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Saturday, June 27, 2009

BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Chris Nahon
Screenplay: Kenji Kamiyama, Katsuya TeradaAndrew Pleavin, Larry Lamb, Constatine Gregory, Ailish O'Connor, Joey Anaya, Jamal Duff, John Duff et al.
Cast: Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Masiela Lusha, J.J.Field, Koyuki, Liam Cunningham, Yasuaki Kurata, Michael Byrne, Colin Salmon,
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Country of Origin: Hong Kong
Language: Japanese, English
Genre: Actiion, Horror, Thriller

This is a remake of a wonderful 2000 short anime film and while this live action version is good, the original is better.

Saya, a half-human, half-vampire femal being fights vampires, monsters and demons with a sword/katana that cuts through them all.

The action sequences employ fast cuts, close ups, and slow motion to mask the fact that the star is not a martial arts expert.

There's an over-reliance on CGI, very bloody and gory scenes, and this movie is not for the weak of heart or stomach.

The ninja attack in a forest is well done, but the main villain, Onigen, lacks credibility and doesn't come across as significantly evil.

There are story lines like the ultra-secretive Council that gets lost midway through the film and is never finalized. The plot is thin and the cinematography is choppy.

In order to enjoy this film it's necessary to see it as a straight forward action film with less than a stellar plot and choppy continuity.

Friday, June 26, 2009

YOO-HOO MRE. GOLDBERG

By D.E.Levine

Director: Aviva Kempner
Cast: Gertrude Berg, Phillip Loeb, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sara Chase, Norman Lear, Margaret Nagle, Roberta Wallach, Edward R. Murrow, Susan Stamberg et al.
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Lamguage: English
Genre: Documentary, Drama, Comedy

This is a fascinating and eye-opening documentary about the first powerful, talented female writer/producer in television.

Gertrude Berg, born in 1898 as Tilly Edelstein, was an entertainment powerhouse and won the first Best Actress Emmy Award for a television show.

The daughter of a Catskills resort owner, Berg honed her writing and producing skills by writing and directing sketches to occupy young guests on rainy days. She turned down her father's request to run a second hotel in Florida saying she wanted to do something on her own.

She met her husband Lewis Berg when she was 13 and married him when she was 18. He encouraged her pursuits in the theater after their Louisiana sugar plantation burned down and they returned to New York City.

A dynamo of energy and personality, this Jewish wife was a reigning influence on the radio during the 1930s and 1940s as the star, head writer and producer of the popular show "The Goldbergs".

The radio show premiered on November 20, 1929 on the CBS Blue Network. It ran on radio until 1950.

With the advent of television, Berg ran "The Goldbergs" as a sitcom on that medium from the 1949 to 1956. She still wrote the entire show in the morning and then went to the studio to star in and produce it in the evening.

Long before Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey were doing commercials for products on their shows, Gertrude Berg was the pitchwoman for her sponsors on both her radio and television shows.

Berg was so popular that she was ranked second only to Eleanor Roosevelt as the most respected woman in America.

The show itself was a curiosity because it dealt with the trials and tribulations of a Jewish immigrant family living in a tenement in New York City.

Gertrude Berg starred as the stereotypical Jewish mother Molly Goldberg complete with an Old World Yiddish accent and commentary aside to the audience. She routinely talked with her neighbors by putting her head out the window and calling "Yoo hoo" to them.

The success of the show was made more remarkable because of the anti-Semitism that existed in the pre-World War II United States and the rare display of Jewish-American pride after the war.

The show confronted ethnic bigotry in the late 1930s, discussed what was happening in Nazi Germany during the war years, and tackled what was going on in the United States at that time.

"The Goldbergs" spawned a comic strip, jigsaw puzzles, a movie and a cookbook. In addition to all of her other duties, Gertrude Berg published the cookbook, wrote a newspaper advice column and lent her name to a line of women's clothing. Everything she did was successful and she seemed to do everything.

Phillip Loeb, an active force in Actor's Equity played Jake Goldberg, the patriarch in "The Goldbergs". Despite his popularity and clout, in 1950 he was listed in the Red Channels publication which was essentially a show business blacklist.

Regardless of her popularity, with sponsors like General Foods threatening to drop the show, Berg refused to fire Loeb and went threatened to go public with the sponsor's threats.

Loeb, who resigned in 1950, was ruined and broken and committed suicide in 1955.

Her network, CBS, with which the show had been since 1929 radio days dropped the show shortly after the Loeb incident, replacing it with "I Love Lucy". One has to wonder if the show hadn't been dropped whether "Lucy" would have found a spot as quickly and been such a hit.

Eight months after being dropped by CBS, "The Goldbergs" reappeared on NBC where it remained until 1956.

The documentary is full of insightful clips from both the radio and television shows that capture the feeling and performances of "The Goldbergs".

When the show was dropped from television, Berg went on to successfully star on Broadway with noted actors such as Cedric Hardwicke, Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford and Lee Grant.

