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Shared Darkness

A Communal Life in Film, Examined

Zodiac

Zodiac is part brooding investigative ensemble, part journalistic procedural in the vein of All the President’s Men. Fincher’s least stylistically ambitious work to date, as well as his most mature, Zodiac is a strikingly well stitched together vivisection of crime and obsession, marked by a painstaking, novelistic richness that showcases the heavy existential toll of the pursuit of punishment.

The film’s actual violence is relatively minimal, but frontloaded and grimly depicted. Fincher captures the sudden and arbitrary nastiness of these acts, and they carry an awful wallop and enduring influence that hang menacingly over the rest of the film, which exhaustively but thrillingly chronicles the official efforts of two San Francisco homicide detectives, Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo, above) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), as well as the amateur investigations of reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) and San Francisco Chronicle editorial cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal). For the full review, from Screen International, click here. (Paramount, R, 158 minutes)

“That’s Sienna… Ms. Miller if you’re nasty…”

Of all the myriad, funnily named crayons in the jumbo-sized Crayola
boxes that graced the grubby, communal tables of musty, elementary
after-school programs, I remember the hue for “Burnt Sienna” with
unerring clarity
. A ruddy mixture of orange, brown and red, it recalled
the type of thick clay found around Eastern seaboard construction sites — the sort that would streak and stain pavement with the rain, leaving
thick tire marks of accompaniment for blocks in either direction. And
if you accidentally stepped in it and didn’t soon find a wet patch of
grass to work it off your shoe, well, it was bound to travel with you
and then leave its mark on your parents’ or friends’ carpet.

Similarly,
Factory Girl actress Sienna Miller leaves a distinctive mark. A rising starlet who
first made her name — or, more accurately, had it foisted upon her — as
Jude Law’s girlfriend, initially onscreen in Alfie,
then offscreen and throughout the tabloids, Miller is now making her
way in Hollywood sans romantic entanglements, thank you very much
. Or
trying to, at least. For the full feature interview, from FilmStew, click here.

The Heart of the Game


The Heart of the Game is a documentary that charts a
seven-year span in the life of Seattle’s
Roosevelt High School
women’s basketball coach, Bill Resler (above right). Initially, filmmaker Ward Serrill had
intended to produce a modest film documenting a single season. The team that
year had a talented roster, but the main draw was their eccentric new head
coach. Still, while it was a successful year, Serrill didn’t feel he had quite enough
material for a full-length documentary, and so he continued chronicling the girls
into the following year, a decision that paid off when incoming freshman
Darnellia Russell joined the team.

The majority of the film is dedicated to star Russell’s
tumultuous five-year high school career. There are several highlights on the
court, but Russell’s off-the-court problems nearly sidetrack her aspirations. Though supremely talented, Russell’s quick temper, inattentiveness and other self-destructive behavior threatens to compromise her athletic eligibility. Ever
passionate, Resler continually reaches at working and inspiring his players on what
is, apart from Russell, otherwise a fairly mediocre team. He uses Russell as an instrument of sorts, and as she responds, so too do those around her.

Since it pulls at heartstrings and concerns basketball, the
obvious comparison is to Hoop Dreams, but while The Heart of the
Game
 is an inspirational look at what perseverance and dedication can
accomplish, it isn’t tempered with quite as many salient secondary storylines,
and neither does it feel like a snapshot of an untainted moment, as that
aforementioned film now does in a world where high school recruiting
information is disseminated on the Internet in the blink of an eye. Interestingly,
the movie glancingly recalls Ryan Gosling’s Half
Nelson
, insomuch as
it presents a somewhat atypical mentor-mentee relationship. The pitiless muddied
absolutes of that movie, though, are traded in for more familiar uplift, making
The Heart of the Game a movie certainly
as much for habitual viewers of ABC’s
Extreme
Makeover
as regular sports fans.

