Tuesday, April 17, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #29: "MELANCHOLIA," "THE SKIN I LIVE IN," "HIGHER GROUND," "INTO THE ABYSS," "ANOTHER EARTH," "IMMORTALS," "ATTACK THE BLOCK," "HESHER," "DADDY LONGLEGS," "JANE'S JOURNEY," "THE PIANO IN A FACTORY," and MORE!

I've noticed that my movie reviews have become the most popular feature on the blog in recent weeks, and I'm very happy about that. The hits our blog has been getting have just astounded me in recent weeks. We already have almost 1000 hits for April, and even one day this week, we had a day with over 100 hits, and well over I might add. I am encourage and very greatful by the success our blog has had recently, and can hardly believe it. Just wanted to thank everyone again for their support of our success.

Well, that's all I really wanted to say today. Hope you all paid your taxes by now. In the meantime, we got a lot of newer films to review, so let's get right to the reviews!

MELANCHOLIA (2011) Director: Lars von Trier

5 STARS

Director Lars von Trier has graciously invited us to a wedding where hopefully, we can stay for the Apocalypse. Von Trier was one of the leaders of Denmark's Dogme '95 movement, and he's since become one of the most controversial directors in the world. In publicity for "Melancholia" at Cannes, he professed to Nazi sympathizing, and that's only about the seventh or eighth weirdest thing he's ever said or done. He's made some of the most fascinating and distinctive films of anybody over the years, the ones I've seen include "Breaking the Waves," "Dogville," "Dancer in the Dark," and "Antichrist". I've been both critical of him, especially of "Dancer in the Dark," and I've praised him in the past, especially with "Breaking the Waves". "Melancholia," is one of his best, but it is certainly strange. It's broken into two parts, named after the two main characters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The first part of the movie, Justine, follows the goings-on of her wedding day. It's maybe the most darkly-lit wedding in film history.  Her mother Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) disapproves of, marriage in general, and predictably throws a fit about it. Her brother-in-law, John (Keifer Sutherland) paid for the wedding, and is somewhat annoyed by it. Justine's behavior is certifiably erratic, randomly coming and going out of rooms it seem. She even leaves her husband in their bedroom to go downstairs and f*** some other guy in the sandtrap. Oh, I should point out, they're at a country club, and it's a lavish affair, complete with a contest to guess the amount of beans in a jar. While all this is happening, a strange planet has been appearing in the sky, we later learn called Melancholia. Why is it called melancholia? Who the hell knows, but the important thing is that it's orbit is making it come closer to Earth, and according to some reports, it will eventually crash into us. I shouldn't use the work reports, that indicates a TV news bulletin or some other sci-fi cliche, and there isn't any of those in this film. In the second half of the film, called Claire, Justine is a near limpless wreck who's staying over, just as the planet is continually growing bigger in the night sky, and Claire begins to get more and more freaked out, as it seems everybody else is going about their life unemotionally. I think what Von Trier is trying to do in "Melancholia," is show all the ways that grief is put through. You've heard of the five stages of it, but sometimes, we go through them differently and at different places. While everybody was celebrating or going about their own business at the wedding, Justine was instinctively realizing that the world is soon ending, and is in the beginning stages, and begins acting out. It seems during the second half, she's almost turned personalities, but she's just come to acceptance already, while Jack and Claire are rushing through all the other stages as denial leads into inevitability. At least, that's how I read this, and I think there are multiple ways of looking at "Melancholia". This would be an interesting second half or a double-feature with Malick's "The Tree of Life," and I would subtitle it "The Planet of Destruction". Some of the images, in the beginning sequence, which are quite beautiful, seem to have been inspired almost by the beginning of the universe in "The Tree of Life". I don't think they were, but its reasonable to presume that both would have enormous amounts of beauty and chaos going with each event, and possibly some absurdity. It'll take multiple viewings before I fully get a grasp of "Melancholia," but it's certainly worth it. It's a fascinating examination of human behavior in the presence of their own fate, and the many ways in which they handle it. In that respects, having a lavish wedding at the end of time, probably isn't as ridiculous as it sounds.

