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Re: Short Takes
Posted: Sun Oct 08, 2006 11:31 pm
For some reason I didn't follow Miami Vice's initial release as closely as I wanted to, and then it sort of disappeared from my mind. But when I came across an Olivier Assayas interview in which he mentioned that he really liked the film despite some unevenness, I made a beeline to the nearest theatre in which it was still playing (one about 45 kilometers away). And I'm certainly glad that I did, especially for Mann's HD work. Though, like I stated in my post, I agree that it can't substitute for a stronger narrative base.
I'm not sure if you've seen Assayas' demonlover, but the characters in that film are also quite "rootless," and they've more or less become slaves to their demonic professions. So I can see why Assayas would appreciate Vice, though his film is certainly a much superior work because it digs deeper and comments on the state of our society at large.
Re: Short Takes
Posted: Tue Oct 10, 2006 4:31 pm
I own Demonlover on DVD, but when I wanted to watch it last year, I noticed that it has only a german language track.
That's why I got it so cheap, alongside Chereau's magnificent Son frere. Will have to seel both, and by better editions in the future.
I tried watching Mann's Collateral yesterday, but I was too stoned. I own the 2-disc special edition, and will watch it another time, but somehow I expected the cinematography to be better (after watching Miami Vice, that is).
The problem with the characters in Miami Vice for me was that Mann didn't give them enough depth (certainly not for an engaging love Story). So I wish he would have focused more on the operations, as this seemed to be his primary interest. (I#ve also read an interesting interview with him on that topic).
Re: Short Takes
Posted: Wed Nov 01, 2006 8:43 am
THE DEVIL'S MINER (U.S. / 2005)
*A 2006 U.S. Release*
The Andean city of Potos, Bolivia, which sits at an altitude of nearly 4000 meters, is said to be the highest city in the world. It was where Basilio Vargas, the 14-year-old protagonist of Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani's poignant documentary The Devils Miner, used to reside with his family until his father passed away. Now, along with his mother and two younger siblings, Basilio lives in a makeshift hut adjacent to the neighboring Cerro Rico ("Rich Mountain"). The reason being that him and his 12-year-old brother work as miners in one of the nearly depleted silver mines of Cerro Rico, which date back to the 16th century when the Spanish enslaved and exploited the local Indians for labor. While the Spanish might be gone, the conditions havent improved much as Basilio, the familys new breadwinner, logs long hours in the hellish, subterranean mines where 800 other children are also forced to work for one reason or another.
The filmmakers deftly follow the young man as he accounts his daily work routine, after which he does look forward to going home and watching television with his family (as long as the batteries dont run out). Basilio is smart enough to recognize the inherent risks of working in the mines (the respiratory disease of silicosis causes many to die in their 30s and 40s), but he needs to work until he finishes school and is able to find another profession. Until then, him and others (all ardent Catholics) pray to the devil figures, which were introduced by the Spanish inside the mines to scare the workers, to keep them alive. Remarkably shot on video, The Devils Miner is neither heavy-handed nor polemical; it simply documents a hitherto unknown life with all of its joys and sorrows. It is disappointing however that the filmmakers choose not to contextualize their effort within a proper political framework, though that shouldnt deter anyone from excavating on their own.
*THE DEVIL'S MINER premiered at the 2005 Rotterdam Film Festival. Since then, it has traveled to numerous other festivals, winning a plethora of awards along the way.
*Now available on DVD in the U.S. (First Run) (Extra features include a short film which revisits the lad one year later; links to online resources for further info, etc.)
Re: Short Takes
Posted: Mon Dec 11, 2006 7:01 am
[An old post]
BAD NEWS BEARS (U.S. / 2005)
Richard Linklaters recent "one film for me, one film for them" trend continues with Bad News Bears, and its quite obvious on which side of the ledger it lies. (Up next from Linklater is his independently produced animated opus, A Scanner Darkly, which is scheduled for a release early next year.) A remake of a 1976 film titled The Bad News Bears -- a film I havent seen but its said to be most popular for its subversive attitude towards "win-at-all-costs" mentality that pervades our culture in general and sports in particular -- the new "Bears" stars Billy Bob Thornton as a former ballplayer/current rodent exterminator who accepts an offer to coach a little league baseball team. A perpetual drunk, Thorntons coach Buttermaker ends up inheriting a bunch of misfits, including many whove been rejected by other teams, thus giving him even more reasons to not care. But once his team is embarrassed and he gets challenged by another coach (Greg Kinnear), Buttermaker starts to whip the lazy bastards into shape. Meanwhile, he acquires the services of an athletic young girl (Sammi Kane Kraft) to pitch (after witnessing her fast ball a young boy claims that hes just reached puberty). While Bad News Bears is mostly conventional with many of the requisite sports movie clichs, Linklater does throw a "curve-ball" or two along the way to keep things fresh (people whove seen the original might disagree). Whats quite amusing, however, is listening to these kids. The film pushes its PG-13 boundaries a couple of times even though its mostly in good taste, but there are parents out there wholl be shaking their heads while their kids snicker. Kinnear and Marcia Gay Harden are more or less wasted in supporting roles. But Thornton, who did something similar in his popular Bad Santa (2003), is fine and so are the kids who do as well here as the ones from Linklaters much better The School of Rock (2003).
