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The Journal Formerly Known As...
Pop Culture-A-Go-Go
praderwilli
Stalags- Holocaust and Pornography in Israel (Israel) 2007 ***
"Stalags" are pocket books that were highly popular in Israel in the early 1960's. The plots mainly concern buxom, beautiful but cruel female SS officers who sexually torture their male prisoners. The popularity of these "Stalags" paralleled the highly publicized trial of Adolf Eichman in Israel. Paging Dr. Freud!

This documentary studies the origins of these stories and how their influence continues in Israel to this day.Interesting subject matter, but the documentary wasn't anything special.

Four Women (India) 2007 ***1/2
Based on the writings of Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai this film has four stories featuring four female archetypes- The Prostitute, The Virgin, The Housewife and The Spinster. Enjoyable film that suffered from the fact that the stories were somewhat uneven- The Housewife was the weakest story. The Spinster's story was the best by far with a quiet yet stunning performance by Nandita Das as the spinster. Fortunately it was the last story so the film ends on a high note.

Sparrow (Hong Kong) 2008 ****
Another fun movie from Johnnie To, though this one is better than The Mad Detective. Four professional pick pockets try to help a beautiful woman escape Mr. Fu, an older and powerful man who holds her in his grasp. Typical To, with lots of humor, goofy chases (on crutches and in elevators!) and a pickpocket duel at the end under the cover of many umbrellas all done in slo-mo.

Total Movies seen: 50

*= Unclean, unclean
**= Crap, but doesn't make your eyes bleed
***= Watchable to good
****= Great
*****= Masterpiece/Classic

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praderwilli
John Waters presents: Cecil B. Demented (USA) 2000 ****
Part of the Talking Pictures program, this film was preceded by an interview with John Waters by Artistic Director of the festival, Carl Spence. We had seen John Waters at the festival a few years ago and he is as witty and charming as ever.

His irrational hatred of David Lean (he hates "all those wide sweeping shots of beauty) and Katharine Hepburn (no explanation provided) was particularly amusing. Waters conversed about his career in general and his film Cecil B. Demented specifically since there was a screening of it directly following the conversation with John.

If you've never seen Cecil B. Demented it's exactly what you would expect from a John Waters movie i.e. bad taste done with style. It stars Melanie Griffith as a Hollywood star who is kidnapped by a group of film terrorists led by Cecil B. Demented (Stephen Dorff). The terrorists want to put a stop to Hollywood's tyranny of bad movies. The film also stars Waters regulars Mink Stole and Patricia Hearst ("Patty was her victim name. Who wants to be a famous victim?")

This movie was a lot of fun. Plus: shout outs for martial arts movies and porn! Could have only been improved by a bag of popcorn, but I didn't think to stop at the snack bar on my way in.

Edited to add: Photos from steve98052

Mad Detective (Hong Kong/China) 2007 ***
We stayed to watch this movie in spite of ptousig's warnings. Most movies directed by Johnnie To manage to entertain me (even if they're not especially good) and this film was no exception. It follows the story of a brilliant detective who solves cases because he can see the inner soul of everyone he meets.

Unfortunately he is mad as a hatter clinically insane. This is evidenced by the fact that he cuts off his ear and presents it to the chief upon his superior's retirement. He also spends his spare time talking to his imaginary wife. His real wife has divorced him because he's such a nutjob. I thought the movie was kind of fun to watch even if the ending made little to no sense whatsoever.

Total Movies seen: 47

*= Unclean, unclean
**= Crap, but doesn't make your eyes bleed
***= Watchable to good
****= Great
*****= Masterpiece/Classic

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praderwilli
Shadow of the Holy Book (Finland/Switzerland/Denmark) 2007 ***
Documentary about the repressive government of Turkmenistan. They are very often ranked as one of the top three nations in human rights abuse. But they have lots of oil and riches; and therefore they are courted by world leaders and corporations who make millions off the Turkmenistan government but do nothing to stop the oppression of its people who live in fear and poverty.

The style of the documentary copies Michael Moore without being as good as or as funny as Michael Moore. However, the subject matter was interesting so it is worth a viewing.

