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A masterpiece by any measure, one of the deep, dark wonders of cinema
If there's any proof of god, it's "Satantango", Tarr's impetuous yet melancholic, beautiful and sublime, unforgettable and dark, dark, dark masterpiece which is one of cinema's greatest treasures -- rich with darkness and wonder. At 7 hours long, it is as if it were life itself, and it really is, as everything -- tone, pace, tempo -- is in real time; essentially, it feels, and is, a tango. Tarr, again, demonstrates his mastery through the long take, as it beautifully portrays its subject and feelings of them. It's just such a film one can not even describe in words; it's simple art. This magnus opum of cinema has changed the value of that very term to me. Not many films can do that. I will never forget this film until the day I die, for "Satantango" should be a required viewing -- for everyone.


Flawed, but not with out its merits
Gerardo Naranjo's sophomore feature, "Drama/Mex", is as unhinged as its protagonists. Essentially, the film plays out as an Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu hybrid, dubiously trying to forcefully connect three stories uncoiling in Acapulco. The first is of Fernanda (Diana Garcia) who runs into Chano (Emilio Valdes), her ex boyfriend at a café; the next thing you know, they're already in bed. In this case, the drama here is that, as familiar as it may seem, she already has a boyfriend named Gonzalo (Juan Pablo Castaneda). At the same time, another tedious narrative thread follows Mariana, who, after just being hired by fellow prostitutes, spots Jaime (Fernando Becerril)—a pretty damn old man who has such meaningless life that he essentially goes to the city to kill himself—and gets him to feed her, entertain her, and shelter her. Despite its grand, promising opening sequence filled with ambition and audacity, the main problem with "Drama/Mex", of course, is its callously exasperating narrative; jaundiced to its very core, it ends up going all over the place, as we now find Gonzalo attacking Chano, Jaime at the club, Fernanda running all over the place, and Mariana buying anything she can. Essentially, what starts out as a finely nuanced, audaciously handsome drama evolves into a frustrating imbroglio, as its familiar ending fails to unite its narrative threads, finally culminating happily yet with a profound feel—and, as odd as it may seem, such disaster can be pliantly interpreted; even appealingly. Indeed, "Drama/Mex" is not entirely with out its merit: Naranjo's mesmerizing camera work fits its milieu perfectly, and the fact that he first studies his characters before sending them to ruin is proof of its boundless self-confidence—all of which are perpetuated by the miraculous cast that, indeed, beautifully portray their dubious situations.

Killer of Sheep

An observatory masterpiece
Around the seventies, when films like Annie Hall, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Saturday Night Fever ruled the age, Charles Burnett silently crafted Killer of Sheep, his thesis film for UCLA. Thirty years it has eluded us—that is, until now. The result, although aging those thirty-years, is a masterpiece; an authentic and one of a kind piece of raw American poetry that simply and silently observes life in the Watts ghetto of Los Angeles.

An unshakable and insightful study of citizens living right above the poverty level, Killer of Sheep is both open-ended and observatory. The magnificent fly-on-the-wall observes the life of a slaughterhouse worker, Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders), who grapples daily with poverty, misbehaving children, and the allure of violence. Stan is a simple guy, diligent, smart, and fatigued. He has a family including two kids, both entirely the opposite of the other. Stan's daughter (Angela Burnett, the director's child—one of the most preternaturally talented performers I have ever seen) is the playful and learning type, while the other—his son—is never home, discourteous, and always getting himself into trouble. The characterization in Killer of Sheep is both extraordinarily untouched, but it is meticulously observed and felt; every single character—although not all are important—has an underlying purpose and reason for being where they are.

The camera work in Killer of Sheep, much like the film itself, is perfect, like if one could be observing the town through his/her DV camcorder. Shooting in 16 millimeter and operating it himself, Burnett's camera observes everything, and is seemingly everywhere. Everything is important too, because every close-up and tracking shot only brings us closer to the undistinguished characters themselves; the more the camera observes, the more one feels closer to them.

Burnett shot Killer of Sheep over a series of weekends on a shoestring budget of just under $20,000, using friends and relatives as actors. This needn't be a reason to demean the film; if anything, one must take it as a sheer pleasure: the acting of his family members essentially makes the film beautiful sans outside reason, making it truly fathomable. Yet again, Burnett's camera simply observes; much like the Italian neo-realism age, Killer of Sheep's milieu speaks for itself—one could even call it American neo-realism.

