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Talking About Trees

For the love of cinema, for the love of people
This is a documentary, and a moving one. In Sudan, an aging group of men, all filmmakers themselves and calling themselves the SFG (the Sudanese Film Group), are trying to bring cinema back to the local population. They reminisce about their own histories as movie makers, while they screen Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" for small but affectionate locals. But they are only able to show movies on a small scale and to few people, when their real objective is to revive a destitute movie house so that the young can experience the magic of a movie theater. This movie is really about the love of cinema. As a movie lover myself, I was emotionally invested. Completely. I was made teary-eyed by the passion of these older movie lovers, and it is with them that the movie really soars. These 4 cineastes are gentle, funny, and lovable. They carry with them both a wisdom about their perhaps futile cause, and a wariness about the realities of having to live under totalitarian rule. It is these 4 men and their passion. You will love getting to know them and spending 90 minutes with them, especially if you care about movies as much as they do. A find!

The Mighty Boosh: Charlie
Episode 6, Season 1

Worst of season 1
Jokes are flat, the musical number is regrettable, and the usual, little weirdnesses that make the show special are uninspired. Die-hards will still love it I'm sure, but I'm going to say Skip it to other casual fans like myself.


Not meta enough
Alain Robbe-Grillet (the writer-director of this movie) casts himself as a film-maker who, along with the script girl at his side, plot out a "thriller" involving a drug courier. I will emphasize putting 'thriller' in quotation marks, because I found nothing thrilling about "Trans-Europ-Express". They did hook me though, briefly, during the hilarious first 15 minutes. The plot of the movie-within-a-movie was taking shape while the filmmakers commented on it. Sample dialogue: "Is this really how a drug courier works?" "Well, yes, because this is how the character is doing it." A great setup with all sorts of opportunities. Unfortunately, I have to regard this movie as opportunities wasted.

The actual "movie" - about the drug courier - is flaccid, amateurish, and un-involving. But since the film is more about commenting on this type of movie than about the movie itself, its shortcomings could be forgiven. However, the running commentary isn't utilized enough to make that aspect interesting, and the actual "movie" was, for me, just not engaging.

This might have been a wonderful mystery/thriller/crime-drama but it didn't know how to be that. It might also have been a fantastic comedy, but the movie doesn't do enough with the premise after its wonderful and hilarious opening minutes.

I don't know what the first meta-film was - Had any movie before it attempted what this one was after? - so I will credit this for its originality. I can't recommend it otherwise. You should probably watch Truffaut's "Shoot the Piano Player" instead.


Darkly humorous
If you've heard of Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, Dogtooth), then you've likely heard of the Greek Weird Wave. That 'weird' tag has been applied to this film, "Pity", which also happens to share a screenwriter with the films of Lanthimos, further establishing the connection.

"What's it about?", you ask? If you are concerned over what the plot of Pity is, then this movie is probably not for you. If, however, you are a fan of this cycle of recent Greek cinema, then you definitely need to see this one. It's odd, distant, ultimately unknowable, but also deeply, darkly funny. It was a humor made deeper because I didn't see it coming. I laughed out loud. A lot.

If you are a fan of black humor, and if you sometimes find yourself the only person in a perplexed audience who is laughing, then this movie is probably your type of thing. I am that person, the Lone Laugher. And I'm also a fan of this Greek "wave". I highly recommend Pity.

Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru

My least favorite Kurosawa
The themes are all there. The actors are wonderful. The story comes with built-in drama and suspense. And it's directed by Akira Kurosawa! But, for me, it doesn't work. Sadly, I say this, because he is one of favorite directors.

For a start, it's just too long (150 min.). The story is slowed down and dragged out, where it should have been tightened. In those rare moments where I did feel the tension start to build, another over-long scene came along and deflated the suspense.

I thought the opening was ridiculous. Too many members of the press at a wedding that will introduce the audience to the story and its players. But the press, about 10 of them, watching the wedding and commenting along the way, when they should/would never have been allowed into such a private function. Like a Greek chorus, but ineffective and obvious. The master started his movie poorly.

Biggest offense of the film: Too much telling, not enough showing. Characters let us know everything: Not only their own backstories, but everyone else's. Not only their own emotions, but also those of others. Instead of showing us these people in their world, we the audience are told everything. And I do mean everything. How can you have intrigue and suspense when you don't give your audience the opportunity for discovery. It's all laid out for us, with too much on-the-nose telling.

I give it 5/10 because there are a few nice scenes, and Mifune is always! But this is definitely my least favorite of ALL Kurosawa's films.


What's really going on?
A nice puzzle of a film, featuring a narration device I don't believe I've ever seen before: Voice-over throughout, with no dialogue! But what is this story that our main character is telling us, and why doesn't it match what's on the screen? We've all experienced the unreliable narrator, but this movie takes it to the extreme. And I mean that in the good way, because it leaves us with a lot to think about.