THE SKIN I LIVE IN (2011) Director: Pedro Almodovar

4 STARS

One of the aspects of Pedro Almodovar's work that I hadn't really noticed until now is his fascination with cinema. He titled "All About My Mother," as a play on "All About Eve", his last film "Broken Embraces," was about a filmmaker who loses control of his movie after he begins to go blind, and that film has lots of film noir references in it. In general, he a classic filmmaker than it first seems. Even "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!", a film that has some similarities to "The Skin I Live In," not the least of which includes Antonio Banderas keeping a woman imprisoned, could be looked at as a reference to some of Tennessee Williams work. I hated "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!," when I first saw it, although I could probably go for another viewing, especially since seeing "The Skin I Live In," which actually refers back to the one of the most classic of formulas, the mad scientist, losing control of his creation. This Frankenstein story, has more than a few twists though. The doctor is Robert Ledgard (Banderas), one of the world's leading foremost experts on skin graphings. He's worked on over a third of the world's few face transplants, and he's begun creating a synthetic human skin that he hopes can withstand cuts, burns and most everything else. The patient he works on is Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya), who's trapped behind numerous locked doors in Ledgard's house, and is under videotape surveillance and under the watchful eye of Marilla (Marisa Paredes), one of those creepy old women housekeepers who seem to be in all these films, this one has a son, Zeca (Roberto Alamo) who dresses like a bee for Carnaval, (although it wouldn't be surprising if he did it at other points of the year) and who's unexpected visit isn't welcomed. In flashback, we get to see Robert at a lavish dinner party that has a few wrong turns and misunderstandings. Many of these involve a character named Vicente (Jan Cornet), whose function in this movie is better left unexplained. Vera is beautiful and spends most of her day wearing a skintight bodysuit, while she occasionally does yoga, which is one of the few activities that seem to be acceptable in her room. She is however aware of her sexuality and finds what-at-first seem like bizarre and intriguing times to use it, that is until we fully understand the entire picture. I tend to find myself preferring Almodovar's more, well... light-hearted isn't the right word, but perhaps, they need to have more caring emotions on the screen. His best movies like "All About My Mother," "Volver," and "Talk to Her", (Although the latter certainly isn't lighthearted, and kinda messed up actually) tend to have these emotions front and center, and he's somewhat weaker when he goes for a more traditional structured film elsewise. "The Skin I Live In," really combines these ideas more than most of his other films do, and in this case, it's done well. That one final scene where is one of his greatest touches. Vera walks into a clothing store where two people from her past don't recognize her, and she has a story to tell that... well, where do you even begin, to tell this story?