Night Tide (USA) 1961 ***1/2
The Academy Film Archive recently restored this archival presentation. Directed and written by Curtis Harrington and starring a very young Dennis Hopper, the story follows a young sailor on leave who meets and falls in love with Mora, a mysterious woman who siren-like draws young men to watery deaths.

Kind of outdated, but kind of enjoyable to watch for me.

Total Movies seen: 45

*= Unclean, unclean
**= Crap, but doesn't make your eyes bleed
***= Watchable to good
****= Great
*****= Masterpiece/Classic

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praderwilli
Secret Festival #2 ****
This one was a repeat of a previous secret festival. Last time it screened I was not yet a secret festival pass holder. However, it was fairly well known that this film screened at secret. Back in the 1990's (I think) it was revealed in a Stranger article written by film critic, Andy Spletzer. For a time he was barred from the secret festival for his transgression. Currently he's a SIFF programmer. So, obviously he's been forgiven.

This is a notorious movie that has been banned from legal screenings. It is easily available on the internets. Pretty much anyone who wants to see it has already seen it. It was nice to see a better quality copy (from the filmmaker himself) and on the big screen. So, it was cool. I don't know if it was worth missing Kung Fu Panda for it, though.

The Saga of Anatahan (Japan) 1953 ***1/2
Rarely seen film directed by Josef von Sternberg. SIFF screened a copy obtained from the Library of Congress. It chronicles the true incident of Japanese sailors who were shipwrecked on the island of Anatahan in 1944. They remained on the island for 7 years completely unaware that WWII was over. Filmed in Japanese with a Japanese cast and crew and without subtitles. The story is told through annoying voiceover narration that evokes (bad) memories of Plan 9 From Outerspace.

Gorgeous black and white cinematography and the fact that it is a curiosity more than anything else make it watchable.

Ben X (Belgium/Netherlands) 2007 ****
A young man with Asperger syndrome is tormented at school. He gets even. It's a revenge film with a message. I actually enjoyed it even if it was a bit heavy handed there at the end.

Total Movies seen: 43

*= Unclean, unclean
**= Crap, but doesn't make your eyes bleed
***= Watchable to good
****= Great
*****= Masterpiece/Classic

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praderwilli
Let the Right One In (Sweden) 2008 ****
Love story between a 12 year old boy and a vampire girl. Ain't love grand?

Expertly filmed with some good scares. The pool scene is particularly memorable. Well worth a viewing.

Young Adam (UK/Scotland) 2003 ***1/2
Next up, two films back to back from SIFF selected "emerging master", David MacKenzie. He apparently specializes in films with extremely unlikeable and unsympathetic characters. Anyway that was my reaction.

This first one stars Ewan McGregor. He has lots of sex with different women. In the process he breaks up Tilda Swinton's marriage and accidentally kills Emily Mortimer. How charming.

Mister Foe (UK) 2007 **
Jamie Bell is a creepy stalker trapped in a boring and pointless story. Some people liked this movie. I didn't.

Encounters at the End of the World (USA) 2007 *****
Wow. I've been seeing some really great docs lately. All you really need to know is that this is a Werner Herzog directed documentary about Antarctica that is "not about penguins". Gorgeous photography of Antarctica combined with voiceover of Herzog's philosophical meditations creates a mesmerizing, almost spiritual experience.

Although, contrary to Herzog's promise there are some penguins.

Unfinished Sky (Australia) 2007 ***1/2
Widowed rancher, John Waldring, finds a battered and bruised foreign speaking girl. He takes her in and helps her. They fall in love. I wasn't expecting much from this movie but I ended up liking it quite a bit.

We were too tired to go to the midnighter. I wonder if it was any good.

Total Movies seen: 40

*= Unclean, unclean
**= Crap, but doesn't make your eyes bleed
***= Watchable to good
****= Great
*****= Masterpiece/Classic

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praderwilli
City Arts Magazine's new definition for "everywhere": Seattle, Tacoma and the Eastside. We really are the center of the universe. Good to know.

My hatred for City Arts Magazine increases every day. Please stop tormenting me with your ads before every single film. Thank you.

