A mostly pleasant surprise in a year that has produced a lack of stellar animated outings.
Jana Monji, made in San Diego, California, lost in Japan several times, has written about theater and movies for the LA Weekly, LA Times, and currently, Examiner.com and the Pasadena Weekly. Currently living in LA, she has found her inner Latina dancing Argentine tango. Her short fiction has been published in the Asian American Literary Review.
You can watch the full video of "Nostalgia for the Light" (2012) on the PBS POV website until January 23, 2013. Also available to watch instantly on Netflix.
The desert light in the daytime is sharp and destructive, slowly blinding you as you age. I grew up in what had been a desert, and that taught me to love the night, yet I never looked up to contemplate the stars. Perhaps if I had I would have learned to love the desert as Patricio Guzmán.
I clearly remember the first day of our only family vacation while my father was alive. My father was wearing a dapper boater "Can Can" straw hat, but the window was left too far down and it soon swooshed off my father's head and was gaily rolling down the highway. On that particular day, he knew he was dying and that is the reason for our journey. I thought of my father while watching "Third Star," a touching independent movie about four male friends taking a journey to a remote Welsh beach. The film's narrator, James (Benedict Cumberbatch), has an unnamed terminal cancer. My father didn't die of cancer, but he was bit of a dandy and always wore a hat, usually one more like the fedora Cumberbatch's James sports at times in this movie.
The Kobayashi movie "Harakiri" is available on Hulu and Netflix. Miike's "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai" is available on Amazon.com.
In this remake of the 1962 Masaki Kobayashi movie known as "Harakiri" in America, but "Seppuku" in Japan, Takashi Miike considers the value of one life or "Ichimei." (一命 Ichimei). In the U.S., the film is also re-named "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai."
"Bachelorette" opens in theaters September 7, and is available on demand via iTunes, Amazon.com, Vudu.com and Google Play.
By Jana Regan Monji
In this reality-TV ruled world, the word bachelorette seems firmly attached to the legacy of Trista Rehn and the female spin-off of a competitive dating game. Yet in writer/director Leslye Headland's dark comedy, "Bachelorette," the subject isn't the tricks and lines men use in the warfare of love but how three women deal with being on the downside of not-married when the least conventionally attractive of their high school clique is preparing to walk down the aisle. This cocaine-fueled cattiness never rises above callow, although the acting talent is deeper than the script.
"With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story" is available on-demand at Netflix.com, Amazon.com, iTunes, EpixHD.com and Vudu.com. Stan Lee will be attending a special screening of "With Great Power" at the Stan Lee Comikaze Expo in Los Angeles on September 15, 2012.
By Jana Spider-Woman Hulk Daredevil Wonder Woman Beast Monji
The title, "With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story," is a tip off, but if the only Uncle Ben you know is a nattily dressed black gentleman who sells conveniently packaged rice, then Stan Lee wants to invite you to his Marvel universe. This is the world where Uncle Ben adopted his orphaned nephew who would be bitten by a radioactive spider in high school. That sullen, selfish teen would soon find that the bite of karma can be transformational and he becomes a super hero with an attitude: Spider-Man.
"War of the Arrows" is currently available on Netflix Instant, Vudu, iTunes and Blu-ray/DVD.
By Jana J. Monji
A sudden crush of movies is bringing the sport of archery back into the limelight, and the timing couldn't be better for the 2011 costume drama "War of the Arrows" from South Korea. This is like a Western movie damsel in distress scenario transported to 17th century Korea with archery instead of gun sharpshooting. The good guys don't wear white hats, but you'll easily be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys in this morality tale.
European tradition has William Tell and Robin Hood to tantalize young boys into archery. In America, if children still play cowboys and injuns, then one supposes that the Native Americans still use bows, but that's usually just the braves according to old stereotypes that places the squaws in the wigwams. More recently, we've had "The Avengers" with Clinton Barton's Hawkeye.
For girls, "The Hunger Games" have given us an alternative reality with arrow-slinging Katniss who like Annie Oakley learned to shoot in order to feed her family. Disney's newest princess, Merida in "Brave," performs archery on horseback. Has there ever been a better time for archery?
San Diego Comic-Con International is a celebration of cartoons, costumes and fictional and real characters. Recent years have brought increasing commercialization. Many of the panels are little more than tantalizing propaganda for upcoming TV programs and movies and the panels bare their wares as brazenly as the whores who used to walk the Gaslamp District before it became a hip place to be. But SDCC is also a venue for introducing and releasing movies that have a link to geek culture and SDCC hosts a Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival.
