Monthly Archives: August 2010

Rain1

 

Imagine a famous feminist – say, Gloria Steinem – sitting down with two filmmakers to do a serious interview about her life’s work.  But there’s a catch:  Her interrogators are Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell.

How you react to that scenario will likely color your view of Let It Rain, a French comedy from writer-director Agnes Jaoui.   Is this movie a satire, in which an uppity woman receives her well-deserved comeuppance?  Well … yes.  Is it social commentary that underscores the kind of obstacles, ignorance, and frustration a serious person must leap-frog to effect meaningful change?  Yup, that too.

In Let It Rain, Jaoui, who also stars as best-selling author and feminist Agathe Villanova, straddles the fence between heavy and light, but she never falls off because her main concern is people, not ideology.  The relatives and locals Agathe copes with on a visit to her hometown are largely indifferent or hostile to her cause, certainly.  But isn’t Agathe also a bit full of herself? 

Jaoui the director subjects Agathe to one slapstick situation after another, usually at the hands of those two inept filmmakers.  Everyone else Agathe encounters appears to be down-to-earth and friendly, you bet.  But don’t they all owe something to people like Agathe, people who don’t just complain but actually accomplish things? Isn’t Agathe really an island of common sense among fools and dreamers?  Or is she just a pompous ass?

There is a scene near the end of the film in which Agathe has a heart-to-heart with Mimouna, a saintly, long-suffering family servant who thinks only of others, despite major problems of her own.  “Think of yourself.  Just a little,” counsels Agathe.  Does Mimouna’s rejection of this advice make her an exemplary human being, or just a sap?  Will I ever stop asking questions in this review?

There’s a lot of chat in Let It Rain, and its ending is a bit pat, but the dialogue is never less than amusing, the characters are all engaging, and the acting is first-rate. The movie injects feminism with something its critics say it sorely lacks:  a sense of humor.  Jaoui wants you think – but only between the laughs.           Grade:  B+ 

 

Rain2

 

Director:  Agnes Jaoui  Cast:  Agnes Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Jamel Debbouze, Pascale Arbillot, Guillaume de Tonquedec, Frederic Pierrot, Mimouna Hadji  Release:  2010 

 

Rain3        Rain4

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Night

 

I don’t have a good excuse for liking this movie.  It’s cheap, stupid, and has no social value.  But it’s also a lot of fun.  Night of the Demons is pure exploitation — but with absolutely zero pretentiousness.  It has gratuitous nudity and violence — but always with a sense of humor.  Read my review of this guilty pleasure here, then watch it for free by clicking here.

 

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Ambler Alert Issued for Elderly Man

Oldster

Mitford Mitkowski

 

By AL BORE, Associated Press

Last Update:  August 21, 2010 – 5:55 AM

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Investigators are combing hotels and casinos along the Las Vegas strip in search of a 65-year-old Southern California man who vanished after he was released from custody for not paying a bill for a meal.  Investigators began their frantic search after calls went out for the man’s whereabouts by television personality Nancy Grace.  Grace, the tough-talking fixture on cable news channel CNN, often takes an interest in the disappearances of unattractive, elderly men.

Mitford Mitkowski, a former toilet-lid salesman, was arrested last September at a restaurant in Malibu, California, because he did not have money to settle his check at a downscale truck stop.  Mitkowski’s parents, Marvin and Millie Mitkowski, have been deceased for many years and could not be reached for comment.

In related news, police located several dozen attractive white females and 12 cute, gap-toothed children, all reported missing and all boarding the same plane to Buenos Aires.  One of the missing persons, 9-year-old Amber Bamber, told authorities that all of them were trying to get as far away as possible from the United States.

“We just couldn’t take it anymore,” Bamber said, removing bubble gum from her mouth.  “We wanted to move to a country  far away from Nancy Grace, because her show reports us “missing” even if we are just walking down to the store.  We can’t help it that we are so cute.”

 

Grace

 

*****

 

Bull

 

Yes, I know people were hurt.  But I can’t help laughing at The Revenge of the Bull in Spain this week, in which the beast leaped into a crowd at a bullfight and scattered spectators like so many cowchips.

