Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Documentaries – The Film Snob Wife’s Genre Choice – Part 1: Pageant

June 7, 2010

I spent the weekend watching documentaries, and a couple of fiction films I’ll review in another post.  It started with several episodes of TLC’s new series, “Disappeared”, which is quite interesting.  Then Claude and I saw where Sundance on Demand had 2 documentaries:  Pageant (available now on Sundance on Demand) was sheer entertainment.  Highlighting the Miss Gay America pageant (at the time in its 34th year…34th!), it follows about 5 gay men as they prepare for the pageant, including one from Raleigh, NC.  This hometown man (at 42 years old) did an impression of Reba McEntire that left me speechless and had hair standing up on my arms.  He was so good that Reba McEntire hired him to play Reba in Reba’s own show.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  The men had to interview as men, in suits, which all of them are, simply gay men who can impersonate women, but don’t live their lives as women or want to be women.  The absence of the typical gay-subject matter movie catfighting was refreshing, as was the profile of these men, their real lives, and what drives them to be interested in the artistry that is involved in female impersonation.  Pageant was about the artistry – not the gayness or sexual relationships or transvestite or transgender issues.  It was really incredible entertainment, and showcased how these men put more work into their costuming, (none can have hormone shots or implants of any kind), the quality of their talent performances, (although most lip-sync) and their personalities and intelligence, much of which is absent from the actual Miss America pageant.  Pageant shows the artistic abilities of these people, and this really is art – body art and performance art.  I was fascinated and completely entertained.  I also feel this movie is viewable by most any person 12 and up, so I’d probably rate it a PG-13.  There is minor mention of sex and sexual relationships in the movie, and the introduction of the families and friends of these contestants and  the love and support they show is very family- and love-affirming.

Part 2 will be about Prodigal Sons.

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Fitfully Amusing, Says Claude about “The Men Who Stare At Goats”

April 17, 2010

Claude and I watched The Men Who Stare At Goats last night.  Just learned from Claude that the source material for this film was written by the guy who did the BBC series “Secret Rulers of the World” which included such topics as the Bilderberg Group, Bohemian Grove and David Icke.  That was a fascinating series, and I had no idea of this fact until Claude just, from his vast photographic memory, pulled that little tidbit out of his a–  brain.

The Men Who Stare At Goats, directed by freshman director Grant Heslov (Oscar nominated for writing and producing Good Night and Good Luck), is a very entertaining film.  This movie seemed to be critically panned by a lot of movie critics, save Onion A.V. Club, who said it was underrated.  I could  not agree more.  Very strong performances by George Clooney (who looks his absolute hottest when they have him made up as a 19- or 20-year old fresh in the Army), Jeff Bridges, who nearly reprises his Big Lebowski “Dude” role, and my favorite, Kevin Spacey, who plays the smarmy guy so well.  Kevin Spacey has incredible range in my opinion – really wish I could get people to watch Beyond the Sea and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and this film to see his incredible range. And who can forget Ewan MacGregor, who has completely conquered his heavy Scottish accent in this and The Ghost Writer – he has magnificent range (see Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, Brassed Off and playing a Jedi master in the Star Wars prequels, which is a BIG component of the plot of The Men Who Stare at Goats) and is going to win an Oscar at some point, I’m sure of it.

Readers know I’m all about cinematography and shot selection, and this definitely has it.  The film is largely set on the base of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a place I know a little something about since I grew up in Fayetteville, NC and worked on the base.  I could tell immediately that these shots, supposedly images from the early 70’s, were not filmed on the base, but they worked anyway.  The Men Who Stare At Goats was filmed in New Mexico, Puerto Rico and California.  The desert scenes are stunning, and the shots and angles make this a very visually interesting film.

The humor in The Men Who Stare At Goats is intelligent, very unexpected at moments, and really does make you laugh out loud.  If Claude’s laughing out loud, it’s funny, and he did.  I thought it was extremely funny with smart humor that didn’t dumb itself down for laughs.

