film review

"Oscars 2019: 'Green Book' is worst best picture winner since 'Crash'" - Justin Chang

Viggo Mortensen left, as Tony Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali as Dr. Donald Shirley in "Green Book," directed by Peter Farrelly. (Universal Pictures /Participant)

Viggo Mortensen left, as Tony Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali as Dr. Donald Shirley in "Green Book," directed by Peter Farrelly. (Universal Pictures /Participant)

by Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

Green Book” the worst best picture Oscar winner since “Crash,” and I don’t make the comparison lightly.

Like that 2005 movie, Peter Farrelly’s interracial buddy dramedy is insultingly glib and hucksterish, a self-satisfied crock masquerading as an olive branch. It reduces the long, barbaric and ongoing history of American racism to a problem, a formula, a dramatic equation that can be balanced and solved. “Green Book” is an embarrassment; the film industry’s unquestioning embrace of it is another.

Read the entire article here.

Gabrielle Union Lands Breakout Action Role in Thriller Breaking In

Gabrielle Union Lands Breakout Action Role in Thriller Breaking In

Throwing weapons and breaking glass are just a few of the things Shaun Russell does to rescue her children in the action thriller Breaking In. Gabrielle Union who plays Shaun takes on money seeking intruders using her wit and household weapons. Union, known for romantic comedy movies and the hit BET show, Being Mary Jane, takes on a new role requiring her to transition her drama techniques into physical warfare to defeat the burglars taking over her house.

The Past reviewed by Donna Honarpisheh

A Review of Asghar Farhadi’s Latest Oscar Nominated Film: The Past (Gozashte/Le Passé)

Released: 19 June, 2013 in Iran.

Unlike his other films, set in Iran, Asghar Farhadi’s latest award winning film (Cannes, The Prize of Ecumenical Jury), Le Passé (The Past) is set in Paris and almost entirely spoken in French. In talking about whether The Past is representative of Iranian cinema, Farhadi explains that the geography of his film does not change who he is as an Iranian filmmaker. This sentiment proves true as The Past maintains many of the stylistic and thematic elements developed in his previous films. Those familiar with Farhadi’s works know that the Past, even though it is not entirely in Persian, is a part of a continued story we have followed with the films: Chaharshanbe Soori, About Ely, A Separation, and now The Past. The filmmaker continues examining the powerful themes of family, divorce, and migration.

When The Past opens, we see a couple communicating through thick glass at the airport. They can’t see each other but they understand the gist of what the other is saying through mouthed words and gestures. However, as in most Farhadi films, the immovable piece of glass serves as an object that prevents them from fully understanding one another. This beginning sequence sets the tone for a series of misunderstandings, hidden feelings, and a “dark secret” that will unravel as the plot unfolds.

Farhadi creates a narrative about the past entirely set in the present. Without obvious flashbacks or even a glimpse into the incident that causes the drama we watch unravel, we enter the lives of four individuals in turmoil. It begins when, after four years of separation and living in Iran, Ahmad (Ali Mostafa) returns from Tehran to Paris to finalize divorce papers with his wife Marie (Berenice Bejo) so that she can ostensibly move on and marry Samir (Tahar Rahim), a father with a comatose wife. What appears to be a new beginning actually exposes various elements from the past that weigh heavily on each character.

Marie, at the center of the drama, has been involved with three men in her lifetime. Her family dynamic is a constant reminder of these failed experiences. Marie’s eldest daughter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet) beautifully expresses deep rebellion towards her mother’s life choices, while coldheartedly rejecting Samir. Ahmad comes to realize that this hostility isn’t simply a rejection of a new family member. It originates in an event before Samir’s wife had fallen into her coma, in the midst of her mother’s affair. Lucie alludes to the cause of Samir’s wife’s suicide attempt, but until the very end we remain unsure of what happened and in what order. Like Farhadi’s last masterpiece, we keep returning to the same seemingly tiny event, but unlike ‘A Separation,’ the event is off-screen and its consequences ripple in the opposite direction, eventually leading up to the final scene. Ahmad, ignorant of the “drama,” finds himself entrapped into the position of moderator. He looks straight into the camera and asks Marie: “Why did you bring me here, now, in the middle of all this drama?” Thus begins a heavy film with not a moment of serenity for its viewers as it ruthlessly untangles each character, forcing them to reveal their true selves.

the past

As soon as Ahmad arrives, we see that he too has lingering threads from his departure four years ago. The more involved Ahmad gets with his past family, the more we see that not only the camera, but the characters are drawn to him. The scene in which he cooks ghormeh sabzi (a traditional Persian dish) for his former stepdaughters, Lucie and Lea (Jeanne Jestin) feels almost too comfortable. It recalls another scene from the past. Again, as Ahmad digs into his suitcase in the garage, we are reminded of a past life with a photograph of the former couple, still curious about what tore them apart. The more Ahmad is invited into the day-to-day life of Marie and her new family, the more we feel Samir falling out of the picture. At one point Marie asks Samir: “Why are you here?” He responds: “What do you mean? Does someone have a problem with me being here?” This direct confrontation further establishes the characters’ disconnect with Samir. But this trajectory would be far too simple. Farhadi shows empathy for his characters, regardless of their actions. Even Samir’s character, that seems somewhat neglected by the camera opens up later in the film. Scene after scene we become more wrapped in what seems to be a complex whirlwind of relationships, lies, and truths rooted in the past.