*Available in the U.S. on DVD (Paramount).
Re: Short Takes
Posted: Thu Jan 11, 2007 9:37 am
ROMNTICO (U.S. / 2005)
*A 2006 U.S. Release*
Shot over a three-year period, Romntico is a profoundly moving and thoroughly humanistic documentary portrait of mariachi musician Carmelo Muiz Snchez. Directed by newcomer Mark Becker, it initially presents the stocky 57-year-old man, an "illegal" immigrant from Mexico, working in San Franciscos Mission District with his long-time friend and musical partner Arturo Arias. They dont make much: about $50 each per night. Carmelo sends most of what he earns to his family back in Salvatierra, a small Guanajuato municipality about a thousand miles south of the U.S. border. While Carmelo misses his family members, hes proud of the fact that he has done his best to support them, which was the reason why he risked his life to migrate three years ago. But upon learning that his diabetes-ridden mother is practically on her deathbed, he decides to go back home.
Becker has stated that he was influenced by such landmark documentaries as Pennebaker's Dont Look Back (1967) and Maysles Brothers' Salesman (1969). And thats part of the reason why he shot Romntico on film (Super 16-mm), a unique choice for docs nowadays. But any poetry hes been able to infuse the work with is only meant to enrich and deepen the drama of life -- the life which introduces new challenges to Carmelo once he is back in his financially-challenged town. Neither detached nor sentimental, Beckers approach cogently captures the spirit and determination of his protagonist; there isnt a moment here which calls out for attention. Romntico could have navigated further, perhaps to go full circle if the opportunity allowed itself, though it gains its power and resonance not only from the struggles that are shown, but also from the ones that arent.
*The film premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. It will be released on DVD by Kino International.
Re: Short Takes
Posted: Thu Mar 15, 2007 6:00 am
THE GOOD SHEPHERD (U.S. / 2006)
One of the most undervalued American films of 2006, The Good Shepherd is a somber, meditative work which refracts the enigmatic internal politics of the Cold War CIA through the individual account of one of its primary operatives. A composite of actual -- and controversial -- agency officials, Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) serves as our stoic, emotionally reserved protagonist. Like a few of his key counterparts, Wilson is initially seen mulling over the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961. He suspects a mole, a belief which gains some ground when a photograph and a scrambled audio reel come under his possession. The film then periodically flashbacks to major turning points in Wilsons life -- fathers death, initiation into Yales clandestine Skull and Bones, a haphazard marriage, the OSS (not mentioned by name) and then the CIA -- before exhibiting their compound effect on his personal and professional state.
Working from an ambitious and intelligent script by Eric Roth (Munich ), director Robert De Niro (A Bronx Tale ) ably demonstrates a keen sense of the indeterminate milieu and the residual repercussions on the emotional health of its beings. His commitment to the self-righteous Wilson, a character nearly unthinkable in American cinema today, is also noteworthy. In arguably his best performance till date, Damon is as precise and economical as the rest of the mise-en-scne (the film is shot by Oliver Stone-regular Robert Richardson), and hes well-supported by the likes of William Hurt (fellow operative), John Turturro (assistant), Angelina Jolie (wife), Michael Gambon (professor and spy), and De Niro himself, whose General Bill Sullivan is based on "Wild Bill" Donovan, the founder of the OSS. The Good Shepherd isnt perfect, but unlike more celebrated 2006 films as Blood Diamond and The Last King of Scotland, its motivations are pure and its politics uncompromising. The film treats its audience with dignity and class, and it deserves the same in return.
*THE GOOD SHEPHERD had its international premiere at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival (in-competition). A Silver Bear for "Outstanding Artistic Contribution" was awarded to the ensemble cast.
*The film will become available on DVD on April 3rd (Universal).