Friday, June 29, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #26: Kawa

Perfect for pride month is this coming out story I reviewed for DVDsnapshot. Also, the occasional glimpses of New Zealand remind me I'd love to travel there one day. It just looks beautiful.

Official Synopsis:

When successful businessman Kawa (Calvin Tuteao, Once Were Warriors) finds the courage to tell his wife and kids, his parents and his traditional Maori community that he's gay, the struggle he endures is not an easy one. A powerful coming out movie, Kawa is a gorgeously cinematic drama that tells the transcendent tale of bravery, love, family and pride.

Our Take:

Witi Ihimaera's semi-autobiographical 1995 novel “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” reflected his experiences coming out as gay in 1984. This is worth nothing in regards to Kawa, the filmed version, because the supporting characters' reactions to it seem outdated and melodramatic in 2010.

When the story starts, Kawa has already begun a process of embracing his gay identity. Devoted to family and obligated by birth to be a leader in the Maori community, he's rebelling against the life he feels he's “supposed” to lead. Having moved out, he's also started moving on from a very confused wife by exploring both bathhouse trysts and courtship with a local actor. Kawa is keeping a safe foot in his old life to avoid drama, but slowly self-sabotaging his way out.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #25: The Conquest (La Conquête) (2011)

THE CONQUEST is excellent and timely biopic - which is shaping up to be a theme for my movie watching lately. Originally reviewed for dvdsnapshot.

Official Synopsis:

The Conquest is that rare specimen produced while its political subject is still in power. Denis Podalydès delivers a witty yet commanding portrayal of Nicolas Sarkozy and his rise to the French presidency through the lens of his unraveling marriage to wife Cecilia (Florence Pernel). This vivid film depicts the future president of France as a bold and unashamed virtuoso of political combat. Brilliantly etching sharp characterizations of living politicians, The Conquest never veers too far from reality, even while deploying a larger-than-life sense of humor and a buoyant, Fellini-esque score that giddily evokes a circus-like atmosphere of modern politics.

Our Take:

Films about politics are always a strange breed, taking you behind the headlines while usually positing that their subjects are amoral monsters behind those shellacked, calculated smiles. Power and celebrity are sexy, but fame derived from elected authority always seems suspect. Perhaps because of the hunger required to throw your had into the ring? We always assume the best man for an office is the one too smart and decent to run. The best political stories also emphasize those pulling strings and smoothing feathers to keep the political machine on track. It's the wives and advisers (Eve Carringtons and Iagos?), usually far more Machiavellian than the candidate himself. This film isn't a political fiction, though dramatic license was taken.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #24: Carol Channing: Larger Than Life

A few weeks ago, I reviewed a documentary about an actress who seemed to hide as much as she gave. Now I got to take a look at one about an actress who, while she doesn't let us in on everything, kindly shares her story complete with big, over-the-top musical numbers. Originally reviewed for
Official Synopsis:

Carol Channing's life is as colorful as the lipstick on her big, bright smile. Carol Channing: Larger Than Life captures the magic and vivacity of the 90-year-old icon, onstage and off... past and present. It is both a rarefied journey inside Broadway's most glamorous era, and a whimsical look at an inspiring, incomparable and always entertaining American legend.

Our Take:

The Tony Awards recently aired on television, a quaint throwback of a big awards show paying tribute to an art form that's unique in still being mostly geographically-specific. Some see it as the hopelessly retro province of Midwestern tourists and “show queens,” but in a world of digital streaming, you still have to go to Broadway (or hope it comes to you) to attend over-the-top, show-stopping live performances by occasionally legendary talents.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Agonies and Ecstasies of a Neophyte Gardener

The repository of all my hopes, dreams, and salad fixings...
...or, "How I Blew Over $50 Tuesday at Home Depot Because of a Damn Raccoon."

For as long as I've lived here I've stared out at the raised garden plot out back and thought "I really should try putting in a garden." My neighbor speaks with rapt wonderment about the tomatoes the previous owner could coax out of the only sunny patch on the whole yard..