In the final scene of the film, Farhadi makes a sudden turn and brings us to the hospital room where Samir’s wife lies in a coma. She is an underdeveloped piece in the mosaic of lies, arguments, and failed marriages that Farhadi has intricately put together. It is through Farhadi’s attempt to bring us closer to the couple whose issues remain unattended for most of the film (Samir and his wife), that we fully comprehend his ability to make every moment of life critical. These final moments, among others, shine with subtext. Humanity shows itself as each character grapples with his or her own personal plight, and nostalgia overflows their minds and memories. The film is a series of authentic moments with authentic people that allows us to sense the discrepancy between action and identity. Farhadi trusts his audience. Rather than explaining the lattice of emotions between characters, he allows us to sense them. There are whole worlds of feelings that linger between his characters’ lies, confessions, and even in silences.

 

The Past opens in select US theaters on December 20th, 2013.

Reviewed by: Donna Honarpisheh

Donna had the opportunity to view The Past in Tehran’s Cinema Mellat.

 

Interpreting Gatsby

by Jim Fletcher The Baz Luhrmann film The Great Gatsby comes on like a celebrity, because the book is a celebrity. Some books want to be celebrities in their own right and this one did it, up from humble beginnings which it will never completely transcend, apparently. In that sense it's the Jay Gatsby of books. The Jay-Z. Celebrities are not ponderous. I was moved early on in the film simply because I was seeing Daisy. Daisy from The Great Gatsby. The Great Daisy. The book is a star. People admit that it's absolutely gorgeous, even if they contend that it's not great writing. The same way they say about a screen idol, for example Liz Taylor—not always great acting but always gorgeous. When something is gorgeous, it doesn't matter whether it's great in the other way... A great novelist complained that Gatsby is written in blank verse rather than in a real music of prose. It wears a pink suit. The going opinion on Baz Luhrmann's movie is similar—gorgeous, if not a great film.

Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction — Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament.”— it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.

I am curious why this novel still gets commented on condescendingly by discerning readers, as it always has. I feel sure there's a reason for it. Is it because it stays resolutely in the language of the magazine, the social language, what is for sale, colloquial, artificial? People are careful to distance themselves from it, while admiring it. My personal feeling is that I know of no better book. It is extravagantly musical prose, but that music is easy, flawless, varied, and comes from an apparently unending source. The fact that it gets in beneath the radar of high literature, if compared to the work of Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, Hemingway, Richard Wright—some of Fitzgerald's contemporaries—only lends this book more speed and flash and efficiency, wit, a kind of escape velocity that keeps it young and slightly out of our hands.

It's a story about a straight-minded, open-minded upper-middle-class Midwestern guy who gets stained a bright pink, by love, in spite of himself. It's about Nick getting a retroactive hardon for Gatsby's hardon, which, yes, is focused on Daisy but includes everything around her—that is, everything—in its sweep. When Gatsby says to Nick of Tom Buchanan, “ I don't trust him, old sport,” one feels this is a momentous interdiction, reserved for very few in this world. When he allows, near the end, that Daisy may have loved Tom at some point, he has to add that it was “just for a minute,” and further, that “it was just personal.” Gatsby is ecstatic about flowers, hydroplanes, yellow cars, telephones, motorboats, electric citrus presses, his fellow soldiers, people who crucially helped him when he needed it, and above all about Daisy, his north star, who didn't really need him, but who needed something that was wonderful to him. It's a Platonic book, if one remembers that Plato's hero was also an erotic ecstatic, named Socrates, who, like Gatsby, grew up the son of poor farmers, then too served with distinction in the military, and as well was later killed basically for declining the option of leaving town. In both cases this background doesn’t go very far in explaining who or what they are. But again, the hero of this book is not Gatsby, nor Nick, but maybe the immense love between them that rises up unnoticed, another guest at this surge of unprecedented life forms and energies hatching at West Egg and other eggs laid by that Great Speckled Bird, the Great War. Think about the Harlem Renaissance, Marcus Garvey, the music, unapologetic sensuality, and the political rising up that simply would not take no for an answer. This is where Luhrmann's decision to feature Jay-Z, and the Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan, and other global pop forces, is exta-cinematic and exhilarating, and a good substitute for the written wit that can be found in every line of the novel, even in its most tragic, sentimental, or its stillest passages.

Unfortunately for the movie, this wit, or the cinematic equivalent of it—the comic book style of delivery, the use of narrated voice-over as a kind of literal and perverse generator of imagery in movie-time, the incredible choreography of spectacle whenever more than four people are present—goes extinct, like an ice-age hit it, at around the point where the novel reads,

It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night--and, as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over.

At which point, in the movie, we are stuck with the working out of the story from a revealed Gatsby's point of view. Gatsby is treated like a character among characters, and the story becomes a playing out of his and Daisy's backstory and the inexorable confrontation with material reality.

But the novel does not stop being funny or splendid here, just because the parties have ceased. There will still be the policeman at the scene of the wreck, which is also a kind of party—Tom is happy when he first sees it—said policeman trying impossibly to spell an eyewitness's impossible name (this is on p.146); there will be Klipspringer calling to retrieve his tennis shoes after Gatsby's murder, saying he’s “sort of helpless without them”; and Gatsby's father arriving unexpectedly at the mansion and reading, aloud to Nick, the young Gatz's old scribbled daily resolves, basically over Gatsby's dead body. There will be the letter from Wolfsheim after he heard Gatsby was killed, and the face-to-face meeting later where Wolfsheim tells Nick: “When I was a young man it was different—if a friend of mine died, no matter how, I stuck with them to the end. You may think that's sentimental but I mean it—to the bitter end.” The book is always aware of itself as a book, and is able to bear its burden lightly. Gatsby is shot while floating in his swimming pool. The shot doesn't knock him off his air mattress, nor cause it to sink.

