span and Gomez collided at the wall, missing a catch, Buscher couldn't get a handle on the ball to make an easy play at first, and Slowey grabbed a hit that he tossed over Morneau's head. (It was only in this morning's paper that I realized that Slowey injured his wrist when the ball hit him, resulting in the wild throw.) Nonetheless, the result was a 6 to 1 lead for the Sox.

The come back was slow and steady, relying not only on the fragile bullpen but a very understated batting. Tying it up in the bottom of the 8th, led to extra innings and the winning run in the 10th as Casilla hits Punto in from third.

The crowd was about as lively as you would expect with equal amounts of cheering and booing and just plain old howling. Chants as people left the dome were infectious. (We tried to get a Barack Obama chant going, but, alas, I guess the baseball game is not the place for that.) 1991 was my first summer here in the Twin Cities and I remember the winning of the World Series well. Not because I cared but just because I happened to be downtown at the time. After 18 years here, I claim the Twins and the Timberwolves as my teams, and I do care. Nobody expected much from the Twins this year, losing Santana and Hunter, but this is what makes being a fan exciting.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

DVD releases for September 23

The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration
The name says it all. All three films painstakingly restored to perfection (that is, until the next set comes out.) I always feel a little torqued when a DVD set that I already own gets reissued, restored, or simply re-released with more bells and whistles. If you don't own The Godfather trilogy, it seems like you are safe buying this one.

Mother of Tears (2007) directed by Dario Argento
If you are looking for schlocky horror that is laughably absurd (and not in a good way), check this film out. Mother of Tears belongs to another era of horror film, with classic Argento sensibilities that seem out of date. Or maybe it only seems that way because this is a film I would have loved as a teenager.

Bashing (2005) directed by Masahiro Kobayashi
Wow. This film was a long time coming. Bashing played at Cannes in 2005 to very mixed reviews, especially from Kobayashi's homeland press. Bashing is nothing less than a social commentary that seems to have rubbed people the wrong way. The story is inspired by the true story of the Japanese relief workers who were kidnapped in Iraq in 2004 who prime minister Koizumi demonized by declaring that the situation was their own fault. The strong reactions to the film lead me to believe that Kobayashi puts forth a pretty harsh critique in the film. Previously unavailable with English subtitles, I am totally surprise and thrilled to see this film come out.

Love Conquers All (2006) directed by Tan Chui Mui
Yet another film that I am surprised to see come out on DVD. (Big kudos to Facets this week, also responsible for Bashing.) Tan Chui Mui is one of a handful of people redefining Malaysian film, often wearing multiple hats (director, actress, editor, producer, writer) alongside her compatriots and fellow filmmakers James Lee, Woo Ming Jin, Ho Yuhang and Amir Muhammad. Those interested in Malaysian films should check out Da Huang Pictures website and shop: a veritable DIY Malaysian film website.

Dororo (2007) directed by Akihiko Shiota
The Suicide Song (2007) directed by Masato Harada
Midnight Eagle (2007) directed by Izuru Narushima
Three Japanese films that I know zed about, but felt that they were worth mentioning simply because they both sport decent and interesting casts. Check out the (mostly unconvincing) trailers through links above.

Re-Cycle (2006) directed by the Pang Bothers
Here's another Pang film (in addition to The Detective; see below) that is probably more worth your time than the Bangkok Dangerous remake. I had to check my shelf to make sure this wasn't another DVD that I had but not yet watched. I would expect much out of Re-Cycle, but it stars a cast that is promising with Angelic Lee in the lead.

This American Life, Season 1
I love the radio program and I've heard that the TV show is better than one might think. Sad and cableless, now is my chance to check it out.

