Friday, February 29, 2008

Dirty Dancing - Reaction

A fairly entertaining, sweet dancing movie / summer love story set in a hotel in the Catskills. Made in the 80s but portraying the early 60s, it's about loss of innocence. In the grand view, this means America's loss of innocence and class struggles. In the local view, it refers to a particular girl's journey into womanhood.

The story, not unlike Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story, has simple characters, played straight. Nevertheless, the movie holds up to multiple viewings.

There's a spot about an hour into the film when it could've ended.

I found the writer/producer commentary interesting and detailed.

Incidentally, the film briefly includes an amazing tap dancer. (I don't know his name.)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The War Within - Reaction

A scary, unsettling, topical drama about a man who is wrongly (?) picked up as a terror suspect and is interrogated/tortured. (We see this through some disturbing, gruesome flashbacks.) The man leaves prison with a hatred of America. The "mostly well wrought" (source of quote) film about a "mild-mannered zealot" (source of quote) is mainly marred by the portrayal of the main character. I wish I could read him more. It could be poor acting. It could intentional. Given the commentary about what was intended in certain scenes, I believe it was the latter, which I think was a poor directing choice. In contrast, the supporting character, the old friend, is particularly good.

The title, The War Within, refers to the war within a man, within a family, within America, and within Islam. The film deals with the American dream (as seen through a New Jersey family), how we influence the younger generation, the interplay between immigration and assimilation, and whether we can truly know the people close to us. Also, obviously, the movie directly addresses the point that America's secret prisons where torture occurs can create terrorists.

In the special features, I observed the deleted scenes were deleted for a reason: they change the feel of certain relationships or reveal things in the wrong order.

Monday, February 18, 2008

District B13 - Reaction


A decent, mindless action movie with slick stunts. It's about a bomb in a French barrio. Set in the near future. I especially liked that much of the action involved parkour. (One main character is played by one the founders of parkour.) Plus, the occasional slow-motion Matrix-like shots were a nice touch. The film obviously touches on the recent social unrest in the poor districts near Paris.

The DVD itself is remarkably bad.

  • The previews were for movies that looked so bad, I'll forever remember the name of the production company and in order to avoid its movies.
  • The menu screens on the DVD had what appeared to be bad artwork, like that one sees in a video game, as the background. They could easily have taken an arbitrary frame from the movie and it would've looked better.
  • The English dubbed audio was enabled by default. Although it was bad and I switched it off after a few lines, my real complaint here was that this foreign film assumed the viewer wanted to watch the dubbed version. This is the first film I've seen in a long time that made this incorrect presumption.
On the other hand, the DVD's hour-long making-of documentary was quite well done.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Row Hard, No Excuses - Reaction

A striking, intense, personal narrative documentary about two men who enter a competition to row across the Atlantic. (Don't think about ordinary rowboats--these are sizable boats because they must hold all the food for the multi-month journey.) The film is about the hardships they encounter, both physical and emotional, which are not what they expected / planned for. Despite me not being that interested in the rowing aspect, it's a pretty good movie, skillfully edited together from the videotapes the rowers made while en route and footage the director recorded before and after the journey.

The movie speaks about what it means to consider one's self a success and why people do the things they do. Relatedly, it deals with the men's relationships with their fathers. Thus, it explores "masculinity, midlife, and ambition." Also, it shows different ways people work together in teams constantly in each other's presence under intense conditions for weeks on end.

After the screening, the director and one of the men answered questions from the audience. They told some great stories. (Q&As are one reason I love film festivals.) One story described how the men were nearly hit by a huge cargo ship in the middle of the night, and how the sailors on the ship were perplexed why anyone would want to row across the ocean. Judging by the questions, most of the audience rowed. (Incidentally, the starring men were generally emotionally distant in the film. Judging by the one starring man at the Q&A, this impression was justified.)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sexina: Popstar, P.I. - Reaction

A super-campy, fun film about a pop star, a la Britney Spears, who fights crime. It's infectious. I'm not sure why it's so much fun. It's not a rational reaction. Deserving special commendation is the great opening song in the style of a Bond theme, and the awesome, fake bear attack. My only complaint is that the film is a little too long--near the end, it becomes a bit sappy and therefore slower.

Many cast and crew members answered questions after the screening.

