The MichaelVox Movie Review Weblog
Proudly Spewing Unsolicited Film Opinion Online Since 1996


After 1,017 postings, I've decided to begin using Wordpress. All of these pages should stay the way they are.

All updates from now on (including podcasts that can be listened to from the webpages) will be posted here:

MichaelVox

Comments are welcome.

Michael.

0 comments




2007



May 26, 2008
Netflix DVD
USA / Germany
English
135 Minutes
Biography / Drama / Music
Todd Haynes [Safe; Far From Heaven]

I admire the casting and the different types of film and the pacing and the naming of the characters. But I just didn't like it. I wasn't exactly bored, though it went on a bit too long. Each and every actor who plays Bob Dylan is remarkable. But those performances don't really add up to much in my mind.

A cool DVD feature is having the lyrics printed on the screen during the film. So you can tell what the hell he's singing about for once.

7.3 Metacritic
7.5 IMDB

~~

0 comments




2005

May 25, 2008
DVD
USA
English
135 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Greg Daniels [Saturday Night Live; Seinfeld; The Simpsons; King Of The Hill]
Ricky Gervais [The Office (BBC); Extras; The Simpsons]
Stephen Merchant

First six episodes. Pam and Jim are more flirty than I remember. Kelly is more Indian. There are six or seven commentaries and about 45 minutes of deleted scenes that are well worth watching. Includes Diversity Day and The Hot Girl episodes.

9.4 IMDB

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0 comments




2008



May 25, 2008
HBO
USA
English
115 Minutes
Drama
Jay Roach [Blown Away; Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery; Meet The Parents]

A dramatization, whatever that means, of the debacle that was the Florida portion of the 2000 Presidential election. We get big names playing real people. We get outraged responses to court rulings and appointed politicians. We see Warren Christopher bend over for James Baker. And we know that whatever Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary believe is the truth. I hope people watch this and become outraged. I consider myself something of a Florida Recount Student, watching every possible story from every possible angle about this. Because of that, the single bit of information that I had not known before watching RECOUNT was the Gore lawyer, getting a sample blank ballot to study, being threatened in a crowded elevator by the frat-boy thugs that the RNC had bussed down to Florida demanding that their vote count (even though they were all employees of Republicans up in Washington and had no connection with Florida). We see clips during the credits of all the real participants and lo and behold, there he is being escorted out of the election office by a half dozen cops. A character says in passing that the RNC Abercrombie boys were flown from DC to Florida on the Enron jet.

There is a much better primer on this whole issue called UNPRECEDENTED: THE 2000 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, which lays out in easy-to-follow detail exactly what forces had to come together for this to happen. That documentary painted the Supreme Court and Florida Secretary of State (and Bush Campaign Chair--conflict of interest anyone?) Katherine Harris as the main culprits. RECOUNT adds Joe Lieberman and Warren Christopher to that list. One villain not mentioned is Fox News, who has been blamed for being the first to call Florida that night for Bush, even though they knew that the numbers didn't yet add up. Watch the documentary OUTFOXED for more on that.



Laura Dern plays Harris as a dim-witted bible thumper bowing to the will of whoever is loudest. To think that Bush-buddy Harris is partially responsible for the man who now resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue makes my blood boil.

Fictionalized films like this one can do a good job of making hard-to-understand legal minutia easy to digest. A character will say "The Supreme Court has ruled that this is a one-time decision", and then another character, standing in for those of us at home will say, "has that ever happened before?", and the lesson will be complete when the first guy says "never in the history of the Supreme Court" and we're all a bit more well-versed on Constitutional Law. Ed Begley perfectly nails the head Dem lawyer. In fact, just about everyone at least looks like their real-life counterpart.

It isn't said in the film, but Bush took office in January of 2001 without a mandate, knowing that he lost the popular vote, with a whiff of scandal already in the air. He couldn't get anything passed, was about to become the most ineffective president since Carter. And then the towers fell and the very office of the Chief Executive changed, probably forever. Thank you Dick Cheney, et al. How would the world have been different if Harris wasn't secretary of state, the recount went on longer, and Mr. Gore took the oath that January day? The towers probably still would have fallen. But what about everything after that? The mind boggles.

Leary and Spacey engage in this kind of "what if" as they walk to their airplanes to leave Florida. Harris, Supreme Court, voter rolls erased, Gore fighting, Christopher's sick daughter, and Clinton's blowjob all are included. What if, indeed.

As a film, it has much stacked up against it. Obviously, we know the ending. We also know what a chad is, what the participants sound like, and how the Supreme Court ruled. We also get several incredibly terrible scenes, the first of which is when a roly-poly Gore aid is told to stop the Vice-President from conceding before a recount can be started. He falls out of his town car, is stopped by secret service (even though he was in the motorcade), and finally catches up to Gore, breathless, just as he's about to step on the stage to deliver his election night speech. Not even the West Wing would have had that kind of madcap pratfalling. But it gets better from there.

Each of these documentaries related to 2000 election is better that RECOUNT:

Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (2002)
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War On Journalism (2004)
Hacking Democracy (2006)

6.6 Metacritic

RECOUNT
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3 comments




2007



May 22, 2008
Netflix DVD
USA
English / Spanish
106 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Craig Gillespie

The Search For True Love Begins Outside The Box.

I really wanted to love this one. But I didn't. The writer has mentioned that she wrote this based on the idea of what would happen if a town reacted to a mental illness with compassion instead of ridicule. Lars is so messed up mentally that he sits up on his bed all night, hides from everyone, including his own family, and won't interact with the cute girl at work who is all but throwing herself at him. He won't eat dinner next door at his brother's house. One day he shows up with a Real Doll, one of those lifelike, expensive sex dolls that prove that we have a long way to go before either men or women can be replaced by technology. After initial "my brother is looney" type conversations, the town--I mean the whole town--goes along with Lars' psychosis. They offer his doll, now called Bianca, jobs, haircuts, knitting circles, dances. Everything. Not a single person calls the rest of the town out. How about some hospitalization? How about sending Lars to a specialist instead of a do-it-all doctor played perfectly by Patricia Clarkson? The idea of someone so afraid of human contact that he'd rather cart around a doll as his lover is very compelling. But the tone was all wrong--one minute a madcap comedy, the next a dark film about childhood trauma.

There have been several documentaries on this same topic. And these people who have shunned real humans for dolls are incredibly intriguing subjects. But they are not exactly normal. They themselves say as much. I'd rather watch another one of those documentaries than LARS AND THE REAL GIRL.

I'd hoped for so much better.

7.0 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
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0 comments




LILA SAYS
2004




May 21, 2008
Netflix DVD
France / UK
French
89 Minutes
Drama
Ziad Doueiri

Chimo is a 19-year-old Arab living in a slightly slummy part of a city, committing petty crimes and odd jobs, and hanging out with his three equally unmotivated buddies. His world is turned upside down with the arrival of one of the sexiest presence in movies that I've ever seen. She's a French girl named Lila, and she's amazing. Gorgeous, brazen, self-assured. Chimo doesn't stand a chance. She makes him an early offer that causes him to remark in voiceover "Lila could cause a Jihad." They take romantic, sexy moped rides together, she whispers her secrets and desires to him, and he gets crap from his buddies for not making his move on her. She also causes him to write, which we're led to believe he's good at, because he is visited by a teacher who encourages him to enroll in some famous writing school in Paris.

Lila is played by an actress named Vahina Giocante, who I will have to go research now. There isn't very much to this film. Their differences in religion and background aren't really explored. It's one of those movies where a hottie will ride by a group of guys and somehow pick out the one she should be with and smile only at him. We know he's the right one because he writes, is more polite, and is the most handsome of the group. One thing that is hard to figure out is why he hangs out with the idiotic and felonious group of guys we always see him with. He is smarter than they, more compassionate, has a brighter future. I found that to be less-than-realistic.

Besides a pre-20s mutual attraction, I'm not sure what this film is trying to say. We get blowing sundresses, stolen peeks of flesh, the application of suntan lotion, and deep soulful looks into eyes. Not much more.

But did I mention that Lila is beautiful?

5.7 Metacritic
7.1 IMDB

LILA SAYS
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0 comments




2005



May 18, 2008
San Jose Camera Cinema Club
Canada
English
87 Minutes
Fantasy
D: Blake Van de Graaf
W: Michael Sparaga

There's A Hero Inside Everyone.

Not a good film. Mild-mannered comic book geek, Norman Neale, is convinced that he works with an actual superhero after watching him catch coffee cups without looking and single-handedly win the company softball tournament. The geek is quiet and not respected and awkward-looking while the hero, Victor Ventura (see what they did with the character's names?), is stunningly attractive and popular. Norman spends his off hours in a comic book store, owned by Danny Baldwin (fantastic!), who believes that Norman is merely writing a comic book, not living a comic book life. With Baldwin's encouragement, Norman realizes that his task is to train Victor to utilize all of his abilities, like a good sidekick should.