Maybe what happens is, when they make movies of it, they feel obliged to land, to finish with a healthy dose of significance and substance, with weight. But the audience can provide that on their own, in superabundance, and don’t need more of it on top of what they themselves bring. Sing the song, keep singing until it’s done, and when it’s over, stop singing. Maybe the movie-makers get seduced into thinking that the great thing about this book is the parties, the social energy, opulence, old money versus new money, etc., in which case the book should have ended at its actual halfway point. I don't know. But one good test of a Gatsby adaptation is to ask yourself: was this funny at any point... and did that stop happening at any point, and if it did, why? Maybe there's an idea that once Gatsby is exposed as a penniless guy from Lake Superior whose parents were "shiftless and unsuccessful farm people," and who was allowed into Oxford because he distinguished himself in uniform during World War I, a guy who eventually made his fortune by strictly illegal and unsavory, possibly violent means, it's enough then, since we know everything about him, to focus in on his personal emotions, and his personal need for Nick to help him in his intensely personal quest for Daisy.

In the book however, Gatsby is always connected to something unutterable, appalling, incommunicable, incorruptible, to use some of Fitzgerald’s terms. Something Tom Buchanan would not find in his background checks, because Tom doesn’t believe a word Gatsby says. This ‘something’ predates Gatsby’s meeting Daisy, and it doesn't stop when he stops giving parties, nor after Myrtle Wilson is killed by the speeding yellow car with Daisy driving. He is consistent, constant, an incarnation, more of a force or an entity than a character. If character is defined as a knowable dramatic entity that undergoes definable change in the course of a story, then Gatsby is more of a blank, a vacuum, a cipher of some sort, a nobody, Mr. Nobody from Nowhere as Tom Buchanan correctly calls him, or, as Nick sums him up quite economically, ‘the man who gives his name to this book.’ If you try to make him into a character (which is, understandably, Tom Buchanan’s avowed mission, in order to destroy him) you may do some damage, but you will tend to be always two steps behind, i.e. in Tom’s case, turning garages back into stables.

He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.

… that is, Gatsby's incarnation, not Daisy's… Becoming flesh.

If you as a director or performer are going to interpret him, why not go the extra mile and take what he says at face value and see what that leads to? Take a cue from your unconscious. A hypnotist told me once before attempting to hypnotize me that his intention was to speak to my unconscious. He said the unconscious believes everything it sees and hears. I was impressed that we should have such a thing inside us, and that it could survive, and be centrally involved. Believing things like Gatsby’s “Why of course you can!” in response to Nick’s protest that you can’t repeat the past, or his earnest offer to Nick after making a date to test out the new hydroplane, “If you want anything, just ask for it old sport,” or his cryptic complaint about Daisy that “… she doesn’t understand. She used to be able to understand…,” or his repeatedly assuring Daisy during the argument with Tom “Just tell him the truth—that you never loved him—and it’s all wiped out forever.” How does it add up? Believe it first. Give it truth value. And let the reality adjust to that, or let there be gaps in the reality field because of it. Why wouldn’t you? Because it’s implausible? The other option is to disbelieve Gatsby’s or Fitzgerald’s statements, to conclude that you know what this entity does not know, and to condescend to the character, e.g., to think him at best sympathetic but delusional—poor Gatsby. This is a dreary path… we’ve seen enough people try to take that one all the way. It doesn’t go all the way. If you affirm Gatsby's convictions first, as a premise, and let that inform who he is, as needed, as it comes up, then we're getting somewhere and the book can proceed as if on wings.

Mind you this approach can apply to all the dramatis personae in The Great Gatsby. It doesn’t mean they’ll be agreeing with each other…. See what happens, every go-round. But in Gatsby’s case this approach is particularly spelled out, as a kind of technical model, and is central to what he is and what he is not, in the book.

The great value of narrative is that, like a moon vehicle, it can start from premises, or meanings, known things, and proceed from there. It’s our way to get further. Into what, we don’t know. It doesn’t end with meanings, it starts with them, and goes from there. And what happens, is what it ends with.

In my younger and more vulnerable years I read a book by Isaac Asimov called Please Explain, which consists of selections from his syndicated newspaper column “Isaac Asimov Explains,” in which he would answer science questions put to him by readers. One of them was a physics question: What is the result when an irresistable force meets an immoveable object? I don’t remember what his answer was, but I remember the feeling of it. It was an active answer—it didn’t surrender to the paradox of the proposed situation. In a way, The Great Gatsby is also an active answer to this same question. The result is this book, which has zero mass, which is a nothing, and is able to remain a nothing against increasing odds, and without withdrawing, where to be something would mean destruction. So Luhrmann’s cinematic conceit of Nick as author of a typewritten “patient’s journal” titled Gatsby, which he later emends, by fountain pen, as the last image of the movie, to The Great Gatsby, is great. It is able to say, or at least suggest, The Great Gatsby is a movie about a book.

Appendix: the first several minutes of the film:

Opening: Black-and-white “JG” art-deco metallic-looking logo. Distressed film print look, period jazz sound complete with record scratches, clarinet, slow. Music takes on a contemporary synthesizer tone, the green light theme music, 3D effects begin, “JG” grill turns to color and recedes to the image of the distant green light seen from across water. Voiceover, in the tone of someone reading, as from a comic-book, much-changed version of the novel's opening passage. Water now being snowed upon. Cut to grand palatial mansion behind floating ice: looks like it could be JG's home but is actually: The Perkins Sanitorium. Voiceover: “...all of us drank too much... the more in tune with the time we were, the more we drank... and none of us contributed anything new. When I came back from New York, I was disgusted.” Close-up on printed page of a patient's hospital record: Morbidly alcoholic... insomniac... fits of anger... anxiety. VO: “He was the single most hopeful person I've ever met... and am ever likely to meet again.” Wood-panelled asylum walls. Fire in fireplace. Snow outside. Nick looking out. “I met him...” Transform to: “...at a party in New York, Summer of 1922.” Jay-Z beat, Big Apple, aerial view, fast, archival footage of manic Wall Street activity. Bright red bi-plane doing a high spin (3-D), plane's POV plunging down the entire length of the Empire State Building to halt at close-up of Nick on sidewalk formally and exuberantly greeting camera by taking his straw bowler hat off. End of introductory sequence.