Director Aviva Kempner has done a real service by producing this documentary and filling in an important part of American entertainment history. It appears that during her research even CBS wasn't aware of Gertrude Berg and "The Goldbergs" having been on their network for so many years.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

PUBLIC ENEMIES

By D.E.Levine

Director: Michael Mann
Producers: Michael Mann and Kevin Misher
Executive Producer: G.Mac Brown
Co-producers: Bryan H. Carroll, Gusmano Cesaretti and Kevin De La Noy
Screenplay: Michael Mann, Ann Biderman and Ronan Bennett
Book: Bryan Burrough's "Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-1934"
Cast: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Dorff, Stephen Graham, Bill Camp, Jason Clarke, David Wenham, Billy Crudup, Rory Cochrane, Jason Clarke and Stephen Lang
Music: Elliot Goldenthal
Running Time: 140 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English

Once again, Johnny Depp immerses himself in a role and believably becomes the character. As the Depression-era bank robber and sometimes idolized Robin Hood John Dillinger, he is good looking, charismatic and bold in his bank robberies.

Stating that he's never considered doing anything else because he's "having too much fun," Depp portrays Dillinger as a personable, extremely confident, low-key ladies' man who's very loyal to his friends.

The movie is chock-full of prison breaks, holdups and shoot outs, but while sticking basically to the facts, the movie doesn't introduce any new and unknown information about Dillinger and his gang.

Dillinger was the most publicized of the many Depression-era outlaws whose crimes were responsible for the formation of the FBI, known at the time as "G-Men."

Paroled after nine years in the Indiana State Penitentiary on May 10, 1033, the film opens with Dillinger engineering the mass escape of old friends incarcerated in the State Pen in 1933 and follows his rampage around the United States for 14 months until he was shot and killed 14 months later on July 22, 1934.

Interestingly, the film never discusses the Depression itself. Although the sociopolitical conditions of the time are very important to the story, the film never discusses why the public sympathized with bank robbers who held up the very institutions that many blamed for their financial situation.

The costumes are rich and beautiful, which also obscures the Depression era. Even the robbers getting killed are immaculately dressed and coiffed, while at rest, during robberies and while being killed.

Additionally, the film concentrates on Dillinger robbing large, marble palace-like banks in large cities, although it's well-known that Dillinger frequently robbed banks in small or medium-sized towns and cities.

This is a noisy film, since most scenes involve loud, surround sound, gunfire either during a robbery or an attack by FBI on the bandits. The visual bursts of white light that indicate gun blasts during the darkest nighttime hours are also stunning.

While documenting Dillinger's crime spree, the film also documents the parallel rise of organized crime and the simultaneous development of the F.B.I.

Originally outgunned by the criminals, J.Edgar Hoover and Special Agent Melvin Purvis hired trained killers from Texas and Oklahoma.

The outlaws and the "lawmen" had vicious gun battles involving narrow escapes for Dillinger and his gang. A lot of dying, both of criminals and lawmen, takes place in this movie.

The purpose of this high-priced, large cast film? Obviously Michael Mann wanted to tell an authentic story and John Dillinger's story has only been told twice before.

Despite a great deal of talk about the scientific methods used by the FBI, the agency actually wins by massacring the criminals instead of arresting them.

However, the bloody violence and the constant noise make this a film only suitable for viewers with strong constitutions.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

YEAR ONE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Harold Ramis
Producers: Judd Apatow, Clayton Townsend and Nicholas Weinstock
Executive Producer: Rodney Rothman
Co-Producers: Harold Ramis and Laurel A. Ward
Associate Producer: Andrew Epstein
Screenplay: Harold Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg
Cast: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, David Cross, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Vinnie Jones, Hank Azara, Juno Temple, Oliva Wilde, June Diane Raphael, Xander Berkeley, Gia Candes, Horation Sang, David Pasquesi, Matthew Willig et al.
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Country of Origin: USA
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Adventure

Despite a stellar cast, and experienced and well-known writers, directors and producers, Year One is a disappointment.

The audience was expecting something more original and funnier. Instead of an original comedy, the film is filled with reminders of other films and characters we've seen before.

Last Year Jack Black played an animated Kung Fu Panda, who bumbled his way through situations, was overweight, and by being in the right place at the right time managed to become the chosen one. In Year One Black is a live action Zed who mimics Kung Fu Panda (without the martial arts).

Michael Cera plays Oh, a misunderstood, shy skinny sidekick to Zed who has everything bad happen to him while Zed stands by. He's exactly like Evan in Superbad.

The plot is thin and involves rewriting biblical history. The jokes are flat and people like Oliver Platt are talent that's simply wasted.

Year One will appeal to youngsters under the age of 12 and is relatively harmless to the rest of us.

SURVEILLANCE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Executive Producer: David Lynch
Screenplay: Kebt Harper and Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Cast: Julia Ormond, Bill Pullman, Pell James, Ryan Simpkins, French Stewart, Kent Harper, et al
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Country of Origin: USA and Germany
Language: English
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

A pair of FBI investigators, played by Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond, visit the sheriff's station in prairie town to help solve some grisly murders. They've spent months tracking a pair of serial killers and haven't had much success apprehending them. Some of the scenes are mundane interaction between local territorial cops and federal agents who dislike each other. The characters all seem despicable.

Setting up recording equipment they embark on interviews of three surviving witnesses who include a police officer from the station, a young female drug addict and a child. The interviews seem normal, although there are some interesting interchanges between the agents.

Each of the witnesses has something to hide as shown in flashbacks where we see that they are lying during the interviews. A highway massacre brought the witnesses together, and the massacre is shown in gory detail. There are some real moments of tension as the flashbacks show various forms of violence that took place involving the various witnesses and their companions. Some of the filming is reminiscent of David Lynch's techniques and one has to assume that Ms. Lynch is paying homage to her father.