At its core, Killer of Sheep is masterfully comprised of evident economic denial, hidden desire, and pure living; in other words: untainted life. There are many scenes in Killer of Sheep that demonstrate this; the most memorable demonstrating the cruelty of Stan's son towards his sister: while Stan drinks coffee at his table with a neighbor, his son aggressively asks his daughter where his bee-bee gun is. The daughter, wearing an unforgettable dog mask, shrugs. The response from the brother is, of course, hurting her. Stan gets up and starts chasing the son; he's already out the door.

In 1990, Burnett's opus magnum was declared a national treasure by Congress. 17 years later, it has finally gotten a spot on the big screen, a DVD release date also due for later in the year. Easily one of the finest observational films ever made, Killer of Sheep more than lives up to its official designation as a national treasure: it lives up to life itself.

Die große Stille

Grace makes little noise
In 1984, novice filmmaker Philip Gröning asked the Carthusian monks of the Grand Chartreuse if he could film them. They said it was too soon, and thus, 16 years later, Gröning received a call: they were ready. A sublime mix of transcendence and cinéma vérité, the result, Into Great Silence, is a masterful trip inside the monastery, a 162 minute voyage that spellbinds, entrances, and makes you become one with the film itself.

Filming by himself on hi-definition video and Super 8 for only a few hours a day, using only available light and sound, Gröning was required to live and work among the monks, both observing them and becoming one with them. He structures the film in an unscathed and natural way, both accurately capturing the monks' daily routines yet also flowing by seasons. Each season has its own pleasures, which range from the playful walks of the monks in spring and summer to the moody yet harmonious mise-en-scene of the winter. Sublime to its very hushed core, Into Great Silence does take some getting used to, specifically because the monks hardly utter a word; the beginning of the film is a four minute opening shot of a monk praying in his solitary room. It is after this, however, that the film resembles true life itself: rarely have documentaries portrayed such an unhurried sense of time, yet all of the film passes faster than you wish it to, each minute counting to the very last.

Gröning's masterful shots of the Grand Chartreuse are let alone one reason that elates the film, yet more than a placed and planned camera, the shots almost resemble spying. It is undeniably true, as weird as it may sound, that the monks have gotten used to the camera. Months go on, and they blatantly ignore it, which only goes for the better. In what follows, Gröning takes us through more than just the random praying of the monks, but also of them playing (there's a scene of the monks going sledding), cooking, eating and sewing, all daily activities of the monks (excluding the playing aspect.) One need not be religious, or even agree with the existence of god and the fact of locking oneself in a monastery, to enjoy a film of this caliber. Nevertheless, Gröning has created a film of its kind: the type that will keep you thinking and enjoying its quiet pleasures—only through simple images—for a long time, yet also one that could gratify film lovers without a limit to its quiet sense of aptness.

Fauteuils d'orchestre

A Trite, Frothy French mainstream film
Young Jessica (Cécile de France), fresh from the countryside where she cared for her dying grandmother, arrives in Paris and immediately gets a job at a traditionally male-staffed café on Avenue Montaigne. There, she becomes involved in the personal and professional lives of the performers working nearby, including an I-want-to-get-away-from here- classical pianist named Jean-François (Albert Dupontel) a TV soap actress named Catherine (Valérie Lemercier) and other famous people stationed on the Avenue as well. Avenue Montaigne gets lost in its on foam and portrays a callous aesthetic with B-list actors from France trying to prove they're worth a damn. While it is an enjoyable premise that starts out great, the foam from that cappuccino overtakes your appetite and spoils it deeply. The film is as frothy as they come, a 1 hr. 45 min. trip into the heat of the avenue and the annoyances of the characters, finally culminating in a "script- writer- gone-bad" ending which has that loathsome smell of Hollywood.


Hopeful Education
For the first time this year the Weinstein Company has made something bearable --Hell, actually something good. The film is called Days of Glory (a title strangely reconfigured from Indigènes) and it chronicles a regiment in the war against Nazism, or, as the French call it, "liberty". But, the catch here is that these soldiers, they aren't French: They're Algerian and Morroquian. The film first suffers from superfluous paper-mâché clichés in order to demonstrate racial inequality, not as a subtle character study, but rather as an insolent whole which creates that annoying been-there, done-that feeling. Such a scene occurs when Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) realizes that not all African troops are getting tomatoes, where as the French are. What does he do? He smashes them so "Nobody can have them". Director Rachid Bouchareb narrative is also first a bit fragmented, jumping from country to country as if they were stones. Eventually, it develops into an assured rhythm which corroborates with the film.

