Monday, June 30, 2008

Reprise (2006)

Erik and Phillip are friends and they are writers. Both write a novel and send it off to a publisher. Overnight, Phillip (right) becomes a success. Erik (left) isn't as lucky, not just yet. Soon after, Phillip has a breakdown and ends up in a psychiatric hospital. Upon his release, he doesn't write. Erik encourages him but Phillip doesn't seem to have it in him any longer. Erik has continued to write, fueled by Phillip's success. Then, their roles of power shift somewhat and the movie takes another turn, rich with love, obsession, admiration and enduring friendship. It's about striving for something and then dealing with the reality which may be different than anticipated.

Watching Reprise is like going to an fantastic party. You show up. It takes time to get started. You engage in some conversations. The party gets rolling and you are having a blast, you're listening to great music, dancing, meeting new folks, exchanging numbers. You know you'll see your new friends again, but wait the party isn't over yet. This movie is long. It might have been shorter but you settle into it quite well, so that when it ends, you wish for it to be mid-swing again. Oh, and the soundtrack is off-the-hook.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

At the end though, you aren't sure what is real and what isn't. Is the ending the story ending or is it really the movie ending? You are left wondering. And, the screenplay writers play tricks on you as well. There's a line in the movie where a famous writer the two characters have greatly admired all their lives, advises Erik not to be too poetic at the end. Is this exactly what the movie does? You decide and let me know.

Themes: friendship, love, writing, success, failure

Director: Joachim Trier

Country: Norway

Genre: Drama

Time: 106 minutes

Scale: 4

The Dog Whisperer (Season 1) (2004)

Many have recommended Cesar Milan's show, The Dog Whisperer. Segment after fascinating segment, he meets people who love their dogs but have lost (or never possessed) control. When Cesar enters the scene, he sits with the dog owners/clients and gets a diagnostic. He learns about the problems and discusses the dog's issues. It's also a time for him to see what the owner and her/his energy/attitude might be bringing to the problem. Next, he takes the dog on a walk to establish a bond and that he, Cesar, is the alpha dog/pack leader. Then, he works his magic.

The segments feature many different types of dogs, some that I've never seen, such as a Chinese Crested Hairless, a Puli and a Swiss Mountain Dog; however, Boston Terriers were not featured. Could it be because they are dreamy, problem-free dogs? I hope so.

Season 1 kicks off with two great segments: Nunu, a tiny, but jealous and possessive Chihuahua. When Milan tries his "finger teeth" technique on Nunu, it's as if Nunu has taken a turn in The Exorcist.

The next segment features King, a gorgeous black Great Dane. Kane has experienced a trauma that has left his owner unable to take him to the school where she teaches (also where the incident took place). Her anxiety is nurturing Kane's anxiety. There's one segment where a dog goes nuts if the phone is answered and when the toaster goes off. Another dog runs obsessively in never-ending circles. One dog chases the light, any light. The issues are seemingly endless.

No matter how serious or unnerving the dogs behave, the owners seem committed to working it out. Often, Cesar is mentioned as the dog's last hope.There are some celebrities that enlist his help. One was a woman who appeared on a Petco commercial with her dog, Jackie Zeman from General Hospital and an Oscar-winning producer. The show is enjoyable but I don't recommend trying to watch an entire season in a short period of time.

David Sedaris Reads @ Elliott Bay (June 23)

I heard about the reading at the very last minute and was surprised he was appearing at cozy Elliott Bay. He packs much larger places so this sounded like a treat. Because photography wasn't allowed, I couldn't snap his photo for the blog. He did sign a copy of his new book, "When You Are Engulfed in Flames."Sedaris_book Our play-by-play interaction as follows:

DS: What's your name?

DM: Diana

DS: What do you do for a living, Diana?

DM: I'm a project manager.

DS (perplexed look): I don't understand anyone's jobs anymore. Tell me you're a prostitute and I'd know what you do.

DM: (Should have made something up.) Sometimes, I don't understand either.

DS: Are you here with anyone?

DM: Yes, my friend Corinn, but she was bashful to meet you.

DS: Yeah, I probably would've ripped her head off.

