Sunday, January 21, 2007

"For the Boys..." Migrates... sort of...

Well, after the fairly positive response to the work I did for Lavender, Mark, aka Sister Zsa-Zsa, offered me space on that blog site, as well as at So, if you're interested in reviews that are more "adult oriented" than Google AdSense approves of, you can wander over to those sites and take a dive!

I'll occasionally continue posting porn reviews here of auspicious note. But for the most part the EIGHT REVIEWS A WEEK that I am aiming to complete for Lavender Lounge/Reel Guys, will feature the good, bad and maybe not so noteworthy vids that I won't clutter up my little 'film fest blog' with here.

The links to those 'other sites' are on the sidebar under:
"Links for the Naughty Adult in You".

Oh, and Maxxxxx isn't allowed to view these in the first place, so he's not missing anything...

CLICK HERE for more...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

SF IndieFest 2007 Preview!

My FAVORITE San Francisco film festival event of the year is just around the corner!

The 9th Annual San Francisco Independent Film Festival or SF IndieFest to its fans, opens February 8th with David Lynch's EAGERLY awaited "Inland Empire" with the producer (aka Lynch's ex-wife), Mary Sweeney present to celebrate the screening, and perhaps pacify the more 'inquisitive' viewers of this 3 hour surreal epic! I. Can't. WAIT!!! This precedes the opening night party at's Porn Palace! Woo hoo!!

The producers of SF IndieFest fete'ed local press with a sneak peek of the program with two screenings: "GREEN MIND, METAL BATS" (dir: Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, Japan, 2006, 96 minutes) and "LOL" (dir: Joe Swanberg, USA, 2006, 81 minutes). I will recap/review these two later in the context of the festival itself, as is my M.O. I WILL just say now that I LOVED "LOL"! I definiitely want to see this again! I want a copy of the soundtrack, if not a cd of Kevin Bewersdorf's compositions!

SF IndieFest has proven to be the most filmmaker accessible festival in the city. It is always a joy to approach some of the directors afterwards to express my love for their work (I DON'T do that with the ones I don't like, by the way!), specially during the usual outstanding selection of Short Subjects, where you can catch a gem as it begins it's journey to feature length production. (I'm winking at YOU Danièle Ferraro!)

I'll see you there!

Maxxxxx growls at the prospect of being ignored for another 10 days.

CLICK HERE for more...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Berlin and Beyond 12: Days 4 and 5

My final two days with my first REAL involvement with 'Berlin and Beyond' began with "Living With Hannah" ("Leben Mit Hannah")(dir. Erica von Moeller, Germany, 2006, 90 mins.). What starts out as what seems like a nifty thriller, eventually morphs (or perhaps, to some, degenerates) into a mother-daughter road movie. Hannah has some manic-depressive tendencies, so when she is being 'stalked' by a photographic admirer, she does get a little loopy. She decides to turn the tables and hunt HIM down and, for some unknown motive, with her estranged 12 year old daughter in tow. (The daughter, who bears absolutely NO resemblance, is in the custody of her grandparents.) Nina Hoss as 'Hannah' is quite good in bouncing around with the genres. How she keeps up with the screenplay's twists in mood and theme is sort of amazing. Hoss and the fabulous collection of scarves she wears are the only saving graces of this messy little film. Of course, here I am, in the midst of 'Berlin Bleakness' and could begin to complain about the first happy ending I've seen all week. Ironic, that. On the 'Berlin Bleakness Scale', "Living With Hannah" gets a 7, since she is so unhappy and is saddled with an absolute BRAT of a daughter.