The tone of the film is all wrong. Is it humorous, realistic (or at least as realistic as a comic book film can get), moody, or dark. Is it supposed to tell us something about modern life? The hero is an absolutely misogynist prick and there is a lot of mean-spiritedness throughout.

One memorable scene involves a "training night" whereby Victor and Norman come upon a group of ne'er-do-wells and are taunted for being gay. Victor uses his superpowers to make the two toughest thugs kiss each other, and then one sinks to his knees to simulate the toughs' worst case scenario. All to teach them a little lesson about tolerance. We're here, we're superheroes, get used to it!

Proudly low-budget, but somehow the brief 87 minute running time was simply not brief enough.

One bright spot in the experience was the appearance of the writer of the film, Michael Sparaga, who spoke to the audience after our screening. I'm not sure how to say this another way, but Sparaga could not have been more Canadian--and I mean that as a compliment. Self-deprecating, funny, gracious, optimistic, and incredibly polite. A master storyteller. I could have listened to him speak at the microphone during the Q & A for hours. In fact, I would have preferred 87 minutes of "Sparaga At The Mic" than the film SIDEKICK.

5.4 IMDB

SIDEKICK
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0 comments




2007



May 16, 2008
Showtime
USA
English
92 Minutes
Drama
Tommy O'Haver [Fabulous! The Story Of Queer Cinema]

Yikes. Sylvia (Ellen Page) is the daughter of a carny couple who is left with a normal-seeming woman who has a brood of her own children and entertains other kids from the neighborhood in her average Indiana home. Her parents promise to pay $20 a month to the single mom, played by Catherine Keener. When the first check is late, Page and her younger sister are taken to the basement and given the belt. This turns out to be the least brutal "punishment" that Sylvia is given.

Based on the actual transcripts of the court case from 1966, this film is even more shocking that it first appears. Keener, while trying to "protect" her loose and pregnant oldest daughter, continues to "punish" Sylvia for simply not being as big a screw-up as her own daughter. She is burned with cigarettes, branded with hot safety pins, sexually assaulted, and slapped repeatedly. And then it gets worse. Her own young children can't hide their basement-dwelling curiosity, and they begin invite neighborhood friends over to burn, beat, and hose down Sylvia who is kept in the basement. That these kids do this with minimal provoking is the most horrifying aspect of this horrifying (and true) story.

And the neighbors, hearing the screams, continued to rake leaves like nothing was wrong. "Best we keep to ourselves."

Page is spectacular and you will forget she had anything to do with JUNO after watching this. Keener's character slowly devolves into a monster, but never a cardboard cutout monster. The kids are sufficiently scary in a numbed-by-what-they've-seen way.

Not exactly a happy time at the movies, but worth it for the Keener and Page performances.

7.6 IMDB

AN AMERICAN CRIME
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0 comments




2007



May 15, 2008
Netflix DVD
USA
English
111 Minutes
Drama
Andrew Wagner [The Talent Given Us]

This film does a lot of little things well. Frank Langella is a writer of some note, the author of four books, whose been working on his fifth for more than ten years. He has an extremely regimented life--rising at the same hour, working at the same hour, ordering the same lunch, etc. Lili Taylor is his almost 40 daughter who is craving a child but her true love, Casey, has made that a deal breaker. Father and daughter have an easy connection, attending dance recitals, book readings, and other New York art events.

Lauren Ambrose appears as a Brown University grad student who wants to write her thesis on Langella. She is simultaneously in love with his work and the him she knows him to be. She is 20something, he is 60something. But with Langella's intelligent eyes and Ambrose's optimistic youth (her Ivy League vocabulary struggling to cover up her giddiness), the thought of these two together as some kind of couple isn't as strange as it might at first seem.

Langella is excellent as a gruff, by the book, quiet author. He doesn't say much, he responds to Ambrose's questions with thoughtful, though cold answers. She wants to get at the heart of his work. Ambrose is really the surprise here. If you've only seen her as the youngest of the Fisher clan on Six Feet Under, you're in for a treat. I completely bought that she was a brilliant grad student who is widely read and could pull off the revitalization of Langella's career with the right literary criticism. She is tough-acting, vulnerable, and when she puts forth all the theories bouncing around inside of her huge brain, it's hard not to fall for her. And the way she looks at him with such feeling.

Lili Taylor chalks up another of her perfectly noted performances. From the trailer, you wouldn't guess that she has such a large part in the film. She is struggling with her love for Casey and the two of them together make an almost perfect pair. Taylor suffered a breakup with him five years prior that resulted in her not leaving her bed for several months. But they look at each other with such love, that you wonder why they can't get that one huge disagreement settled and live happily ever after.

This film gets New York City right. Which may sound ridiculous coming from a person whose never lived there. They mention traffic and sharing cabs and coffee shops. They have their own neighborhoods where they know the waitress and the cafe owner. They go to events at the 92nd Street YMCA, they watch the Dance Theater of Harlem perform. They attend book release parties. At least, to me, it seemed like they got the NYC that an author of his age would inhabit right. Even the doorman's character seems realistic.

This film is about so much more than a young woman infatuated, influenced, and interested in a man in the twilight of his productive years. It's about four people living in New York City. And it is terrific.

7.8 Metacritic
6.9 IMDB

STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING
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0 comments




2007



May 14, 2008
San Jose CA -- Santana Row
USA
English
108 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Thomas McCarthy [Meet The Parents; Boston Public; The Guru; The Station Agent; Good Night, And Good Luck; Syriana; Flags Of Our Fathers; Michael Clayton; The Wire]

Connection Is Everything.

After you've seen THE VISITOR, listen to our spoiler-filled Cinebanter podcast which is posted here .

*** Ebert
7.9 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

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1 comments




2006



May 11, 2008
Netflix DVD
Belgium / France / UK
French
168 Minutes
Drama / Romance
Pascale Ferran

8.0 Metacritic
7.1 IMDB

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0 comments




2007



December 30, 2007
January 20, 2008
May 10, 2008
DVD
USA / Canada
English
96 Minutes
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Jason Reitman [Ghostbusters II; Kindergarten Cop; Dave; Thank You For Smoking]

A Comedy About Growing Up...And The Bumps Along The Way.

After you've seen JUNO, listen to our spoiler-filled Cinebanter podcast here.

This time, just for the DVD extras, including the commentary. They had good extras including deleted scenes that maybe shouldn't have been deleted. And the commentary by Diablo and Jason was fairly educational. I noticed things I hadn't before, though that could be because it was my third time.

8.1 Metacritic
8.1 #189 IMDB

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0 comments




LADY VENGEANCE
2005




May 7, 2008
Netflix DVD
South Korea
Korean / English / Japanese
112 Minutes
Drama / Thriller
Chan-Wook Park [Oldboy]

All She Wanted Was A Peaceful Life...They Didn't Give It.

7.5 Metacritic
7.8 IMDB

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0 comments




2008



May 6, 2008
Campbell CA -- Camera 7
USA
English
126 Minutes
Action / Adventure / Drama / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Jon Favreau [Hoffa; Rudy; Seinfeld; Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle; Batman Forever; The Larry Sanders Show; Swingers; Friends; Deep Impact; Very Bad Things; The Sopranos; The Replacements; Dinner For Five; Made; Undeclared; Elf; Something's Gotta Give; The King Of Queens; The Break-Up]

After you've seen IRON MAN, listen to our Cinebanter podcast, which is available here.

7.8 Metacritic
8.4 #119 IMDB

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0 comments




2008



May 5, 2008
PBS
USA
Spanish / English
600 Minutes
Documentary
Maro Chermayeff

Puts a human face on the thousands of sailors deployed on the USS Nimitz for incredibly long periods of time. We get to know sailors at every level of seniority. How do they date? eat? wash the ship? entertain themselves? Ten hours long, but never dull for a moment. They are allowed to honestly discuss issues of policy and war and patriotism. In no way are the interviews completely pro-navy. Absolutely fascinating, and not just in a guyish "that's so cool" way. I may have to buy this.

8.3 IMDB

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0 comments




2005



April 26, 2008
PBS - P.O.V.
UK
English
134 Minutes
Documentary / Biography
Michael Apted

8.4 Metacritic
8.3 IMDB

~~

0 comments




2006



April 26, 2008
Netflix DVD
Canada
Mandarin / English
80 Minutes
Documentary
Jennifer Baichwal
Photos By Edward Burtynsky

7.9 Metacritic
7.1 IMDB

~~

0 comments




2003



April 24, 2008
Netflix DVD
South Korea
Korean
120 Minutes
Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Chan-Wook Park

15 Years Of Imprisonment, Five Days Of Vengeance.

Fabulous, fun, kinetic, violent. A great experience, even with the implied torture and cut tongues and broken fingers and hammers to heads. Guy gets out of a hotel-prison after 15 years and wants to know who put him in there and why. Along the way he's joined by a hot sushi chef. Reasons for everything are revealed. Go see it.