Exposition narration: voiceover linked playfully and with high-paced visuals: “At Yale I dreamed of being a writer” = Nick while moving picks up hardback copy of Joyce's Ulysses off a stack of printed matter in his bungalow. “But I gave all that up” = Puts Ulysses back down, still moving. Non-Long Island-looking trees and landscape passing for Long Island (New Zealand? Ivy-covered larches?) “I had planned to spend the summer studying” = Nick sitting on porch with open book. “Were it not for the riotous amusements that beckoned” = two young women in bathing costumes jumping out of an open-air car laughing, one of them actually beckoning before running off behind the other. Peek of Gatsby's ring finger, cuff and hand, from indoors, above, holding his curtain aside, reticently exposing himself. End of West Egg intro.

Sweeping camera flight across the bay, through a set of white sails, to East Egg, Tom's mansion. Airborne grand shot of Tom approaching his mansion on horseback. French horn music, soaring, Disney-type sweep, plus phone ringing, plus Tom makes a last shot with the polo mallet. Black servant catches the mallet while a white servant takes the horse as Tom leaps off. A white and a Black servant attend his talking on the phone, one holds a drink for him, two white servants attending the inner sanctum of sporting trophies. Tom slaps Nick on the back boisterously “Hey! Shakespeare!” Talk talk talk, trophies, trophies. Tom throws a football to Nick (in 3D) “Life is something you dominate, Nick, if you're any good!” Tom charges at Nick with a rough manly laugh as if to tackle him, pushes him through gigantic double doors into an airy, curtained sun room. Many layers of gossamer soft white fabric blowing in large airy motion. White female arm appears up from the back of a luxurious couch. Diamond bracelet glinting colors, 3D, Nick enthralled. Female giggle, laugh, and sigh. Tom shuts the door, the wind dies down. Close-up on Daisy's eyes. She introduces “Jordan Baker: a very famous golfer.” Both ladies stunning, Daisy more plain and fresh, Jordan urbane and long and stylish and brunette, with simple but striking pressed hair style.... “Gatsby? What Gatsby?” says Daisy as the French butler approaches and says “Madame, the dinner is serving.”

Begin dinner scene: Windows open again, curtains alive w breeze. Choreographed appearance of servants in formal tails, in synchronous motion a la Busby Berkely or other great MGM spectacles of choreography. Disjointed collage of dinner dialogue from the book. Tom: “Civilization's going to pieces... The Rise of the Colored Empires... or these other races will get control of things” as he motions toward the Black servants present. Telephone rings. Big phallic cigar. Wilson's call regarding the car. Black servants hovering with towels on arms. Elaborate choreography of servants opening three grand windows/doors simultaneously to expose other servants within, grand, circular sweep of people as Nick and Daisy go out onto the French-style garden with paved walks. Moving camera passes by rosebushes, marble pedestals, and moving servants in the foreground. Lively rhythm of dialogue with motion of camera and cuts. Daisy: “A beautiful little fool... all the precious things fade so fast”... camera sweeps through the green light on her dock, across the water again back to Gatsby's side of the bay, night time, “... and they don't come back...” See the obscured, dark figure of Gatsby on his own dock, from behind, walking forward to regard the green light.

Back to Perkins Sanitorium. Nick at the window with his finger to the cold frosted glass. "The green light." "I don't want to talk about this, doctor." "Then write about it.” Doctor produces a bound book of blank pages titled, “Patient's Journal.” “Write it down. A memory. A thought. A place.” Now begin the cursive writing across the screen that will later become typewriting as the account picks up steam. Lots of written words and sentences onscreen in this movie. First line of Nick's writing: “The Valley of Ashes was a grotesque place...” with imagery of men digging with pick-axes appearing alongside the hand-written words.

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Jim Fletcher played in every full-length performance of Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz, a five-and-a-half hour stage production whose script consists of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in its entirety.

Slumdog Millionaire or Danny Boyle Lets His Dogs Out.

