Sunday, May 30, 2010

Spy Next Door

When writing my review of The Drummer, which stars Jaycee Chan, Jackie Chan's son, I realized I never posted a review of this family-friendly movie, The Spy Next Door.  I took the kids to see it one afternoon to give Kelly some quiet time.  As anyone who has seen a Jackie Chan movie might expect, there are plenty of acrobatic martial arts stunts here, but for the family audience, the action is more comical, cartoonish, and nonlethal than is typical.  It's a fun movie with some fun action and a touching story.  If you watch it with the kids, and keep in mind that it's intended for kids, you'll have a good time.
A dramatic but rather silly rescue at the mall.

Chan plays Bob Ho, a mild-mannered pen importer living in suburbia.  He falls in love with Gillian, the beautiful single mom next door, but Gillian's kids can't stand him.  He wants to marry her, and he wants to tell her he's a spy, and he wants to leave espionage so he can settle down with her, but he can't find the right time.  When she's called away to care for her ailing dad, he jumps at the chance to look after the kids while she's gone, in hopes of doing some bonding with them. Unfortunately, he's right in the middle of a big case, and his nemesis, a Russian terrorist (remember when the bad guys were always the Russians?) comes after him.

Chaos ensues.  Gillian, appalled that he would allow her kids to be in danger due to his work as a spy, ditches him.  The kids, however, have finally started to warm up to him.  If you have seen this type of movie before, you won't be surprised by the heart-warming ending.

We all enjoyed The Spy Next Door, except perhaps for Chloe.  Chloe has a sympathy cry; when she's around a baby who's crying, she'll join right in.  Well, when the Russians attack, the little girl begins screaming.  It's not that scary a scene; it's a comedy, remember?  Besides kung-fu, there's ladder-fu, lawn furniture-fu, jacket-fu, and swimming pool skimmer net-fu, with the little girl alternatively screaming and cheering.  Ho has to fight part of the time with her clinging to his leg.  The fight ends comedically and victoriously for the good guys, but Chloe stayed in screaming mode for some time.

A good time with the kids.  Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Once again, Film Movement brings us a little known gem of a movie.  Arranged did not, as best I can tell, get much play in American theaters.  It played in film festivals in 2007 and 2008, won a couple of festival awards, and made it into Film Movement's DVD catalog.  Its obscurity is undeserved.

Rochel and Nasira meet as first year teachers in a New York public school.  They are certainly not prime candidates for friendship: Rochel is an orthodox Jew, Nasira, a muslim.  But they soon find they have something in common: their families are arranging marriages for them.  Neither is very excited about it, but they bond in their discomfort and help each out through the ordeal.  In an age in which these two groups sometimes want to blow each other up (as in For My Father), it's nice to see a portrayal of two families who take their religion and culture very seriously, yet have room for friendship with others.
The film belittles neither tradition.  Even thought each girl has reservations about the arrangement process specifically, and reveal some hints at wanting to reject the faith of their families, they seem to be committed, respectful, and faithful.  In fact, the only bigotry we see comes from the principal of the school, who chides them for not joining the women's movement, urging to reject their superstitions and join the modern world.

Both of these girls are delightful, charming, and attractive; they are both a catch for any man.  Arranged puts a positive spin on arranged marriages while poking fun at the process at the same time.  I have never been exposed first-hand to the culture of arranged marriage, but I think even its proponents in these religious communities will end the movie with a smile on their faces.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Zhan Gu (The Drummer)

Here's another good movie from Film Movement.  I have long been a fan of the Kodo Drummers, a Japanese drumming group,but I had never heard of U Theater, a similar drumming group from Taiwan.  The Drummer is a story mostly about one guy, but U Theater is the real star of this movie.  The nominal star is pretty good, too.  Sid, the son of a Hong Kong organized crime boss, is played by Jaycee Chan, son of Jackie Chan.  When his affair with a rival crime boss's mistress is discoverd (yeah, sounds pretty twisted doesn't it?) the rival boss demands that Sid's father cut off Sid's hands.  Loving father that he is (you know how loving mobsters can be), he spirits Sid out of the country to live in a mountain hideaway with his uncle.

Sid's a rebel (rebelling against your organized crime family is a bad thing?) who plays drums in a rock band.  The quiet life in the hills is killing him--until one day when he hears the distant sounds of drumming.  He discovers that a drumming group lives and rehearses nearby.  He sneaks off and spies on them, then demands to join the group.  They accept him, but assign him menial tasks to acclimate him to their culture and mindset.  Ultimately this group is his salvation, helping him find peace with himself and purpose in life.

