Saturday, April 28, 2007

Strange Culture - Reaction

The events portrayed in this documentary are worth knowing. An artist is preparing an installation about genetically modified foods when he wakes up one morning to find his wife died in her sleep. He calls 911. They come and see some petri dishes in his apartment -these bacteria are harmless- and report him to the FBI out of concern about bioterrorism. The government confiscates everything including his wife's body and begins prosecution against him. Although all tests come out clean, the government still has never admitted it made a mistake. Now, three years after these events, the date for a trial relating to mail fraud regarding how he acquired the bacteria is still pending, not even yet scheduled.

Thus, the tale serves as an example of government over-reaction / the absurdity of some of the government's anti-terror actions in this post-9/11 world. It's sad that such a bizarre tale is so easily believed and accepted in our current situation/culture. It speaks about the trampling of civil liberties and infringing on free speech. And, because the trial hasn't yet taken place, the movie serves as a snapshot of our time.

All that said, while it's a good incident to be aware of, I think this documentary could've easily been much better. The structure was odd, using a mixture of actors and real people. It's as if the director couldn't decide between three choices: a documentary, a dramatization, or a documentary on the process of / importance of dramatizing the events in the movie. She (the director) included many interviews with the artist but also had an actor playing him in some scenes. Weirder yet, she included some footage of the actors explaining why they think playing their roles is important. Also, some of the secondary actors were amateurs, making a few dramatization scenes sub-par.

The director answered questions after the screening. Apparently the film was made in the bay area with a mostly local cast and crew. One thing I learned from this Q&A period is that she didn't have a clue about the experimental structure of the film. She hadn't thought about it! I find that striking given how integral the structure is to how the film seems like it's supposed to work.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders - Reaction

A decent movie decrying the consumer credit industry as Super Size Me did for the fast food industry. Like Super Size Me, it is a brutal, emotional critique and, as such, feels like it makes everything simple. I could have this opinion because I already know a lot about this area. But it really feels like it ought to be a more complex situation than the movie makes it out to be. We only see one side.

Not surprisingly, no solutions are offered. The movie shows the government agency that is supposed to regulate the industry is actually on the side of businesses, not consumers.

Of note:
* The film used highly recognizable songs. I enjoyed them.
* It interspersed neat old clips (1940s and 1950s) teaching teenagers about the importance of credit.
* A segment of the film dealt with the national debt. Since it didn't have the emotional tone or personal nature of the rest of the film, it felt out of place.

If you don't know much about predatory lending practices, you should see this film. One might think a movie about lending would be boring but I didn't think it was -note that I'm interested in the area so I may be biased- and nor did many reviewers.

The director/producer, who is surprisingly young, answered questions after the screening.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Brother From Another Planet - Reaction

You might think an early 1980s movie about a black man who escapes to earth from slavery on another planet would be full of racist stereotypes and bad, offensive humor. You'd be wrong.

Rather, it's a decent social commentary on a number of topics, especially immigration and assimilation. Because the alien can't speak, the movie is quiet, almost like a silent film. The silence makes the whole picture more tender. It also shows how much people can connect without actually speaking.

In addition to dealing with assimilation, The Brother comments on the connection between race and social status, what people read into silence, and how our preconceptions alter our perceptions. It also deals with drug abuse. Fundamentally, all these themes tie together in the undercurrent that every person should be treated with respect and dignity.

Despite all the deep themes, the film is low-key.

My only real complaints are that the last half an hour gets a bit weird and that many plot elements seem unnecessary in retrospect, even though during the course of the movie they helped build character and so didn't feel out of place.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Brother - Reaction


An immensely violent movie about about a Japanese gangster who moves to America and starts another gang. It's not much fun to watch. Thematically, the movie deals with resignment to and inevitability of violence, in this case in gang wars. The framing in violent scenes sometimes excludes heads, making the violence impersonal and somehow universal. It's an interesting technique.

I found myself uninvolved with the movie. Possibly, it's because the main character -I feel it'd be inappropriate to use the term hero or protagonist- is too inscrutable and impassive. He doesn't seem to care much about what happens. This also makes it difficult to see how relationships in the film grow. Further, the status of the relationship between rival gangs is occasionally hard to follow. Finally, I feel like the movie could've made its point much more compactly.

Friday, April 6, 2007

The Closet - Reaction


A good, quirky, cute, amusing, lightweight situational comedy of a movie. An accountant get others to believe he is gay in order to avoid being fired. Adventures ensue.

Although it sounds like it's about homosexuality, the movie is really about how our perception of/preconceptions about someone color how we treat them. To a second degree, it's also about office politics. It raises a few questions, including can pretending make one change, do women want more what they can't have, and does appearing to have secret side make someone more interesting, but fundamentally it's not a deep movie.

The New York Times review describes the movie quite accurately.