Some Kind of Monster
"The Great Metal Meltdown"

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Some Kind of Monster is darkly hysterical documentary about the band Metallica and their descent into group therapy/marriage counseling. Two filmmakers, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, followed the band during 2001-2003, shooting over twelve hundred hours of footage. The original premise was for the filmmakers to make a promo film for Metallica's new album, the now named "St. Anger". This album was Metallica's return to production after several years of hiatus from the release of 1997's "Reload". The promo evolved into a documentary, which turned out to not be about recording, after all. Instead we see a story about a multi-million-dollar corporation whose officers are forced to seek group therapy, so the business can survive and they can continue to reap the benefits of being Metallica-Of-The-90-Million-Albums.

When the filming began, the band had just lost their bassist, Jason Newsted. Jason was forced out when the band objected to Jason's working with another band, Echobrain. Jason had originally replaced bassists Cliff Burton, who died in a bus accident. Losing Jason was the catalyst for the band's decision to try to work out their differences, before they hire another guitarist and perhaps make the same mistakes. (continued)

Jonathan Demms's
The Manchurian Candidate

Reviewed by John Pelham

The original (1962) Manchurian became a classic because it was so politically controversial for it's time, but it didn't gain popularity until 1964. Although this 2004 version has been released right before election time, that timing doesn't match the mass paranoia that followed the assassination of one of America's most beloved presidents. Setting that caveat aside, Jonathan Demme's Manchurian Candidate is a great film. It has been re-imagined and modernized to appeal to today's audiences. What hasn't changed is the ultimate paranoia that has been instilled in the characters and consequently, the viewers.

With a cast like Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber,
it's hard to imagine that you wouldn't be watching performances that one may call a tour de force. Needless to say, you are. In a recent interview, Angela Lansbury (who was nominated for an Academy Award for the original) said that she was quite upset that they were re-making the film. Who wouldn't be if Meryl Streep was about to reprise your role. It's arguable whether or not you should leave a good thing alone. You know the old saying, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And this is normally true for movies. But ultimately, Demme does the original justice in a world of ever-changing ethics and technological advancements. If you don't catch it in theatres, it's definitely worth at least a rental. I think I may even add it to my DVD collection.

Maria Full of Grace

Joshua Marston's
Maria Full of Grace

Reviewed by John Pelham

I ate too much popcorn, plus I had to pee really badly. I thought I had problems. Try swallowing 62 pellets packed with heroin-pellets roughly the size of "Super-Absorbant O. B. Tampons"-and flying from Columbia to New York. Needless to say, Maria was full of more than just Grace.

Writer and director Joshua Marston's touching film, "based on 1,000 true stories," gives the audience a unique inside perspective on drug trafficking, as it follows Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno), a 17 year-old drug "mule" on her journey to the United States. A little bit of chance, quite a bit of money, and whole lot of desperation compels Maria to put her life at risk and accept this dangerous task. Sixty-two pellets and one extremely full stomach later, Maria is on the plane with a well-known colleague and a couple of others that she just met…all of them in the same situation. Marston does a fine job of keeping us in suspense as we watch the girls having to deal with a stomach full of drugs. It was made quite clear that if a pellet burst, it would result in a fatal overdose. Not to mention that if a pellet was missing after they were, um…passed over, the girls' families would pay the price. On the plane, one of the girls even had to re-swallow a pellet or two because she couldn't hold them in any longer. The plane lands, Maria and a couple others are randomly asked into questioning, some are luckier than others, and (one might declare) by the grace of God, Maria is sent on her way. But don't worry, more trouble ensues.

I hadn't realized this was a thriller, but I was on the edge of my seat throughout all of these scenes. Even when it's hard to imagine why someone would choose to do something like this, we feel sympathy for Maria. We want her to successfully smuggle into this country-not for the drugs, but for her safety.

But Maria's journey extends far beyond the point of her plane landing. There's an entirely different journey going on in Maria's mind throughout this movie, and by the end, we realize that the complete itinerary is all planned out. She has finally figured things out for herself. It leaves us feeling full of inspiration and hope for Maria…and alright, I guess you can also say, Grace.

