Archive for the Film Reviews Category

“White Light, Black Rain” (2007) Film Review

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , on December 1, 2008 by foggyfirstframes

Boy carrying baby after hiroshima attack.

Taken from the film 'White Light, Black Rain'

White Light, Black Rain (2007)

It appears that yet again, an independent film that I’ve never heard of has struck me straight down to the heart. Through to my bones, all the way down and even enveloping my emotions, I was sucked into this film. It was heart wrenching, but yet hopeful at the same time. It is hopeful in that this won’t ever happen again; should not happen ever again. The destruction that occurred in both Nagasaki and Hiroshima has gone untold until now. I never learned about this in grade school. I never knew the magnitude in this all but too famous bomb. Its effects are far reaching, and are still being felt today by the many survivors.

The surface of this film is largely the pure, raw emotion that is delivered by these survivors and their testimonies. The use of their own art was very effective at giving us the horrible imagery that they have witnessed. Then add onto that the archival footage and you get an-all-too-clear picture at what occurred on those days. It wasn’t even in one specific section of the movie, it kept happening throughout; almost like it was reminding you over and over at what this bomb did. When I learned about this whole fiasco in school, it was taught that the bomb just vaporized people instantly. But this movie reflected clearly that the majority of people suffered in the most inhumane way possible. So many stories stand out to me; the man who killed two people by giving them water; a boy who woke up to a skew of dead bodies all around him; a girl who had to turn away from a women with a headless baby in her arms. It sounded like an obscene horror film. I will not shy away and say that this movie didn’t make me emotional. I can’t say that I cried, but I certainly felt like it. Although the movie was quite sensationalist, I really thought that it was crucial for the film.

Drawing from a survivor who witnessed the nuclear bomb.

Drawing from a survivor who witnessed the nuclear bomb.

Another part of the film that went a bit deeper was the whole argument of whether or not the bomb should have been dropped. The director Okazaki in an interview with The Japan Times said, “(I’m tired of the political debate surrounding the dropping of the atomic bombs.) It was just this one day with no connection to the rest of the war. And the Americans tell it another way, a very defensive way, and they cite their statistics about why it was necessary. But this discussion doesn’t get anywhere; neither side meets the other in any way (The Japan Times). He left this whole argument out, and just told the story. It’s quite interesting because I found myself agreeing with the Japan side of the argument naturally, even though there really was no ‘debate.’ I especially remember thinking cynical thoughts when an American man said (roughly), “I’ve never had a bad dream about this particular event; in fact I don’t think I’ve ever had a nightmare.” First off, that’s completely untrue. Every single person has bad dreams and the fact that he doesn’t feel any emotional connection to it is atrocious. I especially was offended when one of them was smiling as he was discussing his experience as if it was a cheery subject. I’m glad that I walked away from the film feeling this animosity towards the Americans who were involved with the atomic bombs. The film was obviously completely neutral, but the fact that they showed the show about the pilot and Hiroshima victim making amends. Although touching, I didn’t see that same emotion from the other Americans involved with the bomb.

There were a couple of interesting techniques used through the film that I felt were used extremely well. One that stands out immensely was the memorial performance being put on by some artists. Along with a painter who was painting a portrayal of what the bomb looked like, there was a trumpeter playing. It was described in a quote,”sad waning of trumpets [that] enlighten the souls that have passed on and memorializes what they stood for” (IMDB). Another theme that kept coming up was what Japan urban areas looked and felt like. It was a great start to the documentary to show how most young people don’t really know about the two bombs. The shots of the survivors standing in the middle of crowded areas were outstanding to me. It almost portrayed the dichotomy of their lives versus the average lives of the people their today. An amazing thing that I didn’t know until I witnessed this film was how the survivors got treated horribly. Almost like a plague victim, they were shunned away and avoided. Not only did they have to live with their grotesque scars, but they had to live with the shame of not being a part of society ever again. As mentioned before, I very much enjoyed how the use of the survivor’s art was used. It truly represented what it was like in its own way, rather than an artist’s interpretation.