"Lumber Kings" ("Die Könige der Nutzholzgewinnung") (dir. Matthias Keilich, Germany, 2006, 94 mins.) would be the first, if not ONLY comedy in the entire line up! Even if it is about unemployed lumberjacks attempting a scheme in which to bilk other unemployed lumberjacks of money, it was still a light and humorous little flick. Led by a charismatic Bjarne Mädel, who is returning to a village 12 years after previously conning his friends out of some money, as well as leaving behind a pregnant girlfriend, there is enough desperation within this depressed little village to take him back and follow him into his plan to stage an "international lumberjack competition". The comedy as such comes mostly from his two best friends, and is in the same vein as "The Full Monty" in which there is mostly pathos. But still, I am not complaining! As borderline 'cute' (and you know I hate 'cute'!) as the film became, there was enough underlying tension, not to mention some pretty intense physical demands on the cast, to keep me interested and the time passed fairly painlessly. This would be the second happy ending of the week! 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' of a mere 4.

I then had dinner with my friend JimmyD at Marcello's Pizza across the street from the Castro. As Jimmy and I were munching down a quick slice, this fairly handsome young man was inside and taking pictures of the Castro Theatre marquee across the street. We scoffed between ourselves at this typical tourist activity, and appraised his sex appeal factor. It was only 15 minutes later that I would watch him be introduced as the director of "Pingpong" (dir. Matthias Luthardt, Germany, 2006, 89 mins.). The film starts off with a boy's (Sebastian Urzendowsky) surprise arrival at his uncle's house, after having survived his father's suicide. This dreary little reunion between him and the family of his uncle would be the FUN part of the film. He's got the hots for his aunt (Marion Mitterhammer) and attempts to bond with his alcoholic teenage pianist prodigy cousin (Clemens Berg). The father (Falk Rockstroh) leaves for an extended business trip, leaving the trio, along with the family pet giant schnauzer (thus completing the entire cast) to their own means. On one hand, it is unlike me to dwell so much on plot, as I LOATHE spoilers and plot recaps disguised as 'reviews'. On the other hand, I am at a loss to convey the cold bleakness with which the film trudges so miserably on. The cast plays the drudgery with great aplomb! Mitterhammer is wonderful as the sexually and emotionally abandoned mother. Berg's acting debut is handled with almost as great skill as his musicianship. Urzendowsky is given a large role to play as the emotional catalyst in the family. He handles it well enough, though he is more an enigma than a solidly portrayed character, compared to the rest of the cast. The hideously manipulative climax that he is required to enact does not seem to come from a true emotional space, however. And it is with that climactic moment of tragedy that 'clinched the deal' as it were for me. I was able to appreciate the "The Ice Storm" quality of a family in emotional denial. However, the finale leaped into "The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?" tragic territory that was not necessarily warranted or earned by the drama that led up to it. (Yes, my allusions may be a bit obscure here.) The ending is an emotional sucker punch, that is a dramatic cheap trick. Matthias Luthardt is such a fine looking young man to have directed the bleakest of all the films I saw this week. The 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' rates a SOLID 9, and just short of a 10, as the ending was a cheap shot.

And for my final screening at this fest, "Nathan the Wise" ("Nathan der Weise")(dir. Manfred Noa, Germany, 1922, 122 mins.) is a silent film, recovered and restored from a single existing print, and accompanied by the ever fabulous Dennis James on the Castro's Mighty Wurlitzer. Unfortunately, even Mr. James hit a few bad notes tonight. The film itself is something of a landmark for its period and place as it has to do with the unification of the three faiths (Christianity, Muslim and Judaism) through the acts of a Jewish merchant and a Muslim sheik during the Crusades in Jerusalem. The papal influence is actually the villain in the piece. Historically speaking, this is quite the oddity. Dramatically and cinematically speaking, this was a real bore. Presented in six acts, plus a prologue, it was just tediously long as this religious soap opera played out to its telegraphed happy ending. Yes, here I am, again, in the midst of Bavarian Bleakness, complaining about a happy ending. But it was just such a melodramatic path to get there, that I really didn't care about any of the involved characters. Also, the resolution of the various subplots was nearly Gilber-and-Sullivan-esque in its topsy-turvy way. I can appreciate the image of the three faiths learning to live with each other. However, the journey to that conclusion was completely unbelievable. Perhaps that is a sad fact in reality, too? Ah well. 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' of only a 5. It's dull, not bleak.

