Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Boys of Baraka

I missed this documentary's run at Film Forum last year. Mitch saw it and wrote:
An African school
For troubled kids from B'more
Very depressing
I recall that he said it was pretty good but not great. I agree with that sentiment if that is indeed what he said.

The program in Kenya for the boys was supposed to be for two years. It was fascinating to watch the kids mature over the course of the first school year. The first half of the film was really great. I was excited to see how the kids reflected on being back home in Baltimore for the summer. However, it seemed to me that the filmmakers didn't capture what the kids were thinking upon arriving back home to the extent that I was hoping they would and the second half considerably.

Unfortunately, due to red tape and a lack of funding, the program (after a seven year run) was cancelled. The kids were not able to return for their second year. The filmmakers were left holding the bag. They made the best of it, I suppose. The documentary definitely ended up turning into an even more depressing statement on the state of inner city education then it would have been if the kids had had a second year.

The pained expression of one boy pleading to have the program continue in a school in Baltimore will stick with me for quite awhile.

Youthlarge pointed out that Ewing and Grady's latest film Jesus Camp was just released in New York.

Directers: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Old Joy

Not that I've seen all that many movies this year, but this one has to rank as one of my favorites. So quiet and pleasant especially after the gabfest of Mutual Appreciation.

Two old friends on a camping trip. One (Daniel London) is about to become a father and isn't quite sure how happy he is to be so settled. The other (Will Oldham) is rudderless and searching for something, whether it be by reclaming the old closeness he used to share with an old friend or by getting high at Big Sur with people he doesn't know all that well. This movie is about not stating things, about keeping things in. The only scene where any character really speaks his mind about his feelings leads to extreme awkwardness so he takes it back.

London never states he's apprehensive about being such a grownup (Zach Braff, are you listening?) and Oldham never states he's upset about being such a fuckup. Neither needs to. The loneliness, the longing, the uncertainty is written all over their faces and body language. There are longs stretches of silence that are perfect. The conversations are so real to the point that over the past few days, I've been thinking about some of the stories told in the film and wondering which one of my friends had said them.

The score by Yo La Tengo, of course, works.

After I saw the movie, I saw Will Oldham outside the theater hanging out. He was there for a Q and A following the next showing. Then I saw James McNew while eating dinner with SHR and Beth at Great Jones. I almost said something to him but chickened out even when he was standing right next to at the jukebox.

This is definitely Will Oldham's best acting work since that Baby Jessica stuck in a well flick on Lifetime.

Director: Kelly Reichardt
2005, Year of Release: 2006
Film Forum

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sansho the Bailiff

Film Forum is in the midst of a Mizoguchi retrospective. I've never seen any of his films so I wanted to make sure to get to one. A few years ago, I would have made sure to see at least half of the films. Not that I know much about him but, hell, if Film Forum likes him, then count me in. Those days are long gone for me. I just don't have it in me to make it to so many movies anymore. SHR and I are actually going to get a Netflix account soon so I'll be seeing more and move movies at home.

But I digress.

This film was great.

Film Forum
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Thin Man

I should have written about this before I went to Asia. It has now been almost two months since I've seen it. It was good, I do remember that but not ground breaking. The first of six Thin Man movies. Imagine Moonlighting but in 1934 and David and Maddy are already married. So no "Will they or won't they?" plotline (although the married couple in this movie did, of course, sleep in separate beds). Instead, they sleuth when they can fit it in between drinks. Screwball comedy at its true origins. A good example of a typical exchange in the film is between the male star William Powell and a reporter:
Reporter: Any word on the case?
Powell: Yes, it is putting me behind in my drinking.
Directer: W.S. Van Dyke

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mutual Appreciation

This movie has gotten a lot of incredible press. Some have even likened it to the French New Wave. I guess I can kind of see that if you boil the French New Wave down to its basics - young people hanging out in apartments shot in black and white. And I suppose maybe there are some links to Jules and Jim.

