Friday, May 28, 2010

Rodrigo D: No Future (1990)

Rodrigo D (Ramiro Meneses) is a Colombian youth who aspires to join a punk-rock band. His musical skills are negligible, but Rodgrigo feels sympatico with the punkers: he's angry, alienated and destructive. A member of a motorcycle gang that robs and pillages neighboring communities (several of the "actors" were actual street kids, six of whom were killed after the movie was completed), Rodrigo ends up a "big man" only through use of brute force. He finally ends up in the notorious city of Medellin, where he finds it impossible to escape the drug-and-violence syndrome that he thought he'd left behind in the slums. Rodrigo D: No Future is of historical interest in that it was the first Colombian film to be entered in the Cannes Festival. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 91 mins
Rodrigo D: No Future (1990)

Part of the plot was hard to follow with cuts to seemingly random events. Ultimately this film proves their is no honor among thieves. In his effort to prove his worth he kills a police officer but his new friends quickly abandon him and ultimately actually kill him themselves.

The film also notes how many of the actors had passed away which tragically is the most interesting aspect of the film. Just like many from South America, I find stories like this as predictable and dull. They may have some social justice quality but those facts are not in dispute.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Buffalo Soldiers (2001)

Australian director Gregor Jordan makes his sophomore effort with this tale about crooked U.S. soldiers based in Germany during the waning days of the cold war. Special Fourth Class soldier Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix) guards against the Soviets while on duty, and rips off the U.S. military while off duty. Handsome, calculating, and thoroughly amoral, Elwood runs a profitable black-market business that operates just below the official radar. He and his associates make drugs to sell to his fellow GIs; steal Army supplies, selling them to a German connection; and a host of other dirty deeds. One day, he and his gang uncover some loot that will land them some real money -- high-tech military weaponry. As they try to quietly offload the stuff, the new sergeant, Robert K. Lee (Scott Glenn), catches on to Elwood's nefarious deeds and sets out to put him out of businesses. Elwood, in turn, catches on to the fact that Lee has a very attractive daughter (Anna Paquin) and sets out to bed her. This film was screened at the 2001 Toronto Film Festival. ~ Jonathan Crow, All Movie Guide
See All Buffalo Soldiers Trailers and Clips

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 99 mins
Buffalo Soldiers (2001)

Watched this with a close relative and she asked if I thought it was anything close to reality. Truly a fictional account but still has elements that appear in any bureaucracy especially government run. Some of the same elements are shown on a more benign level in films like "M*A*S*H" with Radar being similar to efficient Elwood. For example Radar in the last Mash episode I watched he got his CO to sign off a discharge for a sheep that the Greeks has donated to the unit for a party. Radar may have not been doing it for malicious reasons but still he was doing it for personal and not to the betterment of his unit. Stripes also comes to mind about this sentiment of the US military but more with regards to peace time operations.

Before watching the film I came across this: An Interview With Gregor Jordan.
MOVIE CITY NEWS: I imagine that one of the complaints you'll hear about Buffalo Soldiers is that it's just another attempt by Hollywood liberals to slander our proud fighting men and women. Guilty or not guilty?

GREGOR JORDAN: I grew up on an Air Force base in Australia, where my father was a pilot. He fought in Vietnam, so I grew up on war stories and around soldiers.

I don't see this film as anti-American or anti-military. It poses some interesting philosophical questions about warfare, aggression and the need for violence by certain people ... I think that idea really translates well in these characters.

MCN: Obviously, then, you don't see Buffalo Soldiers as being hopelessly dated by the swirl of events in Iraq and Afghanistan?

GJ: It's of its time, yes, but I think the film actually is way more topical now, than it was before. It says that war and warfare are things certain human beings really like and want.

There are warlike people out there who are aggressive and expansionist. Those ideals of the '60s and '70s - you know, "give peace a chance" - seem to be overly romantic.

MCN: That's a fairly extreme notion, especially for a Hollywood movie.

GJ: Warfare is something quite innate in humans ... war was invented way before diplomacy. Today, it is seen as this weird aberration, which only happens when diplomacy breaks down ... and no one really wants war.

This movie suggests that there are people out there who do. This may be a pessimistic viewpoint, but I think it's a fact.

I would say this is anti-military in the least. Mainly for the basic fact that it paints the military as not capable of being just a standing army and has to resort to self destruction. But I put that aside since it does have an important message about failure to value the standing army in peace times as well as war times.

