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Monday, July 26, 2010

GET LOW

By D.E.Levine

Director: Aaron Scheider
Writer: Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell (screenplay); Chris Provenzano and Scott Seeke (story)
Cast: Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney, Bill Cobbs et al.
Producers: David Gundlach and Dean Zanuck
Executive Producers: David Baur, Rob Carliner, Beth W. Crookham, Blerim Destani, Robert Duvall, Scott Fischer, Dariusz Gasiorowski, David Ginsberg, Don Mandrik, Alain Midzic, C. Gaby Mitchell, Brad Park, Brandie Park, Justyna Pawlak, Lily Phillips, Chris Provenzano, Joey Rappa, Oliver Simon, Konrad Wojterkowski and Harrison Zanuck
Original Music: Jsn A.P. Kaczmarek
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Get Low is an American fairy tale set in the 1930s and based on the true story of Felix "Bush" a hermit who threw himself a funeral party before he died, and then attended it.

The performances are riveting. Robert Duvall, who has been doing character parts, portrays Bush brilliantly. A feared local legend, Duvall rounds out the character and gives him life and motivation.

It is Duvall who carries the drama of the film and although the film premiered at Sundance in 2009, talk about Duvall earning an Oscar for the role has been around for a year. The momentum is still strong.

With a charismatic performance by Bill Murray and a sentimental portrayal by Lucus Black, who help Bush plan his party, the film is beautifully shot and goes smoothly but slowly along.

First time feature director Schneider previously won the 2004 Oscar for the short Two Soldiers. The praise for his first feature is even greater and it will be interesting to see what happens.

Spacek's supporting role is well done although rather disappointing. Bill Cobbs gives a remarkable performance as the preacher from whom Bush seeks forgiveness.

Duvall is almost certainly going to be nominated for an Oscar in 2010. Some of the supporting actors may also be nominated for their strong and moving performances.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

WASTE LAND

By D.E.Levine

A Premiere Brazil selection of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC

Director: Lucy Walker
Co-directors: Karen Harley and Joao Jardim
Writer: Ad-libbed
Cast: Vic Muniz et al.
Producers: Angus Aynsley and Hank Levine
Executive Producers: Jackie De Botton, Miel De Botton and Fernando Meirelles
Co-producer: Peter Martin
associate Producer: Emilia Mello
Original Music: Moby
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom/Brazil
Language: Portuguese and English with English subtitles
Genre: Documentary

This film is a remarkable achievement. Made over a span of nearly three years Waste Land has been winning awards consistently at film festivals like. In 2010 it's already won the Audience Award for Best World Cinema Documentary (Sundance), the Audience Award for Best Film, Panorama (Berlin), Audience Award (Full Frame Film Documentary), Target Documentary Filmmaker Award (Dallas), Golden Space Needle Award (Seattle) and Audience Award (Provincetown).

Give it time, because the year is only half over and the film doesn't open in the United States until October 2010. There's every possibility, based on its popularity and the momentum its picking up, that Waste Land could win an Orange Award and even an Academy Award this year.

What is Waste Land? It's not your usual documentary about reclaiming the earth, living in harmony with nature, or eating correctly. Instead, Waste Land is about people, their dignity and despair and the indomitable human spirit.

Vic Muniz, one of the most popular Brazilian artists/photographers, who now lives in Brooklyn, New York, returned to his native Brazil to photograph the people who work and live in Jardim Gramacho.

For those unfamiliar with Jardim Gramacho it's the largest land fill (i.e. garbage dump) in the world and 2,500 people, known as catadores, spend their days picking out recyclables.

They pay to live in deplorable, rat infested shacks and frequently face embarrassment in the eyes of others because of the odors they carry from the dump.

Neither Muniz and his associates nor director Walker, expected the events that occurred during the filming.

The film is an amazing collaboration between artists and workers. Instead of simply photographing his subjects, Muniz hired several catadores to help him recreate their images on a grand scale, out of recyclable materials, and then photographed the images from above.

What he found in working with the catadores is that they displayed great intelligence and humor, and a deep understanding of the importance of recycling and how recycling even one can or plastic container can make a difference. Additionally, they displayed pride in their work and pride in themselves.

The artist and filmmaker also discovered an amazing young man, working in the Jardim since he was 11, who had started a union for the workers and was determined to better their plight by providing education, a library, computers and other benefits. The fact that he was personable and photogenic helped everyone involved in both the documentary and the union.

Known for creating portraits using unusual substances, Muniz is perhaps best know for his "Sugar Children". However, after this film he may be even better known for his involvement with garbage.