Housed in a regular Amray case, the movie is presented in
1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1
surround sound track and a Spanish language Dolby digital 2.0 track. Optional
subtitles in English and French are also available. Hearteningly, though
perhaps not surprisingly, The Heart of
the Game
also includes a slate of supplemental extras which play up
audience reaction to and interaction with the film
, including footage of
promotional screenings from around the country, attended by Russell and Resler.
Director Serrill, meanwhile, provides an informative audio commentary track
full of information on bit players and supporting characters in the movie, and
there are also around a dozen or so of the many, many scenes that Serrill hacked his way through in trimming down several hundred hours of footage to a 97-minute running time. B (Movie) B+ (Disc)

An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth
surely had some folks casting their minds back to the election year of
2000, and wondering what might have been. For Gore, though — who
good-naturedly poked fun at rumors of a presidential bid launch in
front of a worldwide audience of more than one billion in a staged bit
in which his mock announcement was interrupted by the Oscar orchestra —
it’s the future that’s on his mind, not the past. And in this regard, An Inconvenient Truth delivers a mightily damning indictment of our collective stasis on the issue of global warming. For the full DVD review, from IGN, click here.

Scorsese Hooks Up with Jagger

Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese will team up
with rock ’n’ roll icon Mick Jagger to direct and produce The Long Play
for Paramount Pictures, it
was announced today. Re-teaming Scorsese with The Departed scripter Bill Monahan, the film will be set in the
world of the music business, and span over three decades.

The movie — which Jagger and Victoria Pearman will produce,
along with Scorsese — is based on an original idea of Jagger’s, though he
is not expected to appear in a starring role, much to the consternation of fans
of Freejack and 1997’s Bent.

Scorsese recently entered into a four-year, first-look deal
with Paramount Pictures to direct and produce entertainment across all
platforms, including feature films, made-for-DVD works, digital content and
television for both Paramount and its indie arm, Paramount Vantage. Jagger and
Scorsese recently collaborated on a feature-length, yet-to-be-titled Rolling
Stones concert documentary
 shot at The Beacon Theater in New
York
, and set to be released later this autumn.

Happy Birthday, Erinn Bartlett

Kate Hudson’s sister-in-law. Or maybe that’s the other way around — maybe she celebrates being Kate Hudson’s sister-in-law by having her 34th birthday today. Or maybe by being hot. Or buying an extra consonant for her name.

I’m sorry… what were we talking about?

Journey to the End of the Night

Journey to the End of the Night is a
gritty, passably persuasive, sin’s-underbelly crime thriller about an illegal narcotics deal gone
wrong. Two Americans living in exile, Rosso Sinatra (Scott Glenn) and his bitter
adult son Paul (Brendan Fraser), have spent the last several years carving out
a living in Brazil
running a nightclub-brothel, but the margins seem to be shrinking and each harbors
dreams of getting out of the business once and for all.

One night, it seems their prayers are answered when a
customer leaves behind a suitcase in the club that contains the means for Rosso
and Paul to change their collective fates. The potential end results make this eying
of a one-time drug deal seem lucrative. Rosso makes plans to take his beautiful
young wife, ex-prostitute Angie (Catalina Sandino Moreno, above left), to start over in a new
city
far away, along with their 5-year-old child
together, Lazare. Paul, meanwhile, wants to escape mounting debts and an
escalating cocaine habit, as well as finally be rid of his father, whom he
despises and blames for almost all of his problems. The X-factor is his own involvement with Angie — yep, it’s
one of those types of relationships. Further
mixed up in all of this is Nigerian immigrant kitchen worker Webma (Mos Def, above right), who’s
recruited by Rosso to take the place of the original drug mule and navigate the
perilous, nocturnal gauntlet of Sao Paulo. But to whom will his allegiance ultimately
tilt?

Helmed by Manito
director Eric Eason, Journey to the End
of the Night
benefits from its maker’s keen eye for sweaty travelogue detail
and mood
. There’s actually a pinch of the same sort of world-weariness and
Spartan intrigue on display in Frasor’s own The
Quiet American
, but this movie amps things up to a considerable degree, and
Frasor’s performance is a bit too loud, comparatively speaking. I didn’t really
buy into the overly dramatic father-son stakes in the film; it’s too hazily
pitched. The movie is otherwise nicely acted, though, and cinematographer Ulrich Burtin (Red Carpet) shoots an interesting frame. While the story is a familiar one, it’s these elements that hold one’s attention.

