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Lionel Baier
Garcon Stupide
US Premiere Sept 16th at The Angelika
In French with English subtitles

Starring: Pierre Chatagny, Natacha Koutchoumov, Rui Pedro

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella on Thursday, June 2nd.

Garcon Stupide sketches an intriguing portrait of a sexually self-confident, seemingly simple-minded young man, coming of age in a small Swiss city and longing for more from his life.

Loic (Pierre Chatagny) spends his dull days working on an assembly line in a chocolate factory (no Willy Wonka here, trust me!) and counters that with busy evenings where he runs gay-sex wild. He finds the majority of his pickups by prowling the internet and we observe him trick for money as well as for sheer animal pleasure--never allowing himself intimacy once the sex act is over.

Loic finds an emotional, if tempestuous, anchor in his friend, Marie (a strong Natacha Koutchoumov), who houses him and listens to his endless sex stories until she can no longer deal with his erratic behavior.

Loic soon encounters Lionel, a potential sex partner who is more interested in getting to know Loic than he is in sex with the youth.

The framing device used in the film has Loic answering Lionel’s many personal questions always from the point of view of Lionel, so we hear his voice but never see him. This "gimmick" is simultaneously fascinating and frustrating--that is until the final frames of the film flicker, offering up a tease of sorts.

Garcon Stupide strives for something beyond the usual silly gayflick fluff. First time feature director, Lionel Baier, attempts to penetrate Loic’s subconscious, probing his innate longing and desires as well as his emotional confusion.

Beautifully shot in a gritty docu-style, Baier’s camera is at once intrusive and distant. The sexual situations are graphic, but never gratuitous. The director obviously adores his lead actor since he photographs him so exquisitely that we forgive Loic when he behaves in an idiotic manner.

Non-actor Pierre Chatagny makes a very impressive film debut, managing an astounding balance between Loic’s raw sexual assuredness and his own conviction that he is a stupid boy.

The film is far from perfect, though. A secondary plot involving the stalking of a local soccer star appears meandering and completely unnecessary and a disturbing tragedy feels contrived and too easily glossed over.

Regardless, Garcon Stupide is definitely worth a look.

468C




Craig Brewer’s
Hustle & Flow
Opens July 22nd., 2005


Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Trolling for johns on the backstreets of Memphis, DJay (Terrence Howard) is the king of his small world. With a silver tongue to match the spinning chrome wheels of his "hooptie" (his beat-up old ride), DJay cajoles his girls--his whore Nola (played by Taryn Manning); his whore-on-maternity-leave Shug (played by Taraji P. Henson); his "dancer" Lexus (played by Paula Jai Parker)--and he corrals their tricks (who are nameless, but then, aren't they always?). But this pimp wants more and somewhere deep inside him, he knows there is more and that there is something inside him that needs to come out.

And then one day there is a little serendipity. A crazed old man sells DJay a child’s keyboard in exchange for a bit of marijuana (DJay’s side business) and he runs into an old school friend, Key (played by Anthony Anderson). Key has a middle- class life, complete with his middle-class wife, Yvette (played by Elise Neal). Key also has a middle-class business, producing music for churches. But Key has a dream, too; he always wanted to be more. But as he tells DJay, there are two kinds of guys - the ones who talk the talk and the ones who walk the walk. And according to Key, DJay is a talker and he, Key, is a walker.

I used to live in Memphis and I can’t talk about this story without talking about how hot it is in the summer (this movie is set in June). Memphis also has an incredibly poor and uneducated black underclass. I moved to Memphis from Dallas in 1979 and it was like moving back thirty years in time in terms of race relations (Dallas was no paragon of racial harmony back then, either), and my friends tell me things have not changed much since then. Memphis is the true Old South with its symbolic big foot stomping down on guys like DJay. Plus, like I said, it is incredibly hot. And this mix of heat and poverty that gave birth to the blues has now “birthed” another form of music, Crank, Memphis-born Southern hip hop.

And Crank is what DJay wants. He knows he has something inside him that just has to get out, but he has no clue as to how he can make it happen. He supposedly knew Skinny Black (played by Ludacris), a wildly successful Memphis-born rapper, who has gone on to a Hollywood style of fame. Skinny is coming back to Memphis on the Fourth of July to have a party at a bar owned by Arnell (Isaac Hayes). DJay has an “in” with Arnel and he collars the job of supplying Skinny’s weed. DJay then uses his “connection” with Skinny and his silver tongue to hustle Key into helping him produce a track to harness DJay’s hustle into flow (his rap).

So, the race is on. Key comes to DJay’s house (a beat up old “shotgun” in the worse part of town) and with the help of borrowed and improvised equipment (stapled egg cartons on the walls for insulation), they get started. They are soon joined by the incredibly charismatic Shelby (played by DJ Qualls), who makes his living playing for churches, but who also knows a few things about putting down a track.

