Tuesday, January 26, 2010

2009 Revisited- My "Best of"

Here at the end of January, I am finally getting around to saying a bit more about the 2009 films that I most liked. In no particular order...

(still from Treeless Mountain)
TREELESS MOUNTAIN was simply a delight. It's a pensive rich tale of two child sisters in Korea, their relationship, dependence on and responsibility for one another for lack of adults. Quiet and tender and wonderful. So Yong Kim, who made the excellent In Between Days a few years ago, is really establishing her perfectionist distinct style and it will be exciting to see what she comes up with next. 

Carlos Reygadas' gorgeous SILENT LIGHT opens with one of the most beautiful sunrises captured on film. It's as though the story comes to life with this awakening in the sparse and vast Mexican countryside. All of the actors are non-professionals, which makes the film seem like a documentary. A shocking, scandalous, yet still tale of Mennonite adultery.
(still from Silent Light)

Another film set in Mexico that made a great impression on me is SIN NOMBRE by Cary Fukunaga. Rarely do we get to see with gritty realism what migrants from the south go through to get to the US, and Fukunaga went to great lengths to make this story authentic. The in depth look at gang life, the migratory process and an ill-fated love story make this film layered and rich.

(still from Munyurangabo)
Shot in Rwanda in only 11 days on a super-16mm camera, Lee Issac Chung's MUNYURANGABO is like no film I've ever seen. Also using non-professional actors and made by a non-native (coincidentally Asian American) director, it's kind of a miracle that this film turned out so perfectly. The first feature film in the Kinyarwanda language, it's a wonderful story of impossible friendship, unlikely forgiveness, and unexpected reconciliation.

With all the hype of Lee Daniels' PRECIOUS, I wasn't sure what to expect. But I was pleasantly surprised that it blew me away. Incorporating elements that we've seen before but never in this context, Precious was extremely effective and moving. The film has raised concerns about race and storytelling (Jenn shared this article by Malkia Cyril that I liked). But I was deeply impressed, physically impacted, and I think this is an infinitely valuable film.

(still from Sita Sings the Blues)
Probably my favorite film of the past few years is SITA SINGS THE BLUES (Nina Paley). A gorgeous, brilliant and fantastically fun animated film, there's nothing else like it.  You can watch it here for free. But I strongly urge you to see it in a theater if at all possible (it's playing at IFC in NYC last I checked). Or buy a DVD. It's well worth it and is one of those films you can watch again and again with great enjoyment, lend it out etc. 

I would not have thought that I would include Lars von Trier's ANTICHRIST on a list like this. But the fact is that this movie has stayed with me like no other. I think it would take a lot of work for me to entirely deconstruct it for myself, were that at all possible. Charlotte Gainsbourg's performance is one of a lifetime. And the issues raised are poignant and rarely handled with such intensity and courage.

Another film set in Mexico that deeply impressed me this year was Alex Rivera's SLEEP DEALER. I've been a fan of Rivera as a humorous culture critic video artist for years, so it was exciting to see he was coming out with a narrative feature (like when Miranda July made Me and You and Everyone We Know). But Sleep Dealer exceeded my expectations. I am not a fan of science fiction, but work dealing with race and class and futuristic situations is exciting, like an Octavia Butler book. Sleep Dealer way out-Avatars Avatar.

(still from Sacred Places)
We see far too few images of life in Africa and SACRED PLACES (Jean-Marie Téno) is simply a treat in this respect, fantastic candy for a film programmer and microcinema organizer who dreams of exhibiting film in Africa. Téno's documentary leads us through the streets of the acclaimed Cameroonian director's native Ouagadougou, peeking in on how his countrymen interact with cinema.