It may sound strange that a topic like a garbage dump can invoke camaraderie and friendship, but in this case the dump, the garbage and the art that results forms invincible bonds and highlights the fact that art is indeed stranger than fiction as three catadores who are spotlighted show how participation in the project transformed their lives.

The project and the resulting film are creative and uplifting. More than that they balance hope with reality. You couldn't write this story. It's so genuine that it has to be real.




Genre: Documentary

Saturday, July 24, 2010

THE FAMOUS AND THE DEAD (OS FAMOSOS E OS DUENDES DA MORTE)

By D.E.Levine

A Premiere Brazil selection of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC

Director: Esmir Fiho
Writer: Ismael Caneppele and Esmir Fiho (screenplay)
Cast: Ismael Caneppele, Tuane Eggers, Henrique Larre, Samuel Reginatto et al.
Producers: Maria Ionescu an d Sara Silveira
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Country of Origin: Brazil, France
Language: Portuguese and German with English subtitles
Genre: Drama

Beautifully filmed in the Brazilian countryside where there are spacious fields, trees and areas without crowds, The Famous and The Dead is an unusual film that has been collecting film festival awards.

A rather unusual story about a teenage boy who calls himself Mr. Tambourine and feels awkward as a teenager. An admirer of Bob Dylan, he attempts to get over his awkwardness by listening to Dylan's music, surfing the Internet, and watching films on the Internet that appear to feature one mysterious woman.

The viewer suffers through teenage angst, rebellion and longing. Instead of the crowded streets and rushed life we associate with Brazil, we are privy to the teenager's relationships with his mother, grandparents and friends.

The Dylan music is an escape from the boredom and frustration the teenager feels. And, despite the comfortable home and loving family, this young man feels seriously alienated. His search for peace and satisfaction are unfulfilled in the real world so he enters his fantasy world.

This is not a happy film but it is and interesting one. There's a wonderful musical score of Dylan and other classic original recordings.

Although there are issues unresolved at the end and left to the viewers imagination, one thing we can be sure of is that teenage boys are confused and awkward wherever they are located.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

DESPICABLE ME

By D.E.Levine

Director: Pierre Coffin and Claude Renaud
Writer: Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (screenplay); Sergio Pablos (story)
Cast: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud, Jermaine Clement et al.
Producer: John Cohen, Janet Healy and Christopher Meledandri
Executive Producer: Nina Rappaport
Associate Producer: Robert Taylor
Consulting Producer: Marci Levine
Original Music: Heitor Pereira and Pharrell Williams
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Family, Comedy

This is definitely a children's movie. Animated and in 3D, the film is the first from a new company called Illumination Entertainment.

is filled with jokes but they are aimed mainly at the younger crowd.

There's a super villain, Gru, who lives in an underground lair in suburbia. Gru has a plan that will make him the number one super villain in the world so he borrows money from evil banks to do his evil deeds.

Gru lives in a house where animals are turned into furniture. He has an evil dog and an evil sidekick and his plan is to shrink the moon and steal it.

Vector is Gru's nemesis, who has a sharper mind and is extremely competitive with Gru. Once Gru decides to shrink and steal the moon, Vector decides to do beat him to it.

Throughout the film we see Gru change as he adopts three children, softens toward them and comes to love them.

While not earthshaking, the movie is fun and Despicable Me 2 is planned for a 2013 release.

Friday, July 16, 2010

SOUL KITCHEN

By D.E.Levine

Director: Faith Akin
Writer: Faith Akin and Adam Bousdoukos (sceenplay)
Cast: Adam Bousdoukos, Morris Bleibtreu, Birol Unel, Anna Bederke, Pheline Doggan, Lukas Gregorowicz, Dorka Gryllus, Wotan Wilke Mohring, Demir Gokgol, Monica Bleibtreu, Marc Hosemann, Cem Akin, Catrin Striebeck, Hendrik von Bultzingslowen, Jan Fedder et al.
Producer: Faith Akin, Anne Kristin Homann and Klaus Maeck
Producer NDR: Jeanette Wurl
Co-producer: Paolo Colombo, Alberto Fanni, Fabienne Vonier and Flaminio Zadra
Line Producer: Cristian Springer
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Country of Origin: Germany
Language: German
Genre: Comedy

This is a wonderful, small film that may be hard to find because it's a foreign import and not booked into many of the big theaters.

Set in Hamburg, Germany, the story deals with a German-Greek restaurant owner, Zinos, who runs a popular restaurant, Soul Kitchen, serving the popular "junk" food like fried frozen fish sticks, french fries and salads with lots of mayonnaise, that he prepares himself.