Hustle and Flow is a great story, told by great characters, and it has the one vital element that all great stories share - redemption. And it is so very real. I left the theater feeling like I knew those guys and their girls (this story is definitely not politically correct), and why they were the way they were. And I got a glimpse of the thing that was inside all of them that just had to come out. The plot itself has Shakespearean overtones – there is so much at stake and such a small window of escape from this Memphis world of sizzling heat and crushing poverty. And there wasn’t a bad actor in this film. They all shone.

Craig Brewer, the writer and director, is a master storyteller and producer John Singleton is to be commended for having the genius to recognize Brewer's talent and for putting up his own money (according to the press release) to produce this movie. And kudos to co-producer Stephanie Allain, who had the vision to shepherd this story through the many years it took to get it made.







Scott Dalton and Margarita Martinez 's
La Sierra
16th Annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
June 10-23, 2005
Walter Reader Theater at Lincoln Center


Reviewed by Jessica Cogan

“We are in the hands of kids with guns,” observes a resident of war-ravaged La Sierra, a small neighborhood in Medellin, Colombia. This neighborhood, and others like it, is embroiled in Colombia’s decade-old civil conflict – a war that has cost more than 30,000 lives to date. The conflict is complex: leftist guerillas struggle against the government and paramilitary groups; the government battles the guerillas and the paramilitaries; the paramilitaries fight against the guerillas, the government and one another; and battle lines are drawn, changed, erased and redrawn with great frequency.

La Sierra introduces us to three young people living in the violent barrio. These kids live, love, and, in one case, die in the midst of Colombia’s ongoing civil strife. We meet Edison, the commander of the paramilitary group Bloque Metro that controls La Sierra. At twenty-two, he’s the picture of the glamorous gangsta (Colombia style). He rides a motorcycle, brags about his power, gets lots of action (and has the eight babies to prove it). But he’s also remarkably introspective and thoughtful about his place in his community and a future without violence. We hear him talk about “retiring” from his violent life and perhaps becoming a civil engineer, if he can survive his tenure as commandante.

Then there’s Cielo. Her father and brother were killed in the war, and she was left a single mother at fifteen when her husband was also killed. Uneducated and with little support or opportunity available to her, Cielo sells candy and begs to get bus fare to visit her paramilitary boyfriend in prison on the weekends. She’s encouraged by friends to take up prostitution, but she resists – at least for a while.

Finally we meet Jesus, a paramilitary foot soldier who blew off his hand while working on a homemade grenade. Undeterred by his injury, Jesus spends most of his time armed and high. He talks casually of living fast and dying young, but hopes to have a few months to get to know his newborn son. When government-sponsored disarmament begins and peace arrives in La Sierra, Jesus hopes to start a new life.

Documentarians Scott Dalton and Margarita Martinez have created a truly remarkable film in La Sierra, at once horrific, fascinating and hopeful. Almost as amazing as the film itself is how it got made. The filmmakers gained permission from high-level paramilitary commanders to shoot the documentary, and then braved the brutal conditions of the barrio, on occasion even diving to the ground to dodge bullets. They became involved with the participants’ lives, gained their trust, shared their pain. The rare and unflinching access they had creates an intimacy that is a large part of this film.

For more information, log onto: www.lasierrafilm.com.

For more information on the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival please visit: www.hrw.org/iff or www.filmlinc.com.


 


Photo Jessica Cogan

A League of Ordinary Gentlemen
Opens May 27, 2005
Sunshine Cinema
(check newspaper for other locations)

Directed by Chris Browne.
Produced by Wilhelmus (Bill) Bryan and Alex Browne.

Reviewed by Jessica Cogan

Smelly shoes, smoky rooms and beer guts. Isn’t that what comes to mind when you hear the word “bowling”? What happened to the good ole days of the sport -- matching shirts, shiny bowling bags and leagues populated with friends and neighbors?

That question is at the center of A League of Ordinary Gentlemen, a new documentary following the rise and fall and rise again of the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA). The film starts off investigating the current state of bowling in America. Why have bowling alleys across the country closed their doors? Why has the sport’s popularity plummeted, while golf – a game requiring similar levels of athleticism – gets more fans every day?

Whatever the reason, come the late 90's, bowling was in a bad way. That’s when three retired Microsoft executives came to the rescue. They realized they could buy the entire PBA – the players, tournaments, trademarks and trophies – for about five million. So they did. And they brought on board Steve Miller, former Nike executive, Kansas State athletic director and five-time NCAA coach of the year. As CEO, Steve Miller is aggressive and sometimes abrasive as he tries to turn the PBA around. And he makes is clear that it’s his way or the highway.

The film follows Miller and four professional bowlers as they experience the PBA’s rise from the ashes. We meet the hot-headed Pete Weber, the tour’s bad boy (and Fredo Corleone look-alike) who brings pro wrestling’s “crotch chop” to the lanes; his arch-rival, the straight-laced Walter Ray Williams Jr., who is the sport’s highest money earner. Also on the tour is Chris Barnes, a father of newborn twin boys who struggles to find a balance between his profession and family life.

