Tuesday, November 2, 2010

DVD Reviews

Fixer- The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi:
This HBO documentary looks at an American reporter and his “fixer” (interpreter and guide) who film behind enemy lines in Afghanistan. Mr. Naqshbandi is then kidnapped with an Italian journalist. A good examination of the brutality of war, the constant danger in reporting it, and the bumbling bureaucrats who get people killed.

Colin Farrell stars as a photojournalist who suffers psychological trauma after photographing the Iraq/Kurdistan conflict in the late 1980’s.

Molokai- The Story of Father Damien:
A true story (filmed in the original location) about a priest who sacrificed his life, caring for individuals in a 19th century, Hawaiian leper colony. He overcomes every obstacle, including those from the state and the church who pretend to care.

The Art of the Steal:
A must see documentary about how the state will manipulate and lie to steal a man’s property it covets. In this case the City of Philadelphia patiently works for decades to steal the multi-billion dollar Barnes art collection, in direct defiance of the original owner’s wishes.

That Evening Sun:
I enjoy watching movies about curmudgeons. They inspire me to keep on pluggin.’ And no one is better at playing a curmudgeon that Hal Holbrook. His character escapes his retirement home to return to his Tennessee farm, only to find it occupied by a man he despises.

This sci-fi flick revolves around a deep space ship, sent as a Noah’s ark, to populate a new planet. The crew awakes from deep sleep to find the ship occupied by mutant, flesh eating, space zombies. Not a bad film, but watching any episode of the X-Files is much more satisfying.
Not recommended

10,000 Black Men named George:
This Showtime produced historical drama looks at the effort to unionize train porters at the Pullman Rail Co. during the Depression. The efforts are ultimately successful when the state’s hammer is utilized. A well acted snippet of history.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird:
This Korean made film combines the non-stop, treasure hunting action of a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with the feel of an American western. The result is quite entertaining. A bonus is the unique, impressive, and physically risky camera work.

This is one of the few Tom Hanks films I haven’t seen. It, of course, was made back in the dark ages when most people thought HIV causes AIDS (which they still do) and people did not respect freedom of association (which they still don’t). That said, this is a well crafted story, less about “civil rights” than about the necessity of human compassion.

Keb Mo-Sessions at West 54th:
I’m a big fan of Keb Mo (Kevin Moore) and his tasty and expertly composed and performed version of the blues. This is a good disc to watch for those not familiar with this enduring and productive artist.

Viggo Mortensen plays a well mannered professor in 1930’s Germany where the Nazi regime takes a liking to his writing about euthanasia. Not the best movie, but a nice illustration of how otherwise decent folks can be sufficiently flattered to align themselves with obvious evil.

500 Nations:
This 4 disc series details the near 500 year history of the 500 nations of aborigines on the North American continent. All the despicable acts of European colonization are outlined which contributed to the demise and even outright extinction of many of these unique civilizations.

The Experiment:
This 2010 film is based on the 1971 Stanford prison experiment where some volunteers are given roles as guards and others as prisoners. The film implies that man, despite his flattering self image of a highly evolved and rational creature, is still nothing more that an animal when faced with extreme stress. I would instead view this film as an excellent illustration of how those who are given a monopoly of power over others will, without exception, abuse that power. Forest Whitaker and Adrien Brody do an excellent job of being the focus of conflict under those conditions.

Bela Fleck- Throw Down Your Heart:
The master banjo player visits Africa and the birthplace of his musical instrument of choice to learn and jam with some of the continent’s most talented musicians. A wonderful display of musical expertise from all involved. Much lasting and beautiful art was created by this musical interaction, some of it quite moving.

El Bola:
A Spanish made film that explores a universal theme- parental child abuse. I’ve seen much better child acting but the two young boy’s work in this film is sufficiently effective to show the pain and desperation of those children who are beaten and abused by the very ones that should be offering unconditional love.

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