Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rolling Family (2004) ****


This rough-hewn Argentinean import is a slaphappy hybrid of Little Miss Sunshine and The Wages of Fear. Delightfully goofy from start to finish, the film chronicles an ill advised road trip of 1200 misadventure-filled kilometers from Buenos Aires to the remote hinterlands of Misiones. Family matriarch Emilia (Graciana Chironi), an 83 year-old drama queen, has received an invitation to a family wedding where she is to be maid of honor. Wishing to see her birthplace one more time, she summons her daughters and in-laws and grandchildren, who all enthusiastically agree to accompany her.


This loving, close-knit family is not only prone to hysterics; they are also appallingly cheap. Son-in-law Matias (Nicholas Lopez) just happens to have a home made camper, built on a 1958 Chevy pick-up truck, and before long a dozen energetic members of Emilia’s extended family cram into the rusting heap until every sloppy weld and hastily applied rivet threatens to rupture. Amid a toxic cloud of exhaust fumes, the sagging contraption sets out on the highway, where a strange and wacky world of exotic scenery, family bickering and dreadful humidity await it.


The idea of seeing Argentina from a Chevrolet soon begins to lose its luster, as old Emilia intersperses her periods of aggressive bossiness with fits of self pity and occasional imaginary heart attacks. As the driver, Matias labors to maintain the illusion that he is in charge of the situation, but the rivers of sweat cascading down his paunchy belly tell us otherwise. Meanwhile back in the camper, all manner of maladies beset the brood, including toothaches, squalling babies, lost puppies and pubescent cousins discovering the secret joys of sexual exploration. And other issues arise, including the expected ones from taking an overburdened, 50 year-old vehicle on a long trip into the steamy jungle.


Shot documentary style, the film appears to have been loosely scripted with plenty of room for improvisation. Director Pablo Trapero scores big with this approach. He captures the family’s complex emotional layers and makes them feel like genuine products from decades of shared history. It doesn’t hurt that he had the courage to cast family members and other non-professionals in key roles, and the risk paid off. The production’s lack of polish infuses every scene with a slight off-kilter dynamic that somehow manages to be both deeply familiar and strangely intriguing.


Those of us who have taken the occasional family road trip from hell will know all too well the daffy plight of Rolling Family, and revel in its unique silliness. And while we wouldn’t want to take part in such a cockeyed journey, we have to admire this family’s resilience and determination to not be undone by their self-inflicted fallacies and foibles.

IMDb

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Rolling Family (2004) ****


This rough-hewn Argentinean import is a slaphappy hybrid of Little Miss Sunshine and The Wages of Fear. Delightfully goofy from start to finish, the film chronicles an ill advised road trip of 1200 misadventure-filled kilometers from Buenos Aires to the remote hinterlands of Misiones. Family matriarch Emilia (Graciana Chironi), an 83 year-old drama queen, has received an invitation to a family wedding where she is to be maid of honor. Wishing to see her birthplace one more time, she summons her daughters and in-laws and grandchildren, who all enthusiastically agree to accompany her.


This loving, close-knit family is not only prone to hysterics; they are also appallingly cheap. Son-in-law Matias (Nicholas Lopez) just happens to have a home made camper, built on a 1958 Chevy pick-up truck, and before long a dozen energetic members of Emilia’s extended family cram into the rusting heap until every sloppy weld and hastily applied rivet threatens to rupture. Amid a toxic cloud of exhaust fumes, the sagging contraption sets out on the highway, where a strange and wacky world of exotic scenery, family bickering and dreadful humidity await it.


The idea of seeing Argentina from a Chevrolet soon begins to lose its luster, as old Emilia intersperses her periods of aggressive bossiness with fits of self pity and occasional imaginary heart attacks. As the driver, Matias labors to maintain the illusion that he is in charge of the situation, but the rivers of sweat cascading down his paunchy belly tell us otherwise. Meanwhile back in the camper, all manner of maladies beset the brood, including toothaches, squalling babies, lost puppies and pubescent cousins discovering the secret joys of sexual exploration. And other issues arise, including the expected ones from taking an overburdened, 50 year-old vehicle on a long trip into the steamy jungle.


Shot documentary style, the film appears to have been loosely scripted with plenty of room for improvisation. Director Pablo Trapero scores big with this approach. He captures the family’s complex emotional layers and makes them feel like genuine products from decades of shared history. It doesn’t hurt that he had the courage to cast family members and other non-professionals in key roles, and the risk paid off. The production’s lack of polish infuses every scene with a slight off-kilter dynamic that somehow manages to be both deeply familiar and strangely intriguing.