Maxxxxx says in response to the bleakness and blandness, as well as to the intellectual offensiveness of "Pingpong"s horrific ending, "Oh, shit."

Berlin and Beyond is the annual film festival sponsored by the Goethe-Institut San Francisco. The festival concentrates on German language film, though expands to neighboring Bavarian countries as well, aka 'and Beyond'.

CLICK HERE for more...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Berlin and Beyond 12: Days 1, 2 and 3

The bleakness of the Bavarians is overwhelming me. I am grouping the "Berlin and Beyond" film festival into two recaps: 'Days 1, 2 and 3' and then the final two days I will be attending ('Days 4 and 5'). (I will be out of town for Closing Night.)

Apparently, 'Berlin and Beyond' does some educational outreach, as there was a line of KIDS at 1 p.m. for "Lapislazuli - Im Auge des Baren" (dir. Wolfgang Murnberger, Austria/Germany, 2006, 106 mins.). The stunning and gorgeous scenery of the Alps, breathtakingly photographed here, is the backdrop of this sincere 'Encino Man Meets Heidi' for the adolescent set. Actually, I am being overly glib. The story involves a cosmically revived neanderthal teenager and the runaway girl who befriends him. Never once did the film condescend to its target audience, nor does it feature any cheap jokes or pratfalls. The two lead child actors avoided the trap of being 'cute' and were actually working quite hard. The majority of the film involves the two of them learning to communicate. The boy's language proves not to be improvised gibberish, but a scripted 'language'. Needless to say, his 'language' is not subtitled, which is an interesting move as we become a part of the learning process, too. By the latter sequences in the film, they are speaking his language to each other, yet we are able to understand what they're talking about. That little subplot/exercise just sort of fascinated me. It also made its REAL lesson about preparing for and surviving through the death of a loved one, not as harsh! On the 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' of 1 to 10 (10 being suicidal), this was a 6.

After the kids left the theatre is was back to what would become standard adult fare. "Winter Journey" ("Winterreise") (dir. Hans Steinbichler, Germany, 2006, 95 mins.) took me to the edge of what I call my "Gasper Noe Threshold", in that we are witnessing a hateful character, doing hateful things to less than sympathetic victims. At least no one was raped or brutally assaulted. Josef Bierbichler is incredible as a late-middle aged man suffering from extreme manic-depression. He dives into the the manic phases with the gusto of a true ham! However, during the 'calm periods', he is able to display a subtle and naturalistic film technique. Hanna Schygulla plays his wife and has taken the near brilliant choice of almost complete stillness around him. You can see the years of pain and eventual numbness in the way she just stares at him and past him during his manic episodes. The film also helped me understand what is really behind some of the lieder, as the title refers to Schubert's song cycle "Winterreise". I have never seen or heard the 'emotional back story' of lieder so compellingly expressed as the way that Bierbichler performs them. His song sequences are perhaps the most moving moments of the film. As the story spirals to its inevitable and tragic conclusion, there is actually a sense of relief. I don't want to give away a spoiler here, but the final action that Bierbichler's character takes in the film, as tragic as it is, felt nearly heroic. This is easily my favorite film of the festival, so far! On the "Berlin Bleakness Scale", this was a solid 8.5.

Next, if Larry ("Kids") Clark were working in Germany, he would have made "Tough Enough" ("Knallhart") (dir. Detlev Buck, Germany, 2006, 98 mins.). Of course, that assumes that he would adapt to the apparently nihilistic adolescent pain and violence of being a poor teenager in a crime ridden neighborhood of Berlin. The beatings that the lead character takes (played with impressive range by David Kross), after newly arriving from the suburbs, are difficult to watch. Oh, that was not a spoiler by the way, as these beatings are a main element of the plot. It is his struggle to assimilate to this new 'culture' that drives the film. However, director Detlev Buck chose hand held video and washed out all the color, except for the reds (emphasizing blood?), to deliver this journey into teenage-gangland hell. It is a cold and, yes I will use THAT word again, BLEAK looking film. It is nearly cinema-verite' in its style, which some may find completely engulfing. I found it strangely alienating, myself. There was simply TOO MUCH work at making sure we were going to be depressed by this. The "Berlin Bleakness Scale" is a solid 9 for "Tough Enough".