Brilliance in Days of Glory neither comes from ideas nor direction, but rather, through the magisterial acting, prized at Cannes, and small war vignettes. They are gripping and moving, like all war movies should be. These war scenes are powerful, and that is what makes up Days of Glory, because in the end, Days of Glory is one of the few good but flawed war films worth a damn. It has power and it is evident that it uses it wisely and vigorously.

Notes on a Scandal

Easily defying subtle characterization, Richard Eyre's Notes on a Scandal stars Cate Blanchett as a new art teacher at a so-so school who creates an awkward, and sometimes tense friendship with fellow teacher, The magnificent Judi Dench. The film sets the stage for some showing off, easily allowing Blanchett--but more Dench-- to transcend it beyond the norm.

Dench plays Barbara, a near retired history teacher who obsesses over young females; Sheba Hart (Blanchett) wasn't the first one: it was someone else named Jeniffer. Barbara keenly stalks her pray, until one night she finds her with a 15 year old boy that was in her art class. Barbara now uses her. She visits more often and creates a tense grip on Sheba.

Adapted from Zoë Heller's book, the script accurately, but not greatly, nails the actual dialogue from the book itself. But rather than the script and the direction itself, which was excellently detailed, what really makes the film worth a damn is the clear and masterful acting from Judi Dench. If it weren't for The Queen's Helen Mirren, who unquestionably will take the prize on February 25, Dench would easily take that Oscar; she is that worthy.

It would be a shame to see viewers denying themselves the acute pleasure in Notes on a Scandal. The film quietly grasps you until the whole thing is over. But in the end, rather than being one woman's obsession over females, it is really, and quietly, one reclusive woman's sympathy unraveling itself on what she never had: Love.

Letters from Iwo Jima

Eastwood Out-does himself
"Letters from Iwo Jima", which observes the lives and deaths of Japanese soldiers in the battle for Iwo Jima, similarly adheres to some of the conventions of the genre even as it quietly dismantles them. It is, superlatively and even humbly, true to the durable traditions of the war-movie tradition, but it is also utterly unpredictable in its own minor details.

Ken Wantanabe stars and undoubtedly gives an astonishing performance as Tadamichi Kuribayashi, a new and sympathetic Lt. General who has barely made his way to Iwo Jima. He is a simple and courageous man, the type of person most of us can connect to. After a quick inspection of the island, the inspired General now devises a war plan. In the viewer's mind their is already an ending planned and predicted, though not through previous war movie endings, but through the gritty history of this event. Eastwood cleverly manages to build confidence and sympathy only to shatter it with masterful action scenes in which they all, obviously, die. Also clever is the usage of a character even more of us can connect to, especially parents of a son. This character is Kazunari Ninomiya, a simple baker who deals in his mind about the philosophy of nationalism contra martyrdom. There is a great flashback while he talks to a fellow soldier, about whom and when he was recruited for the army. In this flashback, we see his wife, and we learn of his soon to be born baby. The film quickly transitions back into reality, and thoroughly creates a dream-like ideology for these flashbacks. Of course, throughout the film, there are more important ones, such as the Lt. General's dinner in America with several American commanders. Eastwood also proves his cinematography again; the frame sparkles at the sight of such beautifully pictured mountains and, ironically, the fire of the war.

It's hard to call this film a superlative masterpiece, even after Eastwood left us with high expectations from "Million Dollar Baby". Although barely evident and highly uncared for, there were some definite continuity errors, such as different clothing and quick changes from day to night. But regardless of political and family backgrounds, in the end the viewer sympathizes more with the Japanese than with the Americans. Eastwood manages to convince us about the two sides of the war through an unforgettable and wondrous diptych. The grace of the film is impeccable, and it is a stark reminder that neither a great director nor a great screenwriter has lost their visceral touches through expository reiteration.

Children of Men

A rare futuristic thriller: grim in its scenario, yet exhilarating in its technique.
There are many things that happen in our future: for those technological buffs out there, there will be large hi-def T.V screens and sophisticated wireless devices. But on the not so shinny side, and for those present day future predictors, women will become infertile, and eventually we will all vanish from Earth. It's difficult to establish such a premise in 114 minutes, and Cuarón happens to know this. So what he creates is more of a preview of it. Despite its astute sympathy for what-if film lovers, "Children of Men" does work, and rather effectively.

