Saturday, May 14, 2011

DVD Reviews

127 Hours:
This is the dramatization of the ordeal of Aaron Ralston (James Franco), a rock climber who had to amputate his own arm in order to free himself from a boulder which had pinned his right arm. Thankfully, the amputation is only about two minutes of the movie. To the film maker’s credit, time is spent developing Ralston’s character, giving insight into what kind of person he is before facing his dilemma as well as giving a detailed account of Ralston’s thoughts and hallucinations during a terrible ordeal. The film gives nice insight to what drives and motivates people to overcome and survive a seemingly hopeless predicament.

Partisans of Vilna:
This documentary interviews Jews who survived the Jewish ghetto in Vilna, Lithuania during its Nazi occupation and their patiently organized, and ultimately successful, resistance.

Please Give:
This light comedy examines the lives of several neighbors in a Manhattan apartment building and their battles with personal guilt and envy. Well acted, particularly by one of my favorites, Anne Guilbert, who was also the “Marble Rye” lady on Seinfeld.

The Day of the Jackal:
This entertaining thriller was released in 1973 based on Frederick Forsyth's novel. An assassin, sponsored by a French paramilitary group, carefully executes an assassination attempt against President Charles de Gaulle while the police work feverishly to identify and stop him.

Glorious 39:
This drama takes place in the summer of 1939, just weeks before England went to war against Hitler’s Germany. An English aristocratic family must restrain the eldest daughter from revealing a subversive truth after discovering secret recordings involving family members. To say any more would spoil the mystery.

Classic Albums: John Lennon- Plastic Ono Band:
I’ve enjoyed several of these “Classic Album” documentaries that examine the creation of historical rock and roll recordings. This one looks at the writing and recording of John Lennon’s first solo effort after the Beatle’s breakup. Lennon bares his soul with personally revealing songs performed with the utmost honesty. A lot of archival concert and studio footage as well as interviews with Yoko Ono, Ringo Starr and other musicians, as well as journalists and participating recording engineers.

This is the second installment of the trilogy, (the first being Koyaanisqatsi) created by the collaboration of director Godfrey Reggio and the musical soundtrack genius of Phillip Glass. This feature focuses on the diversity of culture (this time in the southern hemisphere) that is threatened by the technological order that prescribes globalizing homogenization.

James Franco stars as beat poet Allen Ginsburg. The movie revolves around Ginsburg’s best known work, Howl. The film is a bit of a hybrid of historical reenactment (of the 1957 obscenity trial of Howl‘s publisher), documentary, and animation. Everyone should hear Howl at least once and wonder at its rich imagery. I especially enjoy his use of such great descriptive phrases as “angel headed hipsters” and smile at his description of his friend, Jack Cassady who “sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the sunset.”

Clint Eastwood directs this interesting drama starring Matt Damon as a man who has the ability to act as a medium between the living and the dead in the afterlife. He constantly wrestles with this ability which most see as a blessing but he sees as a curse. His life eventually connects with a woman who recently had a harrowing near death experience and a young boy who lost his identical twin.

A Film Unfinished:
This documentary looks at lost film reels of unedited Nazi propaganda film created about the Warsaw Jewish ghetto in May, 1942- just a couple months before its residents began being shipped off to concentration camps. The film also includes some narration read from a diary kept by a resident of the ghetto working with the film makers. The disc includes a film (with a bit of a propaganda feel, itself) created by the US War Department called, Death Mills, which contains some of the more explicit recording of the atrocities, caught soon after the death camp’s liberation.

Best Boy:
A budding film maker records his 52 year old, retarded cousin in the late 1970’s. The film gives us an intimate look at his life while he is finally learning to live independently of his parents. A very heartwarming experience which won Documentarian, Ira Wohl the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 1980.

Blow Out:
Only watch this 1981 feature if you’re interested in watching John Travolta early in his movie career. He plays a sound engineer who, by chance, records an apparent automobile accident that he determines is really a political hit job. The movie never quite clicks and completely lost me with a ridiculous ending.
Not recommended

The Kings’ Speech:
A well executed biographical drama of the working and personal relationship between Britain’s King George VI (who reigned during WWII) and his speech therapist. George suffered from a life long speech stammer that hindered his self-confidence in performing his royal duties.

Wings for Wheels- The Making of Born to Run:
This documentary, created in 2005, chronicles the making of Bruce Springsteen’s pivotal album, Born to Run, thirty years after its release. Includes interviews with all musicians, producers and technicians involved and archival film footage taken in the studio during the recording process. The work was painstakingly long and laborious (the Born to Run track, itself, took six months, in intervals, to complete) but the artistic result was great, timeless music.

This is the final installment of “Qatsi” trilogy (translated as “war on life”) and the Reggio/Glass collaboration. This film differs some from the other two in that 80% of the film footage and images is stock, digitally manipulated and processed.

Shanghai Ghetto:
This enlightening Docudrama covers the period in the 1930’s when Jews, sensing the inevitable, began fleeing from Germany while it was still possible. One such location, unknown to many, was Shanghai, China, where a large number of migrant Jews created their own community even as the city was occupied by the Japanese. A very interesting piece of history.

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