The heart of the film is Wayne Webb. A highly successful bowler through the 80's and 90's, Webb lived hard and ran through his winnings quickly. When we catch up with him in 2002, he’s hoping to resurrect his career in the new PBA but is having difficulties finding his niche – and qualifying for tournaments. In the end, his story is probably most representative of the lot of old school bowlers in the new PBA -- if you can’t keep up, you’re out, no matter how much you’ve contributed to the sport in the past. And sure, that’s probably true for most professional sports, but it’s still sad to see.

A League of Ordinary Gentlemen is at turns funny, sad and touching – and an absolutely fascinating glimpse inside a world few know much about.




Photo Jessica Cogan

A League of Ordinary Gentlemen opens in New York May 27th and Los Angeles June 3rd. Check local listing for theaters and showtimes.

468C 





Sean McAllister’s
The Liberace of Baghdad (NY Premiere)
16th Annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
June 10-23, 2005
Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center


Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Peace does not exist until normal people can live normal lives. When people don’t have the freedom to do venal things like go to bars, drive the streets, visit with friends and/or simply just “be,” there is no peace. British Filmmaker Sean McAllister went to Baghdad (with a grant from the BBC) to tell the story of the peace, arriving eight months after President George Bush declared victory.

Every storyteller needs a way to get into the story and while Sean was hanging around the hotel bar, he met pianist Samir Peter. Samir had once been Iraq’s most famous pianist. Now he was reduced to playing for foreigners in a hotel bar.

Here is a quote from the press release: “Held up in a heavily fortified Baghdad hotel, pianist Samir Peter and filmmaker Sean McAllister try to survive the 'peace' of post-war Iraq. Samir Peter, once Iraq’s most famous pianist, now plays in a half-empty hotel bar to contractors, mercenaries, and besieged journalists. In his heyday he described himself as the 'Liberace of Baghdad,' but today he sleeps in a hotel room with bricked-up windows, too afraid to cross town to his seven-bedroom mansion. His string of western girlfriends has led his wife and two of his children to leave for the United States. Now Samir has a visa to live in America too, to find fame and fortune in what he calls his 'one last adventure in
life.' But Sahar, his pro-Saddam daughter who remained in Iraq, hates America for what it has done to her country. She refuses to go and Samir prepares to leave alone.”

Samir and Sean become friends and it is through the eyes of this friendship that we see present day Baghdad. With his heavy hooded eyes, wild curly hair and pot belly, Samir is some character. With a cigarette hanging from his mouth and a glass of liquor in his hand, he tells us the story of his life.

Sean and Samir routinely brave the terrors of driving the streets of Iraq (streets where suicide bombers and snipers rule the road), so Samir can go to his real home and be with his adult children. We meet his family and through the lives of Samir and his children we see the everyday horror of living in a war zone. And Baghdad is a war zone, a war zone where makeshift morgues are set up in truckbeds after suicide bombings, a war zone where it makes sense to berate your son for foolishly selling the Kaleshnikov and buying a pistol. And where, while visiting in your home with your own foreigner friend, Sean, you relate the story of how your neighbor was recently murdered by terrorists for the sin of consorting with foreigners.

Samir has three children, one boy and two daughters. One of his daughters is now living in America and we see her brave the risk of terrorist attack to travel (with her small daughter) by car from Jordan just so she can see her father. These are people who are determined to live normal lives despite all the surrounding carnage. There is one particularly telling scene when Sean asks one of Samir’s daughters whether she likes the fact that she is more free to express her opinions now than she was under Saddam. The daughter replies, “Who will I express my opinion to?” Right…. to have freedom to speak your mind, you also need the freedom to leave your home without the fear of being killed.

The documentary also covers the lives of the reporters, contract workers and mercenaries who are holed up in the heavily fortified hotel complex. This hotel is definitely an outpost in hell, filled with heavily armed South African mercenaries and reporters who are so scared to leave the hotel that they file their reports from rumors they have heard from the outside. If they go outside, they can be kidnapped and/or killed and then instead of reporting the story, they will be the story. Throughout the documentary, Sean speaks of his admiration for the print journalists (read, not the television journalists) who daily risks their lives to bring in the story. These guys would be kidnapped and the day after they were released, out they would go again in search of the story. Bravo.

After the screening, there was a question and answer session with filmmaker Sean McAllister. Here is a summary of some of the questions and Sean’s answers:

Question: A young man asked him why he chose to tell the story of a middle-class man who had money for cigarettes and booze and not to tell the story of the people who are starving.

Answer: (I am paraphrasing heavily.) Sean basically said that this was the story that spoke to him and if this young man thought there was another more worthwhile story, he should borrow his camera and go to Baghdad and film it, okay?

Question: Someone asked how he and the Iraqis people felt about the American invasion.