Rural Route Film Festival

Galapagos Art Space
70 North 6th Street, Williamsburg

Reviewed by John Pelham

I felt like I was right back at home in the country when I sat down at the 2nd Annual Rural Route Film Brooklyn. With hay bales and farm paraphernalia amidst the barn-like theatre, this festival had found the perfect rural setting. The night opened with a few door prizes, like a stereotypical can of chewin' tobacco, which of course, the entire audience jumped to get their hands on.

The festival's opening selection was well chosen-that film being Westless American. With six minutes of beautiful footage covering six U.S. states and including several national and state parks, this short was one of the highlights. Don't question why this man was running cross-country (quite literally), but just think Forrest Gump…seems to be that "he just felt like run-ning."

Another highlight was the film Putnam, which featured some great camera work and classic visual techniques. The well-delivered story follows a Sheriff as he tries to find a guilty friend, that is, a friend guilty of murder. The director successfully gives us the notion of a very rural village with all of its lonely people going about their mundane business of everyday life…a perfect entry for this festival.

Sobre La Tierra (Upon the Earth), an Argentinian film, seemed to be the most didactic of the bunch. Two little boys fighting over one bag find resolution from a woman's wisdom at the conclusion of the eight minutes. The super 8 cinematography gives accurate representation of "the gritty nature of their argument."

Other films to round out the first showtime were: Pardon! Pardon! The Cajun Mardi Gras Chase, a passionate film about popular teenage tradition; Bright Eyes' "Lover I Don't Have to Love", another beautifully shot film, but this time, a karaoke video; El Pozo (The Pit), an abstract digging; and Hybrid, a biographical documentary which was sympathetic and personal, and intensified by its teary-eyed filmmaker sitting next to me.

If you missed it this time-no matter if it was the films or the chewin' tobacco that you were looking forward to-they'll be back again next year, that is, if they get enough of the necessary support.

All in all, the Rural Route Film Festival was entertaining. A wide range of films were chosen even within the boundaries of its "rural" guidelines-and even confined by the city limits of Brooklyn, this film festival was equipped to transport you back to the country. Ahh, there's no place like home.


Takeshi Kitano's

Japanese with English Subtitles
Opens Friday July 23, 2004

Flying Limbs! Squirting blood! Cross Dressing! Tap dancing!
What more could a girl want?

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Zatoichi, written and directed and acted by the very talented Takeshi Kitano, is a spoofy fun romp about a blind masseur who is both a skillful gambler and a deadly swordsman.   According to the press release, films about this blind swordsman ruled Japanese cinema from the 60's through the 80's.  Takeshi Kitano, who has worn many hats as a stand-up comic, actor and director, has now revived the story of Zatoichi, a monk-like nomad who travels the countryside carrying a cane which conceals a hidden sword.  

Here is the synopsis from the press release:

"Zatoichi is a 19th Century blind nomad who makes his living as a gambler and masseur.  However, behind this humble facade, he is a master swordsman gifted with a lightning-fast draw and breathtaking precision.

While wandering, Zatoichi discovers a remote mountain village at the mercy of Ginzo, a ruthless gang-leader.  Ginzo disposes of anyone who gets in his way, especially after hiring the mighty samurai ronin Hattori as a bodyguard.  After a raucous night of gambling in town, Zatoichi encounters a pair of geishas - as dangerous as they are beautiful - who've come to avenge their parents' murder at the hands of Ginzo.

As the paths of these and other colorful characters intertwine, Ginzo's henchmen are soon after Zatoichi.  With his legendary cane sword at his side, the stage is set for a riveting showdown."

This story is both ancient and modern, a myth populated by quirky characters like a cross-dressing geisha who enjoys a dip in a communal hot tub.  Blood squirts and dismembered arms and legs fly but even the most sanguine scenes are hysterically funny, so who cares?  It doesn't seem real, and that is the charm. Bravo

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