The premise of the film is this: During the Vietnam era, the military became interested in psychic warfare because the Soviets were supposedly interested in psychic warfare (there’s a great scene of two officers going back and forth – “they know, we know, they know we know, we  know they know we know, they know we know they know we known they know…”) and allowed a group to develop to study this, led by Jeff Bridges’ character.  Clooney’s character becomes his top protege and Spacey comes in and wants to compete with Clooney.  Hilarity really ensues as we see these characters go further into the fringes of “new age” thought into what really saves some lives in the end.  The story is largely told in flashback, as we open with current times and Ewan MacGregor as a reporter who wants to “embed” himself in Iraq to win the respect of his wife, who is leaving him.  MacGregor meets up with someone who tips him off to Clooney, and then begs to write the story of this psychic warfare development from its beginnings to the present day.  I don’t want to give away too much, so hopefully I’ve piqued your curiosity enough.

I’m sorry The Men Who Stare At Goats didn’t fare well at the box office.  I encourage readers to rent it – it’s definitely entertaining, thought-provoking and enjoyable.  I especially encourage my readers who grew up with me in the Ft. Bragg area and went into the military to watch it.  You’ll get a real kick out of it.

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The Ghost Writer by Roman Polanski

April 2, 2010

I am an unashamed Roman Polanski fan.  The films directed by him that I’ve seen are among the finest films I’ve ever seen.  Polanski knows how to make smart, intriguing thrillers, and he can act as well (see The Tenant.)  So when we learned that our local theatre would be showing his new film, The Ghost Writer, we were there on opening night, and pleased to see a moderately-packed house.

The Ghost Writer has an interesting cast:  Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, and Eli Wallach.  The plot involves a ghost writer (McGregor) replacing a dead ghost writer who was working on the memoirs of the retired British Prime Minister (Brosnan).  As McGregor’s character gets deeper and deeper into the project, he begins to discover unsettling facts about the PM, including CIA involvement and secret authorization of torture on airplanes.  Naturally, this disturbs McGregor’s character, and he tries to get out of this project.

The standout scene for me was the scene on the ferry.  I’m not giving any details away because the movie is still in theatres, and I hope those who like taut thrillers will go and see it.  Polanski plays up to his audience, never dumbing down anything, and delivers great cinematography and impressive performances from his cast.  I was particularly impressed by Kim Cattrall’s very controlled performance as Brosnan’s assistant and mistress – a real change from her Sex and the City character – I didn’t even know the character was Kim Cattrall for a good part of the movie.  The always beautiful Olivia Williams also gives a great performance as Brosnan’s bitter, acerbic wife.

I want to see this movie again in the theatre.  Whatever your feelings about Polanski and his personal life and problems, he remains one of the greatest directors of modern times.  See it.

PS – we’re seeing it again tonight so I may have more to say after a second showing.  I do encourage lovers of good, intelligent thrillers to see it.

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In The Loop by Armando Iannucci

March 29, 2010

I can’t believe I forgot to review this film.  Claude and I were lucky enough to see it at the local theatre that shows artier films and we loved it, but I had trouble understanding the thick Scottish and English accents and slang.  Watching it again with the subtitles on was the trick, and this is one of the funniest movies I have seen in a very long time.

Peter Capaldi plays the acerbic (to put it VERY mildly) PR person for the Prime Minister of England who has to deal with a minor cabinet department who has started to run amok and talk about war, when their job is to oversee agriculture or some such banal governmental business.  Little do they know that the British and American governments are doing their darndest to start a war in the middle east.  Capaldi is joined by a fantastic supporting cast including James Gandolfini, my darling Steve Coogan, Anna Chlumsky, Mimi Kennedy and David Rasche.

