(some recent independent films NOT from this festival are included here)
(Note: Some film reviews are being moved to more subject-matter specific files; direct links are given)
Title: Poles Apart and other films from the Minneapolis St Paul Film Festival of 2001
Release Date: 2001
Nationality and Language:
Distributor and Production Company:
Relevance to Doaskdotell site: independent films
From the 2001 Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival (and Sundance)
Memento (Sundance festival)
Startup.com (not in festival)
Chopper (not in festival)
Six Days in Roswell (2000 festival)
This is the first film in my recollection to be make entirely on location in Lappland—in
this case, Finnish and apparently Russian, in an Arctic coast area west of Archelangelsk or
I don’t know where you can find the Lapp songs on the Internet, but here is a site, PSR Tech, for native-American music: http://www.virtualnetspace.com/culture
The Quiet Storm, produced and directed by Scott Sterling, Zenith Films, 52 minutes.
First, this film title reminds me both of “The Quite Man”
and of “The Perfect Storm,” and it can go head to heads with anything from
the major studios. The script concerns
a teenage relationship that goes awry, the male captivating his girl friend
with almost psychopathic lies, clearly designed to “blame” her for
non-events. Unable to resist his charm and false charisma, she falls into
inviting his abuse. Eventually, well,
the boy doesn’t stay out of jail—and the inside of a Hennepin County jail cell,
with its steel commode and nothing else, makes for a chilling encounter of a
young man going nowhere—although maybe he is caught in time to be
redeemed. The script has the intensity
of some of the great ones, like Traffic, Virginia Wolf and Year of Living
Dangerously. As with many independent
films, everything is shot on location (no sound stage), on streets upon which
I have walked myself. This film has an
intimate reality rarely found in larger studio films. The only question on the script was the
interweaving of before-looks and after-looks, which might work better if the
script were expanded to feature length.
(I love that line, “I bombed my English test”—Oh, do I remember those
tests on Shakespeare!) This film was
originally produced for educational purposes, but if expanded to feature
length it could look pretty attractive to more progressive distributors (like
Artisan, Lions Gate,
produced and directed by Greg Stiever. This documentary
chronicles the first all-female trek across
The on-location scenery is stunning, especially the Thiel mountains and then the South Pole itself, where surprisingly the women find civilization.
For another voyage film visit Rock the Boat.
Bill’s Gun Shop, from Dangerous Films, directed by Dean Lincoln Hyers, produced by J. Michael Tabor, written by Rob
Nilsson, starring Scott Cooper, John Ashton, Victor Rivers, Tom Bower, James
Keene, Carolyn Hauck, Sage, Jacy Dummermuth.
Again. The independent, locally produced film (this was shot on
location in the Twin Cities and in southern Minnesota) imparts an urgency and
tension lacking in the glitz and polish from bigger operations (and, again,
why does Hollywood have to cover up real companies and real locations when
small filmmakers don’t?). In fact, the
film has stunning photography (seems wide screen) and a pinpoint digital
sound track. And we identify with the
23-year old Dillon McCarty (Scott Cooper), starting out his adult life with a
bit of personal schism, between being a mild-mannered (almost impotent) “good
guy” and wanting to emulate his movie-star police heroes and marshals. He goes to work for a gun shop and
gradually sinks into a rather scary world.
(I didn’t know that gun shop employees are expected to wear guns going
to and coming from work.) Eventually
he goes on a bounty run and has to get himself out of an impossible situation,
generating a lot of rooting interest from the audience. This film played to a full house at the
Heights Theater, and comes across as a level-headed treatment of guns and
self-defense for mainstream Americans (the film also covers racial tensions
pointedly), and not just an activity on the rightwing fringe. Compare to Tim Gordon’s short film “Trigger Effect” (2007 – don’t confuse
with 96 Universal film) reviewed on my movies blog
Stroke, directed by Rob Nilsson, starring Edwin Johnson, Teddy Weiler, Omewene, Robert Vihoro, Gabriela Maltz Larkin. Nilsson produced this dark look—filmed wide-screen in a dusky black-and-white—of San Francisco’s underbelly with his Tenderloin Y group, using real residents of the area. The story centers around a faltering 55-year-old poet struggling on the streets and slums after a series of strokes. He looks haggard, feral, and fetal with his pot belly and disintegrating skin. The artist has failed adaptively, possibly even before his health failed. Falling through the cracks of a social safety net and extended family, he struggles with other street and poor people who help him. In one harrowing scene, a friend is evicted from a tenement for having him up in the apartment. Another, a female friend risks herself sexually with him, to the tune of the second movement of the Sibelius Violin Concerto. At the end he starts to recover his speech, and then, well… People disappear, people fall through the cracks and it is a moral issue. The film contains a few other Robert Altman-style subplots that seem the meander too much.
SOME SHORT FILMS from Minnesota in 2001. Scott Bowman offers an interesting short, Spaceboy, in
which an introspective young man performs is own self-counseling by working
on a spaceship. There is a staccato of
mathematical philosophy—references to the importance of the tetrahedron as a
container for consciousness, and to the ideas of Buckminster Fuller—which
build up until the day the boy has a serious accident. Whether the subsequence experience is
“real” is up to the viewer. Let’s say
there are the appropriate references to
STAND-BY, from director Roch Stephanik (2000) was the closing night film for the 2001 Minneapolis-St, Paul International Film Festival. It tells the claustrophobic story of a woman who, abandoned almost penniless by her husband at Orly Airport in Paris before they are due to take off for Buenos Aires, survives and prospers by becoming a hooker. The wide screen format does not comport with the excessive yellows and browns in the filtering. But the consumerism of the European airport looks all the more glitzy
The Young Unknowns, (2000),directed by Catherine Jelski, starring Devon Gummersall (as Charlie) and Arly Jover (as Paloma), Eion Bailey and Cassandra, 87 minutes. This film comes across as an etude in audience manipulation over heterosexual stereotypes of gender roles and the associated bad behaviors. Charlie, as 23-year-old showbizzer living well in the fast lane but behaving very casually and contemptuosly, gets a dose of “humanity” when his mother dies. That half-way brings him out of the trap of drugs and drifting with his buddies. But the movie is supposed to make the audience mad at the characters, either at men for the way they treat women as “sex objects” or at the women for manipulating their false femininity. Now, I know people in show-biz and the behavior in this movie is not typical. Real life is really better than this, much better. Why make a film to “manipulate” the viewer and then not really say anything? This sounds like a film school master’s thesis that gives one the expected filmmaking credentials; a manifesto it is not. Anyway, I had to do “unknowns” in qualitative analysis lab in chemistry. I remember getting “one too many.”
Those Who Looked Away (or They Looked Away), 55 min., directed and written by Stuard Erdheim, is a documentary producing evidence that Allied bombers knew the locations of the crematoriums at Auschwitz-Berkenau and other concentration camps during the 1944 bombings after D-Day, in which they often hit oil refineries and similar targets very close by. I visited the Auschwitz site (40 miles from Krakow, Poland) myself in May 1999. The film is shown with a 45-documentary, The Last Nazi, about a war criminal thought to be living in Syria today.
Memento (2001 (and Insomina (2002)) http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/mmemento.htm
In 2003, New Market gave us a second big release Whale Rider, written and directed by Niki Caro, from New Zealand, based on a novel by Witi Ihimaera. This is a modern day period piece about native New Zealand Maori culture, which sound like it could resemble a native American film. A tribal leader Porougani (Cliff Curtis) aspires to keep his seafearing tribe together with a male heir, but when fraternal twins are born only the girl Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) survives. She will grow up to be more courageous in rituals than most of the boys, including a harrowing and poetic climax where she saves a herd of beached whales by riding one of them, holding on to barnacles. The communal and ritual nature of the culture, even in the modern world, comes through as the teenage boys must demonstrate their manly worthiness in collective “Big G” chestwork exercises. The film gains realism by using real Maori people to play the roles, and the medical problems associated with westernization (obesity and probably diabetes) come through. Some of the people look like products of intermarriage with Europeans. The film also gains power with on-location photography with the most effective use of film stock and hues and saturation on an immense wide-screen canvas, giving the effect of epic filmmaking.
Amores Perros moved to this link.