Those of us who have taken the occasional family road trip from hell will know all too well the daffy plight of Rolling Family, and revel in its unique silliness. And while we wouldn’t want to take part in such a cockeyed journey, we have to admire this family’s resilience and determination to not be undone by their self-inflicted fallacies and foibles.

IMDb

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Roads to Koktebel (2003)**


If you’re one of those people who’s feeling a little too happy these days - and overcome with guilt about it - you may want to check out this Russian import; a crabby, sour film guaranteed to bring you back down to the emotional dumps. For a touch over 90 minutes we get to watch a father (Igor Chernavitch ) and his 11 year old son (Gleb Puskapalis ) trudge through black mud, subsist on rotten apples, perform menial jobs for mentally unbalanced individuals and generally wallow in a state of sullen numbness. And if that’s not depressing enough, for much of the film it’s raining.


Our heroes are ostensibly heading to a resort area on the Black Sea, but financial hardship has forced to pair to make their way on foot and leap hobo-style onto passing freight trains. Over countless miles of barren farmland they travel, and with each grind of the train wheels the son becomes more disillusioned and impatient. But the Dad, a former aerospace engineer laid low by his love for vodka, is in no hurry. Along the way he dawdles with a roofing job on a rickety dacha, and then finds the rural clinic of a lonely female doctor with a seductive bedside manner (Vera Sandrykina ) just too therapeutic to leave.


Boris Klebinov and Alexei Popogrebsky are billed as co-writers and co-directors – creating a film this depressing would just be too much for one person – and they prove their mastery at capturing bleak environments. The grey skies and bare trees are rendered with a chilling dankness that seeps into the viewer’s bones. But the film offers no relief from the brutal wintry textures and very little in the way of character development. Things start off bleakly for the father and son, then proceed to get steadily worse.


Early on, the directors take great pains to establish the boy’s special ability to visualize landscapes from an aerial perspective. But this intriguing bit of mysticism is never really advanced and is eventually abandoned for a more generic flight motif, as the boy becomes fascinated with the gliding ability of the albatross. Whenever things get dull, which is often, Klebinov and Popogrebsky drag out this tired metaphor and the son begins to daydream about seabirds and rising air currents. And audiences begin to dream about the film mercifully ending.


Great films have been made from minimalist materials, but Roads to Koktebel is not one of them. And if the unrelenting dreariness isn’t bad enough, the film’s coda features a shocking and thoroughly unnecessary act of animal cruelty, as the filmmakers continue to sell their ham-fisted character motivations long after we’ve stopped buying. Here Klebinov and Popogrebsky have hit the trifecta; their film manages to bore, depress and ultimately disgust.

IMDb

Add to Queue

Roads to Koktebel (2003)**


If you’re one of those people who’s feeling a little too happy these days - and overcome with guilt about it - you may want to check out this Russian import; a crabby, sour film guaranteed to bring you back down to the emotional dumps. For a touch over 90 minutes we get to watch a father (Igor Chernavitch ) and his 11 year old son (Gleb Puskapalis ) trudge through black mud, subsist on rotten apples, perform menial jobs for mentally unbalanced individuals and generally wallow in a state of sullen numbness. And if that’s not depressing enough, for much of the film it’s raining.


Our heroes are ostensibly heading to a resort area on the Black Sea, but financial hardship has forced to pair to make their way on foot and leap hobo-style onto passing freight trains. Over countless miles of barren farmland they travel, and with each grind of the train wheels the son becomes more disillusioned and impatient. But the Dad, a former aerospace engineer laid low by his love for vodka, is in no hurry. Along the way he dawdles with a roofing job on a rickety dacha, and then finds the rural clinic of a lonely female doctor with a seductive bedside manner (Vera Sandrykina ) just too therapeutic to leave.


Boris Klebinov and Alexei Popogrebsky are billed as co-writers and co-directors – creating a film this depressing would just be too much for one person – and they prove their mastery at capturing bleak environments. The grey skies and bare trees are rendered with a chilling dankness that seeps into the viewer’s bones. But the film offers no relief from the brutal wintry textures and very little in the way of character development. Things start off bleakly for the father and son, then proceed to get steadily worse.


Early on, the directors take great pains to establish the boy’s special ability to visualize landscapes from an aerial perspective. But this intriguing bit of mysticism is never really advanced and is eventually abandoned for a more generic flight motif, as the boy becomes fascinated with the gliding ability of the albatross. Whenever things get dull, which is often, Klebinov and Popogrebsky drag out this tired metaphor and the son begins to daydream about seabirds and rising air currents. And audiences begin to dream about the film mercifully ending.