It's 2027, women are infertile, death comes everyday, migrants are a complex deal, rebellions arise all over the world, and there is a suicide drug named "Quietus." Motto: "You decide when." Shelled by the excellent Clive Owen as Theo, a lazy and mundane man who has lost his son to, yes, a flu pandemic in 2008. His first portrayal is a scene in which he is walking into a coffee shop, -the youngest person in the world, age 18, has just died- buying a usual cup of coffee, and putting a sip of rum in it. An instant later, an explosion. It nearly kills him. Cuarón lays clues and evidence all over the film, especially through vivid examples of people, mostly illegal immigrants, being locked up on the street, and random, but important advertisements. Theo really doesn't care much about the world, that is, until his ex-wife (Moore with no English accent), the leader of pro-immigrant rebels, presses him into retrieving a pair of illegal travel passes in the hopes of reaching a group of much-rumored, never-confirmed off-shore scientists called The Human Project. Their motives, tied to the well-being of a young immigrant (Claire-Hope Ashitey), will soon become clear, but only after the cost of failure has been made equally clear. Kee, played by Ashitey, is visibly pregnant, and after a serious of insolent truths about the rebels themselves, Theo is now bound to help Kee. They set off, and eventually reach their destination, which marks the end of the film.

Cuarón's graceful camera, the movement of characters across the frame, and the magnificent acting collectively evoke a genial sense of place. But while the film's exo-skeleton is a memorable and vivid one, the film does have its minor narrative flaws. But what ultimately saves the film from darkness (just imagine if it were Ridley Scott) is Cuarón himself. Without overemphasis, Cuarón beautifully bends gritty realistic scenes and predictable ones to his own canon; he changes the rules of the game, and he is very well aware that only he can do such a thing in a film with a what-if standpoint. He includes mettlesome action scenes (all which are masterfully detailed) with exuberant dialogue, and we truly realize what an brilliant director he is. While "Children of Men" is not his best film, his diversified directing is fluently proved in this piece work. His previous works, including the terrific "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien", have all spanned from drama to fantasy, and all over again with this rare and futuristic film.

There is a striking scene late in the film, after a serious of some major 'bam bams' and deaths, where Theo tries to find the newly-born infant that Kee had unwillingly exerted out of her young abdomen the night before. Everything but the young baby's cries fill the screen. He soon finds her, and he brings Kee along with the baby out of the decrepit building which they were using as shelter. Soldiers cease fire. People hold out there arms and cry. They all forget why they are fighting, and if there is any cause for it in the first place. It is evident that Cuarón has a gift only the greatest filmmakers share: he makes you believe.


The best thing about "Breach": It's not directed by Tony Scott
Billy Ray's dramatization of FBI upstart Eric O'Neill's (Phillippe) work to ingratiate himself with Robert Hanssen (Cooper) in order to suss out the man's history of espionage is told in an unpretentious manner of arrogance: despite it's ambition, the film is cocky, often pushy, and even quite boring. Eric's character is annoying; Phillipe himself, annoying as hell already, is quite possibly the most overly dramatic actor out there. He boggs the film down to a level of falling asleep.

The film relies on Chris Cooper's tour-de-force performance, which this time isn't annoying. It's his role and Cooper is aware of this, keenly acting with confidence. Ray's frame has been supremely edited, leaving out little riches in the actual mis-en-scene of Washington, (where I saw the film coincidentally). But despite Ray's shunning of action-movie clichés and dull pacing, in the end the film works with a symbiotic relationship: Ray's lazy storytelling and Phillipe's bad acting, and Cooper's great acting. It seems the latter takes over in the end.


Good Points, but Dubiously pitched and Aesthetizised
Bamako is more a PBS special than a flat out film. It chronicles a trial in which the World Bank is on trial itself. The film is quite anti Bush-era corporate interests (IMF, World Bank, and G8 are among the villains name-checked), but through the film (I don't even know what it is, a doc. or a film) comes the film maker's true anger which is surprisingly stimulated. In between the quasi-entertaining court-room arguments and the callous shots of town, there isn't much room to inhale pure film making. (There's even a bizarre mock-movie staring Danny Glover as in assassin in a haphazard African town.) And yet, despite the film's slog, there's something in Bamako that keeps it quietly vital, making it a true case of moral politics but pretty much a slog of a film.