This movie is not for the squeamish where language is concerned, and this movie really requires multiple viewings.  Shot in mockumentary style with jerky camera movements and unclear cuts, this is not a cinematography feast, as other movies I’ve reviewed lately are.  This is a great character study, especially of Capaldi’s character (and Gandolfini), and one with some of the most biting black comedy I’ve ever seen –  my favorite kind.  The great peek into the ins and outs of Washington and London governmental life (and nightlife) is dizzying, harrowing and extremely funny.  This is a movie where you really need to pay attention to the dialogue and get all the characters in place – hence recommended multiple viewings  It’s recent (2009) and it’s a must-see in my book.  I laughed so hard my stomach hurt

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The Man Who Wasn’t There by Joel & Ethan Coen

March 29, 2010

If you’re like Claude and me and have a love for black and white film, then you will probably enjoy The Man Who Wasn’t There, a 2001 film by the Coen Brothers. The Coen Brothers have quite a filmography, many of which are favorites of mine, and this one ranks pretty high on the list. The Man Who Wasn’t There is a throwback to film noir and femme fatales and movies where the lead character narrates throughout the film. Billy Bob Thornton is haunting on many fronts: his highly-made up appearance, his stone-cold face which never smiles throughout the film, and his slow, deliberate pacing. Thornton plays a barber who finds himself, quite by happenstance, caught up in a scheme with a man (Jon Polito) who wants to bring dry cleaning to the world. He learns that his wife, (played brilliantly by Frances McDormand, a Coen favorite and probably her best role for them) has been having an affair with his sister’s husband (James Gandolfini). So to obtain the money to invest in the dry cleaning business, he sets about blackmailing his wife’s lover, to dastardly ends for all involved.

The Coens have a real knack for shot selection, lighting, and strong character development. I usually go either way (this movie is great for cinematography, that movie is great for acting) but The Man Who Wasn’t There has it all – not unlike another great Coen movie, The Hudsucker Proxy. I believe both these films are lesser known than their blockbusters such as No Country for Old Men and O Brother Where Art Thou?, but nonetheless, well worth a screening. I saw a lot of Barton Fink in this film too, which is my personal favorite Coen Brothers movie. One thing I did not notice – in many Coen Brothers movies, there seems to be a running thread about shoes or feet. This didn’t appear that I could see in The Man Who Wasn’t There – it seems the obsession was about hair and shaving, since, after all, Thornton’s character is a barber. That’s one of the interesting things about Coen Brothers movies – there are these little touches that reappear throughout each film, and make you wonder what they mean. The Coens themselves have gone on record that there is no underlying meaning in any of what we might perceive as symbolism in any of their films, but I think they are being a bit evasive about that.

For black-and-white film lovers, The Man Who Wasn’t There has one of the best ending shots I’ve ever seen in black and white. Coen films are rich with set pieces, set design, lighting tricks and unusual shots, which make for incredibly interesting viewing. They also have marvelous use of contrast of the black and white hues through such clever means as costuming, furniture, lamps, everyday objects. This one, like others mentioned, also has the advantage of stand-out performances by some of the Coen’s oft-used actors – particularly McDormand and Polito (lead in Miller’s Crossing) and brings more talent to the film with the use of Thornton, and the actress who plays Gandolfini’s wife, one of the most stark and haunting faces I’ve ever seen. This is not unusual for Coen films – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad performance in one of their films, and they rank among my favorites. I’m glad Claude asked me to watch this one, as I had not seen it before, and it gave me a chance to make comparisons to other Coen films.

My favorites stand in this order: Barton Fink; The Big Lebowski; Burn After Reading; The Hudsucker Proxy now tied with The Man Who Wasn’t There;; Raising Arizona; O Brother Where Art Thou? I have not seen the entire catalogue of their films…yet….but I’m sure I will. What are your favorites?

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Why 2001: A Space Odyssey Remains My All-Time Favorite

March 28, 2010

When I was in college many MANY moons ago, I majored in broadcasting and wanted to go into cinematography.  The visual image was (and to a large extent remains) much more important to me than the character study brought about by the actors.  Shot selection, set design, lighting, all those technical details were what caught my attention in film.

I don’t remember the first time I saw Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I remember my sister and grandmother telling of seeing it in the theatre and putting on sunglasses and laughing at it.

I have seen 2001 many, many times.  The most memorable was on our tv in HD.  So many people I’ve talked to about this movie are unaffected by it because they don’t “get it.”  It’s not a  movie to be understood at the plot level.  It’s a movie to be savored for the sheer majesty of its visuals.  The makeup in the “Dawn of Man” sequence is by far the best human-to-animal makeup ever committed to celluloid.  Why they could not reproduce this later in Planet of the Apes is beyond me.  As I first viewed this film in adolescence, I was not sure that these were not real, trained animals.