This was the end. By this point, an older Asian man next in line was elbowing me out of the way and starting with his sycophantic conversation as he unloaded a pile of Sedaris' books for signatures.

Following is what he wrote in my book:Sedaris_book_signed

He read "Of Mice and Men" from his new book and a piece he wrote shortly after this book went to press.

He discussed the concept of priority signing. He recounted that when he read in Denver a few nights earlier, he offered this service to men under 5' 6" and women over 5'10". If you fell under either of these categories, you didn't have to wait to get your book signed, you could move to the front of the line. In Denver, however, as the signing line was near the end, a 5'3" stature man approached. DS asked him why he hadn't taken advantage of the priority signing. The man replied, "I don't want to stand next to them [the 5'10" + women]. It just makes me feel shorter." So, in Seattle the priority seating was updated: still for men under 5'6" but to include women with braces, casts and anything else helping hold them together; no more pri signing for the tall ladies.

He fielded questions, including do funny things happen to you or do you see the funny in ordinary things? He thinks odd things happen to him because he's non-threatening at 5'5" and that people approach him often. Are your parents funny? His dad was funny but his humor was generationally misplaced; it would have been funny back in the day, perhaps? That his mom told great, if not embellished stories. What writers inspire you? Tobias Wolff, Lori Moore...and a few others. He mentioned Wolff at length saying he's always excited to read anything new from him.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

This one is about family and betrayal and I was transfixed. I had been put off by the title. After watching it, I watched the trailer--it didn't do the movie justice, but this one is difficult to pump in trailer format.

Two brothers plot. Powerhouse Phil Seymour Hoffman stars as Andy and Ethan Hawke as younger brother Hank. The brothers are hurting for cash. Andy's lightbulb burns at the idea that their problems would be remedied by robbing an easy target: a mom and pop jewelry shop in the 'burbs. The's their parents' shop. This story has more switchbacks than Witch Mountain!

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

Andy is detached. Hank is insecure and unstable. He's been chided all his life and now, he now believes it and consequently excels at little. His ex and mother of his daughter (played viciously well by Amy Ryan) communicates with frequent yelling, usually about child support owed and usually in front of their daughter, who also treats Dad similarly. Marisa Tomei is Gina, Andy's wife. Their relationship is frayed and she's got a secret.

When the robbery is botched, the brothers hold it together but their loose ends prove problematic. Albert Finney plays their father. He's introduced later in the film...last but not least.

Hawke and Hoffman create so much tension, they almost combust opposite each other. Some scenes are shot from each character's perspective, such as: Hank: Three days before the robbery and motivations begin to make sense. One of my favorite moments is when Andy has just committed a shocking crime in front of Hank. Hank is aghast. Andy barks at Hank: "Are we good?" The expression that takes over Hank's face captures the the irony.

I was stunned to learn that my friend Corinn thought the movie was awful. She said the characters lacked reedeeming qualities and that she was unable to relate to any of them. This may have been exactly why I loved this movie. The characters are flawed and as the plot unfolds and you learn more about them, you understand what's making them tick. They have serious financial problems, but the money seemed symbolic for the real issue--perhaps a lack of love and acceptance.

Don't miss the DVD extra where the actors and director discuss the making of. You get lots of insightful tidbits about the plot.

Themes: Betrayal, sibling rivalry, financial problems, fraud crime

Director: Sidney Lumet (genius behind Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico)

Country: US

Genre: Suspense-Thriller/Melodrama

Time: 117 minutes

Scale: on 1-5, a 6!...I love Lumet!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

2008 Fremont Summer Solstice Parade (June 21)

Seattle should instill a regional holiday to celebrate the summer solstice, especially in light of recent weather happenings--snow in April, heating and winter coats necessary in June--a summer not yet arrived.

When you consider that the official summer solstice (officially 6/20) is the longest day of the year, that means we are creeping back toward shorter days when we haven't yet even cracked real summer weather.

I'll steer away from gloom and bleakness and report on the parade. According to the Fremont Arts Council, this is the 20th year of the parade. Always festive, fun and crowded, this year was no exception. The weather, while lacking sun, was humid and not cold. This year's parade wasn't as spectacular as in years' past...what with large gaps at times between acts or floats and not that many participants. Following are highlights. Enjoy!