 

Bull2

 

If you haven’t seen the video that I’m referring to,  you can watch it here. 

 

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Johnny1

 

It’s a crazy world for 15-year-old Johnny Mad Dog and his teenaged pals.  In Johnny’s world, he doesn’t worry about asking girls out — he simply kidnaps or rapes them.  When Johnny and the boys meet someone they don’t like, there are no fisticuffs; they have an Uzi to take care of the problem.  And if an older couple tries to reason with them, well, the boys can just force them to strip and then demand:  “You’ll fuck your wife, right now, in the living room … fuck for me now!”  It’s a boy’s life, indeed.

Johnny Mad Dog, with its band of vicious young males, will put some viewers in mind of A Clockwork Orange, but director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire’s documentary-style film is even more horrific because it’s not set in the future; it is fact-based and happening right now.  (Depending on which source you consult, events are based either on Liberia or the Congo Republic.)  This hypnotic horror-show demonstrates what happens when children are recruited to fight adult wars.

We follow Johnny (Christopher Minie) and his militia as they make their way toward the capital of their country, terrorizing anyone who crosses their path.  It’s a mesmerizing march, and these kids resemble a road show from hell.  One guy wears a white wedding dress; another sports gauzy, white angel wings.  These boys don’t worry about anyone dissing their fashion choices.

Between bouts of carnage, Sauvaire reminds us that these thugs are, despite everything, still boys.  A kid nicknamed No Good Advice, whose behavior has been monstrous, is reduced to tears when his pet pig is slaughtered for a meal.  Johnny, whose idea of socializing with the opposite sex is rape, is devastated when a girl he likes is murdered.  We learn that Johnny and the boys aren’t just monsters, but victims themselves.

It’s ironic that this week’s Hollywood box-office champ is The Expendables, Sly Stallone’s latest comic-book version of violence on film.  At one point in Mad Dog, Johnny picks up an Uzi and explains its function to his comrades:  “Chuck Norris used it in Delta Force,” he says.  “So be careful!  The Israelis or Chuck Norris might be around.”  Norris and Stallone movies are filled with senseless violence.  So is Johnny Mad Dog, but that’s where any similarities end.     Grade:  A-

 

Johnny2

 

Director:  Jean-Stephane Sauvaire  Cast:  Christopher Minie, Careen Moore, Dagbeh Tweh, Daisy Victoria Vandy, Joseph Duo  Release:  2009

 

Johnny3              Johnny4

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World1

 

“I didn’t expect Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, but there’s a limit to the mean-spiritedness one can endure in a character one is supposed to find delightful.”  That’s a quote from legendary film critic Andrew Sarris, referring to Ghost World in August, 2001.  The comment makes me wonder if Sarris stuck around long enough to watch the second half of the movie.

I’m curious about that because, up until about the midpoint of this comic-book-based film, I was inclined to agree with Sarris.  Ghost World’s heroines, recent high school graduates Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), spend most of their time ridiculing everything and everyone around them:  other students, teachers, complete strangers.  Typical teenage behavior, I suppose, but still bratty.  Who wants to spend two hours watching that?

But a funny thing happens on the way to the strip mall.  Enid and Rebecca play a cruel joke on a nonconformist, nerdy music collector (Steve Buscemi), which leads to an unconventional relationship between Enid and the much older Seymour, and … Ghost World becomes something special.  And so does one of the “brats.”

Ghost World is based on a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, and it’s directed by Terry Zwigoff, the same man who gave us the documentary Crumb, about legendary underground comics artist R. Crumb, so it’s safe to say Zwigoff knows his comic books.  But Ghost World comes to life in quirky and memorable ways, thanks to a clever screenplay and two standout performances by Birch and Buscemi.   And thanks to all involved, it’s that rarest of commodities:  a teen coming-of-age movie that actually has heart and brains.        Grade:  B+

 

World2

 

Director:  Terry Zwigoff  Cast:  Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas, Bob Balaban, Stacey Travis  Release:  2001

 

World3               ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

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Alamar1

 

The last time I checked, Alamar enjoyed a lofty 94 percent “fresh” rating from film critics on rottentomatoes.com.   From this stellar evaluation, I conclude:  1) The critics all love the ending of The Shawshank Redemption; 2) the critics were all raised in cities or suburbs.