I’m glad that I got to see this movie because of how powerful an impact it has made on me. The whole Japan side of the story has been lost in terms of formal education, and this movie makes up for it. If I wanted to teach anyone about this event, this is the movie that I would have them watch. Not only does it explain everything in a factual neutral way, but the over lying message is: Don’t let this happen again! These survivors have gone through so much pain and turmoil already, let them be the last ones of our time.

Bibliography

Fazio, Giovanni . “Last words on hell from the skies.” The Japan Times. 02 Aug 2007. The Japan Times Ltd. 12 Nov 2008 <http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/ff20070802r1.html&gt;.

Jamrite, “Powerful and heart wrenching documentary,.” Internet Movie Database. 08 Aug 2007. IMDb.com, Inc.. 12 Nov 2008 <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0911010/&gt;.

“The Spirit of the Marathon”

Posted in Film Reviews, Uncategorized on November 24, 2008 by foggyfirstframes

 “The Spirit of the Marathon”

daniel-njenga1

            When it comes to documentaries there are those that will put you to sleep with facts and numbers and old professors and then there are those that will motivate you to go out and do something good.  Well, “The Spirit of the Marathon”(2008) was the latter.  After leaving the Roxie Theatre Monday night I wanted to run a marathon, and I hate running!  I was ready to put on my Nikes and run.

            Out of all of the movies that we have seen this year I have to say that “The Spirit of the Marathon” was by far my favorite and most motivating.  Writer Gary Goldstein said in an article in the LA Times, “Even if you’ve never run for anything but a bus, you’ll likely get swept up in this movie’s inspiring journey of physical endurance and personal achievement”(Goldstein).  This is exactly how I felt sitting in the theatre, I was anxious to leave because I wanted to go run.  There is something about watching others triumph and succeed in their own way that makes others want to do the same.  And for a documentary like this one, I think that the goal is to make the audience feel and connect with the people, in this case the runners from all backgrounds.  I may not have anything in common with any of these people, yet I saw my own struggles with running through them. 

I personally hate to run, I actually despise the sport, but I do it to stay in shape.  However, after seeing this film I got on the treadmill Tuesday morning before my 9am class and ran for 20 minutes, and it felt good.  I thought of the different struggles that each of the six runners had in the film and I thought of my own with my shin splints which has prevented me from running as much as I should.  My shins did not hurt that day, I like to think that maybe the movie did that for me, it blocked out my pain and struggle so that I could get that “runner’s high” that they spoke of in the film.

Finally, on to the actual film, I am no expert on documentaries but “The Spirit of the Marathon” was a very well put together film to me.  The way that the events unfolded was very understandable and I was never once confused.  Robert Koehler said in Variety, “Director Jon Dunham fluidly folds a mini-history of the marathon inside his multi-character portrait of a widely diverse sextet”(Koehler).  This history that Dunham added into his film was very informative and really helped his viewers that have never paid attention to marathons in the past, like me.  He did a very good job of tying in the story about women and marathons and the fear that their uterus might fall out.  This was not only informative but very amusing.  He did this several times, highlighting runners from Kenya and their dominance in the sport.

The camera work was very good as well.  There were a lot of good shots that Dunham got from networks covering the marathon which helped, but by putting those shots in the film was very brilliant.  For example one of my favorite was the overhead shot of the thousands of runners behind the starting line.  It was very astonishing to me how many athletes were running in that marathon and like one of the people said in the movie, they are all “going through the same struggle at the same time, it is not like that in any other sport”.  It was inspiring to watch so many people fight against all sanity and keep going to finish the race.  I actually had a tears in my eyes when Deena Kastor won the women’s race and when first time marathon runner Leah Caille finished despite how badly her knees hurt. 

In conclusion, I like the move, a lot!  I have never really been a big fan of documentaries, mostly because I associate them with science and boring films that I had to watch in government, but now I think I will invest a lot more time in them.  I hope to go to DocFest next year, even though I won’t have to, so that I can see what other new and exciting documentaries have been made.  And maybe someday I’ll run in a marathon too, not so likely, but I’ll start small 2 miles on the treadmill one day 26.2 miles in Chicago the next.  The sky is the limit.