Answer: (Again heavily paraphrased.) Sean said that the Iraqis are glad that Saddam is gone but they blame the Americans for making a mess of things. Here is a quote from Sean: “I blame the Americans ... excuse me, Coalition forces ... for fucking up and allowing this mess to happen.” And he went on to explain that this is what the terrorists are counting on, that people will end up blaming America for the entire mess.

And then a final quote from Sean: “To be free you need freedom and safety,” and that both he and the people of Iraq are angry to find out that, “after eight months they are less fucking free now then they were.” Ouch!

Liberace of Bagdad was the winner of the Special Jury Prize (World Documentary), Sundance Film Festival 2005.

For more information, visit the film’s website at www.seanmcallister.com and the website for the Human Rights Film Festival at www.hrw.org/iff/2005/ny/

For more information on the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival please visit: www.hrw.org/iff or www.filmlinc.com.





Ziad Doueiri's
Lila Says

Opening in New York on June 24, 2005


Starring Vahina Giocante, Mohammed Khouas and Karim Ben Haddou

Reviewed by Ronit Feldman on May 25, 2005

The French have always known a thing or two about love, so it seems appropriate that the year’s sexiest film is translated in subtitles. Lila Says tells the provocative story of two adolescents on the brink of sexuality. Sixteen-year-old Lila has just moved to a predominantly Arab neighborhood where she meets Chimo, a soft-spoken nineteen-year-old who is instantly smitten (as are the rest of his friends). One day on the playground, when Lila asks Chimo, “Want to see my pussy?”, she sets off a chain of events that leave both characters forever changed.

Narrated by Chimo (Mohammed Khouas), the film is a visceral account of the teenager’s overwhelming attraction to the nymph-like Lila (Vahina Giocante) told with intimacy and warmth. Brimming with sensuality, Lila is uninhibited as she shares her racy daydreams and promiscuous dares. Alas, the teens' relationship is challenged by a number of forces: cultural, emotional and psychological. Chimo’s mother opposes her son dating a non-Muslim; his friends harass him for keeping quiet about their romance; and Chimo won’t allow himself to fall for a girl whose greatest sexual fantasy involves other men. The film is alternately funny, solemn, unnerving, and tender.

Based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by “Chimo” (it’s contested whether the manuscript was actually written by a teenager or a famous French writer), Lila Says is a powerful and entrancing film that captures in beautiful detail the delicate emotions of adolescence.

For more information, log onto: www.lilasaysmovie.com




Helene Klodawsky’s
No More Tears Sister: Anatomy of Hope and Betrayal
16th Annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
June 10-23, 2005
Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center

Starring: Sharika Thiranagama as Rajani Thiranagama

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams


I have two sisters and the thought of losing one of them is unbearable to me. But losing one in the prime of her life, when she was young, beautiful and full of life would be doubly painful. This is the loss that the family of Dr. Rajani Thiranagama suffered. Their sister, mother, wife and daughter was murdered on September 21, 1989. And she was murdered just because she was young, beautiful and full of life and had enough love in her heart to speak out for human rights.

Here is a quote from the press release from the documentary about Dr. Thiranagama’s life: "No More Tears Sister explores the price of truth in times of war. Set during the violent ethnic conflict that has enveloped Sri Lanka over decades, the film beautifully renders the courageous and vibrant life of renowned human rights activist Dr. Rajani Thiranagama. Wartime mother, university professor, wife, activist, and symbol of hope, Rajani was assassinated at the young age of thirty-five in 1989. Fifteen years after Rajani’s death, her older sister Nirmala, a former Tamil militant and political prisoner, journeys back to Sri Lanka. She has decided to break her long silence about Rajani’s passionate life
and her brutal slaying. Joining her are Rajani’s husband, sisters, and grown daughters, as well as fellow activists forced underground.”

This documentary was made with several different sources of narrative: old film clippings; interviews with Dr. Thiranagama’s family and friends; and reenactments of her life where she is portrayed by an actress, Sharika Thiranagama. And it all works together. We see Rajani through the eyes of her sister, Nirmala. Nirmala and Rajani were raised in a middle-class Tamil Christian home in Jaffna, Sri Lanka (an island state thirty miles off the coast of southern India). They received a classical English education. Sri Lanka was a colonial state until 1948 and the English influence was still dominant during their childhood. So Ranjani and her sister grew up reading Jane Austen, speaking beautiful English and singing American spirituals.

Then Nirmala went to school in the United States. It was the summer of 1968 and the world had just exploded. New ideas were everywhere and Nirmala became radicalized and wrote to share her new ideas with her sister Ranjani (who was also becoming radicalized by the suffering she saw around her as she attended medical school in Sri Lanka). Nirmala returned home and both sisters became members of the The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (known as the LTTTE). They were from a Tamil family and felt deeply the oppression the minority Tamils were experiencing from the Sri Lankan government. Nirmala was then imprisoned for her activities.

