Sunday, January 30, 2005

Deep Cut DVD, Vol. II: Cries And Whispers (1972)

With the dawning era of unending queues on popular DVD Rental sites, unlimited virtual shelf-space and DVR technology, the forgotten and forlorn films of the past are receiving renewed attention. In response Your Movie Dude offers a new series, Deep Cut DVD, of brief reviews of some of those gems currently available for your visual consumption on shiny disc. These tidbits are meant for the uninitiated, the curious, and the seekers of new, higher and fertile cinematic grounds. So go ahead...add it to your queue.

Volume II: Cries And Whispers (1972)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Harriet Andersson; Karri Sylwan; Ingrid Thulin; Liv Ullman
Criterion Collection - 91 Minutes

By Sweden's master auteur, Ingmar Bergman, Cries is a quiet, yet startling film about life and death, love and hatred. In a beautiful mansion at the turn of the twentieth century, Agnes (Andersson) lies dying, stricken with cancer. Her two equally well-off sisters, Karin (Thulin) and Maria (Ullman) come home to help Anna (Sylwan), the family's maid, see Agnes through her final days. Through their flashbacks and their actions, we learn that the two sisters' motivations for coming home are purely selfish; they return because they have to, not because they want to. Once we meet their dry, arrogant rich husbands, its clear that they are less alive then their dying sister and the maid who maternally has truly looked after her. Beautifully shot, Sven Nykvist (who won the Oscar for Cinematography that year) uses red, black and white, almost exclusively (like a White Stripes album cover), on the parchment of each of the film's frames, starkly illustrating the inner-souls and desires of its characters. His remarkable work inside the mansion often looks like actual portraits, dispelling the myth that beautiful photography in film must be external natural landscapes. What's equally compelling about the film is that Bergman foregoes filling his viewer in on the much of the background of the main characters or their situations, preferring to concentrate on the complexities of their conflicts with one another by restricting dialogue and forcing his actors to really emote, often in close-up. These cinematic traits can be a jolt for an American audience that is used to and even expects to get everything, but their withholding is no less a treat and its rewards are greater. If you have seen Bergman's more noted classics like The Seventh Seal or Wild Strawberries, then please, imbibe. If not, and you are looking for something different, challenging and somewhat shocking, then please, dig in.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

Hotel Rwanda: A Film Review

Once in awhile, a film will come down the pike whose subject matter is so vital as to almost render the cinematic trivialities of “good” or “bad” unimportant. In fact, a tribute should be made to the filmmakers for merely getting it made period and thus bringing its topic into expanded consciousness and conversation. Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda deserves your consideration for that category. For this is the kind of film that hesitates to entertain you, preferring instead to task you with a most noble chore: inform you, nay, shake you from your existence – even if for a moment – pushing your awareness of the larger realities of this world that you may have ignored or not known about before.

Rwanda features Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager of the exclusive Hotel Des Milles Calline, a four star resort that caters to mostly rich tourists in Kigali, Rwanda. Rusesabagina is excellent at his job, catering to every culinary and alcoholic whim, no matter how difficult to obtain. A groomed and tailored suit, a look-you-in-the-eye handshake and rare bottle of single malt Scotch are the tools he employs to maintain the fine image of the hotel and himself. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to stock favors and contacts should the appropriate time come. Indeed, that time comes, and quickly. When a delicate peace between the two factions that make-up the Rwandan populace – the Hutus and the Tutsis – breaks, a genocidal chaos breaks out as a militia-sponsored, hatchet-wielding Hutu mob ravages the countryside for any Tutsi man, woman and child that it comes across (eventually going on to kill more than a million of them). As Nazi-esque propaganda crackles out of the radio, Rusesabagina’s trendy hotel becomes overrun. First tenuously protected by a UN envoy headed by Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte), the hotel becomes a refuge for fleeing Tutsi families and sympathizers. The tourists, along with Rusesabagina’s boss, are all evacuated, leaving him in charge. As the nightmarish horde approaches, Rusesabagina’s acquired layers of protection - particularly the West and the UN - all peel away, leaving him alone to protect his family and the hundreds of displaced souls forced into his care.

Considering that writer/director Terry George was born in Northern Ireland, it may come as no surprise that he is able to portray bloodstained national strife in a completely convincing, almost documentary-level reality. Amidst this staged anarchy, he also gets excellent performances from his leads. Sophie Okonedo, as Paul’s wife Tatiana, is marvelous in her first big movie role. As far as Mr. Cheadle is concerned, I have always counted myself among the growing legions of his fans. However, in most of his parts, it seems he is left to chew secondary scenery that all tastes somewhat similar. In Rwanda, Cheadle is finally given the room he deserves to channel his immense talent and thoroughly disappear into a fully fleshed-out character. He easily earned the Oscar nomination he received for this film.