Bibliography

Goldstein, Gary. “Featured Press Articles.” Spirit of the Marathon. 24 Jan. 2008. 28 Oct. 2008 <http://www.marathonmovie.com/pr_latimes.html&gt;.

Koehler, Robert. “Featured Press Articles.” Spirit of the Marathon. 1 Sept. 2008. 28 Oct. 2008 <http://www.marathonmovie.com/pr_variety.html&gt;.

 

 

 

Docfest: Chasing The Devil Review

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , on November 20, 2008 by foggyfirstframes

chasingthedevil

The film Chasing The Devil (2008), chronicles the “ex-gay” movement, which claims that people can change their sexual orientation through counseling and faith. While the documentary attempts to claim that it is only attempting to present the facts, “We’ve done our best to honestly present the stories we found during the course of or filming” (Hussung), the facts generally tend to lean in the direction of the left. That is to say I went into the film with notion that the entire movement was ridiculous, and left with my views more or less reaffirmed.

            With the question of gay marriage forever lingering unanswered in the air, the issue of whether a person can truly change his or her sexual desires seems particularly relevant. While some ministers of the ex-gay movement claim that they have transformed their homosexual inclinations into heterosexual longings (one woman going as far as to claim that she was possessed by a demon) being “straight” still remains a life-long struggle. As producer Bill Hussung stated, “We didn’t interview people who claimed to be 100% cured of their homosexuality” (Throckmorton). These repressed desires and the self-loathing associated with being attracted to someone of the same sex, leads to further complications and issues in the lives of many who attempt to become ex-gays.

            The film also briefly addresses the issue of biology and homosexuality, or whether people are just born gay. Leaders of the ex-gay movement assert that it’s “impossible” for people to be born gay, and it is in reality just a result of environmental factors. This perception that homosexuality can be solely attributed to environmental factors is the entire basis for the ex-gay movement; biological “peculiarities” cannot be changed but environmental ones can be “fixed.”

            While I found the subject matter of the film highly relevant in today’s society, the cinematography came across as amateur at times (I’m referring to amateur in the shaky camera sense versus the ‘unspoiled’ sense we addressed in class). The cameraman also employed an odd use close ups in some of the interviews, such as zooming in on one man’s crotch when he was speaking… These attempts at artistic filmmaking techniques fell flat, and hindered the film.

            Chasing the Devil questions a disturbing movement in America, and the effects it has on the people involved. While some appear able to harness their desires and feelings, others take a different path to become “ex-gay survivors.” Ultimately compassion and acceptance emerge as the themes the filmmakers urge us to adopt, rather than hatefulness and intolerance.

– Emily Ballaine

“The Cockettes”

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , on October 28, 2008 by foggyfirstframes

 “The Cockettes”

Long hair, bright sequins, and drag queens; not what I expected when I popped in the DVD “The Cockettes”(2002).  Before the film even started there were men dressed as women and women with beards running around the screen and I wondered for a second if I had gotten the right film.  After last weeks adventure through the 1960s pornography I was prepared for anything, but drag queens? I didn’t see that one coming.  Well, even though the documentary was filled with unexpected nudity the film interested me and taught me more about San Francisco culture. 

I had never thought about where drag queens came from, or how they originated and became so popular in San Francisco, where gay pride is an important part of the city.  “The Cockettes” told the history of the dance troupe The Cockettes, and also an insight into the gay community of the 1960s and early ‘70s.  The film brought back to life a time in this city’s history that has been gone for quite some time now.  Directors Bill Weber, and David Weissman did a great job of compiling both recent footage of The Cockettes and old footage.  In a review for the Los Angeles Times, writer Kenneth Turan said, “[The directors] have used excellent interviews and remarkable vintage footage to illuminate a corner of half-forgotten countercultural history”(Turan).  I was shocked to find out that the footage they used was real vintage footage from the 1960s and ‘70s, giving the audience a chance to step back into the past to see a culture they are unfamiliar with.  And although some of the footage is very raw, it is still intriguing and has a history behind it.  The unrehearsed dialog is what came to define The Cockettes.  The long lashes and the nudity is what they did, along with many drugs that ended up killing many of the members along with the terrible AIDS epidemic.  Furthermore, it was a very nice change of pace at the end of the film when the former members took a moment to mention those that had lost their lives to either drugs or AIDS.

