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. Movies in Brief
(Third quarter, 2008)

Cinema Signal:

This unexpectedly captivating comedy is about the effect a nerdly guy has on his sister-in-law Leslie (Lisa Kudrow) who is totally stressed out since her husband, his brother, left for Iraq a year and a half ago. The house is in shambles; her two sons are nightmarishly out of control; and she needs someone to care for the destructive little delinquents (7 and 10) while she's at work. The worst part of this hopeless, artlessly contrived picture is that this woman can't get her thoughts or actions straight.

The only adult human she can call on is Salman (Scott Prendergast, also writer and
director), her inept, underachieving brother-in-law who dutifully shows up with a bag of luggage and an eager-to-please simplicity. When Leslie returns from work on the first day of this experiment, it's more trashed than when she left and, worse, the kids were eating cereal all day. Buy food? Oh. Since Salman is penniless and has no income, Leslie lands him a job with her company.

You could say the job suits his personality and his gifts. He is to don a light blue animal suit (as in the company logo) and stand along the highway giving out circulars for rental space in the business headquarters building. And here's where the movie, which has been amateurish in all respects, becomes extraordinary.

The image is pure and powerful. A fuzzy blue clad cartoon figure that's something between an oversize rabbit and a sightless salamander against flat fields and cloudy skies or to the side of a highway disappearing into the distance is a whole other level of original movie imagery. The character's softness, with a round, disproportionately large head gives it a benign quality that just stops you in your tracks. You study it. You try to understand it. A rich, good looking woman offers Salman a hundred bucks to make an appearance in the suit at her kid's weekend party. Trash collectors leave him with a beer and good wishes. He scares some; fascinates others; overcomes everyone.

So here's the formula for this strangely different movie: awful writing, with terrible dialogue, painfully annoying characters, complete illogic in their actions and decisions, screamably cliched situations and, then, a "rabbit-out-of-the-hat" invention that's so cool and charming they couldn't blast you out of your seat. Magic. Genius.

Cinema Signal:

Annoying and fascinating, "Yella" tells the story of a woman who makes a series of poor choices while the filmmaker, Christian Petzold, tests our toleration of improbabilities. In at least one case, impossibilities.

An attractive German woman, Yella, (Nina Hoss) must leave her East German home town and loving father for an accountant job and new life in the West and to escape her stalking ex-husband Ben, a pitiful and dangerous failed businessman who can't accept her rejection and who seems to know her every move.

Packed and ready to leave for the airport she finds him standing at papa's garden gate instead of the expected taxi, pleading to take her to the airport. Inexplicably, she consents and the ride leaves no doubt about his violent nature, especially as it ends in his declaration of love for her as he drives over the rails of a bridge into the Elbe river.

She manages to surface and make her way to the embankment. He follows, dragging himself alongside. Somehow, defying all laws of buoyancy, her purse and handbag wind up at river's edge making it convenient for her to grab and run off from her still conveniently groggy would-be killer.

After her job fizzles out, but safe in West Germany, she's at dinner in a hotel dining room where she notices a man's computer with a balance sheet on its screen. He notes her interest and uses it to introduce himself. Learning that she's familiar with this esoteric tool of accountancy, Philipp (David Striesow) offers her a one day job to accompany him in a corporate negotiation. She agrees, and she blows his adversaries away. He pays her one thousand marks and, excited by her clear superiority with numbers, hires her again for a few more rounds of debunking false claims and phony financial balances.

He tests her honesty, which she fails. His anger subsides, a romance develops, and he offers her a partnership in his less than honest business plans.

Petzhold's style is full of incomplete dialogue, unanswered questions, baffling decision-making, and inner mysteries--annoying but suggestive. Ben reappears and disappears like a ghost, implying that he is, by now, imaginary. The surprise ending explains it all and puts this film in the category of copycat, as anyone who's seen "The Life Before Her Eyes" will know.

Cinema Signal:

If the quality of this Pixar movie doesn't make it a serious contender for Best Animated Feature Film Oscar this year, the ad campaign will surely make it happen. The 3-D animation techniques are pure state of the art and the cuteness level of this new toy franchise for kids is a slam dunk. But, as for the story by director Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo") and Pete Doctor, it's on shaky ground.