Ms. Lynch proves adept at using different visual schemes and colors. The massacre with vivid blood colors takes place against the washed out colors of the wide open desert, bleak and stark with it's distant horizon. The police station scenes are claustrophobic and have greenish overtones. The cops all seem to be corrupt.

Lynch pushes the themes of sex and death and perversity beneath normal surfaces. There is an unexpected twist that changes the story in several ways making viewers realize that many of the plot points have been false and misleading, ripe with cheap scares and tactics typical of mainstream crime films.

Just as we grow comfortable feeling we know what's happened, everything changes. Ms. Lynch is not as polished as her father but she throws some interesting twists and turns into the story to enhance the plot and leave the viewers stunned.

CHERI

By D.E>Levine

Director: Stephen Frears
Producers: Bill Kenwright, Andras Hamori, Tracey Seaward and Thom Mount
Executive Producers: Jessica Lange, Francois Ivernet, Cameron McCracken, Christopher Hampton, Richard Temple and Simon Fawcett
Co-Producers: Raphael Benoliel, Bastian Griese and Raif Schmitz
Associate Producer: Marco Giles and Daniel Mann
Screenplay: Christopher Hampton
Novel: Colette
Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Bates, Rupert Friend, Felicity Jones, Frances Tomelty, Anita Pallenberg, Harriet Walter, Iben Hjejle, Bette Bourne, Gaye Brown, Tom Burke, et al.
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Costumes: Consolata Boyle
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Country of Origin: UK, France and Germany
Language: English, French and German
Genre: Romance

Nominated for the 2009 Golden Berlin Bear, this French period piece (1906 Paris) is a story originally told by Colette about the demi-monde where prostitutes are celebrated for their beauty and their abilities.

Lea de Lonval is a breathtaking beautiful seductress of "a certain age" who is seeing her career as a courtesan/prostitute come to an end in belle epoque Paris.

Invited for lunch by a rival and colleague Mme. Peloux, they discuss the future of Madame's son Fred, nicknamed Cheri, who appears to do nothing but party.

Long an admirer of Lea, Cheri flirts with her, demands a kiss and is stunned by the passion they each find.

Running off to have a fling together, the fling stretches to six years. When Mme. Peloux announces over another lunch that she's arranged a marriage for Cheri with Edme, the daughter of another courtesan, both Cheri and Lea are stunned.

Cheri goes through with the marriage while Lea goes to Biaritz with her maid but pretends she has a new lover.

Both Cheri and Lea fail to realize that they've experienced true love during their six years together. Since they view love as a commodity, they have no reference against which to measure it.

The venues are breathtaking and the costumes are positively glorious period pieces from the Belle Epoque.

The passion between Cheri and Lea doesn't come across as a palpable hunger. While it's possible to believe the love between a younger man and older woman, something is lacking from this melodramatic romance, perhaps because of the emptiness of Cheri as a human being. There's no character development. Cheri seems like a spoiled brat and exhibits no depth of feeling. Lea too, as a professional prostitute seems without true feeling.

An expensive film with gorgeous cinematography and a stellar cast, the film is appealing but whether it will draw a large following remains to be seen.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

QUICK GUN MURUGUN

By D.E.Levine

Director: Shashanka Ghosh
Producer:
Screenplay: Rajesh Devraj
Cast: Anu Menon, Sandhya Mridul, Ashwin Mushran, Naseer, Nasser, Vinay Pathak,
Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Shanmugha Rajan, Rajendraprasad, Rambha, Shanmughraja, Ranvir Shorey, Raju Sundaram
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Country of Origin: India
Language: Tamil with English subtitles
Genre: Comedy

This film is featured at MOMA, NYC as part of The New India series. Check www.moma.org for schedule. It will also play at IFC and the Asian Film Festival in New York City.
From the minute Quick Gun Murugan appears on screen in a dude ranch outfit of red pants, a Kelly green satin shirt, a yellow faux cheetah vest and a fuscia cravat, with white boots and hat (the good guys always have the white hat), the audience knows this is no normal western.

Instead, this film is a hilarious action-packed spoof on westerns, spy, action and sci-fi films like James Bond, Dirty Harry, the Avenger. The film has variously been described as spaghetti western meets Tollywood meets the Matrix meets Austin Powers.s. With his ridiculously wild costume and cleverly placed music, the action is fast and funny.

Quick Gun is a South Indian karmic cowboy with incredible pistol shooting skills that he uses to protect the weak. With a mission to protect the world and cows, he is protecting a lawless village in a remote area of India in the early eighties from a bunch of thugs led by Rice Plate Reddy, a villain (in a black hat) intent on making the villagers eat meat and changing the menu in a local restaurants to non-veg. He is busy killing restaurant owners who refuse to serve meat. Quick Gun unfortunately is ambushed, shot, killed and sent to Indian heaven to await reincarnation.

In 2008, 25 years later, Quick Gun , ascertaining that God is definitely on the vegetarian side, is reincarnated in modern day Mumbai. He finds that Rice Plate Reddy has also been re-born as a corrupt capitalist with very big plans to expand his franchised chain of McDosa restaurants throughout India and the entire world with a non-veg menu. Reddy has created an automated machine to produce beef dosas on a grand scale in order to dominate the market.

The only thing standing between Reddy and success is a mother's love. To get that, Reddy is busy kidnapping mommies throughout India and forcing them to add their mother's love so he can find "the best mum in India", accumulate a large amount of mother's love, and dominate the world.

