Friday, June 02, 2006


The Brattle Theater and The Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film run an occasional series of Sunday morning films called the "Eye-Opener". It was on hiatus much of last year as Ned & Ivy worked on making sure that the Brattle was still around, but returned this spring for an eight-film series (not reviewed here are The Proposition, seen at IFFB, and Survive Style 5+, which I saw on a Fantasia screener last year, and the Academy Award-nominated live-action shorts). Over all, it's a pretty strong set. I've been waiting for someone to talk about Survive Style 5+ with, and there are some I wouldn't have seen without the series. I didn't necessarily love everything I saw, but I think most was worth seeing.

Except I Am a Sex Addict. The downside of these things is when you see a movie, and hate it, but everyone else around you is talking about how clever it is. And though I can't deny that... Well, I mention a calculus metaphor in the review, and here it is (it sort of applies to how I judge all movies): Imagine two curves on a graph. The first represents how interested I am in what the movie has up its sleeve at a given moment in time; the second represents how interested I am in what's going on outside the theater at the same moment. Find the integral of the two curves and subtract the second from the first (or subtract and integrate); the resulting value is how good or bad the movie experience is. I Am A Sex Addict has a very negative value there. It's one of those movies where I spend a lot of time wanting out, and the clock on the Brattle's wall taunts me.

It's going to be strange having Sunday mornings free, though. Maybe I'll try sleeping in.

Sisters In Law

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 April 2006 at the Brattle Theater (Sunday Eye-Opener)

Journalism has two ideals that often seem to stand in direct opposition to each other. The first is transparency, also often referred to as "fairness", "balance", or "objectivity". It's the idea that a journalist or documentarian should report facts in a clear manner, allowing his or her audience to form an informed opinion. The other is the desire to advocate which is often the basis of the reporter's urge to investigate - one doesn't dig unless she suspects that something is buried. At first glance, Sisters In Law may appear to be simple documentation, but directors Kim Longinotto and Florence Ayisi have activism in mind - they're just subtle about how they go about it.

The film takes us to the small town of Kumba in Cameroon, with the focus on the family court presided over by Beatrice Ntuba. She is an authoritative figure who represents the country's written, secular law, but her authority is seldom given full precedence over religious doctrine and community pressures. We follow several cases that Prosecutor Vera Ngassa brings before her court: Two are divorce procedures (though only one of these marriages actually has any sort of official standing; one has a ten-year-old girl accusing her neighbor of rape; the last is an allegation of child abuse.

Read the rest at HBS.

I Am a Sex Addict

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 April 2006 at the Brattle Theater (Sunday Eye-Opener)

I had a metaphor planned to describe how I could despise I Am a Sex Addict despite recognizing the validity in all the arguments that the other folks seeing the movie made. The metaphor, however, involved calculus, and while using calculus might earn me some points in appearing smart, it would bore many of the people reading this paragraph senseless. So I excised the calculus metaphor in favor of speaking plainly: I Am a Sex Addict is pretentious and dull.

(See what I did there? I got my point across by talking directly to you, but while doing it I made sure that you knew that I'm smart and sophisticated - after all, I casually drop references to relatively advanced mathematics, just like filmmaker Caveh Zahedi casually mentions going to France to make a movie about a poet you've probably never heard of, unless you're as smart as Caveh. And I've tried to be all self-deprecating about it, like Caveh does with his dry delivery, but you know - we think we're smarter than you are, and we may be right - after all, we love calculus and French poetry.)

Read the rest at HBS.

Hard Candy

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 April 2006 at the Brattle Theater (Sunday Eye-Opener)

Hard Candy lets the folks in the audience know from the start that it intends to make them uncomfortable. It's all of five minutes into the movie before we see that young Hayley Stark is about a decade younger than what the guy she's meeting should be looking at. By the time the film is over, it will be what people do rather than what they threaten to do that makes people uncomfortable, and not the way that the first scene suggests.

Hayley (Ellen Page) met Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) online. He's handsome and charming, and probably more than twice her age (she could still be in junior high). They meet face-to-face for the first time at a local diner. He invites her back to his place for a drink and a look at his photography studio; she's cautious, but goes anyway. Arriving there, she sees that all of the pictures on the wall are young girls, but she turns out to be a step ahead of him - it's Jeff who has something he didn't plan on in his drink, and regains consciousness to find himself in a situation he's not ready for.

Read the rest at HBS.

Mutual Appreciation

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 May 2006 at the Brattle Theater (Sunday Eye-Opener)

Andrew Bujalski makes movies that drive me nuts. I can plainly see that the man is good with a camera, and his storytelling technique is frequently very impressive. It's no wonder that film scholars find his movies fascinating and important. It's the application of that talent which is so maddening: Chronicling the moments between when people take control of their lives.

There's room for movies about the mundane. Indeed, recording and depicting everyday life is a vital part of why we have art in the first place. Someone from another culture, place, or time can look at Mutual Appreciation and gain an understanding of what the life of a certain group of New Yorkers in the early twenty-first century is like while being entertained a bit. And that sort of anthropological audience, along with the film scholars I'm told are Bujallski's biggest fans, will probably find this film exciting. But the film's drama is low-key, with climaxes and resolution deliberately avoided. It's possible to get excited by this kind of movie, but it requires an effort.

Read the rest at HBS

Sir! No Sir!

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 May 2006 at the Brattle Theater (Sunday Eye-Opener)

Most movie watchers can recite the standard narrative about about the American experience in Vietnam with little prompting: Naive Americans are sent overseas not knowing what they're getting into. They witness horrors as the war is waged from Washington by people who don't understand it, while the peace movement at home slowly makes remaining in Vietnam politically unviable. And then, when they come home, the GIs are ostracized. The thing is, at least as Sir! No Sir! tells it, this story is at best incomplete and at worst a fabrication.

The omission, as filmmaker David Zeiger points out, is that the peace movement was not just a factor on the homefront. The Vietnam war saw an unprecedented amount of soldiers refusing orders, undergrounds newspapers and organizations within the army, and open mutiny. The film ends with a deconstruction of the oft-repeated myth of soldiers being spat upon as they returned home. Throughout, it is documented by primary sources, soldiers recounting their own experiences both on bases and on the front lines.

Read the rest at HBS

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