Also, a strong move by Weber and Weissman was getting former Cockettes to come back and tell their story.  Turan said, “[The filmmakers] have done a heroic job of getting the surviving Cockettes on film”(Turan).  By having the former Cockettes narrate the film, the documentary did not feel like a documentary, rather a few old friends getting together after ten years to tell their psychedelic story to their children.  The film became very personal because of this and a connection between audience and narrator was formed.  Also, it was very interesting to compare the older version to the younger and freer version of each of the narrators.  Reporter, A.O. Scott wrote in the New York Times, “It is touching to see them now-grayer, stouter, in sportcoats and sensible blouses-alongside their young, flamboyantly dressed (and undressed) selves.  But it was so gratifying to see them preserved in their brief, glorious prime and to experience, even at second hand, the chaotic, inspired freedom they embodied”(Scott).  Seeing the drag queen right next to the perfectly normal average American was very weird, yet insightful.  It shows the audience who they used to be and who they have become without having to use any words.  This visual said more about the time period than all of the words in the film.

In addition to strong narration and use of photos Weber and Weissman did a good job of representing time in the film.  In a lot of documentaries the audience has no idea what time it is and is forced to guess throughout the film.  However, “The Cockettes” was different and represented time through a vintage slideshow.  This added character to the already unique film and also gave it a more professional appeal rather than just all fun and games.  Through these slides, the audience was able to keep track of significant events and keep everything in chronological order, which really helps the audience. 

Over all this film was very good and unique.  I would have never seen it on my own if I did not need to get a movie on reserve in the library, but I am very glad I chose that film.  It kept me interested for almost the entire feature and I did not even fall asleep, which is saying a lot considering how a lot of documentaries make me feel.  Whether it was the flowered head peaces or the extraordinary tassels, this film kept me dialed in for the entirety. 

Bibliography

Scott, A.O. “The Cockettes(2002) Film Review: Where the Drag Queens Wore Beards.” The New York Times. 28 June 2002. 14 Oct. 2008 <http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9804e2df133ef93ba15755c0a9649c8b63&partner=rotten%20tomatoes&gt;.

Turan, Kenneth. “‘The Cockettes'” Los Angeles Times. 26 July 2002. 14 Oct. 2008 <http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/reviews/cl-movie000051330jul26,0,1788962.story&gt;.

Actresses (2007)

Posted in Film Reviews, San Francisco Film Society on October 25, 2008 by foggyfirstframes

The most frustrating aspect of San Francisco Film Society’s (SFFS) French Cinema Now was that I couldn’t see all of the films.  In fact, I did not even make it into the film that I was originally trying to see because the Blue Angels filled the busses down Fillmore.  I have almost forgiven the plane shows for all the disruptions they have caused this past week due to how much I loved Actresses (2007), the film I ended up seeing, which I would not have seen otherwise.  Of course, I do not think that I would have seen a bad film this weekend since SFFS made a point to show award-winning material; most of it from the past two years but two were from the nineties and one from 1965. Regardless, although I would like to see some of the other films, I am still very glad that I got to see the one that I did.

Valerie Bruni-Tedeschi is the director/co-writer/star powerhouse behind Actresses.  In this movie Bruni-Tedeschi plays Marcelline, a fairly successful actress going through, effectively, a mid-life crisis.  Marcelline is in her early forties but has started going into menopause and realizes very suddenly that all she wants is a child and, since she has no husband, or even a boyfriend at the time, this dream will probably not come true.  Much of her neurosis stem from this idea of having a child, but she is also plagued with visions of her dead father, fiancé, and the embodiment of the character she is playing in the play A Month in the Country that she is rehearsing for and eventually performs throughout the movie.  The play adds to Marcelline’s difficulties because she is so entrenched in confusion about her own person and then playing a character that is very different from her and ultimately she gives a performance that audiences love but those who know her very well know to be less than her best.  One of the indicators to her mother and aunt is that Marcelline cannot genuinely laugh in the play – which she tries to solve several different ways.  To add to everything she also finds herself having feelings for a much younger man in the play but does not know how to react to these feelings.  One thing continually builds on another throughout the movie and Bruni-Tedeschi shows the increasing neurosis of an actress. 