HIGHER GROUND (2011) Director: Vera Farmiga

5 STARS



I truly believe there's a difference between religion and spirituality. Oftentimes, people confuse them for one another, and it's not hard to do. In fact it's understandable. Sometimes, they do coincide, and othertimes, they're in constant shift within us. In her first film as a director, Actress Vera Farmiga makes and stars in an amazing film that doesn't simplify religion or faith, or spirituality, but examines one woman's complex relationship with religion through her life, as that religion vs. spirituality battles continues within her.  That woman is Corrine Walker (Farmiga) who came from a family that used to go to church, but their parents split up after their mother loses a child at birth. As a teenager, Corinne (Taissa Farmiga, Vera's younger sister) gets with a young musicians, Ethan (Boyd Holbrook) who has some success with his band The Renegades. Corinne soon has a kid though, and after their lives are nearly ended in a stupid accident, they believe fairly reasonable that God, must've saved them. With a renewed interest and curiousity, they begin reading the bible once again. As religion becomes a bigger part of their lives, strangely life continues on around them. Sometimes Corinne is fully embraced in it, other times she isn't as embraced by it. She likes to read a lot, and not just the Bible. She finds an intriguing kindred spirit in Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk) to consult with. She's Ned's (Michael Chernus) wife, and she's as full of God as she is of spirit. This is one of those supporting characters who's crucial to a role, that if it isn't perfect, it doesn't work. She's practically the girlcrush that Corinne never had. As life goes on, and religion plays a greater part in their lives, Corinne begins to doubt. She believes God has come to her before, and has been with her at some points, but now, she believes he isn't. Corinne's real search is for an inner truth, and whatever form that might be, she will not be at peace without finding it. She envies and admire's those who find it in the church, and I do too, but when the truth is that she can't find it there, it's obvious to practically everyone. It must be hard directing yourself in a close-up, but Farmiga does something interesting by keeping the camera on Corinne, while oftentimes, the focus of the scene is elsewhere, and sometimes she's only getting snippets of the important information. She's an outsider in a world that relies on the faith of it's people, bad enough for someone who doesn't have it, but it's gotta be worse for somebody who once did, and now has lost it. "Higher Ground" is smart, poetic and beautiful; it's one of the best films of the year. Based on the autobiographical memoir "This Dark World" by Carolyn S. Briggs, the movie never seems dark. In fact, the world seems perfectly fine for those who don't particularly want to examine their life, and even at times, it's fine for those who do. I wonder if Corrine could ever grow to find faith again. I think it's a possibility in her future, but the tough decisions are never the ones about the future, they're always about the right now.

INTO THE ABYSS (2011) Director: Werner Herzog

5 STARS

Eight days before Michael Perry was killed by the state of Texas, he gave an interview with Werner Herzog in prison. It's one of many interviews he has with the people affected by his crime, a senseless triple-homicide, that him and Jason Burkitt committed because they wanted to take a Camaro that a woman owned. The woman was apparently baking cookies at the time, one of the police officers informs us. They killed her, her son, and her son's friend, and then hid the bodies. We go to all those places, and even see the car they were trying to steal. It remains in police custody, along with evidence from numerous other crimes, and it's been there so long, in truly Herzogian fashion, a tree has sprouted underneath it, and forced it's way through the floorboards of the car. Herzog has made some great films, and some great documentaries over the years, "Into the Abyss," is actually the second one to be released this year, after his wonderous "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," a 3-D documentary that took us to see the oldest known cave paintings in the world. "Into the Abyss," takes a journalistic view of a death penalty case, and interviews the families and friends, or the victims, the criminals, and the investigators, and takes a look at the death penalty. Herzog, says right at the beginning that he is against the death penalty, although from a legal standpoint, there doesn't seem to be much of an argument that Perry deserved the death penalty. His crime was senseless, then he bragged about it. He lied about a lot of his life, even to his friends. Two of the people he killed were friends of his actually. He interviews a lot of people in prison. Burkitt's father is actually in prison, the same prison as his son is now, although in different blocks so they don't actually see each other, except for special occasions. The father has been in jail most of his adult life, but he spoke at his son's sentencing, and apparently, convinced two of the jurors not to give his son the death penalty. Sadly, he and we both realize that is probably his greatest achievement as a father. Burkitt and Perry, and many of their friends and acquaintances have only a minimal education, one of them professed that he couldn't read at the time of the crime. The lives of these people are either those of missed opportunities or no opportunities at all. The beginning scene is at the graveyard where all the death row inmates are buried after they're killed. They're given a small cross, with just their prison numbers on them. No date, no name. The only strange bright spot is that Burkitt since going to prison has gotten married and his wife reveals that she's expecting their first child, although that's curious considering Burkitt isn't allowed conjugal visits. Herzog's never seen onscreen in this film, unlike many of his other documentaries, but his distinctive voice is quietly offscreen, asking questions and listening. He only went down with a small crew to Texas, and apparently only interviewed his subjects once each, including Perry, but that was enough. I couldn't help but to think about the film "Capote," about Truman Capote's journey to Kansas to look into a similarly senseless spree of murders with this film. He turned that journey into the abyss into "In Cold Blood". The difference seems to be that Herzog is more capable of coming into a story like this, and keep his own objective viewpoints out of it, and just let the story be told, by those who were there. One of the better documentaries of the year.