Ranjani became even more radicalized as she fought for the release of her sister. Nirmala finally escaped from prison and went to India. Their lives continued. Ranjani married a Senegalese activist and had two children. But during this time, the sisters also became very disillusioned with the brutality of the LTTTE and they left the cause.

The struggle between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTTE has been a particularly nasty one, with over 65,000 dead and many more rapes and mutilations. In reaction to all this carnage, Ranjani and Nirmala became feminists and human rights activists. Ranjani became one of the founding members of the University Teachers for Human Rights in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. And it was because of her activities as a human rights activist that she was betrayed (supposedly by one of her own students) and murdered on September 21, 1989. As Ranjani herself said, “Men in battle garb, whether they come with swords or guns, on a horse or in armored cars, the price of conquest seems heightened by the violation of women.”

The story of Dr. Rajani Thiranagama is beautifully told. This telling is greatly enhanced by the haunting musical score composed by Bertrand Chernier and the skillful direction of Helene Klodawsky. I loved “meeting” Ranjani’s family through watching this documentary.

Afterward, one of Dr. Thiranagama’s daughters, Narmada Thiranagama, spoke to the audience. She told us that now that the film has opened, she feels she can breathe again and how happy she is to have her mother’s story told. She also said that all her life she has been trying to find her mother, but with the help of this film and the people she has talked to, she has now realized that she can find her mother inside her. And that was her mother’s fondest wish, that her daughters become human rights activists and that they be better human rights activists than she, Rajani, was. It was a beautiful moment.

For more information about this film, log onto: http://www.nfb.ca/webextension/nomoretearssister.

For more information on the human rights struggle in Jaffna, log onto
http://www.uthr.org/

For more information on the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival please visit: www.hrw.org/iff or www.filmlinc.com.







The Brooklyn International Film Festival
Presents
Arcadi Palerm's
"Mantra"
Mexico, 2004
Short, 10 min
US Premiere

Reviewed on June 10, 2005 by Caroline Smith

The evening commenced with the short Mexican film, "Mantra," written and directed by Arcadi Palerm. Now at the humble height of 5’1”, I’ve always believed that being short is “in,” and to my pleasant surprise, this petite film packed quite the punch. I thought that the ten-minute montage was compelling because of its quiet and unassuming nature. A principal guides a new student into a classroom full of young boys with cherubic faces, but when authority leaves, quiet chaos ensues.

The camera wastes no space in this film due to the clock’s grip on it. By the fifth minute, the new kid has pulled a revolver out of his pocket and has the other boys gasping for air. His stoic face stares back at a room full of deer in headlights as he calmly cocks the gun. This is the only sound in the film. It was epic. In that moment, the child put the entire audience in the classroom with him. Whether hands were gripping desks or armchairs in the movie theater, there was no telling what this armed boy would do. And then he did. The revolver entered his mouth and he pulled the trigger.

No, this was not a ten-minute tragedy. In the time it took for him to introduce himself to the classroom, he had killed his fears. The gun brought him closer to another boy. The film was executed brilliantly. In ten minutes, the time it would take one to, say, make rice, director Palerm had the pot boiling over. Frightening and palpable, this cohesive little package delivers. "Mantra" is a work of art.

For more information on the Brooklyn International Film Festival, log onto http://wbff.org/

 


 


A National Geographic Feature Film
Luc Jacquet's
March of the Penguins

Opens June 24, 2005
Lincoln Plaza Cinemas
and
The Angelika Film Center

 

Reviewed by Troy Tolley

Narrated by: Morgan Freeman; Starring: The Emperor Penguin species; Music by: Alex Wurman.

With the advent of modern technology, it is not unusual for most of us humans to be able to see and vicariously explore the reality of other species on the planet that we would never have even known existed otherwise. Flipping through the hundreds of channels on cable, one can easily stumble across a rare and even extinct species that is fascinating to observe and study right from the comfort of our living rooms. Although that easy-access, armchair explorer is now a flippant pasttime that many of us take for granted, it does not prepare you for the fascination, beauty, emotion, and intensity of March of the Penguins.

I have seen films that put human drama into a context that makes me terribly grateful for the life I have, even making me feel embarrassed for ever complaining, but I have never seen a film about another species that made me leave the theater thinking, “How in the hell can I ever complain about anything in my life ever again, after that!?”

March of the Penguins takes you on a journey through the life cycles of the isolated, enduring, and rare species of the emperor penguin, living in the most remote and harshest of environments on Earth: Antarctica. This is not just a bland documentary that might be more suited for a schoolroom, but a very real submersion into a way of life that none of us could ever have comprehended without this film.

The penguins, with their eerily and endearing humanesque qualities, stand and walk alone, in a line, from their familiar coastal homes, inland and into the harshest of winters on earth, just to make love and to offer continued life to their species. Watching this journey made me feel the lack (and hope) in our human species as varying groups of penguins converge in the mating territory where a most miraculous and disturbing cycle must play out.