In a dystopian future world of about 700 years hence, the planet as we know it has become fouled by so much garbage and consumer refuse its inhabitants have gone. Except for two. Wall-E (voiced by Ben Burtt), a diminutive robot programmed
to collect trash, compact it and use the resulting cubes as bricks to erect strange, high stuctures; and his sole companion, a cockroach that can restore itself after being crushed under his pal's treads.

But inside little Wall-E's circuitry there pulses a heart and mind, not unlike the little real-life kiddies targetted to bond with him by the hundreds of millions. Officially a unit known by its generic moniker, Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth, he sorts through the trash and sets aside objects that appeal to him, including a dance video from "Hello Dolly." Other objects he stores on categorized shelves in his personal truck, designed as his home and headquarters, where he sleeps at night. In the morning, he holds up his solar array to the sun to recharge his battery for another day of duty.

His happy hours in a city he has virtually to himself are interrupted one day with the arrival of a massive spaceship which deposits a "probe" and then returns to wherever it came from. The white egg-shaped visitor turns out to be an Extra-terrrestrial Vegetation Evaluator ("Eve"-a female!-voiced by Elissa Knight) that is quick to zap that which she doesn't understand or thinks poses a threat. Her mission is to electronically report any sign of organic life to the mother ship Axiom.

Axiom is where the now universally overweight inhabitants of Earth wound up, where life is big-brother automated and strictly regimented on a super-corporate scale. When Eve reports a seedling that Wall-E discovered, any assumptions that the controllers of Axiom made about controlling the thoughts and behaviors of their captive population are about to change, starting with the rebellious puppet Captain (Jeff Garlin) and urged on by Wall-E and Eve (who calls him "Wally") whose romance goes through several shocks and circuit changes while their hearts throb strongly for each other.

For the adult who doesn't watch all this through the eyes of a young offspring, the joy is in the expressiveness of the characters, art direction and seamless visual artistry. In that, this is a treasure trove of high achievement. Plenty of pats on the back all 'round. But, with what is, at best, an animated emulation of flesh and blood sci-fi thrillers (with message), the story may be too artificial and predictable for a demanding grown up. The story provides action and effects, all exceedingly charming, but doesn't bring to life or interest the "evil" forces so hell bent on avoiding a return to earth, the reason for which is less than adequately explored. Does it mean the loss of absolute control?

In fact, once Wall-E follows Liz to Axion the story takes a turn that sheds no light on what made him the brave mini-compactor that he is, which is where we want the story to take us. Without the understanding of villainous purpose and the source of its power, we're asked to just go along with it without too much questioning--but that makes the hold on our gut-level attentions tenuous. The threat level is too lightweight to be felt (other than a feeling of detachment). Love of the marvelous lead characters and awe of the production design, brilliant though they may be, shouldn't be mistaken for dramatic fulfillment. Cutes-E, but not enough gravit-E. Which--minority opinion notwithstanding--doesn't mean it won't be up for the Oscar.

Cinema Signal:

The Edge of Heaven
(aka, "Auf der anderen Seite," "On the Other Side")

With the attributes of a novelist, German/Turkish auteur Fatih Akin weaves a story of generations, destiny, testy cultures, death and excruciatingly withheld romance. The failure of the Academy to choose this July release as a 2007 Best Foreign Language Film nominee is incomprehensible.

Using his own nationalistic mix for his characters and their situations, he delivers as unique a geographical texture as you're likely to find in film.
Most of all, Akin demonstrates a mastery of storytelling with the audacity and skill to create two characters who do not meet within the scope of the film but whom we know are fated for one another as surely as a trout and a stream.

Three chapter headings frame the structure of the piece: "Yetter's Death," "Lotte's Death" and "The Edge of Heaven." When these titles appear on screen we have no idea who these tragically destined people are or what the heaven is that we're on the edge of. But with incredible sureness, Akin leaves no questions behind. We're on a journey with genius.

Nejat Aksu (modestly intent Baki Davrak) is Ali Aksu's (Tuncel Kurtiz) professor son, teaching classes at Hamburg University. Ali, the father, a lonely widower, buys the services of a prostitute named Yeter (marvelous, real Nursel Kose). Later, he offers her payment equivalent to what she makes in her red light life to come live with him, and she goes for it. The major concern in her life is finding out what's become of her long missing daughter Ayten Ozturk (tough, beautiful and engaging Nurgul Yesilcay), last seen in Instanbul, Turkey.

