Film Review

Old Yaller Goes to Mongolia

yelllow_dog.jpgThe Mongolian film The Cave of the Yellow Dog is one that I really wanted and expected to like, since I am generally a sucker for films set in that area of the world. But it proved a rather long 93 minutes. The problematic issue may be genre. This film proves a somewhat unsatisfying blend of fiction and documentary, lacking the dramatic story line we expect in fiction and the depth of depiction we expect in documentary.

The filmmaker, Byambasuren Davaa, was born in Mongolia in 1971, and her goal in this film is to bring that lost world of her youth to our attention: “the viewer is introduced to my Mongolian culture.

Second Honeymoon

honeymoon.jpgThe Honeymoon Killers Directed by Leonard Kastle, 1970. (Criterion DVD, 2003) Some movies were destined to be in black and white. Monochrome becomes them, not just because of the period in which they were realized, but somehow their subject matter would appear cheapened by the gaudiness of color. Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, and Psycho are three prime examples that benefit from the other worldliness of flickering grays. A rather late addition is the 1970 cult curio The Honeymoon Killers.

Tony Kushner Deserves Better

kushner.jpgTony Kushner certainly deserves a film on his theatre career. He’s a helluva writer, and he takes risks. But the film Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner takes no risks; it’s more like an infomercial trying to sell us Tony Kushner than it is like a documentary. Yes, he’s great and an obviously intelligent, warm and witty guy, but without the dark and the light, the yin and the yang, the overall effect is more Hallmark card than incisive view of an artist at work. Kushner deserves better. Of course, those who love Tony may love this film. But then, your mother loved the Mother’s Day cards you hand-colored for her as a child. That didn’t make them art.

Jagshemash! Do Not Watch Borat's Movie and Drive!

borat.jpgBorat: Cultural Learning of America Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is not a movie to watch while you're drinking chocolate milk. It will come back up through your nostrils and stain your shirt. Not once. Not twice, but many, many times. Breaking on the American screens November Sixth -- just in time for Election Day -- I predict Sasha Baron Cohen's new movie about the hopelessly misguided, disgusting and thoroughly reprehensible Kazakh TV reporter may cause more electoral carnage then the Foley affair. Consider -- if everyone in America goes to see it on opening day -- as they should -- they will be so paralyzed with joyous, politically incorrect rage they will simply stay home, eat Cheez-curls, and replay scene after insane scene in their Borat-addled minds, spewing curls all over the couch with each guffaw.

A Tale of Loss

petit_lieutenant.jpgA French film about cops? Sounds promising. But unfortunately Xavier Beauvois’s Le Petit Lieutenant doesn’t deliver on its initial promise. It opens at a large police academy graduation ceremony, full of pomp and military precision. Antoine (played with charm and energy by Jalil Lespert) is in the class and eager to move to Paris for his first assignment in a detective unit. Normandy, where he has grown up, is just too dull—too few crimes. Meanwhile, Caroline Vaudieu (the lovely Nathalie Baye) is returning to the force after a couple of years dealing with her drinking problem.

Good To Be Bad Girls

Purchase thru AmazonprincesasA film that focuses on the lives of prostitutes is likely to be more moving than informative, since—as the cliché goes—it’s the world’s oldest profession. Princesas (in Spanish with English subtitles), then, does not blow the viewer’s mind with any particularly new insights. Rather, it charmingly and quite engagingly tells the story of two contemporary Spanish hookers, one home-grown and one an illegal immigrant from the Dominican Republic. By virtue of their different origins, they fall on different rungs of the sex business pecking order.

Johnny and Clyde

pirates.jpgBy now you've seen Pirates of the Caribbean. Probably twice. You loved it. Come on, admit it. It's really hard and churlish not to like it. It has scares, thrills, laughs and chills. And it's beautifully photographed. And then, of course, there's that Depp character. You loved him. Come on, admit it. In the great tradition of the original Rat Pack (not the Brat Pack) we were privy to one huge mega gonzo star hamming it up, smirking all the way to the bank, and we cheered every step of the way. It's like Casino Royale's entire cast rolled into one. Insta-bedlam. To quibble with the movie (too long, too confusing, too unresolved, too many effects) would be missing the point.

Now that I've got that out of the way, I'll quibble. Not with the picture -- borrowing from Apocalypse Now and Indiana Jones and many of my nightmares -- but with the picture business.

Rhyme Tyme

rkelly.jpgNo one would have thought four years ago that R. Kelly could record anything more infamous than the tape allegedly showing him engaging in sexual activities with a minor. That video earned him a day in court. But late last year he released the long-form video of his hit Trapped in the Closet that is a masterpiece of Ed Wood proportions.

His "urban operetta" purports to tell the story of Sylvester (Kelly) who wakes up in a strange woman's bed one morning. And this being an operetta, he starts to singing. He realizes he has to get home to his own wife and sings about that as well. But then her husband arrives. And then the husband's boyfriend. And all of that has to be sung about, too.

Kicking Big Brother's Teeth In

vendetta.jpgSet some decades in the future, V For Vendetta is really a product of the past. Not just because it grew out of comic writer Alan Moore's resentment of Maggie Thatcher and everything that she came to represent at the time the original story was conceived, but because it draws so heavily on a fantasy of what the future might look like from a radicalized perspective that emerged from the post-'60s/punk era. In fact, had the picture been made twenty or thirty years ago, we might be recalling it as having been a bit prescient about how a campaign of fear might engender a totalitarian regime, the same way that 1984, a story that can certainly claim parentage to this picture, looked to the invasive eye of a malevolent authority.

Cowboys!

BrokebackThe word is out – and the word, apparently, is “cowboys.” As the year limped to a close and filmmakers made their last, frantic stabs at Oscar glory, two of the most-talked about films are, basically, Westerns turned inside out. Although Walk the Line and Brokeback Mountain may not have much in common (apart from the fact that they are both, at times, very good), they are decidedly more country than rock ’n’ roll.

Cowboys have always been a way for filmmakers to explore the frailty of human nature.