L'ivresse du pouvoir

A long, slow ride down an all too familiar road
One of the main problems in "The Comedy of Power" is that, ironically, there is no comedy. If obvious little puns and predictable little jokes are comedy, then I am way out of it. This film, now playing at the IFC center, is Claude Chabrol in rotten 'fois-gras' and Isabelle Huppert in a rotten package of canned meat,and yes, it really is that disappointing. The film follows a chronicle that we all have heard of before, except this time, Chabrol thinks he can make magic out of Huppert. The story line, best as follows, is about a lazy french judge (A rotten Isabelle Huppert) who tries to bring down the corruption of a very powerful company. This one's a long, slow ride down an all too familiar road. One of the films main problems is the talkative dialogue; even though it's French, there are so many useless scenes of non stop talking, that you can go to sleep, wake up, and you would have missed nothing. While some of the scenes are easy to go along with, most of the film is pure familiarity. For Claude Chabrol and Isabelle Huppert, however, this probably could be named the funnest movie ever made in between them. But, unfortunately, the viewer is the one that suffers for their fun.

Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia

Love Letters from Flowers
A type-Shakespearian paean to the best in burst less color and exciting action scenes with a real purpose, Zhang Yimou's latest film, "The Curse of the Golden Flower", is at least compellingly watchable. While this is far from "Hero" and not the least masterful like "The House of Flying Daggers", "The Curse of the Golden Flower" does have its sly tricks and well made gimmicks. The annoying story-line, much like a Shakespearian play, is about two emperors who willingly fight each other for the power and the future of their sons. The story, like all Yimou precedents, is wrapped around small gimmicks and inner complications that are, like no other of his films, this time unnecessary. But these Shakespeare-like machinations are well-performed by all with an appropriately exaggerated theatricality to their expressions; Gong Li proves her masterful class acting yet again through a very good role. And, like all Yimou films, the harmonious and extremely alacritous mise-en-scene purposefully cancels out all the film's narrative flaws as well as the superfluous opening shots that made some people at the screening where I saw fall asleep. Most of these opening shots of the film pertain to the beautiful castle in which the emperors live. But instead of easily laying a premise in less than forty-five minutes, Yimou lingers on his ideas a little more than his previous films, already giving viewers a heads up to his experimentation. But through its mighty flaws emerges a beautiful experimentation of betrayal, intrepidity and love. His magic still remains.

Scary Movie 4

The Worst Film I've ever seen or have wanted to seen in my life
Perhaps for some movie lovers, a bad comedy can seem good to them. But the problem with "Scary Movie 4" is that no matter how hard it tries, it can never make it past that level of Terrible film. "Scary Movie 4" is one of the worst movies I have EVER seen. And believe me, I have seen a lot. The acting is terrible. The jokes are horrendous. And the parodies are better on television. What's new on the menu this time? Oh just "War of the Worlds", "The Grudge", "The Village", "Saw" and "Saw 2" and a disgraceful parody of "Million Dollar Baby". "Scary Movie 4" is as much fun as a root canal. What surprises me the most, is why the people in the audience laugh? It isn't funny. It's nothing. You want something better to watch? Go watch the trailer. That sums it up rather nicely.

The Lake House

A Dreamy piece of crap
After reading the New York Times review of "The Lake House", I had a craving for this "....wondrously illogical time-travel romance." Let me explain in one fragment about this movie: Trash, Trash, Trash, Trash and more Trash.

What makes "The Lake House" so bad, is that almost every aspect of film making has been thrown out the window, except for its little ooh-a-time-love-story- based-on-a-Taiwanese-movie-plot.

And that enough, is one reason not to see it.

The acting from Reeves and Bullock never creates any friction, nor does IT give the audience a marvel to look at. The could have acted 30 times better, yet impulse, (Mostly from Reeves) makes the acting very trashy.

The script seems to be recycled from an old love story, and in some parts i had to cover my ears because it was so daft and desolate. And from the execution of the actors, it makes it seem even worse.

This movie is a tortuously slow dud that will make many frustrated ticket buyers wanna go postal.

Don't see it.

The Da Vinci Code

Trashy Book, Trashy Film
Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code, was a blast to read. And I remember to this day that a major motion picture was written all over it. Unfortunately, the film isn't as good as many expected it to be. With a terrible script, bad acting, and wrong interpretation of the book, "The Da Vinci Code" is a dreary and cheap piece of entertainment. Ron Howard's interpretation of the book is terrible. And like all book adapted scripts, the dialouge is a mess. To their credit the director and his screenwriter, Akiva Goldsman (who collaborated with Mr. Howard on "Cinderella Man" and "A Beautiful Mind"), have streamlined Mr. Brown's story and refrained from trying to capture his, um, prose style. "Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino with long white hair." Such language — note the exquisite "almost" and the fastidious tucking of the "which" after the preposition — can live only on the page.