Teaming with gangster moll, blond bombshell Mango Dolly, Quick Gun sets out to stop Rice Plate Reddy. Among other things he fights a classic duel in traffic jammed cosmopolitan Mumbai by stepping up and down across the roofs of traffic stranded cars and trucks.

THE VOYEURS

By D.E.Levine

A MOMA selection of the New India film movement. Check www.moma.org for schedule.

Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta
Producer: Anurradha Prasad
Executive Producer: Sanjeev Shankar Prasad
Screenplay: Buddhadeb Dasgupta
Music: Biswadeb Dasgupta
Cast: Prosenjit Chatterjee, Sameera Reddy, Amitav Bhattacharya
Country of Origin: India
Language: Bengali with English subtitles
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Tragedy
Running Time: 107 Minutes

An unusual film, "The Voyeurs" goes from comedy to irony to tragedy so seamlessly that the viewer doesn't realize it's happening until it's done.

It's both comedic and sad when the opening scenes show a crowded Kolkata hospital where an influx of rats bite the patients at night.

Pressured by the resulting media scandal, the hospital hires computer techie Dilip to install a security system with six cameras. Thus introduced to Dilip's work, we see his workspace and equipment in his modest apartment.

After Yasin, a friend from his home village of Baharampur arrives and becomes his roommate and co-worker, both men fall romantically for Dilip's new neighbor Rekha, a pretty dancer with theater experience trying to break into the movie business as an actress.

Dilip, a very shy young man, becomes a voyeur by planting a spycam in Rekha's apartment an d connecting it to his computer monitor next door. Watching her and falling increasingly in love, but too shy to speak to her about his feelings, Dilip is a voyeur up to a point, careful to turn the computer off when Rekha starts to undress.

We see first hand the good and evil of our society in this film, as many people become voyeurs. While the hospital does a good thing by installing the system to watch negligent staff and track the rat population, the police exemplify the evil side by laughing and making crude jokes as they watch a young couple kissing in a public station.

Dilip, a fundamentally decent and good young man who is too shy to make romantic advances, dreamily worships the film goddess Madhubala until he meets and falls for the real, live Rekha.

Inexperienced in the romance department, Dilip becomes a voyeur because of his emotional feelings for Rekha. Although he has the best of intentions, Dilip winds up doing something evil.

While this film isn't a musical in the Bollywood sense, there are songs cleverly inserted so that the film comments on the effect that movie musicals have on ordinary people.

There's also some really funny comedy as Rekha auditions for a very short director, who makes up for his stature with authentic, if humorous, fighting ability.

But her audition experiences, plus crude remarks in the street, sour Rekha on life in the big city and we hear her complain over the phone to her mother about it.

When Rekha discovers the hidden spycam in her room she is devastated and frightened, and it's at this point that the film takes a dramatic turn.

Following a visit by the police, who trace the wires back to Dilip's room, the police confiscate his equipment and lay a trap to arrest him and Yasin.

Warned by the food delivery boy, Dilip and Yasin run away without a carefully thought out plan. On the run, they suffer mistaken identity and are linked to Islamic terrorism.

Because of their likability and innocence, the audience is cheering Dilip and Yasin on so it is doubly shocking when they experience police brutality that results in the death of an innocent man.

The unexpected and ironic twists in the plot and the convincing portrayals by the small but excellent cast who represent a microcosm within the teaming masses of Kolkata make this film disturbing and unforgettable.

Director/writer Dasgupta manages to make significant political statements interwoven into the fabric of an entertaining film. Dasgupta's ability to shift from lighthearted reflection and romantic comedy to a serious statement about life and society leaves the audience profoundly shaken with a memory of a story not easily forgotten.

LIFE ON EARTH (LA VIE SUR TERRE)

By D.E.Levine

A selection of MOMA, NYC. Check www.moma.org for schedule.

Director: Abderrahmane Sissako
Producers: Pierre Chevalier, Carole Scotta, Caroline Benjo, Barbara Letellier and Simon Arnal
Screenplay: Abderrahmane Sissako
Cast: Abderrahmane Sissako, Nana Baby, Mohamed Sissako, Bourama Coulibaly, Keita Bina Gaousso, Mahamadou Drame, Moussa Fofana, Keita Kagny, Madlaye Traore, Solo Diarra, Fodia Coulibaly, Madou Mariko, Lassina Kane, Mahamane Maiiga, Cheykh Bouya Ould Yarba
Country of Origin: Africa
Languages: French and Bambara with English subtitles
Release Date: June 1999
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 61 Minutes

A semi-documentary, "Life on Earth" follows writer and director Abderrahmane Sissako, a Mauritanian living in Paris as he goes back to his father's village of Sokolo, Mali just before the beginning of the millennium.

Sissako goes from modern 20th century France to one of the poorest countries in the world and examines the contrast on New Year's Eve 1999, the eve of the millennium.

Lyrically "painting" a portrait of this extremely poor area of West Africa, with beautifully filmed African vistas, the director is outspoken about European destruction of Africa, attributing the "highest pile of corpses in history" to European industrial leaders "without scruples."

Dispassionate after these comments, the film studies the village with it's rudimentary radio station, swarms of birds that are destroying and devouring the rice crop (the livelihood to many), and the post office with it's solitary regional telephone. This picture is that of real life.