It shouldn’t be lost on a contemporary American audience that it was Belgian invasion and colonization of Rwanda that caused the rift between the two groups. The invaders separated the populace strictly by their perceived appearance before putting one group in power and leaving a mess behind. Like Roland Joffe’s Killing Fields before it, one hopes that a film like Hotel Rwanda makes at least some of those viewers recognize that their backyard does not end where its native journalists or averted government eyes say it does. I, personally, would prefer not to learn about this kind of barbaric tragedy years after the fact, in a movie.

official website/imdb

Monday, January 17, 2005

Deep Cut DVD, Vol. I: The Night Of The Hunter (1955)

With the dawning era of unending queues on popular DVD Rental sites, unlimited virtual shelf-space and DVR technology, the forgotten and forlorn films of the past are receiving renewed attention. In response comes a new series, called Deep Cut DVD, of brief reviews of some of those gems currently all available for your visual consumption on shiny disc. These tidbits are meant for the uninitiated, the curious, and the seekers of new, higher and fertile cinematic grounds. So go ahead...add it to your queue.

Volume 1: The Night Of The Hunter (1955)
Directed by: Charles Laughton
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters, Lillian Gish and Peter Graves

Noted 1940's/50's screenstar Charles Laughton's sole directorial credit and it is a dark, noirish masterstroke. Robert Mitchum is absolutely terrifying as Harry Powell, a preacher who roams the countryside shrouding himself in strict religious adherence without tolerance committing a sharp blade against those he feels are ribald sinners. While serving a short sentence with condemned bank robber and murderer Ben Harper (Peter Graves), Powell overhears Harper sleep-mumbling about the $10,000 he had made off with, the location of which only Harper's two young children know. Freed from incarceration, Powell tracks down and nightmarishly ingratiates himself into Harper's family, including marrying his ex-wife Willa (Shelly Winters), and torments the kids for the cash. Robust with suspense while compact (93 minutes), the film features some glorious, innovative, expressionistic black and white cinematography; if ever a film's frames begat its emotions, this is it. It is so influential, in fact, that one of Powell's early speeches about the famously scrawled inscriptions of "love" and "hate" on his fists is featured, almost word-for-word, in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing. Forget about the few dated moments that liter the film here and there, and dim the lights, sit back, watch, and submit.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Your Movie Dude's Epic, Huge Top Ten Movies Of The Year 2004 List Thingy

Wasn’t it only yesterday that lists were used solely for the purposes of food shopping or as something Santa checked twice? A simpler time when breezy summer days passed to the static sounds of the counted-down top 500 rock songs of all-time on the radio; the only real list that mattered? Drift away, for a moment, into the welcoming grasp of childhood nostalgic tranquilities past, before I rudely slam you with the reality of today: lists are everywhere and like Gremlins fed after midnight, they are multiplying, fast. Every magazine, network, website, blog, man, woman and child categorizes something according to their “expert” opinion. It’s gotten so that I made an actual entire outfit out of paper containing these little monsters and nobody looked twice. Ok, I’m lying. But making a list has become, along with owning a gun and drinking moonshine, an inalienable American rite. So without further ado, and while VH1 subjects me to the Top 100 Red Carpet Moments…again, I present to you my top ten and worst bottom-feeding three movies of the year (and a few other goodies thrown in as well). Enjoy!


The most fun I had watching a movie (released in 2004) on DVD at home. Even if I didn’t get all of the zombie movie references, this horror film spoof is well made, lively (no pun intended) and highly entertaining. Hail Britain!
The best from the foreign “art house,” both films hail from France. Both films are crafted beautifully; Patrice Laconte’s STRANGERS a comic, quirky, romantic tale while Cedric Kahn’s RED LIGHTS is a darker treatise on modern adult manhood in an unraveling marriage.
Putting politics aside for a moment, the film is most intriguing as an op-ed piece; an expensive, visual op-ed piece that gathered unique footage and a boatload of heated, but known, argument points in one package. To the large mouth and body that spurred a documentary renaissance, I pay homage.
The most fun I had in a theater this year. Paul Greengrass's (BLOODY SUNDAY) true popcorn action thriller has a simple, agile plotline and an actions-speak-louder-than-no-words hero in Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). A summer action flick that all others who come after it should learn from.
Kind of like going to a rock 'n' roll zoo and intimately studying the inhabitants of the heavy-metal cage for two hours, if that were possible. Not just for Metallica fans, but an insightful portrait worthy of any music fan’s attention.
In a year that has produced a thickening haze of biopics, this was the best. Simultaneously and deftly portraying its protagonist’s traits and accomplishments, it treats an often still-taboo subject, sex, frankly and maturely.
Like RAGING BULL and a few others, this is a boxing movie less about boxing and more about the boxer. Director Clint Eastwood, on a bit of a roll, has effortlessly created a superior heartfelt tale of determination and bravery in what feels like handmade cinema.
Richard Linklater’s eloquent tale of true love lost and true love found again is a rare instance where a sequel is even more charming and fulfilling then its excellent predecessor, 1995’s BEFORE SUNRISE. An exceptional instance where the main characters, along with the audience, have grown more worldly and weary in the intermittent real time.
Spare. Poetic. Beautiful. One of my favorite films of the year. An amped-down Jim Carrey shines along with Kate Winslet in director Michel Gondry and noted screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s twisty story of amour that will tug at anyone with a beating heart and warm blood flowing through their veins.
Alexander Payne’s triumph gives, in ample supply, what I love about any great film: true, yet flawed characters who shed that restrictive skin and become people; several moments of subtle, sharp humor; and moments of gripping emotional depth that cause serious personal contemplation; the film sticks with you for days, long after its last credit has lifted up towards the sky.


