May 262015
 

roseIran. Good movie. Recommended. This is a movie in which somehow, and I really can’t say exactly how, the audience just knows something is wrong, not as it seems.  A suspense movie. What the audience does know is also pretty wrong. Its set in an extremely specific time and place. Iran, June of 2009. During the Green Revolution. Even more specifically, all of the action in the movie takes place in the main character’s apartment. He never leaves. We don’t really know why he is holed up. This is a terrific premise for a suspense movie, and it is carried off very well.  Massive protests are happening outside his window. There are a number of scenes shot on cell phones of what was plainly actual video from the protests showing the cops doing what cops do in those situations, huge numbers of people marching and the like. People come and go from the apartment, including a beautiful and mysterious stranger, and he has phone conversations, but we have a hard time figuring out his deal until the story decides to reveal it. A very satisfying movie experience.

The thing about Iran is that the people who live there are to a great degree not at all into all the religious stuff. Just the opposite. They are regular people who dress like us and just want to have a nice apartment an a decent job. Nicest people you could hope to meet.

Iran under the Shah was a pretty open place, politics aside. Women were encouraged to get an education, people in the cities dressed and acted like middle class people in Europe, and the religious bigots had little power. Because no one but the Shah had power. He was an asshole, a puppet of the US which had overthrown a different election and installed him, the better to get Iran’s oil. He was a typical stupid dictator. He made hash of the economy and civil society. He was hated. When the Iranians could, they got rid of him, in 1979.  The people who were best organized were the religious fanatics, because the Shah’s secret police, SAVAK,  had imprisoned or murdered the secular opposition, and the army was corrupt. Also,  Khomeini was a famous exiled dissident, and pulled a fast one on his return after the Shah was deposed. So the religious nuts took over.

In 2009 the Iranians voted in a fellow named Mousavi for President, he was secular but had been in the government until he crossed the religious party once too often. So, the government transparently stole the election; which is how one of our favorite nutcases, Ahmadinejad, got into power. There were massive protests that grew every day. It was the first protest movement that made creative use of the internet and Twitter. It was put down by a massive Tiananmen style show of force. The world just watched it happen.  The point of the protests was not just the election, it was desperately wanting to become a regular country.

This is the backdrop of the film. Our main character is secular, professional, probably pretty well off. Its not so surprising he is not in the streets, but what is his deal, we wonder.

 

 Posted by at 6:01 am
May 262015
 

datkaKyrgyzstan. The following fails to praise the movie, but its one of Marion’s favorites, and I suspect her taste is more widely shared than mine. Its definitly a good story, and an interesting part of history.

Kurmanjan Dakta was a real person, kind of the George Washington of Kyrgyzstan. Her picture is on the money. This is a propaganda film financed on no bid contracts by the government for the controversial amount of $1.3 Million. Controversial because economically, the country is in the toilet owing to a series of kleptocratic governments and factional upheavals starting in the 90’s when they separated from the Soviet Union. Kyrgyzstan is in the area that the Greeks called Scythia, whose inhabitants pretty much pioneered horse culture, and mounted warfare. They invented trousers, also. The Kyrgyz were Turkic nomads of the Eurasian steppes. They almost got crushed by various empires over time, but persevered in their mountain holdouts. When the tsarist Russians came with their cannons it was plain that they were really going to get crushed, and Kurmanjan was the leader who made as favorable a peace with them as probably could have been had. Peace in the sense of an absence of official hostilities.

I have to say, Central Asian Turkic muslim cultures have no end of fascination for me. I can’t say why. If the movie did nothing else for me, it made me want to go there.  Maybe they will get their money’s worth out of it.

This is not a great movie, but its a good movie. The acting is way different from most of the movies we see. In most movies, especially those set among traditional people, if the character is a shepherd, the actor looks like a shepherd. A tough, grizzled, kind of dirty shepherd; its often hard to imagine that they are actors, and often they aren’t. In Kurmanjan, they look like actors with fake beards. This movie has more in common with the big technicolor movies of the 60’s than independent film. Charlton Heston would have fit right in, that stiff. But those were OK movies. I loved Ben-Hur. There were great scenes of horse riding, one in particular where Krumanjan rides over a cliff into a lake thats pretty spectacular.

 

 Posted by at 4:07 am
May 252015
 

Pakistan. Marion’s favorite movie so far.

Set in the tribal areas of Northern Pakistan. A land of men with guns, housebound women, arranged marriages, honor killings. In general, people of the male persuasion do not come off so well.   We saw a movie a couple of years ago set in the same area called “Son of a Lion”, which is one of my all time favorite SIFF movies. The guys in that movie were not such assholes, and the Talibanish types were seen as dangerous and to be avoided. Sort of like bikers.

Beautifully filmed. The main characters were a mother and daughter, and were very engaging. The mom challenges male dominance, for the sake of her kid.  Complications ensue.

 Posted by at 1:24 am
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
Mar 192015
 

Why the U.S. does nothing in Ukraine .

a snippet from the Danger Room blog on Washington Post’s site. The whole article is worth reading

Russia is … a declining challenger (by its own standards) that offers the United States a … policy course of maintaining the status quo and waiting to negotiate later from a position of greater strength. If Obama believes that Russia has internal structural contradictions (resource-dominated economy) and is externally at its peak, then he finds himself roughly in the same position as Dwight Eisenhower roughly 60 years ago: confident of prevailing in a long war or arms racing against an adversary with internal structural contradictions (command economy), but wary of entering into short-term conflicts close to Russia. Just as Eisenhower failed to intervene in Hungary in 1956, Obama is failing to intervene decisively in Ukraine and giving Russia a fight at the latter’s time and place of choosing.

What is it about the Russians? Generation after generation, from the Tsars to Putin,  they get these third rate hustlers to lead them and then act like they are being cheated of greatness. No wonder they have such a great sense of humor.

 Posted by at 4:40 am
Mar 082015
 

Louis Armstrong – (What Did I Do To Be So) Black And Blue
New York, July 22, 1929
YouTube
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Louis Armstrong – Black And Blue

Songwriters: Brooks, Harry / Waller, Fats / Razaf, Andy

Black And Blue lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group

Lyrics

Cold empty bed, springs hard as lead
Pains in my head, feel like old Ned
What did I do to be so black and blue?

No joys for me, no company
Even the mouse ran from my house
All my life through I’ve been so black and blue

I’m white inside, but that don’t help my case
Cause I can’t hide what is on my face
I’m so forlorn. Life’s just a thorn
My heart is torn. Why was I born?
What did I do to be so black and blue?

I’m hurt inside, but that don’t help my case
Cause I can’t hide what is on my face
How will it end? Ain’t got a friend
My only sin is in my skin
What did I do to be so black and blue?
Tell me, what did I do?
What did I do? What did I do?
What did I do? What did I do?
What did I do? What did I do?
What did I do? Tell me, what did I do to be so black and blue?
What did I do to be so black and blue?

 Posted by at 7:34 am