In Sokolo on New Year's Eve, Sissako and his father listen together as the millennial celebrations from the Eiffel Tower in Paris and other locations around the world come to them over the radio..

All of the western hype about the millennium is meaningless in the reality of the West African environment as it stands poised on the brink of the 21st century.

The dichotomy between the descriptions of the celebrations with their material abundance and technological sophistication in Europe, and the picture of almost primitive life in Sokolo, speaks volumes.

This film, beautiful, disquieting and sad, is unique and profound. A documentary filmmaker would never have been able to capture the desolate beauty and the emotional thoughtfulness that Sissako develops through his own thematic connections and deep feelings of emotional involvement.

Ten years after its release the film holds its own, still evoking both psychological and political reactions to the state of West Africa and the need for applying solutions to real problems in that part of the world.

WAITING FOR HAPPINESS (HEREMAKONO)

By D.E.Levine

The wonderful thing about New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) is the ongoing effort to present films of merit from the past as well as current films. This year MOMA presents films of Abderrahmane Sissako from June 26 to July 2, highlighting the efforts of this noted African filmmaker who will be present to introduce and answer questions about some of the films
Check listings at www.moma.org

Director: Abderrahamane Sissako
Producers: Nicholas Royer and Maji-da Abdi
Screenplay: Abderrahamne Sissako
Cast: Khatra Ouid Abder, Maata Ould Mohamed Abeid, Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamed, Nana Diakitu, Faitmetou Mint Ahimeda, Makanfing Dabo and Santha Leng
Genre: Drama
Country of Origin: Africa
Languages: French, Hassanya, Mandarin
Released: January 2003
Recipient of the International Critics' Prize, Cannes Film Festival 2002
Running Time: 95 Minutes

Filmed in Nouadhibou, Mauritania, "Waiting for Happiness" moves at an excruciatingly slow pace, which appears to be the same pace that life moves at in the town. Very little happens in Nouadhibou, and what does happen takes place very slowly and can be interpreted as being pretty boring.

The film is acted almost entirely by non-professionals. The cast gives amazingly natural and interesting performances that give insight into the community, where life is slow and traditional and the progress of the modern world sits just on the edge of town, almost but not quite encroaching.

The story centers around 17-year old Abdallah who has been away from his home village so long that he's forgotten the local dialect and is unable to communicate with the local townspeople. As a result, Abdallah doesn't speak many lines.

Visiting his mother before setting off for Europe, Abdallah finds that he doesn't fit in with his society and has difficulty speaking with his own mother. He feels estranged and although he tries, he is unable to relearn the local dialect.

Isolated, although among people, Abdallah spends much of his time sitting alone and reading, without the benefit of electricity, watching the timeless pace of the town through the window in his mother's home or wandering around town by himself.

The aged local, and ineffective electrician, Maata, tries but is unable to bring electricity to Abdallah's mother's home. Encouraged to do so by Khatra, an energetic, talkative and interesting youngster who acts as Maata's assistant, the electrician makes feeble attempts to tap into electricity flowing elsewhere and connect it.

His failure to successfully tap into and transmit the electricity is perhaps a metaphor for Maata's failure to tap into life. Reminiscing about his life, Maata speaks of the opportunity he had to leave town and travel and how he turned it down because he had no desire to go into the outer, larger world and learn what was there.

He comments could describe most of the town's population since "Waiting for Happiness" explores the alienation and isolation of people who always remain alone despite their presence in a big globalized world.

While the outside world brings karaoke music, televisions and old cars to the town, the people resist in small but significant ways, as demonstrated by an Arab mother teaching her daughter music and song on a home made guitar, and individuals reverting to traditional African dress and socializing through traditional tea ceremonies.

Tradition dies slowly and the townspeople's attitude and actions result in keeping them isolated.

The movie's slow pace is characterized by a total lack of passion in the lives of all the characters to whom we're introduced. Perhaps if they had passion about their jobs, their existence, and/or their futures, the film would pick up speed. But it never does and yet the viewer keeps watching out of a sense of expectancy, curiosity and fascination.

As it is, there are neither stars nor catalysts in the film. The material and characters are quiet and low key. Instead, making subtle and philosophical statements about alienation and isolation, Sissako's universe is the magnificent landscape lovingly filmed in color.

The cinematography is amazing as it captures the bleak beauty of this West African town. Visually, the film is completely captivating and poetic, painting a visual picture with an artist's palette.

Surrounded by enormous never-ending sand dunes and with a gusty wind whipping through the frames, the film visually conveys panoramic neutrality with its hazy tones of beige (sand colored), broken intermittently by the shining wave swept sea and the vivid colors of native African garb.

In this transient West African town, people are always alone, regardless what they do. This town is a microcosm showing small people isolated in the big world. It's not topical, it's timeless.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

LUCK BY CHANCE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Zoya Akhtar
Producers: Farhan Akhtar, Ritesh Sidhwani and Zoya Akhtar
Story: Zoya Akhtar
Dialogue: Javed Akhtar
Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Konkona Sen Sharma, Dimple Kapadia, Rishi Kapoor, Cheetah Yagnesh Shetty, Saif Ali Khan, Hrithik Roshan
Music: Shankar Ehsaan Loy
Lyrics: Javed Aktar
Country of Origin: India
Language: Hindi and English with English subtitles
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 156 Minutes

A selection of The New India at MOMA, New York. Check listings at www.moma.org

Luck By Chance is a fascinating, if long, expose about the Hindi film industry. The film itself is very much a family affair but despite the nepotism it's really good and very entertaining.

