Red Rose

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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

Kurmanjan Datka Queen of the Mountains

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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

Handmade With Love from France

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May 262015

handFrance. A documentary. Marion and I like the type of documentary we refer to as “people into their thing”. This is a perfect example. The main subjects are four old school artisans who make the pleated fabrics, and hats and feahter boas and other stuff that goes into haute couture from houses like Dior and Chanel. These are people whose families have been in the business for generations. They are crafts people, not fashionistas. Walking down the street they look like bakers and accountants. My admiration for the uncompromising attention to tradition and detail is just perfectly balanced by the absurd use to which these talents are put. The hats are the best example. Incredible level of craftsmanship, mind you, but for what?

hat2 hat1I have yet to decode the attraction of the silly and, to my mind, misogynistic world of high fashion. Starting with the shoes. There was a scene in “The Devil Wears Prada” in which the Anna Wintour character upbraids her new assistant for insufficient appreciation of the effort and creativity that went into making a particular share of blue the big color for a year. The movie failed. The rejoinder was right there waiting to be spoken,  “So what?”. What difference does it make what shade of blue is hot until they decide to make some other color hot? None, says I.

Of course the artisans are dying out. Business that have been in families for generations are not coming up with enough heirs who want to stay in the business. They got a four of them together to talk about what is happening to the industry. They call themselves dinosaurs, not only because they are old, they are my age, but because their species is going extinct. I have to say, they expressed exactly what I have been feeling about my own life’s work. My business is changing, not exactly for the worse, but there will be less creativity, more regimentation, and by the time I’m ready to stop working, it will be a different business. Its evolution. I’m a dinosaur. But, hey, the birds started out as dinosaurs.

SIFF blurb

 Posted by at 3:27 am


 Movies, SIFF 2015  Comments Off on Theeb
May 252015

theebJordan. My favorite movie so far. Set in the Arabian desert in world war one. An adventure story, and, a coming of age story. Theeb, the main character, begins the story as a boy and is entering manhood at the end. Its only marginally connected to the war, its in Arabic and  almost all the characters are Bedouins being Bedouins, doing Bedouin stuff.  The old-time Bedouins’ place in today’s Arab world approximates a combination of cowboys and Indians to us. manly guys with a code. And, its not a bad code, nothing like the nonsense the nut-jobs who make the news in the area these days. Starting with hospitality to strangers,  sticking by your family and keeping your word. A long time ago I read a book by TE Lawrence, and he said “it was thought effeminate by the Arabs to carry a provision of food for a little journey of one hundred miles”. Stuff like that.

The basic story as well as the story telling is a lot like an old fashioned Western. They ride around on camels in stead of horses, through areas known only to the local tribe, having adventures and being manly. Great stuff. A perfect ending, again not unlike our Westerns.

SIFF blurb

 Posted by at 2:05 am


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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


 Movies, SIFF 2015  Comments Off on Waterline
May 232015

waterPoland. Recommended.

A by the book, so to speak, police procedural. All the stock characters. The stoic, laconic veteran a little too personally involved in the case. The grouchy but benign police captain. The odious cop from the rat squad. The eager beaver rookie, with heart. The coroner rattling off facts about ligature marks and time of death. The slick but obviously bad bad guy. Hunches and gut feelings. Stakeouts. The sketchy guy who becomes an ally. The cynical reporter.

None of the above detracts in the least from the movie, I like movies like this that are done well, as this one is. These things are universal. Stock characters go all the way back to the Greeks, and I suspect many of the same ones.

Very good story telling. A lot of the plot points are revealed in a way that the audience has to figure it out, which is a nice feature for a detective movie. Poland has a very mature film industry, the production values are high, the actors are very good.

siff BLURB

 Posted by at 2:21 am

The Lamb

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May 212015

lambTurkey. Not to be confused with “Lamb”, another SIFF movie.

There is a style of movie making where we meet some people, and rotten things happen to them, and then another rotten thing happens, and then they do something, but it makes something rotten happen. And just when you think something has to go right, another rotten thing happens. And we will sit through the whole movie waiting for some good thing that seems like it just has to occur. Usually it does not.

