Newbie Wednesday – Bunny and the Bull

Bunny and the Bull (2009, Paul King)
Starring Edward Hogg, Simon Farnaby, Veronice Echegui, Richard Ayoade, Julian Barrett, Noel Fielding

Note: This film has no planned release date for either theaters or DVD in the US. So, your best bet is to torrent the sucker.

“Come with us now on a journey through time and space”. If you are familiar with the immensely popular British series The Mighty Boosh then those are familiar words to you. The director of that series, Paul King, embarks on his feature film debut, bringing with him some familiar faces in supporting roles as well as the quirky aesthetic sensibilities of his television series.

The premise puts agoraphobic Stephen in the midst a year long hermit period. He is dealing with a trauma that occurred in Europe while he was on holiday with his friend Bunny. The two follow Stephen’s idea of fun by touring the various museums of the continent, but once Bunny takes the wheel things become a lot crazier. They meet waitress Eloisa who is looking for a way back home to Spain, and Bunny decides that once they arrive there, he is going to fight a bull.

The strongest thing this picture has going for it are the inventive visuals. King is definitely a peer to a director like Michel Gondry, in the way he intentionally lets the audience in on the hacked together set pieces. A fast food delivery bag becomes the setting for a flashback in a restaurant. A snow globe becomes the Swiss mountain chateau the men stayed in. A photograph of their train becomes a chain of photos, set against a landscape made of similar snapshots. The Mighty Boosh did the same, and it caused the universe to feel like a timeless fantasy-scape.

The plot on the other hand is not very strong. There’s no real depth to the two main characters, Stephen is a very stereotypical neurotic and Bunny is the typical crazy risk-taker. There’s not attempt to give us more about these characters or attempt to explain their motivations. The rest of the film is populated with set piece characters, such as the dog-milking Polish man, an innkeeper overly fond of her stuffed bear, and a former matador who uses a shopping cart with horns for practice. The film is very pretty to look at, and showcases the cleverness of the director aesthetically, I just hope he can find a richer level of writing for his next film.

DocuMondays – Examined Life

Examined Life (2009, dir. Astra Taylor)
Featuring Judith Butler, Cornel West, Slavoj Zizek, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Michael Hardt, Martha Nussbaum, Avitall Ronell, Peter Singer, Sunaura Taylor

Fans of Michael Bay’s work will no doubt be rushing out to see this one. That was sarcasm. Canadian-American filmmaker Astra Taylor has assembled 8 philosophers and given them ten minutes a piece to muse on some aspect of existence. This could have been pretentious drivel, but Taylor is able to make herself the subject of the film early on in an effort to point out that such an endeavor is imperfect and we should simply sit back and enjoy the mistake. While walking through a park with NYU literature professor Avital Ronell, the subject becomes the interviewer, asking Taylor what the goal of all this is. Taylor responds that philosophy is such an oral exercise, yet it is communicated primarily in printed words, where there is time and space for it to be stretched out and examined. Taylor states she wanted to see if something similar might be accomplished on film, where the philosophers can speak.

The three standouts for me were Judith Butler, Slavoj Zizek, and Cornel West. Cornel West has had vast experience as a media personality so he has the charisma and verbage to make what could have been a dry seminar into a witty musing on the nature of democracy and authority. Judith Butler is also very interesting, with her segment involving a discussion between Taylor sister, Sunastra, who is a painter and disability advocate. Their talk hinges on the idea of “going for a walk”, and what that means for a wheelchair bound person such as Sunastra. This evolves into the nature of being disabled in a contemporary context and then to an exploration of what the manner in which people walk tells us, and how human behavior is regulated by social expectations.

The best was Slavok Zizjek, a Croatian philosopher whose A Pervert’s Guide to Cinema is a great documentary introduction to film criticism. Zizek delivers his dialogue from a landfill somewhere in New York. He talks about the conflict between humanity and nature, and the trend in some groups to desire a “return to nature”. His argument against this is that Nature is simply an ongoing series of violent biological interactions. He cites oil being such a large part of contemporary life, and how we never contemplate the sheer level of violence that had to occur to destroy so much living matter to produce the oil in the earth. The conclusion of this talk is that it is in humanity’s best interest to create further and further artificial environments that it can control, and that this will involve a redefining of beauty from a pastoral standard to one in which hills of garbage can be found to have a pleasing aesthetic.