And THAT was enough for one day for me, as I passed on a documentary about the Hindenburg which ended that day. Going into Day 2, I had social plans for the evening and would only be able to attend one film.

The matinees at "Berlin and Beyond" would seem to be dedicated to young audiences. "Wild Chicks" ("Die Wilden Hühner") (dir. Vivian Naefe, Germany, 2006, 108 mins.) is apparently based on a popular series of children's books by Cornelia Funke. Without knowing that as I watched, it played out like a feature length Nickelodeon series to me. The performances of the ensemble of 9 pre-adolescents were pretty much of the standard 'tv series' fare. Unlike the young performers in "Lapislazuli..." who displayed an intimate knowledge of the characters and their predicament (they were very well rehearsed!), the kids in "Wild Chicks" appear to have been cast more for their personalities than their skills. The girls prove to be more successful in their performances as the gang, 'The Wild Chicks'. However, the boys (playing their rival gang, 'the Pygmies') are set up more as sidekicks, and actually mysteries to the girls, so their characters are out of the range of the skills of the actors. I may be dwelling on the performers more than usual here, however the script itself is so underwritten it relies on the charm of its characters/actors to carry the film. The two gangs are brought together in a struggle against various decisions being made by the adults they are surrounded by. The film becomes quite episodic here, as each event is tackled and resolved before moving on to the next challenge. It would play as well had it been edited into 20 minute episodes and shown on television. As far as the 'Berlin Bleakness Meter' is concerned, despite the bright colors and nearly 'CUTE' (I. Hate. Cute.) cast, the subject matter of the episodes (killing pets, environmental destruction, child abuse) earns it a '5'.

I began Day 3 by passing on the 'kids matinee' and going straight into the first of two short subject programs. There were only 6 pieces included in the program (sometimes these shorts programs have a good DOZEN!), so I felt fairly comfortable that this would be painless and (dare I say it?) not as BLEAK as the weekend was proving to be. In preferential order:

"Delivery" (dir. Till Nowak, Germany, 2006, 15 mins.) was a lovely looking animated fantasy, that turned the world into a Dali-like dream, as a man is able to physically manipulate and change the BLEAK world he lives in. That's about all I can say about it, though I REALLY thought it was clever and looked great! 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' = 6

"Exploding Buds" ("Knospen Wollen Explodieren") (dir. Petra Schröder, Germany, 2006, 20 mins.) This was sort of a musical fantasy or something that wasn't making any real sense to me, but it had a really bizarre production design, quirky musical numbers and trippy cinematography. And it was not overly bleak, even if the heroine had a habit of killing the men she would be infatuated with by falling on them from great heights and tossing their injured bodies over a cliff. 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' = 4.

"Leroy Cleans Up" ("Leroy Raumt Auf") (dir. Armin Völckers, Germany, 2006, 17 mins.) A young black man, who embraces an early 1970's style, ponders life in Germany. There was a LOT of very clever dialogue about what it means to live in present day Germany. The added hook that he is engaged to a white girl, whose brothers are skinheads and have adopted him as one of their own, was a clever bit that didn't get old over the 17 minutes. 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' = 4, just because of the threatened violence and language of the various skinhead gangs.

"Ego Sum Alpha et Omega" (dir. Jan-Peter Meier, Germany, 2006, 7 mins.) and "Promenade D'Apres Midi" (dir. Claire Walka, Germany, 2006, 4 mins.) were both short, surreal and painless, though hardly memorable. 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' = 6 and 2.