Delivered with a Dolby digital 5.1 audio track and in a
widescreen anamorphic presentation, the disc’s transfer impressively captures
the movie’s rather dim and dank visual palette — which is in and of itself an
outwardly manifested metaphor for the dangerous, loathsome and conflicted inner
workings of its characters. A simple making-of featurette is the only DVD
supplemental extra
, providing EPK-type chats with actors and a handful of the
behind-the-scenes players, like Eason and Burtin. Previews for other First Look
DVD releases round things out. B- (Movie) B- (Disc)

Soup of the Day

The popularity of YouTube and other video-sharing sites can
be credited to the idea of “audience empowered entertainment,”
a somewhat new
and still not wholly formed notion, but one that’s not hard to grasp. You can watch
a clip when you want, and decide when you’ve had enough. Forget quaint old
notions of “appointment television”
— this gives you the viewer control of your
own appointment calendar and vast multimedia catalogue.

Still, episodic web-based series are in their infancy, and
figuring out both a business model and ways to try to incorporate viewers’
expectations and interests into their product. An interesting experiment in
this realm, then, comes in the form of Soup
of the Day
, a free-flowing narrative show
that took its lead character’s social
blogging on MySpace.com and used that to help inform his relationship decisions.
In 2006, the series attracted almost nine million online views.

Directed by Scott Zakarin (a producer of Comic Book: The Movie and executive producer of
the reality series Kill Reality for
E! Entertainment Television), Soup of the
Day
was loosely co-scripted by Zakarin with writer-producer Rob Cesternino,
who first wedged his foot into the entertainment industry by appearing on Survivor: Amazon. The series centers
around nice guy photographer Brandon Craig (Jon Crowley, of The Jigsaw of Life), a regular guy who accidentally
stumbles into concurrent “monogamous relationships” with three very different women
: tough
gal Wendy (Patty Wortham), an undercover cop; free-spirited Franki (Tina Molina),
the host of a popular Internet show called Missleblast;
and his photo editor boss Monique (Catherine Reitman, daughter of director Ivan,
and possessing his same big, sleepy eyes). Brandon
knows he must eventually choose between them, but he finds himself genuinely
enjoying the company of all three, and confused as to how to proceed.

Craig is a so-so guide, a decent enough chap, and there are
certainly some interesting scenarios of flagellation constructed here. Honestly,
though, a lot of the rest of the acting is uneven; it’s Reitman who really
scores as the assertive Monique
(she has Craig photograph her nether regions on
their first “date”), and you find yourself wishing other characters were
jettisoned entirely. The main thrill of Soup
of the Day
must have been in following it serially online, and that adventure
is obviously dented here in its captured form on DVD. The main problem of this
construct, it seems to me, is that audience members might respond to a portion
of a show, but find certain characters (which is to say, bluntly, actors)
unappealing, and then lead a rebellion of sorts that — if you’re a producer hell-bent
on trying to maintain a core audience — impacts your show in largely unforeseen ways.

The full-length feature film version of Soup of the Day collects what I gather are its first 19 episodes, but
the nicest thing about its commercial release might be the approximately three
hours of bonus footage the double-disc DVD set offers up
. Supplemental extras kick
off with a 35-minute documentary that lays out the ambitious conceit of the
show, and details its off-camera assemblage
. Also included are bloopers and
deleted scenes, a filmmaker commentary audio track, cast interviews (consisting
of both in-character footage and straight, off-set material), audition clips, and
never-before-seen alternate endings. I’m not entirely sold on Soup of the Day
as is, in its current form, but there are some interesting things being done on
the Internet, and this effort certainly reflects that. C+ (Movie) A- (Disc)

Hawkwind: Out of the Shadows

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from English rockers Hawkwind, of whom I’d only passingly heard prior to this disc. I kept thinking of U2’s “Hawkmoon 269,” to be honest, and the kooky, sci-fi cover to this concert release offered forth no secrets — it just seemed reminiscent of some old, discarded Yes or Journey conceptual art.

So in went Out of the Shadows and out come an aggressive, druggy Blue Oyster Cult-type synth-metal, with progressive rock trappings. Dense keyboard textures and overlapping guitars are the driving force, in other words. OK, fine, but it’s still all a bit mezzo-mezzo, in my opinion. The amplitude, musicianship and in-unison riffs are solid, but strong melodic arrangements aren’t necessarily Hawkwind’s strong point, and that’s eventually a bit of a distraction or bore for me.

