Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Class

An autobiographical portrayal of french teacher (i.e. a French person who teaches French in France) Francois whose job in a Paris high school is trying at best. Most of the teachers at the school are new and most of the students don't care one bit about their education. Francois himself is not the seasoned teacher he thinks as he struggles with how to control his classroom, how to engage his students, and how to relate to his colleagues. As a teacher, I am obviously the target audience for this film. Unfortunately, and I am surprised I say this, there is not enough message or hope here. While hopelessness may be the theme that the writer is going for, this could have been a very strong movie had Francois been a bit more thoughtful about how to engage his students. There was no development of the characters maturity (either the students or the teachers) and when the film ended, everything was exactly how it started. Francois did not challenge his students to use the hardships (albeit created hardships) of class and life to learn to write or think. There were several obvious "teaching moments" that were overlooked because of the despair. So while I enjoyed the film, and laughed at the student-teacher interactions throughout, I really did expect more. I wanted this to be a 4 or 5 star movie, but alas...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Frost Nixon: Watergate Interviews

Still concerned that most of my historical knowledge comes from historical fiction films, I got the original Frost/Nixon interview. I suppose the Watergate session was the only one interesting of the six hours of broadcast interview since that is the only one available on Netflix. I really enjoyed seeing this interview, although again it betrayed my ignorance of recent history. Both Frost and Nixon batted around names and dates as they worked to get the facts of the Watergate events straight, and I had a hard time keeping everything straight. Is it the case that the entire nation was so involved with the scandal that when these interviews aired 3 years after the resignation, people still had enough memory of the sequence of events to keep the "date-jousting" straight? An amazing commentary on our society and the immensity of this event. If you are only going to watch one Frost/Nixon film, I would recommend the original. While it doesn't contain a lot of the background and personality development that the newer version adds in, I think it is a good view of a conflicted Nixon and the complexities he experienced as President (and likely the complexities that any president faces).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The International

An international bank gets into the weapons trade business as a means to destabilize countries as a means of drumming up new lending business. Everyone is involved (U.S., Israel, Iran, Hezbollah, Drug Cartel's, China, Russia, etc.) so all efforts to investigate and bring to justice this corporate behemoth are thwarted. Enter Clive Owen, Interpol agent and Naomi Watts, Manhattan assistant D.A. There are inherent justice issues, an implicit rage against capitalistic excess and an over the top gun battle at the Guggenheim in New York. In the end, we just end the movie. No satisfaction is given. Perhaps this is intentional as the emotion most often associated with revenge achieved, or with the capitalist machine that is bigger than any justice issue. If the feeling I had walking out was intentional, it was a bold move by the filmmaker and will likely result in a poor showing at the box office. There will be no great word-of-mouth on this. I can't really stoop to 2-stars on this one because I was engaged the whole time, but "flat" is a pretty good descriptor and I'll give it a "just all-right"

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How to Rob a Bank

A little bit eccentric. Nick Stahl plays Jinx, a disenchanted consumer fed up with "the surcharge" hitting him from all sides. Down on his luck, frustrated with the system and tired of taking it from The Man, he walks into a bank robbery and finds himself in a position of power. The story is really an unconventional coming of age story where Jinx learns to take charge, demand what needs to be demanded and to be creative in finding solutions instead of just taking what is handed to him. Not entirely novel or groundbreaking, no great acting and over-the-top performances by the supporting case, but a pleasant enough heist film none-the-less.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Entertaining, witty, and illuminating. British talk show host David Frost arranges a series of televised interviews with President Nixon in the months following his resignation from office. Since the actual events described in this movie are prior to my first political awareness (which came with the yellow ribbons of the Iran hostage crisis), I don't have any ability to judge the veracity of the story line. But it does paint a decent picture of the emotion involved with both Nixon supporters and detractors during that time. Overall, just an average film and not "best picture" caliber as the academy seems to think. But it did lead me to push the original Frost/Nixon interviews to the top of my Netflix list.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


A conventional tale of kidnapping and taking the law into your own hands to exact return of your loved one with a bit of revenge thrown in. Liam Neeson, former "government worker" who describes his former job title as "Preventer" finds that his daughter has been kidnapped in Paris by an organization specializing in human trafficking. He immediately takes control of the situation, flies to Paris, meets up with old acquaintances (who may or may not have been friendly in the past) and generally kicks ass. This is clearly a summer action film, so I don't know why it is released in February.

The one thing (or one of the things) that I noticed is a change in tone by writer Luc Besson. In his previous offerings (The Transporter series and District B-13), he offers high action with at least a modicum of a morality to provide motivation for the characters. Here the motivation is revenge, and that completely changes the character of the film. Suddenly killing becomes personal, brutal, cold. Besson puts this new tone front and center, forcing to viewer to see the brutality that revenge requires. I am curious to see how this tone carries on into the summer. Does Besson lead the way, providing a preview of a new willingness for filmmakers to make violence (more) personal and brutal in the mainstream? Or will viewers notice the subtle shift to a revenge morality, and reject the imagery that goes with it?

The Edge of Heaven

A 2007 German film by Fatih Akin tells a story of the intertwined stories of three families. See if you can keep this straight. A Turkish father (Ali) and his son (Nejat), a German daughter (Lotte) and her mother (Suzanne), and a Turkish mother (Yeter) and daughter (Ayten). The intertwining goes something like this. In Germany, Ali frequents Yeter's brothel, and Nejat does not approve. When Yeter dies, Nejat goes in search of her daughter Ayten in Turkey. Ayten happens to have fled Turkey and is in Germany looking for her (now dead) mother and living with Lotte. Susanne does not approve of Lotte's choice of friends, but eventually ends up in Turkey to help out the now repatriated Ayten, meets up with Nejat and encourages him to make amends with Ali. Ok, so a couple of sentences just makes it confusing. The film itself unfolds a story with a series of coincident connections, avoiding so many connections that everything wraps up into a happy fairy tale. Even so, with each meeting or near miss I found myself hoping for 'just one more coincidence'. Instead each of the six protagonists search for meaning in their family relationships but only seem to be able to make decisions which widen the relational gulf between themselves and those they love. The film cuts nicely between Germany and Turkey, and uses occasional flashbacks (or flash forwards) which are revealing in hindsight without leading to scattered timeline. And the coloring and scenery reminded me a lot of In July, also by Akin. In fact, these two films are remarkably similar, with In July filling the romantic comedy and The Edge of Heaven filling the dramatic tragedy categories. Both films are very good.