Review by poonam srivastava

Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire has won the hearts of so many. It has carried away Golden Globes, Oscars, and other prizes. The movie is a supposed feel good love story. I saw a horrific series of images of torture and extreme human degradation with no real explanations of their genesis or any real transformation of the characters or the situation, interspersed with greed and violence centered on the  desire to accumulate great wealth. The international applause seems to be mostly from those ignorant of the plot subject. This movie appears to me a contemporary case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Any one with a sense of story will have to suspend that in order to enjoy Slumdog. The hero, a boy named Jamal, and his brother, Salim, flee their devastated slum home along with girl, Latika, from their urban slum due to Hindu violence. The hero and the girl are in love. The three are somehow spun into a version of the three musketeers as they adventure into the jungle that is Mumbai. They are bonded by a nearly deadly Pinnochio-esque experience with a beggar mafia. The brothers lose the girl but save each other. Then when they go to find the girl again, suddenly Salim, the older (and darker) brother shoos off Jamal, the younger (lighter and more ethical one) with the same gun he had used to free her. (What?) (There seems to be an internalized racism here.) The character of Latika is stereotypical of a western idea of the poor suffering third world woman. She has no agency in this role. Latika, despite the energy the child actor brought to the screen becomes a commodity traded by men. However, her virginity is proclaimed as intact at the moment the brothers rescue her. Short lived as that rescue may be. Then when Jamal infiltrates the house of her captor to steal her away, she is concerned not with Jamal’s life but with the material means of their escape. “What will we live on?” she says. “Love.” he says. That is basically the insipid level of dialogue that is maintained through the film. Boyle and the people responsible for making this film had a wealth of strong women characters in other Indian films (Spices for example) and right in the slums they shot in. Apparently they weren’t looking. I can say that I have been in the company of the women of India that till fields and break the stones for the roads by hands and they are not Latika. The timing of the movie was painfully slow. We are subjected to an hour, or so it certainly feels, of an insipid flashback. The story starts at the point where the hero, Jamal, is taken from the television studio into police custody. We are immediately assaulted with images of electrocution and water torture akin to Guantanamo Bay. His crime, winning where others have lost, at a television game show hardly matches the level of suffering. It is unclear who called the police in. India is rife with police corruption, with payoffs, based on personal power. Dragging uninspired dialogue, "How would a chai walla know the answer to that?", accompany the torture and are woven with scenes of great shock from a violent and impoverished childhood. Boy falls into shit hole. Boy gets hit in the head with a book. Boy runs with friends from cops carrying sticks. All this to show what? The way out of the slums is a television game show? The child actors are the only bright spots in the film. They come on the screen there is a breath of fresh air. The constant expression of confusion and humility that the teen/adult Jamal carries through the entire film, the constant expression of rage that Salim carries, and the constant look of subjugation and sultry sexiness that the grown up Latika assumes is in stark contrast to the moving faces of these three child actors. The scenes with the children in Hindi with subtitle carry us through a reality that is harsh. Their resilient smiles point to the ineffable human spirit. We believe them. Then suddenly they are teenagers talking in English to tourists. Jamal eventually finds work in a call center as a lowly tea server. There he answers the manager’s questions on British trivia and thus trumps the callers who are groomed in accents and culture of the first world they serve. The manager smiles. She knows he is knowledgeable and intelligent. Why then are we to trust that it is sheer mad luck that the game show questions are simply coincidence to his life experience? He has fools luck. Hurray. Dumb slumdog, gets lucky. Wins million, gets girl. Hurray! Well, perhaps the public unfamiliar with India may forgive Slumdog for its many errors in plot and point. However, as one well versed in the subcontinent I have serious issues. The staging of the devastation of Jamal's childhood home as a result of Hindu / Muslim riots is my first sticking point. Shantytowns in Mumbai tend more often than not to be run over by corporate greed and conveniences rather than religious riots. In fact it is the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation that recently demolished the homes of the actual slum residing child actors due to the demands of construction. Of course Danny Boyle did not know this. He knew nothing of India that is why he was eager to take on the project according to an interview he gave at Telluride Film Festival fall of 2008. Also, why did the script choose to give the main character a strictly Muslim identity? The book Q and A on which the film is based strove to blur the religious element by having it's hero named Ram Mohammad Thomas. Are the makers of Slumdog trying to once again, in the spirit of the East India Tea Company, pit Muslim against Hindu? Award. Dev Patel who played the adult Jamal, says this in an interview to Screencrave: (about a)  “slum called Tal Aviv, which has got a population of 2 million and still growing. Coming from London, I had this stupid preconceived notion, a stereotype of what a slum would be... The day I woke up to go on this location scout, I thought, damn its gonna be a bloody hard day, I’m gonna be depressed. And I was so glad to be proved wrong.... When they’re there, all you get is an overwhelming sense of community. They call them slums, but they are colonies. Everyone knows everyone and they’re all working together in unison, like one molecule, like on cell. I remember there was this kid walking down the slum, he had this vest on, licking an icelolly and it’s all dripping down his top and there’s a group of three burly men. And one guy saw the boy and picked him up, put him next to him, and pulled out a handkerchief, cleaned him up, and pushed him along back on his journey. And I was like wow. In London you can’t do that. Here they all look after each other. He didn’t know that kid.” My experience with the Indian poor is absolutely in synch with Dev Patel’s observations expressed above. One does not find the community, cooperative vibe in the slum portrayed by Slumdog. No the kids are like dogs. They run wild and have no nurturing or oversight. The people are cruel and fight for survival. Dog eat dog. Only the sensationalist elements, the dirt, the chaos and violence, are strung together visually with a hot sound track. Poverty porn. No wonder the many protests in India over the film. The words stupid and preconceived seemed to stick in my brain. Mr. Boyle and company had an opportunity to show the real face of Indian poverty and disenfranchisement as well as the resilience of human spirit, the specifically Indian face of poverty with it’s amazing entrepreneurial industrial cooperation that battles the very real concrete chronic systemic forces profiting from its continued existence.  Instead they offered us two hours of stupid preconceived cliché. Feel good? Not me. Even the happy ending was a huge disappointment. Bollywood was reduced to Broadway. The screen filled with finger snapping blandly dressed cast-members. Two streams of people parted and floated neatly away in trains. Where were the costume changes, the dancing in the rain, the juxtaposition of the Eiffel Tower after the village scene, the mandatory peeking from behind pillar or tree, and the heaving heavy breasts  that define Bollywood? Slumdog Millionaire is a glorification of mediocrity and consumer culture. As a member of the audience I suffered. As a human being I suffered even more.

Trouble the Water

No human spirit, all toughness aside, could withstand watching Trouble the Water without tears of empathy, followed by boiling anger, growing conviction and the commitment to respond. Filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, consistently credit this feeling of good will fueled by a desire to help, as what motivated them to race to the gold coast in the aftermath of Katrina. The long time collaborators with Michael Moore had experienced a similar impetus towards action after 9/11. Turning their lens outwards on their own Brooklyn neighborhood, they made The Family Divided, a compelling short about the backlash of racism and unjust deportations which affected many American-Muslims. Determined to react artfully and effectively, Lessin and Deal, armed with their cameras found themselves in New Orleans in search of a story.

American Splendor

Most Hollywood films, take you on exciting thrilling car chasing gun fighting journeys where beautiful people meet and have sex with other beautiful people. And you get to go along for the ride. But afterwards you walk into the street, and back home to your apartment with your sick cat and your fat wife, and all of a sudden what you thought was an alright life seems pathetic and lame in comparison.