I was disappointed with Jane Campion's BRIGHT STAR when I first saw it. I knew I was going to see a period piece and perhaps this film dwelled too much in that realm. But in retrospect the inevitable beauty of a Jane Campion film stays with me, I see fields of flowers full of life, and this alone is a wonderful thing. Abbie Cornish's performance as Fanny Brawne is absolutely outstanding as well, and that too will not leave me.
(still from Bright Star)

There is little I like more than a good documentary that blows my mind with new information and changes the way I live my life. FOOD, INC. (Robert Kenner) is such a film. I'll never look at corn or beef or anything that I regularly eat the same way again.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Venus Boyz

So again it took me 10 years to see a pivotal acclaimed documentary. I watched Venus Boyz (Gabrielle Baur, 2001) at Elisa's urging, since she and Carol were much impressed with the characters in the film. Having done drag and a lot of performance in Chicago just before and after this was shot, it was a very familiar world to me. There were many interesting characters and it was a smart exposé. Dréd Gerestant and Hans impressed me in particular and I enjoyed hearing them talk about their experiences in the world. It was fun seeing Diane Torr- who I worked with on Mickey Mahoney's UNDERGRAD some years ago but had never seen in eye make-up and femmed out- do her thing. Venus Boyz got to the heart of what made drag king performance so important to wider cultural queer and gender development, not just the blurring of gender absolutes, but the confidence that an audience affords disempowered people.

Vendredi Soir on Saturday Night

Ugh. Carol pointed out that Friday Night (Claire Denis, 2002) would have been better as a 10 minute short and I couldn't agree more. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood to be patient and appreciative of this pacing, but it was not much fun. Major mind wandering. Even the portrayal of desire kinda grossed me out, I expected something more compelling and less gender-predictable from Claire Denis. Oh well.

L'heure d'été

I watched Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours as my last hurrah at G and Andy's, late at night. It opens up with soft emotionally tense music accompanying children playing outside a posh country home outside of Paris. The camera is constantly panning, moving from room to room, person to person, story to story. The palette is full of light summer colors and deep lively green. Each scene cuts immediately to the next, passing through time with no BS in between, just the important stuff. I kept waiting for something to really happen, but the film is simply a pretty and posh portrayal of the cycle of life, beginning with children playing outside and the death of a matriarch, ending with young people playing outside and the eldest grandchild talking about her future children. It's about the disconnectedness of modern life, disconnectedness from family, from roots, from one's motherland, about growing diaspora and globalization with a hint of personal isolation.

Fish Tank

Sara and Susan and I watched Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009) in a small packed IFC theater. There was nothing wrong with this film- it is perfect. Fish Tank is an excellent portrayal of a young woman's complex hive of emotions, particularly frustration, rage, tenderness and desire. It's rare that you get to see this fragile time in a woman's life (Mia is 15) portrayed from her perspective and with such honesty, raw authenticity. Perhaps this is because Katie Jarvis who plays Mia is not a professional actress and was asked to audition for this part when she was found on a subway platform in a screaming argument with her boyfriend. Her little sister Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths) is hilarious and heart-breaking as a scratchy-voiced smart-mouth, and Michael Fassbender as her mother's boyfriend, Conner, is extremely attractive and complicated. The whole story is allowed to come together because of the perfect fit of all these characters. The film just never stops, it pushes through to the very end without a breath. I loved Arnold's previous film, Red Road, and I can't wait to see what she does next.

Trembling Before G-d

Ten years later, I finally watched Trembling Before G-d (Sandi Dubowski, 2001) and I see what all the hype was about. It was riveting! It's a great in-depth example of the way one part of one of the major world religions deals with homosexuality. The stories were fantastic, what was quelled from each of the participants. Just extraordinary editing, characters, etc. I was trying to go to bed and watched this just to get a taste of it, but I ended up watching the whole thing.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Varda's First

Agnès Varda made her first film, La Pointe Courte, in 1955 with no prior film training and without having seen much film at all. A few years later, at the age of 30, she was hailed as an "Ancestor of the New Wave." Granted, Varda was working as a photographer at the time, and her photographic expertise is crucial to the beauty of this film. It's great! It's beautiful! It's amazing! Ahhhh...

I started watching this film on a bus from DC to New York and finished it on Giovanna and Andy's couch, so it was not an optimal viewing- I would prefer to see this in a theater on film. But it's pretty darn cool that I'm able to see it on DVD, thanks to the 2008 Criterion release of four of Varda's early films. Vagabond (1985) has long been one of my favorite films. And I loved Cleo from 9 to 5 (1962), though I didn't connect years ago when I watched it that Varda was its director. But it was hard to imagine as I started watching Pointe Courte that Varda could have made something this...old.