The documentary is obviously not for someone needing an escapist film, yet it is not a film for someone who has attained a degree in philosophy. I found it fairly apparent that Taylor is trying to reach out to the contemporary individual who has an interest in continuing their education and not moving through life drone-like. The film is full of idea candy, some interesting questions to contemplate and savor after seeing the picture.

Import Fridays – Un prophete

Un prophete (2009, dir. Jacques Audiard)
Starring Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Hichem Yacoubi

Un prophete is playing at the Belcourt Theater starting today.

Everyone loves a story of “boy makes good”. Nothing better than a young man pulling himself up by his bootstraps and making a name. The only downside is the body count. That story is what French film Un prophete seeks to tell, and colors its story with issues of racial identity, particularly how it can influence other’s perceptions of us. And the film also manages to not miss the simple moments amongst all the crime and violence. It’s in those moments that the picture shines.

Malik has just entered prison after an undisclosed crime. He’s a very young Frenchman of Arabic descent, who is incredibly nervous and introverted now confronted with years in prison. After a chance encounter with Arab inmate Reyeb, he’s recruited by the Corsican mob on the inside to kill this rival. That murder colors Mailk’s existence, Reyeb appearing in his bed in the middle of the night, his garish throat wound still present. The haunting happen in such a subtle way, Reyeb just suddenly there, Malik never jumping but living with this ghost in his mind.

Malik begins taking on more responsibilities with the Corsicans, who still view him as a “filthy Arab”, while the Arabic in prison see him as a “Corsican dog”. It’s evident that this labeling has a strong effect on Malik. Despite this internal conflict, he soldiers on, running errands while on day leave for Cesar, the head of the Corsican prisoners. What Malik doesn’t tell Cesar is that he is starting his own low level operations on the outside, particularly running drugs.

Every thing Malik does is out of an innate sense of survival. He knows he won’t make it long on the inside so he takes the murder job from the Corsicans, spending hours trying to hold a razorblade on the inside of his cheek for preparation. The film lingers on those moment of prep time, letting Malik fester in the anxiousness of what he has to do. As terrible as you know his actions will be, you still root for him, want him to get away with it because of his relative innocence compared to the weathered inmates around him.

One of the highlights of the film comes when Malik flies a plane to meet with Arabs in Italy. This is his first plane ride and, instead of skipping over it to get to the action with the Arab mob, the film pauses and lets us see Malik’s wonder at riding in a plane. He peers over his seat mate for a glance out the window and is surprised when a flight attendant brings him cookies and glass of water. Scenes like this are what make Un prophete stand out from other “rise to power” mob stories. Malik’s tale ends in the way the audience will probably expect, but its not his position as the new boss that is important, its the journey that brought him to it and the person he was that he left behind.

Newbie Wednesday – Brothers

Brothers (2009, dir. Jim Sheridan)
Starring Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Shepherd, Mare Winningham, Bailee Madison

“Support the troops”. Its a slogan we hear time and time again. Yet, no matter how many yellow ribbons we put up or bumper stickers we slap on our cars, there is a severe situation involving soldiers coming home with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. While Brothers addresses this, it fails to create compelling characters and ultimately comes off as preachy, rather than significant.

Capt. Sam Cahill (Maguire) is preparing to ship off to Iraq, and the day before his little brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal) is being released from prison. Cahill leaves Grace (Portman), his wife and two daughters behind and ends up being declared KIA. While, Grace deals with the loss with the help of Tommy, Sam is actually alive and well, being held by Sunni extremists along with a private in his unit. Sam is put under severe torture and starvation and made to commit horrible acts. Tommy finds himself drawn closer to Grace but the two fight their urges to give in. Eventually, Sam is coming home and there will be a falling out.