21 Grams moved to the same link as above.
Startup.com, (not in festival) from Artisan Entertainment, a docudrama by
Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujlam, about the rise and then crashing and burning of
Internet startup GovWorks.com (ezgov.com in the movie), as started by
thirtyish entrepreneurs Kaleil Isaza
Tuzman and Tom Herman. The “idea” was to attract local governments
to a site that would have people pay traffic fines, taxes, file tax returns,
and interact with local governments in various ways. Again, this is the paradigm that you come
up with a relatively simple transaction that people want, replicate it in the
desired variations on the Internet and become a millionaire. There’s not much real creativity or
intellectual substance (you know, the difference between authoring and
publishing), except the adrenalin rush of building a business and maybe
getting rich. The friendship of Tuzman and Herman is chronicled as the share hotel rooms
to save money when traveling for venture capital, then breaks when things go
sour and Tuzman wants Herman to go. And, well, he has to rationalize completely
firing him. The conversation is always
muted in simple phrases. The company
has rah-rahs and retreats for its employees,
singing, esprit de corps … something that would be a complete turnoff. Maybe it’s OK for a 25 year old to put in
80 hour weeks there on somebody else’s agenda if he learns something but,
according to Star Tribune reviewers, people were fired without
severance when the film went down.
Herman and Tuzman get their friendship back
in the end and well turn to vulture capitalism, a new industry in 2001. Herman, gentle in manner, was interesting,
apparently a single parent with an adopted opposite race three year old
girl. Girl friends are not very
apparent. This is no business for
family men. The film is dusky, it appears to be a
August (2008, FirstLook Features, dir. Austin Chick) Blogger. Josh Hartnett and Adam Scott struggle as brothers with an Internet startup a month before 9/11.
Ambush (Tie Rukajarven) (1999), available as far as I know only by direct import from Finland (MRP) by non-profits (such as the University of Minnestoa Film Society). In Finnish, with subtitles. Directed by Olli Saarela, written by Antti Tuuri, starring Peter Franzen (as Lt. Perkola) Irina Bjorklund, Karl Keiskanen, 123 minutes, suggest NC-17 because of graphic violence and full nudity. This is one of the most stunning war epics ever filmed, somewhat in the style of “Enemy at the Gate.” It is set in the Finnish-Russian conflict in 1942, when Lt. Perkola takes his men on a strategic march through the Karelia lake country, to get a baptism of fire in infantry combat, as graphic as any I have ever seen in film. The wide-screen photography of the Finnish countryside is stunning, as are the sets and images of troops on bicycles (no tights, please). This is a big picture, on a scale of Pearl Harbor yet very little known here. The Perkola character is played with great charisma by Franzen, another young actor waiting to become an overnight sensation. Conscientious, intellectual, well-educated and philosophical-- and preoccupied with a volunteer nurse he met on the front, he must learn how to discipline his men and deal with their all too human errors (like the man who drops his bicycle in the river crossing an improvised plank bridge). The unit cohesion issues (and even bonds of affection) are well developed from the very first scene, when an older soldier almost drowns when his buddies “baptize” him. The film is modern, taking difficult ideas into a counterpoint of thinking rather than mapping them out to a simple plot, as in Pearl Harbor. I hope that Sony Pictures Classics or Lions Gate will pick this one up pronto.
Chopper (2001), from Image Entertainment and Mushroom Films, an Australian company. The Mushroom corporate trademark is literally an H-bomb going off over Sydney harbor (homage to Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach, and not In the Wet). And violent, super-violent this film is. It’s NC-17, --that is, persons under 17 will not be admitted. It is a “fictional biography” of author Eric Read, played by comic Aussie actor Eric Bana. Well, Read is a mega-criminal, a sociopath who knocks off drug dealers and other undesirables in the most brutal ways imaginable, Dahmer-like. He is charged with only one such shotgun murder and acquitted, but while in jail commits other violent crimes on camera. We watch people bleed to death, vomit, etc. on camera. There is little sex, except for explicit talk of castration. Well, Read is all tattooed in a presumably anti-social way, his body hairless to make room for the body art. So are the other characters. The tone of this film is relentless, there is nobody to like. He equates college education to homosexuality (and there are rampant homophobic slurs in the script), and brags that he becomes a best-seller without being able to spell. Well, he winds up living in Tasmania, the most homophobic state, so he deserves it. The Aussies make great crime and detective films (like The Interview in 1999). But not this one. Sorry, a big “thumbs down.” It’s not funny.
A reader emailed me angrily that Read is a best-selling author in Australia, whether I like it or not. (I don’t.)
Six Days in
A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES (2000) from Badham Ghobadi of Iran, won the Camera d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival. It traces the odyssey of several Kurdish children trying desperately to get Madi, a 15 year old dwarf born with graphic birth defects, an operation to live a few more months. The kids traverse the border between Iran and Iraq during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. Barters of livestock, dowries and arranged marriages ensue in an attempt to pay for the surgery. The Kurds, a bit of a mystery people, were the victims of Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons. Their standard of living is abysmal because they are not free. In Farsi and Kurdish with subtitles..
DIVIDED WE FALL (Sony Pictures Classics, 2000, Czech and German), winner of
the Sundance Best Foreign Language Film, presents a somewhat funny story that
could be compared to The Diary of Anne Frank (recently remade by
Directed by Jan Hrebejik, with Bolek Polivka, Csongor Kassai, Jaroslav Dusek, Anna Siskova.
Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (2002), from
The winners of the Maybery award for 2001 were The Atlas Moth, by Rolf Belgum, and Bill’s Gun Shop (above). Belgum’s film was a kind of rhapsody about rural entomology, hunting, rock music, auto mechanics (the infamous U-joint) and brain chemistry. The shorts were Mike Hazard’s “Eugene McCarty: I’m Sorry I was Right” and “An Idiot’s Guide to Running for President,” by Jim Taylor.
Okay, these next two films aren’t from this festival, but here goes:
Gregg Holtgrewe directs his fantasy, Waiting All Day
for the Green Face of the Hummingbird (If I Were a Lily) (Crew Works,
2002, about 55 min.) in which a young man (played by A. C. Spencer) gets lost
in David Lynch-like fantasies over the apparent loss of his mother (remember
the original 1960 Psycho) and disconnection
with real spouses (or girl friends, maybe) as mannequins and real women
become interchangeable. It’s more like Lost Highway than
And then there is Melody Gilbert’s documentary Married at the Mall (2002, Frozen Feet, 60 min.)a film that she uses when teaching documentary filmmaking techniques. Here the subject matter and “problem” deal with couples who marry in the chapel at the Mall of America near Minneapolis. Often they are older people who have already led several past lives. The film does illustrate the basic techniques of filmmaking well, with the variety of shots and layers and evolution of the subject matter through showing rather than just telling. The look tends to be metallic and pink and consumerist, like the Mall itself, until it gets outside on honeymoons. There is a particularly interesting shot at the Spring Creek campground of a tunnel on a motorcycle trail (it reminds me of the Sparta tunnels in Wisconsin).
Map of the Human Heart (1993, Miramax/Polygram, dir. Vincent Ward, is a grand looking pre World War II adventure when a pilot takes an Inuit with tuberculosis to a Catholic foster home, after which she falls in love with a Frenchman, who will hire the pilot again for reunification while fighting the Nazis, and run in to all kinds of family loyalty problems.
In the summer of 2002 Lot47 released the daring epic film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, directed by Zacharias Kunuk (172 minutes, filmed in Beta digital). This provides an intimate look at adaptive Inuit (Eskimo) life in the Baffin region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. The story builds slowly in terms of typical jealousies, and builds to a climax as one of the characters escapes by running barefoot across the ice pack. At the end, the matriarch of one of the tribes evicts some of the men. The rituals and occasional primitive violence, as well as the scenes inside igloos, are stunning. It is stunning how much can be done with a screenplay about a primitive-looking society in which much more goes on than we would imagine.
Shortly after I moved to Minneapolis in 1997, a graduating
Hamline University college student helped me get on television with a lecture
on my book, and in the course of things I heard a lot about college-student group-house
(not exactly frat house) life (the notorious “1521 Club”). Well, here is a
movie about such a property at the University of Minnesota. The film is Camcorder,
from One Camera Productions, produced, written and directed by Dave Gillette.
It is a bit more than a home-movie account of campus life, framed at
different screen aspect sizes for different levels of narration. The students
interact in gentle ways, talking about part-time jobs (like flood control),
hangovers, student loans, homecomings. There’s no real mystery. The living
conditions look a bit crowded. Toward the end the film progresses towards
graduation. Jesse Ventura punctuates the narrative, with inevitable epigrams
like, “you don’t have the automatic right to feel good about yourself until
you accomplish something.” True,
that’s the libertarian idea—and part of the culture wars. The lineup for
Cinema Lounge at Bryant Lake Bowl in August 2000 also included
BALLAD by Charles Mruz, AUS
Regarding roommate setups, in 2003, Fox Searchlihgt released L’Auberge Espagnole (The Spanish Inn), directed by Cedric Klapisch, in which a French graduate student Xavier (Romain Duris) travels to Barcelona in an exchange program and has to interview a group of exchange students from Germany, Italy, Denmark, and England to get a room in an overpriced “group apartment.” The film plays games with the idea of European identity (there is one professor insisting in teaching in Catalonian), and covers a lot of plot setup with time-lapse shots and fantasy sequences. Barcelona is absolutely spectacular. For once, we have a director who rejoices in the natural, hairy-chested male, and the idea of giving up the corporate-government world to become a writer. .