La Pointe Courte is from a time when films were deliberate, every shot carefully planned out. I know I know, they still are for the most part. But these shots are go gorgeous that every part of the frame seems created especially for the shot. The lighting, the movement, everything... I thought of Bergman, Fellini watching this, all the metaphors. There are also hilarious bits, such as when a woman speaking to a group of folks who, like her, are no longer young says, "We've already shit half our crap." I've had the good fortune of saying this a couple times this week about things I've seen, but...what a treat!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Good Dick

Per Nzingha's request, I just watched Marianna Palka's 2008 Sundance favorite, Good Dick. It wasn't bad, and it was certainly unique. That is, it's the only film about a porn-loving twenty-something woman I've ever seen. Actually, I really liked it, largely because the protaganists are so compelling. But it's not without its problems. Mostly, I wished that the main character (played by Palka, who also wrote the script) wasn't portrayed as so messed up, her affinity for porn due to her dealing with major childhood sexual abuse issues. But then I suppose she had to be, that is, something very significant had to explain her agoraphobia and odd prudishness. So while that story line (featuring a cameo by Tom Arnold as her father) seems contrived and disturbing, it also helps the whole film to make sense. (But does this woman really spend so much time looking at the same childhood photos of herself, particularly one prominently featuring her naked toddler-self ?)

While I was pondering this, I watched Mo'nique's Golden Globes acceptance speech for her role as the terribly abusive mother in "Precious." She said "I accept this for all you who have been touched... It's time to tell." That reminded me, once again, how important it is for childhood sexual abuse to be exposed, for people to tell their stories. But the way this film put these things together...makes me feel ookey. I mean, I too am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and as an adult I sometimes watch porn. Is there a correlation? How did Palka come to that in creating the story?

Jason Ritter's character is very likable as the boy who stubbornly works his way into the woman's life. He attempts to help her in overcoming her fear of touch and the outside world, despite her outright meanness toward him and constant flippant rape cries. He looks so much like his father John Ritter (especially in the eyes) and has some of his mannerisms too, that sometimes I felt like I was watching a film starring John Ritter and my friend Amahl, who sharply resembles Palka...

As in all quirky indie films, there are quirky indie details, like Polish references throughout, the main character sleeping in his car, and a running joke about Annie Sprinkle's "Zen Pussy." But there's something to this film that made me really like it. I think it's primarily the two main characters, their chemistry and the unconventionality of their relationship. And the acting is great. I tend to grade films like this on a different scale than others, it being a first film from director Palka and all low-budget and all. But even considering that, I think this will stick with me for a while, something that's always a sign of a very good film.

Dreamy Films

The connection between movies and dreams is a much studied topic. Artist Zoe Beloff has fun with this relationship in her exhibition "Dreamland: The Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society and its Circle 1926-1972," which is on display at the Coney Island Museum through March. Like all of Beloff's work, the exhibition blurs the lines between fact and fiction, and to get the work we have to give up trying to figure out what's what and just enjoy it. Aside from some ephemera and found objects, the crux of this exhibition are several short films made by members of an "amateur psychoanalytic society" during the greater part of the middle of the last century. As the wall text of the exhibition points out, Freud visited Coney Island on his first and only trip to the US. These Coney Island inhabitants and followers of Freud sought to analyze their dreams through their filmic depictions of what they dreamt, as the "dream is always the disguised fulfillment of a suppressed wish," according to Freud. With the dawn of the Cine Kodak movie camera and Kodak 16mm safety film in 1923, amateur filmmaking took off in the same year that the society was founded. According to Beloff, the society held a dream film competition every year and some of the winners are featured here. Among them are several films displayed on 3 digital monitors and 2 16mm films projected in a small screening room. They are varied and entertaining. And well worth the 99 cent admission to the museum!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sheep Are Just Like Sheep

I'm not an animal person. I like animals on a case by case basis, but I don't look at an animal and immediately swell with adoration and affection. So Sweetgrass, a new doc about Montana sheep and their herders, would not have been my first choice for Friday night viewing. But Sara Varon was really excited about seeing it, and I was curious about the attention it has been getting, so we went to a packed screening at Film Forum tonight. And it was quite nice. I was worried at first that I was sitting in a theater full of animal fanatics who would coo and aww at each cute sheep face. But in the first shot a sheep who is chewing on some grass and minding her own business slowly turns her head to the camera and stops chewing as she realizes she's being observed. It was a moment I could appreciate in my anthropomorphic relation to animals and the rest of the audience seemed to be with me in this.