The film is slow, but that is not a bad thing. The plot involving Sam is very interesting and were the moments of the film I paid attention to the most. The Grace/Tommy story is where the film drags. There is really no chemistry between the two so the hints that they might end up together feels incredibly forced. The relationship is so muted to the point of feeling like a way to kill time till Sam returns home. The most compelling interactions are between Tommy and his father (Sam Shepherd). It seems their father dealt with PTSD upon returning from Vietnam and drowned it alcohol, eventually taking it out on the kids. Tommy ends up being the black sheep of the family, and Sam enlists in the Marines because of his idolization of his father.

The picture ends on a very melodramatic note, though its last 20 minutes are its best. The top performance comes from 11 year old Bailee Madison, who plays Isabella, Sam and Grace’s daughter. She very natural and composed for her age, and is a key part of the conflict in the film. Overall, a decent picture but this director has made much much better films.

Import Fridays – Ricky

Ricky (2009, dir. Francois Ozon)

Starring Alexandra Lamy, Sergi Lopez, Melusine Mayance, Arthur Peyret

Ricky would be just another sappy, sentimental film if it weren’t for that opening scene. Where in the film’s chronology does it fall? The middle? The end? Both are completely plausible. The scene in question is one in which working class Katie (Lamy) is speaking to an off camera social worker about being unable to pay rent and care for her two children. Only when the end of the film is reached does the ambiguity of these scene truly surface.

The plot follows Katie who is raising a daughter and working in a chemical factory to make ends meet. One day, she meets new employee Paco (Lopez) and two begin a relationship and Katie ends up pregnant. Katie gives birth to a little boy, Ricky, and slowly but surely Paco makes a run for it when he gets scared. In the meantime, Katie and her daughter discover Ricky growing strange appendages out of his shoulders and finding ways out of his crib and onto the top of an unreachable dresser. Things develop in an odd way from there, ending with paparazzi chasing Katie and her miracle child around. The film has a touch of the bittersweet in its finale and, as I mentioned before about the film’s opening sequence, it can be seen as a downbeat film.

Ozon is balancing realism in his first half with fantasy in the second. It almost feels like two films, yet never loses a consistent style; an admirable achievement. The explanation behind Ricky’s special abilities is never explained and Ozon never shows an interest in explaining it. There are some hints: Paco’s unknown origins or the chemical factory where Katie works. But it doesn’t really matter WHY Ricky is the way he is, but that there is an unquestioning love between he and Katie. Sadly, the film doesn’t delve into this as deeply as it should and fails to earn its finale scene between Katie and Ricky. Overall, an intriguing film from a French director who is doing some stunning work in contemporary cinema.

Newbie Wednesday – The Men Who Stare At Goats

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009, dir. Grant Heslov)

Starring Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang
If you remember the jokingly done reports in the media about prisoners of war in Iraq being exposed to Barney the Dinosaur’s “I Love You” song on a loop, then you have already heard of the writing of reporter Bob Wilton. In a mix of fantasy and reality we get this very suspect account of a secret unit of the U.S. Army, in operation since the Vietnam War. Director Heslov doesn’t deliver a film of any great magnitude, it has its moments, and we end up with a very quirky, very uneven comedy.
Bob Wilton is an Ann Arbor, MI reporter who ends up just outside of Iraq as the war is breaking out. Months earlier he interviewed an odd man who claimed to have been a psychic in the employ of the Army. By chance, Wilton runs in Lyn Cassady (Clooney), the man the interviewee claimed had been the best in their unit. Wilton and Lyn begin a strange journey across Iraq that ends with figures from Lyn’s past reappearing and culminating in an LSD fueled finale.
Jeff Bridges plays a ultra hippie, Bill Django, the founder of the New Earth Army, the unit devoted to using peace and love to combat enemy troops. A lot of these ideas won’t seem far fetched if you know anything about the experimentation the military has done on the paranormal for combat purposes. The film even brings up the infamous MKULTRA experiments done by the CIA on soldiers and civilians alike, where psychotropic drugs were added to water without the subjects’ knowledge and their reactions were recorded.
I never found myself laughing during this film, a few grins here and there, but was never really impressed with anything I saw. The film seems to not know what it wants to be: a satire of the army, a satire of the new age movement, a commentary on the absurdity of this current and all war. Because of this lack of a “thesis statement” the film seems to wander aimlessly with no point at the end. Coupled with very amateurish voice over (a big no-no unless you know how to do it right) and an original score that felt cheap, its a film that could easily be missed without regret.