Returning to the subject of digital video, Final Cut, iMovie and the like (and, for that matter, filmmakers who swear by 16 mm), there is an example of the disaster that can result when a big budget Hollywood director (Steven Soderbergh) tries to have the fun of a filmmaker or writer who has an income from something else (a “day job”) and writes or films what he wants. When amateurs do it in Cinema Lounge, it works, but not when “established” Hollywood pros try to imitate the freedom of us kiddie filmmakers. The mess is Full Frontal (101 minutes, Miramax, rated “R”, 2002), reviewed at the link shown here.
The Central Standard Film Festival (run in Minneapolis at the same time as the SoundUnSeen film festival in September 2002), featured a number of little gems. Two 50-minute documentaries add more substance to GLBT arguments. Shades of Grey (Tim DePaepe) presented the debate of the proposed “Simply Equal” non-discrimination ordinance in Lawrence, Kansas (aka Smallville, the home of Kansas University, where I attended graduate school). Fred Phelps makes his “God hates f__s” presentation in a way that is especially chilling, reminding one of other videotapes from, shall we say, the other end of the earth (although Phelps maintains that he does not believe in discriminating against race). (The reader can do his own searching on Google about this person, I will decline to give links.) More revolutionary was Daddy and Papa (Johnny Symons), which traces several gay fathers in San Francisco. At least one is single, and prefers raising a child to cocktail parties and trips to Greece. One gay male couple is taken through the adoption process, including a home inspection visit from the social worker who asks about drugs and weapons and inspects the home closely for safety issues such as medicine cabinets that do not lock. “F__k and you’re a parent. If you’re gay, you have to go through the Inquisition to become a father.” There is even a scene with the family bed, and a boudoir is converted to a play pen, complete with lego trains. One odd scene has a father talking about being a dad while being kneaded by his cat.
Alvin Ecarma produces Lethal Force (Diversity Films, 2001), not to be confused with Lethal Weapon I, II, etc. This wonderful little satire is just plain gore. Cash Flagg. Jr. plays the indestructible hit man, who finally gets it at the end. You get to see impalements, eye gouging, and faces blow off. Okay, you cab “check it out.” It reminds you of the Dollars movies, Hannibal (there is an allusion to the dinner party), Reservoir Dogs, The Wild Bunch, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, even (below) Pieces.
An interesting exercise in “abstract film” comes from Shane Nelson with his prosaic 16mm A Film in Three Parts (2002), shown at Cinema Lounge by IFPMSP in Minneapolis in October 2002. The title rather reminds me of Igor Stravinsky’s “A Symphony in Three Movements.” No, Mr. Nelson didn’t use Stravinsky, choosing current rock as a very detailed digital soundtrack to accompany the clips on “extreme sports” followed by a mock adult encounter. But the effect – of technique and manipulation away from feeling—is rather like Stravinsky. In any case, we get to see stunts that you would expect from an James Bond or Van Diesel movie—skateboarding and ski jumping. The three “movements” are “Technique” (OK, Allegro), “Style” (OK, Andante), and “Who Give….” (OK, a concluding romp of a Rondo).
Shane offers other short films, like the NOFX video “Seeing Double at the Triple Rock,” (2006, dir. Justin Staggs)in which Jesus appears during the performance of a rock band. For details, visit Omni-Fusion.
Another of Shane’s films is Jon Robinson Audition for Temptation Island, shown May 2003 at a presentation by Cine-Magic. Here there was some comic allusion to reality TV and Elimi-date, particular the propensity of producers of those shows to choose the least aggressive, “masculine” and “attractive” male to go home with the girl. (The producers choose the winners, not the girls.)
Blue Car (2002) is one of the highlights of the 2003 Festival (Miramax, directed by Karen Moncrieff, produced by Peter Oppenheimer, Amy Sommer and David Waters, starring Agnre Bruckner, David Strathalm, Margaret Colin, Frances Fisher); it was the centerpiece of a benefit (at the Minneapolis Riverview Theater) for Corner House (Corner House Interagency Child Abuse Evaluation and Training Center), a legal and assistance facility for sexually abused children, with Twin Cities native actor Josh Harnett as one of the hosts. (After the benefit, the audience surged forward for autographs, although the Minneapolis Police did not allow him to autograph for more than a few minutes.) The story with the breaking of a family, as the father drives away in a blue car, leaving the artistically gifted Meg to grow up in a low income Ohio single parent family with a little sister who may grow anorexic later. Her middle-aged male English teacher discovers her talent for writing poetry, and soon she clamors to go to Florida for a competition. She can’t afford to, and of course that is what generates the “must do” in the plot. Well, her behavior does not reflect well on her character, and neither does that of the teacher—and at this point I will say that the denouement is too predictable for me. The show included a trailer for Josh’s new film “Hollywood Homicide” in which his character “wants to be an actor rather than a cop”
Retreat (2002), a 30-minute horror war drama by
Darin Heinis (and Aaronstokes),
won a special jury award at the
Confidence (2003, Lions Gate), directed by James Foley and written by Doug Jung, provided the closing night gala for the Twin Cities International Film Festival. It is a complex crime caper with a hint of black comedy, where grafter Jake (played by Ed Burns) goes after a mafia bill collector and runs into a gay crime boss Winston King played magnificently by Dustin Hoffman, who obviously seems tempted by Jake’s masculinity. The story builds from one situation to another, much of it referring to the kind of creative derivative accounting that brought down Enron. James Foley did a spirited Q and A afterwards, in which he expressed his passion for making movies a bigger amalgamation of arts and life experiences rather than a formulaic storytelling exercise to bring in shopping mall audiences and make quick profits. Foley also mentioned his preference for anamorphic (widescreen) lenses. Even son, this film, at least, displays tight narrative and storytelling.
Four Feet (2002), a short film by Lisa Schiller, produced by Ann Luster, with Shelby Robin and Brittany Shoberg. A 14-year-old girl has just lost a leg in a car accident and is being introduced to life with a prosthesis. In her hospital room, a roommate afflicted by cystic fibrosis arrives (“four feet” away) and soon demands all of the attention, invoking all kinds of artsy fantasies of the playground late autumn world outside the window. The CF patient quickly becomes medically desperate, coughing phlegm into basins on camera but still trying to keep her hopes. Happy endings are relative in a micro-universe like this. This was shown at IFP Cinema Lounge in May, 2003.
Death and the Maiden (1994, Fine Line, dir. Roman Polanski, play by Ariel Dorman, 103 min, R, UK) is a famous political thriller where Sigourney Weaver plays a housewife Paulina Escobar and grassroots political activist in a somewhat Fascist South American country (it seems to be Chile) is convinced that her lawyer husband (Stuart Wilson) has fallen victim to a neighbor Dr. Miranda (Ben Kingsley) who may have raped and tortured her during an old regime. She arranged to kidnap him to get at the truth. Quite a clever plot. The title of the movie comes from the name of the famous d-minor string quartet by Franz Schubert, which is often played. At one point, she says, “did you know that Schubert was a homosexual?” It’s not clear if he was.
Trainspotting (1996, Miramax / Polygram / Channel 4, dir. Danny Boyle, R, 94 min) is a graphic picture of the drug scene in Edinburgh, Scotlandwith Ewan McGregor as Renton, living a life that winds up in toilet stalls. Pretty unpleasant.
Milk and Honey (2002
In June 2003, Bryant Lake continued its iconoclastic offerings. There was a thirty-minute documentary by Texas filmmaker Dorothy Ibes Baby’s Memory Book, in which a young man recounts his troubled growth into a redneck adulthood, tempered by marriage and becoming a dad, yet somehow unable to stay away from drugs and jail. Much of the narration focuses on fishing for catfish (remember “Okie Noodling”) and the way such past-times contribute to father-son bonding, yet this seems lost. Minnesota documentary filmmaker Melody Gilbert contributed to the concept. There are some odd camera angles in the young man’s soliloquys, as he lies in bed on his back and the camera tries to climb over his chest hair.