Actresses is not Bruni-Tedeschi’s first time playing a neurotic character, in fact, “[she] is so much at ease in this sort of context that she has [played many] borderline characters…neurotic girls who are victim to all sorts of phobias, caught up in a living hell” (Murat).  Pierre Murat classified her as part of a new generation of French actresses in his article and although this is the only movie of hers that I have seen, I would believe that she has earned her place there.   Actresses was directed and co-written by Bruni-Tedeschi, so she cannot claim that she is purely typecast as these chronically upset women but, “As she herself puts it: ‘There are actresses who want to become stars and those who see acting as a sort of confession. I belong to the second category’” (Murat).  In fact, according to a review by Boyd van Hoeij from Cannes, where Actresses won a Special Jury Prize, “Actresses is at least partially autobiographical, though this time around the dramatic comedy set in the rich, bourgeois, and vaguely intellectual Parisian bubble of Bruni-Tedeschi’s alter ego veers more towards comedy as the film progresses, earning good-hearted laughs as well as, well, whatever one may feel towards this particular milieu.”  

Throughout Actresses there are several moments which are particularly brilliant or endearing.  Two of the moments are related to Marcelline’s obsession with having a child. At one point she desperately asks a priest if he will have a child with her because, “Christianity is all about giving.”  Near the end of the movie while Marcelline is at the theatre trying to laugh she hears a baby crying, and lo and behold her dreams are answered by a baby in a laundry basket.  She takes the baby into a dressing room and begins playing with it until the real mother appears, the extremely jealous and slightly unsettled stage manager for the play, who explodes at Marcelline and also crushes her dreams.  Another brilliant moment is set up earlier in the movie by a swimming instructor who works at the pool where Marcelline swims; to give power to her stroke, he tells her of a famous swimmer who would listen to Glen Miller’s “In the Mood” immediately before competing and would swim to the beat of the song.  At the end of the movie when Marcelline attempts to kill herself by jumping into the river she is seen shortly thereafter swimming madly to the bank, underscored by “In the Mood.”  It’s moments like these that truly made Actresses so enjoyable – Bruni-Tedeschi’s character is made so much more real by these intimate scenes of humanness. 

After having watched Actresses and enjoying it so much, as well as knowing of many other French films that have delighted me in their ability to show new stories (Audrey Tatou’s Amelie comes to mind) I find myself wanting to watch as many films as I can from France.  I can’t wait to see what else the country has to offer that I have yet to discover.  SFFS’s French Cinema Now has proven itself as the perfect starting guide.

The Godfather Review.

Posted in Film Reviews on October 20, 2008 by foggyfirstframes

Anna Karabachev

                                                            “The Godfather”           

            “The Godfather”  (1972) is a not only a breakthrough in the film industry but also an emotional experience for the audience. It is told through the Corleone family’s views, in a way that the audience feels for the family and their actions. The movie was made from the Mario Puzo best selling novel, which also made a difference in the box office because it gathered many audiences with its breakthrough scenes and suspense. As Vincent Canby states in his article “Moving and Brutal Godfather Bows, “ “Francis Ford Coppola has made one of the most brutal and moving chronicles of American life ever designed within the limits of popular entertainment.” I believe that Canby is correct with his statement because the style of this movie is frightening to watch while also captivating with the emotions and relations of the killers.             

            Marlon Brando had a very interesting youth that in many ways enabled him to play the role as he did. His mother pursued an acting career after recovering from alcoholism and helped Marlon’s interest in the field and his father was a photographer.  Marlon was expelled from school and later moved to a military school, while his sister was in New York moving along with her own acting career. Later in his life he moved to New York and followed his sister’s footsteps and entered The American Theatre Wing Professional School.

            He had many ways to prepare for the roles he played. “The Men” (1950) which was his first movie, involved him being in bed rest at a veteran’s hospital just to get into character. Brando had a flourishing career during the 50s and 60s, until it took a turn because of his reputation. The Hollywood world made him out to be a very difficult star, however it was also speculated that he was not cast in many roles because of activists tendencies, which included the supporting many progressive risky groups at the time. Then Francis Ford Coppola begged him to do a screen test, the studio was against Marlon being cast. However Coppola fought for him and eventually got him as Vito Corleone.