My Top 10 Favorite Films of 2009

I’ve been keeping track of all the films I watch annually since 2005 and this year was one of the most prolific. I was able to see 200 new films and picking a top 10 was an incredibly hard task. That said, here are my top 10 favorites with some comments, followed by the long list of my viewing for 2009.

10) Where The Wild Things Are (2009, dir. Spike Jonze)

I love that Jonze and, co-writer, Dave Eggers managed to maintain the honest, darker tone of Maurice Sendak’s children’s book. Max acts like a real kid, not a movie script child. I especially appreciated the skillful mix of traditional puppetry and CG effects that made the Wild Things solid and real beings.

9) Inglourious Basterds (2009, dir. Quentin Tarantino)

From the trailers, I was led to believe this was an action shoot-em up and that turned me off immediately. I love Tarantino but had no interesting in a WWII action pic. However, a series of interviews turned me around and I found it to be yet another incredibly original film from a master. In essence, its a WWII fairy tale.

8) Bronson (2009, dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

This one came out of nowhere but grabbed my attention due to its blatantly Kubrickian influence. Sort A Clockwork Orange about a real person. The film is less concerned with plot than it is establishing a dynamically visual character sketch.

7) Ballast (2008, dir.Lance Hammer)

A film whose merits lie strongly in its tone. The landscape is a familiar one to those of us who grew up in the rural South. The film also presents a look at contemporary rural Southern African-Americans in a very real and honest manner.

6) Antichrist (2009, dir. Lars von Trier)

Despite the hubbub over the graphic violence in, von Trier is able to evoke a strong sense of horror that so many mainstream horror movies never attempt. It’s typical von Trier in its attempts to upset the audience, not just through the brutality, but also through the incoherence of many story elements. And in the end, that’s why I love this director!

5) Precious (2009, dir. Lee Daniels)

Gabby Sidibe’s performance as the title character is so impressive, especially after seeing her interviews and realizing how drastically different she and her life are from this character. In this film, I saw the lives of a good number of children I’ve worked with. The dark nature of living below the poverty is broken though by a strong sense of hope in the film’s ending, that never comes off as maudlin.

4) Harlan County, USA (1976, dir. Barbara Kopple)

Though made thirty four years ago, this film is just as relevant, given the climate of economic disparity and anti-unionist rhetoric being spouted. Kopple chronicles the struggle between a group of poor Kentuckian miners and the Duke Power Company, in a strike the ended in blood being spilt. You may go into the film thinking it can’t engage you, but it will captivate you.

3) Synecdoche, New York (2008, dir. Charlie Kaufman)

Kaufman produced some of the best written films of the 2000s and this directorial debut is the culmination of all his themes and concepts. The film works as a matryoshka, a Russian nesting doll, and seems to have a kinship with much of Michel Gondry’s work.

2) Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006, dir. Tom Tykwer)

One of the most overlooked films of the 2000s by one of the most over looked directors. Tykwer follows a very literary structure and presents a character who lacks the ability to be sympathetic but somehow makes us sympathize with him by the end of the film.

1) Waltz With Bashir (2008, dir. Ari Folman)

Check out my full review for my thoughts on this amazing film!