Aki Kaurismäki's Proletariat Trilogy: Shadows in Paradise (1986), Ariel (1988), The Match Factory Girl (1990)
What kind of proletariat am I if I have only seen one of the films in Aki Kaurismäki's Proletariat Trilogy? Eclipse does it again with their twelfth series. I look forward to seeing Shadows in Paradise and Ariel, and maybe I will even revisit The Match Factory Girl that I saw at the U Film Society so long ago.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Sex and the City comes out this week. I don't really care about the movie. Even though I fully believe that it is smart and funny, I'm bugged by the fact that because I can't relate to these women and their life makes me, well, less female. Mostly I wanted to mention the release so I could post this amazing illustration published in the New Yorker the week it came out in theaters.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Because I can't bring myself to go see the Pang Brother's remake of their own movie, Bangkok Dangerous, (just seeing the trailer was painful enough) I decided to do what any rational Pang fan would do: pretend that Bangkok Dangerous redux (or Bangkok Dangerous 2.0 as they are calling in Hong Kong) did not happen and watch a different Pang movie. Fortunately, in my mountain of unwatched DVDs, I have a couple to choose from, and one that I have been meaning to get to: Oxide Pang's well received The Detective. Making good decisions is something I am working on, and in this case I have no doubt that The Detective offers more in entertainment and style than Nicolas Cage's last ten films. (And, yes, I did look that up to make sure that did not include Adaptation.)

The Pang Brothers, twins Oxide and Danny, have been making films for over ten years now. Although they were born in Hong Kong, their move to Thailand put them on the map as interesting filmmakers to watch with stylish Bangkok Dangerous in 1999. The Pangs became part of this resurgence in Thai film along with film fest hits Tears of the Black Tiger by Wisit Sasanatieng and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Mysterious Object at Noon. Their breakout film, however, was the Hong Kong horror film The Eye in 2002 starring the Malaysian born Taiwanese pop star Angelica Lee. The Eye was to Hong Kong what The Ring was to Japan. It spawned numerous copycats and sequels and spoofs, and, of course, a US remake starring Jessica Alba. The Pangs have thrived, sometimes working independently but mostly working together, cranking out films that don't deviate too far from the action-horror niche that they had built for themselves. Failures (most notably their North American debut, The Messengers) have left them undeterred and as productive as ever.

Watching Oxide's The Detective (2007) convinces me that their best work comes from the places they call home. In the case of The Detective, home is Bangkok's Chinatown. Tam runs a private detective business amongst the Cantonese population of Bangkok. Tam's a bit of a mover-and-shaker who probably spends more time preening and listing to the radio than investigating. When elderly local drunk Fei Lung walks through his door with a wad of bills and the ludicrous request of hunting down a woman who is following him and trying to kill him, Tam has no choice but to take on the job armed with only a photo. Fei Lung's peculiar behavior should have been a clue that this would be no ordinary investigation. Needless to say, the more Tam digs, the more mysterious this scenario gets, leading him to seemingly unrelated but hard to ignore clues. Unable to let a hot lead turn cold, Tam follows his curiosity despite the fact that someone clearly wants him to stop.

Bangkok has the look and feel of Hong Kong fifteen years ago, with the aesthetics of the dark cavernous spaces of Kowloon's Walled City or Chungking Mansions, not unlike that of Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express and Fallen Angels. The Detective benefits from the atmosphere and mimics the already dark palette that Oxide Pang works with throughout the film. Every corner, alley, and door offer a space that seems to be hiding a secret that we may or may not see. The perfectly framed opening scene of the beggar in a cluttered lane howling at dawn's first light sets the tone and the ambiance. The setting combined with the production values differentiates The Detective just enough to be an interesting Hong Kong-Thailand hybrid.

Although I would not have said this five years ago, but Aaron Kwok is ten times the actor that Nicolas Cage is and is pitch perfect in this film. Kwok has steadily been breaking from his pretty-boy mold into a very solid actor. First with Johnnie To's Throwdown, then with Patrick Tam's After This Our Exile and, most convincingly, with The Detective: compelling in both appearance and character as a detective of the people. Kwok, who has stared in over 30 films, is a pop star who is setting an example by making good choices, and taking his roles seriously. As Tam, Kwok plays it straight, never going over the top, and the result is pretty impressive given his very spotty resume.

I appreciate a mystery that no one has a chance of figuring out until the end, simply because I'm usually the only one unable to solve the puzzle. The Detective seems to dole out the pieces we need, keeping my rapt attention due to the fact that I was more engrossed in what would happen next than resolving to the laziness of rewinding to what I might have missed. The pace allows for no downtime, and employs more than a few unique action scenes that distract you from the details that you may have missed. In the end, it's something of a clever ploy because the clues that are given to us never get us any closer to solving the mystery than Tam.