The odd pairing isn't, at first, comfortable for Nejat, the dutiful son, but he comes to appreciate the hard life of his father's new companion and form a sympathetic attachment. She's there for both him and his father when Ali suffers a heart attack. But, it's she who dies, and Nejat travels to Istanbul to comfort her family, vowing to find Ayten.

We meet Ayten, operating under the alias Gul, in an insurgency cell. When the authorities attack their safe house, she escapes to Hamburg to find her mother. She takes up a relationship with pretty Lotte Staub (Patrycia Ziolkowska) against the wishes of Lotte's mother Susanne (Hanna Schygulla) and, later, faces deportation.

Paths cross, in an agony of unfamiliarity and unrealized promise, as writer-director Akin weaves a journey that is both intricate and uniquely engaging. His characters are formulated with just the right delicacy to make this adventure into the mysteries and myriad possibilities of life ironically twisted and artistically singular. His movie is ingeniously structured and, I daresay, the least formulaic film of the millenium.

He achieves this, in part, by taking no detail for granted. While the role of Lotte's displeased mother might so easily have been a minor cliche', where he has her going on her story trajectory is a constant revelation of character and concentration. It is also played by a woman who, in her early years, was the sensual sensation of the New German cinema ("Berlin Alexanderplatz," "The Marriage of Maria Braun"), starring in 23 films by the infamous Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Kenneth Branagh's "Dead Again." Hannah Schygulla's appearance here is marvelous to behold and shows she's lost none of her acclaimed versatility.

Profound kudos to this film that lives up to its title's "Edge," and to its maker, Fatih Akin.

Cinema Signal:

War, Inc.
This sendup of corruption behind modern warfare slips up somewhere between parody and farce. The insertion of guerrila combat realism gives background, but doesn't help categorizing it as one thing or another.
Where it's strongest in appealing to our engaging with it is in the romance department, which gives the project a core of warmth and contact amidst the more blatant efforts to secure our attention and messages to secure a depth of meaning.

Assassin Brand Hauser (John Cusack) gets his marching orders from Walken (Ben Kingsley) a villainous voice behind an oracular window in a deeply secured room somewhere. His assignments are for purposes of repositioning players who do business with the American private corporation occupying Turaqistan headed up by former U.S. VP (Dan Aykroyd).

To provide cover for Brand, he is to hook up with Marsha Dillon (Joan Cusack) who has set up a therapy and amusement center within the Emerald City, a highly guraded refuge from the chaos going on outside its walls. Brand is to take over as the CEO in charge, which brings immediate attention from the cynical press, chiefly in the lovely form of Natalie Hegalhuzen (really lovely Marisa Tomei). It's so clear that Brand's cooperation has a lust component that Natalie needs to declare from the outset that "you're not going to fuck me!"

Hilary Duff shows up as scimpily clad Yonica Babyyeah, a pitiful sex bomb performer betrothed to marry a mindless but rich sheik. She comes on to Brand as though philandering on her fiance is nothing, but can't handle Brand's rejection until she bonds with him and Natalie because of their kindness and protection. But all these diversions from the job at hand, namely to kill Omar (Lyubomir Neikov) are burrs in boss Walken's psychopathology and arousing his worst paranoia. Meanwhile, oversized Omar is imagining that he has what it takes to score with Natalie.

Cusack is actually good in this. Cusack soir gets a chance to work out her lungs for some fitful fun on the extremities. Kingsley is entirely over the top. And, Tomei has never looked more luscious. However, see this at your own risk. It's not everyone's cup of ammo and misfires are part of the strategy.

Cinema Signal:

City of Men
aka, Cidade dos Homens

Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles created a sensation and earned awards with his quick-paced, docudrama-styled "City of God" in 2003. Compelling characters in a struggle for survival created new interest in this South American country as a source of cutting edge filmmaking and, now, has led to a followup, staged in the steep and tightly populated hillside favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

Perched on the high reaches of Dead-End hill, narcissistic gang leader Midnight commands his
territory and a killer view of the ocean. After three years of unmolested security, suddenly tempted by the lure of the cool blue waters dangerously within reach, he decides to take his gang for a swim. It's a daring proposition, requiring plenty of weaponry and tactical defenses all the way down to the beach. Though the charismatic leader has his swim, his follower Fasto (rapper Eduardo BR) decides to form his own gang and take the hill from his former leader.

