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Paddington 2

May not be the novel revelation that its predecessor was, but it has its heart—and its stomach—in the right place.

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The Commuter

Frustratingly not-quite-there from start to finish, the paranoia-soaked railroad thriller The Commuter is the latest installment in the unofficial "Liam Neeson Late Winter Butt Kickers"…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Jana Monji

Jana Monji

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.

A beauty pageant Gloria Steinem would love

May Contain Spoilers
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Women's History month is just the right time to watch, "Miss Navajo," a documentary that premiered at Sundance in 2007 and was broadcast on PBS the same year. The title alone may turn people away if you are, like me, not a big fan of beauty pageants but Miss Navajo is the kind of pageant that perhaps even Gloria Steinem could get behind.

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A little black dress makes the world go round

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With the passing of Andy Williams, I keep imagining his golden tenor singing Henry Mancini's "Moon River." The song talks about crossing life in style. "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is all about fashionable cafe society and love; in an adult fairy tale, you can have both even if you are two drifters.

The director Gregory Nava once commented, "Whenever any question of style or taste in dress comes up, I simply ask myself, 'What would Fred Astaire have done?'" Audrey Hepburn is Astaire's female equivalent: sophistication mixed with fizzy fun.

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Nostalgia for the Light

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.

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Third Star

May Contain Spoilers

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.

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Hostages to honor

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."

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Bachelorette: Invasion of the b-face girls

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"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.

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With Great Power: Stan Lee, superhero

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"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.

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War of the Arrows: Deadly targets

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"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?

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Comic-Con 2012: Rev your engines

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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.

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The City Dark: Turn out the lights

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.

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