At the beginning of the film, Melvin, played by Mario, is a motorcycle-riding, cigar-chomping maverick who is set to breakthrough in Hollywood with his comedy The Watermelon Man, when he becomes compelled to make a more serious film of biting social commentary on the struggle of black Americans. Unable to get funding for such a film in white-dominated Hollywood in racially turbulent 1971, Melvin sets about funding the film independently, using his own money after his flaky hippie financier ends up in jail. Mario (played by Khleo Thomas), a thirteen-year-old boy at the time, is shown as a quiet, curious, and creative child who is eager to help out with his father's film (a slightly unsubtle touch from director Mario, but he manages to make it convincing). Melvin insisted on an at least 50% minority crew, but as a result of being unable to pay union wages, he ultimately assembled a ragtag, multiracial group, many of whom had little to no prior experience with film production. It is from this group of characters which come some of the best performances in Baadasssss!. Among them are the delightfully funny Joy Bryant, who plays Melvin's secretary and aspiring actress constantly gunning for a role in one of Melvin's films; and Terry Crews as Big T, the surly head of security and reluctant sound-guy. Between these two performances, they nearly steal the entire film.
Mario Van Peebles' portrait of his father is one that is sensitive, loving, and yet not entirely without criticism. He clearly has a great vast respect and appreciation for Melvin and his accomplishments. As a performance, Mario brings an honesty to the role of Melvin that would seem impossible to extract from any other actor. No doubt this is in part a result of the former having himself lived through the events portrayed, but it is also evidently born of his passion for the subject matter and for filmmaking itself.
While the the prime objective of Baadasssss! is to tell of the trials and tribulations encountered by Melvin Van Peebles in making and releasing Sweetback, which became a landmark of black cinema, it ultimately accomplishes a lot more. Melvin's own background, specifically his family relations and role as a single father, features strongly as a theme. It also makes an important statement about the nature of independent film, including the results and politics (both positive and negative) of having a small amount of financial resources versus being given an overblown budget by a major studio.
Released last year to limited distribution, this feature-length animated film is finally coming around to more theaters, thanks to some award nominations. Although it's considered a French film, with production in Belgium, Canada, and the Czech Republic, it screams of Montreal. Who else would openly admit to heavily soaking in the music/pop/art cultures of both the French and the Americans (re-performing the mmusic on various musical non-instruments) while blatently poking fun at each (without being completely degrading)? It's a semi-musical semi-surrealistic culture clash, with a linguistic mix of French and English, void of subtitles. (They're not necessary anyhow.) An old woman and her grandson live together in France, enjoy old Vaudville-like (from the fictitious Bellville) musical productions on the TV, have a cute dog, and the grandson is a bicyclist. But, during the Tour de France, something awful happens and it's up to the grandmother, dog, and the aging Triplets of Bellville to do something about it. The adventure is fun, the tunes are catchy (while almost completely nonsensical), and the animation is something to be enjoyed on the large screen. It's also a bit of a tribute to older cartoons in a few ways: most notably that old Looney Tunes cartoons weren't always just for kids and Disney films of yesteryear had both tragedy and a moral. The quirky animation and bouncy tunes are something most definitely to be experienced on the large screen as to be fully appreciated. (Don't leave during the credits since there's something afterwards too!) Due to its short length, animated shorts are appearing with it across the USA. For those as lucky as I was, the theater showed Destino, a short begun by Salvador Dali and completed recently, as Disney was originally planning to use some of the surrealistic adventures in a series of Fantasias, which were never completed. A number of famous Dali paintings come to life with a retro soundtrack which is absolutely out of this world. Once again, the big screen experience is truly breathtaking.
It isn't surprising this surfing documentary is in the vein of Endless Summer, given that the director is the son of the director of that surfing classic. This film, however, does not follow two surfers around the globe, but instead features many surfers from around the globe. The surfing of today, however, is moving in directions never even dreamed of in 1966. The introduction of tow surfing (using a jet ski to tow the surfer into waves too big to be paddled into) and hydrofoil surfing (modified surfboards with hydrofoils attached to the bottom allowing the surfer to rise a few feet above the water) are allowing surfers to ride waves that were never before within reach.