Taking up to two weeks, the penguins sing individual songs for each other until as many are paired up as possible, drawn together only through a special resonance one feels for the song of another. For about two months after the mating process, the pairs have no food, and endure subzero, blazing winds; then an egg is laid onto the feet of each mother penguin. Each penguin couple only gets this one egg, this one chance to nurture a life beyond their own. With deadly temperatures surrounding them, the starving mother must somehow pass the egg from her own feet to the feet of the father penguin without the egg touching the ground for more than five seconds--or it will freeze immediately, taking the life inside. Many do not succeed in this process.

If the process is successful, the weakened mother then leaves the clan to journey back to the coast, which is now even further away because of the freezing and changing coastline of winter, in the hope that she can return two months later with food for her emerging baby. She must endure the weather and avoid the terrifying predators that she knows will be awaiting her. If she does not return, then the incubation and birth of her baby will be for naught, as her baby can survive only one day without the food the mother must bring back.

Meanwhile, the father penguins huddle tightly into a mass of warmth, walking and rotating the outer bodies of their mass to keep the group from having to feel the full force of winter, all the while keeping the fragile eggs resting on their precarious feet against winds up to one hundred and fifty miles per hour. By the time the baby is hatched, he will have existed four months without food, and will have only one day to live, unless his mother returns with nourishment.

And the stakes only continue to grow higher, with far too many obstacles ahead for me to explain them all in this review.

In the end, it is not the obstacles that are impressive, but the utterly awe-inspiring unity that must exist among the penguins for this process to work. It moved me to tears, riveted me to the point of exclamation (and I never exclaim during a movie), and had me laughing out loud at what seemed to be such charming humor among the penguins, despite their obligatory and powerful voyage through life.

OFFICIAL SITE: http://wip.warnerbros.com/marchofthepenguins/
Run Time: 80 Minutes - Rated: G



Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry Alex Rubin's
Murderball
Opening New York City and Los Angeles on July 8, 2005


Reviewed by Matthew Rosen

The trials and tribulations of quadriplegic rugby players are well documented in the flick Murderball. That’s right, quadriplegic rugby. This rugby is played on a basketball court with four eight-minute quarters, and the object is to carry the ball from one end to the other. In the way, however, are wheelchair-bound players aiming to hit you as hard as possible. And while the Mad-Max-looking wheelchairs are cool as hell, it’s the crazy individuals riding in them that “make” this documentary.

Starting at the 2002 World Championships in Sweden, the documentary follows the path of the fierce US and Canadian Quad Rugby Team, depicting their rivalry as they prepare to dominate their world at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens,Greece.

The competition is intense and "helmers" Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro remind the viewers again and again that these men are out for blood. “We’re not here to get a pat on the back,” states one player, when reminded that some people mistake the Paralympics for the Special Olympics. “We’re here to win the gold.”

The film's main protagonists, US Team Leader Mark Zupan and Canadian Coach Joe Soares, carry the film with their immense rivalry and personal tribulations. Their tales intertwine harmoniously and this viewer was left wanting more.

Zupan, the poster child for the US Team, fought mental rage and physical devastation to seek redemption in the sport. Having lost his ability to walk due to a horrible car accident, he is now determined to lead Team USA to victory. Meanwhile, he is still attempting to reconcile with his best friend, Chris Igoe, the driver of the car that caused the accident

Joe Soares, ex-Team USA All Star, is the Benedict Arnold of his time. Soares signed on with Team Canada as their head coach, and on the court all he wants is to defeat Team USA. But we also see a different side of Soares's character when the documentary follows him home and we see his struggle to connect with his sensitive son.

Murderball shows that there is life after a paralyzing accident. Zupan visits a rehabilitation center and helps a depressed, paralyzed motocross biker find hope in the game. Soares undergoes a total transformation following a heart attack, and reconnects with his family.

Snazzy camera work and phenomenal editing add to the overall effectiveness of the documentary. And while Soares and Zupan move this film to its phenomenal human heights, the filmmakers never lose sight of the game itself. Murderball is both a heartfelt story of winners and losers who will never stand up again, and a fantastic sports documentary that will make you fly off the seat of your chair.

Murderball was the winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Sundance Film Festival. www.murderballmovie.com.






Gregg Araki's
Mysterious Skin
Open Nationwide

Reviewed by Troy Tolley

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Brady Corbet; Elizabeth Shue; Michelle Trachtenberg

Based on the novel by: Scott Heim; Score: Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd; Run Time: 99 minutes; Country: USA/Netherlands; Rated: NC-17

Greg Araki ventures into uncharted territory with his efforts to translate a novel into film. Those of you who know Greg Araki’s previous films will either love or hate his work because of his surrealism, satire, deadpan dialogue, and beautiful, erotic visuals (that somehow aren’t just sexual). For those who have grown familiar with Araki in that regard, a big surprise is in store with Mysterious Skin. Although Araki did not leave behind his flat dialogue and surrealism, he has replaced eroticism with unnerving sensitivity, beauty with serious discomfort, and satire with painful realizations.