ANOTHER EARTH (2011) Director: Mike Cahill

4 STARS

Sometimes my timing in regards to certain films can be strange. For instance, "Another Earth," is the second film I've seen this week, after "Melancholia," where a newly-discovered planet is suddenly near, and can be plainly seen from Earth. Other than that though, there isn't much else they have in common. "Another Earth," follows Rhoda (Brit Marling, who co-wrote the script with director Mike Cahill), a recently-released-from-prison 21-year-old. On the night she was accepted into M.I.T., she got into a car drunk, and crashed, causing the deaths of John Burroughs's (William Mapother) pregnant wife and young son. Far more wise and introspective now, Rhoda works a job as a school janitor after prison and searches out Dr. Burrough's, who was a Yale Music Professor and composer, and has now mostly become a hermit. Unable to apologize as planned, Rhoda claims to be a cleaning lady, and begins showing up once a week, cleaning John's house. During all this time, a planet that was one just barely visable as a star has started drifting it's way closer and closer to Earth, and it's clear that the planet is not only Earth-like, it's shares strange similarities in it's minutest details. That even have a Cape Canaveral Gift Shop. As theories continue, one private rocket company holds a challenge to send the writer of the best essay on an exploratory spaceship to go to Earth 2. With her life not seeming particularly rewarding anymore on Earth, Rhoda enters an essay, just as the same time her friendship, and later, relationship with John continues to evolve. This is Mike Cahill's second feature after the documentary "Boxers and Ballerinas" years ago, I haven't seen that film, or most of the documentaries that's he had a role in editing over the years. "Another Earth," is certainly got a lot of strange ideas conflicting at once, but I like how they're brought together. There's some good bare, editing in this film as the movie does hang on scenes longer than they need to, and when they do, they're filled with good acting, and a lot of good dialogue. There's some beautiful speeches by both Marling and Mapother that they tell each other during moments when their emotions are their most bare. Reminded me somewhat of the great speeches Natassja Kinski and Harry Dean Stanton have in Wim Wenders's great film "Paris, Texas". "Another Earth," is well-made, and finds a way to successful make all these elements that normally you wouldn't find in the same picture, seem mostly natural in this one. Marling is clearly not just a good actress, but also an intriguing new voice, with some good writing. She's already got a second screenplay in post-production called "The East" on top of her suddenly booming acting career. She and Cahill have worked together on most of their projects up until now, and I'm quite interested in seeing what both of these talented filmmakers do in the future. "Another Earth," feels a little like a first project, so hopefully that means they'll have even better stuff coming later.

IMMORTALS (2011) Director: Tarsem Singh Dhandwar

1 STAR

"Immortals" is... oh God, do I have to finish this sentence; I just want to forget I watched the whole damn boring incomprehensible thing. I'll compliment it by saying that it looks spectacular. It should; it's directed by Tarsem Singh, one of the premiere visual stylists of our time. This is his third feature-length film. His first, the amazing serial killer mind-bender "The Cell", the second, a film I didn't care for much called "The Fall," which is a fabulous fableistic tale, told by a suicidal movie stuntman, who lies in a hospital under surveillance by a young girl. "Immortals," is a mostly CGI spectacular with a plot that I couldn't begin to explain, and frankly I couldn't even begin to care about it, but I'm gonna give it a try anyway. King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, wait, that was Mickey Rourke, underneath all that?! Damn.) is trying to take over, Greece, or the Gods, or something that really only the very arogant would ever try to do, but he's unusually well-prepared for this. Zeus (Luke Evans), somewhat worried, summons the peasant Theseus (Henry Cavill) to be the one to defeat Hyperion, which involves making sure he doesn't get control of the Epirus Bow which could defeat the Gods. Why didn't they destroy such a bow years ago? And while we're at it, why are all the titans locked in a prison in a mountain for centuries? And who feeds them if they ever get hungry? There's also four virgin oracles, one of them, the most powerful one, is played by Freida Pinto, but she's not much interested in being able to see into the future anymore. Apparently, it's a power related to her lack of a sex life, and Theseus is there, while her other oraclse and trapped in a cow that's placed over a fire. I think that was some kind of "Gilgamesh" Bull of Heaven reference, but who cares? Other than that, "Immortals," is a lot of mind-numbing CGI violence, and since most of it involves, Gods and Titans and other immortals, not enough people ever freakin' die, so it just keeps going. Tarsem Singh is too talented a director for this film. I know he likes to seek out scripts that are open a bit, so that he can allow his visual flare to be at it's most creative, and I love him for that, but Tarsem, you gotta start picking better ones. He recently released "Mirror Mirror", that new Snow White reinterpretation with Julia Roberts. I know for a fact that he at least started with a good story with that one.

ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011) Director: Joe Cornish

2 STARS

Honest-to-God, I came this close, to completing forgetting to write a review for "Attack the Block". That might surprise some of you who've read some of the earlier reviews of the film, or saw how it kept getting nominated at various Award shows, mostly in it's native UK, but I frankly almost skipped over it, and I'm a little surprised so many people didn't. What were they seeing in this movie that made it so powerful to them? One of my Facebook friends, ranked it in his Top Ten from last year, noting that the movie knew more about racism than "The Help" did. I don't particularly disagree with that statement per se, but racism might not have been mentioned in this review had se friend not written that. The block that the title references, is in the South London projects, where a local street gang, led by Moses (John Boyega) is the ruler of the block. Which basically means that if you head towards the block, you can probably expect to be mugged. One woman, a nurse, Sam (Jodie Whittaker) finds that out the hard way. During the robbery though, something strange happens. Some kind of weird animal falls out of the sky, and attacks Moses. He kills it, but it certainly freaked him out, so he goes to find an expert to look at it. The experts, and most of the, underage underworld, seems to matriculate Ron's (Nick Frost), apartment. Ron guards the pothouse, where pot is grown in the apartment next store. The experts have never seen an animal like it, but just as they begin contemplating selling their story to the British tabloids, dozens of these small, dark, furry glow-eyed creatures begin falling from the sky, and it's an all-out alien attack. They kill and occasionally eat some of Moses's friends and enemies, and eventually, they start running out of places to hide, and also somehow, that nurse gets back into the story. Writer/director Joe Cornish is actually somewhat talented. He's acted and written for a few TV series in Britain, and has work with the aforementioned Nick Frost and his longtime comedic partner Simon Pegg on many of their projects, including being one of the writers of "The Adventures of Tintin" last year for Spielberg. The movie's got a couple laughs, and seems to be familiar with the rules of the alien attack subgenre story and touches on some of the cliches and whatnot and once in a while hits on a potential theme. The movie doesn't really go into any of them, they just sorta mention them, and move on to another alien attack. The movie also suffers from really being schizophrenic in terms of genre. Half the time, I think they're going for laughs, the other times, I think it's camp, other times it's deadly serious.... Ultimately, there are some good ideas here, but they're kind of all thrown together in no particular order or for any real reason that they all need to be in this movie. I was gonna say 2 1/2 STARS, but I didn't really laugh enough at the comedy parts, so I'm knocking it down 1/2 a star for that, but it's just too much of a mess to really care about anything or anyone in it, one way or the other.