I liked this movie well enough but I didn't love it. Maybe it was because I wanted more of the Korean character? Maybe it was because it was at least partially about Williamsburg hipsters and I don't need to pay ten bucks to see them. Maybe it was because I liked Bujalski's previous film (Funny Ha Ha) a lot more? That film had a main character that I felt like I knew in real life and one that I could root for despite how painful it was to watch at times. This one didn't really have anyone for me to get behind.

Still, Bujalski does have a gift for capturing real life on film - the pace of a conversation, the awkward silences, the boredom. I'll definitely give him that. I'm interested to see his next film. Unlike the last film I saw in the theaters (Half Nelson) that continues to grow on me, this one hasn't risen much in my estimation in the week since I've seen it.

Cinema Village
Director: Andrew Bujalski
2005, Year of Wide Release - 2006

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Destry Rides Again

1939 was a big year for Jimmy Stewart. This was a huge success as was Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This movie was a remake of a film that was only seven years old. I'd be curious to see that film, but not that curious. Without the star power of Stewart and Marlene Dietrich, this film would be pretty forgettable. However, because of the two of them, the film is enjoyable enough.

Stewart plays the son of a famous lawman. He's brought into town by the town drunk turned sheriff (it's that kind of movie) to clean up the town of Bottleneck. However, Mr. Destry don't believe in no guns. Wha? How can a good guy clean up a corrupt town without packing some heat? Guess you'll have to see for yourself just how it's done.

Some movies age well. The overall tone of this one doesn't. A lighthearted Western, this. Sorry but this is no Silverado. There are so many slapstick moments and corny jokes (the town is complete with a Last Chance Saloon) that only a 1930's kind of guy could truly adore it. As a sidenote, Youthlarge has become obsessed with child actor Dickie Jones who is most famous for going on to be the voice of Pinocchio. He was in this as well as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and dozens of other films. He grew up to be Dick Jones and played a TV cowboy named Dick West. Youthlarge says she wants to write him a letter to say hello but we're not sure how to find his address. Any ideas?

Directed by George Marshall

Monday, September 04, 2006

Angels With Dirty Faces

"What do you say? What do you hear?" James Cagney kicks so much ass in this movie. He plays Rocky Sullivan, a young ruffian (the kid cast as the young Cagney looks frighteningly like adult Cagney) who grows up to run the town. His childhood friend Jerry is now a priest and trying to make life better in the old tenement block they had grown up in.

Cagney gets himself involved in a piss match with his crooked attorney played by Humphrey Bogart. Cagney and Bogart are, of course, fun to watch. But the most awe-inspiring characters in the movie are the new batch of juvenile delinquents who worship Rocky Sullivan. Played by the Dead End Kids (they had been in a movie called Dead End the previous year, they are unbelievable. They all talk in exactly the way you'd expect them to - sort of a cross between wiseguy and Three Stooges. They have names like Soapy, Pasty, Crab, and Hunky.

The eventual moral play that ensues is interesting enough but getting to that point is all the fun. Curtiz's (Casablanca, Mildred Pierce) direction is great, all swooping cameras and shadows and the outdoor shots of the old neighborhood are fascinating.

Directed by Michael Curtiz

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

I had no idea how bizarre this film is. Corn syrupy sweet at times in a good way. The kids who adore the new senator Jefferson Smith are all winks and derring-do. Aw shucks, I chuckle just thinking about them.

But behind the strange charm lies a real message to the film. A bit slow at times, I can't quite believe how slow paced and drawn out some of the scenes are. However, the last 45 minutes or so do not disappoint. When Smith begins his filibuster, a lump caught in my throat. Jimmy Stewart is great in the film. His small town naivete turns into patriotic indignation beautifully. His slicked back hair is top notch. As silly and contrived as the whole thing, Stewart radiates such charm and believability that I was sucked in. And the scene where Capra focuses (for at least thirty seconds) on Stewart nervously handling his hat upon meeting a beautiful women he fancies is pure genius.

Directed by Frank Capra