Saturday, August 29, 2009
“James' Journey to Jerusalem” is an amusing allegory about a young Christian idealist who is dispatched to the Holy Land by his tribal village. James hopes to learn and absorb as much as he can in the rarified religious air of Jerusalem, and ultimately return to his hometown and assume the role of village pastor. In James’ mind, Israel is still the biblical land of milk and honey and olive trees, but he receives a rude awakening immediately upon arrival at Ben Guirion airport, where he is detained by immigration authorites and handed over to a corrupt dim bulb of a policeman (Yak’akov Ronen Morad).
Through some shady dealing, James is then given over to Shimi (Salim Dau), who runs a sort of underground employment agency for undocumented workers. James’ gentle personality and sense of ethics soon earn him a high place in this rather squalid hierarchy, but he begins to fall prey to consumerism and to those who would take advantage of his innocence. Having learned some hard lessons, James decides to beat these hustlers at their own game, and a number of scenes follow that are both humorous and heartbreaking.
The film has become a festival favorite in recent years, and has been showered with an array of impressive awards. But at heart it is a very simple story, told at a jaunty and engaging pace. And while there are many narrative parallels to biblical tales, perhaps the film is best understood as a postmodern retelling of the Missing Years of Jesus.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
A middle class Italian family quietly struggles to cope with sudden and profound grief in Nanni Moretti’s forthright and affecting drama. Moretti wrote, directed and stars as a strict Freudian psychoanalyst whose comfortable world is shattered by the loss of his teenage son.
As the family work through their shock and sorrow, each member experiences transformative moments and makes important, life changing, decisions. But the film never strays into depressing histrionics or sentimentality, rather the grieving process is handled with truthfulness, clarity and sophistication. There are also moments of love, joy and humor as the film reaches it’s satisfying, perfect pitch conclusion. Highly recommended to fans of intelligent, realistic dramas about everyday life.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
This thoroughly whacked-out documentary takes place in July of 1970, when hippies, yippies, surfers, stoners and coke sluts descended on Maui for a Jimi Hendrix concert and along the way experienced alarming levels of groovy-ness. In the early going the film centers, if such a mess can actually center, on Pat Hartley, activist and good friend of Hendrix, and her circuitous route from LA to Hawaii. She eventually arrives at an opium den called The Rainbow Bridge Planetary Meditation Center or some such nonsense, where trust fund spiritual gurus fill her mind with absurd claptrap about "Space Brothers". Much of the film is devoted to this cosmic chin music, as various hipsters weigh in with their pharmaceutical-inspired opinions on a full spectrum of topics. As a reminder of how little progress the environmental movement has actually made, it was quite sad to this reviewer to hear conversations about the destruction of the Earth that sound as though they could have been recorded last week.
Finally, the long (and I do mean long) awaited concert begins, and its fairly brief, poorly shot and muddily recorded. Yet it has a surreal, mystical quality about it, as if we are witnessing the burial of a generational time capsule; its contents far beyond the abilities of any future society to fully understand. After the show, Jimi himself repairs to the Center where he expounds on a few theories of his own, and its clear from his rambling diatribe that he is under the full effect of the drugs that would kill him a mere 6 weeks later.
Despite all the unlawful substances floating around, "Rainbow Bridge" does have an appealing air of innocence about it and, one must admit, documents what must have been a helluva good time. Its a strangely interesting, if often incoherent, look at a time when we were much too mellow to care about things like interest rates. And in today's world, that's awfully refreshing.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Eric Rohmer's commentary on the perils of summer romances starts with the opening of a gate, as recent divorcee Marion (Airelle Dombasle) and her 14 year old cousin Pauline (Amanda Langlet) escape Paris for a brief holiday - brief by French standards anyway - at the shore near Mont Saint-Michelle.