7.4 Metacritic
6.7 IMDB

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0 comments




AN ADOLESCENT
2001




April 24, 2008
Netflix DVD
Japan
Japanese / French
132 Minutes
Drama
Eiji Okuda

5.5 Metacritic
6.6 IMDB

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0 comments




2008



April 23, 2008
Campbell CA -- Camera 7
USA
English
112 Minutes
Comedy / Romance
Nicholas Stoller

After you've seen FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, listen to our Cinebanter podcast, which is available here.

6.7 Metacritic
8.0 IMDB

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0 comments




12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST
2006




April 18, 2008
Netflix DVD
Romania
Romanian
89 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Corneliu Porumboiu

7.7 Metacritic
7.3 IMDB

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0 comments




2007



April 18, 2008
DVD
USA
English / German / Hindi / Sanskrit
91 Minutes
Adventure / Comedy / Drama
Wes Anderson [Rushmore; The Royal Tenenbaums; The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou]

Just when I was about to give up on Wes Anderson, he makes this gem of a film about brotherhood, soul-searching, and travel. No slow patches, no annoying quirks. An incredibly brief 91 minutes in India.

6.7 Metacritic
7.5 IMDB

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0 comments




THE PORNOGRAPHERS
1966




Netflix Criterion DVD
Japan
Japanese
120 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Shohei Imamura



Mild-mannered-seeming Ogata falls in love with his landlady, moves in with she and her two children, never telling them that he doesn't sell medical equipment, he produces and sells porn. It's the 1960s in Japan. Ogata hires almost-retarded people to star in his films. They are beyond low budget, but the stressed out businessmen that he comes in contact with can't get enough of his 8mm loops or his photos or his written work. He delves into prostitution a little bit as well.

This must have been shocking in 1966. It is completely tame by today's standards. There is no nudity and no shocking language. But it does cover some pretty taboo ground. Ogata finds his thoughts towards his stepdaughter changing as she grows from little girl to teenage temptation. He is harassed by the mob, is shocked to learn that someone has brought a retarded girl to a movie set ("she's old enough, at least"), his lover claims that her first husband has been reincarnated as the carp she keeps all too close, his step son climbs into bed with his mother, even though he's college age.

Japan is a strange mixture of puritan and fetishistic. The subcultures there vary much more than they do in the United States, but there is no legal porn there that comes close to the explicitness that you'd find in America. Women are expected not to look young, as in America, but to actually act young. Pigtails, Hello Kitty, schoolgirl sailor suits.

Ogata doesn't think he's doing anything wrong, in fact he believes he's keeping the men of Japan sane. Eating and sex are the only two things men need, he says.

Modern audiences will find it just weird enough to be interesting. With mental illness just around the corner for just about every character. Everyone is messed up a bit in the head, this film seems to say, what's the harm in a little porn to brighten one's day.

7.7 IMDB

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0 comments




2006



April 17, 2008
Netflix DVD
Japan
Japanese / English
90 Minutes
Animation / Mystery / Sci-Fi
Satoshi Kon



This is your brain on anime.

Impossible to categorize (is there any other kind) anime about a dream machine which can capture dreams and record them on computers to be analyzed later. It seems that someone evil is placing people in other people's dreams until everyone ends up in the same huge scary, yet creative, dreamworld. Because half of the story takes place in the characters' dreamstates, the anime is used to great effect. People's faces can melt, a hottie can turn into a scary dragon, people can fly, etc. When I was younger I'd probably assume that the filmmaker was complete high while making this film. But now I just think that there's a collection of incredibly creative people in Japan that can somehow put down on film the wacky images they see in their heads.

There is a parade that is part of everyone's dream that includes such a wide variety of objects that it can scarcely be believed. China dolls, the statute of liberty, teddy bears, robots, godzilla, the gates to a temple, umbrellas, confetti, and literally hundreds of others. Like the guy looked around a child's room and brought everything to life.

A detective uses the dream machine to solve a case, the scientists use it to understand the mind, and evil men use it to control the thoughts of the whole world. The Paprika of the title is some kind of alter-ego cute 20ish pixie who can be summoned up to help within dreams. Sort of a Japanese animated Lola from Run Lola Run.

A feast for the eyes.

8.1 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

~~

0 comments




2007

April 13, 2008
San Jose Camera Cinema Club

USA
English
95 Minutes
Drama
Gil Kofman

Lukas works in an Orange County toll booth. He lives in a tiny apartment in Los Angeles. His life appears to be going nowhere. He visits his comatose mother in the hospital from time to time. He tries to interact with drivers with varying success. One day rednecks in a pickup (stereotype much?) throw a copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf into his booth after paying the toll. He begins to read it, mostly out of boredom. A few days later, an old Jewish man notices the book while paying and goes ballistic. Never mind that all informed people should know what's inside Hitler's book, if only to try to come to terms with his madness. In this survivor's head, the book itself should be burned. Lukas says he "doesn't believe in burning books." The Jew drives off angry.

Several days later the man appears again and hands Lukas a videotape without explanation. At home Lukas watches it (on his 13 inch screen) and it turns out to be an interview with the man about his experiences during the Holocaust.

It's here that the movie goes crazy. Lukas, apparently finding nothing in his own life to suffer through, gets himself hired at the production company, begs to film other survivors, takes to wearing a yellow star, visits temple, purposely gets beat up by skinheads, and becomes some sort of expert on a Holocaust he's far too young to have experienced. His life is so isolated and boring in the tollbooth that he needs the identity of a Holocaust survivor? Perhaps.

While caring for his mother (or is she?) in the hospital he meets and becomes smitten with Mira, a doctor who is a bit too young to be practicing and is the daughter of a survivor who has yet to have his story filmed. What she could possibly see in a psychotic toll booth worker is beyond me.

Our club director mentioned before the film started that this was the most unique telling yet of a topic we've all seen too many filmed examples of. This fact does not make it good, however. Some of the early scenes of his transformation are humorous. He keeps his kitchen kosher, he buys a prayer shawl while wearing a cross, he transforms his tollbooth into a mini-temple. But then it goes off the rails.

It's unbelievable, clunky, and a bit racist. The equivalent might be a white guy putting on blackface to march on Washington demanding his slavery reparations.

8.1 IMDB

~~

0 comments




1998

April 12, 2008
Netflix DVD
UK
English / Latin
139 Minutes
Documentary / Biography
Michael Apted [The Up Series; Continental Divide; Gorky Park; Bring On The Night; Gorillas In The Mist; Class Action; Thunderheart; Incident At Oglala; Nell; The World Is Not Enough; Enigma; Rome]

Seven years later, more paunch, less hair. Who would have thought that Tony would be so well-adjusted? The no-shows this time are John, Charles, and Peter.

8.6 Metacritic
8.4 IMDB

~~

0 comments




2006



April 12, 2008
Netflix DVD
USA
English
76 Minutes
Drama
Kelly Reichardt



"Sorry is nothing but worn out joy"

Slow as molasses (sometimes in a good way, sometimes not) story of two men, former sorta-hippies friends who have grown apart, who get together for a night in the woods in search of a hot springs outside of Portland, Oregon.

A film like this could only take place in the woods in Oregon, I think. The film captures how two best friends can become different from each other. One (Mark) by selling out--that is, starting a family and owning a Volvo. The other (Kurt) by continuing to live in his late 30s exactly how he lived as a 20something in borrowed houses doing odd jobs.

The two men have an easy familiarity that comes with years of friendship. They talk about news big and small, about triumphs and tragedies, all while in search of a hot springs. The guy with the Volvo says something early that is important to certain men of a certain age "I sure could use a night in the woods." He finds his tattered tent and sleeping bag underneath some potting soil, happy about being able to use it again. His pregnant partner knows that he needs to re-experience a night of camping--we get the feeling she's no stranger to the outdoors herself. He seems hesitant to leave her and he checks in periodically using a cell phone--more proof that he's becoming "The Man."

The plot isn't much. The two men leave around noon and return the following evening. They talk while driving, they find a place to sleep, they eat at one of the hundreds of diners I myself have enjoyed in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. All the roads are two lane, the traffic minimal, the skies cloudy, the trees magnificent. A road trip where nothing happens. You wonder where all those psuedo-hippies you went to college with ended up? Here are two examples.

Beer is drunk. Pot is smoked. Campfires are built. Hikes are taken. Bodies are soaked. The trip can either be a reintroduction of two friends, or the last chance for that friendship to continue.

The photography seems to drip with the moisture of the trees. The conversation seems natural, the actors are unknown. Absolutely no excitement. It's better than that. This is perhaps the most relaxing film I've ever seen. And those hot springs are magical.

*** Wilmington
A Schwarzbaum
A- Tobias
8.4 Metacritic
6.5 IMDB

~~

0 comments




2007

April 10, 2008
San Jose CA -- Camera 12
USA
English
106 Minutes
Drama
David Gordon Green [George Washington; All The Real Girls]

Some Will Fall. Some Will Fly.

After you've seen SNOW ANGELS, listen to our Cinebanter podcast, which is available here.