The Detective is far from a perfect film. The heavy-handed delivery of the explanation of the crime at hand is awkward at best, and the inclusion of Tam's family drama is totally out of place. It probably won't win any awards, nor be big enough to find a new audience (although it does seem to be available in the US on DVD via Tai Seng), but as a fan of the genre, The Detective technically goes above and beyond what you might normally find is such a film. Although Hong Kong isn't producing films like it used to, films that fall in the action/thriller category seem a dime-a-dozen because they rarely extend beyond a mold that has proven to be successful. Oxide Pang and Aaron Kwok have done just enough to keep The Detective far from a throw-away film that Bangkok Dangerous (2008) is destine to be.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Jun Ichikawa R.I.P.

Japanese director Jun Ichikawa tragically died over the weekend at the age of 59. He reportedly collapsed over a meal and was never revived. Ichikawa's only film that got US distribution was Tony Takitani which played at The Parkway a few years back and is available on DVD. Tony Takitani is an understated film of melancholia adapted from a short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami.

His death comes at a time when he seemed to finally be getting his directorial legs, breaking away from director for hire projects punctuated by his current independent film, buy a suit, that was slated to premier at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October.

Friday, September 19, 2008

David Koepp's GHOST TOWN

Yours truly has another review in the paper for David Koepp's Ghost Town starring Ricky Gervais. For a rom/com, this film isn't bad. Without Ricky Gervais it would be dead in the water. Buy today's paper or check it out online here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Oak Street Cinema: Not dead yet!

I am more than happy to be proven wrong and to report that the Oak Street is rising from the ashes once again to offer a slate of fall screenings that, for the most part, hits the nail on the head of what this town needs. Announced in an e-mail newsletter and highlighted in this week's City Pages Fall Arts issue, the Oak's schedule seems almost too good to be true. The next month will be jammed packed with very worthy repertory screenings, starting with an Isaac Hayes tribute this weekend, then a new print of Jean-Jacques Beineix's Diva, followed by a Alain Robbe-Grillet tribute and then rounding things off with six films by Godard. No belly-aching here. Thank you Minnesota Film Arts!

Here's the full line-up:

A Soul Cinema Tribute to Isaac Hayes
September 19 - 25
Truck Turner (1974) directed by Jonathan Kaplan
Friday, September 19 - Thursday, September 25 at 7pm (No show on Wednesday, September 24)
Shaft (1971) directed by Gordon Parks
Friday, September 19 - Thursday, September 25 at 9pm (No show on Wednesday, September 24)
Wattstax (1973) directed by Mel Stuart
Saturday, September 20 - Sunday September 21 at 4pm

September 26 - 29
Diva (1982) directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix
Friday, September 26 - Monday, September 29 at 7pm and 9:30pm w/ Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 4:30pm. (No show 7pm Saturday)

September 27
Manhattan Short Film Festival
Saturday, September 27, 7pm

September 30 - October 1
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) directed by Alain Resnias
Tuesday, September 30 - Wednesday, October 1 at 7 & 9pm

Alain Robbe-Grillet Series
October 3 - 9
Last Year in Marienbad (1961) directed by Alain Resnias (written by Alain Robbe-Grillet)
Friday, October 3 - Sunday, October 5 at 7pm w/ Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 5pm
Trans-Europ Express (1966) directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Friday, October 3 - Sunday, October 5 at 9pm
L'Immortelle (1963) directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Monday, October 6 - Tuesday, October 7 at 7pm and 9:15pm
Eden and After (1970) directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Wednesday, October 8 - Thursday, October 9 at 7pm and 9pm

Godard Retrospective
October 10 - 23
Contempt (1963) directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Friday, October 10 - Sunday, October 12 at 7pm and 9:15pm w/ Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 5pm
Band of Outsiders (1965) directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Monday, October 13 - Tuesday, October 14 at 7pm and 9pm
Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1966) directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Wednesday, October 15 - Thursday, October 16 at 7pm and 9pm
Breathless (1960) directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Friday, October 17 - Sunday, October 19 at 7pm and 9pm w/Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 5pm
Alphaville (1965) directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Monday, October 20 - Tuesday, October 21 at 7pm and 9pm
Pierrot Le Fou (1965) directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Wednesday, October 22 - Thursday, October 23 at 7pm and 9pm