And here is the full list of the 200 films I saw in 2009

1. Near Dark (1987, dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
2. Taxi to the Dark Side (2008, dir. Alex Gibney)
3. Revolutionary Road (2008, dir. Sam Mendes)
4. Scrooged (1988, dir. Richard Donner)
5. Renaissance (2006, dir. Christian Volckman)
6. The Magic Christian (1969, dir. Joseph McGrath)
7. Rock School (2005, dir. Don Argott)
8. The Spirit (2008, dir. Frank Miller)
9. Mirrors (2008, dir. Alexandre Aja)
10. Synecdoche, New York (2008, dir. Charlie Kaufman)
11. Cinemania (2002, dir. Angela Christlieb, Stephan Kijak)
12. Henry Fool (1997, dir. Hal Hartley)
13. Moonshine (2006, dir. Roger Ingram)
14. Crazy Love (2007, dir. Dan Klores)
15. Doubt (2008, dir. John Patrick Shanley)
16. Slumdog Millionaire (2008, dir. Danny Boyle)
17. The Reader (2008, dir. Stephen Daldry)
18. Fay Grim (2006, dir. Hal Hartley)
19. Sleeping Dogs Lie (2006, dir. Bobcat Goldthwait)
20. Waltz With Bashir (2008, dir. Ari Folman)
21. Fears of the Dark (2008, dir. Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard McGuire)
22. Gran Torino (2008, dir. Clint Eastwood)
23. In Bruges (2008, dir. Martin McDonagh)
24. Foot Fist Way (2008, dir. Jody Hill)
25. Che, Part One (2008, dir. Steven Soderbergh)
26. Coraline (2009, dir. Henry Selick)
27. The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005, dir. Jeff Feuerzeig)
28. Hard Eight (1996, dir. PT Anderson)
29. Friday the 13th (2009, dir. Dean Haspiel)
30. Pola X (1999, dir. Leos Carax)
31. Paris, Je T’aime (2006, dir. various)
32. The Ring 2 (2005, dir. Hideo Nakata)
33. Watchmen (2009, dir. Zach Snyder)
34. Sex Drive (2008, dir. Sean Anders)
35. Rachel Getting Married (2008, dir. Jonathan Demme)
36. Cabin Boy (1994, dir. Adam Resnick)
37. Puffball (2007, dir. Nicolas Roeg)
38. Semi-Pro (2008, dir. Kent Alterman)
39. Freddy Got Fingered (2001, dir. Tom Green)
40. Wild Tigers I Have Known (2006, dir. Cam Archer)
41. Confederate States of America (2004, dir. Kevin Wilmott)
42. Fuck (2005, dir. Steve Anderson)
43. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006, dir. Scott Glosserman)
44. Standard Operating Procedure (2008, dir. Erroll Morris)
45. Perdita Durango (1997, dir. Alex de la Igelsia)
46. Glass: A Portrait of Philip in 12 Pieces (2007, dir. Scott Hicks)
47. W. (2008, dir. Oliver Stone)
48. The Sinful Dwarf (1973, dir. Vidal Raski)
49. Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973, dir. Richard Blackburn)
50. Angel-A (2005, dir. Luc Besson)
51. The Room (2003, dir. Tommy Wiseau)
52. I Love You Man (2009, dir. John Hamburg)
53. Cthulhu (2007, dir. Dan Gildark)
54. Chop Shop (2007, dir. Rahmin Bahrani)
55. Monsters Vs. Aliens (2009, dir. Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon)
56. Dig! (2005, dir. Ondi Timoner)
57. Zoo (2007, dir. Robinson Devor)
58. Observe & Report (2009, dir. Jody Hill)
59. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009, dir. Gavin Hood)
60. Safe Men (1998, dir. John Hamburg)
61. Chuck & Buck (2000, dir. Miguel Arteta)
62. Zach Galifinakis: Live at the Purple Onion (2007, dir. Michael Blieden)
63. The Wicker Man (2006, dir. Neil LaBute)
64. Grey Gardens (2009, dir. Michael Sucsy)
65. Mad Dog and Glory (1993, dir. David McNaughton)
66. Midnight Run (1988, dir. Martin Brest)
67. Bonnie and Clyde (1967, dir. Arthur Penn)
68. Crash (1996, dir. David Cronenberg)