Review of Scott Hicks' "Glass" by Tom Savage

About The Omnipresent Phillip Glass Glass: A Portrait in Twelve Parts, a film produced and directed by Scott Hicks

This excellent documentary/interview film with and about Phillip Glass going down the Astroland roller coaster in Coney Island with a smile on his face. All those years of involvement with Buddhism and other spiritual traditions would seem to have paid off. But why subject one’s life to danger gratuitously? The question is neither asked nor answered. Glass claims not to be a Buddhist. Nevertheless he has a Buddhist teacher named Gelek Rinpoche and is on the boards of numerous Buddhist organizations including Tibet House and a magazine I get four times per year about Buddhist topics called Tricycle. The film features Chuck Close, the famous artist who paints portraits mostly in black dots that look like blown up photographs. Close has known Glass for many years[...]

Film Review of Caché

Film Review

by Norman Douglas

 

 

 

Caché

Directed by:   Michael Haneke

Screenplay:   Michael Haneke

Cinematography:   Christian Berger

2005

 

 

 

"What people do officially is nothing compared with what they do in secret. People usually associate creativity with works of art, but what are works of art alongside the creative energy displayed by everyone a thousand times a day: seething unsatisfied desires, daydreams in search of a foothold in reality, feelings at once confused and luminously clear, ideas and gestures presaging nameless upheavals."

 

{-- Raoul Vaneigem, {The Revolution of Everyday Life}, 1967}

 

The other night, two workers from my local bookstore strong-armed a few of us into watching Mike Mills' adaptation of Walter Kirn's 1999 novel, Thumbsucker. A couple of months ago, I went to see Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers as soon as it opened in Rhinebeck, NY. Around the same time, I bought Gus Van Sant's Last Days on DVD. What do these films -- and a lot of indie films I've seen lately -- have in common with Michael Haneke's direction of Caché, from a script he wrote himself? It seems like there's a bandwagon storming through the souls of filmmakers these days, and the driver of this wagon is busily touting the notion that silence is the new dialogue, in the same way -- as I once heard an artist quip -- that painting is the new drawing. Don't get me wrong: I appreciate a film without cops and sociopaths as much as anybody who tears tickets at places like Film Forum (as I did, back when it was on Watts Street). But I'm not convinced that the absence of words ably reproduces the everyday lives of we who exist outside the constructs of those who would project images ostensibly designed for our reflection. On the other hand, despite what I perceived as unrealistic flaws in a film that tackles the way we define the Real, Caché makes silence its subject, so that even what gets spoken echoes with silence.

Silence seems rare in the lives of my peers, colleagues, and acquaintances. During moments of catharsis and transformation, most of us find ourselves wishing we had either said what was said better than we said it or, had simply kept our mouths shut. The silence in Caché is amplified by the static cinematography. Beginning with a shot of a Parisian town house that lasts for the three or four minutes of a credit sequence unraveled line-by-line, like the screen read-out of a speed typist, Austrian director Haneke relies on cinematograher   Christian Berger to ensure that one never forget that we are engaged in the act of watching. As the credits end and an unseen speaker reveals that she's watching the same image as the audience, we're reminded that listening goes hand in hand with watching. A male voice responds. An "off-screen" voice, out of the frame, hidden, caché. The camera pulls away, enlarging our perspective to reveal that Georges (  Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliet Binoche), husband and wife, have been watching the same static video image of their home as the movie audience. "It goes on for two hours this way," Anne tells Georges, in the filmmaker's wry wink to the audience.

Menaced by a series of camcorder-grade surveillance tapes delivered anonymously to their home, Georges and Anne contact the police, who refuse to act until someone commits an actual crime. Like all good film characters, this official apathy launches Georges into detective mode. Though his command of cinematic device and artifice -- of silence and visual stillness -- impose an atmosphere of suspense on the viewer that some critics compare favorably with Hitchcock, Haneke clearly has no interest in delivering the kind of standard entertainment for which Hitchcock became "notorious." Repeatedly maintaining his duty to protect wife and child, Georges seems more driven by the need to protect himself. As the videotapes show up on their doorstep, accompanied by childlike black and white drawings of caricatures that spout red blood -- red crayon applied so violently to paper that it has the look of a stain such as the Pontius Pilate could not wash out -- these images reel Georges in ever deeper, returning him to his childhood home and its memories, memories that haunt his dreams. Discounting the possibility that their thirteen year old son, Pierrot (  Lester Makedonsky), is playing a nasty prank, Georges privately suspects someone from his past, someone he believes he has forgotten. This someone is Majid (Maurice Bénichou), the son of their Algerian caretakers. Georges' parents tried to adopt Majid when Majid's parents fell victim to the police massacre of Algerian protestors in Paris on October 17, 1961.

Essentially built around the characters' memories of that day, when police, headed by the Vichy collaborator  --  -- , brutally murdered as many as two hundred people, dumping scores of bodies into the River Seine, Haneke sees no reason to revisit the topological scene of the crime. Because French authorities viciously and effectively censored news of the massacre from the press, the public, and the international community, most of France denied the murders ever took place. Even among Algerians (which nation then stood on the verge of winning a particularly bloody war of colonial independence that would end the following March), an accurate account of the dead continues unresolved. What Haneke addresses with Caché has to do with the way that personal memory colors perception -- just as perception shapes memory -- creating an illusion out of the reality known as the present, here and now -- to say nothing of the past.