Ask Not (USA) 2008 ***1/2
Well done doc about the stupid "don't ask, don't tell" policy of the US military. Answers the question: Who would you rather have with you in a foxhole- John Wayne or Liberace? Answer: Liberace since he speaks Arabic, Farsi and Korean. Also, he is fabulous. The director attended but we left before the Q&A.

American Teen (USA) 2008 *****
Remember how much high school sucked? New best documentary of the fest. I lamely claimed that Emmanuel Jal was the best. This movie about middle America teens proved me wrong. I apologize for my inaccuracy.

Savage Grace (USA/Spain) 2007 ***
True story. Rich people are bored and useless and sometimes crazy. Julianne Moore wanders around europe with her husband and son attending social events. She's slightly insane. Her husband dumps her for a younger woman. She continues her travels with her son. She has sex with him to "cure" his homosexuality. It doesn't work. He is batshit crazy and stabs her to death. The End.

Directed by Tom Kalin who previously directed Swoon which was also based on a true murder case and was a better film.

Mirageman (Chile/USA) 2007 ***1/2
Is it a superhero movie parody or a 1970's chopsockie parody? I don't know but it's high-larious.

Total Movies seen: 35

*= Unclean, unclean
**= Crap, but doesn't make your eyes bleed
***= Watchable to good
****= Great
*****= Masterpiece/Classic

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praderwilli
Song Sung Blue (USA) 2008 ***
Documentary following the trials and tribulations of Lightening and Thunder, married couple Mike and Claire Sardina, who earn their living by impersonating Neil Diamond and Patsy Cline. Filmmaker Greg Kohs followed the pair for eight years. He chronicled freak accidents, addiction, health problems, financial woes and the highlight of their career when Lightening and Thunder performed in front of 30,000 people at a Pearl Jam concert and Eddie Vedder sang Neil Diamond's "Forever in Blue Jeans" with them.

I went to this movie expecting a light-hearted romp, but it's mostly really depressing. On a side note, Eddie Vedder is cool.

Kiss the Bride (USA) 2007 ***
This was the so-called "Gay-la" event with post-party at Neighbors next door to the Egyptian Theater. Directed by C. Jay Cox (Latter Days), Kiss the Bride is essentially the gay version of "My Best Friend's Wedding". Successful gay magazine editor Matt (Phillipp Karner) finds out his first love, Ryan (James O'Shea) is getting married to ....a girl (Tori Spelling- who steals the show). He must go to the wedding and stop his former boyfriend from making a mistake!

This was mostly mediocre with a few laughs and a kinda dumb ending: Ryan's not gay even though he loved Matt when he was in high school. But now he loves women, especially Tori Spelling. Nobody mentions or seems to notice that Tori Spelling looks rather a lot like a drag queen. I foresee problems in the future for the happy couple.

C. Jay Cox, the director, a producer (didn't catch his name) and James O'Shea attended and there was a Q&A following the screening. The most amusing part was when straight actor O'Shea was explaining what it was like kissing a man. He got flustered and embarrassed and so he stopped his yammering and lifted his shirt to flash the audience with his bare torso. The audience whooped and cheered wildly. Except for me, I just laughed.

Total Movies seen: 31

*= Unclean, unclean
**= Crap, but doesn't make your eyes bleed
***= Watchable to good
****= Great
*****= Masterpiece/Classic

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praderwilli
They Killed Sister Dorothy (USA) 2008 ***1/2
Documentary about the murder of Dorothy Stang who was shot to death in 2005. Dorothy was a nun and an activist who lived in Brazil for 30 years working to help impoverished people and to save the Amazonian rain forest. She was shot to death in a dispute with loggers and ranchers over a lot of land that was part of a project to allow poor farmers to make a sustainable living while decreasing deforestation.

This was an interesting and depressing documentary. The amoral lawyers who defend the rancher who went to trial for Sister Dorothy's murder allowed the documentary filmmakers free access to their behind the scenes machinations. Their arrogance and absence of any real human feelings was appalling. The trigger man and a low level accomplice were convicted and sentenced. Only one of the ranchers involved in the murder stood trial and though the film ends with him being convicted, in the Q&A afterwards the director told us that three weeks ago he was acquitted in a re-trial. And the mass deforestation continues unabated.