In the milieau of turf war that this opening sequence frames, and under the confusion of loose editing and copious footage, the emotional core of the story is about fathers and sons. It revolves around two friends, "Ace" Acerola (Douglas Silva), and Laranhjinha aka Wallace (Darlan Cunha). About to turn 18, Ace is a rarity in the favela: a father who has stuck with his wife (Cris - Camila Monteiro) and 2-year old tot Clayton, even though his stronger and more natural compulsion is to be out with his pal and their gang, making family responsibility an ongoing struggle.

The theme of missing fatherhood is expressed as the central issue by Wallace, who decides to track his ex-con father down, ostensibly for his signature on an ID card but mostly to fill the gap in his self identity. The unfolding of the relationship and the facts of Wallace's parentage, initially brings joy to father and son, until dad's explanation of his incarceration seriously threatens to turn Wallace and Ace into enemies.

The characters and their stories emanate from the successful TV Globo series and are compelling enough to achieve considerable dramatic interest despite a fatiguing running length and rough cutting. Director Paolo Morelli's shooting and editing (from a script by Elena Soarez) makes it a labor to hang in with, considering its loose and choppy structure.

DVD Bonus Feature: "Building A City Of Men"

Cinema Signal:

Diminished Capacity
Suffering from a diminished level of interest, this comedy takes such a low road to laughs and satire a shot of pure oxygen is needed well before the end credits. Just think, impaired memory and memorabilia collecting. Wow.

The dynamic is a super-genial Chicago journalist (Matthew Broderick as Cooper) losing some memory cells following a
physical attack by a colleague, and a boss who insists that his temporarily retarded reporter take a vacation. This puts Cooper back in the rural town where he grew up and where Alzheimer-senile uncle Rollie (begrizzled Alan Alda) is doing his inept dangdest to hang onto a rare baseball card worth six figures. Unfortunately, the impaired old fool has blabbed about it to all the patrons of the local bar, and, to crank up the tension, his loser nephew, who is a true retard, has been breaking into the house looking for the card for purposes of theft. Apparently, the local custom is that he who possesses it, owns it. Grotesque, but the whole scenario is built on the concept.

After meeting his old flame Charlotte (lovely Virginia Madsen) at the local grocery and learning that she's going to Chicago to apply for a coveted job, a plan is hatched for them all to go and to take the baseball card to a sports memorabilia convention where collectors exchange huge sums of money for special items. The old man's mental condition makes him a ready mark for unscrupulous seller Lee Vivyan (villainous Bobby Cannavale) who cheats him out of his card for a lousy $500. Uncle Rollie is stunned and speechless when he realizes that he has tragically lost the chance to auction his treasure for a fair price.

Things get really dicy when nearby seller Mad Dog McClure (Dylan Baker) threatens Vivyan by not liking him and when, through all this pandemonium, Charlotte breaks through Cooper's reserve and shyness enough to make a pairing possible. Zowie. Do we know how to live up to a title, or what?

Cinema Signal:

Retrieval (Aka, Z odzysku)
There is much to recommend in this slice in the life of a naive young boxer and a beautiful older woman with a son whom he desires above all else. But, while the sureness in direction and story development comes as a surprise for a low-budget film from Poland, there are flaws, as well. Even so, I can like something that isn't quite perfect, can't I?

The story about 19-year old Wojtek (Antoni Pawlicki) isn't so much his awkwardness in dealing with choices and desires as it is his downright naivete' and learning difficulties. Physically strong, a cement factory worker in the poor city of Slask, in his spare time he can outbox an opponent and win a modest purse, which brings him to the attention of boyish-faced, soft-talking nightclub owner and mob boss Gazda (Jacek Braciak) and the offer of employment as a new member of his enforcement team.

At the same time, Wojtek persists in wooing Katia (Natalya Vdovina, "The Return"), a slightly older, quite lovely blond woman with a young son and an immigrant without papers. Her reticence in taking up with him doesn't stop his persistence which, along with her boy's adoration of the big suitor, wins her over. The difference between them, however, in level of maturity more than in years, irritates the relationship as he fails to understand her resistance, let alone what to do about it.

