Tuesday, September 14, 2010

DVD Reviews

This 1996 drama follows four neighborhood chums in 1960’s Hell’s Kitchen. They’re sent to reform school after a street prank turns into disaster. They are subsequently abused by the guards who have complete control. Years later they find a way to achieve justice and revenge in a very clever, well thought out scheme.

The Book of Eli:
Denzel Washington stars in this post-apocalyptic story in post-war America. The film makers add to the dreary, desperate atmosphere by toning the film in a high contrast, almost monochromatic, palate. Washington (Eli) happens to possess the only remaining copy of a certain sacred, religious text. Eli feels called to take this book west to an unknown location but is intercepted and harassed by a local warlord who sees the book as a guide to achieve power over others.

Frontline- Behind Taliban Lines:
An Afghan video journalist is invited to spend time with the Taliban insurgents in northern Afghanistan. I was struck by the resoluteness of the insurgents, but also the crudity of their operation. It’s puzzling to think that the greatest fighting force in the world is getting their butts kicked by these guys. A very interesting and eye opening piece.

Sherman’s March:
The History Channel takes a detailed look at one of The USG’s most successful terrorists, William Tecumseh Sherman. The film focuses primarily upon his destructive, murderous march through Georgia and the Carolinas during the War of Northern Aggression. Most of the historians interviewed act as mild apologists for Sherman’s sickening, but militarily brilliant, rampage that became a decisive factor for the Union winning the war.

Hitler’s Lost Sub:
This 2000 Nova program examines the discovery of a sunken German WWII submarine just sixty miles off the New Jersey coast. It takes six years of dangerous deep diving to finally identify the craft. The piece also includes an excellent history of submarine technology with the focus on the German U-boats and their pivotal role in the war.

Cocaine Cowboys:
This documentary takes a close look at the peak of the Miami area cocaine trafficking in the 1970’s and ‘80s. The trade was peaceful and profitable until prohibition efforts stepped up to make Miami the murder capital of the world. A couple of very sharp, intelligent participants are interviewed about their role in the drug’s distribution. Their testimony is quite entertaining. Interviews with those involved in the violence, however, tend to be a bit depressing.

Under the Bombs:
A very moving drama based around the 2006 Israeli bombing of south Lebanon that went uninterrupted for 33 days. A cease fire is finally put into effect. A Lebanese woman from Dubai arrives and recruits a taxi driver to take her to the south to locate and retrieve her small son. The film becomes an accurate portrayal of the desperate, suffering innocents caught amongst gang warfare.

The Ghost Writer:
Roman Polanski directs this thriller based on a writer hired to ghost write the book of a recently resigned British Prime Minister. During his work and research he comes across some disturbing information that may endanger his life.

Hacking Democracy:
This 2006 Docurama takes a look at voting irregularities and fraud discovered in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, particularly centered around the multitudinous problems with and unreliability of electronic voting machines. A small group of dedicated investigators discover startling information that threatens their confidence in democracy. Let’s hope so.

Wooly Boys:
Peter Fonda and Kris Kristofferson play two old, grizzled, North Dakota sheep ranchers who work to “de-citify” Fonda’s grandson. The film contains just enough humorous, salty one liners to keep from becoming overly sentimental and maudlin. Only the totally cynical should avoid this one.

War Games/ Culloden:
This disc contains two great anti-war documentaries from Peter Watkins. The 1966 War Games dramatizes what would happen in Britain after a Soviet nuclear attack. Culloden is a re-creation with narration of the 1746 battle between the British army and Scottish rebels that resulted in the extermination of the Highlander clans. See if you can pick out the same absurdities and justifications for killing people that are still used today.

This film, though sometimes difficult to follow, is a very interesting piece of film making. Taking place in Israel and Palestine, it uses very well coached, non-professional actors with no script to follow. The language is Arabic and Hebrew. The plots are multiple and intertwined and the film jumps back and forth between different time periods. Overall, the film aims to show how murder and revenge are dealt with in this part of the world. You may not be entertained but you will be educated.

I’m a big fan of the western genre. So few film makers will make westerns anymore, and when they do, they usually suck. This one, filmed in the Texas hill country, doesn’t quite suck, but it comes close. The mediocre acting is somewhat bearable, but what disturbed me most was the wardrobe. Authenticity, apparently, wasn’t a priority, as you see cowboys working a bankrupt, hard scrabble ranch in new, clean, nicely pressed clothing that looks like it was just purchased off the rack at the Austin J.C. Penneys. And if that’s not enough, a corrupt, thieving bad guy walks into his saloon with….. sun glasses on?
Not recommended

A heart wrenching film about a young Iraqi, teenage refugee who manages to migrate to France. He needs to get to England to rejoin his girlfriend but has been repeatedly rebuffed by authorities in attempts to smuggle himself across the English Channel. He then decides to take swimming lessons to swim the Channel to get there. A nice treatment of both the state’s tyrannical control of individual movement and the indomitable human spirit that constantly works to thwart it.

Harry Brown:
Michael Caine plays a retired, ex-British Marine who works to avenge the death of a close friend by local thugs. Sometimes vigilantism is the only practical method of self-defense when the police “authorities” are indifferent.

Cream- Classic Artists:
The creators of this documentary spend hours interviewing Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and their contemporaries about their personal beginnings in the music business, the eventual creation of rock’s premier super group and their eventual, highly successful reunion concerts in 2005. The disc also includes a few vintage Cream performances from the 1960’s.

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