It is surprising, however, that the actors chosen to be interviewed were such minor players in Fellini's body of work (not to mention that they also appeared in the worst amongst his films). I would have found their inclusion diappointing, were not Sutherland (who found the director to be an unrelenting tyrant) and Stamp, in particular, so entertaining. Stamp's Fellini impression is alone worth the price of admission. Furthermore, there were no interviews with Marcello Mastroianni, the actor who appeared in the most important of his films, even though the director, Damian Pettigrew acknowledged his vast importance to Fellini's work. Even more surprisingly, there wasn't a single interview with any woman who appeared in his films. Given the immense impact women had both in his life and on his work, I was shocked that a documentary on Fellini could not include anything about Anouk Aimee, Sandra Milo or Anita Ekberg. There was a fleeting mention of Giulietta Masina, Fellini's long-time wife and collaborator, but no interviews. Perhaps none survived after her death in 1994, but I find that difficult to believe. Aimee, Milo and Ekberg, on the other hand, are all still living.
Although rather academic at times, the film's strong point is surely the lengthy ruminations by Fellini himself on the magic behind the creation of his films, and the inclusion of archival footage of the director in the process of directing his masterpieces Amarcord, La Dolce Vita, and one of the most important films in the history of cinema, 8½. Despite the fact that Pettigrew's documentary has a lot of room for improvement, and that it's not exactly a "Fellini 101," it remains a must-see for anyone who appreciates il maestro or has a passion for movies and the complicated processes that go into their creation.
The main focus of this DVD is to showcase Dziga Vertov's 1929 classic silent movie Man With a Movie Camera accompanied by the well-suited, modern soundtrack provided by Jason Swinscoe and the Cinematic Orchestra. Originally described as "an experiment in cinematic communication of real events," the storyless film gives an insight into city life in Russian during the late 1920's, showing everyday scenes such as the birth of a child, various modes of transportation in action, factory work, sporting events and the usual hustle and bustle of downtown life. From the first ten minutes of the film, it's very apparent that the Cinematics have taken great care in reworking previous tunes of theirs and adding some newer material to turn the methodical tasks shown on the screen into living art set to music. There are some very strong moments when the soundtrack acts as the musical translation of what's happening on the screen. The token DVD extras include a mini-documentary/interview with Swinscoe describing how soundtracking the film came about, interspersed with live performance clips of the band, a photo gallery from the recording session and various related links. Other bonuses include the group in fine form performing "Man With The Movie Camera" and the Art Ensemble of Chicago's "Theme de Yoyo" to a packed club audience. The video for "All That You Give" featuring Fontella Bass is also included for good measure. Although it had been available on the song's CD single as a Quicktime movie, watching it on a television makes it all the better. I had been expecting the DVD to include the much talked about performance of the group providing the live soundtrack. From the couch, seeing the actual film set to a great soundtrack rather than watching it as a backdrop during a concert film was definitely the way to go.
A group of animal rights hippies break into the Cambridge Primate Research Facility trying to save some monkeys. In the process they let loose Rage, which within 10 to 20 seconds after infecting a human turns them into a zombie-like maniac out for blood. Fast-forward 28 days and we find our protagonist, Jim (Cillian Murphy) waking up from a coma in a deserted hospital. Jim meets up with a handful of other survivors of the disease in an otherwise abandoned London.
Does this film derive from other work? Certainly. Is, at it's heart, this movie still just a zombie flick? Yes, but it's a damn good one. Every time you think you expect a horror movie cliche to pop out of the woodwork Boyle surprises you and has the characters do the expected believable thing. The reason critics are amazed is because this movie is intelligent, which seperates it from its peers. But that handicapped judging doesn't change the fact that this is a wonderful film.
Based on the S&M comics of Guido Crepax, Baba Yaga is a trippy blur between reality and dreamlife set in swingin' Milan. Made in 1973, it was one of only two feature films directed by Corrado Farina, which is a shame given that he is clearly a man with a vision (maybe not a budget, but definitely a vision). Valentina (model and Euro-starlet Isabelle de Funes) is an attractive fashion photographer who bears an uncanny resemblance to Louise Brooks, partying with models, artists and left-wing intellectuals as the film begins. As she stumbles back to her apartment late that night, after stubbornly insisting to her friends that she walk alone, she encounters a mysterious, elegant, older blonde woman (Carroll Baker of Baby Doll infamy) when she nearly hits Valentina with her Rolls Royce. She is clearly smitted by the young woman, and after insisting on giving her a ride home, she introduces herself simply as "Baba Yaga", takes one of Valentina's garters and disappears into the night.