Then Jeff Gilson once again turns on his own kind of subtle comedy in John Sarraccoi’s Decision, a kind of miniature Jerome’s Razor, where a young men escapes career decisions in the office to take to the open roads – from Minnesota I-35 to the hiking trails in its state parks where Gilson’s character gets drawn into his own delusions, where his world seems walled off by animated billboards and where trails and hikes can come to dead ends, like Clive Barker’s “Erasure” in Imajica.
Winged Migration moved to http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/mendur.htm
Shine moved to http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/mmusic.htm
Paper Clips moved to http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/mhitler.htm
Well, after participating
as an extra in a Twin Cities Actors’ Forum
short film Scalpers, in which a Twinbies
ticket scalper (Justin Overlander) gets scalped himself
by a broad with kids and medical bills in collections to pay, I waltzed over
to the Boom where Saloon stage dancers (even those from The Churchill)
congregate on Tuesday nights, and watched the Bravo video Queer Eye for
the Straight Guy, which is a well-structured documentary about a
makeover, if you have maybe $500000 from a TV network to blow. A pot-bellied
guy with scruffy beard and unconvincing body hair gets the full treatment,
starting with waxing, although they confine most of the on-camera epilation
to an eyebrow trim. (His chest, somehow, partially survives but he never
should have been allowed to wear shorts in public to begin with.) Next they
take him to a men’s shop (sorry, Target and Wal-Mart won’t do) where you
would have gone in the past to satisfy
Then Minneapolis and Community Technical College student Ryder Seeler produces a short film Angry Pursuit (about 10 min, 2003) in which a young writer who mimics Barton Fink has to evade hit men who don’t like what he writes. Seeler told the Minneapolis Byrant Lake Bowl audience that the film was somewhat inspired by the story of Salman Rushdie with his 1988 novel Satanic Verses, that led him to live in London in hiding from Shiite Islamic fundamentalists from Iran for blasphemy. Of course, we live in a world now where Google can make any blogger famous for a well-articulated social message, and that brings up the question: what happens when the famous blogger, by drawing angry attention to himself (perhaps even from terrorists), inadvertently involves others such as his family or workplace. I take on that a bit in my own screenplay treatment of Do Ask, Do Tell with a scenario involving lawyerly ambulance chasing. The deeper question, though, is the dichotomy faced by the modern writer: to write what he wants to say, or to write what others will pay him to say, as in the recent film The Trip.
The same July evening, we watched an art film of previews from City Council Productions The Making of Smoke Fire, which makes fun not just of Hollywood summer movies, but of all the big production companies (Village Roadshow, Intermedia, Beacon, Regency, Castle Rock) that make them—and of the stars that populate them. Put Josh Hartnett and Austin Powers together and you get Josh Powers. And then there is The Tox That Rocks that brings up memories of Danny Boyle and Trainspotting, even when showing the Stillwater drawbridge as a relief from a detox center that doesn’t measure up to Betty Ford’s standards.
In August 2003,
just before moving back to the DC area, I saw most of Blogumentary, by Chuck Olsen, at
Bryant Lake Bowl on
Also on that program was Neil Orman’s Dotcommies Revisited, which traced the Idea to a dotcom, followed by the bust with the entrepreneur living with folk and working in a video store.
Critics have been holding up The Station Agent (2003, Miramax, 88 Minutes) as an argument for small films, and a lesson for filmmakers in to how to make them. That is perhaps the problem. The visuals (railroad yards and depots in New Jersey, model trains) are detailed, interesting and well filmed technically, and the characters touching (most of all Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage), the dwarf who inherits the depot. But the movie comes across, to me, at least, as a series of effective scenes and low-key characters without a lot of tension or story direction. Maybe the grittiest moment is at the end, when Finbar, lecturing a grade school class about railroads, is interrupted by a kid blurting out, compulsively, “how tall are you? … I am taller than that…” and the teacher says “Come with me.”
Another small film that is winning fans is In America (2003, Fox Searchlight/Hells Kitchen), directed by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot). The story is a kind of reverse of Angela’s Ashes. Here a poor Irish family arrives in New York in the 1980s and moves into a tenement in Hells Kitchen. Johnny (Paddy Considine) and Sarah (Samantha Morton) are the couple, and Johnny is a struggling stage actor trying to learn his lines, break in to off-off-broadway, support his family with grunt work (in his case, driving a cab, and showing how he could negotiate NYC’s medallion system for cabs could have been interesting had it been included), and dealing with problems like no health insurance when Sarah has a premature baby. The family’s life will be transformed by a feisty African artist Mateo (Djimon Hounsou) after his two small daughters make contact trick-or-treating. Early on, the daughters say “In America, we demand, we don’t ask.” Later Mateo forces the issue when he says something like this to Johnny: "I love your wife. And I love you. And I love your children." And Mateo lives up to the idea of agape love as he meets his own destiny. What I liked was the way the movie showed the problems of artists who really have to make a living by what they do at some point. That’s the way people compete.
Lost in Translation: Moved to http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/mlost.htm
The Auteur (2008, Tigard, dir. James Westby, 78 min) Blogger.
The Auteur Theory (1999, Pathfinder, dir. Evan Oppenheimer, UK) A conceited documentary filmmaker makes a doc about a student film contest, and people turn up dead. Blogger.
Trembling (“Stupeur et tremblements”)
Chocolat (2000,Miramax,dir. Lasse Hallstrom, UK/France, 121 min, PG-13) has Vianne Rochet (Juliette Binoche) and her friends open a shop as chocolatiers in 1961 in a small French town in Provence, and shake up the morals of the community during Lent. It makes a good correspondence to some of today’s moral debates. It even snows in France in this movie.
Boys Don’t Cry moved to http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/mtrans.htm
Monster; and Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer moved to http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/maileen.htm
Boxing Helena, Pieces, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (both), The Collector at http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/mboxing.htm
Secret Ballot (2001, Sony Pictures Classics, G, 105 minutes, Iran, dir. Babak Payami, with Nassim Abdi and Cyrus Ab, is an exercise in abstraction about a serious issue: an election. A female election agent is sent to an unidentified island to collect ballots in an unspecified election, and plays out the issues of how she is taken as a woman in a patriarchal society in an essentially alien setting. The film is considered timely in light of the Bush v. Gore fiasco after the 2000 election (or perhaps recent controversies over automated voting systems). The simple but expansive imagery and subtle colors (even the burkas of the women against the landscape) are compelling visually, as is the final scene when the cargo airplane lands in the distance to take her away with her ballot box from this low tech world. And this film is actually rated G.
The Clearing (2004, Fox Searchlight, 91 min, R, dir. Pieter Jan Brugge) pits Robert Redford against Willem Dafoe in a somewhat straightlaced kidnapping story thriller, reminding one of Ransom, but much quieter. As usual with independent film, the on-location settings are real: here, it’s the Pittsburgh area, with its metro and many auto tunnels. Dafoe is the disgruntled fired employee, harboring a grievance for years, and in one speech in their walkabout Redford tells him to act like a man, take tough love, and pay his dues to the working class after his management job was downsized and he was permanently marginalized. It’s the employee’s fault, not society. Meanwhile, the FBI sets up shop in his home, for a long time, with the passage time indicated by snow coming and melting. Then, there is a twist worthy of Days of Our Lives.
Thirteen (2003, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Working
Title, dir. Catherine Hardwicke) presents a teenage girl Tracy (Evan Rachel
Wood) going from honor student (albeit 7th Grade) going down
before her alcoholic mother (Holly Hunter), with the “help” of temptation
from friends. Some good old teenage rebellion that seems to me not to get out
of girltalk. There are disturbing scenes, and some
tempting ones with boyfriends, and some pseudo-lesbianism. The critics liked
this; I found it rather going for sensationalism that renders silliness. In
the 70s, they would say, landlords fear young girls as tenants more than
anything else, throwing lavender paint down the toilet and stuff—this film
could have used queer eye. There is an
earlier independent film from the Y 2000 called “Thirteen,” no relation to this one (see suntimes.com/Ebert and search).