Real life is terrorized by the sensation of survival that everyday events take on in our collective striving for history; learned needs lurk in the shadows of every choice, squashing the persistent desire for peace and love. Today, despite the empirical fact that we continue to enact history, the vast majority experiences that history while watching it occur, as if history could pass us by; we notice every little thing and, taking note, choose every little effect upon the self. Although great catastrophes and upheavals are beamed almost instantly around the world, the ability to connect and disconnect has more to do with one's willingness to do so than anything else. Like highway rubbernecking, electronic rubbernecking depends on one's inner state of mind, not the degree of mayhem and carnage present in the wreck at which one gawks. Stuck in traffic on the way to work with no more sick days and only AM lite music differs from being stuck in that same traffic in a VW van with a handful of friends making a cross country trip; neither case compares to riding through that gridlock as the parent or child of a person in that same crash. Disaster television, like all TV and, by extension, all of daily life (little of which we can imagine becoming history) only impresses us to the extent that we have prepared ourselves for particular impressions of peculiar events; memory colors perception. Haneke does not critique the media: he investigates our actions and inaction as a whole, using media and media personalities to remind us of the reality behind the curtain, a reality towards which we tend to pay no attention.

Georges, as host of a "public" television show devoted to literature (modeled after the commercially successful, Apostrophe, where I saw Charles Bukowski lionize his host: "You guys are great! I've never been on TV in America! And I love all the wine! And the women!" a memory that colors my perception of the film...), depends financially on this video version of life's events

A Review of Palindromes, or "TODD SOLONDZ WANTS TO MAKE MY EYES BLEED!"

Todd Solondz's fourth film, Palindromes, is a success. Well, it is a success in that I left the theater feeling sick and hating everything. But, since this film takes place in a world where all humans are weak, awful creatures incapable of growth or change, I can only assume that nauseating the audience was among the director's stated objectives. So, good job, Mr. Solondz!

"Black chick down on all fours"

Well, Hollywood has pulled another fast one on us, folks -- and Halle Berry should be ashamed of herself for saying at the Oscars, "This moment is much bigger than me ... this is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, etc." I highly doubt that Lena or Dorothy would ever find themselves down on all fours for a racist white ex correctional officer in a soft porn sex scene for all of America to watch. Just imagine us telling our little black girls that they too can be Academy Award winners now because of Halle Berry. Their next question may be: "Well, mamma, what role did Halle play to get the award?" I guess my answer would be a big gulp.

Violation of Youth: Transcendence Through Destruction

Clark's films generally follow a male perspective, females existing mainly as foils for the males. In fact most of the major female characters in both Kids and Bully are raped. In Kids, Casper, to emulate the sexual mastery of Telly, rapes the peacefully sleeping Jenny, in a long, explicitly jarring scene. The defilement of Casper primarily intrigues Clark, however, the camera focusing on Casper's bewildered face the next morning as he asks "what happened?" Amidst all his drugs and debauchery, only the malicious violence of rape exiles Casper from innocence, from childhood. Looking back, Telly's pursuit of virgins can be seen as a subliminal compulsion to destroy innocence that is made even more profound by the fact that he is HIV positive.

Ambiguous Morals Are Trendy: Maria Full of Grace

Maria Full of Grace was not a movie I was particularly interested in seeing. A film about a seventeen year-old girl who traffics drugs? It sounds like a bad episode of a teen drama. And critics in general have a habit of applauding movies that tackle 'serious' issues, while ignoring their artistic merits. It makes them seem multicultural, I guess. However, I am happy to admit that in this case I was completely wrong.

Knowledge Is Power But Math is Still Boring

This past year, documentaries finally became major players at the box office. Fueled by such high-profile, controversial films as Fahrenheit 9/11 and Super Size Me, the ainstream ultimately learned to love documentaries. No longer doomed to limited release in art house theaters, the general public got a taste of an underappreciated form of filmmaking.

Review of "Firedancer"

A vast landscape stretches to eternity. A dark night finds a little boy running from his home.Cut to: New York City 2000. Haris, a stylish Afghan-American artist living in Chelsea is haunted by a traumatic past. He tries to interpret his visions in his artwork but needs more clarity. Flashback to: Kabul, Afghanistan 1979. A young Haris wakes to gun fire. His father tells him to run and sends him off with a prayer and a promise not to return home. His legacy begins.

Pinero

Interesting how late seventies and eighties urban history is handled in the movie "Pinero." The movies producers and director/writer confirm a prediction made by Nuyorican Poet's Cafe co-founder Miguel Algarin more than 25 years ago about efforts to bring Latino creativity into the mainstream, "I see a lot of waste because before the great Hispanic hit is going to come out you're going to have to break through all of the cliches." Miguel Algarin August 1977. The movie about Miguel Pinero's life reinforces the view no matter how creative Puerto Ricans in the U.S. are we're still a bunch of savages

GONE

GONE is thick with visual layers. It is a wry look at family and friends, where 'digi-scape' meets urban monument to reflect a hidden landscape of the underground artist. The story is loosely based on a television series from the early 70's -- a real life TV docu-drama called An American Family staring the "Louds" -- and un-folds during a family reunion in New York City. In GONE Dougherty employs archetypal and cartoony characters that drawn from her personal life experiences to tell a story that speaks to the New York fringe. She draws on a world of homegrown talent whose life stories blur with the real and imagined. Painter Amy Sillman plays a visiting mother and musician Frances Sorensen, plays Lance's ambiguous live-in "other."

The Dream

#"THE AMERICAN CYNIC LONGING FOR THE DREAM"

 

 

 

      Seabiscuit

      Director: Gary Ross

      Writer: Gary Ross

      Studio: Universal Pictures

      Starring: Tobey Maguire, Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens, William H. Macy, Kingston DuCoeur, Eddie Jones, Ed Lauter

 

      Spellbound

      Director: Jeffrey Blitz

 

 

Review by Jade Sharma 

 

My boss says to me today, "You know what the only free thing in this country is? I say, "What's that?" He says, "The only goddamn free thing in this country is to pay your rent. It's free to pay your rent, that's all these bastards let you get way with anymore."