Alamar, billed as a “documentary-drama,” is a romanticized love-letter to the simple life, with a sentimental depiction of rural, seaside Mexico and its decidedly low-tech inhabitants.  The film portrays the sort of life you imagine for Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, post-prison in Shawshank.  It’s the stuff of daydreams for countless city dwellers.  But hold on just a minute before you contact your travel agent.

I grew up in a Midwestern small town, the kind of hamlet that urban folk imagine Mayberry or Green Acres represents.  But there is a reason that I – and millions of other rural Americans – migrated to the Big City.  Yes, crime was low, pollution nonexistent, and you knew all of your neighbors in a small town.  But country settings also offer the most boring existence on earth.  People bolt because there is so little mental stimulation; nice place to visit for the holidays, sure, but you don’t want to live there.

The Midwest is no Caribbean, and it certainly lacks the spectacular vistas of southeastern Mexico, but Alamar trades on a false romanticism supposedly found only in isolated areas.  To me, the film was 73 minutes of fishing, eating, fishing, and sleeping.  A “highlight” occurs when a Cattle Egret (look it up) comes to visit the natives and is fed a fly for lunch.

Alamar tells the story of five-year-old Natan as he enjoys one last fishing expedition with his Mayan father before the boy must return to Italy with his mother.  This trip is all very exciting for a five-year-old, I’m sure, but what happens to Natan on that coral reef when he turns sixteen?  Call me Eva Gabor, but I was pulling for the kid to return to civilization.       Grade:  C+

 

Alamar2

 

Director:  Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio  Cast:  Jorge Machado, Natan Machado Palombini, Nestor Marin, Roberta Palombini  Release:  2010



 Alamar3     Watch Trailers  (click here)

 

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Seven1

 

At the end of 7 Days, the handcuffed protagonist is led away from the scene of his crimes by police.  A reporter asks this disturbed doctor if what he’s done brought him any closure.  “No,” the man says.  Does he regret what he’s done?  “No,” he says again.

Those questions are at the heart of this Canadian drama.  What would you do if your eight-year-old daughter was raped, murdered, dumped in a field – and then you managed to kidnap and confine the perpetrator for a whole week?  It’s a difficult question, and the movie gives us answers not just from Dr. Bruno Hamel (Claude Legault), but also from his wife, from a widowed policeman, and from the parents of several other murdered girls.

Director Daniel Grou lets the audience dwell on that sticky question for 105 minutes, and then, as if that moral quandary weren’t depressing enough, we must watch as Dr. Hamel perverts his medical expertise, torturing his captive in graphic, gory, and ingenious ways.

The problem with 7 Days is that it’s three movies in one:  police thriller, family tragedy … and torture porn.  It’s too slow-paced to be particularly suspenseful, too gruesome for serious contemplation, and hey, if it’s the torture you dig, there are some Japanese movies (not to mention the Hostel franchise) that will better suit your needs.

What we’re left with is an interesting misfire that can best be summed up in two words:  unpleasant and depressing.           Grade:  B-

 

Seven2

 

Director:  Daniel Grou  Cast:  Remy Girard, Claude Legault, Fanny Mallette, Martin Dubreuil, Rose-Marie Coallier, Pascale Delhaes  Release:  2010

 

Seven3                 Seven4

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VideoFree

 

Think American politicians are corrupt?  Is the average American too glued to the boob-tube, too into junk like reality TV?  It could be worse.  You could live in Italy.  If you don’t believe that, read my review of this 2010 documentary, and then watch it free on Hulu.  (You’ll have to create a Hulu account, but it’s free, it takes 30 seconds, and they don’t spam you.)

