Thursday, January 21, 2010

Howard Zinn: Voices of a People's History

Seven artists join Howard Zinn on-stage to read excerpts from his book "Voices of a People's History of the United States". The readings are all first person accounts and proceed chronologically from the 1500's of Columbus through the Sept 11, 2001 response of victims families. Throughout, we of course get Zinn's point of view of what constitutes the important history. Even in these 15 or so readings, we are challenged to see that power and wealth are more dominant and insidious in this country than we would like to admit. In Zinn's own words, "Civil disobedience is not the problem, civil obedience is the problem". Occasionally funny and occasionally emotional, but always demanding action and involvement, Zinn offers a look at democracy that is sure to spark discussion in any setting.
4 stars (out of 5)


A strange little German film about a guy who tries to save a girl who is not sure she wants to be saved. Thomas is out of money and has no job prospects. He chances across a job as a driver and meets Laura, who happens to be married to Ali. This isn't strange in the odd-ball sort of way. Instead, it is one of those films that I watched and kept waiting for the main part of the story to start. I kept thinking, OK, now we are going to get into it. I kept waiting for some delving into the relationship, any relationship. It could be Thomas-Laura, Thomas-Ali, or Laura-Ali. The best window into the emotional state of these characters is Laura's statement, "Without money, you cannot love. This I know." In the end, we are mostly left with the relationships, connections and motivations to be filled in by our imagination. And while this can be a powerful method in some films, the kind of thing that makes a film stick with you, Jerichow does not carry the power.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Crazy Heart

I really like Maggie Gyllenhaal. She is fabulous again here as a reporter following Jeff Bridges' Bad Blake character and discovering what life as an old country music star is like. Blake is on the road and playing in bowling alleys trying to earn some money, his one-time stardom but a distant memory. His drinking is getting the best of him and he isn't able to see a way to change. What I really like about this film is that it gives us a pretty realistic view of life. Redemption is not always what you want it to be, but it can still be redemption. And knowing when to start and/or end a relationship is always more complicated when you are in the relationship than when you are observing from the outside. And Bridges is just plain good as the high functioning drunk who has enough musical genius in him to pull off most anything.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Clint Eastwood directs this film with the sport of Rugby at its center, but the film is not really about sports. It is about people changing how they think, it is about leadership, it is about inspiration. But in order for this to work, the rugby portion of the film must work, and it does. Without going into the details of rugby rules, Eastwood is able to use the 1995 World Cup of Rugby as the central plot element and significant consumer of screen time without losing even those completely ignorant of how the sport works (namely me). Set in South Africa during the Mandela administration, we watch how Mandela works to build a post-apartheid country, without resorting to ethnic cleansing. And while we know that sports cannot solve the real problems of the world, we do see how even in small ways, paying attention to the leadership and inspiration that sports offers can move people toward unity. Or at least toward looking at each other with new eyes. The interactions between a street kid and police officers during the World Cup final is representative of how even small changes can be important. This is a good film, and well worth watching.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, January 8, 2010


A feast for the eyes. As the first 3D movie I have seen since Captain EO at Disneyland 10 years ago, I was impressed with the restraint. This film was more about color than about 3D, and I love good use of color in film (see Speedracer). Instead of relying on cheap, things-jump-out-at-you 3D effects, Cameron instead utilizes the depth of 3D to his advantage, able to emphasize depth of field that a focus change can't do in 2D. And then he paints in the bioluminescence of nature to make a fabulous treat. I may watch it in 2D just to see how different it feels, but I found the 3D a bonus, not the main event. That said, the main event was definitely not the storyline. I saw the same story in The Battle for Terra (the blogosphere will argue for years who stole from whom). In fact, it is quite stereotypical. Protagonist beset by hardship, chooses a new life challenge. Protagonist goes in to new life and becomes sympathetic with something that was previously anathema. Protagonist becomes hero by saving newly sympathetic way of life. At this point, my critique of Avatar is basically the critique of all storytelling in film. Show me a new way to achieve societal change besides overcoming shock-and-awe with SHOCK-AND-AWE. So while the visual affects are great, they are (and should be) secondary to the story of the film. And the story in this case, is pleasant but not groundbreaking.
3 stars (out of 5)