**** Phillips
**^ Berardinelli
A Gleiberman
B- Tobias
6.7 Metacritic
7.5 IMDB
6.5 Critical Consensus

~~

0 comments




2005



April 9, 2008
IFC
USA
English
110 Minutes
Documentary
Steve James [Hoop Dreams]

New Yorker John Pierson spends one year screening free movies on a Fijian Island.

Pierson used to have a program on IFC called Split Screen and one of the stories on that show was a trip to the most isolated movie theater on the planet. They picked one that is right smack on the International Dateline in Fiji. The segment had two programmers show up at the same time as a humorous punchline. There was also footage of the islanders enjoying (not really a strong enough word) several Three Stooges shorts.

Pierson took that one-week experience, moved his family to Fiji, and set about writing a book about his experiences showing movies for free to Fijians.

The film works on two levels. One, I have personally thought that if I hit the lottery, I would both exhibit whatever wacky cinema taste I have after purchasing a theater, and buy land on a South Pacific Island. So it fulfills that fantasy that many of us have. Our favorite hobby and a spot in paradise. Check and check.

The film also works on a more serious level. Uninvited Americans are thrust into a culture they know nothing about, bringing with them films which don't mesh with Fijian society. Pierson's family of four and his seemingly drunken Australian landlord are the only white faces we see on the whole island. Shouldn't the Piersons adapt to the islanders and not the other way around?

It doesn't help that Pierson is a complete control freak, used to exhibiting films in indie theaters in New York where the patrons "know the rules."

The film works also as a culture-shock portrait of two teenagers trying to assimilate into an island culture where the concept of time is tenuous at best. The 16 year old daughter thinks nothing of running away, drinking, and showing a bit more of her body than might be safe. The younger boy is cynical. Both children talk back to their parents, who speak with unedited language around them. They are a New York liberal family dropped into a culture with thousand year old traditions, ideas about ownership, and a history of being invaded (by both Catholics and wealthy white men).

I commend the family for allowing the camera to follow them, even when they're not acting as the best ambassadors of America, or even when they are scarcely acting like normal human beings. There is an element of white privilege and the civilizing of "noble savages" that permeates the whole enterprise.

I've been to several different islands in the South Pacific and any business venture I'd choose to start would be welcomed with varying enthusiasm. Raratonga, maybe. Molokai, no way.

*** Ebert
***^ Phillips
C- Gleiberman
6.3 Metacritic
6.7 IMDB

~~

0 comments




FATELESS
2005




April 5, 2008
Netflix DVD
Hungary / Germany / UK
Hungarian / English / German / Hebrew
140 Minutes
Drama
Lajos Koltai
Music by Ennio Morricone

You Can Close Your Eyes. You Can Turn Away. But You Will Never Forget.

Absolutely remarkable true story about a Hungarian teenager sent from Budapest to a series of concentration camps. The teenager-in-Holocaust story has been told before. The Holocaust story has been told before in both fictional accounts and in the annual documentary Oscar race. But something about FATELESS and the way it tells its story makes it at least as good as any of the most highly regarded films of its kind. I will remember particular scenes for the rest of my life.

Gyorgy is 14 1/2 at the start of the film. His father is leaving in the morning for a work camp. His neighbors and family enjoy a last supper, with the understanding, though never verbalized, that he won't be coming home. One of the major differences in this film than in all the other Holocaust-themed ones is that both we the audience, as well as the characters on screen, already have some prior knowledge about what is going on in these Polish camps. I can't stress how important this fact is. The small Hungarian Jewish community has heard tales of attrocities in the camps and responded with varying degrees of disbelief, rumor spreading, and fear. They know that people leave Budapest never to return. They know that Jewish men are being called to labor. And the infrequent letters which arrive from loved ones are non-specific about the treatment. It remains unsaid mostly at the start of the war.

Gyorgy's father leaves and he continues to work in a brickworks until one day he is taken off a city bus along with several dozen other teenage boys, all of whom are wearing yellow stars. The man who takes them off is a Hungarian city police officer. Several hours and many more men later, the group is put on a train and sent to the first of many work facilities. The men work pretty well together, organizing the box cars that will take them to the camps. They make some choices of their own before the Nazis can decide for them. The boxcars are crowded, but not unbearable. Men looking out the window try to figure out where they are. They go first through Germany and then into Poland.

The film's plot is about survival, friendship, and even joy surrounded by the horror of life in a concentration camp. Yes, we've seen all this before. But not the way FATELESS shows us.

There are long passages which are wordless. There is incredibly emotional music by my favorite film composer which probably could have brought tears to my eyes even if not coupled with the images I was seeing. These wordless passages seem much more realistic. The prisoners don't explain what is going on for two reasons, I think. One, at the camps themselves, no one would say each time, "that guy's headed for the showers" or "we only get one slice of bread". And secondly, and uniquely for this type of film, the audience already knows the story. And this gives the filmmakers great leeway in describing what goes on during the day to day monotony of the camp life. This starts immediately. The teenage boys who have sort of stayed together after being taken off the city bus show up in a scene, which is obviously a few days after we last saw them, with their heads shaved. There is no "head shaving scene" or explanation about Jews having their heads shaved. We already know. This happens dozens of times, and while it doesn't sound like it'd be that important to the success of the film, it can't be over-emphasized. The main characters don't explain that they're incredibly hungry. We watch them as they watch the fat guard eat his chicken, we see prisoners pretend that their dead bedmates are alive so they can have extra rations, we see scenes of piles of bodies lined up by the ovens, we watch as friendships are made in camps, only to have them break as prisoners are moved from camp to camp. There are no sad farewells or happy reunions as prisoners recognize each other. There is no Hungarian posse of prisoners explaining their love of country to prisoners from other places.

We see the kindness of prisoners for each other. There is typically a 20-something "rebel" who helps a kid like our protagonist, and this film has one as well. But he is a harsh friend dispensing advice on food rationing and hygiene, but also slapping Gyorgy's face when he does something that might get all of them killed or cause them to starve to death.

When an old man falls, others rush to help him up. When a younger boy faints, an older man (who happens to be gay, though nothing important is made of this-hurrah) whispers to him heartbreakingly, "just hang on a little longer" while helping him up. Loyalties are formed and broken. People are hustling, helping, hurting, and surviving in the camps.

The photography is amazing, the mud looks like the coldest, wettest mud ever. The sky is grayer than any sky ever, the prisoners' eyes are darker than we've ever seen. And, most strikingly, the camps look colder than you can imagine.

Tiny moments are spectacular in their understatement. A woman says "they said we won't need anything where we're going" while on the train car. A young boy continues to find and smoke cigarette butts. A young woman applies makeup before getting off the train at Auschwitz, her intentions known to us through such a small act. The lineup in front of the Nazi soldier who determines what line the prisoners go into. The helpful man who teaches them how to say their number in German. The long-term prisoner who instructs the boys to say that they're 16 in order to be kept alive to work. The SS officer staring into a boy's eyes as he waits for the next heavy sack of flour to be placed on his hunched shoulders.

I could go on and on with the memories of these snippets of the whole 140 minutes film.

This film is different in other ways as well. Our lead character is not a good Jew. He doesn't know Hebrew--he simply mimics his elders during prayers. He is looked down upon by other prisoners who say he's "not a true Jew". In turn, he looks at the small group of Orthodox Jews who lead Friday prayers in the camps as misguided strangers.

He also describes his surroundings in a matter-of-fact way that isn't so different than what the Nazis would say. "This camp is a smaller, less impressive facility than Buchenwald, with no ovens." And he continually downplays the misery he finds himself surround by.

I need to mention, before ending this rave, that there is a four-minute scene that is etched in my brain. The prisoners are lined up before dawn in their tidy rows. No words, just a grid of men in stripes. The sun comes up, they remain in their rows. It begins to rain, they are standing in puddles--wordlessly still in rows. The front row corner faints, others pick him up. The men weave back and forth as they begin their fifth hour of standing. No water, no food. One says to another "I bet he's hiding." Another says "He's probably dead." It becomes clear to us that they're being punished for being one prisoner short. But it isn't explained to us until several minutes in. The camera moves down row after row and shows us face after face of men at the edge of their ability to survive. The music swells, we crane-shot above the lines, we watch as old and young men struggle to simply remain standing. The score comes in more loudly now and the combination of haunting angelic music and men struggling to stay in line and remain conscious is almost more than can be taken. It happens around the 1:14 mark, if you rent the DVD. I've watched these four minutes several times over and over. I will never forget it.

We may have reached a saturation point in Holocaust films, but FATELESS finds a new way to tell the tale. With far fewer words, more faith in the knowledge of its audience, and a depiction of the minute-by-minute life of a prisoner.

Go see it.

***^ Wilmington
A- Schwarzbaum
A- Murray
8.7 Metacritic
7.4 IMDB

~~

0 comments




1957



April 4, 2008
Netflix DVD
USA
English / German
87 Minutes
Drama / History / War
Stanley Kubrick [Lolita; Dr. Strangelove; 2001: A Space Odyssey; A Clockwork Orange; Barry Lyndon; The Shining; Full Metal Jacket; Eyes Wide Shut]



Never Has The Screen Thrust So Deeply Into The Guts Of War!