 

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OReilly          Aniston

Poop List:  Female Honoree — Jennifer Aniston

 

It takes a lot to get me to side with Bill O’Reilly, but not this week.  Jennifer Aniston, plugging a new movie in which a woman gets pregnant using a sperm donor, shared this bit of wisdom:  “Women are realizing it more and more, knowing that they don’t have to settle with a man just to have that child.”  She went on, “And, of course, many women dream of finding Prince Charming, but for those who’ve not yet found their Bill O’Reilly, I’m just glad science has provided a few other options.”

O’Reilly had said that Aniston’s original comments were “destructive to our society … diminishing the role of the dad.”  He added, “I think men get hosed all day long in the parental arena.”

O’Reilly is correct and Aniston is acting the pampered movie star whose love life isn’t everything she expected.  Imagine if a male celebrity (say, Mel Gibson) suggested that women should just give birth and then turn the kids over to men for child raising.

 

Santana

Poop List:  Male Honoree — Johan Santana

 

Yawn.  Another week, and another jock getting his wrist slapped for alleged sexual assault.  OK, even if the Mets pitcher is innocent of the assault, he still got busted cheating on his wife.

 

Slater

Too Tired to Poop List:  Steven Slater

 

I am already sick of this guy.  You made a grand exit once.  Now do it again, please.

 

*****

 

Worthless Technology

Security cameras      Every time my local news anchor asks me to keep an eye out for some culprit caught on camera, often in a convenience store, the picture looks like this:

 

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Or this:

 

Camera1

 

These “security” pictures are about as helpful as erectile dysfunction.  Speaking of which …

 

Erect1 Erect2 Erect3

 

How desperate are some men for better nookie?  These are the potential side effects of something called sildenafil:

“Some patients experienced a sudden loss of some or all of their vision … the vision loss was permanent in some cases … there have been reports of heart attack, stroke, irregular heartbeat, bleeding in the brain or lungs, high blood pressure, and sudden death in men who took sildenafil for erectile dysfunction.”

 

Wouldn’t you rather just take a cold shower?

 

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Amelie1

 

From what I can tell, there are two big reasons the French film Amelie has achieved cult status.  I’ll buy into one of those reasons.  As for the other reason … I’m only kinda sorta on board.

Reason One is the star of this whimsical fantasy, Audrey Tautou.  If your taste in acting favors “quirky,” “eccentric,” “Bohemian” and “hippie,” you will be captivated by both the actress and the film.  But this conceit – that Tautou is so enchanting, so similar to that other Audrey – assumes everyone will embrace her waiflike charms.   Tautou is appealing, but I wouldn’t put her in Hepburn’s league.

Amelie (Tautou) is a shy waitress who makes a vow with herself to do good unto others (and, if warranted, bad).  This karma-code introduces Amelie to one oddball Parisian after another.  But this is fantasy land, so even the “bad” people she encounters are not truly evil.  The pornography shop where her true love toils is presented as more neighborhood boutique than den of sin.

You have to buy into this alternate universe for the movie to work.  You must accept that when, at long last, Amelie finds the man of her dreams (Mathieu Kassovitz), he is impossibly nice:  goofy, ineffectual, and apparently sexless – like Amelie herself. In this universe, lovemaking means innocent caresses, and nothing more.  When Amelie takes her man to bed, it’s as if she simply exchanged her childhood goldfish for an adult man.  

Reason Two to enjoy Amelie, the element I did buy into, is a humdinger:  It is a visual feast.  There are references to Renoir in the dialogue, and I have to believe the French artist would be impressed by this film’s look.  Amelie is simply one of the most gorgeous movies I’ve seen.  Every shot is a funhouse palette of greens, reds and golds – the Land of Oz in neon hues.  The film was Oscar-nominated for both art direction and cinematography, and it’s a mystery to me how it did not win.

Amelie is wish-fulfillment for dreamers, and there’s little harm in that.  Not all movies are intended to be realistic.  But if you wish for something more than two hours of quirky, eccentric, and dreamy, you’d best look elsewhere.         Grade:  B

 

Amelie2

 

Director:  Jean-Pierre Jeunet  Cast:  Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Lorella Cravotta, Serge Merlin, Jamel Debbouze, Clotilde Mollet, Yolande Moreau, Isabelle Nanty  Release:  2001

 

Amelie3

Amelie4                Amelie5

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