May 182015

cornGeorgia. Recommended. Almost no dialog, the entire movie is set on an island about the size of Pioneer Square. Smaller, probably. Movies like this attract adjectives like beautiful, deeply felt, meditative, because in addition to being cliches they are these things. Dirt poor Khazak peasants plant a crop on a river island whose existence will be about the same length of time as a growing season; accumulated silt from the spring runoff creates such islands. There is a certain amount of action filmed from the point of view of a boat in the water, circling the island. Circling the universe of the movie, showing everything that happens from the outside.

This a movie and there is a story connected to the seemingly unending armed conflict endemic to this benighted part of the world, but its not what the movie is about and more than it is about the weather.

The two characters, a teenage girl and her grandfather, work very hard with tools that are unchanged since the advent of iron age technology to raise an amount of food that seems pretty small. The economics of subsistence agriculture are hard for me to work out.

georgianThis is the second Georgian movie we have seen. I love the credits. it seems Georgian has its own alphabet, similar but less dyslexic than Cyrillic.

Siff blurb.

 Posted by at 7:01 pm
May 172015

Japan. I know what the theme of this movie is, because the director was there and just came out and told us. Its about loyalty. I love the premise of the movie. A Samurai is disgraced and to earn back his honor must find and kill the men who disgraced him. The search lasts 13 years, which happens to span the transition from the Edo period to the Mejii restoration. Like the opening of the American West, this is a period that is focused upon all out of proportion to how long it actually lasted.  We think of Samurai as icons, as do the Japanese, even though one of the projects of the Mejii Restoration was to demean and eliminate all aspects of Samurai culture, the better to modernize Japan.

By the way, also like the opening of our West, the samurai were less inspiring than the stories we have about them. Samurai were basically high class thugs. They were retained by warlords to maintain feudal order and fight pointless wars with other warlords. They had a terrific ethic and culture, but what in the end they were for was ignoble. The Mejii were right to suppress them

This is not a typical Samurai movie. Very little fighting. Slow paced. Its not really clear to me what our hero was doing all those years. I was hoping for a film noir version of a Samurai movie, but was disappointed. Many long takes of people experiencing strong emotions in that restrained, Japanese manner. I love gruff, explosive way people, especially men, talk in Japanese movies.   A bit character in one scene, who has maybe 10 words of dialog, looks and acts exactly like John Belushi in his revered Samurai Delicatessen sketch.  Alas, this was my favorite scene in the movie. We would have left early but the director was there and, ans we discussed it afterwards, we independently decided we did not want him to lose face. I was unaware, but he was sitting right next to me, Marion says.

Siff blurb

 Posted by at 5:36 pm
May 172015

bovaryFrance. A highly French movie. A good understanding of Flaubert’s 19th century novel of a similar name is required to totally get the humor; but everyone has read that book, of course, this is France!

The actress playing the titular role is astonishingly and unaffectedly beautiful.  I doubt if many such women are aware of the seismic reaction many … well, most … well, all straight men have to such beauty. Why would they when, like our male lead, we do everything we can to keep it hidden. I was in Julia’s 13 Carrots restaurant one morning many, many years ago, back when it was trendy. A nearby table contained a couple who, I sensed, had spent one of their first nights together. The guys back was to me, and we were both facing the door through which walked a strikingly attractive, voluptuous woman. Dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, completely not even trying. The guy lowered his fork to his plate and, to the increasing discomfort of his companion, whom I was facing, just stared at the beauty. He actually turned in his chair, rapt, eyes firmly fixed on the beauty, and watched as she progressed past me to a table. He turned back around to a radically different reality that the one he had, for those moments, occupied.  The guy’s companion remonstrated with him with some heat, and he stammered an explanation that was not very enlightening, certainly not to her. I both sympathized with the guy and knew that he would never explain it.

The guy in the movie was way cooler than that. To the movie’s credit it is not spelled completely out how much of his inner reactions his own wife was tuned into, but my read is, all of it. The MacGuffin of the movie is that Gemma’s experiences are all prefigured by the story of Flaubert’s novel. One is expected to know the ending, which is not good. The guy, the village baker (the guy who makes that unbelievable bread they have every day, great bread making scenes, by the way) sees it all happening. It is the nature of oracles that we only understand them after they have come to pass, of course.

The movie is not exactly an adaptation of Madame Bovary. Several layers of story telling are going on. The  movie is from the point of view of our baker and the story is really about him, it hinges on another story written by Flaubert 150 years ago, and is focused on his observations of a person who is recapitulating what appears to be a 21st century rural French version of similar events.

Its a funny movie. Marion loved it. Here is the Siff blurb

 Posted by at 5:01 pm
May 162015

Set in the mountains of Georgia: Stalin’s birthplace, not Ray Charles’. Movies set in the mountains of Eastern Europe always grab me. The main character is a European who basically parachutes in to a very remote and traditional mountain village and is treated hospitably.  Only in the movies, one wishes, is someone this insensitive to the folkways and mores of the people who are trying to accept them; and are those trying to explain the person’s mistakes so inarticulate. It struck me later that the director, who was present and speaks no English, is Georgian and was telling a story to Georgians that included this storyline. That’s how they see us, I guess, and he is probably right. We are clueless and deaf to good advice.

