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Sunday, April 18, 2010

DIRT! THE MOVIE

By D.E.Levine

Directors: Bill Benenson and Gene Roscow
Co-Director: Eleonore Dailly
Writers: Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow (documentary); Bill Logan (book: Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth)
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Paul Starnets, Gary Vaynerchuk, Vadana Shiva, Miguel Allen, Wangari Maathai, Carlo Petrini, Pierre Rabhi, Andy Lipkis, Fritjof Capra, Jeanette Armstrong, Marisha Farnsworth, Kevin Rowell, Fr. James Suntum, Fr. Casimiro Roca, David Orr, Richard Regester, Wes Jackson, Janine Benyus, Jerry Glover, Jeremy Narby, Juan Vincent Sanchez, Sabastiao Salgado, Leila Salgado, Majora Carter, Peter Girguis, Helen White, Lottie Manuel, Hilda Krus, James Jiler, Edward Pagan, Pablo Roian, Barbara Damrosch, Wes Kinney, Will Brinton, Alice Founders, Sharon Jackson, Juan Mighty, John Cannizo, Jerry Glover, Katrine Hawkins, Sharon Jackson, Cricket Leigh, Bill Logan and Francesca Mazzola
Producers: Bill Benenson, Eleonore Dailly and Gene Rosow
Executive Producer: Laurie Benenson
Associate Producers: Tracy K. Brown, Christine Deitner, Tyler Harbour and Marisa Murgatroyd
Original Music: Jorge Corante
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Documentary

Earth Week will be celebrated April 19-24. In keeping with the spirit, PBS selected an interesting, informative and sometimes humorous documentary that presents an in-depth look at the Earth's skin of dirt - alive and made from exactly the same elements that people, stars, plants and animals are made from. For exact times check www.pbs.org for local listings of when the film will be shown.

Dirt! The Movie premiered at Sundance 2009 and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. Since then it has been gaining followers and momentum throughout the world as it takes a substantial and sometimes humorous look at the living skin of the planet Earth.

Dirt! The Movie is a very important and impressive exploration of dirt as the living skin of the earth. This film should be shown in every school throughout the world. It has the potential of changing the way young people think about their life on planet Earth and what they do in the future to restore balance to the planet.

It couldn't hurt if the film is viewed by all adults living on the planet too since it points out all the things they've done wrong in relation to the earth and then explores the steps necessary to start doing things right.

It's no secret that man is rapidly destroying the earth by depleting its dirt of minerals and organisms necessary to sustain life. Dirt is presented as a living, breathing skin that has the ability to feed and nurture us, clean and hold water necessary for life, regulate the earth's climate and even heal us.

In case you think I'm exaggerating, you need to watch this film. It's very clear and presented simply so viewers of all ages can understand its message.

Dirt or soil has environmental, social, political and economic impact. It's extremely thought-provoking. While presenting some gloomy stories of monoculture farming, strip mining and other human profit-making activities, the film grows more optimistic as it presents interviews and stories about successful green businesses and farming.

The most convincing proof is that this film isn't simply theoretical but consists of interviews worldwide with a broad cross-section of people who range from organic farmers and composters to Nobel prize winners; from ecological activists to entomologist, agroecologists, anthropologists and educators.

It all began like a fairy tale because once upon a time there was a noted natural history writer and environmental columnist named Bill Logan. He wrote about gardening for a lot of well-known publications including The New York Times and The Whole Earth Review, founded an organization known as Urban Arborists to care for trees in New York City, and wrote a book called Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth."

When directors/producers/writers Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow read Bill Logan's book they decided it was worthy of being turned into a movie so it's message of saving the earth through understanding the importance of dirt and how to live with it could be spread to an even greater audience.

The resulting film, narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, explores the earth and dirt since the beginning of the formation of the planet, through natural and man-made disasters, up to the present.

It's timely because now there's an awakening of thought and the realization of the necessity to find alternate energy forms and replenish the earth where it's been decimated,

The filmmakers travel the globe to interview activists, scientist and individuals who are involved first hand in replenishing and saving the earth.

Never underestimate the power of dirt. This film points out how much the average person doesn't know about it and how that lack of knowledge results in literally destroying the planet.

Some of the information is historically informative, i.e. how many people know that "Adam" in the Bible means "clay" and "Eve" means "life"? Remember, Eve was made from Adam so essentially we're being told that life came from clay or dirt. That supports the premise of the entire film.

Fortunately, despite our negligence and greed there are ways to save the dirt and replenish it, but the process has to begin immediately because man has already done incalculable damage.