Marion, who cuts a stunning figure in a swimsuit, soon finds herself pursued by a sensitive and earnest graduate student (Pascal Gregory) and by Henri (Feodor Atkine), a charming, globe-trotting sophisticate, who also happens to be a total dick. Budding Pauline, on the other hand, refuses to rush into womanhood, as she makes it clear that she will lose her innocence at a place and time of her choosing, despite her cousin's urging and questionable advice.
Pauline takes a refreshing responsibility for her own life and actions, and often emerges as the wisest and most mature of this motley band of vacationers. Fittingly, her harmless fling with a hormonal teenage blockhead (Simon de la Brosse) serves as a catalyst for a bit of deception that ultimately reveals the true natures of Marion and her suitors.
While there are a couple of talky scenes, the film is much less dialogue-driven than is typical for this director, and he keeps the pace lively and engaging without sacrificing the relaxing Rohmer ambiance with which we've grown accustomed. The film ends with the closing of that gate from scene one and the characters amusingly disperse; each of them having gotten exactly what they deserve.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Set in the steel and glass jungles of Singapore, this extraordinary film by Eric Khoo interweaves three simple, straightforward stories and by subtle, restrained application of the filmmaker’s art, transforms them into distinctive and haunting narratives. First we have the story of a portly security guard (Seet Keng Yew) who looks up from his plate of stewed pork long enough to fall madly in love with a leggy young businesswoman (Lynn Poh), and his attempts to express his unrequited and frankly hopeless affections are both hilarious and heartbreaking.
Then we have the story of two adorable teen age girls (Ezann Lee and Samantha Tan) who find that their new friendship soon advances into emotionally treacherous territory neither of them is really equipped to handle. Lastly we have the tale of a social worker (Lawrence Yong) who goes to great lengths to nurture a relationship between his grieving, recently widowed father (Chiew Sung Chin) and one of his clients; an amazing deaf-blind woman (Theresa Chan, who portrays herself).
Chan has risen beyond her daunting handicaps and, by sheer force of will, has scratched and clawed her way to lead a full and productive life. On the surface, the film is quiet, subtle and yes that awful term minimalist, yet the viewer will find it chock full of warmth, humor and, at times, staggering poignancy. Khoo’s directorial style has elements of both Ceylon and Weerasathakul, but with a bit more raw emotion in the mix, along with some surprising and highly effective comic relief. Khoo never telegraphs his punches and every scene in this film has a feeling of freshness and limitless possibility. Be With Me starts quite slowly and may be a bit confusing at first, but the patient viewer will be well rewarded by an absorbing story, and a film unlikely to be soon forgotten.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
In this sexy, sexed-up sex film, sexy young people have all manner of sex in sexy places: Sex on beaches, sex in parks, sex in rowboats and sex in sexy swimming pools. Sexy women have sexy sex with each other while an oversexed, sexy young man attempts to have sex with the opposite sex. There is a sexy subplot in which a seductively sexy salesgirl explores her sexuality by having salacious sex insatiably. Warning: this film has scenes of a sexual nature.
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Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Diehard Eric Rohmer fans, all twelve of us, will enjoy this light romance. Being a Rohmer film, it features lots of scenes of people sitting on sofas and talking about themselves at great length. But amid all the yakity-yak, an interesting story emerges that shows us how people can allow themselves to be manipulated out of curiosity and simple inertia.
Two young Parisian women (Anne Teyssedre and Florence Darel) meet at a very dull cocktail party and, through constant yammering, learn all about each other and become fast friends in the course of one evening. This expository sequence is quite drawn out and is a test of both the viewer’s patience and reading ability. But, as is usually the case, this is just Rohmer’s way of leisurely baiting his trap. Ultimately, Darel’s secret agenda is revealed and this starts a chain of small events that allows us to learn a bit more about the true natures of these characters. Not Rohmer’s best work, but a realistic, indeed almost voyeuristic, glimpse into the everyday lives of a network of Parisian friends.
Another enjoyable aspect is the presentation of 80s fashions. Teyssedre’s endless supply of blouses with NFL size shoulder pads and baggy, high-waisted pants is quite the hoot.