HESHER (2011) Director: Spencer Sussman

2 STARS

I understood what they were trying to do with "Hesher," and even how they were doing it. It just doesn't work though. It's flat, like, nothing is there. Half the time, I was wondering whether or not Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was even real. It turns out, he is, and frankly I was disappointed. "Hesher" begins with a young kid, T.J., (Devin Brochu) who's mother has just died in a car accident, and his father, Paul (Rainn Wilson) is now a useless depressed lull, bordering on catatonic. They live with their Grandmother (Piper Laurie) as well, and outside of his home, he's constantly bullied at school. Into this world, enters Hesher, for no particular reason, outside of his deus ex machina use, and makes T.J.'s and most everybody's else's life worse? He blows things up, he lets the kid take the blame, he destroys other's property, he breaks into other places, and eventually, he moves into the garage. He doesn't get invited or anything, he just kinda places himself there, and refuses to leave. He also helps T.J. with his friendship with a check-out girl at the local supermarket, Nicole. (Natalie Portman) She's a little more worldly and better off than Hesher, but she's also an erratic mess. Well, she doesn't blow things up and randomly destroy shit like Hesher does. Who is exactly is Hesher? I don't know, some kid who's lived in an abandoned house, and talks about pot and sex all day, and has tattoos that give the finger, and never talks about anything directly. He sounds hard to describe, although most of the characters are actually hard-to-describe, but at least they live in the world of the movie they're in. Hesher's just from, somewhere else interrupting them, but...- you see how hard it is for me to even write about this movie? There's like, nothing here. (And I've used "like" incorrectly, twice in this review already) It seems like somebody had a script, and then they got rid of the exposition. Not just the dialogue exposition either, any exposition, and just left us with a random group of character to follow from place-to-place, and that's on those rare occasions where they're going anywhere at all. Almost bizarrely, this leads to some incredible acting. In fact, it's almost by necessity, considering they barely have characters if the script just remained the way it looked, that all had to basically formulate something, whether it made any relative sense of the surroundings or not. These are great actors doing this, and that's almost worth watching to begin with, but this really should be on the page to begin with. I mean, it's great to have good actors, and have them occasionally come up with stuff, but even in films that appreciate improvisation, it usually it's a last resort. This film could've used some improv, instead of just interpretation. I admire parts of this, but as a whole-, well, there isn't a whole; it's just a bunch of loose odds and ends, and eventually if Hesher's around, even they'll get blown up at some point.

DADDY LONGLEGS (2010) Directors: Ben Safdie and Joshua Safdie

3 STARS

For two weeks every year, Lenny (Ronald Brownstein) gets to be with his two kids, Sage (Sage Ranaldo) and Frey (Frey Ranaldo). Lenny really shouldn't be anywhere near his kids, or anybody really, but he's there father, and it's all he gets, and he tries to make the most of it. I really do believe he tries, but he just isn't capable of it. Directed by the Safdie Brothers, and based on their own experiences with their father, "Daddy Longlegs," which can also be found under the title "Go Get Some Rosemary", is a disturbing portrayal of a man who's given a responsibility that he really shouldn't have. He cares for his kids, the best way he knows how, and wants to make sure this time together is as full as they can remember. I doubt if he knew they'd grow up to make this movie, he'd do the same thing again, but he might. He's their friend first, and keeps them entertained constantly. Sometimes by walking on his hands, with ice cream and sudden trips upstate with a women neither they or he even knew the day before (and he certainly didn't know her boyfriend until the trip.) There's definitely some John Cassavettes influence in "Daddy Longlegs". He also made films about families that at their core were run by people who were either insane or going insane by the responsibilities they're not capable of handling. They're just capable enough to make casual observers believe that they're human beings and not grown up children themselves. Lenny has a job for instance. He's not good at it, he shows up late sometimes (He shows up late to a lot of things, if he shows up at all), and barely seems to be there as is. When he's forced to work a double-shift unexpectedly, he drugs his two kids so that they'll sleep through it and not wake up. He overdoses them, and they don't wake up for days. Luckily, he has a friend who's a doctor, or he'd be in jail. It's not completely strange that he'd have a few friends. Lenny and charismatic, but this gets old, quickly. I heard somewhere that the Safdie Brothers actually made "Daddy Longlegs," in tribute for their father. That's hard to believe actually, but that was their childhood, and the only one they knew. "Daddy Longlegs," can be hard to watch at times. Even when he seems to be doing well, and acting close to responsible, he can suddenly switch at an instant, and begin doing and feeling something else entirely. When he sends the kids to go shopping for dinner (btw, their ages are 9 and 7), they come back, and he's suddenly packing to move out to a different place. I'm a little surprised the kids didn't wind up in mental institutions after dealing with that kind of behavior. "Daddy Longlegs," is a good movie about some of the crap kids go through after two parents get divorce. They certainly should be divorced, that much is clear. How they ever got married to begin with seems like a true nightmare story, but considering how it's possible their father was actually worse off without him actually taking care of people, maybe it isn't such a bad thing that they got these two weeks/year with him. Brownstein is really amazing in this role. Like I said, I really do believe he tries....