Sweetgrass is an entirely observational documentary, and the only time the filmmakers are even referred to is toward the end of the film when a herder comments when a herd dog almost treads on a camera. Considering it's just a film about sheep in pastures, perhaps it's remarkable that Sweetgrass is never boring and I never once thought, "When is this gonna be over?" I learned that sheep are really just such... sheep. I wondered about the men and women who tended to the sheep. I was mesmerized by the sheering, it was almost meditative. I was reminded of Brokeback Mountain. I thought of the Swiss Alps (filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Ilisa Barbash seem to have both Swiss and Cal Arts connections) and where these sheep herding families came from. It reminded me how much I love Montana, made me want to go there and be in the mountains. But it did not make me want to work with sheep. The work looked grueling and thankless. I wondered about why this sheep ranch was closed a few years ago. Sweetgrass was contemplative and pleasant and left me with more questions than answers, which in this case is fine.

Indian Sneak Peak

With a thin offering of dark chocolate, I stopped in on my friend Mridu Chandra today as she was finishing up some grants to get them out on a tight deadline. She needed to test a DVD that she was sending off with a grant application, so I had the good fortune of getting to preview a rough cut of the first part of a documentary trilogy that she is working on about hidden aspects of Indian American life. Part I is called, "Indian Summer" and it's a funny, short observational doc about Hindu Heritage Summer Camp in Upstate New York. The teens featured in the doc cracked me up repeatedly with their, like, views and observations. It was an upbeat and well-crafted glimpse into a world that I didn't know existed and was delighted to learn about. I hope Mridu has great success with this project so that many many people will see it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Double Feature Day with Sara Varon

One of my favorite things in life is a movie day with Sara Varon. When I was living in DC, we had movie days as much as possible when I went to New York. Or Sara would take the bus down for 24 hours and we would fit as many movies into a day as we possibly could. We timed them just right and often saw things we would not see otherwise, just to fit them into our intricate schedule. So when I came to New York this time I was really looking forward to the Wednesday we set aside for one of our movie days. We packed an extensive lunch and charted out the films we most wanted to see.

We started with Hurt Locker at Quad Cinemas, thinking everyone else had already seen it and we'd have the place to ourselves, but that's what dozens of senior citizens were thinking too. I expected great things from this one, because that's all I'd heard about it. And it was indeed impressive, a thinking, empathic, layered, excellent war movie. I was especially impressed having just seen Black Hawk Down, another film lauded as "best war movie," and being gravely disappointed. The focus on interpersonal and intercultural relationships held my interest here, and director Kathryn Bigelow's skill with suspense is extraordinary. (I won't even get into the many discussions about Bigelow as a female filmmaker and the historical significance of this film, or crap like this...)

But we had to hurry on and we couldn't dwell for long in Bigelow's Iraq. Rather, like Sgt. James returning to a Texas supermarket, we made a surreal cultural jump. Ours was to pre-WWI Germany at Film Forum where Michael Haneke's White Ribbon was playing. Haneke is one of my favorite directors, and I was curious to see how this black and white period film would fit into his ouevre. It was reminiscent of The Castle, Haneke's 1997 Kafka adaptation, both in style and in setting. Being rather obsessive and anal retentive myself, I must admit that I appreciate Germanic perfectionism. And it is a veritable treat to watch a Haneke film and know that everything will be absolutely perfect (although I'm pretty sure Haneke would not appreciate the association, particularly considering the implications of this film...). White Ribbon is a horror film, a psychologically probing film, a culturally revealing film- suffice it to say, it is a great film.

Trippy Canonical Feminist Film

Rhyne and Dara were joking before the Light Industry screening of Riddles of the Sphinx (Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, 16mm, 1977, 90 mins) that we were about to watch the feminist Avatar, because the film has a reputation for being cutting edge and trippy. Or maybe there were other reasons. But it was certainly cutting edge and trippy. I suppose it was too organized and logical to be considered truly trippy, but it was indeed a trip of feminist nostalgia that I, for one, sorely needed.