There is also “13 Days” from Newline, again no relation, obviously. According
to an NBC Today report on
Eros (2005, Warner Independent Pictures, 104 min, rec NC-17) is an experimental trilogy of three short films. (1) “The Hand,” dir. Wong Kar-Wai, in Mandarin Chinese; (2) “Equilibrium,” dir. Steven Soderbergh, (3) “The Dangerous Thread of Things,” dir. Michaelangelo Antonini (in Italian). Critics seem to like the first film, a tale about a prostitute who challenges a humble tailor to perform (early on, she makes him take his pants off, a challenge to masculinity that struck me as rather clinical). It is set in Hong Kong as a typhoon approaches and seems contained and claustrophobic. The second film was my favorite. The centerpiece is some good old-fashioned black-and-white movie making, making you feel that you’re really at the movies. In the mid 50s, a psychiatrist (Alan Arkin – remember he was the boss Mr. English in “Thirteen Conversations about one Thing”) manipulates his over-the-hill heterosexually married client (Robert Downey, Jr.) who has recurring dreams (shown in blue) of a voluptuous woman. The psychiatrist does stuff while the patient lies on the couch, kid stuff like sending messages across the street by paper airplanes to whom he believes to be the femme fatale, in another New York office building. Soderbergh shows some real germinal Haberstrom-like interest in 50s social values and mores in this miniature, suggesting possible future interesting projects. The third film is a bit of a rondo, as a man named Christopher bounces between his wife and another woman, particularly at a villa that could be out of “Vertigo”—leading a confrontation and climax that could easily be solved if both women gave in to lesbianism.
Oldboy (2003, Tartan/Egg Films, dir. Chan-wook Park, 120 min, R) is a dark thriller in which a man Oh Dal-su (Park Choel-woong) is kidnapped and imprisoned for fifteen years in a dingy hotel for a mysterious, forgotten (perhaps by amnesia) crime, and forced to keep up with the world (including 9/11) through videos, then must find his captor in five days. The video rendition of the external world for the imprisonment period provides an interesting device for layered storytelling, although I think the idea could have been carried even further. The film becomes gruesome towards the end (there is a wonderful metaphor in the script of aging one year with every step taken, but it is not shown—it could have been), but has spectacular wide-screen vistas of Soeul, rural Korea and New Zealnad.
In April 2007 some news commentators claimed that this film (Oldboy) may have been imitated by the shooter in the Virginia Tech tragedy. That seems to be related to the revenge motive of the movie, as well as a specific photo of Cho Sueng Hui with a hammer. Stephen Hunter has a story in The Washington Post, C01, April 20, “Did Asian Thrillers Like ‘Oldboy’ Influence Va. Tech Shooter,” at this link. He also discusses the movies of John Woo, like “The Killer”.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (“Bolsuneun naui geot”, 2002, Tartan/CJ, dir. Cahn-wook Park) was the first in the “Vengeance” trilogy. The plot deals with family loyalty, trying to get a kidney transplant for a sibling, and then “revolutionary revenge” when the donate kidney doesn’t lead to the desired result; that includes kidnapping a corporate executive’s family member. Blogger.
The DC Shorts Film Festival,
I saw a selection of the “best” (8 films). The details are on my blogspot movie entry.
The DC Shorts
Festival also held a one day Lunafest event on
PSA: Texting While Driving (UK, 4 min, Short) Blogger.
WACO films (
Russian Ark (2002, Wellspring, dir. Alexsandr Sokurov, Russia, 96 min) takes us through 300 years of Russian history with a continuous tour through the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, all 33 rooms and with three orchestras. This film advertises itself as the first feature movies made in one continuous shot, although I think that is not true. (How about Rope?) The history of the Romonovs and other families shows in the pictures; I’m not sure of how many of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition show up. There is tremendous style and wintry color, and the place would do Donald Trump proud.
Paris, Texas (1984, Argos / Fox Searchlight, dir. Wim Wenders, wr. Sam Shepard, 147 min, R) Curious indie film about a man with amnesia, found in the desert by a brother, and recovering his life, before going back out. Actually, the real town is in the East Texas pine forest.
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic (2005, Roadside Attractions, dir. Liam Lynch, 72 min, R). Can you really a movie of a standup comedy routine by turning it into a rondo with various little episodes involving the speaker’s fans? Most of this little film is Sarah Silverman’s standup performance, with some songs “Porn Queen”) and lots of gags attacking social proprieties. She is the Jewish girl made big with dirty comedy. Christianity is defined by making Jesus “magic.” But all of the sexual and scatological jokes ring hollow compared to her potential. Maybe the “best” line, “the best time to get pregnant is when you are a black teenager!” Or “American was the first Airline to go through the Towers.” She stages an episode where gays and blacks, when challenged in a movie studio lot, call themselves “faggots” and “niggers” respectively. She has a lot of jokes about 9/11 and they are not too funny. There are some gags about female private part hair and waxing, but this is hardly threatening to the men. Oh, yes, movies are a visual medium, and we can see that she shaves her underarms. Brian Posehn and Laura Silverman make an ungainly couple for some of the rondo interludes.
Hurrican Katrina Coverage: (Oprah Winfrey; Storm that Drowned a City)
CNN: We Were Warned: Tomorrow’s Oil Crisis; Undercover in the Secret State
Gospel of Liberty (2005, Gateway, dir. Andrew Gardner, G, 37 min) is a documentary of the history that led to the Statute for Religious Freedom in Virginia in 1786, signed by Thomas Jefferson, five years before the federal Bill of Rights in 1791. In the 1730s the Anglican Church was still exacting heavy taxes on Virginia residents. The efforts of preachers George Whitfield and Samuel Davies, with independent preaching, sometimes starting in homes and in town squares, would lead to pressure for formal religious freedom. Some of the narration is from a TJ actor standing in the Capitol in Williamsburg. See also Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot
Thomas Jefferson (1997, PBS “American Stories”, dir. Ken Burns, 180 min) moved to http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/mjeff.htm
National Geographic’s Ultimate Tsunami
Da Vinci and the Code He Lived By and Understanding the Da Vinci Code
Elvis: The Last 24 Hours (2005, GMVS, dir. Mike Parkinson, 60 min) is a memoir of rock singer Elvis Presley with emphasis on the last day of his life in 1977, his bad health and probably death from a drug overdose. I can remember that it was a big deal with Elvin was drafted into the Army.
The Gates of Jerusalem (2003, Questar, dir. Rick Ray, Phil Cooke, narr. Richard Kiley, 122 min) is a documentary about the eight gates into the Old City of Jerusalem and the history of the City up to the present day, including the taking back of the Western Wall in 1967. There was a B.C. time when the Greeks took over, and when Jews were actually prohibited from practicing circumcision, and forced to watch nude Greek dramas. The modern conflict between major faiths comes down to a conflict about the meaning and importance of faith in a world where many people do not believe that they can control their own personal fates with rationalism alone. The three major faiths conflict on the final days, as to the coming of the Messiah, the Second Coming, and the Final Judgmenet.
Paris je t’aime (“Paris, I Love You”, 2007, First Look Releasing, 18 short films, transitions dir. Emmanuel Benbihy; “Montmarte” (Bruno Podalydes), “Quais de Seine” (Gurinder Chada), “Le Marais” (Gus Van Sant), “Tuileries” (Joel and Ethan Coen), “Place des Victoires” (Nobuhiro Suwa), “Quartier des Enfants Rouges” (Olivier Assayas), “Quartier Latin” (Frederic Auburtin and Gerard Depardieu), “Tour Eiffel” (Sylvain Chomet), “Bastille” (Isabelle Coixet), “Quatier de la Madelaine” (Vincenzo Natali), “Pere-Lachaise”, “Parc Monceau” (Alfonso Cuaron), “Loin de 16eme” (Walter Salles), “Porte de Choisy” (Chritsopher Doyle), “Pigalle” (Richard LaGravenese), “Place des Fetes” (Oliver Schmitz), “Faubourg Saint-Denis” (Tom Twyker), “14th arrondissemente” (Alexander Payne). The Van Sant episode has a “Rosenfels” style talk between two apparently gay men that turns into prattle over language. One of the episodes has some interesting movie marques, including Werckmestier Harmonies. Blogger review is here: http://billsmoviereviews.blogspot.com/2007/05/paris-i-love-you.html
Mongolian Ping Pong (“Lu cao di”, 2005, dir. Hao Ning, First Run Features, 102 min, PG, China) is a good example of abstract story telling – especially the way film schools and Hollywood view it, and this film was promoted well by Landmark Theaters. Two boys on the steppe in Mongolia find a ping pong ball when fetching water, and embark on a journey that will eventually take them to a ping pong tournament in China. The film captures the high altitude clear air of the steppes with breathtaking shots (it could have used Cinemascope), among people who live simply. Gradually, bits of technology get introduced, as they journey to China, but the dialogue and consciousness always seems very collective.
The Story of the Weeping Camel (“Die Geschichte vom weinendem Kamel”, ThinkFilm, dir. Byambasuren Davaa and Liugi Falorni, 87 min, PG, Germany / Mongolia, in Mongolian with subtitles) A tender animal story that is like a Disney documentary from the 50s. A camel rejects her unusual offspring, a white camel, because he is “different”, so kids go on a journey to find a musician who can charm the mother into caring for all her children. There is a breathtaking scene inside a large, well-decorated Mongolian tent home with a child crying.