As voice after voice is raised in praise of dirt and it's life-giving abilities, the audience sees that steps like replacing a concrete schoolyard with one of dirt can not only replenish the dirt but also the spirit and minds of the schoolchildren.

Additionally, there are lessons of planting and composting, as well as growing edible food, that can be taught to children early in life.

There's a message here that working with dirt, saving our planet, can have profound positive psychological and emotional effects on the participants.

In the film we even see how prisoners can be rehabilitated and trained for a future (once released) in green jobs.

There's a central theme that is reiterated - basically that man and dirt have a symbiotic relationship and if we take from the earth we need to replenish the dirt so that the mutually beneficial relationship can continue.

While the film will be shown on PBS for Earth Day, it's well worth owning and a longer DVD that includes extended animation and interviews, bonus scenes, biographies of the filmmakers and the theatrical trailer is available for purchase at www.dirthemovie.org.

An added benefit to visiting the movie's website is that just like dirt itself, the site is ongoing and full of additional information giving viewers the ability to sign up for updates and keep up-to-date on the latest legislation.

Clicking on the rotating banner "Show Us Your Garden" takes viewers to a Facebook page full of pictures and stories that were submitted for National Garden Month.

From the stories and photos submitted viewers can see that all over the world people are going green, planting and raising their gardens, replenishing the earth, reactivating the dirt and planning for a more ecological future and a more sustainable Earth.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

WORLD ON A WIRE (WELT AM DRAHT)

By D.E.Levine

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Fritz Muller-Scherz(screenplay); Daniel F. Galouye(novel "Simulacron-3")
Cast: Klaus Luwitsch, Barbara Valentin, Mascha Rabben, Karl Heinz Vosgerau, Worfgang Schenck, Gunter Lamprecht, Ulli Lommel, Adrian Hoven, Ivan Desny, Joachim Hansen, Kurt Raab, Margit Carstensen, Ingrid Caven, Gottfried John, Rudolf Lenz, Lilo Pempeit, Heinz Meier, Peter Chatel, Rainer Hauer et al.
Producers: Peter Marthesheimer and Alexander Wesemann
Original Music: Gottfried Hungsberg
Running Time: 205 Minutes
Country of Origin: Germany
Language: German
Genre: Sci-Fi, Crime, Mystery

Rainer Werner Fassbinder was brilliant, innovative and ahead of his time in both thought and product. When he died of a drug overdose in 1982 he was only 37 but he left behind 40 films.

Now, New Yorkers will be treated to the American premiere of his 1973 film, World on a Wire. True, the story was taken from an existing novel (Simulacron-3), but the film the 28-year old Fassbinder completed and showed only once in October 1973 on German television, was and is ahead of its time in concept, sets and predictions.

Lovingly restored by the Fassbinder Foundation and the Museum of Modern Art restoration experts, under the supervision of Michael Ballhaus, the original cinematographer, the film will be shown at MOMA April 14th through April 19th (check www.moma.org).

Without the 3D effects of modern films and the carefully choreographed fight scenes of science fiction and action movies, the film still manages to achieve thought-provoking effects by presenting virtual-reality immersion via a "super" computer.

Watching the film without any previous exposure to either the film or original book, I was strongly reminded of both The Matrix and The Matrix Revisited as the characters enter an alternate universe via computer simulation controlled by human thought and brain waves.

The film centers on a cybernetics firm that has created a miniature world that is populated by "identity units." The firm's scientists are unaware that the identity units are controlled from above.

Researcher Fred Stiller discovers that the world he knows and believes to be the real world may actually be a simulation. Although Fassbinder and his co-writer Fritz Muller-Scherz knew very little about computers, they were fascinated by the question of what constitutes the real world as opposed to artificial worlds.

While he had never tackled science fiction before, World on a Wire proved to be a fertile working environment where Fassbinder combines his previously used themes of power, dependence, exploitation and manipulation.

Throughout the film there are constant mind games, but the viewer is never certain of what is real and what isn't.

When the Director of Research dies under mysterious circumstances and the Director of Security Services disappears, Stiller starts a search to find out what happened to each and is faced with the realization that either they didn't exist or his world is being controlled and people and events deleted.

The film's building suspense is enhanced by the original score and the superb acting, which seems perfectly natural although Fassbinder was dealing with behavioral modeling and social control concepts that were fairly horrifying to society at the time.

The original book forecast a world in which Madison Avenue advertisers and political pollsters took control and influenced public thought and action. Today, in 2010, we have to ask ourselves based on recent occurrences, how much of that forecast has already come true?