Ironically, he's more in harmony with her views than he, himself realizes. He goes to work for Gazda and, even, gets his best pal Baton (Michal Filipiak) a job, as well. Only he isn't up to the job description, which is to hurt people who owe Gazda money. He quits, until pressures and Gazda's smooth talk and liking for him puts Wojtek back in the position of thug/henchman, with a large, white apartment as a perk of the job. As long as he's willing to do what he needs to for his boss, he's now a real provider for his desired family: Katia and son. Pushing himself to live up to Gazda's assignments, Katia begins to understand what Wojtek's "job" entails and tries to do something about it.

Auteur Slawomir Fabicki's story elements are intriguing and deserve great praise; no less so is the meritorious cast. But even as we applaud the fascination of a
nicely complex coming-of-age journey from an unexpected source, plausibility and camerawork leave something to be desired. Mob boss Gazda's violence-ridden enterprise isn't even hinted at in his demeanor or modest home with wife and children, affording this classic villain a coloration that is highly original. But as a cruel sociopath on the business end of a crime organization, how can he disregard the boxer's ineptness or unwillingness to participate in mayhem? Would a brutal gangster trust a guy who can't or won't carry out an order, let alone think he can groom him for greater responsibilities? Even as things operate in Poland, isn't he asking for trouble, if not a downfall?

Wojtek, however, is even more bothersome as he repeatedly ignores what he's being called upon to do--things that are so clearly in opposition to his moral nature. Like a child, he denies the meaning behind other people's obligations on him, putting himself in compromise after compromise. He somehow convinces himself that he's handling the issues in his life while denying the indignities of the obligations. And, Pawlicki's flitting, awkward unnsureness on screen becomes a bother, as well, even though the performance, irrespective of his facial tics and false moves, does fulfill the role rather well.

Vdovina's portrayal of Katia is fine work, indeed, but another thing taking away from a very interesting film (contributing writers were Denijal Hasanovic and Marek Pruchniewski) is the poor hand-held camerawork and the rather rough lighting by cinematographer Bogumil Godfrejow. None of my carps, however, amount to a suggestion to skip this surprising film. It's just somewhat imperfect, is all.

Cinema Signal:

With all the good, original scripts floating around the Hollywood Hills you have to wonder why anyone would want to make a movie with such a lame, derivative poker story that taps into every cliche' of the genre we've ever seen. You don't put a script together with rank imitation.

There is so little originality here and so much faking it that it hardly justifies critical analysis. I'm being kind. It's really a vacuum of talent.

Which doesn't do the cast or technical crew any favors. Burt Reynolds isn't looking any too good these days and, as legendary poker maven Tommy Vinson he never gets near Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman in "The Color of Money") though that may be what this sucker play had in mind. Bret Harrison has potential and a lot of TV credits but he's got to find better material if he wants to break into features.

Bringing Charles Durning on screen for a brief cameo is so badly conceived, it's cruel. Shannon Elizabeth is entirely cool and Jennifer Tilly as one of the briefly seen players actually comes off okay.

Director/co-writer Gil Cates, Jr, might want to consider taking this off his resume' and co-screenwriter Marc Weinstock, should find work in another capacity. The only thing merciful about it is the 88 minute running time, but that will have the feel of two hours.

Cinema Signal:

America the Beautiful
This rather wobbly documentary begs the question about which came first, the subject begging for coverage, or footage looking for a subject it can sell. The thesis is about the billions of bucks that people (primarily women) spend on emulating what they see on the media and the costs and dangers of the mindset. For example, "Americans spent $12.4B on cosmetic surgery in 2004." Well, knock me out. I'm aghast.

Since a lot of this is about sounding alarm bells about the hordes of women trying to get thin and/or stay thin and the unhealthiness of the quest, the absence of a balancing reference to the more alarming phenomenon of obesity tells you something about how the documentarian is stacking his deck to make a narrow point.

His core story, however, is the multi-year journey of sweet Gerren Taylor, a 12-year old African American girl, both skinny and lovely, trying to make a mark in modeling. There's nothing about how unhealthy her slenderness is--only about her dream, fully supported by her coach and mother, to walk the runways at international fashion shows and making a name for herself. The primary point pertaining to physical and mental health is the size of the potential income fame might bring her. The attention to costs of surgical do-overs ("America the Beautiful") is another storyline that might be germane to a different movie.

