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8/10
You don't need a weatherman...
4 July 2004
This was a sobering documentary about The Weathermen, a radical offshoot of the Students for a Democratic Society, which was a student reform group in the mid 1960's. The Weathermen opposed the Vietnam war, racial oppression and the privilege of the wealthy; but what set them apart from other radical groups of the period was their embracing of violence as a means of accomplishing their goals.

The film describes the group's rise from within the general student left of the mid 60's and then their split to take a more action oriented approach. Several of the key members of the group are interviewed at length and these interviews are contrasted with film footage of the same people during that radical period. One gentleman who is now a community college professor has profoundly mixed feelings about the events with which he was involved. But for the most part the interviewees remain idealistic and even optimistic about the struggle they were involved in.

This is an important film and should be discussed not only due to it's value to history, but in conjunction with the events of the past couple of years. What's ironic is that The Weathermen were terrorists, destroying buildings and putting people in danger to draw attention to their cause. Why the radicalism in the wake of an unpopular war then but not now? Could we be heading in a direction again where people need to make difficult choices in order to stand up against what they feel is unjust?
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Home Movie (2001)
8/10
If you want a break from heavy, serious stuff, give it a try.
19 June 2004
This documentary is by the same person who did "American Movie" which documented the attempted making of a low budget horror movie. It's a fascinating look at how people re-model their houses to match their personalities. I love quirky documentaries like this, so it was right up my alley.

The houses included one that was made out of an abandon missile silo in Kansas - complete with an aging hippie homeowner playing a Native American flute to chase the evil spirits away. There's a retired actress that lives is a hydro-electric powered tree house in the jungles of Hawaii, an alligator wrestling good old boy that lives in a houseboat in the swamps of Louisiana and an uber-geek that has remade an electric house complete with robots.

My favorite though, is the family that has completely remade their house in order to let their 11 cats run amok in it. This is a short fun film - if you want a break from heavy, serious stuff, give it a try.
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7/10
Interesting rockumentary
31 May 2003
This is a documentary about the roots-rock band Wilco and the trials and tribulations they suffered in the production of their 2002 CD `Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.' Initially given a good deal of support by their record label (Reprise) Wilco strayed from their previous country folk-rock sound to embrace more experimental studio techniques and used synthesizers and strings to flesh out their sound. Their suits at Reprise balked at this sea-change and eventually refused to release the record and booted the band from the label. While all of this is going on the band is suffering internal strife as one of the members is let go with acrimony.

The story of Wilco's last album has become legendary in the music world and this documentary, shot in grainy black and white tells the story and portrays the band and its leader Jeff Tweedy in a sympathetic light. Tweedy is shown as the disheveled genius musician pushing the art forward while the greedy evil corporate executives attempt to thwart him. It's nice to see the band triumph in the end, and the film does throw some light on the pressure that is undergone to make a record for a major label as well as showing some of the seedier sides of the music business as flaks on both sides beat their chest and trumpet their side of the story. (Rating: 7 out of 10)
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Secretary (2002)
8/10
Unusual Romantic Comedy
23 May 2003
A young woman finds solace in a sadomasochistic relationship with her boss. From that description, you may not think that this would be a romantic comedy, but it is and a rather touching, if offbeat, one at that. Lee is a lonely young woman who punishes herself for the sadness and emptiness around her with self-inflicted injuries. After leaving a hospital where she was receiving therapy, she takes a job as a legal secretary, and becomes involved in an unusual, though ultimately healing relationship with her boss.

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the lead in an amazing performance. She was good in a small role in the also disturbing and fascinating Donnie Darko, but she is amazing in the staring role here. She is an excellent actress in the here and now, but I get the impression that she would have been a legendary silent film star - her huge eyes and portfolio of facial expressions convey more poignancy and depth than any dialogue ever could.

James Spader is often called upon to play the yuppie in films, and here again he does the same. He's a fine actor, often ignored, and he also brings depth to a character that just as easily have been a cardboard cutout.