In 1916 in the French trenches, three soldiers are court-martialled for cowardice.

I watched this on the recommendation of David Simon, the creator of THE WIRE (the best television show in the history of the medium) who said in interviews as The Wire was finishing it's five year run, that the film that most closely relates to his feelings about the failure of institutions was Stanley Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY.

The story takes place in the trenches of World War I. We are following the French side, though all of the actors speak English. In an incredibly lavish estate a higher-ranking general asks a lower-ranking general to take an impenetrable hill on the German side called "The Ant Hill." Then he invites him to stay for lunch in a four-story ballroom. The lower-ranking man knows the hill can't be taken and says as much. The higher-ranking man appeals to the man's vanity, sense of duty, and gets him to agree "as a personal favor."

This general will now tell the next in line, who knows the hill is an impossible goal, but will dutifully follow orders. Kirk Douglas plays Colonel Dax, who seems to be the one man who is both brave and has a brain in his head. The offensive will go horribly wrong and the bumbling general will call for the court martial of 100 men who failed in their mission. The number who actually stand trial is brought down to three, picked completely at random (or to settle a score), tried before a military court where the judge doesn't pay attention and sentenced to a firing squad. "One way to maintain discipline is to shoot a man now and then" says the embarrassed general.

The shots in the trenches are spectacular will all the hallmarks we now know to be Kubrick's. Everything is in focus, there are long tracking shots, Douglas is buffed and heroic.

The dangers of blind allegiance. The lack of connection between the men who follow the orders (muddy, bloody, exhausted) and those who give them (far away from the action, looking at maps rather than actual terrain).

Budget: $935,000
National Film Registry 1992
***^ Videohound's War Movies
**** Maltin
#169 Halliwell's Top 1000
#43 IMDB Top 250
8.6 IMDB

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0 comments




2008



April 1, 2008
San Jose CA -- Santana Row
USA
English
113 Minutes
Drama / War
Kimberly Peirce [Boys Don't Cry]

After you've seen STOP-LOSS, listen to our Cinebanter podcast, which can be found here.

6.2 Metacritic
6.4 IMDB
6.1 Critical Consensus

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0 comments




STORY OF A PROSTITUTE
1965




March 24, 2008
Netflix Criterion DVD
Japan
Japanese
96 Minutes
Drama
Seijun Suzuki [Tokyo Drifter; Branded To Kill]



Not really what it sounds like. The story is mostly based around the comparison of a woman who gives herself to men willingly, and men who give themselves to Country willingly. It's from the mid-60s so don't expect content that you'd get if a 2008 version were made.

A woman, upset over the breakup of a love affair, travels with the Japanese army into China during World War II to act as a "comfort woman." In actuality, comfort women were typically non-Japanese women kidnapped and forced into prostitution after their villages or towns were invaded by the powerful Japanese army. This woman, however, goes because "I want to press against many men" to forget her true love who left her. She travels to a country outpost and begins working immediately. The women become a tentative group of girlfriends, none of whom is overly upset about their fate. She falls for a quiet "perfect soldier" who bows to every whim of his superior, a drunken buffoon, who ironically becomes smitten with our heroine, Harumi.

Falling for the prostitute would be tantamount to disobeying the orders of his superior. What's an ambitious soldier to do?

The hookers are looked down upon, and our heroine, in kind, looks down upon men who blindly follow the orders of their superiors. There is a strong feeling of Japanese pride throughout. Or is it Japanese ridicule in how a soldier acts during times of war? Especially important is the Japanese idea of surrender v. suicide.

Suzuki went on to make Yakuza pictures and this is considered his Kubrickian masterpiece. There are freeze-frames, whiteout lighting effects, and an incredible scene where Harumi runs through a battlefield in search of her lover who is thought to be dead in a foxhole. She's wearing full Japanese gear, sandals, kimono and running over and through debris while bombs go off all around her in brilliant white flashes. The camera tracks her for what seems like a full mile.

The film is a bit experimental for modern audiences and assumes that the viewer knows where Japanese social norms diverge from western ones.

7.5 IMDB

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0 comments




2008

March 19, 2008
Campbell CA -- Camera 7
UK / USA
English
115 Minutes
Drama / History / Romance
Justin Chadwick

After you've seen THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL, listen to our Cinebanter podcast, which can be found here .

The only thing that could come between these sisters... is a kingdom.

5.0 Metacritic

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0 comments




My 11th Cinequest is now over. My final count was 22 films and four shorts. I thought it was a pretty good lineup. The exhibitions were not marred by technical difficulties. My final film had the subtitles too low, but if that's the only issue for the whole 11 days, I really can't complain. It wasn't that long ago that you were lucky if the projector worked at CQ. Nevermind having the right lens on the projector.

The crowd was obnoxious, rude, loud, and messy. But then again, I'm not a big fan of people. I had the girl on her boyfriend's lap next to me, the makeout middle-agers on the other side of me, the girl who sent and received texts without turning of her notification sound, the other multiple texters who brightened up the darkened theater, and every other issue that comes up when ever seat is filled.

I also saw some great films.

Best fiction:

1-KLOPKA (THE TRAP) -- Serbia -- Father needs $30,000 for his son's life-saving operation and needs to adjust his morals in order to earn it
2-OPERA -- Mexico -- Older man and younger girl travel around the Mexican countryside while he writes a book and she figures out her place in his world
3-DIE STILLE VOR BACH (THE SILENCE BEFORE BACH) -- Spain -- Non-narrative film about the wonder of Bach's music
4-VRATNE LAHVE (EMPTIES) -- Czech Republic -- Retired teacher gets job in supermarket and dispenses advice to townspeople there while enjoying a rich fantasy life
5-TAJNOSTI (LITTLE GIRL BLUE) -- Czech Republic -- Day in the life of woman having mid-life crisis on the morning that Nina Simone dies
6-LUO YE GUI GEN (GETTING HOME) -- China -- Man takes his best friend back to his village for burial
7-AUFTAUCHEN (BREAKING THE SURFACE) -- Germany -- Young photographer enjoys nights in clubs and explicit sex with her younger boyfriend
8-NADZIEJA (HOPE) -- Poland -- Boy catches art theft and finds a way to get the painting back
9-DISFIGURED -- USA -- People with body image issues meet and make their way in the world
10-RUBY BLUE -- UK -- Grumpy widower's life is brightened by young girl and French widow who have moved into his neighborhood
11-RIPARO - ANIS TRA DI NOI (SHELTER) -- Italy -- Lesbian couple unwittingly bring stowaway back from North Africa
12-MARS & VENUS -- Norway -- Young couple break up over the usual issues

[Avoid the ones below here]

13-YOUNG PEOPLE FUCKING -- Canada -- Different couples approach sex differently
14-ODBACEN (THE REJECT) -- Serbia -- Dying man puts affairs in order while being followed by black-clad demons
15-UNFINISHED GIRL -- China -- Woman with cancer tries to avenge her parents' death before dying herself
16-THREE PRIESTS -- USA -- Brothers grow up in small western town
17-ANYWHERE, USA -- USA -- Three semi-related stories of Carolinians
18-SPEED DATING -- Ireland -- Unlucky-in-love millionaire gets amnesia

Documentaries:

1-NACIDO SIN (BORN WITHOUT) -- Mexico -- Story of musician, actor, and father of six who was born without arms
2-THIS DUST OF WORDS -- USA -- Story of genius who became homeless and was found dead
3-D TOUR: A TENACIOUS DOCUMENTARY -- USA -- Story of the tour and movie release by Tenacious D.
4-CHINA: A WILL TO RISE -- USA -- Travelogue of China

~~

0 comments




HOPE
2007


March 9, 2008
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival 18
Germany / Poland
Polish
101 Minutes
Crime / Drama / Mystery
Stanislaw Mucha

This one was highly anticipated as my last film of the festival. Movie Number 22. And I was disappointed. The story revolves around a 20ish Polish man who catches a well-connected politician steal a painting from the church his father plays music in. This kid, sets about getting the painting back using cocky methods, surveillance cameras, and confusing phone calls. "Call me at this number in exactly 15 minutes." The boy's older brother is in a prison mental ward after killing two men. Their father is still saddened by the loss of their mother in an accident which opens the film.

Here's the good: the kid is excellent, the script is by Kieslowski's partner in crime, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, and has some of the same nice shots and long takes. The love interest is cute and nice, but we're not really sure what their relationship is. We don't see them as a long-term couple, and she clearly adores him more than he likes her. We don't have any backstory on who or why the brother killed two men. And we don't know how the boy knew that the politician would turn out to be a thief.