Farhan Akhtar, a star already, returns to star in his sister Zoya's directorial debut. Their father Javed wrote the dialogue and song lyrics and 20 top Bollywood stars make cameo appearances that are realistically written into the film.

But it's not just star power that makes this film enjoyable. The performances by each of the stars are wonderful and add to the richness of the overall story.

The story revolves around Vikram Jay Singh who migrates from Delhi to Mumbai to make a career in films. He meets Sona Mishra who has come from Kanpur with the same dreams as far as a film career.

Sona, depending purely on luck and chance, gets only B-grade movies and despite wanting to move into meaty A-grade parts doesn't have or use the manipulative techniques that Vikram demonstrates.

Vikram cunningly prefers to make his own luck. Although Sona is instrumental in passing his portfolio to the right people and getting him noticed, Vikram uses clever manipulation and flattery of the established actress Neena Walia, who's daughter has the leading female role, to land the leading male role.

This is not to say that Vikram doesn't work hard at his manipulating. Studying the actress' old movies and telling stories of how she is responsible for his birth, he charms her and convinces her that her choice of him as the lead is actually her own idea.

The film also manages to include some nervy spoofs on the film industry without exaggerating its outcome. These spoofs elicit laughter from the audience and are more truthful than not.

Vikram definitely knows how to use his intelligence and charm to achieve a top film career. Unfortunately, he doesn't realize until he's reached the pinnacle that he let his relationship with Sona fall apart.

The question then is whether he can and will put the relationship back on track.

Friday, June 12, 2009

GOTTA DANCE

B y D.E.Levine

Director: Dori Berinstein
Producer: Dori Berinstein
Executive Producers: Linda Goldstein Knowlton, Adam Miller, Alan Fisher and Glen Siegel
Co-producer: Leo Lawrence
Written by: Dori Berinstein and Adam Zucker
Cast: Jaclyn Sabol, Marla Collins, Kimberlee Garris, Petra Pope and the 2007 NETSational Dance Team
Music: Craig Sharmat
Country of Origin: USA
Language: English
Genre: Documentary
Running Time: 95 Minutes


This is more than a feel good film about getting old and keeping active. It's an important and joyous statement about the individuality of seniors and their desire to participate in life, regardless of their age.

By the end of the film the audience is filled with an elation rarely felt after watching any performance.

In 2007 Dori Berinstein had an idea to follow the tryouts of the New Jersey Nets basketball franchise as they recruited a senior hip-hop team.

The Nets already had a professional dance team of "hot" young women aged 18-28, a kids dance team, and an athletic cheer leading team. It's obvious that the franchise takes the entertainment it presents to the audience seriously.

Advertising for an investing in a senior dance troupe was going out on a limb to say the least, and there wasn't any assurance the idea would work.

With permission from the NJ Nets, Berinstein followed and filmed the auditions for the senior dance team and after 12 women and 1 man were selected, she continued to film them during grueling rehearsals.

Aged 60-83 at the time, with a diverse background, the common bond between the seniors selected is their genuine love of dance (although inexperienced in hip-hop).

In addition to following their dance training, Berinstein fills in their individual backgrounds and documents their bonding over dinners and other outings. Using title cards, Berinstein divides the picture into cohesive chapters.

Two of the oldest dancers have granddaughters on the Nets' professional dance team, and the interaction between youth and seniors is both touching and educational, as the elders comment that the younger girls "don't think they'll ever be this old" even as they steadily march towards their senior years.

Before the film is over, it reaches a climax when the senior dance troupe, the NETSationals, perform at the halftime show to a wild reception from the Meadowlands crowd.

Following their debut, they become the "toast of the town" and of every morning show and sports page.

If "Dancing With The Stars" is popular, it's nothing in comparison to the rich reception the NETSationals continually receive, climaxing that first year with a final half-time show that includes a face-off with the kids' dance troupe.

Now in their third year the NETSationals include six of their original members and are still extremely popular.

The film begins and ends with credit sequence showing each senior dancer shimmying against a stark white background so sitting through all of the credits is really necessary to achieve the full impact of the film.

The film, which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2008 and won the Palm Springs Documentary Award is the catalyst for "Gotta Dance" lessons on cruise lines and inspirational interviews with dance troupe members.

Gotta Dance will open at the Beekman Theater in New York City on July 31 for a limited run. It's a rare treat and should be seen by viewers of all ages.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123

By D.E.Levine

Director: Tony Scott
Producers: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch
Associate Producers: Don Ferrarone, John Wildermuth and Richard Baratta
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland
Original Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Music Editors: Stephanie Lowry and Richard Whitfield
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Brian Haley, Ramon Rodriguez, Alex Kaluzhsky, Paul Thorton, Jason Butler Harner, Luis Guzman, John Turturro, Michael Rispoli, John Benjamin Hickey, Katherine Sigismund, Gary Basaraba, Tonye Patano, Aunjanue Ellis
Country of Origin: U.S.A
Language: English
Genre: Action/Adventure, Thriller, Crime/Gangster, Remake
Running Time: 95 Minutes

This is a remake of the 1974 original. Does the story hold up after 35 years? Is it as exciting with the new cast?