Kuro has left me guessing and thinking for days. It is quite effective in this way, though at about 80 minutes the story-telling device, I felt, ran a little long. Still, overall, an effective puzzle. Strange, haunting, mysterious.

Bosch: Chapter Five: Mama's Boy
Episode 5, Season 1

Like every other cop far
Don't get me wrong, I am enjoying this. However, it is not yet up to Connelly's source material (even though the author is a co-creator of the Amazon series). This episode features some very network-level writing and directing. In other words, take us there, but don't challenge us too much. It is rather by-the-numbers...and this despite co-creator Eric Overmyer having had a hand in St. Elsewhere, Homicide, and The Wire!

What bothered me most in this episode? The scenes between the escaped killer and his mother. It felt poorly scripted and directed, like it was just another in a long series of network or second-tier cable shows. In a word, I didn't buy it.

But I am five episodes into the first season, and I feel like this is heading somewhere. The Connelly books are great, and I expect the show to rise to that level...even if it takes a while to get there.

Flight of the Conchords: The Tough Brets
Episode 3, Season 2

Two movie parodies for the price of one!
This show is always a hoot. Low-key and deadpan, it is wonderfully anti-sitcom. Great original songs as well. This episode is probably my favorite. The show had already done a number of homage/parodies, but here they give us two brilliant examples.

West Side Story has been sent up many times, but don't let that stop your enjoyment here. What they do with it is hysterical!

The best moment, though, has got to be what they do to the self- serious pomp that is Magnolia. No, no the frog sequence, but the Aimee Mann/Wise Up bit. The parody is set to a song called Hurt Feelings and, as in the movie it references, everyone in the cast gets in on the fun. They even switch the cinematography to match the look of Magnolia. So funny. I loved it, hope P.T. Anderson does, too:-)

(p.s. I'm a sucker for a parody/homage - The David Bowie episode from season 1 is my second favorite of the series. Check it out)

X: The Unheard Music

Great Music Doc!
As more of a casual X fan, I'd never heard of this (thank you Amazon Prime). I thought I was gonna get a flabby, pretentious, or just poorly-made film around some vintage concert footage. Oh, how pleased I am to have been proved wrong. I loved this movie.

The director and editors create a rhythm that evokes the feel of early 80's LA, and of post punk in general. We also get to hear from each of the band's four members; loved the backstories on all of these talented musicians. They speak well, they perform, they entertain. And all with a sincere joy and respect for the music they play.

Most importantly, the concert footage is Kick Ass! X in their prime (1982/3 I think)...really great rock n roll!

If you like X at all, or 80's-era Los Angeles, or this style of music in general, you need to see this.

Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey

Good, but wanted more from the 1970's
A good baseball doc, but not quite enough for me to fully recommend.

I was a kid and certified baseball fanatic growing up in the 1970's, and I just loved Bill Lee. I can remember his antics, hysterical sound-bites, and also the pure joy he seemed to have playing this game that I also loved. So, I was really enthused about the prospect of a documentary on this most-unusual of baseball personalities, but was ultimately left a little disappointed.

The first third of the film serves as a summary on Bill Lee's career, and that was the stuff I thought worked best. But all that was just set up for a baseball trip to Cuba, which happened many years after his retirement. The last half or so of the movie, shows Lee and some rag-tag, 40-something baseball team traveling to Cuba to compete there. Bill Lee (in his 50's) was their starting pitcher. That was fun to watch, but a little of that would have gone a long way.

The Cuba footage is interesting, but only to a point. I wanted the Cuba stuff to serve as an aside, instead of being the main focus of the film. But still, the vintage footage combined with the irrepressible wit of this larger-than-life character does make for good viewing. If you were a baseball fan in the 70's/early 80's, you'll probably enjoy this.

Fuzz: The Sound that Revolutionized the World

TOO Specific
While we do get to hear from a number of musicians (Billy Gibbons, J. Mascis, Peter Frampton), this doc is mostly about music gearheads. The subject of pedals and the sounds they produce should be of interest to anyone who listens to rock, but I have 2 problems with the film.

First problem - It is too much of a geek-fest for the average viewer. I am a lifelong lover of this music, but it was too geeky for me. All the gadgets and their sounds - or, tones, as is pointed out - gets to be too much. 90 minutes on this narrow a subject is simply too specific.

Bigger problem - We get almost no context. As a fan of Dinosaur Jr., Wolfmother, ZZ, and JSBX, I was in full buy-in mode when these musicians spoke. But as a non-gearhead, the geek-speak from everyone else was too much. I understand the difficulty of securing song rights for an independent film like this, but without the music the movie has missed out on its whole reason to exist.