Because he didn't have the modernistic buildings needed for sets, Fassbinder spent his weekends filming in Paris where he could use the underground shopping malls and the high rise architecture to create his future world.

The night club scenes were shot at the Alcazar, a night club where Fassbinder hung out and after becoming friendly with the performers, filmed them in their actual performances. While not screen actors, they were actual night club performers and their authenticity comes across on screen.

During the week he returned to Germany to work on stage productions and another movie. His energy and wealth of ideas and creativity seems endless.

World on a Wire has chic, modern furnishings and costumes. The sets have lots of glass and mirrors to show the uncertainty of what's real and what's a reflection.

Every scene seems to show reflections of characters, mirror images of faces and bodies.

Tremendous detail is paid to the costumes, the textures, fabrics and minute details whether a man's velvet suit or a woman's fashionably coordinated outfit.

The performances are riveting and totally believable although both members of the Fassbinder Foundation and the cast commented that Klaus Lowitsch drank heavily and apparently gave his best performances when drunk.

Although he didn't consider World on a Wire to be among his best, Fassbinder had expressed hope that some day the film would be released theatrically. Now, having had a recent premiere in Berlin and coming to the MOMA, Fassbinder's wish is finally being realized.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

SOLITARY MAN

By D.E.Levine

Directors: Brian Koppelman and David Levien
Writer: Brian Koppelman
Cast: Michael Douglas, Jenna Fischer, Susan Sarandon, Jesse Eisenberg, Mary-Louise Parker, Danny DeVito, Imogen Poots, Anastasia Griffith, Richard Schiff, Ben Shenkman et al.
Producers: Heidi Jo Markel, Paul Schiff and Steven Soderbergh
Executive Producers: Moshe Diamant, Danny Dimbort, Joe Gatta, Avi Lerner and Trevor Short
Co-producer: Jared Goldman
Original Music: Michael Penn
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Country of Origin: USA
Language: English
Genre: Family Drama

Even the star power in this film can't explain the illogical story of how a successful blue collar husband and father, when confronted with the fact that he needs further tests on his heart, never goes back to the doctor but instead throws his marriage and business away to wallow in sleaze and deceit.

Michael Douglas, as Ben, never develops his character so that this can be explained. As a result, it remains unexplained making it very difficult to believe his actions.

Having once appeared on the cover of Forbes, Ben has thrown his reputation and fortune away on a scam and become a skirt chaser of virtually anything wearing a skirt, although, the younger the better.

Ben appears to be making a comeback in the car sales industry but throws it all away for a one-night fling with the daughter of his influential girlfriend.

Angered and hurt, the girlfriend uses her family's influence to squelch the comeback deal and ruin Ben. Unable to get even a menial job in New York City, when his own daughter turns her back on him, Ben returns to Boston where his old college buddy hires him to help out in the family deli.

But a woman scorned is a dangerous person, and the ex-girlfriend ruins even his menial job sending a gold-shield retired police officer to beat him up and put him in the hospital.

While the story might be plausible with another actor, Michael Douglas is just too suave and charming to descend into obsolescence so quickly - abandoned by everyone he did business with, helped, and or financed.

Although, as we know, people love and tend to stick with winners, not losers. Ben is self-destructive but the question is how did he go from 54 years of success and motivation to a sudden descent into a skirt-chasing, non-rewarding, lonely existence?

When the movie ends the viewer doesn't feel happy because Ben has self-destructed. But the viewer is also dissatisfied with the answers supplied in the film.

Ben is the central character and Ben just isn't sufficiently explained which is why he isn't believable.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON

By D.E.Levine

Directors: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Writers: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (screenplay); Cressida Cowell (novel)
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, l T.J.Miller, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, Robin Atkins Downes, Phillip McGrade, Kieron Elliott and Ashley Jensen
Producer: Bonnie Arnold
Executive Producers: Kristine Belson and Tim Johnson
Co-producer: Michael A. Connolly
Original Music: John Powell
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Country of origin: United States
Language: English (with Scottish brogue)
Genre: 3D, Animation, Action, Fantasy

How To Train Your Dragon is a wonderful, action packed 3-D animated action film. The Viking inhabitants of the North Atlantic island of Berk speak with distinct Scottish brogues and the background music is Irish/Celtic.

The island is constantly being attacked by dragons and subsequently the Viking warriors "earn their stripes" by fighting and slaying these dragons.