69. Prime Cut (1972, dir. Michael Ritchie)
70. Special (2006, dir. Hal Haberman, Jeremy Passamore)
71. Papillon (1973, dir. Franklin J. Schaffner)
72. The Five Obstructions (2003, dir. Jorgen Leth, Lars Von Trier)
73. Haxan (1922, dir. Benjamin Christensen)
74. Shampoo (1975, dir. Hal Ashby)
75. S. Darko (2009, Chris Fisher)
76. Star Trek (2009, dir. JJ Abrams)
77. The Ninth Configuration (1980, dir. William Peter Blatty)
78. The Pledge (2001, dir. Sean Penn)
79. Heckler (2007, dir. Michael Addis)
80. Abel Raises Cain (2005, dir. Jenny Abel, Jeff Hockett)
81. Parents (1988, dir. Bob Balaban)
82. Harlan County, USA (1976, dir. Barbara Kopple)
83. Rubin and Ed (1991, dir. Trent Harris)
84. Eyes Wide Shut (1999, dir. Stanley Kubrick)
85. Bedtime Stories (2008, dir. Adam Shankman)
86. Fanboys (2008, dir. Kyle Newman)
87. The Unborn (2009, dir. David S. Goyer)
88. Terminator Salvation (2009, dir. McG)
89. Drag Me To Hell (2009, dir. Sam Raimi)
90. Trembling Before G-d (2001, dir. Sandi Simcha Dubowski)
91. Land of the Lost (2009, dir. Brad Silberling)
92. The Hangover (2009, dir. Todd Phillips)
93. Up (2009, dir. Pete Docter, Brad Anderson)
94. Deadgirl (2008, dir. Marcel Sarmiento, Gadi Harel)
95. Phoebe in Wonderland (2008, dir. Daniel Barnz)
96. Collateral (2004, dir. Michael Mann)
97. Sid and Nancy (1986, dir. Alex Cox)
98. Tell No One (2006, dir. Guilliame Canet)
99. Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell (2006, dir. Johnny Gillette, Kevin Wheatley)
100. The Cable Guy (1996, dir. Ben Stiller)
101. Sita Sings the Blues (2008, dir. Nina Paley)
102. Bruno (2009, dir. Larry Charles)
103. IOUSA (2008, dir. Patrick Creadon)
104. Moon (2009, dir. Duncan Jones)
105. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009, dir. Michael Bay)
106. Scream 3 (2000, dir. Wes Craven)
107. Adventureland (2009, dir. Greg Mottola)
108. In the Loop (2009, dir. Armando Iannucci)
109. Zazie dan le Metro (1960, dir. Louis Malle)
110. Plague Town (2008, dir. David Gregory)
111. Pontypool (2008, dir. Bruce McDonald)
112. Splinter (2008, dir. Toby Wilkins)
113. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008, dir. Woody Allen)
114. Bart Got A Room (2009, dir. Brian Hecker)
115. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009, dir. David Yates)
116. Green Lantern: First Flight (2009, dir. Lauren Montgomery)
117. The Strangers (2008, dir. Bryan Bertino)
118. Bamboozled (2000, dir. Spike Lee)
119. Funny People (2009, dir. Judd Apatow)
120. Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006, Steven Shainberg)
121. Tetro (2009, dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
122. Gigantic (2008, dir. Brian Aselton)
123. Orphan (2009, dir. Jaume Collet-Serra)
124. Visioneers (2008, dir. Jared Drake)
125. Home Movie (2008, dir. Christopher Denham)
126. Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (2008, dir. Stefan Forbes)
127. G.I. Joe (2009, dir. Stephen Sommers)
128. Big Man Japan (2007, dir. Hitoshi Matsumoto)
129. Second Skin (2008, dir. Juan Carlos Pineiro-Escoriaza)
130. Used Cars (1980, dir. Robert Zemeckis)
131. Knowing (2009, dir. Alex Proyas)
132. The Informers (2009, dir. Gregor Jordan)
133. Domino (2005, dir. Tony Scott)
134. Push (2009, dir. Paul McGuigan)
135. District 9 (2009, dir. Neil Blomkamp)
136. World’s Greatest Dad (2009, dir. Bobcat Goldthwait)