Recorded from an early December 2002 show at the Newcastle Opera House in Newcastle, England, this 14-song set offers up quite a show, clocking in at more than two hours. The complete track listing is as follows: “Aero Space Age Inferno,” “Angels of Death,” “Out of the Shadows,” “Time Captives,” “Master of the Universe,” “The Song of the Gremlins,” “Time & Confusion,” “Hurry on Sundown,” “Lighthouse,” “The Watcher,” “Assassins of Allah” (surely a strong contender for the closing theme of the next Republican National Convention), “Earth Calling,” “Sonic Space Attack” and “Silver Machine.”

Fronted by founding member Dave Brock, Hawkwind has, through the years,
featured a revolving-door roster, and this is evident in some of the music, which comes across as a sum of parts rather than a codifying whole. Motorhead’s Lemmy — a figure with
whom I was more familiar — was apparently a member and driving
creative force for a time, around for their seminal effort In Search of Space and 1975 follow-up Warrior on the Edge of Time, which provide a couple of tunes herein. Presented with a solid 5.1 surround sound mix, Out of the Shadows is, I reckon, a decent offering for loyal, longtime fans, and it includes an interview with Brock as well. It’s a shame, though, that there’s not a more proper reunion on tap with all of the original and/or important creative forces in the band. That might really be something. C (Concert) B- (Disc)

The Number 23

The Number 23, a stylish if definitely murky thriller about one
man’s downward descent into geometric fixation and madness. The film
intriguingly flits around the edges of loopy susceptibility that go hand in
hand with obsession and compulsion, but ultimately delivers more on mood than
satisfying substance
. Debut screenwriter Fernley Phillips creates an effectively colorful
and suspicion-tinged framework for one man’s frenzied quest, but poorly
delineates the specifics of the script’s investigative aspects. For the full review, from Screen International, click here.

Reverend Ted Baehr, Film Critic

So it seems little “Teddy” Baehr — reverend, cultural crusader and chairman of the Christian
Film & Television Commission, whose reviews on Movieguide.org are aimed
squarely at the Christian right — has taken aim at the foolish notion that war has a human toll on each side of the line. (To link to the original story from the Kansas City Star, click here.)

Baehr, who in the past has warned parents to protect their children from “the evil occult power of Harry Potter,” recently took to task Clint
Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated Letters from Iwo Jima — a look at the
World War II battle as experienced by Japanese soldiers — for ignoring “the
terrible horrors that Japanese soldiers inflicted in places like Manchuria,
Nanking, Korea
and the Philippines.”
He railed against Eastwood for promoting “some kind of politically correct,
misguided liberal notion of fairness and pacifism,”
and then added, “No wonder the politically
correct Los Angeles Film Critics Association thinks Letters is the best movie
of the year.”

As a member of said called-out organization, I can say yes, it’s completely true — we are politically correct. Totally. Still, Baehr has hated us for years, dating back to at least the turn of the millennium, and our controversial decision to honor Michael Douglas’ performance in Wonder Boys over Kirk Cameron’s turn in Left Behind. Again, to link to the original story, click here.

Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider is not very good seems like a
fool’s exercise, especially now. After all, it’s easy to decry the
messenger, especially when a movie’s Presidents’ Day weekend release
generates a record-setting gross of $51.5 million. Still, the subgenre
of comic book adaptations needn’t automatically lend itself to critical
derision
, as the warm critical embrace of the Spider-Man films, Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot or even the more mixed but passionate critics’ defenses of graphic novel flicks like V For Vendetta and Sin City fittingly demonstrate.

Ghost Rider, though, is a glossy, big-budget affair that in almost every significant way behind
the camera — and in more than a few ways in front of it — feels like
both a fatally compromised and hopelessly amateurish production
. This
is the type of film which the actors involved carefully describe in press junkets and interviews as “a lot of fun” rather than good. They talk about how much they enjoyed making it instead of how they’re proud of it. For the full review from FilmStew, including reactions of a paying general audience, click here.

Live at the Rock ’n’ Roll Palace

The first two volumes of this compendium concert series, presented separately in their own Amray cases, offer forth a nice array of classic rock tunes for the nostalgia-rabid, concert-loving boomer or, alternately, the ones that didn’t/couldn’t get out of their house and down to their local venue at the time.