Go to Minnesota Film Arts for complete and updated information.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

DVD releases for September 16

I'm flushing last week down the toilet. Not because there weren't any good DVDs, but mostly because I want to forget about it. Onward to a new week! This week offers some good options, but nothing to get yer britches in a bundle about:

Young @ Heart (2007) directed by Stephen Walker
Here's a way that we can connect to the older generation: they can sing songs of a younger generation. If you missed this in the theaters, you are a loser like me. Fellow blogger at Getafilm considers it on of the best documentaries of the year, and I believe him.

Snow Angels (2007) directed by David Gordon Green
Did I miss anything when I missed this film in theaters? Probably. David Gordon Green proved with George Washington and All the Real Girls that he is a director to watch, but Pineapple Express?

The Pyongyang Concert (2008)
No, the New York Philharmonic is not going to fix the problems facing North Korea, but neither is isolating the entire country. The population of North Korea deserves someone better (or at least less crazy) than Kim Jong Il and they also deserve a world with more diplomacy rather than finger-pointing and hate-mongering. This concert was pretty monumental and represented nothing but good intentions. The DVD includes some supplementary material that hopefully gives some behind-the-scenes of the event.

Death Note (2006) directed by Shusuke Kaneko
Those that want to keep up with the various films adapted from anime should check out Death Note. Tatsuya Fukiwara has yet to grow out of his beguiling youthful look that he trademarked in Battle Royale. On it's own, this film is nothing to write home about. But as a package (manga, anime, and two more live action films: Death Note: The Last Name and L: Change the World) it's pretty entertaining and easy to get caught up in.

Proteus (2004) directed by David Leburn
This documentary is either really cool or just kind of boring. From the synopsis is sounds very cool: "Filmmaker David Lebrun casts his eye on the evolution of art, science, and the world around us in this fusion of documentary and experimental forms. Ernst Haeckel was a 19th Century biologist with a keen interest in art; he found a way to merge these two disciplines when he published the book Art Forms in Nature, in which he offered detailed sketches of nearly 4,000 different single-celled organisms. As Lebrun tells the story of Haeckel and his work, he meditates upon the vision shared by the artists and scientist and other great minds of the age, and uses Haeckel's images as a jumping off point for his own visual explorations." I will report back.

La Ronde (1950), La Plaisir (1952) and The Earrings of Madmae de... (1953) directed by Max Ophuls
All from Criterion and I'm sure these are great films. Should I feel guilty for watching Cromartie High School instead of Max Ophuls films?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Welcome back Sammi Cheng

It wasn't too long ago that Sammi Cheng was the queen of the Hong Kong box office. Although her career started with her appearance in the popular Fell 100% in 1996, it was Johnny To's Needing You in 2000 that propelled her to super-stardom, making no less than twelve films in four years (the best being the six she made with Johnny To: Needing You, Wu Yen, Love on a Diet, My Left Eye Sees Ghosts, Love for All Seasons, and Yesterday Once More.) Cheng has an uncanny gift for comedy, but is equally suited for the light romantic comedies that began stacking up in her resume.

That all came to a halt when Stanley Kwan (Rouge, Center Stage) sought out Cheng for his period arthouse drama Everlasting Regret portraying a privileged women ravaged by the social and political turmoil of the Shanghai in the last half of the 20th century. Kudos to Cheng for accepting the challenge where she would be asked to clearly act outside of her normal range and her performance would have to carry the entire movie. Cheng completely transformed herself and gave a performance of a lifetime. Everlasting Regret, which came out in 2005, is a beautiful film, but it fell short of people's expectations as a whole. And without reading too much into the tabloid headlines, the entire experience devastated Cheng, who retreated from the public eye for 2 years before returning to her music career in 2007.

Thankfully, Sammi Cheng will also make her return to the screen this fall with a new film by Alan Mak (Andrew Lau's directing partner) and Felix Cheong entitled Lady Cop & Papa Crook. She stars alongside Eason Chan and plays, well, she plays Lady Cop. Let's face it, the nuances of the plot really aren't that important, but all signs point toward Lady Cop & Papa Crook marking Cheng's return to her very entertaining shoes in HK film. I think the trailer looks awesome! Welcome back Sammi!

