02 June 2010

The Silence

As someone trying to understand the work of Ingemar Bergmann in the context of the 21st century, I have undertaken watching a number of his films. The Silence has proven to be the most enjoyable so far, but also the most difficult to watch.

As someone drawn to films with awkward moments, visceral emotional points, and unflinching candor, I am riveted by Bergmann's work, often in very obtuse ways. The Silence is an example of all three, containing in it many of those moments. In fact, for 45 minutes of the movie, I thought I was reading into it incorrectly. It turns out, I was not.

The Silence is — you guessed it — about two lesbian, incestuous sisters who have fallen apart from one another and now the older is sick and ill, and the younger goes about sleeping with men, without remorse. It is a movie you have to watch for yourself and determine your own response to it. It means many different things to many different people.

For Bergmann, it was part of his faith series (I'm about to watch the last of them). For others, it's a shocking portrayal of lust (although there's almost no sex in it, everything is exposition). For the 1960s, it must have been absolutely eye-opening and near-pornographic.

 For me, I was shocked at how vulgar my interpretation of the film was, even long before anything "provocative" was said. In the end, my interpretation proved correct, but I wasn't sure where my POV was coming from. I also thought I saw some incestuous inferences in Through a Glass Darkly, but I could reading too much into his work.

Highly recommended.

Fallen (1998)

The wife had never seen this old, fantastic supernatural crime drama. And so I had to rent it and play it for her. It holds up well, although the plot is kind of transparent when you have 3,000+ movies under your belt.

Still, everyone in it is great.

If you don't know anything about it, just rent it and enjoy the ride.

The story of Denzel's brother in the film is particularly smart and unconventional.


Between his tax problems and his legal battle with his wife for the custody of his daughter, these are hard times for the action movie star who finds that even Steven Seagal has pinched a role from him! In JCVD, Jean-Claude Van Damme returns to the country of his birth to seek the peace and tranquility he can no longer enjoy in the United States.
Absolutely brilliant.

Seriously. Rotten Tomatoes has given it 85%... and it's well-earned.

Jean-Claude has probably been waiting for this kind of project for 10 years.

It's too bad, he won't be in Stallone's Expendables.

Taxi to the Dark Side

Done in the style of an Errol Morris documentary (in fact, Standard Operating Procedure was about nearly the same subject), Taxi to the Dark Side put director Alex Gibney on the map. In fact, with his follow-up documentaries (Gonzo and Magic Bus), he is likely becoming the face of "thinking, left-wing" journalistic documentarians.

As for 'Taxi', it is disturbing, haunting, and like all documentaries comes out far too late to be of any use. Now, the material was dated in 2007 was it released (the war with Afghanistan over five years old by then), the I didn't watch it until this last week, so I'm even three more years behind that.

Except for the fact there was nothing new in here for me.

But, that's because this material has been covered before. In many ways.

What Alex does bring to the subject is haunting though. His film work shows poignancy and his documentary plays out more like an essay about why people should be brought up on war crimes, and not solely as a documentary about American soldiers torturing (and enjoying torturing) their victims.

The truest test of the narrative, is the thread of interviews and documents regarding a single, simple Afghani Taxi Driver who is killed while in prisoner, despite not belonging there and being handed to the Americans by the guy who did. Dilawar was not the only person to die while in the Bagram detention center (or whatever horrible and de-sanitized Acronym the Army chose to ascribe to this locale). But Dilawar is the most famous.

[Ed. Note — He was a 122 pounds at the time of his death and the soldiers who beat him to death had him chained in a position that would assure their safety. Yeah. We can all understand their fears.]

Gibney's work is good, but he's made stronger documentaries. I know this won an Oscar, but it would have been a better piece of work to see closer to the time of the 2002 death of Dilawar. I look forward to Magic Bus and others.

Man Push Cart

Below is the marketing text for this film
Every night, Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi), a Pakistani immigrant, struggles to drag his heavy cart along the streets of New York to his corner in midtown Manhattan, where he sells coffee and bagels. In his free time Ahmad sells pornographic DVDs. He lives a hard life, drinks beer, smokes cigarettes and goes to clubs. Like the workers on every street corner in every city, he is a man who wonders if he will ever escape his fate.

It is off the mark, quite a bit, and in many cases is just flat out wrong. In the end, none of this has anything to do with the film. The film is a character piece and not a plot-driven story. In fact, there really isn't a plot. There are a few things that happen, but there's no thread that flows through the film (I'm avoiding the use of the word story here).

That's not a bad thing. It's just an important piece of information.

The last sentence is most troubling in this marketing text, because the subtext of "escaping his fate" is an underlying element of the film that one must discover as they watch it, not as the result of some marketing ploy to get the disc into my hand.

Film was good, but not great. It's not for anyone who likes plot. And it's certainly not for people who think Quentin Taratino makes good movies. Ramin Bahrini (the director) is being hailed as the next great American director, despite being Iranian-American (he was born here).

Anyway. The movie is Quiet. Slow. Thoughtful.

Killer at Large: Why Obesity is America's Greatest Threat

Despite it's awful title, superfluous subject matter, and odd choice of "experts," this documentary can add itself to the growing list of food-related documentaries. In fact, I think it completes the cycle for me.

It is a great introductory film on the subject, but it pretty much encapsulates everything you already know if you've watched the 20 other documentaries I've reviewed on the subject in the last couple years.