I can't imagine a better commercial for U Theater.  Like Kodo (and forgive my ignorance, but the two seem much the same to me, but there may be significant music and cultural differences between them.  I am not so ignorant that I don't recognize that the Chinese and Japanese are not too fond of one another.), U Theater lives a monastic existence.  Isolated in their mountain hideaway, they live simply, with no electricity and few modern conveniences.  Their training seems to be more focused on physical discipline than musicianship.  Martial arts exercises play a role, as well.

The story isn't bad at all, but mostly I enjoyed seeing the drummers and getting a taste for the methods and lifestyle of the group.  The drummers in the movie are actual members of U Theater, and the setting is their training compound in Taiwan.  Enjoy the movie, but more than that, enjoy the drumming.  And if you've never seen this type of drumming before, take a look at this video.  It gives you a nice idea of their combination of drumming, performance art, dance, and acrobatics.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

(500) Days of Summer

At the beginning of (500) Days of Summer, the narrator states, "This is a story of boy meets girl.  But you should know up front, this is not a love story."  So I was warned.

But that didn't help me not be mad at Summer.  (She gets a few points for being Zooey Deschanel, who played Trillian in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  Seeing her on screen is pleasant yet frustrating; it reminds me of how much I liked the movie version of HHGG, but also reminds me that the sequels will never see the big screen.)  Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls in love with Summer.  Summer makes it clear that she doesn't believe in love, but then spends several months acting as if she is in love with Tom, doing all those things that people in love do.  Poor Tom.  She sends him on a roller coaster ride.
One bit illustrates this well.  He narrates as close up images of her flash across the screen: "I love her smile. I love her hair. I love her knees. I love how she licks her lips before she talks. I love her heart-shaped birthmark on her neck. I love it when she sleeps."  Later, after she ditches him, the same images flash, but with a revised narration: "I hate her crooked teeth. I hate her 1960s haircut. I hate her knobby knees. I hate her cockroach-shaped splotch on her neck. I hate the way she smacks her lips before she talks. I hate the way she sounds when she laughs."  I thought that was pretty clever.

Summer is one of those girls everyone likes.  (Early in the movie the narrator points out the increase of sales of ice cream when she was working at the ice cream shop.)  But poor Tom poured all he had into their relationship.  She took and took, all the while knowing that she couldn't or wouldn't reciprocate his feelings.  A lesson for Tom, but an unnecessary imposition of pain by Summer, a complete disregard for his feelings.  That's kind of the point of the movie, and, in a way, it's refreshing to see a romantic comedy where it doesn't all work out in the end.  Usually it's "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again for good."  In (500) Days of Summer, it's "boy meets girl, boy loses girl" and that's it.  Or, as one tag line puts it, "Boy meets girl.  Boy falls in love.  Girl doesn't."

In spite of my negative feelings, this was a very cleverly told movie with some great comedic moments and themes.  Worth watching.

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jetzt-- Nach So Viel Jahren (Now . . . After All These Years)

Before the Nazis came to power, the German village of Rhina was known as "the little Jerusalem of Prussia" because of the flourishing Jewish community.  At the time of the filming of this documentary (1981), the only evidence that Jews had ever lived there was a neglected graveyard.  In this disturbing film, we first hear from current residents of Rhina, who remember the Jewish populatoin with some fondness, and express a bit of cluelessness when asked about where they went.  The attitude seems to be "They just left!"  The younger residents of Rhina say their elders won't talk about it: "Nobody knows what happened to them."

Then the film shifts to New York, where we meet survivors of Rhina, Jews who were driven out.  Their memories are quite different, as they recall the harsh treatment they received from their countrymen: the breaking of windows, the burning of the synagogue, and the unyielding demand that the Jews leave Rhina. 

I was certainly interesting to see the two perspectives.  Selective memory?  Denial?  Both sides attest that outsiders came to town, adding to the violence, but they disagree as to the culpability of the townsfolk.  One survivor even names the person who set the fire to the synagogue.  Emotions and denial run high when the current residents watch film of their former neighbors testifying about their mistreatment.