For those who read the book, I will keep it short by saying that it has some mistaken parts to it, and perhaps is not at all what the readers want to see. Tom Hanks is useless as Robert Langdon, a cryptologist who discovers a deadly secret, and is being framed for murder. Tom Hanks is a slick haired Smarty that acts very bad in this one. Why? Oh, well it seems that Mr. Hanks tone is dry and apparently has no expression on his face. Compare this this to "Forest Gump". Perhaps the highlight of "The Da Vinci Code" is the acting of Ian McKellen, who is Leigh Teabing, a complete backstabber with a moronic attitude. Again, a better film is needed.

And so, The anticipated "Da Vinci Code" came crashing down like I didn't expect it to. And you have to ask yourself: Why do they make the movies in the trailers so good?

The Departed

Dreay, Dreaful, Deathy, Ratty
Martin Scorcese is back with his new film, "The Departed, which brings cinematic dysfunction on to the big screen. "The Departed" was one of my most anticipated films of the year. Well, I highly regret that now.

This film begins with the a self-reflexive narrative provided by a Wonderful actor, (who essentially saves the film from complete darkness) Jack Nicholson. He explains, "When you Have a gun pointed in your face, it does not matter if your a cop, or a mobster." Later the film incorporates Matt Damon, who plays the usual role with that smirky face of his. He plays an investigator who secretly works for Frank, but at the same time is a mole in the special police unit force, or something like that.

On the other side, is Leonardo DiCaprio who plays the opposite. He is an undercover cop who works for Frank. Such a wonderful role he plays. Honestly, in previous films, DiCaprio has managed only to distinguish himself as one bad actor. In "The Departed", part of the 4 good points it got was DiCaprio. He has finally found himself a role. Very good DiCaprio! The other points go to Mr. Nicholson. He is flawless. Completely flawless. DiCaprio and him tandem, to make "The Departed". If "The Departed" Were to prove anything, it would be that Nicholson has not lost his touch. And that is magic.

So what's so bad about "The Departed"? let's say it is only a failed attempt to bring Goodfellas back tom the big screen. The viewers can probably imagine seeing Mr. Scorsese sitting there, thinking of a way to bring back the Goodfellas "Pop" into our junky Modern Cinema. Mr. Scorcese has failed his old but magical touch in bringing back Gangster classics (this is one is even copied! from Internal Affairs). Oh boy, I can't until next year.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Working up until a Point
"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" portrays somewhat of a make-fun story not only towards Americans, but towards Kazakhstan itself.

Borat's first scene in The "U.S and A" starts with him going down the stairs from JFK airport, but the memorability starts when Borat "Accidently" drops his luggage in the subway, and you guessed it. Along with all of the clothes that he possesses, come hens from Kazakhstan. "Careful! They Bite!" says the comedian. Scenes like this are what make "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit of Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan", but others just simply don't. In another stupid and typical Borat scene, You find Borat (After his other Kazakhstani friend Azamat strips of him of everything he has) lying on the floor burning his Pamela Anderson picture, and whimpingly crying as if the world was going to end. The crowd started to crack up as if it was the funniest part of the movie, while I was just silently waiting for the scene to end.

For some film goers, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" might have the properties of a cinematic masterpiece that has no diminutive end towards laughter, as much as some may see it as anyway they please.

Either way, there is still something that makes "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" stand tall, and that is Sacha Baron Cohen. The film's pace revolves around his performance. He is a master at improvisation, and if it were not him who plays Borat, the film would be a dud.

Every time the film achieves a balanced essence, the director ruins it with a daft scene of stupidity. But surprisingly, every time the film is an inch away from darkness, Sacha Baron Cohen pulls it up miraculously. Its the critics highest grade of the year, but that may not signify anything until you see it yourself. In this case, I am not telling you to not not see it. Either way, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" is here to stay for a very long time.

Casino Royale

The New Bond? Good? Bad? Damn Good
A few days back I had two wishes. The first one was to see the stunning "Casino Royale" on the big screen. The second was that if I were to see it, I wouldn't be disappointed. My first wish came true rather fast, after some discussion with family members about the film itself. The second wish came the minute the new Bond movie, "Casino Royale" began on the magnificent big screen.