Rock n roll has a deep and rich history with fuzz and distortion, going back to the early 50's. We get none of it. Talk of Hendrix and other assorted forebears, but no Sound. If you dig music history, fuzzed-out rock, and the electronics end of sound, then you may like this. I wanted to like it, but was unable.

Out 1, noli me tangere

Best left unseen
Over the years, I have read so many articles on Out 1, and have seen so many stills from it, that I felt as though I'd already seen the movie. Out 1 already existed for me in such a big way, that finally watching it could only lead to disappointment. Sadly, this was the case. As great as Out 1's legend is, for me it never comes together. It's all promise unfulfilled.

There are Holy Grail movies: Films written and talked about in reverential tones, yet largely unavailable to the public. Until recently, "Out 1" was one of these, and having lived with its legend for many years, I was giddy the day it showed up on Netflix. An eight-part film totaling about 13 hours? I was binge-ready! Unfortunately, it took only about half way thru the first segment for my enthusiasm to wane.

But oh is it ever ambitious, and almost every concept and character that we are introduced to is inherently interesting. One example is in how two different acting troupes work toward discovery in the play that each is planning to put on - It seems to be a great metaphor for this very film - but their rehearsal scenes go on (and on), and there are so many of them. 10, 20, even 30 minute (!!) scenes of actors writhing around on dirty theater floors? I love the slower pace of foreign films, but it was just too much.

The acting? Jean-Pierre Leaud, who I usually find fascinating, here just annoys the crap out of me. The rest of a very large cast, many of whom were big in French cinema, may or may not be doing good work. With long, rambling scenes inside of the film's overall loose structure, I actually couldn't tell. Rivette usually has one camera going, and he just lets it roll. Even his veteran actors at times seem lost.

If being loose and letting things "just play out" was what Rivette was going for, I think that he could have made his point in less than 13 hours. Considering how much love Out 1 continues to get, perhaps it's just me who is missing out. Yet I can't help think that he not only let his actors down, but that he let his viewers down, too.

I'll leave it to other reviewers to get into The Thirteen, Balzac, Lewis Carroll, conspiracies, paranoia, etc. It IS all very fascinating to read about.

Having read (and heard) so much over the years, about both the film and its legend, it felt as though I had already seen the movie. I could recall its characters, style, and elements with clarity. Unfortunately, having now seen it, that movie has been erased from my memory. I should have stuck with the legend. Sadly, the "Out 1" of my mind no longer exists.

Sound of the City: London 1964-73

Some concert footage, but disappointing
Somewhat obscure and somewhat worth seeking out if you like the artists listed. I sought this out really for one thing, but ended up enjoying about half of it. That one thing - Ike & Tina Turner doing their version of Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long". Their concert version of the song (from a great live album called 'What you Hear is what You Get') is one of my favorite live recordings of all time, so I looked forward to this movie to finally see a clip of it. Well - and I should have seen this coming - they only give us the last half of the song, so it was a bit of a disappointment (although it should be said that the sight of an incredibly sexy Tina Turner performing fellatio on her microphone makes the clip worthwhile).

Elsewhere, you've got a great clip of Otis Redding alongside a few less than stellar performances, namely Blind Faith and Cat Stevens. Oddly, there are also several concert clips with the original album recording laid on top of the video: Joe Cocker (With a little Help), Jimi (Freedom, with what i believe is the Band of Gypsies on stage),Pink FLoyd (Careful with that Axe) and Rod Stewart (Stay with Me). I know these songs too well; i actually won an argument with a friend who was convinced the entire movie is live clips. Warning, it is not.

5/10 for a few good ones and for fans, but overall not very satisfying as a movie experience.

Don't Ask

dysfunctional family
Back in 2005 I attended one of those market research groups to view this pilot and give my two cents. I found it to be along the lines of an Arrested Development, containing some dark humor and a few genuine laughs. Unfortunately for the producers I was the only one in the room who 'got it'. Most of the others wanted Everybody Loves Raymond, or something even easier to digest. If you ever wonder how mindless garbage like 2 1/2 Men become hits, you should spend an evening doing market research. The show may not have been a great one but at least it took a few chances and tried to be different. No room for that on 21st century network TV.

The Tree Behind the Church

Unimaginitive, Straight-to-Video
I've seen 100s of independent/student films, but even measuring this one against that standard, 'Tree Behind the Church' cannot be recommended. The story involves a group of actors using an old church to practice in, who then discover that ghosts haunt the church.

The story is flimsy and uninvolving, the acting is poor, and the director doesn't even make the most minimal attempt at composing interesting shots. I wish it were more good-bad than just bad, then it might be worthy of an MST3K type of appreciation. Instead it is just boring. If just about any of you sitting at home gathered up a few friends, a video camera, and one location to shoot at, and then proceeded to write AND shoot a movie in one day's time, it would probably turn out better than this.

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