No one can get inside the Nazi mind.  All of us have some kind of prejudice, to one degree or another.  What pushed the Germans from prejudice to hatred to contempt to thinking Jews are vermin to be eradicated?  What pushed the Gentiles of Rhina to expel, or at least cooperate in the expulsion, or their neighbors, people they interacted and trade with daily?  Now . . . After All These Years doesn't answer these questions, but it forces the viewer to think about how easy and commonplace the Holocaust became for the German.  Interesting, thought-provoking viewing.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Don Giovanni (Movie Glutton Opera Edition)

For the third consecutive year, Kelly and I are attending the Fort Worth Opera Festival.  The Festival's first offering, Mozart's Don Giovanni, was first staged October 29, 1787, in Prague, and has remained a favorite for opera fans.  I sat next to a lady who has seen it 15-20 times, starting with a 5th grade field trip to the New York Metropolitan Opera in the 1950s. 
Don Giovanni, based on the legends of Don Juan, covers many of the stereotypes of what you might picture as classic opera.  It's sung in Italian, of course.  A fat lady sings.  And they repeat themselves, over and over.  Kelly and I decided they squeeze a one hour opera into three hours by singing the same lines.  But the music, as you might expect from Mozart, is beautiful and rousing.  There were not any particular arias or melodies that really stood out to me, but the music was terrific overall.

The opera itself can't decide whether to be a tragedy or a comedy.  Of course, it has elements of both.  Don Giovanni is the lovable rogue; for some reason, women love him--lots of women.  His servant gets some laughs going over the book in which he records the Don's hundreds of liaisons.  Yet he's a manipulative, murderous rapist.  I couldn't help thinking of Tiger Woods.  He's gotten so much negative press; he just needs to find a good composer and librettist to put together an opera about him.  At least Tiger (as far as I know) never raped one of his lovers or murdered her father.  And Don Giovanni gets his due; Tiger just went to therapy.

Before the movies, the opera is one place where people went for entertainment.  I know it's been over 200 years, but I wonder how tastes and attitudes have changed.  Not to harp on somehting, but I can't imagine modern audiences of other media putting up with the repetition found in many operas.  Another thing that bothers me, something that you see in many operas and in Shakespeare, is the mistaken identity theme.  At one point, Don Giovanni trades hats and coats with his servant.  At first the ruse is believable because the servant interacts with one of Don Giovanni's lovers from a distance, but then both of them spend time up close with people who know them well and fool them even in close quarters.  I know it's a simple dramatic tool, but it irks me somehow.
I'm glad I got to see this classic.  The Fort Worth Opera didn't disappoint; they put on some fantastic programs.  Bass Hall is a wonderful venue.  This festival has gotten some terrific, well-deserved press.  I don't know that I'll go back and see Don Giovanni 20 times like my neighbor Saturday night, but I will look forward to the next Fort Worth Opera performance!

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I have never been to Antarctica, and probably never will go (unless I cough up the 10s of thousands it would take to run the Antarctica marathon.  Not likely.)  Whiteout is as close as I'll get.  That's the best part of the movie: a portrayal of life at a research station in one of the coldest, harshest, most unforgiving pieces of Earth.  The conditions are almost unimaginable there; it's almost like living on another planet, in terms of resources, precautions, and living conditions.

Now, why the writers decided to stage this fairly standard story of murder and betrayal there, I don't know.  The conditions and isolation of the setting certainly add to the drama.  I particularly liked the chasing and fighting scenes.  In order not to get lost in "whiteout" conditions, people link themselves to tethers running between buildings.  No big deal when you're just going from one building to the next, but when someone with murderous intent comes after you with an ice axe, getting those caribiners open presents a bit more challenge.  Trying to have a fist fight with someone when you're in arctic cold gear and trying to navigate the tethers looks tough, too.
I enjoyed Whiteout, but did not love it.  It's a solid, suspenseful story, with some interesting back stories for the characters.  Other than the setting, though, there's not much to set it apart.

Bottom line, 2 stars.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

District 9

I don't know how much creative input Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings, had in District 9; he is listed as "producer."  Whatever the case, the product is fabulous.  I admit, I fully expected this to be a great movie, and I'm a sucker for sci-fi, so I was predisposed to love this one.  I was not disappointed.

The set up for District 9 is brilliant: an alien ship arrives and hovers over Johannesburg.  After a few weeks of no activity, humans enter the ship and find it crowded with sick, malnourished, dying aliens.  They ferry them to the surface and ultimately set up District 9, a refugee camp for the aliens, whom the humans derogatorily dub "prawns."  Alien/human relations deteriorate until, after many years, the humans decide to relocate the aliens to another, remote area.
Wikus talks with an alien.  See why they call them prawns?