Finally, "Mozart Minute" (dirs. 26 of them, Germany/Austria and Beyond, 2006, 32 mins.) The catalog description: "26 well-known filmmakers residing in Austria have been invited by WIENER MOZARTJAHR 2006 organisation to create associative miniatures on the subject of Mozart. The task: an artistic short film of one-minute duration." The catalog then lists the 26 filmmakers, none of whom I am at all familiar with. With the exception of one, MAYBE TWO (as I can't remember a second one off the top of my head) of these, the entirety of the collection was artistic crap. The great majority of work had nothing I could connect to Mozart. On the other hand, some of it was too simplistic and obvious. And to display 26 over a half hour had the effect of watching a collection of bad commercials. 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' = 7, just because it was tiresome crap.

I thought the next program held some promise as it referred to 'fantasy versus reality.' However, the title sort of sets the mood. "The Boy Without Qualities" ("Der Junge ohne Eigenschaften") (dir. Thomas Stiller, Germany, 2005, 96 mins.) was 'spoiled' by the catalog description. However, with or without that spoiler, this exceptionally understated and underplayed story of a boy's struggle with schizophrenia (though not so mentally induced as physically - aye! That's where the spoiler lies!) continued down the bleak pathway that was laid out earlier this weekend by "Winter Journey". However, the resolution is not as tragic, though the events surrounding the boy are even more melodramatic. There was a scene (ok, HERE are spoilers!) where the boy was visiting the stroke victimized father of his mugged and sexually assaulted girlfriend (which was partially due to the fact that he just stood there staring at the attack since his schizo'ed brain thought he was actually defending her), that I began to giggle. This was the latest in a series of beyond Dickens-esque dramas and tragedies that had befallen the boy. And because of his mental and emotional problems, as each event occurs around him, he is simply paralyzed in his fantasy world. That said, the film actually does allow a small ray of hope at its conclusion, where after 94 BLEAK minutes some music is actually underscored in a scene! My friend Jimmy attended this with me and asked, "Is this what all of these have been like?!" Yes, on the 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' this ranks a solid 8.

The final film of the weekend was the "Best First Feature Award" winner. "Valerie" (dir. Birgit Möller, Germany, 2006, 80 mins.) is a glossy looking story of an unemployed model's descent into homeless destitution. Agata Buzek is simply gorgeous, if not painfully thin, as model from Poland who is finding life in Berlin to be too much to handle. If it were not for the gorgeous cinematography as well as the exceptional production design and costume and styling of Buzek, I might have found this to be more painful than it was. To only emphasize the BLEAKNESS quotient, Director Möller sets the film on the week of Christmas and takes us on (another?!) inevitable near tragic spiral and then leaves us there in an ambiguous resolution. I assume she survives. Somehow. 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' = 8.

I continue on Monday and Tuesday...

Maxxxxx says in response to the BLEAKNESS of it all, "Is it time for shower?"

Berlin and Beyond is the annual film festival sponsored by the Goethe-Institut San Francisco. The festival concentrates on German language film, though expands to neighboring Bavarian countries as well, aka 'and Beyond'.

CLICK HERE for more...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Berlin and Beyond 12: Opening Night

Berlin and Beyond is the annual film festival sponsored by the Goethe-Institut San Francisco. The festival concentrates on German language film, though expands to neighboring Bavarian countries as well, aka 'and Beyond'. This is its 12th year, and this will be my first year in which I am attending.

For Opening Night, the Institute hosted a reception before the film, at the Castro Theatre's mezzanine. It's a bit crowded up there for such a throng of partiers, but I was able to snag a fabulous bowl of stew (it is COLD here!) and some Pellegrino before scampering back downstairs to warm up my seat, for what would feel to be a long night.

The evening officially commenced with the requisite review of past trailers for the festival, and then the speeches. The Goethe-Institut Executive Director, Ulrich Everding, and festival programmer, Ingrid Eggers, proved to be not so stirringly adept at addressing a crowd of 1,200, who just spent an hour eating and drinking upstairs. As well intentioned and hard working as I am sure the two of them are, they simply need to BUMP IT UP, if they are going to launch a week long program of films to an otherwise mildly interested audience. Anyway, Ms. Eggers introduced the director of tonight's film, Andreas Dresen, who proved to be quite charming and self deprecating in his introduction of:

"Summer in Berlin" ("Sommer Vorm Balkon") (dir. Andreas Dresen, Germany, 2005, 105 mins.) I almost felt that director Andreas Dresen attempted to create a critic proof film: the performances are fine, if not exceptional; the script has its moments; the cinematography is lovely; the pacing is at least competent. However, it felt like it was 3 hours long. He simply threw in so much in order to capture the audience that, I for one, was turned off.