JANE'S JOURNEY (2010) Director: Lorenz Knauer

2 STARS

There's a movie that none of you have ever heard of called "Children of Peace"; I watched it once when I was judging films for a film festival a few years back. (It might now be called "A Necessary Journey") It's a documentary that follows the actions of Binh Rybacki. If you don't know who she is, look her up one day, she's an extraordinary woman, who now focuses her time helping children of poverty in Vietnam and other underdeveloped places in the world with her organization, Children of Peace International or COPI. I mention her because I thought about that film while watching "Jane's Journey". I wrote in my review to the film festival something to the effect of, if and when she (Rybacki) is ever up for sainthood than "Children of Peace" will be exhibit A in her defense. I also however, made sure to not recommend it for the festival. Yes, she's an incredible woman who more people should know about, but that does not an entertaining film make. Most of you will know the name Jane Goddall, I certainly knew her and some of her achievements, most famously involving chimpanzees. I learned a lot more about her in the documentary "Jane's Journey", but alas, I mostly found myself thinking the same thing I did after watching "Children of Peace", and that is that Jane Goodall is an extraordinary woman, but I don't think that that's a movie. (Okay, before any of you say anything, I haven't seen "Gorillas in the Mist", [It's on my Netflix, I'll get to it eventually] but even still, what she's done since that movie is also more than worth noting, and also "Gorillas," is a dramatic film based on her, while this is a documentary on her, there's a difference.) "Jane's Journey" is slightly better than "Children of Peace," if for no other reason, than because the movie really dives into her entire life and career, and many of the trials and tribulations that went along with it. Most of her career parts, are obviously successful, although considering how young she was when she started living in Africa to study the chimpanzees. She was the first person to realized that they used tools, which at that point, was thought of only as a human characteristic. Since then though, she's spent much of her recent career traveling the world in speaking engagements as a UN Ambassador of Peace, and has become one of the premiere spokespersons for saving the planet, including through her program "Roots and Shoots" which has expanded to about 100 countries so far. Personally, she appears to be quite soft-spoken, but quite smart and at times funny. She's been married a couple times, and her kids occasionally rebel. One of them even became a fisherman for a brief period of time. She seems to be entertaining in some of the footage we see of her during some of her speaking engagements, and she's praise by many people for them and her work. She's an incredible human being, and that, I cannot deny. As a movie though, "Jane's Journey" has some good moments, including footage of her, really young, working with the chimpanzees in Africa, but this documentary is really just a film about how great she is. Not that I particularly want something else on her, I don't. She is amazing woman, and all she's accomplish really makes my life look meaningless, but I need more than that for a movie.

THE PIANO IN A FACTORY (2010) Directors: Zhang Meng and Jae-young Kwak

3 STARS

"The Piano in a Factory," is a nice little dramedy from China, about a man who struggles to do all that he can for his daughter. Chen's (Wang Qian-Yuan) a musician who plays accordian at funerals and a few other gigs with his band. He's been taking care of his young daughter for years after his wife left her. Suddenly, she's returned, demanding a divorce, and perhaps more harshly, full custody of their daughter. The wife has far more money now, more stable, and lives in the city. The husband has spent years teaching her daughter an appreciation of music though, and she requests that the one gets who a piano, will be the one she lives with. He goes out searching for a piano, but it quickly becomes clear that the only way he's going to be able to get ahold of a piano will be to actually make one in a nearby factory, that seems to be empty during off-hours. They have some particular trouble finding some steel rods for the piano, but the makeshift piano starts coming along eventually. There's nothing particularly special about "The Piano in a Factory," but it's a nice, touching little movie about a devoted father, willing to try to go the extra mile for his daughter. Part of me thinks there could've been more to this story than what we get, but all-in-all, there's nothing really wrong with what we get.