Great films have been made from minimalist materials, but Roads to Koktebel is not one of them. And if the unrelenting dreariness isn’t bad enough, the film’s coda features a shocking and thoroughly unnecessary act of animal cruelty, as the filmmakers continue to sell their ham-fisted character motivations long after we’ve stopped buying. Here Klebinov and Popogrebsky have hit the trifecta; their film manages to bore, depress and ultimately disgust.

IMDb

Add to Queue

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Man From the Embassy (2007)****


Burghart Klaussner, who you may remember as the stern, icy preacher from Haneke’s The White Ribbon, shows a softer, more vulnerable side in this quietly haunting character study. Klaussner carries the film on his broad, stocky shoulders and, despite the burden, creates a richly complex character that somehow becomes more interesting and intriguing the more we learn about him.

Klaussner plays Herbert, a career German diplomat, who finds himself stationed in Tbilisi, Georgia – a seedy town that, at least in this film, resembles Gary, Indiana surrounded by the scenic beauty of Colorado. Herbert spends his days attending rinky-dink, hastily arranged cultural events followed by numbingly dull meetings in an attempt to broker a foreign aid loan to Georgia from the World Bank. His one enjoyment consists of daily trips to Tbilisi’s bustling farmer’s market, where he scrutinizes apples and carrots with the intensity of an appraiser of priceless antiques.


Herbert may be a man of the world, but he seems oddly disconnected from it. In his lonely apartment, he goes through the rituals of a confirmed bachelor – outside shoes kicked off immediately upon arrival and neatly placed on a mat by the door, evenings spent on the sofa immersed in video games and secret visits from a married coworker for a bit of impromptu and meaningless sex. Safe in his ordered warren, Herbert remains aloof from the hustlers and hooligans who roam the rough-edged streets below.

At the market one day, Herbert is victimized by a clumsy young pickpocket, a 12 year-old tomboy named Sashka (Lika Martinova). While the crime is quickly foiled, Herbert’s reaction is more curiosity than outrage. Slowly he begins to feel a sense of connection with this at-risk ragamuffin, whose home life consists of a squalid hovel populated by junkies and prostitutes. Herbert’s protective instincts emerge and soon the confused and reluctant Sashka is brought into his home as a virtual ward, where Herbert dutifully leaves breakfast and clean clothes out for her every morning prior to departing for work.


But this film is no revamp of The Blind Side or My Fair Lady, as director Dito Tsintsadze refrains from spelling out the exact terms of this unusual relationship. Despite the intimacy we feel with Klaussner’s character, it is difficult to say that we actually know him. As he and Martinova interact in increasingly casual ways, a tension begins to fill the cloistered air of Herbert’s flat, as if one misstep could lead to tragic results. When the neighbors – and a couple of corrupt cops- begin unsavory speculation as to just what is going on, there are times when the audience naggingly wonders as well.


Tsintsadze establishes his thesis of characters at a crossroads with such impressive subtlety it only become apparent at the film’s conclusion. Sashka is ready to leave childish things behind and become a beautiful young woman, while Herbert is questioning the value of his life’s work. After years of exercising his do-gooder impulses on a macro level, with unsatisfying results, he has decided to intervene directly in an individual’s life as a self appointed force for good. While his motives may be laudable, Herbert has much to learn and many instinctual snares to untangle, while young Sashka is faced with a dauntingly complex emotional puzzle. A puzzle that, like Herbert’s video game, can bewilder and torment even the most experienced player.

IMDb

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The Man From the Embassy (2007)****


Burghart Klaussner, who you may remember as the stern, icy preacher from Haneke’s The White Ribbon, shows a softer, more vulnerable side in this quietly haunting character study. Klaussner carries the film on his broad, stocky shoulders and, despite the burden, creates a richly complex character that somehow becomes more interesting and intriguing the more we learn about him.

Klaussner plays Herbert, a career German diplomat, who finds himself stationed in Tbilisi, Georgia – a seedy town that, at least in this film, resembles Gary, Indiana surrounded by the scenic beauty of Colorado. Herbert spends his days attending rinky-dink, hastily arranged cultural events followed by numbingly dull meetings in an attempt to broker a foreign aid loan to Georgia from the World Bank. His one enjoyment consists of daily trips to Tbilisi’s bustling farmer’s market, where he scrutinizes apples and carrots with the intensity of an appraiser of priceless antiques.


