I can report that it enraptured and delighted, and most importantly, made quiet, the houseful of little kids and their nannies with which I watched…
Just a few months ago, our President signed the National Defense Authorization Act 2012 after almost unanimous bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, while the media almost unanimously ignored it. This is that same troubling act that permits indefinite detentions of American citizens without trial. There was a time in our recent history when we were debating over trials for so-called Enemy Combatants detained in Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo; the debate was over whether the trials should be military or civilian but the consensus was that prisoners should at least get some sort of a trial.
And, there was a time when we were surprised that the CIA held secret prisons all across the globe. Well, it seems that that time was so, so long ago and we've been so inoculated that now not even the media cares. Now, when we walk through X-Ray machines whose companies were represented by our former Head of Homeland Security, we do not think much about it anymore.
So it is with gratitude that I mention that Line Halvorsen, a filmmaker from Norway, chose to make the outstanding documentary "USA vs. Al-Arian," (2007) chronicling a short period in the life of a family that has been suffering what is nothing less than American political persecution right in our suburbs for over a decade. On the one hand, this is the story of America seeking to keep itself secure. On the other hand, it is the story of the impact these sometimes questionable efforts have on a family.
David Cronenberg's "The Dead Zone" (1983) is my favorite adaptation of a Stephen King horror novel. Some parts from "The Shawshank Redemption" are terrifying in a different way, and are better classified in other genres. I'm also fond of some of the other films his works have inspired. "Carrie" and "The Shining" were mostly outstanding, but the casting of adults as teens in the first and the absence of an everyman feel to the lead protagonist in the second are the main reasons why I place "The Dead Zone" above them. The latter films were made by exceptional directors (DePalma and Kubrick), but Cronenberg's taste for the unusual, turned out to be a more adequate fit for King's material.
It may seem an odd choice for a personal classic, but you need to bear in mind under what circumstances this writer had first encountered Joe Johnston's less-than-pint-sized family adventure flick, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." The year was 1990, the Berlin Wall has just fallen, and the eight-year-old me was eager to lay his mitts onto any chunk of Hollywood fun that wandered into the emaciated landscape of post-Communist Poland. At the time, me and my friends would inhale anything that smacked of American affluence and unbridled pop energy. Most of us didn't own a pair of jeans, but we still craved movies showing people casually sipping Coke and having pizza slices when they pleased. (Hence the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" craze, among others.)
Memories don't really have a beginning, a middle and an end. They're more like vignetted sensations, impressions and paraphrases, where the most prominent detail might be sticky fingers from handling a bunch of wheat. If you could only live with one memory for all eternity, which would it be? That's the question Hirokazu Koreeda's "After Life" asks, while also showing us what makes something memorable.
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Considering that we normally think of documentaries as some sort of academic discourse at the fringes of popular cinema, this relatively new genre of Celebrity-driven docs is something peculiar. That we now watch documentaries starring Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, and Bill Maher is something inevitable, I suppose. We already have that tradition of following on-screen directors as characters in their features, including Kevin Smith, Spike Lee, and Woody Allen. But, the point here is that we watch some documentaries because of their host celebrities, more than the topic, even though the topics seem to be extensions of those same celebrities.
I suspect few people outside of his fan base will watch this movie: in Larry Charles' documentary "Religulous," (2008) popular Television talk show host Bill Maher is a playful microphone-toting cynic, roaming the landscapes of Christianity, with a few references to Judaism, Islam, and Scientology. The film is very strong and vastly entertaining in finding absurdities in absurd places, but fizzles when it attempts any serious commentary.
Mirrors and reflections have always been an obsession for filmmakers from all over the world - something that came as a result of the wealth of symbolism that they inspire, of course, but also of the psychological development all of us go through in order to recognize ourselves as individuals. (That led, for instance, to Jean-Louis Baudry's brilliant analogy of the film spectator as someone regressing to the "Mirror Stage" described by Lacan). From Buñuel to Hitchcock and from Fritz Lang to Tarkovsky, directors from different eras and different styles have used doubles as a thematic basis of one or more of their works -- but perhaps it has seldom been used so intensely and organically as in Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan."
In a science magazine I used to read during my high school years, one of my favorite sections was on the science in SF movies. (The magazine is still published; whenever I come across it at the campus book store, it takes me back to when I was less jaded and more anti-social.) It answered my doubts on the climax sequence in "Total Recall" (1990), and pointed out that there were several implausible aspects in the premise of "Jurassic Park" (1993). In case of the movies like "Armageddon" (1998) and "Independence Day" (1996)--well, it didn't require a lot of scientific knowledge to discern that they were brainless.
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The movie starts out so beautifully. The great Indian actor Amrish Puri stands there with his dignity, dressed in a perfect mix of Western and native Indian attire, feeding a flock of pigeons in London's monochrome rain-soaked concrete Trafalgar Square, thinking fondly about the sunny, colorful, musical world he left behind in the bright green and yellow fields of his home country. Twenty years of life in England, he runs a generic convenience store, with the goals of giving his daughters the life he never had. In his daydreams, however, he is longingly feeding pigeons not here, but in India.
That very short moment provided a profound insight into the lives of a whole population of first generation immigrants. But, I'd say that the movie takes a nose dive from there, and it does temporarily, because Puri seems to spend the rest of the film with a frozen glare that is frightening enough to make Indiana Jones pull out his own heart. And, similarly, I just wish that that punk Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) would stop his giggling. This is Aditya Chopra's "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" (1995) and it is easily one of the most popular of all Bollywood films, at least for a certain demographic of women between the ages 15 and 45, in a way that "Sholay" is the most popular of all Bollywood films for whatever male demographic I belong to.
Fantastical novels aimed at the young are making a killing these days. And due to the immense success of the "Harry Potter" and "Lord Of The Rings" movies, studios are looking for that next big series to cash in on. But among such film adaptations, rare is the one that finds a figurative truth worth sharing. Most of them are merely content to display the depths of their imaginations, being (perhaps justifiably) almost completely distant from the concerns of real life.
Looking back at the Hollywood blockbuster action films of 2011 when the year was about to end, I found none of them could top the raw realism of the ambitious South Korean thriller "The Yellow Sea" (2010). When I endured "Transformers 3" last summer, I had no excitement at all with its pointless loud action scenes decorated with weightless CGI. In the case of "The Yellow Sea," real people and real vehicles are put into the action on the screen, and they are far more visceral than those big, humongous CGI robots fighting on the streets of Chicago.