THE RIVER (1951) Director: Jean Renoir

4 STARS

I really don't consider myself proficient in the work of Jean Renoir. I usually like his movies what few I've seen. "The River," his first color feature, is only the fifth film of his I've seen, after "La Bete Humaine," "The Rules of the Game," "Grand Illusion," and "French Cancan". I've liked all his films so far, and definitely consider "The Rules of the Game," a masterpiece but I often find myself more ambivalent towards his other work. If I learned anything from "The River," a film that's not considered one of Renoir's best, it's that I really be looking into and learning more about Renoir. That, and that it must have been quite an amazing thing back in the fifties to see a movie made in India in most of the western world. Shot along the Ganges, "The River," follows the lives of three teenage who's lives and worldviews are forever change when an American stranger comes to live near them. The film is told in flashback through the eyes of Harriet (Patricia Walters), the daughter of English settlers, and it's her American cousin Mr. John (Arthur Shields), who's lost one of his legs in a war, comes to live in India, seemingly to get away from most of his troubles. Her two friends, the beautiful but conniving Valerie (Adrienne Corri) and Mr. John's daughter Melanie (Radha Shri Ram) who's half Indian and English, and has just arrived back from a London boarding school. There's a lot more family members to actually, and they come together to create this wonderful mosaic of life in India, that probably hadn't been seen much before in the Western world. Martin Scorsese calls "The River," one of the most beautiful color films ever made, and I understand what he means. While the movie is predominately about Colonialists, the movie really captures the mystical and spirit of what it's like to live along the Ganges, in a spiritual part of an intricately spiritual country. This, while most of the characters are continuously struggling between two worlds themselves. (Sometimes, they're battling a few different kinds of two worlds.) "The River," at it's core is a coming-of-age film, and it's quite a good one. It's based off the Rumer Godden novel, her work also inspired the Michael Powell film "Black Narcissus", and this is based on her own experiences growing up in India. I don't know if it's one of Renoir's greatest films, I actually hope there are better ones personally, but there aren't many films quite like "The River," period. Note to self: Look into more Jean Renoir films.

IN BETWEEN DAYS (2007) Director: So Yong Kim

3 STARS

It's strange how teenage boys, (and many adult men actually) can be somewhat mean to girls they happen to like. They don't always have extra emotions that they can rely on. God bless the girls and women who can understand and interpret this behavior correctly as admiration. (And God help those who mistake actual mean behavior for admiration) Tram (Taegu Andy Kang) is sometimes mean to his friend Aimie (Jiseon Kim), but mean in the "I have a crush" on you sense. Aimie has a crush on him too, but doesn't want to ruin what seems to be her only real friendship. Their the two teenagers at the center of "In Between Days". Aimie is a Korean immigrant, now living in Canada. She speaks Korean with Tram, and most of her family, but she knows English well-enough. It must be nice being able to speak in two languages like that, not so much for having that knowledge, but so that the things you say can still be private to others. Tram and Aimie have a lot of private shy moments together. They each have a crush on each other. Tram tries to push forward a romance, but Aimie isn't interested in ruining their friendship. Tram sometimes calls Aimie in the middle of the night for a place to sleep when he's kicked out of his home. He sleeps in her closet until everybody leaves in the morning. They clearly care for each other, they just haven't matured enough for a relationship. It's probably for the best they don't explore, but the pain of each of them, at different points, keeping their desires in check. Note to young filmmakers, if you're not 100% sure how to shoot a movie, just get really good actors, and keep the cameras in close-up on them. Director So Yong Kim does this, shooting "In Between Days," on handheld 35mm DVX, and it's amazing how well it works. Ingmar Bergman is right about the human face being so powerful and visual an image. The movie rarely seems to push itself away from Aimie, and I'm glad it doesn't. Weren't not always sure what she's thinking, but we can always feel how she's feeling.
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