Trippier, actually, was Gunvor Nelson and Dorothy Wiley's 1966 Schmeerguntz, which preceded Riddles in this program, with its inspiring collage of babies, crap and beauty pageants. Schmeerguntz set the stage perfectly, complete with pageant soundbites to put Miss South Carolina to shame. ("I'll always let my boyfriend think he's the best. Because I think that's the way it should be.")

Mulvey's structure for Riddles of the Sphinx is calculated and complex. But the main thing I took from it was pretty simple and definitely resting on my historically placed reading of it- we've gone backwards in our feminist evolution as a society. Why does this happen? All the right questions are in this film, literally in the narrative of Louise and her questions about motherhood and patriarchy. She poses riddles such as, "Is exploitation outside the home better than oppression in it?" and "In the workplace, should men and women organize differently?" Her questions of gender are so basic, yet we may never have the answers.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Read & Watch!

Today in a Frameworks post I learned about a film and book blog that filmmaker Veronica Ibarra has started. Glad to see it! I watched her short film, The Uncertain Existence, which you can see here. It's a pretty, reflective, kind of painful film, quiet and still and full of mirror images, double existence, and loneliness in a cold London in late spring.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Low Expectations are the Key to Happiness (or a word on The Princess & the Frog)

I just saw The Princess and the Frog with 3 Wisco kids in a big exciting New York City cinema. Everything I see lately reminds me that, at least for me, low expectations are the key to happiness. I hadn't heard anything great about this film. On the contrary, I've heard a lot of criticism about the clouding over of the racial disparities that this film depicts but does not address. But I was enchanted with the voodoo plot (watch out mainstream America!) and the can-do female lead. The best thing this film has going for it is the fact that Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) is wildly ambitious to the end of achieving her career goals. She supports the prince financially and teaches him about hard work and dedication, a scenario much in line with a lot of real life stories. It's still a barfy fairy tale, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this one in comparison to all the other Disney offerings.

Friday, January 8, 2010

It's Not That Complicated

Yesterday afternoon I found myself with some time to kill around Penn Station while I waited for my sister and her family to arrive in New York. The only movie playing in the neighborhood that I was interested to seeing was Nancy Meyer’s It's Complicated.

It has been so exciting to me to read all of the popular articles being published lately about women directors. (Thank you, Manohla Dargis!) Long overdue conversations are finally happening, and women directors are finally getting full stories, not the least of which was Daphne Merkin's New York Times Magazine piece, "Can Anybody Make a Movie For Women?". As problematic as that article might have been (...), I was glad to see it. So all of the hype could only lead to disappointment. And there's not a whole lot more to say.

The scenery and music of Complicated were as sweet and sunny as the dialogue, and so was the whole experience. It was surprisingly saccharine, rosy and slick, though that should not have surprised me. The consistently vocal gentleman next to me, who was actively enjoying the film throughout, said at the finish that it was a good movie for TV, and I'm afraid I found that observation astute. The vaginaplasty joke also REALLY worked on him. Personally, I liked it when Jake (Alec Baldwin) expressed his approval of former wife and present lover Jane's (Meryl Streep) lack of bikini wax saying, "You've gone native. I like it." But my favorite part was when Jake grabs Jane's crotch post-coitum and declares with a satisfied smile, "Home sweet home." Jake's desire to win Jane back is comedic, way overdone and embarrassing. But mostly so for Nancy Meyers.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Invictus & the Baggage We Take to the Movies

I walked from Santa Monica to the Pico Landmark to see Invictus today. Even though it took 2 hours, it's not all that noble a feat. I only had to leave the house because Andrea's cleaning lady came, something that has resulted in my every-other-Tuesday morning movie ritual. All the way there I was thinking about how this movie would probably piss me off, because it seemed to be yet another movie about South Africa centered on a white protagonist. I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually about Mandela (Morgan Freeman), albeit with white rugby captain François Pienaar (Matt Damon) as his pawn. Invictus is a thin take on Mandela, but it was excellently acted, a satisfyingly sympathetic and tear-jerky portrayal of the great leader's enormous humility. The connectedness between Pienaar and Mandela is appropriately that of the former deriving fundamental inspiration from what the later has overcome. According to the Mandela mythology perpetuated here, Mandela sustained himself during the 18 years when he was prisoner at Robben Island with the words of Victorian poet William Ernest Henley: "You are the captain of your soul, master of your destiny." When he shares with Pienaar the poem and his personal history with it, the team captain is justifiably and reasonably inspired and moved.