From the first scene to the last scene of the film, "Casino Royale" will have you sitting like no movie this year. I didn't even stretch. I didn't even look at my watch. My eyes remained focused on the big screen. The first scene of the film resembles a film noir miniature gimmick. The scene demonstrates how Bond got his position in a slick style; excellent dialogue, and excellent pacing. I must admit, if there were to be one complaint about "Casino Royale", it's the title. The title contains unsuitable rock music (there should be the masterful theme). It has a good idea, just not a very well executed one. Other than that, the film is a blast.

Daniel Craig is Bond. The blue-eyed, blond haired actor succeeds beyond my limits, beyond everyone's. He is agile, slick, and ultimately great. He creates Bond. He is perfect for it.

In one or two short sentences, "Casino Royale" can be best summarized by saying the following: Bond is invited to the casino royale to stop Le Chiffre. (who kills a lot of people, obviously) He gains a lot of money, and then ending contains an inscrutable twist to it. I don't want to go into detail, because then I wont stop writing.

In every sense, "Casino Royale" satisfies us all. It's dazzling, it really is. It's the new definition of a Bond movie.

Black Gold

The Human Rights Watch Specialty
What makes "Black Gold", One of the best at The Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, is that not only is it a well made film, it has a point. And a very very important point.

In the opening scenes of "Black Gold", The camera slowly rolls through expert coffee tasters, who taste "The Best Coffee in the world". The camera quickly switches gears to Addis Abbaba, in Ethiopia, where it shows the coffee storage places, and the workers in it. What apt movie watchers will soon understand, is that the great filmmakers switch between the luxurious life of drinking coffee, and how a ton of workers dig it out, just to get paid 20 cents.

The ravishingly intellectual filmmakers then switch to 1 man: Tadesse Meskela, General Manager, Oromo Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union, Ethiopia. He travels great distances to advertise his coffee, but his main goal is his farmers. He wants his farmers to get paid what they really deserve.

This film has other points as well, such as the power of imperialist countries, as well as the multi-millionaire companies that sell what they don't really deserve.

Black Gold is a must see.

Zui hao de shi guang

A Tryptich of a master
ou Hsiao-Hsien's mystical concoction of three love stories told in different time periods but starring the same lead actors (Shu Qi and Chang Chen), finds the Taiwanese director revisiting and expanding upon his favorite milieus and themes. Perhaps it is a bit slow at the beginning, but once you get into it, it is truly a wonderful film. My first thought of "Three Times", was that it was an experiment of beautiful cinema, driven by a masterful director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien. "Three Times" is almost close to masterpiece level.

In "Three Times", only the second of Mr. Hou's films to secure distribution in this country, Shu Qi plays three women living in three historical periods, separate moments that define both their relationships to the larger world and to their lovers, played in each story by the equally striking actor Chang Chen. Although the stories work on their own, they also compliment one another, so much so that the last story, "A Time for Youth," seems less like an ending than a beginning.

Perhaps the most beautiful one of them all, is the first one, "A Time for Love". Its physical attraction and beautiful acting drives viewers to see more. "Three Times" is a rapturously beautiful piece of modern cinema. To stumble on this work of art should be a must see for everyone.

Le samouraï

The Noir Sense of Cool
"He is a master at cinema", said Alain Delon, the main actor in Jean Pierre-Melville's meticulous masterpiece, "Le Samourai". Being one of my favorite french directors of all time, I agree with Delon. Before the hard-boiled, World War II classic Army of Shadows, came "Le Samourai", the 105 minute film about Jef Costello and his assassinations. I must admit that the time went my faster than it seemed; getting lost through Melville's great story telling not only makes you sweat, but also pauses time.

In the rapturously beautiful city that we call Paris, Jef Costello ceaselessly works his but off for constant money, and even for the pleasure of it. His Job?: An Assassin. The beginning of the film shows Jef getting dressed and also getting ready for a kill. There is no dialouge for at least six minutes; just the scene of Jef's rain coat, his iconic hat, and the masterful musical score are shown to the viewer. In an instance, the film changes from the tranquility of Jef's apartment, to the stunning images of a casino, where Jef gets his salary by killing the owner. He rushes out, but he is seen by the pianist playing at the bar. The Cops come, and so advances "Le Samourai". After a midnight at the cops station and still no guilty conscience, Jef leaves, and is ultimately followed by cops. The chase goes through buildings, through subways, and all of Paris. The rectifying Mis-en-scene of "Le Samourai" hypnotizes. It all fits in. The chase through a partly rainy/sunny day, to the kills at night. It is all masterful. The cops want Jef Costello dead. Jef wants his money. We later learn that Jef is assigned to kill the pianist that once spotted him, so he goes, obviously followed by cops. The ending is typical Melville. The unaltered climax of the film, followed by the whimsical taste of the musical score. Jef is killed.