Well, that was cheerful! Hope the next one we see will be uplifting....

Emmanuel Jal: War Child (USA) 2008 *****
Best documentary I've seen this fest- powerful, depressing and yet ultimately uplifting (yay!). It tells the story of Emmanuel Jal who was a child soldier during the 20 year war between Christian Southern Sudan and the Muslim Sudanese government in the North during the 1980's until the ceasefire in 2004. He was rescued and smuggled to Kenya by Emma McCune, a British foreign aid worker. He was educated in Nairobi, receiving a scholarship to a private school there and has since become a successful rapper and musician. He currently lives in London.

Emmanuel Jal tells his story in his own words, both in interviews and in filmed live performances of his music. The filmmakers also follow him as he journeys back to visit his sister, now studying in Nairobi and the rest of his family who are still living in Southern Sudan. The film also includes amazing footage of Emmanuel as a child in a refuge camp filmed by a French documentary film crew.

Emmanuel continues to record and perform his music and he is currently raising money to build a school in his father's village so that the children can be educated. The director attended and a lively Q&A followed the screening. He updated us on Emmanuel's life and told us that the other little boy that appeared in the French documentary is now studying medicine in Australia and will soon be a doctor. The French documentarians were pleased to discover that Emmanuel is alive and well- they thought he died as a child.

Jar City (Iceland) 2007 ***1/2
Icelandic murder mystery that doesn't fall apart at the end. The lead detective, Erlender, is hard-bitten yet engaging and likeable with a very dry sense of humor. He tracks down the killer even as he is dealing with his own problems- namely his drug addicted pregnant daughter. And chalk up another suicide! (Suicide is supposedly a "theme" at the fest this year.)

Total Movies seen: 29

*= Unclean, unclean
**= Crap, but doesn't make your eyes bleed
***= Watchable to good
****= Great
*****= Masterpiece/Classic

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praderwilli
Breakfast With Scot (Canada) 2007 ***
Former pro-hockey player, Sam (Tom Cavanagh) and lawyer, Ed (Ben Shenkman) are reportedly a gay couple. Through a set of contrived circumstances they become guardians to Scot, the gayest 11 year old on planet Earth. Hilarity ensues. Ends all schmaltzy and happy and has broad audience appeal because the gay couple is barely gay (they seem like roommates) and the kid is precocious and "cute".

The producer was present for a Q&A. He said they were working on making the movie into a TV series- a sort of "gay" Two and a Half Men. This surely deserves to be a sitcom.

Mongol (Kazakhstan/Germany/Russia) 2007 ****
This film was nominated for an Oscar this year for Best Foreign Language Film. Basically it's Genghis Khan: the early years. The story ends just when Khan has united the Mongols but before he starts all that pesky invading. Japanese superstar Tadanobu Asano plays Temudgin (that's Genghis Khan to you and me) and Chinese actor Honglei Sun co-stars as Jamukha, the man who is first Temudgin's blood brother and later his enemy.

If you like sweeping epics with gorgeous cinematography and bloody battles you will enjoy this film. The musical score is enhanced by Mongolian band Altan Urgan. Also, if you think Tadanobu Asano is hot you might want to watch his Japanese-Mongolian hotness.

The director, Sergei Bodrov, was present for the screening. At the Q&A after the film people were bitching about not using Mongolian actors. He said he looked but couldn't find any that were right for the role. He asked Asano because he's a great actor and also he is "handsome and sexy" and Sergei thought movie-goers would like that. Works for me. Originally, Tadanobu wanted to play the second lead because he thought it was more interesting. Somehow he was convinced to take the lead. All of the non-Mongolian actors had to learn to speak Mongolian.

Blood Brothers (Taiwan/China/Hong Kong) 2007 ***
Mediocre Chinese gangster movie full of pretty people in gorgeous 1930's period costumes. You wouldn't be surprised if I told you that there's a blood bath at the end, would you? Directed by Alexi Tan, produced by John Woo and starring Daniel Wu and Shu Qi, who is very beautiful but not her normal adorable self in this film.