The Cave of the Yellow Dog (“Die Hohle des gelben Hundes,” Tartan, dir. Byambasuren Davaa, 93 min, G, Germany/Mongolia) is a gentle docudrama about nomadic life in Mongolia, and a child who lets a stray dog “adopt” the family, with some disapproval. There is a scene where a child is being fed and told she will have to learn to look after her brother. Later the same child talks to her mother about dreams, and the mother says that only children have dreams about other lives (reincarnation).
Mother Theresa of Calcutta (“Madre Theresa”, 2003, Alfred Haber / Fox Faith / Lux, dir. Fabrizio Costa, Italy, 110 min, G) A biography of Mother Theresa (Olivia Hussey), who fought bureaucracy within the Catholic Church to help the poor in India, and then was accused of participation in a financial scandal, due to her naivite about business matters. The media has made much recently of her personal crisis in faith, her reported “doubts” as reported in her lifelong writings made available at her passing. There is a scene near the end of the film where she expresses her own personal darkness, which is seen as part of a journey to know Christ. In a speech, she denounces our “culture of indifference” and emphasis on personal merit. She also was criticized for not converting people of other faiths to Catholicism, saying they should be good in their own faith.
Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall … and Spring (“Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom”, 2004, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Ki-duk Kim, S. Korea, 2003, R). An elderly Bhuddist monk raises a boy in a floating monastery in a mountain lake. He tries some cruel tricks with snakes and fish. Later, the boy grows to manhood, finds a girl and marries. He returns after killing her, and faces atonement and repentance, and renewal, but not before his father immolates himself. Part of his renewal is accepting the “be here now” experience of monastic life. There is a great image in “Fall” where the old man uses a cat’s tail to write a penance message in Korean script, holding the meowing feline the whole time. This is a curiously auteurish film.
The Class (“Entre les murs” or “Between the Walls”, 2009, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Laurent Cantet, book by Francois Begaudeau) reality docudrama of a tough mixed-race Paris school and a young, possibly gay teacher. Blogger.
Intimacy (2009, Empire / Koch Lorber/ Studio Canal, Patrice Chereau, based on stories by Hanish Kureishi, R or NC-17, 115 min, UK/France/Spain/Germany) Blogger.
Forgiving Dr. Mendele (2006, First Run Features, dir. Bob Hercules and Cheri Pugh, 82 min) has Eva Moser Kor, a survivor of Auschwitz, going through a public exercise of forgiving the Nazi scientist who performed eugenics experiments on her and her twin sister. The debates get into what forgiveness is for: is it to get on with your own life, is it to accept a more collective view of morality, is it essentially religious in nature, and what is the relationship to atonement and justice? She opens a Holocaust museum in Indiana, which gets burned down once and reopened.
When Will I Be Loved? (2004,
A Short Film About Love (“Krotki film o milosci”, 1988, Kino/Zespol Filmoy, dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski, 83 min). A
young man Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko)
plays “rear window” on neigjbor Magda (Grazyna Szapolowaska).
Eventually she challenges and invites him. In a confrontation, he has a
premature ejaculation when she says “it’s just love.” He tries to slit his
wrists. Then there is a final twist to the plot. The feature expands from
film 6 of “The Decalogue”. The
A Short Film About Killing (“Krotki film o zabijaniu”, 1988, Kino/Zespol Filmoy, dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski, 82 min). While
a defense lawyer (Krzysztof Globisz) proudly
finishes school and enters the bar, a psychopathic drifter (Miroslaw Baka) throws rocks
from overpasses and then garrots a taxi driver, in
a graphic scene. The lawyer cannot stop the relentless execution by hanging,
which the psychopath resists to the end. The film is taken as an argument
against capital punishment. It’s surprising how “capitalist” Communist Warsaw
looks here. This feature expands from film 5 of “The Decalogue”. The
On the Lot: (Fox)
“Under the Gun”, by Hilary Graham. “How to Have a Girl”, by David May.
“Die Hardly Working”, by Zach Lipovsky. July 3: “The Malibu Myth:, by Kenneth Luby; “Anklebiters”, by Sam Friedlander; “Midnight Snack”, by Andrew Hunt; “Eternal Waters”, by Jason Epperson; “Open House”, by Shira Lee Shalit; “Profile”, by Mateen Kemet. July 10 “Time Upon a Once” by Zach Lipovsky; “The Legend of Donkey-Tail Willie”; “Spaghetti”, by Will Bigham; “First Sight”, by Shalini Kantayya; “Worldy Possessions” by Adam Stein. July 17: “Key Witness” by Sam Friedlanber; “Sweet” by Jason Epperson “Zero2Sixty” by Andrew Hunt; “The Losers” by Kenny Luby; “Catch” by Mateen Kemet. July 24: “Bonus Feature” by Zach Lipovsky; “Girl Trouble” by Adam Stein; “Unplugged” by Will Bigham; “Keep off Grass” by Andrew Hunt; “American Hoe” by Sam Friedlander; “Old Home Boyz” by Jason Epperson; July 31: “Driving Under the Influence” (Adam Stein); “Backseat Driving Test” (Sam Friedlander); “Bonus Feature 2” (Zach Lipovsky); “The Move” (Jason Epperson); “Road Rage 101” (Will Bigham); August 7: “The Yes Men” (Will Bigham); “Dress for Success” (Sam Friedlander); “Army Guy” (Adam Stein); “Oh Boy” (Jason Epperson)
AFI Silvedocs 2007 Shorts 5: “Long Distance”: “6 Conceptions of Freedom (2007, dir, Thomas A. Ostbye, Norway, 19 min); “Calcutta Calling” (2007; dir. Andre Hormann, Germany/India, 16 min); “My 9/11”; dir. Tjebbo Penning, Netherlands, 12 min; “Talk to Me”, dir. Mark Craig, 23 min, UK). Blogger reviews: http://billsmoviereviews.blogspot.com/2007/06/afi-silverdocs-shorts-5-long-distance.html
Magnolia Pictures and Landmark: Five Best Live Action Shorts, 2007 Oscar nominees:
At Night (“Om natten”, 2007, Zentropa, dir. Christian E. Christiansen, 39 min, Denmark;
The Tonto Woman (2007, Knucklehead, dir. Daniel Barber, story by Elmore Leonard, 35 min, UK/Spain);
The Substitute (“Il Supplente”, 2007, Frame by Frame, dir. Andrea Jublin, Italy, about 20 min,;
The Mozart of Pickpockets (“Le Mozart des Pickpocket”, 2006, Kare, dir. Phillipe Polet-Villard, about 25 min, France, 1.85:1);
Argentine Tango, (“Tanghi
argentine” ,2006, Dreams in Motion, dir. Guy Thys,
Demographic Winter: The Decline of the American Family (2008, Family First Foundation, dir. Rick Stout and Barry McClerran), blogger. Documentary about the political and social changes that accompany lower birthrates and increased lifespans among affluent populations. The website has a long preview trailer with interviews (movie link).
Digital Media Conference (AFI) shorts: “Fox Attacks Black America” (2007, David Greenwald); “Mission Accomplished” (2007, David Greenwald); “Second Life”; “Promise of the Internet” (1994). Blogger reviews.
Boyds Negro School: Historic Lives (2006, Heritage Montgomery MD, 26 min) documents a one room schoolhouse in rural Maryland a century ago under segregation. Blogger.
Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons (2009,
Proud American (2008, Lightsource, dir. Fred Ashman, 96 min) is a corporate patriotic film about successful immigrants and minorities, blogger discussion here.
10 Questions for the Dalai Lama (2007, Monterrey, dir. Rick Ray, 85 min) is a documentary about the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, now in exile in India. Blogger review: Compare to “Into Great Silecne” above. Details at http://billsmoviereviews.blogspot.com/2007/06/10-questions-for-dalai-lama.html
The Unmistaken Child (2009, Oscilloscope, dir. Nati Baratz, Israel/UK/Germany, 102 min) About a monk who finds and parents a reincarnated Bhuddist lama. Blogger.
Nanking (2007, ThinkFilm/HBO, dir. Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, a docudrama with actors and survivors of the Japanese plunder of Nanking at the end of 1937. Blogger.
The Children of
Huang Shi (2008, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Roger Spottiswoode,
Fredericksburg: A Documentary Film (narrated by James Earl Jones, National
Park Service, 22 min) is shown at the Fredericksburg
VA Visitor Center at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Battlefields
Memorial. (There is a longer version of the film on a very expensive
Manassas: The End of Innocence (Conagree, dir. Ben Brutt, 45 min) is shown at Mansassas Battlefield Park in VA, blogger.