Thanks to the Criterion Collection, Melville has exposed the variety of his films. There are some striking similarities in between Army of Shadows and "Le Samourai", but both-in every sense of the word-are masterpieces. There is a very memorable scene of the film in my head: Jef has finally escaped the cops, and meets a blond man who will pay him. It is shot on a bridge to cross the railroad underneath him. The sound, along with their bright faces in the sun, is clear. Nothing but the sound of the trains passing underneath. The scene is perfect. Jef receives his pay, but along with that, he gets a wound to the arm. The viewer knows he isn't dead. Jef runs back to his apartment, and with the sound of the musical score accompanying him, the viewer will solemnly find out that Melville isn't done with us yet. He never will be.

L'armée des ombres

The Truth of Warriors
"Army of Shadows" is a film to be seen, and savored with deep intent. It is flawless, and for a movie made in 1969, even the action scenes are good. Quite frankly, we are dealing with a film thats darkness and merit is impossible to avoid. The best part of the movie, is probably the fact that it is so well done, that not one scene seems boring. It is indeed a rare superlative masterpiece.

"Army of Shadows" opens with the startling image of German soldiers marching down the Champs-Élysées, framed by the Arc de Triomphe. Dark as pitch and utterly without compromise, "Army of Shadows" traces the harrowing feats of a small band of Resistance fighters operating during the occupation. This fires up the plot to a different level than any recent drama I have seen.

As the story gets more complex, it just gets smarter and smarter. Mr. Melville has simply mastered the very depths of cinema, and this is only one of the masterpieces out of the many that he has left behind.

This film, which was never released in America and will now be making its way across the country in limited release, has been immaculately restored and features new subtitles.

You can get lost in the blackness of its heart and its shadows. You might never come back.

Das Leben der Anderen

Guilty Parties
It's weird that first films from a first director get my full support, but The Lives of Others is really something special, both beautifully portrayed and written. It's also clear, of course, that Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck has skill; even though it's only his first film, some of the content of the film is so remarkable that it immediately brings up previous works from veteran directors.

Critics have already been diminishing the film, claiming that it is flat as a character study. The truth is, they're right (If Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck would have concentrated more on character study, critics would have been hailing it as a masterpiece). But if one opts to take out the character study abroad, a clear and remarkable thriller will remain. The Lives of Others is truly something special and rare, disturbingly accurate and really quite extraordinary. The film is likely to win the Academy Award for best foreign film, and in a way it deserves it, also like Pan's Labyrinth. In the end, The Lives of Others proves to the viewer not only keen film-making skill, but rather the ability of mankind to change upon its surroundings. It's rare that a beginning film reach out to me the way this one did, but The Lives of Others is a most exciting film.

El laberinto del fauno

The Magical Touch
Pans Labyrinth", a remarkable film from the inconsistent director Guillermo Del Toro, is an intertwined tale of adulterated fantasy, a very accurate assessment on nefarious and fascist government, and most of all, a superlative accomplishment in the genre of fantasy. Del Toro has proved more than his hidden facade of indispensable magic; he has created a world to escape to. For the first, and maybe the only time this year, the viewer is in a world of cinema that is unpredictable from the start.

A towering work of narrative obscurity, "Pan's Labyrinth" portrays the life of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a genuine little girl who believes in magic. Her mother, Carmen, is pregnant, and they are on their way to the mothers' husbands' home in 1944. Her husband Captain Vidal) is a hardcore Franquista (Franco supporter, the dictator who ruled Spain from 1939 until 1975 when he died of natural causes) who is merciless at all costs.

But in the end, Del Toro does not distinguish a good from a bad ending, and quite frankly it hardly even matters. What the viewer perceives is more than just a remarkable story. It's an illustrious work of magic made for a must-viewing. And in the end, after Ofelia's last task is accomplished, and the masterful musical score lay in the background, one can't help but think: Could the film be meant for something else? Of course it is, for it is a clear and thought out political allegory. But even by viewing the film at diverse standpoints, in the end it really comes down to the real truth: the film is nothing short of a true and simple work of art.

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