The unusual meeting gives way to some bizarrely erotic dreams for Valentina, and these dreams are wherein lies some of the film's real innovation, and also, some real confusion.
Nazis, surreal boxing matches, hippies and bondage dolls that come to life a la Der Golem begin popping up so fast, you'll no doubt have to hit the rewind button more than a few times just to see if you missed something! But ultimately, it's the mood of Baba Yaga that is its strong point. It's not quite a horror film, despite the murders and violence, and it's not quite a sex film, despite the nudity and erotic overtones. Furthermore, it is unclear what exactly what underlying political message that Farina is trying to convey with his unsual, yet striking imagery. Creative cinematography, eye-popping sets and costumes, loads of cheesy dialogue, and a funky score by Piero Umiliani all make for great entertainment, even if the plot is mildly incomprehensible.
I like Hoffman, but I can't escape the feeling that he is being given too much credit as an actor. It seems like every critic is raving about him, yet I can't shake the notion that he always plays similar roles. Seeing him as another awkward loser with a problem didn't do anything to help my opinion of him. Fortunately for him, he does an amazing job at playing the loser. Minnie Driver was almost unrecognizable to me as Mahowny's girlfriend Belinda. For me, the stand-out performance, however, was John Hurt, who was just wonderful as an Atlantic City casino boss.
This film did an amazing job of conveying the disconnect inside the head of gambling addicts, ignoring the odds and insisting that they will win big. While the film had some minor melodramatic moments, it also was a fantastic (if not depressing) look into a world that most people never see. It is difficult to see this film and leave the theater happy, but it is still a film worth seeing.
The premise of this movie seems to be this: Colin Farrell is a complete dick to everyone around him, and he gets his comeuppance one day after randomly answering a pay phone which is marked by a sniper. The sniper taunts him and forces him to own up to all the people he has treated like shit. That's the whole movie. If you are reading this, wondering to yourself how that movie could be stretched into 90 minutes, well, after a good 50 minutes in the theater I started thinking the same thing myself. While this film was no Gerry, it was definitely too long and would have been better as a 60 minute TV movie.
I have heard from several ladies and gay men that Colin Farrell is a hottie. It would seem that, since Farrell is pretty much the sole target of the cameras in this film, that if you have a Colin Farrell crush this movie would scratch that itch. Unfortunately, the man can't act, so if you are looking for an enjoyable performance, you won't get it here. This film was due to be released much earlier but was delayed because the studio felt it was too close to the DC sniper killings. Perhaps it needed to be delayed longer so they could make it good, or delayed straight to video.
This is the second week in a row that I am slow on the uptake. Last week's review of Willard came a few weeks after I saw the film. This week's film, "Gangs of New York" came out months ago, but I just got around to seeing it this week. I had been trying to get someone, anyone, to see this film with me, but all of my friends bailed out on me. Most cited the length of the movie, which in my movie snobbery leads me to believe that they don't truly like movies.
Along with the strong, the blessed also survive, as Sam Moore describes himself in this sweaty film from experienced documentarians DA Pennebaker (Monterey Pop, Ziggy Stardust, Don't Look Back, 101) and Chris Hegedus (Down from the Mountain, Startup.com). This film definitely feels like one of Pennebaker's concert films and less like a documentary proper. While there is nothing wrong with seeing concert footage of some amazing performers, it was hard to not feel let down by the lack of depth to this documentary.
Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation seems to have been going downhill the past few years, and this year really sealed the deal for me. I don't think I am going to bother attending next year's screening. The simple problem is this: there isn't enough new stuff for me to continue to send my ticket money their way. This year's flyer advertised "28 New Films! Now With 75% More Than Last Year!" The problem is that with the advent of the Internet, I had already seen the more clever shorts, and the ones that I hadn't seen were lackluster at best.