While the restaurant is popular with his working class clients, the tax collectors are at the door and his girlfriend, Nadine, is leaving to take a job in Shanghai. Added to that he has a cat-burglar brother, Illias, who needs a job for a work/parole program.

Realizing that to get out of debt and join Nadine in China he has to earn more money, Zinos hires an upscale chef, Shayne, who refuses to serve the regular greasey menu.

By letting one of the waiters use the restaurant for band practice, Soul Kitchen becomes extremely popular with the band's young following and the restaurant starts to turn a profit, enabling Zinos to conform with health board regulations, pay the owed taxes and buy a ticket to Shanghai.

True to form life never runs smoothly and a series of mishaps, rejection by Nadine, and the loss of the restuarant as a gambling debt to a corrupt realtor (Zinos' elementary school friend) cause Zinos a succession of real but humorous problems.

How he deals with it is funny, touching and endearing. With an upbeat music score of popular tunes when the film ends it leaves the audience wanting more.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

TOY STORY 3

By D.E.Levine

Director: Lee Unkrich
Writer: Michael Arndt
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, John Morris, Laurie Metcalf, R. Lee Ermey, Jodi Benson, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, Timothy Dalton, Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Kristen Schaal, Blake Clark et al.
Producer: Darla K. Anderson
Executive Producers: John Lasseter
Original Music: Randy Newman
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Family, Comedy

This may well be the best of the Toy Story franchise. It's funny while being sensitive, emotional and downright clever.

The first two Toy Story films were fun and very successful. The third has the added attraction of being in 3D.

Toy Story 3 begins with a runaway train containing Troll dolls chased after by Sheriff Woody. It's a great beginning and turns out to be the way Andy played with his toys.

Now Andy is grown and leaving for college. Now that it's time to put his childish toys away Andy plans to put them in the attic. Through and error the garbage bag Andy packs the toys in is placed curbside for pickup by the garbage truck.

Woody, who was scheduled to go to college with Andy, ingeniously rescues the toys and they wind up at Sunnydale Day Care Center.

At Sunnydale the toys are greeted by other toys including Ken, who is a narcissist and smooth operator who is immediately attracted to the newly arrived Barbie.

While the film was written with children in mind and is certainly appealing to them, there are so many adult jokes that the film is hysterically funny for adults.

There's also the added benefit of adults relating to the toys on a different level since many have played with them in the past during their own childhoods.

As with every Disney film, there's a morale to the story, in fact there are several.

While this is an animated film, the characters are so appealing and the story so clever, that adults and children alike become totally immersed in the story and feel regret when it ends.

This film is definitely a winner and not to be missed.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

By D.E.Levine

Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Writers: Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
Cast: Julianne Moore, Annette Benning, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta, Kunal Sharma, Eddie Hassell, Zosia Mamet et al.
Producer: Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Celine Rattray, and Daniela Taplin Lundberg
Executive Producer: J. Todd Harris, Neil Katz, Riva Marker, Anne O'Shea, Andy Sawyer, Steven Saxton, Christy Scott Cashman and Ron Stein
Co-producer: Charles E. Bush Jr., Todd J. Labarowski, Joel Newton, Laura Rosenthal and Bergen Swanson
Original Music: Carter Burwell, Nathan Larson and Craig wedren
Running Time: 134 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Comedy/Drama

This is a true indie film with a strong staff and typical Hollywood comedy. But the lesbian couple who form the central family unit are totally conventional and portrayed in a down to earth fashion that frequently is missed in film.

Superbly cast and acted, Nic and Jules are solid, tax-paying citizens who happen to be lesbians. Nic is a gynecologist who works long hours so that Jules can be a stay at home wife and mother. She has an acidic tongue and a dominating manner.

Jules has dabbled in various "careers" and at the moment is into landscaping design. She's a bit restless and absorbed with starting her own business.

Having entered into a long-time relationship and had two children (they each had one) via a sperm donor, despite their obvious adoration they've hit a stale patch in their relationship.

But, the kids are growing up and acting like typical rebellious teenagers. With the daughter going off to college, the kids are wondering about the man who supplied the sperm to father them and set out to find him.

When they do locate him he turns out to be a hippie restaurateur who readily agrees to meet the two kids. The three hit it off but the two Moms are a bit more cautious because having dropped out of college and led a bit of a vagabond life, they don't consider him role-model material.

The film is witty and pokes fun at baby boomer culture both for narcissistic introspection and "super" parenting skills, while simultaneous pursuits if self-gratification.