Lady Cop & Papa Crook has seen a couple of delays, but is set to open in Hong Kong on October 23rd.
Look for a review on Love HK Film shortly after.

Friday, September 12, 2008

John Crowley's BOY A

Everyone deserves a second chance, or so the idealistic adage goes. Reality tends to not be so kind, even to the people who might deserve it. (Or to be even more jaded, the second chance goes to those who don't deserve it.) The irrepressible human tendency to rashly adjudicate others is on full display in Boy A. Although somewhat manipulative, Boy A is nonetheless sincere in its portrayal of a young man looking for redemption; redemption that he himself doesn't even think he deserves.

We meet Eric just as he is choosing his new name (Jack) and receiving a new pair of Nikes from his counselor Terry upon his eminent release from jail. As we watch Jack acclimate to society after a long absence—start a job, get an apartment, try drugs, have sex and learn what a panini sandwich is—we get the backstory on his troubled childhood, and the heinous crime he committed that put him behind bars. The film is careful to paint Jack (and his child persona Eric) as a naive lost soul, and shrewdly avoids visually showing the act that turned him into a monster in the eyes of the public. His painful childhood was further marred by falling in with someone whose childhood was even more painful.

Although the media is fully aware that the infamous 'Boy A' (the name given to Jack as a juvenile criminal) has been released, no one knows his true identity except for Terry and Jack himself. The nightly news reports on Boy A, and tabloids publish publish computer renderings of what Boy A would look like as a young adult, as Jack nervously looks without wanting to look. Despite the dark cloud that continues to exist about 'Boy A' , his assimilation is exemplary making his counselor glow with pride. Jack is anything but the individual that the odds would send up after his ordeal. He is the gentlest of creatures who seems to harbor no ill will against anyone, which makes the inevitable turn of events all that much more gut-wrenching. Jack's happiness is an evanescent reality.

Andrew Garfield deserves the credit for any emotion you feel toward Jack, and in my case, even though I knew I was being played, I was admittedly moved. Broaching adulthood with the guileless exuberance of a child, you can feel the guilt, torment and sadness bottled up behind Jack's boyish smile. As a result Jack has a human dynamism that few actors can pull off at any age, let alone 24. The fact that he can just as easily play a cocky American college kid (in Lions for Lambs as the student that Robert Redford feels is worth his time) as the fragile and unpredictable Jack shows a pretty convincing range. Garfield was born in the US but then moved to England at the age of four. Boy A is his only film as a lead, but he also has a part in this year's The Other Boleyn Girl and Terry Gilliam's upcoming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (that was thrown into turmoil after Heath Ledger's untimely death, but nonetheless is scheduled for release next year.)

Showing the human behind the demons is a them that has certainly been done before, but not nearly as many times as simply reconfirming societies demons, and I appreciate Boy A on that account. John Crowey does a great job in directing a thoughtful and sensitive film that out does most films for its openness and candor. Boy A begs people to look beyond the headlines, falsely providing every ounce of hope possible only to succumb to the most cynical and honest outcome.

Monday, September 8, 2008

More ingesting, less regurgitating.

Look for less posts in the next month or so as I take care of the stacks in the proverbial in-box and ignore the blogoriffic out-box for a while. I will keep the Film Calendar updated, so please check it out if you haven't already done so. (It seems to work beautifully with iCal.) I am also averting a pending strike from the blog's chief editor, Copper, who has been demanding more leasure time in the sun.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

DVD releases for September 2

A week riddled with DVD gems that got little or no theatrical attention:

The Last Bolshevik (1993) and Happiness (1934)
The Sixth Side of the Pentagon (1967) and The Embassy (1973)
The Case of the Grinning Cat (2004)
Remembrance of Things to Come (2001)
All directed by Chris Marker.
These four DVDs showed up in my releases for April 8th, at which point they were available only through the Wexner's Chris Marker Store. But they are well worth mentioning them again. Now they are available at all the bastard online retailers. The first DVD is a two disc set that includes Marker's film about the Russian film director Alexander Medvedkin as well as Medvedkin's silent film Happiness. There are also a host of extras. The second DVD might be a good one to watch while the local media tries to demonize protesters at the RNC in St Paul. The Sixth Side of the Pentagon chronicles the 1967 protest in Washington, D.C. to end the war in Vietnam. The Embassy on the other hand is a fiction film depicting dissidents seeking refuge in a foreign embassy after a military coup d'état in an unidentified country. Read about Remembrance of Things to Come here, and my personal thoughts about The Case of the Grinning Cat here.