Well, what a difference psyching yourself up for eight years can make!

Instead of just sitting inside all summer on the internet (like you're probably doing), this year I'm taking a chunk of that time to be"The Farmer on His Dell."  Since I was determined to put up or shut up, and Chris is a "doer," we have started out what I'm calling "Garden 1.0." (That we're not on the road every other weekend for once helps, too.) Previously an annual tangle of weeds I'd apathetically chop down either once a Summer or when it got to be ten feet tall (whichever came first), it's now fulfilling it's destiny as an honest-to-goodness "food-growing-place-thingy."

We decided together what to plant. I dreamed big, picturing crops of such yield I'd have to kvetch about learning how to can things. Meanwhile the Sensible One figured out just how few plants we'd actually need. It turns out that if you garden in a manner that's even marginally correct they thrive to the point where a 6'x24' plot of land can quickly choke on its own bounty.

First came the job I would have given up on if done solo: we weeded. Once done, it depressed me to realize that the maintenance yanking was going to be an open-ended affair. (Right now there's some weird succulent volunteers threatening to take over like Triffids.) I started some seedlings as further commitment to the cause. Going a step beyond, I even sent off a soil sample for analysis. The plot of dirt was ruled fairly fertile, though mostly clay. Evidently low on potassium, it also completely lacks the archaeological treasures or victims of Mob hits I always daydreamed we'd dig up back there as soon as we started digging. Seriously, it was such a running fantasy that I admit to being let down to only find more dirt under all that dirt.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #23: Queen of Blood

The Year: 1990

In the far-flung future of stock footage and quilted coats, Mars proves to be a planet of matte paintings, miniatures, and deedleboppers. Queen of Blood is a great lousy movie, perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon. Frequently (and always unintentionally) funny, this is the finest in inventive low-budget film-making from the Roger Corman school. Curtis Using plenty of stock special effects footage from some Russian Sci-Fi films and (from the looks of it) almost no money except "paper moon money," this is a heaven of cardboard sets and lousy science.

Basil Rathbone sends Dennis Hopper and the helmet-haired Judi Meredith to investigate an SOS from outer space. Having a ride so bumpy they need "oxygenator tablets" to perk themselves up at arrival, they find a crashed alien ship with a dead alien. Our hero, John Saxon, leads a second mission to follow his girlfriend (Meredith), in an oddly convoluted scenario seemingly designed to make the most use out of all the borrowed effects footage, and pad for time. Saxon lands on Mars' moon, Phobos, and finds a second ship, this one with a very alive passenger. Saxon brings along this unconscious alien girl ti rendezvous with first ship, where she quickly becomes a bad influence over the menfolk.

Florence Marley's green-skinned "Queen" smiles like the Cheshire cat, regally and silently seducing Hopper then leaving him for dead. This immediately begs the question: "Why don't they toss her ass into space?"

Friday, June 1, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #22: Immortals

There's something cold and off-putting about Tarsem's CGI abuse in Immortals. Admittedly gorgeous, its clean aesthetic is one glob of frozen Vaseline away from being a mash-up of 300 and Mathew Barney's Cremaster series of art films... and that's just the impression left by the first three minutes. By the time Frida Pinto shows up and John Hurt starts narrating, you question why actors and storyline are being introduced to ruin the clean. cartoon-y tableau. Tarsem may be the most painterly director since Peter Greenaway, but his CGI compositions commit the crime of being, for all their showmanship, not quite good enough. You're always aware of what's been pasted in digitally, and it always looks a little unfinished.

That said, damn, this is one good-looking movie. Nearly two solid hours of sparse-yet-sumptuous eye-candy. Add one more "S" here, "sterile." For all the aggressive fight choreography and sanguine splashes of color, everything here has, again, a touch of aspirational CGI:  the unreality of composited sets and impractical effects. Even using people seems excessive, Immortals should have simply been programmed like an arty video game.