Historic Jamestowne (NPS) Blogger.
The American President: Woodrow Wilson (New York Life Fund, 16 min) is shown in the Woodrow Wilson house in Washington DC. It emphasizes that Wilson got elected president in 1912 intended domestic reform and did not intend to get involved in overseas squabbles, but when he entered World War I in 1917, he implored to “make the world safe for democracy.” The film does not discuss the sedition laws, but it does mention that White House groundskeepers were drafted, with sheep (actually shown on black and white film) left to graze the White House lawn. His stroke prevented his ability to push the League of Nations, which would fail.
Colonial Clothing: The Dress of Eighteenth Century America (2002, Colonial Williamsburg, 17 min) Men engage in “staymaking” to mold the dress (petticoats and corsets) of colonial women, and go through elaborate dress rituals themselves, including garters and wigs (usually requiring heads to be shave). All kids, including boys, wear dresses.
Patrick Henry: Quest for Liberty (2007, American Animation, dir. John Derrick, 34 min). History of the famous speech in 1775. Blogger.
Liberty or Death (2007, St John’s Church Foundation / PBS, dir. Paul Tait Roberts, 57 min) is a live-action reenactment of the famous speech. Blogger.
George Mason: The Bill of Rights (1991/2007, dir. Robert Cole, 28 min) available from Gunston Hall, narrated by Roger Mudd. Blogger.
A New Birth of Freedom (2008), narrated by Morgan Freeman, for the Gettysburg National Military Park visitor’s center, 22 min, in Cinerama. Blogger.
The AMW Story: America’s Most Wanted, with John Walsh, shown at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment in Washington DC. Blogger.
National Firearms Museum (NRA, 10 min) traces the US history of firearms in modern war, starting win canons, and briefly touches on the Second Amendment.
Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum (2000). Blogger.
Hillary: The Movie (2008, Citizens United, dir. Alan Peterson) “exposes” the Clintons. Blogger.
St. Olaf’s College, 96 Years of Christmas Festivals (30 min, St Olaf’s, 2007), blogger. That link also discusses the 2007 Insomnia Film Festival entry “Change Inside” (River’s Edge Films, Nathan Haustein). The film reminds me of some of Epperson’s films from “On the Lot” above.
Miscellaneous digital shorts (“Mail by Rail” by the USPS) including National Archives ‘s “Democracy Starts Here” and SNL Digital Shorts (“Laser Cats”) here; “Podium: The Obama Files” and “Candyman’s Boudoir” here. “The Best Look in the World” has Shia La Beouf, Andy Samberg and others in suits without pants, putting their legs together, hair included; some straight men engaging in some homoerotic play. Blogger here. Maybe SNL could use Carter Smith (“Bugcrush”) to do a digital short. Also check out MacGruber on that blog.
The Muslin-American Experience, (2008, LinkTV) online film festival. Includes “A Land Called Paradise,” “The Sleeper Cell”, “Bassem in Trying” (all directed by Lena Khan), “Arranged,” “Muslim While Flying,” “Healing our Community,” “Glimpse”, “The Countdown,” “The Children of Adam,” “21”, “Ordinary People”, “The USA Patriot Act Story,” “A Question of Race and Islam”. Blogger link.
North Korea: A Day in the Life (“(“Noord-Korea: Een dag uit het leven”, 2004, Total Film / Key Monjey, dir. Pieter Fleury, 48 min) is an unobtrusive documentary of daily life in the hermit “kingdom” of Kin Jong Il. Blogger link.
Right America, Feeling Wronged: Some Voices from the Campaign Trail (2009, HBO, dir. Alexandra Pelosi, 44 min). Blogger.
Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty (2005, Starz / Overture / CameraPlanet, dir. Steven Rosenbaum, narr. Anderson Cooper) traces the story of Daniel Pearl and several other journalists killed by terrorists or by disease or by friendly fire. Blogger.
A Powerful Noise (2009, Unity Films, dir. Tom Cappello, 85 min), Women in Vietnam, Mali and Bosnia struggle to lift their families and communities out of poverty. A one night event by iFathom “A Powerful Noise Live”. Blogger.
The Dogwalker (2002, Reel Indie / Breakthrough / Bigfoot,
dir. Jacques Thelemaque, 97 min, PG-13). A woman
flees to LA from an abusive man and meets up with a down-and-out dogwalker; they build a friendship by helping each other.
Short films from this director on the
Revolution #9 (2001, Wellspring/Exile, dir. Tim McCann, 90 min, PG-13) A likable young male freelance writer and movie reviewer sinks into schizophrenia, but is it a plot? There is a lot about subliminal advertising; the title of the movie refers to a fictitious perfume product. Film schools and screenwriting teachers are likely to like this film. Blogger.
Partly Private (2009, dir. Danae Eton) A Jewish couple contemplates circumcision for its sons. Blogger.
Cold Showers (2006, “Douches froides”, Picture This!/BAC, dir. Antony Cortier, France, 99 min, NC-17): two judo teens in France form a threesome with a girl friend in an allegory to left-wing class struggle in French society. Blogger.
The Other Side of Immigration (2009, dir. Roy Germano, 1 hr) showed at the Politics on Film festival in Washington DC. Blogger. Also shown with that film, the short on HIV-prevention, “Strapped” (2009, Stone Soup Films).
Breaking News, Breaking Down (2008, dir. Mike Walter, 36 min) about journalists who cover trauma. Blogger.
Un-Natural State: Taxation Without Representation in Washington, D.C (2008, DCVote, dir. Kirk Mandeis, 65 min) Blogger.
Around Venus By Balloon (2004, France, dir, Marteen Rove) the Venus greenhouse effect. Blogger.
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (2008, ThinkFilm/HBO, dir. Marina Zenovicu). Blogger.
Brand upon the Brain (2008, Seattle Film Company, dir. Guy Maddin, 100 min, Canada, R) Silent film style homage to director’s parents and their orphanage of horrors. Blogger. Also with the shorts : “It’s My Mother’s Birthday Today”, “Footsteps” and “97 Percent True” (50 min) a documentary about making this unusual film, almost afeature film itself.
The Watermelon (2009, Celebrity Media/Lightsong, dir. Brad Mays, wr. Michael Hemminsgon, 90 min, R). A kind of localized “Odyssey” in LA. A hit at the San Diego film festival. Blogger.
Uncross the Stars (2010, Echo Bridge, dir. Kenny Golde) A young widower builds a porch for a relative and comes to terms with his life. Involved in piracy litigation brought by the US Copyright Group. Blogger.
The Steam Experiment (“The Chaos Experiment”, 2009, Genius/Cinepro, dir. Phillippe Martinez, 90 min). Blogger.
Lucky Ducks (2010, TJP, dir, Tracey Jackson, 94 min) docudrama about a stormy relationshop with a spoiled daughter, trip to India. Blogger.
The Kids Grow Up (2010, Shadow/HBO, dir. Doug Block). A documentary filmmaker sends his only daughter to college. Blogger.
Silverdoc shorts 2010: “Arsy-Versy”, “A Moth in Spring”, “Big Birding Day”, “The Poodle Trainer” “The Herd” Blogger.
Jerichow (2008, Cinema Guild, dir. Christian Petzhold, Germany, R) Love triangle involving a dishonorably discharged veteran. Blogger.
The Secret of Kells (2010, Miramax International, dir. Thom Moore), animated feature about the origin of the Book of Kells. Blogger.
The Room (2003, dir. Tommy Wiseau, 99 min). Tommy Wiseasu’s spoof of a movie industry that takes itself seriously, down to the musical trademar. Blogger.
Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors without Borders (2008, Truly Indie, dir. Mark Hopkins, UK) Blogger.
The Shpongletron Experience (2011, Shpongle), 90 minutes of animated video about alien life forms and holding places in other worlds, as part of show. Blogger.
Running Toward Danger (2008, 11 min). Journalists and emergency responders discuss their experience in New York City on 9/11. The collapse of each tower is shown graphically.
45 Words: The Story of the First Amendment (2007, 15 min) starts with the rancorous criticism of the King in the colonies, with pictures of print linotypes, to Madison’s evolution of the Bill of Rights in 1971, to President John Adams and the passing of the Sedition Act, and the trial of Matthew Lyon (Congressman from Vermont) for criticizing the possibility of an obscure war with France.
The Power of the Image (2008, 8 min) is a narration that summarizes many important moments in history, with a lot of combat images (Vietnam) from the past fifty years.