I'm all for not having everything answered. In fact, that is typically the best kind of film. The problem with most Hollywood stuff is that they assume the audience is full of half-wits. But this one didn't explain anything. Nothing at all. And while I enjoyed trying to figure out the mystery, it turns out that there was nothing to figure out. We end up exactly where we started in terms of motivation. Why characters do what they do onscreen. The boy has a room with a laptop and hundreds of post-its on the wall but we never see what they say or what they tell him or how they help his caper.

It's as if there's no there there. I watched to see if the kid was as smart as he thought he was and he was and I don't know if I should care. There's a chance I missed whatever this film was trying to say, but it seemed to be convoluted for the sake of "depth." Not to make a more compelling story.

And an almost inexcusable scene involved young lovers succoming to their passions on, under, and behind a bunch of parachutes. Just like that cinema classic, PEARL HARBOR.

~~

0 comments




2007

March 9, 2008
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival 18
Norway
Norwegian
92 Minutes
Comedy
Eva Dahr

Supernaturally hot mom and dad can't communicate. Dad wants a sailboat, which mom ridicules. Mom is working late on architecture projects more and more. Can they get over their differences? They have two small children and a happy life. The mom looks like no mother you've ever seen. The argument that splits them up doesn't seem serious enough to cause such a decision. We see them stumble back into the dating scene, argue, say bad things about each other, bond over their children, and finally, in the least surprising ending in history, end up one big happy family again. Cue the music and sailboat heading into the sunset.

It's funny and Norwegian. A crowd pleaser. Light and fluffy.

~~

0 comments




2007

March 8, 2008
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival 18
Mexico
Spanish
87 Minutes
Drama
Juan Patricio Riveroll

One of my favorites of the festival. The film opens on an incredibly gorgeous young woman lying on her stomach in bed. She is topless, the room is bright and airy, the sheets white. We stay on her for longer than a glimpse. She gets dressed, answers the phone, and calls offscreen to Pablo, her lover. She is about 20. He is about 50. There is silence that speaks of a lengthy relationship. He begins talking on the phone and it becomes clear that he is speaking to his wife and that the lovers have only just met recently.

The silences, where nothing is said, are what make this film special.

We follow the two as they travel around Mexico while Pablo writes a travel book. He is a college professor and an author of some renown, but "family things got in the way" of his writing a second book. He is handsome and educated and has friends who are wealthy. She has barely formed as a person, but is almost disarmingly attractive. What can they get from each other?

Pablo's family is breaking up, his phone calls home get more and more tense. His wife doesn't allow him to speak with his daughters, one of whom is scarcely younger than his bedmate. The style of the film is slow and meandering, in the best possible ways. There are long passages with no dialogue. They travel to a town, we see one of them speak with someone who lives there, the other is off doing something else. The conversations don't try to move the plot along, they are just conversations. Just like real life.

There are long shots of Pablo's '65 Mustang driving through the countryside of Mexico on two-lane unpopular roads. The film is divided up into "Acts", and each act begins with a roman numeral, followed by the girl waking up in a different hotel bed, looking gorgeous and wearing a different cute t-shirt. We hear opera throughout these long passages.

There are several memorable scenes, including one where they stop for a break in a dusty town's outdoor cafe. He sets about jotting down notes while enjoying a beer, and then we follow the girl (I don't know her character's name) as she begins speaking with the ancient woman who runs the place. It's like they stumbled upon this woman working there. Do you want something to drink? Beer? We have something stronger, tequila? Sure. Join me in a glass? I'm too old young lady. Then we learn the old woman's story. She isn't the slightest bit put off by the age difference, discusses with pride her business and her numerous grandchildren, the girl continuously refills her glass, and it seems like a great way to spend a lazy afternoon.

The photography is stunning. Long wide shots of towns and hotel rooms and Mexico City marches and countryside and the greatest beach house I've ever seen. The framing is perfect, the camera movement slow and steady. I can't say enough about the vibe of this thing. The girl calls her angry mother from time to time without explaining who she's with or what she's doing. Pablo constantly tries to get her to stay with him. Friends of his remark on his "friend" and her incredible youth. And the two of them are terrible and perfect for each other. The girl often acts like a spoiled teenager, the man like a cold, boring old man. We see them cuddle, but don't see any actual lovemaking and that might make the whole thing a bit easier to buy. "Is this your daughter, Pablo?" one man asks. "No, she's a friend."

Later scenes show the growing awareness that the girl has in her station, her uncomfortableness with his fancy friends, and the possibility of a future with this man.

Pablo is played by Arturo Rios who was also in my favorite film of 2001, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN. The girl is played by, I believe, a woman named Marina Magro and this is her only listing on IMDB. I hope to see more of her as I'll probably never get over my crush. But more importantly, I want to see what director Juan Patricio Riveroll does next.

My seatmates and I heard all kinds of grumbling when the film ended. Nothing happened, the plot meandered, I didn't get it. That type of commentary. There were the chuckles of people who weren't sure how to feel when the lights came up. Just let it sweep over you. We are spending time with these characters. For about a week. Marvel in the beautiful shot selection, watch the actors' faces for signs of feeling for each other, listen to the natural language. And I dare you not to fall in love with the girl.

~~

0 comments




SHELTER
2007


March 8, 2008
San Jose Cinquest Film Festival 18
France / Italy
Italian
98 Minutes
Drama
Marco S. Puccioni

Anna and Mara, two Italian women, coming back from holiday from Morocco, find that along with their bags, their hotel has packed a teenage stowaway in their SUV. Do they turn him in or call the police? Anna is the more tender-hearted of the two and gives him train fare to visit his uncle in Rome. Mara, whose had a much tougher life, doesn't trust Anis from the minute she sees him. Anna's family runs a clothing factory and department store, Mara works in the store and has become Anna's lover. This sits well with neither Anna's mother, nor Anis in whose country women do not love other women openly. Anis' uncle has moved on and finds his way back to the small town where the women share a nice home. They become an uneasy three person family. Anis gets a job in the warehouse of the store and Anna brings Mara to family events more often. Anis speaks to each woman, in his broken Italian, about the need for a husband and children. He can't figure out how the two women could be happy without a man. As a red-blooded teenager, he also can't rectify his feelings of both disgust and sexual fantasy due to living with two attractive lesbians. This living situation can't last, but who will mess up first?

HENRY & JUNE's Maria de Medeiros plays Anna, smart and seemingly fragile, but confident in what she wants and needs. Antonia Liskova is Mara, who is much butchier than Anna, has been married in the past, has a dying father, and is much less sure of herself. They are both excellent. The boy is played by a kid named Mounir Ouadi, and this is his only film credit, apparently.

This film isn't perfect--the ending is insufficiently left up in the air, but you'll see a part of Italy not normally depicted in film.

~~

0 comments




2007

March 8, 2008
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival 18
Ireland
English
85 Minutes
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Tony Herbert

Terrible. Simply, terrible. How does someone at the Irish Film Board, or whatever governing body is in charge decide that this is the script that should be made into a finished film? Guy who is heir to an unexplained fortune is unlucky with the ladies, visits the worst shrink in Ireland, spends his time with two losers in a pub, and attends speed dating events over and over again, changing his profession each time. Then while stalking a girl who comes into the pub once in awhile, he is hit by a car and wakes up with amnesia. That's right, amnesia. Seriously. The jokes are obvious and not funny. I didn't laugh once. The love interest is obvious immediately and way too perfect. The misunderstanding that will keep them apart is weak even by this genre's standards. The caper portion, whereby the cute nurse and the amnesiac try to discover who he is goes nowhere for no reason. For a brief moment, I thought the cute nurse would be enough to sustain my interest, but even she's not enough. It's one of those independent films where shots last several beats too long on reaction shots. Stay away from this one.

Incidentally, the "speed dating" of the title, was done to much greater effect in the two-minute scene in 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN. I'd rather watch that scene over and over 40 times than watch this 85 minutes again.

Winner of Indianapolis and Malibu Film Festival Best Picture Awards? Ugh. Cross those two off my list of potential festivals to visit.

Amnesia? I want it after watching this.

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1 comments




BREAKING THE SURFACE
2006


March 8, 2008
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival 18
Germany
German
96 Minutes
Drama
Felicitas Korn

I've been attending Cinequest since 1998. I've seen more than 170 films in that time and this one has, hands down, the most on screen sex of any of them. Does that make it good or bad? I can't rightly decide. I just saw a fellow film buff who asked, "besides that, was it good?" My response was, "I can't get past it yet."

The story is about a 20ish photography student who is beginning to get her work published. She favors outcast girls and is developing a series of photos about skatergirls in her neighborhood. Nadja spends her days shooting pictures, rarely goes to her classes, and spends her nights at incredibly loud techno clubs where she sweats, dances, flirts, and occasionally hooks up with people. She meets Darius "two minutes past his 20th birthday" and is immediately attracted to his messy hair and semi-shy demeanor. They begin their relationship slower than she'd like, but it soon builds to one of those passionate affairs that seem perfectly reasonable if you're 20 and have few responsibilities. The relationship is honest and out there for the world (and the audience) to see.