Still worth watching it overall. Rating: 3.5 (/5)

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Cow (1971)

This highly symbolic Iranian drama (shot in black-and-white) revolves around the most important figure in a remote rural village. That figure is the village's sole cow, owned by Mashdi Hassan (Ezat Entezani). The beginning of the film makes clear just how vital the cow is to the life of the village and how much Mashdi and his neighbors cherish it. When the cow is threatened and then killed by members of a nearby clan, Mashdi becomes so distraught that he is gradually transformed into a cow himself. One highlight of this film is the glimpse it offers into a style of rural life which has gone unchanged for thousands of years. ~ Clarke Fountain, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 100 mins
The Cow (1971)

Dust cover script:
Influenced by Italian Neorealism. The Cow has the beauty and simplicity associated with the great films that movement. In a small village in Iran, Hassan cherishes his cow more than anything in the world. While he is away, the cow mysteriously dies, and the villagers protectively try to convince Hassan the cow has only wandered off. Grief stricken, Hassan begins to believe he is his own beloved bovine.

The Cow won great acclaim at the Venice Film Festival after being smuggled out of Iran in 1971, and was twice voted best Iranian film ever made by a survey of Iranian film critics.

Quite a feat to be voted best especially considering the number of great films I have seen.

At the end, the group watching it will me wondered if the village and Hassan would have been better off if he had been told the truth and allowed a natural grieving process to develop naturally. As not seeing the body, Hassan reacted with disbelief and then the delusions of himself being the cow. If I had been there I would just have asked some questions and if all else fails-try to "milk" his cow.

DVD Bonus Features:
* Interview with Dariush Mehrjui
* Film Notes by Godfrey Cheshire
* Director Biography
* Photo Gallery

A funny little film although I seriously did not find as much substance as the film critics praised it. Not much on social commentary but some may have shown the benefit of showing a culture from the past.

Paths of Glory (1957)

Adapting Humphrey Cobb's novel to the screen, director Stanley Kubrick and his collaborators Calder Willingham and Jim Thompson set out to make a devastating anti-war statement, and they succeeded above and beyond the call of duty. In the third year of World War I, the erudite but morally bankrupt French general Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) orders his troops to seize the heavily fortified "Ant Hill" from the Germans. General Mireau (George MacReady) knows that this action will be suicidal, but he will sacrfice his men to enhance his own reputation. Against his better judgment, Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) leads the charge, and the results are appalling. When, after witnessing the slaughter of their comrades, a handful of the French troops refuse to leave the trenches, Mireau very nearly orders the artillery to fire on his own men. Still smarting from the defeat, Mireau cannot admit to himself that the attack was a bad idea from the outset: he convinces himself that loss of Ant Hill was due to the cowardice of his men. Mireau demands that three soldiers be selected by lot to be executed as an example to rest of the troops. Acting as defense attorney, Colonel Dax pleads eloquently for the lives of the unfortunate three, but their fate is a done deal. Even an eleventh-hour piece of evidence proving Mireau's incompetence is ignored by the smirking Broulard, who is only interested in putting on a show of bravado. A failure when first released (it was banned outright in France for several years), Paths of Glory has since taken its place in the pantheon of classic war movies, its message growing only more pertinent and potent with each passing year (it was especially popular during the Vietnam era). ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 87 mins
Paths of Glory (1957)

Although this film was highly recommend by a friend, and deserves accolades for the film's outstanding portrayal of war {WWI}, it was not the anti-war film from my self appraisal. There is no denying the similarities with the film and book "All Quiet on the Western Front". As such, Paths of Glory was more along the lines of an anti-WWI movie. One that showed the horror of war with a set of strategic paradigms when the weapons of war had changed but the general's approach had not.

Throwing good men after a hill worth nothing proved the war was not worth the costs in young men's lives. When the Americans arrived, they set out to not be boxed by the paradigms currently employed. According to my history class. some strategists had assumed that when their side lost so many that they could calculate the amount lost on the opposing side without a complete assessment.

Ultimately in the end, the authoritarian hierarchical organization only wanted to preserve order and individual lives of the soldiers meant nothing. As the three executed were all innocent compared to what was expected of them and the truly guilty got free. One squad commander had killed one of his men and as such he selected the man that knew it to the court marshal hearings. And lastly, Colonel Dax was sent to the front again. Life expectancy was not long in the front lines and was a punishment for not accepting the field promotion.