Total Movies seen: 26
Technical Difficulty Encountered: The bulb went out on the projector at the very end of Mongol. The director told us the line we missed was: "You know your destiny." After they fixed the problem a title card came up and then... credits.

*= Unclean, unclean
**= Crap, but doesn't make your eyes bleed
***= Watchable to good
****= Great
*****= Masterpiece/Classic

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praderwilli
Yesterday was a very, very good day of movies. We saw some real winners, which means I don't even mind that my backside is already starting to get sore from sitting in movie theaters all day.

Two posts in one day means I get caught up. Go me!

Terra (USA) 2007 ****
Computer animated film with a "message" that free will must be exercised in order to achieve peace and individuals questioning authority are necessary in order to build a better society. But forget about the message, this movie has a great story and beautiful animation with an all star voice cast including James Garner, Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson, and the always hilarious David Cross (even when he's just an animated robot).

Heartbeat Detector (France) 2007 ***1/2
Adaptation of François Emmanuel's "La Question Humaine"- The film follows Simon (Mathieu Amalric), who enjoys his work as a corporate psychologist weeding out all of the "undesirable" employees. He is assigned to investigate the mental status of the company's CEO who seems to have become unstable. Simon's life slowly begins to deteriorate as his investigation uncovers the company's dark role in WWII.

Simon becomes haunted with the truths he uncovers and he must ask himself, "What is more important the institution or humanity?" This film features a strong performance from Amalric and the story is engrossing and well done. However, just shy of 2 and 1/2 hours, the movie seemed overlong and could have used some editing.

The Wrecking Crew (USA) 2008 *****
"The Wrecking Crew" was the name given to a loose group of about 20 to 30 studio musicians used in the LA recording industry during the 1960's. They recorded more number one singles than the Beatles. They cut records with Elvis Presley, Herb Alpert, the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Phil Spector and the Wall of Sound, and the Monkees among many others. The film asserts that they provided "the soundtrack to our lives".

This documentary was made by Denny Tedesco the son of one of the most famous of The Wrecking Crew, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, who passed away in 1997. The director has assembled interviews with many of the living members: bass player Carol Kaye, Glen Campbell, drummer Earl Palmer, and Hal Blaine to name a few. The filmmaker provides personal footage of his dad that he filmed and a conversation with four of the wrecking crew, including his father. Then there are interviews with other musicians talking about the crew like Monkee, Mickey Dolenz who admits he never thought of himself as a musician. He approached the Monkees as an actor. And Nancy Sinatra talks about the recording of "These Boots are Made for Walking". Of course, the soundtrack of the film provides lots of great old tunes from the 1960's.

Ultimately, it's just musicians reminiscing about their music and their lives. I loved it.

Sita Sings the Blues (USA) 2007 *****
Brilliant, and I do mean brilliant animated film. Do not miss this one. In 2002, cartoonist Nina Paley was dumped by her husband in an email. Inspired by her break-up she made this movie. Based on the Indian story, the Ramayana, it is about the suffering of Sita who "loves her man" , Rama, in spite of his ill treatment of her. The animation is gorgeous, the script provides lots of laughs, and the music is wonderful. Interspersed throughout the film, Sita sings the blues- voiced by jazz great Annette Hanshaw. This movie is pure genius.


Cafe de los Maestros (Argentina/USA/Brazil) 2008 ****
Documentary about Tango music, the filmmaker interviews legendary Tango musicians, singers and composers who reminisce about the golden age of the Tango. Some are working on reconstructing old classics that were never before written down, others are recording and they are all rehearsing. The film culminates with a concert honoring the Tango at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. Great music. Well done doc.

Total Movies seen: 23
Total Bags of Popcorn consumed: Two! I had popcorn for lunch yesterday. So healthy and nutritious.

*= Unclean, unclean
**= Crap, but doesn't make your eyes bleed
***= Watchable to good
****= Great
*****= Masterpiece/Classic

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