Does love like this ever last? They have sex on the grass during a nighttime downpour, sex in the shower, on her photography equipment, in a pool, in a public restroom stall, etc. Cinematic sex which looks hot, but is probably better in theory than in practice (how will she get the grass and mud out of her hair?) The viewer isn't shown explicit sex without also getting explicit blood and vomit either. All the body fluids are represented. The camera does not blink while watching Nadja--whether masturbating with the showerhead or vomiting.

The film's sense of style and music is pretty good. The offices of the photo magazine are sufficiently trendy and youthful. The music in the club is played at deafening volume--it's no wonder that looks are so important while dancing, it's impossible to hear a conversation. Nadja looks incredibly happy while dancing and while having sex and even while shooting photos.

The naturalness of the two attractive leads' bodies are fun to watch, but is the film saying anything deeper? We get sex scene after sex scene to prove that these two care about each other? I will say that the sex scenes were acted very well. Much like LUST, CAUTION, there is acting going on here. Watch as the boy keeps his eyes open to see what the girl is doing with her eyes closed. The boy is nervous, the girl pretends to be tough, but is really just as fragile as we all are.

I truly don't know what to make of this one.

~~

0 comments




GETTING HOME
2007


March 7, 2008
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival 18
China / Hong Kong
Mandarin
110 Minutes
Comedy
Yang Zhang

Much like Tommy Lee Jones did in Three Burials..., Zhoa, a poor construction worker tries to fulfill a promise made to his best friend. Return him to his home for burial. What could go wrong?

Two buddies are drinking. One puts his head down on the table while the other one questions his manhood. The guy isn't drunk, he's dead. With $5000 from his construction foreman for burial expenses, Zhoa sets about getting his buddy all the way across China to the Three Gorges area. People respond in many ways to a man piggybacking a dead guy across China. Passengers on a bus are saved by the dead man then repulsed by him, thugs are impressed with the loyalty shown by a friend, truckers are sympathetic and welcome any company, even if one of the travelers is dead. Zhoa, and his rapidly lightening pal, come into contact with all kinds of people as they work there way through cities, towns, farms, construction sights, all the while trying to find a place to sleep that won't upset those around them.

Zhoa never once loses faith in his mission. He never complains, though he wears the same clothes and ratty sneakers on the whole journey. He is robbed, tricked, and ignored, but also helped and cared for. He has an impossible task and many people respond to his refusal to give up. He is carrying a dead guy thousands of miles.

More than just a funny (and it is very funny) travelogue of China, we see the different ways of life there and how they differ from America as well. I noticed an oxcart in every location--getting passed by buses in the city, being used as transportation in the country, plowing on farms. And we definitely see the beauty in both countryside and the people. And we see the determination on Zhoa's face.

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LITTLE GIRL BLUE
2007


March 7, 2008
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival 18
Czech Republic
Czech
93 Minutes
Drama
Alice Nellis

One day in the life of a 40ish woman whose life is changing in dozens of ways, apparently spurned on by the death of Nina Simone. It walks a fine line between serious drama and whimsy. There are several scenes where extras break into dance routines for no reason. She looks around her city and sees order and precise steps. On the public transportation, everyone sways to and fro in syncopation. This is a fabulous performance by the lead actress, Iva Bittova, who is incredibly beautiful, but whose face shows all of her years of life. Her bright eyes and mischievous smile hint at the teenage girl she must have been. She wakes up early, is rejected sexually by her husband, and gets the idea in her head that she needs a piano, even though she hasn't played in 25 years. In the course of this day she breaks up with a younger, needy lover, visits a healer, connects with her teenage daughter, gets her car towed, and visits a music shop several times to secure the piano she needs. In a memorable and beautiful scene, the music shop owner, an anti-social man in his 20s with perfect emo hair watches Julie blossom while pretending to be a saleswoman. Shafts of light hit her, he hears music, and she begins dancing in slow motion, her beautiful hair spinning. In another scene she quietly sneaks into the store to watch him tear another piano up with some incredible classical music--what he lacks in people skill he more than makes up for on the keyboard.

They make quite a pair, the sexy older woman, and the shy musical genius. But are they a pair? She is at a crossroads in her life. New luxury apartment for the family, cold relationship with her husband, monogamy at risk, daughter about to head out on her own, age beginning to creep in. And the music is always there.

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2007

March 7, 2008
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival 18
UK
English
112 Minutes
Drama
Jan Dunn

Bob Hoskins rises above the material in this film about man whose wife has just died. He is known around his English seaside town as "grumpy Jack" even before becoming a widower. He stops showering and cleaning his house, his son can't forgive him for his years of drinking and neglect, he's even lost faith and pleasure in his former joy, raising homing pigeons. He wants to be left alone until a precocious girl moves in next door and she isn't privy to social mores. She comes and goes from his garden as she pleases. His grumpiness has no effect on her. Jack also at first yells at, threatens, and then mentors a teenage boy who is holding court with the wrong kind of friends. The new residents of his neighborhood are uneasy about a widower with so many children as friends. Tongues wag.

Jack's heart is being thawed by a French widow who lives next door. Can this combination of brave little girl, improving teenager, and home-cooking Frenchwoman make Jack enjoy life again? What do you think?

The last ten minutes tie everything up in a nice bow. Way too easily. And this is one of those films with a surprising shocking twist that's neither shocking, nor in any way surprising.

Again, Mr. Hoskins makes you believe that the story is deeper than it actually is. But I didn't mind spending time with any of these characters, except the mother of the teenager who must have read a parenting how-to book, and then set about doing the complete opposite. Littering? Check. Swearing? Check. Not believing in children? Check. Illiteracy? Check. Perhaps some nuance might have helped here.

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EMPTIES
2007


March 7, 2008
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival 18
Czech Republic / UK
Czech / German
100 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Jan Sverak

Very sweet and entertaining story. Much better than expected. This will probably turn out to be the slickest film at the festival this year. An aging schoolteacher, after losing his temper a 4th time, realizes that he's no longer happy teaching and tenders his resignation. However, he can't stand staying home all day, and sets about finding something to do. While sitting in a park, a group of retired men ask him to join their walking group, but he refuses. He doesn't want to be retired. He gets a job as a bike messenger but doesn't have the speed, balance, or ability to work the walkie talkie and after a crash, he decides to find another means of employment. Meanwhile, his wife fears that he's fallen out of love with her, or at the very least, out of lust. Would it be so bad to spend his days reading all those books he planned on while sitting next to her? He counters by saying that he's a "greeter of people" but in order for him to be happy to greet his wife at the end of the day, he first has to leave her in the morning. He can't stand watching his wife watch soap operas. "How can you watch that garbage?" "Have you ever ironed anything in your life?" she counters while working the iron.

Joseph also has a rich sexual fantasy life. Affairs are alluded to and any woman of seemingly any age and appearance is eligible for inclusion into his vast fantasy life. These fantasies often take place on trains.

While returning his empty beer bottles to the store, he sees that they need a new worker to help sort them and give out the vouchers to customers. He signs up. His window becomes a place where people can get advice, be asked about their day, enjoy some sort of interaction. He flirts with women of all ages, offers dating tips to his coworkers, foils the plot of a thief, and pretty much has a good life.

His fantasies grow richer as customers, including the idiotic girl in the belly shirt now find their way into his train fantasy. In one memorable scene, Joseph is wearing a heart monitor on his doctor's advice and everywhere he looks, beautiful women of all ages are walking through shafts of light in slow motion, exposing legs, lingerie, cleavage...it's almost too much to take.

His daughter is lonely, his grandson cute, his wife impatient.

It is so hard to look away from the actor who plays Joseph, Zdenek Sverak, who was also in the terrific film KOLYA. He plays a smart, funny, curmudgeon perfectly. He is sweet to elderly people, respectful to men, loving to women, nice to his grandson. He's the uncle we all wish we had.

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NACIDO SIN
2007


March 5, 2008
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival 18
Mexico
Spanish
86 Minutes
Documentary
Eva Norvind

Documentary about a Mexican musician/actor/father born without arms. Inspiring in a different way than most of these types of films. We aren't asked to feel sorry for him at all. The filmmaker does an interesting thing. We feel automatic pity when first introduced and by the time the film ends, he's just another guy who needs help getting dressed.

We first meet Jose in a shaky camera opening as he has his harmonica strapped to his mouth by an out-of-frame helper. We see crowded streets, and we assume that he'll play a few notes and beg a little and pesos will be thrown into his hat. Then he speaks on camera and we realize that he's thoughtful, caring, really knows music, and doesn't need our pity. His wife or a son helps him out when he performs. He talks with the other performers who move from festival to circus to parade. They form a close-knit family of sorts. But Jose has his own family. During the course of the film, his sixth child is born. Jose has appeared in films, traveled, helped with the design and construction of a house large enough to hold his family and even his children's families. He has taken numerous lovers, once getting permission for his wife to visit a film set and then getting permission for his mistress to also visit. We travel with him back to his childhood home where old-timers talk about Jose as a baby. We see him play soccer with his sons. When he takes a tumble, someone is there to pick him back up. He's on a horse, he's on a boat. He's randy, he flirts, he tells jokes. He is a man.