Mysterious Skin follows the paths of two very different boys as they mature into adulthood, tied by one single, pivotal event in their childhood. Neil (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt of Third Rock from the Sun fame) is fully cognitive of his past, making his way as a hustler as his life unfolds from jaded memories into despair and young demise. By contrast, Brian (played by Brady Corbet of Thunderbirds and Thirteen), is lost in innocence and naiveté, but begins to shed his skin of isolation when he suddenly begins to recall having been abducted by aliens. As Brian seeks to recover the details of his abduction, he recalls having not been alone and deeply believes that the other boy holds the key to his completion and freedom.

This is a mesmerizing tale that almost mythically explores the possibility that innocence and shame are never far apart, and in fact that true maturity is the ability to integrate those polarities as they exist within each of us.

As much a character in the movie as the actors, the score is hauntingly emotional and offers the viewer a ride through some of the more difficult scenes (and there are some terribly uncomfortable ones). Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins genius, along with Harold Budd of Moon and the Melodies brilliance, collaborate to make one of the most gorgeous scores of any movie, allowing you to feel clean after such a harrowing journey.

OFFICIAL SITE: www.mysteriousskinthemovie.com





Ingmar Bergman's
Saraband
Opening July 8, 2005



Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

The forever enigmatic and infinitely brilliant Ingmar Bergman has crafted a final masterpiece to add to his plethora of cinema classics that include: Smiles of a Summer Night; Wild Strawberries;The Seventh Seal; Persona; Cries and Whispers; and Autumn Sonata;....just to name a few.

Saraband represents the master’s self-admitted cinema swan song and although he said the same about 1983’s enchanting Fanny and Alexander, one gets the impression the eighty-six-year-old auteur is quite serious this time.

A sequel of sorts to his 1974 gem Scenes From a Marriage, Saraband is a fascinating, searing and devastating examination of relationships gone awry.

The film is segmented into ten chapters as well as a prologue and epilogue that feature Marianne (Liv Ullmann) going through photos. She decides to pay her ex-husband, Johan (Erland Josephson) a visit after a thirty-year estrangement. They reminisce. Marianne soon learns that Johan’s sixty-one-year-old son, Henrik (Borje Ahlstedt) is living in his lakeside cottage with his nineteen-year old daughter, Karin (Julia Dufvenius). She is a cellist. He is her instructor. Both are still mourning the death of Henrik’s wife, Anna, two years earlier.

Marianne soon finds herself immersed in the emotional power struggles between father, son and daughter. Johan loathes his son and vice versa. Henrik is ferociously possessive of his daughter and the two have a loving/torturous, most likely incestuous relationship. Karin is trying to break free from her father’s stranglehold and Marianne is there to advise and ultimately undergo her own much-needed catharsis.

Reprising Marianne after almost thirty years, Liv Ullmann proves she is still one of the greatest actresses of our time (anyone fortunate enough to see Scenes or the remarkable Face To Face knows how deeply Ullmann can search into a character’s soul). And while Marianne, as written, bears little resemblance to the dynamic force she was in Scenes, Ullmann manages to give us a glimpse of her fire through her new role as "therapist." It is a powerful performance filled with nuance.

Erland Josephson’s Johan is a swirl of angst, regret and longing. “I’ve ransacked my past now that I have an answer sheet,” he explains to Marianne, who asks what he’s discovered. “That my life is shit,” is his reply. Josephson’s scenes with Ahlstedt are extraordinary--the honest, intense hatred these two characters feel chills the viewer to the bone. And Josephson and Ullmann still have amazing chemistry together.

Dufvenius is quite a find as Karin and she holds her own with this exceptional ensemble.

One of Bergman’s legion of amazing filmic gifts is the ability to make talking heads riveting viewing. Saraband unfolds like a play with much of the action taking place indoors. Dialogue dominates the film. And yet it is never dull and never uninteresting. Bergman shot the film digitally and has insisted that it must be shown using digital equipment.

No one can accuse Bergman of mellowing with age. Saraband is brutal and unmerciful. And that is refreshing given today’s desperate need for whimsy onscreen. Trust me: Strindberg has nothing on Bergman. Yet, in the end, there is hope...bleak as it may seem...





Eric Weber's
Second Best

Opens May 27
The Angelika Film Center


Starring: Joe Pantoliano, Jennifer Tilly and Boyd Gaines

Reviewed by Ronit Feldman on May 24, 2005

In the 1990’s, Beck’s pop tune “Loser” was an anthem for the disillusioned, disenfranchised and down-in-the-dumps. For Elliot Kelman, the hapless protagonist of Second Best, it may as well have been his theme song. A failed publishing executive who now sells suits in his New Jersey hometown, Elliot can’t seem to get his life on track. His ex-wife remarried their former architect, his twenty-something son turns out to be gay, his mother lives in a nursing home—and he still relies on handouts from all three. Wallowing in self-pity, Elliot’s only sense of accomplishment comes from his self-published newsletter—a treatise on self-delusion—but even that effort goes nowhere, as his fear of rejection prevents him from submitting it for publication. Instead, he hires a high school kid to post his essays around town.