Do you love the nightlife? During hot summers, evening comes like a cool blessing with a promise of good company. But just what do we mean by the night life? Usually we aren't talking about dark streets and even the dimly lit dance venues and bars feature glowing and sometimes pulsing lights. As a woman, I prefer well-lit and well-traveled areas of the city. It's a mattered of safety. Yet in director/writer Ian Cheney's illuminating documentary, "The City Dark, " we learn that having a city that never sleeps comes at a steep price. "What do we lose when we lose the night?" he asks.
For the New York City-based Cheney, who grew up in rural Maine, in a small town of about 4,000 people, his boyhood nightlife was spent gazing at the stars. This 2011 documentary is like a plaintive love song to the night skies of his youth with stunning astrophotography (cinematography by Cheney and Frederick Shanahan). I realized that as much as I love nighttime walks under a full moon, I have never truly seen the sky at night. In most cities there's too much light pollution.
Cheney's previous documentary, the Peabody Award-winning "King Corn" also appeared on PBS as part of the Independent Lens series. Directed by Aaron Woolf and written by Cheney, Curtis Ellis along with Woolf and Jeffrey K. Miller, the 2007 "King Corn: You Are What You Eat," followed college friends, Cheney and Ellis, as they moved to Greene, Iowa to grow an acre of corn and learn about the industrialization of farming and why corn is such a high-demand crop even though it's subsidized by the government.
"Walk Away Renee" is available on SundanceNow's new Subscriber Video-on-Demand Program Doc Club from June 27, 2012.
When you were young didn't you think your parents were crazy? Did you swear you wouldn't turn out like them? For filmmaker Jonathan Caouette, those two worries have defined his life because his mother suffers from bipolar personality and schizoaffective disorders, something that he focused on in his award-winning 2003 documentary "Tarnation." In his new film, "Walk Away Renee," Caouette brings us up to 2010 with the focus on Caouette driving his mother, Renee LeBlanc, in a U-Haul from Houston to New York.
For a dysfunctional family, road trips can be filled with emotional landmines. For Caouette, this bonding experience starts out well, but early on, they lose Renee's 30-day supply of lithium. Without her mood stabilizing meds, you know that things can only get worse. For people who have bipolar relatives, this story might seem heartbreakingly familiar.
Caouette's "Tarnation" begins with overexposed grainy images. The highlights are blown out to white; this isn't a technical problem, but an expression of panic. His mother has overdosed and the documentary then shows the events building up to this emergency. Caouette began filming his family in 1984 and in "Tarnation" we see him as a young troubled boy, starved for attention and trying to make sense of his world, his sexual orientation and the mother he loves while being raised by his overwhelmed though well-meaning grandparents, Adolph and Rosemary Davis.
PBS's "American Masters" presents "Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel" and "Harper Lee: Hey, Boo," back-to-back documentaries about two white American women who won Pulitzer Prizes for their first and only best-selling novels, Monday, April 2 beginning at 9 p.m. (Check local listings.) Both will be available via PBS On Demand and are currently on DVD.
If you're hoping for the whirling of petticoats, a colorful Virginia reel and the coquettish fluttering of lashes on the old plantation, you might be surprised by American Master's "Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel." By rebel, director Pamela Roberts doesn't just mean Johnny Reb. On the other hand, if you hope that the author of Gone With the Wind is burning in hell for conjuring up a romantic fantasy of slavery and antebellum plantation life, you might be surprised. Mitchell was a wild young woman who did some shocking dances in her day, but eventually settled down and did good in ways that benefited the citizens of her hometown Atlanta and beyond.
What could be rebellious about a woman who romanticized a plantation lifestyle in which women were raised to be pretty ornaments and good wives in her 1936 novel of the Old South, "a civilization gone with the wind..."? Today, millions of women still live out their Scarlett O'Hara fantasies at their weddings with hoop-skirted bridal gowns, and through Civil War or Southern ball re-enactments. Not so many line up to portray slaves. The documentary uses many clips from the blockbuster 1939 movie, contrasted with photographs of Mitchell in her own wild youth. Even as one might enjoy the sweeping romance of the motion picture epic and attempt to ignore the racism, I suspect most people are more politically sympathetic with Alice Randall's 2001 parody The Wind Done Gone, which re-imagined Mitchell's story from the slaves' point of view.