 

Although my boss, a middle aged artist from a working class background in Detroit, who makes art out of garbage is not a fair representation of the general public. He does convey a popular sentiment, that to put it bluntly, that America well, kind of, sucks. There's a lot to gripe about, you can choose among the following: economic hardship, vast unemployment, blackouts, ban on smoking, Iraq, George W. Bush, on which ever scale, local or international, problems are plentiful. If you are complaining today in America, odds are the person listening to you is nodding in agreement and chiming in with their own grievances.

 

It is true that America is in need of a collective self-esteem boast, where can they look? The movies, in particular two films have come out, to help America feel a little bit better about herself. Seabiscuit, is a tale of horse, a jockey, and the owner of a horse, defying all odds and ending up on top. It is set in the depression, another time when Americans had a lot to gripe about. It opens with the hard luck story of the jockey, Red Pollard (Tobey Maquire)whose parents were forced to give him up, because they didn't have any money. Then through twists and turns, on thing leading to another, his life is intertwined with Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) who is going through his own hard times. He has just lost a child, and his marriage has ended. We meet him as he is finds his new wife, and decides he wants to buy a horse to race. As he wanders prospective trainers, he stumbles upon the eccentric recluse trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper). Cooper spots Seabiscuit, and is convinced the horse will be winner, despite its lazy nature and small body. So finally the team is formed, each of which their own problems to overcome: the horse (1.too small, 2.tempermental), the jockey (1.too big, 2.bitter, 3.attitude problem), the owner (1.death of child), and the washed up trainer. If it sounds a bit over the top and formulaic, well, that's because it is.

 

It is "one of those" movies. It even sounds like "one of those movies." It has one of those generic intrusive scores, if you close your eyes, you will know what to feel because it uses that same score that has been in Hollywood movies for the past decade. It's the most awful, annoying attribute of the film, it feels as though someone is poking telling you, "feel this way", "now feel this way." This film is one of those big guy v.little guy. A team with everything against them overcomes (I.E. The Mighty Ducks). What makes it a little more interesting is the character of William H.Macy who plays a radio journalist covering the horse racing, his fresh snippy banter throughout this movie, add a much needed touch of wit and cleverness. Also there are passages in the film, small little history lessons in black and white interwoven depicting the changing time of America in it's journey toward modernity. Despite that, it is your basic hard luck boys overcoming the obstacles. So why is it so popular?

 

I saw it in a theatre in upstate New York; the audience's median age was about 60, and white. There was applause all through it. Afterwards I was standing in the lobby waiting for my friend, when a 70 year old white woman, with an almost teary eyed smile on her face, turned to me, and said, "Wasn't that just wonderful?" I nodded in agreement. And she began telling me about how her husband had read the book. She said, it was the best movie she had seen in a long time. That Hollywood had finally made a movie that she liked.

 

It was then I realized this movie was more like a photo album to her, it wasn't just the actual time period, that she was nostalgic for, the depression is a time I don't think most people want to re-live, but of the feeling that America offered. A time when things were changing, printing presses, the assembly line, and the feelings of opportunity these changes evoked in the American spirit. The feeling that if you worked hard and you had experienced your due of hard times, you would eventually be successful. The American Dream. But for people in my generation, there is no nostalgia for that time. The whole time I was watching it from a multi-cultural, historical perspective. I kept thinking where are the black people? Are they being lynched? I think that's why young people, are more apt to be cynical about this film. The American Dream may have always been a myth, for the every one of the immigrants who came here with a quarter in there pocket who became wealthy, there were thousands that didn't. But it was the possibility of the dream.

 

For all of you cynical Americans who feel that that dream has died, check out Jeffrey Blitz's documentary, "Spellbound", which chronicles eight kids hoping to win the National Spelling bee. Blitz's subjects are as diverse as they get: suburban kids, city kids, rich kids, poor kids, and kids of different races. What all these kids have in common, is there desire to be the National Bee Champion, though at least in one case it seemed the parents wanted it more so.

 

The first part of the film is portraits of each of the kids. First there was Angela, from Texas, who's parents immigrated her ill legally. Neither her mother or father speak English, though when she wins the regional spelling bee, her father is so proud he cries. Her brother articulates that this is the reason his father came to America, to provide better education for his kids.

 

There is also Neil, a second generation America, who's parents are from India. It seems his father is the driving force of Neil's participation in the Spelling Bee. Neil's father has hired tutors to teach him French and Spanish, so he knows how to break down words from these languages. He goes over 7,000 words with him a day. Neil's father, says in the film, that if you work hard in America you are guaranteed to succeed, this he says is not true of other countries.

 

There is also Ashley who is from the ghetto in D.C, who memorizes words out of the dictionary, and Nupar who's a upper middle class Indian American.

 

The second half of this film is the actual spelling bee, where you see the kids compete, which makes you feel as nervous as the parents are when you watch it. Blitz shows each kid spelling each word, each participant hesitantly utters each letter, taking deep breaths, nervously looking around. This is what makes it so suspenseful. One by one you see each kid fall round by round, till one is declared the winner.

 

The National Spelling Bee, epitomizes the American Dream. Any of these kids can win, they all have an equal chance, no matter where they're from or what they look like. Although luck does come into play, if you work hard, you will win.

 

Jeffrey Blitz got this movie made by acquiring twelve credit cards, and charged the entire production. This is part of the sentiment of the American Dream: risk. He risked his financial safety on his product. The whole movie was shot on DV, which only adds to its authentic feel.

 

Seabiscuit is a formulaic predictable Hollywood "feel good" piece of propaganda to make you feel better about America. While Spellbound is a quirky honest look of the wrestling human heart of the American dream in all its beautiful hopeful glory.