There’s been many an article written about the technological and astronomical (space) elements of 2001 that have since come true, which is another fascinating element of this film.  The shots in space, although not technically completely correct, are very close to what we are accustomed to seeing from actual camera shots in space today.  This is a film that, visually and technically, holds up very well today, with the exception of some of the costuming, particularly in the scene where the “stewardess” walks the 180 degrees to come put Dr. Heywood Floyd’s pen back in his pocket.

Then, with several re-watchings, one begins to get the sense that the plotline involving the HAL 9000 computer (over-parodied in my opinion) is actually a horror story in its most sterile and austere sense.  One of my favorite shots in the film is the sequence where Dave is unplugging the memory from HAL, as HAL begs him not to, and sings “Daisy” in an increasingly lowering voice.

The ending doesn’t make much sense to me, but just look at the set and the set design in the room with Dave as an old man.  Again, stunning, a feast for the eyes.  Not to mention the beautiful Strauss in the soundtrack.

I have yet to find someone I personally know who agrees, but 2001: A Space Odyssey remains my favorite movie of all time.

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Reviewing Rocaterrania

March 19, 2010

Our geographic area is chock-full of filmmakers – some extraordinarily talented, some who are up-and-coming.  Claude and I were lucky to see a film by one of the filmmakers in the first class last evening.  The film was called Rocaterrania, by Brett Ingram.  I had read briefly about it in our local arts magazine, but didn’t know much about the subject matter.  It profiles Renaldo Kuhler, the former science illustrator for the North Carolina Museum of Natural History.  Brett filmed Mr. Kuhler over a period of ten years to make this film.  To say that Mr. Kuhler is wildly eccentric is quite the understatement, but to say that he is artistically gifted is even more of an understatement.

Kuhler’s father, Otto Kuhler, was a famous train designer during the time when trains were competing against airlines for customers, and train companies wanted a more streamlined, modern look.  In the elder Kuhler’s design, a great deal of Art Deco influence shows through.  Renaldo Kuhler revealed that his father was away from home for long periods of time, and when he was at home, had great disdain for his son.  He never mentions that his father sat down with him and taught him his artistic techniques, so I deduced that clearly genetics were at play.

To escape what Kuhler perceived as a very negative young life (his mother was mean, kids teased him incessantly), he invented an entirely new country, in his mind, called Rocaterrania.  Everything I will tell you about Rocaterrania exists solely in Kuhler’s own mind and in his staggering body of artwork.  Rocaterrania is said to be located on the New York/Canadian border, a separate country from the United States, and Rocaterrania bears strong similarities to Russia at the time of the Russian Revolution.  Kuhler has drawn citizen after citizen of this country; developed a language, an alphabet and a font, (which was used in the title sequence of Stan Brakhage’s Dog Star Man); developed a history, a governmental structure, and has developed and depicted all of this through his artwork.  His art ranges from landscapes to incredibly ornate architecture to his most prolific subject, people and costuming.  Even though the film clocks in at just under 80 minutes, the sheer volume of art, letters, alphabet, history, all written, drawn and painted by Kuhler is mind-boggling.  I felt as though he must have a form of graphomania, a condition I have never seen except in Crumb, where underground comic artist Robert Crumb’s brother Charles displays this in a tragic downward spiral.

The film opens with Kuhler showing the viewer a tiny female shrew’s skull, which he must draw for the Museum.  He looks through a microscope and draws, with exact precision.  Kuhler relates that the NC Museum of Natural History hired him without an interview based solely on his artwork.

Rocaterrania is available through Brett Ingram’s website, www.brettingram.org, and is truly a feast for the senses.  Anyone who thinks themselves an artist should definitely procure a copy post haste.  You will not believe your eyes.  I would say Rocaterrania is one of the most interesting documentaries I’ve ever seen.  Absolutely recommended and will become an oft-watched fixture on our DVD shelf.