Walter Garber is a New York City subway dispatcher. Recently demoted to that post because of an alleged bribe taking scandal, his day starts out as ordinary in the massive electronically computerized central subway Command Center.

When a subway train is hijacked and nineteen crew and passengers are held for a ransom of $10 million, Walter tries to negotiate with the hijackers to save the hostages. With time running out, the tension mounts as Walter draws upon his extensive knowledge of the subway system in an effort to outsmart the criminal mastermind behind the hijacking.

The master thief, Ryder, is played by John Travolta, assisted by a crew of hijackers including a former NYC subway motorman who knows the system and assists in seamlessly carrying out the hijacking.

Ryder starts off as an evil gunman threatening to execute everyone on board if authorities fail to deliver the ransom on time, but somewhere in the middle, without meaning to, Travolta loses his character and becomes another person. That change in character has a negative effect on the movie and the tension is somewhat dissipated.

It's almost as though the movie were cut in half. The first half is believable and intense, even for those people who have seen the original and know the outcome. However, the film loses steam when Ryder's character changes.

The premise is clever and the initial 1974 version was hugely successful. The film was actually made down in the bowels of the New York City subway. Viewers see the dark tunnels, the real rats, and the outposts set up and flying to pieces as trains barrel through the stations.

The difference between this and the original, other than the extensive cast, is that in 35 years technology has changed radically. The result is that David Koepp, who first adapted the novel for this version of the film had to update it and Incorporated laptops, cellphones, GPS and thermo-imaging.

Also important was the consideration of a terrorist situation in post-9/11 New York. Finally, although the NYC subway Command Center looks spectacularly large in the film, the mock up is only a fraction of what the original actually is in size. The final screenplay, after all of the updating of technology, was written by Brian Helgeland.

Actual filming took place on the lower level of the Manhattan Bridge, Tudor City, Times Square and Turtle Bay. There's also a scene where the hostage negotiator and Garber are in a helicopter flying over the city that is visually spectacular.

There's no doubt that the film is exciting and visually stimulating. Interviewee Washington tells the story of how he "had to take the subway as a youngster and vowed once he had some money never to take it again." He finds it ironic therefore that he was cast in a part that kept him underground in the subway tunnels for months and didn't care for the environment at all.

It's interesting to note that Tony Scott undertook a really difficult film as a revival. In addition to updating the technological aspects, the mere local presented numerous problems. The resulting film involved a huge cast and crew and is obviously a large money product.

With the ensemble cast and the visual effects, despite the lack of mystery and tension in places, the film is bound to do well with the audiences, especially since this is only the beginning of summer and we haven't had many films in this genre available.

Friday, June 5, 2009

THE HANGOVER

By D.E.Levine

Director: Todd Phillips
Producer: Todd Phillips and Dan Goldberg
Executive Producers: Thomas Tull, John Jashni, William Fay, Scott Budnick, Chris Bender and
J.C. Spink
Co-Producers: David A. Siegel and Jeffrey Wetzel
Screenplay: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Music: Christopher Beck
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Sasha Barrese, Jeffrey Tambor, Ken Jeong, Rachel Harris, Mike Tyson, Mike Epps
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Language: English
Genre: Comedy
Running Time: 99 Minutes

This film will probably make a lot of money at the box office. After all the dramas and revivals we've been waiting for a good comedy. Is it a good comedy? Well, it's definitely a raunchy one.
It's not necessarily everyone's taste but it's got and actual story line, a funny cast and a climax at the end (although personally I found the ending a bit too perfect).

The film is cleverer than the beer party mentality suggested by the trailers and TV spots. There's a funny prologue that leads the audience into an extended flashback. The flashback lends itself to a detective story line that makes this more than just a comedy.

Doug, a good looking guy engaged to a rich and gorgeous girl is about to get married. Two days before the wedding he takes off with his three groomsmen Phil (a teacher), Stu (a dentist) and Alan (his lumpy misfit future brother-in-law) for Las Vegas to have one last night bachelor party.

His future father-in-law loans him his beloved car and assures him that "whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." The problem is that when the three groomsmen awake in a thoroughly trashed suite at Caesar's Palace, with a live tiger roaring in the bathroom, a baby in the closet and they can't find Doug. Added to all their other problems, they have no memory of what happened the night before.

Totally lacking memories of what they did and where Doug might be, they go on a hunt around town that reveals not only were they drunk but they were also drugged. There are a lot of sophomoric jokes and some prattalls along the way as they seek to uncover what really happened to them and search desperately for Doug.

There search reveals that the tiger belongs to Mike Tyson, the father-in-law's car is unaccounted for but their claim check gives them a Vegas police car, Phil is wearing a hospital bracelet that indicates some type of injury or illness, Stu's is missing front tooth and evidently married a pole dancer he just met, and there's a vengeful Asian gangster after them.

Over the hour-and-a-half most of the mystery is explained and the ending ties everything up in a neat package with a happy ending, but for my taste the film was a bit too raunchy and manages to offend a large segment of the population. The neat ending at the end is also beyond belief.

Having just reported on the excellent documentary Tyson, I was saddened to see Mike Tyson used in the way he is in this film, but he a musical segment where he sings Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" and plays the drums is unforgettable, as are some of the really offensive jokes aimed at police, Asians, gangsters and a variety of other groups.