While James Brown, Little Richard, Elvis Presley and (to a much lesser extent) the Beatles were tearing up the charts but also catching head-on flak for corrupting the country’s minors, many artists here (the baby-faced Bobby Vee, for instance, and Tommy Sands, derided by edgier deejays for years as “Tommy Blands”) were viewed as safe, relatively wholesome alternatives — proof that rock ’n’ roll wasn’t going to completely unravel the moral fabric of America. While cover groups like The Diamonds (“Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” “Church Bells Are Ringing”) could never be accused of being ground-breakingly original, they were certainly a solid act in their heyday, and their presence here — alongside highly skilled and under-regarded craftsmen like The Crickets, who would continue to perform as a collective after the tragic death of frontman Buddy Holly — is certainly welcome and not entirely unwarranted.

The first volume, housed behind a turquoise jukebox slipcover, contains, among other acts, The Coasters and Del Shannon, The Tokens, Jive Five and The Dixie Cups alongside the aforementioned Sands. Of these, it’s probably the Coasters (“Yakety Yak,” “Young Blood”) and the Tokens (the amusingly forthrightly-titled and double-edged “Tonight I Feel I’m in Love” as well as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which still holds up) that come across best, though there’s a soft spot in my heart as well for the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love,” which was a favorite song of an aunt of mine.

The second volume, mirroring the cover of the first release but with pea-green shading, kicks off with Sands, who cycles through “Teenage Crush” and “The Beat Goes On.” Ex-Drifter Johnny Thunder (a less frequently mentioned inspiration for Eddie Murphy’s James “Thunder” Early in Dreamgirls, but part of the amalgamation, alongside James Brown and Little Richard) scores with “Suzi Q” and “Loop de Loop,” followed by the previously mentioned Vee, the Diamonds, the little known Johnny Tillotson (“Earth Angel,” “It Keeps Right on Hurting”), inarguable highlight the Crickets (“That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue”) and saxophonist show closer Ace Cannon.

Recorded at the Rock ’n’ Roll Palace in Orlando, these concerts are latter-day affairs, meaning there’s a slight whiff of mothball melancholy already attached to certain performances, and not the heady contact high of some of their original inceptions. While there are unfortunately no supplemental extras, each disc runs approximately 60 minutes, and comes presented on a region-free disc, meaning that these hits of yesteryear are set to travel and A-OK for worldwide play. B- (Concerts) C- (Discs)

Cinematographers Honor Lubezki, Children of Men

On the heels of his recent Best Cinematography feting from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for his work in Children of Men, Emmanuel Lubezki took top honors in the feature film competition last night at the 21st annual American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Outstanding Achievement Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel.

This is the first ASC Award for Lubezki, who was nominated along with Dick Pope, for The Illusionist; Dean Semler, for Apocalypto; Robert Richardson, for The Good Shepherd; and Vilmos Zsigmond, for The Black Dahlia. The award was presented by Tim Allen, who noted, “All of these artists contributed their talent for writing with light and motion to each story.”

Charlize Theron, meanwhile, presented Allen Daviau — an Oscar nominee for films like E.T., The Color Purple, The Empire of the Sun and Bugsy — with the Lifetime Achievement Award, while the ASC John Alonzo Heritage Award — named in honor of the cinematographer of such classics as Harold and Maude, Norma Rae and Scarface — was presented to a pair of student filmmakers, Brian Melton from the North Carolina School of the Arts and Lyle Vincent from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. For more information, visit American Society of Cinematographers’ Web site.

Hiroshima No Pika

It’s ironic that “art” in the traditional sense (that is,
sculptures, paintings and the like) is so infrequently glimpsed through the
lens of today’s predominate mass art form, cinema. Hiroshima No Pika remedies that, tackling its serious subject
matter with a grace, sensitivity and beauty. Based on an award-winning
children’s book by Japanese artist Toshi Maruki and her husband Iri, and
narrated by Susan Sarandon, the short film uses arresting watercolor
illustrations to tell the story of a young girl and her family who survive
through the atomic bombing of Hiroshima
.