Cliché-drenched, non-scary horror thrillers with creepy kids are bad enough. Cliché-drenched, non-scary horror thrillers with a non-sensical, dim storylines are absolutely dreadful.
Even getting to stare at Sara Foster’s unquestionable beauty for 88 minutes (which felt interminable!) couldn’t save this stale, half-assed, boring, half-baked “comic” caper remake.
Good luck surviving this unfunny bit of trash. This is the kind of movie they should hand out merit badges to the three leaving audience members who sat through CHRISTMAS in October (one of whom was presumably James Gandolfini’s mother). Ben Affleck’s smarmy, self-aggrandizing, annoying, cutesy character may just be the real reason why the rest of the world hates us.


Guiltiest Pleasure (THE DAY AFTER TOMMORROW): I know the CGI wolves looked terrible and were pretty pointless. I know director Roland Emmerich made GODZILLA. I know the Dennis Quaid’s trek was as realistic as that leprechaun who tells me to burn stuff. I know that Sela Ward’s character’s sub-plot was totally manipulative. But, what can I say? I…got…sucked…in. Guilty as charged.

Most Overrated Movie (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE): At the risk of taking heat on this (it is selling like hotcakes on DVD), I am not in love with Napoleon or his Liger. Yes, I laugh at these characters because, like P.T. Barnum’s freak show, it’s easy to point and chuckle. But this was less a film then a series of skits with emotionless vessels that left no impression, good, funny, or bad, on me.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Assassination Of Richard Nixon: A Review

Few real-life personalities have received as much cinematic attention over the past quarter century then former president Richard Milhous Nixon. His political career, likeness and exploits have formed the foundation for films in such divergent genres as the biopic (Oliver Stone’s Nixon); the political thriller (Alan J. Pakula’s All The Presiden't Men) and satire (Andrew Fleming’s Dick). Niels Mueller’s directorial debut, The Assassination Of Richard Nixon adds assassin character-study to the list while bumping the 37th President’s full name onto the marquee. Like All The Presiden't Men, Nixon is not played by an actor here – intermittently shown giving speeches on television instead – but is the focus of the dogged obsessions and goals of the films’ protagonists.

Based on true events, Assassination depicts the slow, burning descent into madness of Samuel Bicke (Byck in reality), played to full tortured-soul effect by Sean Penn. When we meet Bicke, he is a struggling furniture salesman trying unsuccessfully – and at times cover-your-eyes awkwardly - to get his wife, Marie (Naomi Watts), and his kids back from whom he has been separated. To prove his self-worth to his family and himself and to finally chase his American Dream, he attempts to take out a federal loan to start a mobile-tire business with his good friend, Bonny Simmons (Don Cheadle). What leads to Bick’s deterioration is an unassailable desire for pure, golden honesty from everyone around him, a rather odd quality for a man who has chosen sales as his gig. Bicke, of course, soon finds that everybody is bending the truth to earn a buck, festering into a slimy disease that irks him to his core. When his boss Jack (Jack Thompson) tells him that President Nixon is the greatest salesman (equals crook) in the country – having sold America on him twice with a war-ending platform he didn’t adhere to – Bicke finds the ultimate target for his anger (and we find a slight liberal-biased analogy to the current administration). Bicke’s goal thus shifts from American Dream to fame, elevation from what he calls being a tiny, unknown “grain of sand” on the beach that is the population of the United States.

That Mr. Penn is an excellent actor is an undeniable fact. He portrays Bicke as a pathetic simpleton, adding a natural slouch and unsure stutter to emphasize the peeling away, layer-by-layer, of Bicke’s sanity. Yet these traits and his overall performance, at times and especially in the hands of a first-time director, can get amplified into 1990’s Al Pacino-style overacting. But Mueller, from a script he co-wrote with Kevin Kennedy, gives an overall yeoman’s effort, achieving chilling effect in one disturbing point of view shot where Bicke holds a shaky gun at an unknowing bystander. Indeed, Mueller seems to want to channel a more famous would-be assassin character study, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, his “Bicke” a mere “l” away from “Bickle.” Yet where Travis Bickle is striking out against dirty, scummy, urban evil – personified by Harvey Keitel’s character Sport – Bicke’s beef is with dishonesty for profit, an inescapable fact-of-life that is as American as apple pie. Thus the film does not quite crawl under your skin and reach deep into your gut; while you oddly may find yourself identifying with and bloodthirsty for Bickle to kill, you find yourself pitying Bicke and hopeful that he fails.

The Assassination Of Richard Nixoncarries with it the kind of strained seriousness one may expect from a limited release film with a juicy cast that opens just before Oscar’s finish line. Unlike its namesake, however, I’m not sure the film will be remembered, for better or worse, long after its term is over.

official website/imdb