To get the full effect of the film it's important to sit through the credits and accompanying montage.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

MOON

By D.E.Levine

Director: Duncan Jones
Producers Stuart Fenegan and Trudy Styler
Co-Producers: Mark Foligno, Alex Francis, Steve Milne and Nicky Moss
Associate Producer: Justin Lanchbury
Line Producer: Julia Valentine
Story: Duncan Jones
Screenplay: Nathan Parker
Music: Clint Mansell
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey (the voice of Gerty)
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Sci Fi, Thriller
Running Time: 97 Minutes

This film is essentially a one-actor film. Aside from a couple of side characters that appear infrequently, and the voice of Kevin Spacey as a robot, for most of the 97 minutes you see and hear Sam Rockwell, and frequently Sam Rockwell acting with Sam Rockwell.

While the film is slow and may not get a great following, although it's sure to develop a cult among science fiction lovers, the acting and cinematography are remarkable.

This is Duncan Jones' directorial debut on a feature film (he comes from a background of commercials shot in the United Kingdom) and he is honest about paying homage to his favorite science fiction films like Blade Runner, 2001 and Alien.

He's also honest about having used just $5 million, saying that he never wanted to be responsible for a big budget like the $50 that was spent on Sunshine.

The film uses a lot of wonderful sets and old fashioned animation with CG cleverly interspersed, and the combination works well showing remarkable space shots of the Sun, the Earth, the Moon's landscape and action on the surface of the Moon.

When the film begins one can almost believe that it's a documentary because of the way the information is presented about Lunar Industries mining the moon for Helium-3, a gas which is used to solve the energy problems on Earth.

Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the sole remaining worker on the mining station Sarang. He's signed a three-year contract that is almost at an end and he spends his free time either whittling wood models, dreaming about his return to Earth and reuniting with his wife and young daughter or taming his temper.

His accommodations aren't the neat, clean, modern space digs shown in some films. Instead, his accommodation are industrial like, worn and somewhat grey and utilitarian. Everything has a place and a use. Nothing is just for show.

Surrounded by the stark and dark landscape of the moon, a landscape which is beautiful, isolated and silent, we see the film mimic some of the 1970 science fiction films like 2001 and Silent Running. A chilling score is provided by Clint Mansell and this certainly adds to the mood of the film.

Gerty, the robot, (voiced by Kevin Spacey) is Sam's sole companion. There are strange and real reminiscences here of HAL in 2001 and throughout the film we expect Gerty to be a villain like robot who turns against Sam.

Sam, venturing out to investigate an accident, finds an identical doppelganger of himself, and we are first introduced to the theory of cloning. Throughout the film however, the question is which Sam is real and which is the clone?

Isolated, obedient and steadfast, Sam has followed the rules mechanically without questioning anything. However, once confronted with his double, a double that has the exact memories that he has, Sam has to confront himself and the realization that all he has created for himself in his life may not even be his own.

Exhibiting physical signs that can only be interpreted as radiation poisoning, Sam now has to face the fact that his contract may not be the only thing about to expire.

The plot is full of unexpected twists and turns with a really surprise ending, showing unexpected originality.

According to Duncan Jones this is just the beginning since he expects his next film to be a Sci Fi homage to Blade Runner.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

AWAY WE GO

By D.E.Levine

Director: Sam Mendes
Producers: Edward Saxon, Marc Turtletaub and Peter Saraf
Executive Producers: Mari Jo Winkler-Ioffreda and Pippa Harris
Screenplay: Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida
Cast: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Catherine O'Hara, Jeff Daniels, Carmen Ejogo, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Josh Hamilton, Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey and Paul Schneider
Music: Alexi Murdoch
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 100 Minutes

It's hard to follow a big hit with another right off the bat, and although Director Sam Mendes says he took breaks from editing Revolutionary Road to work on Away We Go, the film doesn't come anywhere near Revolutionary Road.

Billed as the first studio production adopting green film making initiatives to reduce CO2 emissions, Away We Go is billed as an independent production but reeks of big production company money.

True, the cast turns in terrific performances as this film, probing the anatomy of a relationship between a young interracial couple, Verona (Maya Rudolph of"Saturday Night Live") and goofy Burt ( John Krasinski of "The Office").

Committed to a relationship that doesn't include traditional marriage, the young couple find themselves living near his parents in Colorado and expecting their first child. When his parents decide to move to Belgium and forgo the birth of their first grandchild, the couple is suddenly free to do what they want.

The question is, what do they want? They don't really know so they decide to find out. Freed from the obligation to stay near his parents, the film follows the couple around the United States and parts of Canada as they try to decide where to settle.

Stopping in Phoenix, Arizona to visit Verona's former business colleague, they move on to Tuscon to visit Verona's sister Grace. Moving on to Madison, Wisconsin to visit Burt's close family friend "LN" and Roderick, they travel on to Montreal where Verona's former classmates Tom and Munch have a family of adopted multiracial children, and then detour to Miami to visit Burt's suddenly single brother.

In each instance we see that this young couple, without friends and no job obligations (they're freelancers) as the normal couple while each of the couples they visit are "messed up" in a different way, although Verona's sister seems fairly well balanced (but she's single and longs to meet someone "special").

We also see the challenge that each new environment would present if the couple were to settle there.

It's a lovely tender film with a nice grassroots texture, enhanced by the music of Scottish composer Alexi Murdoch.

However, it's doubtful that this film will have the appeal or make the kind of money of it's predecessor Revolutionary Road.