While the horrific reality of the events of August 6, 1945
serve as the backdrop, it’s Maruki’s eye for lyrical detail — both dark and
pained, and hopeful — that articulates the humanity of the event
, and makes a
stirring and even family-friendly case for its future avoidance at all costs.
Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” is a
good stylistic leaping off point of comparison, though Maruki’s compositions
exhibit a fluidity that exemplifies her training and familiarity with Western
oil painting. Director Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s camera ducks and pushes in on
Maruki’s art, and the narration — while not overly graphic — doesn’t pull many
punches. It paints a clear, succinct view of the city and its seven rivers, and
the terrible flash that pierced the morning sky upon impact; moving, too, are
images of children running to the water with their eyes fused shut. Clocking in
at 25 minutes, Hiroshima No Pika is a
mere morsel, but a powerful and affecting one
.

Any reflection of the film must begin with the fact that
both Toshi Maruki and her husband survived the bombing, and paint all their
work from firsthand memories of its effect and aftermath. Blended reds and
grays dance around the edges, invading the safety and sanctity of the thin
white canvases
on which they work and creating a deep sense of unease and a
disquieting rumination on mortality. It goes without saying that the magnitude
of human suffering in the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and, two days
later, Nagasaki is inherently distressing, but Hiroshima No Pika creates its own powerfully sustainable expression
of universally relatable personal grief.

DVD release extras are considerable, starting with the inclusion of
the jointly billed, Academy Award-nominated 1986 documentary Hellfire, from director John Junkerman (Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in Our Times)
and executive producer John Dower. A 58-minute look at the Marukis and their
heralded Hiroshima murals, this is an invaluable companion piece to Hiroshima No Pika, offering as it does
intimate footage of the pair at work and them meeting with local press to
discuss their memories of the bombing and their lives’ work. Other supplemental
material includes a photo gallery which viewers can toggle through, biographies
of both subjects and filmmakers, and a list of activist-oriented web sites that
can point you in the right direction when you are suitably roused to action. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. B
(Movie) B (Disc)

Inland Empire Interview and Q&A Clips

director David Lynch’s self-release of the film through his production company Absurda, these video clips of the filmmaker and members of his reparatory company at the movie’s AFI Fest premiere last fall provide either tantalizing glimpses forward or a few interesting glimpses back for fans.

Excerpts of the Q&A with Lynch, Laura Dern and Justin Theroux, moderated by Shaz Bennett, are notable for Lynch’s jocular tone. For a more impressionistic pass, check out the music-set montage of arrival, red carpet and party room mingling. A straight interview with Theroux may be the most interesting of the pieces; he talks some about seeing Lynch’s Blue Velvet as a teenager. Of course, if you want more, read my chat with Theroux from last summer by clicking here.

101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men

We know what makes The
Boys in the Band
a gay movie. But why is Mommie Dearest gay? Or Fight Club?
Or Jackass? On Wednesday, February
21, at 7:30 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre
, in collaboration with DIVA (Diverse
and Inclusive Visionary Artists), author and film journalist Alonso Duralde provides
a glimpse into how he crafted the list for his book, 101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men.

Through images and discussion,
Duralde will demonstrate that a movie can be considered “queer” without having
any specific homosexual content
. Join Duralde as he discusses a broad range of
favorites including Boom!, Showgirls, Valley of the Dolls, The
Women
, Tongues Untied, Dog Day Afternoon, Swoon, Female Trouble, Bound, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and many more. A reception will be held after
the event, sponsored by Absolut.

Bridge to Terabithia

Based on Katherine Paterson’s popular Newbery Award-winning novel of the same name,
Bridge to Terabithia is part family drama, part adolescent fantasy — a
wonderful little movie about friendship, as well as about the power and exhilaration of
a blossoming imagination
.

Zathura’s Josh Hutcherson (above, right) stars as Jess, a reserved 11-year-old who’s a bit
of an outsider at school and home as well. When he strikes up a
friendship with the quirky new girl in town (AnnaSophia Robb, of
Because of Winn-Dixie), together they create a secret, magical kingdom that serves as their joint escape. There they play-act a series of fantastical escapades
against figurative representations of school bullies and, in the
process, change each other for the better. The movie mines a deep reservoir of genuine feeling that’s often missing
in adolescent entertainment, combining it with just the right amount of
sensory pleasures
. For a short review of the film, from CityBeat, click here. Alternately, for a longer look at the movie and Walden Media’s new lock on kids’ lit, in a piece from FilmStew, click here.