After setting that scene, the film proceeds in documentary fashion, following Wikus van der Merwe, a bureaucrat charged with coordinating the relocation of the aliens, who now number over a million.  These scenes reminded me of The Office, with Wikus showing the same kind of cheery incompetence that Steve Carell portrays.  Wikus and his team enter the refugee camp, going door to door, urging the aliens to sign a notice of eviction, agreeing to be relocated.  They are met with resistance, and end up killing several aliens.  Wikus, while searching a house for weapons, accidentally squirts himself with a black, oily, alien substance, then takes the container for examination.

I have never been in a refuge camp or a South African shanty town, but I can certainly imagine that those places served as a model for this movie.  The parallels abound of the humans' mistreatment of the aliens to the South Africans' treatment of blacks, or for that matter any group's treatment of those they deem inferior.  It's only when the black substance begins to alter Wikus, turning him into an alien, that he begins to see things from their perspective, realizing the need to work together with the aliens toward their common desires.  He begins to see them as individuals, as families, and has sympathy with their plight.

When the humans realize that with the alien DNA he has assimilated, Wikus can operate the powerful alien weaponry they have seized and, up to now, have not been able to use, he becomes a target; they want to use his genetic material to develop a means for humans to use the weapons.  Wikus flees, and can only find refuge in District 9.  He and the alien whose canister Wikus took team up to help each other out.

Signs such as these clearly recall "whites only" signs in South Africa and the southern U.S.

There is certainly some social commentary here, but it's almost too obvious and predictable to comment on.  That does not detract, however, from the believable alien characters, and the exploration of the complex relationship between human and alien.  The effects are brilliant, the action is top-rate (if a bit gory--but it's mostly aliens being dismembered, so that's OK, right?), and the story is solid.  Like I said, the geek in me is predisposed to like this movie, but I think even a non-sci-fi fan can enjoy it.  This might be one worth seeing again.

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Den Brysomme Mannen (The Bothersome Man)

This Norwegian film (another award-winning offering from Film Movement ) was a pleasant surprise for me, oddly humorous, a little disturbing, and thoughtfully entertaining.  Coincidentally, there are some pretty strong parallels to The Prisoner, which I reviewed the other day here.  As in The Prisoner, our hero, Andreas, arrives in an ordinary, strangely familiar, yet a bit too perfect town.  He's given a perfect job, rewarding but not too demanding, surrounded by cheerful, friendly coworkers.  He meets a nice woman, with whom he develops a relationship.  All seems to be going well.

Soon things begin to seem too perfect and too lifeless at the same time.  Everyone is happy and cheerful, but no one really feels.  The food is tasteless.  The alcohol is not intoxicating.  And romance and sex are non-sensual.  When things get dull with his girlfriend, he strikes up a romance with a new woman.  Even though she does not reject him, however, she shows no feeling for him, and when he tells the first girl of his indiscretion, she replies with a yawn.  As the futility of it all dawns on him, he seeks to leave the city, but finds he can't, so he attempts suicide, ultimately unsuccessfully.

In a not-so-subtle way, The Bothersome Man reminds the viewer to take in that which makes life worth living, the flavors and joys of life, the uniqueness of people in our lives, and the importance of enjoying experiences and people.  We never really learn how or why Andreas ends up here, but that only adds to the mystery and draw of the film.  Highly recommended.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Good German

The coolest thing about The Good German is the style in which it was shot.  It not only mimics old black and whites from the 40s and 50s, it used that era's techniques and technology, in terms of lighting, sound, and camera lenses.  So the feel is very authentic.  In some ways, the story and dialogue captures the era as well.

Unfortunately, the plot and characters disappoint.  It's post-WWII Berlin, at the time of the Potsdam Conference.  Tully, the driver, is taking advantage of opportunities on the black market to make a few bucks.  Jake, the journalist, is returning to Berlin, where he discovers that his driver, Tully, is having an affair with Jake's former mistress, Lena.  And as it happens, both the Russians and the Americans want to know the whereabouts of Lena's husband, a German rocket scientist.

When Tully turns up murdered, the story gets interesting, and Jake wants to get to the bottom of it.  The political and military backdrop of this period of history do make the story interesting, but, I never got into the characters.  I didn't care who killed Tully, I didn't care if Jake and Lena got back together, and I didn't care if Lena got passage out of Berlin.  Her husband, the Good German, I could have cared about, but he had such a small role, I didn't end up really caring about him, either.

Definitely a stylish movie, with some good substance, but not enough story or characters to care about.