And if that weren't enough to make heads turn, either towards or away from him, we find out that his beloved wife is also his much younger niece--something that sits well with neither some family members or the Catholic Church.

Well done basic documentary about a life.

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2008

March 2, 2008
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival 18
USA
English
123 Minutes
Comedy
Chusy Haney-Jardine

Three semi-related vignettes: Penance, Loss, Ignorance. Crystal-clear digital video stories which take place in the Carolinas. The first story is about a red-neck trailer trash guy who loses his girlfriend and becomes convinced that she's being both romanced and brainwashed by a member of Al Queda. After all, she keeps eating pistachio nuts, and everyone knows that pistachios are "the official nut of the Jihad!" The second story is about a girl who loses a tooth and doesn't want to know that the money she finds under her pillow is from anyone else besides the tooth fairy. The final, and weakest story, is about a privileged white man who sets out to meet his first black person.

The film is Carolina-based hicky and redneck, but surprisingly not pandering or better-than-thou. I think it started strong and incredibly wacky, and slowly went downhill. My film companions thought the highlight was the tooth fairy story. No one liked the final, weak section. I was bored by the end.

Best use of a racist midget in the festival so far. So there's that.

~~

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THE REJECT
2007


March 2, 2008
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival 18
Serbia
Serbo-Croatian
103 Minutes
Drama
Milos Radivojevic

Sometimes people call a film "challenging" if its not obviously good at first but is worthwhile sticking with until the credits roll. This film appears to be challenging simply for sake of being challenging. Heads nor tails can be made of this dark, dreary, head-scratching film about a lady's man's final days. At least I think that's what it's about. Old-school Serbian bank manager, who enjoys the finer things the black market can bring him, like booze and cigars, is chased by black-clad semi-demonic, semi-matrixy beings. He's fired from his job by his incredibly sexy boss who tells him he's too honest to make it in modern day Serbia. (One compelling reason (er, the only compelling reason) to sit through this film at all is to see this woman in all her glory during their sex scene.) The main character begins to win at the casino, win his estranged daughter's heart back, pay back debts, find a sense of clarity, and all of these things put together can only mean he's dying or already dead. Or can it mean something completely different? I have no clue. The music doesn't help. It's full of Serbia's answer to Daft Punk, and never matches the story or pacing on screen.

Dark and dreary, THE REJECT's story may be "too Serbian" for this American to figure out. Or it might just suck.

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2008

March 2, 2008
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival
USA
English
99 Minutes
Drama / Comedy
Glenn Gers

Are You Happy With Your Body?

This one hit me pretty hard. It is the fantastic story of an anorexic woman and an obese woman who become uneasy friends. What can either of them know about the hardships of the other? Can they come to any understanding? Can they teach each other anything? How to eat more. How to stop eating. Sexuality plays an important part in this film as the fat girl is allowed to be sexy and fragile and smart and an emotional mess. She also gets a tender and explicit love scene which is nothing short of monumental in worldwide film. An obese man and obese woman are shown pleasing each other sexually in a loving and honest way. Think about every movie you've ever seen. Now how many love scenes have you seen? Now how many of those involved non-perfect bodies? It's easy to throw around a term like "brave" at actresses who expose body and soul for a role, but Deidra Edwards as Lydia really earns that moniker.

The "recovering anorexic" is played by Staci Lawrence who has her own body-exposing scene. My own bias, and experiences of formerly being a huge person, make Darcy's concerns about not being able to gain weight make her sound a bit like a whiner. Darcy has a lengthy scene where she stares at herself in the mirror and pinches herself all over looking for fat. She is a very thin actress and there is absolutely no fat to be found, but we're not inside her head. If her body image is as bad as she says it is, who are we (am I) to say she's being ridiculous? Which is the point of this film.

There is one main male character, Bob, who comes across pretty poorly. Viewers will marvel at Director Gers ability to write as if he was a fat woman, but there are two scenes involving Bob that floored me. One will be familiar to anyone who is huge where he explains while frustrated, exactly why he's fat and why he's opted to get gastric bypass surgery. "I eat too much candy and soda and starch, I live with big people, I've been big my whole life, my parents are big", etc. Fat people who are honest will give some of the "blame" for their size to genetics, but know that they simply eat more food than they burn off. They will also admit that they don't want to be the size they are. The Fat Acceptance Support Group in the film discusses this very subject. Should fat people try to lose weight or is that a surrender to the way the world wants people (mostly women) to look? Is it giving up to diet?

The other scene with the fat guy was a quick scene where he's in a motel room and there's a knock on the door and it's a hooker and she looks at him in a disgusted manner and as she's getting undressed she says "you can't be on top" and he nods his head as if he's heard this his whole life. Where can fat people express their sexuality? Why can't they have random, embarrassing hookups like everyone else? Bob figures his only chance at momentary pleasure is with a paid partner. And even though he's paying, she sets the rules. He can't even forget his size while having sex.

Some of the dialogue when the two women argue or watch the sun set is incredibly melodramatic, but I'll look past that for a story like this that is rarely told. There is also quite a lot of humor. Lydia is a warm-hearted and attractive big girl who is quick with a joke, and Darcy is funny in a more sarcastic way. They make a funny team. The scene where Darcy cleans out Lydia's kitchen cupboards is hilarious, probably more so for anyone who's tried to get rid of all the food that's bad for them from their own kitchen.

Glenn Gers has really done something here. He and Deidra and Staci appeared for a Q & A and damn if Gers wasn't a tall thin man. How he wrote as a fat woman I'll never know. Very touching. Very honest. Very well done.

Look around you. There are more people in movie theater audiences who look like Lydia than there are people who look like Jessica Alba.

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A TENACIOUS DOCUMENTARY
2008


March 1, 2008
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival
USA
English
71 Minutes
Documentary / Musical
Jeremy Konner
World Premiere

The way Mr. Konner tells it, he was working as the assistant to Jack Black, when he discussed with Mr. Black his need to further his career and begin his filmmaking life. Mr. Black suggested he continue as his assistant while filming a documentary about the Tenacious D tour and the release of the sure-to-be-a-hit TENACIOUS D AND THE PICK OF DESTINY. So Konner began filming everything he could as the tour began.

Your enjoyment of this film probably depends on your love of the D. I claimed my D bandwagon seat way back when Mr. Show debuted on HBO and I've been a Jack Black fan since BOB ROBERTS. To this day, when I'm pissed at someone, I still mutter-sing under my breath, "with karate I'll kick your ass, take you Tiananmen Square..." If you don't like their pothead doofus humor, you probably won't go see this, but that would be your loss. There is little performance footage, little big star schmoozing and little groupie bonghit material. And that is its strength.

These two guys Jack Black and Kyle Gass (JB and KG) really are hard-working comedians who have developed the personas of musicians who think they're much, much bigger and more popular than they really are. They have no illusions about their attractiveness or musical prowess or rank on the showbiz ladder. But they want to succeed. And we see that drive show up on surprising scenes.

JB is a new father and he looks forward to the tour as a way of bringing his wife and son and he closer together. They'll travel the world and hang out and be one big happy family. JB's dressing room sign says "Family Room" on it. But as you might expect, traveling from arena to arena is not exactly good for the family dynamic. We hear Mrs. Black talk about trying to raise her son in basement after basement in each new town they visit.

KG is usually referred to as "the other guy in Tenacious D". JB got the School Of Rock and Margot At The Wedding gigs. KG is the other guy. If you've ever wondered if Kyle gets fed up with this, witness the scene at the Letterman Show when Dave's introduction had no mention of Kyle at all. It seems only Jack would be invited onto the couch for an interview. It's more than Kyle can take. In a sweet, yet awkward show of solidarity, Jack refuses to go on without Kyle. They pack up to go. Kyle's mother later recounts an article about the film whereby Kyle isn't even mentioned. "It's almost like you don't exist." How does Kyle cope? He has his own loud band that tours the small clubs all over the USA. Train Wreck.

The film opens as the big TD movie is about to open and the band is doing press and concerts to support it. Both of them predict (on the studio's private plane) the final grosses. Jack says 60 Mil, Kyle a bit lower. There is a star-studded premiere at Mann's Chinese Theater. And then they nervously await the first weekend's grosses. It is worse than they could have imagined. James Bond took most of the money and the TD film (which absolutely sucked and I'm a fan) didn't even crack the top ten. JB remarks, "it didn't rank high enough to qualify as a bomb--it's like it never opened." This truly messes with the boys who want to give up on the tour, but there are new countries to hit and concert dates scheduled.

There is no narration, no title cards. Just the behind-the-scenes of a concert tour / film press junket. These guys seem mostly normal when the public isn't around. You will be surprised at what was captured on film. Jack Black wondering if the world is sick of him. Kyle cracking under the invisibility of playing guitar next to Jack. The both of them wondering what they got themselves into.

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