The rugby plot that drives this story seems a stretch, but it works with the politics for what this film is. After all, as Mandela points out, sport is a social equalizer, a popular and most basic form of politics. In this film there is much focus on surroundings, details of set-up leading up to the game, and social make up, rather than the actual rugby match. This is a smart move on the part of the filmmakers, for Americans at least know little about rugby, and it's doubtful it would hold their interest were this more of a sports movie. We see people watching the climactic match with New Zealand’s All Blacks (a reference to their black shirt uniforms) in homes and bars, white and black and mixed groups, in townships and in gated white communities, within the stadium and outside of it. The mingling and unbridled excitement post-game reminded me of the energy on the street in DC when Obama was elected president. The legacy of slavery in the US all too closely resembles that of apartheid’s legacy in South Africa, even though almost 150 years separates those events. I appreciated the roles of black South Africans brought to the foreground in this film and the way it highlighted and exposed this legacy, not least in terms of class differences, in much the way slavery in the US can be seen today. We see this repeatedly in the positioning of blacks as domestics in the homes of whites, cleaning the field before the game, a young boy from a township who lurks about a cop car trying to listen in on the score. The audience is asked to consider South Africa as only the latest in a long line of former colonizers and enslaving oppressor countries. For example, when the New Zealand team dances its Maori war chant at the beginning of the game, the whole team relishes in raw Kiwi pride, although there are far more white faces than Maori on the team. This is juxtaposed with the almost exclusively white South African team's initial refusal to learn the new national anthem, Nkosi Sikkeleli Africa, the haunting and inspiring former ANC anthem that pleads, "God Bless Africa."

Last week over breakfast I was arguing with my cousin about Avatar. He said, "You sure took a lot of baggage into that film," and I had to admit that he was absolutely right. It seems that that is just the point, we all take all of our baggage into each film we see, and that's what makes a film relatable or not, great or not. It's this power that film has that makes it the greatest contemporary art form, and this is why film is exciting to me at all. That’s why I think I loved Invictus. It was an ode to Mandela, someone I have a huge emotional nostalgic connection to and great admiration for. One of the greatest memories of my life is that of waking up on February 11, 1990 and listening to the radio in my German host family’s kitchen, crying tears of joy at the news of Mandela’s release. These are the moments we take to the movies.

The black and white hand placed together on the trophy cup at the end of Invictus was a bit much. But that's when I suddenly remembered that this was a Clint Eastwood film...

Broken Embraces

Just saw this at the Royal with Andrea. I love Almodovar. And Penelope Cruz. So this was enjoyable. Funny and smart and good. But not absolutely compelling, probably because of the main Kelsey Grammer look-alike character who just didn't pull me in. I think he fit the part well, he just wasn't a very sympathetic character.

a few days later...
I like this movie less in retrospect than I did when I first came out of Almodovarland. I think that's due in equal parts to the powerlessness of Lena and the fact that Harry Caine is not very compelling or, ultimately, likable. Oh well.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

First Films of 2010

In keeping with my promise to myself to create documentation about everything I see this year and to write about it for the upcoming blog, here's my take on the first few moving images of my year.

When I arrived in San Diego for New Year's, the first thing we did was watch THE COVE. I had heard that this doc was as drama-filled as the best of narrative films and mind-blowing as an environmental exposé. That is was, but frankly the main thing that stayed with me from the film was it's ethnocetricism. Why did these powerful monied white American dudes not have a single Japanese person on their crew, or at the very least someone who spoke Japanese? That's mind boggling to me. It would be too paranoid to think that they couldn't find any number of Japanese folks who would have been interested and willing in working on the project, and it would have helped their understanding of the situation, not to mention their on-the-ground comprehension of Japanese, tremendously. In that sense they came across as pretty stupid to me. Perhaps particularly because of the outright cultural accusations made in the doc, that the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji is perpetrated solely because of tradition and a stubborn refusal to succumb to international pressures to stop this practice because it is inhumane and wrong.