PS: I know that I am a little thick but my review is more along that it was an anti-WWI type war. Every war has its own unique circumstances so much of that was specific to WWI, especially the fact that everything was so "civilized" and civil just a few miles away from the battle lines. War was glorious as long as you were a civilian or someone not in the trenches. Much as "All Quiet on the Western Front" portrayed.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friends But The Mountains (2000)

Kevin McKiernan directs this passionate account about the plight of the Kurds, the world's largest minority without a nation. The film opens with McKiernan shopping around his painstakingly researched findings to ABC's Nightline and other news telecasts only to meet complete indifference. From there, he describes the Gunduz family, an exiled Kurdish family. The film cuts between grisly footage from the front lines of Turkey's bloody Kurdish repression to the struggles of Gunduz patriarch Kani, who works as a congressional lobbyist. ~ Jonathan Crow, All Movie Guide
Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friends But The Mountains (2000)

It covers some interesting angles about the two brothers that their status regarding immigration is in peril including the one brother has to pay back student loans that he fraudulently obtained with a false ID. The courts set the bail at one time to the ridiculous amount of $250,000.

Dust Cover:
Filmaker and acclaimed freelance journalist Kevin McKiernan poses this question at the outset of this stirring, provocative film shot in part by legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler. It's all in how you define "good" and "bad". "Good Kurds" are those in Iraq: they're Saddam Hussein's victims, whom we want to help. "Bad Kurds" are those waging an armed insurrection against Turkey, an American ally: they're at the receiving end of U.S. weaponry.

McKiernan went to northern Iraq to cover the uprising against Saddam Hussein. Just a few miles away, no one was covering the hidden war in Turkey. McKiernan determined he would report the story independently.

Good Kurds, Bad Kurds brings sharp clarity to a complicated history, while providing disturbing insight into immigration practices and U.S. foreign policy.

While a good introduction to the duopoly of how the US views the PKK, it left out a lot of the history of the PKK and how it has transitioned to more moderate positions. It also did not note any actions that the PKK and other Kurdish groups are doing in Iran, and they would also be defined as the "good Kurds".

Another aspect that I have studied before is how Democracy Now with Amy Goodman also defines in subtle ways the dichotomy of views of the Kurds/PKK being good or bad depending on who they oppose. Throughout the 90s and into 2000 Goodman reported a bias in presenting them based on what state they were acting against. It was like taking the US State Department typography of the ideologies and transposing them 180 degrees. Amy Goodman, et al was not opposing for the fact of being in the right but just opposing all US positions irregardless of facts and circumstances.

Lastly, the film did not note the ties between the Kurds and Israel. The film notes that the Kurds feel that if the Jewish/Palestinian issues are resolved then the world would be more responsive to the requests of the Kurds. These ties also make them "Bad Kurds" in the eyes of Amy Goodman and her ilk.

For presenting a side of the conflicts in Iraq/Turkey rarely discussed this was an excellent film. The film was shot and produced before 9-11 and as such it presents a certain historical picture in time. I am sure he would have produced a much different documentary now.

I see as late as September 2006 Kani "Xulam's" status was still undecided in the USA...
US: Kani Xulam could face deportation 9.2.2006 By Don M. Burrows| The people behind the persecution

Kani Xulam on Turkish Kurdish relations

American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN)

Chandni Bar (2003)

Heading to Bombay with her lone surviving relative after she loses her parents and her town is destroyed by religious strife, young Mumtaz (Tabu) has a difficult time adjusting to a place where jobs seems scarce and life is cheap. Informed by distant relative Iqbal (Rajpal Yadav) that the only job available at the time is a position in the sordid Chandni Bar, Mumtaz's guardian, Mamu Irfan, reluctantly accepts the position in order to provide for her young charge. Soon addicted to drugs, Mamu Irfan finds solace only in the company of her equally despondent co-workers. The arrival of corrupt political henchman Potiya (Atul Kulkarni) provides a glimmer of hope as he falls for Mamu Irfan, though after a brief marriage and a pair of children later, Potiya quickly disappears never to be seen again. Despite Mamu Irfan's best efforts to keep Mumtaz and her children shielded from the bleak realities of her own life, fate soon descends a series of crippling blows on the hapless family. ~ Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide
Chandni Bar (2003)

Another long {over 2 hours} melodramatic film depicting the life and lives of women in India. The film is very predictable as characters portent the end result of their family-that destiny and background dictates the future. It was almost like a caste system in place as people are held down by poor decisions or such high level of constraints creating limited possibilities and opportunities.

It was much in the tradition of Mother India (1957) and even one character tells Mumtaz that she is basically Mother India and as such you sill suffer long and hard and same with your children.