Monday, February 11, 2008

La Crème (The Cream) - Reaction


A good, black-comedy-drama about a man who finds a skin cream that makes people think he's famous and therefore treat him very well. (The comedy-drama aspect is the usual way the French combine these genres that I like so much.) The story has multiple unexpected events, making the story delightfully difficult to predict. The film speaks about the desire to be famous and about how we respond to celebrity.

I just wish they used a better quality camera. The film was a little grainy.

La Combinaison (The Combination) - Reaction


A fairly cute, funky short about a guy who's played the same lottery numbers every week for ten years. One week they hit.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lawrence of Arabia - Reaction

This movie, grand in scope, feels like a classic. Based on a true story, it's about a flamboyant, complex, unique, and sometimes enigmatic British officer who leads the Arab tribes, despite internecine fighting, against the Turks during World War I, and, notwithstanding British misgivings, encourages their independence. As such, it plays simultaneously like a character study / psychological profile and an adventure story. The film, at nearly four hours in length (with an intermission), feels stately in style and in pacing. One can't make movies this long or at this speed anymore. Thus, it's unrepeatable. A solid film, it's not a surprise that it won many Academy Awards and Golden Globes.

Speaking of the intermission, I liked the musical score that played during it, before the movie started, and at the end.

The film includes dramatic, expansive desert vistas. The battle scenes had a similarly wide angle and used many extras. According to the commentary, shooting in a pristine desert was hard work. One had to rub out tracks (or wait for the wind to do it for you) between takes. And, as this film was made long before computer graphics, some scenes, such as a striking sunrise, simply required luck, early morning setup, and patience, in order to capture the cinematic magic.

The movie is about skin color and fitting in, and about compassion and mercy. It also explores the ambiguity of motives, such as the conflict between political expediency versus personal morality.

It's interesting that the movie works and was successful without any love interests or indeed any women in speaking roles at all. (I didn't notice this fact while watching; I only read about it later.)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Road to Nod - Reaction


A black and white movie about a prisoner who is released from prison and finds out his old gang has been disbanded, another has taken over, and they want him dead. It's simultaneously a road movie and a noir, as he looks up old associates and runs for his life. Although apparently a low budget film, it's hard to tell. It uses a high quality camera, and the camerawork is smooth and good.. The framing and cutting is better than in most professionally made movies. (Indeed, that might be a reason to see it.) On the other hand, although the stoic main character is played well, some of the supporting characters are not. Some seem like they're just reading their lines. Also, there's no visible pursuing enemy, no sense of a chase, and thus the movie lacks a sort of imminent threat that could keep us on our toes. My overall impression of the movie: while I'm glad I saw it, I could've taken it or left it.

Incidentally, many actors and the soundtrack come from Swiss Rock musical groups. I enjoyed the music, feeling it added a soulful and unconventional yet appropriate ambiance to the film. The indiefest person who introduced the film believes the music alone might be reason to see it.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Night and the City - Reaction

Important note: I saw the 1950 version. The movie has apparently been remade later.

A respectable, compelling, action-filled noir about a con artist/tout/huckster for whom, although slick and wily, nothing goes right. Perhaps the events are a bit exaggerated at times, but most good noir are like that.

Road House - Reaction

A decent enough noir about two men, one of whom is psychotic, caught in a love triangle in a small town. The movie meanders, building characters, for quite a while as nothing happens. In fact, except for a suspenseful ending in a foggy forest, there's not much action. Also, the plot is straightforward, lacking twists, turns, and unexpected events. Given the last three sentences, I'm hard pressed to call this a noir in the traditional sense.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Quiz Show - Reaction

A dramatic, engrossing movie about the 1950's scandal about quiz game shows being fixed. It's suspenseful all the way through its more than two hour length. The writing is smart and the characters appropriately articulate. Also, I love the accents.

Beside the obvious moral issue in the film, there's a number of other themes. The movie speaks a bit about ethnic/race and class issues, especially as seen through the producers and sponsors of the show thinking about the image they want to convey and what the public wants. The movie also speaks about father-son issues, as exemplified by the two main characters' relationships with their father's/son's. In addition, in some sense, it speaks about America's loss of innocence in general and about the media in particular. Finally, we also see the rise of television culture, as families gather weekly to watch their favorite shows, and the tyranny of audience ratings.

The movie is based loosely on a true story. Although all indications imply the movie is truthful, and it even names names of real people and companies, it apparently takes substantial dramatic license. For instance, the lawyer didn't really play any role in uncovering the scandal, despite how the movie makes it appear. It's ironic that a movie about misleading the public into believing something happened that actually didn't does the same with its plot.