Before I Forget (2007) directed by Jacques Nolot
The best film in this year's Queer Takes series at the Walker, Jacques Nolot stars, writes and directs this film about aging, grace and humility. The camera stares unflinchingly not only at undeniable beauty but also the harsh reality of the complex human condition. In this case, the human condition is applied to an aging hustler living with HIV for 24 years. It's a film about observation, and more specifically the observation of self-observation.

Fist of Legend (1994) directed by Gordan Chan
Possibly the best kung fu movie ever made. A remake of Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury, Fist of Legend had only been available in the most deplorable versions that were dubbed, cut and renamed. (The best version used to be a VCD where the Mandarin track was on one channel and the Cantonese on the other - that's just how bad it was.) Thankfully that has all changed and Fist of Legend is now available here and elsewhere with the original edit and soundtrack. Jet Li is in his prime, and his kinetic wonderment is in fine form thanks to action choreography by Yuen Woo Ping.

Forsaken Land (2006) directed by Vimukthi Jayasundara
The first Sri Lankan film to ever be awarded a prize at Cannes, Jayasundara's directorial debut received the Camera d'Or for Best First Film. It played in NYC two summers ago, but I'm not sure if it got any further than than in the US. It's pretty awesome to see it on DVD, even at this late date.

The Wolves (1971) directed by Hideo Gosha
Here's another 'best' film, in this case one of the best yakuza films ever made. I picked up the UK import after reading someone else's proclamation that it was the best yakuza film. The Wolves is part of the 'Ninkyo Eiga' genre or yakuza chivalry films that are for more character driven than violence driven. Gosha's big contradictory claim to fame is that he has been virtually unknown on this side of the Pacific and as a result has gained quite a following amongst us fanboy types. Gosha's rich palette and inovative style in The Wolves is quite stunning and the story itself is nothing short of gripping. Tatsuya Nakadai, who plays the lead, anchors the film with his presence. Check out the trailer here.

Workingman's Death (2005) directed by Michael Glawogger
This amazing documentary played for a week in the final day of the Bell as a documentary only 'movie house.' I saw it there, but wish I had seen it on a huge state of the art screen. This highly aestheticized visual look at manual labor may not be everyone's idea of a great documentary with its lack of commentary or opinion. Personally, I think it makes it that much more powerful. Glawogger takes us to five location where the work people do is unimaginable: illegal mines in the Ukraine, sulphur mines in Indonesia, slaughter yard in Nigeria, shipbreaking in Pakistan, and steel complex in China. Workingman's Death is an unbelievable visual experience.

Reprise (2006) directed by Joachim Trier
I really loved this movie. Although it played almost a year a half ago at MSPIFF 25, it only got a theatrical release this year. I found it very moving (without being heavy handed) in addressing the manifestations of personal achievements and failures and how they propel or social lives. It is also beautifully acted by people I had no reason to disbelieve. I would totally watch this film again.

Itty Bitty Titty Committee (2007) directed by Jamie Babbit
A sweet movie about young rebellious girls who like girls.

The Promotion (2008) directed by Steve Conrad
I thought this film looked good and ten times funnier than Step Brothers. However, I was still trying to work of my Edina Cinema hangover from the holidays and was still on a conscious injunction.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Don LaFontaine (aka "Movie Man") R.I.P.

Don LaFontaine may not be the most recognizable name, but anyone who has seen a movie trailer would recognize LaFontaine's voice. The most iconic (and at this point, the most laughable) where his voice-overs that introduced a premise to a film with "In a world of..." LaFontaine died yesterday due to complication a collapsed lung at the age of 68.