This is a difficult film to watch, but ultimately it is rewarding for its unflinching look into the loneliness that people have to suffer with, and also as a deep exploration into what is "normal". (8 out of 10)
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6/10
Anti-noir
22 May 2003
A slow black and white film full of long pauses and minimal dialogue, Stranger Than Paradise can be a tough movie to watch for someone who is weaned on American pop cinema. It's constructed out of a series of shorts, stitched together to create a (somewhat) coherent whole. Two small time hustlers take their poker winnings and travel on a series of misadventures around America joined by the cousin of one of the con-men, an immigrant from Hungary. As with some of Jim Jarmusch's films, the focus is on the mundane in everyday life and how the characters approach it. The characters are looking for meaning in their empty and repetitious lives. Sort of an anti-road movie, there is some dry humor to break up the tedium. (6 out of 10)
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Mother Night (1996)
7/10
Dark but fascinating
20 May 2003
Nick Nolte gives an excellent performance in Kurt Vonnegut's dark tale. Notle plays Howard W. Campbell who was a double agent working in propaganda during World War II. After the war, he lives anonymously until competing factions wish to dig up his past. As with much of Vonnegut's work, this is a meditation on the absurdity of war and those who use propaganda for their own aims. Nolte is fantastic - self assured and confident as the younger Campbell, and then broken and haunted as the older man who is forced to atone for the sins of his past. (7 out of 10)
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Spy Game (2001)
7/10
Slick but effective espionage thriller.
18 May 2003
Despite some rather unbelievable parts, this is a spy yarn that holds together pretty well. There's nothing you haven't seen before in other films of this genre, but there's enough subterfuge and daring-do to hold up the interest level. Robert Redford and Brad Pitt play CIA operatives, Redford the jaded older mentor and Pitt the younger more impulsive wild card. The film fractures a bit as it tracks their somewhat tempestuous relationship through Vietnam, Berlin and Beirut (supposedly 20 years in a high stress job and they didn't seem to age!) but then pulls back together at the end. The film has some interesting looks into the moral gray area that is espionage. (Rating 7 out of 10)
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Red Dragon (2002)
7/10
Fine ensemble cast, solid film
17 May 2003
An amazing cast of top notch actors (and an excellent actress) in the final Hannibal Lecter story. Actually this part of the story is chronologically the beginning, a prequel to Silence of the Lambs. If is doesn't reach the heights of that classic, it's still a worthy film in it's own right. Whereas Silence focused on the relationship between Starling and Lecter (winning two Oscars for the principles) this film is more diffuse, looking at the violence and fear from many different angles. Great lead work from Edward Norton, who is one of the best actors of his generation. Excellent supporting work by my favorite actor, Harvey Keitel as well as Emily Watson, who infuses her role with quiet dignity. (7 out of 10)
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The Five (1995)
6/10
Dark stuff...
16 May 2003
Unlike a lot of stylized American crime cinema, this was an unrepentantly dark film. Filmed with many shots for dark, dank, rainy streets and warehouses, the cinematography reinforces the bleakness of the situation the characters face. As the Japanese economy busts in the mid 1990's, a group of out of luck businessmen rob a crime boss of a large amount of money. The gangsters send a couple of hit men out to even the score with predictable results. (6 out of 10)
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Femme Fatale (2002)
6/10
Could have been better...
11 May 2003
Ah, deceit, danger and the double-cross, the "three d's" of a great thriller. Well, this one wasn't great, but it was a serviceable film noir up until the ending where the whole thing goes into the tank. A self-proclaimed "bad girl" sets up two elaborate scams, one real and one imaginary that involve equal parts sex, violence and guile. Never trust a film where the turning point is a suicide - often it's just the easy way to get rid of a character or this case, to go off on a tangent. (6 out of 10)
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6/10
Not your father's road movie...
11 May 2003
This one got a lot of good reviews and an Oscar nomination for best foreign film, so I figured I'd check it out. Now, I'm not a prude or anything, but this turned out to be quite explicit, and I was bit surprised! The film itself is a coming of age drama about two young men whose girlfriends go away to Europe for the summer and leave them to cavort with one their cousins, a beautiful woman visiting from Spain. They go off in search of the elusive `Heaven's Mouth' beach and their friendship disintegrates as each of the friends has a sexual encounter with the cousin who just happens to be fleeing a cheating husband, and this leads the friends to reveal secrets about their prior infidelity. The film isn't without merit, the contrast between middle class Mexico City and the poverty of the rural areas is handled in an interesting way, and the characters are drawn in a realistic way. There's just a hint of soap opera in the plot that sinks it for me. Rating:6 out of 10
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