Bus ride to parade

Marge & Brigit_bus

Brent & Brigit

Waiting for parade start

Batman chasing Joker


Bubbles and PJs

El Sol


Large Hand


Lion Boy-King

Back of Lion Boy-King Float

Dragon Mast

Belly Dancers a la Pink

More Pink Ladies

Zombie Rights Group

Smurf Daddy


More DDM

Where's Waldo?

Will Robinson & his Robots

Here Come the Dancing Horses

Tech Collisions

Cheney on Holiday

Problems with Bert

Truth about 2008

Truth Pt 2

More Music

Festive Dancing Pirates

Scary Monkey

The Walls Have Turned@ G&D

Other Side of Wallers

Brigit & Brent @ G&D

Lighter Note

G&D Times

Ankle Sprain Aftermath

Ankle Sprain Aftermath Pt 2

Ankle Aftermath Pt 3

Longford (2006)

If you sign up for this one, do your homework. This HBO movie doesn't provide much background information on the crimes of child killers Myra Hindley (played by the always terrific Samantha Morton) and Ian Brady (creepily well acted by Andy Serkis). Instead, this movie picks up once Hindley and Brady have been incarcerated.

She writes to Lord Longford to see if he will help her to arrange a visit to see Brady. He agrees instead to help campaign to get her out of prison after serving her time (movie takes place in 60s and in the UK, murderers were usually eligible for parole after 7-8 years), but he advises her to break all contact with Brady. The movie presents an interesting fact: because society wasn't used to women committing crimes against children, Hindley was reviled; she had destroyed the image of the mother who was supposed to protect.

Jim Broadbent brings it as Lord Longford. Morton and Broadbent ignite the chemistry when sharing the screen, as do Broadbent and Serkis (sadly Morton and Serkis don't share any scenes).

While "based on" events, you get a compelling story. The best detail is the psychology behind all the motivations. Is Myra a hysteric as Brady tells Longford? Is she using Longford for her own gain or has she really found God again with his help? Broadbent creates a complex character with integrity. He plays a true Christian but he pays a price and really, it's a gift to watch the acting in this movie. However, the subject matter is graphic and intense. You must be in correct mood for this, that is, ready for bleak, disturbing and dark.

Themes: child murders, incarceration, retirement issues

Director: Tom Hooper

Country: England

Genre: Drama based on actual events

Time: 93 minutes

Scale: 4.5

The Beach (2000)

For years, The Beach had been on my movie list. I'd enjoyed the book by Alex Garland. I figured a film featuring backpacking characters would serve up something decent, in spite of the terrible reviews. I got it from the library (which only had it on VHS). I liked Leonardo DiCaprio back when he was in his Gilbert Grape, Basketball Diaries, This Boy's Life phase, but as he ages, the movies choices he makes leave me wistful for the Leo from Indiewood (although I loved The Departed).

The movie start is promising. Leo's character, Richard, has just arrived in Bankok, ready to start his backpacking trip. The movie captures the feelings of being on your own in a foreign land: the excitement of meeting folks, the assault upon your senses by new smells, languages and ways of life. He covets Françoise (Virginie Ledoyen), the French girl staying at same boarding house. He meets fellow traveler, Daffy (Robert Carlyle), who tells him about a secret island paradise, even providing a map. When Daffy suddenly offs himself, Richard invites the French bird and her French boyfriend to join him on his adventure to find this fantasy island that may or may not exist. But, guess what? It does exist and they find it. That's when this movie turns into a Thailand Tourism Bureau propaganda film. The landscape is lovely but the plot is flimsy. There's some drama from Tilda Swinton, as the queen bee of paradise, but  even Tilda can't save this mess of a movie.

Themes: backpacking, island life, friendship, travel romance, cults

Director: Danny Boyle (how could you mislead us so after Trainspotting?)