Elliot may have finally learned to accept his lot, but when his oldest friend Richard (who is now a big-shot Hollywood exec) comes to town, Elliot is forced to recognize his feeling of failure for what it is: jealousy. Will this truth push him over the edge?

Second Best won an official selection at Sundance Film Festival, a merit that the excellent cast certainly earned. Jennifer Tilly gives a standout performance as Carol (“…with an E. It’s French.”) the ditzy crossing guard who hops into to bed with Elliot after warning him that her husband, Bruno, won’t like it. Boyd Gaines is equally funny as Richard, the self-assured movie man who cringes when Elliot and his friends show up wearing T-shirts at an exclusive golf course. Joe Pantoliano, who plays Elliot, is believable, although his air of self-pity wears on the viewer. Some may wonder why Richard would ever be his friend in the first place.

Nevertheless, the script has some great comedic moments and an uplifting message for losers big and small.

468C 





©ROMANO/Stolen Childhoods
Eagle Pass, Texas
Ten year old American migrant worker cuts onions
instead of going to school.

Len Morris'
Stolen Childhoods: For 246 Million Children, Life is Nothing But Work
Opening May 20th
Quad Cinemas


Presented by Balcony Releasing, Directed by Len Morris, Co-Directed by Robin Romano, Narrated by Meryl Streep

Reviewed by Armistead Johnson

The subject matter of Stolen Childhoods isn’t easy stuff to watch…children forced to pick pesticide ridden tobacco, coffee and vegetables, children chained to looms, children kidnapped to work on fishing platforms or as prostitutes. And before you sigh and say, “I wish I could help, but I live in America, not ‘over there,’” be warned that it is happening here in our country as well (and most of the US footage they showed was shot in Texas…just something to think about as we all sing "Hail to the Chief").

This documentary is as critical as it is disturbing and should be required viewing for anyone who works in any branch of our government.

Stolen Childhoods is not a film that you will skip out of while whistling a tune, but you won’t run home and slit your wrists either; it offers practical solutions that every American has within his or her power to implement throughout his or her daily life.

In Home Depot the other day, I found myself looking at the carpets to make sure that they had the sticker saying that child labor had not been used… buying coffee, I looked for the “Fair Trade” sticker on the back… and buying cigarettes, well, I don’t buy cigarettes and thank God, because there is no cigarette that is child-labor-free (the tobacco companies are evil! Like James-Bond-villain, good-vs.-evil, borders-on-being-a-caricature EVIL!)

Anyone who has ever spent any money on any product should watch this film… Kathy Lee, you’ve been warned. www.stolenchildhoods.org.


Quad Cinemas, 34 West 13th Street


468C


Alejo Hernan Taube's
Una de Dos

16th Annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
June 10-23, 2005
Walter Reader Theater at Lincoln Center

Reviewed by Jessica Cogan

Most people remember the footage of the riots in Buenos Aires spurred by Argentina’s economic collapse in 2001. We can probably recall the city streets filled with demonstrators protesting the government and clashing with policemen on horseback. The longs lines extending out of grocery stores and banks. But what would the crisis look like from the burbs instead of the big city?

Una de Dos explores that question. The film, making its U.S. debut at the 2005 Human Rights International Film Festival, follows the fictional story of Martin (Jorge Sesan) and Pilar (Jimena Anganuzzi), two residents of a small rural town outside of Buenos Aires. Both are embroiled in their own personal struggles but are increasingly affected by the riotous events in the capital that they see 24/7 on the news channels. As the town feels the pinch of poverty, Martin remains flush, piquing the suspicions and admiration of his neighbors who suspect nothing legal pays so well.

While Martin enjoys being the big shot, he’s sensitive to the dangerous and fleeting nature of his situation. For her part, Pilar is less affected by the national crisis and more by her domestic one. Her mother, addicted to pills, is in a deep funk, exacerbated by the nonstop footage of violence in the streets. Only Pilar, her teenage daughter, is around to pick up the pieces. In the midst of the turmoil – both national and personal – Martin and Pilar find each other and some solace in a brief romance.

Filmmaker Alejo Hernan Taube began shooting documentary footage during the demonstrations in Buenos Aires and was unsure how he’d use it. About six months later, the story of Una de Dos took shape. Shot in lengthy scenes with brief, improvised dialogue and few professional actors (only four in the cast are pros; the rest are town residents), the film can be an excruciatingly slow watch. However, the flavor it conveys – alternatively desperate and hopeful, powerful and impotent, national and local – smacks of authenticity. And ultimately, Una de Dos shares an interesting slice of lives lived on the margin during a national upheaval.

For more information on the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival please visit: www.hrw.org/iff or www.filmlinc.com.


 

 

 

 

 

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