            These experiences that he faced throughout his life enabled him to play this role. He put all of his emotions in to this character with cotton balls in his mouth, a weathered man he was not acting, he was Vito Corleone. His ability to make audiences feel for him when he was the head crime boss was not just a fluke, or just his ability to act, it was the fact the he has an ability to act as well as ability to come across on the screen as a person the audiences feel for. This role was very important it was after his slum in his acting career and he had nothing to lose. After turning down his Academy Award, it was known that he wasn’t acting for the fame or for the awards but to just act because he was a true actor.

            The images that Copolla was able to put on the big screen were incredible. The statue of liberty behind a murdered driver, a baptism occurring during the family taking care of another family, or images of men shot in the middle of a restaurant. The way images are imprinted in the minds of audiences is frightening as well because the Corleones are a family that somehow captures us, and when violent or negative things happen to the family, we are moved. However when they do the same things to the different families, the audience is not as touched. Coppola has an ability to use the images, the cities (New York, Las Vegas, Sicily and Hollywood) as characters themselves. The environment doesn’t change the character from his habits and violent tendencies however it is the backdrop, when we think the character is going to change in Sicily we are quickly shown the blown up car with his new wife in the drivers seat.

In conclusion this movie is important in the 70s for Hollywood. The book and the movie show the Mafia gangs and the wars the families faced, which turned them both into very popular, graphic pieces of history. The actors took time to prepare for their roles as well as the director. “The Godfather” is timeless and the critics from the 70s on have agreed.

Mario Andrizzi’s Iraqi Short Films

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , , on October 10, 2008 by foggyfirstframes


Iraqi Short Films (2008) is a shocking collection of images from the combative front in Iraq. As I sit here attempting to come up with a well thought out thesis and critique to follow it up, all I can think about is the fact that this film, these images of explosions and armies and AK-47s and tanks and fear will stay in my head forever.

Filmmaker Mauro Andrizzi’s frighteningly effective juxtaposition of exploding tanks, laughing American soldiers, and Iraqi extremist recruitment videos leads to a sort of desperate confusion in determining who is the enemy and who is the “good guy.” Several times, a particularly violent explosion would leave me in near tears, hating whoever it was that could induce such senseless violence and death, only to realize that it was American soldiers sitting there laughing at the terrorist scumbags they’d just blown to hell.

Andrizzi does an excellent job in characterizing the Americans’ points of view regarding the Iraqi extremists. One image sticks out in particular, in which American snipers are shooting at terrorists in a far-away building. The Americans are yelling and laughing and high-fiving each other as they take down these men, saying things like “I have the best job in the world.” Images like this really make you wonder what they teach the soldiers at boot camp; when you hear radio conversations that include “we got those mother fuckers, sir,” surely it has nothing to do with racial tolerance and cultural understanding.

This film made me cry. It enraged me and it frustrated me and it shocked me and it broke my heart to the point that I had difficulty watching it—this is how I know it was a good film. When the first truck blew up, I was stunned to near paralysis. My incoherent and illegible notes remind me of how all of a sudden the violence and explosions increased exponentially, interspersed with clips of terrified American soldiers praying to a God they’ve never known to please please please just get them out of here. The clip of a young American soldier on his first mission watching the tank in front of him explode and yelling “Fuck this place! I want to go home!” and goofy clips of British soldiers dancing and lip-synching seem like they came from two completely different times and places, not from the same war.

An equally effective aspect of Iraqi Short Films is Andrizzi’s use of text in the film. He mixes in quotes from everyone from Dick Cheney to T.E. Lawrence, demonstrating through their words unnerving truths regarding society and government’s outlook on war. Quotes from 1956 seem as though they were written only last year; how terrifying that the criticisms of government, economy, and military still hold true today.

Everybody needs to see Iraqi Short Films. Whether or not you support this war, or any war, this film will make you shrink down into your chair in discomfort, only to sit you up straight again when you realize that this—all of this—needs to stop.

Haley Smith