Nadja Uhl is simply gorgeous and a technically gifted comic actress, playing a sex-bomb of a home nurse, who becomes inexplicably attracted to a total prick of a lover. Aye, there is the rub, as far as her plot line is concerned. Uhl is obviously such an intelligent actress that it was extremely difficult to believe the character would allow herself to be placed in the position she is. However, Uhl does a near masterful job in justifying the romantic (or lack there of) predicament. Her face conveys a myriad of mental contradictions as the craziness around her ultimately spins out of melodramatic control.

Inka Friedrich plays her best friend and unemployed divorced mother of a teenage son. In contrast to Uhl's near comic technique, Friedrich's style is more naturalistic, as is her plot line. Friedrich's situation is what drives the film into DRAMA (yes, all CAPS!).

Though Dresen may be hedging his entertainment bets by playing these two opposing stories, he doesn't allow the audience to fully commit to either character. I found myself having to choose which one I would follow, and thus the other became an interruption. By continually swinging moods, not only are we unable to become fully comfortable and empathetic with either character, but the ensuing episodic nature of the plot becomes tiresome. He disrupts his own momentum by wanting us to be surprised or shocked by the next turn of events. This only makes the 105 minutes feel like 200. Seriously, I was shocked to see that the film was over in LESS than two hours!

However, with the unfocused, if overly ambitious, screenplay by Wolfgang Kohlhaase aside, the production values and performances are all executed well enough that it is understandable to see why the film has distribution. Director Dresen displays a fine visual sense, however he seems to lack control over the material.

Maxxxxx says: "Is it bedtime?"

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A pair of artistic bios: Robert Wilson and Carmelo Muñiz Sanchez, "Absolute Wilson" and "Romántico"

"Absolute Wilson" (dir. Katharina Otto, US, 2006, 105 mins.) Robert Wilson is one of the most visually innovative stage directors of our time. At least in MY humble opinion! I LOVE his work! "The Black Rider" and "Einstein On The Beach" are probably his two best known, if most accessible pieces. "Absolute Wilson" is more than a biography, but it serves as a road map to the unusual and sometimes indecipherable images he stages. After viewing this nifty documentary, I came away with a fuller understanding of where his inspiration originates as well as why he is so rarely produced. His workaholic mania creates EPIC pieces. "The Black Rider" is perhaps the smallest of his works. However, most of his work lasts at least 3 hours and his most precedent setting productions have been 8-12 hours long (i.e. "the CIVIL warS"). There is also the nearly infamous 7 day long production of "KA MOUNTain and GUARDenia TERRACE" which was 'staged' around a neighborhood in a Greek village.

Wilson comes off as a fascinating and unpretentious man, so driven by internal vision that his control issues extend into producing and funding his own work. The necessity of dealing with the economic issues of his productions have kept him conversationally in touch with the public mind, which makes his interviews far from the narcissistic psycho-babble one would expect from an artist with such an overwhelmingly personal vision. The documentary itself is understated, almost to the point of unremarkable, which is a pity as the collection of archive footage, along with some very enlightening interviews with such artists as Phillip Glass and Tom Waits and the late critic, Susan Sontag, make it is so highly valuable! Though I seem to lack a certain excitement about the film as a whole, it would most definitely be something I would include in a my personal collection.

By the end of this short documentary, I would love to have dinner with the man. If only he would stop long enough to eat. On the opposite end of the 'advantaged artist scale,' I screened a documentary where I felt the need to take the man out to dinner!