137. The Corporation (2003, dir. Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott)
138. Bronson (2009, dir.Nicolas Winding Refn)
139. Edmond (2005, dir. Stuart Gordon)
140. The Brothers Bloom (2009, dir. Rian Johnson)
141. Antichrist (2009, dir. Lars von Trier)
142. Empire of the Sun (1987, dir. Steven Spielberg)
143. Wall Street (1987, dir. Oliver Stone)
144. Grace (2009, dir. Paul Solet)
145. Year One (2009, dir. Harold Ramis)
146. Lymelife (2008, dir. Derek Martini)
147. 500 Days of Summer (2009, dir. Marc Webb)
148. Christmas on Mars (2008, dir. Wayne Coyne)
149. Manderlay (2005, dir. Lars von Trier)
150. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009, dir. Sam Liu)
151. Trick R’ Treat (2008, dir. Michael Doughtry)
152. Inglourious Basterds (2009, dir. Quentin Tarantino)
153. Life is Sweet (1991, dir. Mike Leigh)
154. Owning Mahowny (2003, dir. Richard Kwietniowski)
155. Adam Resurrected (2008, dir. Paul Schrader)
156. Tideland (2005, dir. Terry Gilliam)
157. Jennifer’s Body (2009, dir. Karyn Kusama)
156. Sick Girl (2007, dir. Eben McGarr)
157. Pandorum (2009, dir. Christian Alvart)
158. Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (2009, dir. Garreth Carravick)
159. Zombieland (2009, dir. Ruben Fleischer)
160. Big Fan (2009, dir. Robert D. Siegel)
161. Where the Truth Lies (2005, dir. Atom Egoyan)
162. Paranormal Activity (2009, dir Oren Peli)
163. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006, dir. Tom Tykwer)
164. The Informant! (2009, dir. Steven Soderbergh)
165. You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush (2009, dir. Marty Callner)
166. Frontrunners (2008, dir. Caroline Suh)
167. Humpday (2009, dir.Lynn Shelton)
168. Adoration (2009, dir. Atom Egoyan)
169. I Sell The Dead (2008, dir. Glenn McQuaid)
170. Roman Polanski: Wanted & Desired (2008, dir. Marina Zenovich)
171. Paper Heart (2009, Nicholas Jasenovec)
172. American Ruling Class (2005, dir. John Kirby)
173. Homicide (1992, dir. David Mamet)
174. Franklyn (2009, dir. Gerald McMorrow)
175. The Transporter (2002, dir. Corey Yuen)
176. The Magdalene Sisters (2002, dir. Peter Mullan)
177. The House of the Devil (2009, dir. Ti West)
178. The Triplets of Belleville (2003, dir. Sylvain Chomet)
179. BSG: The Plan (2009, dir. Edward James Olmos)
180. Spider (2002, dir. David Cronenberg)
181. Ballast (2008, dir. Lance Hammer)
182. Radiant City (2006, dir. Jim Brown, Gary Burns)
183. Medicine for Melancholy (2008, dir. Barry Jenkins)
184. Extract (2009, dir. Mike Judge)
185. The Box (2009, dir. Richard Kelly)
186. The Cove (2009, dir. Louis Psihoyos)
187. Diagnosis Death (2009, dir. Jason Stutter)
188. Sauna (2008, dir. Antti-Jussi Annila)
189. Tokyo (2008, dir. Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, Joon-ho Bong)
190. The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009, dir. Wes Anderson)
191. Trumbo (2007, dir. Peter Askin)
192. Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (2009, dir. Phil Lord, Chris Miller)
193. Stay (2005, dir. Marc Forster)
194. Herb & Dorothy (2009, dir. Megumi Sasaki)
195. Where The Wild Things Are (2009, dir. Spike Jonze)
196. Avatar (2009, dir. James Cameron)
197. The Invention of Lying (2009, dir.Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson)
198. An Education (2009, dir. Lone Sherfig)
199. Precious (2009, dir. Lee Daniels)
200. Ravenous (1999, dir. Antonia Bird)