I-Witness News: 4-D Time Travel Adventure (18 min)
The Big Picture: Stories of our Lives (20 min, Cinerama)
The Rise of TV News (30 min)
Bias; Sources; Getting It Right
News Wanted (7 min)
The Pulitzer Pictures: Glimpses of the Past (25 min)
All of the above are at this blogger link.
The First 200 Years: A Video Overview of the History of the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, DC 1802-2002, (100 minutes, digital video, written by Deborah Cochran) was shown to the church audience on March 7, 2004. Much of the film consists of stills, Ken Burns style, of scenes of the church’s several locations and buildings since 1802. There are some interviews, and in one early interview Dr. James Somerville (the current pastor) explains that the Establishment clause in the First Amendment, and hence so much of the litigation before the Supreme Court over the years, owes its existence to Baptists, which at one time had started as a denomination open to original thinking. The split into Northern and Southern conventions (this church is in both) occurred over slavery before the Civil War and for Southern Baptists the First Baptist Church in Dallas is actually the largest in the country, I believe (I visited it when living in Dallas in the 1980s, complete with Dr. Criswell). But the Washington church went through quite a history itself over race, before settling into the two largest properties, the next to last in existence during World War II when I was born. I remember that sanctuary, and the meetings at the Jewish Community Center while the new building was erected, and I remember the first service on Christmas Day, 1955, with the blue light coming through the windows waiting for their stained windows. Dr. Pruden, in fact, talked about material progress compared to spiritual progress that day. I would be baptized with my mother in early 1956. Then, like so many baby boomers, I would go out on my own. The church would start to lose membership in the 1970s as the demographics of the Dupont Circle area changed rapidly after Stonewall. But the church would host presidents, including Jimmy Carter who often taught Sunday School there during his term (I attended a few times and met him, when he taught the “divorce chapter” in Matthew), and sometimes during his first few months, Bill Clinton, when Everett Goodwin was pastor. (In the 1990s the Church would participate in one of Mr. Carter’s favorite legacies, Habitat for Humanity, and regularly makes lunches for the homeless, sponsors youth chess tournaments and participates in other community activities.) Now this gets into the story that I tell in my own 1997 book, Do Ask Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back, and the main references are in Chapter 1 and Chapter 4. This film has more different selections from classical music than any other film in history, all performed at the church. It is easy for me to imagine this being shown on PBS, at least the local WETA station—but that’s my theory.
The Mount Vernon estate of George Washington is
We Fight To Be Free (2006, Greystone, dir. Kees von Oostrum, USA, 18 min) with Sebastian Roche as George Washington and Caroline Goodall as Martha Custis. The story of George Washington is shown in retrospect from the Christmas 1776 crossing of the Deleware River, with a scene in the French and Indian Wars where Washington takes command when Braddock is killed. In 2.35 : 1 Panavision and stunning photography and sound with a romantic soundtrack by Trevor Jones. One of the best museum films around.
“Building Blocks” and “Vote! Earth” from Digital Media Conference 2009, Blogger.
Cannes shorts from NFC, Film Board of Canada: “The Forbidden Tree” (Iran); “The Story of My Life” (“Toute ma vie”) (France); “The Technician” (Quebec); “The Report Card” (“La pagella”) (Italy). Blogger.
Some remarks here about a few “older” small foreign (and, I guess, domestic) films.
The Red Balloon (“Le Ballon rouge”, Red Envelope / Films Montsouris, dir. Albert Lamorisse, 38 min, 1956, G) A young boy in working class Paris streets climbs a wall and retrieves a red balloon that has a life of its own, and follows him around. At the end, he is lifted off the ground and flies over Paris like Mary Poppins by a cohort of rainbow balloons. The director’s son plays the boy.
White Mane (“Crin blanc: Le cheval sauvage”, Red Envelope / Films Montsouris, dir. Albert Lamorisse, 40 min, 1953, G, black and white) A boy comes across a white horse in the Carmargue, where the Rhone meets the Mediterranean, and sets out to rescue it when ranchers try to lasso and keep it. The film has many abstract scenes of the horse in marsh and seems like an exercise in impressionism. The boy, Alain Emery, plays the part with a lot of charisma. There is little dialogue in either of these films, usually shown together.
Shoah (1985, New Yorker, dir. Claude Lanzmann, France, 9 hrs) is a series of four films based on interviewing survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. The first film concentrates on some communities in Poland (such as Chelmno and Koto). As survivors speak, the landscapes of the countryside and towns (often with snow and cloud cover), and especially trains and railroad tracks are shown. There are many shots of Auschwitz-Birkenau, including the indoor works next to the Crematoria, where Jews themselves were forced to dispose of the bodies of their brethren.
Woman in the Dunes (“Suna no onna,” 1964, Pathe, dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara, novel by Kobo Abe, Japan, 123 min) was a sensational little black-and-white film about an entomologist who falls into a hole and is trapped with a rather hungry woman.
Lies (“Gojitmal”, Fox Lorber / Wellspring, dir. Sun-Woo Jang, Korea, 115 min, NC-17), a meta-film about sado-masochism.
The Venus Wars (1989, Manga, dir. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, Japan) animated civil war on terraformed Venus. Blogger.
The Bicycle Thief (“Ladri di Biciclette”, 1948, Arthur Mayer & Joseph Bustryn, dir, Vittorio di Sica) is a favorite of screenwriting affaciandos because if makes a compelling, well-structured story out of a situation so basic and simple. A man has pawned the family linen to buy a bicycle so that he can get a job putting up posters. The bike is stolen while he is working, in plain sight. He and his son go off on a quest to find the thief. Will morality be relative? Black and white, very intimate, very elementary. This is a WWII world where people have few choices.
The Flower Girl (about 1971, North Korea, 180 min) may be the worst film I ever saw, in my case, in the fall of 1974 in the Washington Square Methodist Church in Greenwich Village in New York City shortly after I had moved there while working for NBC as a computer programmer. This is a story about a little girl who goes out into the fields and rice paddies working “with the people” in order to buy medicine for her mother. It goes on and on and rants and raves about communal existence. Don’t confuse this with any other western film that might have the same name.
Jet Lag (“Decalage horaire”, 2002, Miramax, dir. Daniele Thompson) was shown as a closing night film at an international film festival in Minneapolis, and I believe the director was there. A beautician (Juliette Binoche) and cook (Jean Reno) are stranded together at Charles De Gaulle airport just north of Paris (that’s where I landed in 1999), and, in a situation comedy that keeps them together, go from animosity to amour. The film is slick (2.35:1) but uses a curious sepia filter that keeps the airport environment stagey. The American film “The Terminal” a couple years later makes a good comparison.
Say Amen, Somebody (1983, United Artists Classics, dir. George T. Nierenberg, 100 min, PG) A spirited docudrama about African American gospel music, focusing on Thomas A. Dorsey and Willie May Ford Smith.
(1981, Taft, dir. Kieth Merrill) is a “comedy”
about a man who goes to war (literally) with the
Z (1969, Cinema V, dir. Costa-Gravas, novel by Vasilis Vasilikos,127 min, France) A right wing group covers up an assassination leading to the overthrow of a democratic government in Greece. The film amounts to an effective warning about what can happen even in stable countries. Music by Mikis Theodorakis, quite memorable.
Brighty of the Grand Canyon (1967, Feature
Film, dir. Norman Foster, novel by Marguerite Henry, 89 min, G) is based on
the popular children’s novel. A wild burro befriends a prospector, who is
waylaid and murdered in the Grand Canyon. The killer takes the burro, who escapes and connects up with a little boy and the good
guys. The movies has two graphic scenes involving an
attack with a mountain lion. The
Grey Gardens (1975, Janus / Portrait, dir. Ellen Hovde and Albert Maysles, 94 min). The aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Edith Bouvier Beale and “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, live in squalor and fight in the Hamptons. Blogger.
Jacob: The Man Who Fought With God ((“Giacobbe, l'uomo che lottò con Dio”), 1963, Eurocine / San Paolo, dir. by Marcello Baldi, Italy, 115 min) – besides touching on Sodom and Gormorrah, it documents, however superficially, the source of a major fetish. Blogger.
Saul and David (1964, Eurocine / San Paolo, dir. Marcello Baldi, 113 min). Blogger.
Peeping Tom (1960, Janus, dir. Michael Powell, UK, 101 min), the British “Psycho” and quite a commentary on 1960 film and video technology. Blogger.
Open Secret (1944, Eagle Lion, dir. John Reinhardt). Antisemtism Post WWII Blogger.
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