Bottom line, 2 stars.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Prisoner (2009)

Several years ago I checked out all the videos of The Prisoner and made Kelly watch them with me.  For those who don't know, The Prisoner was a short-lived series on BBC in the late 1960s.  It only ran for 17 episodes, but it gained quite a cult following.  It has long been available on video, but AMC decided to capitalize on the series' popularity by making a new miniseries version of it.  The results are mixed, to say the least.

On the plus side, the production values are certainly higher now than they were 40 years ago.  That said, the original had some pretty nifty sets and effects.  The new version is evidence that a bigger budget and better technology alone don't necessarily lead to improvements.  The acting is pretty good, too.  James Caviezel plays Number 6, and Ian McKellen plays Number 2.  Both of these gentlemen are terrific actors, and they do the best they can with the material.  The other performances are equally as good.

Both series are set in an idyllic village, where everyone seems happy and every need is taken care of.  Beyond the village, there is nothing, or at least what everyone's delusion tells them.  Number 6 finds himself trapped in the village after resigning from his job.  The whole series has him trying to figure out what or where the village is, why he was sent there, and how he can escape.  The original series snowballed into nonsense at the end, but in a sort of weirdly charming way.  The new miniseries' resolution is also nonsensical and weird, but tries too hard to be more realistic, and in doing so ends up disappointing.
Fans of the original series will enjoy this updating, mostly for its nods to the original.  The big white ball that prevents escape from the village makes some appearances, though it's not as prominent.  Some visual clues are there, like the high wheel bicycle, and, of course, the villagers use the catch phrase, "Be seeing you."  But besides the overall set-up, in terms of story there's very little connection.

On the merits of the miniseries alone, I wouldn't recommend this to anyone who is not a fan of the original TV series.  You will want to find a better use of 5 hours or so.  Be seeing you!

Bottom line, 1 1/2 stars.

Friday, May 7, 2010


I know this won't surprise those of you who know me, but I occasionally have bad, immature taste.  For instance, I like the hot dogs at QT.  When I was working nights (No longer!  Yeah!), if I needed gas on the way home, I would stop at QT and get 2 hot dogs.  I mean, why stop at one?  They're $1.29 for one, but 2 for $2.  Getting only one would be such a waste.  What's really in them, you ask?  And how long have they been sitting there on the roller-cooker thing?  I don't know.  I enjoy them, and I haven't gotten sick yet.

Adventureland is a similar pleasure for me.  It's about a bunch of mostly college age kids who work a summer job at a small amusement park, each of them hoping for something better in life.  They smoke pot. They have few qualms about extra-marital sex.  Their lives are pretty pointless.  But it made for a funny movie nonetheless.

One big reason I liked it is the music.  The movie, set in 1987, the year I graduated from high school, has a soundtrack full of old favorites as well as some music I nostalgically despise.  I think I would share their reaction to hearing "Rock Me Amadeus" 20 times a day, but I enjoyed hearing from The Cure, David Bowie, Rush and others.  Besides the music, the film picks up on the clothes, catch phrases, and video games, taking me back to high school.
The story's not great; in fact, the love story at the center of the movie is kind of sick: boy meets girl, girl likes boy but she's sleeping with the married maintenance man/wanna be rock star, girl wants to break up with married man, boy finds out about married man and gets mad, girl loses boy, boy gets girl.  If you followed that, you may be thinking, like me, Who cares?  Give me a love story I can get behind.

There are some pretty funny lines.  I liked Joel, the "intellectual" of the group.  A little socially inept with girls, he and Sue, one of the park hotties, go out with James and Arlene, the couple whose relationship I so eloquently described above.  Sue asks about his major.  "Russian literature and slavic languages," he says.  She asks, "What career track is that?"  "Cabby, hot dog vendor, marijuana delivery guy.  The world is my oyster."  Later they get a little drunk and end up making out.  Not believing her poor taste, she says, "I'm so surprised I'm making out with you."  "Me too," he responds, not believing his luck.  When they next meet, she tells him her parents have forbidden her from seeing him, because he's Jewish and she's Catholic.  He protests, "But I'm an atheist!  I mean more of a pragmatic nihilist, I guess, or an existential pagan, if you will!"

So I admit, this certainly isn't the most wholesome movie I have seen; like a QT hot dog, there's plenty to enjoy, but it has a lot of filler that's questionable.  But, unlike many teen comedies, it does not rely on lots of bathroom humor or sight gags for laughs.  In spite of its thematic and plot problems, the humor in Adventureland makes for a pretty good show.