"Romántico" (dir. Mark Becker, US, 2005, 80 mins.) Oh, this was a tough one for me! In short, it is a documentary about an illegal immigrant from Mexico, and follows his life over an indeterminate number of years. Why was this tough for me? Well, it is a pretty bleak life for an illegal immigrant. However, the film itself captures or at least maintains a dignity for it's main subject, Carmelo Muñiz Sanchez, who makes his living as a musician. It is the nearly nightmarish bleakness of his surroundings and the tragic consequences of some of his friends and family that continued to pound MY spirits down, while trying to appreciate the position the man occupies in his world. I can not say it was necessarily from lack of caring for his situation, however there was a point, and it happened within the FIRST 20 minutes, that I just thought to myself, "My gawd! Why keep on trying?!" Though the film does eventually answer the question, I found everyone so miserable that I didn't see where the resolution was any more promising than the initial predicament. I just couldn't get past all that BLEAKNESS...

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Babble, babble, 'Babel'

"Babel" (dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu, US, 2006, 142 mins.) Ok. I will fully disclose that I fell asleep SEVERAL times during "Babel", and that was with the director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and special guest Sean Penn in attendance too. Similar to Iñárritu's "21 Grams", the film is FILLED with histrionics that his talented cast dive in with reckless abandon. However, to distract us from the melodramatics, Iñárritu uses a non-linear sequence to keep us thrown off and guessing as to why and how the four story lines interconnect.

Ironically, the sub-plot that I found myself sleeping through its near entirety is set in Japan and features Rinko Kikuchi in an anticipated Oscar nominated performance. She plays a deaf girl, which might have been part of why I found it so difficult to stay awake during those sequences. I was also unprepared for the length of the film, at nearly 2 and a half hours.

"Babel" is getting all sorts of 'Award Season Hype' and frankly, even with all the hype and the fact I might have dozed off through as much as a fourth of the film, I simply was so emotionally uninvolved (and actually giggling during some of the climax, to the irritation of the overly emotionally involved woman next to me!) that I have NO interest in trying to see it again. I just find "Babel", and Iñárritu, melodramatic and gimmicky, regardless of the emotional dedication he seems to inspire in his cast.

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Children of Men

"Children of Men" (dir. Alfonso Cuarón, UK/USA, 2006, 109 mins.) The best and worst aspect (other than it's DULL poster!) of this cinematic marvel from Alfonso Cuaron ("Y Tu Mama Tambien", "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and "The Little Princess"), is it's mind blowing visual style. I became so engrossed in the physical technique of the extremely long takes and what must have been the nightmare logistics of staging them, that I was distracted from the story, which in itself is a complicated affair of political deception and revolution. Not since Sokurov's "Russian Ark" have I been left out of breath by a single take! There are chase and attack sequences that are so stunningly and precisely staged and photographed that it puts Spielberg to shame. However, with all that said about the technical virtuosity of the project, I was still caught in awe during the 'climax'! In the midst of the battles, the chases, the explosions, Cuaron still maintains enough control on the piece to bring it to an inspiring, if not nearly religious halt.

Set in London in 2027, the production design avoids the 'Bladerunner' trap and realistically creates a world not so advanced from our present generation, but a world whose infrastructure has begun to decay. There are a FEW gadgets around indicating technological advancement, however, the situation that the world finds itself in (a 20 year old worldwide virus has made women infertile) has literally stopped time in its tracks. It is nearly a thematic and visual breakthrough for Cuaron who has been involved with adolescent themes and fantasias for the past few years, in that this film is a world completely void of children and their influence. (It opens with the announcement that the youngest person alive has died at age 18.)

The performances are understated and incredible considering the technical obstacles the cast must have faced during the lengthy takes. Clive Owen and Julianne Moore are their professional selves. However, it is Michael Caine and Pam Ferris who steal their scenes with an uncanny ability to be IN that future world by tapping into the nostalgia of the past before the virus.

I could go on for PAGES, but I don't want to over extend expectations nor give any more spoilers away than what is already 'out there'. I will leave it at that I can't say it enough: "Children of Men" is breathtaking on so many levels, I can not wait to see it again and explore it further!

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