C.R.A.Z.Y.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y. explores the triumph and beauty of acceptance, both of
oneself and others. Spanning two decades, the film chronicles the life of young
gay male Zac (Marc-André Grondin), focusing on the contentious relationship he
has with his father Gervais (Michel Côté). The pain they endure, the lessons
they teach one another and, ultimately, the love they exude for one another helped
make this heart-warming coming-of-age film a smash hit in its native
French-speaking Canada
,
ringing up over $5 million in theatrical receipts.

Zachary Beaulieu was born on Christmas Day in 1960, a symbolic
blessing indicative of his power to heal, according to his very Catholic mother (Danielle Poulx). Of his five sons, Gervais seems to favor Zac over the others, but Zac’s birth date
is just one of many things that set him apart from his siblings. When Gervais begins
to witness unusual behavior in his son at an early age (including Zac’s preference
for his mother’s clothing), their relationship undergoes a change; he becomes distant
and disdainful of him, an aversion that Zac will spend the rest of his
childhood trying to overcome. Zac still shows signs of those tendencies through
his teenage years (such as his David Bowie-style glam-rock look), but his
father’s conservative values push him to repress his sexuality for a long time.
As Zac ultimately moves towards self-actualization, Gervais must also come to
grips with the reality about his son, and grapple with acceptance of his
lifestyle.

C.R.A.Z.Y. was a
sensation on the festival circuit, playing at the Toronto International Film
Festival, picking up an audience award at AFI Fest, and winning 10 Genie Awards
including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Côté). It’s easy to see why. The film is nicely acted, and superbly constructed by Vallée. (Much praise has also
rightly been given to the eclectic soundtrack of the movie, which ranges from Pink
Floyd and the Rolling Stones to Patsy Cline and David Bowie, and a European friend of mine recently mentioned was a club re-mix staple in Amsterdam). The only big knock on the movie is that its script is a bit repetitive and married to structural clichés, in that it elongates the arc of sibling bickering to such a degree that resolution feels forestalled instead of worked through and arrived at. Still, there’s some fine work here, if one is inclined to be interested in coming-out stories.

Presented in a regular Amray case, in 1:85 anamorphic widescreen
and with a French language Dolby digital 5.1 sound, C.R.A.Z.Y.
comes with English subtitles, obviously. There are unfortunately no supplemental DVD extras to distinguish this disc. B- (Movie) D (Disc)

Infamous

Every once in a while, slightly more often than a blue moon, Hollywood
turns out similar films
. Sometimes, though, the thematic overlap is
considerable, and the lapsed time between windows of release quite
small. Such is the case with Infamous, the second of two movies
within a little over a year to concentrate on author Truman Capote and
the penning of his “nonfiction novel” masterwork, In Cold Blood. As such, Infamous feels a bit like a late-arriving guest who
shows up wearing the exact same fashionable, boutique-bought dress or
snakeskin jacket that an earlier partygoer already received heartfelt
compliments on
. For the full DVD review, from IGN, click here.

Martha Reeves

American
Idol this season, if it hasn’t already), and if it fails to lift a sour
mood for at least two-and-a-half minutes then one is certifiably one hardcore grump.

No surprise, then, that it’s that tune that serves as the
kick-off treat and centerpiece to this concert disc
(it’s actually performed twice). But Reeves was no one-hit
wonder. Her act, Martha and the Vandellas, were one of Motown Records’ earliest
and most exciting girl groups — a more and edgy forceful alternative to the airy lift of
the Supremes
. Their first hit was their second release, a beat ballad called “Come
Get These Memories” that represented Holland-Dozier-Holland’s first
collaboration as a songwriting team, hit #3 on the R&B charts in 1963.
Other smashes soon followed, including “Jimmy Mack,” “Heatwave” and, of course,
the finger-snapping “Nowhere to Run To,
” another romp of a song.