Since Gerren's reality turned out to be heartbreaking (though disappointment is tempered by the life possibilities a determined pre-teen), Roberts apparently realized that his story of a girl's ambition wouldn't fly unless he widened the viewpoint. But his intercutting the costs of American women's chase-after-beauty story (suggesting much waste and futility) with Gerren's personal one never quite blends into an organic whole, unfortunately, and the film is more dizzying than naturally connected, making it an over-insistent, dispersed experience. The two threads are not as mutually supportive as Roberts calculated.

Cinema Signal:

As a study of intellectual camaraderie between two emerging writers in Oslo during the twenties, Erik (Espen Klouman-Hoiner) and Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie), the movie starts out as promising as their careers. But as time and events bring success, disappointment and suicidal disintegration, a string of digressions challenge the viewer's
capacity to hold onto the wavering dramatic track. Debuting Danish Writer-director Joachim Trier thinks it's great to knock "chronology and narrative structure on their standardized asses to detail the friendship." Just the kind of thing to work for a festival audience.

The casting is fine, with Trier having what appears to be an unending resource of blond, handsome men--from the leads to the extras. The beauty of many of the women is world-class but none as intriguing as the one in the center, Viktoria Winge as Erik's girlfriend Kari. With her dark haired, natural, screen-commanding presence she robs the emotional heart of the piece from the writer-boys who wrestle with their demons as they pursue their muse.

With the blackening of her hair from her normal blond, Winge (arguably) bears a resemblance to young Bjork (in many angles) and adds considerable sensitivity into the mix with intoxicating expressiveness and vulnerability. Just watch what she does when she becomes aware of Erik's suicidal tendency as they stand on a high tower in Paris and he counts down from 10 to zero. The growing fear and morbid anxiety on her face in that moment is award level tension-building.

Trier may be basing his concept of moviemaking on the films of his distant cousin Lars von Trier who's style may derive from the French spareness of the sixties. He seems, however, to be having more fun in the editing room than his premise requires and he'd be well advised to spend more time in the deeper development of his characters, some probing of their talents and the dramatic unfolding of their story. I didn't find this 2006-produced "reprise" (opening here on DVD* - click film title) much more than superficial but I call upon American producers to bring Winge ashore. Her resume indicates she's ready to go.

*BONUS FEATURES * Casting Reprise * All In, Trier's Details * Anecdotes * Love's Not Easy * Dleted Scenes * So Sorry

Cinema Signal:

Man On Wire
In the early 1970s, an irrepressible young Frenchman with a dominating personality, found his mission in life. His name is Philippe Petit and his line of work is walking on wires for the thrills and benefits of amazed audiences. In other words, a showman, with this corner of acrobatics all his own.

James Marsh's astonishingly tense documentary tells the story of how Petit trained himself with the degree of discipline and physiology to attain his ever ascending goals--until the construction of New York's World Trade Center brought him to the realization that he was witnessing the grandest goal of his life.

After showing us Petit's preceding glories, with ever rising levels of difficulty, plans begin to conquer the two towers. Precise training in his field in France alternate with trips to Manhattan to study architectural details of the building as well as how to penetrate security protection against intrusion of any kind.

At every point from there on, the detailed steps that Petit and team take to spirit themselves and their load of equipment to the towers' roofs, under excruciating threat of discovery and defeat, build a tension much like a Fort Knox break-in. If this were fiction, Petit's part might be played by the very acrobatic Jason Statham ("Bank Job," "Death Race").

Petit's own recounting is joined by members of his team and his wife, building a spectrum of emotions surrounding the project--such that, the joys, penalties and tears flow with the accomplishment. Art and deviltry combine and permeate this ode to a man's dream.

When I first heard this title, I thought it was a play on "Man On Fire." But, no. The title is derived from the police report which, in police understatement, was headed, "Man on Wire." To be sure.

Cinema Signal:

Sukiyaki Western Django
An Asian western directed and co-written by Takashi Miike, with Quentin Tarantino and a barely comprehendable style that challenges aural and mental capabilities.

Gunman (Hideaki Ito) comes to town looking for a substantial cut of hidden treasure and finds himself surrounded by warring groups that, in another setting, might be called militias. On the streets of L.A., "posses." Here, "clans." But whatever you call them, they're loutish lots, colorful in the extreme and overwhelming in number--though Gunman proves himself faster and deadlier than just about any of them--until, of course, he isn't.