Genre: Confused drama

Time: 118 minutes

Scale: 3 (not horrible, but fizzles into a shambles)

The Ten (2007)

I don't get it. Skimming the ensemble cast (including Liev Schreiber, Winona Ryder, Paul Rudd, Oliver Platt, Justin Theroux, Bobby Cannavale) alone sold me on this movie. I was expecting it to be convulsively funny. Or just funny. Why would these actors ever read this script and sign on? It was awful. Crass, offensive and violent. There are a few spots where I chuckled. I was compelled to watch it all, perhaps in hopes that it would redeem itself. How could no one have conducted an intervention on the making of this film?

Here's the skinny...Paul Rudd is your "guy-on-the-street" type announcer. He introduces the 10 skits inspired by each of the commandments. The first one was so odd, I was able to squeeze some enjoyment out of it. Then, it wildly deteriorates. For example, Winona Ryder's acting was excellent but her character falls in love with a ventriloquist's dummy, not the man guiding the dummy but the dummy itself--they even have a sex's embarrassing.

The only thing I'm happy about is that I got this one from the library. Paying to see this one would have been like paying to scrape a smashed up hot dog off the ground and eating the remains after hoards of people and animals have trampled it. It's that bad.

I almost recommend it so that someone can enlighten me on how this "piece of crapola" ever got funding, actors and an opening-night premiere (must have been an uncomfortable 95 minutes or they paid people to laugh).


Themes: bad movies, 10 commandments

Director: David Wain

Country: US

Genre: Wanna-Be Comedy

Time: 95 minutes

Scale: 1.5

Emmanuel Jal: War Child (2008)

The SIFF ended on Sunday, June 15. The last film of my 2008 festival experience seemed fitting for a grand finale.

Emmanuel was a child soldier in Sudan during the religious civil war of the 80s and 90s. This is his story. This poignant documentary traces the hell he waded through, the luck that struck him when he may not have made it otherwise and how music has helped him through it all. As he leads us through his incredible story of survival, he is serene but his sadness is palpable.

Now a successful hip hop performer living in the UK, none of his music contains profanity. Instead he raps about what he's lived through, his country's struggles and his Africa--with a goal to unite.

Watching this 93-minute film, you realize he can't possibly detail all the horrors he experienced, but I was in awe at how he did it. I'm amazed at his ability to forgive and also to move on and grow. He hasn't forgotten about his people either. You see his efforts to help his family live well. You see him help build a school in his hometown.

There are a few gaps in this documentary that left me in the dark about how he got from a few places but overall, it was an experience that spotlighted a person's ability to overcome and survive against enormous odds. You see how little our country does for Africa. With our focus on the Middle East, you don't always hear about the starvation, child soldiers and people caught up in wars that don't revolve around oil.

Themes: war, music, survival, child abandonment

Director: C. Karim Chrobog

Country: US

Genre: Documentary

Time: 93 minutes

Scale: 4

4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) (2007)

College student Gabita wants to end her unplanned pregnancy, but this is 1987 Communist Romania and abortion is illegal. She asks her roommate and fellow student Otilia to accompany her. You don't actually see Gabita posing the question, but you hear Otilia utter, "Okay." This is how the movie opens. At this point, Otilia has no idea what this mere utterance will really mean. While Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) is the one seeking the abortion, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) is the main character and her acting is so strong here, that much of it is done without words.

4 Months has no soundtrack. It is shot in long scenes that make the movie feel like one take. The story takes its time and provides ample dialogue (characteristics common in non-US films), which surprisingly keep the events, occurring in the span of one day, captivating.

4 Months doesn't get caught up in the moral issue muck, nor does it try to lighten the topic. Rather, it takes the character's decision and moves on pragmatically.  The plot moves forward with the planning steps the women (mostly Otilia) must follow, which prove to be tougher than expected. It affects Otilia's relationship with Gabita and her relationship with her boyfriend, Adi. You get the sense that her life will never be the same.

This is a tremendous, important film. It is honestly disturbing, contains some brutal scenes and the acting is so good that you, too, experience the toll the plot takes on its characters.

Themes: life under Communism, abortion, friendship

Director: Cristian Mungiu

Country: Romania

Genre: Drama

Time: 113 minutes

Scale: 5