All of these tunes get a workout in this 54-minute showcase,
recorded from a 2005 show at the Rock ’n’ Roll Palace in Orlando,
Florida
. Reeves is older and the
arrangements thusly stretched out just a bit from the full-throttle pace of the
originals. Still, if her attempts at energetic reach-out don’t convey the
full-on catharsis one might want (sorry, but tambourines don’t fully convey the
will to move that “Dancing in the Street” instills), Reeves proves she still has
some power left in her pipes. Special guest Sam Moore also comes out to offer
up some of his hits (“Hold On, I’m Coming,” “Wrap It Up, I’ll Take It”) as
well, which leads to the nice conclusion of “Soul Man,” another energetic tune.
There aren’t any special features to speak of on this full-frame, region-free presentation,
but the audio is loud and clear, and as long as one supplies their own dance
moves, it’s a nice enough treat from Motown’s star-studded past. B (Concert) C+ (Disc)

ABC Africa

One Campaign recently, and it reminded me of Abbas Kiarostami’s ABC
Africa
. A documentary examination of the ravages of war, poverty and AIDS
in Uganda, ABC Africa is a film that
malingers and dawdles quite a good bit as it creates loose yet moving
impressions rather than a concrete arc. Yet it also reminds us that feeling is
indeed much stronger than thought; the at-odds sensations of joyfulness and
despair that it produces serve as a powerful exemplar that aid is not about some vague financial
hand-out, but a hand up for a people whom opportunity and modernity has largely
forgotten
.

Over the course of a 10-day visit to the country (his
first), Iranian director Kiarostami captures the faces of several hundred of
Uganda’s estimated 1.6 million orphans, the number a result of a mid-1980s
civil war and crippling battle with AIDS and malaria. He spends some time
delving into an International Fund for Agricultural Development program that
allows/mandates villagers to buy into a collective agenda that protects them,
not unlike insurance, against life’s valleys.

Mostly, though, Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry, The
Wind Will Carry Us
) uses a very nonjudgmental lens, gently elucidating
greater meaning through context and only occasionally prodding his subjects
.
The film’s form is really quite loose — sometimes too much so, honestly. A lot of
the movie’s 84-minute running time is comprised of the simple, impressionistic,
non-narrated recording of everyday life — the wonderment with which kids behold
a camera, running after him like American suburbanites chasing an ice cream
truck — and a little of this goes a long way. When Kiarostami lingers at a
prophylactic billboard blacked out, presumably by staunchly Catholic
proponents of abstinence-only sex education, or, later in the movie, comes
across an Austrian couple adopting a little African girl, you wish the film
pursued these story strands with a little more dynamism
.

In the end, ABC Africa is shattering in its own
glancing way, but not necessarily philosophically profound
. There’s no
consensus or even, really, a finely honed inquisitiveness. Kiarostami documents
wholeheartedly, but without any sort of accompanying filter or prism; this
creates a deeply felt movie — and one still overall very worthwhile — but
also one that also doesn’t completely live up to your fullest expectations of what it
could be.

DVD bonus features include a theatrical trailer for the film and
a 55-minute mini-documentary from Pat Collins and Fergus Daly, entitled Abbas Kiarostami: The Art of Living,
which delves further into the director’s diverse interests (including poetry
and photography) as well as his filmography. A tri-fold booklet also excerpts
an interview between Scott Foundas and Kiarostami, the rest of which is
available via an included Web link. To purchase the film via Amazon, click here. B (Movie) B- (Disc)

Kill House To Be Arraigned at Cinematheque

For those in the Los Angeles area and predisposed to seek out dark independent film delights, Kill House will enjoy its theatrical premiere at the Egyptian Theatre’s American Cinematheque on Wednesday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m. A modern day tale of bloodlust, rivalry and greed starring
Susan Artigas, Iris Berry and Drew Droege (TV’s Reno
911
), the movie is a
bloody black comedy with a satirical twist.

The story centers around a brutally murdered San
Francisco
realtor. News of the death throws the local real estate community into a tailspin, and fear
and panic spread further as more and more agents start turning up dead. Who’s behind these
crazed serial killings? The prime suspect is an ex-con hired by one of the
property owners. But after he’s caught, the killings don’t stop — in fact, they only get
worse. Written and directed by Beth Dewey, Kill House harkens back to campy “slasher” films
of the 1970s, while also fixing horror
movies and consumerism within its satirical sights
. For screening information, phone (323) 466-FILM, or visit the Cinematheque’s eponymous Web site by clicking here. For more information on Kill House, click here to visit their Web site.