Film 2009 #199 – Precious

Precious (2009, dir. Lee Daniels)
Starring Gabby Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, Sherri Shepherd

I waited a long time to see this film, not because I lacked interest in its subject matter, but, because of my time in inner city schools, I knew it was going to affect me in a rough way. I have worked with primarily African-American students in low income situations and, while many of them come from loving families that give support in the best ways they know how, there are also a fair share that are stuck in multi-generational cycles of destructive parenting.

The story follows Precious, a 16-year old living in 1987 New York City, repeating the 7th grade, and in the middle of her second pregnancy. Her mother, Mary, is incredibly abusive towards Precious which stems from the fact that her husband is the father of Precious’ two children, the first of which was born with Down’s syndrome. After the discovery of her second pregnancy, Precious is moved to a special school for struggling students in an effort to get her a GED. Her mother is threatened by this, believing it will result in her welfare benefits being removed and becomes increasingly more vicious.

This is a hard film to talk about, especially from the perspective of a white American male. I don’t necessarily believe I feel white guilt but I definitely feel a sympathy for the African-American community from my first hand experiences working with their students. For the majority of the film, Mary represents a very extreme type of person, and in reality transcends race. There are plenty of white parents, many of whom I have encountered here in the South who develop a resentment of their offspring as a result of wretched economic circumstances. Mo’Nique delivers a performance I never would have expected out of her, especially during her final monologue where we finally get some solid information about Precious’ upbringing.

A lot of critics are worried that Lee Daniels’ portrayal of African-Americans is helping to feed a terrible stereotype of the community. I completely understand those fears because, seen through the eyes of a filmgoer who does not critically view cinema (and sadly many of them don’t, as evidenced by the success of Avatar), this could reinforce negativity. I like to the view as an piece of honest encouragement to African-American youth. The film doesn’t resolve everything in a pretty bow, but it does show a strong black female character who, with a support system, manages to make things better for herself and is determined to continue to make things better.

Film 2009 #195 – Where The Wild Things Are

Where The Wild Things Are (2009, dir. Spike Jonze)
Starring Katherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Lauren Ambrose, Paul Dano, Chris Cooper, Forest Whitaker

Taking up only around a dozen pages, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are seemed more appropriate as an animated short, rather than a live action feature. Thanks to the creative genius of Spike Jonze, the story was able to be fleshed out further without losing the themes and tone of the picture book. Instead of opting for the current trend of CG animation, Jonze turned to an older and more conventional method by hiring the Henson Creature Shop to design and construct full body suits of the Wild Things. The result is a film that says as much to adults as it does children.

The story, familiar to most, is very simple: Young Max is stomping around the house in his monster suit, bites his mother and is punished. Instead of Max’s bedroom transforming into the forest, Jonze sends Max into the real woods and to a scenario that causes us to ask whether he actually experienced this or not. Max ends up on an island, populated by giant monsters which Max quickly conquers as their king. In the world of the film, a conflict arises between two Wild Things: KW and Carol. This provides the crux of the drama in the film and parallels the typically volatile relationship Max experiences with his sister.

Jonze creates a tone that very few children’s films possess; a tone of honesty. Max behaves like a real child, not a Disney-fied picture of perfection or precociousness. Max has his own sense of illogical, child-like logic and reacts with violent emotion. Author Sendak has commented, about the original text, that it was meant to speak to children about being angry and not play to the wants of parents. The voices of the Wild Things are also filtered through Max as well and represent both the different sides of his personality as well as the way he sees people in his life.

Many parents complained that the film was too dark but I see it as no darker than the original story. I think many parents fail to realize the honesty of Sendak’s text, which in turn makes it a “dark” story in comparison to the false sunniness of many children’s stories. I also think, unlike films such as Shrek and Madagascar and films of that kind, Where the Wild Things Are has true intellectual “nutritive value”. Jonze has made a film that will provide something new and valuable to audiences as they grow older.