Certainly worth seeing. A number of enigmatic figures on horses are featured; and in combination with the mountains, this is very engaging. Also a fistfight between two old village guys is quite well done. A recurring theme in my things here is how great is the contrast between storytelling in this type of movie and what we are accustomed to in English language mass media. There would be mandatory elements to, for example, such a fight scene that just do not show up in this movie, and its ever so novel and entertaining.

SIFF blurb

 Posted by at 8:34 am
May 162015

A very authorized documentary about Tab Hunter. Recommended. Turns out Hunter was one of the last cadre of actors who worked in the old Hollywood studio system, and he was able to get roles that allowed him to do some good work. One of the most strikingly good looking people around, and his looks are of the sort that get better with age. I really hope that we are approaching a time when people can grow up and be gay and not have that fact be what drives everything that happens to them; which is what happened to Hunter and several other people who show up in the story.  It seems he was really talented. Competed with Olympians in figure skating, master horseman, the footage of him skating and riding is pretty cool. It also turns out that quitting the studio system was a bad move for the guy, the studios were able to suppress news accounts of star’s private lives, and losing that protection got him kicked out of the closet and he could not get good work, which is why my memory of him is of a lot of worthless movies. That was the only work he could get until John Waters did for him a little of what Tarantino did for John Travolta. It strikes me that one of the most admirable things about him is his work ethic.

Of course, he pretty much made the movie, so maybe he hates dogs or something.

Here is the SIFF blurb.

 Posted by at 8:08 am
May 162015

charlieMy First SIFF movie. A theme of the movie is what amazing, un-reflective shits Europeans are to indigenous people. The shits in this case are of English stock, and so are very polite about it, and these particular indigenous people seem to be unusually pacifistic; so very little outright cruelty, thank the gods. I hate outright cruelty to indigenous people in movies. A theme of my comments about SIFF is that the blurbs can be fairly misleading, and this is an example. The scenes the blurb are about are my favorite parts of the movie; and kind of remind me of a film called “All is Lost” with the one and only Robert Redford portraying the one and only character in the movie, a guy just doing the next logical thing in an effort to survive what nature is throwing at him. The main theme of the movie is that its hard to retain one’s soul in the midst of a lot of pointless bullshit not of one’s choosing. One of my personal favorite themes. The movie has a scene where Charlie’s hair and beard are cut off. I love scenes like that. That must be a high stakes scene for the film maker, he cant re-shoot long haired Charlie after that.

 Posted by at 7:48 am
May 022015

solomonThe phrase, “cut the baby in half.” is today shorthand for a type of compromise, and refers to one of the most well known, if not well read, passages of the bible.

The thing to know about Solomon is that he was a king in the oriental style, and that he was probably a prick. He was born into royalty, got where he was through his mother’s palace intrigue, obscenely rich, giant palace, eunuchs, slaves, a huge harem, gaudy displays of superiority to his subjects. Much more like an Ottoman sultan than what we think of as the Old Testament. And he was a bad king. He taxed the populace into penury and was the first Hebrew king to require forced labor of free citizens. He put the kingdom deep into debt, largely to fund his extravagance. When he died, the regions outside of the capital revolted. The kingdom split in two and was never really reunited. His queen’s name is an eponym for a shameless, wicked woman to this day: Jezebel. Justice was not really this guy’s strong suit.

Solomon gets treated very well by the guys who wrote the bible 300 or so years later, because he built the temple; and those writers were all about the temple. But even they couldn’t just leave out that he was a fuck-up.

The job of a king in those days consisted to a great extent of sitting in judgment in a way that would compare pretty closely with our experience of Ex Parte, only with no motions to revise.

The passage about his great wisdom as a judge, 1 Kings 3:16-28, begins with the words “Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.” This is almost never referenced, that the litigants were unclean, and the child in question had no father. In the ethics of the day, these were worthless people, the baby most of all. And, I’m guessing their presentation lacked the usual decorum, the disputants being unlettered members of the underclass. Think: Jerry Springer. There is nothing in the passage that suggests other than that Solomon fully intended to dismember the baby. I think he mostly wanted to get these no-name yahoos and their creepy dispute out of his courtroom; and to send a message to similarly situated people to keep their petty arguments to themselves.  That the one woman spoke up and ceded her child to the other was, I think, unforeseen. Anybody could have figured that one out. He was not so much wise as lucky.

I think that it was Solomon whom the author of First Samuel, chapter 8:10-22 had in mind. This is my favorite passage in the Bible, so far. The passage describes one step in what was a transition from a culture based on tribal organization to a centralized state. God, through Samuel, sets out the downside:

And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.

And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.

And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground°, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.

And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.

And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.

And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.

And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.

He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.

And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.

Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;

That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.

And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord.

And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.

Saul was made king, succeeded by David, succeeded by Solomon. Bet you never heard of Solomon’s successor. Rehoboam.

 Posted by at 3:25 am