Saturday, February 24, 2007

Murder on a Sunday Morning - Reaction

A neat documentary about a black teenager accused of killing a white tourist in Florida. It's clear the police arrested and charged the first black guy they found. It's a case of bad police work and a mis-carriage of justice. What's amazing is the filmmakers must have decided to make this film within days of his arrest, as they have conversations with the characters well before jury selection.

While I wouldn't call it mesmerizing or enthralling, I was anxious to know how the trial turned out. The storytelling technique is straightforward. Even the characters are surprisingly simple -- if this were a movie I'd complain, but it's real life. It's striking how the characters, both good and bad, are so stereotyped -- they fit their molds. Maybe this is because we don't get know some characters very well (e.g., the accused teenager, the prosecutor, and, to some extent, the parents of the teenager as well as the victim's husband). It's not clear whether this is good or bad, keeping the focus on the trial itself, and whether this is intentional or unintentional. The film mostly focuses on the public defender and his assistant. It's a great reminder of the importance of public defenders, especially good ones.

Soap-opera-type music is used to help dramatize the film.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Perfect Candidate - Reaction

An okay documentary about Oliver North's senate campaign in Virginia in 1994. Worth watching if you're interested in the campaigning process. Explores the use of negative ads without appearing negative, flip flopping, and the failure of politicians to state platforms or opinions on any issues. It even explores political alliances of necessity, as exemplified by Wilder's endorsement of Robb. The movie to some extent was more about North's campaign manager and a Washington Post reporter and their involvement with / reactions to the campaign than North or Robb themselves. In fact, we don't see into North or Robb much. Roger Ebert remarks on this lack of platforms and seeing the candidates only as much as they put themselves forward: "Personalities are being sold, not parties or philosophies, and `A Perfect Candidate' makes that process even more interesting because one candidate, Robb, apparently has no personality at all, while the other, North, has two."

I didn't think the documentary gave that great a background on North and the Iran-Contra affair at the beginning of the film, but the friend I watched it with thought it did okay. I would've preferred more about the lying to congress and the perjury, as this significantly affected how adults I knew voted in the race. In retrospect the movie covered the issue as well as it was dealt with in the race itself. Overall, the film felt reasonably balanced.

It's interesting to watch in 2007 for observations on how Virginia was in the 1990s (e.g., confederate flags, religious right, gun owners). Also interesting: the movie briefly talked about how North's campaign manager was involved with a dirty memo alleging Marc Foley's homosexuality, an issue that was in the news quite a bit last year (2006). It's even amusing to see how much 1994, with haircuts, mustaches, and fashion, looked like the 1980s.

Also striking is the contrast between how good the men involved are at politics. North is charismatic. Robb is not; he's awkward. Clinton, in his brief appearance to arrange Wilder's endorsement of Robb, is even a bit better than North.

The commentary reveals the directors cheated somewhat in editing, distributing some clips throughout the movie (rather placing them at temporally appropriate places) simply to generate the structure, plot, and character growth the directors desired. It worked.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Batman Begins - Reaction

Fantastic. A fast moving, action packed film with very good cutting, framing. and visuals. But, with good acting and an engaging story, it's so much more than a typical action flick -- it's dark and brooding and deeply psychological as well. In terms of the atmospheric city it portrays, it reminds me of Sin City.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Ushpizin (translates as "Guests" or "Visitors") - Reaction


A decent, cute drama about a poor orthodox Jewish couple who pray for a miracle and soon get given money, a sukkah, and two visiting ex-cons. Since the story feels light and uncomplicated, one can easily imagine that it is an age-old religious parable about asking for miracles and being tested. The movie starts slow and speeds up a little though not much. Don't be mislead by the reviews that call this a comedy; it's only a comedy in the same way America's Funniest Home Videos is funny -- watching something bad happen in slow motion.

The movie's background is interesting. The actor who plays the main character (who actually also co-wrote the script) had retired, became religious, and came out of retirement for this film. The movie was approved by rabbis and shot according to religious law and policies, one of which required the actor's real wife to play his wife in the film. Also, apparently the movie was lauded for its rare glimpse into ultra-orthodox life (setting, how they live, etc.).