The film started out as showing religious persecution but as soon as the two move to Mumbai all former religious out-showings disappear. Most of the men end up being "pimps" and the word is used quite frequently in the film {translation stated "pump" on my version}. Even in the end Mumtaz and her daughter to a lesser degree gets "pimped" out to try to raise money to save the family-specifically the son from prison.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Death of a President (2006)

The assassination of the most powerful leader in the free world is examined in this controversial mockumentary from British filmmaker Gabriel Range. On October 19, 2007, president George W. Bush is visiting Chicago when he impulsively stops to shake hands with supporters en route to a meeting, while a throng of protesters demonstrate nearby. Shots ring out, and Bush is fatally wounded. As America and its allies deal with the tragic loss of their leader, vice president Dick Cheney is sworn in as the new chief executive, and while he takes the reigns of the nation and pushes new and aggressive anti-terrorism legislation through Congress, the Federal Bureau of Investigation steps into action to track down the gunman. As Secret Service agents and law enforcement officers share their thoughts on how the murder of the president could have been avoided, and people around the globe discuss how Bush's death has tipped the delicate balance of relations between the United States and the Middle East, a Syrian Muslim activist living in Chicago, Jamal Abu Zikri (Malik Bader), is charged with the murder of the president. While no "smoking gun" connects Zikri to the crime, a wealth of circumstantial evidence points to him as the gunman, and he's tried, found guilty, and executed in short order. However, lingering questions persist as some wonder if the F.B.I. found the right man with the right motives. Created using a combination of newsreel footage, computer-generated images, and newly staged material, Death of a President (aka D.O.A.P.) received the International Critics Prize at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival, despite negative reaction from many American political commentators, many of whom were deeply offended by the film's depiction of the assassination of Bush, the sitting U.S. president at the time of the picture's production and release. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 97 mins
Death of a President (2006)

The one special feature of the DVD was a compilation of interviews with the director and others about the film and specifically why they felt a sitting president should be the subject of an assassination film. While I got a better picture of why they did it, it still did not excuse the fact that it glorifies something that would be just as damaging to the USA as 9-11 (IMHO). The obvious reason to do it was because of the ability to use archival footage of news reels and to create a sense of reality that a pure fictional account would lack. So in that sense it had to be created as it was. The actual gun shot scene where the President gets hit, was very well done as it was the real president and then with in a few frames it appears as if he really gets shot and is falling down. I went frame by frame and was amazed at the technical skills for the transition.

The director states that maybe he will do one with Tony Blair but that never materialized. Wonder if he will do one with Obama? Not like he does not have his haters already too. No I am not one of them-although dislike is right up there.

The film is not really kind to all the people that would be likely to assassinate a president even to KKK members, al-Qaeda, war protesters and anarchists etc.

Avatar (2009)

A paraplegic ex-marine finds a new life on the distant planet of Pandora, only to find himself battling humankind alongside the planet's indigenous Na'vi race in this ambitious digital 3D sci-fi epic from Academy Award-winning Titanic director James Cameron. The film, which marks Cameron's first dramatic feature since 1997's Titanic, follows Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a war veteran who gets called to the depths of space to pick up the job of his slain twin brother for the scientific arm of a megacorporation looking to mine the planet of Pandora for a valued ore. Unfortunately the biggest deposit of the prized substance lies underneath the home of the Na'vi, a ten-foot-tall, blue-skinned native tribe who have been at war with the security arm of the company, lead by Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang). Because of the planet's hostile atmosphere, humans have genetically grown half-alien/half-human bodies which they can jack their consciousnesses into and explore the world in. Since Jake's brother already had an incredibly expensive Avatar grown for him, he's able to connect with it using the same DNA code and experience first-hand the joys of Pandora while giving the scientific team, led by Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore), some well-needed protection against the planet's more hostile forces.

On a chance meeting after getting separated from his team, Jake's Avatar is rescued by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), a Na'vi princess, who brings him into her tribe in order to give the humans a second chance at relating to this new environment. When word gets out of his increasing time with the alien species, Quaritch enlists Jake to do some reconnaissance for the company, as they'd like to persuade the tribe to move their home before taking more drastic measures to harness the treasure hidden below. Yet as Jake becomes one with the tribe and begins to understand the secrets of Pandora, his conscience is torn between his new adopted world and the wheelchair-bound one awaiting him when the psychic connection to his Avatar is broken. Soon battle lines are drawn and Jake needs to decide which side he will fight on when the time comes. The film was shot on the proprietary FUSION digital 3D cameras developed by Cameron in collaboration with Vince Pace, and offers a groundbreaking mix of live-action dramatic performances and computer-generated effects. The revolutionary motion-capture system created for the film allows the facial expressions of actors to be captured as a virtual camera system enables them to see what their computer-generated counterparts will be seeing in the film, and Peter Jackson's Oscar-winning Weta Digital visual-effects house supervises Avatar's complex special effects. ~ Jeremy Wheeler, All Movie Guide
Avatar (2009)

Clearly, from all the links below, I was quite curious as how the film would appear to myself. It was nothing special really in terms of changing my opinion and no revelation occurred with the heavens opening up to reveal the splendor of gaia. It was more of the save the biosphere by at least getting the creatures to destroy the evil invading army. Like most films of its ilk, it tries to paint "corporations" as having all power including owning weapons. I seriously doubt that humans would allow that. The example more likely to be reality is Star Trek where government explores areas before trading occurs between civilizations and worlds.