That said, THE COVE was powerful and heartbreaking, as dramatic as promised, cohesive and fast-paced. I liked it a lot, except for that serious bad taste in my mouth from the major cultural ignorance flaw...

The next day, on New Year's Eve, along with my cousin and my parents and millions of others, we went to AVATAR. Ugh. This blog posting by Gilad Atzmon helped clinch our decision to finally go see it. And we all regretted it. Amend that- we didn't regret it, this is something everyone has to see simply because it will be praised and referenced for years to come. And I was indeed impressed with the special effects. But I had better be impressed, considering the 15 years and millions and millions of dollars and manpower of hundreds of people on crews all over the world that went into creating this.

This is not the kind of movie I get excited about. But the interconnectedness of nature and humans and life is a compelling topic and imagining a world like that of the Na'vi and what exists on Pandora should have been much much more exciting and original and thought provoking. As Jenn (and many) pointed out, so many of these ideas have been explored in hundreds of books and films before this one. What really bothered me was how UNimaginitive this film was. With all of the resources available to James Cameron and his crew THIS is as good as you can do in imagining a futuristic society? I was so disheartened when the kick-ass and invincible woman that Jake Sully (the character meant for everyman to relate to) meets in the forest slowly loses her power after meeting him, becomes...a woman. Indeed how could we tell that she is a female character except for her breasts and her lulling comely female nature and her sexy come-hither voice. She must be vulnerable, fertile seeming. Is that it? I just lost any interest I might have had, which was also true as Sigourney Weaver's bad-ass scientist is revealed as a save-the-children type earth mother anthropologist that I won't even get into. Jenn had a spot-on analysis of the problematic racism at play (and she shared these blog posts:When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar? and Avatar: Totally Racist, Dude on that note). Obviously, there are dissertations to come out of this, but I'll stop here.

Andrea and I picked up BLACK HAWK DOWN and watched it the night after our other 99 cent video store pick, THE PROPOSAL. I watched this diligently for the first hour or so, expecting some insights into Somalia and the situation there. But by an hour and a half of this film, when Andrea told me that we still had 45 minutes to go, I was long tuned out. Bang bang bang I do not care.

We had both been wanting to see this film, having heard the hype about it for years. Of course, when it came down to it, neither of us could quite remember why it had been so hyped. I thought this had happened because it was the only mainstream filmic depiction of US involvement in Somalia, something too few people probably knew anything at all about. Andrea thought it was because guys like war movies a lot and this is apparently a good war movie. Surely, its acclaim was due to a combination of these things. But I'd love it if anyone can tell me why they liked this movie. I am curious. I don't have patience for American war movies, or war movies in general I'm sure, particularly when almost all of the 2 hours and 24 minutes of the film are spent in battle. Andrea seemed to have been prepared for this, but for some reason I was expecting a film about Somalis and insights into the situation there, touched by Americans yes. But this film, shot in Morocco, didn't even involve Somalis, they were barely peripheral. I think this fact would be all the more disturbing to me were I to give it more thought, but I don't plan on it.

In Honor of my Alaska Peeps...The Proposal

On New Years Day over breakfast Jenn and James and I decided to start a blog where we can simply write about all the movies we see and start a conversation about them. The biggest hurdle is a title, but that will come, I'm certain. Yesterday Giovanna unveiled her fabulous blog with the same purpose, so clearly we were all meant to join forces. Until we get that up and running, I'm going to store responses here.

My most recent viewing, with Andrea last night, was Anne Fletcher's THE PROPOSAL. We knew it would be what it was and it certainly was that. Like much of America, we were in the mood for something light and funny. And one or the other or both of us had already seen all of the other options at the 99 cent video place on Santa Monica. It was also an appropriate choice for us since we saw Fletcher's 27 DRESSES together at The Grove a couple years ago.

...Gosh, I guess I don't have much to say about it. It certainly required a lot of suspension of disbelief. But any movie that combines a power-woman with Alaska scenery and Betty White is as worthy of watching as THE HANGOVER or I LOVE YOU, MAN. And, frankly, I laughed out loud several times, though Andrea didn't join me. She disapprovingly mentioned "America's Sweetheart" several times post-viewing, but I don't mind Bullock. The cast was quite decent actually. ... That's all.