Herbert may be a man of the world, but he seems oddly disconnected from it. In his lonely apartment, he goes through the rituals of a confirmed bachelor – outside shoes kicked off immediately upon arrival and neatly placed on a mat by the door, evenings spent on the sofa immersed in video games and secret visits from a married coworker for a bit of impromptu and meaningless sex. Safe in his ordered warren, Herbert remains aloof from the hustlers and hooligans who roam the rough-edged streets below.

At the market one day, Herbert is victimized by a clumsy young pickpocket, a 12 year-old tomboy named Sashka (Lika Martinova). While the crime is quickly foiled, Herbert’s reaction is more curiosity than outrage. Slowly he begins to feel a sense of connection with this at-risk ragamuffin, whose home life consists of a squalid hovel populated by junkies and prostitutes. Herbert’s protective instincts emerge and soon the confused and reluctant Sashka is brought into his home as a virtual ward, where Herbert dutifully leaves breakfast and clean clothes out for her every morning prior to departing for work.


But this film is no revamp of The Blind Side or My Fair Lady, as director Dito Tsintsadze refrains from spelling out the exact terms of this unusual relationship. Despite the intimacy we feel with Klaussner’s character, it is difficult to say that we actually know him. As he and Martinova interact in increasingly casual ways, a tension begins to fill the cloistered air of Herbert’s flat, as if one misstep could lead to tragic results. When the neighbors – and a couple of corrupt cops- begin unsavory speculation as to just what is going on, there are times when the audience naggingly wonders as well.


Tsintsadze establishes his thesis of characters at a crossroads with such impressive subtlety it only become apparent at the film’s conclusion. Sashka is ready to leave childish things behind and become a beautiful young woman, while Herbert is questioning the value of his life’s work. After years of exercising his do-gooder impulses on a macro level, with unsatisfying results, he has decided to intervene directly in an individual’s life as a self appointed force for good. While his motives may be laudable, Herbert has much to learn and many instinctual snares to untangle, while young Sashka is faced with a dauntingly complex emotional puzzle. A puzzle that, like Herbert’s video game, can bewilder and torment even the most experienced player.

IMDb

Save to Queue

Friday, October 15, 2010

Advise and Consent (1962)****


Advise and Consent is a film that takes itself, its subject and its audience very seriously. It purports to show the backroom wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the august façade of the US Senate, back when that institution was relevant, before it was taken over by its current batch of lobbyist toadies. The film features an extraordinary cast, including some of Hollywood’s most popular leading men (Walter Pidgeon, Henry Fonda, and Charles Laughton), sprinkled liberally with the best of the B list (Franchot Tone, Lew Ayres, and a chillingly unbalanced Burgess Meredith). Even young Betty White gets into the act and her turn as a spunky Senator from Kansas is brief, but she milks every drop out of the scene.


Filmed on location in Washington DC, the film’s stagings have the tingle of authenticity, and in many ways lift the picture beyond the realm of a typical Poli-Noir potboiler. The actual Senate chamber is utilized in a few scenes, as well as the underground capital trolley, which seems to be the venue where most of the deal making is actually done - the Senators comically crowded onto the trams like an outsized golfing party too cheap to spring for a second cart. The unglamorous surroundings incite other moments of accidental humor. The sight of elegant Walter Pidgeon carrying a cafeteria tray seems cosmically wrong, like an image of Fred Astair in boxer shorts chugging a beer.


But that is the film’s only hint of lightness, as director Otto Preminger makes it quite clear that writing the nation’s laws is a grim and, as the idealistic Senator from Utah (Don Murray) is about to find out, destructive business. When the ailing POTUS (Franchot Tone) nominates an ivory tower egghead (Henry Fonda) for Secretary of State, the majority leader (Pidgeon) knows he is in for a one hell of a confirmation fight. The nomination does not sit well with Dixiecrat Senator Cooley (the delightfully smarmy Laughton), who busies himself digging up all manner of embarrassing detail from Fonda’s younger days. Despite Fonda’s flag-draped explanations, the revelations raise serious questions in the mind of committee chairman Murray who, in true Senatorial style, elects to kill the nomination by simply ignoring it.


But here the film takes a surprising twist – surprising both in terms of story and its assumption of audience sophistication – and Murray finds himself the target of pushback from Fonda’s shadowy supporters. The handsome Utah Senator has some shocking closet skeletons as well and the film is commendably frank in its depiction of the extorters and their unique lifestyles. While the true measure of Murray’s predicament is delivered in a sort of cloying code – and even that was pushing the era’s moral envelope - the disclosure must have been stunning to audiences bathed in the innocent sunlight of 1962. The film’s denouement is a bit of a let down; a little too tidy and convenient considering all the sleazy fill dirt that’s been dumped on the Capitol dome.