Ringo (Tarantino) sets it up in an entirely surreal way with a prologue act by a supposed legend of iron and leather confrontation. The principles are Yoichi (Masanobu Ando), Taira no Kiyomori (Koichi Sato), Ruriko (Kaori Momoi), Minamoto no Yoshitsune (Yusuke Iseya) Benkei (Renji Ishibashi) and Shizuka (Yoshino Kimura).

Can't erase the feeling that this is a bald-faced attempt to capture the magic of Sergio Leone's "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" in the exaggerated heroics of the spaghetti western. Well, let me tell you about that: The "Good" is the visual power in composition and lighting superbly accomplished here by cinematographer Toyomichi Kurita; the "Bad" is the concept of "more is less;" the "Ugly" is the narrative mess that flows from the Bad. Also, from an auteur known for visually conspicuous violence and blood, it's relatively tame. What's he going for, a mainstream audience?

Cinema Signal:

Days and Clouds
From Silvio Soldini, the writer-director who brought us the successful import "Tulips and Roses," comes this marital drama and, though the auteur's sensibility remains evident, his new product is less of an engagement that its predecessor.

Elsa (Margherita Buy) and Michele (Giuseppe Battiston) have a good marriage. He's a partner in a business and she's an art historian. They live a solid, sophisticated life. Twenty-year old daughter Alice may be involved with a man Michele doesn't approve of -- something that irks him no end and produces endless argument -- but she's doing well on her own.

Clouds form. Michele is squeezed out of his partnership by the introduction of a third partner who has provided sorely needed funds. The loss of income puts the family into a downward spiral. The step-by-step deterioration of their lives makes up the body of the story and, as fine as the acting is, and as attractive as Buy is, Soldini's cloud of morose details obscures all sight of a silver lining and hope of a reconciliation with dramatic purpose or payoff. What seemed at first a provocative study of a family tragedy becomes a two-hour immersion into minutiea until you start thinking that the exits are where the action is.

Cinema Signal:

This documentary focusing on publisher-producer Barney Rosset follows his career from military cameraman in WWII to the present when he's a elder statesman of the literary trade and a social iconoclast who has plenty on which to look back. This is a man whose claim to fame began when he bought a failing publishing house called the Grove Press in 1951, which led to creating the Evergreen Review--two publications that can boast of being the leading edge of freedom of expression back when censorship codes and moral taboos were the politically correct themes of the day. It may be that it took the rise of the internet to put the tired, fundamentalist restrictive thinking to rest, but Rosset can claim a leading role.

His engagement in pushing the envelope and risking personal injury contains an impressive list of major artists who may never have been given a voice without him. These include his being the first American publisher of acclaimed authors Samuel Beckett, Kenzaburo Oe, Tom Stoppard, Che Guevara, Allen Ginsberg and Malcolm X. He also battled the government in the highest courts to overrule the obscenity ban on groundbreaking works of fiction such as Lady Chatterley's Lover, Tropic of Cancer and Naked Lunch. He championed Henry Miller.

Those who didn't live through this period and haven't studied it may take for granted the totality of free expression enjoyed today. They should have their eyes opened by this homage to a man with a spirit of courage and adventure who played a key role in altering the course of literary and social history--despite enduring lawsuits, death-threats, a bombing of his offices, government surveillance and the occupation of his premises by enraged feminists. No casual observer of his time, Rosset put himself in constant peril with his fearless approach to recognizing and promoting vanguard art, including some choice ventures in the porno zone.

Directed by first time filmmakers Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O'Connor, the wide ranging and well-made doc features music by Bob Dylan ("It's All Over Now Baby Blue"), The Doors, Warren Zevon and Patti Smith as well as never-before-seen footage.

For more reviews, please use these links:
Cinema Signals Master List
Cinema Signals Alphabetical List
Movies in Brief, 2007)
Movies in Brief, 2008 1st Quarter
Movies in Brief, 2008 2nd Quarter
Movies in Brief, 2008 4th Quarter

Movies in Brief, 2009 1st Quarter

Poisoned by Polonium: The Litvinenko File
The Edge of Heaven
War, Inc.
City of Men
Diminished Capacity
America the Beautiful
Man On Wire
Sukiyaki Western Django
Days and Clouds

     ~~  Jules Brenner  
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