Besides the soaring emotion and empathy one feels for the young boy Hiccup. this wonderful film tells the universal morale of how looks and reputation can be misleading.

Hiccup is a brainy, scrawny, clumpsy kid whose father happens to be the Viking leader of Berk. Dad, Stoick, is a strong, muscular Viking warrior who is very disappointed that Hiccup is a soft-hearted, bookish inventive type.

Hiccup is definitely not your typical Viking warrior and has concentrated on inventing an apparatus that will slay dragons. Yet, hiccup yearns to become a dragon slayer and fit in with his adolescent peers.

The island is continually besieged by dragons. A "coming of age" rite involves young Vikings (male and female) proving themselves by going through dragon slaying training and then slaying a dragon.

Despite his eagerness to begin training, Stoick fears that Hiccup is too gentle to qualify as a dragon slayer.

When Hiccup's invention wounds a dragon and he finds it in the woods, Hiccup finds himself unable to terminate the wounded dragon.

It's at this moment that Hiccup realizes it's not his nature to be a killer - even in defense of his own life.

Instead of killing the dragon whom he names Toothless, Hiccup hides and secretly helps him and in doing so learns about dragons, about life, about love and about himself.

Genuine affection and respect grow between the boy and the dragon and both demonstrate an ability to place the welfare of others before themselves.

Stoick is willing to sacrifice his only child in order for him to prove his manhood. And, Hiccup attempts to live up to his father's expectations because he loves and respects him.

While learning about Toothless and the other dragons on the island, Hiccup makes a saddle and rides Toothless, soaring over the mountains and the sea in Dreamworks 3D animation that leaves the viewer breathless.

And what Hiccup learns and teaches the others is that dragons are not to be feared because they are terrorizing the Vikings under duress. By banding together and destroying the source of evil, men and dragons can live harmoniously and peacefully together.

Before you know it, 98 minutes are over and the film has ended imparting its lessons and morales which are just as applicable to the modern viewing audience as they are to the ancient Vikings and dragons.

Monday, April 5, 2010

THE MAN NEXT DOOR (EL HOMBRE DE AL LADO)

By D.E.Levine

A New Directors/New Films 2010 Selection

DIrector: Manano Cohn and Gaston Duprat
Writer: Andres Duprat
Cast: Rafael Spregelburd, Daniel Araoz, Eugene Alonso, Ines Budassi, Lorenza Acuna, Eugenio Scopel, Debora Zanolli, Barbara Hang, Enrique Gagliesi and Ruben Guzman
Producer: Fernando Sokolowicz
Executive Producer: Maria Belen de la Torre
Line Producer: Fernando Sokolowicz
Original Music: Sergio Pangaro
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Country of Origin: Argentina
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Genre: Comedy, Drama

The premise of the story is very simple and unfortunately it's universal and people throughout the world can relate.

Casa Curutchet, the only home that Le Corbusier built in the Americas, is located in Argentina and occupied by a successfully, wealthy, elitist designer and his family.

Since the house has perfect, modernistic white walls, when the family awakens to the noise of a sledgehammer one morning, they are devastated to find their neighbor, in putting a window into his own home, has created a gaping hole in theirs.

Audiences initially feel tremendous sympathy for the designer, his wife and daughter. After all, their beautiful, iconic, pristine home has been somewhat destroyed by their neighbor, a man of lower class.

Initially the film plays as a comedy of sorts as the neighbors demonstrate their actions, reactions and interactions to the situation.

The friction builds as the situation becomes more tense and there is uncertainty regarding what each man is capable of doing to achieve his goal.

Victor, the neighbor, simply wants some light streaming into his home. Leo, the designer, is considered to be intelligentsia - a higher social class, and his friends mock Victor's attempts to befriend Leo and settle the matter,

The home by Le Corbusier is stunning architecturally and brilliantly shot for the film. Audience members feel a strong attachment and sincere "love" for this house, although not necessarily for its occupants who prove to be snobs.

The film is a vivid statement on class distinction and prejudice with a rather shocking ending and accomplishes exactly what its director/cinematographers wanted to accomplish.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

LA PRIVELLINA

By D.E.Levine

A New Directors/New Films 2010 Selection

Directors: Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel
Writer: Tizza Covi
Cast: Tairo Caroli, Asia Crippa, Patrizia Geradi and Walter Saabel
Producers: Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Country of Origin: Austria-Italy
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Genre: Drama

Although the genre is drama the film plays more like docu-fiction as the two director/producers create a moving film about a two-year old child who is found by a jobless circus worker, on the outskirts of Rome.