Advise and Consent cleverly conceals a sophisticated and streetwise story in a respect for governmental institutions that seems quite naïve today. While Walter Pidgeon may overindulge in brandy and keep secret company with an attractive widow (Gene Tierney), no one can doubt this Majority Leader’s solemn sense of duty and fair play. Laughton’s Cooley may be a sleazeball marinated in old South racism, but he isn’t willing to inflict permanent damage to the nation simply to prove an ideological point. The film features a number of tragedies, but the fact that today’s audience has little reason to find these honorable politicians believable is by far the most painful one.

IMDb

Add to Queue

Advise and Consent (1962)****


Advise and Consent is a film that takes itself, its subject and its audience very seriously. It purports to show the backroom wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the august façade of the US Senate, back when that institution was relevant, before it was taken over by its current batch of lobbyist toadies. The film features an extraordinary cast, including some of Hollywood’s most popular leading men (Walter Pidgeon, Henry Fonda, and Charles Laughton), sprinkled liberally with the best of the B list (Franchot Tone, Lew Ayres, and a chillingly unbalanced Burgess Meredith). Even young Betty White gets into the act and her turn as a spunky Senator from Kansas is brief, but she milks every drop out of the scene.


Filmed on location in Washington DC, the film’s stagings have the tingle of authenticity, and in many ways lift the picture beyond the realm of a typical Poli-Noir potboiler. The actual Senate chamber is utilized in a few scenes, as well as the underground capital trolley, which seems to be the venue where most of the deal making is actually done - the Senators comically crowded onto the trams like an outsized golfing party too cheap to spring for a second cart. The unglamorous surroundings incite other moments of accidental humor. The sight of elegant Walter Pidgeon carrying a cafeteria tray seems cosmically wrong, like an image of Fred Astair in boxer shorts chugging a beer.


But that is the film’s only hint of lightness, as director Otto Preminger makes it quite clear that writing the nation’s laws is a grim and, as the idealistic Senator from Utah (Don Murray) is about to find out, destructive business. When the ailing POTUS (Franchot Tone) nominates an ivory tower egghead (Henry Fonda) for Secretary of State, the majority leader (Pidgeon) knows he is in for a one hell of a confirmation fight. The nomination does not sit well with Dixiecrat Senator Cooley (the delightfully smarmy Laughton), who busies himself digging up all manner of embarrassing detail from Fonda’s younger days. Despite Fonda’s flag-draped explanations, the revelations raise serious questions in the mind of committee chairman Murray who, in true Senatorial style, elects to kill the nomination by simply ignoring it.


But here the film takes a surprising twist – surprising both in terms of story and its assumption of audience sophistication – and Murray finds himself the target of pushback from Fonda’s shadowy supporters. The handsome Utah Senator has some shocking closet skeletons as well and the film is commendably frank in its depiction of the extorters and their unique lifestyles. While the true measure of Murray’s predicament is delivered in a sort of cloying code – and even that was pushing the era’s moral envelope - the disclosure must have been stunning to audiences bathed in the innocent sunlight of 1962. The film’s denouement is a bit of a let down; a little too tidy and convenient considering all the sleazy fill dirt that’s been dumped on the Capitol dome.


Advise and Consent cleverly conceals a sophisticated and streetwise story in a respect for governmental institutions that seems quite naïve today. While Walter Pidgeon may overindulge in brandy and keep secret company with an attractive widow (Gene Tierney), no one can doubt this Majority Leader’s solemn sense of duty and fair play. Laughton’s Cooley may be a sleazeball marinated in old South racism, but he isn’t willing to inflict permanent damage to the nation simply to prove an ideological point. The film features a number of tragedies, but the fact that today’s audience has little reason to find these honorable politicians believable is by far the most painful one.

IMDb

Add to Queue

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bunchy's Scrapbook: Lunchboxes

The metal lunchboxes of the 60s & 70s were utilitarian works of art.
Some were based on popular movies and TV shows:









Superheroes were big


So were Cowboys




I always prefered the generic space travel ones for some reason




I used to wonder if they had PBJs on Mars...






10 Years of The Savages

The Savages struck a vibrant chord with me when it was first released 10 years ago. It’s all about a pair of 40-ish siblings...