Actually, the film promotes and endorses all the traditional family values and mothering skills, regardless of whether the parents are same sex or heterosexual.

INCEPTION

By D.E.Levine

Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine, Lukas Haas, Tai-Li Lee et al.
Producer: Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas
Executive Producer: Chris Bingham and Thomas Tull
Co-producer: Jordan Goldberg
Associate Producer (Canada): Thomas Hayslip
Line Producer (Morocco): Zakaria Alaoui
Original Music: Hans Zimmer
Running Time: 148 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi

As I watched this amazing film I was thinking, "Is this the next Blade Runner?" because just like that now-recognized classic, Inception is intricate and confusing enough to require several viewings.

Basically, the film takes place in a society that is technologically advanced enough so that the mind can be entered and controlled through dreams. It's also through dream building that secrets can be stolen.

In this case a team of dream builders are trying to steal the secrets of Saito, a businessman. At the same time, Saito hires the group to enter the dreams of a business rival named Fischer.

The main protagonists here build layers of extremely complex dreams in order to get Fischer to make certain business decisions that will benefit Saito. In return, as well as monetary payment. Saito has agreed to arrange things so Dom Cobb can return home to the United State to be with his children. Cobb has been unable to return home for some mysterious reason.

The dreams created by this group and planted in Fischer's mind are action driven and full of threats and danger. Several dreams occur simultaneously in different parts of the world and in different climates with different weather conditions. Basically, the dreams are a demonstration of director/writer Christopher Nolan's amazing ability as a multi-layered story teller.

The "team" consists of men charged with different responsibilities led by Dom Cobb, one woman who serves as the 'architect" of all the dreams, and a woman who is the memory of the leader's dead wife Mal and keeps invading his dreams and adding to the danger.

I have to admit that at the end of my first viewing I was confused and unsettled by my inability to grasp many points. I was definitely frustrated and speaking with other members of the viewing audience I found they were too.

However, after additional viewings the brilliance of what Nolan has accomplished becomes evident. The dream worlds all have spectacular locales and special effects. There is danger, magic and a feeling that the real world has been left behind.

Despite the spectacular effects and the somewhat disorienting effect on the audience, the film falls short in the emotional department. While Cobb's obsession with his dead wife should be filled with emotion, the chemistry between them just isn't there, making it somewhat difficult to believe his obsession.

It's evident that the film is so complex and intriguing that it will have significant drawing power, since one viewing is simply not enough and many questions remain unanswered while new ones are raised.

It's safe to say there's never been a film quite like this one.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

PEEPLI LIVE

By D.E.Levine

Directors: Anusha Rizvi and Mahmood Farooqui
Writer: Anusha Rizvi
Cast: Omkar Das, Raghuvir Yadav, Shalini Yatsa, Farrukh Jaffar, Mailaka Shenoy, Vishal Sharma, Nowaz, Sitaram Panchal, Naseeruddin Shah, Aamir Bashir et al.
Producers: Aamir Kahn and Kiren Rao
Executive Producer: B. Shrinivas Rao
Co-producer: Ronnie Screwvala
Line Producer: Alan McAlex
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Country of Origin: India
Language: Hindi wirh English subtitles
Genre: Drama

In this Indian film, Anusha Rizvi and Mahmood Farooqui mimic Frank Capra by taking a serious social issue and subjecting it to satirical scrutiny. By doing this the filmmakers hope to appeal to popular sentiment instead of making a documentary.

The film is both funny and sobering and aims beyond the Bollywood audience towards the wider international audience.

The subject is very real and relevant. As India is moving towards a more industrialized society, tens of thousands of Indian farmers are committing suicide. In real life, politicians have been unsuccessful at addressing and solving the problem.

The film concentrates on a poor family in danger of losing their farm because of a loan they cannot pay. A local, non-caring politician suggests that one of the brothers commit suicide so that the surviving family members can be paid through a government program and in turn, pay off the loan.

Natha, takes the challenge seriously and volunteers to commit suicide. A reporter who overhears the conversation rushes to make it a news story and a glamorous news caster rushes to the scene, followed by a slew of other reporters and newscasters.

Politicians, and the high minister are all upset by the situation which threatens to upset an upcoming election.

Director Rizvi never fails at the opportunity to skewer the politicians and play upon the gullibility of the public. She creates laughter out of a serious social situation and brings a great deal of attention to a desperate Indian problem.

The film is absurd, realistic and a comic gem. While it had rave reviews from Sundance and other festivals, the likelihood of it gaining a following like Slumdog Millionaire is unlikely because while comic, it deals with a serious social problem.