Patty finds an abandoned girl while looking for her dog, Hercules. When it starts raining she takes the child, La Privellina (the little squirt) to her caravan which she shares with her German husband.

At the caravan Patty discovers a note from the child's mother saying "she will return."

Patty and Walter live near another circus family whose teenage son befriends the little girl.

All of the parts are played by real circus performers rather than professional actors. These folks give amazingly realistic and touching performances much of which appears to be improvised rather than scripted.

The little girl gives a realistic performance and demonstrates personality as well as a determination to remain with Patty and Walter instead of returning to her mother.

It's a beautiful film where the writer/directors handled the cinematography, production design.

The plot is simple, the cast relatively small and the tension over what will happen to the child resonates with the audience.

La Privellina is the type of film that proves a movie doesn't have to be large and expensive in order to be quality and hold the attention of the audience.

3 BACKYARDS

By D.E.Levine

A New Directors/New Films 2010 Selection

Director: Eric Mendelsohn
Writer: Eric Mendelsohn
Cast: Embeth Davidtz, Edie Falco, Elias Kosteas, Rachel Resheff, Kathryn Erbe, Ann Arvia, et al.
Producers; Rocco Caruso and Amy Durning
Executive Producer: Fred Berner
Co-producers: Bogdan George Apetri, Jennifer Grausman, Liz Manne, Atilla Yucer
Original Music: Michael Nicholas
Running Time: 85 Minute
Country of Origin: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama

3 Backyards is boring. It moves very slowly, probably because none of the characters are developed, which means the viewer cannot relate to anyone.

The story takes place in the Long Island suburbs, concentrating on events in one day in the life of residents of three different households. While the scenery is pretty, the stories drag and the underdeveloped characters are uninteresting.

While the characters may be living lives of quiet desperation, the viewer never really becomes involved enough to care about any of them.

To make things worse, the film begins with some eerie music which rises in a crescendo that portends of mysterious or dangerous events about to happen. Nothing that happens rises to the level of the music.

Granted, director/writer Mendelsohn has developed three short stories in the same neighborhood and once begun he brings each to a conclusion, so the film is complete, but still essentially boring.

Friday, April 2, 2010

WHO DO YOU LOVE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Jerry Zaks
Writers: Peter Martin Wortmann and Robert Conte
Cast: Jon Abrahams, Brett Beoubay, Marcia Lyle Brown, Joshua Davis, Marika Dominczyk, J.D.Evermore, Thomas Elliott, Lisa Goldstein, Ian Leson, Robert Randolph, Benjamin Pete Rose, Tendal Jaret Mann, Alessandro Nivola, David Oyelowo, Ryan Puszewski Chi McBride, Roy McCrerey et al.
Producers: Les Alexander, Andrea Baynes and Jonathan Mitchell
Executive Producers: Gideon Amir and Dennis A. Brown
Co-producers: Robert Conte and Peter Martin Wortmann
Original Music: Jeff Beal
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Country of Origin: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama

Who Do You Love is the second recent film dealing with the creation of Chess Records and its mercurial owner Phil Chess. In 2008 "Cadillac Records" was produced and released by Sony Music Film starring Beyonce, and while interesting, it was made without the benefit of access to the Chess family and their records and papers.

Who Do You Love was backed by the Chess family and Leonard Chess' son acted as consultant. Although it doesn't have the star power of a Beyonce,veteran Broadway director Jerry Zaks has been painstakingly meticulous in the music score, actors and story.

Both films followed the rise of the record company from its inception. Based on the story that Leonard Chess, son of a Polish immigrant was influenced by the blues music that he heard in Chicago nightclubs in the early 1950s and talked his brother Phil into selling the family junkyard and opening a South Side nightclub, the Macomba.

Appealing to a primarily black audience, Leonard teams up with Willie Dixon and through him meets Muddy Waters and others whom he employs to make "race records."

Obsessed with business, Leonard strays from the home tuft and has affairs with a female singer who resembles Etta James.

Who Do You Love shows that Leonard made reams of money and didn't pay much to his artists, but history doesn't show how badly he exploited the artists so there's little to base it on.

We definitely know that Leonard Chess was responsible for recording singers and musicians who became top artist, and getting their records played even when he had to bribe the DJs. The film only takes us through the era of blues and when rock-and-roll began to emerge.

The performances are excellent although they may not draw as large an audience or gross as much without the draw of star power.

The score is wonderful and authentic. Stay through the credits to hear the complete range of music.