At about the point where Marion and I both thought it was time for a good thing to happen, it didn’t. We don’t have to have a discussion,  we basically have the same thought at the same time, and exchange a look, its kind of cool. So we left.

Rereading the siff blurb, I think maybe we should have stuck it out, and good things did start to happen. If so, we probably would have liked the movie. Set in a fairly traditional Turkish village.

enzoThe kid pictured above is a good reason to see this movie. He reminds me a little of the kid in The Bicycle Thief. One of the great movie performances ever, in one of the 10 best movies ever made. His real name is Enzo Staiola. He’s 76 now. Still with us. He ended up being a math teacher.

 Posted by at 4:07 am

The Golden Hill

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May 202015

goldenNepal. Recommended. Traditional subsistence farmers in Nepal. The ones who, for various reasons, and with varying degrees of acceptance, are still there; having not emigrated to America, not moved to the city, not pursued education. I’m just a sucker for movies like this. There are no bravura performances or points of high drama. The movie was shot on location in an area called Mustang, and was written and performed by people from the area. So the amazing landscapes, the un-polished depiction of the culture, and the account of the choices available to the residents have the virtue of seeming quite real. There is a scene of a traditional celebration and dance that is not nearly as cool as it would be presented in a more polished film, but is very cool in that it just seems to be the genuine article. They start a little awkward in the presence of the camera, I think, but loosen up as they get into the dance. Beautiful people. Nice people. No bad guys in this movie.

Siff blurb

UNICEF Nepal earthquake relief

 Posted by at 5:11 am


 Movies, SIFF 2015  Comments Off on Behavior
May 202015

conductaCuba. Highly recommended. Marion did not like it as much as me, but says its a good movie. Set in what I take to be present day, in a poor neighborhood in Havana, centered mostly on the local school. One thing Cuba has in common with the USA seems to be that all social problems are expected to be resolved by heroic teachers bucking the system. I’m guessing the Cuban film version is about as realistic as ours tend to be, which is not much. The main character is, of course, the smart and personable kid who is always getting in trouble. These are common enough movie tropes, and they are carried off very well in this film. A reason to see the movie other than for the story is to see Cuba. The old Buicks and the crumbling infrastructure and the street scenes full of people just getting by. As I watched I wondered , now that we have finally, finally!, started to open up to Cuba, how long it will be before there is a Starbucks on every corner and people long for the good old days of the embargo. The stupid pointless embargo. I have a strong intuition that Cuba is going to be fabulous. Take a country full of  smart, beautiful people who have had to be highly creative just to get by all these years, add economic opportunity, and they will be fabulous.

SIFF blurb

 Posted by at 1:55 am

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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May 202015

earlUSA. This years movie about high school misfits. Its charming and clever and should do quite well. There was a guy outside the entrance declaiming in a loud voice that no cell phones would be allowed. He really seemed to be a lunatic, and was treated accordingly. No one looked at him or reacted in any way, just walked right by, checking their messages. This is a sign that the movie people think this film will be worth pirating.

But I have a bone to pick with all such movies. They violate the agreement between the movie and the audience. That agreement is that we, the audience, will willingly suspend our disbelief and the movie remain consistent with the universe it has created.

Most high school movies are ugly duckling stories. The unattractive socially awkward kid with nothing interesting about them finds a  place in the world and is beautiful. Now, that by itself is unrealistic, awkward maladjusted teens with weird parents are most likely to be awkward, self-conscious marginally adjusted adults. But, its a movie and we know the rules and we do not hold them to that reality. And then they go get physically attractive actors whose characters are invariably articulate and clever, and are accomplished in some offbeat but highly creative endeavor. To me, this just breaks the rules. For the role of the ugly duckling, hire a duckling who is ugly, not someone whose next role will be the young Lord Byron. Mind you, I have not attended high school in the last 45 or so years, but I doubt what we see in these movies is any more like the real thing than Archie (my personal, and unfortunate, point of reference) was in my day. Thats always so. Courtroom dramas are nothing like real legal proceedings, just for one example. But, only some of us are lawyers, everybody has been in high school. We all know the movie is cheating.

Siff blurb

 Posted by at 1:28 am