Bottom line, 2 stars.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bright Star

I've never been much of a reader of poetry.  As a reading glutton, I tend not to have the patience to read as slowly as one must read to enjoy and appreciate poetry.  But this movie about John Keats sounded decent, so I picked it up, and I was not disappointed.  Bright Star was nominated for an Oscar, but for the costume design.  The costumes were great, of course, but the movie certainly stands above the level of a costume drama.
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel forever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.

Keats and Fanny Brawne were neighbors.  They were acquaintances, but at one point they shared a duplex and Fanny's family and Keats became very close.  Their bedrooms shared a wall; they tenderly reveled in the awareness of the other on the other side of the wall each night.  I am assuming the chastity with which they carried on their love affair accurately reflects real life.  They did kiss and express their deep physical attraction to one another, but the movie never implies that they consummated their relationship.  In fact, on the occasion of Keats's going abroad, Fanny says, "You know I would do anything," seeming to offer herself.  Keats simply replies, "I have a conscience."  Besides, Fanny's little brother and sister are constant chaperones for the young lovers!

At first Fanny is not sure what to think of Keats's poetry.  She openly expresses disdain, and sends her sister Toots to purchase a copy of his recent book of poems.  Toots explains to the bookseller, "My sister has met the author and she wants to read it for herself to see if he's an idiot or not."  Fanny comes around and seeks Keats's tutelage.  He explains, "A poem needs understanding through the senses.  The point of diving into a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore, but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water.  You do not work the lake out, it is an experience beyond thought.  Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept the mystery."  I don't know if this is from something he wrote, or is something he may have said that the screenwriter put in his mouth, but I like it.  Similarly, he tells Fanny that writing poetry "ought to come like leaves to a tree, or it better not come at all."

The love between Fanny and Keats inspires, but more than that, I was inspired to pursue his poems.  The movie gives a context to some of his poems, whether addressed to or inspired by Fanny, or simply by revealing some of the personality and events behind the poems.  Visually beautiful and dramatically captivating, this is a great movie for romantics, and for any present or future lover of Keats's poetry.

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (The Baader Meinhof Complex)

I don't have a lot of patience for the radicals of the 1960s and 1970s.  So they opposed the war in Viet Nam, rebelled against what they viewed as repressive cultural norms, and experimented with drugs.  Congratulations.  Maybe they were right about the war, maybe some cultural norms need to challenged, and maybe illicit drugs aren't any worse than alcohol (and maybe they are).   Der Baader Meinhof Komplex covers this period in German history, specifically the activities of the Red Army Faction (RAF).  

They start by protesting the German support of the Iranian government.  A vocal yet peaceful demonstration turns violent when the supporters of the Iranians, with the full support and participation of the German police, attack the protesters, leaving at least one dead.  I can certainly join the protesters in their displeasure.  But they respond with fire bombing a department store, and, ultimately, the assassination of their political opponents.
Protesters flee the German police.

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex tells the  story of idealists with an arguably worthy cause letting their movement spiral out of control to the point where whatever ideals they started with become indefensible in light of their actions.  The movie's not bad, and I'm assuming it's fairly accurate.  Although it portrays the movement's founders in a positive, almost hagiographic light, it seems pretty fair otherwise.  The second and third generation of the movement are shown in their immaturity and tendency to overreact, and the government often seems reasonable and responsible in their treatment of the group.

Unless you are particularly interested in the history behind this movie, I wouldn't recommend it.

Bottom line, 2 stars.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

La Ventana (The Window)

Antonio is elderly, bedridden, and probably does not have long to live.  His son, a renowned pianist, is coming to visit.  La Ventana encapsulates the day of preparation, Antonio's reminiscing, and his son's short visit.  Even though he's on the brink of death, Antonio remains cheerful and positive throughout, making the most of his last hours.
Set on Antonio's remote estate in Patagonia, the setting is desolate, but serene, like the movie.  This is a slow, sparse movie, with little action and dialogue, but somehow comes off as beautiful and peaceful.  I was left wishing to know more about Antonio, his relationship with his son, and his son's feelings for his dad.  Antonio is clearly a father who loves his son, no matter what, and welcomes him home with joy.

La Ventana is definitely not a film for the multiplex, and would put many viewers, accustomed to non-stop action and rapid fire dialogue, to sleep.  But enjoyed for what it is, it's definitely a winner.  (By the way, this is another Film Movement film.)

Bottom line, 3 stars.