For special effects and just a general fun film to watch, I rate it pretty high, but not too much for intellectual depth.

Things I learned while watching Avatar: AMERICAN DIGEST

Avatar = what I choose to be

Alternate World, Alternate Technology

Avatar is Great and Libertarian - Stephan Kinsella - Mises Economics Blog

Ironies of Avatar 20 December 2009

Blue Man Group

Not Right-Wing Friendly :: Hollywood Elsewhere

The Movie Avatar: Three Points of Interest « Ernest Bazanye: I Dance The Internet

Why It’s OK for Conservatives to Enjoy Avatar

Audiences experience 'Avatar' blues -

Olympia (1938) & Disc II

Having proven her mettle with her still-astonishing propaganda epic Triumph of the Will, German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl furthered her reputation with the two-part Olympia, an all-inclusive filmed record of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In its original 220-minute form, the film was designed as a paean to Aryan superiority, likening the strong-limbed young German athletes with the godlike participants of the ancient Olympic games. By accident or design, however, the film transcends politics, resulting in an across-the-board tribute to all the Olympic partcipants -- even those whose racial makeup did not come up to the "pure" standards established by the Third Reich. This is especially true in the first portion of the film, in which black American runner Jessie Owens emerges as the star. The second half of the film is the more impressive technically, with Riefenstahl utilizing an astonishing variety of camera speeds and angles to record the diving competition. Working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, Riefenstahl and her staff were often denied desirable camera angles, forcing them to improvise with telephoto lenses; the results are often far more dramatically impressive than the up-close-and-personal approach taken by contemporary TV cameramen. After an editing process that took nearly 18 months, Riefenstahl added icing to the cake with a richly evocative soundtrack -- an added touch which, so far as the filmmaker was concerned, "made" the picture. Inasmuch as the German government was still trying to curry favor with the outside world in early 1938, Olympia was shipped out in various reedited versions, each favoring the athletes of the release country. Many English-language versions avoided any references to Hitler or Nazism -- quite a feat, considering the preponderence of swastikas at the Olympic site. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 204 mins
Olympia (1938)

The opening scene has some creative film making with lots of naked bodies and 3 young adult female athletes topless interacting. Sort of like the gratuitous sexuality of when Showtime had the three ladies doing floor exercises together at late night viewing.

Just as the review above notes, Jessie Owens gets plenty of limelight and was much more balanced {at least on the first disc} than I had heard it was. There did tend to be a little more German jubilance and of course the Swastika but since filmed in Germany it was bound to have some obvious bias.

Overall from the first disc, it was a good historical record of most of the events. The pole vault competition was quite fierce and was one of the most interesting aspects of the film.
I believe the competition was like 9 hours long and well after dark when a winner was decided.

I have decided to watch the second disc, hoping that it will be worth it...

Disc II:
The second disc at least did not disappoint me. Although the main film was much more of the same general news reel type documentary as the first disc, the filming was very good and included many different angles including from the various athlete's perspective.

It starts out with a short clip of the topless young girls on the disc and there is an extended section of young men running around naked and swimming and then going to the sauna. The fencing also was very good although with B/W the narrow blades were hard to see, especially as the contestants were fast.

Bonus Features also made this disc well worth watching it also. They include 1. a biography of the director Leni Riefenstahl which notes that she also did "Triumph des Willens" or better known as RDRutherford Movie Reviews: Triumph of the Will (1934). 2. Deleted scene of the "Olympia Oath" which obviously is a little strange as it closely resembled the Nazi oaths. 3. Alternate scenes of: Sailing, Gymnastics, Fencing, Wrestling, Boxing, Score Boards. 4. Still Gallery. 5. Essay by David Calvert Smith. 6. "Jugend Der Welt"-"Youth of the World" which was the winter Olympic games in Germany but the quality was not as good as the main film-over 30 minutes. 7. "Die Kamera Faurt Mit"-The Camera Goes Along which is a documentary about the filming of the movie.